Inspired by some comments on my last post, I decided to write an Elizabeth and Darcy short story that has a certain element that is a bit, shall we say, hard to believe. Now, were this a much longer story, I would have spent more time setting up this element, so please forgive me the limits of the genre (and my limited supply of time).
Concealing and Revealing
Elizabeth’s father often occupied himself with pastimes that would be deemed rather eccentric by men and women of a more serious nature. Examining his neighbors and laughing about their foibles was one such diversion. Collecting odd-looking trinkets and antiques was another.
One object he had added to his collection sometime before he married was a brass thimble of indeterminable age and origin. Most intriguingly, it remained untarnished despite the passing of years and the neglect of its master, and Mr. Bennet would occasionally pull the thimble from the shelf on which it rested to stare at it with a frown, as though something about it kept drawing his attention. He absolutely forbid the servants from polishing it, and he had persisted in discouraging any curiosity his children might have about it.
Nevertheless, Elizabeth, as a child, had wondered why her father kept such an ordinary-seeming object on a shelf that contained more conspicuous wonders, and after her father had left the house one day to attend to some estate business, she had decided to investigate further. Trying to be quiet, she had pushed a chair up to the shelf and plucked the thimble from its innocuous perch on a block of wood. As she held it, she suddenly understood her father’s strange obsession. Upon the shining brass thimble, a pair of specters chased one other while a young winged man with a quiver looked upon them with a knowing grin. As she reached a finger out to touch first one spirit and then the other, she thought one seemed vaguely female and the other male. The tiny images had fascinated her, and though she was ordinarily not disposed to theft, she had taken the item from her father’s study and hidden it away, feeling an intense urge to keep it for herself.
Her father had never asked her what happened to it, and as time passed, the guilt caused by Elizabeth’s transgression began to fade away. After all, had the object truly been important to her father, would he not have inquired as to who had stolen it? But nary a word did he ever speak to Elizabeth or her sisters about the thimble, and so it was that Elizabeth was able to make excuses for her immoral act despite the pangs of her conscience.
Regardless of this justification to herself, Elizabeth might have relinquished the tiny brass thimble to her father eventually had she not made a most astounding discovery.
One day, Elizabeth decided she needed to discuss the engravings on the thimble with someone. She knew Jane would encourage her to return the thimble to its rightful place, but she did not wish to risk losing it by walking to Lucas Lodge. She had so many questions about the remarkable item and wanted to hear the opinions of someone else. Was the young man Cupid? Why would he be interested in the actions of spirits? What were the spirits doing? These questions and others plagued her mind.
Elizabeth felt these questions chasing themselves in circles around her head as she walked to the drawing-room and seated herself while carefully cupping the thimble. She could scarcely take her eyes away from the item, and on a whim, she placed her right forefinger inside the tiny cup and began to spin it around slowly, watching as the specters chased one another around the brass surface while the young man looked on in pleasure.
When Jane entered the drawing-room and sat nearby, Elizabeth gave her an expectant look, awaiting her sister’s greeting. But Jane said not a word to Elizabeth. Even more peculiar, when Mrs. Bennet entered the room a few minutes later, the Bennet matriarch complained: “Now, where is Lizzy this time? Trouncing around and coating her petticoats in mud if I know her. I told her if she was going to spend some time out of doors, she should stick closer to the house and avoid those dirty paths of which she is so fond, but that child never listens to me!”
Elizabeth stood abruptly, but her mother and her eldest sister did not even glance at her. Then she walked back and forth in front of them, waving her arms most erratically. Still, neither paid her any heed.
As an additional test, Elizabeth cleared her throat.
Mrs. Bennet turned to Jane in concern. “Dear Jane, have you a cold?”
“I am quite well, Mama,” said Jane, sounding perplexed and looking around, as if to try to determine the source of the noise.
Elizabeth waited a few more minutes, and then she removed the thimble from her fingertip. Shortly afterward, Mrs. Bennet looked up, as though she had noticed something in the periphery of her vision.
“Heavens, child!” cried Mrs. Bennet. “You must not come sneaking in here like some frightful shadow! I fear my nerves might not recover from the shock of it!”
Jane also seemed startled, and she stared at Elizabeth with a furrowed brow.
Elizabeth gave her a deceptively sweet smile, and when both her mother and sister found themselves to be distracted moments later, she placed the thimble on her finger once more.
“Goodness me!” cried Mrs. Bennet shortly afterward. “My nerves cannot handle that child’s wildness! Wherever did she run off to this time?”
And this time, as Mrs. Bennet glanced around the room, Elizabeth was certain about what had happened. The thimble had turned her invisible.
For a child, being able to disguise one’s movements so completely was a delight as well as a source of neverending mischief. One could carry out all manner of tricks when not having to face concerns about being seen, and the ability to secretly listen to conversations between adults was certainly nothing to sneer at. However, as Elizabeth grew older, she began to draw on the thimble’s magic much less frequently, for she began to better understand that a proper member of society did not act in such an underhanded way if it could be avoided.
However, despite the fact that morality had begun to rear its head in some fashion, Elizabeth could not bear to return the thimble to its owner, nor could she convince herself to share its secret with others. The thimble seemed to have some inexplicable pull on her, and even though she knew she should rid herself of it, she could not follow through with the idea.
And so it was that she found herself at twenty years of age considering the thimble in her hand as she prepared to depart Longbourne for Kent, where she would stay with the newly married Charlotte Lucas. The engraved Cupid on the small object watched on, pleased, as the two specters glided through the air, pursuing one another endlessly.
After hesitating but a moment, Elizabeth hid the thimble in a handkerchief in her reticule. She promised herself she would not use it. Rather, she would only look at it on occasion and remind herself that it was there. Heaven forbid that Lydia or Kitty should chance upon it, after all.
After spending five weeks in Kent, however, Elizabeth broke her promise to herself. But who could have blamed her for doing so? After having received an utterly offensive proposal from such a proud and disagreeable man, would not any woman be tempted to do something that she might ordinarily frown upon?
When she had informed Mr. Darcy that he was the last man in the world whom she could ever be prevailed on to marry, he had told her stiffly: “You have said quite enough, madam. I perfectly comprehend your feelings and have now only to be ashamed of what my own have been. Forgive me for having taken up so much of your time, and accept my best wishes for your health and happiness.”
And then he had fled the room.
Elizabeth had been shocked and enraged and altogether agitated at the time, and she could not simply let him go. She knew not why. She grabbed the thimble, held it tightly on her finger so it would not fall, and raced after him.
After the man had left the parsonage, he had begun talking to himself, so great was his perturbation. “And this is how she thinks of me?”
Elizabeth’s lips twitched in irritation, but she kept close enough to him that she could hear him, though not so close that he could flail about and accidentally touch her. Fortunately, he did not mount his horse but rather took its reins and strode forward, pausing every now and then to shake his head to himself as he kept up an impassioned monologue. Had she not been following him, no doubt her own monologue would have been similarly spirited.
“That her opinion of that blackguard should be so high and her opinion of me so low!” cried he, scarcely able to contain himself. Then he spoke more quietly. “After what he did to my sister, it was a wonder that I did not run him through! The man deserved no less, certainly. But that such a scoundrel should succeed in blackening my name to her when he is so utterly lacking in scruples is beyond the pale!”
At this, Elizabeth found her interest piqued despite herself. What could Mr. Darcy mean by this?
Had her emotions not been so high, she would probably have retreated to allow Mr. Darcy some privacy due to the sensitive contents of his rant, but she instead kept pace with him and his horse, feeling the intense urge either to gain proof of her own rightness in rejecting him so vehemently–or to discover some reason why Mr. Darcy might not be quite so reprehensible as she had imagined. Why she might hope for the latter was quite beyond her ability to comprehend at the time.
“And as for her sister–well, perhaps I misjudged her. Indeed, I will own it is a failing of mine. But her smiles seemed to favor Bingley no more than any other young man, and with such a generally boisterous family accompanying her, how could I in good conscience have encouraged him to press his suit?”
At this, Elizabeth felt her anger boiling, and she nearly came out of her concealment, but then Mr. Darcy spoke again, and she closed her mouth to listen to him.
“But it signifies not. For Bingley, a love match is important above all, and would not Miss Elizabeth know her own sister’s heart? I tried to aid him–I swear to God I did–but I suppose I might have done him a disservice. Would I had spared my own heart by continuing to repress my feelings!”
Despite her previously professed dislike for the man, Elizabeth felt a glimmer of guilt at how cruelly she had treated him. But if indeed she had been cruel, had he not been the first to be unkind? How could he think that insults to her family would ever recommend him to her? Could his pride in his wealth and status truly lead him to think every young woman in England would be eager to wed him if he merely asked?
Mr. Darcy soon ceased speaking out loud, having gained some measure of control over his emotions, but the brief glimpses Elizabeth saw of his face demonstrated the turmoil that still existed there. She considered returning to the parsonage, but her feet and her mind were not in accord on the idea, and she found herself following him into the main house at Rosings Park (though it took some maneuvering on her part not to be caught in the front door as it closed).
Rather than join the rest of the Rosings party, Mr. Darcy secluded himself in the study. He sat down with some paper and a quill, and he began to write furiously upon it.
As Elizabeth watched him, uneasy about intruding on his privacy but still not willing to quit the room, she saw him cross out words and entire sentences, as though he could not find the words he wished to say. For some time, Mr. Darcy occupied himself in this way, but though Elizabeth was tempted to move closer to read what he wrote, she did not dare to do so for fear of discovery.
Eventually, Colonel Fitzwilliam entered the study, and Elizabeth moved to stand in a corner out of the way, not wanting the man to bump into her by accident.
“Whatever are you doing in here, Darcy?” asked the Colonel. “I thought you went to check on Miss Bennet. I am surprised to find you here, scribbling on a piece of paper like a schoolboy who scarcely knows how to form his letters. There are so many blots upon that page that I might think it a spotted dog rather than a piece of correspondence.”
Mr. Darcy let out a grunt, seeming to ignore his cousin as he continued to write, but then he paused and focused on the other man. “I believe I may have been a bit imprudent when I went to see Miss Bennet, but my temper is so high that I can scarcely judge my words and actions impartially.”
Colonel Fitzwilliam laughed. “No one is an impartial judge when it comes to one’s own actions. Come–tell me what troubles you! Perhaps I can assist in determining the root of your woes. I will own that it surprised me that you went to call upon the young woman in the first place. I had not realized you felt any particular fondness for her.”
“As for my troubles, they are multifold,” said Mr. Darcy. “To begin with, Miss Bennet somehow knew about my interference with Bingley.”
There was a sort of distaste in the man’s tone. Perhaps he did not wish to use the term “interference” but realized it was most appropriate.
“I beg your pardon?” asked Colonel Fitzwilliam, sounding uneasy.
And well he should, thought Elizabeth with a slight glimmer of guilt. After all, Colonel Fitzwilliam had revealed to her that Mr. Darcy had “saved a friend from the inconveniences of a most imprudent marriage.”
“Based on your reaction, I suppose that must have been your doing,” said Mr. Darcy, “but since it is only one of several grievances laid at my feet, I suppose I cannot redirect any of my anger toward you.”
“I am not quite certain why it should signify that you gave your friend a little assistance–”
“The lady in question was Miss Bennet’s sister.”
“Ah,” said Colonel Fitzwilliam. Then he cried: “What?”
“I separated the eldest Miss Bennet from Bingley because I believed it best for them both. After speaking with Miss Elizabeth Bennet, I have begun to question that decision.”
Colonel Fitzwilliam grimaced, his discomfort quite apparent to Elizabeth. “I certainly would have been more circumspect had I known. The young lady found your behavior to be quite officious.”
“She was quite right, of course,” said Mr. Darcy with a sigh.
Elizabeth looked at him in surprise. His anger appeared to have melted away, to be replaced with a sort of sad resignation.
“Darcy,” said Colonel Fitzwilliam slowly, “are you . . . in love with the girl?”
Mr. Darcy let out a self-deprecating laugh. “Is it quite so obvious as that?”
“I had rather thought you to be above such worldly things as love, but I suppose Cupid can find a mark among all men. Elizabeth Bennet is charming and witty, and had I not been a second son, I should certainly have pursued her without hesitation, but I would never have expected the great Fitzwilliam Darcy to attempt to woo any young woman without a large dowry or noble blood to recommend her. Has she bewitched you?”
“Heart and soul,” replied Mr. Darcy.
Elizabeth felt a pang of something and then realized her own heart had skipped a beat. Perhaps she had been skeptical about the gentleman’s feelings before, but now how could she doubt them?
“Darcy?” asked the Colonel hesitantly.
“I treated her most abominably, I fear. I believe she hates me now. And to my dismay and wounded pride, her reasons for doing so are more than sound.”
“Perhaps you speak a little hastily, cousin. What reason would such a nice young woman have to hate you other than that unfortunate situation with her sister?”
“Wickham has deceived her with his lies, for one.”
“Wickham!” growled Colonel Fitzwilliam in a fierce tone Elizabeth had never heard from him before. “Had he been even halfway befitting of the term ‘gentleman,’ I would have called him out and dueled him to the death. But that man is not worth dulling my blade by striking at him.”
“Miss Bennet met him in Hertfordshire,” said Mr. Darcy. “He spread his usual tale of mistreatment at my hands.”
“You treated that ruffian much better than he deserved, Darcy. He was unfit to be a parson, and after his failure to elope with Georgiana, he should have disappeared from England entirely. I am surprised that coward has the wherewithal to show his face in decent society.”
Careful not to dislodge the thimble, Elizabeth covered her mouth with her left hand, trying to keep from making any noise of surprise. Mr. Wickham had attempted to elope with Mr. Darcy’s sister? That certainly explained some of the ill blood between them. Suddenly, she grew even more certain that she should leave the room. She had already heard much more than she should have, and she felt guilty for having stayed for so long. But how could she manage to open the door without drawing notice?
“His desire for the good opinion of others often outweighs his good sense,” said Mr. Darcy darkly.
“While I know we try to maintain the private nature of the mistake that Georgiana nearly made, I do not believe Miss Bennet would spread the tale. Have you considered informing her of what happened?”
Mr. Darcy indicated the ink-blotted paper before him. “I have been trying to compose the lines, but I am afraid my penmanship has been marred by emotion.”
Fitzwilliam laughed. “Ah, Darcy, now you are finally able to understand the plight of a man in love! I was very nearly in love with Miss Bennet myself, but I shall leave her entirely to you.”
“I appreciate your generosity,” said Mr. Darcy dryly.
“I am rather surprised that you would flout the strictures of propriety by actually writing to Miss Bennet, but I shall refrain from teasing you on that front. Now, let us count the primary grievances against you. The young lady’s favor has been turned against you by your actions against her sister and the story of Wickham’s presumed grief. Is that all?”
Elizabeth saw the other gentleman’s face flush as he averted his eyes from his cousin. “I might have been a little too honest about my opinions of her family.”
Fitzwilliam fairly roared with laughter this time, which was fortunate, as it covered up Elizabeth’s snort of disdain concerning the understatement. “Ah, Cupid struck a stupid one this time, did he not? You should have come to me for advice. I would have told you that very few men enjoy their in-laws–and that wise men know to keep that fact to themselves.”
Mr. Darcy dipped his head in acknowledgment. “I am more than aware of that now. My decision to ask her to marry me was not made lightly, Fitzwilliam. I considered every disadvantage it brought to me. And yet I failed to consider the disservice I was doing her with every word I spoke. My pride–wretched thing that it is–obscured the fact that the only thing about which I truly cared was having Miss Bennet in my life.”
Fitzwilliam’s expression became sober. “I suppose her sharp tongue cut through that pride, then?”
“It did. Her words infuriated me so that I lost control over myself, and I was unable to immediately issue a rebuttal concerning the accusations that she placed at my feet. I have since come to realize that even though she was mistaken about some of my actions and intentions, still she was right to chastise me for my general approach.”
“Well, we cannot leave your first love ending on so sour a note, can we?” asked the Colonel with a smile. He gestured at the paper. “Let us see what we can do to change her mind about your character.”
“Any change in opinion shall be concerning my character alone, for there is no hope that she will come to care for me at this point,” said Mr. Darcy, sounding oddly dejected. “But perhaps I can succeed in decreasing her contempt for me. Certainly, I should at least like to disabuse her of the notion that I am nothing more than an officious liar.”
“Officious, perhaps. But a liar, certainly not.”
Mr. Darcy’s heavy sigh filled the room. Colonel Fitzwilliam gave him a comforting pat on the shoulder and peered over at the paper on the desk.
The conversation became more muted as the two gentlemen set about writing a letter to the woman who stood unseen in the room with them. Elizabeth glanced frequently toward the door, but she had no means of escape until Colonel Fitzwilliam called for a servant, claiming himself to be famished. At that point, she slid outside the door and hurried to leave the house.
After dodging a few servants, Elizabeth finally freed herself from Lady Catherine’s home. Without conscious thought, she allowed her feet to carry back to the parsonage. By some miraculous chance, Charlotte, Mr. Collins, and Maria had not yet returned from Rosings, and Elizabeth was able to put herself to bed without fielding unwanted questions about where she had been. Her mind was in such a whirl that she thought it would take her hours to go to sleep. Instead, exhausted from the events of the day, she fell asleep in minutes, the thimble tucked innocuously in the palm of her hand.
Elizabeth awoke the next morning at an early hour, her mind no quieter than it had been the evening before. In fact, if anything, she felt less herself than before. She had begun to believe her powers of discernment almost nonexistent, though once she had prided herself on them, and now she feared she had been most unjust to the gentleman who had wished to make her his wife.
The thought of the thimble–which had been the tool through which she had been able to experience these astonishing revelations–had her searching her sheets to locate it, but if the thimble was present, she could not find it, and so she gave up on her search. She fretted for a few minutes, telling herself she wanted to walk outside without chancing upon Mr. Darcy, but then she realized that was not true at all. She did wish to see him. Strangely enough, she wished to apologize to him. Perhaps some of her harsh words had been earned, but much of what she had said had been most insulting, and she wished to make reparations. But how could she do so? Would he not wish to avoid her?
Then she remembered the letter that Mr. Darcy had been so assiduously working on. Had he completed it? Would he still intend to give it to her?
Elizabeth determined she would proceed to her favorite walk, which she knew he was familiar with, and after readying herself for the day–perhaps spending a few more minutes on her appearance than was her wont–she hurried to the gates to the park and stood before them, looking in.
There was a grove along the edge of the park, and there, just as she had hoped, a gentleman stood, clenching a piece of paper.
Mr. Darcy gazed back at her, and she hesitated only a moment before she strode toward him decidedly.
The man appeared to be startled by her forthrightness in approaching him, and she thought him to be nervous besides, but he seemed to quickly rally.
“Miss Bennet,” said he in a stiff voice, holding out the piece of correspondence, “would you please do me the honor of reading this letter?”
But though Elizabeth had taken the letter by instinct, she did not even glance at it. “Mr. Darcy,” she said, catching his attention.
He had been bowing to her, about to take his leave, but her voice made him hesitate.
“Yes, Miss Bennet?” asked the man. His voice sounded hoarse, and as she examined him, she thought his eyes appeared to be red and fatigued.
“While you may not have well-recommended your suit,” said she, “I fear I may have spoken a little out of turn myself. Instead of reviewing words on a page, I wonder whether you might give me your explanations now in person. I should rather like to hear the words from your mouth so that I may respond to them.”
Mr. Darcy gazed at her with a glint of suspicion, no doubt suspecting she would soon display the warmth of emotion that had previously led to the two of them nearly shouting at one another. However, he must have witnessed the sincerity in her eyes, for after looking with a sort of longing at his carefully composed letter, he began slowly, almost haltingly, explaining certain events of which she had only heard fragments concerning the previous night.
He began his account with the circumstances involving Mr. Bingley and Jane, explaining his friend’s history with women and Mr. Darcy’s belief in Jane’s lack of special regard for Mr. Bingley.
“I studied her carefully, Miss Bennet, watching her countenance and actions and listening to her words. I wholly believed her affections unengaged. However, I must acknowledge that you, as her sister, have access to certain intelligence that I do not, and if you believe Miss Bennet to have felt strongly toward my friend, then I shall freely own my mistake.”
Elizabeth recalled what Charlotte had said about Jane needing to encourage Mr. Bingley, and she felt ashamed of how she had utterly dismissed what her friend said. Nonetheless, she needed to be perfectly clear with Mr. Darcy, and she told him: “It was indeed a mistake. Though Jane’s amiable nature may make it seem as though her heart would not easily be touched, she feels just as deeply as any woman, and the pain that has been inflicted by Mr. Bingley’s absence–”
Elizabeth paused as she realized she had said a little more than Jane would have appreciated, and she finished: “Well, their separation has not been an easy thing for my sister.”
“And for the pain that has been caused to your sister, I shall apologize,” said Mr. Darcy gravely. “While I did have certain other objections to my friend’s making such a match, I should not have placed as much importance on them had it not been for my conviction in your sister’s indifference. My motives were sincere, even if the information that guided them was not wholly accurate.”
Elizabeth pursed her lips as she fought to keep her temper in check. No doubt Mr. Darcy referred to the behavior of certain members of the Bennet family when referencing his “other objections.” While Elizabeth had experienced her fair share of embarrassment due to her younger sisters, her mother, and occasionally even her father, she had no desire to allow someone to insult them to her face, and she noted with satisfaction that Mr. Darcy appeared to have learned his lesson from before. He could not simply hurl insult after insult with impunity.
Mr. Darcy, though appearing wary, then explained how he and Mr. Bingley’s sisters had convinced the young man that he should not pursue the young woman, whom they believed to be indifferent to him. Mr. Bingley’s natural modesty, Mr. Darcy explained, caused him to depend heavily on Mr. Darcy’s words. It had not taken much to convince him to cease his pursuit of Jane. This knowledge made Elizabeth quite cross indeed, but she continued to listen.
“And as for the more weighty accusation of my alleged injuries to Mr. Wickham, I am not aware of the particulars of what he is claiming, but I can relate the truth of his interactions with my family. Should you wish to prove the veracity of what I am about to tell you, I would invite you to speak with my cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, who is well-acquainted with the whole of it.”
Mr. Darcy then proceeded to explain the connection between his father and Mr. Wickham’s father as well as the assistance that the late Mr. Darcy provided for Mr. Wickham–and the assistance for which the late Mr. Darcy wished for his son to provide. Mr. Darcy explained how Mr. Wickham had a certain want of principles and the sort of character that would ill recommend him to take orders. He then advised of how Mr. Wickham had requested three thousand pounds in place of the preferment that the elder Mr. Darcy had wished him to have, and he noted how Mr. Wickham had received the money and then requested the living three years later after he had spent all the money he had received on gambling and other vices.
Then came the part of the explanation that seemed to pain the young gentleman the most. His explanation of Mr. Wickham’s attempted elopement with his young sister was not made easily. Though the events had occurred the previous summer, his expression as he described it seemed both wounded and angry. The truthful nature of his account of how his sister, who had been but fifteen at the time, nearly fell prey to Mr. Wickham due to his wish for his sister’s fortune of thirty thousand pounds could not be doubted, for the affliction on his face spoke volumes.
“You may consult Colonel Fitzwilliam if you wish,” said he stiffly, having come to the end of his account of Mr. Wickham’s perfidy. “He can corroborate the details as I have relayed them.”
“I believe you,” said Elizabeth quietly. After having heard his words to his cousin and after witnessing the extremity of emotion in his face as he earnestly attempted to correct her opinion of him, she could not but believe him. And through the very act of believing him, she thought perhaps she owed him something more.
They stood there in silence for some moments, neither seeming to realize what to say next, and then Elizabeth at last spoke. “Mr. Darcy?”
“Yes, Miss Bennet?”
“I will own that I believed you to be the villain of this story. Instead, you were the one who had all the goodness, whereas Mr. Wickham was the one who had all the appearance of it.”
Mr. Darcy’s mouth twitched, but wisely, he pressed his lips together and said nothing.
“I do not like to claim that I am anything other than clever, but I have been quite mistaken about you, Mr. Darcy. I fear I let your words about how I was merely tolerable lead me astray into painting you as the most heinous of villains.”
“I was in an ill humor at the time,” said Mr. Darcy quickly, “and those are not the feelings I hold now. I now consider you to be one of the handsomest women of my acquaintance.” After this outburst, he flushed and fell quiet, turning his head away from her.
“Now, that is more how I might expect a man in love to behave,” said Elizabeth with a genuine smile. “A few flowery words here and there are much more effective in smoothing over hurt feelings.”
“Disguise of any kind is my abhorrence, Miss Bennet,” said he. And then, falteringly, he continued: “I wished to tell you the whole truth.”
“There is a time and place for truth,” said Elizabeth sagely, “and I rather think a proposal is not the best time to talk about the impropriety of the relatives of one whom you are trying to offer your hand to.”
Mr. Darcy dipped his head in acknowledgment.
“But I suppose I spoke truth when I said that you could not have made the offer of your hand in any possible way that would have tempted me to accept it.”
“And perhaps that very thing–which so offended me at the time–is part of your charm, Miss Bennet. You care not for my wealth or prestige. I cannot recall the last time someone felt confident enough in themselves to deliver the setting-down that you did.”
While there may have been a hint of pain in his voice, there was amusement there as well. In that amusement, Elizabeth thought they were forging a tentative connection of sorts.
“Perhaps you may abhor disguise,” said Elizabeth, “but I rather abhor pride. Of course, my own vanity has oft led me awry, as you have recently seen.”
“I shall own the fault of pride. I have lacked for naught and have had much that has come to me as if by right. But you, Miss Bennet, were the first thing in my life that I felt was worth fighting for.” His words were mumbled, and his gaze uncharacteristically downcast.
Elizabeth could not deny the thrill that came over her at his words. “Is that so? I suppose I must be flattered to find myself to be a challenge. Now that we have cleared up certain misunderstandings, perhaps you should fight harder.”
Mr. Darcy looked at her sharply. “Miss Bennet?”
“I cannot turn from dislike to love in an instant,” said she, “but I suppose I have not disliked our more civil conversations. Certainly, you would be a slightly better match than Mr. Collins was.”
“I rather think I would be much more than a ‘slightly better’ match than your cousin.”
“Hmm,” she said, and then conceded, “perhaps.”
Then she continued: “While I am not certain I am prepared to be courted by you, I should not be opposed to partaking in some conversation that lacks the undercurrent of resentment that many of my previous interactions possessed.”
“You would . . . give me the opportunity to change your opinion of me?” Mr. Darcy asked. His dark eyes gleamed with hope as he regarded her.
“I would. But I would also expect some effort on your part. If you are to continue to treat the members of the society in which I move with cold haughtiness, I would rather not exert myself.”
“I am willing to try. But you must realize that I am quite uncomfortable among those with whom I am not well-acquainted.”
“Well, then are you not fortunate to have fallen in love with a young woman who wishes to impress the entire room with clever words and charm?”
At that, Mr. Darcy smiled brightly. It was a warm smile that wrinkled the corners of his eyes. And as he gazed down at her, Elizabeth finally saw what she had failed to notice before: the love that shone there.
And though she had meant it when she had told him she was not quite ready to be courted by him, she thought that one day soon she would be. She was not certain whether she would agree to marry him or not, but she knew now he was not so horrible a man as she once believed, and certainly, there was something attractive about his sincerity once he had set aside his pride.
Elizabeth thought once more of that gleaming brass thimble, and in her mind’s eye, Cupid beamed at her with sincere pleasure. How strange that her concealment could lead to such a revelation as this. But she felt assured that no longer would she need to hide herself to spy on the doings of others. She had quite enough happening in her own life now, and she should concentrate on those experiences. And perhaps one of Cupid’s arrows would reach another mark someday. She could not wait to find out.