The words choked him, but he managed to say, “I know my duty; the Darcy name and Pemberley must survive. I must forget Elizabeth Bennet and find a suitable match. I am a rich man, and I will settle upon an appropriate woman as soon as I am tempted by her charms. I am ready to marry with all speed; I have a heart ready to accept the ready of the first pleasing woman to come my way.” Excepting Elizabeth Bennet. This was his only secret exception to his declarations. “A woman with a little beauty and some words of flattery will have me as her own, whether she be fifteen or thirty or somewhere in between. I am perfectly ready to make a foolish match.”
“Then you mean to have our cousin Anne?” Edward questioned.
“As much as I respect and admire Anne,” Darcy said seriously, “she is not the woman I envision as the mistress of Pemberley. Despite Lady Catherine’s wishes, Anne will not be the object of my search. Even with Miss Elizabeth’s refusal,” he added hastily. “The woman I want will possess a handsome countenance, a lilt figure, and a quickness of mind. I must find a woman who can assist me in the running of Pemberley. Her character must be an adventurous one; she must not be easily intimated. I may choose to settle for something a bit less, but I will not compromise my standards; I have thought on this for a long time.”
Later, Darcy found Georgiana in the music room. She was listlessly stroking the keys of the pianoforte. His sister sprang to her feet when he entered the room. Darcy purposely strode toward her, took her hand, and said, “Come with me, Georgiana; we must speak honestly.”
Darcy hated how she tentatively followed him across the room to a settee. He despised how his actions of late had affected her. Even after they were well settled, he did not release her hand. Apparently fearing his disappointment, she sat with eyes downcast; yet, he would have none of it. Darcy cupped her chin gently with his fingers and lifted it to where he might look lovingly upon her countenance. “Georgiana, my girl,” he said softly. “I have dealt you a disservice, and I beg your forgiveness. You did not deserve the treatment you have received at my hand of late.”
Uncontrollably, the tears rolled down his sister’s cheeks, and Darcy reached up to gently brush them away; she caught his hand to kiss his palm. “Fitzwilliam, you have never forgiven any fault of your own while you have forgiven many of those around you, especially me.” He started to protest, but she shushed him with a touch of her finger to his lips. “Please, allow me to finish. You have always been available when I required your attention. You have accepted my sorrow and made it your own. Edward spoke of your hopes and your loss. It would do me proud to offer you my support in your time of need.”
He protested, “I could not impose on your sensibilities. Our father left you in my care.”
“No, Fitzwilliam,” she contradicted him. “Our father left you as my guardian, but we are to care for each other. How can you know pain without my feeling it?” Darcy could not comprehend his sister’s transformation; she was still the shy, innocent girl he had always cherished, but she had developed an emotional strength of which he was not aware before now. He could never think of George Wickham’s betrayal without loathing, but his sister had added a new sense of maturity because of the experience. Regrettably, Georgiana had known the rebukes of love. “Our parents were of superior birth,” she continued. “We learned to be proud of being a Darcy, but we have not learned to acknowledge the true worth of others. Mrs. Annesley has given me a ‘mother’s’ view of the world. Oh, Fitzwilliam, there are so many who require our generosity; aiding the poor in Derbyshire is persuading me to care more for myself. If we do not love ourselves, my Brother, how may we expect others to love us?”
“When did you become so wise?” he whispered hoarsely and stroked her hair from her countenance.
“You taught me these things, Fitzwilliam. You simply never listened to your own lessons,” she giggled.
“Today, you are the instructor and I, the student.” He pulled her to him in a tight embrace. “And I welcome more of your teachings.”
Attempting to forget Elizabeth Bennet and Hertfordshire, Darcy threw himself into London’s society. He became a regular at his gentleman’s club; he escorted Georgiana to concerts and the theatre; he dined with old acquaintances and made new ones. Yet, try as he may, it was too soon for him to forget Miss Elizabeth. Darcy acknowledged, if only to himself, that he could truly love none but her. She could not be replaced in his mind as the woman he was meant to love; he would never find her equal. Unconsciously, he vowed to remain constant to Elizabeth Bennet. He had meant to forget her, and he had honestly believed it possible. He had told himself that he held no preference, but, as the days passed, he accepted the fact that she had wounded his pride. That he was only angry. Angry at her for refusing him and at himself for making a cake of the Darcy name. Elizabeth Bennet’s character became fixed in his mind as perfection itself; at Hertfordshire, he had learnt to do her justice, and at Hunsford, he had begun to understand himself.
In his attempts, attempts of angry pride, to attach himself to another, he had felt it to be impossible. He could not forget the perfect excellence of Elizabeth Bennet’s mind or the way she possessed him. From her, he had learned the steadiness of principle, and Darcy had to admit to admiring the way she had withstood his arguments in her defense of George Wickham.
“Of course, I would prefer that the lady had not placed her trust in Mr. Wickham, but I understand that if I had opened myself to her prior to when I thought to propose, mayhap, Mr. Wickham’s perfidy would not have taken root in Miss Elizabeth’s sensibility,” he had shared with his image in his dressing room mirror. “I would like to believe a different outcome possible if I had come to this knowledge sooner.”
Reluctantly, Darcy admitted to himself that his desire to protect Bingley had not really been for altruistic reasons. “If I had truly cared for Bingley’s future, I would not have abandoned my objections to the Bennet family’s connections in order to secure my own happiness,” he said to the darkness encompassing his chambers. “It is difficult to acknowledge that my motives were quite selfish. If I could not attain Miss Elizabeth’s affections, I had to make a choice, and I chose to keep Bingley’s friendship. Because, in reality, I could never remain Bingley’s friend if he married Miss Bennet. Seeing their happiness would remind me too much of what I had lost.” It was a sobering realization for a man who prided himself on his earnest regard for Charles Bingley.
“The problem lies in what is my duty to my family line,” he grumbled over his solitary breakfast. “If I yield to what most declare to be my duty, and I marry a woman who is indifferent, all risk would be incurred and all duty violated.”
Unable to place his heart in the pursuit of a proper companion, Darcy abandoned the farce and prepared for an early retreat to Pemberley. Both he and Georgiana accepted the need for solitude. Darcy would care for his estate and wait for acceptance to come; Georgiana would continue the journey upon which she had recently set her feet. She would find a means to know contentment through selfless acts. Together, they would safeguard each other’s love.
A few evenings prior to their departure, Edward returned to assess Darcy’s progress. While Georgiana and Mrs. Annesley prepared to entertain them in the music room, Darcy and the colonel lingered in the dining room.
“Am I to understand you have been to Kent?” Darcy asked as he poured them both a brandy.
“Yes, and our aunt was most insistent that I relay her anxiousness for your return to Rosings Park,” Edward explained.
“I will not be fulfilling our aunt’s wishes,” Darcy said dismally. “When I marry, our cousin Anne will not be my choice for mistress of Pemberley.”
“Lady Catherine will not take your obstinate refusal easily,” Edward said.
“Hopefully, the family will support my decision,” Darcy said uneasily. Family meant Edward’s father, the Earl of Matlock, and his older cousin, Edward’s brother Roland.
“The Earl knows how best to handle our aunt’s contentious ways,” Edward assured. They sat in companionable silence for several minutes, before the colonel ventured. “I do bring news from Kent, but I dare not speak of Mrs. Collins’s friend.”
Hoping to belie his interest in the subject, Darcy fixed his countenance. “Edward, you may speak Elizabeth Bennet’s name; I cannot avoid the lady forever; my most excellent friend lets an estate in Hertfordshire; her best friend is married to Lady Catherine’s cleric; I must harden myself to Miss Elizabeth’s memory and to my former feelings.” When the colonel continued to delay, Darcy sighed heavily, “Out with it, Man!”
With a shrug of his shoulders, Edward said, “Anne shared some news of Miss Elizabeth that she had learned from her companion, Mrs. Jenkinson. One afternoon, our cousin and I were having our own amusement at Mr. Collins’s expense.” Darcy rolled his eyes at the mention of Mr. Collins. The man was a complete nincompoop. “Did you know, Fitz, that prior to marrying Miss Lucas that Mr. Collins proposed to Miss Elizabeth? Evidently, that was the day after Mr. Bingley’s ball at Netherfield.” Just the mention of the ball brought exquisite memories; holding Miss Elizabeth’s hand and staring into her eyes were some of his fondest memories of the woman. “Miss Elizabeth’s mother demanded that the lady save the family estate by marrying Collins; Mr. Bennet refused to force his daughter into the marriage. The Bennet estate is entailed upon Mr. Collins. We wondered how Collins had come to marry Miss Lucas. It makes so much sense in hindsight. Can you imagine Miss Elizabeth’s vitality in the hands of a superfluous ass such as Collins?”
He attempted to downplay his reaction, but the thought of Collins kissing Elizabeth and taking husbandly privileges with her caused Darcy to redden with abhorrence. A shudder of disdain shook him to his core. He had not taken more than one drink since the night he had confessed everything to his cousin, but he did not think all the brandy in his cellars would deaden the distaste filling his soul. With irony, he said, “It does not make me happy to know that the lady places me in company with our aunt’s clergyman. She has refused two proposals of marriage. That is quite incomparable.”
“One would think that Miss Elizabeth’s lack of a dowry would have the lady accepting any appropriate offer,” Edward reason. “Refusing Mr. Collins is understandable. The man would smother Miss Elizabeth’s spirit. But to refuse a man of your standing, Darcy, is not to be reasoned.”
Darcy swallowed hard. “The lady wishes a love match,” he said softly.
Georgiana’s musical interlude was as superb as ever, but all Darcy could see were Elizabeth’s eyes and her smile and how the images faded whenever he reached for them.
(The scene is an adaptation from chapter 10 of Darcy’s Passions: Pride and Prejudice Retold Through His Eyes. I am pleased to announce that Ulysses Press has sent Darcy’s Passions for a second printing.)