I wrote a story for last year’s March Madness about Darcy and Wentworth meeting in an inn and talking about their lost loves. I decided to continue the story where it left off, with Edward Ferrars joining them. I have included the last part of the previous post here if you want to refresh your memory. If you did not read it or would like to read it again, here is the link to the full post.
(from March 2016)
The quiet between the two men was abruptly interrupted when a younger man pulled out the chair between them and sat down. Darcy and Wentworth looked at him with surprise and then at each other.
The three sat silently for a few moments until the young man let out a groan and hung his head. “I do not know what I am going to do!” he said to no one in particular.
Wentworth leaned towards the young man. “Are you in financial distress?”
The young man shook his head.
“Did you commit a crime?” asked Darcy
“No,” the young man replied and then looked up. “I… I fell in love with the most wonderful lady. A lady beyond all measure, one with whom I wish to spend the rest of my life!”
Darcy and Wentworth looked at each other and then back to the young man.
“I would have thought you would be delighted to have found such a woman,” Wentworth said softly.
“Does she love you?” Darcy asked.
The young man nodded. “I believe she does.”
“Then what has you feeling so distraught?” Wentworth asked. “Why are you in such distress?”
The young man looked up and then closed his eyes. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I am… I am already engaged to another.”
“What is your name, young man?” Wentworth asked.
“Ferrars. Edward Ferrars.”
“Well, Mr. Ferrars,” Darcy said. “We have recently discovered that we are good listeners. Why do you not tell us what this is all about?”
The innkeeper brought Ferrars his drink, which he had ordered when he came in. He took a sip of it, as if to fortify himself for what he was about to share. It was several minutes before he began to speak. The two men sitting on either side of him waited silently and patiently.
Ferrars hung his head and let out a long moan. “It has been about four years since I became engaged – secretly, mind you – to a young lady whom I believed I loved. I am ashamed to say that in nearly the same duration of time, I came to regret it.”
“You regretted it almost immediately? Does anyone know about this secret engagement?” Darcy asked.
Ferrars shook his head. “We have told no one, but…” His voice trailed off. “I cannot break off the engagement. I consider myself an honourable man, and it would be most unfitting for me to do so. I have hopes to become a clergyman, and if I were to do such a thing, I would not be looked upon well, and it would likely ruin my chances with Elinor.”
“That is her name – the young lady you love?” Wentworth asked.
Ferrars nodded and drew in a breath, letting it out in a torrent of words. “It was an imprudent and impulsive thing for me to do. Foolish! I was a fool, and too young to know better.”
A fool! The words had echoed in Darcy’s mind for months. In the short silence that followed, Darcy turned his face to the window. There was only darkness, but his eyes saw the reflection of the candle shimmering against the pane. His eyes fell on the ghostly reflection of his own face, contorted with the distress of acknowledging his own foolishness.
“Foolishness can rear its ugly head at any age,” he said sullenly, his mind reeling with the vague recollection of his disparaging words to Elizabeth about her family and condition in life. “Even at eight and twenty.”
Ferrars slowly looked up. “Why do you say that?”
Darcy turned back to the men and pressed his lips tightly together. Heat flooded his cheeks as he considered admitting such a great fault to virtual strangers. He had not revealed to anyone all that had taken place that fateful day only a few months past.
He downed a large swallow of his drink and planted his elbows on the table. “Do not assume, young man, that you will grow out of foolishness with age and maturity – particularly in the area of love.” Darcy looked directly at Ferrars. “I am not proud of the fact that in a proposal of marriage I recently made, I told the young lady that I had fallen in love with her against my will, against my reason… even against my character.” He lowered his eyes to the table. “I reminded her how unsuitable her family was and how unacceptable it would be for me to be joined with them through matrimony.” Darcy lowered his head, and his shoulders drooped. “I cannot recollect all I said, but rather than make her appreciate the honour of my proposal even more, as I foolishly thought it would, it made her angry and more determined to turn my offer down while heaping insult after insult upon me.”
Both men’s eyes grew wide.
“You actually said that to her?” Wentworth asked.
Darcy felt his insides tighten at his confession and he slowly nodded. “I fear I did, and now I am quite ashamed of myself.” He steepled his fingers and brought them up to his chin. “I did not consider how such words would affect her. I was arrogant, presumptuous, blinded by love…” He drew in a breath and then let it out slowly, turning his eyes to Ferrars. “And foolish.”
“And what did she do? What did she say?” Ferrars asked.
“She turned me down, accusing me of incivility and ungentlemanlike behaviour.” His jaw tightened as the memory of her accusation pierced him as sharply as if it had just occurred.
“You believed yourself to be forthcoming to this lady, did you not?” Wentworth asked.
Darcy gave a resigned shrug. “I do not know what I believed myself to be. I was nervous and had never asked for a lady’s hand before. It was a rather impulsive decision to make an offer to her when I did, but the words I spoke were even more precipitous. Despite having thought a great deal about making her an offer, I had not put much thought into what I would say when the time came.”
“You thought about it often?”
With a nod, he answered, “I did, but I dreamt about it even more.”
“You are not the only one who has dreamt about the woman you love. I have had eight years of those same dreams.” Wentworth took a sip of his brandy, and his brows lowered over his eyes. “The dreams have come at the most unexpected times. I could be in the midst of a fierce battle, both physically and emotionally fraught, and suddenly there would be my lovely Anne with her soft voice and smiling face, extending her hand to me.” He shook his head several times. “It would have been much easier if in my dreams Anne had been angry or cruel, but she was always kind and comforting.” He pursed his lips and looked down. “I actually looked forward to those dreams.”
“Eight years?” Ferrars asked. “You have loved this woman for eight years?”
Wentworth nodded and told him of his plight. Darcy followed with his story.
When they had finished, Wentworth looked at the young man. “So tell us of Elinor. Is she superior to this lady with whom you have an engagement?”
“Very much so,” he said. He began to smile as he spoke of her. “A finer, more generous lady I have never met. She is steady, sensible, and thoughtful. From the moment I met her, my heart was deeply touched by her character and her beauty.” He looked up and smiled. “She is also extremely attractive.”
Darcy looked down as he recollected the words he spoke to his friend upon his first impression of Elizabeth. “She is tolerable, I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me.” He took another swallow of his drink, hoping to rid the lump in his throat. He gave his head a quick shake as he considered that Elizabeth, whom he suspected had overheard him, had not alluded to those words in her tirade against him when she turned down his offer, but she would have had every right to do so.
“And oh, the great guilt I suffer, knowing I have not been forthright with her about my engagement.” Ferrars’s shoulders slumped. “On a visit to see my sister, who is married to her half-brother, we spent almost two months together at Norland, her home. It belongs to her half-brother now. I greatly enjoyed Elinor’s company. I had every intention of owning up to this prior and imprudent pledge, but each time I tried, my courage failed. I feared she would despise me.”
“And this lady to whom you are engaged, she still wishes to marry you?”
“I am quite certain she does. What is worse,” Ferrars continued, “is that my sister became very upset when she began to perceive my feelings for Elinor. She and her husband insisted that Elinor, her mother, and her sisters leave Norland.” He looked up at the two men. “They have different mothers, you see. When their father died, her brother received the home as his inheritance, and he and my sister could not abide the ladies residing with them in their home.” He looked down with despair in his eyes. “They knew not where they were to go, but fortunately had a distant relation who offered them a small cottage. They shall soon move to Devonshire.” The young man looked at his two companions with a desperate look in his eyes. “I plan to visit the family once they are settled. Do you think it wrong of me? I cannot imagine not seeing her again.”
Darcy’s chest constricted as he pondered not seeing Elizabeth again. Despite the nature of their previous two meetings, her outspoken views of his character, and her outright and vehement refusal of his offer of marriage, he still deeply yearned to see her again.
“If you do visit her,” Wentworth said, “you must tell her directly of your engagement. The longer you wait to tell her, the more difficult it will become.”
Ferrars hung his head. “I know, but the mere thought of it worries me so.” He shook his head and took another sip of his drink. “I cannot bear to think of losing her forever.”
Darcy looked up and met Wentworth’s eyes as the two of them grunted in agreement. He felt solace in commiserating with these two men who felt much like him. He let out a frustrated huff. In reality, however, Elizabeth had never been his to lose.
As the men stared down into their drinks, content to be lost in their thoughts, another young man appeared.
“Forgive me, but is this chair taken?”
The men looked up and shook their heads in unison.
Darcy was rather surprised when the young man sat down, instead of moving the chair to another table.
The young man took a sip from the goblet of wine he had carried over and sat down, nodding in thanks.
Darcy eyed him warily, for the smile on his face certainly indicated the young man was in a much better frame of mind than he or the other two men at the table.
The young man looked up and noticed the three men gazing at him.
“Pardon my manners,” he said. “My name is Henry Tilney, and I am just returning from Wiltshire, where I recently became engaged to a most wonderful young lady.”