P&P 200 Darcy Realizes He’s Susceptible to Elizabeth Bennet’s Charms
“ . . . It is often only carelessness of opinion.”
As was customary, Darcy had risen before the rest of the Bingley household. Sitting alone in the breakfast room at Netherfield had become a habit. The bitter taste of coffee reminded him of his “distaste” for the previous evening’s entertainment. He had never seen such gaucheness gathered in one place and at one time—from the supercilious Sir William to the many women of little intelligence, few true manners, and disagreeable temperaments. “Their rank, fortune, rights and expectations will always be different,” he reminded himself. A shudder of disgust briefly racked his body before an enigmatic smile and an arched eyebrow played fleetingly across his memory. Placing the cup down hard on the table, Darcy purposely shook his head trying to rid himself of the image. Disturbed by the vision but not knowing why, he rose quickly and strode through the hallways of Netherfield heading toward the stables. He should wait on Bingley, but it would be several hours before his friend came down. At the moment, Darcy needed to be free of the form and free of this feeling of uncertainty. Cerberus, thankfully, stood ready at the mounting block; and without realizing what he did, he turned the horse toward the same hill from which he had seen the flash of color along the road several days prior.
* * *
Having ridden hard, Darcy returned to Netherfield to find the Bingleys relaxing in the morning room. Their foray into Hertfordshire society had, evidently, exhausted them in so many ways. Bingley acknowledged Darcy’s entrance before remarking, “I see our friendship did not impact your decision to ride out without me. I had hoped we could continue our survey of the estate.”
“If you are honest with your reproofs, I beg your pardon most profusely, Bingley. Your hospitality is an honor I cherish.” Darcy gazed steadily at his friend. Fitzwilliam Darcy gauged Charles Bingley’s friendship as more than favorable. After having lost Mr. Wickham’s acquaintance as a result of the man’s perfidy, Darcy had been a long while before accepting the intimacy of a close male friend. Other than his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, he trusted few people with the details of his life.
“Really, Darcy,” blustered Bingley, unaccustomed to such self-reproach from his friend, “I value your opinions and your company. Although my tone reflects my weariness, my words were meant in jest.” They gave each other a quick bow indicating mutual respect. Bingley emitted a soft laugh to relieve the unanticipated tension while both men moved to the serving tray to partake of the items there. “Did you enjoy your ride, Darcy?” he asked cautiously.
Darcy confessed in perfect truth, “It was an excellent way to clear away last evening’s vestiges.” Turning to Charles’s sister, he said, “Miss Bingley, your refinement and charity were never so appreciated as they were yesterday evening.” He quickly realized the lady wanted to gain Darcy’s approval by denigrating her brother’s successes last evening.
Bingley responded cheerfully, “Yes, my Dear, you and Louisa were much admired. I received so many compliments on your behalf last evening. I am indebted to you for establishing our family’s standing in the community. Your successes are our success.”
Darcy knew Miss Bingley had despised last evening; she had confided as much to him several times during the assembly; yet, she said, “Your attention honors me. We shall endeavor to do our duty, and I pray my contribution to the evening solidified your presence in the neighborhood, Charles.”
“I say, Darcy, would you mind if we took our meal in my study?” Bingley asked anxiously. “I foolishly agreed to meet with Mr. Ashe this afternoon. I would appreciate your further insights regarding Netherfield’s soundness prior to that time.”
“Of course, Bingley. I would be happy to be of service.”
* * *
Leaving the ladies to their devices, the gentlemen retired to the study to continue their review of the Netherfield books and accounts. Ashe was Bingley’s man of business, and the solicitor would bring with him the final papers for Bingley’s assuming the property at Netherfield Park. Darcy thoroughly enjoyed these hours of withdrawal from the niceties society placed on gentlemen; what transpired behind the study door remained within his control. It held no double-edged expressions to dance around—no prejudices—and no enigmatic smile hauntingly resurfacing in his memory.
However, those hours passed too quickly, and they were forced by good manners to join the ladies for the evening meal. Unfortunately for Darcy and Bingley, Caroline Bingley could control her opinions no longer, and they were required to listen to Charles’s sister decrying his neighbors’ manners; the tirade started at dinner and increased in its vehemence. Darcy watched aghast with contempt. Miss Bingley possessed no empathy for her brother’s feelings. Miserable, Bingley suffered greatly, but Darcy felt far from being agreeable; he sat with a pronounced grimace.
Bingley insisted, “I never met with more pleasant people. Everyone offered their attentions and their kind regards; there was no one putting on airs or posing with false countenances; I was pleased to make the acquaintance of many of my new neighbors.”
“Charles, you lack judiciousness,” Miss Bingley intoned her contempt. “The women may be pretty by your judgment; yet, they lacked conversation and fashion. Were you not aware of their conceit?”
Bingley argued, “Your censure surely cannot be laid at Miss Bennet’s feet. Would you not agree, Darcy?”
Darcy’s honest nature allowed him only to concede that Miss Jane Bennet was attractive, but “she smiles too much.” He authorized the smallest degree of arrogance as acceptable.
“Smiles too much!” Bingley nearly came out of his chair in disbelief. “I can think of no one of my acquaintance more beautiful.”
Darcy spoke from principle, as well as pride. “I observed a collection of people who move in circles so distinct from my own. I find no manners and little beauty. I take no interest or pleasure at the prospect of renewing their acquaintances.” Yet, as soon as the words escaped his mouth, Darcy felt a twinge of betrayal. He wondered, for a moment, if a man could afford to cherish his pride so dearly.
Taking pity on their brother, Mrs. Hurst and her sister finally allowed Jane Bennet to be a sweet girl and declared their desire to know her better. They, therefore, established Miss Bennet as someone they admired and liked; Bingley accepted their praise of Miss Bennet, and Darcy watched as his friend, obviously, allowed himself the pleasure of thinking of the lady as someone he too would like to know better.
* * *
Over a fortnight Bingley continued to prefer the company of Jane Bennet to all others in Hertfordshire. Darcy had observed his young friend fall in and out of romantic relationships before, but he had never recalled Bingley to be more besotted. Bingley had danced with Miss Bennet four times at Meryton, had seen her one morning at his house, and had dined in company with her four times.
Unfortunately, as Bingley seemed about to give his heart to a woman clearly below him, Darcy discovered to his horror his own tendencies in that vein becoming more distinct. Every time Bingley sought Miss Bennet’s company, he placed Darcy, as Bingley’s companion, in Elizabeth Bennet’s presence. And each time as he swore to himself he would ignore Miss Elizabeth, Darcy found himself more enticed by her. Unconsciously, he placed himself where he could observe her, where he could listen to her conversations, and where he could interact with her. Although he rarely spoke to strangers, Darcy began to plan ways to afford verbal exchanges with Miss Elizabeth.
When they did converse, however briefly, a verbal swordplay occurred between them; he understood that she desired an apology for his behavior at the assembly; Darcy also assumed Elizabeth Bennet recognized that he had a right to such behavior. His distinct station in life afforded him an air of superiority. Darcy had determined that she purposely flirted with him through these “verbal assaults,” and belatedly, he discovered that they worked remarkably well.
Only last evening, Miss Elizabeth had made inroads on Darcy’s tranquility. In the fullness of his belief, he had accused, “I hope to force you to do justice to your natural powers, Miss Elizabeth.”
With a raised eyebrow, a gesture, which he would never admit to anyone but himself had great power over him, the lady had retorted, “How delightful to feel myself of consequence to you, Mr. Darcy.”
As was her manner, she had stormed away in a huff, but Darcy had taken prodigious delight in the flush upon the lady’s cheeks and the natural sway of Miss Elizabeth’s hips. He would acknowledge to no one that it was an enticing sight–one that had inspired several of his dreams of late. As the days passed, he ascertained that he could offer no culpability to Bingley; he felt in nearly as bad of a position.
As Bingley and Darcy discovered themselves distracted by the Bennet ladies, Miss Bingley’s acute awareness of the changes in her brother and of his esteemed friend increased her fervent rebukes, especially those directed toward the second Bennet daughter. Miss Bingley congratulated herself when Darcy openly expurgated Elizabeth Bennet’s failings. He made observations about Miss Elizabeth’s not having an appealing countenance; he said with a critical eye that her figure lacked any point of symmetry; and he asserted that the lady’s manners showed no knowledge of fashionable acceptance. Yet, as he publicly castigated Miss Elizabeth’s virtues, in private thoughts, he found her face possessed a soul of its own, as her dark green eyes danced with life; he recognized her figure to be light and pleasing; and he had determined that her manners demonstrated a relaxed playfulness. “Not necessarily lovely, but certainly enchanting,” he told his empty chamber.
(This is an excerpt from Chapter 2 of Darcy’s Passions, which retells Pride and Prejudice from Mr. Darcy’s point of view. In addition to Darcy’s Passions, the excerpt is featured in Pride and Prejudice: Scenes Jane Austen Never Wrote.)