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An Ever-Fixed Mark

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There was such a cultural veil of secrecy drawn about one’s soulmark, that it was not until Miss Elizabeth Bennett visited Mrs. Charlotte Collins, née Lucas, in Kent that she saw Charlotte without a ribbon, glove, bracelet, or sleeve about her left wrist.

“It is blank,” said Elizabeth, all astonishment.

“Yes,” said Charlotte, studying her own wrist, “which is why I never claimed to be romantic.”

One mark of trust must be exchanged for another; Elizabeth unlaced the long sleeve of her gown and revealed the ‘Fitzwilliam’ emblazoned there.

“A rare name,” said Charlotte, thoughtfully. “And, I think, perhaps of the aristocracy. It has ever been the policy of the upper ten thousand to give their children unusual names, so that they will not be duped by another person’s soulmark. But then again, they can afford a worldwide search for their partner.”

This was very far from the more commonplace— and certainly more pragmatic —considerations of the landed gentry. It was their habit to pass about a mere handful of names, so that even if one did not marry the Henry or William one’s wrist had intended, one could assume one had, and live on in probable happiness.

“I have very little faith in this system,” said Elizabeth, studying the familiar copperplate letters. “Lydia, as I am sure you know, has a series of Chinese characters on her wrist, and Mary a cartouche full of Egyptian hieroglyphics. What can one do if one’s soul mate is halfway across the world, or died before the birth of Christ?”

“My father did try to make it out that I was freer than most, or perhaps had a soul mate from a culture with no written language,” said Charlotte, “but if I must be a philosopher, I must with Occam and agree that the simplest is the most likely. I have no soulmate. I do not particularly mind. Even with the names upon one’s wrist, there is to be considered whether it is a first or a last name, or perhaps even a middle name, or a nickname. It seems to me a hopeless business and I am glad to be out of it.”

“I wish I was,” said Elizabeth. “But that is why, I think, I am one of my mother’s least favored children. I came so very close to being an eligible parti for someone of my own station. If only the ‘Fitz’ were dropped! A man will not ask for the hand of one whose wrist condemns him to being only partly suited.”

“You need not answer, but is Jane alone the only one...?”

“Kitty has a common name as well, but in that our gentrified ways have backfired. It is so common a name my mother lives in horror that Kitty will run off with an aptly named stablehand. Poor Lydia, at least, has the charm of doomed romance about her. My mother always feels so terribly sorry for her and indulges her past all bearing. Why Mary should not receive the same treatment is an unsolvable domestic mystery alongside ‘why does toast always land butter side down’ or ‘how did my embroidery thread tangle when it was perfect yesterday.’ Does Maria...?”

“She has a common name, thank God, and a disposition which will make any suitable marriage agreeable, as long as she is not frightened by her husband.”

“You needn't answer this either Charlotte, but how did Mr. Collins—” She paused and said, “I hope it will not distress you to know I have seen his soul mark. Indeed, I was forced to reveal mine to him before he understood I was perfectly serious on my refusals.”

“I fear that Eupraxtia has been dead nearly two centuries,” said Charlotte, good humoredly. “I suppose he heard you taking Greek with your father and assumed reincarnation somehow came into it.”

“Was that the case with you?”

“No, I have no Greek. He was merely ready to believe any woman a reincarnation of Eupraxia. My lack of soulmark, he insisted, was the proof of it. I had lived one life already, and, evidentially being reborn in Christ, was washed clean of all distinguishing marks.”

“Do you believe it?”

Charlotte hesitated and said, “I should like to. It was the first thing anyone told me that made me feel at all better about this—” gesturing at her left wrist “—and if it is not true, it brings Mr. Collins great comfort, and myself a great measure of freedom. To be thought the reincarnation of a Byzantine nun is a very mild price to pay in order to always have my own way in household matters.” Charlotte was still looking, almost absently, at Elizabeth’s inner wrist. “Fitzwilliam. The name seems to me familiar.”

“What, Fitzwilliam? I should hope not. I have been accustomed to think it a very ugly name now, and, for my part, would rather meet no Fitzwilliams at all.”

Charlotte’s expression cleared. “I am sorry I cannot spare you that, then; I have recalled where I have heard the name. Lady Catherine has a new visitor: her nephew, Colonel Fitzwilliam.”

Elizabeth started, colored, and was silent.

“It may be nothing,” said Charlotte, “but should you wish to secure your own establishment— which, I must assure you, is pleasant no matter the man one must live with, if he has been brought up a gentleman— it is as likely a chance as any.”

“Oh Charlotte, how dispassionately and strangely you talk,” said Elizabeth, still blushing. “When one has only a name to go on—”

“That is rather the point,” said Charlotte, dryly.

 

***  

 

Elizabeth had taken a much longer walk than usual, to quiet her nerves— an endeavor not in the least assisted by Charlotte, who kept remembering new information about Colonel Fitzwilliam and could not help but share it.

The facts of the case were not displeasing: Lady Catherine’s servants had nothing bad to say of him, except that he was so often riding or walking his boots were always muddy, and the village beauties could never decide between them if he was handsome or not. Their judgment shifted, it seemed, based on the proximity of Mr. Darcy.

“Do they find the Colonel more handsome by comparison?” Elizabeth asked impishly.

“Less, but then they find the Colonel’s manner more agreeable. He is every inch the gentleman, and very fond of music.” Charlotte said, consideringly, “Then, too, one must look at their respective situations in life. Mr. Darcy is master of Pemberley and commands ten thousand a year. He will always be considered handsome on that basis alone. Colonel Fitzwilliam is the son of the Earl of Matlock, but he is a second son. He has no establishment as of yet. Perhaps his wife might have a house in town, perhaps she would have to live under her father-in-law’s roof. But living in the household of an Earl would not, I think, be very unpleasant.”

“It depends on his proximity to Lady Catherine, I imagine. But tell me Charlotte, has the Colonel sold out? He is in the army and not the militia, I think.”

“He is on leave for injuries sustained in Spain, where I believe his infantry regiment is currently stationed. I know your active disposition, Lizzy; you are half-hoping to follow the drum!”

“Indeed, I hope no such thing,” cried Elizabeth, blushing hotly. “I hope only that Lady Catherine’s dinners may be enlivened. When she condescended to inform us her nephews would be visiting her, I felt a chill enter the room. Her dinners only wanted Mr. Darcy’s censure to become a perfect horror.”

Maria then came running up the path, most distressed, having been spotted and sent on by Mr. Collins. The gentleman of Rosings Park were walking with Mr. Collins, on their way to call on the Parsonage— an honor Mr. Collins dare not have hoped! But they must make haste, the Colonel and Mr. Darcy were almost upon them, and, indeed, might reach the Parsonage before them.

“I make thank you, Eliza, for this piece of civility,” said Charlotte. “I was merely speculating before but I begin to think Colonel Fitzwilliam's soulmark must be a match to your own. Otherwise, why such haste to call upon us?”

“We know it cannot be of Mr. Darcy's devising,” said Elizabeth. “You have seen too well with what difficulty we exist in the same room. I think you overestimate the charms of everyone involved— both Rosings and myself.”

But Elizabeth dimly suspected Charlotte was right, at the very searching look Colonel Fitzwilliam turned on her when Mr. Collins announced her as “Miss Elizabeth Bennet.” The colonel was about thirty, and certainly not as handsome as his cousin, but Elizabeth did not find his looks displeasing. Indeed, she thought he smiled with unexpected charm.

“I have been particularly wishing to make your acquaintance, Miss Bennet—” in the corner of her eye, she saw Mr. Darcy start at this, or perhaps the emphasis the Colonel had put upon her name— “for I have heard that you play and sing, and both very well.”

“A little and not very well,” protested Elizabeth, as they sat. “I suppose you have only Mrs. Collins’s testimony— really, Charlotte, you do make me wish my vanity had taken a musical turn. I know enough only to hear how far I am from a true proficient.”

“Ah, Miss Bennet,” said Colonel Fitzwilliam, “I have heard other reports that you play with great feeling. I hope you might play at Rosings after dinner some evening. Nobody plays or sings there. I always feel as I have been immured in one of those continental monasteries where all the brothers take a vow of silence. It is very Gothic. It wants only the servants locking each other in closets at inconvenient moments.”

“You read Mrs. Radcliffe?” asked Elizabeth, a little surprised. “I confess, my favorite author is Miss Burney— or I believe she is now Madame d’Arbley— but I quite drove all four of my sisters to distraction by leaving our copy of The Mysteries of Udolpho at Charlotte’s before we discovered whether or not Laurentina’s skeleton lurked behind the curtain!”

Colonel Fitzwilliam entered into conversation directly with the readiness and ease of a well-bred man, and talked very pleasantly of books and music; but his cousin, after having addressed a slight observation on the house and garden to Mrs. Collins, sat for some time without speaking to anybody. At length, however, his civility was so far awakened as to inquire of Elizabeth after the health of her family. She answered him in the usual way, and after a moment’s pause, added:

“My eldest sister has been in town these three months. Have you never happened to see her there?”

She was perfectly sensible that he never had; but she wished to see whether he would betray any consciousness of what had passed between the Bingleys and Jane, and she thought he looked a little confused as he answered that he had never been so fortunate as to meet Miss Bennet.

In this, however, he had an inadvertent savior— Colonel Fitzwilliam, with the air of one referencing some private joke, smiled at his cousin, and assured the room he would most assuredly have known if Darcy ever met anyone by the name of Bennet while in town. There was a formal agreement on that head.

“Ah,” said Elizabeth, not quite done provoking Mr. Darcy, “then you have heard reports of my talent from Mr. Darcy! Do you so trust the gentleman’s reports as to praise me before hearing me?”

“I must,” said Colonel Fitzwilliam. “He is such a great tall fellow I am inclined to believe the least of his pronouncements. But, yes, I do. We grew up together, and he is as scrupulous a truth-teller now as he was then.” Elizabeth was interested to hear that though the Earl of Marlock's estate, where Colonel Fitzwilliam had grown up, was in Hampshire, he had spent at least part of every summer in Derbyshire, near Lambton, a town she held in considerable affection since it had provided her with her favorite aunt.

Mr. Darcy abruptly turned from Mr. Collins to interrupt one of Colonel Fitzwilliam’s recollections of Lambton with, “Richard, you know very well the horse chestnut tree on the green had a blight and never fruited? I was obliged to have it cut down and replaced last summer.”

“Surely not! I recall gathering the chestnuts—”

“On the green? Come now. How on earth do you remember where you are in Spain, if you cannot remember even the topography of Derbyshire?”

Colonel Fitzwilliam laughed. “I have been a little more recently in Spain than Derbyshire! Consider, too, that I have maps with which to aid my memory. If you had provided me a map of all the horse chestnut trees that supplied us with ammunition for conkers, I should have a more perfect recall.”

Elizabeth leaned forward and asked, in mock seriousness, if his tactics for that game had changed during his years on the Peninsula, and they discussed conkers strategy with such an overblown solemnity, Mr. Collins become convinced conkers was as difficult and intellectual a game as chess. Mr. Darcy frequently interrupted to correct them on some point or other. Elizabeth was more impressed with the Colonel’s good humor and easy tolerance in the face of this than Mr. Darcy’s encyclopedic knowledge of the Derbyshire horse chestnut. But it seemed to her very fitting that where Colonel Fitzwilliam took pleasure in an extended joke— the kind which Elizabeth had always enjoyed with her father— Mr. Darcy took pleasure only in being right.

 

***

Colonel Fitzwilliam’s manners were much admired at the Parsonage. Charlotte went so far as to end their session of mutual approbation with the remark, “I notice he has your humor, Eliza. He equally delights in the ridiculous. I do not know how you kept your countenance when you asked him the strategic benefit of an underhand conker strike. I scarcely did.”

“I know, you seemed to me far too serious,” said Elizabeth.

“You will never convince me you had so long a conversation on conkers just to amuse me.”

“Yes, I am a selfish creature and did it purely to amuse myself.”

“Lizzy—”

“I am no flirt,” Elizabeth protested. “You must not be suspecting romantic overtures in everything I say or do.”

Maria came presently into the room, and, as so private a conversation could not be got into before a girl who had been in possession of her soulmark only a sixmonth, they somewhat hastily changed the subject. In all innocence Maria changed it back from the probable health of the sow’s next litter to the new visitors. Mr. Darcy frightened her just as much as ever, but she liked the Colonel. He had treated her very kindly, when he was not talking with Elizabeth, and when she saw him in the lane that morning, he had inquired  after Mrs. Collins and particularly after Miss Bennet. A little artful questioning on Charlotte’s part caused Maria to repeat nearly the whole of this part of her conversation with the Colonel, which was not extensive. Upon hearing how well Maria had liked having Elizabeth as a traveling companion, he had inquired more particularly on why this was so, and Elizabeth’s general habits and humor, and seemed very pleased with Maria’s answers.

Elizabeth maintained this was only polite conversation— or at least, did so, until she happened to run into the Colonel the next morning, on her usual morning ramble in the park. He was everything easy and amiable, and eager to join her on her walk. Indeed, Elizabeth was reminded by her early pleasure in his company, as well as by his evident admiration of her, of her former favourite George Wickham; and though, in comparing them, she saw there was less captivating softness in Colonel Fitzwilliam’s manners, she believed he might have the best informed mind.  

The conversation ranged more widely than ever it had with Mr. Wickham, and was so interesting she found she had walked nearly an hour in his company without being the least conscious of the time passing.

“I am afraid I have kept you too long,” said the colonel, when he saw they had managed to walk nearly to Rosings. “Would you care to come inside for tea before I return you to your friends?”

At Elizabeth’s hesitation he laughed and said, “I am sorry to have threatened you with tea at all. It was pure selfishness on my part; there is a great deal of conversation at Rosings, but all of it is Lady Catherine’s. I find it remarkably easy to converse with you and do not wish to stop yet.”

“Yes, I imagine an exchange of ideas might be....”

“Rare,” suggested Colonel Fitzwilliam, offering her his arm. Elizabeth took it, for it was, after all, a longer walk back, though she did not feel in the least tired. “‘Refreshing’ would be as apt. And I get very little support from my cousins. Anne is too used to her mother’s style of talking to realize a conversation requires more than one speaker, and though Darcy is lively enough in other places, and in other company, he is uncommonly stupid just now. I can scarce get two sentences out of him, and they are rarely more than non-sequiturs.”

“You shall receive no pity from me,” said Elizabeth. “I once suffered through three days of your cousin Darcy’s company in the same house in Hertfordshire. We had... one conversation, I believe, and the rest of the time he sat reading silently.”

“Indeed? I am not surprised. He has very few resources when he is ill at ease.”

“It does not strike me as a family characteristic.”

Colonel Fitzwilliam laughed again. “I shall take that as a compliment to myself. But I must contradict you on that point— his sister Georgiana is very like.”

“I understand from Lady Catherine you share her guardianship?”

“Indeed, yes,” and the rest of their conversation was spent sketching out the various webs of familial relationships which undergirded their lives. Elizabeth was amused to hear that he was likewise a second child with younger sisters, though his own childhood, spent at estates Elizabeth could only have toured under a housekeeper’s close watch, was far different from hers. Still, when they parted, she found herself thinking that they still had more in common than not.

The next day brought no morning visitors, despite Charlotte’s predictions, though the day after brought both Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr. Darcy. The colonel’s own preference for Elizabeth’s company was marked, and though she was flattered by it, she was still inclined to consider this boredom, not any sign his wrist might read “Elizabeth” or “Bennet.” Mr. Darcy’s motives for visiting again, and so early in his stay at Rosings, were less easy to understand. Even compared to his behavior in Meryton he was taciturn. He seldom opened his mouth and when he did speak, it seemed the effect of necessity rather than of choice—a sacrifice to propriety, not a pleasure to himself. Elizabeth was inclined to think his visit proceeded from the difficulty of finding anything to do, which was the more probable from the time of year. All field sports were over. Within doors there was Lady Catherine, books, and a billiard-table, but gentlemen cannot always be within doors, and from the jokes Colonel Fitzwilliam made, it seemed that Mr. Darcy had no other friends in the county. Where Colonel Fitzwilliam went, so too, did Mr. Darcy, in a cloud of boredom and disapproval.

This was likewise Elizabeth's explanation for why Mr. Darcy was so often staring at her.

Charlotte took an oddly romantical view and insisted it was proof of her conjectures. Mr. Darcy looked so often at Elizabeth to better see if she was a fit match for his cousin. There were many Elizabeths in the world, and many Bennets. It was only natural to be suspicious and look for proof. It went in some way to explain his odd behavior towards her in Hertfordshire.

Elizabeth laughed at this. “Charlotte! You had it that my name was written on Mr. Darcy’s wrist, when we were in Hertfordshire. I begin to distrust your judgment.”

“Ah, but then I did not know your soulmark read ‘Fitzwilliam,’ not Darcy, or whatever Mr. Darcy’s Christian name might be. If Mr. Darcy and the Colonel are truly as close as they have intimated, he must know his cousin’s soulmark. If he was uncertain whether or not you were indeed meant for his cousin it would go a long way to his habit of listening to your conversations, staring at you, and singling you out to dance.”

Charlotte would have been happy to see either theory proved, but it began to look more and more likely it was the Colonel for whom Elizabeth was intended. He visited every other day the first week of his visit, and his attentions towards Elizabeth during dinners at Rosings were too marked to be made out of boredom. Indeed, Charlotte had overheard the Rosings parlor maid gossiping with the Parsonage cook that it wasn’t like the Colonel to be raising Miss Bennet’s expectations when it must end in disappointment, and the cook arguing in return that in all his years of visiting Rosings, the Colonel had never struck her as the sort to trifle with a woman at all, let alone out of boredom.

Mr. Darcy certainly looked at her friend a great deal, but the expression of that look was disputable. It was an earnest, steadfast gaze, but she often doubted whether there were much admiration in it, and sometimes it seemed nothing but absence of mind.

 

***

Though they very often saw the colonel, and— a little less often, Mr. Darcy— they did not see Lady Catherine for a week entire. It was not until Easter-day, almost a week after the gentlemen’s arrival, that they were honoured by such an attention, and then they were merely asked on leaving church to come there in the evening.

The invitation was accepted of course, and at a proper hour they joined the party in Lady Catherine’s drawing-room. Her ladyship received them civilly, but it was plain that their company was by no means so acceptable as when she could get nobody else; and she was, in fact, almost engrossed by her nephews, speaking to them, especially to Darcy, much more than to any other person in the room.

Colonel Fitzwilliam seemed really glad to see them (“Anything,” said Elizabeth to Charlotte, “comes as a welcome relief to him at Rosings!”) and it was obvious even to Mr. Collins that Mrs. Collins’s pretty friend had caught the colonel’s fancy very much. He seated himself by her, and talked so agreeably of Kent and Hertfordshire, of travelling and staying at home, of new books and music, that Elizabeth had never been half so well entertained in that room before; and they conversed with so much spirit and flow, as to draw the attention of Lady Catherine herself, as well as of Mr. Darcy. His eyes had been soon and repeatedly turned towards them with a look of curiosity; and that her ladyship, after a while, shared the feeling, was more openly acknowledged, for she did not scruple to call out:

“What is that you are saying, Fitzwilliam? What is it you are talking of? What are you telling Miss Bennet? Let me hear what it is.”

“We are speaking of music, madam,” said he, when no longer able to avoid a reply.

“Of music! Then pray speak aloud. It is of all subjects my delight. I must have my share in the conversation if you are speaking of music. There are few people in England, I suppose, who have more true enjoyment of music than myself, or a better natural taste. If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient. And so would Anne, if her health had allowed her to apply. I am confident that she would have performed delightfully. How does Georgiana get on, Darcy?”

Mr. Darcy spoke with affectionate praise of his sister’s proficiency.

“I am very glad to hear such a good account of her,” said Lady Catherine, “and pray tell her from me, that she cannot expect to excel if she does not practice a good deal.”

“I assure you, madam,” he replied, “that she does not need such advice. She practises very constantly.”

“So much the better. It cannot be done too much; and when I next write to her, I shall charge her not to neglect it on any account. I often tell young ladies that no excellence in music is to be acquired without constant practice. I have told Miss Bennet several times, that she will never play really well unless she practises more; and though Mrs. Collins has no instrument, she is very welcome, as I have often told her, to come to Rosings every day, and play on the pianoforte in Mrs. Jenkinson’s room. She would be in nobody’s way, you know, in that part of the house.”

Mr. Darcy looked a little ashamed of his aunt’s ill-breeding, and made no answer. Colonel Fitzwilliam did not bother to hide his wince, but Elizabeth said, when Lady Catherine was distracted by Mr. Collins’s latest panegyric on her taste and judgement, “You needn’t apologize— it will provoke me into apologizing for my relations—” with a quick look at Mr. Collins “—and then we shall never talk of anything else.”

Colonel Fitzwilliam looked less conscious, and reminded Elizabeth she had promised to play for him; and she sat down directly to the instrument. He drew a chair near her. Lady Catherine listened to half a song, and then talked, as before, to her other nephew; till the latter walked away from her, and making with his usual deliberation towards the pianoforte stationed himself so as to command a full view of the performer and page turner. Elizabeth saw what he was doing, and at the first convenient pause, turned to him with an arch smile, and said:

“You mean to frighten me, Mr. Darcy, by coming in all this state to hear me? I will not be alarmed though your sister does play so well. There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.”

“I shall not say you are mistaken,” he replied, “because you could not really believe me to entertain any design of alarming you; and I have had the pleasure of your acquaintance long enough to know that you find great enjoyment in occasionally professing opinions which in fact are not your own.”

Elizabeth laughed heartily at this picture of herself, and said to Colonel Fitzwilliam, “Your cousin will give you a very pretty notion of me, and teach you not to believe a word I say. I am particularly unlucky in meeting with a person so able to expose my real character, in a part of the world where I had hoped to pass myself off with some degree of credit. Indeed, Mr. Darcy, it is very ungenerous in you to mention all that you knew to my disadvantage in Hertfordshire—and, give me leave to say, very impolitic too—for it is provoking me to retaliate, and such things may come out as will shock your relations to hear.”

“I am not afraid of you,” said he, smilingly.

“Pray let me hear what you have to accuse him of,” cried Colonel Fitzwilliam. “I should like to know how he behaves among strangers. Your previous account diverted me to no end.”

“Previous account?” asked Mr. Darcy.

“Ah, but I did not reveal the worst,” said Elizabeth, ignoring this interjection. “Colonel Fitzwilliam, I must ask you to prepare yourself for something very dreadful. The first time of my ever seeing him in Hertfordshire, you must know, was at a ball—and at this ball, what do you think he did? He danced only four dances, though gentlemen were scarce; and, to my certain knowledge, more than one young lady was sitting down in want of a partner. Mr. Darcy, you cannot deny the fact.”

“I had not at that time the honour of knowing any lady in the assembly beyond my own party.”

“True; and nobody can ever be introduced in a ball-room. Well, Colonel Fitzwilliam, what do I play next? My fingers wait your orders.”

“Perhaps,” said Darcy, “I should have judged better, had I sought an introduction; but I am ill-qualified to recommend myself to strangers.”

“Shall we ask your cousin the reason of this?” said Elizabeth, still addressing Colonel Fitzwilliam. “Shall we ask him why a man of sense and education, and who has lived in the world, is ill qualified to recommend himself to strangers?”

“I can answer your question,” said Fitzwilliam, “without applying to him. It is because he will not give himself the trouble.”

“I certainly have not the talent which some people possess,” said Darcy, “of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done.”

“My fingers,” said Elizabeth, “do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women’s do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault—because I will not take the trouble of practising. It is not that I do not believe my fingers as capable as any other woman’s of superior execution.”

Darcy smiled and said, “You are perfectly right. You have employed your time much better. No one admitted to the privilege of hearing you can think anything wanting. We neither of us perform to strangers.”

Here they were interrupted by Lady Catherine, who called out to know what they were talking of. Elizabeth immediately began playing again. Lady Catherine approached, and, after listening for a few minutes, said to Darcy:

“Miss Bennet would not play at all amiss if she practised more, and could have the advantage of a London master. She has a very good notion of fingering, though her taste is not equal to Anne’s. Anne would have been a delightful performer, had her health allowed her to learn.”

Elizabeth looked at Darcy to see how cordially he assented to his cousin’s praise; but neither at that moment nor at any other could she discern any symptom of love; and from the whole of his behaviour to Miss de Bourgh she derived this comfort for Miss Bingley, that he might have been just as likely to marry her, had she been his relation. She began to think Charlotte’s conjectures entirely wrong. If Lady Catherine so searched for praise of Anne from Darcy, then Darcy could not have shown his soulmark to anyone. He seemed the sort who might never do so. If he did not, then it was unlikely anyone—even a much beloved cousin— would reveal his soulmark in turn. Mr. Darcy had behaved oddly to her because he did not care to try and behave with courtesy, and Colonel Fitzwilliam—

That could not be satisfactorily worked out, as of yet. Perhaps he liked her, or perhaps he was merely as bored as she believed him to be. But his manner was so friendly, and his attentions so marked, and her own satisfaction in being with him was already so deeply felt—

Lady Catherine continued her remarks on Elizabeth’s performance, mixing with them many instructions on execution and taste, and Elizabeth, glad of some distraction, tried to keep up with the torrent of opinions. At the request of the gentlemen, she remained at the instrument till her ladyship’s carriage was ready to take them all home. If that night, in bed, she stared at her bare wrist more often than was her wont, she blamed it on fatigue, or the same absence of mind which Charlotte had earlier ascribed to Mr. Darcy.