The happenings of the months prior to Jane’s nuptials to Charles Bingley shed light on Mrs. Bennet’s unwitting assertions. The whole town could discern that Elizabeth was enamoured of Daniel Calbry. Unlike Jane, who had known her husband but a few months before accepting his hand, Elizabeth had known Daniel most of her life. The young man had spent a year in London after the completion of his studies. Handsome, amiable, and charming, his return to Hertfordshire was anticipated with eager enthusiasm by the single ladies of Meryton who delighted in his company, Elizabeth more than most. She was pleased to spend time with him and found her head full of him. Thoughts of falling in love with the gentleman often gratified her romantic mind.
To her deep dismay, she had realised the truth about Daniel much too late. She would always remember that day of reckoning, for it had been the turning point in her life.
It was a day best spent out of doors, not confined to one’s parlour. She had beseeched her sister Jane to join her on a leisurely stroll, knowing full well the unlikelihood of a favourable outcome. Despite having enjoyed a long walk earlier in the day, Elizabeth set out again that afternoon.
The sounds of what she supposed as someone in peril drew her away from the path towards a thicket of small trees. She espied a young couple sprawled on a tattered woollen blanket spread upon the ground’s clearing. Elizabeth’s eyes met those of a buxom servant girl with dishevelled hair, her worn brown skirt pooling her waist, astride the man she thought she knew, even esteemed.
Stunned, Elizabeth longed to flee. Her feet failed to heed her mind’s screaming, begging her to turn and run away. She fought desperately for her breath. The cold hard look in Daniel’s eyes forced her to take a step back. She stumbled and fell, then quickly regained her footing. Fighting to hold back her tears, Elizabeth made her way back to the path in haste.
Bloody hell! He knew he needed to handle this. Tossing the peasant girl aside, Daniel stood and speedily righted himself.
“Miss Bennet!” he shouted as he chased Elizabeth. Her petite stature posed little challenge for his tall person. He soon overcame her.
“Unhand me this instant, you scoundrel,” she cried. Her plea was too late.
Merely attempting to restrain Elizabeth from fleeing his presence, and seeking to convince her that she had not seen what she had supposed, he held her in what one might easily construe as a lover’s embrace. At least, that is how two passers-by that happened along at the time had described the scene in their later retellings. Mrs. Long! Mrs. Greene! Two of the nosiest busy bodies in Hertfordshire.
News spread fast. Word reached the village of Longbourn even before Elizabeth could make her way home. Once she had escaped Mr. Calbry’s arms, she raced to Oakham Mount to compose herself and gather her thoughts. What am I to do? Who will believe in my innocence? My Papa, I must speak with Papa. He will believe me. He will know what is to be done.
A deafening blanket of silence covered the halls when Elizabeth entered Longbourn House. She sought her father in vain. Her mother and sisters had assembled in the drawing room, each absorbed in her own quiet endeavour. No one, not even her dearest sister Jane, ventured a glance in her direction. Even the dog refused to obey her call. Elizabeth headed upstairs to her room, locked the door, and flung herself on the bed.
Darkness had fallen upon the village by the time of Mr. Bennet’s return. He told Mr. Hill to summon Elizabeth to join him in his library post-haste.
Her father’s library had always been her favourite room in the house. Leather-bound books organised in no discernible manner competed with potted plants and assorted figurines for the space amongst the shelves and tables. The smell of his pipe bathed the air. It was his sanctuary, but he always welcomed her inside to join him in making light of the world beyond its doors. Mr. Bennet walked about the room, looking grave and anxious in anticipation of her arrival.
“Close the door, Lizzy.” She had not expected his cold reception. Elizabeth waited.
“I am saddened and disappointed in you, Lizzy. Nothing will excuse your conduct. Our neighbours caught you in the gentleman’s arms. Everyone in Meryton knows he is your favourite. You have brought disgrace upon our entire family.”
“I have done no such thing. If you will but allow me to explain what took place, you will realise I did nothing that can be deemed improper.” Elizabeth’s mind flooded with conflicting emotions—anger and resentment, embarrassment and annoyance—such was her disappointment. How could her father have reached such a conclusion without first hearing an account from her?
“What explanations have you that will negate the damage that has been done? You understand how scandals unfold. Our neighbours happened upon you in your lover’s arms. The gossip has spread throughout the town like wildfire. Only one remedy makes sense. I have just returned from meeting with Mr. Calbry. The wedding will take place in one month.”
“Never! I will not marry him. I hate him!” Elizabeth shortened the distance from her father in measured steps. “Papa, I implore you to listen to me. If I tell you what I have learnt of his character, you will not want this for me.”
“Hate him, you say? You did a fine job in convincing everyone otherwise—until this very day. I am sorry to hear you say that you hate the young man. However, what does this matter now?”
She wished her former opinions had been more reasonable, her expressions more moderate and circumspect. Her awkward explanations and professions of her contempt for Mr. Calbry might have been spared. Alas, Mr. Bennet had denied her plea for understanding and reasonableness. Elizabeth broke down in tears.
Expressing sympathy for his daughter’s predicament, Mr. Bennet approached her and placed his hand upon her shoulder. “Calm yourself, my child. Everything ought not to turn out as bad as you fear. I shall take some comfort in knowing the young man has long been your favourite. Whatever has happened today to cause you now to regard him with displeasure will resolve itself with time. Soon enough, your good opinion of him will return.”
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