Photobucket

Photobucket


Photobucket

Photobucket

Parson's Pleasure

Chapter 13

The days at Longbourn were never the same for anyone after Darcy's parting. Even the cows were showing their displeasure at his withdrawal. Mr Foreman, the dairyman, was greatly vexed for he knew of the animals' inclination to develop a fondness for a particular pair of hands, and ever since Master William, as Mr Foreman called Darcy, had left the dairy, Mr Foreman's own pail had been unceremoniously kicked over more than once. He had warned Mr Bennet of this particular evil and had entreated him on several occasions not to allow strangers to milk the cows lest the beasts should grow too attached to people who were unlikely to stay.

But the cows were not the only ones missing William. The whole family was wretched with longing, Mrs Bennet was in particular, and after a week had passed since he had mounted his horse and left for good, Mrs Bennet had not given Elizabeth one single moment of peace. She did not cease to speak of dear William in the fondest terms and express her wonderment at the postman's conspicuous indifference for her door. Her constant whining had begun to bring a daily terror to her daughters' minds that something dreadful might have happened to William.

Mr Bennet was by far less dramatic. According to him there were three different conclusions to be drawn from his young cousin's silence: Either his writing had been delayed for some reason that might have to do with his encountering some serious problem in his parish upon arrival, or he had yet procured no opportunity to see Lady Catherine and hence did not have much to write home about, or he was too happy for letter writing!

To the eye of the stranger Elizabeth seemed to bear Darcy's absence with uncommon coolness. Yet, that was far from the real state of affairs within her soul.

William was gone. And the home she had for so long loved seemed no longer her home. It was a solitary place without his now familiar figure hovering about.

As she crossed the halls of Longbourn, one evening when no entertainment had succeeded to retain her in the drawing room, Elizabeth imagined she heard a noise in Darcy's room as she passed by and could not help a strange fancy to look into it from seizing her heart. Without the smallest expectation to find anything there, of course, she took a quick look at the bolt which showed her the key was still in the door. She paused a moment in a stupid breathless state, as if she were about to open the door and find William lying on his bed. She scorned herself for her stupidity, and shaking her head, sauntered away to her room to prepare herself for bed. But another glance at the bewitching door persuaded her that she would never be able to get to sleep if she did not examine that room first.

So, placing her candle on a chair, she seized the key and turned it with a tremulous hand and as the door easily yielded to it, her heart leaped with anticipation. She looked round the room. It was entirely empty, and the few things that did remain had been decidedly untouched for some time. There was no fire, and the curtains had been drawn and rested motionless. A glance at what had been for some time his bed reminded her of the many days it had been empty. In the dimness of her candle she discerned a pile of books, one on top of the other, on a chest of drawers. They were the books Darcy had borrowed from Mr Bennet's library.

To close her eyes in sleep that night seemed a helpless business. So she sat on Darcy's bed and shyly opened the first book, starting reading where he had left an indiscreet earmark.

Predictably, the Bible was that first book she read. To the disturbing passage she paid particular attention, dwelling on every syllable he had read. In this occupation she hoped to bury her longing, which was too apt to seize her mind if her fingers only were employed, and even when thinking of their last hours together did very little to heal her pain, at least it left her with cheerful recollections for half an hour, which was something gained. But after half an hour of going over the same passage in the Bible, her mind strayed a little and she soon found herself in the moment when she thought he was going to kiss her.

Her spirit thus agitated, her longing grew to unprecedented levels.

From then on she could no longer go on her morning walks without listening with an anxious desire for his steps and his voice at every corner of the grove. The evenings too were intolerably long, having lost all the previous cheerfulness and becoming increasingly tedious, since there was no Darcy to read aloud from sonnets, and I daresay even Lydia would have happily suffered his sermons if he would have returned to read to them merely one night.

William was gone. And it seemed, he was gone for longer than he had vouched. One week, two weeks went by, a point which Elizabeth never failed to think over and calculate everyday and not a word did she receive from him. She had been very disappointed in not finding a letter from him within the first se'nnight and this disappointment had been renewed on each of the mornings that had now been spent in expectancy of the post. Before the third week since Darcy had gone away had ended, it was all disappointment.

Besides visiting with her dear friend Charlotte, Elizabeth could have no other employment that brought her pleasure. Not surprisingly, she found it increasingly difficult to do every chore without Darcy's voice behind her or his eyes piercing her. In an effort to banish and conceal all bad feelings and at the same time fill her hours, Elizabeth soon increased her visits to Lucas Lodge. It was usually late in the morning before she returned home, and no sooner had she arrived she inquired after the mail.

"Has no letter been left here for me since I went out?" asked she. Hill answered in the negative.

"Are you quite certain?" she insisted. "Not even a note?"

The servant replied that none had.

"How very odd," said she in a low and disappointed voice. "Tis the third week already..."

"How odd, indeed," echoed Jane, but to herself, and secretly determined, after some consideration, that if things continued many days longer as uncertain as they were, she would represent the situation to her papa, and entreat him to make some serious inquiries about their cousin.

One morning, as Jane and Elizabeth were walking on the lawn, Mrs Hill approached them, with some trepidation in her voice she said to Elizabeth.

"Ma'am. You be expecting a letter?"

"Yes."

"You must know the postman has come with one from Master William."

"For me!"

"No, Ma'am. For my Master."

"When?"

"About half an hour, ma'am."

"Thank you, Hill."

She flew to seek Mr Bennet, Jane in tow, but as they reached the stairs they were met by their father, who, coming out of his library with the letter in his hand, immediately summoned them.

"Lizzy, Jane," said he, "I was going to look for you two; come into my room."

They followed him thither; and their curiosity to know what he had to tell them was heightened by the supposition of it being connected with the letter he held in his hand and Elizabeth anticipated with pleasure mingled with apprehension that William might have included a note in his correspondence to her father instead of writing to her directly as he had implied. Should her father have read the contents of such a note which she supposed would contain some love language of some kind, she dreaded the explanation that must be offered at so great an intimacy with her cousin. Exchanging looks of surprise, Jane and Elizabeth followed their father to the fireplace, trembling a little, and they both sat down. He then said,

"I have received a letter this morning that has astonished me exceedingly. As it somehow concerns you both, I thought you two ought to know its contents."

The colour now rushed into Elizabeth's cheeks in the instantaneous conviction of it being a letter from William. As to why her sister Jane had been summoned as well, she was at a loss. Elizabeth was undetermined whether most to be pleased that William had written at last, or offended that his letter was not rather addressed to herself; when her father continued,

"I see you knew perfectly well the identity of the addressee, Lizzy. It is William. Yet I dare say you shall be at loss as to discover what his meaning in writing is. Here again I daresay I shall defy your sagacity. But I shall not sport with your impatience, by reading what he says on that point." Straightening his back he read what follows,

"'

Having now a good house and very sufficient income, I intend to marry; and in seeking a reconciliation with the Longbourn family I have a wife in view, for you must know I have set my mind to chuse one of your daughters.
' One of my daughters! He writes as if he did not know you! Is this not strange?"

"It sure is!" agreed Jane.

"We all know of his plan of amends -- of atonement -- for inheriting Longbourn. Your mother has always thought it an excellent one. I must confess the heir of Longbourn must be very full of eligibility and suitableness, and William's intention seemed excessively generous and disinterested for his own part. But now you must listen to this. I shall skip the irrelevant passages, and go directly to the point. Prepare yourself, my love,

' To that effect, it would be necessary for me to make the immediate acquaintance of your daughters. I would be honoured to be introduced to the three eldest, since I understand that the youngest are far too young to be offered in matrimony."

"The three eldest?" Jane exclaimed in puzzlement.

"He means Jane and Mary?"

"And yourself!"

"I do not understand. Has he not made our acquaintance already?" asked Jane innocently.

"Well. That is what I have thought, too."

"This is most...surprising ... most extraordinary," exclaimed Jane, unsure of what to say to soothe Elizabeth, whose countenance expressed a painful moment within her soul.

"Why is he writing all this? Papa...what can all this mean?" asked a bewildered Lizzy.

"Maybe what follows could give us some light on the subject. Hear on...

'I have suffered a most unfortunate accident on the road...'

"An accident!" cried Elizabeth in alarm.

"You must hear what follows Lizzy,

'...a most unfortunate accident ... which has left me momentarily unable to travel to Hertfordshire and make my due compliments to you and your amiable daughters in person. I shall not dwell on the misfortunes that befell me in my sojourn. Suffice it to say that my injuries prevent me from walking and speaking and it is with great assistance from my curate that I am writing this letter. Lady Catherine de Bourgh sent a carriage to fetch me to the parsonage as soon as she learned of my poor health condition, which was, to my misfortune, only recently. Today, she has paid me a brief visit and condescended to give me her opinion on the subject of my health. 'Mr. Collins,' she said, 'you must send for your family. Send for your cousins, chuse one of those gentlewomen for your sake; and for my own, let her be an active, useful sort of person, not brought up high, but able to help you recover your health and make a good wife. This is my advice. Write to your cousin as soon as you can, tell him to send his daughters to Hunsford, and I will send my carriage to fetch them.' Therefore, after being so wisely entreated by her ladyship, I have no scruples to beg you, forgo the peculiarity of the situation and consent to send my cousins to Kent. I cannot imagine what her ladyship will do to make them feel comfortable, for I assure you, your daughters will be very well attended since Lady Catherine de Bourgh is very attentive to all. And you may be certain that when I have the honour of being so well taken care of by such capable hands, I shall be entitled to make my choice.'"

Mr Bennet made a pause here and looked his favourite daughter in the eye to see how she bore it. "Is this not incredible? But the letter continues. Hear this,

'You must know that while my life is out of danger, I find myself in dire need of companionship. Should you find it impossible to spare your amiable daughters to nurse me back to health, be so kind as to send someone else in their stead. I daresay you shall find my entreaty rather unusual, but I assure you you have no cause to fear for your daughters' well being, for I am not alone in the parsonage, my curate and his family live here too, but they are too exceedingly busy running the parsonage to have time to devote to your humble servant. Dear, dear sir, do as I bid you if you please, and the angels above will fill your house with blessings.
'"

"Can you possibly guess, Jane, what he meant by this?" Both Jane and Elizabeth were momentarily tongue-tied. But the spiritless condition which this news had thrown them into was shortly overcome by the absurdly incredible intelligence that it afforded.

"And you, Lizzy. Have you any idea?" He read again Collins's disturbing language with some scorn, "'Send your amiable daughters and I shall chuse one of them!' Yes. You hear quite well. Jane. I must say I am astonished. I had no idea all of you were on the brink of matrimony!"

Neither Jane nor Elizabeth knew what to say, thoroughly stunned as they were.

"You both look astonished. Now Jane. Is there anything you wish to tell me?" Jane shook her head.

"And you Lizzy?"

She shook her head too.

"Very well. Then I must tell you what I think of all this. Here. Have this. Take a good look at it," (he gave them the letter) "Are you certain this letter comes from the same William Collins we all know?"

"Who else can it be?" asked Jane in astonishment.

"I do not know. But this certainly does not look like something William would ask from me and not like his handwriting either."

"How do you know?"

"Because I have seen his handwriting when I used to carry his letters to the post, and so have you, Lizzy."

Thereupon Mr. Bennet searched his desk for the first letter that Mr. Collins had sent him, and compared the handwriting. "Here. Compare with this one. Is it the same handwriting? I think not."

"However, it is the same style. Look." Lizzy pointed out.

"Yet the handwriting is very different...as if this letter has been written by a different man."

"But it cannot be. No. It is not possible!" argued Jane.

"Papa. William does say that his curate helped him to write. If he cannot speak or walk, well, perhaps he cannot write by himself and the letter was written by his curate as he dictated it."

"O, poor William! But is he out of danger, papa?" asked Jane with anguish.

"So he says."

"How unfortunate for him to have suffered two accidents in so little time!" sighed Jane.

"And even so, the William I know is too much a true and kindhearted gentleman to be sending a letter such as this. No. I think we have been under a most dreadfully odd misapprehension."

"Of what kind?"

Holding up the last letter he said, "This must be from someone else."

"Someone else?" Jane chanted.

"Do you think this letter has been sent by someone unconnected with us, some deceiver?" asked Lizzy, beginning to feel uneasy.

"No. Not a deceiver. I think the writer of this letter is my cousin William Collins."

"I do not understand."

"Dear Lizzy. I am afraid you do understand, do you not?"

"Papa!"

"I am sorry, my love. But this is the only possible explanation. Would William have given you up without so much as an explanation for any of your sisters, you think? For you see, I am not blind, and run me through my body if you two were not engaged!"

"We were not..."

"I know what I have seen, young lady. And I have seen enough to be certain that it was William's design to offer for you as soon as he returned. Now, why would he change his mind so abruptly? No, no. This cannot be. The man we all know as William Collins is too good to be so cruelly sporting with our feelings. I know him. I do not comprehend what could have possibly happened to him, but I see now that we might have made a terrible mistake by taking for granted that the young man you found in our property was my cousin Collins."

"O Lor'" Jane gasped. "Poor, poor Lizzy! How unhappy this must make you!"

"I am not as unhappy as I am astonished, Jane," she said in a whisper.

They were in silence for a while trying to process this intelligence. Jane was in great need of comforting her sister. "This is all too confusing, and the more I think of it the more I find it altogether unfathomable." After a pause Jane added, "Perhaps it is all a misunderstanding?"

Lizzy laughed at the naïve idea."Perhaps William bumped his head again and this time he cannot recollect that he has already made our acquaintance?"

"Yes, yes!" Jane said, feeling sanguine. " Perhaps this is all the result of the consequence after the shock of a second accident!" she offered hopefully.

"You are too good, as usual, my dear Jane. But I am afraid I cannot have hopes that it may be so. I wish it to be so, though."

"Be it a misunderstanding or not, I must investigate it myself. I shall not send any of you."

"I think I must go to Kent," said Lizzy. "I shall not bear the suspense, papa. I must go and see what the matter is."

"Then I shall go with you," said Jane, determined.

While Mr Bennet abhorred the notion of taking his two daughters to such a strange commission, Mrs. Bennet treasured the idea, though she had Lydia and Kitty to accompany Lizzy rather than Jane and Mary in her mind. One of those daughters was going to get married. If Mr Bennet's cousin had only changed persona, so be it, as long as he still was of the mind of marrying one of her girls, and she should have lace to wear and the servants punch to prepare.

Chapter 14

At last Mr Bennet did consent to take Jane and Elizabeth in his quest for the truth, but he would not take any other of his daughters, regardless of the protestations of Mrs Bennet, who by this unexpected change of plans was forced to forget all about buying Lizzy's trousseaux in the fashionable shops of Bond Street in London. Her lamentations over Lizzy's lost lover would have resounded perpetually through Longbourn-house had not more serious misfortunes befallen upon her.

Mrs Bennet's best comfort in the face of Elizabeth's unresolved situation, was that Mr Bingley must be down again in the summer, and to marry her eldest daughter. The attentive reader must remember she was a woman of mean understanding and little information. The business of her life was to get her daughters married, Jane in particular, hence her continual wonderment and repine, first at William's and lately at Mr Bingley's returning no more, which both pained Jane and vexed Elizabeth exceedingly.

"Jane has no business in Kent," she declared talking to her husband. "She is engaged to Mr Bingley. You should take Kitty and Lydia along with Lizzy."

When Mr Bennet expressed his strong doubts that his eldest daughter was engaged, his wife could but refute him. "Of what are you talking, Mr Bennet? They must be engaged," she stated.

"I confess that every circumstance is in favour of their engagement, but one. And that one is Jane's silence on the matter," admonished he.

"'Tis is because they are secretely engaged," she explained. "No one would ever abandon Jane! No, not my Jane!" she inwardly implied that she did not so much as wonder about Lizzy --his Lizzy-- to have been so abandoned by her lover. "Besides, I cannot think so wretchendly of Mr Bingley. Do you mean he has been acting a part in his behaviour towards your sister all the time he was here? Do you suppose him really indifferent to Jane?"

"It is my opinion that he was partial to her while he was here, but his partiality has not endured their separation," Mr Bennet said with perfect composure.

"No, I cannot think that. He must and does love Jane. Mr Bingley is an honourable gentleman above all! I cannot doubt his constancy. I require no more proof! Nothing in my opinion has ever passed to justify doubt. All has been uniformally opened and unreserved."

"But they do not correspond. Surely you must agree that that is a bit strange for an engaged couple!"

Mrs Bennet paused a minute. There was a great measure of truth in what Mr Bennet said. "That is because he must be very busy! You must admit a man of fortune must be very busy. There! He is acquited! You can keep you pessimistic opinions for you, Mr Bennet!"

"I am merely stating what is plain for everyone to see, but you, Mrs Bennet."

"In short, you think ill of Mr Bingley," she said exasperated. "But I cannot. He is a man of most amiable a character. Can he be deceitful? I am sure he is not, I am certain. Your daughter is crossed in love, and so is Mr Bingley. He will be back in the summer, if not by Christmas. He cannot begin to think of marriage while mourning his best friend! That is his design in lingering in town. To spare Jane the pain."

"I did not know a friend of Mr Bingley's has died."

"O Jane told me all about it in one of her letters. Mr Bingley was busy looking after him at the time Jane was in London and he had no time to visit with her, so Miss Bingley informed her. His friend had not been found by the time Jane returned so he might just as well be declared dead, which is exactly the same thing."

Nothing Mr Bennet could say would persuade this resolute mother that she was in danger of losing so formidable a suitor for Jane, and though a day seldom passed in which she was not repeated the same account for Mr Bingley's absence clearly, there seemed little chance of her ever considering it remotably feasible.

If Mrs Bennet ever thought of a perfect marriage that was of her daughter's Jane. Of Elizabeth's marriage to William, she had thought with considerable less pleasure, because Elizabeth was the least dear to her of all her children; and though the man and the match were quite good enough for her, the worth of each was eclipsed by Mr Bingley's fortune of five thousand a year.

All Mrs Bennet's motherly expectations were set in the notion that she should undoubtedly see her daughter Jane settled at Netherfield in the course of three or four months which would afford her excellent opportunity to visit London.

Naturally, in the face of such meditations, no wedding for Lizzy was not as gloomy a prospect as no wedding for Jane, so she finally made up her mind to ask Jane about her understanding with Mr Bingley, and she chose to do so in a most indirect manner,

"We shall buy your trousseaux in Bond Street, Jane, you can depend on it. We shall go there soon as your sisters leaves for Kent."

Unfortunately, Jane was not so sanguine as her mother, and she, though very calmly, let her mother know she wished to wait until Mr Bingley condescended to resume the courtship before any talk of wedding was begun. "For there is doubt he will return, mama."

Thus the storm was unleashed.

Jane's idea of his returning no more Mrs Bennet treated with the utmost contempt. "Not return! Not return! The notion! Why should he not return, pray, when his betrothed is here! Surely he will come soon enough!"

"Dear mama, I have not seen Mr Bingley in the last three months, and I know very well he is not likely to return during the winter. No, I am not at all counting to see him in the near future, let alone expecting a declaration from him!"

Mrs Bennet's astonishment was unprecedented. "But you are engaged! You must be! After all this time he spent courting you in front of everyone." To this, Jane did not offer any answer but blushed a great deal.

"Upon my word!" cried Mr Bennet. "You know more of the matter than the interested parts."

Mrs Bennet paid no mind to her husband's intent to tease her. "O Jane. Don't pretend to deny it, because you know it is what everybody talks of."

"My dear mama!" exclaimed Jane feeling more pity for her poor mother than for herself.

"But Jane!" cried Mrs Bennet still not persuaded of her daughter's speaking in earnest. "Think of it. At the Meryton assembly Mr Bingley danced with you every dance! He talked to you so secretively at every gathering! No one who has ever seen you together, can doubt his affection.You stayed at Netherfield Park for more than a week, child! No, you cannot fool me. If Mr Bingley's manners were not of a man's wildly in love, then I confuse the matter quite sadly!"

"Mama. Should we expect a lively young man to be always guarded and circumspect? It is very often nothing but our own vanity that deceives us," interjected Elizabeth trying to rescue her sister. "Mama, I think you fancy admiration means more than it does."

Elizabeth's argument did nothing but put out her mother even more. A long description of Mr Bingley's good character ensued, for her loyalties were completely with the desirable would-be-son-in-law.

"Mr Bingley certainly does not deserve to be suspected, although we have not known him longer than William," chuckled Mr Bennet with sarcasm. "I shall write to him and ask him of his opinion on the matter."

"You will tell me now, Jane. Did he not make love to you, child? What have you to say?" asked Mrs Bennet breathlessly.

For the longest minute Jane was silent. She knew her mama expected her to confirm her wishes and would only accept that from her. It was no use denying an engagement when Mrs Bennet was determined in its existence, yet deny it she must.

"Tell me once and for all, child. Are you engaged to Mr Bingley?"

"I am not."

"Argh!!"

"Mama!"

"O my heart! My heart! I shall die this instant! Not engaged! Did you hear her, Mr Bennet? Not engaged! And Lizzy abandoned too!! I should perish! O, my heart!"

"Mama."

"I should throw myself out of a window!" she said pointing at the window that faced the lawn and rushing towards it with her daughters clinging to her. The fact that they were all at the basement did not seem to disturb Mrs Bennet's plan to suicide but it did affect Elizabeth's humour, who was the only one of her children to remain perfectly seated in the face of her mother's scandal.

"I should take poison! I should..."she made a pause and looking at Jane in the eye she said with a tragic voice. "And you should pine and die! That way Mr Bingley will be sorry for what he has done to you!" Thereupon, Mrs Bennet flopped herself on a big arm chair and pulled at the bell with all her might before fainting in a most theatrical fashion. They were forced to take her back to her bedroom and there she remained for a good two days, until the obligations that her family's parting to Kent entailed dragged her out of it.

Unfortunately for Lizzy, when Mrs Bennet had eased her overflowing bosom, and poured out her sorrows, she experienced a transformation. Against all probabilities, she never blamed Jane for the loss of the lover, but did very little to drop the subject, which inflicted enough misery on the poor dejected Jane, who in being so submissive never complained. Elizabeth would come in defence of her poor sister every time she noticed Jane was suffering under the unguarded language of their mother. As it happened, Mrs Bennet felt very much in the mood to scorn someone and Lizzy was providing her with the perfect excuse. Evidently, Mr Bingley's outrageous comportment had left her in a state of great despondency, and since she could not unleash her bitterness on the real offender, she redirected her wrath towards a favourite aim, namely, her least loved daughter.

We have already reminded the reader that Mrs Bennet was not the possessor of a scintillating intelligence. That was, however an insignificant flaw compared to her flipping character. When she did not get what she wanted, she usually fell ill and would make the life of the rest of the family a veritable inferno.

"I shall never forget Miss Lizzy," whimpered Mrs Bennet. "You should have secured William when she had the opportunity. I cannot blame Jane. She is all a good girl can be, and I am sure she made everything possible to secure Mr Bingley. But you (talking to Mr Bennet)...You have ruined my life! It was my dearest wish to see one of my children married and now you and that spoiled daughter of yours have ruined it all!"

"Mrs Bennet. I understand your wish was that William made Lizzy an offer of marriage, was it not?"

"Of course. What kind of question is that? What do you mean, Mr Bennet, by talking in this way?"

"Even when he might have been a complete stranger?"

"At least she would be married!"

"A penniless stranger?"

"He might just as well have been a rich one!"

And I daresay she was dead right!

Chapter 15

Nothing Mr Bennet said persuaded his wife to stay at home and allow him the privilege of a quiet journey to Kent. She must go, no matter if the rest of the girls stay alone at home. It would not be such a long trip. They would not be staying there more than a fortnight and Lydia, Kitty and Mary could survive a few days on their own. The scheme could not have been more disagreeable to Elizabeth, who was certain that nothing but the prospect of matchmaking could have taken her mama away from her beloved Lydia.

The grand house of Rosings Park stood imposing in front of them all as they alighted from the carriage. It was 'grand' in every way from the park to the very owner, whose 'grandeur' was even greater than that of her splendid abode. She and her daughter received the visitors from Longbourn with great condescension. So rich were the surroundings that Mrs Bennet could hardly avoid ogling every single item with the usual raptures that the sight of money and rank occasioned in her. Jane was her usual self, calm and subdued. Mr Bennet exchanged a knowing look or two and a fleeting sarcasm here and there with his favourite daughter. Elizabeth, for her part, was not at all intimidated by the mere display of wealth, so she thought she could witness it with no trepidation.

They had not heard Lady Catherine's uninterrupted speech for too long when it became clear to all of them that the Mr Collins who lay infirm in the nearby parsonage could never be William. According to her Ladyship, Mr Collins had not had a second accident, but was still undergoing a painful recovery from the awful accident he had suffered near Hertfordshire when he was attacked by a gang of highwaymen and shot in the shoulder. Lady Catherine was very thankful to Mr Bennet for his kindness in tending to her parson for so long. Mr Bennet would not dare to disabuse her, and he accepted her words of gratitude without a further word. Mrs Bennet, too, was in such awe that she dared not open her mouth to contradict her.

The conversation was briefly interrupted by the arrival of the refreshments, and when their hostess spoke again it was to express a wish to get to know which of the young ladies there would be graced with her blessing upon her marriage to her parson, to which Mr Bennet answered that that could only be known with time.

His answer did not fail to vex both his wife and the dowager, whose displeasure was clear in the sharp raising of both eyebrows. Thereupon this latter gave a long speech on the benefits of a match between an heir and a destitute daughter, giving strong emphasis to the fact that their property was entailed on Mr Collins, whose generosity in offering for one of their girls could not pass unnoticed. She went to extremes to relate them how she had successfully found suitable partners for every impoverished young woman in the area with no one complaining so far, and offered to do the favour of doing so for the rest of the Bennet girls that had been left at home, provided they were as comely and pleasing as the ones she had in front of her. As to the marriage at hand, she gave her opinion in so decisive a manner as to leave no doubt that she was not used to being openly contradicted. The great family clock alerted the Longbourn party that they had been listening to Lady Catherine's raptures on matchmaking for longer than any of them could stand, with the exception of Mrs Bennet, of course, and they were beginning to fall into despair when they were miraculously rescued by Miss de Bourgh's gentle coughing, which occasioned in both the mother and the lady's maid such distress that it was necessary for the visitors to be shown the exit.

Once in the parsonage they were received by Mrs Garnet, the housekeeper. Fortunately, before Mrs Bennet could open her mouth, they were showed to their rooms. Mr Bennet discreetly inquired after his cousin, but he was informed that Mr Collins was too indisposed to receive them, but that he had left instructions for their accommodations to be readied, and their dinner to be served at five. Mr Collins would be pleased to see them all in the morning.

And so it was that they were forced to remain in suspense for another day.

When in the morning they were finally introduced to the real Mr Collins, they were thoroughly disappointed. Not only was he not William but neither was he near him in looks or intelligence. Mr Collins could have easily been the stupidest man of their acquaintance.

"At least he is a respectable young man, Jane," Mrs Bennet pointed out, to which Jane silently nodded. "And he is the rightful heir of your father!" she went on in the same cheerful tone.

"Mama!" Elizabeth protested.

"What! What am I saying that deserves censure?"

Elizabeth got red in the face but said nothing more. It was evident to them that Mrs Bennet would not relent in her decision to see one of her daughters married to the heir of Longbourn, whoever that might be.

But which of the girls would be doomed to such miserable destiny?

The days that followed brought no improvement in their estimation of Mr Collins's character. He was the picture of stupidity, and his accident had not done much for his looks either. Unfortunately, the presence of his fair cousins did quite a lot for the improvement of his health, to the girls' vexation. Hardly had they been there a week, when Mr Collins abandoned his bed, and commenced to advance both in well-being and in his abilities to entertain. This proved too much for Mr Bennet, whose curiosity as regards his cousin had been satisfied but was still restless as to what might have become of William. Before the second week began he had returned to Longbourn, leaving his two eldest under the dubious care of his wife. Scarcely had Mr Bennet set foot off Kent ground, when Mrs Bennet began to advance a match between Jane and Mr Collins, with the help and approbation of Lady Catherine. Another week did not pass before the parson had already expressed his deep interest in the fairest Bennet girl.

"Jane, promise me that no matter what mama says you will not marry papa's cousin."

Jane shook her head with sadness. "I shall do my best, Lizzy."

"O Jane! Jane!"

They said nothing more on the subject. Regardless of what their feelings might be, both of them knew that one of them would be obligated, by honour, by pressure, by self sacrifice, to marry the disagreeable cousin, unless a better suitor happened on them just in time to rescue them from the unwanted union. But chances were that no such man would ever appear.

One morning, however, as Mrs Bennet and her two daughters were having a stroll in the garden near the rectory, Mrs Garnet came running to them crying at the top of her voice.

"Ma'am, if you please! Make haste!"

"What has happened?" asked Mrs Bennet in alarm.

"Lady Catherine's nephew, Colonel Fitzwilliam, is come to Rosings park and he is on his way to the parsonage!"

"To the parsonage?" asked Elizabeth in surprise.

"Yes, ma'am."

"When?"

"This minute, ma'am!"

"Is he single?" inquired Mrs Bennet with a gleam in her eye.

The servant nodded, biting her lip. "He is the youngest son of Lord Matlock, ma'am."

"Is he amiable?" asked Jane with enthusiasm.

"Very much."

"O Jane! Jane! A Colonel that is related to Lady Catherine! This is an unexpected honour! Make haste, girl, and be sure to look as well as you can!"

Elizabeth smiled wearily. Her mother's quickness to jump from one suitor to another had never surprised her and certainly never failed to amuse her. However, the impropriety with which she usually conducted herself, and the shameful marketing she did with Jane's beauty did bother her a great deal. She wished there was a way to stop her.

"Why would a nephew of Lady Catherine's bother to visit us?" Jane asked Lizzy as they followed the path towards the parsonage as fast as they could.

"I've no idea. But I think I have heard this colonel's name on another occasion."

"Have you?"

"I think he might be the same Colonel Fitzwilliam that used to correspond with William."

"O! This is excellent news. Perhaps he knows of his whereabouts!"

"I hope he does."

Chapter 16

Colonel Fitzwilliam was already in the parsonage when the ladies from Longbourn arrived. He entered into conversation directly with the two girls with the easiness and readiness of a well bred man, and talked very pleasantly. He stayed with them till tea, to Mrs Bennet's delight and would have stayed beyond that time but for his previous engagement with his aunt. Unfortunately, Mr Collins's presence during their colloquy prevented Elizabeth from querying the colonel about his acquaintance with William. She was sanguine, however, that there would be soon another chance to see him and converse with him on the subject as he did not leave without expressing his wish to see both Jane and Elizabeth at Rosings and further their acquaintance.

"O what a pleasant gentleman!" sighed Mrs Bennet when he was gone. "What manners, what correctness! And those moustaches! How I love a red coat!"

"If only he had a head on his shoulders!" declared Elizabeth with a sneer.

"Or two thousand a year," Jane mocked her mother.

"I see you are teasing me," Mrs Bennet said scornfully at which declaration both girls laughed out merrily. "Very well. You can laugh at me if you like but I tell you one thing. You will not survive without a husband and I do not see your beaus around, do I?" This was said with all the intention to cause pain and I must say that the effect did not keep her waiting for both Elizabeth and Jane were reminded of their frustrated engagements and thus mortally wounded they were instantly silenced. In seeing that she had effectively hushed her daughters Mrs Bennet went on with her plans to lure the colonel into marrying one of them.

Among other points, she made up her mind that Jane must display bare shoulders at every assembly at Rosings park and both of them must curl their hair with paper every night so that they could have those beautiful ringlets every morning in case they were summoned into her ladyship's presence at short notice.

"And for the love of the Lor', smile, Jane!" Elizabeth huffed and puffed in annoyance.

"Stop that, Miss Lizzy, and pay attention! If you persist in continuing in this way, not securing a deserving man that is worth the marrying, you will soon grow grey hair and then who would care to marry you with that pittance you have for dowry?" she spat out.

Who indeed?

"I shall have no rest until all of you have walked the aisle, I tell you," she continued unabated. "I do not care if you marry a colonel or a parson as long as you get married." Pointing a bonny finger at her eldest she said almost threateningly, "And if you can secure yourself an Earl's youngest son so much the better, Jane. Mr Collins can marry Lizzy." Elizabeth beheld her with rounded eyes. "What? What have I said that astonishes you so much, Miss Lizzy? It was what I have planned from the very beginning, remember? Unless you have heard from William. You have not, have you? He will break your heart, you'll see. O well. Same as Mr Bingley."

Had Mrs Bennet had a measure of gentleness in her soul, she could have spared her daughters all the pain that this conversation brought to them. But there was but one thought in this vain woman: the task that had been laid at her door when she bore five daughters and no son and she had no time, and no wish to think of anything else.

To Mrs Bennet's vexation, it was some days before they were summoned to the grand house again, for while there were visitors to keep her good company, Lady Catherine did not condescend to entertain the lesser classes.

At length, an invitation arrived, and the whole party, which included a much improved Mr Collins, was received at Rosings for dinner. Before long, Elizabeth was discovered to be musical and Lady Catherine entreated her to entertain them at the piano forte. Colonel Fitzwilliam offered with pleasure to turn pages for her and they spent an agreeable time together in relative intimacy in the music room while the rest of the party observed them from the adjoining parlour.

In between pieces Elizabeth endeavoured to find an opportunity to talk to the colonel of their mutual acquaintance but she found it very difficult to begin since she feared her feelings for William might be revealed to the colonel or her intentions misinterpreted. Unfortunately, Lady Catherine's constant butting into their conversation made her every single attempt to introduce the subject simply impossible and her visit ended without her making much progress.

On further visits, which were not so often, the situation was very much the same: either Lady Catherine monopolized the attention of everyone in the parlour, or Mrs Bennet thought it appropriate to put her daughters in auction. Chances for intimate tÍte at tÍte were scarce if not none-existent.

Fortunately, the colonel was going through a most tranquil face and was apparently immune to Jane's charms, though he continued his visits to the parsonage with great frequency. On such visits he would invariable seek Elizabeth's company instead of Jane's. He would entreat her to sing for him with great insistence, and he would always have a new story of his dangers and campaigns with which to engage her undivided attention. But again they were never left alone for at the parsonage Mrs Bennet took up the role Lady Catherine played at Rosings making an intimate colloquy impossible, and Mr Collins, seeing the honourable Fitzwilliam was paying such a compliment to his humble abode, never missed the occasion of his presence.

When at last she did have the chance upon casually bumping into Colonel Fitzwilliam during a stroll in the park, she thought Providence had smiled on her. Very artlessly, she endeavoured to exact the information from him without betraying the shocking intelligence of the mistaken identity or her relationship with the gentleman in question. But, alas, vain as the colonel was, he seemed uninterested in the turn of their conversation revolving on this stranger and only gave her vague answers, returning to the most agreeable topic: himself, which vexed Elizabeth exceedingly. Yet he did inform her that he seldom corresponded with anyone and that the only man with whom he had of late had been his cousin Darcy while he was stationed in Hertfordshire. This name was said as if Elizabeth knew the personage already, but Elizabeth, focused as she was on William, whom she thought an ordinary commoner would never dream to make any connection between himself and the rich nephew of Lady Catherine de Bourgh and in the end the conversation drifted to another topic without her gathering any information of importance.

Of this Mr Darcy she had heard quite often, from Lady Catherine de Bourgh's own lips and occasionally from the servants though Elizabeth still was foreign as to his resemblance. One day, however, she was confronted with his picture, and a little more of the mysterious gentleman's character was revealed.

It was on one of her last days at Kent. Her party had planned to spend the day out doors and have a picnic in the magnificent gardens of Rosings Park. Unfortunately, the weather did not afford a good opportunity for an examination of the park as it had been their first wish for it was a very sober-looking morning with absolute promises of a downpour. When upon their arrival, the first drops of rain on the window caught their eyes, they abandoned the plans to tour the parks and Colonel Fitzwilliam proposed a tour of the house instead.

As they ascended the stairs, Elizabeth's attention was caught by a beautiful picture of children in riding costumes surrounded by hunters and hounds, hanging on the wall at the end of the corridor, so she lingered behind in order to get a better look at it. Just when she was admiring it, the housekeeper happened to be passing by and, thinking Elizabeth would welcome some information, the kind servant approached her and identified each child for her. It turned out to be a likeness of a youthful Colonel Fitzwilliam and his cousins, so Elizabeth was informed. Pointing faintly at a very young Mr Darcy, the housekeeper let it known that he was the future master of Rosings. Elizabeth imagined she was speaking of the colonel, and very shocked with the intelligence she exclaimed,

"O. Then he must be engaged to Miss de Bourgh?"

"Who is engaged?" asked the colonel startling both the housekeeper and Elizabeth.

"O, I am very sorry, sir," the housekeeper said flushing. The poor servant was so thoroughly embarrassed that she curtseyed and left them be as quickly as she could.

"What was good old Morrison gossiping about?" he asked with great mirth as he watched her run upstairs. "What could she possibly have to say that I have not told you about already?"

Elizabeth laughed at his jest. "True. However she did offer some enlightening as regards yourself. I see now you are a very reserved man despite appearances. I did not know that you were the future master of Rosings Park."

"Am I?" he said with feigned alarm. Then he whistled. "Well, well, well. That is definitely good news to me," he said merrily. But then he added in a more serious tone. "I hate to disabuse you, but I cannot be farther of becoming the heir of anything. My cousin Darcy, however, is closer than I could ever be to become such, if he ever makes up his mind between my cousin and Miss Bingley, that is." He offered her his arm and began to guide her up the stairs in the direction the others had gone to begin the tour of the house. Elizabeth took hold of his offered arm but she earnestly wished to continue their conversation. His mentioning of Miss Bingley had caught her attention, but she endeavoured not to sound too curious.

"I did not know that the dear lady was on the brink of marriage!"

"You know Miss Bingley? Of course you do!"

"A little," she answered casually. "Her brother used to lease a house close to my home."

"Ah yes. Hertfordshire. It is a wonder that you have never bumped into my cousin. I understand he was staying with the Bingleys at their house." Elizabeth shook her head. "He must have left before the introductions were made then. So Miss Caroline was your neighbour? How did you like her?"

"That is a difficult question. My answer depends on how much you like her."

The colonel laughed out loud. "I see." He fidgeted a little and then getting closer to her he said with a hint of playfulness in his manner, "I shall be frank with you. I know her only a little but I do not like her at all." He looked askance at her to see how she bore it and noticed with pleasure that she was quite comfortable with the turn their conversation had taken. There was nothing that pleased Fitzwilliam better than gossip, an inclination which Elizabeth certainly shared. Seeing that his partner did not seem at all offended with his banter, he thought it safe to disclose a little more. "My cousin, however, seemed to find her pleasing enough one time."

"Your cousin, Mr Darcy?"

"Aha."

"Enough to marry her?"

"By Jove, I hope not! Enough for her to toy with the idea, I imagine. He followed her around like a hound dog. However, I do not think he will ever make up his mind. Darcy does not need a tyrant but a wife. I wonder if he would ever make up his mind to marry at all. Though he must eventually.

"Must he?"

The colonel nodded. "If he wishes to keep his inheritance. He must marry before long. Father's wish."

"O."

"It is a good thing you have not met him. I am certain he would have been instantly tempted to give up his bachelorhood. Those soft brown eyes would have undone him!"

Elizabeth blushed and smiled. It was evident that the colonel was very much attracted to her, for he did not let the opportunity go without expressing his admiration. "Indeed it is a shame I did not have the pleasure," she said. "I might have lost a one time in life opportunity to become the wife of a rich man."

"But you will make his acquaintance if you stay a little longer. He is expected any day now at Rosings."

"It will be a welcome addition to hear out you aunt's sermons, I am sure."

Colonel Fitzwilliam laughed again. This little woman was very diverting, indeed. "To my aunt he certainly is. You see, Darcy and Anne have been engaged since infancy. Nominally that is. My aunt, however, still harbours hopes that he and her daughter might finally unit the two grand estates with their marriage," he chuckled.

"Two great estates?"

"Rosings and Pemberley."

"Pemberley?"

"Darcy's great estate in Derbyshire. It is half Derbyshire I must say."

"O. Now I thoroughly regret having missed him at Hertfordshire. But is he not engaged to be married with Miss de Bourgh?"

"No, not yet. Though it is my aunt's dearest wish to see both estates united by their marriage."

"You do not think that feasible?"

He shook his head. "I think it improvable at least."

"But you have just said that your cousin was closer of becoming the heir of Rosings than you."

"O, he is, he is. But I seriously doubt he will." Elizabeth looked inquiringly at him. "You see, to inherit Rosings one has to marry the heiress of Rosings and, to be frank ...Cousin Anne is ... not comely enough." The last words were breathed in a soft whisper.

"Ooo," she said nodding knowingly. Later she observed, "At least not handsome enough to temp him."

The colonel laughed delighted. "Exactly. Anne's greatest asset is her inheritance, you know. Unfortunately to her, Cousin Darcy's a rich man. His wealth allows him to marry wherever hechuses."

Elizabeth raised an eyebrow. "Is that so? Is he so desirable a man that no lady would refuse him? So handsome that a lady of wealth like Miss de Bourgh would be unfortunate not to win his hand?"

Colonel Fitzwilliam nodded emphatically. "Run me through my body if he is not."

"I cannot believe that," she said shaking her head. "Such perfection in a man cannot be possible. I am certain he must have some flaws. Perhaps in his character?"

"Not one bit."

"That is not possible! Every man must have some measure of evil!"

Colonel Fitzwilliam hesitated before he bounced back. "I suppose there is a grain of truth in your estimation of every man. But Darcy is a most perfect gentleman." Leaning forward he whispered into her ear, "He is received with ... great enthusiasm by the ladies, I grant you. Wherever he goes, he charms every one of the female sex, as invariably as he awakes the jealousy of every gentleman. I confess he has never taken advantage of this though. He is very modest. And he is the most devoted friend and brother to his sister and me..."

"Come, come Colonel! He must have a flaw!" Elizabeth said teasingly.

"I daresay he certainly is a little difficult ... not much," he conceded a bit pensive. "He has a tendency to be a little aloof among strangers and scowls and sulks when he disapproves of someone or something," he laughed.

"Ha!"

"That is but a trifle in front of his assets and his formidable fortune."

"So it is for your cousin Anne, for that matter! I am certain with so desirable a prospective inheritance, she is sure to attract many a suitor of the best rank and pedigree," she said sending him a knowing look.

"If you are thinking of me, again I must disabuse you," he said good-naturally. "Though in that sense, Cousin Anne would have been just my type of bride if she had only been a little more ... pleasing." Though this was said in jest, he sighed and smiled. "But you know...if there was a chance that she would have me I would not hesitate. Beggars cannot be chusers. And younger sons cannot marry without some consideration to money. But my Aunt would never have me as her daughter's suitor."

"Why is that?"

"She knows me too well! And I am nothing like Cousin Darcy."

"Well, I daresay that is a relief, sir. Your cousin does not strike me like a desirable suitor in the least!"

"Why you say that?"

"Well, who would like to be married to such a paragon of perfection? It is not wise, no sir, especially if he thinks so well of himself."

"On the contrary. He is the most desirable bachelor in London!" he argued mortally wounded by her comment.

"Only to a lady whose sense of marriage is an indifferent husband who sulks and scowls when he is at home and flirts with every lady when he is away!"

"Upon my word! Whence had you taken such poor opinion of my cousin?"

"From what you have just said, sir. However humble you might consider him, you stated that he was toying with Miss Bingley's affection..."

"I ..."

"... and that even when he has been engaged to your poor cousin since infancy, he still finds her unsuitable and yet has not made up his mind whether to marry her or not, leaving your poor aunt and cousin in helpless expectation of what is not to come. I do not know what is your idea of well breed but to me that does not bother very well in a prospected husband, no matter how wealthy or handsome his mien!"

Fitzwilliam was speechless for a while. He certainly had made quite a poor picture of his cousin, and could not think how to amend his mistake. It took him some time to think of something though.

"I am thinking of what you have told me and feel obligated to come in my cousin's defence."

"I am all ears, Colonel."

"Well, for once he is a most loyal friend. Take last June, for example. He was ...ehem...most agreeably engaged in London when he was alerted that Bin... that a good friend of his ...was about to make a most imprudent marriage."

"O."

"I have reasons to think, since ... that friend is still single, that Darcy saved him from the inconvenience."

Elizabeth made a pause. It was easy to infer who that good friend might be, but she thought she could not be sure. She needed more information. "Did your cousin give you his reasons for this interference?"

"I understand there were some very strong objections against the lady."

"And do you think he did interfere?"

"He did quit London in a hurry to go to his friend's side!"

"My, my. And that is what you have to say in defence of your cousin's character? I daresay you are the worst of defenders, sir. Your cousin's conduct does not suit my feeling at all! Why was he to be the judge? What right had he to decide on the propriety of his friend's inclination?"

"I think he had his best interests at heart..."

"Best interests! He might have destroyed his friend's opportunity to be happy, perhaps for ever!"

Poor Fitzwilliam was red in the face. How could this young lady misconstrue his every attempt to praise his cousin when she did not even know him! "I am sorry you think thusly. I assure you. My cousin is the best of men. He only had ..."

Elizabeth noticed that perhaps she had let her feelings for Jane go wild. The poor colonel looked so wretched that she thought he was a bit vexed with her. After all, she had shown herself to be very prejudiced against his cousin as if the gentleman was entirely to blame for what have befallen to her sister Jane.

"O no. I am sorry Colonel," she said penitently. "Perchance I am misjudging your cousin's motives when in truth I do not even know him. I am sure there is plausible explanation for his interference in his friend's affairs. It is not fair of me to condemn him so easily. Maybe there was not much affection in the case."

Of course, one thing was to convey all this to the colonel, and another completely different was to be persuaded of its being true. The truth was that after Colonel Fitzwilliam's confidence, the rest of the evening was sheer torture for Elizabeth. She was so affected by the conversation that she could not open her mouth until it was time for her party to say good bye. That this new personage had been concerned in the measures taken to separate Mr Bingley from Jane was undoubtedly true. She had always attributed the deed to Miss Bingley, but now it seemed this pompous capricious dandy was the real cause of all that Jane had suffered and continued to suffer.

The recollection of her sister's helplessness and her own frustration combusted in her spirit and the agitation instantly brought on a headache. Though she had just arrived she already longed to go home. Unfortunately, the tour of the house had only begun and she felt obligated to stay, so in the end she joined her party looking wretched and unwell.

The next day was to be the Bennet's last day at the parsonage. To Elizabeth's relief, Jane had successfully avoided all hints from the parson, and his advances remained just like so. Lady Catherine, however, did not let one single opportunity pass without letting everyone know her views of the prospected union of any of the Miss Bennets and Mr Collins. She favoured Elizabeth better than Jane, since she would very much like to have such a good conversationalist in the neighbouring parsonage to whom she could resort when no other entertainment was available. Though no such match had taken place, the grand lady had reasons to be sanguine for one word from her would certainly persuade Mr Collins of the lady's suitability. Mrs Bennet, on her part, had no cause to complain, for she had witnessed how well Colonel Fitzwilliam liked his second best daughter (though at first she was a little vexed that he did not look at Jane with so much favour) and Mr Collins made it clear that he intended to visit with them at Longbourn as soon as his recovery allowed him to travel, and with such promises, she could begin her journey back home with a tolerable spirit.

Chapter 17

My duty now takes me back for a brief space to a favourite character of ours, since I am sure the reader must be wondering of the whereabouts of Mr Darcy while all this was going on at Rosings Park. The thing is that scarcely had our hero begun his journey to Kent when he was reached by a certain despicable personage on horseback, whose acquaintance he had but fleetingly made during his stay at Longbourn.

"Good day, sir," said this sycophant with as much respect as he could muster.

"Good day," was Darcy's response, and he remained immovable on his horse, for it was evident that the gentleman had something more to say.

"I am afraid we have not been properly introduced. My name is..."

"George Wickham," assented Darcy. "Yes. I know you, sir," and his voice sounded quite stern to the officer's ears.

"O," this vile fellow said trembling a little, for an instant thinking the great Master of Pemberley had finally remembered him.

"You are Miss Elizabeth's friend," said Darcy with a knowing smile.

Wickham could not be more relieved. "Indeed," he sighed.

Darcy thought it proper to introduce himself, though he was certain the gentleman knew him well enough. But here Wickham interrupted him, "I know you as well, sir. More than you could tell. In fact, I have come hither to have a brief conversation with you as regards our previous acquaintance, if I may."

"Previous acquaintance?" Darcy asked, his curiosity piqued. "Why, of course. Though I am on my way home, now, I can spare a few minutes."

"Home?"

"To Kent."

"If you are going home, sir, then you should head northwards for your house is nowhere in Kent."

"I beg your pardon?"

"As you hear," said Wickham with a pungent feeling of self satisfaction. "Your house, sir, or I should say, one of your many houses, is in Derbyshire, not in Kent. As a matter of fact you are the owner of half Derbyshire. Literally."

On hearing such a declaration Darcy blushed a good deal and was speechless for a while. When he recovered, however, all he could muster was, "Sir, of what are you talking?"

"I am telling you nothing but the truth." Wickham said majestically. "Your name is Fitzwilliam Edward Darcy, son of the late Mr Darcy of Pemberley, my godfather and friend. We have known each other since infancy, you and I. Unfortunately, we have fallen out and have not been in good terms for quite some time. That is the reason why I have not spoken to you till now. I was afraid you would not welcome me."

"Go on."

"Like I said, you are not William Collins. Far from it!" he chuckled. "You are a devilish rich man, my friend. Your fortune is estimated to be between ten or twenty thousand a year, depending on the source. Yes, yes. And if I am not mistaken, you are engaged to be married to a fine Lady from Kent, your own cousin, Miss Anne de Bourgh, but lately, you, very slyly, have spent half a year with your good friend Mr Bingley, presumably courting his sister, a Miss Caroline Bingley. However, about three months ago, you suffered from a most unexpected accident and since then have been known to reside with the Bennet family under the false identity of Mr William Collins, who happens to be your aunt's parson."

Darcy could but receive this communication with great scepticism. That he should be a rich country squire was as inconceivable as a fairy story to a scientist. "I am sorry if I did not catch your meaning ... Let me see if I get this clear. You are saying I am not Mr William Collins, parson?"

"No, you are not."

"And that I am a rich man from the north, instead?"

"You are. Most definitely."

He let out a nervous laughter. "Are you certain you did not bump your head this morning?"

"I am serious, sir."

Darcy's face went serious too. "What about Mr Bennet's opinion?" Darcy asked full of distrust. "He declares I am his cousin."

"For what I have gathered, Mr Bennet has never seen his cousin before. All he knows about him is that he is a young parson of three and twenty. By the way," he added in a confidential tone, "you are five and twenty very soon going on six and twenty."

"I cannot believe your story, sir. There must be a mistake."

"There is no mistake. I have known you all my life. We practically grew up together."

"What about this other gentleman? Colonel Fitzwilliam?"

"What about him?"

"He has been corresponding with me and has given me enough testimony that I am indeed Mr Collins."

"Colonel Fitzwilliam has been corresponding with you? Well, I will be blown! The man has never struck me as too smart, except for gaming, that is," he said jocularly and laughed at his own jest. "Colonel Fitzwilliam is you cousin, sir, and a fine gentleman, I grant you. I cannot account for his behaviour, though, but I am sure there is a good explanation for it."

Darcy looked disconcerted. "You said you and I have fallen out? Over what?"

Wickham looked penitently to the floor. "Your sister," he said without raising his eyes.

"I have a sister?"

"By Jove, sir, you sure have. She is the sweetest girl of my acquaintance. I love her very dearly and wished to marry her. But you very wisely refused to give me her hand in marriage."

"Refused?"

"You were absolutely right in refusing me, sir. I am no good for Miss Darcy. Honestly, she will be better off with one from her own circle. Even Colonel Fitzwilliam would be a better suitor. At least the money will remain in the family," he said charitably.

"So, is all this certain, absolutely certain?" asked Darcy beginning to find some truth in Wickham's words.

"I am not jesting, sir. I would not dare."

"But still the rupture between us is..."

"...complete and manifest to all members of the family. But the particulars only known to you, your sister and Colonel Fitzwilliam."

"I am sorry to hear that. You seem a vastly nice fellow."

Indeed. Who would not like the bearer of such pleasant news?

"A charming man, aren't I? Like you always say, sir: I am blessed with happy manners as ensure my making friends, but I do not seem equally capable of retaining them," he said with a weak smile.

Darcy looked at him with some surprise at such a confession. "So from your own words, sir, I take it that you have been so unlucky as to lose my friendship for a good reason?" he said with some sarcasm, still sceptical at the whole disclosure.

Wickham nodded. "In a manner that I am likely to suffer from all my life... unless..." he made a pause here. "Unless I can prove myself worthy of your trust and friendship once more. And here, I daresay, Providence has come in my aid, for to this day I had thought the breach between us would last to the end of our natural lives."

Darcy was momentarily silent. Wickham's honest speech disconcerted him exceedingly. Yet, I daresay there is no greater lie than the blunt truth. Darcy was so charmed by Wickham that he bowed his head just a little, a sure sign that he agreed with Wickham's thread of thought. "Indeed. You have come in my rescue, so to speak. Still, I find all this very difficult to believe. Do not get me wrong. I do not doubt your words, but ... 'Tis too good to be true."

"Here," Wickham said with the smile upon his face only a gamester sports when he holds the winning card, as he handed Darcy a neatly scribbled envelope with the Darcy crest seal broken on it. "This is some of the correspondence I used to keep with your sister. This will testify my words. By the way, Darcy. Miss Georgiana must be vastly worried about you,"

After Darcy briefly skimmed read some of the letters, he beheld Wickham dumbfounded. "We had better talk," he finally said.

George Wickham's smiled triumphantly. "Indeed we must, but not here. I promise I shall tell you all during our trip."

"Our trip?"

"Did you not say you were going home? So home I shall take you. To Pemberley."

Chapter 18

The sun was just setting when the two gallant gentlemen reached Pemberley grounds, one of them full of curiosity, the other one full of old memories. However, not even when they saw the mansion did Darcy begin to recognise the surroundings. He did give vent to a prodigious whistle though, in token of astonishment at finding himself master of such grand place.

"I told you," Wickham said primly. "There ain't a place like Pemberley." When the house was straight in front of them, they dismounted and left the horses in the care of a young lad that came to meet them. Then they sauntered in the direction of the gates admiring the surroundings in silence. From time to time Wickham offered names and references. "The parish is over there," he said as he pointed with his stick in the direction of a building that very much resembled a farm house. "There is the road to Lambton," and he signalled a winding dusty road that got lost amidst the wild shrubs.

"I should remember all any time now," Darcy said enthusiastically as his jet eyes darted from one place to another. Blood stirring within, Darcy spurred his pace to hasten his arrival a bit, expecting a hundred thousand memories to hit his mind any minute.

He strode briskly up the gravel and approached the front gate, his whole countenance beaming with expectation.

Wickham nodded with alacrity, sharing his companion's contagious enthusiasm. "Voilà! This is Pemberley house! Your home, sir. Lady Anne used to grow roses there," he informed Darcy.

Darcy looked in the direction his unforeseen new friend pointed and then he lowered his eyes. When he raised his head back there was confusion in his eyes. Despite himself, a surge of pity crossed Wickham's heart. The poor fool can not remember his mother, he thought to himself. Darcy, knowing too well this was a piece of information he should possess, furrowed his forehead attempting to recollect before, in the end, surrendering to the amnesia again. "She is my..." but he trailed off unable to put a face to the name. Evidently, Lady Anne's must be a name closely related to him but its memory had been completely robbed from him.

"Why, your mother!" exclaimed Wickham. "My, my! If there is one memory you must recover that is it," he said teasingly.

The doors opened and out came a noisy dog, a large bloodhound to be precise, whose happiness in seeing his master was uncontrollably shown in the wagging of his tail and in the vehemence of his howling.

"Down, Fester!" ordered Wickham, a little annoyed, and the dog obeyed, though he occasionally protested with a quiet growl. Darcy patted the dog's head and this one immediately jumped on him and put his big paws on his lap.

"Hello boy," he greeted the dog, who in turn greeted him back with subsequent painful-like howling.

The fuss soon attracted the attention of a young servant, who immediately summoned an older one from the manor. Though the manservants evidently recognised Mr Darcy, they were rightfully baffled by the other gentleman's presence, more so when this cheeky fellow demanded to be placed in the room next to the master's. The old manservant searched Darcy's face for any sign of Master's denial or refusal to comply with Wickham's demand but in seeing nothing but complaisance there, his resistance finally caved, and he instructed a girl to go and ready both bedchambers.

This business over, Darcy instantly headed for the interior of the house, again full of curiosity and almost bumped into a group of people, now doubt members of the household that were hastily endeavouring to line up in front of him in the usual style of this rich house servants. He apologised profusely for frightening them, and was about to recover something a young maid had dropped, which would have been a most unfortunate mistake, when Mrs Reynolds made her first appearance in front of Darcy. She stood erect expectantly, waiting for her young master to greet her with his usual affability, sporting a most welcoming smile when she spotted Mr Wickham behind him, who in turn looked back at her with a daring expression. Mrs Reynolds's smile promptly curled into a ghastly grimace. She was on the verge to ask the butler to show the intruder the door, when Darcy did the most absurd thing. He introduced himself to them all, and introduced Mr Wickham as a visitor as well.

Highly amused, Wickham whispered into his ear. "I daresay they all know who you are, sir." Then he stepped forward and into the main parlour with a satisfied look upon his face.

Without a moment to lose, Darcy followed, still awkwardly bowing and begging their pardon to the heavy line of servant who were now gawking at him opened mouthed, and began an inspection of the premises with a tail-wagging Fester in tow. A most stunned Mr Reynolds followed behind. Wickham meantime made himself at home, to the astonishment of the entire house. He sat cosily on a couch, ordered some refreshment and was helping himself to Pemberley nectarines when Darcy returned from his inspection, bearing a look of complete disappointment on his face.

"What? You look positively ill..." asked Wickham, diverted.

"I am most disappointed, Wickham ...The place is very familiar, no doubt," he said hesitantly. "But I am afraid I cannot recollect anything. Not even the name of the oldest servant."

"I am pretty sure Mrs Reynolds does not mind that."

"But it vexes me exceedingly. I cannot tell the butler from the footman, and they all seem to be waiting for instructions from me."

Wickham laughed. "And that is all that concerns you! Haw, haw! Well, well. I am glad to see that you have not changed much!" the cheeky soldier waved him off.

"How can you laugh at me! Wickham, I am sure I could not think what to say to all of them."

Wickham stood up and huffed impatiently. "Nothing easier. Tell them to follow the routine as the previous season. And that you need some rest. That will keep them away from you for some time."

They agreed that that was the best solution. Still, Darcy was concerned. "I doubt I can be master of Pemberley with no memory of it whatsoever," he said in dismay. "Sooner or later I shall be confronted with something I shall not be able to ..."

"Darcy, it is not like you to make a storm in a teacup..."

"But you should have seen Reynolds's face when I called him Morrison!"

Wickham stepped forward and tapped him on the back. "Come, come, Darcy, me boy. I have never known you to be so nervous about trifling matters such as these. You are momentarily deprived of your memory...It is not the end of the world!"

"But what about if I never recover?"

"So much the better! I shall never be obligated to repay you all the money I owe you! Haw, haw!"

"You persevere in laughing at me!"

"How can I not laugh? Darcy, you used to be a prodigiously proud sort of man, always so sure of yourself! Anyone who takes a look at you know would not recognise you, not in a thousand years. Why, you are beginning to sound like a blushing bride in her new home, afraid of your own servants! Darcy, Darcy! You are master of this place!" he said, swirling around. Then he picked up a small piece of china and showed it to him. "Here. Look at this. Must be an invaluable piece brought here by one ancestor of yours. There are hundreds of these! And every single artefact here is yours! You have more money at your disposal than the minister of the exchequer! Who cares what the name of the servant is! You will learn them anew, mark my words!"

"You must be right. 'Tis only I ... I thought I would recover my memory once I saw all this."

"You must exert patience, Darcy. You will remember in time. And if you do not, you are smart enough to learn everything again."

"Perhaps talking to a relative might help. I should like to talk to my mother. Is Lady Anne at home now?" he asked that just as Mrs Reynolds was silently approaching to announce the rooms were ready. The poor woman was so shocked to hear such a preposterous question that she instantly bore the most curious expression on her face and shook her head in dismay.

"Lady Anne?!" Wickham exclaimed quickly to his rescue. "You mean Miss Darcy, of course. No, of course she is not. Remember I told you she was in Ramsgate, eh?" he then whispered into his ear. "You mother is long dead, Darcy. I am sorry."

Darcy must have had the most befuddled expression, yet he managed to mask his mortification. But though Darcy had no recollection of his late mother, or of anyone else for that matter, he still felt a small pang of disappointment at the intelligence of her demise. With Mrs Reynolds gone, what followed was a brief account of Darcy's life and relations. His mother, his father, his aunt and uncles, his cousins and his friends, even his horse and hound. Darcy listened with great attention, but worry and fatigue combined to show on his countenance.

"Why do you not have something to eat now? You scarcely ate anything at the inn. Then we can retire until tomorrow," suggested Wickham in a fatherly tone.

Darcy shook his head. "I must make the arrangements to send for Miss Darcy. I must see someone from my family."

Wickham shook his head. "And risk her to notice your lack of memory? I do not think that advisable. Besides, Miss Darcy is a shrew one. She will probably know that something is the matter. You must first resume correspondence with her, and only send for her for the winter break, to spend Christmas with you. You will be fit to face all your family by then. Now you must have something to eat, my friend, and have some rest."

"Very well."

Wickham summoned Mr Reynolds and the preparations for Miss Darcy's coming home were left for another day. A tray with food was brought for the weary master. Darcy sighed, unwilling to eat. He could not deny that he was hungry, but there was one task he would not postpone for anything in the world.

"Allow me one moment, pray. I shall write a letter to Mr Bennet before I retire," he said beginning to rise to his feet.

"Mr Bennet? What for?"

"Well, he...he is my..." He was about to say cousin, but then thought better of it and shut his mouth. True, in his heart, the Bennet family was the only family he knew as his own and at least he wished to inform them of his whereabouts as soon as possible.

Of course he was in complete darkness as to where the study was. Luckily, his voicing his intentions to write a letter eventually reached Mr Reynolds's ears, and had naturally set his ever-attentive manservant in motion. The door of a lofty room below the stairs was opened. Thither Darcy went and began to fumble with papers until he finally found what he needed to pen a note which he set to compose immediately.

Wickham beheld all this leaning against a wall with a disapproving look upon his face. The last thing he needed was the rumour of Darcy's odd situation to be spread. It would summon all the family and all his engineering would go to waste. Darcy had not progressed much on his writing when Wickham interrupted him. "Pray, Darcy. Do you not think you had better wait for a while before you let anyone know about your situation?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well. We are not sure how these people may react to such spectacular intelligence."

"And how do you propose that I tell them?"

"I think it will be more advisable to do it face to face. Pay a visit later on, once you have established yourself here. Say, by Michaelmas, or better still, St Nicholas. Do you not think?"

"Frankly, I do not."

Wickham winced. With an intake of air, he approached him, and said in a persuasive tone. "They are strangers, Darcy. They are nothing to you."

"Bennet is my friend," he replied without a moment's hesitation. "He must know. After all, he thinks I am his cousin and heir to his house."

"And he will. In time," Wickham retorted gravely. "All in good time."

Yet nothing Wickham said persuaded Darcy to let go his pen. It was true that he wanted Mr Bennet to be aware of his new situation in life. But above all, he wished to contact Elizabeth. He wagered she would be vastly surprised, and could hardly wait to communicate to her his new situation in life. He was so happy he had not proposed to her yet, though he had hinted at his wishes very well. Now he would be able to offer her all the comforts in life he was sure she deserved. Wickham might dwell on all the disadvantages of a prompt confidence with the Bennets, but Darcy would not hear of it. Elizabeth must know.

"O well! I see you are bent upon writing no matter what I say! Fair enough. If you wish to write Bennet a letter, well, write on...I daresay he deserves an explanation... tell him that you are not his cousin and heir, but, pray, say nothing of your true identity. After all, I would not be surprised if the real Mr Collins is making his appearance at Longbourn as we speak."

Darcy did not response. Wickham was beginning to annoy him. If Wickham's estimation was correct and the real Mr Collins called on the Bennets it was imperative for him to write at once and give some explanation. He would not wish any of them to think ill of him. Of course, there was no way they could think ill of him. After all, he had had no means to know his real identity but for Wickham's testimony. They would surely see it was just a mistake from their part. He was truly ill at the time, therefore could not be blamed for their mistake!" While he was musing about all this, Wickham continued rattling about the ill consequences of Darcy's problem going public. "... But if you are thinking to let them know you are the rich master of Pemberley, then you are making a big mistake, mark my words."

Darcy stopped writing and beheld Wickham impatiently. "What harm can be in that?"

"It is not advisable to have reports of your amnesia spread in the counties."

"Very well," he said with a clipping tone. "When do you intend that I should tell them, if I am ever to tell them?"

Wickham cleared his voice and sauntered along the room with his usual swaggering. "Not until you are settled here. As I said. We do not want your present disadvantage to be universally known. It is dangerous," he said and almost hissed the last word. "Someone might be tempted to use the information against you."

"Against me?"

"Well, of course, mind you. There are laws that prevents...people with...mental impairments from performing certain ...activities."

"Mental impairments?" Darcy said, beginning to take offence.

Wickham blinked twice before he corrected himself. "Not that you suffered from anything like that...but certain members of your family might be tempted to use your...peculiar situation to induce you to do what you would otherwise never do."

"I fail to comprehend what you mean by all this. Pray make your point."

"Some one may endeavour to force you to relinquish the mastery of Pemberley."

Darcy remained silent for a while, eyes narrowed with pondering. Even with his poor memory and the immense baggage of confusion upon his shoulders, Darcy could see that where there was inheritance and wealth at stake, greediness and betrayal followed close behind. However extreme, Wickham's reasoning was not absolutely farfetched, though judging from his own confession of dark deeds against Darcy, it was better to take all his assertions with a grain of salt. "I see," was all he said. "I suppose you must be in the right."

"Of course I am."

"Very well. You win, I suppose. I promise I shall not breathe a word." Wickham smiled a thin triumphant smile. Darcy went on, "However, keeping this from the servants ...well... I am afraid that will be quite a challenge. In case you have not noticed, almost the entire household has been privy to a whole afternoon of amnesia. I am certain Mrs Reynolds must know that something is amiss by now."

"Nothing that cannot be charged to inebriation," Wickham brushed off. "Believe me. There have been times when I could not recognise my own reflection, me friend!" he snapped his fingers. "I shall impart you lessons on how to proceed and tell you all you need to know to move about your own circle."

This agreed, they retired until the next day. As planned, Miss Darcy was sent a short but carefully composed missive, and letters to the rest of relatives and friends were equally composed and sent, including one for Mr Bennet.

The reader can imagine the commotion such a letter occasioned in Mr Bennet's household.

Not a week after its delivery, the post arrived in Longbourn, the very day Mrs Bennet arrived back from Kent with her flock. Elizabeth Bennet woke up in her own room after a heavy night sleep that had followed the exhausting journey. As she wearily descended the stairs, she was confronted with her whole family who was standing in line against the wall at the bottom of the stairs, staring back at her from below in clear expectation, of what she could not tell. And then she saw it! She stopped dead on her tracks, and gawped stupidly at the scene before her, not daring to believe what she had before her. Jane, broad grin upon her face was holding an envelope in her hands, and envelope that bore a seal and which had come into Mr Bennet's letter from William with her name carefully scribbled on the front while was away in Kent, an envelope that surely contained news of the most beloved person in the world for Elizabeth and that was now being handed over to her when she less expected it. The girls were barely containing themselves from pure joy and curiosity, and were accordingly urging Elizabeth to take the letter and share its contents with them all.

"Are you opening it or not?" protested Mrs Bennet wary of her daughter's hesitation.

Elizabeth nodded biting her lower lip, and all her sisters gave little shrill gasps of excitement as she rushed downstairs, snatched the letter from her sister's hands and flew outside. Everyone hurried outside in tow.

But Elizabeth beat them all. Climbing up the tall hayloft in the barn, she closed the trap door behind her, and thus hidden commenced to read Darcy's letter.

My heartily estimated Miss Elizabeth,

This is but a brief note to recommend myself to you with all my heart, and I hope most sincerely that you are in good health of body and merry at heart as I am. And I pray to God to His pleasure to continue the same, for it is to me a great comfort that you are so. I am certain that by the time you have received my note, you will have been informed, as I was, about the unexpected turn of events regarding my identity and present situation. Indeed I have discovered that I am not your cousin, nor am I entitled to receive your father's love and estimation which he so kindly bestowed on me while I remained at Longbourn. I am, dear madam, an orphan, whose only close relative is a young sister, whom I have not the pleasure of seeing yet but soon will. However, it will please you to know that though I turned not to be the rightful heir of Longbourn, by no means I have been left empty handed. On the contrary, my present situation in life is very promising, I daresay highly commendable, I assure you, and I trust that it cannot but improve with time.

I spend my days here most agreeably, though I continue to labour as it was my habit while I dwelt under your roof. The weather in Derbyshire is so pleasant and cool, though not so pleasant as in Hertfordshire for winter is approaching and mornings can be exceedingly cold in the barn. I pray you, greet Old Pretty for me and tell her the cows here are not so compliant as she was.

I trust that you still remember your promise to find an agreeable companion in life for me. When I remember your favour and your conduct towards me, so agreeable in all respect, truly it makes me very glad and joyous at heart. Regarding that I can say no more now, but when I come to Longbourn I will tell you much more, between you and me and before God.

Yours and co

William

While Elizabeth eagerly perused Darcy's letter, and her fears and humiliation were put to flight, Mr Darcy woke up to a brand new day in his house in Derbyshire thinking of her. He dwelt on the manner of his address in his brief note and a smile blossomed on his face as he contemplated Elizabeth's reaction in reading it. He knew that many, many days would pass without their seeing each other again, but he was certain their attachment would rule out any separation. If her love for him was half the measure of his affection for her, then their happiness was certain.

Meantime, Darcy's return to his true environment was marked by a feeling of gaiety and freedom. He was a new person, in many ways, and despite Wickham's efforts, the servants soon noticed the changes. Never in their entire lives would they have imagined that their proud master would perform tasks so beneath him as to reduce him to the same level of his servants. But indeed, to their utter astonishment, Mr Darcy, now rarely clad in his best clothes, gladly groomed his own horse, inspected fences and crops, visited tenants and even milked the cows.

Downstairs, in the kitchen, as they waited for Mrs and Mr Reynolds, the servants talked about the most remarkable things of late, and they, no doubt, were inclined to discuss the strange behaviour of the young master.

"Aye wonder if he is the same Master Darcy aye've always known," asked John the groom to himself, scandalised to have found his master early in the stables. "Aye never knew Master Darcy with a cress on him shirt, I declare. Aye found 'im in drab breeches with a dirty old coat this mooning, feeding them hooses!"

A universal 'o' escaped the lips of all the servants.

"La! The dairy man said he insisted in milking the cows yesterday!" answered the second gardener.

"That a'n't nothing. He took him hoose and called on the tenants the other day," said the young footman at the gates. "Even tended to Old Bute, who is down with chickenpox."

"He never rings fer Reynolds, now. Always dresses 'imself," A little maid interposed.

" 'Tis all very strange," said the cook who had been at the Darcys' service for longer than she could tell. "Aye never thought the master would be friends with gamesters! That Wickham... He is a rascal and scoundrel! Yet the master is so happy with 'im!"

"Ees. He smiles too much!" John agreed. "Looks to me ee has never been greenest."

"Aye've heard ee spends a lo-o-ong time in them galleries, merely staring at them portraits."

"Fie, Miss Presley. Aye shall warn Mrs Reynolds that yer but a bunch of gossip!" said Mrs Chopper, the second housekeeper, which put a stop to the idle talking of the lot, otherwise they would have gone on endlessly.

Immediately after their arrival, Wickham had commenced to instruct Darcy on his own customs and habits and through autumn and winter the instruction went on yet it did not change his newly acquired ones an ounce. In vain did the apparently repentant soldier relate Darcy's family history and excellence pedigree. Darcy simply did not feel himself above others no matter how many Earls' and Lords' names adorned his family tree. All Wickham's effort achieved was to fill Darcy's mind with information and help him retain every name. Beyond that, Darcy remained the humble parson that had left Longbourn not long before. Yet thanks to this devotedness, by Christmas, Darcy would be able to recite the names of his ancestors beginning from 1643, when the first Darcy had stepped upon English land, so that the first close relative to see him would be clueless about his memory loss.

Continue reading Malena's story here.


Authors love feedback, please express your appreciation for Malena's story here