Before we begin, it has just occurred to me that some of you are coming to these posts a little late and I should probably share the links to the early blogs. Here you go: What if?, What if? Part II, and The Letter
Now, I know you were all hoping to read the remainder of Mr. Darcy’s letter this week, but I was reminded that we have not yet heard from Elizabeth. Shall we see how she is doing with the revelation of Mr. Darcy’s affections?
Elizabeth sat before her mirror staring at her reflection and questioning everything she had once believed.
Moments after Mr. Darcy left the parsonage, the weight of his words and the consequences of her reactions had settled upon her and she sank to the floor, tears flooding her cheeks. No matter her feelings regarding the man, she was not insensible to the honour of gaining his attention, let alone his affections. However, whether she desired such attention was not what caused her to weep so. It was the fear that she had most assuredly destroyed any chance for her sister’s happiness.
Upon hearing movement within the parsonage, she quickly gathered her things and made her way to the room appointed to her. It would not do to have a servant or the Collins find her in such a state. After bathing her face and holding a cool cloth to her eyes to reduce the swelling, she had taken her current position before the mirror.
Every younger daughter of Longbourn was raised understanding she could not hold a candle to the eldest Miss Bennet. Not saying they believed themselves wanting in beauty; it was common knowledge that the Bennet sisters were the loveliest girls to be found in their corner of Hertfordshire and the surrounding area. That said, Mr. Darcy’s comment at the Meryton assembly had confirmed an unspoken fear: Elizabeth’s beauty was insufficient to secure a worthy husband. Mr. Collins’ subsequent proposal and his comment regarding the unlikelihood of her receiving another had firmly cemented this understanding in her mind. All hopes of marriage and children of her own had been firmly thrust away as she planned her future as the spinster aunt to Jane’s little ones. Then Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire declared he ardently admired and loved her.
Elizabeth tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear and tilted her head, first one way, then the other. She pressed the cool rag to the puffy skin under eyes once more and then began her examination again.
“Whatever could he see in me?” She sniffed and began removing her hairpins. “How could I go from tolerable to winning his affection?”
Once she had taken down her hair, running her fingers through it to be certain she had not missed a stray pin, she began to brush it. At Longbourn, when Lizzy was distressed, Jane would brush her hair and all her worries would seem to float away; but Jane was not here. The rhythm of the strokes did calm Elizabeth’s nerves somewhat, until the similarity to Mrs. Bennet frayed them once more. This was how Charlotte Collins found her friend a few minutes later.
The door opened slowly after a quiet knock, and Elizabeth’s friend slipped inside and closed the door behind her. She took the brush and continued the soothing strokes while humming softly and Elizabeth felt her anxiety begin to subside. Once every knot had been removed, Charlotte plaited the long silky strands and tied a ribbon about the end. When she was finished, she laid her hands on Elizabeth’s shoulders.
“Would you like to speak of it?”
Elizabeth bit her lip as tears glistened in her eyes and she met her friend’s gaze in the mirror. “I have been rather foolish, I believe.”
“In what way?” Charlotte asked as she lowered herself onto the foot of the bed.
Unable to face her friend directly, Elizabeth continued to stare into the mirror. “I fear I have permanently ruined Jane’s happiness.”
A smile tugged at her friend’s lips. “However did you manage that in the short time I was at Rosings Park?”
Elizabeth slowly turned to meet her friend’s gaze directly. “Mr. Darcy visited whilst you were gone.”
Charlotte’s eyes grew larger, and her lips opened, but Elizabeth held up a finger. “Do not say you knew it were so.”
“But he does admire you?”
Elizabeth nodded her head twice.
“Oh!” Charlotte’s grin spread across her features, but her excitement died as quickly as it was born. “What did you do?”
A tear slid down her cheek as Elizabeth shook her head. “I was so angry with him for interfering with Jane and Mr. Bingley.”
“Eliza, you have no way of knowing it was he. I firmly believe it was Mr. Bingley’s sisters who separated them.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “Colonel Fitzwilliam told me, just this morning, that Mr. Darcy boasted to him that he had saved his friend from an imprudent marriage as there were some very strong objections against the lady.”
“No!” Charlotte’s mouth hung open.
“Yes.” Elizabeth dabbed her handkerchief at the corners of her eyes. “And then the man himself arrived at Hunsford and declared he ardently admired and loved me.” She sniffed and dabbed her nose. “I was in such disbelief that I demanded he explain himself.”
“Oh, no, Eliza, you didn’t.”
Elizabeth nodded. “I did.”
“What did he say?”
Reluctantly, Elizabeth revealed what passed between her and Mr. Darcy while Charlotte alternated between questions and exclamations. When all had been told, Elizabeth felt the tears rolling free down her cheeks once more.
“You see? He will be more determined to keep Mr. Bingley as far from Jane as possible.”
Charlotte nibbled on her fingernail. “Perhaps, or perhaps he will right the wrong he has done.”
Elizabeth pursed her lips and stared at her friend. “What man in his right mind would push his friend towards a woman he believed was objectionable after that lady’s sister reprimanded him as I did?”
A smile tugged at Charlotte’s lips once more. “One who is ardently in love.”
I understand why Jane Austen did not have Elizabeth confide in Charlotte, but it is another “what if?” that I’ve always wanted to play with. Charlotte did tell Elizabeth more than once that she thought Darcy liked her, even after her marriage. I think she is trustworthy not to tell Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine.
So, what do you think? What will our intrepid heroine do next?