At Austen Authors, in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the novel’s events, we are retelling Pride and Prejudice from the points of view of the other characters. This excerpt comes from chapter 15 of my Austen-inspired novel, Darcy’s Passions.
“I do, Bingley.” He had spent a restless night anguishing over what he would say to his best friend.
“Why must you leave so soon? Are you not satisfied at Netherfield? I know country society does not appeal to you, but I had hoped you would find it more pleasurable this time,” Bingley reasoned.
“Bingley,” Darcy established the tone of what he had would confide. “Would you please join me at the table? I have something important to impart.”
“Bingley, I am not leaving Netherfield because of country society. In fact, I have been served an education; some parts of the country can be very agreeable.” The ambiguity of Darcy’s speech obviously confused Bingley, but Darcy could not seem to bring himself to leave thoughts of Elizabeth Bennet behind. “I do have business to address in London, but that is not my main reason for leaving. After I say what I have to tell you, you will desire my going.”
“Darcy, this speech lacks sensibility; I could never turn away a friend such as you have proved to be.”
“I have been a deplorable friend, Bingley. You have trusted me unwisely.”
“Darcy . . .?” Bingley began, but Darcy dismissed Bingley’s protest with a flick of his wrist.
“Please, Bingley, I must say this while I still possess the nerve. I have given you a disservice.” Uncertain where the conversation led, Bingley sat unresponsive. Having to finish this sad business quickly, Darcy swallowed hard before saying, “I conspired with your sisters last fall to separate you from Miss Bennet; I did so because I considered you to be my dearest friend, and I believed, at the time, that Miss Bennet was indifferent and did not desire your affection; however, that is no excuse for what I have done.”
“Darcy?” Bingley said incredulously. His friend was immediately on his feet and pacing the room. “Am I to understand you kept me from Miss Bennet with some sort of deceit? How could you? You of all people! You recognized how I felt about the lady? You have consulted your own will and made it mine without my permission. You have brought me pain, but what is worse, you have wounded Miss Bennet!”
“Bingley, you are correct to be so upset. I am without reason; my conceit at thinking I knew what was best for you is unforgivable.” Darcy, eyes lowered; realizing he had ruined his relationship with Charles Bingley, he sat dejected.
Several minutes passed before Bingley spoke again. “Darcy,” Bingley forced evenness into his voice, “I am not certain how I will be able to forgive you, but I must assume some of the blame in this matter. This much I know: My nature is too changeable. What you did, you completed in my name, and I allowed it to happen. I should have returned to Netherfield as I planned; I have known that fact for a long time. I should have been man enough to seize my own happiness.”
Realizing how much in his vainglory that he had damaged the one true acquaintance that Darcy treasured, Darcy grimaced, but his conscience would not permit him to tell Bingley only half-truths. “Bingley, you are excelellent to offer your absolution; yet, I have something else to confess.”
Bingley’s countenance displayed his vexation. He was seeing Darcy for the first time. Turning his disappointment on Darcy, he said, “Please continue.”
Darcy lifted his head to meet his companion’s dark, lethal gaze. “Miss Bennet was in London last winter for nearly three months; she stayed with Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner. Miss Bennet sent word to Caroline and even called at the townhouse one day. Caroline, with my permission, gave Miss Bennet a cut by not returning the visit for many weeks. She led Miss Bennet to believe you were interested in Georgiana. I was aware of the lady’s presence in London, but I told you not. Again, I had witnessed your falling in and out of love so often that I did not judge your affections to be constant. Since the time I realized you and Miss Bennet were meant to be together, I have attempted to turn back the clock.”
“Darcy, you have overextended your influence on my life. Is it no wonder Miss Bennet sees me as being a lothario.” Bingley’s hands fisted at his side, and Darcy did not blame the man. If the situation were reversed, he would have planted his friend a facer. Yet, even in the tension-filled room, Darcy found hope. Bingley, evidently, did not observe the true regard for his friend found in Jane Bennet’s countenance.
“Bingley,” Darcy smiled largely. “Miss Bennet, if I may be allowed one last judgment, loves no one but you.”
Bingley protested, “She can not! Miss Bennet must think me a cad–to be indifferent to her!”
“Charles, there are not many things of which I am absolutely certain, but the constancy of Miss Bennet’s feelings for you is one of the few things upon which I would venture a gamble. At Hunsford, Miss Elizabeth reprimanded me for my misgivings regarding the lady, and the Gardiners have showed me how thoughtful Miss Bennet can be. I came to Netherfield to observe the lady’s reactions to your renewed entreaties; her love still rests in you, Charles, if you are willing to ask her.”
“Ask her? Ask her what?” Bingley nearly shouted.
“Ask her to marry you, Bingley,” Darcy said confidently. “Miss Bennet will accept you.”
Darcy sucked in a deep breath as the vivid memory of Elizabeth Bennet flared in his mind. “You are too close to observe the look in the lady’s eyes when you walk into the room. Most men would give their life for one such glimpse. The lady stirs your soul, Charles; with Miss Bennet you can share your innermost self with respect and dignity. You can wait; you can postpone, but if I were you, I would grab ‘happiness’ with both hands and ask Miss Bennet to marry me.”
A faint smile touched his friend’s lips. “The lady will say ‘yes;’ will she not, Darcy?” Bingley appeared awestruck by the realization of what Darcy shared.
“Miss Bennet will say ‘yes,’ Charles.”
Bingley began to pace, to spin, to stop, and to start all over again. “If Miss Bennet agrees, Darcy, then you will be completely forgiven.” Bingley laughed nervously.
“Then I am forgiven,” Darcy smiled. “You will send me news of your happiness, but pray write legibly.”
“I hope you have predicted Miss Bennet’s response accurately, Darcy, for it will offer me an opportunity for revenge when I demand that Caroline and Louisa give Jane her proper due as my wife. They believe me to be with you at Pemberley. What I would not give to see their faces when they read I am at Netherfield, and I have offered Miss Bennet my hand.”
Darcy retrieved his glove from a nearby table. He shook Bingley’s hand and then slapped him on the back. “I must leave you now, Bingley.”
“When will you return? If Miss Bennet accepts, you will stand up with me?”
“Although I do not deserve your honest consideration, it would be my honor, Bingley. I will return within a fortnight; your fate should be decided by then.”
Darcy claimed his hat and walking stick and headed for the waiting carriage. Bingley followed close behind. At the carriage, Darcy turned, and Bingley extended his hand. “Friend,” he said.
Darcy firmly grasped the offered hand. “Friend,” came his thankful reply.
* * *
There was little to do in London, but Darcy did not care; his mind could not be happily employed. He had gone to the theatre one evening, for his spirits wanted the solitude and silence, which only numbers could give. A protégé of David Garrick performed magnificently, but the drama The Chances reminded Darcy of Elizabeth for like the character’s jealousy, Darcy remained jealous of the possibility of anyone else having Elizabeth as his wife.
At Longbourn, they had not spoken beyond common civilities. He had once believed their hearts were intertwined, and that nothing could come between them. Their natures so similar–their understanding so perfect–he could never imagine their not finding each other. It was impossible for him to forget how to love Elizabeth, but the fact was when they last met, she did not appear to want to be near enough for conversation–near enough to him. Darcy convinced himself that Elizabeth did not return his regard; he held no choice but to put distance between them. The distance between Pemberley and Longbourn was one kind of distance, but he would also have to build a wall around his heart. Darcy was Bingley’s friend; Bingley would marry Miss Bennet; Darcy could not avoid seeing Elizabeth…but he could force himself to be indifferent.
After a week, a dispatch arrived from Bingley. It read
You are forgiven. Miss Bennet said “yes.” My fate is sealed! We await your return to Netherfield. Your most humble servant…
In many ways, the letter brought Darcy relief, but he envied Bingley’s chance for happiness. Bitterness and lost opportunities had marred his opportunities: if he realized how much a refusal to dance at an assembly would have change his life, he would have dance with Elizabeth the first time he met her; if he…. He did not know whether he could live with all his regrets–with this profound ache of love lost.