Chapter Seven

Darcy Proposes Marriage

 

Elizabeth was sitting by herself the next morning, writing to Jane, while Mrs Collins and Maria were shopping in the village. She heard the doorbell ring, and knew that meant a visitor had arrived, but she was greatly surprised when Mr Darcy, and Mr Darcy only, was shown into the room. He seemed astonished too, on finding her alone.

‘I apologize for disturbing you, Miss Bennet. I understood that all the ladies were at home.’

‘Please don’t apologize, Mr Darcy. I hope Lady Catherine and her daughter are well?’

‘Very well, thank you.’ He said no more.

As he seemed in danger of sinking into total silence, Elizabeth had to think of something to say. She remarked, ‘How very suddenly you all left Netherfield last November, Mr Darcy! I hope Mr Bingley and his sisters were well, when you left London?’

‘Perfectly, thank you.’ That was all the answer he gave.

‘I think I have heard that Mr Bingley has not much idea of ever returning to Netherfield again?’

‘It is probable that he will spend very little of his time there in future. He has many friends elsewhere.’

Elizabeth did not want to talk any longer about Mr Bingley, and, determined to leave the conversation to Mr Darcy, she remained silent. He understood, and soon began to speak again. ‘Mr Collins appears very fortunate in his choice of a wife.’

‘Yes, indeed. She is one of the few sensible women who would have accepted him, although I’m not sure I consider her marrying Mr Collins as the wisest thing she ever did. She seems perfectly happy, however, and financially speaking, it’s a good marriage.’ ‘It must be very agreeable to her to be such a short distance from her own family and friends.’

‘A short distance, you say? It is nearly eighty kilometres!’

‘And what is that? Little more than half a day’s journey, on a good road. Yes, I call it a very short distance.’

‘I would never have said Mrs Collins lived near her family,’ cried Elizabeth.

‘That shows how much you are attached to Hertfordshire. Anywhere outside the Longbourn area would, I suppose, seem far away to you.’

As he spoke, he smiled a little. Perhaps he supposed she was thinking of Jane and Netherfield, thought Elizabeth, and she blushed. ‘Whether the distance seems long or short depends on many circumstances. If the family’s income is large enough to pay for frequent journeys, then distance is not a problem. But Mr and Mrs Collins will not be able to afford to travel very often, despite their comfortable income. I’m certain my friend does not consider Hunsford near her family.’

Mr Darcy moved his chair a little towards her, and said, ‘You cannot have a right to such a very strong local attachment. You haven’t spent your whole life at Longbourn, I am sure.’

Elizabeth looked surprised.

Experiencing a change of feeling, the gentleman moved his chair away again, took a newspaper from the table, and, glancing at it, said in a colder voice, ‘Are you pleased with Kent?’

They discussed Kent calmly and politely for a few minutes, and were then interrupted by Charlotte and Mariah, who had returned from the village. Mr Darcy sat a little while longer, without saying much to anybody, and then went away.

‘What can be the meaning of this!’ said Charlotte, as soon as he had gone. ‘My dear Lizzy, he must be in love with you, or he would never have visited us in this familiar way.’

But when Elizabeth described his silence, that did not seem likely, even to hopeful Charlotte, and they could only suppose that he had nothing better to do. In fact, from now on, both Mr Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam called regularly at the Rectory. It was obvious that Colonel Fitzwilliam came because he enjoyed talking to the ladies, and Elizabeth was reminded by her own satisfaction in being with him, as well as by his evident admiration of her, of her former favourite, Wickham. But it was more difficult to understand why Mr Darcy came. He did not often speak, and seldom appeared interested in the conversation. Even Charlotte, who observed Mr Darcy closely, was not sure whether he admired Elizabeth or not, and began to hope that perhaps her friend might marry Colonel Fitzwilliam instead.

When she took her daily walk along the path bordering the park, Elizabeth met Mr Darcy unexpectedly more than once. This was the more surprising, because she was careful to inform him that it was her favourite walk, so that he could avoid meeting her. It was also strange that, although he could just have greeted her and walked on, he always thought it necessary to turn back and walk with her. She could not quite understand him.

But one day, as she was walking, she met Colonel Fitzwilliam, not Mr Darcy, and greeted him with a smile. They walked back to the Rectory together. ‘Are you leaving Kent this Sunday?’ she asked.

‘Yes, if Darcy doesn’t put it off again.’

‘He is fortunate to be able to arrange things as he likes.’

‘Well, we all want to do that,’ replied Colonel Fitzwilliam. ‘But he is used to doing what he likes, because he is rich, and many others are poor. I, for example – I’m a younger son, you know, and won’t inherit my father’s fortune, so I shall never be rich or independent, like Darcy.’

‘Now seriously, you cannot call yourself poor. When have you ever suffered because of lack of money?’

‘Well, perhaps I haven’t really suffered much yet. But there are difficulties. A younger son doesn’t have a free choice when marrying. He cannot afford to marry a girl with no fortune.’

Elizabeth blushed, thinking that he might mean her, and began to talk of something else. She asked him about Darcy’s sister, and mentioned that the Bingley sisters liked her very much.

‘Bingley – yes, I know them. Their brother is very pleasant – a great friend of Darcy’s,’ answered Colonel Fitzwilliam.

‘Oh, yes, Mr Darcy is extremely kind to Mr Bingley, and takes very good care of him,’ said Elizabeth drily.

‘Yes, I believe Darcy does take care of Bingley. I’m thinking of a recent situation, which Darcy was telling me about on the journey here. He was congratulating himself on having saved a friend from a most foolish marriage. Of course, I’m not sure the friend was Bingley, as Darcy didn’t mention the name.’

‘Did Mr Darcy give you his reasons for interfering?’

‘I understood that there were some very strong objections to the lady.’

Elizabeth could not speak for a moment. When she was able to control her anger, she changed the conversation. As soon as they reached the Rectory, she said goodbye to Colonel Fitzwilliam, and went straight upstairs to her room. At last she could think without interruption about what he had told her. Bingley must have been the friend to whom Darcy was referring. She had always assumed that Darcy was involved in the plan to separate Jane and Bingley, but it now appeared that he, not Miss Bingley, was the main cause of all that Jane had suffered, and still continued to suffer. The ‘very strong objections to the lady’ probably consisted of having one uncle who was a country lawyer, and another who was in business in London. There could be no possible objections to Jane herself, as she was intelligent, beautiful and charming. Nor could anyone object to Mr Bennet as a father-in-law. When Elizabeth thought of her mother, she felt a little less confident. She was still convinced, however, that Mr Darcy was interested in highborn connections rather than character or common sense. It was this, the worst kind of pride, which had destroyed for a while every hope of happiness for the most affectionate, generous heart in the world. Thinking about all this made

Elizabeth so upset and unhappy that she soon had a headache. It grew so much worse in the evening, and she was so unwilling to see Mr Darcy, that she decided not to go to Rosings that evening with Mr and Mrs Collins. Instead, she stayed in the Rectory sitting-room, re-reading Jane’s recent letters from London. She was saddened to discover that, although Jane never complained, or referred to the past, in almost every line there was a lack of cheerfulness, which Elizabeth had not noticed the first time, and which now made her rather anxious. She was relieved to think that Darcy would be leaving Rosings in two days’ time, and she herself would be with Jane in less than two weeks. Colonel Fitzwilliam would also be leaving with Darcy, but he had made it clear that he had no intention of proposing to her, so she did not intend to be unhappy about him. Just then, she heard the doorbell, and wondered if it might be Colonel Fitzwilliam, come to enquire about her health. But to her astonishment she saw Mr Darcy walk into the room. In a hurried manner he began to ask how she was feeling. She answered him with cold politeness. He sat down for a few moments, and then, getting up, walked about the room. Elizabeth was surprised, but said nothing.

After a silence of several minutes, he came towards her, with none of his usual calmness, and said, ‘In vain have I struggled. It is no good. I cannot conquer my feelings. You must allow me to tell you how warmly I admire and love you.’

Elizabeth stared, blushed, doubted, and was silent. He considered this sufficient encouragement, and confessed all that he felt, and had felt for a long time, for her. He expressed himself well, but it was not only of love that he spoke. He also talked of his pride, and his sense of her social inferiority, which had made him struggle against his feelings for so long. In spite of her dislike for him, Elizabeth appreciated what a compliment such a man’s affection was, and was at first sorry for the pain he was about to receive. But soon, as she heard his references to her inferior position, she lost all pity, and became very angry. She waited patiently, however, until he had finished. He ended by describing the strength of his love for her, which, in spite of all his attempts, he had been unable to conquer if it might be Colonel Fitzwilliam, come to enquire about her health. But to her astonishment she saw Mr Darcy walk into the room. In a hurried manner he began to ask how she was feeling. She answered him with cold politeness. He sat down for a few moments, and then, getting up, walked about the room. Elizabeth was surprised, but said nothing.

After a silence of several minutes, he came towards her, with none of his usual calmness, and said, ‘In vain have I struggled. It is no good. I cannot conquer my feelings. You must allow me to tell you how warmly I admire and love you.’ Elizabeth stared, blushed, doubted, and was silent. He considered this sufficient encouragement, and confessed all that he felt, and had felt for a long time, for her. He expressed himself well, but it was not only of love that he spoke. He also talked of his pride, and his sense of her social inferiority, which had made him struggle against his feelings for so long. In spite of her dislike for him, Elizabeth appreciated what a compliment such a man’s affection was, and was at first sorry for the pain he was about to receive. But soon, as she heard his references to her inferior position, she lost all pity, and became very angry. She waited patiently, however, until he had finished.

He ended by describing the strength of his love for her, which, in spite of all his attempts, he had been unable to conquer with arguments of reason and common sense, and finally he asked for her hand in marriage. She could see that he had no doubt of a favourable answer, which only made her angrier. ‘I believe society considers it correct, in cases like this,’ she replied, ‘to express grateful thanks. So if I could feel grateful, I would now thank you. But I cannot – I have never wanted your good opinion of me, and I cannot accept it. I’m sorry to hurt anyone, but it has not been done deliberately, and I hope the pain will not last long. The pride which, you tell me, has long prevented the expression of your affection, can have little difficulty in conquering your feelings after this explanation.’

Mr Darcy, whose eyes were fixed on her face, was both angry and surprised by her words. His face went pale, and he was clearly struggling to control himself. There was a dreadful pause, and then he spoke in a voice of forced calmness. ‘And this is all the reply I am to have the honour of expecting! I might, perhaps, wish to be informed why, with so little attempt at politeness, I am rejected.’

‘I might as well ask why, with so evident a wish to offend and insult me, you chose to tell me that you loved me against your reason and even against your character. But even if my own feelings towards you had been favourable, do you think anything could tempt me to accept the man who has destroyed, perhaps forever, the happiness of a most dear sister?’

As she said this, Mr Darcy changed colour, but he listened without trying to interrupt her as she continued. ‘I have every reason in the world to think badly of you. Can you deny that you were the cause of Jane’s separation from Mr Bingley, and of her unhappiness? Can you deny it?’

‘I have no wish to deny that I did everything I could to separate them, and that I am delighted with my success. Towards my friend I have been kinder than to myself.’

Elizabeth treated this last remark with disdain, but its meaning did not escape her. ‘But it is not only because of Jane that I dislike you. My opinion of you was decided long ago. I heard all about your character from Mr Wickham. Now, what can you have to say on this matter? How can you defend yourself?’

‘You take an eager interest in that gentleman,’ said Darcy, less calmly than before. The colour was rising in his face.

‘Who can help feeling an interest in him, when we hear of the unfortunate life he has had!’

‘Unfortunate!’ repeated Darcy contemptuously.

‘Yes, unfortunate indeed.’

‘And it was your fault,’ cried Elizabeth with energy. ‘You took away his chance of a comfortable income and a good position, which you knew had been intended for him. You have left him poor, and dependent, and disappointed. You have done all this! And you can still treat the mention of his name with contempt.’

‘And this,’ cried Darcy, as he walked with quick steps across the room, ‘is your opinion of me! Thank you for explaining it so fully. But perhaps you might not have considered these offences of mine, if your pride had not been hurt by my honest confession of my reasons for not proposing to you earlier. Perhaps I should have hidden my struggles, and flattered you by pretending I had every reason to love you. But I hate disguise of any sort. Nor am I ashamed of my feelings of pride, which are very natural. Could you expect me to delight in the inferiority of your family compared to mine?’

Elizabeth felt herself growing more angry every moment. ‘Mr Darcy, you could not have made me the offer of your hand in any possible way that would have tempted me to accept it. The moment I first met you, I noticed your pride, your sense of superiority, and your selfish disdain for the feelings of others. Later events strengthened my dislike for you. You are the last man in the world whom I could ever be persuaded to marry.’

‘You have said quite enough, madam. I perfectly understand your feelings. Forgive me for having taken up so much of your time, and accept my best wishes for your health and happiness.’ With these words, he hurried out of the room, and the house.

Elizabeth felt so weak that she sat down and cried for half an hour. She was so astonished to have received a proposal from Mr Darcy! His affection for her must indeed have been strong, to conquer all the objections he had to her family and position, objections which had made him prevent his friend marrying her sister. But his terrible pride, his shameless confession of what he had done to separate Jane and Bingley, and his cruelty towards Wickham soon removed any pity she might have felt for him.