“It is a generally acknowledged truth that a man who has just inherited a substantial fortune must be in want of a house of his own. So, we’d better get going!”
“There is one particular house I want to look at, but I need your opinion—your advice.”
“That was always a part of our plan. I’ll be glad to be able to oblige you, Bingley,” They walked toward the door.
“I certainly value your friendship, Darcy—I don’t know what I’d do without it. But weren’t you heading off to visit William Wilberforce today?”
“No, that’s tomorrow, and you’d be welcome to come with me if you’re interested.”
“I certainly admire him for ending the slave trade, but I’m not really up on what he’s doing now—education for the poor, is it not?”
“Yes, prison reform, public health and, as you say, providing some free education for poor children. And it’s free education, for both boys and girls, that I’m working on in the villages and towns around Pemberley. So I want to talk to Wilberforce about that.”
“Maybe when I’m settled I’ll take an interest in public health.” Bingley smiled, revealing the small chance there was that he would actually do such a thing.
“Oh, I hope you do! But here, your chase and four is ready.”
They climbed into the carriage, and Bingley called out, “Drive on!”
“It’s a perfectly respectable, nice house, Bingley. What is it called again?”
“Thank you. And I think it’s appropriate to be renting at this time of your life. You’re only three and twenty, and could hardly be sure yet where you want to build or buy.”
“True. And I like this house prodigiously!”
“You might find the society a little confined here in the country. The closest town, Meryton, seems a bit of a backwater. But other than that, I don’t see any problems.”
“Then you’ll visit me here?”
“Of course I will. As long as you don’t drag me along to too many country dances.”
“I think country manners are charming, and I love dances, but of course you can stay home or come to any balls as you please. That’s if they even have any here. If they don’t, I might host one myself.”
“Well, go for it then! I think Netherfield will be perfect for you.”
“Thank you, Darcy. I think I’ll go into town right now and get the paperwork signed.”
“I’ll just explore these woods while you do that. I’ll see you back at the inn for dinner.”
“Indulging your love of botany?”
“Yes. I want to see what grows here, other than country bumpkins!”
That night they had the dining room at the inn to themselves.
“So guess what, Darcy? Mr. Morris invited me, and whomever I want to bring, to a ball in Meryton three weeks from tomorrow. I think I should be moved in by then. And once I’m in I’d like to invite you to visit me. Caroline will be there, and the Hursts.”
“I certainly will visit you. And I’ll decide about the ball later. It might be rather amusing to take it in, even if I just stay in the background and observe.”
“You’re such a serious person, Darcy. Interested in, and involved in, so many important things. Just the opposite of me! How did you get like that?
“When I was just nine years old my mother could see that in me already. She said to me, ‘Fitzwilliam, don’t be a jack of all trades and a master of none.’ And that’s exactly what I’ve become: a jack of all trades. Hopefully I’ll become a master of something one day.”
“I’d say you were a master of just about everything you set your mind to. But it was a rather witty thing your mother said. I never thought of her as a wit, but then I only met her a couple of times.”
“Actually she was quite a wit. One of the things she loved doing was to spin wool. She had a very elegant spinning wheel. I asked her once how she came to love spinning so much, and she said with a smile, ‘I think I must have been descended from a long line of spinsters!’”
“Ha! She really said that then? That’s pretty funny. You are rather witty about things—I enjoy that in you. Do you think you got that more from you mother than your father?”
“Oh yes, definitely more from my mother. I admired it in her, and learned it from her. My mother made me realize that women are every bit the equal of men in what matters—it’s just that they don’t have that equality under the law and in access to education. That will change in time—eventually. Meanwhile, I think I should rather have for a wife an intelligent, charming kind of woman who could think for herself, be at least a little witty, even if not so fully as my mother was, and be a true companion for me. But with so many women being held back from their potential by society’s expectations and their lack of opportunities for getting a good education, I know I might find it rather hard to find such a woman. There are quite a few accomplished women around, by accepted standards, but I see very few who are thoughtful in a profound way.”
“Darcy, you may never get married if you hold out for a profound thinker. You might end up being profoundly lonely! For myself, give me a beautiful, amiable woman—that’s all I need. Though I wouldn’t want my wife to be stupid or dull or anything. Being able to be an enjoyable companion is important—you are right about that!”
“Good thing for us, then, that there’s no rush for a man to get married, like there is for a woman, since a man may often be quite a bit older than his wife.”
“I hadn’t thought about it like that, but it’s true of course... I think my sister Caroline admires you.”
“I’ve noticed it, too. And I value her very much, like a sister. She’s intelligent, and quite a wit in her own way. But I don’t think I love her. That could change with time, of course.”
“Have you ever loved a woman yet?”
“I don’t think I really have. I think my mother set a standard no woman I’ve met has been able to live up to. I realize I might need to relax that standard, but until now there have been so many interesting things to do with my life that I’ve been happy to postpone any thought of marriage. Who needs marriage when there are adventures to be had?”
Darcy knew, though, that his Aunt Catherine was conspiring to marry him off to someone he had no attraction to at all. The thought of it filled him with revulsion, but he knew he would have to confront this situation in his upcoming visit to Rosings.
“My dear Mr. Darcy, I’ve been so looking forward to meeting you!”
“As I have you, Mr. Wilberforce. It’s an honor to be invited here.”
“You are very welcome! And this is my wife, Barbara.”
“A pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Wilberforce. I’ve heard so many things about how you helped your husband in his battle to end the slave trade.”
“Most of them no doubt untrue!” she responded. “What in particular did you hear?”
“Well, about bringing your husband back to health, of course. But the rumor has it that you were always quite the anti-slavery activist yourself.”
“Yes, and that is what isn’t true, of course, though I’ve heard some of those rumors myself.”
“So it’s not true that before you ever met Mr. Wilberforce you belonged to anti-slavery groups, collected signatures for his petition, stopped having sugar in your tea and helped spread the rumor that each lump of sugar contained actual slave blood?”
“Ha! The idea about slave blood in the sugar certainly was around, but I never spread it. I even remember saying to my father that even the tiniest amount of blood would make the sugar pink, and it was so white that it couldn’t possibly have blood in it! Still, I did stop having sugar in my tea, but that was all—no activism, no signature gathering, no meetings. I married the man, not the cause. I should say, though, that I’ve always admired and been proud of the work Wilbur has done. It’s his work, though, not mine, and that’s as it should be, for it is a man’s work, not a woman’s.”
“But you do believe that there are certain areas where it is appropriate for women to work, such as in teaching?”
“Oh yes, and I believe a woman should have an education similar to her husband’s, or how else shall she be a good companion to him?”
“That is my view, as well, and I hope to be so lucky as to one day find a wife who is intelligent enough, and thoughtful enough, to be a companion I can share my deepest thoughts with.”
“Let me just say, about that, that given the superficiality of the education served up to most upper-class women, you are just as likely to find such a woman amongst the ranks of the home educated, as from the graduates of the finest schools for young ladies in the land.”
“An interesting observation. I will be sure to remember it. And yes, I have found even the best educated women of my acquaintance to be superficial thinkers, and have blamed it, at least in part, on their indifferent education. My mother, though, was a deep thinker, in spite of her meager education, so I know such women exist, and hope I may one day find one who would wish to be my wife.”
“Well good luck with that Mr. Darcy, and now I will leave you to your discussion with my husband, which I believe is about educating the poor?”
“Yes… It has been a pleasure to meet and talk with you, Mrs. Wilberforce!”
“Good-bye Mr. Darcy.”
“So I hear, Darcy, that you have started a couple of schools for the poor in Derbyshire, where you have your estate?”
“Yes, and I have heard of your work with Hannah More to found such schools, and would like to hear about what approaches have worked for her, and what have not.”
“Well, I will be happy to share whatever I can with you, especially as the stakes are so high. I believe an appropriate education for poor boys and girls is the right thing to do for two main reasons. Firstly, it will make them more productive workers, so they can earn more and get out of the poverty that is plaguing them. Secondly, and most importantly, this lifting of the poor out of poverty is the best thing we can do to prevent revolution in this country. And the threat of revolution is very real.”
“I agree with you about that! And who can blame starving people for thinking of revolution? I believe I would myself if I were in their situation. When told the poor could not afford bread, Marie Antoinette is quoted as saying, ‘Let them eat cake,’ and her insensitivity supposedly helped bring on the French Revolution. Our own prime minister, Mr. Pitt, recommended that the poor should eat meat if they couldn’t afford bread—which is hardly less insensitive!”
“Yes! Pitt was my lifelong friend, but that was certainly an unfortunate remark. But, to get back to education, the first principle of educating the poor must be to give them the knowledge they need to be more productive workers and to be able to keep themselves healthier by practicing good hygiene. To achieve this end they need to be able to read, follow simple accounts, and do basic arithmetic in their heads. They then need to practice their reading with books on productive farming and good health and hygiene, as well as reading the Bible to give them a moral compass and help them feel happy with their place in the world.”
“Which is an important place,” Darcy chipped in. “Every level of society from farm laborers up to the highest gentry is equally important in the grand scheme of things. Without those who labor on farms, how would we get our food? And because of that the ‘sleep of the laborer’ should be ‘sweet,’ and not be ruined by hunger, poverty and perpetual illness. Of course it is equally important that the gentry do their job of thinking out and putting into place a better world for everyone. It is vital that there is a gentry class for this purpose, but it is scandalous that so many of the gentry forsake their duty and just waste their time hunting foxes, playing cards and digging their graves with their teeth.”
“Yes, of course, the gentry should fulfill their duty of leadership, as you say. And so many do not. Which is why I am glad to be talking to you. Those of us who understand our duty need to work together.”
“Which brings me to the second principle of educating the poor—that we not educate them too much and get them thinking and acting beyond their station in life.”
“So where do you draw the line?”
“Hannah More and I have discussed this and have determined that we should teach poor children how to read, but not how to write. In this way they can learn the things they need to know, but will not be able to write politically subversive tracts calling for revolution.”
“I have to admit that in my schools we teach writing as well as reading, so farmers and tradesmen can write business letters, do their accounts and have the joy of writing to family and friends who have moved away.”
“I believe that is highly risky, but it will be interesting to see what comes of it,” Wilberforce responded. “One could see it as an experiment in sociology and education.”
“Yes, I think so!... One other thing, though. How does Hannah get poor children to attend her Sunday schools when they are so busy working on their farms, and might prefer a day of rest on Sundays?”
“That’s a very good question! We certainly can’t compel them to attend. And many don’t. What Hannah has found to work is to make lessons entertaining and varied, often using singing to restore students’ energy and attention. She has also found that you can get the best out of children if their affections are ‘engaged by kindness.’ She believes terror does not work in the classroom, though this is not because she believes children are innocent beings. Rather she believes they are beings of ‘a corrupt nature and evil dispositions’ who need to be gently but firmly reformed. Although I have mixed feelings about it, she even uses a little ‘bribery’ to get children’s cooperation. I have this tract of hers in my pocket. Let me get it out and read a part of it to you, on this point... She says: ‘I encourage them by little bribes of a penny a chapter to get by heart certain fundamental parts of Scripture… Those who attend four Sundays without intermission receive a penny. Once in every six to eight weeks I give a little gingerbread. Once a year I distribute little books according to merit. Those who deserve most get a Bible.’”
“Very interesting. Our experience in Derbyshire,” said Darcy, “has certainly been that kindness engages children. One of my teachers says that ‘Children don’t care what you know until they know that you care.’”
“I’m very glad to see you Darcy, even though you are only staying three days,” said Lady Catherine. “Why don’t you consider staying three weeks instead? The weather is so lovely in Kent, and Rosings Park, that I know you love riding around, is in full bloom.”
“My friend Bingley is taking a house in Hertfordshire, and has invited me to visit him when he moves in. And I have business in London before that.”
“And who is Bingley?”
“A childhood friend of mine, though he is quite a bit younger than me, only three and twenty. His father recently died and he inherited a fortune of one hundred thousand pounds. His father never established an estate. On my advice he is renting the house of Netherfield to see if he likes the area before actually buying a property.”
“Is this house worthy for you to be staying in? How many windows does it have? How big is its park?”
“Well, not as big as Rosings or Pemberley, to be sure. But definitely a gentleman’s estate.”
“We have to be careful, you know—families like ours—to keep up appearances, and preserve our superiority and wealth. That is why your mother and I made a pact, when Anne was born, that you and her should marry and unite our houses. The stronger the aristocracy is the better it is for every class who is dependent on their judgement and help, and together our houses would be formidable.”
Darcy had never heard his mother mention this pact, it was only ever Lady Catherine who, since his mother’s passing, had talked of it. No doubt his mother had said something, perhaps along the lines of, ‘Maybe our children will one day fall in love with each other and get married?’ Rather, his mother had told him that he should choose a wife on the basis of her character, intelligence and amiability, and on his being in love with her. She had said that many poorer people amongst the gentry had a pressing need to marry for money, but that he would be wealthy enough not to have to consider it. ‘Young Mr. Darcy,’ she had said, ‘You should marry for love.’ He hadn’t yet shared this advice of his mother’s with his aunt, Lady Catherine, and probably never would. Instead he said:
“My dear aunt, I am far from being ready to marry yet. There are so many things I am involved in that occupy all my time. And I haven’t fallen in love with any lady yet, including my cousin Anne. In time that could change of course, but for the time being…”
“Yes yes yes, I know! Just spend some time with Anne on this visit. She’s rather lonely. But she’s a young lady of sterling qualities and considerable charm, even if she is a little frail and sickly. If you just spend some time with her, I know she’ll grow on you.”
“And that I will be happy to do, madam.” He agreed with her assessment of Anne being sickly, but not so much ‘frail and sickly’ but rather ‘sickly, sour and cross’ much of the time. But he also saw it as a family duty to try and cajole Anne into having a happier, kinder disposition and outlook on life. She had modeled herself too much on her mother, without having the energy and vivacity that was her mother’s saving grace on many occasions.
So the next morning he rode out with Miss De Bourgh in her phaeton, as she visited the poor and handed out small amounts of money to them according not so much to their need, but rather to their virtue as determined by Lady Catherine. And that virtue consisted of a willingness to follow Lady Catherine’s advice on all things.
“It’s a beautiful day for a ride, don’t you think, Anne?”
“Actually, Mr. Darcy, I think it is rather too hot. But not impossibly so, and we have our duty to the poor to attend to.”
“Well, I am really enjoying the day.”
“There’s not much I enjoy. I do my duty and get some satisfaction from it. And I do get some pleasure from driving my phaeton—that’s the greatest joy in my life.”
“The flowers in the meadow look so happy. Stop for a moment. I’ll gather you a bunch.”
Darcy jumped down, and picked a bunch of daisies, and climbed up and gave them to her.
“You’re the first person to give me flowers. That’s supposed to be a romantic thing!”
“With me it’s not romantic. I just wanted you to enjoy them.”
“And I do enjoy them, thank you. I’ll just put them on the seat between us until we get back. Then I’ll get my maid to put them in a vase.”
“I’m glad you like them. It makes me happy to see you smile.”
“Mother talks about how she and your mother planned for us to marry—that we were engaged in our infancy. What do you think about that?
“Yes, Lady Catherine has spoken about that to me, too, but I don’t know about it. I kind of think it is taking away our choice in the matter—yours as well as mine. And I don’t feel like marrying anyone at the moment, although I may feel differently in the future.
“I’m a bit scared of it, too. Maybe I’ll feel differently in the future, as well.”
“When you meet the right person, I think you’ll stop being scared of it.”
“I think marriage is like every other part of life. You do it because it’s your duty. Then you have the agony of bearing children because it’s your duty. Enjoying it isn’t the point. You do your duty and then you die—quite possibly in childbirth. If I could choose, I think I’d have a marriage without children. Why would you want to bring them into this God-forsaken world anyway—they’d be better off staying up in heaven, or wherever they are before they become a baby. I wish I’d been left up there. It would have to have been better than being born into a sickly body like mine. I can’t play the pianoforte, because I’m not energetic enough to do it well, and one has to do it well. I can’t even go to balls, for the same reason. I never learned the steps to all the dances, because, as my mother pointed out, it’s better not to do it at all than to not excel at it.”
“Yes, as your mother says about not playing herself: ‘If ever I’d learned, I would have been a great proficient.’ Anne, I think your mother is wrong about this excelling thing. You could learn to play the pianoforte a little, and really enjoy it. You don’t need to play for others. You could just play for yourself.”
“Do you think so?” Darcy nodded. Tears came to her eyes. “I think I could get some happiness from that, even if I played really badly.”
“Just tell your mother you want to learn so you can play for your own enjoyment, that you don’t even want to be very good at it.”
“I’ll think about that.”
Meanwhile, they had arrived at the village where the housewives came out to greet her when she stopped outside their homes. She discussed their problems with them, and gave them advice and some coins to help them live on the unlivable wages their husbands earned. Some houses were passed by, however, their occupants being deemed ‘unworthy,’ mainly, Anne explained, because they hadn’t followed ‘the advice that Lady Catherine, in her great condescension, had offered them.’
Darcy knew it would be a hopeless task to question with Anne the wisdom of punishing the ‘unworthy’ who wished to figure out their own way in life, for he knew she was as set in this being part of the role of the aristocracy as her mother was. Instead he noted the houses passed by and determined to visit these people when out riding the next morning, and quietly give them some practical help, and offer a suggestion on how to get on the right side of Lady Catherine—in short to thank her for her advice and follow it where possible, and where this would involve too great a hardship, to at least appear to be following it. He was pretty sure that was what most of the ‘worthy’ were doing anyway, since people rarely appreciate unsolicited advice on how to run their lives.
After spending a few days at his London house, taking care of business, Darcy drove off with Bingley to visit his friend’s new house in Hertfordshire. The stress of the disfunction Darcy had found at Rosings, especially as it related to himself, was on his mind, clouding his days and nights. The concept of his being engaged at birth to his cousin Anne was preposterous, but how to get disentangled from it was much occupying his thoughts. The only thing he could think of at the moment was to put all thought of marrying out of his mind. Women were just a bother! And he had so much else to do that was more interesting. It crossed his mind that, being sickly, maybe Anne would conveniently die within a few years… He immediately checked this line of thought, however, as being unworthy of him, and reminded himself that he really could marry whomever he wanted. He was an independent gentleman, after all! Then there was Miss Bingley—Caroline—who since they had arrived at Netherfield had being plying him with banter that tried to be eloquent and witty but didn’t quite succeed, to his ear, in being either. For now he couldn’t give a damn for any woman. He was going to enjoy being a bachelor, and maybe he would die a bachelor!
He was still in this frame of mind when Bingley reminded him that the ball at Meryton was that very night, and just a few hours off, so he might want to start getting ready if he wished to go.
“I’m really not in a mood where I’ll much enjoy it, but I’ll come, anyway, and observe something of this society you have moved into. I can’t see myself dancing much, though. I’ll be happy to stand up with your sisters, but I can’t promise more than that.”
“Very well, though I’m sure you’ll get into the spirit of it once you are there.”
Darcy arrived at the ball with the four others in his party: Bingley, Caroline, and Mr. and Mrs. Hurst. More eyes were upon him than he would have wished, since he wanted to be there more to observe than participate. It made him feel uncomfortable, and he wished he’d declined to come. Still, now he was here he couldn’t just leave, so he decided to try to make it clear to all that his mind was elsewhere by appearing to be a little absent minded. He danced once with Mrs. Hurst and once with Caroline, but declined to be introduced to any other lady. He was happy to just walk around the room and occasionally talk to one of his own party and even more occasionally answer questions from people he didn’t know, when he couldn’t avoid it. He didn’t feel up to making new friends at the moment, and didn’t want to impose his current less than fully happy humor on anyone he didn’t know—they could do better with others, as there was plenty of noise and rollicking behavior to go around. He would just wait it out, and spend his time observing human nature. He noticed Bingley danced every dance, and good for him, especially since he danced quite a few of them with the most beautiful woman in the room. At one point, Bingley came from the dance to talk to him for a moment.
“Come, Darcy,” said he, “I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance.”
“I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this, it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with.”
“I would not be so fastidious as you are,” cried Bingley, “for a kingdom. Upon my honour, I never met with so many pleasant girls in my life as I have this evening; and there are several of the them, you see, uncommonly pretty.”
“You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room,” said Darcy, looking at the eldest Miss Bennet.
“Oh, she is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and I dare say very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you.”
“Which do you mean?” and turning round, he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till, catching her eye, he withdrew his own, and coldly said, “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me, and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me.”
Mr. Bingley did go back to his partner, the most beautiful girl in the room, and a moment later Darcy realized, with a chill, that the younger Miss Bennet must have heard everything he had said about her, and was probably, quite rightly, feeling offended. He felt, however, that he had better not risk adding insult to injury by trying to stumble an apology, and walked away, berating himself for not being better aware of his surroundings before opening his mouth.
Later in the evening, just before the close, when he spoke to Bingley again, Darcy asked:
“What is the name of the girl you earlier suggested I dance with—the sister of your frequent partner?’”
“Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Don’t tell me! You now think her a little bit more than just tolerable?”
“You could say that. Now I have had a chance to observe her for a while, I actually think she is quite pretty, and in a rather sophisticated way. It wouldn’t surprise me to find her to be uncommonly intelligent.”
“So you regret not asking her to dance?”
“Yes. But I regret even more what I said about her to you earlier, as I’m next to certain she overheard what I said, and I am sure she must have been offended.”
“Dance with her at the next ball, Darcy, and keep being nice to her, and you’ll win her over in the end. As my mother used to say to me, ‘faint heart ne’er won fair lady.’”
“I can see by your actions tonight that you took what your mother said to heart! But with regard to Miss Elizabeth Bennet, I don’t know whether I’m that interested in her, Bingley. She’s not of our class, at all. But I do wish I’d been nicer to her, and been gracious enough to ask her to dance.”