And indeed, as soon as they had retired for the night, Elizabeth came to her sister. Her acknowledged purpose was to get as many details as Jane would be willing to share about the afternoon’s events. In the back of her mind, she also wished to discuss her own afternoon’s events. She had noticed so many changes in Mr. Darcy’s behaviour as to puzzle her exceedingly and she needed her sister’s fair understanding to try and reconcile the man of two days before – the one she so thoroughly hated – with the man of this day – the one she could describe, at worst, as civil. She wasn’t yet able to admit she had found him pleasant, though; not to her sister, not even to herself, not if she had to be the one initiating the discussion. Her dilemma was before her and she dearly wished Jane would solve it for her.
Once again, on entering the room, Elizabeth almost physically felt Jane’s happiness. There was an aura around her, a soft glow that enlightened even more her natural beauty. As it did to everyone around her, it drew a smile on Elizabeth’s face, as she settled on her sister’s bed.
"Oh! Jane, how can you do such a thing?"
"I beg your pardon?" Jane put back her brush on the table in front of her and turned on her stool.
"How do you manage to make me feel happier by your sheer presence? How do you manage to make this room more welcoming just because you’re in it?"
Jane was surprised by her sister’s face. Where she expected a teasing smile, she saw earnestness. "Lizzy, you’re serious, aren’t you?"
Elizabeth laughed, "Why, yes I am! I should be offended by such a question. Am I not entitled to some gravity from time to time?"
Jane went to sit by her sister’s side; she took her hand and, smiling, replied, "Of course you are. I know you’re the most solemn of us. You hide it as it fits not with your light and teasing appearance; but do you think you can fool me?"
Elizabeth acknowledged her sister’s point by a thoughtful smile. "Anyway, you really are glowing and I envy you!"
"I am certainly the most fortunate creature that ever existed!" shyly answered Jane. "Oh! Lizzy, why am I thus singled from my family, and blessed above them all! If I could but see you as happy! If there were but such another man for you!"
"If you were to give me forty such men, I never could be so happy as you. Till I have your disposition, your goodness, I never can have your happiness. No, no, let me shift for myself; and, perhaps, if I have very good luck, I may meet with another Mr. Collins in time."
Jane giggled, but her sister went on before she had time for a kind scolding.
"I don’t envy you your happiness, I envy you because you know what it is to receive a proposal and agree to it for love… It must be the most thrilling feeling in the world."
Jane’s mind was a few miles away, on the bench where her life had become perfect. "It is… Having my most precious dream fulfilled, after having unsuccessfully tried to forget it… It was even more than thrilling… I don’t think there are words to describe what I felt then."
Elizabeth could read on her sister’s face, in her sister’s eyes, that she was reliving this most exhilarating part of their afternoon. She had been able to rein her curiosity in until then, but she could no longer. She eagerly asked, "Had he proposed just a short while before Mr. Darcy and I happened on you? You and he were pretty close!" Her teasing and not at all judgemental smile was totally lost on her sister, as the latter was so engrossed in her memories.
"Oh, no, he proposed as soon as we had found this bench. Well, almost…" She chuckled at the memory but didn’t disclose anything further. Her sister respected the silence until Jane started again, her tone more dreamy.
"He said such wonderful things, Lizzy… I was so overwhelmed…" Her voice was less steady, her eyes wet once again.
"Oh! Jane," Elizabeth had taken her sister in a powerful embrace. "But you managed to agree nonetheless! I’m so, so, so happy for you!"
"Could you imagine that it would all end so well?"
"I could and I do!" She had released her sister and her smile echoed Jane’s. "You’re so perfectly matched. Your minds are so alike. Only looking at the two of you makes one happy. T’is probably the most beautiful day of my life!"
"And definitely the most beautiful of mine!" Under her sister’s scrutiny, she once again fell into a daydream, her eyes losing their focus. Then, she began to blush, her breathing became uneven, her smile betrayed some kind of wickedness and her eyes focused on her hand in her lap.
"Jane?" asked her sister in an inquiring tone.
Jane startled and her cheeks darkened even further.
"Jane? Am I to suppose that Mr. Bingley has granted you all your wishes?"
Jane looked up at her sister and coyly nodded.
"He kissed you?" Elizabeth’s eyes were wide with eagerness to be the recipient of such a confidence.
Jane nodded anew, her face still a bright crimson, her smile becoming more daring; Elizabeth giggled.
Jane replied in a whisper, "And I kissed him; and I liked it; and I think he liked it too; and then we kissed again and again."
This only caused some more giggles. Jane went on, "it was the best evidence I had that I was not dreaming. This was physical; and the more we kissed, the more physical it became…"
Elizabeth was thrilled to listen to her sister. She had been kissed a few times as a girl but it had never induced any stirring in her; and the last time lips had touched hers, they had been Wickham’s and she had hated the feeling. She was now listening to Jane like she used to, when Jane had first learnt how to read and she had then been able to make Elizabeth discover an unknown world she so dearly wished to discover. Her attention was so obvious that Jane felt compelled to go on, to describe more, to share once again her knowledge with her little sister.
"You remember those feelings I told you about yesterday? When I’m by his side or when he touches me? I felt them tenfold when we kissed… I know not how one can be both light-headed and have one’s senses more aware than ever, but I was and I had… I had forgotten how cold it was or, worse, that we were in a public place, yet I could describe the taste of his lips, the smell of him, the softness of his hair more accurately than any other thing. And, inside Lizzy, inside…"
She became speechless for a while; her sister didn’t dare prompt her, afraid she would stop.
"Having his arms around me, having mine around him… My heart was beating so fast, I had a growing knot in my insides; I wanted so much more and yet felt so good…"
She made another pause. Elizabeth was becoming embarrassed by her speech; not that she was shocked by her sister’s words, but it reminded her of feelings she had forgotten she had felt. She could not place the when and the where, yet it felt more real than a long forgotten dream. She checked herself.
"So I take it I was right in my conclusions, yesterday? Mr. Bingley was not shocked by your wanton behaviour, was he?"
Jane shook her head slightly. "No he wasn’t. And I was wrong, it was not wantonness, it was overwhelming love that made me feel this tingling. Oh, indeed, he kissed me… Indeed I kissed him… And indeed, it had those strange but pleasant effects on my insides… But our kisses were mostly a way to ascertain the realness of our engagement, of the other’s love; it was a way to express our relief of having eventually found each other."
"Oh! How I envy you, Jane. I take back my wish to find another Mr. Collins. I want my Mr. Bingley!" Elizabeth’s soft smile softened the expressed jealousy, but revealed the sincerity of her aspiration.
"I know you do, you always have! And I’m sure you’ll find someone…" To lighten the mood, she added, in her best Mrs. Bennet’s imitation. "You know, me marrying so greatly must throw you in the way of other rich men!"
"Jane!" Elizabeth burst out laughing, placing her hand on her mouth, trying to refrain from waking up the whole household. When both had regained some degree of composure, she carried on, "I don’t care if he’s rich or not, I just want someone who’s able to make me as happy as Mr. Bingley makes you."
Jane smiled at the rightness of her sister’s words but, after such an openhearted speech, she wanted a light conversation. Not acknowledging the interruption, she went on, "And there comes Mr. Darcy!"
"Jane!" Elizabeth’s tone had lost all its barely-repressed laughter and now betrayed her shock.
Jane’s tone became sweeter but she didn’t stop. "Come, now Lizzy; I haven’t been very attentive to him these past few days, but even I realised that you managed to walk with him today without quarrelling. And had he not been with Mr. Bingley, I doubt our aunt would have agreed on the drive in Hyde Park. I owe him as much gratefulness as I owe you."
With a bitter chuckle, Elizabeth interfered, "But you also owe him many tears."
Jane stopped her teasing and tried and get her sister’s attention. "Lizzy, I’ve resolved upon forgetting the past. If I don’t, I’ll always hold a grudge against Charles; I don’t want to; I want to love him utterly and completely. You surely have no wish to do the same towards Mr. Darcy but you have to forget the past as well."
"But how can you forget the misery? How can you forget the unfairness?"
"I suspect I’ve been much more miserable than you and I’ve already forgotten it. Utmost happiness heals a soul, I think."
"I haven’t been miserable but for you, Jane. But you’re too good, and I cannot forget all that is unfair. You’re right, your now existing bliss probably makes up for your past sufferings; but there are some who are not so lucky. Think of Mr. Wickham for instance; it’s so unfair that he’s to suffer his whole life because of a past disagreement with Mr. Darcy!" Elizabeth knew she was unfair at the moment. She had already agreed that what had happened between those two gentlemen was none of her concern and that there was probably much she didn’t know. But she was so unsettled by his recent behaviour, so unsettled by her own feelings during the last two days, so embarrassed by her inability to try and take her sister’s advice, that abusing him was the easiest way to vent her frustration.
Jane saw in her sister’s eyes that there was more to her outburst than the obvious. She softly replied, "Lizzy, you told me yourself you would no longer play the judge in this matter. If you wished to be fair, you’d have to go and ask Mr. Darcy’s view on the matter; and I’m sure you wouldn’t dream of such a gesture."
"I could not. Who am I to pry on such a private matter?" She went on, almost shamefully, "and although his defying honour and humanity in ruining the immediate prosperity, and blasting the prospects of Mr. Wickham was in accordance with his despising the Hertfordshire company and his separating two young persons inclined one towards the other, it doesn’t do at all with his recent behaviour."
"True…" was Jane’s only comment.
"Even I am aware that today, he went far beyond mere complacency towards your match. You’re right of course about the walk in the Park; and did you notice that it was his carriage we used?"
Her sister smiled and shook her head.
"Of course, you did not!" Elizabeth teased. "But there is more…"
Jane looked at her expectantly.
"We spoke about you and…" Elizabeth started but her words faded away.
"And?" Jane prodded.
Her companion blushed slightly, "And he appeared to rejoice in the proposal we knew you were receiving; he agreed with my stating why Mr. Bingley and you are so well suited one for the other; he seemed to genuinely care about his friend." After a new silence, she carried on, "Why he would share such private thoughts with me I know not, but he did; and I now cannot but agree that he has changed, and for the better."
Jane gauged her. All the pieces were slowly falling together and pointing to an attachment on Mr. Darcy’s side towards her sister. Whether Elizabeth was ready to hear about it was another matter entirely. It was probably better to let things happen – should they happen. Yet she could not not reply to her last comment.
"He has Lizzy, and I’m glad you see it. What I can safely assure you is that you’ve changed too. The more I see it, the more I feel this little misunderstanding has improved everyone – myself included!"
"That is the most un-humble speech," said Elizabeth chuckling, "that I ever heard you utter. Good girl! It would vex me, indeed, to see you lowering yourself when you’re the only engaged daughter Mama has!"
The conversation went on a little further, but if both sisters had shared what could be, more remained to be thought alone. Elizabeth soon took her leave and bade her sister good night.
"How could it not be good, Lizzy?" Jane replied dreamily.
While, with an indulgent smile, the youngest left her elder and sought the refuge of her own room, the latter settled for the night, blew out her candle and let her soul and body go back to the bench. And while her heart was swelling with all the love she had received there, her blood thickened and some unknown heat diffused in her more unthinkable parts.
In the soft glow of the dying embers, her candle blown, Elizabeth let her thoughts wander and she also found herself back in Hyde Park. What came to her mind were the words Mr. Darcy had spoken after their tacit agreement on Jane’s and Mr. Bingley’s behalf. His words had been very civil towards her; he had discarded her attempt at apologising because he was more to blame than her; he had managed to render her speechless… Did he really change so much? Could he really change so much just because he’s seen his wrongs towards his friend? And to appear more than interested in her reactions to his freely speaking of his feelings? What could she make of all this?
Sleep seemed to elude her. When her mind would tell her to try and find it, her heart told her that she was not totally honest with herself, and that she did not deserve rest. It eventually got the better of her and, to her slightly fearful amazement, she heard herself think, and what can I make of his confessing his happiness at our peaceful walk? What can I make of his parting words? What can I make of his flush when he uttered them? She sighed. She wished she were able to reconcile all she thought she had understood about him; a nibbling little voice tried to tell her that she also had to take into account what others had understood – her uncle and aunt had hinted that he might see her with a much more tender eye than she had ever imagined.
And last, she had to acknowledge what her feelings were where he was concerned. While slumber slowly found its way in her, she allowed her heart to be the last to talk. It told her she was not at all displeased by his enhanced behaviour; it told her she might be looking forward to their next encounter; it told her she might even see him with something akin to pleasure.
Sow Potatoes, See What you Shall Reap, Chapter 22
Return to Austen Interlude