April 9, 1812
On the whole, Elizabeth was enjoying her visit with Mrs. Collins. It afforded her the opportunity to study Lady Catherine and Mr. Collins – two individuals who had taken absurdity to new heights – and she eagerly catalogued each spectacular incident with an eye to amusing her father on her return home. The park was beautiful, and she took great pleasure in her daily rambles. Also, it was pleasant to see her friend so happy in her situation. There was only one source of anything resembling sadness threatening her stay: she did not have Jane for company, and she was worried for her sister.
She was engaged one day, as she walked, in re-perusing Jane’s last letter, and dwelling on some passages which proved that Jane had not written in spirits, when she saw on looking up, that Colonel Fitzwilliam was meeting her. Putting away the letter immediately and forcing a smile, she said,
“I did not know before that you ever walked this way.”
“I have been making the tour of the Park,” he replied, “as I generally do every year, and intend to close it with a call at the Parsonage. Are you going much farther?”
“No, I should have turned in a moment.”
And accordingly she did turn, and they walked towards the Parsonage together.
“Do you certainly leave Kent on Saturday?” said she.
“Yes – if Darcy does not put it off again. But I am at his disposal. He arranges the business just as he pleases.”
“And if not able to please himself in the arrangement, he has at least great pleasure in the power of choice. I do not know any body who seems more to enjoy the power of doing what he likes than Mr. Darcy.”
“He likes to have his own way very well,” replied Colonel Fitzwilliam. “But so we all do. It is only that he has better means of having it than many others, because he is rich, and many others are poor. I speak feelingly. A younger son, you know, must be inured to self-denial and dependence.”
“In my opinion, the younger son of an earl can know very little of either. Now, seriously, what have you ever known of self-denial and dependence? When have you been prevented by want of money from going wherever you chose, or procuring any thing you had a fancy for?”
“These are home questions – and perhaps I cannot say that I have experienced many hardships of that nature. But in matters of greater weight, I may suffer from the want of money. Younger sons cannot marry where they like.”
“Unless where they like women of fortune, which I think they very often do.”
“Our habits of expense make us too dependent, and there are not many in my rank of life who can afford to marry without some attention to money.”
Is this, thought Elizabeth, meant for me? and she colored at the idea; but, recovering herself, said in a lively tone, “And pray, what is the usual price of an earl’s younger son? Unless the elder brother is very sickly, I suppose you would not ask above fifty thousand pounds.”
He answered her in the same style, and the subject might have dropped then, had Elizabeth been quicker in introducing a change of topic. Instead the silence grew, and Colonel Fitzwilliam began to fancy her affected with what had passed. Taking this as proof of her attachment to himself, he decided to utilize her feelings to his advantage and act on an idea that had been tempting him for the duration of his acquaintance with the enchanting Miss Bennet.
“You are correct,” said he, “in one aspect of the matter. Although I freely admit that I cannot afford a love match, it does not follow that I cannot procure that which I fancy.”
Elizabeth stopped walking and stared at him in astonishment. She must have misunderstood him; he could not be…no. The colonel was too much a gentleman to make her such an offer, was he not?
She forced her attention back to her companion, who had continued speaking. “My wages and allowance together let me live quite comfortably, and I promise that you will never want for anything while under my care.”
There was no mistaking his meaning now; Colonel Fitzwilliam had just offered to make her his mistress. She responded as any gently bred female would be expected to: she drew her hand back and slapped him hard across his cheek. Flexing her hand against the sting from the impact, she took several steps away from him, glaring with all her might. “How dare you! You, sir, are no gentleman! What presumption, to think that I would accept such an offer. The very idea is repellant to me, even if I did not consider the effect such a course would have on my family and the reputation of my sisters. No. Not even if you were the last man on earth!”