At Austen Authors, in celebration of the 200th Anniversary of the events in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, we are retelling the story from the points of view of the other characters. If you would like to read more of these vignettes, please visit austenauthors.net and click on “The Writer’s Block.”
On the morning after their arrival at Rosings, Mr. Collins presented himself to the gentlemen, and as Lady Catherine was making calls on some of her tenants, Collins fawned and preened before Darcy and his cousin. With Edward affable personality, the colonel found the man’s obvious insincerity amusing.
“Do you return to the Parsonage?” Darcy asked, trying to sound nonchalant, when, in reality, his heart raced with anticipation.
“Indeed, Sir, I do.”
“Then may my cousin and I join you? I would like to offer my congratulations to Mrs. Collins, and the colonel has not had the pleasure of your wife or your cousin’s acquaintance.
“Then it is settled,” Darcy retrieved his gloves from a nearby table. “Come, Edward, we are to Hunsford to pay our respects.”
Without turning his head, Darcy felt the total disbelief that colored his cousin’s countenance. Never had Darcy considered it necessary to pay his respects to anyone of such asinine tastes before—he might have shown disdain, but respect—that was out of the question. He felt it too. What in the world was he thinking to place himself within Miss Elizabeth’s presence again? He should come up with an excuse to extricate himself from this impetuous act, but when his cousin said, “Yes, I am looking forward to the pleasure of the acquaintance,” Darcy knew he must see it through. With both anticipation and dread, Darcy followed Collins to Hunsford Cottage–to the dubious pleasure of being in the same room as Elizabeth Bennet again.
The doorbell announced the three gentlemen. Collins led the way into the room, followed closely by Colonel Fitzwilliam; Darcy came last. He schooled his gaze not to look directly at Elizabeth as soon as he entered the room, but it was not easy; steadying his nerves, he took on his usual reserve and first offered compliments to Mrs. Collins, and then with an appearance of composure, which belied his actual thoughts, he likewise did the same to Elizabeth. It had been so long since he had beheld beauty of her imperfect features that for a moment all he could do was stare. Their eyes locked, and he noted the usual flash of curiosity, but Elizabeth merely curtsied to him without offering a word of greeting.
Edward stepped forward saying, “Mrs. Collins and Miss Bennet, it is with great pleasure that we finally meet. My cousin has spoken most fondly of his time in Hertfordshire. It is pleasant to be able to put faces to some of his stories.
“Did he now?” Elizabeth began, and Darcy anticipated more, but her friend’s grasp on Elizabeth’s arm stifled what Darcy had hoped with be her first words directed to him.
Edward permitted the tone of her brief remark to pass. “Yes, indeed,” he added quickly. “Mrs. Collins, your improvements to the Parsonage are duly noted. I have never seen it look so well. Do you not agree, Darcy?” he prompted.
“Yes, Mrs. Collins, the place has taken on a new life,” he stammered. “It is as if I am seeing it for the first time.” Darcy could not recall ever having called upon the Parsonage before. He felt so foolish; could he not hold a conversation in the woman’s presence without guarding his every word and thought?
Darcy noted the humorous smirk gracing his cousin’s lips. Likely, he would question Darcy extensively when they returned to Rosings. He would face that situation when it occurred. For now, he would simply enjoy the smell of Miss Elizabeth’s perfume, a fragrance he had sorely missed. And he would watch the way her lips twitched with delight when she thought no one took note of her double entendres and the glint in her eye when her cousin did something horrendously gauche. He wished he could think of something clever to engage her in conversation, but Darcy would simply have to be satisfied with feeling her energy coursing through him.
Eventually, Elizabeth interrupted his thoughts. She said sweetly, “Come, Colonel, tell us more of you. I fear Mr. Darcy shared little of your service to King and Country or of your obviously close relationship.”
Without realizing how it happened, Darcy’s agitation increased. He did not like the situation; Elizabeth gave her attentions to someone else. Again. Her attention to Mr. Wickham was one thing, but not to his cousin. For years, he had played second to Edward’s affability, but he would not lose Elizabeth Bennet to his cousin. He held the longer acquaintance.
He allowed himself to appear in control as he watched his cousin engage Elizabeth with his usual readiness while Darcy made small talk with Mr. and Mrs. Collins, but, try as he may, Darcy spoke very little to anyone. He could not stop staring at his cousin and Elizabeth; his response dwelled on anger, but he really had nothing of which to be angry. Elizabeth did not belong to him; she was free to choose whomever she pleased, but he did not think he could tolerate her choosing his cousin. She would then be a part of his family, but he would never know her sweet intimacy. In fact, the thought of her choosing anyone else repulsed him. If Elizabeth could not be his…, he started, but he could not finish the thought.
The sound of soft laughter emanated from the corner in which Darcy watched his cousin entertain Elizabeth. It was that delightful gurgle of hers, which he so enjoyed. Wanting to be a part of what they were saying, he found himself moving toward them. Not sure how to begin, he offered up the required pleasantries. “May I inquire, Miss Elizabeth, as to the health of your family?”
“My family was well, Sir, when I left Hertfordshire,” she answered in the usual manner. “Thank you for asking.” Then he watched as a thought flashed through her eyes. “My eldest sister has been in Town these three months. Have you never happened to see her there?”
Panic filled his chest. Did she know his involvement in separating Bingley and her sister, or was she just making conversation? Either way, her words chilled Darcy to the bone. His attempt at engaging her in conversation diverted to his prejudice toward her connections.
He faltered, “Regrettably, Miss Elizabeth, I did not have the good fortune as to meet Miss Bennet while in London.” And as quickly as he moved to speak to her, Darcy withdrew. He could not betray Caroline Bingley, nor could he truly explain his objection to Charles Bingley’s aligning himself with the Bennet family. Obviously, Charles had less to lose than did Darcy, and here he was drooling over a woman far below his station in life.
Soon enough, his cousin indicated it was time to return to the great house. Feeling the elation of his hopes draining into the hard Kent soil, Darcy set his feet in action. They made their farewells and were well away from the cottage before Edward said, “Would you like to explain to me what all that was about?”
“Nothing,” Darcy grumbled. “I simply called upon former acquaintances.” As they walked the well-worn path in silence, Darcy cursed himself for getting caught up in the unknown that was Elizabeth Bennet. Being near her made him feel he was on trial; did she take such great joy in tormenting him? He nearly showed himself; he had flirted with his own destiny. He had vowed to be rid of Elizabeth, and this was to be his test. First Elizabeth and then his cousin had waited for his response. Could they read his countenance? Had he shown them how he had foolishly succumbed to the idea of making Elizabeth Bennet his? Decidedly brutal honesty needed to prevail: He could never make Miss Elizabeth his wife, and the sooner he accepted that fact, the better. Darcy could not soften the truth: The lady was too far below his family’s expectations for the future Mrs. Darcy.
(This scene comes from Chapter 7 of my first Jane Austen-inspired novel, Darcy’s Passions.)