Posted on 2010-03-06
Fitzwilliam Darcy was in very grave danger.
Now, one may very well wonder what could have been so terrible that it could cause a man of sense and education, who has lived in the world, a man who also possessed the means and resources to achieve most anything he could wish to live in fear.
This terrible thing in actuality wasn't very terrible at all.
It was simply a pair of very fine eyes found in the face of a pretty woman named Elizabeth Bennet.
He told himself that it would never do, as fine as her eyes were, as much as she had captured his interest, it could never be.
Or could it?
Walking along the pathway that ran through the wood of Bingley's leased estate, he had sought to put as much distance between himself and Miss Elizabeth as he could. Originally he had hoped to spend some time in quiet solitude, but Miss Bingley was about and just the idea of being on the defense all day made him weary.
Had it only been yesterday that the Bennet sisters were still here? It seemed to Darcy that he had been bereft of his Elizabeth's company much longer. Today he was safe. He was on the far side of the Netherfield property and, by his estimation, that would put at least five miles between them. It was really for the best.
Elizabeth Bennet was having a very trying morning.
Since arriving home from Netherfield, Mrs. Bennet had not stopped chastising Jane for her inability to secure Mr. Bingley. Lizzy felt the full shame of having such a designing, mercenary mother. She knew Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley already believed the Bennets to be fortune hunters and it hurt that her mother's actions just seemed to confirm that in everyone's eyes.
Lizzy had desperately needed to escape Longbourn for a few hours. Cousin Collins had surprised everyone by arriving much earlier than he had warned in his letter. The good parson had arrived just as breakfast was being laid out and he began by expressing his wish to complete the mission his noble patroness had sent him on. Mrs. Bennet, being silly but not a fool, had found a way to at last be rid of her most troublesome daughter and directed Mr. Collins to pay his attentions to Elizabeth.
While one of Elizabeth's favorite pastimes was making sport of other's vices and follies, she had no wish to be partnered for life to such a never-ending font of ridiculousness. So, with a word to her father that she was leaving, she escaped out the back door through the kitchen. Not wishing to encounter the ladies of the Netherfield party in Meryton, she decided to take the paths that wound along the back of the property towards the mount. At least there she could be alone.
As Elizabeth walked, her mind betrayed her wishes by recalling her conversations with that most infuriating of all men- Mr. Darcy. She could not make him out at all and it was driving her to distraction. There were moments when he seemed he might be somewhat amiable. She reasoned that he must be at least somewhat so in order for him to be friends with such a congenial fellow as Mr. Bingley. Just when Lizzy would begin to feel Mr. Darcy might truly be a gentleman, he would say something that confirmed again the low opinion she had formed of him at the assembly in Meryton. His character was not easy to make out at all and it was greatly vexing.
Lizzy was nearing the top of the mount where she hoped to sit on her favorite outcropping and bask in the warm autumn sunshine before returning to the chaos she was certain Longbourn was in. She was lost in thought- in truth she was thinking about what a tragedy it was that such a handsome man as Mr. Darcy should be so taciturn, proud and disagreeable to everyone he meets- when she noticed on her approach that her favorite rock was already occupied.
That the man who was plaguing her free moments should have the audacity to also occupy her favorite spot on Oakham Mount was simply too much! Why must he be everywhere? If he found Hertfordshire and everyone in it so undesirable, why would he not simply leave?
Elizabeth Bennet, known well for freely giving her opinion without regard for consequence, was about to let the rich, young man of 10,000 a year know that all the money in the world was not enough to put up with his company when it came to her attention that Mr. Darcy was not alone. Lying next to him was a gray tabby cat who gave every appearance of enjoying having its belly scratched. Lizzy could not have been more shocked than if Miss Bingley took to milking cows!
Lizzy silently moved closer so she could further investigate the scene. Mr. Darcy was not only petting the cat, he was having a decidedly one-way conversation with it! Elizabeth knew she should leave, that it would be unconscionable to eavesdrop, but could not help herself.
"You have no idea what a lucky Tom you are Mr. Cat. It must be so easy for you. Is there a hierarchy amongst you? Do you need to worry about social position? Do you fret over raising your littermates to grow up with proper cat-manners? No, I suppose you need not worry about such things. I imagine your biggest concern is where the next mouse is."
The Tom mewed and batted Darcy's hand when for a moment the chatty gentleman had stopped petting him.
Darcy began scratching the cat's ears. "Yes, yes, there is that better? I tell you Tom, I am in such a muddle. Had I any idea what awaited me here in Hertfordshire, I am not sure whether I'd have come sooner or not at all! What good is it when the woman who would answer all your hopes and dreams is out of your reach? Surely I cannot ask her to relieve my suffering and ask her to be my wife, could I Tom? Oh Tom, you should see her! My Elizabeth is beyond a doubt the most exquisite creature I have ever beheld. Why her eyes alone haunt me every waking hour of the day and it would be ungentlemanly of me to describe what they do to me at night! I tell you Tom; you have no idea what I would give to live knowing that I could have nine lives."
Elizabeth was dumbfounded and speechless. She knew she should not be watching the scene before her but she had not the wherewithal to leave or look away.
The cat answered by rubbing its head against Darcy's hand in a demand for more attention. "If I was fortunate enough to be granted nine lives that would be nine lives in which I could live a happy man with Elizabeth Bennet to love. You know what Tom? I believe I may be mistaken for I don't think that nine would be enough. My lovely Lizzy, oh how I would love to have the right to call her that! Yes, my Lizzy is beyond compare. She is lively, witty, intelligent, caring, kind and beautiful, but not just in looks but in her soul as well. Alas, I shall never be a happy man and the fortune of having her as a bride will undoubtedly fall to some other undeserving bloke."
The Tom cat batted at Darcy's hand and nibbled his fingertips. "Why must I suffer under the regulations of duty and family? Do you have such things that weigh on your shoulders Tom? No, of course not! Oh, would that I could be more like you Tom. I'd say it's a safe wager that you've never tasted shoe leather such as I have done! You'll leave my company when you hear what I've done, of that I'm certain."
Elizabeth had already been greatly shocked by his confessions and was anxious to hear what he would say next. What could he have done?
"When I first came to Meryton, I was in the most foul of moods. My sister Georgiana, who is still but a child and not even yet sixteen, escaped the very worst of fates by the skin of her teeth and my timely interference. Had I not shown up when I did, she would have been ruined by that rogue, that libertine, that villain who used my father's good name and memory to worm himself into dearest Georgiana's graces. I still feel the failure even now. I was in such low spirits, so wishing to be left alone that when Charles dragged me along to the assembly that fateful night, I spoke in haste and unwittingly insulted the woman who holds my heart. Bingley was trying to get me to dance and I foolishly remarked that my Lizzy was not handsome enough to tempt me. I cannot ever recall uttering such a bald-faced lie before. What have you to say to that Tom?"
The cat said nothing in reply and Elizabeth also kept her silence as well.
"You are more forgiving than I, Tom. I cannot forgive myself for my thoughtless comments. How untrue they were. Tempt me? Each minute of every hour of the entire day she tempts me and has the grace to not abuse her power over me. What if she'd heard me? What would she think of me? It would cut me to the core if she thought ill of me. I have done my best to try not to show particular attentions to her, lest I raise her hopes and find that I cannot fulfill them. However, the more I think on the matter, the less important family obligations become. Damn Lady Catherine and her queer notion of me marrying Anne. I cannot imagine my mother ever agreeing to such a preposterous proposition! Why am I not to be happy? Must I settle for a marriage of convenience when I might marry for so much more? Now Tom, you might not believe this, but she is truly wonderful and with Elizabeth, my dearest Lizzy, I believe I have found my equal."
Considering that for the entirety of her acquaintance with Mr. Darcy, she was certain he had never looked at her but to find a blemish , had never spoken to her but in condescension, to say that she was astonished by these revelations of his feelings for her would be a gross understatement.
"When we converse, I can be myself and I can say to you, Tom, that is a luxury that I am not often afforded. Lizzy has such a way about her that I find I speak more at ease and honestly than I can even do with Charles or Georgiana. She has a wry sense of humor that I find matches my own and she reads and, more importantly than that, she is intelligent. My Lizzy would make a most exceptional Mistress of Pemberley and, I must confess, I cannot picture anyone else in that role."
"I can hear now what my family would say." Darcy affected a high-pitch voice in obvious imitation of one of his offending family members. "Fitzwilliam George Darcy! Of what are you thinking? She has no dowry, she's a country miss with no connections to speak of and a family in trade!"
The cat stood and mewed loudly in protest. Mistaking the stretch for solidarity, Darcy went on. "Exactly! What care I about these trivial matters? I am a gentleman; she is a gentleman's daughter. So far we are equal… does it matter who her mother was? I should think not! My own position in society would more than make up for any lack the much-loathed Ton might find in hers. I love Elizabeth Bennet and to the devil with anyone that would disparage our match!"
"The problem you see Tom, is that I am uncertain if my suit would be welcomed. I know that with any other woman in England, I could be sure of my outcome. My Lizzy is a different breed. She is not impressed with my wealth or what material things I could give her. She is no fortune hunter, that is sure! When she looks at me with those very fine eyes of hers, she just sees me, the man. Is it enough? Would she leave her family and Hertfordshire to go into the north with me? If only I knew… What think you Tom? Should I ask for permission to call on my Lizzy? Sometimes I think she must know how I feel, yet there are others when I cannot quite make her out. If only there were a clear sign…"
Elizabeth had already reviewed all her interactions with Mr. Darcy earlier that morning. However, his admission of love and admiration altered her earlier perception and she began to see everything in another light altogether. When she had thought they fought in the drawing room, she now understood he believed it was a friendly debate. Before when he asked for her opinions she believed it to be for the sake of ridicule, but now she knew he had held genuine interest. And the constant staring that she'd perceived was to find her many defects, well, that was something altogether different as well. Had she been so prejudiced by her perceived slight that she was unable to see him for the man that he was? When she had first spied him at the assembly, she had thought him to be the most handsome man she'd ever seen. If she was honest with herself, he still was. He truly saw her as an equal, as someone he could love and cherish. With Mr. Darcy, she would never be an ornament to simply adorn his arm or keep his home.
Mr. Darcy was highly educated but never sought to make others feel low for not having the same advantages, his liberality as a master had been spoken of nearly as much as his reputed income and he was obviously a good friend and a caring brother. These were all things highly in his favor and the more she considered the idea, the more she reflected on her time spent with him, she came to realize that he was nowhere near as severe as she had originally thought. Would she, could she, give him a chance should he ask for one? As she watched him continue to pour his heart out to a cat of all things, Elizabeth knew the answer was yes.
Knowing that she was in a precarious situation, Lizzy weighed carefully her options. She could leave quietly or she could make her presence known. Not feeling up to meeting with him just yet, she opted to leave the way she came so as to give her some time to understand the new emotions she was feeling. As is so often the case when stealth is required, she could not escape without detection. Elizabeth had not payed enough attention to the pathway before her and stepped on a dried branch that cracked loudly underfoot. Quickly she spun back towards the mount, giving the appearance of just having arrived.
Upon hearing the twig snap, Darcy's attention turned towards the noise and he smiled broadly at the vision presented before him. Elizabeth stood there, cheeks flushed from her exercise, her hair blowsy from the warm autumn breeze and in particular he was pleased to see her petticoats six inches deep in dust. This was the sign he had been waiting for! It must be so, for it would be too cruel a coincidence to be otherwise.
Unwilling to let this opportunity pass, Darcy began by saying, "Miss Bennet! I had not expected to encounter you this morning."
Fully embarrassed at having been discovered, she apologized, "Nor I you, Mr. Darcy. Please forgive me for intruding upon your privacy. I will just be on my way home now, sir."
Frustrated with himself, he tried again in earnest. "You misunderstand me. Miss Elizabeth, please do not think your company is unwelcome. It is, in fact, quite the opposite."
Elizabeth blushed. "Oh."
With hope, he asked, "Would you allow me to escort you home to Longbourn, Miss Elizabeth? I have a matter of great import that I would canvas with you."
The longing in his eyes, the tone of his voice and the look of love upon his face made her decision for her. Elizabeth believed she would enjoy getting to know this enigmatic man and looked forward to a courtship with him, should he ask.
Ask, he did. They spoke of many things in the hour and a half it took to meander back towards Elizabeth's home. She was as pleased as he to discover they shared many of the same tastes in books and music. They discussed their families; both the good and bad parts and each realized that no family could be completely exempt from an element of the ridiculousness. With only a quarter mile left in their journey, Darcy gathered up what courage he could and pressed his suit and was happy to find that Elizabeth bade him to seek permission from her father.
Over the next month, Elizabeth Bennet was fervently courted by Fitzwilliam Darcy. The notion had taken Mr. Bennet completely by surprise. Never in his wildest imaginations did he think that the outwardly dour man from Derbyshire would seek his favorite daughter's favor any more than he believed she would wish for such attentions. If anyone from Netherfield had been expected, it was Bingley to seek Jane. That Darcy came first was definitely a surprise.
Bingley overcame the objections of his sisters and eventually sought his own audience with Mr. Bennet. The more the gentleman from the neighboring estate came, the fonder Mr. Bennet grew of his would-be son-in-laws. Bingley was a very cheerful fellow and would do very well for Jane. Darcy was another matter entirely. His character was not so easily revealed but the longer Bennet was acquainted with Darcy, the more he grew to appreciate the man who was so obviously in love with his daughter. If nothing else, Mr. Bennet would need to credit the young man with exceedingly good taste.
Mr. Collins eventually found that Charlotte Lucas both welcomed and accepted his addresses. His company had grown tiresome and the inhabitants of Longbourn were not sorry to see the future master of the estate go on his way. All talk of being stranded in the hedgerows was forgotten in light of the eldest Bennet sister's wealthy suitors.
When the militia came to Meryton, it was discovered that residing amongst them was the very villain who had caused so much trouble for Darcy. George Wickham's accusations of mistreatment went unheard as by the time he arrived in town Mr. Darcy's character was already known to be of good moral fiber. As such, it was Darcy who was trusted implicitly over the shady newcomer. Mr. Darcy even was able to influence Mrs. Bennet to keep her younger girls in check by not sending them off to flirt with all the officers. Instead, he slyly suggested that their attentions should be focused on becoming more accomplished so they stood a better chance of making a great match. Normally, disguise of every sort was his abhorrence but in this matter, he found it perfectly acceptable to prevaricate. He explained that when the girls would visit their sisters in London, they might just happen to come into the path of other rich men. To Mrs. Bennet, a rich man beat a red coat any day and so there was no more talk of soldiers at Longbourn.
On November the 27th, the day after the Netherfield Ball, Darcy showed up very early at Longbourn. Again, to Mr. Bennet's surprise and delight did Darcy surprise him. Darcy told Mr. Bennet that Elizabeth had consented to marriage at the Ball and now was standing in the Bennet library asking for the elder man's blessing. Mr. Bennet had come to see that though he would enjoy Bingley well enough, he would always respect and admire Lizzy's husband best.
Several weeks after their engagement was announced, fate found the happy couple alone, whether by design or accident is unknown, atop Oakham Mount. Since that fateful day many weeks ago, Elizabeth had taken to teasing Fitzwilliam just to see if she could coax his dimples out of hiding. Today was no different. She was on a quest for both the dimples and some information.
Darcy laid his greatcoat down on the outcropping so that Elizabeth could be seated. She smiled her appreciation for his gallantry and spoke, "Dearest Fitzwilliam, might I ask you a question?"
Taking a seat beside her, he took up her hand and teasingly replied, "Yes my loveliest Elizabeth, you might."
She laughed and Darcy was enchanted all over again that he had somehow earned this marvelous woman's love and affection.
Lizzy giggled, "So, this theoretical question that I might ask, would you be inclined to answer such a query?"
Trying not to smile, he answered solemnly, "Possibly."
In an eerily good imitation of her mother, Elizabeth responded, "Oh Mr. Darcy, you take delight in vexing me! Have you no compassion upon my poor nerves?"
Rising to the occasion, he spoke with a wry humor very much like her father. "Yes my dearest, I have the highest regard for your nerves, I look forward to them being my companion for many years to come."
They each took a moment to release the laughter that had been building during this exchange of affectionate teasing.
When he felt recovered, Darcy asked, "What was your question Sweetling?"
With that arch look she had come to learn he adored, she asked, "I was just wondering when was it that you first fell in love with me? I understand that you had initially withstood my beauty, but what was it that set you off in the first place?"
Stroking the back of her hand with his thumb, he answered, "Good heavens, you did hear me that evening! What must you have thought of me? I behaved abominably and though I wish I could blame Bingley for my mood that evening, the fault was mine and so must the remedy be."
"Remedy? Sir, I have not the pleasure of understanding you. What can you mean by remedy?"
"Simply this." Darcy reached over and with his eyes he asked for, and by her eyes, was granted permission for a kiss. He had kissed her hand before many times; he had kissed her forehead and cheek as well. This kiss was different. This was a kiss of apology, of love, of promise and of hope. With his lips pressed tenderly against hers, it was understood between them both that he never would find anything in her less than tolerable and, indeed, never had.
When Elizabeth recovered from the warm haze of love's first kiss, she smiled lovingly at her fiancé and expressed her wish that in the future he should always apologize in such a manner. Darcy, gentleman that he was, of course acquiesced to such an easily fulfilled request.
"Now, to answer your original question- I cannot fix on the hour or the look that begun it, I must admit I was in the middle before I knew it had begun. You enthralled me from the first and I must own that I fought the pull you have on me for as long as I could. I felt like a drowning man swimming upstream, such was the strength of my feelings for you. But that was only the beginning, now that you are my Lizzy, I do not know how I could exist in the world without you. I love you Elizabeth Bennet, with all my heart and all my soul."
Elizabeth leaned into his shoulder and sighed. "Such a poetic answer! It's a very good thing that ours is a stout love or else you might drive it away with such sentiments! Really Fitzwilliam, that was beautiful and you are truly the best of men. I do so love you; I find I don't have enough words to express all that you mean to me."
Darcy gave her a squeeze and kissed the top of her head. "Now my Lizzy, will you indulge me by answering a question of my own?"
Cheekily, she answered, "If I can."
Lizzy listened closely and was surprised to hear uncertainty Darcy's voice as he spoke. "Very good. My question happens to be the same as yours. When did you first know that you loved me?"
Elizabeth Bennet blushed from the tips of her toes to the top of her head. She had known all along that someday she would confess her having been privy to his conversation with the tabby. Now came the moment she had dreaded. What reason could she give for having eavesdropped and, more importantly, would he be able to forgive her?
"I believe I can answer that. First, I must tell you how ardently I admire and love you. I am so grateful that you swept into Hertfordshire and into my life and am so thankful that you love me. It is really more than I deserve."
With concern evident in his tone, Darcy said, "You are beginning to frighten me Elizabeth. You deserve so much that I worry sometimes whether I am worthy enough for the task of loving you."
Upon hearing his tender, loving words, she began to cry. Darcy held her close and whispered, "What is wrong dearest?"
With a choked voice, she answered, "I am afraid, Fitzwilliam. You will surely hate me when you know all."
Keeping her within his arms, he turned slightly so he could look into those very fine eyes of hers. "My love, I could never hate you. I love you and am just still overwhelmed by the fact that you love me in return. It matters not when or how. I was just indulging my curiosity."
Seeing the look of hurt in his face that she knew she had caused, Elizabeth drew in a sharp breath and began her confession. "Please understand that this is not my normal habit by any means, but that day when I came upon you here, I overheard your conversation."
For a moment, Darcy had forgotten all that had gone before he met her on the mount. "I was here alone, what conversation could you have… oh."
Turning away from him, she covered her face with her hands in sheer mortification. She began to sob that he would never trust her, never respect her and worst of all, love her no more.
Darcy tried to stifle his mirth as he sought to calm Elizabeth down. "Shh, my dearest Lizzy, it's alright. I am glad you found me that day- for what might have happened had you not? I had just prayed for a sign and there you were! To me, it was perfectly providential."
Through her sniffling, she spoke her peace. "I can tell you what would most likely have happened. I would have gone on willfully misunderstanding you because I believed you to despise me. I thought you opposed all my ideas and opinions and that whenever you looked at me, it was only because there was something inherently wrong with me. I did not understand at all. You confused me greatly Fitzwilliam!"
He chuckled at her admission, he did not mean to, but found that he could not help it. "Oh my Lizzy, you are such a goose! It seems that my tete-a-tete with Tom the tabby was definitely providential if it brought you a greater understanding of what I was about. I am grateful you did not think me a madman for having such a talk with a cat!"
"Oh Fitzwilliam! I thought you were adorable. That may not be the moment I fell in love with you, but it was the exact moment that I knew I could. To see you unburden yourself so, to a cat no less, and seem so vulnerable was something I had never expected to witness. I truly had no idea that I had affected you so, and when I thought on the matter, I realized that I was never indifferent to you. It was then that I began to see you for the wonderful man that you truly are. I love you so dearly now. Are you certain you're not angry with me?"
"Angry? No my Lizzy, definitely not angry. I thank you for being honest and would always have you be so with me. If only we could find that old grey Tom, I would see to it he lived out his days in the lap of luxury!"
"Do you still wish for nine lives Fitzwilliam?"
He chuckled and pulled her closer. "No Elizabeth. I would need at least a hundred to spend with you."
"I feel the same way. Tis such a pity that we only have one live to live, is it not?"
"As long as my one life is lived alongside your one life, I will have no complaints."
They continued discussing the future and making the sorts of plans that only young people in love can. It was only a few weeks later that Elizabeth exchanged the name of Bennet for Darcy. They used that afternoon at Oakham Mount as a pattern for dealing with whatever problems arose with honesty, love and understanding.
The love that Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy shared indeed proved to be more than enough for one lifetime.
And they lived happily ever after . . . .The End