Posted on Monday, 29 April 2002
Mr. Bennet looked at his favorite daughter sadly. "Lizzy, my love, you know that I would never choose to cause you pain. Yet I cannot immediately refuse Mr. Collin's request to marry you. Although I know such a marriage could not make you happy, you must consider the future that faces your mother, your sisters, and yourself. I must take the rest of the day to consider these questions, and I will state my decision tomorrow."
Elizabeth Bennet's eyes filled up with tears. "Father, why? You said that you know I could not be happy with such a man. Why must anything else be considered? I would do almost anything for this family, but I cannot do this!" With that, she ran out of her father's library and the house.
Elizabeth had never run so fast or far in her life. She would have kept running had she not nearly careened into a horse. Its rider looked at her and nodded his head.
"Miss Bennet, are you all right?" asked Fitzwilliam Darcy. "You appear quite distressed."
It being the day after the Netherfield ball-the day after their uncomfortable dance--, Elizabeth could find little pleasure in running into Mr. Darcy. But his eyes betrayed a certain warmth and she had to tell SOMEONE what she was going through.
"At the risk of melodrama, I have been running away from my doom. Mr. Collins proposed to me! I refused, of course, but my father will not take my side and insists on weighing all the factors before he makes his decision. I could become the unhappiest woman in the world upon the morrow."
Mr. Darcy's heart sank. Miss Elizabeth Bennet-HIS Miss Elizabeth, he realized now-could never marry that sycophantic oaf. Darcy could not imagine visiting his aunt at Rosings, seeing Mr. Collins with Elizabeth, knowing that she belonged in Darcy's home, in Darcy's bed, in Darcy's heart. He wondered just how long he had loved Elizabeth, and he wondered if it would ever matter.
He alighted from his horse and suggested Elizabeth walk with him to Netherfield, where they could perhaps sit in the library and discuss how they could change Mr. Bennet's mind.
"No one else is there, they are all in Meryton," he told Elizabeth. "We intend to leave Netherfield tomorrow for London and they are making some travel purchases."
"Leaving Netherfield!" exclaimed Elizabeth. "Does the party intend to return?"
Darcy told her that he did not know. He did not want to tell her that they were leaving to protect Bingley from an imprudent marriage, she did not need any more unhappiness today.
Posted on Monday, 29 April 2002
They reached Netherfield and continued to the library. Elizabeth and Darcy sat opposite each other, in front of the fireplace. He gestured to a servant and whispered a few words. In moments, the servant returned with a pot of tea and pastries.
"Now tell me, Miss Bennet, why do you think your father might compel you to marry Mr. Collins?"
"Our estate is entailed to Mr. Collins," explained Elizabeth. "He can take possession of Longbourn the moment my father dies, and then what of my mother and sisters? Who can say if any of us will wed, and if so, if our husbands will have the ability or desire to provide for their in-laws. Only by marrying Mr. Collins can I ensure the well-being of those I love most."
"And you are the fortunate woman he fixed his attentions on?" said Darcy with a smile. "Not Miss Bennet or Miss Mary Bennet?"
"I'm sure Mary would love to speak of Fordyce with Mr. Collins for the rest of her life, but she will not have the opportunity, nor do I wish her to have it. Mary deserves better. And Jane belongs elsewhere." She said the last quietly, but Darcy had little doubt as to its meaning.
Elizabeth continued. "And yet despite those reasons, to be married to Mr. Collins! To have Lady Catherine de Bourgh as a patron! Forgive me, for I know she is your aunt, but after what I have heard of her from Mr. Collins and Mr. Wickham, I do not think we could happily co-exist a lane apart."
Darcy bristled at the mention of George Wickham. Although he knew how insufferable his aunt could be, he hated the thought of Wickham speaking to his Elizabeth. What had he said? What lies had he been spreading?
He took a thoughtful sip of tea. "Miss Bennet, while I acknowledge that my aunt has her flaws, I think you should realize that Mr. Wickham is not what he claims to be. As someone I deeply. . . respect, I think it is necessary that you be told the truth. I think that, if you are to consider all the possibilities of your future, it is necessary to know everything. I also ask that you tell me the complete truth, for disguise of any sort is my abhorrence. Tell me, Miss Bennet, what has Mr. Wickham told you?"
Posted on Monday, 29 April 2002
She set her cake down and slowly told Darcy of Wickham's claims that Darcy had taken his living, that Miss Darcy was a proud girl, that the Darcys in general were an ill-mannered and untrustworthy family. Darcy's face flashed red at hearing these descriptions, but he recovered himself before speaking again.
"I suspected those are the stories he would spread. Please allow me to defend myself. Wickham and I grew up almost as brothers, and until I was a young man I had no reason to suspect him of having anything other than a good nature. But once we entered Cambridge, there was little doubt that he had become a most profligate sort. I would return to our dormitory to see him drunkenly entertaining a woman of ill repute-pray pardon me for using such language, Miss Bennet. When my excellent father died, Wickham told me he had no interest in entering the church and would rather receive a sum of money that would allow him to study law. I doubt he took but one course; I am certain he gambled all that money away. He undoubtedly wanted more of the Darcy fortune, as I found out most painfully just this past August.
"Unbeknownst to myself and my sister Georgiana, who is but fifteen, Wickham had long been friends with the woman I had enlisted to take Georgiana to Ramsgate for the summer. I had no idea she was so little to be trusted, for she told Wickham to come to Ramsgate and allowed him to woo Georgiana and convince my sister-my trusting, kind-hearted, most sweet-tempered sister-that she loved Wickham and would elope. Thankfully I learned of the scheme in time to stop the elopement. Had Wickham been successful, he would have had full rights to Georgiana's thirty thousand pounds, and I have little doubt how quickly he would have tossed her aside after he had used her for his basest and most mercenary needs." At that, Darcy shuddered and a tear formed in his eye.
Elizabeth could only murmur her sincerest apologies.
Darcy continued. "I know that I am merely offering my story to counteract Mr. Wickham's, but I hope you will consider the merit of what I am saying."
Elizabeth could not speak, for she was deep in thought and staring at her hands, clasped in her lap. At last she looked up at Darcy.
"What a fool I have been! It never occurred to me how inappropriate it was for Mr. Wickham to tell me about his life so soon after we had met. And his lies-he had sworn he would attend the ball last night, but instead made Denny give the excuse that he was afraid to face you. Who can doubt why, knowing the truth of how he hurt you and your sister? I know I have not always been the kindest judge of you, Mr. Darcy, but I do not believe you would make up that sort of tale about Miss Darcy. Please forgive me for thinking so ill of you."
"There is nothing to forgive, Miss Bennet. You are a kind and good-natured woman, who would have no reason to suspect Wickham of deceit. He is an exceptionally charming man and I was unconscionably rude at our first meeting. But I now fear that your opinion of me might sink, for there is another truth that I must confess."
"This is about why you are leaving Netherfield, is it not?"
Darcy nodded. "After the ball concluded, Bingley revealed to me that he planned to propose to your eldest sister. His sisters and I persuaded him to do otherwise. I cannot speak for what his sisters said, but I told him that there was no evidence that Miss Bennet returned his feelings and he should not place himself in a loveless marriage. Bingley acquiesced and so we are to leave for London tomorrow."
It was now Elizabeth's turn to redden. "Jane not love Bingley! How could you be so presumptuous as to make that determination? My sister may not display her emotions fervently, but her love for your friend is deep and true. If you heard the way she speaks of him, you would have no doubt of her feelings. It is not YOUR choice who my most beloved sister is and is not to marry. Oh, why did I think I could trust you to help me!"
She arose and began to walk to the library door. Darcy stood up as well and grabbed Elizabeth's arm, turning her around to face him. He looked deep into her eyes and what he saw terrified him. Elizabeth despised him. He had to rectify this.
"Miss Bennet, I have no doubt that as her sister, you have the greater knowledge of her feelings. It is not too late, I shall tell Bingley as soon as he returns. If he loves your sister and she loves him, then nothing should stop them." He paused, seeing her quizzical look. "Yes, Miss Bennet?"
"I was wondering, sir, if you might be so kind as to release my arm, for I very much would like to return to my seat and cake."
Darcy looked at his right hand, still holding Elizabeth tightly by her elbow. It felt so natural to hold her, almost as though they were one flesh. With regret, he let his hand fall.
Returning to his seat, he resumed speaking. "Despite what you might have believed, I have great admiration for you and your eldest sister's manners and bearings. I must admit, to be truthful, that some of what I saw from the rest of your family last night was not as pleasing." He was surprised to see Elizabeth nodding in agreement.
"My mother and sisters are all good people, but I also was embarrassed by their want of propriety. I wish that Mary could be a little more lively and Kitty and Lydia a little less so. And I wish that my mother would not speak so loudly in public about her schemes and hopes. But despite all that, I love them and my father deeply, and I pray that you respect that." She could see from his eyes that he did.
Posted on Monday, 29 April 2002
They sat quietly for several moments. Then, with the slightest shudder, as if remembering what had brought her to Netherfield that morning, Elizabeth spoke again.
"We appear to have drifted from our original topic, Mr. Darcy. How are we to persuade my father that I cannot marry Mr. Collins?"
This is it, thought Darcy. You either tell Elizabeth how you feel or risk losing her forever to that silly man.
"Because I love you, Miss Bennet. And if you will allow me to pay my addresses to you, I shall tell your father of my feelings and intentions toward you and that he has no reason to promise you to your cousin, because I will ensure your security and that of your mother and sisters." His eyes pierced Elizabeth as he said this. At the word "love," a blush spread across her cheeks, but still she looked back at him.
"I know this confession must surprise you, Miss Bennet," Darcy continued. "I cannot expect that you already return my affections and I am not, at present, asking you to marry me. Though I do wish fervently for that to happen, for now I wish only to be able to court you and prove to you and your family my worth and my devotion to you. And now," he said with a smile, "despise me if you dare."
"Indeed I do not dare," whispered Elizabeth. "I cannot truthfully say that I love you, but I can say that I respect you as a person and have a growing admiration and will accept your addresses. But Mr. Darcy, what if my father disagrees? What if he decides that a certain marriage, however unpleasant, should take place now, rather than wait to see how my feelings develop for you?"
Darcy stood up and walked to Elizabeth. He took her hands and pulled her up. "I doubt he'll have to wait long, Elizabeth," he murmured, as he leaned down and kissed her gently.
Elizabeth smiled. "You certainly have a direct way of paying court, Mr. Darcy."
"Pray forgive me, Elizabeth. I should not have been so presumptuous. I am most likely also too quick to call you by your Christian name. Shall I call you Miss Bennet?"
Elizabeth shook her head. "No, I like when you call me by my name. The way you say "Elizabeth," no one has ever said it like that before. And please be assured, Mr. Darcy, that I shall tell you at once if anything you do causes me discomfort. What happened between us just now was not the least bit unpleasant."
Darcy breathed a sigh of relief. "In that case, Elizabeth, I have one request, if it is acceptable. Please call me Fitzwilliam, or William, at least when we are in private. I can understand if you wish to call me Mr. Darcy elsewhere." She nodded her assent.
"Then I think," he said, leaning in to kiss Elizabeth again, "that all we have left to do is to write a note to Bingley and proceed to Longbourn."
"Actually, Mr.-I mean, William-there is one thing I must ask. I did not mention this before because I did not imagine it would turn out to be so important. Wickham said you are betrothed to your cousin Anne de Bourgh. Is this true? I would not want you to break a bond you already made, for my sake."
"My aunt Catherine wishes I would wed Anne, and has stated her wishes frequently, but my parents made no such request and I have never had any intention of marrying my cousin. I am nearly eight-and-twenty, Elizabeth, and I have my own home and my own wealth. Lady Catherine can make no demands on my happiness and how I choose to live my life." With that, Darcy took Elizabeth's elbow and escorted her to the desk, where he took a piece of paper and a quill from the top drawer and began to write a note to Bingley. With every sentence, Darcy looked to Elizabeth for approval of his words. When the note was complete, Darcy sealed it and wrote "Ch. B." on the front.
Posted on Monday, 29 April 2002
With everything set, he and Elizabeth walked out of the library. Darcy waved Bingley's valet over.
"Horsley, be sure to give this to Mr. Bingley directly. Under no circumstances should Miss Bingley or Mrs. Hurst see this note," Darcy pressed the note into the valet's hand.
Horsley bowed. "Yes sir, as you wish. Do you and Miss Bennet require any further assistance?"
"We shall be taking my carriage to Longbourn, so we will seek assistance at the stables, but thank you, Horsley."
The carriage ride to Longbourn was brief. Darcy spent the whole ride staring in adoration at Elizabeth, but she was too nervous to return his gaze. What a day this had been! she thought. A proposal from one man and a declaration of love from another! And from Mr. Darcy, no less. She wondered how long he had loved her and thought how cruel she had been to tease him.
Darcy fairly leaped out of the carriage when they reached Longbourn. He extended his hands to Elizabeth and gently lifted her out. When she was safely on the ground, Darcy took her hands and brought them to his lips.
"A kiss for courage, before I speak with your father," he smiled.
They walked up to the front door, and Elizabeth knocked.
"Miss Bennet!" exclaimed Hill when she opened the door. "Mrs. Bennet, Miss Elizabeth has returned!"
Mrs. Bennet sprang from her chair. "Oh Lizzy! You have not been kidnapped by gypsies after all! Do you not care what you did to my nerves by running off? I want you to go into the library immediately and apologize to your father. Oh Mr. Collins will be glad to hear you are back! He quite pined for you these few hours, Lizzy, you should know." She suddenly noticed that she and Elizabeth were not alone.
"Mr. Darcy," Mrs. Bennet said with a perfunctory curtsey. "What brings you here?"
"I had the good fortune of discovering your daughter, Mrs. Bennet. I now ask permission to speak with Mr. Bennet. Miss Elizabeth, will you escort me to the library?"
Elizabeth and Darcy were surprised when Mr. Collins answered the knock at the library door. From the look of things, it appeared that he and Mr. Bennet had been engaged in serious conversation.
Darcy entered the room and bowed. "Mr. Bennet, may I have a private audience with you?"
"About what, Mr. Darcy? I hope it is important, for Mr. Collins and I have much to discuss."
"It is, sir, it concerns Miss Elizabeth."
"And what concern is MY Elizabeth to you, Mr. Darcy?" asked Mr. Collins, in an ill-begotten attempt to appear manly.
Your Elizabeth! thought Darcy. You are lucky I am a gentleman, or you would be splayed across the floor, clergyman or not.
"I am not your Elizabeth, Mr. Collins," replied the young lady. "I thought I had made that perfectly clear. I am going to speak to Jane. Father, please let Mr. Darcy have that audience. At least grant me that, if nothing else."
Mr. Bennet, who truly had difficulty refusing Elizabeth anything, unless he felt it was in her own best interest, acquiesced and asked Mr. Collins to also leave.
"So, Mr. Darcy," he said as the two men sat down. "What do you want with my daughter?"
Posted on Sunday, 5 May 2002
Meanwhile, the Bingley party had returned to Netherfield.
"I shall certainly miss this place tomorrow," sighed Charles Bingley. "What a jolly time we had!"
"Oh Charles, you cannot mean that!" declared his sister Caroline. " A silly burgh like this! What delights await us in London. Oh, how I long to see Miss Darcy! Now there is a model for young womanhood."
Within a moment of re-entering the house, Bingley was approached by Horsley.
"Sir, I was given strict instructions to hand this note directly to you."
Bingley took the note. He could see from the handwriting that it was written by Darcy and wondered what his friend could have to say. He walked to a chair near the fireplace and sat down.
His sisters had already returned to their chambers, so they could not see the joy that spread across his face when he read the following:
You know that I do not make decisions unless I am certain I am right. It turns out that I am not always right. I had the great pleasure of meeting with Miss Elizabeth Bennet this morning, and it was revealed to me that I was completely wrong about her elder sister's feelings. She assures me that Miss Jane Bennet holds a deep and lasting affection for you and would gladly accept your addresses. I wrongly thought that what was serenity was indifference. Can you forgive me? Come to Longbourn at once. Miss Elizabeth and I are there, and we await you with pleasure.
"Horsley, come with me to the stables! I must go to Longbourn!" Bingley shouted with joy.
Posted on Sunday, 5 May 2002
Mrs. Hill soon had the opportunity to answer the door at Longbourn for the second time that day. This time she saw a beaming Mr. Bingley.
"Mrs. Hill, I hope you are doing quite well today," Bingley said with a smile and bow.
"Mr. Bingley!" exclaimed Mrs. Bennet, who could not believe the comings and goings at Longbourn that day. "What an honor to be visited by you, the day after the Netherfield ball. I must thank you again for the delightful time our family had. Would you like some refreshments?"
"You are kind, Mrs. Bennet, but I must decline. I was hoping to speak with your eldest daughter. Is she here?"
Mrs. Bennet could barely contain her excitement. Jane would soon be engaged to Mr. Bingley! Five thousand a year! And so close to Longbourn!
"Hill, please go to Jane's room and ask her to come down."
Mrs. Hill did as told and returned with Jane and Elizabeth.
"Miss Bennet, Miss Elizabeth," said Bingley as the sisters entered the parlor. "How do you do? I hope you are well today."
"Why yes sir, we are, thank you," replied Jane.
"Excellent, excellent! Miss Bennet, I was wondering if I might be able to induce you into taking a stroll with me? I fear there will not be many more pleasant days this year, and I would dearly hate to miss such a lovely opportunity."
Jane turned toward her sister. "Lizzy, it is a lovely day. Would you like to join us? It is a shame that Kitty and Lydia have already gone to Meryton and Mary hardly ever walks."
Elizabeth gaily shook her head. "Oh Jane, thank you, but I have a book I've been longing to finish. Have a delightful walk!" Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Bingley silently thanking her.
After Bingley and Jane had left, Elizabeth walked toward the library door. Why is it still closed, she wondered. What could be going on?
Posted on Sunday, 5 May 2002
"I am interested in your daughter's welfare," replied Mr. Darcy. "We were at Netherfield this morning and she explained that she does not wish to marry Mr. Collins and fears she will be compelled to do so."
"Yes, yes," nodded Mr. Bennet. "But why should this be of concern to you?"
Mr. Darcy stood up and paced across the room. He poured himself a glass of claret and returned to his seat.
"Mr. Bennet, over the past weeks I have had many opportunities to converse and socialize with Miss Elizabeth. During this time, I have developed a very sincere and strong affection for your daughter. I love her very dearly and, with your permission, would like to court her. It is my uppermost wish that she learns to love me and that we marry, and then there will be no doubt as to the security of your wife and the other Miss Bennets."
"Doe she wish to be courted by you? I thought she had no affection for you, Mr. Darcy."
"She does wish it and I believe her feelings have changed, for she told me she respects me. I love your daughter too much to force her to feel something she cannot. Please, Mr. Bennet, allow me this. I can make your daughter far happier than Mr. Collins, is not this important for your favorite child?"
Mr. Bennet sighed. "You are too late, Mr. Darcy. Moments before you arrived, I had told Mr. Collins that his proposal would be accepted. I saw no reason to wait until tomorrow to make my decision. I cannot risk you using Elizabeth as your mistress and not living up to your word. I love my daughter but she is a headstrong girl and I worry that if she does not marry now, she may scare future suitors away."
"My mistress!" blurted Darcy. "I am a gentleman, Mr. Bennet! My intentions are pure; I would never sully Elizabeth's reputation. Yes, Mr. Bennet, I call her by her first name, and it is with her approval. You would sell your daughter to a man who cares naught about her? How can you do this to your dearest child? I will not allow the woman I love to be treated like chattel."
Mr. Bennet stood up. "It is of no business to you, Mr. Darcy, how I treat my daughter. Do you think this was an easy decision for me? No, it was not. But the future and security of my family depends on this, and it is my responsibility to make the most rational decision. Elizabeth marrying Mr. Collins is that decision. If you will now excuse me, I must bring them back to the library." He stared at Darcy, still sitting with a look of disgust on his face. "I ought to ask you to leave, but something suggests that you ought to stay."
Elizabeth's heart was pounding when she entered the library. She had never been so nervous. She hoped that her father would accept Mr. Darcy's proposals, but when she saw the look on her would-be suitor's face she knew that little good could have come of the meeting.
Mr. Bennet took his daughter's arm and led her to a chair. "Sit down, Lizzy. I want you to say hello to your future husband, Mr. Collins. You shall be wed in two weeks."
Elizabeth's head fell and she began to weep. "Father, no! Did not Mr. Darcy speak to you of his affections? I do not see why this must be done!" She looked up to see a stone-faced Mr. Bennet, a crestfallen Darcy, and a smug Mr. Collins. Two weeks until she would lose any chance at happiness.
Posted on Sunday, 5 May 2002
A much happier encounter was occurring in Longbourn's gardens. Jane and Bingley quietly walked among the shrubs and flowers, both too nervous to make small talk.
Jane spoke first. "Mr. Bingley, I must thank you again for last night's festivities. I cannot recall a more enjoyable dance."
"Not even the Meryton Assembly where I first had the honor of meeting you?"
Jane blushed. "That WAS an enjoyable dance as well, sir. But everything about last night was especially lovely."
Bingley looked pleased. "I am so glad you approve, Miss Bennet. Your approval means a great deal to me and I shall always seek it. There is, however, one thing I seek even more." He turned to Jane and took her hands. "Miss Bennet, almost from the very first moment we met, I have had the deepest admiration and love for you. Would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?"
Jane, who was not known for overflowing emotions, broke into the biggest smile imaginable. "Oh Mr. Bingley-Charles-yes! I love you so very much, you have made me the happiest woman!"
"I am glad of that, Jane," replied Charles with an equally broad smile, "for you have made me the happiest man." He brought Jane's hands to his mouth and softly kissed them.
"Let us go to my family at once," Jane exclaimed. "I cannot keep them from this happiness for a moment longer."
The newly-engaged couple could not have expected the sight that faced them when they returned to the house. They could hear Elizabeth's loud sobbing and Mrs. Bennet's nervous shouting, for she had entered the library moments after Elizabeth.
Charles cautiously knocked on the library door.
"Who is it?" shouted Mr. Bennet.
"It's Bingley, sir. I wish to speak with you."
"Come in, everyone else is in here, we might as well increase the merriment."
Bingley and Jane entered. Her eyes immediately swept toward her sobbing sister, and Jane rushed over to put her arms around Elizabeth. Bingley saw his friend's heartbroken face and wondered what had happened, for he had sounded so cheerful in the note.
"Mr. Bennet," asked Bingley, "might I have a private audience with you?"
Mr. Bennet laughed. "I've had enough private audiences today, whatever you have to say can be said in front of everyone."
Bingley walked to Jane and put his arm through hers. "Mr. Bennet, I have asked your daughter to marry me, and she has made the happiest man alive by accepting my proposals. I ask your permission to make her my wife."
Mrs. Bennet nearly fainted away. "Oh Jane! You lucky girl! I knew all this beauty could not be for nothing! Of course your father will give permission, will you not Mr. Bennet?"
Mr. Bennet was delighted to finally have good news, though he fervently wished that the next few days would not be so eventful. With a smile, he gave his consent, to the delight of the room, with the exception of Mr. Collins, who thought Mr. Bingley of little use since he could not grant livings. Despite her sadness, Elizabeth expressed her deepest joy for her sister. Though Jane was truly happy, she could not bear to see her dearest sister so unhappy. Jane knew what had transpired at Netherfield, and she could only imagine what had taken place since. She whispered a few words to Bingley, and then addressed the others.
"If everyone does not mind, I am going to take Lizzy and accompany her to her room."
"Let me escort you," offered her fiancé. "Then I shall go to Netherfield and share the news with my sisters. Darcy, are you coming with me?"
Darcy, who had uttered barely a word beyond "Congratulations," rose from his chair and sighed deeply. "Yes, Bingley, I am. It seems I am little needed here," he added with a catch to his voice and a longing look at Elizabeth.
Posted on Tuesday, 14 May 2002
Jane and Elizabeth lay down on the younger sister's bed, Elizabeth's head resting against Jane's shoulder. Her sobbing remained unceased.
"Oh Jane, what am I to do? Father is compelling me to marry Mr. Collins. You know that the well-being of our family means everything to me, but how could father treat me so?"
Jane stroked her sister's hair. "Surely there is a solution, Lizzy. There must be. Especially with Bingley and I to marry, we could readily provide for everyone. I am sure that there is no need for you to marry Mr. Collins, if that is father's only reason. It has been a long day, Lizzy, so let us speak to father and mother tomorrow. They cannot refuse us if we explain ourselves."
"I hope you are right," Lizzy sighed, "for I dread these coming weeks most horribly. Oh Jane, I know I sound selfish, but can you and Charles be sure to keep myself and Mr. Collins always in your sights? I fear he might try to-"
"Of course, Lizzy. I should hope Mr. Collins would have enough respect not to force an embrace upon you but I understand your concerns. But I wish very much that Mr. Collins will never have such an opportunity."
Although it was close to dinner time, neither girl had any desire to eat. Lizzy was still too devastated, and Jane was too overcome by feelings of joy for her engagement and worry for her sister. They hoped to just sit and talk quietly, but those wishes were dashed when their younger sisters rushed into Elizabeth's room.
"Lizzy! You poor thing! Marrying Mr. Collins! How horrible!" proclaimed Lydia. "But Jane! Mr. Bingley! He is no redcoat but he is so rich and charming! What a day this has been! Kitty and I were teasing Denny and Wickham most frightfully, weren't we?"
Oh no, Wickham, thought Elizabeth. Jane and I must tell our family what we know.
Kitty nodded. "When they put their coats down so we would not have to walk through a puddle, we picked up the coats and ran with them like mad. Then when they tried to follow us, Denny tripped into the puddle and was covered with mud! We could not stop laughing." She laughed again as she told the story, and even Jane and Elizabeth could not help but smile.
"It is very disrespectful to treat someone's clothes like that," sniffed Mary. "Jane, I am so happy for you that you have found your helpmeet. Elizabeth, I think you should embrace your destiny. You are a fortunate woman who will have a man devoted to his faith and to you. What more could any woman want or expect?"
"Someone who loves me, Mary," replied Elizabeth in a low tone.
Posted on Tuesday, 14 May 2002
Bingley instructed a Longbourn servant to ride his horse to Netherfield, so he could join Darcy in the carriage.
"Thank you for the note, Darce. I have never read words that have brought me more joy. But I cannot be wholly happy, seeing how you suffer. Might I ask what happened?"
Darcy briefly related what had occurred between him and Elizabeth and their conversations with Mr. Bennet. He concluded with, "And in two weeks she will become Mrs. Collins. I feel as though my heart has been ripped from my chest. I do not know what to do. Should I retreat to London and try to forget about Elizabeth? Do I stay here? I know I must go to London tomorrow, for I must retrieve Georgiana. But then what? I do not know what I should do."
The carriage had reached Netherfield, so Bingley suggested they continue their conversation in the library, after he had revealed his engagement to his sisters and Mr. Hurst.
Louisa and Caroline reacted just as one would expect to the news that Jane Bennet was to become their sister after the new year. Hurst mumbled a congratulations and went back to his roast beef.
In the library, Bingley appealed to Darcy in much the same way his fiancée did to Elizabeth.
"Surely Mr. Bennet has no need to make Lizzy marry Mr. Collins! I will tell him tomorrow that no matter what happens to Longbourn, his wife and daughters will always be able to find a home with Jane and me. He is not an unreasonable man, Darcy, I am sure he will agree that there is no need to enforce this marriage upon a beloved daughter. Surely I am right!"
Darcy shrugged. "I hope you are, Bingley. I had been wrong about Jane at first and I hope to be wrong about Mr. Bennet. The thought of Mr. Collins touching Elizabeth! Putting his lips to hers. Do you know, I thought of challenging him to a duel. But that cannot be, a gentleman could never force a clergyman to fight, and I cannot see Elizabeth loving a man so quick to shed blood. So for tomorrow at least, I shall entrust my fate to you while I go to London. I think I shall stay for two days and then bring Georgiana back here, if that is acceptable?"
"Of course Darcy! You know my sisters and I delight in seeing Georgiana! But do not tarry any longer for we have but little time to spare."
Posted on Tuesday, 14 May 2002
As he had promised, Bingley was at Longbourn the following morning, before breakfast had been served. He immediately sought the company of his fiancée and Elizabeth Mr. Collins was thankfully still asleep.
Tucked in a corner near the fireplace, the three were pleased to see they agreed that Bingley and Jane should talk to Mr. Bennet. They decided it must be done immediately after breakfast, as there was no time to waste.
"I think it best that just Jane and I speak to your father, Lizzy," suggested Bingley. "I truly think that we shall be able to convince him and then, when Darcy returns to Netherfield the day after tomorrow with Georgiana, we will be able to delight him with the news. And we shall be able to enjoy this afternoon much better. Jane, my sisters have postponed their trip to London until tomorrow because they wish to have tea with you today and personally welcome you to our family. Lizzy, I would very much like if you could come too."
"We shall be delighted Charles," Jane assented.
"Yes," replied Elizabeth, "plus, it will provide me an hour or two away from Mr. Collins."
By the time Mr. Collins had come to the dining room, breakfast was on the table. Mrs. Bennet made sure he was seated next to Elizabeth, who tried her best to avoid speaking to him. But he had the vexing habit of brushing her arm whenever he reached for a muffin or slice of ham.
"Why don't you two take a walk into Meryton after breakfast?" suggest Mrs. Bennet. "I am sure the Phillips would love to see you. I have already sent notes to them and the Lucases to join us for dinner tonight to celebrate the engagements."
"I do not think that very proper," Jane replied, "for they cannot go without a chaperone, and Charles and I wish to speak to father after we eat. Surely a walk can wait until we are available?"
Mrs. Bennet waved her hand impatiently. "Oh Jane, a man like Mr. Collins certainly needs no chaperone! And if they want, Lydia and Kitty can walk with them to Meryton."
Lydia and Kitty, however, professed no desire to walk into town that day, and so Elizabeth found herself with the distasteful prospect of walking alone with Mr. Collins.
Mr. Bennet agreed to speak to Jane and Bingley, and as soon as breakfast had been finished, they entered the library. Elizabeth was then obliged to follow Mr. Collins.
Posted on Tuesday, 14 May 2002
"What can I do for you, dear Jane?" asked Mr. Bennet
Jane and Bingley proceeded to explain that they could more than provide for all the Bennets, in the unhappy event of Mr. Bennet's death. They gently urged Mr. Bennet to release Elizabeth from the engagement since now there could be no need for the marriage.
Mr. Bennet sat quietly for several moments. At last he coughed and said, "Jane, I value your argument, but I cannot accept it. While the marriage might not be necessary for the family, I maintain it is necessary for Lizzy. I have made a promise to Mr. Collins and I do not intend to break it. Your and Bingley's generous nature will serve you well but it has no role here."
A disappointed Jane and Bingley left the library and went to the sitting room to write letters announcing their engagement and consider other ways they might be able to help Elizabeth and Darcy.
Our heroine, meanwhile, was doing her very best to keep Mr. Collins from touching her. She kept her hands clasped behind her back, and when Mr. Collins turned to face her and attempted to place a kiss upon her lips, she turned just in time so that he touched nothing but her cheek. It felt and smelled, thought Elizabeth, like a wet towel.
"My beloved Elizabeth, why do you refuse my embraces? I recognize that you were an elegant young lady when you persisted on refusing me, but now that we are to be husband and wife, there can be no need for such elegance."
"Please forgive me, Mr. Collins, but with our wedding in less than a fortnight, I thought it best that we wait until then to kiss. I believe that by waiting, our appreciation of each other will increase," Elizabeth fibbed.
"Mr. Collins! My love, call me William. We are to be married, let us not stand on ritual. You must stop refusing me my wishes."
Again Elizabeth fibbed and said she would rather wait until they were wed to speak to him so intimately. Inward she thought, call you William! There is but one man I shall call William, but one man whose kisses I will accept.
She was very glad when they reached her aunt and uncle Phillips, because Mr. Collins was much less uncomfortable to be around when in a group. She hoped the visit would steel her against the walk home. And then, only a few hours until she could go to tea at Netherfield. Funny to think that seeing Caroline Bingley would be a blessing, but since Mr. Collins had acknowledged that he could not attend a ladies-only tea, it would at least be a respite from him, and Elizabeth could not have too few of those.
Posted on Tuesday, 14 May 2002
Elizabeth was not surprised to see her father approach her when she returned from town, but she was unhappy when she learned how Jane and Bingley failed to persuade Mr. Bennet.
"You know, my Lizzy," said Mr. Bennet, "I am quite surprised that you have any interest in Mr. Darcy at all. I thought you quite despised him, and what of Wickham?"
"I was very wrong about both men, sir," replied Elizabeth, and here she related what she had learned of Wickham. Out of respect for Miss Darcy, Elizabeth referred to the target of Wickham's scheme as only "a wealthy young lady of his acquaintance."
"So you see," she concluded, "that Mr. Darcy is not the proud unfeeling man that we thought, and you must take care that Kitty and Lydia are kept from Mr. Wickham." To her great relief, her father agreed to the latter, though she was not sure what he now thought of Darcy.
Later that afternoon, Jane and Elizabeth departed with Bingley for Netherfield. Jane was quite eager to see Caroline and Louisa, for she did not know that they had wished for Bingley to not marry her. Elizabeth, who of course knew better, was curious to see how Bingley's sisters would act.
Caroline Bingley was all that was charming and false. Louisa Hurst, to her credit, decided to give Jane a chance, for Louisa loved her brother and thought that perhaps he was better-equipped to make these important decisions than they had originally thought.
"I am quite grieved that we cannot see you these four weeks," cooed Caroline, "but we had made these plans to visit our friends in London before we had come to Netherfield. Indeed, we were to have left today but when Charles told us the wonderful news, we told him we would not budge until he brought you to us."
"And we understand we are to congratulate you as well, Miss Elizabeth," said Louisa.
Elizabeth could only stammer out a thank you, though she was able to glance at Caroline's smirk. Silly Miss Bingley, thought Elizabeth, this does not bring Darcy any closer to you.
At the close of tea, Elizabeth and Jane extended an invitation to Caroline and Louisa for dinner, but they declined, saying they wished to spend a quiet evening at home before departing for London. So it was only Bingley that returned to Longbourn with them.
Although Elizabeth had to put up with the noisy congratulations of Aunt Phillips and Sir William Lucas at dinner, she could at least take comfort in the presence of her best friend, Charlotte Lucas. Jane and Bingley had eyes only for each other, so Elizabeth spent most of the evening chatting with Charlotte and doing her best to ignore the noxious man at her right.
Unfortunately, she could not complete monopolize Charlotte. Elizabeth spent some very uncomfortable minutes on a couch with Mr. Collins, who again kept trying to grab her hand. His fiancée, however, had discovered how delightful such occupations as needlework and sketching could be, and she kept both hands steadily occupied until Charlotte was again free to chat.
"Oh Charlotte, I am so glad you are here tonight," whispered Elizabeth once she had dispatched Mr. Collins to the Phillips. "It is taxing my mind severely to think of ways to avoid Mr. Collins."
Charlotte, who at 27 often thought it unreasonable that any woman should complain about a future husband, sighed.
"Elizabeth, I can see you are unhappy but really, is it wise? Mr. Collins might not be the man of your dreams but he has a good income and will not mistreat you. I am sure most women do far worse than that, and we cannot all be as lucky as Jane. You must think of the benefits to your family, the assurance that Longbourn will be there for your family. I would not think it so very horrible to be married to such a man."
Elizabeth was surprised at Charlotte's reaction but said nothing, instead turning the conversation to more agreeable subjects.
At the close of the evening, Mr. Collins stood up.
"My dear Mrs. Bennet, this dinner was perfectly elegant, such enjoyable company! I dear say that the Lady Catherine de Bourgh would have been perfectly pleased. How I wait in anticipation for my noble patroness to meet my beloved Eliza, for I am sure that Lady Catherine will be most pleased by Eliza's modesty and affability."
"Oh Mr. Collins, you are too good to us!" exulted Mrs. Bennet. "How we shall miss you when you and Lizzy leave for Hunsford. Oh, that it were not 50 miles away, that is all that could make me unhappy about this match."
Were it 50 feet away, thought Elizabeth, I would not welcome you or father.
Posted on Wednesday, 22 May 2002
The next two days passed quietly. Jane and Bingley kept their promise to Elizabeth and so, despite the best efforts of Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Collins, Elizabeth had to spend only a few minutes alone with Mr. Collins. On those occasions, she continued to assiduously avoid his attentions. If he were a reasonable man, she thought, he would see how little she likes him and release her from the engagement. But then, she would reflect, he WAS Mr. Collins, and had he been a reasonable man, they would not be in this situation to begin with.
Her thoughts often turned to Darcy. She knew he was expected back at Netherfield very soon and she wondered how he had been. Did he feel as hopeless as she?
On the day of Darcy's return, Bingley was away from Longbourn from early afternoon until after supper. When he arrived, he beckoned his fiancée and her sister over.
"Darcy is eager for both of you to meet Georgiana," he told them. "I told them I would bring you promptly after breakfast. He was unhappy when I told him our audience with Mr. Bennet was unsuccessful but I believe he is doing his best to keep his spirits up."
"I look forward to seeing him and meeting Miss Darcy," replied Elizabeth, "but do you think my parents will approve of my seeing William?"
Jane was certain it would be no problem, for she and Bingley would be there as chaperones, although there was concern over how to keep Mr. Collins from joining them. Although neither lady took pleasure in lying, they decided to fib that it was a ladies-only gathering. And since Mr. Collins had no idea that Bingley's sisters had departed for London, it was easy to make him believe the story. Mr. Bennet appeared a bit incredulous, but Jane and Elizabeth ignored that.
Elizabeth was nervous as she entered Netherfield. Although she knew there was probably very little chance of their ever being sisters, she hoped that Georgiana Darcy would like her. And she wondered if William would look at her as he had only a few days earlier.
On the first question, Elizabeth had little reason to be nervous, for as soon as she and Jane entered the parlor, a pretty young woman with a shy smile stood up and curtseyed.
"You must be Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth Bennet," she said. "I am Georgiana Darcy. My brother and Mr. Bingley have said so much about you, I am delighted to make your acquaintance."
"And we yours," replied Jane sweetly. "I hope your trip was pleasant?"
"Oh yes, very. Please do sit down. Would you like some refreshment?"
Jane and Elizabeth politely declined, saying they had just breakfasted. The younger sister scanned the room and wondered where Darcy could be. She took a seat near Georgiana, while Jane and Bingley sat on a couch.
At last he entered.
"Hello. I apologize for not being here when you arrived but I was writing a letter. You are both well I hope?" His eyes scanned Elizabeth and he took comfort in the notion that she was as unhappy as he. Darcy wished he had reason to be happy but at least he could feel that Elizabeth hadn't surrendered to an unwanted fate.
Knowing her sister's discomfort, Jane kindly replied for both of them.
Georgiana turned to Elizabeth.
"This is such a pretty county, Miss Elizabeth. I have had little opportunity to see England outside of Derbyshire and London, plus occasional visits to Kent to visit my aunt. I went to Ramsgate this past summer but did not find that quite so pleasant." She smiled wanly. Elizabeth's heart went out to the girl, who had been so mistreated by a man she thought she loved.
"What do you think of Kent?" asked Elizabeth.
"It is fine I suppose, but not nearly as beautiful as Derbyshire," her companion replied with a smile.
Darcy moved toward the two ladies.
"Georgiana," he asked, "have you spoken to Miss Elizabeth about your mutual love of music? I have only had an occasion or two to hear Miss Elizabeth play, but few things have brought me more pleasure. Save your playing, dear sister."
His sister looked at him archly. "There is no need to place 'Miss' before her name, Fitzwilliam. You have already told me how you feel."
The idea that William had shared his feelings with his sister gratified Elizabeth. He really must value her to speak so readily to Georgiana.
"I would be delighted to hear you play, Georgiana," said Elizabeth. "Jane, would you like to come to the music room with us?"
Jane looked up from the book she was reading with Bingley. "Oh thank you Lizzy, but I think I should like to sit here a little longer."
Darcy excused himself to write another letter and so Elizabeth and Georgiana departed for the music room.
The two young women spent a pleasant half-hour playing and singing. Georgiana was especially talented, though her shyness and modesty would not allow her to accept Elizabeth's compliments without considerable blushing.
While Elizabeth played a pretty Scottish tune, her companion commented, "I do so hope there is a solution to all of this, for I do not think I could wish for a sister more pleasant than you. I knew from the letters Fitzwilliam sent that he was quite enchanted by you. He spoke of your vivacity, your intelligence, and your unstinting love for your sister. When I saw how unhappy he was when he arrived in London, I would not rest until I knew what had happened."
"I am glad that you have hope, Georgiana, for there are times when I know not what to think. But let us think of happier topics such as what song to play next."
Engrossed as they were in the music, neither woman noticed the man standing at the doorway.
The two women I love best in this world, he thought. How many more opportunities will I have to see them together?
Posted on Wednesday, 22 May 2002
Elizabeth had trouble hiding her pleasure the next morning when Mr. Collins told her he could not, sadly, spend the day with her because he had many important letters to write concerning the parish. She wished him a pleasant day and headed to Netherfield with Jane.
Once there, they, Bingley, Darcy, and Georgiana discussed how to free Elizabeth of the engagement.
"Lizzy, Charles and I have been talking and we think the only choice is for you and Darcy to elope."
Darcy stood up.
"No, I will not allow any woman I love to elope. Elizabeth deserves better than that."
"He is right, Jane," said her sister. "I admit that the idea of eloping crossed my mind, too, but no matter how much I dislike Mr. Collins, we cannot bring such humiliation to our parents."
Jane had to admit they were right and the company sat several minutes in silence.
"Perhaps," suggested Bingley, "we could find some unpleasant information about Mr. Collins."
Darcy shook his head. "I fear my aunt takes great pride in ensuring the good character of her employees." He bowed his head. "I do not know what to do or think, every solution seems to have its own obstacle. It has been months since I have felt this hopeless."
It was now Georgiana's turn to speak.
"Elizabeth, why not speak with your father again? Surely he has seen your unhappiness this past week. Now that he can see how miserable this marriage would make you, I am certain he could not refuse you."
"I'm convinced my parents do not want to notice anything," sighed Elizabeth. "And I have been trying to show my complete indifference to Mr. Collins but he pays no mind. He sees that I am always avoiding his attentions but still he will not relinquish me. Why oh why must he be so stubborn." Elizabeth dropped her head in her lap and sobbed briefly. When she looked up, she saw Darcy staring at her in empathy and compassion.
It was then that Elizabeth realized she loved him. She knew he could be a proud man, but she also recognized that his affection was deep and loyal. Elizabeth knew that from his relationships with his sister and with Bingley-though he had been wrong in his attempt to separate his friend and Jane, Elizabeth realized that Darcy had good intentions. She knew, too, that he respected her; even when she teased him, he sought her opinion. He might be proud, but he was by no means inflexible. And it broke Elizabeth's heart to realize that her love would probably come to nothing.
Until . . .
"I would not think it so very horrible to be married to such a man."
Elizabeth smiled. "I think I might have a solution; but I cannot speak of it yet."
Posted on Wednesday, 22 May 2002
The following afternoon, Elizabeth sidled up to Mr. Collins, who was hard at work on yet another effusive letter to Lady Catherine.
"Mr. Collins, it is such a pleasant day, shall we not walk to Lucas Lodge? I have been quite eager to see Charlotte, and since she is my best friend and you are to be my husband, I think it a very good idea that the two of you become friends."
Mr. Collins, delighted that Elizabeth was at last paying him the proper attention, eagerly arose from his chair. For once, his noble patroness would have to wait.
Lucas Lodge had not yet been graced by the compliments of Mr. Collins, but he soon rectified that oversight.
"Miss Lucas, Rosings would not be at all ashamed to be neighbor to this abode! The furnishings so very elegant, the grounds so charming. Everything bespeaks of your father's stature and your mother's graces. Lady Catherine has been so condescending as to agree to come to the wedding of my dearest Eliza and myself, and I shall be sure to show her Lucas Lodge, for she cannot help but approve of the excellent breeding of my dearest's most beloved friend." At last he took a breath. "And your servants, so well-mannered! You seem to have a nice little downstairs maid. I believe I missed her name?"
"That is Molly, Mr. Collins," Charlotte replied. "She has been with us these three years and is quite a favorite with Lizzy and myself. In fact, Molly turned sixteen a few weeks ago, and Lizzy gave her a pen and sketchpad. Lizzy, I must show you the sketches Molly has drawn, they are very nice for so one so little educated."
Mr. Collins bowed toward Elizabeth. "My dear Eliza, your generosity toward those beneath you will be most pleasing to Lady Catherine and I need not add myself, for it is just the sort of manners that a parson's wife requires."
Elizabeth merely smiled and sipped her tea.
Mr. Collins returned to his praise of Lucas Lodge, and Charlotte was delighted to hear his compliments, silly though they may have been. They discovered that they had traveled to many of the same places and laughed to learn that they had more than one mutual acquaintance.
Elizabeth offered a comment or two to the conversation but mostly, she silently exulted over her success. She could not, however, be wholly happy with what was going on, for she dearly loved Charlotte and felt that her scheme was not without its pain. But Elizabeth recollected that, while she would be truly miserable with Mr. Collins, Charlotte would have the good sense to make the marriage, if not happy, then at least pleasant and bearable.
"I am sorry to interrupt," Elizabeth said, standing up. "But I have lost track of time, and I must get to town for a wedding dress fitting. No, Mr. Collins, there is no need to get up. If you wish, you may meet me at the dressmaker in two hours."
Mr. Collins sank back into his chair and continued his discussion with Charlotte, looking up only when he saw the maid enter.
"Miss Molly, could you get me another slice of cake? There's a good girl. Now, then, Miss Lucas, where were we?"
Elizabeth left with a smile, and that smile grew broader when Mr. Collins suggested the next day that they return to Lucas Lodge, and when she discovered he had gone there once by himself the following day.
Posted on Wednesday, 22 May 2002
There was now less than one week before the wedding. Although Elizabeth continued to believe she could turn Mr. Collins' affections toward her friend, she knew that there was not much time to assure her success. Though he HAD said to her, after dinner one night, "how nice it would be to have a maid like Molly at Hunsford." I am sure Charlotte would love to bring Molly with her, thought Elizabeth.
The hardest part for Elizabeth in those remaining days was being at Netherfield in the company of Mr. Darcy. It was one thing for him to kiss her when they believed the engagement with Mr. Collins would not be sanctioned, but now they both knew it was inappropriate and had to content themselves with longing glances and the occasional brush of hands. Elizabeth was certain that Darcy knew of her affections but she continued to fear that she might never get to voice them. Oh Mr. Collins, fall in love with Charlotte! She will withstand your silliness with a dignity you could only hope to attain!
Elizabeth delighted in her growing friendship with Georgiana, though there was pain in the realization that, should they meet again, it would most likely be at Rosings, not as sisters at Pemberley. Other than Jane, she doubted she could have found a sister more pleasing than Georgiana.
Jane was as happy as anyone could expect her to be. She spent virtually all her time with Charles, and neither Elizabeth nor Darcy would begrudge them their happiness. Of course, Jane and Charles being who they were, they could not be wholly happy, knowing that two people they loved dearly were in a most arbitrary situation. They continued to be optimistic, however, certain that Mr. and Mrs. Bennet would see the folly of their decision before it was too late.
It did seem possible that Mr. Bennet would change his mind. Elizabeth was beginning to notice her father's increasing exasperation with Mr. Collins. Mr. Bennet sighed frequently after his cousin's proclamations; with three days till the wedding, Mr. Bennet nearly left the dinner table when Mr. Collins took nearly a quarter-hour to compliment the family on the quality of their butter.
I shall speak to father tomorrow, Elizabeth vowed. Perhaps he finally sees how disadvantageous this marriage would be.
Posted on Thursday, 30 May 2002
With two days remaining until the wedding, Kitty and Lydia decided to walk to Meryton so they could purchase new bonnets and jewelry to wear at the nuptials.
"La, how adorable that bracelet will be with my green muslin," said Lydia, gazing at a display case.
Kitty, who had completed her purchases, stood a few feet away at the store's window. "There goes Wickham. How horrid to hear what he did! I know it was hard for us to believe father, Lydia, but I am glad we have. Surely now is no time to face father's displeasure."
"Certainly not," agreed Lydia. "I would not like to end up like poor Lizzy, forced into a marriage on father's whims. Though I do think Wickham not so horrible as the rest of you, but since he is not allowed at Longbourn anymore, and father will not let me go to town by myself as long as the regiment is here, I imagine it does not signify."
After a few moments, Lydia selected a bracelet and pair of earrings to match her bonnet and dress, and when she had finished her shopping, the sisters exited.
"Let us take the shortcut through that alley," Lydia suggested.
As the girls turned the corner into the alley, they noticed a couple in the middle of a passionate embrace. Kitty, startled, dropped her bag. The man turned around.
"Mr. Collins!" exclaimed Lydia.
Kitty looked over at his companion, now leaning against the wall and sobbing.
"Molly! What is all this!"
Mr. Collins stood to his full height. "I see no need to explain this to you, cousins."
Lydia grabbed his arm. "Oh, but you DO need to explain it to our parents and Lizzy. You are coming with us to Longbourn. I think you should join us as well, Molly."
"Perhaps we should stop at Lucas Lodge first," suggested Kitty.
Within an hour, Sir and Lady Lucas, Mr. Collins, Molly, Elizabeth, and Mr. and Mrs. Bennet were gathered in Longbourn's library.
Mr. Bennet paced in front of the fireplace. Mr. Collins looked implacable, while Molly continued to sob. Mrs. Bennet moaned as quietly as she could, while the Lucas stared in shock at their maid. Elizabeth sat stunned at the bizarre turn of events.
"I am so ashamed," the girl sputtered. "I have done a wretched thing and I will leave Lucas Lodge directly. Oh Miss Bennet, can you ever forgive me?"
Elizabeth went to Molly and gently placed a hand on her shoulder. "You are too kind and humble a girl to have knowingly done wrong. Will you please tell us what happened?"
Molly looked up at Elizabeth. Afraid to face the stares of the others, she directed her narrative at Elizabeth.
In a soft voice, she said, "In the past week, Mr. Collins had been a frequent visitor to Lucas Lodge. I thought it was because he enjoyed speaking with Miss Lucas and Sir William. However, two days ago, he visited when neither was present. When I told him of their absence, he said he had come to see me. I asked what he meant and he told me, 'A man such as I has many needs. I am marrying my cousin to secure myself an heir, but she cannot meet all my desires. A pretty girl such as you is what I need.' And then he put his arms around me and kissed me. I told him that he should not be so cruel to Miss Bennet and he laughed and said, 'Silly girl, I will teach you the ways of the world' and kissed me again. I felt I was doing something very wrong but could not tell anyone. I did not see Mr. Collins yesterday. Today, I was out doing my daily errands when Mr. Collins came upon me and pulled me into the alley. He said that the other day's kisses had awakened passions in him that he had to fulfill and he grabbed me and began to kiss me again. And that is when Miss Kitty and Miss Lydia came upon us."
Lady Lucas stood up and walked toward Mr. Collins.
"This is how you treat a poor servant girl!" she nearly shouted. "How can you defend yourself?"
Mr. Collins shrugged. "I was doing the proper thing toward my future wife, taking care so that my manly passions will not be hers to bear alone."
Mr. Bennet, still pacing, turned toward his cousin.
"If you are speaking of my daughter, Mr. Collins, you are mistaken, for she will NOT be your future wife. This engagement is no longer sanctioned."
"But Lady Catherine will arrive tomorrow, the wedding is in two days! What am I to say to her?"
It was now Mr. Bennet's turn to shrug.
Molly still sobbed. "What will happen to me? I know I cannot stay at Lucas Lodge, where am I to go?"
Sir William walked to Mr. Bennet, where the two men conversed quietly for a few minutes.
"Molly, there is only one solution, we fear," began Sir William. "It might not be the fairest but it is the only way to make Mr. Collins atone for the way he has compromised you. The two of you must marry on Saturday. You deserve better, Molly, but there can be no other solution."
"That hardly seems fair," interjected Elizabeth. "Just because I have regained my freedom to choose does not mean Molly should lose hers."
Molly shook her head. "Sir William is right, Miss Bennet. It was wrong of me to not reveal what Mr. Collins did two days ago and if I must pay for my folly this way, then so be it. And it cannot be so very bad, for now I will no longer be a maid."
Mr. Collins became nearly apoplectic (Mrs. Bennet, of course, already was).
"Married to a maid! Never! What will Lady Catherine say! To have such a wife at Hunsford! So near to Rosings!"
"Blast Lady Catherine and Rosings!" shouted Mr. Bennet. "You found yourself in this situation, Mr. Collins, and you will do what is right to mend it. What you say to your patroness is up to you, but do not think of imposing your thoughts on us. Now, if all of you could leave, I wish to speak to Lizzy in private."
Once they were alone, Mr. Bennet looked apologetically at his daughter.
"Oh Lizzy, can you ever forgive me?"
Elizabeth looked at her father for a long while. At last, she replied, "I do not know, father. I imagine it will happen in time, but it is too early. If only you had not forced your will upon me, all this would not have happened. I would not have suffered, Molly would not have suffered. I hope that she is somehow able to find happiness, and maybe one day I can too."
"Perhaps Mr. Darcy will renew his addresses."
"Perhaps he will, father, but who knows when that might be? Propriety forbids him from acting too soon. If he DOES ask, however, know that I will say yes and I will marry him, no matter what you or mother wish." With that, Elizabeth left the library to return to her room and await Jane's return from Netherfield.
Posted on Thursday, 30 May 2002
A week-and-a-half had elapsed since Mr. Collins wed Molly Hall. Upon hearing of the change in bride, Lady Catherine at first planned on returning to Kent without attending the wedding. She changed her mind when she realized that Mr. Collins' fawning would be even greater if she condescended to remain.
It was now the morning before Christmas, and Elizabeth sat in the music room at Netherfield, where she and Jane were spending the day. Elizabeth idly played a few notes while she waited for Georgiana to finish breakfast and join her.
The past days had brought much confusion to Elizabeth, who was no longer certain of Darcy's affections. Though he still frequently looked at her with adoration, there were times when he seemed so reserved--when he called her "Miss Bennet" instead of "Elizabeth," if he said anything at all--that she began to wonder if his initial addresses were driven solely by passion and now, with Mr. Collins no longer a problem, he was beginning to regret what he had once said.
Darcy was presently in London, making Christmas purchases, and not expected back till the evening. The Hursts and Caroline Bingley were to return on Christmas day, and a week later Darcy would escort his sister back to London, where he would most likely stay till it came time to return for Bingley and Jane's wedding in the first week of February.
Elizabeth continued to play the pianoforte until she heard someone enter the room. Expecting to see Georgiana, she looked up and was startled to see her friend's brother.
"Miss Bennet, I hope I am not interrupting you," said Darcy with a bow. "I thought my sister might be here."
"I expect her shortly, Will-Mr. Darcy. Please sit down. Did you have a pleasant trip to London?"
Darcy took a seat near the instrument. "Quite pleasant, I thank you. I am glad to back at Netherfield, however." He gazed at Elizabeth for a moment. "That is a very pretty brooch you are wearing, I do not believe I have seen it before."
"It is a gift from Jane. The two of us have a tradition, we give each other one Christmas present on the morning before. I gave her a small bottle of lavender water."
Darcy smiled. "That is a lovely ritual. Would it be too much if I asked to join that tradition?"
Elizabeth's gaze began to falter and she looked down with a blush. Taking that as a good sign, Darcy moved to the bench and sat next to Elizabeth. Clasping both her hands, he said, "Elizabeth, you know of my love for you. I realize there have been times when I have seemed indifferent, but not once have I wavered in my feelings. It is only because we have been through so much this past month, and I did not know when it would be proper to repay my addresses, and was uncertain of the attentions I should display. Yet I can wait no longer. I have two presents I wish to give you today. One is my heart. The other is this"-he took a box out of his jacket's pocket and removed a ring. "Elizabeth, will you do me the great honor of becoming my wife?"
She looked up and whispered "Yes." Darcy, beaming, slipped the ring on her finger and kissed her soundly.
"I cannot believe my happiness, William," said Elizabeth after their embrace ended. "When I realized that I loved you, I thought that it would be unfulfilled. And yet it gave me courage. Do you know, my intention was to make Mr. Collins fall in love with Charlotte? Do you think me silly for that?"
"Never!" exclaimed Darcy. "I feared that you would not love me because I showed so little initiative, but I had never felt so helpless before. It seemed any solution was impossible. I had at last become determined to interrupt the ceremony and declare my affections in front of the entire church. I had this image in my head of running down the aisle and grabbing you and absconding to Scotland."
"An elopement?" laughed Elizabeth. "After what you had said but a few weeks ago?"
Darcy leaned down and kissed her again. "You deserve far more than an elopement, Elizabeth. But had that been our only option, then I would have gladly done it."
Elizabeth nodded in agreement. "I am glad we did not have to elope, for now we can wed in front of those we love most. But will you promise one thing, William? Will you promise not to seek any other outlets for your 'manly passions'?"
"Believe me, Elizabeth," he said, entwining his fingers in her hair, "that is one promise that there is no chance of my breaking."
It was at that moment that Georgiana reached the doorway of the music room. Seeing the tableau in front of her, she turned away with a smile.
At last, she thought.
Posted on Thursday, 30 May 2002
Happy for all her maternal feelings was the day on which Mrs. Bennet got rid of her two most deserving daughters. Elizabeth and Jane were as lovely as brides could be, and the look on their grooms' faces was nothing less than complete adoration.
And what of the others?
Darcy's cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, attended the wedding. He was immediately taken by the good mind and kindness of Charlotte Lucas, who in return found his intelligence and humor quite appealing. Elizabeth saw how they looked at each other and wasted no time inviting both to Pemberley that spring. By the end of that visit, Charlotte, who thought she would never marry for love, and the colonel, who thought he would never marry at all, found themselves in love and wishing to marry. Her good sense and housekeeping skills made Charlotte a perfect officer's wife, able to adapt to wherever Fitzwilliam's career took them. Elizabeth delighted in receiving letters from Charlotte that described the sights and sounds of the countries she visited.
Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner also attended the wedding and Elizabeth was thrilled at how quickly Darcy learned to love her aunt and uncle. When he discovered that Mr. Gardiner enjoyed fishing, and that Mrs. Gardiner had grown up not five miles from Pemberley, he did not hesitate in inviting them to visit that summer. They would be frequent and always welcome visitors.
After realizing that he was not welcome by the Bennets, Wickham turned his attentions elsewhere. When he learned that Miss Mary King was now an heiress to ten thousand pounds, Wickham assiduously began to court her and succeeded in her agreeing to an elopement. They fled to Scotland, where they wed and stayed for almost two years, until Wickham behaved much as Darcy suspected he would have with Georgiana. Wickham gambled almost all the fortune away and then fled to the Continent with a mistress, leaving Mary pregnant and nearly penniless.
With Wickham gone, Lydia found her fancies turning toward Denny, who had always been a favorite of hers. His friendship with Wickham notwithstanding, Captain Denny was a sensible young man with considerable potential in the military. He had long been fond of Lydia and was delighted when his proposal that April was accepted. They wed shortly before the regiment left for Brighton. Although not as sensible as Charlotte, Lydia turned out to be a better officer's wife than anyone could have expected. She was a silly girl, but she was not a bad one, and her love and respect for Denny improved her greatly. No one could be prouder than she of her husband, and he met all expectations when he was promoted to colonel less than a year after their wedding.
Kitty visited Lydia at Brighton but more frequently found herself at Pemberley, for she and Georgiana had become the best of friends. Miss Darcy's influence made Kitty a sweeter and more charming young lady, while Kitty helped Georgiana become a little less shy. On one visit Kitty met Lambton's new clergyman, a quiet young man named Dennis Sullivan. She soon found herself contemplating that perhaps being a parson's wife might not be such a very bad thing, even if it were not so glamorous as being wed to a redcoat. The joy the Darcys had in seeing Kitty settle so happily and so near them cannot be adequately expressed here. Georgiana was in no rush to marry, as she took so much delight in her brother and sisters' company, as well as doting over the Darcy and Sullivan children. Yet as pretty and charming girls must marry, she did eventually, to a young man of good name and fortune. It was difficult for Darcy to give up his little sister but he took comfort in her being only fifteen miles away and with a man who deserved her.
Mary wed a bit later than her sisters, to one of her uncle's clerks. Caroline Bingley found herself in love with, of all things, a man in trade. He was probably a good deal nicer than she deserved but that is how things turn out sometimes.
Elizabeth gradually forgave her parents and both she and Darcy welcomed them to Pemberley. Mr. Bennet and Darcy slowly became good friends, once they were finally assured that the happiness of Mrs. Darcy was foremost in both their minds.
Jane and Charles were as happy as any couple could be, and even happier when they left Netherfield and found an estate less than thirty miles from Pemberley. They had a large brood of healthy and sweet-tempered children and despite Mr. Bennet's concerns, their servants never cheated them.
And Mr. Collins? He turned out to be quite fortunate in his choice of wife. Molly Collins' sweetness made her beloved by all the parishioners and Lady Catherine could not disapprove of her housekeeping skills. When Anne de Bourgh sadly died several years after the Darcy and Bingley weddings, Catherine turned to Molly as something of a daughter-substitute, and when the formidable lady died many years later, she placed a considerable settlement on the former maid.
Mr. Collins would be a very infrequent visitor to Pemberley, but Darcy and Elizabeth were truly grateful towards the man who, by his misguided and ill-desired proposals, had been the means of uniting them.