Posted on Monday, 11 June 2001
By Sir Walter Scott
Oh, young Lochinvar is come out of the West-
Through all the wide Border his steed was the best,
And save his good broadsword he weapons had none-
He rode all unarm'd and he rode all alone.
So faithful in love, and so dauntless in war,
There never was a knight like the young Lochinvar.
He stay'd not for brake, and he stopp'd not for stone,
He swam the Eske river where ford there was none,
But ere he alighted at Netherby gate,
The bride had consented, the gallant came late;
For a laggard in love and a dastard in war
Was to wed the fair Ellen of brave Lochinvar.
So boldly he enter'd the Netherby hall,
'Mong bridesmen and kinsmen and brothers and all.
Then spoke the bride's father, his hand on his sword
(For the poor craven bridegroom said never a word),
'Oh come ye in peace, or come you in war,
Or to dance at our bridal, young Lord Lochinvar?
'I long woo'd your daughter-my suit you denied;
Love swells like the Solway, but ebbs like its tide;
And now am I come, with this lost love of mine
To lead but one measure, drink one cup of wine.
There are maidens in Scotland more lovely, by far,
That would gladly be bride to the young Lochinvar.'
The bride kissed the goblet, the knight took it up,
He quaff'd off the wine and he threw down the cup.
She look'd down to blush, and she look'd up to sigh,
With a smile on her lips and a tear in her eye.
He took her soft hand ere her mother could bar:
'Now tread we a measure,' said young Lochinvar.
So stately his form, and so lovely her face,
That never a hall such a galliard did grace,
While her mother did fret, and her father did fume,
And the bridegroom stood dangling his bonnet and plume,
And the bridesmaids whisper'd. 'Twere better by far
To have match'd our fair cousin with young Lochinvar.'
One touch to her hand, and one word in her ear,
When they reach'd the hall-door, and the charger stood near;
So light to the croup the fair lady he swung,
So light to the saddle before her he sprung!
'She is won! we are gone, over bank, bush, and scaur;
They'll have fleet steeds that follow,' quoth young Lochinvar
There was mounting 'mong Graemes of the Netherby clan;
Forsters, Fenwicks, and Musgraves, they rode and they ran;
There was racing and chasing on Cannobie Lee,
But the lost bride of Netherby ne'er did they see.
So daring in love, and so dauntless in war,
Have ye e'er heard of gallant like young Lochinvar?
William Darcy sighed as he read his cousin's letter;
"....if you do not return soon, your Elizabeth will soon be married to Gordon Wickham. Although reluctant, she has consented, and her father is pressing for an early wedding. He has been wearing her down ever since you left, and finally she gave in. As of now, the date is April 23. I would not vouch for her father not getting his wish. She has postponed it and postponed it, and it is really starting to be like Penelope waiting for her Odysseus who never comes to save her...."
Darcy folded the letter and placed it in his pocket. He had been expecting such an announcement ever since he had left. The Bennet had never liked him, and had outright rejected his suit when Darcy asked for Elizabeth's hand in marriage. Darcy had left after Elizabeth told him that her father had forbidden them ever from seeing each other again. Should he go back? Should he face The Bennet and tell him that Elizabeth was becoming young Lord Darcy's bride? Any other woman would jump at the chance, and her father's approbation speedily given. But The Bennet was a poor judge of character, if the groom he had picked for his daughter was what he called a good man.
Gordon Wickham was a weak, libertine bastard, and Darcy knew it. He also knew that his baby sister, Georgiana, had suffered greatly after Wickham's defection. He had attempted to seduce her, and then refused outright to marry her. Darcy had called him out, but Wickham had fled. He had fled to a small town called Meryton.
Darcy's best friend, young Lord Charles Bingley, had been looking for an estate. He had fixed upon Netherfield, which was not five miles from Meryton. As he relied on Darcy's opinion and intellect, Bingley asked Darcy along to see the estate.
When they had arrived, Darcy had been very unfavorably impressed by the people. They were vulgar, money-grabbing peasants, and not worthy of his interest. This was true, but it was, of course, absolutely un-pardonable for him to say so out loud in the presence of these same peasants. And not only that, but to slight the lady who was not a peasant, and considered one of the prettiest girls in the neighborhood in her hearing! The lady, Elizabeth Bennet, was not too pleased either, but she had a lively sense of humor that delighted in the ridiculous. So, instead of staying offended, she passed by to tell her friend of his remark, and to laugh at him.
This began to draw him to her. He really thought her very pretty, but he couldn't say so in the presence of Charles's sister, Caroline. It would have left not only he but Miss Bennet open to her attacks, and being a good soldier, he knew the danger of that. However, he rued that remark for many months after.
Gradually, he had come to notice Miss Elizabeth's good qualities. Her eyes were gorgeous, her hair was so curly and inviting looking, her figure was light and pleasing, and she had a fine mind: it was playful, and she had a wonderful sense of humor. She read classical books with enjoyment, and many of her favorites were also his. In other words, she was perfect for him in every respect. He, being a sensible man, realized this, but he did his best to change it. She was beneath him! Yes, her father was a gentleman, but her mother! And her mother's connections! She didn't even have a fortune. 1,000 pounds, he understood, upon the death of her mother. He needed to extricate himself quickly before this went any further.
He began to look around him for some excuse to leave. He was needed at his castle, Pemberley, to finish training his new soldiers. No good. Bingley knew that Darcy had entrusted the remaining training to his Captain of the Guard. Georgiana had fallen down the stairs, and hurt herself. A little better, but Bingley knew that Georgiana was in town with her governess. Damn!
But as he looked around, he began to notice that Bingley seemed very preoccupied. Very preoccupied, and with one thing in particular. That one thing being Miss Jane Bennet. Miss Jane Bennet was a beautiful, blond angel; very serene and calm, rather Madonna-like. It was quite obvious that Bingley was head-over-heels in love with the girl; yet her feelings seemed nothing akin to his friend's. Wonderful! Darcy thought. Bingley will ask her to marry him, and she will, simply for his money and worldly position. He was seriously worried for his friend. His only fault was likening Jane's motives to Caroline's, and Bingley's feelings about marriage to his own. Darcy imagined what life would be like with Caroline, a woman who didn't love him, and whom he didn't love. However, I'm sure we all realize that Caroline and Jane are from two different worlds. So before we all go in and beat up Darcy, let us take into account that he didn't know Jane, and that Caroline had completely spoiled his idealistic ideas of Innocent Womanhood. Womanhood, in his experience, was solely out for what it could get. Now, as Caroline was the best example of womanhood he had recently had the misfortune of observing, this is understandable, but not pardonable.
However, Darcy had a very good opportunity of observing Miss Elizabeth in the few days she was forced to spend at Netherfield.
Miss Elizabeth and her elder sister, Miss Jane, were the best of friends. So when Jane caught cold on her way to Netherfield and was forced to stay there, Elizabeth naturally went to see if she was all right. Of course, when it became obvious how much Jane desired Elizabeth's company, Elizabeth was invited to stay. She accepted.
Darcy was a little uncomfortable at their close proximity, but it gave him a good opportunity (he thought) to rid himself of this foolish infatuation. It didn't work.
Over the next few days, it was brought home to him just how perfect Elizabeth was for him. She was witty, intelligent, kind, considerate, and she loved reading as much as he did. It didn't hurt, either, that she was so passionate about things she cared about.
Whenever she spoke of Jane, for example, it was clear by the softening of her features and the smile that never ceased to come to her lips that she loved her sister dearly. When she spoke of walking, or riding, or reading, her eyes would light up with a fire that Darcy wished (against his desires) was directed at him. It made him wonder how her eyes would look if he kissed her. No- that was not a good direction to go in.
Darcy turned his attention back to his book. He had been gazing intently at Elizabeth as she sat near him, reading one of his favorite books- Shakespeare's 'Much Ado About Nothing'. After a moment, he saw a sudden movement out of the corner of his eye. When he looked, he saw that she had covered her mouth with one hand. At first, he thought she must be shocked about something and wracked his brain for some clue as to what that might be. But as he watched, he saw her shoulders shaking. He looked closely, and realized that she was attempting to keep her mirth from spilling out. He smiled as he watched her, and as she looked up, he grinned.
"It's one of my favorites, too, for exactly the same reason. Where are you?"
"(Giggle) I just reached the part when the prince, Claudio, and Leonato are trying to get Benedick to believe Beatrice is madly in love with him." A few more giggles broke from her control, and he could tell that she wanted to laugh hard.
"Yes- 'Against my will I am sent to bid you come into dinner. There's a double meaning in that.'" She giggled again.
"Exactly! How about, 'I took no more pains for those thanks than you take pains to thank me. If it had been painful, I would not have come.' I love Benedick and Beatrice. I think they are my favorite couple in literature. Well," she thought here. "They tie, I suppose, with Cinderella and Prince Charming, and then with Robin Hood and Maid Marian, but I could go on and on. They are one of my favorite couples in literature. I sometimes wish that I was as quick as Beatrice, but then I should have to find a Benedick. So far, the only quick-witted gentlemen I have met do not have honorable intentions." He gazed at her, interested. She took it for surprise at her statements, and blushed. "I'm sorry, I should not have said so much." She returned to her book, her cheeks flushed and her hands trembling slightly. She felt snubbed. Darcy, realizing this, addressed her again.
"Miss Elizabeth, you did not say too much. Beatrice and Benedick are also two of my favorite characters in literature. But tell me, do you not number Arthur and Guenivere or Lancelot and Guenivere among them? Most young ladies who are at all well read do." He looked at her, waiting for her reply. She closed her book, keeping her thumb in her place.
"Well," she said thoughtfully, "I don't like Arthur because he was stupid and didn't think about the consequences of his actions, and for not realizing that his wife and his best friend were cuckolding him. I don't like Guenivere, because she betrayed her husband for a dashing, handsome, dumb man who didn't have the strength of character to stay away from his best friend and king's wife." Darcy nodded his head.
"Generally, I agree. I think 'Le Morte D'Arthur' is one of my favorite books, but I must confess a strong desire to knock some sense into a few of the main characters." Elizabeth laughed a little more openly.
"Yes! Jane has decided that I shouldn't read it for a while, because I get a mite violent whenever I read about how Lancelot and Guenivere mess everything up." Now it was Darcy's turn to laugh.
"I remember reading it to my younger sister- her sentiments were very similar to yours. It was very amusing to watch her pacing the library occasionally stopping to hit a perfectly innocent pillow. She was rather alarming."
"Well, I think that's a clear sign that I had better not read it while I'm here- Miss Darcy's reaction sounds very similar to my own. Jane says I get so annoyed that she isn't sure I won't change my mind and hit her instead of the pillow!"
"Would you?" Darcy asked, curious. Elizabeth looked at him a little oddly before replying,
"Of course not! I've only ever hit one person in my entire life! Well, two," she amended, "And I had very good reason for doing so! And it wasn't because I was upset over something else, it was clearly their fault both times."
"I see. Will you tell me who you've hit?" Elizabeth looked at him speculatively.
"I won't tell you who, because that would not only be unfair, it would be unladylike, and I'm not sure I'll tell you why, because if anyone heard, it might be bad for me."
"Ah. Well, if you don't wish to tell me, I shan't press, but I must confess to be dying of curiosity. I shan't tell a soul."
"Now, where have I heard that before? It sounds very much like the last person I told a secret to- within a day, it was all over the village. Honestly, I don't know why they care. My life is singularly boring, and the secrets weren't even important. They weren't even interesting to me."
"Hmm. Well, all I can say is that I have never told a confidence in my life. If you still don't want to tell me, I don't think there's anything more I can say." Elizabeth looked at him closely, before nodding.
"All right, I trust you. Though why I am telling you after only a short acquaintance, I don't know!" She put her book down, and looked at her folded hands. She looked up again. "I don't know whether you would feel obligated as a gentleman to do anything, but before I tell you, you must promise me that you will not do anything or get offended or think you need to go around telling anyone." He looked at her, and saw that, although embarrassed, she was sincere.
"Of course, Miss Bennet. I won't tell anyone, and my obligations as a gentleman would depend entirely on how much you would allow me to do." She nodded again, satisfied.
"Well Lord Darcy, in the past two years, two people whom I thought were friends- or at least gentlemen- have offered me carte blanches." She stopped, to let this information sink in. Darcy was dumbstruck. "Now, personally, I don't think I give the appearance of one who would ever accept such an offer, or one who would view it as anything but the gravest insult. Lord Darcy, do I appear to be...to be...loose, or immoral?" She looked at him with pleading eyes. He was shocked, and was beginning to wish that he had not promised Miss Elizabeth to do nothing. He was insulted for her.
"No, Miss Elizabeth. In every manner, you appear to be a most proper young lady. I am shocked and dismayed that such an insult would be offered you once, much less twice." She breathed a sigh of something like relief, and looked down at her tightly clasped hands. It took an effort to unclasp them. When she again met his gaze, she smiled somewhat serenely, though her hands and her voice trembled a little.
"Thank you, my lord. I have not told anyone else, and I thank you for resting my fears." Darcy felt a lump rise in his throat, and he reached over and took one of her hands.
"Miss Elizabeth, I do wish that I had not given you my promise to do nothing. Will you tell me who it was that offered you this insult?" He met her uncertain gaze with one that he hoped was commanding, without seeming intimidating. It seemed to work.
"It was...it was...Lord Wickham and Lord Collins, sir." Darcy sat up a little straighter at the mention of Wickham.
"You don't say," he said through gritted teeth. "Lord Wickham I might have guessed, being unfortunately somewhat acquainted with him myself, but I would have thought Lord Collins would think better. Are you not his cousin?"
"Yes," Elizabeth replied with a wry smile, "But he claimed to be 'run away by his feelings' and must have forgotten his brain. Permanently," she added. In spite of his perturbation, Darcy chuckled.
"Yes, I think I recall him. Is he not to inherit your father's estate?"
"Yes, and he actually came to choose a wife from among us. I confess it hurt to know that he didn't even consider me worthy of being his wife."
"Did you wish to be?" Darcy asked, a little concerned.
"NO! When I marry, I must be able to respect my husband and look up to him. If not my superior, he must at least be my equal. Lord Collins is neither."
"And Lord Wickham?"
"He was the man who reminded me a little of Benedick. No, he must marry for money, and that is one thing I do not have enough of for him. He found me attractive, and figured that marriage wasn't necessary."
Elizabeth had been discussing this with him calmly and collectively, but she blushed. "I-I can't believe I'm having this discussion, Lord Darcy! What must you think of me?" Her cheeks were burning and her eyes anguished.
"Miss Elizabeth, I can tell you this. So far, there is nothing in your speech or manners that could possibly give me the idea that if I offered a carte blanche, you would accept it. Rest assured, whatever suggested to these buffoons that you would even consider such a proposition, it was not your manners." Elizabeth smiled, and opened her mouth to reply, but was cut off by a clearly audible gasp. They looked up, to see their worst fears condemned.
"Darcy! You are offering a carte blanche to Miss Bennet?" Caroline Bingley, Charles's sister, was standing above them. Darcy rose, his eyes cold, his face closed.
"Certainly not, Miss Bingley. I would never offer Miss Bennet such an insult. She is a lady." Caroline smirked knowingly.
"Oh? Then pray, what were you discussing?" Darcy looked at Elizabeth, who looked back with pleading in her eyes. He wracked his brain for a suitable, acceptable reply.
"We were discussing a book I read a few days ago. My curiosity was aroused by the mention that 'everyone had a mistress'. I was asking Lord Darcy if he knew this to be true." Darcy looked at Elizabeth in admiration. Her reply was very quick, and appeared to satisfy Miss Bingley.
"Humph," she said. "May I say, Miss Bennet, that carte blanches are not a polite topic of conversation. You should not be subjecting Lord Darcy to the embarrassment of answering your enquiries." She broke off when Elizabeth stood up. She was a little taller than Miss Bingley, and gave her such a look of contempt that the lady was taken aback. Elizabeth kept her gaze on Miss Bingley, but she said,
"Lord Darcy, thank you. I apologize for any embarrassment I may have caused you. If you'll excuse me." She left the room. Darcy glared at Miss Bingley who merely looked annoyed and said,
"Elizabeth Bennet has no manners, no breeding, no countenance, nothing but a sort of conceited country independence. Why, she thinks she is better than all of us!" Darcy gave her a look that clearly expressed his opinions on the subject. Miss Bingley flushed and stalked away. Darcy stood.
"Excuse me." He also left the room.
He sought refuge in the library, as he seemed to do so often, and thought of Miss Elizabeth. It angered him that she seemed to have no-one to protect her. She was obviously scared of her father calling the two scoundrels out, and therefore had told nobody in an attempt to avert disaster. He admired her courage, and her clever handling of Miss Bingley, but he wished with all his heart that he had not promised her to do nothing. He clenched his fists in helpless rage.
It did occur to him to wonder why he took Miss Elizabeth's cause so to heart. He thought long and hard about this, and all he was able to come up with was the possibility that he was falling in love with her.
This, of course, was patently ridiculous. Love had nothing to do with him. When he married, it would be a woman with a fortune equal to his own, of his own social circle; one who understood the rules of a marriage of convenience. She would, of course, be allowed to have her little liaisons as long as they were discreet, and they would deal very comfortably together.
For the first time in his life, Darcy's carefully ordered plans were going askew. He wasn't sure he liked the feeling, and when he thought about marrying Miss Elizabeth and allowing her to have liaisons, his blood began to boil.
Fearing that the subject wasn't good for his health, he decided to read a book. He stood and perused the shelves, stopping at Bingley's collection of Shakespeare. He had every volume.
With a small smile on his face, Darcy took down 'Much Ado About Nothing' and began to read. Instead of holding in his enjoyment, he laughed out loud. There was no-one to hear or be disturbed, so he let himself go. He had forgotten how wholehearted his enjoyment of a book could be.
When he got to the part that he and Elizabeth had been discussing, he read it carefully, noticing the humor more than ever.
While he was thus pleasantly occupied, he heard the library door creak. Fearing it might be Miss Bingley, he closed his book and pretended he wasn't there. Whoever it was breathed a sigh of relief at seeing the library empty, and came to sit in the very chair he was ensconced in.
Of course, Miss Elizabeth was somewhat surprised to see Lord Darcy there. She jumped back, startled, one hand to her mouth. Darcy stood and bowed. She curtseyed.
"Lord Darcy. I am sorry to disturb you, I was unaware that anyone was in here." She went to leave, but he stopped her.
"Miss Elizabeth, please do not leave on my account. I was um hiding from Miss Bingley, and would like some company." He looked at her, gauging her reaction. She smiled.
"Certainly." She held up her book. "I want to read some more of Beatrice and Benedick." He chuckled, and held up his own copy.
"As do I. Would you care to read it with me?"
"It would be a pleasure, sir. Where do you wish to start?"
"How about at the beginning where Beatrice and Benedick meet after he has come home from the wars?" She agreed with alacrity, and they began.
They read well together, both able to get into the characters. They laughed freely together, and got on better than they had with anyone before. Their minds were very similar, and her playful tendencies brought out his, while his ironic comments brought out the humorous adult in her. They read on and on, stopping when they reached Claudio's defection. Miss Elizabeth paused to yawn and stretch, then glancing at the clock.
"Good gracious! Lord Darcy, it is one o'clock in the morning! We have been here for four hours! Oh dear, I do hope no-one noticed our absence." Darcy looked at her in amusement.
"Miss Elizabeth, I apologize for keeping you up so late. I doubt our absence has been detected, as no-one has cause to go into our rooms. I have enjoyed myself immensely; may I hope you have as well?"
"Oh, yes! This was the best evening I have spent in a while. I am glad to have found someone with whom I can laugh. Jane is good for that too, but she doesn't understand all my jokes." Darcy laughed.
"She sounds like Charles. The best of good fellows, but he doesn't get all of mine, either."
"I don't blame him!" They laughed again. "Well, Lord Darcy, good night. Sleep well, I'll see you at breakfast."
"Good night, Miss Elizabeth. Sweet dreams. May I escort you to breakfast tomorrow?"
"Yes, thank you. Good night again." She curtseyed and he bowed as she exited the room.
The next day, Elizabeth rose at dawn. She did not call her maid, but she washed and chose a dress for the morning. As she got out her stockings, garters, petticoats, and brushed her hair out of it's nighttime braid, she thought about Lord Darcy.
He was the kindest and most elegant man she had ever met- even more so than Lord Bingley. His wealth was well sung, and he had a reputation for dauntlessness in battle and daring in love. He was brave, handsome, rich, kind, and intelligent.
Elizabeth put the brush down with a clatter. Where were her thoughts going? This was not only foolish but pointless. Would such a man as Lord Darcy choose her for his wife? Of course not. She shook her head to clear the cobwebs and rang for her maid.
When Lord Darcy knocked on her door an hour or so later, she was a little surprised.
"Good morning, is it breakfast time already?" He laughed.
"No, not for an hour or so. I thought you might wish to look in on your sister, and I would like to see how she is doing also. Is that all right? I mean, may I come with you?" He looked almost anxious, and she stifled a chuckle.
"Thank you, sir. I confess I was just about to look in on Jane, and your company would be welcome, as always." He smiled and offered his arm. "Thank you." They walked down the hall companionably to Jane's room, and Elizabeth knocked on the door. "Janey? Are you awake?" They heard a faint voice call,
"Yes, Lizzy darling. Come in." Elizabeth pushed open the door, and in they went.
Jane was sitting up in bed in just her night rail, but Elizabeth, having foreseen this eventuality, quickly handed her a wrapper and helped her put it on.
"Good morning, dearest."
"Good morning Elizabeth, Lord Darcy. Thank you for coming to see me." Elizabeth sat on Jane's bed and kissed her cheek.
"How are you feeling?" Jane thought.
"Better than yesterday. My head isn't as fuzzy, I'm hungry, and I want to get up." Elizabeth looked alarmed.
"You mustn't, Janey! Maybe in a day or so, but I want you to get all the way better- not have a relapse. Promise me you won't get up." Jane smiled.
"All right, Lizzy. I promise. Will you come back after breakfast and read to me? Lord Darcy is welcome also." Elizabeth glanced at Darcy.
"I certainly will come back and read to you dearest. What would you like me to bring?"
"Oh, do bring 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', you do the characters so well." Elizabeth blushed and glanced at Lord Darcy again.
"All right. Do you want anything for breakfast?"
"Oh, yes please! I'm so hungry. Could I have some toast and eggs and bacon?" Elizabeth laughed.
"Of course you can, silly. I'll have a maid bring it up." She leaned over and kissed her sister on the cheek again, and stood. "I'll return as soon as possible."
"Bye, Lizzy. Love you. Good bye, Lord Darcy. Thank you for coming to see me." Darcy expressed his fervent desire that she get well soon, bowed, and left the room with Elizabeth on his arm.
"You appear very close to your sister." Elizabeth smiled.
"Dear Jane! She is the best of sisters, and the best of friends. I don't know what I would do without her. Sometimes I think she keeps me sane." He laughed.
"And the other way around, I think."
"Yes, I suppose it's mutual. With our mother, it is sometimes difficult to keep one's temper. Her mind is totally preoccupied with finding us husbands!" Elizabeth sighed. "I wonder if she'll ever realize that our idea of perfect husbands and hers are somewhat different." She moved to walk slightly ahead. "Shall we ask for tea in the library?" Darcy had been examining her closely, and stopped her.
"What is your idea of the perfect husband?" She turned her head and looked at him, confused.
"What? Why?" Darcy shrugged.
"I just want to know. Please."
"All right, but I don't know why." She turned all the way around to face him, and clasped her hands in front of her. "The perfect husband for any girl, is one who she loves and has respect for. He should love her, too, because without mutual love and respect, marriages have difficulties and unhappiness. People are more likely to be happy and contented in their marriages, and less likely to be unfaithful."
Darcy looked at her closely. "And what is your mother's opinion?"
Elizabeth laughed. "Well, she doesn't care about the man himself, as long as he has enough money to buy us dresses of diamonds if we wanted."
"Ah. In that case, when ever I decide to marry, my wife's mother should have no problem with me." Elizabeth just laughed as they made their way into the library.
As they sat there companionably, Elizabeth reading, Darcy surreptitiously watched this extraordinary woman who seemed to have no thought of him other than as a friend.
As they sat there companionably, Elizabeth reading, Darcy surreptitiously watched this extraordinary woman who seemed to have no thought of him other than as a friend. In his lifetime as his reputation for valor and wealth and intelligence became known, he couldn't decide whether it was the hopeful damsels themselves or their fathers that were worse. He recalled with a shudder one particular man who seemed unable to get the hint that Darcy was really not interested in his daughter. Elizabeth, catching sight of his grim countenance, stopped reading.
"Really, sir, I quite agree that Don John is a dreadful villain, but he hasn't killed your best friend!" Darcy started, and stared at her.
"I beg your pardon?" Elizabeth laughed.
"You looked so grim and dangerous that I wasn't quite sure that you weren't going to pull a sword on me!" Darcy held up one hand.
"No, no matter how angry at her I may be, I would never harm a woman. Witness my angelic forbearance towards--" he stopped. "I beg your pardon. I should not--" Elizabeth shook her head, cutting him off.
"Not at all, sir. I quite agree. While I respect your forbearance, I quite agree. But what were you thinking?" Darcy sighed. It was clear that this woman was not going to lose sight of the point.
"I was thinking how pleasant it is to be companionable with a woman who isn't scheming to trap me into marriage." If ladies snorted, the noise Elizabeth let out would be classified as such.
"How do you know that, my lord? For all you know, my furious father might burst in any moment brandishing a shotgun." Darcy threw back his head and laughed.
"I sincerely hope so; it would be most amusing." Her eyes twinkled responsively, but she continued in the same grave tone.
"You may think so now, but would you think so at the altar?" Darcy studied her closely.
"As a matter of fact, I can think of worse fates." Elizabeth 'snorted' again.
"So can I- I think I should make a very nice wife- but you still don't know if I am so desperate that I should trap anyone into marriage or not. At the moment, you are safe. But I might fall out of my chair, and you might come to help me up, and then my father might come in. It would be rather compromising." Darcy shuddered dramatically.
"Dear me! Do you really think there's a chance he might? Well, I am not afeared- if he does, I shall hide under the sofa." This picture of the bravest man in Europe was too much for Elizabeth's composure and she burst into peal after peal of delicious laughter. After a few minutes, she wiped the tears from her face to see Darcy watching her in amusement.
"I beg your pardon, but I had the funniest image of you hiding under the sofa like a puppy who knows it has done something wrong and is trying to avoid being punished!" The analogy was not terribly flattering, which she soon realized. "Oh, I am so sorry! I can't believe I just said that." Darcy waived her apology.
"Not at all. I can see that it would be a most amusing spectacle. I would show you now, but I don't much care for the dust that I should almost certainly find there." He sniffed languidly, and attempted to look like the veriest dandy. It didn't work. Elizabeth tried to hold back her laughter, but when she caught his eye and saw the twinkle therein, she didn't bother.
At that moment, the door opened.
"OH! I THINK I SHALL FAINT! CATCH ME, LORD DARCY!" Elizabeth and Darcy stared at the lady.
"I beg your pardon, Miss Bingley?" Darcy was wary.
"I AM GOING TO FAINT!" Darcy looked skeptical
"Then why on earth are you yelling? And why do you want me to catch you?"
"WE CAN'T FIND MISS ELIZABETH ANYWHERE! I WANT YOU TO CATCH ME!" The lady now had her hands on her hips and was glaring at Darcy. Darcy glanced at Elizabeth.
"What do you say, Miss Bennet? Shall we let her fall, or do you think she's going to faint?" Elizabeth had to cover her mouth with one hand in order to keep herself from laughing, not so much at his words, but at Miss Bingley's face, which was slowly turning purple, and clashed dreadfully with her orange dress. Feeling diplomatic, she stood, casting an admonishing glance at Darcy.
"I am sorry to have caused you worry, Miss Bingley. I am sure that if you were to faint, Lord Darcy would do his best to catch you. Was there any particular reason you wanted me?" She stood before the lady, her hands clasped loosely in front of her. Much to her surprise, Miss Bingley started for her and swung her hand around to slap Elizabeth firmly on the cheek. Elizabeth gasped and put one hand to her cheek.
"YOU---YOU---YOU LOOSE WOMAN! HOW DARE YOU TRY TO TRAP DARCY!?" Elizabeth stood there, astonishment and dismay written over her face as clearly as the red hand print. She stared at Miss Bingley for a minute, and brushed past her to run up the stairs to her room. Darcy watched her go, then rounded on Miss Bingley, who was still purple, but preening herself on her success.
"How dare you, Miss Bingley? Miss Bennet had done nothing. Trying to trap me, indeed! Madam, I think you are projecting you own mercenary schemes on every other woman you meet! I shall be out of your house by noon. Good day." He moved past her, now standing with her mouth open in astonishment. He strode up the stairs and knocked on Miss Jane Bennet's door. A muffled,
"Come in" sounded, and he turned the knob. As he had known, Elizabeth was there, crying into Jane's shoulder. When she saw him, she sat up and turned away to wipe the tears from her face.
"Lord Darcy. What brings you here?" Jane sounded ruffled, like a mother hen protecting her chick.
"Miss Bennet, Miss Elizabeth, I came to apologize for Miss Bingley, and for my suggestion that put you in that awkward position. Please forgive me." Elizabeth was still turned away, but she nodded, and said, in a thick tone,
"Thank you, sir, you are most kind. I never blamed you." He bowed. "Would you please tell Mr. Bingley that Jane and I will be leaving by noon?" She asked, timidly, as though dreading rebuff. Darcy smiled.
"I can do better that, and offer you my carriage on your way home. I also will be leaving by noon today. I finally lost all my patience with Miss Bingley and told her what I thought of her, and have decided that it's best for me to not be in the same house with her." Elizabeth chuckled, the tears still evident in her voice.
"You didn't pull a sword on her, though, did you." Darcy smiled ruefully.
"Alas, no. It might have solved all our problems if I had, but then I should have had to answer to Bingley, which I am not at all eager to do." Elizabeth laughed this time, as he had intended her to. "Shall I ask the housekeeper to send up some breakfast on a tray for you two ladies?" This time, it was Jane who answered him, in a much softened tone.
"Yes, thank you sir. You are most kind. I apologize for speaking to you as I did earlier, it was nothing to do with you." Darcy smiled again and bowed as he left the room.
The breakfast was delicious. As they waded through eggs and toast and sausage and tea and kippers and oatmeal, Elizabeth wondered how much of it had to do with Darcy. She thanked God silently that such a man existed- one who actually seemed to care about the feelings of others.
"I must have been mistaken in Lord Darcy, Janey." Her sister looked up.
"Oh? How so?" Elizabeth licked her finger free of jam contemplatively.
"Well, my first impression of him was of all the bad effects of aristocracy in one man. I mean to say, he was cold, haughty, proud, insufferable, careless, polite to the point of rudeness, insulting, and generally being unpleasant. However, in the past few days, I have come to like and admire him. I can see why people feel drawn to him, and I think I shall have to guard my heart jealously for fear of breaking it."
"Ah." Jane smiled knowingly. "So you are falling in love with the man. Tsk tsk, Lizzy, that will never do. For while I am sure a man could not have a better wife, Lord Darcy could look anywhere for a bride. I fear our chances of making an advantageous marriage are slim to none, dearest." Elizabeth smiled at this attempt at pessimism from her optimistic sister.
"Jane, if I actually believed that your chances of making an advantageous marriage were slim to none, all I would have to do to correct myself would be to look at Lord Bingley. Anyone with half and eye could see that he is head over heels for you. Look, how many times has he come to visit you?" Jane blushed and lowered her head. In a voice so small Elizabeth had to strain to hear it, she replied,
"Three or four times a day." She raised her head, and went on earnestly, "He is very kind, I am sure, and only wishes to be a good host. He should do the same for anybody, I am sure." Elizabeth laughed.
"Of course, dearest, he would be a good host. But all that is required to be a good host is to check once a day that you are well, and to instruct the servants that you are to be taken care of beautifully. This is more, darling, much more." She giggled and rose to look into the mirror. "Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?" In a deeper voice, she answered herself. "Madam, you are in truth full fair, but Jane is a good sight fairer than you." She broke off, laughing. Jane joined in.
"Elizabeth, you know very well that you are lovely. I am sure that one day, you will have a full court of suitors, each handsomer and richer than the last." Elizabeth went to the door and opened it, but turned to say,
"Ah, dearest, but you already have that. Didn't you hear the mirror? It said, 'Jane is a good sight fairer than you.'" She chuckled again. "Magic mirrors never lie. Don't you remember Snow White?"
"What I remember is you sitting me down and reading those horrid fairy tales to me, day and night. Cinderella, too- you couldn't get enough!" Elizabeth let go of the door.
"Why Jane! How CAN you say that about fairy tales? They are just the way life should be. If one is the heroine, one is beautiful, kind, and poor- but there is always a handsome king or prince who comes along in the nick of time to rescue her. What we need, dearest, is a handsome king or prince who will whisk us away to a life of untold luxury." Jane shuddered.
"I don't think I should like that, and neither would you, Lizzy. Neither of us would go with the king or prince unless we loved them." Elizabeth returned to sit on the bed.
"Oh, well, I suppose you're right. We shall just have to settle for a poor woodcutter or a valiant tailor, or just a knight in shining armor. Buy me one for Christmas, Janey." Jane laughed.
"I'll try, though I'm not so sure I can find one you'll like." Elizabeth stepped to the door again.
"I don't know about that, Janey, but I'll keep my eyes open. Maybe Lord Darcy knows one." She opened the door to see the aforementioned man standing there. She smiled, unruffled. "Hello, sir. Can I help you?" She smiled mischievously.
"Well, I was wondering when you ladies will be ready to leave. But from what I overheard, you need my help, no?" This time, Elizabeth blushed, and said
"Thank you, sir, but I was teasing Jane. I was not serious." Darcy took her arm and started down the stairs with her.
"Oh, but I am. Give me a list of qualities he must have. Handsome?"
"Again, not necessary, but comfortable. Luxury is not an ambition of mine."
"Admirable, admirable. Integrity?"
"Definitely a must. And a sense of humor. I could not live with a man without a sense of humor. We would kill each other within the week." Darcy laughed at the image presented him, and said,
"Well, we need a man with integrity, a sense of humor, and a comfortable income. Age?"
"Mine, or his?"
"Both. Do you mind?"
"Not especially, but I warn you I am almost on the shelf. I am one-and-twenty, I should not like him to be above two-and-thirty. Is that impossible?" Darcy chuckled at the anxious note in her voice.
"Not at all. I am sure there are many such men. And as I am six-and-twenty, many of my friends are in that category. I suppose Bingley wouldn't do, eh?" Elizabeth laughed.
"No, he is too trusting. It would tire me to have to be the cautious one. Besides, I think he is thinking of my sister in that capacity. Did you know he goes to visit her three or four times a day? She insists he is just being a good host, but I think not." Darcy thought this piece of information over. He kept the part about Jane and Bingley, but went on.
"Well, my cousin, Richard Fitzwilliam."
"Oh? I don't believe I know him."
"Probably not. He is a Colonel in the regulars. Easy competence, integrity, sense of humor, not too trusting...."
"What faults does he have?" Darcy shrugged, and contemplated the ceiling.
"He is badly scarred about the face. He was staying in a farmhouse in France and there was a fire. He rushed back in to save his batman, and was badly burned." Darcy watched Elizabeth's face to see her reaction to this piece of news.
"What courage, Lord Darcy. It is hereditary, I suppose?" He laughed again.
"I don't know- I never thought of it. Let us see. He smokes a pipe, drinks minimally, dislikes cats, loves dogs and horses (and they love him) is well beloved by all his friends, and is the younger son of an earl." At this last she recoiled.
"An earl?" He stared.
"Is that not to your liking?"
"Lord Darcy, I do not think I am capable of going around in high society. I take no enjoyment from it. I had the headache every night I could when we were in Edinburgh, because it makes me so uncomfortable to be scrutinized and be given empty compliments by drunken gentlemen who think that every woman is a harlot!" Darcy stared at her. Obviously, she had had some bad experiences.
"Miss Bennet, what happened?" Elizabeth sighed.
"I went to the powder room to fix a tear in my skirt, and on my way back I was attacked by a gentleman so far in his cups he was unable to hear my requests that he release me. Eventually I was forced to scream, and everyone saw. My father was furious, my mother embarrassed. If I hadn't persuaded him it was too much, my father would have called him out." Darcy stared again.
"Who was it?"
"Again? The man just does not take 'NO' for an answer, does he." Elizabeth shook her head.
"Miss Bennet, I do understand that you feared for your father, but Wickham has gone too far too many times. What I am about to tell you must go no farther, not even to your sister." Her eyes wide, she nodded her agreement. "Two years ago, Lord Wickham and I were good friends. We had grown up together, and we were close. He was not affluent, and I was frequently called on to assist him in monetary loans. I did not mind, as I trusted him. Later that year, on one of his frequent visits to Pemberley, I found him seducing my sister. I was in time to prevent anything more than the exchange of several kisses, luckily. Apparently, she had tried to resist, but he convinced her that he loved her, and that this was the only way the marriage would win my consent. As you can imagine, I was shocked and deeply hurt by his betrayal. However, he seemed so contrite, and explained that he was run away with by his feelings for Georgiana, and his fear that the marriage would not meet with my approval, that I eventually forgot. That was a mistake. After another year, Wickham came to me with a lawyer's letter, which stated that his aunt had died and left him a comfortable competence and a small but prosperous country estate. He begged my permission for his and Georgiana's marriage, and I consented. It took place six months later. Or rather, it was supposed to. Georgiana was at the church waiting for the music to begin. I was giving her away and acting as best man, and the music was very late. People were beginning to whisper. I had not seen Gordon yet, so I looked in the church. He wasn't there. We waited another hour, and he still didn't come. After that time, we were forced to realize that he wasn't coming; he had left her at the altar. Later that night, Georgiana came to me crying. She was so afraid, she said, because Gordon had seduced her. It had been a few days before, when she had been so sure that they were marrying. The message sent to the papers was that Georgiana had been struck with pneumonia, and had gone to Pemberley to recover. Luckily, she was not with child, and she returned to society. I hunted Gordon down and called him out. The meeting was for the next morning, with small-swords. He didn't come. I could not publish his cowardice without ruining my sister, so I kept quiet. But Miss Bennet, do not ever be alone with Lord Wickham. He is a dangerous, debauched man, who will stop at nothing to get what he wants." Darcy looked into Elizabeth's eyes earnestly, and thought he saw a tear shining in them.
"Lord Darcy, it is rather irregular, but won't you call me Elizabeth? I should like to meet your sister very much." He stared at her in surprise.
"Miss- I mean, Elizabeth, should you? I mean to say, after you have heard her story, I shouldn't think you should want any connection with her in case it should ever come out." Elizabeth put up her chin.
"Lord Darcy, courage must be hereditary in your family, because I do believe she is the bravest girl I have ever heard of, and I should be proud to know her." Darcy dropped to one knee and kissed her hands.
"Miss-Elizabeth, you are the best of women. I should be proud for her to know you. And- do call me William, or Darcy, whichever you please." She smiled, and drew him up.
"Thank you, William." They stood looking at each other for a few minutes before Darcy remembered his mission.
"Oh, Elizabeth, will you and Miss Jane be ready to leave within two hours?" Elizabeth laughed.
"What a poor opinion you have of our sex, William. We have been ready to go this half hour at least." At that, she turned and mounted the stairs.
Darcy handed the ladies into his coach. Bingley stood with an almost comical expression of dismay on his usually sunny countenance, watching his best friend help his, Bingley's, future wife, into the carriage. Darcy had to grin at his friend's obvious distress, which was equally because of his mortification caused by his sister's behavior as of Jane's presence in Darcy's coach. All three waved gaily as the carriage started off.
They had an agreeable ride, the distance was short and Darcy and Elizabeth kept up the lively banter that had become automatic with them. Jane joined in occasionally, but mainly she watched the others. Jane was thinking.
When they arrived at Longbourn, Darcy handed the ladies out and walked them to the door. The thanked him and he bowed, and would have returned to the carriage but for Jane's soft request.
"Lord Darcy, do come in and have tea before your journey." Elizabeth added her supplications to those of her sister, and Darcy agreed. They walked into the sitting room to find Lady Bennet and her three youngest daughters. Lady Bennet instantly jumped up and began thanking him and flattering him in such a way that turned his stomach. Looking at her, Darcy could tell that it turned Elizabeth's stomach too, and she headed her mother off masterfully.
"Mama, Lord Darcy wanted to see the grounds and papa's library." No other words could have made Lady Bennet back down as much as these. Jane had gone upstairs to bed, so Elizabeth took Darcy to see the gardens.
"I have asked for tea out here," she said, gesturing to the table and chairs that were set out in the midst of the garden. "I hope you don't mind, but Mama....." she fluttered her hands expressively.
"No, not at all, Elizabeth. This is a beautiful garden." She was pleased.
"Thank you, William. Jane and I do it. I take care of the flowers, and Jane decides how the bushes and trees should look- whether we should make all the bushes look like animals, or just some of them, or all of them. Believe it or not, she is the prosaic landscaper of the family. It gives her great advantage over me, I who let my dreams overshadow my reality all to easily. " Darcy chuckled.
"By the way, I noticed you didn't call me William in front of your mother. Why was that?" Elizabeth looked slightly uncomfortable.
"Well, if I had, she would have immediately assumed that if we weren't engaged already, we had a very good understanding. Somehow I didn't think it was a good idea." Instead of laughing, as she had intended, Darcy looked at her with a curiously intent look. It made her uncomfortable, and she shifted under it nervously. When she looked at him again, the look was gone. They talked of other matters until the tea was gone. Darcy stood up, saying,
"Where is your father's library? I have something I need to discuss with him." Elizabeth looked at him, puzzled, but said,
"Come with me. I'll show you."
As she left him with her father, she slowly made her way to the sitting room and her family's version of the Spanish Inquisition. As she knew they would be, they were waiting for her to open the door. When she did, they pounced.
"Why is he here, Ellie?"
"Where is he now?"
"What did you talk of?"
"Did he try to kiss you?"
"Are you engaged?" Elizabeth held up her hand to stop the barrage of questions.
"He was kind enough to bring Jane and myself home, he is closeted with Papa in the library, we spoke of many things, and he did not try and kiss me." Her mother jumped on a previous statement.
"Closeted with your father in the library, Ellie! That can mean only one thing! He must be asking for your hand in marriage! Oh, my dearest child! My angel! You have reached past any of my ambitions for you! Oh! I think I shall faint!" Elizabeth rolled her eyes and said,
"Mama, he is not asking for my hand in marriage. He probably just has some. . . . business to discuss with Papa. It's very simple. Please don't leap to conclusions." Lady Bennet stared at her daughter.
"Why, of course he is! What other business could he possibly have to discuss with your father?" Elizabeth thought about this, and was unable to come up with an answer.
"I don't know, Mama, but he is not asking to marry me." Her mother just humphed, and was silent. Elizabeth, unable to stand any more, stood and made her way into the hall. She was headed up the stairs to Jane's bedroom, when she heard a voice call, "Elizabeth!" It was Darcy. She turned, a few steps above him, her face questioning.
"Elizabeth, I have to tell you something. I love you. I think I have ever since that ball when I was fool enough to say you were not handsome." He waited for her to react to this, but she was past reactions. She was very much startled. "Elizabeth? Do you think you could love me?" She raised her eyes to his, which were full of hope and fear and tenderness and passion, and she could see he wanted to kiss her. So, as she was beyond words, she stepped down one step, and threw her arms around his neck. Never slow to a challenge, Darcy kissed her, and she kissed him back as she had wanted to since the ball, in spite of his remarks on her beauty. When he finally released her, she kept her hands on his shoulders.
"William! Are you sure?" He laughed delightedly, like a child.
"Never surer of anything in my life, my darling. Will you marry me?" She stared at him.
"You must be joking." His face fell a little, but when he looked at her he saw she was merely confused, not disbelieving.
"I most certainly am not. Will you marry me?" She looked at him quietly for a minute. Then, with a joyful smile that was like the sun breaking from behind the clouds, she flung her arms around his neck again, and said,
As they strolled along the paths and roads that meander over the countryside, Elizabeth and Darcy came to see that they had even more in common than they had originally thought. They found the same things amusing, and all it took was a look between them to send both off into silent paroxysms of laughter. Carefully stifled, of course. This happened quite frequently in Lady Bennet's company. Katherine and Lorena, the two youngest, were only interested in men, and Mary, the third child, pretended an interest in books to make up for her failure with the other sex. Kitty and Lena were pretty girls, but the frequently made immodest and strident comments, and acted in a similar fashion. If Darcy blushed, he would have done so for the two. He was frequently made to wonder how such a family could have produced Elizabeth and Jane.
Lord Bennet was a hard, cold, avaricious man. All Darcy had to do to gain his permission for the wedding was to jingle his moneybags. It had taken the best part of an hour before the other man was satisfied with the marriage settlement. Darcy was sure that the man would sell his daughters to anyone if the price was right.
Lady Bennet was a foolish, brainless woman, who's occupation was visiting and news. Her ambition in life was to marry her five daughters to the richest, most socially advanced men she could. Elizabeth had realized that dream. Although he was a baron, Darcy was the richest, most influential, most socially powerful man in the kingdom. Young men and boys were told to emulate him, men admired and trusted him, and women swooned-- it was uncertain whether the number of women who wished to marry him outnumbered the women who wished to bed him. He was well known for his valor and courage, his social graces, his integrity, his cleverness in managing the extensive lands and responsibilities left him by his father at an early age. Lady Bennet was in heaven. Now if only that nice Lord Bingley would get on with Jennet. . . .
A week later, Elizabeth stood at the door of Longbourn and saw her fiancÚ off with a kiss. He was going to London, to meet with his solicitor and draw up the papers for the marriage settlement, and arranging how much pin-money Elizabeth would have to the satisfaction of her father. He also thought he would redecorate the master suite in his town house, and stop in at Rundell & Bridges and see to both finding the rings, and getting the family jewels reset.
Shortly after, Lady Bennet and her two eldest daughters left for London to see to Elizabeth's trousseau. They visited the premier dressmakers, and many assorted shops on Bond Street. Elizabeth had eight morning dresses, nine afternoon dresses, twelve evening gowns, fifteen shifts, assorted underclothes, eight night rails, six wrappers, twenty pairs of slippers, sixteen pairs of stockings, four cloaks, two muffs, fifteen pairs of gloves, fifteen bonnets, six pelisses, and assorted reticules, parasols, shawls, and several pairs of sturdy jean boots. They returned to Scotland considerably more laden down. As they reached Longbourn, they began to sense that something was wrong. It was so. . . . quiet. As though all were asleep, or Kitty and Lena were gone. Lady Bennet stuck her head out the window, and said,
"Wherever can they all be? BENNET! KITTY! LENA! MARY! WE'RE BACK! WHERE ARE YOU?" Elizabeth and Jane removed their hands cautiously from their ears and exchanged amused glances.
"Whew! Mama is almost as good as Miss Bingley!" Elizabeth remarked with a grin. Jane looked surprised.
"Really? Is Mama that bad?" Elizabeth thought.
"Well, Miss Bingley would still win, if I were a betting woman I would put my money on her, but Mama definitely comes a close second." Jane laughed.
"Now that would be interesting. We should get them together. I wonder who would win that shouting match?" She was cut off as it became necessary for the girls to grab onto the back of their mother's dress to keep her from falling out the window.
"BENNET! KITTY! LENA! MARY! COME OUT TO GREET US!" Elizabeth and Jane rolled their eyes and got out of the carriage. They gave directions to the coachman that the trunks were to be taken up to Miss Elizabeth's chambers, and what didn't fit was to go in Miss Jane's. As the three walked into the house, Lady Bennet was at it again. "HELLO! WHERE ARE YOU ALL?" Lord Bennet poked his head out from around his library door.
"Shut up, woman! Send in Elizabeth, would you? There's been a change of plan." Lady Bennet clutched her throat.
"A CHANGE IN PLAN? NOT DARCY, BENNET! HE IS THE MOST ELIGIBLE PARTY IN THE KINGDOM!"
"Just do it, woman, and shut up!" Bennet slammed the door. Lady Bennet delivered the message and then fainted into Jane's arms. With trepidation, Elizabeth made her way to the library.
"You are no longer marrying Darcy." Elizabeth was confused.
"I beg your pardon, Papa. I thought you said. . . . "
"You are not marrying Lord Darcy. You are marrying Lord Wickham. I've arranged it." Elizabeth stood staring at her father.
"Why, my lord?" Even Bennet could not mistake the coolness in her tone, or the change of address.
"Because I said so. He has offered a much more generous settlement than your Darcy. You will marry Wickham within the month and forget your knight in shining armor."
Elizabeth left the library in a daze. Her mother and Jane were waiting for her, and their anxious looks made her communicate.
"Papa is marrying me off to Lord Wickham. Apparently his offer was for more than Darcy's." Jane and Lady Bennet were in states of shock only slightly less advanced than Elizabeth's. Then Lady Bennet began screeching.
"WICKHAM?! BENNET! YOU WILL BE THE RUIN OF US! ELIZABETH CAPTURES THE RICHEST MOST ELIGIBLE, POWERFUL MAN IN THE KINGDOM AND YOU DENY HIM!" She really did faint this time. The two girls ignored their mother, and Jane, one arm around Elizabeth, helped her sister up the stairs. When Elizabeth got to her chamber, she curled up in a little ball of misery. Jane asked gently if she should go, and Elizabeth nodded. Shutting the door softly, Jane crossed the hall to her own room and began to think.
Later that afternoon, Darcy arrived at Longbourn, rings, papers, and family jewels in tow. Jane met him, as Elizabeth was too miserable to get up. She brought him up the kitchen stairs to Elizabeth's room and let him in. Darcy stood in the doorway looking at the ball of misery that was his beloved. He crossed to her and picked her up, settling her in his lap.
"Lizzy? What is it, darling? Why are you so sad?" Elizabeth put her arms around his neck, buried her face in his shoulder and burst into tears. This upset Darcy even more, but he held her close, murmuring comforting things in her hair, interspersed by kisses. After a little while, Elizabeth stopped crying and hunted for a handkerchief. He gave her his, and said, "Now, dearest, whatever has happened to upset you so?"
"Papa says I can't marry you-- I have to marry Lord Wickham! His settlement was larger!" Darcy stiffened, and said in a quiet voice that was cold as ice,
"What?" Elizabeth nodded, still sobbing convulsively.
"That's what he said! He said we can never see each other again. His actual words were, 'and forget your knight in shining armor. . . . '" She burst into tears again. Darcy held her so tight she thought her bones would break, but she liked it. It made her feel cherished and protected and she somehow knew that Darcy would make everything right again. When she had control of herself again and mopped her face with the sopping handkerchief, Darcy took her face in his hands and kissed her, then looked into her eyes and said,
"I'll find a way. Is your father in the library?" At her nod of affirmation, Darcy placed her gently on the bed, told her to sleep, and strode out of the room.
An hour later, Elizabeth, unable to sleep, heard a soft knock on the door. She said,
"Come in," and in he came. Darcy looked ten years older.
"My dearest, your father lost Longbourn to Wickham in a card game. The price Wickham asks for the return of the estate is your hand. That is the settlement." Elizabeth gasped.
"I thought it was entailed?" Darcy shook his head.
"Your cousin Lord Collins signed away all rights to the property when your father found out what he proposed you and threatened the courts. Collins was so frightened he gave up all claim to it." Elizabeth lay back, one hand over her eyes.
"But me? Why me? Why didn't he pick Jane or Kitty or Lena or Mary? Well, maybe not Mary. I don't wish it on any of them either, but they're all prettier than I am." Darcy looked even more pained.
"He wants you. Remember his proposal? But he is taking it further mainly for one reason. Because of me, darling. This is how he thinks to get revenge. And right now, there's nothing I can do about it." He kissed her. "I must go before your father discovers I haven't really left. I will come for you, Elizabeth. Try and postpone the wedding. I promise I will come." With one last kiss and a longing look, he was gone. Elizabeth, after another bout of tears, set her mind to work.
Lord Bennet was not completely without feeling, and when he saw his second daughter looking so woebegone, he readily agreed to the postponement of the wedding. Elizabeth breathed a sigh of relief and wrote to Darcy, telling him that the wedding was postponed for three months. She gave her letters to her best friend to post in town, so her father wouldn't find out. Elizabeth, still tormenting herself to find a solution to the problem, wondered what would happen if she told her father what Wickham had proposed. She decided to do so as a last resort.
Meanwhile, Darcy, who was wholly miserable, paced around the corridors of Pemberley wracking his brains for a solution to the problem. He came up with several. He could get Elizabeth to elope with him. They were, after all, in Scotland, and instant marriage was not difficult. He could challenge Wickham to a duel and make sure he showed up this time, and then kill him. He could kill Bennet. He could purchase the estate back from Wickham and give it to the Bennets. Of these options, he liked the second two best. Darcy was not in a good temper. However, being sensible, he recognized that the last was the best. So, he wrote to Wickham offering to buy the estate for fifteen thousand pounds.
Wickham wrote back a nasty letter declaring that for once, he wasn't interested in money, he wanted Miss Elizabeth in his bed. And, he said, he wanted her there as soon as possible, and without a choice to leave. Needless to say, the second option looked even better to Darcy after this crude and insulting statement. However, to do such a thing would ruin Elizabeth's reputation, and he didn't want to do that to her, and killing Bennet wouldn't solve the problem. So, he was left with the first. So Darcy began to prepare. He made travel preparations, and arranged for one of his carriages with eight horses to wait at a small town twenty miles away from Meryton. He had Pemberley cleaned from top to bottom until it shone, and had the master suite aired and repaired. He arranged for an abigail to be hired for Elizabeth, and wrote to Charles Bingley to tell him of his plans. Charles promised to help, and Jane, whom Charles told with strict promises to secrecy, promised to make sure her sister was packed. She wrote to tell Darcy that the family would all be out, except for her, and that she would have Elizabeth's trunks waiting in the kitchen for him to come as soon as possible. Darcy sent a coach and four men to get the luggage. Jane only kept the dress Elizabeth was to wear for the wedding, and her older clothes. As the trunks had been removed to the attic, Elizabeth didn't notice. Darcy saw to the clothes' removal, and had them pressed and aired, and then hung in the huge wardrobe in what would be Elizabeth's room.
Everything was in readiness when Darcy received the infamous letter from his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam. Fitzwilliam was Colonel of the regiment in Meryton, and Elizabeth and he talked often. She, because he was Darcy's cousin, and he, because he was Darcy's cousin, and because he felt sorry for her. Darcy had sent off the coach to the small town the day before, and readied himself for a long journey. He had his favorite, fastest stallion, Robin Hood, saddled, and was dressed and ready to go in no time. April 23 was less than a week away, and he had a three days journey ahead of him if he stopped to sleep. He left the next day at dawn. The first two days, he stopped to eat and sleep, but the third, he was slowed considerably by the Eske River, which had flooded and washed away the bridge. There was no ford within ten miles, so there was nothing for it but to swim. Darcy and Robin Hood emerged very wet and battered, and tired. However, there was nothing for it but to go slower and take no rests until they were at Longbourn. Darcy was worried- April 23 was today, she would be married at sunset, and he was still thirty miles away, and it was noon. He was very hungry, but he kept on. An hour and a half later, his horse was back to full strength, and they galloped for three miles, and then trotted and cantered for six. Galloped again, then walked, and so on, until, as the sun was beginning to set, Darcy arrived at Longbourn. Fitzwilliam had written that there was to be a fete before the ceremony, and Darcy had arrived too late for dinner, but just in time for the dancing. He swung down from Robin Hood, tied him to a tree, and walked into the hall. The room was silent as he entered, all eyes turned towards him. Then Lord Bennet strode up.
"Do you come in peace or in war, or to dance at our bridal, young Lord Darcy?" Darcy bowed to the company before facing Bennet and replying,
"I long wooed your daughter, my suit you denied, love flows like the Solway but ebbs like its tide. So now I come with this lost love of mine to lead but one measure, drink one cup of wine. There are maidens in Scotland more lovely by far that would gladly be bride to young Lord Darcy." All were still but Elizabeth. She came forward with a goblet, kissed the rim, and gave it to him. He drank it in one gulp, and threw it down. "Now, dance with me, Elizabeth." He took her in his arms, and danced. All watched. Elizabeth's sisters and cousins and friends stood watching, and whispered the thoughts that all were thinking.
"It would have been better if Elizabeth could marry Lord Darcy." All saw Darcy bend and whisper in Elizabeth's ear, all saw her smile and nod. As they neared the door in their circuit of the room, Darcy grabbed her hand and they ran out the door. He tossed her up, and mounted swiftly, and off they went. The company were so shocked that it was minutes before anyone could say a word. Then, Bennet called for his horse, as did his friends and kinsmen. They rode after them, but could not find them. Elizabeth and Darcy arrived in the small village where the coach was. Darcy left one of his men with Robin Hood, with orders to return to Pemberley by easy stages. He left a purse with the man, then gave the driver the order to spring the horses.
They arrived at Pemberley five days later, where the clergyman waited to marry them. They bathed and dressed, and were married.
Darcy showed Elizabeth the main rooms of Pemberley, and then brought her to her chamber. He, thinking her silence meant displeasure, said,
"If you don't like it, you can redecorate it. I was going to, but I wasn't sure what you would like." She shook her head vigorously.
"Oh, no! I love it. It's just what I always wanted my room to be, light and airy, yet cozy and inviting. I wouldn't change a thing." She turned to him, her pleasure clear in her eyes and her happy smile. He kissed her.
"I love you, Elizabeth Jubilee Darcy. You make the world worth living in." She kissed the tip of his nose.
"I love you, William Lochinvar Darcy. You make the sun rise for me." They grinned, and Darcy said,
"Look in the wardrobe." Giving him a surprised look, Elizabeth opened the doors of the huge wardrobe. She gasped.
"My clothes! However did you get them here?" He grinned again and strolled over to lean nonchalantly against the vanity.
"Oh, I had a few accomplices. Namely, Charles and Jane." Elizabeth laughed joyously.
"They would! Oh, I'm so glad they're our friends!" Darcy agreed. He walked to the vanity again and opened the jewel box. He drew out a gorgeous necklace of rubies and emeralds, which he fastened around her neck.
"All the family jewels are, of course, yours, but I thought as the first piece, this was perfect for you. It was bought by one of my ancestors for his wife to replace the diamond necklace, because he thought that diamonds were cold and that the rubies and emeralds properly expressed both the passion he had for his wife, and the passion that was in her. It reminded me of you." As he finished clasping the necklace, she turned in his arms, a slow fire in her eyes.
"And the passion I have for you, William. Thank you. The necklace is beautiful." She smiled, and kissed him.
Many miles away, Lord Bennet read the letter left for him by Lord Darcy. It stated that Darcy had bought the estate from Wickham, and he was giving it to Bennet as the marriage settlement. Bennet's "WHAT?!" of horror and relief was heard all over the country.
Jane and Charles Bingley were married from Pemberley, and Charles sold Netherfield to settle near Pemberley at Levelands. They were very happy, and the intercourse between the two houses was frequent and very much enjoyed.
Lord Wickham married Lena, and they stayed at Longbourn after Lord Bennet's death. Lady Bennet predeceased him, and Mary and Kitty both married landed but untitled gentlemen and lived happily ever after.
Elizabeth and Darcy lived happily ever after. They stayed mainly at Pemberley, where Elizabeth and Georgiana became the best of friends. They had four sons and five daughters, and lived to a ripe old age.