“Proceed from the impulse of the moment…”
At Austen Authors, we are rewriting Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice from the points of view of the other characters. We are celebrating the 200th Anniversary of the events in the novel. If you would like to read all the entries to date, visit austenauthors.net and click on “The Writer’s Block.”
(This scene follows the evening at Rosings Park in which Lady Catherine criticizes Elizabeth because of Elizabeth’s poor performance on the pianoforte.)
Darcy lay under the counterpane, stretching his limbs to relieve the tension the evening’s entertainment had brought. He had spent the last few months declaring his freedom from Elizabeth Bennet, but the evening had persuaded him to reevaluate his feelings. It seemed since Elizabeth Bennet had entered his life, Darcy had spent numerous hours debating about whether he could legitimately succumb to her charms. He realized that he was forever lost to her; Elizabeth Bennet would be the mark by which he would judge all other women. Yet, he still could not justify the necessity of pursuing Elizabeth with the aligning of his family name with her poor connections; however, Darcy could also not give her up. Unless he did something soon, the quandary in which he found himself would further rob him of his sleep, as well as his waking sanity.
If he could not rid himself of his obsession, then Darcy had to rationally plan how he could achieve Elizabeth’s regard and limit his association with her family. Of course, that may not be achievable. If so, he would have to determine how best to soften Elizabeth’s liabilities. He thought he could tolerate the company of Miss Bennet and probably their father. Would regularly seeing those two be enough for Elizabeth? Pemberley was a good distance from Hertfordshire, and it would not be easy for Elizabeth’s family to visit. He could arrange business in Town when Mrs. Bennet and the younger sisters descended upon his estate. In addition, he would have to be diligent in overseeing those connections’ having too much influence on Georgiana.
It would not be ideal, but the Bennets could be brought to Pemberley when others were not expected. It could be achieved, and the trouble involved would be worthwhile if Darcy could earn Elizabeth’s love. A few moments of intolerable disdain would be pale indeed to all the pleasures of Elizabeth’s company. The gift of Miss Elizabeth’s love and devotion had been a prayer he had recited more than once over these last few months. “The prayer the Devil answers,” he chuckled out loud as the darkness enveloped him. With a renewed resolve, he fell asleep. Images of Elizabeth at the pianoforte frequented his dreams, and her smile was all for his pleasure.
Dawn came early for Fitzwilliam Darcy; he found himself wrapped in the bedclothes and turned askew; his battle with himself and sleep had taken its toll, but he had made a decision during those long waking hours. Pushing himself from the mattress, Darcy swung his legs over the bed’s side and reached for the bell cord to call his man. Today, he would seek out Elizabeth’s company; today, he would begin to win her heart; although she probably held no knowledge of its depth, he knew Elizabeth to be, at least, aware of his interests. Now, Darcy would demonstrate to the lady that despite his concerns with her family, he would apply himself to winning her love.
Today would be the first day of the rest of his life. Following his morning ablutions, Darcy carefully created, in his dress, the appearance of a gentleman open to new possibilities. He set out through the parklands surrounding Rosings, but his destination was not to be the park itself; he planned to call on the Parsonage. The little over a quarter mile path was short lived, and before he knew it, he stood outside Hunsford. For a few painful seconds, he thought to turn around and return to the manor house. Yet, his heart said he must see this through; he could not alter his course. His entrance into the gate at the Parsonage would be well known. So noted, Darcy rang the bell, and a servant soon admitted him to the inner room. He had expected the Collinses to be at home, but he found only Elizabeth in attendance. Having planned to engage the household’s occupants in conversation, his apprehension increased. He had rehearsed what he would say to each of the cottage’s occupants. And although it was a pleasant surprise, it was necessary for him to shift his emotional being to face Elizabeth one-on-one.
“Mr. Darcy, what a surprise!” she began, sounding a bit uncertain.
“Miss Elizabeth, I apologize for invading your privacy,” he stumbled along trying to sound uneventful, but feeling aroused by her closeness. “I understood the Collinses were within. I pray I have not interrupted your solitary pleasures.”
“An interruption does not necessarily have to be unwelcome, Sir,” she curtsied. “I am afraid Mrs. Collins and her sister have gone into the village. I hope your appearance here does not mean your family at Rosings has taken ill. Are Lady Catherine, Miss de Bourgh, and your cousin, the colonel, all in health?”
“Do not know distress, Madam; their health is well,” he returned her bow, while all the time thinking, She welcomes my company!
“Then, please be seated, Mr. Darcy,” she offered politely, while gesturing to a nearby chair. “Would you care for tea, Sir?”
“No, thank you, Miss Elizabeth. I am quite content.” For several minutes, Darcy stared at her; he was so fascinated by her beauty that he nearly forgot the need for conversation. He looked up to observe Elizabeth’s questioning gaze. He cleared his throat. “May I ask of your journey from Hertfordshire.”
“Quite pleasant, Sir. Miss Lucas and Sir William thought the scenery delightful,” she said with her usual sardonic attitude.
Darcy’s breathing relaxed. They would hold another of their stimulating conversations. “And you did not, Miss Elizabeth?”
“On the contrary, Mr. Darcy, I enjoyed the beautiful landscapes, but I fear I do not possess Sir William’s way with words. His descriptions of Kent and of Rosings are likely to be legendary in Meryton by the time of my return.”
“And the weather?” he said with enthusiasm.
Elizabeth chuckled, “As we both know, England is famous for its weather. Even Sir William Lucas would be at a loss for words in describing God’s grace in Kent. But please be assured that I found it very comfortable.”
“And Mr. Bennet? Is your father in health?” He thought it best to speak of those within her family of whom he held some respect.
“My father is well. He lives to read and to make sport for our neighbors.” Darcy was not certain that what Elizabeth saw as an endearing quality in her father was one that he would admire, but before he could inquire further, she said, “And what of Mr. Bingley? Is your friend likely to return to Netherfield?”
He had not expected Elizabeth to bring up the subject of Bingley and Netherfield so quickly, but Darcy had anticipated her comment, especially after her mentioning Miss Bennet’s presence in London. As casually as possible, he assured Elizabeth of the unlikeliness of that situation. “I have never heard Mr. Bingley say so; but it is probable that he may spend very little of his time at Netherfield in the future. He has many friends, and he is at a time of life when friends and engagements are continually increasing.”
He noticed her frown, but he hoped this explanation would temper her curiosity. Darcy changed the text of their conversation. “This appears a very comfortable house. Lady Catherine, I believe, did a great deal to it when Mr. Collins first came to Hunsford.”
“I believe she did—and I am certain she could not have bestowed her kindness on a more grateful object,” Elizabeth said with a smirk.
He cautioned, “My aunt is an excellent benefactor for Mr. Collins; such improvements are the exception rather than the rule.” Elizabeth simply nodded. Yet, it was not of the house he wished to speak; he wished to know of her thoughts on marriage. He began, “Mr. Collins appears to be very fortunate in his choice of a wife.”
“Yes, indeed, his friends may well rejoice in his having met with one of the very few sensible women who would accept him, but in a prudential light, it is certainly a good match for her.”
Elizabeth did not appear to favor the match despite her friend’s sensibility of marrying for monetary advantage. Darcy took her words to mean wealth was important, but Elizabeth wanted a loving relationship for herself. That was acceptable situation to him; he wanted to replicate his parents’ partnership; he had the necessary wealth, and he would wholeheartedly love Elizabeth if she would accept him.
Darcy added, “It must be very agreeable to Mrs. Collins to be settled within so easy a distance of her own family and friends.”
A bit shocked, Elizabeth replied, “An easy distance, do you call it? It is nearly fifty miles.”
A challenge was before him; they would engage in their usual verbal swordplay. “And what is fifty miles of good road? Little more than half a day’s journey. Yes, I call it a very easy distance,” he remarked as he leaned forward, as if offering a challenge.
Elizabeth shifted her weight, straightened her shoulders, and leaned in as she countered, “I should never have considered the distance as one of the advantages of the match. I should never have said Mrs. Collins was settled near her family.”
Darcy could detect the lavender scent that was her favorite; it was all he could do not to caress her face. “It is a proof of your own attachment to Hertfordshire. Anything beyond the very neighborhood of Longbourn, I suppose, would appear far.” He smiled while thinking of her at Pemberley and realizing the additional distance between his home and her home and how it would give them relief from her connections.
Elizabeth argued, “One would need more fortune than the Collinses possess in order for the distance to be an easy one. It is comfortable for you to consider distance from a different perspective, Mr. Darcy. Where there is fortune to make the expense of traveling unimportant, distance becomes no evil. But that is not the case here. Mr. and Mrs. Collins have a comfortable income, but not such a one as will allow frequent journeys.”
Darcy had the financial stability to make her travel wishes a matter of choosing in which carriage she wished to traverse the distance. He could offer her so much; obviously, Elizabeth would learn to love him. Darcy drew his chair a little toward her and said, “You cannot have a right to such very strong local attachment. You cannot have been always at Longbourn.” His feelings for Elizabeth caused Darcy’s breath to be ragged and shallow; they locked eyes momentarily, and he saw an image of her uncertainty. He quickly realized he must check himself; he had moved too fast. Despite wanting to scoop her into his arms and to carry her off to Pemberley, he reluctantly moved his chair back. There was a newspaper lying on the table, and as he picked it up, he said nonchalantly, “Are you pleased with Kent?”
Elizabeth leaned back casually in her chair. The intensity between them subsided, and small talk remained. When Mrs. Collins and Miss Lucas returned, Darcy explained that he had thought all the ladies of the house were at home when he had called upon the cottage. After a series of civilities, he begged their leave and returned to Rosings Park.
It was a beginning, he thought as he made his way along the well-worn path. Elizabeth must, obviously, recognize my intentions; now I must determine if she will willingly accept me as her husband. The possibility thrilled him while, at the same time, it sent a shot of pure panic through him.
Over the next several days, Darcy continued to call at the Parsonage; sometimes he came with his cousin; other times he came alone. To his chagrin, his former reluctance to speak easily reappeared when others were about. He realized that he must find a way to engage Elizabeth privately again. Eventually, having eavesdropped on her conversations with his cousin, Darcy had lighted on an idea. Miss Bennet chose a particular path at Rosings to be her favorite; he would arrange arencontre. They would walk together and become more thoroughly acquainted; tomorrow Darcy would embark upon the second stage of his pursuit of Elizabeth Bennet.
(This scene comes from the end of chapter 7 and the beginning of chapter 8 of my first Jane Austen-inspired novel, Darcy’s Passions.)