In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, following the disastrous proposal at Hunsford, Darcy must decide what he will do.
Darcy stalked from the parsonage so quickly the housekeeper barely opened the front door in time.
The spleen of that woman! The unmitigated impertinence of her! She painted him a villain…a vulgar villain!
He mounted his horse and turned away from Rosings. That was without doubt the last place he wanted to be. No, he needed quiet and space to think, neither of them were present in the vicinity of Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
…last man in the world I could be prevailed upon to marry…
His hands quivered and his whole body trembled. The sketch she had drawn of his character! In her eyes, he was no better than…than Wickham! Had anyone ever considered him so low? Preposterous, utterly and completely preposterous! Aunt Catherine might believe herself celebrated for her character, but that was her way of assuring herself of her own superiority.
Ask any man in Derbyshire and he would vouch for the Darcy name. Every tenant and farmer and servant on Pemberley would bear witness to him as a fair and generous master who cared more for his people than they had right to expect. He had no desire to be anything less than that.
Yes, that slip of a sharp tongued woman would impugn the Darcy name? This was not to be borne.
He urged his horse to a trot. The pounding rhythm of its hooves commanded his attention as he matched his movements to his mount’s. The countryside blurred around him, and he gave into the moving meditation of the ride. The angst, the anger, the raw burning in his soul yielded to the cadence filling his being, fading to a dull emptiness that no longer threatened to overwhelm him.
Would that he might spend the rest of the day in such escape, but neither he, nor the horse, had the strength to continue indefinitely. He settled the beast back to a walk and the fragile peace he had found faded.
Neither speed nor distance had changed the specter that hung over his head. She was out there in the world, thinking very ill of him indeed.
That he could not bear. His pride, his character…and his wounded sensibilities could not leave it lie. She may have refused his offer, but she would have his defense.
He guided his horse to a tree-lined path, deep with shade. The cool air chilled the sweat on his face and neck cold as her words.
…had you behaved in a more gentleman-like manner…
Gentleman-like? Gentleman-like? Never in all his days had his manners been so censured!
He was a gentleman, by his station, by his breeding. Everything about him should have screamed so.
Everything but her.
On what point had he been mistaken? Had she any dower to bring to Pemberley? Were her connections so desirable? Were any of her family, save her and her elder sister, not an affront to society? Of course he disliked the prospect. Why should he not? Indeed who in his position would do different?
Bingley did not seem to mind.
Darcy lifted his hand and wiped sweat from his brow with the back of his hand.
But Bingley’s situation was different. Very different. Entirely different. How could they even bear comparison? He was not even a gentleman, not yet.
But no one ever considered him ungentlemanly. Bingley was universally regarded wherever he went.
How would he have offered marriage to a Miss Bennet?
Doubtless he would have flattered her vanity—told her of her beauty, of her fine eyes and charming wit.
The corner of Darcy’s lips turned up. Her eyes were astonishing. How long had it been since he thought her only tolerable enough?
Bingley would have never stopped there. He would have waxed on about his tender feelings and how he would treasure her all the days of his life. Pretty words and noble sentiments, but none of which were things he would ever have thought to say.
No…he would never share Bingley’s faculty with words.
But perhaps he might not have voiced his internal struggles over his own, will reason and character so loudly. Was it not imperative to be truthful in such matters though?
He raked his hair and settled his hat back into place.
Fitzwilliam, just because something is true does not mean it needs to be spoken. How often had his mother reminded him? It is difficult for people to hear such things and not believe you intend to injure them with your words, even when to you it is a simple statement of fact. A gentleman must know when to keep some facts to himself.
His horse paused to take a mouthful of weeds growing beside the road. Darcy patted its neck. Perhaps his mother and Miss Elizabeth were correct, offering those truths in the midst of an offer of marriage was ungentlemanly.
How could he correct her views, convince her he was not the unprincipled lout she currently believed? He could not talk to her—she would never admit him.
Fitzwilliam? No—he shuddered—best he never know of this humiliating debacle. No one must know. He could not send an emissary.
A letter, it was the only choice. But a lady did not receive letters from a man not her betrothed. A gentleman did not write them. She already thought him ungentlemanly, so there was little lost there. She was curious enough that she just might read such a missive. What choice did he have? She would never marry him, but at least she might not consider him so irredeemable after all.
He turned his horse toward Rosings. He had a very long letter to write.