Actions

Work Header

Vampire and Prejudice

Chapter Text

For the next fortnight, Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr. Darcy were frequent visitors at Hunsford Parsonage, and each inhabitant of the house came up with their own explanation for this behavior. Mr. Collins saw nothing amiss about this, thinking that the gentlemen were conscious of Lady Catherine’s regard and saw it as their duty to extend it as well. None of the ladies agreed, but not to Mr. Collins’ face. Maria supposed the gentleman had very little to do indoors, and since no field sports were yet to be had, the walk to the Parsonage was an excellent exercise and it would be impolite not to go in once they have made the journey. I thought there was some truth to it, but mainly because I could not imagine wanting myself to spend so many hours indoors at Rosings. Yes, there were no doubt books, billiards, and cards, but there was also Lady Catherine. Colonel Fitzwilliam was no doubt starved for agreeable company, while Mr. Darcy did it simply to be vexing, since he spoke little or not at all.

Mrs. Collins, however, was of a different mind entirely. “I think he is very much in love with you.”

“Who is?” I considered Colonel Fitzwilliam a true gentleman who entered into conversation with readiness and ease, but that was a sign of good breeding, not of particular feelings toward any one person. He was perhaps a bit older than I would expect my suitors to be, and he was not particularly handsome, but he remedied it with many good qualities of his character. His most glaring fault, which was hard to overlook, was his relationship with Mr. Dracy. It seemed like a deep connection that I had no wish to be subjected to for the rest of my life.

“Mr. Darcy.”

“Mr. Darcy!” I could not decide if the appropriate reaction would be to scream in horror or choke myself laughing. The memory of Mr. Collins’ proposal flashed before my eyes. He stated that there was not a good enough offer awaiting me in the future, but how alarmingly astonished would he be if I would become the mistress of the lauded Pemberley. The man must be used to being constantly wrong, but this sort of incorrectness would be even beyond his experience.

“Perhaps Colonel Fitzwilliam, too,” Charlotte admitted. “I am undecided about him.”

It was good that this observation was made only with the two of us present, for Mr. Collins would surely get a heart attack. He was under the impression that Mr. Darcy was destined to Miss de Bourgh to unite their wealth into a most impressive and pompous match.

“I have always valued your good sense, and I am shocked that a few months in Kent have absolutely clouded your reason.” The sentiments—irrational and ridiculous—that she expressed were almost close enough to be likened to the absurdities of my mother. Kent might not be at fault at all, and it was matrimony which ruined women so completely.

“Dear Lizzy, they don’t come here for my company,” Charlotte pointed out.

“Curiously enough, Mr. Darcy seldom speaks to anybody but yourself, so it is more probable that he is in love with you.” I had never made a statement more scandalous but if I cared to spread gossip, the facts would support me: Charlotte and Mr. Darcy met in Hertfordshire and she was one of the few people who had any good opinion of him; Mr. Darcy then departed and Charlotte decided to enter into marriage with a man who was closely connected to Mr. Darcy’s family; after she had settled into her new life, Mr. Darcy appeared again, exhibiting most peculiar familiarity to her in particular.

“If you do not like him, then why should it bother you that he does not talk to you more?”

There was no possibility in the universe that I might like him, and I felt compelled to defend that position. “He has nothing to say that would interest me, but his silence is discomforting just because I am sure he is plotting something bad, and while he does, he stares at me, and I cannot fail to assume that his bad plots involve me particularly.”

This option involved very little of Mr. Darcy’s love for either of us, but it was the most probable by far.

Charlotte, however, was not convinced. “Why on earth would he plot anything against you?”

“I have displeased him on many an occasion.” Mr. Darcy did not strike me as a man content to be displeased. I thought of him as a cruel sort of villain who delighted in revenging the various slights he suffered, real or imagined. Very real, in my case, and often deliberate, contemptuous, and calculated.

“Mr. Darcy has shown no signs of displeasure towards you.”

“It only means that he hides it well.” All the more reason for me to be cautious in his presence and be distrustful of him. Not that I needed any additional reasons. Mr. Darcy was a bad man, a vampire and rich enough to consider himself above those around him. He used his power gleefully and without concern for the damage it did to others.

Charlotte considered my position for a while, then said, “I understand you have many concerns about the matter. You have heard damaging reports about his character and have seen nothing to convince you they are false. Very well, a young woman should always be careful, dazzled not by riches and connections in the face of possible danger. However, you are in a position to uncover the truth with a new source: ask Colonel Fitzwilliam—you trust him well enough, I believe. If he hesitates in regard to Mr. Darcy’s character, then you have your answer. If he has nothing damning to say, if he further has an explanation for any rumors that surround Mr. Darcy, you can finally put away your dislike of him as ultimately unfounded.”

This was a speech worthy of the Charlotte that I knew and loved, so all suppositions of the ill influence of Kent or marriage needed to be discarded. I could not promise I would follow her wise words, but I did promise to consider them. Nothing save of a miracle could make me like Mr. Darcy, but I would welcome any knowledge that he was not quite so monstrous as I believed. Perhaps I had misunderstood Mr. Wickham’s testimony. Perhaps Mr. Darcy had changed during the time that Mr. Wickham was away. Perhaps I did not need to fear him quite as I did. 

*

It was a delicate conversation, which could not be had during the morning visits, so I did not dare to broach the subject until the perfect opportunity presented itself. And maybe not even then. To ask such a thing was a blushing offense on its own—hearing the answer could be positively devastating. I did not believe Colonel Fitzwilliam would truly defend Mr. Darcy if he had acted really unforgivably, but I could not suppose a gentleman to give me a true and shocking answer while in company.

Since walking was a favored pastime of mine, I did not hesitate to mention it to Colonel Fitzwilliam, and likewise, to be specific about my favorite paths in the park. It would be a presumption on my part to arrange a secret meeting, but knowing he liked my company, it was not implausible to believe he would take advantage of his knowledge and seek it out.

I realized I was horrifically mistaken when Mr. Darcy chanced upon me during my ramble in the park. It could hardly have been his intention to meet me, since he could not have known that I might be here, but it likewise seemed improbable that it was entirely a coincidence. I said it was one of my favorite haunts, thus alerting him to my taking it frequently, but he did nothing to avoid me, meeting me several times and then thinking it necessary to carry on walking with me until I reached The Parsonage.

It was an awkward thing, since neither of us spoke much, and if we did, it was so insubstantial to be undeserving to be called a conversation. We asked about the health of everyone we knew in common. Seeing each other frequently meant that this train of polite inquiries could not sustain us long. We said a few things about our walking habits, which we apparently shared more than I realized. Ironically, we both preferred solitary walks, but neither of us dared to suggest parting, so we might have more enjoyment of our time in the park.

There were one or two increasingly odd subjects coming from Mr. Darcy that did not fit in with the above mentioned topics.

One was the happiness of Mr. and Mrs. Collins in their marriage, even though their characters at first seemed to be in conflict. His position was that their personalities complimented each other, so that both benefited equally from the match. On Mr. Darcy’s wanting to hear my thoughts on it, I could not help but politely agree, even though my truthful answer would have been much different. 

Charlotte brought everything good about herself and tempered the worst of Mr. Collins’ character, and made him almost palpable. Mr. Collins’ main contribution was the house and the income, which I might argue was a poor reason upon which to build one’s life. It certainly assaulted my sensibilities of companionship most dreadfully. Charlotte was happy to have a house and security, but I was under the belief that my friend deserved more in life, even if she herself never complained about her circumstances.

The other topic was a peculiar description of Rosings. It had nothing of Mr. Collins’ way of representing the finery and wealth of the house, abundant in the details and praise. Instead, Mr. Darcy spoke of his emotional attachment to the house, how he liked specific rooms for the memories that they were imbued with, and how I—the one least likely to ever enjoy them—might like to use them for some specific purposes. In my bafflement, I almost asked if Lady Catherine would seriously consider me a special friend of Miss de Bourgh. It was my understanding that when the mother went to London for extended periods of time, the daughter stayed at Rosings. She had Mrs. Jenkinson for company, but perhaps it was considered insufficient.

I was silent on the subject, however, dreading the affirmation of my suspicions just as much as the denial. I did not want to deal with the de Bourgh family, but to refuse any offer made to them would surely be seen as an insult. One which Mr. Collins definitely would not bear, and I needed to stay within the good graces of Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine to have a hope of ever visiting Charlotte again. It was important that they liked me, but I hated to think that they might like me a little too much.

*

After four such unfortunate encounters with Mr. Darcy, I was resolved to pick a different route to save me from his presence. If he could not manage to spare me from meeting him, then I had to take matters into my own hands. The tactic proved fruitful, for I chanced upon Colonel Fitzwilliam instead. Curious that the gentlemen would have gone for a walk at the same time, but chose to walk separately, not even within the view of each other. But then again, perhaps they saw too much of each other on a daily basis to want each other’s company.

“Miss Elizabeth.” Colonel Fitzwilliam looked around, as if utterly puzzled that I was alone. “I did not know you liked to walk this way.”

“I usually don’t, but I took a wrong turn and now find myself a bit lost.” A complete lie, of course. “Would it be completely out of your way to walk me back to the Parsonage?”

If Colonel was surprised at finding me, he showed no signs of being displeased with my predicament, and readily agreed to walk with me. Even if we would meet Mr. Darcy, I would not have to suffer his presence on my own. And if we were not to meet Mr. Darcy, I could delicately inquire about the infamous affairs of that gentleman.

“Are you coming to dinner tonight at Rosings?” Colonel Fitzwilliam asked.

“We would not dare spurn Lady Catherine’s invitation.” Mr. Collins certainly would not hear of it, even though his patroness acted strangely during our visits lately, as if she did not really want us there. Strange, for surely it was in her power to simply not invite us.

“It will be an important evening. I hope you are prepared for it.”

“Important how?” Easter was behind us and I could not think of any other occasion of importance.

Colonel Forester seemed to frantically search for words, which made me worried, but then he simply smiled and said, “I dare say it will determine my future. I might be leaving on Sunday. Or not, depending on how it goes. Darcy might put it off and I am at his disposal.”

I had a good inkling about what this important event might be that Mr. Darcy would want to put off. Surely it was his time to propose to Miss de Bourgh. A thoroughly unhappy couple that would be—unhappy separately on their own and doubly unhappy together. I had the sudden gleeful urge to find out Miss Bingley’s opinion on the matter. She could hardly expect to be kept as Mr. Darcy’s favorite pet with that union on the way. Though perhaps she would be. What did I know of the strange ways of the vampires?

“He must delight in holding power over others. I wonder he will not marry, therefore securing himself that delight in a more permanent way.” This did not get any reaction, and I had to assume my companion would stay silent on that subject. He was probably sworn to secrecy and had already told me more than he should have.

“Well, he has his sister, I suppose,” I continued, “and he may do as he likes with her.”

“Mr. Darcy is a very attentive brother.”

“Is he? I have seen him being a guest at Netherfield and at Rosings for extended periods of time, but his sister is never to be seen with him. One might wonder if she is allowed out of the house.”

“Why… why would you think that?” Colonel Fitzwilliam seemed earnestly distressed. The worry on his face—neigh, the panic—made me think that was exactly what was happening. There would be no redemption for Mr. Darcy, it seemed. I should not have been pleased about that.

“No reason. I am just not informed if she is out yet. Truthfully, I do not even know how old she is. I have just heard that she is very musical and devoted to that talent.”

“Miss Darcy finds a lot of solace in music, it is true. She practices most of her waking hours. It is a delight, really, to be at Pemberley for that reason alone. But she is very shy and does not take well to strangers.”

That was one way of keeping her away from every living soul—claim that she was too shy to see anyone. Knowing the delicacy of well-bred ladies, it was not a stretch of imagination. Miss de Bourgh likewise was kept out of the public eye. I was aware she did not go to London, but I was not sure if she was allowed any other engagements. Come to think of it, perhaps that was precisely what Mr. Darcy liked—women who were kept within the confines of the estate and saw very little of the world. No wonder I was a source of continuous offense to him.

“Worry not, however. I am sure she would like you.”

I could not entirely stifle my surprise to form a complex question. “Me? Why?”

“You are an amiable and sensible creature, not easily scared of the world. I think she would find you a treasure. You could also bond over music.”

Colonel probably meant my lack of fear in meeting vampires. I certainly stood straight against the force that was Mr. Darcy, and therefore would think nothing of Miss Darcy being a vampire. I did not feel I deserved the praise for bravery—I was simply too stubborn to exhibit any signs of it to others. I was scared enough when left alone.

“Does Mr. Darcy not let his sister have many friends?”

“He is very selective with the people he allows near her. You might think him a bit overprotective, and you would not be entirely wrong. But Darcy is very kind to those near to him and takes great care of his friends. We are all in his debt for looking after us.”

I found that hard to believe. “Surely grown men need not looking after and can make their own decisions.”

“You would be surprised, Miss Elizabeth, how often we work against our own interests. But Darcy is sure to reach out his hand and stop us when we are about to make a horrible mistake. Why, just recently, he prevented a friend from making an imprudent marriage.”

All blood drained from my face, and at once I felt very faint. It couldn’t be. It just couldn’t. “Who was the friend?”

“If I tell you, I must beg secrecy of you. Were it to get around to the respective family, there would be some unpleasantness.”

I nodded my agreement, mistrusting my voice.

“Bingley—you know him well, I imagine. Well, from what I have heard, there were some very strong objections to the lady, which Bingley very unreasonably wanted to overlook, but Mr. Darcy stepped in and ensured the separation. It is just one of his many good deeds.”

I could make no answer and we stayed silent until we reached the Parsonage. Colonel Fitzwilliam went in, but did not tarry long, which was well enough since I went straight to my bedchamber and cried and cried and cried. Maria was so alarmed that she called Charlotte, but my friend could do nothing. I would not confess my grief—it was too terrible to be put into words.

There was no reasoning with me and there was no getting me to go to dinner at Rosings. Mr. Collins was displeased, but Charlotte convinced him I was unwell and must be left alone. Lady Catherine could not be allowed to see me in my alarming state. Alarming it truly was, morphing from sorrow to anger to murderous intent.

Only after everyone had left for Rosings did I go downstairs. Perhaps a cup of tea would do me good after I had soaked my pillow with tears and emptied myself of every feeling. I just sat, however, unable to swallow a single mouthful. Such savage feelings had never afflicted me, but then again, nobody ever had made such an injury to Jane’s happiness. All because she was not rich enough—there could be no other objection to my soft, kind, sweet sister, all loveliness and goodness, her mind excellent, her manners impeccable. 

I heard the door and thought that Mr. Collins, Mrs. Collins and Maria were back, but of course, that could not be. There had not been enough time for the dinner to be over, and I was proven correct when Mr. Darcy stepped into the room.

Pure hatred emanated from me. I never thought I was capable of such an emotion, but there it was—burning me from the inside, unable to manifest in any outward way. Had I been a man, I would challenge the villain to a duel. If he stayed long enough, I still might.

“Miss Elizabeth, please let me inquire about your health,” said Mr. Darcy. Had he come to laugh at me? What other reason would he have to miss the dinner in this overly familiar way.

I rose from my seat, but left him with no answer. There was nothing for me to say except for the most obscene accusations.

He waited in silence, then lost his patience and turned to leave, then returned, then started pacing. If this was guilt, it manifested itself in the most peculiar way—all raw energy and agitation. Whatever his struggle, I felt a cold enjoyment in watching it.

Mr. Darcy, finally deciding on a course, came towards me and stood so close I could strike him with very little movement on my part. He took a suffering breath, and said, “I have struggled in vain, for my feelings cannot be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you. Very soon after our meeting, I was apprehended by the knowledge that you had stolen my heart. In spite of your family, the inferiority of your birth and upbringing, of the degrading effects those faults are sure to leave one me, I cannot bear to oppose myself any longer. The consequences of this union are sure to anger—even enrage—many. Such as you were not made to stand beside me as an equal, but I am ready to battle any resistance and persevere since there is nothing in the world that could conquer my attachment to you. I am overpowered; I admit defeat and hope you can fulfill my dearest wish of accepting my hand.”

Two different kinds of astonishment were waging battle: first, that the awfulness of Mr. Collins’ proposal actually had a rival, which mere hours ago I would have deemed an impossibility; second, that Charlotte somehow—incredibly and mind-bendingly—was in fact correct, and Mr. Darcy allegedly did love me.