Elizabeth sat in her room at Hunsford Parsonage with Mr. Darcy's letter spread before her on the bed. She was already on her third or fourth perusal and still reproving her own misjudgment. She skimmed over the first part of the letter again but her eyes wandered to the pile of letters from Jane on her dressing table. Then she looked back at Mr. Darcy's letter and re-read the line, “You must, therefore, pardon the freedom with which I demand your attention; your feelings, I know, will bestow it unwillingly, but I demand it of your justice.”
She shifted the pages around to find the closing lines and read, “If your abhorrence of me should make my assertions valueless, you cannot be prevented by the same cause from confiding in my cousin; and that there may be the possibility of consulting him, I shall endeavour to find some opportunity of putting this letter in your hands in the course of the morning.”
No, she had no reason to consult with Colonel Fitzwilliam, but certainly if Mr. Darcy could make demands of her sense of justice, she could do likewise. The two gentlemen were not to leave until the morning. There was still time for her to take some action.
Elizabeth hid Mr. Darcy's letter away securely among her personal things and went quietly back down to the parlour. Finding it empty, she sat down at the writing table. Charlotte and Maria arrived back before she was finished, having returned from the village with trimmings for new hats. She admired all their purchases and gave the appropriate responses to their regret at her not having gone with them. At last they sat down to their work and she resumed her letter. She finished with still an hour before the ladies would retire to dress for dinner and managed to escape the house alone. After so long a ramble this morning she was not sure how readily Charlotte would accept her going out walking again, but they were so used to her walking out at all hours of the day and so involved in their own new projects that they scarcely protested her leaving.
She first walked, almost instinctively, to the spot where Mr. Darcy had handed her his letter that morning. It now seemed so long ago. Her pace quickened with her resolve, as if to overcome the nervousness that arose within her the closer she came to the spot. He was not there. She had not really expected him to be. This wasn't some romance novel, after all. She kept walking, towards Rosings. On what pretense could she get into the house? She felt all the improvident stupidity of her scheme and her resolve began to weaken. She thought of Jane and walked on.
The butler greeted her and before she knew it she was standing before Lady Catherine in the drawing room, delivering a perfunctory curtsy and having no idea what to say. There was not a gentleman in sight. “Ah, Miss Bennet,” the lady said with satisfaction. “You have come to practice at last.”
“Yes,” said Elizabeth with relief. “I am sorry to disturb your ladyship. I am sure I can make my way to Mrs. Jenkinson's room without giving you any further trouble.”
“Oh no, it is no trouble to me to listen to you a little while. By all means, do play on the pianoforte in this room. I should enjoy a little music before dinner, since we were deprived of it last evening.”
Elizabeth grudgingly walked to the instrument and opened it hoping that the sound of music might draw Mr. Darcy to the room. “Has Miss de Bourgh gone out?” she asked, shuffling with the sheets of music to find a piece that was easy to play.
Lady Catherine seemed surprised to have been spoken to. “Yes. She and Mrs. Jenkinson have gone out for a drive in the phaeton.”
Elizabeth dared not ask after the gentlemen, but felt satisfied that they were not out with Miss de Bourgh. And while there could be a thousand other reasons for them to be out of the house, she felt secure in the likelihood of their being within as she began to play.
Before long, Colonel Fitzwilliam walked into the room and looked directly at Elizabeth. She remembered Mr. Darcy's letter and blushed a little. He walked over to her and asked whether he might turn pages for her. She readily acquiesced. It occurred to her now to wonder whether Mr. Darcy had prepared his cousin for the possibility that she might want to talk to him about the contents of the letter. How much had Mr. Darcy told Colonel Fitzwilliam? She was pondering this as she played, when the other gentleman finally entered the room. She did not know how long he had been standing just within the doorway when she finally looked up and saw him. Her playing faltered, but only for a moment, and she quickly looked back to the music in front of her.
She took a deep breath as she heard Lady Catherine finally notice her other nephew and begin talking to him. Elizabeth could think only of her errand. Success was too close at hand now, she must persevere. When she finished the song Colonel Fitzwilliam said, “Brava!” and asked whether she would play another.
Lady Catherine was still talking to Mr. Darcy so Elizabeth answered in the negative. “I do not wish to impose further on your aunt's generosity.”
Lady Catherine now condescended to observe, “Your playing, Miss Bennet, has much improved since you were last here, I believe.”
“Thank you, your ladyship,” said Elizabeth.
Mr. Darcy looked at Elizabeth sitting with Colonel Fitzwilliam, and after only a slight hesitation, seemed ready to leave the room. He must think she had come to talk to his cousin. This would not do.
“I should be getting back to the parsonage,” she said, standing up. “Thank you, Lady Catherine, for the indulgence.”
Colonel Fitzwilliam offered to walk back to the parsonage with her. She thanked him but declined, looking directly at his cousin as if imploring him to take the hint. He seemed to understand and stepped outside the room. When she finally escaped it herself, she found him lingering in the corridor. She hurriedly slipped him her missive as she walked past and continued down the hall without looking back. He watched her until she was out of sight and then looked at the letter in his hand and slipped it quickly into his pocket.
“That was strange,” said Colonel Fitzwilliam, just coming out of the drawing room.
“How so?” asked Darcy absently.
“She walked over here to practice after not having done so in all the time we've been here and then ran away after one song.”
“I do not find it strange at all,” replied his cousin, looking again in the direction she had gone.
“Perhaps you are right. There can be only one explanation for her being so easily frightened away by you, Darcy. I think she must be in love with you, poor girl!”
“Don't be ridiculous,” said Darcy, walking towards the stairs to ascend and read his letter in his room. Its contents were as follows:
Mr. Darcy, You must be surprised to receive this letter from me, which I hope to contrive to find a way to put into your hands today. And I hope, moreover, you will excuse the liberty I take in writing to you; but it is no more wrong than your having written to me and for no less just a cause. I trust you will not be alarmed that I have any motive of imposing myself further on your notice. I do not wish to pain you, nor do I presume that it is within my power to do so, but I feel I must assure you that I do not write from any feeling of regret. You demanded that I read your letter in the name of justice and I now write to you under the same auspices. That being said, I wish to thank you for the explanations in your letter. I acknowledge that I appear to have been wrong about your treatment of another gentleman. I will not enter on so distasteful a subject, except to say that my views are now the complete reverse of what they were when we last spoke of it. With regard to the other subject about which you wrote, however, I cannot approve of your interference, though you do not disapprove it. On one point, however, we agree: you acknowledged you had been wrong in withholding certain information from your friend. I do not presume to hope that in acknowledging this error to yourself, you would hasten to correct it at your first opportunity. I wish I could be assured that you would immediately inform him of that intelligence of which he is still ignorant but perhaps would very much interest him, without the necessity of any improper correspondence from me to urge you on. But I fear you may be too pleased with the result of your previous interference to wish for a change, or that perhaps you are too much preoccupied with your own feelings at present to think of what is due to your friend; that your feelings of anger or bitterness or even the shame that you assured me you must feel would prevent you from righting the wrong that you have acknowledged. I would wish to think you would not allow any resentment you feel towards me to prevent you from doing what is right by him, but I am by no means certain of it. You have written of the other matter with the self-assurance of a man who has acted justly. I can only hope that your sense of justice and of correct conduct will extend to your friends as well as your enemies. I have taken your word for how things stand with regard to that other matter. Should not you take mine for what you acknowledged I must be in a better position than you to know? Yet, I do not ask you even to give him those assurances about her which I have disclosed to you; nor do I ask you to encourage any particular course of action or to retract your opinions already so liberally given; but only to be honest with your friend as to the one point on which you have expressed regret – and leave him to do as he will. That is all. It would be unfair of me to ask you to burn this letter after reading it, as I have not burnt yours; I leave you to your own judgment therefore, and trust that whatever you do, you will not allow it to be discovered. I will only add God bless you. – E. B.
Darcy sighed to himself. It was about Miss Bennet. Of course. That's what she cared about. That's what mattered to her. Her sister's feelings. Her sister's heart. Not his. But he could not deny that she was right.