“My dearest sister, now be serious. I want to talk very seriously. Let me know everything that I am to know, without delay. Will you tell me how long you have loved him?”
“It has been coming on so gradually, that I hardly know when it began. But I believe I must date it from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley.”
Here’s to another great Jane Austen quote from Pride and Prejudice. With such satirical lines as this, I can’t help but be inspired by Austen’s writings.
I have long been fascinated with the idea of Mr. Darcy and Miss Elizabeth Bennet professing their love for each other during her tour of Derbyshire. My new release, The Means of Uniting Them, is based on that premise.
I hope you’ll enjoy the following excerpt.
Derbyshire, England – Summer 1812
“Elizabeth, my dear, I could not help but overhear you questioning the chambermaid about Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy’s presence in this part of the country. Are you really so opposed to touring his home? Are you afraid you might encounter him?” asked Mrs. Madeline Gardiner, her expression puzzled. An elegant lady of sense and education, she sat down opposite her niece. “I know there was a time when you thought rather poorly of him, but I was given to believe your opinion of the gentleman had suffered a material change after your having spent time in company with him while the two of you were in Kent at Easter.”
One of five unmarried daughters whose mother made it the business of her life to marry each of them off to whoever would have them, Miss Elizabeth Bennet measured her response to her dearest aunt carefully before speaking. She had concealed so much of what had actually transpired between Mr. Darcy and herself from her family, her friends, everyone apart from her dearest sister, Jane: specifically, that the gentleman had offered her his hand in marriage. Her trip to Derbyshire with her uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, had allowed her to escape her matchmaking mama’s machinations, but it was not without its risks.
Elizabeth softly exhaled. “It is true. My opinion of Mr. Darcy has improved considerably over the course of our acquaintance, but that does not give me license to visit his home with impunity. Were Mr. Darcy to discover me roaming about his estate, I fear he might think I am impertinent, or worse, throwing myself in his path.”
The older woman shrugged. “These great men have always made their homes available for public tours. Why should you not avail yourself of the same liberties as anyone else?”
“Oh, Aunt, I fear my reasons are very sound, and if you really knew the nature of my acquaintance with Mr. Darcy, you would think so too.”
“What is there to know other than he wounded your vanity when you first met and it was many months before he was able to overcome your ill opinion as a result? Do you harbor some lingering resentment over what you perceive as his ill-treatment of Mr. Wickham, or perhaps what you believe is his part in separating Jane and Mr. Bingley? Perhaps you believe he is too proud?”
“Yes,” Elizabeth cried with energy. Quickly rethinking her firm stance, she said, “What I mean to say is no. Indeed, no. I do not think … I do not know.” Again, carefully measuring her words, Elizabeth continued, “I harbor no such resentment of Mr. Darcy for either of those reasons you cited. As I told you, Mr. Wickham’s character is not at all as he would have any of us believe.”
While in Kent, Elizabeth had learned that Mr. George Wickham, a man whom she had once held in the highest esteem upon making his acquaintance, was not only a scoundrel, he was an accomplished liar, especially in matters concerning Mr. Darcy.
“Then, what am I not understanding?”
“Dearest Aunt, I have been harboring a great secret since my return from Kent–one I have shared with but one other person: my dearest Jane. I fear nothing short of a complete disclosure will help you comprehend the nature of my despair, but first, I must have your promise that you will tell no one.”
“Of course, I shall keep your secret, my dear.”
Elizabeth took a deep breath. “Mr. Darcy offered his hand to me. He professed his love for me, most ardently, when the two of us were in Kent.”
Oddly enough, her declaration was like a breath of fresh air. Finally, she had shared her secret with someone other than her sister Jane and with her favorite aunt, no less, whose good opinion Elizabeth relied upon.
Her surprise in hearing this evident, Mrs. Gardiner said, “I know you too well to suspect you are secretly engaged, and thus I must beg you to disclose the reason you refused such a man.”
Elizabeth hesitated, but only for a moment, attempting to collect herself. “It is a rather long sordid affair to be sure, but suffice it to say that Mr. Darcy could not have proposed to me at a worse time, neither did he do so in a manner which might possibly recommend his suit.”
Indeed, the gentleman had confessed to loving Elizabeth against his will, against his reason, and even against his character. She told her aunt as much.
Having rejected two marriage proposals in the span of five to six months, Elizabeth was not sure her aunt would understand why she would refuse a man of Mr. Darcy’s consequence.
It was Mrs. Gardiner, after all, who had cautioned Elizabeth to be reasonable as regarded her esteem for Mr. Wickham and quite explicitly advised her against falling in love with such a man whose circumstances in life would do nobody, not even himself, much good.
Mr. Darcy, on the other hand, was of ten times Wickham’s consequence. Even her best friend, the former Miss Charlotte Lucas, who later went on to marry a decent albeit ridiculous man, had told Elizabeth thus.
Mrs. Gardiner had advised Elizabeth of just how such a disadvantageous alliance would affect her father, her mother, and her sisters. Surely she would think her niece was not so clever as everyone liked to believe, were Elizabeth not to understand the advantages for everyone if she became Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy, the mistress of Pemberley.
At length, Elizabeth said, “I know I have your promise not to confide my secret to anyone. I must also beg you not to judge me too severely. I do not know how I would endure were I to lose your esteem.”
“I should hope that I have never judged you, my dear. I confess I am wont to share my opinion when I believe it is warranted to alter a particular path you might be tempted to choose for yourself, but I should like to think I never judged you.”
Another burden was thus lifted from Elizabeth’s shoulders even though she could not say she did not sometimes second guess herself. Mr. Darcy’s letter explaining his motives in separating her sister and Mr. Bingley, as well as his exposing George Wickham and possibly subjecting his own sister to censure, had made a lasting impression on Elizabeth.
After Elizabeth and her aunt had exhausted the topic of Mr. Darcy’s failed proposal, and Elizabeth had confessed all that she could without risking the demise of any esteem her aunt might hold for Mr. Darcy, the older woman threw a furtive glance outside the nearby window.
“It looks like there may be rain today. Perhaps Mr. Gardiner and I are the ones who should forgo the tour of Pemberley. We might easily send you to Pemberley alone, on horseback, no less, and of course, you may be forced to spend the night. You might be compelled to remain there until Mr. Darcy’s eventual return, at which point he will profess his undying love for you and the two of you shall live at Pemberley as man and wife for the remainder of your days.”
Elizabeth laughed. “Now, who is entertaining silly conjectures and playing matchmaker?”
“Oh, do let us go to Pemberley,” Mrs. Gardiner cried. “I daresay it will probably do you a great deal of good to see the place at least once. As I recall from having spent a good part of my life in this part of the country, it is by far the most spectacular estate you have yet to behold.
“I fear if you leave this part of the country without visiting Pemberley, especially out of misguided fear, you might never forgive yourself. The chambermaid has assured you Mr. Darcy will not be there, and we have no reason to doubt her.
“Besides, what if she were mistaken? What is the worst thing that would happen? That Mr. Darcy might behave the scorned man and refuse to acknowledge your presence. If such is the true nature of his character, then you will at least have the satisfaction of knowing that you did the right thing in refusing his hand–forever eliminating any lingering doubts you may be harboring.”
Elizabeth half smiled at this picture of a possible encounter with the gentleman. He had been rather abrupt in taking his leave after handing her the letter in the grove. She, as much as anyone, knew aloofness, haughtiness, and thinly veiled disdain were not beyond him. She would be surprised if such a characterization did not aptly describe him.
Indeed. What is the worst thing that can happen?
Having absentmindedly allowed her aunt and uncle to outpace her while they toured the beautiful grounds of Pemberley after finishing in the house, Elizabeth could not help but marvel at all the loveliness before her. From the moment her party entered Pemberley Woods, all that she had beheld was magnificent.
The landscape’s beauty was hardly anything at all compared to Pemberley manor itself, and Elizabeth could not help but think that of all the splendor that surrounded her, she might have been mistress. The somewhat improved opinion she had of Mr. Darcy as a consequence of reading his letter in Kent, and thereby having garnered a better understanding of his character, was further bolstered by the strong commendation of the housekeeper, Mrs. Reynolds: words to the effect of his being the best landlord, the best master, and the best brother that ever lived.
Elizabeth had been compelled to acknowledge her acquaintance with the gentleman upon admiring his likeness in the art gallery, which proved rather fortunate when the housekeeper apologized for his not being in residence.
“My master is due to arrive at Pemberley tomorrow with a large party,” the older woman had said.
Mrs. Reynolds’ words were a balm to Elizabeth’s spirits, for upon hearing them and thus receiving much-needed confirmation of the testimony from the servant at the inn, she released a deep sigh of relief. She finally felt free to enjoy her tour and even suffered a sense of awe that the master of such a grand estate had confessed to loving her most ardently not too long ago.
I must not dwell on any of that now, for despite Mr. Darcy’s explanation for his part in separating Jane and Mr. Bingley and despite his account of what really unfolded between him and Mr. Wickham, I would be entirely remiss to turn a deaf ear on his criticisms of my family.
Even though nearly every word he said was accurate, she reminded herself. I am sure he would be compelled to change his opinion were he to meet Uncle and Aunt Gardiner. I wager he would regard them as fashionable people of sense and education. He is, after all, quite fond of the Bingleys, who, save their larger fortune, have no higher claim to status and privilege than my London relations.
Such weighty thoughts as these were having the opposite effect on Elizabeth of that she would have liked. Despite the occasional tinge of regret that threatened to dampen her lively spirits, on the whole, she really had no cause to repine and never more so than that moment when she was surrounded by such wonderments.
She walked on, pausing here and there along the way in admiration, when she came to a fork in the path and realized she had no idea which one her relations had chosen. No stranger to losing herself while on one of her solitary rambles, Elizabeth chose the path on her right, the one that followed a small stream.
With luck, this path shall lead me directly to my uncle and aunt, and if not, I shall simply retrace my steps and continue directly to the manor house. A quarter hour later, Elizabeth did just that.
Her pace varied as she returned, ambling slowly at times, taking in for the last time some of the most memorable parts of her solitary ramble. Pemberley’s unadorned natural beauty presented a striking contrast to the well-manicured lanes of Rosings Park. Indeed, she much preferred the former. Thoughts of Rosings Park set her busy mind to the many times when she had accidentally met Mr. Darcy on one of its paths and how he always seemed to be waiting for her.
Had I realized Mr. Darcy likely fancied himself courting me, would my response to his proposal have been different? Elizabeth asked herself. She wondered what it would be like if the two of them were walking side by side at that very moment. Her mind wandering down the path of what might have been, she nearly gasped aloud when the object of her musings appeared within twenty yards ahead of her.
Too close to pretend she did not see him, she silently debated how she ought to act.
Do I turn and walk away? Do I run away? Do I stand here and wait for him to approach me? Do I walk right up to him?
The first was certainly not an option. Neither was the second.
I am Elizabeth Bennet. My courage always rises at such times as this. Nor shall I simply stand here looking stupid. I know what I must do.
By the way, if you like the idea of Mrs. Gardiner giving Elizabeth a nudge or two in pursuit of Mr. Darcy, you’ll love this story.
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