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Lizzy Bennet’s Diary
Extracts from the Journals of Miss Elizabeth Bennet
Longbourn, the 27th day of November
How rewarded am I now for my vanity, for with what care and attention did I dress for this ball? How high was my expectation for the most enjoyable of evenings? Yet such a level of anticipation must always provoke disappointment.
But no matter; though dawn has broken and the carriage bringing home the rest of the family has yet to arrive, until Jane is here sleep will evade me. I shall pen a few words on the ball, and then gladly forego the subject forever.
How grateful I am Sir William suffers from gout, for had he not needed to leave early, there would never have been room for me in Charlotte’s carriage when it returned for the rest of her party – my only alternative for an escape from the trials of such an evening would have been to accept a seat with Mr Collins (who left ahead of the general company) a fate which surely even D would not wish upon me.
The evening commenced, as such things will. We set off as a party, but Mr Collins’ curricle, being both lighter and faster, was soon ahead of us, and all we could determine of their passage was the excited squeals and laughter of Kitty and Lydia drifting back to us on the night air.
As we hurtled towards Netherfield, I realised I had left my gloves – which Bessie had taken much trouble over – behind upon the dresser, such had been my eagerness to take my seat in the carriage and begin the highly anticipated evening. At the time, I minded little, though Mama did scold me for my inattentiveness.
Mr Collins was still fussing about his equipage when we arrived; Kitty and Lydia were nowhere to be seen at first, and I hoped they had restrained their exuberance sufficiently to formally greet the Bingleys before abusing their hospitality. Thankfully we found them in the queue spilling its way out of the main entrance onto the gravelled driveway, and soon we all followed Mama and Papa into the general splendour, pressed on every side by elegant gowns in varying shades of white and waited our turn to pay our dues to our hosts.
I confess I was a little distracted by seeking the one red coat in all the company which could possibly interest me and soon engaged Charlotte to accompany me in the search – to no avail. Within minutes, Jane joined us with ill news – Mr Wickham was not in attendance.
I was afforded little time to wallow over this misfortune, as another followed directly, with my cousin claiming my hand for the next dance. What a start to the evening was this!
Little can be said of the ordeal other than it was worse than I could have supposed. Mr Collins is a most disagreeable partner, but was the more so for his declaration in the middle of the dance of intending to stay close to me throughout the evening, giving me ample impetus to ensure the contrary.
It struck me Mr Collins’ words may have a more sinister portent than merely keeping him company amongst a room full of strangers – I suspect he seeks a mistress for Hunsford Parsonage, and I wish him well with his search, but if I am his target then he is destined for disappointment.
I was thankful to find Jane and Mr Bingley part of the same set, during which Jane revealed some intelligence of Mr Wickham. It seems he had been required to go to Town, but it would appear the obligation is intimately connected to his preference for avoiding a certain gentleman – though D hardly merits the appellation.
If such a thing is possible, my feeling of displeasure towards D increased, and I must also own it had more than one direction for I did struggle to overcome a measure of despair over Mr Bingley’s blind partiality.
Yet I am not generally formed for ill humour – my hopes for an enjoyable evening may have been dampened, but I refused to let my spirits sink and certainly derived much pleasure from the dancing. Indeed, I was warmed to hear, whilst partnering Captain Denny, that Mr Wickham is universally liked within the regiment; but then, how could he not be?
The evening began to improve in its charms for a while, and Charlotte and I were enjoying ourselves greatly when we were brought up short by an encounter with the despicable D, who had the audacity to ask for my hand for the next set. How I pride myself on my quick thinking and tongue and how both deserted me on this occasion!
Charlotte cautions me for my preference, saying D is ten times the consequence of Mr Wickham. Charlotte always was poor at numbers.
And oh, how I wished for my forgotten gloves, and how annoying he too should be one of the few gentlemen without. That man’s touch forever unsettles me… perhaps it is our mutual animosity discharging through our very fingertips?
I had resolved to remain silent for the whole of the dance – if D thought to extend the invitation in order to cause me discomfort then I would return the favour. But it suddenly occurred to me conversation would be a greater punishment to him than silence and was persuaded to make some comment on the dance, though this provoked nothing more than a blunt response. Yet then he spoke of our walking to Meryton, and I succumbed to the temptation to raise the name of Mr Wickham.
He was scathing, disparaging Mr Wickham’s ability to retain friendships, the irony of which, coming from a man who appears expert in offending and distancing his acquaintance, seemed lost upon him.
If only my tongue had deserted me then, as it did earlier. I feel heat rise in my cheeks even now as I record what followed. Without hesitation, feeling all the indignation of Mr Wickham’s reduced circumstances on his behalf, I recklessly challenged D over the permanency of such a resentment, and to my surprise he halted his steps as we came face to face – the force of his stare I still see now – and threw my challenge back at me.
He demanded my reason for wishing to know this, and I had no answer, or none I was prepared to share, and so blurted out some words about wanting to make out his character. Foolish utterance!
His character? Is it not clear what D’s character is? Why would I question it and, further, let him think I was interested? Blast the man.
For some moments thereafter, as we resumed the dance, I felt removed from the company around us. D’s eyes were locked upon mine with no hint of release – their clarity had never struck me before – and I became deeply conscious of his touch, and though I could yet hear the musicians, I felt adrift and alone.
I fail to recall his last words to me as the dance concluded; the warmth in my cheeks surely made no secret of my discomfort and never have I been so relieved for the closing of a set.
Hateful, hateful man… how dare he invade my senses like this?
The set marked the clear alteration of my enjoyment of the evening. From what had become a perfectly tolerable occasion, despite the absence of Mr Wickham, I felt swept into a parade of nightmarish proportions.
I had not left the room following this incident before Mr Collins announced his intention to introduce himself to D through his connection with Rosings. The impertinence! Not that I feel for D; I care not what he suffers, but I am mortified the embarrassing moment was witnessed by so many; the disdain on D’s face I shall never forget, nor the incident’s observance by Caroline Bingley.
Coupled with a display of Mary’s dubious talents, Papa’s indelicate handling of the situation, Mama’s excesses and loud expectations over Jane and Mr Bingley, and Kitty and Lydia’s drunken, boisterous gallivanting, Charlotte became my only solace, and later my salvation, by offering me an escape homewards.
Dear Charlotte – such a good friend, but how our opinions vary! She is a great comfort, though, for I shared my embarrassment with her over most of my family’s comportment at the ball, and she was reassuring in her assessment of Mr Bingley being oblivious to all but Jane.
There is one matter upon which we differ greatly though and this is with regard to marriage. Charlotte believes in encouragement, even where there is less affection, and showing more than is felt in an attempt to secure one’s object! This could be no more Jane’s design than mine, much as we see – and daily hear – the need to find ourselves a situation.
She sees a felicitous union as a matter of chance, not something one should seek; more so, she believes it to be wise – I cannot believe this – that it is wise to know as few defects in one’s future partner as possible when accepting someone!
Owing to this approach, Charlotte believes Jane’s composure conceals too well her true feelings and cautions she should be more open with her interest. Mr Bingley requiring encouragement from Jane I find hard to perceive; he could not be so foolish as that.
I hear the carriage; Jane is here, and I long to hear her news…
Longbourn, the 27th day of November… continued
I will own to having managed but a few hours of rest, yet before being called to table I must complete this entry.
Bless dear Jane. She wore such a sweet smile upon her countenance when she entered the room earlier – she bears an inner glow and though she talks little of her feelings, her satisfaction is abundantly clear to me.
I am once more struck with the absurdity of Charlotte’s words from last night. Surely she would never act in such a way to secure the attentions of a man; it is utterly incomprehensible!
Jane brought further news of Mr Wickham, though her intelligence merely confirmed all – Mr Bingley has no personal knowledge of him, having never made his acquaintance before his arrival in Meryton, and all of Mr Wickham’s history has come from the same source – D. Mr Bingley vouches for D’s good conduct and honour; he believes Mr Wickham deserves much less attention than he has received and says he is not a respectable man.
I remain perfectly satisfied. Mr Bingley is a good sort of man, and his preference for Jane will always mark him out as admirable in my eyes, but he is blinded by prejudice for his friend and the way D has portrayed the facts behind the true story. I shall continue to think of both as I did before.
It is strangely ironic how I have come to wish I loathed D less, for it is surely only a measure of the depth of my abhorrence why even now he constantly fills my mind and this journal… but there, I am done with recording an evening which offered so little by way of amusement – uncanny to have filled so many pages over such inconsequence!
Longbourn, the 27th day of November… continued
We have passed a weary day, but not without further surprises.
How I have anticipated the pleasures of falling in love, of becoming acquainted with someone with whom I felt I could pass the rest of my days – a person to respect and admire and who would meet me on my own ground to enjoy life’s sport.
Not for me a marriage of disparate minds or character, where one or both parties are unable to value their partner, or settling for a situation or match to please family or society more than oneself.
I have tried to imagine what it feels like to be asked for one’s hand, to have a person admire one sufficiently to make such an offer. Yet there was ever a deep and mutual affection; I would be as enamoured of this faceless man as he was of me. So much so, I would be able to tease him before accepting, pretend a moment’s deliberation, such would be the depth of our regard and the understanding of each other’s character.
But Mr Collins! I had my suspicions, to be certain, but did not give them any credence, our acquaintance so short and our dispositions so contrary. Now, I can almost smile about it, but for a while, the nightmare seemed as though it might become reality. Thank goodness for Papa’s support.
Yet, whatever the outcome, it must be owned and duly noted here in this book – I have received a proposal of marriage. (I met my match in Mr Collins. I have been praised before now for the quickness of my tongue, but for all its speed, I could not forestall his making the offer.)
He suggested I might never receive another proposal – a mortifying notion, which touches upon a nerve. The thought makes my heart heavy; yet, for all the poor future this would bring, I do not regret my decision. I could never be wed to such a man.
I recently pondered whether my head or my heart would rule, should a situation such as this arise. I did indeed use my head – yet it led me in a wholly unforeseen direction. To have accepted Mr Collins would have gone against my own good sense; whilst my heart begged me, for love of my family, to consider his offer, my head remained cool and firm throughout – to marry this man would have been nonsensical, a cause of distress to all parties as time passed.
But enough of the subject – it is over; the offer made, the rejection given. Even Mama will soon come to terms with it, little though it is to her taste. Poor Mama. She feels ill used indeed and is so resolute in her determination to never see nor speak to me henceforth, she seeks me out constantly to inform me so.
It is not only I who has suffered a day of mixed emotions. Jane, too, has had her trials, leaving us both discomfited by events, but I believe my mood is less affected than hers, for I am no more depressed now than following the ball, with Mr Wickham’s absence, D’s antagonism and the family’s general exposure to ridicule, but Jane… poor Jane – to have passed such a pleasurable evening and then to receive word Mr Bingley (along with his sister and the hateful D) has, quite precipitously, left for Town – she bears it with fortitude, but her spirits are brought low.
I must own I was surprised, but unconcerned Mr Bingley would long be prevented from returning to the neighbourhood. Whatever business necessitated such an unexpected departure would soon be concluded, and he would come again.
The depth of Jane’s feelings for the gentleman struck me anew – how they must surely be significant, for her lowness of spirit seemed too much for such intelligence. She remained adamant there was no intention to return from London in the foreseeable future, and I counselled her the best course of action would be take up Aunt Gardiner’s longstanding invitation to join them for a stay of some weeks.
Jane did, after some cajoling on my part, see the sense in this. Indeed, had Mr Bingley not entered our society recently, she would have been long gone to Town herself, and with a little pressing and the sanction of Papa, an Express was sent off to Gracechurch Street directly to advise of her imminent arrival.
Tonight, however, I comprehend the extent of her concern. I had tried to tease her out of her despondency after our evening meal, but she dragged me upstairs to help her pack, refusing to talk of it, until goaded by my musings she thrust the letter she had received from Netherfield into my hands and bade me read it.
It hints at far more than an unexpected call to duty in London – there is a suggestion, as Jane implied, of their not returning in the foreseeable future. Furthermore, there is a hint of Mr Bingley’s affections being engaged elsewhere – with Miss Darcy.
As is often the case for Jane and I, we read things differently. She takes each word scrawled upon the page by Miss Bingley’s accomplished hand as an indelible fact, I as either a lie or an embellishment. She maintains Caroline Bingley would never mislead her, whilst I believe this is precisely her design.
I have tried to convince Jane Miss Bingley’s merely wishing her brother to be attached to Miss Darcy does not make it so; nor, I believe, does her desire to call Miss Darcy sister have so much to do with this, but more likely Caroline Bingley’s aspiration to become the wife of D.
I remain confident Mr Bingley’s true affections lie with Jane, and as she has taken my counsel over making her overdue visit, thus placing herself in London, the situation will surely be resolved in due course.
Jane leaves after breakfast on the morrow. I shall miss her sorely, but my aunt will ensure she is entertained and will respect her tender spirits with far more discretion than Mama.
Poor Mama – she suffers these new trials with her usual level of forbearance. Mr Bingley’s sudden absence she laments so vociferously that I could detect even Jane’s patience wearing thin, and whilst I do resist her constant applications to me, and remain convinced of the sense and rightness of my decision, I do understand the current state of her nerves. To have believed two daughters so close to matrimony, and to have it come to naught… a hardship indeed.
Longbourn, the 28th day of November
Jane left early this morning, and I am confident she will soon revive in our aunt and uncle’s superior company, and as soon as word reaches Mr Bingley of her presence in Town, the acquaintance will continue along its natural course.
Strangely, I find myself deeply unsettled – the removal of the party from Netherfield leaves me with a sense of loss; my lowness of spirit I must attribute to Mr Bingley’s removal and its impact upon Jane, for there is naught else that could affect me so.
Mr Collins, I am pleased to report, maintains a low profile. He spends much of his time away from Longbourn, returning only for meals and to test Papa’s patience in his library of an evening.
Papa teases me tirelessly over Mr Wickham, who called upon us this afternoon with Captains Denny and Sanders. We managed some little private discourse over tea, whereupon he explained his absence from the ball – his actions do him credit in his desire to avoid any possible scenes of embarrassment for Mr Bingley.
It seems D’s appalling treatment of Mr Wickham has become known in Meryton. After our guests’ departure, both Kitty and Lydia were full of the report and how much satisfaction was being derived from the local population in having their dislike of D so endorsed.
It has been an unsettling four and twenty hours, and there is nothing further to record in these pages, other than Mr Hill’s terrier has produced three pups, and Kitty is now the proud owner of one.
I am ready for my rest, but struggle to free my mind of Mr Collins’ offer and, in particular, the timing. To be half asleep from the previous night’s excesses and making a weary meal when asked for one’s hand… where is the romance in that?
I shall live in hope of another chance arising for me and, on such an occasion, both the timing and the suitor being more to my taste – to be certain, they could hardly be less so!
Longbourn, the 30th day of November
I am dismayed my dear friend could act in such a way, merely to secure herself a home, yet another who settles for what society and circumstance force upon her… poor, poor Charlotte. Though I knew well her views on matrimony, such a union as this is unfathomable.
I can write no further today… Mr Collins making two offers of marriage in almost as many days is sufficiently ridiculous. That he was successful in one of them leaves me without words.
To be continued in Chapter Four next Friday…
All images of Darcy and Elizabeth have been produced by the lovely Janet Taylor of JT Originals, as have the two ‘covers’ for the story.