Fitzwilliam Darcy paced about the sitting room of his house in London. His entire way of looking at the world was in the process of being upended, and he did not care for it one bit. How he wished he could go back to a time when he had never heard the name Bennet!
When Charles Bingley let Netherfield, Darcy had been certain the local people would present a problem. They were quite a ways from London, and quite a ways from civilized people. The people of Meryton seemed so very provincial to him: coarse, noisy, and unrefined. And then Bingley had been foolish enough to pay special attention to Jane Bennet. Darcy understood the attraction Miss Bennet held for Bingley—she was both lovely and agreeable—but that was all Darcy saw in her. To his dismay, he saw his friend falling deeply in love with a woman of little standing and no substance while Miss Bennet appeared to do nothing more than sit back and wait for a man with a fortune to propose to her. Darcy suspected any man with a fortune would do.
Even if Darcy did not question Miss Bennet’s motives, there was the matter of the rest of her family. Her younger sisters were unbearably foolish, their mother was a shrill braggart, and even Mr. Bennet was not free from reproach, as he did nothing to remedy the spectacle of his wife and daughters.
Then there was the matter of Miss Elizabeth Bennet. She was the reason for his current consternation. When he first had laid eyes upon her, he had not been impressed. She was pretty, as country girls go, but certainly no one that was of any consequence to him. And then, slowly, he had begun to know her better and her more amiable qualities had become more and more apparent. She was bright and witty; she was well-read, even by London standards; and she was willing to sidestep petty social conventions for the greater good. She was everything Darcy had never realized he wanted in a woman. And the more he studied her, the more he realized that he had quite misjudged her beauty upon their first meeting. Elizabeth Bennet would have been provincially pretty even if she had been a simpleton, but the sparkle in her eyes and the brilliance of her smile elevated her to true beauty.
Darcy groaned and dropped his head into his hands. If he was being honest, he was as concerned about his feelings towards Miss Elizabeth Bennet as he was about his friend’s towards Miss Jane Bennet. Their hasty removal from Netherfield had not been only to save Bingley, even if at the time Darcy had believed such. And, even there, Darcy was not sure he had made the right choice. Since they left Netherfield, Bingley had been more melancholy than Darcy had ever seen him. Upon their return to London, Bingley had not returned to society but had immediately planned to visit a friend in Scotland for an extended stay. Bingley claimed that the visit was to enjoy the estate’s pheasant hunting, but Darcy knew the hunt was not what drew him; rather, it was the distance and Bingley’s desperate hope that it would aid him in forgetting.
If only Darcy had such a diversion. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw the quirk of Miss Elizabeth’s lips as she tried not to laugh at someone’s foolishness. That quirk had been directed at him more than once, and he was ashamed to admit he deserved the admonishment each time. He knew he had behaved in ways that were not gentlemanly, especially upon first arriving at Netherfield. He could not decide if he was glad or regretful about it. If Miss Elizabeth had shown even the slightest interest in him, he might not have been able to resist her. As things were, she openly loathed him, and it still took every ounce of strength for him not to declare his love for her any time they were in the same room.
Now, removed from the danger, Darcy had realized in shame that his concerns about Miss Bennet’s fitness for Mr. Bingley were not his primary motivation in urging his friend away from Netherfield. Rather, it was Darcy’s own fevered need to get away from Miss Elizabeth before he did something rash. It was not safe for him to be in the same county as her.
Upon reflection, he really did not find anything in Miss Jane Bennet’s behavior that made him believe she, herself, was scheming to marry a fortune. Her mother was another case entirely, but the eldest two Bennet girls did not suffer the same deficiencies in character that the rest of the family displayed. Darcy was forced to admit to himself that he took his friend away from a woman he loved, and who by all appearances loved him back, because it had been necessary for Darcy himself to leave.
He had to undo the damage he had done, but how? He did not feel comfortable writing all this down in a letter to send to Scotland. Who knew what prying eyes might fall upon it in transit? He resolved he must write to Bingley and ask him to return at his earliest opportunity. The letter itself would have to wait until the following day; at that moment, he was exhausted from his endeavors at understanding his own heart, and he craved the respite of sleep.
His dreams did nothing to comfort him, as they were filled with Miss Elizabeth Bennet, always one step out of his reach.