The Great Disappointment
"There will be little rubs and disappointments everywhere, and we are all apt to expect too much; but then, if one scheme of happiness fails, human nature turns to another; if the first calculation is wrong, we make a second better: we find comfort somewhere." - Jane Austen
Lucas Lodge was a short walk away. I felt a need to speak to someone other than kin. Charlotte always gave sound advice, and I needed to hear the truth. Armed with a basket of apples and a fruitcake, I walked towards my friend's home. With Christmas around the corner, I had a feeling that I would see more festivities in Hertfordshire. A viridescent wreath hung on the door, and I admired it, happy to see something familiar. I was welcomed into the home with the same warmth as if I was a family member.
"I bring good tidings!" I lifted the basket with a smile.
Charlotte smiled and gave me a hug. She took the basket from me and asked, "How is everything at Longbourn?"
She walked me to the sitting room and poured us both cups of tea. I shrugged, "As good as it can get."
I narrated to her what happened to me at the Netherfield Ball. Even though she had been there, she did not know what befell on the balcony, and I told her, not holding back any details. She listened without judgment on her face. When I finished, I inquired, "What do you make of this?"
Charlotte sipped her tea, "I am disconcerted. Did he ever tell his real feelings?"
"And," Charlotte inquired, "have you made your feelings known?"
I shook my head, "No."
"Then, who is he to say that you are not what you seem?" Charlotte scoffed, "It is he that is the paradox."
"It is possible that he does not know how I feel."
Charlotte pulled the fruitcake out of the basket and cut two pieces. She handed me my plate, "He would have to be intolerably stupid to not understand."
I took a bite of the cake, "Yes, or he could be trying to save me from embarrassment. I did flirt with him in Meryton."
"There is nothing wrong with that. It is not as though you have become Lydia."
"Heaven forbid!" I laughed. "Oh! I forgot to tell you something!"
"What is it?"
"Our cousin Mr. Collins is visiting. I would love for you to meet him. I do not want to take any liberties, but I do feel he is a good match for you."
Charlotte's face lit up and hope entered her eyes. She was twenty-seven and passed over because of her age. Mother said that it was most likely because Charlotte was not beautiful. But, I always thought it was not attached to beauty. I believed the actual reason that Charlotte remained unmarried was because no one knew her real worth, her merit. To be thought of as a potential match for someone made her feel special, even if it was Mr. Collins.
"I will talk it over with my parents," Charlotte concluded, "they will take care of this matter. We will see each other again at Longbourn."
"Yes, and then, you two will meet. Ah, but, forewarning, he comes armed with a book of sermons."
"Well," Charlotte laughed, "that is understandable. He is a clergyman, after all."
"See how understanding you are!" I laughed, "I am convinced that you are the only woman for him!"
I stood up, for, it was time to go. We were all getting ready to decorate Longbourn for a Christmas party. We extended an invite to those at Netherfield but had yet to receive a reply.
"Do not focus on what has happened," Charlotte smiled, "think of what can be!"
Chastened by her words, I wrapped my long, wool coat tightly around my body. I began my walk home. Snow was falling without mercy, and I thanked the heavens that Lucas Lodge was a short distance away. My boots crunched through the snow, dampness seeping through to my wool stockings. Thick snowflakes fell upon my head, covering my wool cap. The chill air was warded off by the fur muffler wrapped around my neck and the thick wool gloves upon my hands. A few minutes later, I was at Longbourn and opened the door. I walked inside, the warmth stinging my limbs. I shook the snow off my boots and cast off my winter livery. I walked into the parlor room and sat in front of the fireplace. I was about to open my book when I saw Jane sitting in the armchair. She was crying and held a letter in her hand.
A sense of foreboding washed over me. "Jane? Why are you crying?"
Jane shook her head. She wiped away her tears with her hand. Biting her lip to keep herself from crying more, she looked up at me. Her lower lip trembled as she lost the battle. Jane placed her hand upon her chest. She breathed in and then exhaled. Her voice shook as she handed me the letter, "H-Here."
I took the letter into my hands and saw Caroline Bingley's writing. I knew what the letter stated. I did not even need to read it but thought otherwise. Through some perverse curiosity, I read the letter, hoping that the words would be different. I was wrong.
My Dear Friend,
We have decided to follow Charles to London as he has business there. We will be dining at Grosvenor Street. I have picked a delightful little place to eat; but, I am certain Mr. Darcy or brother will change it to their liking!
I do not pretend to regret anything I shall leave in Hertfordshire, except your society, my dearest friend. However, we will hope, at some future period, to enjoy many returns of that delightful intercourse we have known, and in the meanwhile, may lessen the pain of separation by a very frequent and most unreserved correspondence. I depend on you for that!
When my brother left us yesterday, he imagined that the business, which took him to London, might be concluded in three or four days. But as we are certain it cannot be so, and at the same time convinced that when Charles gets to town he will be in no hurry to leave it again. We have determined on following him there, that he may not be obliged to spend his vacant hours in a comfortless hotel. Many of my acquaintances are already there for the winter. I wish that I could hear that you, my dearest friend, had any intention of making one of the crowd — but of that, I despair. I sincerely hope your Christmas in Hertfordshire may abound in the gaieties which that season generally brings, and that your beaux will be so numerous as to prevent your feeling the loss of the three of whom we shall deprive you.
Mr. Darcy is impatient to see his sister; and, to confess the truth, we are scarcely less eager to meet her again. I really do not think Georgiana Darcy has her equal for beauty, elegance, and accomplishments; and the affection she inspires in myself is heightened into something still more interesting, from the hope, we dare entertain of her being hereafter our sister. I do not know whether I ever before mentioned to you my feelings on this subject; but I will not leave the country without confiding them, and I trust you will not esteem them unreasonable. My brother admires her greatly already; he will have frequent opportunity now of seeing her on the most intimate footing; her relations all wish the connection as much as his own; and a sister's partiality is not misleading me, I think, when I call Charles most capable of engaging any woman's heart. With all these circumstances to favour an attachment, and nothing to prevent it, am I wrong, my dearest Jane, in indulging the hope of an event which will secure the happiness of so many?
And so, dearest friend, I do not say farewell, for, it is too unkind a sentiment. Until we meet again, Caroline Bingley
"They are leaving Netherfield Park."
"Yes," Jane nodded, letting the tears cascade down her cheeks.
"Bingley loves you!" I assured her.
"Lizzy," Jane looked down, "I do not want to get my hopes up. He is going away, and I must live with the idea that Bingley was never interested in marriage."
"They leave tomorrow morning," I looked at the letter.
"I am going for a walk," I stated.
"But, it is snowing outside," Jane remarked, "You could catch cold."
"I'll be fine."
I put my scarf, boots, and coat back on. The walk to Netherfield would have been too much to manage considering the weather conditions. Instead, I walked to our stables and asked the stable boy to ready the carriage. I practiced what I would say to them on the ride. The butterflies in my stomach quivered as I neared Netherfield. I could see the roof peeking behind snow-shrouded trees.
The carriage was brought to the stables, and I walked towards the drive. I saw Bingley, his eyes bloodshot, arranging two carriages for tomorrow. "Mr. Bingley?" I walked towards him, "Your sister said that you were in London."
"Miss Elizabeth." He looked away from me.
"Jane is sorry that you are going away without saying good-bye."
"I..." Mr. Bingley choked on his words and trailed off.
"Why don't you do something about this? Why did you give up on Jane?"
Bingley placed a hand to his forehead, "Miss Elizabeth, please. I have had enough."
"You have had enough!" I barked, "What about Jane?" I calmed down, "What kind of a man runs away? Your sister had to do your dirty work by sending us a letter of explanation. Do you feel anything for Jane?"
I paused with the realization that Darcy was the one who ran away. He was only pulling Bingley along with him. Bingley inhaled, "It is my fault, I know. What can I do, Miss Elizabeth?"
"You can do better by not letting yourself be drawn into something you don't desire to do!" I fumed, "Stop being a coward!"
"Yes, I suppose I am a coward." Bingley could not look me in the eyes, "For, I am only the puppet."
I clenched my jaw, "And your puppet master?"
Bingley continued to look down without saying another word. He had the kind of gregarious personality that drew people in. This was also a fault. He was so good-natured that he avoided confrontation. He was afraid that if he stood his ground, everyone would argue. He was influenced by his friends with ease. He had faith in Darcy's opinion more than his own. I walked away from Bingley and into the mansion. I saw Mr. Darcy standing by a window. I assumed he was watching Bingley converse with me.
"How proud of himself he seems!" I thought.
He turned from the window. His gaze falling upon me, "Did you walk here?"
"No." I shook my head and stammered, "I-I took the carriage."
"Good." He nodded, "It is cold today. I would not want you to get sick."
"Stop acting like you care!" I narrowed my eyes.
"What do you mean, Miss Elizabeth?"
He stood in front of me, proud and aloof. Did he even have a heart? He was tearing apart two people that loved each other. How could he do something so callous, so heart-wrenching?
"You're better than this!" I started. "I know you are, Fitzwilliam!" I struggled to find proper words and failed, "Why are you acting like a ... like a ... a total git?" I continued, "Since when does having no money mean that you are a bad person? You have no right to ruin their love because of an accident of birth."
Mr. Darcy stood in front of me in silence. I needed him to say something, anything. Instead, he watched me vent my frustrations to him. I wanted him to say sorry, to fix what he had done. No, rather, we gazed at each other. He walked towards me until he was standing right in front of me. Concern flickered upon his features, "Miss Elizabeth, what is wrong?"
"Do you know why I am so angry?" I cried out.
Mr. Darcy smirked, "You were born thus."
"Now is not the time for jesting!"
Mr. Darcy inquired, "Shall we sit and discuss this?"
"No," I glared at him, "how can you be so calm?"
"What is bothering you?"
"Because ... because my heart has your name written on it!" I took in a shaking breath and gulped. I knew the words flying out of my mouth made no sense to him. Strangely enough, I did not care, not after what he had done. I had not answered his questions nor had I told him why I had come over for a shouting match. Cohesive words when angry were not my forte. Instead, I fidgeted, "There I have said it! What are you going to say to me now? But, after what you have done, you have become quite a disappointment."
At the word disappointment, Mr. Darcy's features changed from calm to angry. I had admitted my feelings for him. Yet, it did not take a mind reader to see my caustic words had cut him deep. He took a step back as if to say he was done with me.
"Is this interview concluded? It is so difficult to tell."
I was not prepared for that as I cringed from the hurt. My heart began to feel like it was bleeding. A hollow, empty feeling entered my core as I looked down. I could have kicked myself for admitting my feelings for him.
"You are such a disappointment that I can hardly bear to look at you."
"A deprivation, I shall endure as stoically as I can," said Darcy.
"You are so relentlessly unpleasant," I added in, "I just can't get at the real you."
Darcy turned towards me and rasped, "Madam! Behold, Fitzwilliam Darcy. I am what I am. If you find yourself unable to get at an alternative version, I must own to being glad."
I found myself taking a step back this time. His voice softened when he looked into my eyes. He sighed, "We are mistaken, Miss Elizabeth. We cannot make this right by raising our voices. We can ... we should discuss this like civilized humans."
"I am not mistaken." I glared, "I will not discuss anything with you."
"Will you not hear reason?"
"Did you only come here to abuse me?"
He was right. I knew he was right. But, stubbornness had taken over, and I shook my head like a petulant child. With an eyebrow raised, he stayed silent, no doubt, thinking about how childish I was being.
He bowed and left the room. I followed him, "Wait! You can't leave! I will leave! I will have the last say!"
"Madam," he clenched his jaw, "you are trying my temper!"
"And, you are trying mine!"
"It occurs to me you have not come to discuss matters, rather you wish to start a battle."
I scoffed, "What battle? There is no battle. You talk as though I am a dragon to slay!"
"Are you not?"
"No!" I shouted, "I'm a woman. An angry woman!" My anger escalated, "You know what you have done. Don't deny it!"
"I do not deny it."
"Your three younger sisters are embarrassments. Your mother is of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper. Your father is lazy. He has not given much thought of his daughters' futures." He lowered his voice, "I am sorry. You and Jane are excluded from this. Can you understand? I could not stand by and watch my friend enter into such a union."
I shook my head, tears escaping my eyes, "No. I cannot understand. Their happiness should matter."
"Goodnight Mr. Darcy," I hastily bowed.
He studied me. A woman's greatest weapon were tears. Nonetheless, I was not using this tool for evil. I could have kicked myself for crying when I meant to look as tough as nails. I gave him no answer, so he bowed and I watched him leave.
I walked back to the stables and rode the carriage home. Crying myself to sleep would not do! I would not cry over a man who ruined Jane's happiness! This made no sense to me. Was I imagining that he had fallen in love with me? I was trying to make everything right. How did Elizabeth Bennet do it? Well, she didn't go to Netherfield to tell Darcy off. She did not admit she loved him. She would not have lowered herself to that degree. She would not have made a fool of herself. I supposed the intimacy of our relationship might have been imagined by me. The humiliation I was feeling was nothing compared to the sadness Jane was going through.
Jane walked into the bedroom after brushing her teeth with the chalk, salt, and birch twig concoction. Oh! I miss my toothbrush!
Jane smiled, "You seem tired."
"I will not cry," I thought as if in prayer. I looked up at Jane, "He was so angry with me."
"Darcy," I heaved a sigh "who else?"
"You went to Netherfield?"
I looked down at my quilt, playing with the lace. I muttered, "Yes."
"Why did you not tell me sooner?" Jane sat on the bed, "I could have said good-bye."
"You didn't want to be there." My voice quavered, "Trust me."
"Well then," Jane tried her hardest to smile, "tomorrow is another day, and there is much to look forward to."