THE LAST MAN IN THE WORLD
When Darcy left the Hunsford parsonage after making his disastrous proposal to Elizabeth, he was angry and confused. 'How could she have refused me? Does she really not understand what I was offering her? How could I be the last man in the world that she would ever consider marrying? Did I really approach her in an ungentlemanlike manner? What have I done?' After berating himself, he turned on her in his confusion and anger.
'She is from a very minor estate with no dowry to speak of, no connections, and a family who are all ill-mannered and nothing but a disgrace in any decent society. How could she have believed Wickham when he is the worst scoundrel in England? He has nothing but a decent appearance and a smooth tongue. She believed his lies about me! Now, she will be even more susceptible to his smooth words as her hatred of me will throw her into his path. I hope that she does not fall for him and permit him to ruin her. Knowing him, this is what he will try to do. He has certainly done it before.'
'The only accurate accusation that she leveled at me was that I did help Bingley's sisters in separating him from Miss Bennet. How could I have seen that she truly did love him? She showed no special regard for him, even though I watched her carefully. At least this is something that I can correct. When I get to town, I will find Bingley and tell him that I was wrong. He will not be happy with me, but I hope that his anger will not last too long. I do not want to lose his friendship.'
'I have to warn her about Wickham. I could not live with myself if I let her believe her misconceptions about him and allow her to fall into his clutches. The only reason I did not warn the people in Meryton about him was for Georgiana's sake. If word of her near elopement ever gets out, her prospects for a decent future will be damaged, perhaps beyond repair. Can I trust Miss Elizabeth with the full story? I will have to take that chance. I am sure that she is completely honourable, so I am quite sure that the secret will be safe with her.'
'How can I tell her all this? She will not want to be alone with me again. If I write her a letter explaining all this, will she accept it from me? I can only hope so. I know that my written words are better than my spoken words, especially when I am in a difficult situation. Did she not realize how uncomfortable I felt tonight? How could she have misunderstood me so badly?'
Darcy arrived back at Rosings Manor and went in carefully to avoid his aunt. He went up to his room and began to write. This letter proved to be very difficult to compose as he desperately wanted Miss Elizabeth to understand his position and the reasons for all that he had done and said. He was up most of the night, writing and rewriting. Finally, he was reasonably satisfied and tried to get a few hours sleep. He rose early and took the letter out to look for her. It took him some time, but he finally saw her. He saw that she had seen him as she turned away to try to escape his notice.
He quickly went to her, bowed and said, "Miss Elizabeth, I have been walking some time in the hope of meeting you. Will you do me the honour of reading this letter?" Handing her an envelope, he bowed slightly and walked away quickly before she could refuse what he handed her. Elizabeth wondered if she should just throw away the letter unread as she wanted nothing more to do with him. With no expectation of pleasure, but with the strongest curiosity, she opened the seal and began to read the words he had written as she continued her walk alone.
Elizabeth had almost thrown the letter away unread, but decided that she owed him a small courtesy. After all, if he had taken the trouble to write the letter, she should take the trouble to read it. She hoped that it was not just a repetition of everything that he had said the previous evening. She read his words, and then reread them several more times. At first, she did not want to believe anything that it said. However, she finally realized that if he would tell her about his sister's near disgrace and ruin, he must be telling the truth about Mr. Wickham. If he was truthful about him, then he most likely was telling the truth about his misreading of Jane's feelings. She had to admit that Jane's demeanor was such that strangers would not see what she, as her dearest sister, could detect. Poor Jane! Her reticence might have caused her to lose her best chance at happiness with a good man. In Elizabeth's view, Jane and Mr. Bingley were perfectly suited for each other. She wanted nothing more than for Jane to be happy.
The rest of the time she was at Hunsford, she was very pensive; even Charlotte noticed how quiet she was. "Lizzy, you are not your usual self. Has something happened to bother you? I hope it is not something that I have done."
"Forgive me, Charlotte. I have a lot on my mind just now. It is definitely nothing that you have done. Please be patient with me." She could not tell her good friend about Mr. Darcy's badly worded proposal and her very rude rejection of it. At first, she had been certain that she had made the right decision in rejecting him, but now she was not so sure. He was not nearly as bad as she had first judged him to be. She should never have listened to Mr. Wickham's tales of woe and mistreatment at Mr. Darcy's hands. However, she could not forgive him for destroying the happiness of her favourite sister. She even began to think how her life might have been if she had accepted him. She would have had much more money than she had ever thought possible and she would have been immediately raised into the highest circles of society. Now she began to wonder if she should have accepted him. She and Jane had always vowed to marry only for the deepest love; she did not love him. Would she have come to love him? He clearly said that he loved and admired her; would she have come to return his affections? She had now received two offers of marriage and rejected both of them; would she receive any more? She wondered if she should be so particular in the future. Would she end up as an old maid after all?
When Darcy left her in the grove, he went back to Rosings and told his valet to pack his clothes as he would be heading back to town that morning. He then went to find his cousin to tell him that he wanted to leave right away. His Aunt Catherine was not pleased when he told her that he was leaving, but she could not convince him to stay. When he and the Colonel were in his carriage on the road to London, Richard noticed that he was in a very pensive mood. "Darcy, are you all right? You are very quiet. Did something happen to bother you?"
"It is nothing. Can we not ride to town in peace?" He felt so hurt that his offer had been rejected that he still could not believe it. The more he thought about it, the more upset he became; he had never been refused anything in his whole life. The worst part was that he still loved her and wished that he had made his offer with more romantic words. Would she have accepted him then? Is there any way that he could induce her to change her mind about him? The one thing that immediately came to mind was to talk to Bingley about his being wrong about Miss Bennet's feelings for him. He accepted that he was wrong about this and knew he had to correct his mistake. If he did this, would Elizabeth begin to change her attitude towards him? It was worth the effort, even though he knew that Bingley would be very angry at him.
Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, as Darcy's nearest cousin and friend, had known him all his life, so he knew that something had definitely happened that affected him deeply. However, he also knew that he would not be induced to confide in him when he was so upset. If he gave his cousin time, he would eventually be able to find what was bothering him. They rode to town in silence.
When Darcy arrived at his townhome, the very first thing that he did was to send a note to Bingley asking that he come over to Darcy House. "Bingley," he said when they got together, "I may have made a big mistake when I told you that I saw no special regard for you from Miss Bennet. I still maintain that I saw nothing special about her attitude towards you, even though I watched her carefully. I now have it on good authority that she deliberately does not show her feelings publicly as she has been importuned by many men in the past when she did not want their notice. She is so attractive that she does not dare show any regard for any man, gentleman or not, or they will never leave her alone. However, I now understand that she does have strong feelings for you."
When he said this, he realized that Miss Bennet had the same problem that he did; if he showed even the slightest interest in any unmarried lady, she assumed that his interest was much greater than it actually was. For this reason, he never danced more than once with any lady and maintained an expression of disinterest whenever he was in public. While this practice had been necessary for both of them to avoid unpleasant situations, it had also hurt their chances at happiness when the wrong person was discouraged. It was only now that he realized the similarities of their situations.
"Bingley, I cannot tell you what to do with this new information. However, if I were you, I would return to Netherfield to determine the truth of the matter for yourself."
"Darcy! Are you telling me that I should not have listened to you or my sisters about Miss Bennet? If what you are now saying is accurate, then I missed months of being with her. She is an angel; the most wonderful angel that I have ever met. I always thought that we would be perfect together. We might have been married by now! How could you do this to me? I thought you were my friend?"
"Bingley, I never wanted to hurt you. I watched Miss Bennet very carefully when she was with you and did not see any special regard for you. I am sorry for encouraging you to stay away from her, but I thought I was doing what was best for you."
Bingley got up to leave. "Darcy, I am angry that I missed all these months with her because of what you said. You cannot imagine how disappointed I have been! I thought she was perfect for me. Right now, I do not want to be with you any longer. Good-bye." He left, leaving Darcy bereft. He had never seen Bingley so upset in all the years that they had known each other. Bingley was usually so easy-going, so forgiving. He hoped that his anger would not last too long as he did not want to lose his friendship. Bingley's words that he could not imagine how disappointed he felt struck home as he now knew how it hurt to be disappointed in love. After all, Miss Elizabeth had rejected him with bitter words. He was sure that Miss Bennet would accept Bingley if he humbled himself to her, but he had no expectations for his own situation. Miss Elizabeth hated him; how could he possibly overcome her hatred? 'The last man in the world she could ever be prevailed upon to marry!'
When Bingley went back to the Hurst townhouse where he was staying, he immediately sent an express to the Netherfield housekeeper telling her to reopen the house as he was returning. When he told his sisters what he was doing, they were horrified as they had thought they had him convinced to give up on Netherfield and stay in town.
Caroline said, "Charles, there is no way I am going back to that horrid backwater. How can you think of going there with no hostess? Do not be so rash. Just stay here and enjoy much better company than you will find there." She was surprised at her brother's firm words as he had always accommodated her with whatever she wanted him to do.
"No, Caroline, I am going, and I am going alone. I will not listen to you about this. I should never have listened to you last autumn. Miss Bennet is perfect for me; I can only hope that she will forgive me and accept my attentions again. If all goes as I hope, I will be asking her to marry me. With your continued opposition, then I guess you will not be interested in living with us in the future. If that is your decision, so be it. I will give you control of your dowry and I will not support you any longer, starting right now.
"Now, I have to go pack. I am going there tomorrow." He left the room with a determined look on his face. His sisters could not believe that he could be so decisive as he had always done what they wanted in the past. They talked about what this meant for them, but could see no way to change his mind. Hurst just snoozed and missed all the excitement.
Bingley went to Netherfield the next morning. After talking to the housekeeper and settling in, he mounted his horse and rode to Longbourn. His unexpected arrival created a frenzy when Hill announced him. Mrs. Bennet was in the sitting room with Mary, Kitty, and Lydia. "Mr. Bingley! How wonderful to see you again. We did not expect you. Will you be here long?" They all rose to give him polite curtsies.
Bingley was disappointed that Miss Bennet was not there with them, but he tried to hide his frustration. "I had not expected to be away for so long, but my business in town took much longer than I had expected. I am finally in a position that I could come back, so here I am."
"When did you arrive? Are your sisters with you?"
"Just today. I came alone as my sisters did not want to miss the many entertainments that they are enjoying in town. I thought that I would come right over to see how my friends are. Are Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth here?"
"No. Jane is in town at her aunt's house and Lizzy has been visiting Charlotte Lucas, now Mrs. Collins, in Kent. She will be joining Jane in a few days. Jane has been there since Christmas. Have you not seen her? I know that she called on your sisters and they returned her visit."
"What! I had no idea she was in town. Since Christmas? My sisters visited her?" Bingley was stunned on hearing this. "They did not mention that to me. If I had known she was there, I would have visited her as well." Bingley was even more furious with his sisters for not telling him. He finally realized that they did this only to keep him separated from Miss Bennet. "When will they be returning home?"
"In just a few days. I will send word to you when they arrive; then you will have to come for dinner. After all, you promised you would take a family meal with us before you left. For now, will you have tea with us so you can tell us what you have been doing in town?" Mrs. Bennet was delighted to hear his words. She had thought that Mr. Bingley had given up on his attentions to Jane, but now his affections for her appeared to be just as strong as they had been. She wondered if she should send a note to Jane to hurry her home. On thinking about this, she did send a note to Jane telling her that he had returned as she wanted nothing more than to secure Mr. Bingley for her.
"Kitty, go ask your father to join us. I am sure that he would like to meet Mr. Bingley as well."
Mr. Bennet actually came out of his office and joined them for tea. While he was tempted to berate Bingley for abandoning his daughter after giving her reason to expect more from him, he managed to be polite. He did not want to scare off a likely suitor for his oldest daughter. He knew that Jane still harboured feelings for him and he thought that she would be happy with him; they were so alike. His returning to Netherfield and here must mean that he intended to renew his attentions to her. If Bingley was once again attentive to her, he fully intended to talk to him in no uncertain terms about his intentions to his daughter. He did not want Jane to be hurt again.