Elizabeth awoke the morning of November 27th
feeling refreshed and content, if unseasonably cold. She dressed and joined her family in the breakfast room where she was surprised to find a new face. A young gentleman seemed to have joined their family party. He looked at her with a wide smile, as if they shared some intimate confidence. She shuddered, failing to understand any hidden meaning, and simply smiled politely. She thought then that her father might introduce the young man, but he did not. And once breakfast was underway she noticed that all her family seemed to be already acquainted with him. But what was worse, they all talked of a ball the entire family had apparently attended the evening before, at Netherfield.
"What ball?" cried Elizabeth. "There was no ball last evening. We spent the evening at home."
"What are you talking about Lizzy?" replied Mrs. Bennet. "We are speaking of Mr. Bingley's ball last night at Netherfield. Surely you cannot have forgotten the ball."
"Perhaps she had too much wine last night," said Lydia, with a laughing snort. Kitty giggled with her.
"A young lady should never drink to excess," said Mary.
"But that is impossible," Elizabeth replied to her mother, ignoring her sisters. "Mr. Bingley has not even taken possession of the house yet."
Everyone became silent for a moment and stared at Elizabeth. At length, Mrs. Bennet cried, "Whatever are you going on about Lizzy? Mr. Bingley has been at Netherfield for nearly two months. He and Jane are practically engaged." Elizabeth glanced at Jane and saw a light blush creep into her cheeks.
"No," said Elizabeth, "how can that be when he was set to take possession at Michaelmas which is yet two days away."
"Oh la," cried Lydia, "Michaelmas in November? Whoever heard of such a thing. Would that not be fun? Perhaps we should have Christmas in July!"
"Oh yes," added Kitty, "and Easter in September!"
"November?" said Elizabeth incredulously. "Do not be ridiculous. Today is September the twenty-seventh."
Mr. Bennet put down his newspaper at this point and looked at Elizabeth. "I do hope my dear that this is some clever joke of yours and that soon we will all – or at least I – will see what you are about."
"No Papa," said Elizabeth in earnest, "it is Lydia and Kitty who think they are making a great joke."
Mr. Bennet sighed. "I have long prided myself on having produced at least one child with a modicum of wit, but now I see I have been deluding myself. Even my Elizabeth has gone nonsensical." With that he tossed his newspaper on the table in front of her and quit the room.
Elizabeth gathered up the paper and read the date: November 27. She was silent for a moment and exclaimed, "But how is that possible?" and then fell to the floor in an ungraceful swoon.
Elizabeth awoke to find herself on the sofa with the apothecary at her side. He asked her some questions and when his examination was over he declared that she appeared to have lost the past two months. He assured them all that Elizabeth was otherwise sound and healthy and that since nothing of consequence had happened in her life over the course of the past two months she should not be much affected by the event.
Mrs. Bennet then began to chastise her daughter severely, "What do you mean by fainting in such a way, Lizzy? Do you know what you have done to my poor nerves? Have you no compassion for what a mother feels to see her beloved child lying in a helpless heap on the breakfast room floor?"
"I do not faint for my own amusement," replied Elizabeth, saucily.
"Oh if only you had gone off instead on one of your wild runs through the countryside, my nerves would not be so affected."
"There you have it, Lizzy," said Mr. Bennet, "you may run mad as often as you chuse, but do not faint."
"I do not run mad," replied Elizabeth, "I walk. I am an excellent walker. Everyone knows that. In fact, I think I feel well enough to have a stroll in that prettyish kind of little wilderness on one side of the lawn. A little fresh air and exercise would do me good, I dare say." With that, she went outdoors.
Later, as she was sitting on a bench in the garden, Elizabeth saw Charlotte Lucas arrive with her mother and sister, and enter the house. When she joined them all in the drawing room, Mrs. Bennet was imparting to her neighbors the trying events of the morning. After that subject and its ill effects on Mrs. Bennet's health had been sufficiently canvassed, Elizabeth was dismayed to hear the whole party once again begin talking of the ball that supposedly had taken place the evening before. Elizabeth was able to discover who she had danced with, but was not acquainted with many of the names. She was informed by Lydia, who had taken to speaking to her in an excessively loud and very slow manner, that most of them were officers. In addition to officers, she found that she had danced the first with Mr. Collins, the name of the mysterious house-guest she had met at breakfast, as well as Mr. Bingley and a Mr. Darcy who was a friend of Mr. Bingley's and had been staying with him at Netherfield.
But, Elizabeth had little interest in hearing about the ball as she had no recollection of it and she soon took up a book while the others continued to discuss it. As she opened the book to the first page to begin reading, Mary said to her, "That must have been a captivating book for you to begin it again after having just completed it." Elizabeth looked at her sister then tossed the book aside with a deep sigh.
After the Lucases left Longbourn, Elizabeth went into the breakfast room to write a letter to her Aunt Gardiner about the strange occurrence of the morning. She had scarcely begun the first sentence when Mr. Collins entered the room and immediately began thus, "Miss Elizabeth, I am glad I have at last found you alone. There is a matter of great import that I must address with you immediately. I realize that you have no recollection of having been acquainted with me these past weeks, though (I flatter myself) I imagine there must be within you some deep feeling of familiarity, but I feel I should tell you that we had in fact come to an understanding … of sorts. As I will be departing the country on Saturday, I unfortunately do not have time to conduct this courtship again from the beginning, so I trust you will rely on my word when I tell you, as I did a moment ago, about our understanding … of sorts." Elizabeth was in shock. She could not have spoken even if he had paused long enough for her to get a word in. "That being said," he continued, "allow me to now explain to you my reasons for marrying … " He then began a lengthy speech regarding his very practical reasons for seeking a wife – and seeking one at Longbourn – concluding with very tender and well-practiced expressions of the violence of his affection for her.
When he had done Elizabeth could not readily perceive how she had ever reached an understanding … of any sort with such a man. And if she had, the events of the morning – her complete lack of recollection of him whatsoever – must be a sufficient excuse for breaking it. "I must speak to my father," she said immediately, and left the room.
Elizabeth entered her father's study, where he had remained since breakfast. Upon seeing her he simply said, "Have you recovered your senses?"
"Father, please, I am in need of your counsel."
"I should imagine so," he replied. "At least you still have the good sense to seek it, which is more than what can be said for any of my other senseless daughters, so I suppose there is hope for you yet."
Elizabeth sighed. "Mr. Collins has proposed to me, sir. I have no wish to marry him but he claims we had a prior understanding that I do not remember. Do you know anything of such an understanding?"
"I do not," replied Mr. Bennet, "But I believe your mother may have some knowledge of it."
"Then there was some understanding between Mr. Collins and myself?"
"Oh I believe so, my dear, though I do not think you were actually a party to it."
Elizabeth appeared confused and replied, "I beg you to speak plainly, Papa."
"Of course, now that you have lost your wit I must not rely on your ability to decipher my expressions as I had been used to do. The truth is that your mother and Mr. Collins have planned your marriage to the man."
"Then I have not actually consented to the match?"
"I do not think you have lost so much of your wit as that, my dear."
"And have you given your consent?"
"No one has asked for my consent."
"Then there is no engagement."
"I should imagine not."
At this point Mrs. Bennet entered the room, all smiles. She walked up to Elizabeth and, taking both her hands, said, "Oh my dearest Lizzy, I am so happy. I have been talking to Mr. Collins and I am so pleased he has finally come to the point and asked for your hand." Then turning to her husband she added, "Is it not wonderful Mr. Bennet? We are all saved."
"Mama, please," said Elizabeth, shaking her hands loose from Mrs. Bennet's grasp. "I have not given Mr. Collins any answer yet, but I intend to refuse him."
"Refuse him?" cried Mrs. Bennet, "How can you even consider refusing him?"
"I do not even know him."
"What has that to do with anything? I have never seen such insolence in a child before. Mr. Bennet, tell her you insist upon her marrying Mr. Collins."
Mr. Bennet turned to his daughter and said, "Elizabeth, I will never forgive you … if you marry Mr. Collins."
"Thank you father," she said amid her mother's gasps and expressions of indignity, and then left the room to inform Mr. Collins of her answer. He did not believe her at first, but when she assured him that Mr. Bennet supported her decision he at last accepted her refusal. He left Longbourn embarrassed and disgusted, to seek comfort from his friends at Lucas Lodge. Little did he know how much sympathy was to be found at that house. He was received with pleasure by the family and within two days was engaged to Miss Lucas.
Meanwhile, at Longbourn, Jane had received a note from Mr. Bingley's sister informing her that their whole party had left the country for the winter, with no intent of returning. Elizabeth could see that Jane was saddened by the news, but she knew that her sister would recover from her disappointment as she had with other prior attachments.
The next few months passed uneventfully at Longbourn. Jane returned to London with the Gardiners, who had visited Longbourn over Christmas. Mrs. Gardiner had thought a change of scene might help her recover from her disappointment. Jane wrote that she had called on Miss Bingley and that her friend had returned the visit but that it was obvious Miss Bingley had no interest in continuing the friendship. Elizabeth was pained by her sister's disappointment but could see it was for the best as it appeared Miss Bingley was not a friend worth keeping, and Elizabeth, having no recollection of the brother, could not regard him with any greater esteem than the sister after his desertion.
By now Charlotte had married Mr. Collins and Elizabeth had another correspondent in her. Mrs. Collins seemed very happy in her situation and invited Elizabeth to visit her for a few weeks in March with her father and sister. Elizabeth had no desire to see Mr. Collins again, but she agreed to go and looked forward to seeing Charlotte in all her domestic felicity. The journey was made all the more appealing when they decided to stop in London overnight to see Jane on the way to Kent. The visit with Jane was all that Elizabeth could have hoped for and she was happy to see her sister's spirits improved. And though she was still concerned for Jane, she left London for Hunsford with a light heart.
When Elizabeth arrived at Hunsford, she was happy to find Charlotte quite content with her situation in life and ably managing her husband and household. In getting to know her cousin Mr. Collins better she discovered that he was as ridiculous a man as she had suspected him to be when he proposed to her; and so far from repenting her choice – which his behavior towards her seemed to suggest was his wish – she grew more thankful for having had the good sense to reject him with every moment she spent in his company.
They were soon invited to dine at Rosings Park, the home of Mr. Collins' patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Elizabeth listened with incredulity as Lady Catherine inquired as to every detail of every aspect of Mrs. Collins' domestic life and then provided her with specific direction on how to manage her house, servants, garden, livestock and husband. Elizabeth was ever more grateful that she had escaped such a fate, but she found that she was not to be excluded from Lady Catherine's impertinent curiosity. Before the evening was over Lady Catherine had inquired as to the details of Elizabeth's home, family, education, and upbringing. She was relieved when the evening was finally at an end.
Sir William Lucas stayed only a week at Hunsford. The following week, the parsonage party was invited again to dine at Rosings. During the course of that evening Lady Catherine made it known to them that she was expecting a visit from two of her nephews, a Colonel Fitzwilliam and a Mr. Darcy. The second name sounded vaguely familiar, but Elizabeth gave the matter little thought and only hoped the two gentlemen would afford some diversion while they were in the neighborhood.
The following morning Elizabeth mentioned her hope to find the gentlemen amiable. Charlotte seemed surprised for a moment, but then remembered Elizabeth's affliction. She replied, "My dear Lizzy, I know you have no recollection of your acquaintance with Mr. Darcy, but you did meet him in Hertfordshire. He was staying with Mr. Bingley at Netherfield."
Elizabeth looked confused for a moment and finally said, "I believe one of my sisters may have mentioned him to me. Did I ever dance with him?"
"Indeed you did!" said Charlotte, "At the ball at Netherfield." After a moment of silent reflection, Charlotte added, "To own the truth, the two of you had gotten to know one another rather well during his stay at Netherfield, particularly while you were residing in that house yourself for three days to nurse Jane through a cold. It was quite obvious to me at the ball that he regarded you with particular interest, and I do believe you had some very strong feelings for him as well."
Elizabeth appeared surprised. "Did I ever tell you of my feelings for him?"
"You did indeed," said Charlotte, "quite often."
"I actually told you that I liked him?"
"You never went so far as to say that, but your expressions regarding the gentleman were always rather … ardent." Charlotte smiled, more to herself than to Elizabeth. She had always suspected the direction of Mr. Darcy's preferences and had felt Elizabeth behaved very foolishly in persisting in her dislike of such a man. Perhaps Elizabeth's recent malady could be turned to her advantage.
Elizabeth was astonished. "I had not imagined that I could have formed an attachment during those two months that I seem to have lost. What will I do? How will I behave while he is here? How will he feel when he learns I have no recollection of him whatsoever?"
Charlotte was silent for a few minutes – quietly sewing one of Mr. Collins' socks, while Elizabeth continued to contemplate her predicament. At length, Charlotte replied, "He does not have
to know, Lizzy."
Elizabeth looked up with a startled expression. "Are you suggesting that I not mention having completely forgotten the man? That I have no memory of having met him at all, much less of ever liking him, of forming an attachment?"
"You would not wish to discourage his affection, would you?"
"No … I mean, I do not think so."
"Well, if he learns you have completely forgotten him he may become disappointed and lose all hope. At the very least, being the gallant gentleman that he is, he would feel he should begin his acquaintance with you anew and you would both lose all the progress you made in Hertfordshire."
"I do not think I could be comfortable concealing it from him. What if disguise of every sort is his abhorrence?"
"I believe everything will work out for the best," said Charlotte with a smile.
But Elizabeth was not so easily satisfied. Charlotte's advice seemed reasonable, but Elizabeth was not sure if it was sound; she was not sure if she could practice such deceit – pretending to know a man of whom she had no recollection. She sighed to herself and then decided to go for a walk in the grove to think about the situation. That evening when she arrived home she wrote a long letter to Jane explaining her dilemma and seeking her counsel. If Jane agreed with Charlotte, she would know what to do. She could think of little else over the course of the next few days and waited eagerly for a response from Jane.
At last the gentlemen arrived. Their visit was so sudden that Elizabeth had no time to determine how she would comport herself. She had not received word from Jane and was not sure whether to let on that she had completely forgotten Mr. Darcy or to behave as if she remembered him. Thus, she attempted a non-committal approach. She would not presently tell Mr. Darcy she had no recollection of their prior acquaintance, but nor would she pretend to know him. She determined upon this course even as Charlotte spied the gentlemen walking up the gravel path towards the house. When they entered the room, Elizabeth's eyes were immediately drawn to one of them – a tall and extraordinarily handsome gentleman with such an air about him, Elizabeth could feel her heartbeat quicken. "Oh, I do hope that is Mr. Darcy," she thought to herself. The other gentleman was not handsome, but had a pleasant, friendly look about him.
Charlotte was quick to greet Mr. Darcy with the familiarity of a prior acquaintance. Elizabeth smiled her relief when she realized her hope as to which of the gentlemen was Mr. Darcy had been answered. He bowed to Mrs. Collins and returned her greeting, then turned to Elizabeth and smiled. Whatever his feelings towards her might have been, he met her with every appearance of composure. "Good morning, Miss Bennet. It is a pleasure to see you again," he said. Elizabeth was pleased by the deep, commanding resonance of his voice. She smiled but was not sure what to say in response. Luckily, Mr. Darcy then presented his cousin to her and she was able to tell Colonel Fitzwilliam how happy she was to meet him.
Presently the entire party sat down and Charlotte inquired about their journey. The conversation was then undertaken primarily by Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mrs. Collins. Elizabeth was too caught up in her situation to wish to join in lest she say something to betray her lack of memory of Mr. Darcy or imply that she did remember him. She was determined on her non-committal course of action. She did notice that Mr. Darcy's eyes shifted to her rather often and she could sense that he wished to say something to her. She wondered what might be preventing him and then it occurred to her that perhaps her own discomfort was causing her to appear less open to conversation with him. Certainly, she was not talking so much as her usual wont and if that was the case he might think she would not welcome his attentions. If they had become attached in the past she must have talked openly and comfortably with him, but now her behavior was less than welcoming and while it was due to her own preoccupation, she did not wish him to feel it was due to any change in her feelings for him – at least until she knew what those feelings were. Until she heard from Jane and knew more about the situation she did not wish to endanger any intimacy that had previously existed between herself and Mr. Darcy. Finally, she decided upon what seemed to be an innocuous comment which would serve as an invitation to converse and said, "I hope you left Mr. Bingley and his sisters well, in London, Mr. Darcy."
"They were all quite well when I left them, thank you," he replied.
She wondered at the succinctness of his response. Had he always been this reluctant to talk? She wondered that she could ever have had the opportunity to form an attachment to him if he spoke so little, and concluded that this must not be his usual manner. Perhaps he was ill at ease because he had not seen her in so long. This surmise was confirmed when his cousin teased him for his silence, proving that his behavior was generally different. She could not but believe that the change must be due to her and she determined to put him at ease. "I hope you had a pleasant winter in town, sir," she said, in her second attempt to initiate a conversation.
"I did, thank you," he replied.
Elizabeth began to wonder if he was capable of uttering more than a few words at a time. She decided to give him one more chance and if he did not respond with more interest she would know that whatever past attachment they might have shared, he no longer wished it to continue. "There are many diversions in London to keep one busy throughout the season, I am sure."
"Indeed," he replied. She sighed to herself. This was intolerable. He must have noticed her dissatisfaction, because he added, "I was able to spend time with my sister while I was in London this winter."
"Oh, you have a sister," thought Elizabeth. Unsure of how much she was supposed to know about this sister, she replied cautiously, "That must have pleased her. And what sorts of things were the two of you able to do together?"
They then embarked upon a conversation about all the events and excursions which had occupied Mr. Darcy's time since he had left for London. He spoke of plays and lectures and dinner parties to which he had ventured to take his sister as Elizabeth gently asked further questions to keep the conversation going and learn as much as she could about this man and his family. Elizabeth learned Miss Darcy's age and given name and that she was not yet out. She learned that Mr. Darcy was exceedingly protective of her. She learned that Mr. Bingley had been lodging with Mr. Darcy since they removed to Town from Netherfield and that Miss Darcy was very fond of her brother's friend, who – f Mr. Darcy's description was at all telling – seemed to return the sentiment.
The conversation remained light, and when it was time to part ways, both were satisfied with the meeting and looked forward to the next opportunity of conversing together that should present itself. For Elizabeth's part, she felt she had learned a great deal about the man, simply by drawing subtle inferences from his conversation and manner. She felt that now she was better equipped to forge on as if she had never forgotten him, should Jane's information regarding their past relationship direct her to that course of action. Yet, in truth, she was not sure now whether she could do otherwise; whether she could ever admit to having forgotten him without her behavior during this conversation seeming deceptive. It was fortunate then, that after this first meeting she felt very sure that Charlotte's representations to her had been reliable. Except for his initial reticence towards conversation, he had appeared to be everything a man ought to be – handsome, intelligent, well-informed, and, though more reserved than his cousin, amiable in his own way.
Once the gentlemen had left, Charlotte smiled at Elizabeth as she resumed her stitching. "I am pleased to see that you took my advice," she said. "You will not regret it."
"I still am not certain it was proper to be less than forthright but I believe now it may be too late to do otherwise!"
"Indeed. And what did you think of him?"
"I liked him very well. He was very gentlemanly – both he and his cousin – and well-informed with refreshingly insightful opinions, and intelligent as well."
"Are you still speaking of both gentlemen? Or only of Mr. Darcy?"
Elizabeth blushed ever so slightly and smiled, "Oh, Colonel Fitzwilliam is by no means deficient, to be sure, but Mr. Darcy … Mr. Darcy is something more – he is clever."
Charlotte laughed. "I am glad to see you have such a high opinion of him. I thought perhaps your previous opinion of him would change with this meeting."
Elizabeth, taking the last statement as an expression of fear rather than hope, replied, "Now that I have seen him I find it easier to believe your assertion that I had been attached to him."
"Did I ever make such an assertion?"
"Oh Charlotte," laughed Elizabeth, "Do not tease me!"
The gentlemen visited the parsonage during the week and they saw them at church as well. Each time she was in company with Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth found herself more at ease and he too seemed more comfortable with each encounter. On Easter Sunday, Lady Catherine invited the Hunsford party to dine that evening. Mr. Collins eagerly accepted on behalf of them all.
At Rosings after dinner, Elizabeth began the evening in conversation with Colonel Fitzwilliam. She was a little disappointed that Mr. Darcy was so engaged in conversation with his aunt and cousin, Miss de Bourgh; but Colonel Fitzwilliam seemed quite pleased with her company so she tried to give him her full attention. He asked her to play for him and when she began her first song, Mr. Darcy left his aunt's side and walked across the room, with his usual deliberation, in the direction of the instrument, to command a full view of the fair performer's countenance. When she had finished both gentlemen commended her performance but she disclaimed any right to such praise with genuine modesty.
Although they had spent precious little time together during the course of the evening, and none of it alone, Elizabeth felt that something had happened between herself and Mr. Darcy; whether it had been a word or a look or something else altogether she could not say, but the feeling was as real as any she had ever known. When it was time to depart, he handed her into Lady Catherine's carriage and gave her a long, last, parting look before she drove away – t was a look that spoke volumes.
The next morning Mr. Darcy called at the parsonage alone and found Elizabeth at home by herself. The meeting was awkward at first but they soon settled into a comfortable conversation about the parsonage and its inhabitants. Before long, the subject turned to the Collinses' marriage and from there Mr. Darcy began asking Elizabeth about her own preferences. She became a little discomposed by such a pointed reference and he soon left her.
The next morning, she met him during her walk in the grove. He seemed pleased to have encountered her and joined her. They walked together for some time talking again of the Collinses and their domestic felicity and of the countryside through which they meandered together. Mr. Darcy made a reference that suggested the possibility of Elizabeth staying at Rosings rather than Hunsford the next time she should visit the area. As encouraging as such statements were, Elizabeth was not quite sure if she was ready for such a direct implication of his intentions. They met again in the same part of the park on two subsequent occasions later that week – Elizabeth having made it known exactly which part of the grounds she preferred to walk in – and her doubts were almost completely removed by the way he conducted himself during both those encounters – the things he said, the way in which he said them, and most of all the promising look in his eyes.
On Thursday morning, instead of meeting with Mr. Darcy on her daily walk as she had expected, Elizabeth met with Colonel Fitzwilliam. Attempting to conceal her disappointment, she welcomed his company when he joined her and readily entered into conversation with him. He spoke highly of his cousin and remarked with a hint of cynicism about his own situation as a second son. The encounter was pleasant, but it lacked the feeling of intimacy and familiarity she had shared with Mr. Darcy. And, though Elizabeth had not been able to see Mr. Darcy, she had at least been able to learn as much as she could of him through her conversation with his cousin. She asked the colonel many questions calculated to that end, though all the while attempting not to make her interest too apparent.
When Colonel Fitzwilliam left her at the gate to the parsonage she reflected on her disappointment at not having met his cousin. As the end of the week approached, she was acutely aware of his impending departure on Saturday which would put an end to their time together – at least for the present. She was uncertain of his specific plans, but she felt confident of his feelings. After the time they had spent together during the past week, there could be no question as to his intentions. Elizabeth felt equally certain of her own desires and readily cast all her reservations to the wind.
It was with these happy reflections in mind that Elizabeth entered the parsonage and found that Jane's letter had finally arrived.
Elizabeth took Jane's letter up to her room and, sitting down, opened it with quivering hands. She noticed that Jane had written the direction very ill indeed, which accounted for the lateness of the letter's arrival. She breathed in deeply, and read the following:
My Dearest Lizzy:
I must say I was surprised by some of the contents of your letter. But first, I should answer your inquiries after myself and the Gardiners. I am having a delightful time here in London with our aunt and uncle. They have gone out of their way to make sure I am well entertained, and the children are as sweet as ever. I adore spending time with them. I still have not seen Mr. Bingley, which is no surprise after the information I received from his sister the last time I talked to her. I certainly do not expect that after ignoring my presence in London for this long, he would act now. I am quite reconciled to the fact that I shall likely never see him again.
As for your questions regarding Mr. Darcy, I must tell you that your impression of him prior to your unfortunate loss of memory was not exactly in accord with what appears to be your current understanding. I can only attribute the disparity to some miscommunication between you and dear Mrs. Collins. She knew as well as I did (and most of Meryton) that Mr. Darcy was not a favorite with you, and certainly that you could not have formed an attachment to him. However, I do hope he has made a better impression on you during his visit to Rosings. I always suspected him of being a good and noble man. Please do give him my regards when next you see him. I fear my letter may arrive too late for me to give you the advice you requested on whether to reveal your loss of memory to him. However, I trust that you would judge fairly in such a situation and always comport yourself with the utmost decorum taking into account the feelings of those around you.
The rest of the letter detailed Jane's activities in London and was full of praise for her aunt and uncle, and little cousins, but Elizabeth barely read a word of it. She could take nothing in after reading Jane's account of her prior feelings for Mr. Darcy. Her eyes kept moving involuntarily back to that paragraph. She was astonished by Jane's revelation. "I disliked him," she said to herself over and over again as she paced her room. "How is it possible?" she asked herself. The answer came immediately: "Charlotte!"
She ran down the stairs and found Charlotte in her sitting room. She entered the room in a hurried manner and sat down in front of her friend for a moment; then getting up she walked restlessly about the room. Charlotte seemed surprised, but said not a word. After a silence of several minutes Elizabeth came towards her friend in an agitated manner and began thus: "In vain have I trusted you. It will not do. My feelings must now be heard. I must tell you how ardently I disapprove of your interference and manipulations in my life."
Charlotte's astonishment was beyond all expression. She stared, colored, doubted and was silent. This Elizabeth considered sufficient encouragement to continue with her admonition. She waved Jane's letter at her friend and said, "I disliked him. Jane has revealed to me my true feelings for Mr. Darcy in Hertfordshire and they were not favorable. How could you tell me that I liked him, that I was attached to him?"
Charlotte replied calmly. "I never told you any such thing. In fact, I distinctly recall telling you that you had never actually said that you liked him last autumn in Hertfordshire. I simply said that you had strong feelings for the gentleman. I never said what those feelings were. You assumed they were favourable … perhaps that should tell you something."
Now it was Elizabeth's turn to be astonished. "You deliberately misled me. You cannot deny it. How could you use my loss of memory against me in such a way?"
"Against you? My dear Lizzy, your unfortunate loss of two months has only brought you favorable and promising results. By forgetting the little things you held against Mr. Darcy you have allowed yourself to view him anew on this visit, with a perception unbiased by your previous feelings. And what has been the result? You see that he is a good man, and worth having. You have been giddy with love for the past two weeks. I knew Mr. Darcy admired you and I will readily confess I thought you a fool for not encouraging him. I have done you a great service, Lizzy. So don't judge me … don't you dare judge me!"
Elizabeth was a bit startled by Charlotte's abrupt change of demeanor. Her last words were spoken with great fervency. Elizabeth had to admit that the manner in which she had initiated the conversation had been a bit dramatic as well. She assumed a calmer tone and said quietly, "But I cannot be comfortable in my feelings for him now without at least knowing why I previously disliked him."
"I will tell you why you disliked him and perhaps you can then judge whether your reason was worth giving up the chance of securing such a man. As it happened, you overheard him telling his friend he had no wish to dance with you on the first night of your acquaintance with him. That one comment prejudiced you against him in every subsequent encounter and you viewed everything he said under the veil of that statement. Since the veil has been lifted, you have seen him for what he really is, and that is the man you love."
At that moment Mr. Collins entered the room to remind the ladies of their engagement to dine at Rosings. The agitation which the subject of her discourse with Charlotte had occasioned brought on a headache which, when added to Elizabeth's unwillingness to see Mr. Darcy, determined her not to attend her cousins to Rosings. Just before Charlotte retired to dress for dinner, she took Elizabeth aside and said quietly, "Lizzy, he leaves on Saturday. If you do not go to Rosings today, you may lose your chance with him."
"Charlotte, please ..." began Elizabeth.
"I truly hope you will not let your anger for me affect your feelings for him
." With that, Charlotte left the room within half an hour, the Collinses were on their way to Rosings.
When they were gone, Elizabeth, as if intending to exasperate herself as much as possible chose for her employment the re-examination of Jane's letter, the recollection of how her misunderstanding of her own prior feelings had unfolded under Charlotte's artful machinations, and mostly the nature of her feelings for Mr. Darcy now as they had developed over the past two weeks. She knew Charlotte was right about one thing at least, Mr. Darcy could not be blamed for Charlotte's interference; yet, because of it, Elizabeth had allowed herself to not only form an attachment to Mr. Darcy but to show those feelings to him.
Amidst these thoughts, Elizabeth was suddenly aroused by the sound of the door bell. Her spirits were a little fluttered by the idea of its being Mr. Darcy who might have come to inquire particularly after her. But these sensations soon gave way to nervousness and confusion as she had as of yet reached no satisfactory resolution to her present unhappy situation.
When Mr. Darcy walked into the room a moment later, she was ill-prepared to face him. In an hurried manner he immediately began an inquiry after her health, imputing his visit to a wish of hearing that she were better; he seemed, however, preoccupied with something other than her health. She could make no response to his civil inquiry, preoccupied as she was herself. He looked at her again, as if about to say something and seemed to notice her for the first time. "You are really unwell," he said, somewhat surprised. She said nothing, and only looked away. Mr. Darcy urged her to resume her chair, and taking his advice, she sat down, unable to support herself, and looking so miserably ill that it was impossible for Darcy to refrain from saying, in a tone of gentleness and commiseration, "Let me call your maid. Is there nothing you could take, to give you present relief? – A glass of wine; – shall I get you one? – You are very ill."
"No, I thank you;" she replied, endeavoring to recover herself. For a few minutes she could not speak another word. Darcy, in wretched suspense, could only say something indistinctly of his concern, and observe her in compassionate silence. At length, she spoke again. "I have just had a letter from Jane ..." but then reconsidered how much she ought to tell him.
"Did it contain dreadful news from Longbourn?"
"No, it is nothing like that. Why do you ask?"
Darcy just shrugged, then – as Elizabeth seemed less than forthcoming – ventured another guess, "Is Miss Bennet ill herself? Have you need to get to London?"
"No, she writes that she is well." Elizabeth was silent for a moment as Darcy sat expectantly.
At length, he spoke, "I apologize. I did not mean to pry. Obviously some personal matter is distressing you that you do not wish to share with me." He paused. "But perhaps, if you knew my purpose in coming here today ..."
"Did not you come here to inquire after my health?" she asked innocently.
Darcy appeared a bit muddled. "Well, yes, of course I did. But I confess, I did have another purpose for wishing to speak with you privately."
"Mr. Darcy, please ..." uttered Elizabeth quietly, rising from her chair and turning away from him.
He interrupted her, "My feelings cannot be repressed."
Elizabeth could think of nothing to say in response to that. She silently turned to face him, and he approached her. Then taking her hand in his he looked into her eyes and at that moment Elizabeth knew that nothing else mattered but how they felt for each other. Both Charlotte's deception and Jane's disclosure seemed to fade in importance.
He smiled. "Do you recall..." he began. Elizabeth panicked. "... the first time we met?" She did not know what to say in response; luckily, as she was trying to come up with something, he continued, "But that is not accurate, as I am sure you recollect, we did not meet. We were not introduced at the Meryton Assembly. But that was the first time I saw you."
"And what did you think of me, then?" she asked playfully.
"I regret that I did not dance with you that evening."
She suddenly remembered Charlotte telling her this was the source of her former dislike of him and now he admitted to regretting it! She felt some relief that she had allowed herself to renew her acquaintance with him. She felt more comfortable in her decision to accept him ... if he would ever get to the point.
"But we danced at Netherfield," she said – or that's what she had been told by more than one person.
"Yes," he replied with a smile. "You attempted to sketch my character. What was it that you said?"
Elizabeth took a calming breath and said truthfully, "I do not recall."
"You said there was a great similarity in the turn of our minds."
"Did I?" she asked weakly turning from him again.
He moved closer to her and standing behind her, whispered, "Yes."
She turned and was surprised to find him standing so close to her. "Well, do you not agree?"
"I think there may be some differences, but none that are material."
"Material to what, sir?"
"To our mutual happiness," he said, placing his hand on her face. "When we are married."
She backed away from him. What was he saying? Were they already engaged? Had they reached an understanding last autumn? Or even an understanding ... of sorts? She considered it impossible that she would have heard nothing from him in the months between his having left Netherfield and his arrival at Rosings, if that had been the case. Besides, such a circumstance could in no way be reconciled with the revelations in Jane's letter. No, he was being presumptuous!
"I wonder at your idea of marital happiness," she finally said. "I had never thought high-handed presumption formed a part of it."
He looked surprised for a moment then smiled and said, "In that case, perhaps," he took her hand again, and she gave it willingly but reluctantly, "you will give me your opinion on whether ardent admiration and love can be conducive to marital happiness."
"Ardent?" she asked with raised brows.
This brought on a smile and, raising her hand to his lips, he said, "I have been bewitched by you since you were staying at Netherfield last autumn."
Elizabeth was puzzled then remembered having been told she had stayed at Netherfield for a few days while Jane had been ill. "I was there for Jane," she said quickly.
"Such lovely devotion to your sister – walking three miles from Longbourn to be with her! Would it not be a fine thing to be the object of such loyalty, of such affection – to be loved by such a woman?"
Elizabeth could do nothing but blush. He leaned even closer to her and said, “Marry me, Elizabeth.”
She nodded and managed to say, “Yes.”
Darcy's arms went around her as he caught her up in an embrace.
When she was able to get her breathing, and her emotions, under good regulation, she looked at him and said, "For a moment there I thought you had lost your courage."
Darcy gasped, "Do you accuse me of being a coward? Perish the thought!" He kissed her soundly, and all thoughts of him being anything but strong, virile and brave completely escaped her.
"Now what were you saying about my courage?" he asked.
"I do not remember."
"Excellent," he replied. "I have always felt that a good memory is unpardonable."
Elizabeth smiled, he could not know how sincerely she agreed with him.