Renee Olsthoorn

Bed of roses

Renée Olsthoorn

Elizabeth Faces the Truth

Elizabeth got up early after a sleepless night during which she had tried to compose her thoughts. She felt confused, angry, quite sad and, if she could be truly honest with herself, flattered: being proposed to by such a great man... being loved by him!

Thinking of the future prospects of her family, the idea that she had acted too hastily, even selfishly, crossed her mind, but she dismissed it quickly. No, he had been cruel towards his father's protege, he was arrogant and, what was worst, he had ruined Jane's only probable chance for happiness. How could she ever esteem, let alone love, such a man? She reviewed the events of the previous day and could not but come to one conclusion: refusing him was the only right thing she could have done. Papa would surely understand, though she had no intention of telling him. The thought of her mother's probable reaction to her second refusal within a time span of half a year - this time, the rejection of a man of 10,000 a year! - made her shudder. All the smelling salts in the world could not be enough to soothe her hysteria.

No, she decided to keep this to herself and perhaps she might confide in Jane, eventually. Suffering from a severe headache, she did not wish to join the family at the breakfast table. The distasteful manner in which her cousin consumed his food was too much to bear at this particular moment, as was the endless chitchat of Maria Lucas. She excused herself and went out for a walk. It was a beautiful sunny morning and she was badly in need of some fresh air.

After having walked for a while, Elizabeth seated herself on a fallen tree at the border of the forest overlooking the valley. She enjoyed watching the beautiful landscape warming itself in the morning sun and, while closing her eyes, she deeply inhaled the delicious scent of the spring blossoms, still covered with dew. Melancholy overcame her when her mind unwillingly wandered back towards the events of the previous day. Restless as she was, she soon walked on and, as to clear her mind from her dark thoughts, she started to run until she noticed a man advancing.

She turned away immediately, fearful she was of its being Mr. Darcy's, but on hearing herself called and recognizing Mr. Darcy's voice, she moved again in her initial direction and, holding out a letter, heard him say: "I have been walking in the grove some time in the hope of meeting you. Will you do me the honour of reading this letter?" And then, with a slight bow, turned and walked away.

Having no time to object, and, truth be told, far too curious to even wish to refuse it, Elizabeth accepted the letter and broke the seal as soon as Mr. Darcy was out of sight.

"Be not alarmed, madam, on receiving this letter, by the apprehension of its containing any repetition of those sentiments, or renewal of those offers, which were last night so disgusting to you..."

With a strong prejudice against everything he might say, she haughtily and with utter disdain read the first sentence out loud, while imitating Mr. Darcy's voice. Obviously she could not approve of his rather sarcastic phrasing and with even greater prejudice she read on. However, while perusing the letter, the expression on her face changed from anger to astonishment and from embarrassment to sadness, and when she finished his long letter for a second time, closely examining the meaning of every sentence, her chagrin was beyond description. As much as she loathed to admit it, she knew intuitively that every word he had written on the subject of Mr. Wickham was the absolute truth.

She had had the audacity to call a man she hardly knew conceited and proud, all the while boasting her ability of fathoming human character! She, who had believed a man like George Wickham; a flatterer, an impostor, an ungrateful liar and a ruthless seducer of innocent young girls! In spite of certain improper actions on Wickham's part, which should have opened her eyes much sooner, she had cherished tender thoughts - however superficial they might have been - for this useless man! Feelings she might have even shown to him! The realization made her feel almost physically ill. It struck her that she had not seen the impropriety of his communications to a stranger before.

In this perturbed state of mind, with thoughts that could rest on nothing, and a heart pounding fast, Elizabeth kept on folding and unfolding the letter. She recalled how she would not listen to Jane's reasonable analysis of the two men and how she had brushed all of her sister's arguments in favour of Mr. Darcy aside. She had been blinded by anger and hurt pride, for the mere reason that this man did not think her handsome enough to tempt him and would not dance with her. Admittedly, his observation had been utterly rude, but did that behaviour justify all her prejudices against him? Indeed it did not: his letter proved the opposite.

One evening at Netherfield, Mr. Darcy had called himself resentful, when she had challenged him. My good opinion once lost, is lost forever he had said and she pitied him. But the truth of the matter was that she, Elizabeth Bennet, was a most resentful creature herself! After their first acquaintance at the assembly, she kept holding rancour against him, regardless of the fact that he had never wronged her again at later gatherings and that he had never again behaved in a particularly arrogant manner... at least not before he proposed to her.

On various occasions, Charlotte had suggested that perhaps Mr. Darcy had a particular regard for her. Had she not told her that he looked a great deal at her? Had she not called her a simpleton for allowing her fancy for Wickham to make her appear unpleasant in the eyes of a man of ten times his consequence at the Netherfield ball? Why had she been so certain that Mr. Darcy had no aim but to criticize her? How could she have misconstrued his intentions so? While meditating on all the misunderstandings and her mistaken interpretations, she was obliged to admit that, apart from the Meryton assembly and his abominable proposal, his behaviour had been impeccable throughout, whereas hers was often bordering on the uncivil.

She blushed from mortification, as she thought back to her impertinent questioning at the ball. She had never even given herself a chance to form an impartial opinion about Mr. Darcy, for the simple reason that she did not wish it; she wished to dislike him, she had chosen to dislike him. She had liked herself too much!

Poor Elizabeth, she truly was too severe upon herself, but she felt an extreme need for thorough introspection. She had never felt worse in her life. And there was nothing she could do; she knew very well that there was nothing she could do. She could not possibly write and apologize, however fervently she wished to!

While perusing the passage with his observations on Jane and Mr. Bingley for a third time, she remembered Charlotte's opinion on shewing one's regard, not concealing it. Even on this subject, her indignation had altered into understanding; however wrong Mr. Darcy had judged the depth of Jane's feelings for Mr. Bingley, Elizabeth knew that his comprehension of their attachment was based on the same observances that her friend had counseled against. She had to admit to herself, however, that his actions separating Jane from Mr. Bingley had nothing to do with the manner in which her former dislike of him took root. After all, she only learned about his interference shortly before his proposal.

No, she must be completely honest with herself; initially, it was none but her own wounded pride that had formed her disapproving judgement of him; a judgement that had been confirmed later by Wickham's scandalous lies. The Colonel's disclosure on Mr. Darcy's actions regarding Jane and Mr. Bingley only added fuel to the fire that Elizabeth had already stoked.

As she entered the house after an absence of at least two hours, she was immediately told that the gentlemen from Rosings had each called during her absence. Affecting concern in having missed them, Elizabeth excused herself and went upstairs to her room. She let herself unceremoniously fall on her bed, took the letter from her reticule, and started to read it once again. As she lay on her back, eyes closed to protect them against the bright daylight, one hand behind her head and the other pressing the letter against her chest, confusing feelings of guilt, remorse and regret overwhelmed her and while softly whispering "Fitzwilliam" she rolled to her stomach, embraced her pillow and started to weep distressingly.

©Renée Olsthoorn

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