Posted On Tuesday, 8 April 2003
Three days before her trip to Hunsford to visit Charlotte Collins, Elizabeth Bennet sat on a bench in Longbourn's garden, reading a volume of poetry from her father's library.
Hearing footsteps, Elizabeth looked up and saw a familiar sight.
"Mr. Wickham," she said with a smile, setting the book down. "How pleasant to see you. Please sit down if you like."
Wickham did as she requested and told Elizabeth how glad he was to be able to find her, for he had wanted to see her before the trip to Kent. "I have received news that I hope will be of as much interest to you as it is to me." Seeing Elizabeth's curiosity, he continued.
"I do not believe I ever told you about my Uncle Robert. He moved to India the summer before I began university and there he made his fortune trading tea. I had not seen him since then, though we corresponded often; he was the most witty and adventurous soul and I always enjoyed his letters. Sadly, I received a letter yesterday afternoon from his attorney, stating that my uncle had passed on."
"Oh Mr. Wickham, I am so sorry," Lizzy interjected.
"Thank you for your kindness, Miss Bennet. But it is not a wholly sad story. My uncle was always generous to me and that largesse did not end. He set upon me an inheritance of ten thousand pounds, to be distributed over the next ten years. Thanks to his kindness, I am finally able to attain my heart's desire." Wickham turned directly toward Elizabeth and clasped her hands. "Miss Bennet---Elizabeth-I now feel that I can provide for your comfort and security. The past several months I have spent in Meryton have been among the happiest of my life, and I have no doubt that it is because of the pleasant companion who sits beside me. Elizabeth, will you make me the happiest man in all of Hertfordshire, nay all of England, and honor me with your hand in marriage?"
Thoughts ran hurriedly through Elizabeth's mind. She had never been so charmed by a man as she was by Wickham. The funny feeling she experienced when she heard him utter her name and declare his affection was surely love, was it not? And so Elizabeth looked into Wickham's eyes and declared, "Yes."
Wickham beamed and grasped his fiancée's hands, bringing them to his lips. "Elizabeth, you have made me happier than I dreamt possible! I have loved you for weeks but I knew with my soldier's income that I could not support you in comfort."
"Nonsense Mr. Wickham! You have nothing to be ashamed about where fortune is concerned, for you have always been honorable. It is another who must take the blame for that. HE should be glad that the wrongs he did to you have now been rectified through the goodness of your uncle. Oh, how happy you have made me. I confess that I have felt a deep affection for you since the night of the Netherfield Ball, though I did not realize it then. But the way I felt when I learned you could not be there was certainly the start of my present affection and devotion."
"Please call me George."
"Yes, George," Elizabeth smiled. She would have said more, but Wickham leaned in to kiss her. It was a stronger kiss than Elizabeth might have expected but she found herself enjoying the sensation.
The couple continued to sit and chat. They decided that because Elizabeth was soon to depart, it was necessary to ask for her father's permission that night. Elizabeth invited Wickham to stay for dinner and he did not hesitate to accept.
Dinner was an unusually quiet affair, as both Elizabeth and Wickham seemed too nervous to speak. After the meal ended, Mr. Bennet left the table to retreat to the library. Wickham waited a few moments before following him. Seeing Wickham's action, Mrs. Bennet looked curiously at her daughter, but Elizabeth would not return the gaze.
Not long after Wickham entered the library, Mr. Bennet came out to the parlor where the Bennet ladies were now sitting and beckoned to his favorite daughter.
"Lizzy, will you please join me in the library?"
Once the three were gathered together, Mr. Bennet began pacing around the room. Much was going through his mind. This was his favorite daughter whose hand had been requested. Did she truly know Wickham well enough? Could Wickham treat her with the respect and devotion she deserved? Could he dare make his daughter unhappy by refusing his consent? No, Mr. Bennet decided at last, he could not.
"Lizzy, if you truly desire to wed Mr. Wickham, then you have my consent. I was concerned about his financial prospects but I am sure that with his inheritance and your sensibility, there should be no fear of living beyond your income. Mr. Wickham, may I tell my daughter the terms of your inheritance?" Wickham nodded, and Mr. Bennet continued. "Lizzy, according to the letter which Mr. Wickham showed me, he is to received fifteen hundred pounds on July 1. Each July 1 for the following ten years, he will receive seven hundred pounds, and at the conclusion of the final year, the remaining fifteen hundred pounds. We have decided that you shall be wed two weeks after the receipt of the initial amount. Is that acceptable?"
"Oh yes Papa, very much so!" cried Elizabeth, flying into his father's arms. "If only I could have met the man who has brought such happiness to myself and Mr. Wickham."
"Well then, let us tell the other Bennet women." replied Mr. Bennet.
The reaction of Elizabeth's sisters and mother was precisely what one would expect. Mrs. Bennet, Lydia and Kitty thrilled over the notion of a redcoat in their family; Mary offered polite congratulations. Jane was in London, so Elizabeth went upstairs to write of her news after Wickham had departed.
I have the most wonderful news. Mr. Wickham has asked me to marry him! We shan't marry till mid-July, I hope I can bear the wait of the next few months. Oh Jane, I am so happy. I never knew how much I cared for him till he called me "Elizabeth" and asked if I would become his wife. There is no doubt in my mind that he will be the best husband I could ever find. Oh, if only I could see you so happy!
Please write to me at Hunsford when you get this letter.
Your devoted sister,
Posted On Tuesday, 8 April 2003
The next two days sped by too quickly for Elizabeth's taste. She spent as much time as possible with Wickham, extracting from him a promise to write faithfully. On the morning of her departure, he arrived early in the morning. Upon entering, Wickham bounded up the stairs and entered Lizzy's room, whose occupant was busy completing her packing.
"George!" she exclaimed. "It is not proper for you to be in my bedroom. I shall be down shortly and we can speak then."
Wickham smiled and reached out to touch her cheek. "Oh Lizzy, I just wish for a moment of privacy with my fiancée. One kiss from her to last me for the next lonely weeks. A taste of your lips will let me glide back down the stairs." Elizabeth, though she felt a little funny under the circumstances, acquiesced, and then Wickham departed as promised.
He had to make do with only a kiss of Elizabeth's cheek a few hours later, when she bid her adieus to him and her family. Elizabeth had never been so sad to leave for a trip and yet so excited, thinking of all she would be able to share with Charlotte. She had hoped to tell her aunt and uncle in London before reaching Hunsford, but plans had changed and so Lizzy had to content herself with writing a letter and the comfort that she would stop in London on the way home.
Elizabeth stayed quiet for much of the trip, leaving most of the talking to Sir William Lucas. Mariah commented on occasion but neither appeared to notice Elizabeth's wistfulness. She had asked her mother not to make the engagement public until she'd had the chance to tell Charlotte, and Mrs. Bennet had somehow managed to keep that promise.
The carriage at last arrived at Hunsford. The parsonage was modest in size but pleasantly situated among flower and vegetable gardens. At the sound of the horses, the Collinses came out the front door and greeted their visitors.
"Father! Maria! Lizzy!" exclaimed Charlotte. "How well you all look! Do come in, we are to sit down for tea soon." Mr. Collins followed with his bows and welcomes, which were met with pleasure by the Lucases, although Elizabeth was too anxious to speak to Charlotte to pay her former suitor much notice.
"Charlotte," she whispered to her friend when they were a few feet away from the others, "I have something I must tell you. May we speak privately after tea?"
"Of course," replied Charlotte, wondering what Elizabeth's secret was.
She found out not much more than an hour later. Charlotte asked her husband to give Maria and Sir William a tour of the grounds, while she showed Elizabeth to her guest room. Elizabeth was very much pleased with the room, complimenting the view from the window and the comfortable furniture. After speaking thus, she turned to Charlotte and exclaimed: "Oh Charlotte, I am so happy. Mr. Wickham has asked for my hand and I have accepted. We are to marry in mid July and you must come to Hertfordshire for the wedding."
"Mr. Wickham? But he has no fortune, how is he to provide for you?"
Elizabeth told of the inheritance. Charlotte nodded and then said, "Lizzy, you know I am happy for you, but are you sure? The life of a soldier's wife must be difficult."
Elizabeth waved her hand impatiently. "Oh I shall not mind it at all. I have always wanted to travel, you know, and with the inheritance and Wickham's income as a soldier, I should be able to do so in reasonable comfort. Do be happy for me Charlotte, Mr. Wickham loves me and I love him."
Charlotte smiled and hugged her friend, keeping her misgivings to herself for the time being.
Posted On Saturday, 12 April 2003
Elizabeth was delighted when letters from Jane and her Aunt Gardiner arrived the next morning. Eager to read them before breakfast, she left the parlor and returned to her bedroom.
Jane expressed her delight over Elizabeth's engagement, declaring that Wickham must surely be a good man to win Lizzy's affections. Mrs. Gardiner sounded surprised at the news, but gladly wished her niece well. Both women looked forward at seeing Lizzy when she arrived in London.
Now that her dearest relatives knew of her engagement, Elizabeth could finally share her news with the Collinses and Lucases. She did so over breakfast.
"Oh Lizzy!" cried Maria with delight. "Mr. Wickham? Oh you will have the handsomest husband in the county."
"Nice young man, and he likes to dance," declared Sir William approvingly.
Mr. Collins was too busy eating sausages to comment.
Elizabeth excused herself at breakfast so she could write to her fiancé. Since they would not see each other for many weeks, both had vowed to write faithfully.
The rest of the day passed quietly. Mr. Collins finally congratulated Elizabeth during dinner, between bites of roast pork.
The next morning brought more mail to Elizabeth-this time, a letter from Wickham. She read it eagerly, blushing at some of the things he wrote. For a moment she longed to be back at Longbourn, but that was tempered by her happiness at visiting Charlotte.
That very friend knocked on the door of Lizzy's bedroom. "May I come in Lizzy?"
"Certainly Charlotte!" said Lizzy, hiding the letter under her pillow. She did not feel it proper for Charlotte to see some of Wickham's turns of phrase.
"Today should prove an interesting day, Lizzy. We have been invited to tea at Rosings. You shall at last meet the vaunted Lady Catherine de Bourgh and her daughter Anne. Be prepared to listen much and talk little," smiled Charlotte. "Oh she has been good to myself and Mr. Collins, do not mistake me. But she DOES take some getting used to."
Lizzy thanked Charlotte for the news and then shared with her a considerably condensed version of Wickham's letter.
Not many hours after their conversation, Elizabeth found herself in one of Rosing's many parlors. The room was furnished in the deepest shades of red, from the velvet drapes to the rugs to the throne-like chair upon which sat Lady Catherine.
"So I hear you are betrothed, Miss Bennet," declared Lady Catherine in a voice that would have frightened Attila the Hun. "Who is he? Who was his family?"
Taken aback by the rudeness of the latter question, Elizabeth nonetheless politely replied, "He is Lieutenant George Wickham, your ladyship."
"Wickham, you say? The name sounds familiar."
"His father was the steward at Pemberley," replied Elizabeth. "Perhaps you saw him on visits?"
Lady Catherine nodded. "Yes, yes, that must be it. And so he is in the army. That income is not much to live on, but I understand from Mr. Collins that there is some sort of inheritance?"
Elizabeth replied affirmatively, briefly describing the terms. Though she felt such information was private, she had gathered enough of an understanding of Lady Catherine to know that this woman would demand to know all.
"Curious business," mused Lady Catherine. "Why did the uncle not put the money in some sort of trust and allow his nephew to live on the interest? Living in India must have done something to the man's mind."
"I confess I had not considered the interest on the inheritance, but I shall be sure to enquire when I next write Mr. Wickham."
After asking Elizabeth a few questions about her sisters and parents, Lady Catherine turned her attentions to Charlotte, so she could share her many theories on how best to plant and dry flowers.
Lizzy was glad to be able to sit and listen quietly, as her mind was now occupied by the inheritance. She wanted to ask Wickham, but was not sure it would be appropriate.
Nonetheless, when the party returned to Hunsford, she penned a letter to Wickham, couching her query in the most indifferent terms she could muster.
Posted On Saturday, 12 April 2003
Elizabeth received her answer a few days later.
Such an interest in finances! Now I shall brag that I have not only the prettiest fiancée in the entire county but the smartest as well. I too wondered about the interest on the bequest and enquired of my uncle's lawyer shortly after you departed. He says that the interest shall be separated from the principal each year and placed in a trust, which we will receive in its entirety after the principal has been distributed. I did not think to tell you, for we need not consider that money for many years. And I confess, Elizabeth, I had many other things I would rather think about. Shall I tell you what they are?
The afternoon after she had received Wickham's reply, Lizzy was walking through Hunsford's gardens with Charlotte and Maria. It was beautiful March day. Though spring was still a week away according to the calendar, the sun shown bright as the women breathed in the scents of the new blooms. While they were gathering flowers for that night's centerpiece, Mr. Collins came running up in a panic.
"You must all come to the parsonage at once! Lady Catherine's nephews are visiting Rosings and wish to call upon us. Mr. Darcy and his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam! Hurry!" Barely pausing for breath, Mr. Collins ran back to the house.
Picking up their baskets, the ladies followed.
"It is a shame that my father left yesterday, he would have been glad to see Mr. Darcy again," commented Charlotte.
Elizabeth did not reply, as she was preoccupied wondering what Mr. Darcy would say when she revealed her engagement.
The men were waiting in the parlor when the ladies returned to Hunsford. After bowing politely, Mr. Darcy gestured toward the tall fair-haired man standing beside him.
"Mr. Collins, Mrs. Collins, Miss Bennet, Miss Lucas, may I introduce my cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam?"
The colonel offered his greetings and then took the seat nearest Elizabeth.
"So you are the famous Miss Bennet," he smiled. Fitzwilliam had an engaging smile, much like Bingley's.
It is a shame that I never saw Mr. Darcy smile like that, thought Elizabeth. We might have been friends if he had.
"Famous? I fear to find out what Mr. Darcy has told you about me."
"Nothing ill, I assure you."
"I am not sure I believe you," replied Elizabeth. "Look at how he watches me. Surely he is finding something to criticize."
Hearing his name being bandied about, Darcy approached the two. He politely asked Lizzy about her health and that of her family, to which he received an equally polite reply. Lizzy then enquired how the past months in London had been, and whether he had perhaps seen her sister.
Stumbling slightly, Darcy replied, "No, I have not had that pleasure. I do hope she is enjoying her time. There are many pleasures to be found in London this time of the year."
The three sat silent for a moment. Maria Lucas's voice broke the quiet.
"Did Lady Catherine tell you of Lizzy's news?" she cried.
Darcy looked toward her. "No, she did not. Miss Bennet, may we ask of what Miss Lucas speaks?"
"She speaks of my engagement to Mr. Wickham."
A flicker of dismay flashed across Darcy's eyes, one that only his cousin noticed. He soon recovered to ask Lizzy when the happy event occurred.
"Three days before I left for Hunsford, sir, when he found out about the inheritance from his Uncle Robert, one that will finally make it possible for him to live as he deserves." Elizabeth barely hid her venom in the final words. "We are to marry in mid-July."
"I was not aware he had an Uncle Robert."
"I am not surprised you did not know that," replied Lizzy curtly, "for his uncle spent many years in India, and it was probably beneath you to take much notice of Wickham's relations. But he has an Uncle Robert, and that good man's generosity made it possible for Wickham and I to acknowledge our mutual affection."
"Well then I congratulate you," declared Fitzwilliam. "And now Mrs. Collins, what think you of Kent? It is a pleasant county, is it not?"
Darcy was thankful that his cousin had turned the conversation away from a topic that was causing Darcy so much pain. Elizabeth Bennet to marry George Wickham! Darcy could not imagine a less desirable fate for either-she was far too good a woman for Wickham, and Wickham could never deserve Elizabeth. And yet, thought Darcy ruefully, it was doubtful Elizabeth would ever see things that way.
An hour after they arrived, the men bid their adieus. They had barely left the front steps of Rosings when Darcy turned to the colonel.
"I do not trust this story of Wickham's at all," Darcy proclaimed. "I am sure there is no Uncle Robert, and I am determined to find the truth."
"I am disturbed too, Darcy. From how you described Miss Bennet, she did not seem the type to fall so completely for lies. But then we both know how charming Wickham can be, when he puts his mind to it. Let me know how I might be able to help."
Darcy thanked him, and the two walked in silence to Rosings.
Posted On Saturday, 19 April 2003
"You look very happy this morning, Lizzy," smiled Charlotte Collins several days after Darcy and Fitzwilliam had visited.
"I am reading a letter from Wickham. He has such a way with words! His stories about Meryton never fail to make me smile, and I am learning so much about him. Did you know that the only sound that frightens him is a dog's bark?"
"Very unusual. Does he say why?"
Lizzy read directly from the letter: "When I was a boy, I visited my grandfather for the holidays. One year I was climbing a tree when I heard the most ferocious barking imaginable. I fell from the tree, broke my leg, and was unable to skate on the pond. I was the saddest little boy you can imagine! But oh Elizabeth, with you by my side, I shall never feel sad again," she concluded, blushing.
"As long as you keep him away from trees, I think Mr. Wickham will be perfectly content," teased Charlotte.
That night was the first time Hunsford had visited Rosings since Lady Catherine's nephews had arrived. After enjoying an expertly prepared dinner-whatever Elizabeth thought of Lady Catherine, she could not fault the quality of the food--, the party retired to a parlor, this one furnished in blue.
"I believe that the color blue is quite flattering to Anne, do you not agree, Darcy?" queried Lady Catherine.
"Oh yes, yes," Darcy replied distractedly.
"I think Miss Anne de Bourgh outshines any color," Mr. Collins piped up.
"You seem a bit out of sorts, nephew. Are you all right?"
"Quite so, Aunt Catherine. I am only a bit preoccupied waiting for an important letter to arrive." When his aunt asked what news he was anticipating, Darcy would only add that it was private and politely insisted that he could say nothing further.
While Lady Catherine spoke to one of her nephews, Elizabeth was conversing with the other. She found Colonel Fitzwilliam an enjoyable acquaintance, and his extensive knowledge of the military made him especially interesting. She eagerly asked him questions about military life and what she might expect by being a soldier's wife.
"It can be a difficult life, Miss Bennet, but if you love your husband, then I am sure it will be worth any struggles." Not that Wickham is worthy of anyone's love, thought the Colonel.
Before the night was concluded, Elizabeth was beseeched to play some music. Her performance was not perfect, but her enthusiasm and obvious love for the compositions made her a delightful player.
A week after that day's events, Charlotte was collecting flowers when she found Elizabeth sitting morosely on a garden bench.
"Dear Lizzy, what is the matter?"
"Oh Charlotte, it has been nearly a week since I last heard from Wickham. Why will he not write? What does he think of me? I am sure it cannot be the post, for I have received letters from Longbourn."
"I am sure he is very busy Lizzy and would not neglect you. Do not make yourself uneasy. It is such a lovely day, you and I and Maria should take a stroll into town. Maria has been wanting a new bonnet and you are a fine judge of those things."
Lizzy laughed. "Well, I have learned a lot from Lydia and Kitty."
Elizabeth did find much to enjoy. She was engrossed in a book a night later when a knock was heard at the parsonage door.
"I wonder who that could be," mused Mr. Collins.
A moment later, the maid entered the sitting room.
"A Mr. Wickham is here."
It took a few moments for Elizabeth to recover from her shock.
"You must be wondering what I am doing here," laughed Wickham. "Colonel Forster has heard that a regiment stationed in Kent is renowned for its training and he wanted one of his soldiers to see things first hand. When I learned that the chosen soldier would be stationed in an inn but 7 miles from Hunsford, I knew I must be awarded the assignment. The colonel is quite the romantic since he married, and he could not resist the opportunity to bring me so close to my beloved."
"Why did you not write me and tell me of this?" his fiancée asked.
"I wanted it to be a surprise. You are not displeased?"
Elizabeth shook her head. She wished to say more, but in front of the Collins and Maria was not the time.
Wickham did not stay long. When he got up to leave, Elizabeth joined him.
"At last we are alone, Lizzy. I shall be here for a week, and I hope to spend as much time as I can with you. Let me kiss you, it has been too long."
Elizabeth turned to look at the parsonage windows.
"Take no mind if they can see, I am sure Charlotte would not stare if she had more to enjoy at home."
Wickham kissed her hand in apology. "One kiss, Elizabeth. Is that not too much for your fiancé to request?" Elizabeth could not resist.
She could not hear Wickham's chuckle as he rode away.
Posted On Saturday, 19 April 2003
Wickham's next visit was the following afternoon. When he entered Hunsford's parlor, he was surprised to see Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam in conversation with the ladies of the house.
"My goodness, what a coincidence!" exclaimed Wickham.
Darcy looked up. "Hello, Wickham. Miss Bennet told us you were in town. Allow me to give you my condolences on the passing of your Uncle Robert. It is a pity I never met the man. Was he an uncle on your mother's or father's side?"
"Erm, my mother's. But I exaggerated when I called him an uncle. In truth he was my great-uncle, but he was so full of vigor that I never saw him as two generations beyond me."
"Ah, a great-uncle, I see," echoed Darcy. "Well I must say that things are looking quite well for you. A sizable inheritance, the hand of a devoted fiancée, and a fortunate military assignment. You must be quite pleased Wickham."
"No more pleased than I," interjected Elizabeth, who was not happy with the tone of Darcy's voice. "Colonel Fitzwilliam, I understand that you also know Wickham?"
The colonel replied that he had but had not seen the man in more than a year.
Darcy, who had nothing further to say to Wickham, resumed his conversation with Charlotte and the colonel. Mr. Collins excused himself to attend to his beehive, while Elizabeth and Maria questioned Wickham further about the goings-on in Meryton.
"I have become the most envied man in all the town," he boasted. "And thanks to your good family, Elizabeth, I have had dinner almost every night at Longbourn. With both my esteemed father and devoted mother gone, it means everything to see the way that Mr. and Mrs. Bennet have welcomed me into their home. I can only hope that I deserve such consideration."
Elizabeth protested that he certainly did. Whether Mr. Darcy rolled his eyes at the exchange is left to the reader.
The following afternoon found Elizabeth walking through the gardens on the outskirts of Rosings. Darcy had noticed her fondness for that path, and accidentally on purpose met her on her walk.
"Miss Bennet, I must apologize, for I feel that I have never properly congratulated you on your engagement. Truly, you look very happy."
Elizabeth replied with some surprise, "Thank you sir, I am quite happy, never have been more so. The only thing that keeps me from perfect joy is knowing how sad my sister Jane has been since winter. I fear that London has not been the cure for her broken heart." She looked at Darcy to see how he might respond, but his face remained impassive.
"I am sorry to hear that your sister is not well. I am sure, however, that your companionship is a source of great comfort."
The pair stood in silence for several moments. Elizabeth was still surprised by his initial comments, and Darcy had no talent for small talk. At last he inquired of her thoughts about Kent and her opinion of the Collins' life together.
"They seem quite content. It was a prudent choice for Charlotte, and I am glad that my father did not force me to marry Mr. Collins after he proposed, for I could never be as happy with him as I shall be with Mr. Wickham."
No, thought Darcy, you will be far less happy with Mr. Wickham. Darcy wished that he could tell Elizabeth what she needed to know, but realized that he would require further proof before he could save her from a most imprudent decision.
Posted On Saturday, 26 April 2003
Four days after Wickham arrived in Kent, he was sitting on a bench in Rosings Park, writing a letter to an acquaintance. He was on the second page when a sudden sound made him jump up and return to Hunsford. In his surprise, he left the first page on the bench.
While Wickham was writing, Colonel Fitzwilliam was taking his annual tour around the park. At his side was one of Lady Catherine's sheepdogs. The dog, known as Horatio, was quite a good herder-he had the urge to round up any groups of animals. And so it was that the colonel found himself chasing after Horatio when the dog started to run and bark at the sight of two squirrels. Fitzwilliam finally caught up to the dog at the bench Wickham had abandoned.
"Sit, Horatio," he commanded. "How odd, there appears to be a letter here. I do not wish to read other people's correspondence, but this should be returned to its rightful owner."
The colonel picked up the paper and was shocked to read what Wickham had to write:
My good friend Jeffrey,
What a delightful joke this has been! The letter you wrote pretending to be the executor of my "uncle's" estate fooled Miss Bennet and her father. She truly believes that not only have I inherited a fortune but that I want to marry her! The silly girl, she will succumb to my charms long before she discovers that there is no inheritance. I have three months to win her over completely, and I daresay it shall not take half that time. I thought she would take greater effort than the others I have seduced, but I believe a few more pretty words is all it will take to achieve my prize. How easily young ladies are led astray by a man who can convince them that he desires no one else. And then, on the day that she thinks we are to wed, I shall run off to Europe. You ought to join me Jeffrey, there are many pliable young countesses there, from what I have heard.
You can well imagine that the greatest joy of this scheme is seeing Darcy's obvious displeasure at my choice of bride. But proud Mr. Darcy would not dare approach my castoffs.
The letter continued in a similar fashion, but the colonel had no desire to read further. He knew Wickham to be a profligate and a rake, but he could scarcely believe that Wickham would try another seduction, so soon after nearly eloping with Georgiana. And Darcy! To see another woman he cherished so ill-treated. He must be told at once. Wickham could not be allowed to continue with his scheme.
"Come Horatio, let us return to Rosings. I must speak with my cousin."
Upon entering the house, Fitzwilliam immediately walked upstairs to Darcy's room. "I hope I am not interrupting you, Darcy," declared the colonel. "However, I have information that cannot be hidden."
Darcy set aside his pen and paper-he had been writing a letter to Pemberley's steward--and looked curiously at Fitzwilliam. "And that would be?"
Fitzwilliam handed his cousin Wickham's letter. Darcy read it, his face growing steadily pale with anger.
"Dear God," he uttered when he had finished reading. "What are we to do?"
"Darcy, you must tell Miss Bennet your entire history with Wickham, including his reprehensible behavior toward Georgiana. She must know the truth of the man to whom she has pledged herself."
Darcy shook his head and declared that it was pointless to believe that Miss Elizabeth would listen to anything he had to say where Wickham was concerned. He urged his cousin to speak in his stead but Fitzwilliam steadfastly refused.
"No, Darcy, she must hear it from you. Especially because Wickham has made it clear that causing you pain is part of his plan. Was he right in his estimation of your feelings?"
Darcy nodded. "I believe I was in love with Elizabeth Bennet before I arrived here. And to see her with that-that beast. He is not worthy of her, why can she not see that?" He sighed again. "You are right, I must be the one to tell her, whatever the consequences may be. I would fail Miss Bennet, her family, and my sister if I did not stop Wickham. My understanding is that he is to depart in three day's time. I suspect that Miss Bennet is more likely to believe my side of the story if Wickham cannot run to her side to disparage me, but I do not want to risk her virtue being threatened if we wait too long."
"I believe Mrs. Collins can help us in that regard," replied the colonel. "In speaking to her, I have found that she does not particularly trust Wickham. Allow me to talk with her, in general terms, and urge her to chaperone Wickham and Miss Bennet while he remains in Kent. We might also be able to convince our aunt to invite Wickham to Rosings one more time for dinner. Aunt Catherine never allows anyone privacy," laughed Fitzwilliam.
With the plan agreed upon, Fitzwilliam departed to the parsonage house, to speak with Charlotte, while Darcy tried to resume his letter. After a few efforts, he gave up and stood at the window that afforded a view of Hunsford.
You will not win, Wickham, he silently vowed.
Posted On Saturday, 26 April 2003
The next three days passed with little incident. Darcy and Fitzwilliam kept a cautious but observant distance from Wickham, while Charlotte found numerous reasons to monopolize Elizabeth's time. It was unlikely that Wickham could have found even five minutes alone with his fiancée. If he was displeased by this turn of events, he kept those feelings well concealed. As to the letter, when Wickham realized he had misplaced a page, he returned to the bench; upon seeing it gone, he shrugged and assumed that the wind had carried it off. It was of little consequence, as his friend Jeffrey Wallace had known all the particulars before Wickham left for Kent.
On the morning of his departure, Wickham arrived at Hunsford to bid his farewells. He had said goodbye to Rosings' occupants at dinner the previous night.
"I want to thank you for your hospitality, Mr. and Mrs. Collins. You were most generous in allowing me to visit often, saving me from too many solitary hours at the inn. Miss Lucas, I wish you a pleasant trip back to Meryton. Please send your family my regards."
Maria shyly thanked him. Mr. Collins was a bit less diffident in his reply.
Wickham turned to Elizabeth.
"My love, may we walk outside? It seems we've had hardly a moment to speak these past few days." Elizabeth nodded and held out her hand. Wickham took it and led her outside.
Charlotte thought of following them, with some excuse of needing to go into the gardens, but felt she had done her duty. She wondered if Colonel Fitzwilliam would ever wholly explain why he wanted Elizabeth to stay away from Wickham.
"Oh Elizabeth, how I shall miss you," said Wickham, wrapping a curl of her dark hair around his fingers.
"But George, I shall be back at Longbourn in a fortnight! And Jane will be back too, so she can help me plan the wedding. If my mother allows me to make any decisions," Elizabeth laughed.
"Allow her to plan, you will need your energy for more important endeavors," Wickham insinuated, planting kisses on Elizabeth's neck. "I will demand to see you every day, as I depart for Brighton a week after your return. If only I could have been at your side more often these past three days. Lizzy, give me a kiss to make up for all the days we shall not be together."
Lizzy stood on tiptoe and planted a light kiss on Wickham's mouth. "Will that do, sir?"
"More like this, my love," said Wickham, as he wrapped his arms around Elizabeth and planted a forceful kiss upon her. She squirmed slightly but he did not release her for some moments. "Goodbye, Elizabeth. The carriage is waiting at the inn." And with that Wickham departed, leaving behind a discomfited fiancée. He had never been quite so brusque in his attentions, and Elizabeth idly wondered how he would behave when they met again.
Elizabeth was still thinking about Wickham that afternoon, as she walked along her favorite Rosings path. She was so engrossed, she nearly walked into the man standing in front of her.
"Mr. Darcy!" she exclaimed.
Darcy bowed. "Miss Bennet, may I escort you to that bench? I have something of great importance to discuss with you."
Curiosity etching her face, Elizabeth clasped Darcy's elbow and walked with him toward the wrought iron bench.
Darcy pulled two letters from his waistcoat and fingered them nervously.
"Miss Bennet, you must learn the truth about George Wickham. It is not a pleasant story but it is one that you need to hear."
Elizabeth began to rise from the bench in anger. "You tell the truth about Wickham! How am I to believe anything you say?"
"Please Miss Bennet, I beseech you to hear me out. Listen to what I have to say. If you doubt me, the letters I am holding will prove my veracity. You can also ask the colonel to confirm all the details of what I am about to say."
After a moment's thought, Elizabeth sat down.
Posted On Saturday, 3 May 2003
Darcy took a deep breath and began to tell Lizzy the history of George Wickham. As he spoke, Lizzy's expressions changed from anger to shock to confusion. When he came to the part about Georgiana's elopement, Elizabeth gasped.
"Only fifteen! Your poor sister." Elizabeth paused. "But-is it not possible that Wickham is changed, that he no longer behaves as he once did?"
Darcy shook his head. "That does not appear to be the case, as you will see from the letters. The first one was written by a cousin of Wickham whom I've stayed in touch with through the years, for he is an honorable, hard-working man, nothing like George. I wrote to Clarence Wickham to learn more about the inheritance that your fiancé claimed to receive. The other letter was found by accident by the colonel." He handed the letters to Lizzy.
The first letter was brief.
Dear Mr. Darcy,
It is good to hear from you, I hope that all is well with you and Miss Darcy.
As regards your inquiry about an Uncle Robert, it appears that my cousin George has yet again spoken falsely. I have researched the matter, and not only have no Wickhams in the past three generations lived in India, the only Robert Wickham is a five-year-old who lives in Bristol with his mother, father, and elder siblings.
I hope that this information is of use, and I wish you good health.
Elizabeth put the letter away and rested her head on her hands.
"Miss Bennet, are you well?" asked Darcy with concern. "I should not have told you so much at once, it is too much for anyone to hear."
Lizzy sighed. "No, I am well. I only needed a moment to clear my head. Now I shall read the other letter."
Darcy watched her nervously while she read. Her face glowed red at Wickham's first words and then grew steadily pale. When she finished reading, Elizabeth stood up and walked in circles around the bench.
Darcy practically jumped up and gently grabbed Elizabeth's elbow. "Miss Bennet, let us walk. We have been sitting here too long and I can tell that you desire the exercise."
Lizzy removed Darcy's hand from her arm but continued to walk with him. She looked at his face, which was marked by fear and concern.
"Miss Bennet, I fear this is improper to ask, but-what Wickham wrote-his aims where you were concerned."
"Mr. Darcy, I can assure you that is yet another of George's falsehoods. Regardless of what he claimed, I was far from succumbing to his charms."
"Thank God," Darcy murmured.
Elizabeth did not appear to hear. She continued, "It is an odd thing. I am beginning to wonder if I ever loved George Wickham. If I did, should I not feel more grief? Throughout my friendship with Wickham, I never gave any serious thought to marriage, because I knew that neither of us could afford it. And yet, when he told me that he loved me, I felt that I should love him in turn. I convinced my mind, but my heart did not heed my wishes. I should have realized that it was not love, when every embrace felt wrong. I never felt at ease when he kissed me. Now I realize why-I never desired nor adored Wickham, and he saw me as another woman with whom he could toy.
"This ought to never have happened, but I allowed my prejudice to take hold of my feelings. I believed Wickham, even when there was no indication that he was an honorable man. Looking back on it, he was too quick to share his stories. I had known him only a few hours when he began to tell me how you had purportedly mistreated him. I am an obstinate girl, Mr. Darcy. I could not forgive you for calling me "tolerable" at the first assembly, and so when I met a man who also disliked you, I saw no reason to doubt his stories. What a fool I was."
"Miss Bennet, I ought not to have said what I did. It was a rash and thoughtless comment on my part."
"That it may have been, but I was wrong to let your words affect me so. What I do not understand is this. Why was I Wickham's object, when we know how much he desires money? And what would he have done when our wedding day arrived and he had not achieved his aims?"
"Life is a game to Wickham. All he cares for are his own pleasures, regardless of whom they might hurt. Last summer it was my sister, this spring it was you. I am thankful that he has not hurt your heart."
"No, no he has not, only my pride. Mr. Darcy, I thank you for opening my eyes. I have much to think about tonight." Elizabeth began to walk toward Hunsford.
"Miss Bennet, wait! There is one more thing I must tell you."
Elizabeth turned around. "And what might that be?"
Darcy began to pace. "Miss Bennet, I have a confession to make that might justly make you despise me. I urged Bingley to leave Netherfield because I did not wish him to marry your sister."
"How dare you!"
"I am sorry, but at the time I felt it was the wisest decision. Bingley has fallen in love many times before, but I could see that his regard for your sister was the strongest he had ever held. However, based on my observations at the Netherfield Ball, I could see no evidence that she felt the same. Miss Bennet appeared to treat my friend with the same kindness and politeness she showed toward everybody. And so I advised Bingley that a proposal would be unwise and urged him to return to London. There, I did another thing for which I am ashamed. I knew your sister was in London but concealed that information from Bingley. Now I know, based on what you said not very long ago, that your sister's affections are equal to Bingley's. And regardless of any other misgivings I might have, I must tell Bingley what I know."
"Misgivings? I wonder that you can find fault with Jane, who is as sweet a person as ever breathed."
"Miss Bennet, it pains me to say this, but the behavior of some of your family at the ball gave me pause. However, your behavior and that of your sister have been nothing but impeccable."
"Even when I walk three miles in the mud?" teased Elizabeth.
"Even then," smiled Darcy. It was the first real smile that Elizabeth had seen from Darcy, and she mused on how well it improved his countenance. "Miss Bennet, I have an idea. If it is acceptable to you, I would like very much if the colonel and I could escort you and Miss Lucas to London. There perhaps we could discuss further how to confront Wickham. When I am there, I will also go to Bingley and confess my error. And perhaps"-he paused and looked deep into Lizzy's eyes-"I might be able to introduce my sister to you? She has always been shy, but more so after the events at Ramsgate, and I believe that you might be able to help her forgive herself for her mistakes."
Elizabeth nodded her approval. "I think your suggestions are very wise. But it will be more than a week till we are in London. I cannot let Wickham know I have learned the truth. Do you think it wise if I continue to correspond with him, until I return to Longbourn?"
"I think that very wise. Wickham is a clever man, we must not let him get the upper hand. When we return to Hertfordshire, then Wickham can be confronted."
Darcy smiled again. "If Bingley will have me at Netherfield. Come, it is beginning to cool. Let me escort you to the parsonage."
They walked in silence toward Hunsford, Darcy hoping that Elizabeth could forgive him for his mistakes, Elizabeth wondering why she had been so eager to hate a man who had now shown himself to be genuinely concerned for his welfare.
I hope that this afternoon will make us friends, they both thought.
Posted On Saturday, 3 May 2003
The remainder of the Hunsford trip passed pleasantly for Elizabeth. She longed to tell Charlotte about her discovery of Wickham's true character, but Darcy advised against that, noting that Charlotte may not wish to keep secrets from her husband. "And," as Darcy noted wryly, "that will mean Mr. Collins will tell my aunt, and I do not believe we need that quite yet."
Charlotte WAS curious as to why her friend seemed more cordial to Mr. Darcy, but felt that if Elizabeth would explain if she wished. Elizabeth was talking quite frequently to Darcy and the colonel, debating what to do about Wickham.
"His tale about why he came to Kent, was there truth in that?" inquired Elizabeth the day after her and Darcy's eventful conversation.
"I am very surprised to say this, but it was true," replied Colonel Fitzwilliam. "I made some inquiries and learned that, while Wickham was not Colonel Forster's preferred choice, he did allow Wickham to observe the camps encamped here. But I do believe that we need to tell the colonel of Wickham's other doings."
Two nights before Elizabeth and Maria were to depart, they were invited to another dinner at Rosings.
"Tell me Miss Bennet," declared Lady Catherine, "how are you to travel to London? I hope you and Miss Lucas do not travel unaccompanied, it is quite inappropriate. I never allow my Anne to travel without two manservants and Mrs. Jenkinson."
"Actually, aunt," interjected Darcy, "the colonel and I have offered to escort Miss Bennet and Miss Lucas to London. I have urgent business there and felt it would be most convenient to all the parties concerned."
Lady Catherine looked quite vexed. "Darcy, I was expecting you to be here another week entire. This is quite grievous, and I am sure that Anne feels the same."
Anne remained expressionless.
"I am sorry, aunt, but that is the plan. We will depart Friday at ten in the morning." Darcy said this in so decided a voice that not even Lady Catherine could continue to argue.
And so it was that two days later, Elizabeth and Maria found themselves seated in Mr. Darcy's comfortable carriage. Despite their growing friendship, Elizabeth and Darcy could speak little on the trip; Maria's presence made it impossible for the others to talk of Wickham. Instead of talking, Elizabeth occupied herself with observing the beautiful April scenery.
The party stopped for lunch halfway between Rosings and London. They reached the city early in the evening. Maria was taken to the home of a cousin who was to bring her to Hertfordshire the next day.
"Have a safe trip, Maria," said Elizabeth with a hug. "Give your family my regards. I shall see you soon."
The carriage soon found its way to Gracechurch Street. It stopped in front of a home that, though not nearly as large as Darcy's townhome, was clearly comfortable and well constructed.
The three passengers exited the carriage and walked up the front steps. Elizabeth knocked on the door, while Darcy and Fitzwilliam stood several steps behind. The Gardiner's maid opened the door and greeted Elizabeth with pleasure.
"You are looking well Grace," Elizabeth answered in reply. "Will you please lead me and my friends to my aunt and uncle?"
Grace curtseyed and led them to the parlor.
"Lizzy!" cried her aunt. "How glad I am to see you!" She and her niece embraced, and then Madeline Gardiner noticed two unfamiliar men standing nearby.
Elizabeth observed her aunt's surprise and led her and her uncle to the two gentleman.
"Uncle Gardiner, Aunt Gardiner, may I introduce Mr. Darcy and his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam." The four exchanged greetings.
"I am pleased to make your acquaintance," said Darcy. "Your niece was visiting her friend Mrs. Collins while the colonel and I were at our aunt, who is Mr. Collins' patroness. As I have business here in London that must not be delayed, we decided to accompany Miss Bennet and Miss Lucas to London. Miss Lucas is now at her cousin's."
While he spoke, another figure entered the room. Lizzy turned and saw her beloved sister.
"Oh Jane! I have missed you so."
Jane smiled and walked toward her sister.
"Miss Bennet," she heard a familiar voice say.
"Mr. Darcy, what a pleasant surprise. How are you? Are you in good health? Are your friends as well?" Jane tried to keep her voice steady, but Darcy heard a slight quaver and could see sadness in her eyes. He knew then that he could not wait another moment.
"Yes I am quite well, though I cannot speak for all my friends." He turned to the others. "I apologize for having to leave so soon, but I have an appointment that must be kept. However, I would very much like it if the four of you would be my guests at dinner tomorrow night."
Mr. Gardiner accepted the offer, and Darcy smiled. "Excellent. I shall send a carriage tomorrow afternoon. Until then, I hope all of you remain in the health."
He and the colonel bowed and departed.
Mrs. Gardiner turned to her younger niece.
"Lizzy, is there something you are not telling us?"
Not long after, Darcy and Fitzwilliam reached Darcy's townhome. The colonel disembarked, armed with instructions to tell Georgiana that her brother would arrive shortly.
The carriage continued to its next destination. Darcy fairly leaped out of the carriage and strode decidedly to the front door of the elegant house. He was surprised when Bingley answered the knock.
"I gave the servants the evening off," he explained. "Darcy, I did not expect to see you. I thought you were still in Kent. Do sit down. Shall I pour us some brandy?"
Darcy nodded and took a seat.
"Bingley, I came here because I have a confession. Miss Elizabeth Bennet was in Kent the same time as I-in fact, the colonel and I escorted her to her aunt and uncle's home-and she told me that I was very mistaken in my belief of her elder sister's feelings. Bingley, Miss Bennet is as fond of you as you could hope. I could see it in her eyes not half an hour ago."
"She loves me?"
"I have no doubt of it, and I deeply regret having made you think otherwise. It was wrong of me to interfere. I hope you can forgive me. I have invited the Miss Bennets and the Gardiners to dinner at my home tomorrow night, and very much would like it for you to attend."
Bingley broke into a broad grin. "I should like that above anything! Then I have your permission to address Miss Bennet?"
"Do you need my permission?"
Bingley paused. "No, but I should like it all the same. You are my best friend, and while I wish that Miss Bennet and I did not have to suffer so these past months, I am glad that you have told me the truth. I will always value your opinion."
Darcy smiled. "You have my permission, then. I must go, for I very much wish to see my sister. Till tomorrow."
Well, thought Darcy as he walked out the door, I have told Miss Elizabeth the truth about Wickham, and I have helped ensure her sister's happiness. All I need now is for her to love me.
Posted On Sunday, 11 May 2003
"Oh aunt," sighed Lizzy. "Where am I to begin? I discovered at Hunsford that Wickham has been deceiving me. There was no fortune; he made up the story because he sought to seduce me." And here Elizabeth told her sister, aunt, and uncle all that had happened in the previous weeks and showed them the letters that proved Wickham's guilt.
Her listeners were aghast. "What are we to do?" exclaimed Mr. Gardiner.
"I believe we will determine that at dinner tomorrow," Elizabeth replied.
Shortly before 5 the next afternoon, a carriage arrived as promised in front of the Gardiner home. The party soon found itself in front of a large and stately home. Upon giving their name, they were promptly led into a parlor that was richly furnished but, unlike Rosings, not ostentatious.
The owner of the home rose as they entered.
"Mr. Gardiner, Mrs. Gardiner, Miss Bennet, Miss Elizabeth Bennet. I trust you had a comfortable ride here?" Darcy waited for Elizabeth's nod and then continued. "Excellent. There are two others in the next room. One wishes to wait there, while the other would like to be brought here. May I introduce you to my sister, Georgiana?"
"We shall be delighted sir," Mrs. Gardiner responded.
Darcy bowed and left the room. In moments he had returned with his sister.
"Georgiana, may I introduce my friends. Mr. Gardiner and Mrs. Gardiner and their nieces, Miss Jane Bennet and Miss Elizabeth Bennet."
The girl politely curtseyed. "I am pleased to meet you. My brother has talked of nothing but this dinner all day."
"That is all we have talked about as well," said Elizabeth with a smile. She took an immediately liking to Georgiana, a tall girl with ash-blonde hair and a shy mien. Georgiana was clearly not used to being around strangers, but she was put at ease by the friendly faces and soon began a quiet conversation with the other ladies.
They had talked for several minutes when Elizabeth turned to Darcy.
"Mr. Darcy, I understand there is another joining us tonight?"
"Two in fact, Miss Bennet. My cousin, the colonel, had some business to attend to but will be here shortly. May I lead everyone into the next room?"
When the group entered, they saw a young blond man walking nervously about the room, narrowly averting the brocade couches and pianoforte. Upon hearing footsteps, the man looked up and cried in delight,
"Miss Bennet! Miss Elizabeth Bennet! Darcy told me he had invited you last night, and I could not sit still since then. This is such a great pleasure. Are these your aunt and uncle?"
"They are, Mr. Bingley. May I introduce Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner," Elizabeth replied, seeing that her sister was still in shock by the sight of her suitor.
"Excellent, I am glad to meet you," Bingley replied, shaking Mr. Gardiner's hand. "Do you visit Hertfordshire often? I do not believe there is any place pleasanter in all of England."
Within a half hour, Colonel Fitzwilliam had returned and everyone sat down for dinner. Darcy had set the placecards in hopes of giving everyone pleasure. Though he longed to sit next to Elizabeth, he felt it too soon. Instead, he placed himself and the colonel at the heads of the table. To his right sat Georgiana, Elizabeth, and Jane. To his left sat Mr. Gardiner, Mrs. Gardiner, and Bingley.
Darcy was delighted to find that the Gardiners were intelligent and interesting people. He spoke to Mrs. Gardiner about her time in Derbyshire and families with whom they were both acquainted. He discussed business with Mr. Gardiner and discovered that several of his friends regularly visited Mr. Gardiner's store.
Elizabeth spent much of the meal chatting with Georgiana, while Jane and Bingley said little but stared often. The colonel watched the scene with pleasure, wondering when his cousin had become an amateur matchmaker.
It was not until dessert that the topic that interested everyone was broached. Bingley and Georgiana had been told of Elizabeth's situation earlier in the day, and Georgiana had privately assured her brother that she would not be affected by the mentions of Wickham.
Darcy spoke first. "I believe that Miss Elizabeth should write to Wickham as soon as she can, telling him that she wishes to see him the afternoon she returns to Longbourn. When he arrives, lead him to the garden. Bring Jane as an escort. There you will tell Wickham of your discoveries. When he begins to protest, as we know he will, then the colonel, Bingley and I shall emerge from behind the bushes and lead Wickham to Colonel Forster, who will be informed of all Wickham has done and shown the letters."
"Hiding behind bushes?" laughed the colonel. "Darcy, you and I have not done that since my sister was eight and we wanted to give her a fright."
"Fitzwilliam, have you a better notion? I do not want to risk Wickham being able to run away before we can apprehend him. We must be nearby when Miss Elizabeth speaks to him. He will not see us; he will be utterly surprised."
Elizabeth nodded. "I think it is a good plan, but should I not show Wickham the letters?"
Darcy shook his head. "No, I fear that he might grab them from you and destroy them. You brought them tonight?" Elizabeth nodded and replied that she would retrieve them from her purse.
Bingley had sat quietly through this exchange. With a glance at Jane, he spoke up.
"Might I accompany Miss Bennet while she escorts her sister? I would then be able to see Wickham should he act oddly."
Darcy smiled. "I think that an excellent idea."
With everyone agreeing to the plan, the conversation soon turned to lighter subjects. The hours melted away, and it was with displeasure on all sides that the evening had to end.
"I hope we meet again before you leave for Longbourn, Miss Elizabeth," said Darcy as he handed her into the carriage.
"I am sure we will, Mr. Darcy. Thank you again for a delightful evening."
Both Bennet sisters were far too anxious to sleep when they reached the Gardiner home.
"I believe Mr. Darcy is in love with you, Lizzy," remarked Jane as they sat in Elizabeth's bedroom. "He could hardly take his eyes off you, and he is clearly very focused on exposing Wickham's character."
"I am surprised you could notice anything," her sister chuckled, "for you seemed to notice nothing but Mr. Bingley."
Jane blushed. "Lizzy, I have waited so long to see him again, and he is just as pleasant as I remembered. But I fear that he was never anything but pleasant."
"Jane, you underestimate yourself. Mr. Bingley loves you and has always loved you. No one seeing him tonight could doubt that."
Jane blushed again. She longed to ask her sister what she thought of Mr. Darcy but suspected Lizzy was not yet ready to answer. Instead they spoke of their delight in seeing their family soon and what a sweet girl Georgiana Darcy was. Her brother was not mentioned again for the rest of the night.
Posted On Sunday, 11 May 2003
Elizabeth did see Darcy before her stay in London ended. Two nights after their dinner-one day before she and Jane were to leave-she, Jane, and the Gardiners were invited to join Darcy and his party in his box at the theater. It was a pleasant evening for all involved, with Elizabeth particularly glad to hear that Bingley's sisters and brother-in-law were visiting Mr. Hurst's brother. Elizabeth was pleased that Caroline and Louisa would not be able to thwart their brother's plans this time.
The next morning, the Gardiners saw their nieces off with warm hugs and pleas that they be kept informed of everything. Not long after they left, a carriage carrying Darcy, Bingley, and Fitzwilliam also departed London.
Before they knew it, Elizabeth and Jane were back at Longbourn. They were greeted with delight by all their sisters and their mother, but especially by their father.
"It has not been the same since you girls left," Mr. Bennet declared. "I am so happy that you are safe and home."
Elizabeth and Jane spent the next few hours telling of their trips-Lizzy having to stretch the truth more than once-until a knock was heard.
Lizzy leaped up. "That must be Wickham, I told him I would be home today. Jane and I will escort him to the garden."
In fact, it was Bingley who entered.
"Mr. Bingley, I did not know you were returning to Netherfield!" Mrs. Bennet exulted. "When did you arrive?"
"But a few hours ago, Mrs. Bennet. I had the pleasure of seeing your daughters while they were in London." Bingley looked around the room. "I am glad to see that you all look well."
He chatted amiably with the Bennets for a few minutes until another knock was heard.
"Wickham!" cried Lizzy with forced delight. "I am so glad you have come, I missed you dreadfully."
"And I you," he replied, kissing her hand.
"Shall we take a walk in the garden? I have asked Jane and Mr. Bingley to escort us," Elizabeth answered, rising and taking Wickham's arm. She could not help but notice Wickham's displeasure at being chaperoned.
Elizabeth and Wickham walked around the garden, Elizabeth careful not to linger too near the bushes, lest Wickham hear the noises within.
"I greatly enjoyed reading your letters, Elizabeth, though they could not take the place of you."
"I am glad they pleased you, for I took great pleasure in writing them."
"Anything that comes from you is a source of delight, my dear Lizzy." Wickham dropped his voice to a whisper. "Must we be chaperoned? I have not seen you for weeks, surely your family can take pity on your besotted fiancé."
Elizabeth stared at Wickham and then removed her arm from his. She pulled off her engagement ring and handed to him. "That might be the case Mr. Wickham, if I still considered you to be my fiancé. However, I learned enough about you to discover that I have no wish of ever marrying you."
"You cannot mean that!" cried Wickham. "What lies have you been hearing?"
"Lies?" scoffed Elizabeth. "You mean the lie that you had an uncle, that you had an inheritance, that you loved me? I know the truth and you shall be forced to face what you had done."
Wickham shoved Elizabeth to the ground. "Never," he growled.
Bingley looked up from the bench where he had been sitting with Jane. Seeing Elizabeth, he quickly strode to Wickham and grabbed him around the arms. Almost as soon as he did so, Darcy and the colonel emerged from behind the bushes and further secured Wickham.
"You are coming with us, Wickham," muttered Darcy.
"Darcy, you cannot stop interfering with my life, can you? Why should my affairs continue to interest you?"
"Because you continue to betray good people."
Hearing the tumult, Mrs. Bennet ran outside.
"What is this, why are these men attacking Mr. Wickham? Lizzy, why are you allowing this?" Lizzy by this time was upright and had brushed the dirt from her dress.
"Mamma, I will explain soon. All I can say now is that Wickham misrepresented himself dreadfully." Elizabeth turned to Mr. Darcy. "May Jane and I join you? I do not want Wickham to leave without my offering a proper goodbye."
Darcy grinned. "Be my guest, Miss Elizabeth."
It was an unusual group that arrived at Colonel Forster's doorstep. Wickham was held securely by Darcy and the colonel, while Bingley followed a few feet behind, with Jane and Elizabeth on his arms. People on the streets of Meryton were surprised to see the man whom had delighted so many of them dragged along like a common criminal.
Colonel Forster was also surprised when he saw what awaited him on the front steps of his house.
Darcy bowed and entered with the others. He took out the letters and showed them to the colonel. While the colonel read the letters, growing disgust spreading over his face, Darcy told him of Wickham's lies.
"I knew I should never have allowed Wickham to go to Kent," replied Forster angrily. "I heard ill reports of his work there. Miss Elizabeth Bennet, I am sorry if my decision caused you any discomfort."
"It is not your fault, Colonel Forster," Elizabeth answered kindly. "We could not have known what Wickham's true nature was."
The colonel nodded and paced the floor. Taking a deep breath, he turned to Wickham.
"Lieutenant Wickham, can you refute the charges that have been presented against you?"
"They are lies, sir, all lies. The letters are all forgeries."
"I doubt that, Lieutenant, as the writing on the letter you wrote matches what I have seen in the past." The colonel turned to Darcy. "What do you think sir, prison or Australia?"
"I say we let the gentleman in question decide. Though the further he is from England, the happier I believe we all would be."
And so it was that three days later, Wickham found himself on a carriage that would lead him to the docks and a boat to Australia.
Elizabeth stood triumphantly as Wickham waited for the carriage to arrive.
"Now I can give you a proper goodbye, Mr. Wickham. Or rather, a proper good riddance."
And with that, Elizabeth turned around and walked back to Longbourn with her sister, Darcy, Bingley, and a wide smile.
Posted On Sunday, 11 May 2003
The author would be remiss if she led her readers to believe that nothing of importance occurred in the three days between Wickham's downfall and departure. As it happened, several events relevant to this tale occurred.
The first such event took place as soon as Elizabeth and the others had returned from Colonel Forester's. When the party reached Longbourn, they were greeted by the remaining Bennets, all understandably curious as to what had happened.
"Lizzy, what is the meaning of all this!" cried her mother. "What happened to dear Mr. Wickham?"
Lizzy sighed. "Mother, he is hardly dear. Mr. Wickham has done nothing but lie-he has no fortune, he never cared for me, his only aim was to attempt to seduce and abandon me. Although he would never have succeeded at his first goal, had he abandoned me at the altar, it would have embarrassed the entire family. Were it not for the efforts of Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam, we would have been fooled until it was too late." She then explained what had occurred at Rosings, London, and Colonel Forster's, though she spoke of Wickham's treatment of the Darcys in only general terms, with no mention of the thwarted elopement.
"This is quite shocking," declared Mary.
Mr. Bennet paced the floor. "It is my fault, I should never have condoned the marriage, I ought to have learned more about Mr. Wickham's character." He turned to the other gentlemen. "Sirs, I cannot thank you enough for your service to our family. Mr. Darcy, please accept my apology on all of us who were so quick to believe Mr. Wickham's word over yours."
Darcy shook his head. "There is no need, sir. It was my fault, I ought to have revealed Wickham's falsehoods months ago. My efforts to help your daughter stemmed from my wish to rectify my earlier mistake."
"Well then sir," smiled Mr. Bennet, "at least accept an invitation to dinner. You three gentlemen look quite famished."
The invitation was readily accepted, and a pleasant evening had by all. Lydia and Kitty were too surprised by Wickham's actions to want to speak of redcoats all evening, which ensured that the conversation was of a higher standard than was often heard at the Bennet table. Bingley and Jane only had ears for each other's words.
Elizabeth found herself easing comfortably into conversation with Darcy. She now sincerely felt that they were friends and began to regret that such amity had not begun long ago. The gentleman experienced similar sentiments, but was also wondering how much time could elapse before propriety would permit him to begin courting.
Colonel Fitzwilliam was the first to rise.
"I regret leaving so early, but I must depart in the morning and return to the regiment. Thank you for your hospitality, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. I hope very much that we meet again."
Mrs. Bennet replied in kind and wished him a safe trip.
Lizzy accompanied the colonel to the door.
"Thank you again, colonel. I am honored to have you as a friend. You and your cousin are two of the finest men I shall ever know."
The colonel bowed. "There are few finer than Darcy, Miss Bennet. I hope that events will allow me to return to Meryton in the near future. Until then, I wish you and your family well."
While Elizabeth and Darcy were developing a friendship, Jane and Bingley found themselves resuming a courtship that had ended awkwardly five months before. With his sisters away, nothing prevented Bingley from visiting Longbourn every day. On the third day after his return to Netherfield-the same day on which Wickham was to leave to Australia-Bingley reached Longbourn with a particular goal in mind.
"Miss Bennet," he said when he entered, "I was wondering if you might wish to take a turn around the garden with me?"
Jane looked at Mrs. Bennet. "Mother, would that be all right? I can ask Lizzy to join us, if you like."
"Oh Jane, there is no need. Go out, it is too nice a day and you are too pretty a girl to stay inside."
Jane rose and smiled at Bingley. "Well sir, shall we go?"
When Bingley rode to Longbourn that morning, he had formulated many romantic and heartfelt ways of letting Jane know the depth of his feelings. But seeing her in the garden, her pale skin playing against her pink gown, Bingley forgot all those words and blurted:
"Miss Bennet, I was a fool not to have done this in November. I cannot remember a time when you were not the dearest creature in the world to me. Please tell me that you will be my wife."
Jane burst into tears. "Oh Mr. Bingley, nothing would make me happier. I could love no one but you."
Bingley broke into a grin and embraced Jane. "Jane, call me Charles, please."
"Yes . . . Charles."
Bingley's smile grew even wider as he leaned down to kiss her.
Posted On Sunday, 11 May 2003
When they reentered Longbourn, Jane fairly skipped up the stairs to Lizzy's room, while Bingley immediately walked to the library.
"Oh Lizzy!" Jane cried. "He loves me! He has gone to Papa to ask for his blessings. I am to be Charles Bingley's wife!"
Lizzy jumped up and embraced her sister. "Oh Jane, this is exactly as it should be. No one is more deserving of felicity than you and Mr. Bingley."
"Then you are pleased that Charles will be your brother?"
"I cannot begin to think of anyone I would prefer. Jane, you must tell me everything!"
While Jane and Elizabeth continued to talk, Bingley found himself facing Mr. Bennet. Bingley was far more nervous than he ought to have been, for Mr. Bennet could see no fault in Bingley, except perhaps that it might be possible to be too agreeable.
The news of the engagement was heard at dinner that night. Darcy had come to Longbourn that afternoon and was soon apprised of Bingley's joy. He and Elizabeth traded smiles as they sat to eat.
There could not have been a happier table in all of Hertfordshire. Mrs. Bennet nearly fainted when she heard the news but soon made an admirable recovery and began to list all of the things that would have to be done before the wedding, which had been set for the end of June, could occur. Kitty and Lydia petitioned for an engagement ball at Netherfield, to which Bingley readily agreed.
In the days that followed, Darcy and Elizabeth found themselves thrown together regularly, as they regularly chaperoned Bingley and Jane. They talked about books-Elizabeth was surprised to learn how many of the same volumes they had read and enjoyed--, art, and even politics. Elizabeth did not know much about what went on in London and was eager to hear the news. Darcy, in turn, found himself learning more and more about the Bennets and Elizabeth's life.
"I am surprised your parents ever left you leave the house after that incident," he laughed after hearing Lizzy tell how she ran away from Longbourn when she was nine, but had turned around after she had gone less than a mile when she realized she had forgotten to take any jam to eat with the loaf of bread she had pilfered from the kitchen.
Lizzy chuckled in turn. "I was quite frightened when I returned home, but Jane convinced my father and mother that I was properly chagrined. She is the dearest sister; I am so happy for her, but it will not be the same when she is married."
"Speaking of sisters, Georgiana is arriving tomorrow. She was delighted to hear of Bingley and your sister's news and will be here until the wedding. She very much looks forward to seeing you again."
"I am eager to see your sister as well. She is such a sweet girl and so fortunate to have a brother who always looks after her best interests."
"I could do no less for her," Darcy replied. "With both my parents gone, I could not imagine not having Georgiana to cheer me up."
Meanwhile, somewhere off the coast of Africa . . .
The men aboard the HMS Indomitable, Wickham among them, had just ended a night of revelry. Two empty barrels of rum rolled around the deck, surrounded by cards tossed aside after many boisterous hands of poker. Most of the men returned below deck to sleep off their hangovers; Wickham, however, chose a different route.
He decided to see if the captain's wife might be in the mood for a bit more celebrating. She was a girl of no more than seventeen whom Wickham reckoned was a bit disenchanted about being wed to a man well over twice her age. In the week that Wickham had been on the ship, he had noticed on more than one occasion Mrs. Alice Donaldson letting her eyes linger on him more than society would consider proper.
Wickham was sneaking around the corner to Alice's chambers. He knew that the captain stayed up late in his office most nights, charting the ship's course to Australia. Wickham was almost at Alice's door when the sound of Alice's beagle, North Star, barking sent Wickham into a panic. He ran down the corridor, up the stairs, and onto the deck. Not looking at where he was going, Wickham skidded on an eight of clubs, tripped over a barrel, and found himself tumbling headlong into the ocean. His boots weighed him down, and thus ended the life of George Wickham.
It would be several days before anyone on the boat realized he was gone, and much longer before anyone in England knew of his fate. I will leave it to the reader to imagine how those who knew him felt when they learned that Wickham could no longer insinuate himself into their lives.
The story now returns to England. Georgiana had reached Netherfield too late in the day to visit the Bennets, but on the next morning accompanied her brother and Bingley.
Upon seeing Georgiana enter, Elizabeth rose to embrace her.
"Miss Darcy, I am so happy you have come to Hertfordshire. How was your trip from London?"
"Very pleasant, Miss Elizabeth. This such a lovely home!"
"Please call me Elizabeth, or Lizzy if you like."
Georgiana smiled shyly. "I shall, if you promise to call me Georgiana."
"I shall be delighted," Elizabeth answered as she led the visitors into the drawing room, where the other Bennets were assembled. Bingley took a seat next to Jane, while Elizabeth led Georgiana around the room. The girl was not used to meeting so many people at once, especially none quite so boisterous as Mrs. Bennet, Kitty, and Lydia, but she handled the pressure admirably. Her brother looked proudly from his chair while Georgiana engaged in small talk.
"Life must be very exciting in London for a pretty girl such as yourself," Mrs. Bennet declared. "I am sure you have been to some very elegant balls."
"I am not yet out, Mrs. Bennet, but I have heard from Mr. Bingley's sisters what the balls in London are like."
"Such elegant ladies, are they not?" Mrs. Bennet replied. "I know that they are delighted to have Jane for a sister. It is unfortunate that they will not be able to come to Netherfield until a fortnight before the wedding."
Georgiana smiled and directed her attention to a landscape on the wall. It was simple painting, merely a meadow with a few flowers, but the colors were so vibrant that the image appeared to leap from the frame.
"Oh that picture is charming!" she enthused. "Where did you find it?"
"It is by our own Kitty," declared Mrs. Bennet proudly. "Is she not talented?"
Georgiana walked over to Kitty. "Do you have other paintings? I enjoy painting and drawing. I brought paper, oils, and pencils to Netherfield, perhaps you could join me some time."
"I should be delighted!"
Mary, who had been quietly sitting in the corner, spoke up. "Miss Darcy, I hear that you also play and sing. I also love music."
"Please call me Georgiana," the girl replied with a smile. "Yes, I do love playing. My brother gave me some new music when we were in London. I have not yet mastered the pieces, I would love if we could learn together."
Georgiana turned to Lydia. "I understand you enjoy fashions. I saw a new dress style that would be very flattering on you, I must tell you about it."
"I should like nothing better! And you must come with Kitty and me to Meryton. We have several nice shops there, though not as fine as London, I am sure. Oh! I am so happy that you have come. The regiment left for Brighton the other day and I have been frightfully sad. I had been invited by the colonel's wife to be her personal guest, but Papa would not let me accept."
"After our family's experiences with the regiment, I felt it best," Mr. Bennet answered. "Besides, with Jane's wedding, there will be much to keep you girls occupied."
While Georgiana chatted with the Bennets, Elizabeth took the chair nearest Darcy. She was proud of how well her family was behaving and was glad that Darcy also looked pleased. Ever since her return to Hertfordshire, Elizabeth had found herself always seeking Darcy's approval. Few things gave her as much pleasure as his compliments, nothing worried her more than the possibility that something about her character or family might be met with dismay. Elizabeth began to realize that she was falling in love with Darcy.
But could he ever wish to marry a woman who nearly wed his greatest enemy, she thought with sadness. A tear began to fall down her face, which no one but Darcy noticed.
"Miss Bennet, are you all right?" he whispered with concern. "Shall I get you a glass of wine?"
"I am well, thank you. I merely found myself lost in thought."
"I should hate to think that any of your reminiscences could cause such sadness."
Elizabeth looked at Mr. Darcy. "Two do, sir. One you can readily guess. The other was having ever misjudged you. I regret having ever thought ill of you."
"Do not make yourself uneasy," Mr. Darcy replied. "There is much in my first visit to Hertfordshire that I wish I had not done, although there is one thing I shall never regret," he added, with a serious look. He lifted his hand to Elizabeth's face and gently brushed away her tear.
"Let us agree to have no more regrets," he whispered.
Posted On Tuesday, 27 May 2003
One afternoon Bingley and Jane were walking to Meryton. Bingley turned around to see Darcy and Elizabeth in their usual position, perhaps a dozen yards behind, deep in conversation.
Bingley turned back to his fiancée.
"Jane, do you think Darcy will ever propose to Elizabeth? We have been here nearly a month, they have become almost inseparable, and still he does not ask."
His betrothed sighed.
"I do not know, Charles. I think it is what Lizzy desires; though she has never told me what she feels for Darcy, I am certain that she loves him. I believe Darcy is concerned about propriety. It has not been long since she severed her engagement to Wickham."
"I believe you are quite right, dearest Jane," declared Bingley, taking her hand and placing a gentle kiss upon it. He then pulled his watch out of his waistcoat pocket. "I fear we must return to Netherfield, my sisters and Mr. Hurst will arrive any moment."
The couple waited for Darcy and Elizabeth to catch up and then walked back to Netherfield. Jane and Lizzy stayed long enough to greet Caroline and Louisa (Mr. Hurst was otherwise occupied), who welcomed Jane into their family with nearly-believable sincerity, and collect Kitty, who had been spending the afternoon with Georgiana. Bingley had wanted the ladies to stay for dinner, but he could see from Caroline's expression that it would be better to wait another night.
The Netherfield party was collected in one of the drawing rooms after dinner. Caroline took a seat next to Darcy.
"My dear Mr. Darcy," she cooed, "you and Georgiana must be frightfully bored. Bingley has his sweet Jane to keep him company, but how dreadful it must be for you and your sister, to be confined to the country."
"Actually, Miss Bingley," Darcy replied, "this has been one of the pleasantest months I can recall. I have been chaperoning Bingley and Miss Bennet with her younger sister, Miss Elizabeth. We have had many delightful conversations. Georgiana spends nearly every day with the younger Bennet sisters and Maria Lucas."
"Indeed," Georgiana interjected, "one day when I had a sore throat and could not visit Longbourn, Darcy told Mary, Kitty, and Lydia, and they would not let him to return to Netherfield until they had written me a very pretty note and collected a bouquet."
"But their parents! Surely you cannot bear the company of Mrs. Bennet! And the father, such an odd creature."
Darcy replied, "Granted, Mrs. Bennet can be too exuberant at times, but all she wants is to see her daughters happy and secure. That hardly seems wrong for a mother. Mr. Bennet also improves greatly upon acquaintance. Indeed, he and I have spent a number of evenings in his library. His collection of books is quite impressive, as are his backgammon skills."
Caroline could not bear to hear the Bennets complimented further, so she walked across the room to Louisa, where they engaged in whispered mocking.
Two parties that were far more welcome arrived in the ensuing days. One morning, the Gardiners arrived at Longbourn, followed that evening by Colonel Fitzwilliam, who was staying at Netherfield. A very enjoyable dinner was held at Longbourn, improved considerably by Caroline's absence from a severe headache. Caroline could hardly bear to see Darcy and Elizabeth's friendship, yet she also rued not being able to show Darcy what true elegance was.
"You seem very happy, Lizzy," her aunt commented later that night.
"Indeed I am, aunt. At least, I think I am."
Mrs. Gardiner hugged her niece and went up to bed, thinking of the expressions she had seen on Lizzy and Darcy's faces when they thought no one was looking.
A few days later, Georgiana was playing a jaunty tune on the Netherfield pianoforte. With a smile, Darcy strode over to Lizzy, who was engrossed in a volume of poetry.
"Miss Bennet, is not that music enticing? Do you not feel a great inclination to dance a waltz?"
"This is quite odd, Mr. Darcy. I believe that some months ago a man who looked quite like you asked if I would wish to dance a reel."
"Is that so? And what did you tell that man?"
Elizabeth laughed. "I thought he was trying to mock me so I refused him. Today, however, I believe I shall say yes."
Caroline looked up from her seat in the corner.
"Mr. Darcy, surely you cannot be serious about dancing a waltz! I cannot imagine that you would engage in such scandalous behavior."
Darcy shook his head. "Scandalous? Miss Bingley, you must know that the finest families on the Continent dance the waltz. A woman such as yourself ought to keep up on the latest fashions." He bowed to Lizzy and took her hand. "Now madam, shall we dance?"
Elizabeth had never danced a waltz before. She did her best to follow Darcy's lead but found her mind drifting as she felt his hand resting against the small of her back. Darcy had often given Lizzy his arm when they walked, but never before had they been so close. When the music ended (Georgiana, much as she desired, could not play forever), their shoulders visibly sagged. Neither wanted to part; the better part of a minute passed before they released their hands.
"That was a delight," Elizabeth said.
"I am glad you think so, Miss Bennet. Perhaps we can dance another waltz this Friday?" The ball that Bingley had promised was to be held that night, one week before his and Jane's wedding. Nearly all of Meryton would be there.
On Friday night the beauty of Netherfield far outshone anything that its guests had seen before; even the ball the previous November could not compare. The rooms were festooned with Jane's favorite flowers, while pale pink and yellow candles shed a soft light everywhere. Side tables were filled with every imaginable delicacy, including pastries that had been sent from one of London's finest bakeries.
The Bennets and Gardiners were the first to arrive. Bingley promptly took Jane aside, leaving Darcy to speak to Lizzy.
"Miss Bennet," he declared. "I know that Bingley and my cousin will wish to dance with you tonight, but I must stake my claim to the first and third sets."
"The third set so soon, Mr. Darcy?"
"Indeed, for I have it on good authority that the third set will be a waltz."
As she waited to begin the first dance, Elizabeth remembered the first-and only-time that she had danced with Mr. Darcy, on that very floor. Then she had been determined to criticize his behavior and cause him pain. Tonight she wanted to do nothing but enjoy being close to the man she dearly loved.
"I believe we must have some conversation," Darcy smiled as they moved among the other couples. "Shall I remark on the number of couples? Perhaps you could comment on the size of the room."
"It appears to me that the number and size are well matched," Elizabeth replied. "It is rare when there is such a happy coupling, is it not?"
"Rare but hardly impossible," Darcy murmured, bringing a blush to Lizzy's cheeks.
Bingley and Darcy changed partners for the second dance. Lizzy enjoyed dancing with her future brother; he was very skilled and pretended not to notice when Lizzy repeatedly focused her attention elsewhere. Jane was equally understanding with her partner and traded knowing smiles with Bingley.
After what seemed an endless wait, Darcy at last clasped Elizabeth's hand and led her to the waltz. The dance sent the same charge through Elizabeth that it had a few days earlier. Although there were far more spectators than in Netherfield's drawing room, Elizabeth saw no one but Darcy.
"I look forward to another dance before the evening ends," he declared as the waltz concluded. "I pray that the colonel's dance skills have improved since the second set. Have your sister's feet stopped swelling?"
Elizabeth laughed. "Poor Kitty! I think Fitzwilliam forgot how heavy his shoes are. I am sure I will be fine."
Lizzy's feet remained unscathed during her dance with the colonel, but the colonel, as well as Darcy (who was fulfilling an obligation to dance with Caroline and ignored her as much as politeness would allow), could not avoid noticing how withdrawn she seemed. When the music ended, Lizzy curtseyed and walked away, head down.
Fitzwilliam strode to this cousin.
"Darcy, Miss Elizabeth seems unhappy. She did not appear so when you danced together, did she? It is as though something has come upon her."
Darcy scanned the room for her figure. "Did she say where she was going?" The colonel shook his head, and Darcy left to tour the room.
"Have any of you seen Miss Elizabeth?" he asked Kitty, Georgiana, and Maria Lucas, who were engaged in a giggling conversation.
"Lizzy said she was going to the library," Kitty replied. Darcy bowed and turned away.
The library door was ajar. Darcy knocked.
Darcy entered and saw Elizabeth staring out the window.
"Miss Bennet, you seem pensive. I noticed that you spoke hardly a word to my cousin during your last dance. I hope that nothing is upsetting you."
Elizabeth turned around.
"I am not upset, Mr. Darcy. Rather, I am angry at myself. This is an evening to celebrate Bingley and Jane's love, yet all that I can think of are the mistakes I have made. How cruel I was to you the last time we danced here! You have forgiven me for my having once thought that I loved Wickham, why can I not forgive myself?"
Darcy walked to Lizzy and took her hand. "You must not continue to feel this way. You have no reason to be ashamed or chagrined. Please, I cannot bear to see this anguish on your face. If you must think of Wickham, then think of him as the man whose folly served a happier purpose-making me realize that I could not live without you." Darcy led Elizabeth to a chair and stood in front of her, still holding her hand. "Elizabeth, it has been many weeks since I realized how valuable you are to me. I have no desire but to love you and be worthy of your love. Please tell me that I have a chance and that you will become my wife."
Elizabeth looked into his eyes. "There is nothing I want more."
"Then you forgive yourself? And you love me?"
Elizabeth nodded. "Always and forever, Mr. Darcy."
Darcy grinned and lifted Elizabeth into his arms. "That's William to you, dearest," he whispered as he leaned in to kiss her. Elizabeth's hands traced patterns in Darcy's dark curls, while his thumbs drew circles across her back.
"So that is what an embrace should feel like," sighed Lizzy as the lovers slowly drew apart. "I think I shall like this very much."
Posted On Tuesday, 27 May 2003
Darcy and Elizabeth lingered in the library for a few moments longer. They decided that Darcy would ask for Mr. Bennet's permission the following morning. With a final kiss, Darcy escorted Elizabeth back to the dance, where people were preparing to sit down for a light supper.
They took a seat near Georgiana, Charles, and Jane. Lizzy caught her sister's eye and whispered, "Tonight." Jane smiled in reply.
When the supper concluded, the couples returned to the ballroom. Darcy and Elizabeth danced the final two sets together; to their delight, the final dance of the evening was another waltz. Darcy sorely wanted to kiss Lizzy but had to settle for holding her hands a little more tightly.
He did manage a kiss on the hand when the Longbourn party departed, accompanied by a tender whisper, "Till tomorrow, my love."
It was an anxious Elizabeth who entered her sister's room that night.
"Oh Jane!" she exclaimed. "Darcy asked me to marry him. I am so happy, I can hardly speak."
Jane embraced her sister. "Lizzy, this is wonderful. Charles and I always knew that you loved one another, I am delighted you both discovered it."
"Then you are happy?"
"Happy! Lizzy, there is no one I would rather have as a brother. Only Charles and you will be dearer to me. To think that we shall all be related! When are you to wed?"
"As soon as you return from your month on the Continent."
"Will you let Charles and I bring our luggage to Netherfield, or should we travel directly to the church?" teased Jane.
Lizzy laughed and kissed her sister as she left the room, preparing for the happiest night of sleep in her life.
As he had promised, Darcy arrived the next morning. Before Bingley took his customary seat by Jane, he went to Elizabeth and shook her hand with expressive warmth, leaving no doubt of his good information. Darcy whispered a few words to Mr. Bennet and followed him to the library.
"Well sir," declared Mr. Bennet as he closed the library door, "what do you want to play today? Shall it be chess or backgammon? Or perhaps you would like to hear the latest letter from Mr. Collins?"
"Actually, sir, I came to ask for your blessings. I have asked your daughter Elizabeth for her hand in marriage and she was good enough to accept."
Mr. Bennet grinned. "It is about time, young man! Hmm, I wonder which of us won the wager?" Mr. Bennet made a show of going through his desk and pulling out a piece of paper that was marked with several dates. "Ah, I believe Kitty has triumphed. She shall be very happy to receive a new bonnet."
Darcy looked puzzled. "A wager, sir?"
"Yes. Your sister, my daughters Kitty and Lydia, and I tried to guess when you would propose to Elizabeth. Mary of course abhors gambling, and you can imagine Mrs. Bennet and Jane's reactions."
"My sister bet?" asked Darcy incredulously.
"Yes sir, and had you proposed a week ago yesterday, she would have won. Don't look so askance, Mr. Darcy. 'Twas all in good fun, and all because every one of us could see how much you and my daughter adore each other. I could not part with my daughter for just anyone, you understand. I believe you are the only man whom I could consider worthy of Elizabeth. You have my blessings."
Darcy sighed in relief. "Thank you, Mr. Bennet. Tell Kitty I congratulate her. I would have proposed long ago, but I did not want to risk exposing Elizabeth to questions of propriety. Her honor is too precious to me-" Darcy's voice began to break.
Mr. Bennet paced the room, fearing he had said something to offend his future son-in-law.
"I am sorry if I teased you unfairly," he finally said. "I must warn you, however, that as the fiancé of Elizabeth Bennet, there will be much more of that from her lips."
Darcy looked up and smiled. "I would rather be teased by Elizabeth than fawned upon by anyone else."
Mr. Bennet matched his smile and led Darcy out the library. Mr. Bennet walked to Lizzy and declared, "Congratulations, Lizzy, you will be very happy."
It took but a second for Mrs. Bennet to catch his meaning.
"Oh Lizzy! Dear Mr. Darcy! Oh Lizzy I knew you could not be so pretty and charming for nothing! I believe I shall go distracted!"
Mrs. Bennet went to a couch to collect herself, while the others gathered around and congratulated the new couple.
Seeing that Darcy and Lizzy were discomfited from the attention, Mrs. Gardiner wisely called to Mrs. Bennet: "Dear sister, I believe that Lizzy, Jane, and their fiancés might wish to take a turn outside. I am sure they all have much to discuss." Mrs. Bennet nodded her head and, with a grateful look at Mrs. Gardiner, the two couples went outside.
They talked happily for more than half an hour about their mutual happiness and their hopes for the future. Elizabeth laughed as the others told her about the wager and declared that she would have to buy Georgiana and Lydia new bonnets so they would not begrudge Kitty.
"Did I hear something about a bonnet?" declared Georgiana, arriving on horseback. Longbourn's stablehand helped her dismount and led the dappled horse away.
Georgiana looked at Lizzy. "May I call you sister now?"
"Yes," cried Lizzy. "Oh Georgiana, I am so happy!"
Georgiana warmly embraced Lizzy and Jane. "I truly have the most wonderful brother. I have always wanted a sister, and now I shall have five!"
The remainder of the week flew by, filled with final preparations for Jane and Bingley's wedding. Centerpieces and other decorations were created, the breakfast menu was finalized, Jane's dress was trimmed to perfection.
Bingley spent as little time as he could at Netherfield. Caroline was not especially happy after learning of Darcy's engagement, and Bingley could not bear to sit at home and listen to her insult Elizabeth. Darcy had overheard one such comment, and it had taken all of Bingley's self-restraint not to force Caroline to leave immediately. As it was, Louisa had decided it best if she, Mr. Hurst, and Caroline remove from Netherfield after the wedding and visit the eldest Bingley sister, Harriet, in the north of England until Darcy's wedding.
On the night before her nuptials, Jane tiptoed into her beloved sister's room. Elizabeth was sitting in front of her vanity, gazing at the diamond and emerald band on her left ring finger. She turned around at the sound of footsteps.
"Jane, you should be asleep," she said fondly. "It would not be well if you were to yawn instead of saying 'I do.'"
Jane sat next to her sister. "Lizzy, I was never sure if this day would come. To think that I shall never be Jane Bennet again. From now on, I will be Mrs. Bingley."
"And a very happy Mrs. Bingley you will be."
Jane smiled. "I could not be happier. But I am nervous, Lizzy. What if I do not please him? Everything will change tomorrow. I must trust in Aunt Gardiner's advice."
"Charles could never be displeased by you," Lizzy replied. She knew, to a certain point, to what Jane was referring, but as yet knew little of the details. Lizzy was relieved to hear that their aunt was there for support, as she could easily conjecture what their mother might have to say.
Jane hugged her sister. "I suppose I should go to bed, but I cannot promise that I will sleep; so please, Lizzy, if I start to waver in church, hold me up!"
Jane, however, did not fall down or yawn during her wedding ceremony. Instead, she stood, shyly but firmly, as beautiful a bride as had ever been seen. Bingley's smile as he saw her walk down the aisle was as wide as the church. Darcy and Elizabeth stood as best man and maid of honor, exchanging smiles and intense stares throughout the vows. Elizabeth could barely hear the words, so entranced was she by her beloved's gaze. She began to wish that Jane and Bingley could take a shorter honeymoon.
The Bingleys exited the church to congratulations and led the way to the breakfast at Netherfield. Soon it was time for them to depart. Charles and Jane walked over to Lizzy and Darcy before entering the carriage that would take them to the port.
"We shall see you in a month, Darce! Take care of him, Lizzy, make sure he doesn't lord it over my staff too much," teased Charles, as he kissed his new sister's cheek. He took his new bride's hand and lifted her into the carriage. Jane looked out the window and waved to her sister and Darcy.
After the carriage had driven out of sight, Lizzy turned to Darcy.
"I believe that I shall go to bed every night, wishing that the next morning would be our wedding day. I know I am being silly but thirty days seems so long."
"It is not so bad," whispered Darcy as he took Lizzy into his arms. "Our wait will give me thirty more days to kiss you."
Lizzy began to think that the next month would not be so bad after all.
Posted On Wednesday, 4 June 2003
The next two weeks passed with little to vex or alarm Elizabeth. The letters she received from her sister, detailing the wonderful sights of Italy and Austria, ameliorated the sadness she felt at Jane's absence. Jane's letters, which always included a cheerful postscript from Charles, were filled with her delight with her marriage and her hopes that Lizzy would experience equal joy. Lizzy would read the letters to Darcy, and then he would share the mail he had received from Charles. The couple would smile while they read Jane's letters or laugh as they tried to decipher Charles's ink-stained missives.
Most of the encounters were at Longbourn. Although Elizabeth did visit Netherfield, frequently with other members of her family, most of the day was spent at her home. While Elizabeth walked the grounds with Darcy, Georgiana spent almost all her time with the other Bennet sisters. The fears Elizabeth had-that Kitty and Lydia would be a bad influence on Georgiana-proved happily groundless. Elizabeth's sisters showed Georgiana that there was much to enjoy in life, while Georgiana demonstrated that such pleasures could be experienced with sweetness and gentility. She also succeeded in showing Mary the best way to demonstrate one's accomplishments. Elizabeth was sometimes rueful as she watched Georgiana interact with her sisters; she wished that she could have been a better elder sister.
On their walks, Darcy and Elizabeth discussed their plans for the immediate future. They had considered touring England and Scotland for their honeymoon but at last decided that their first weeks as newlyweds would be spent at Pemberley. Lizzy was eager to see her new home, and Darcy was thrilled at the thought that he would soon lead her through its corridors and be able to introduce her to all of the servants and tenants as "Mrs. Darcy." They debated spending the first two or three days of married life at Darcy's London townhome, but then Elizabeth shyly asked if they could reach Pemberley in one day, because there was no place she would rather spend her wedding night.
"I believe you have read my mind, dearest Elizabeth," said Darcy, wrapping his arm around her waist a little more tightly and kissing her.
And so Elizabeth was quite happy. Even her mother, with her hopes for a diamond and satin-festooned wedding, could not vex her. Darcy told Mrs. Bennet in polite but very certain terms that he wanted Elizabeth to have the wedding of her dreams. From that point on, Mrs. Bennet said hardly a word about the wedding preparations (it should not be surprising that this led to an even better friendship between Darcy and his future father-in-law).
However, a little more than a fortnight before her marriage, two upsetting events occurred.
One morning Elizabeth visited Netherfield. The housekeeper led her to the study.
"Good morning, William," said Elizabeth cheerfully. "Would you like to hear the latest letter from Jane?"
Darcy looked up from the desk. "I should like it very much. After reading this letter, I need something to cheer me up."
"May I ask who wrote you?"
Darcy sighed. "My aunt, Lady Catherine, has decided to express her disapproval of our engagement in the most callous terms. I will spare you the details. Suffice it to say that she believes-despite the wishes of my parents, myself, and my cousin-that I should wed her daughter Anne, and that any other woman who claims my heart is not worthy. I can hardly hold this letter without wishing to tear it. No one, including any relation, is to speak of the Mistress of Pemberley in such terms."
Lizzy walked over to Darcy and put her arms around him. "Oh William, I wish our happiness did not cause strife between you and your aunt."
Darcy pulled her head down and kissed her. "Do not blame yourself, Elizabeth. I do not regret a single moment we have shared, or will share. Now tell me, what do you Jane and Bingley have to say?" he concluded, pulling his fiancée onto his lap.
Elizabeth read him the letter, filled with Jane's tales of Florence and Rome. Bingley included a note expressing his continued happiness in being part of the Bennet family and urging Elizabeth and Darcy to decorate their guestrooms at Netherfield in whatever manner they wished.
"I am glad he gave us permission, for I was about to order a shipment of paint from London," joked Darcy.
A few days after that interlude, Elizabeth was saddened by Darcy's departure. He had business in London and Pemberley that would take the better part of a week. Though she had known of the trip-which entailed setting up her rooms in the two homes and determining the terms of her marriage settlement-for several weeks, Elizabeth could feel little delight with Darcy's extended absence.
"Must you be gone so long," she pleaded the morning of his departure.
"I will be as quick as I can, Elizabeth. But I do not want to forget anything; I want to be sure that everything is as perfect as you deserve. Remember also that when I return, it will be but one week till we are wed." Darcy wound Elizabeth's hair around his hands and breathed in the lavender scent of her shampoo. "One week till we need never be apart." He removed his hands from her hair and placed them upon her waist. His lips trailed kisses along her collarbone.
"Perhaps we should forget the wait and go to Gretna Green," murmured Elizabeth.
"Do not think that has not crossed my mind," replied Darcy, growling slightly. "However, neither your family, nor mine, would forgive us. Particularly our sisters." He and Elizabeth laughed and shared one more kiss before he exited Netherfield.
Elizabeth did miss Darcy-and his letters indicated he missed her just as much-but she found there was much to fill her day. Georgiana stayed at Longbourn while her brother was away. While there, she and Kitty decided that Georgiana should remain at Longbourn even after Darcy's return and stay for a week after the wedding. That plan would allow the Bingleys and the Darcys ample privacy; plus, Georgiana very much wished to extend her stay in Hertfordshire.
"But then you must come to Pemberley in the fall," she told Lydia, Kitty, and Mary. "And oh! perhaps to London in the winter? I am sure my brother and Lizzy will not refuse."
"London!" exclaimed Lydia. "Oh, I cannot imagine anything more delightful. Think of all the handsome men!"
"Many very handsome, but only a few with much sense," laughed Georgiana. "My cousin Belinda met such a man last season." She shared her cousin's encounter with a man of Bingley's looks but Mr. Collins' mind. Longbourn filled with the laughter of the four girls.
Darcy returned at last, with the colonel in tow. The colonel greeted Elizabeth with great warmth. Although he had expressed his happiness with the engagement in a letter, he was eager to repeat his good wishes in person. Elizabeth was delighted to learn that the colonel's parents and siblings would be attending the wedding. Unlike Lady Catherine, the Matlocks were ecstatic for Darcy, who was almost like a son to them.
Darcy's return was soon followed by the arrival of the Gardiners. As she had done with Jane, Mrs. Gardiner took Elizabeth aside and told her what she should expect as a bride. Elizabeth was quite fortunate, for her mother had not yet given her version of the wedding-night speech, so there was nothing to confuse her.
Despite Jane's earlier teasing, she and Bingley returned not on the morning of the wedding, but two days prior. The Bingleys headed first to Longbourn, where they were welcomed with delight.
"Oh Lizzy, I feel my letters did not do justice! There is nothing better than being married to the man you love." She and Elizabeth were sitting in Elizabeth's room. "The continent was beautiful, but I am happy to be back as the Mistress of Netherfield. Charles and I are to receive his sisters and Mr. Hurst tomorrow. Lizzy, I hope that Caroline behaves better toward you than before she left."
"Do not worry, Jane. I have too much to make me happy to be concerned about what Caroline Bingley might say on the day before my wedding."
The final day of Elizabeth's life at Longbourn passed quietly. As it turned out, even Caroline could not mar the moment; she was surprisingly civil. Darcy and Elizabeth spent as much time together as they could, though final preparations made that difficult. He departed Longbourn with a final kiss and a whispered promise.
It was that promise that rang in Lizzy's head as she went to bed the night before her wedding.
Posted On Wednesday, 4 June 2003
Elizabeth woke up to a perfect July morning. A few clouds floated in the sky, and a mild breeze rustled the trees outside her window.
Today is my wedding day, she thought. It is so different from what I thought would happen but a few months ago.
She got out of bed, pulled on her robe, and walked around the room. Never again would this be her sanctuary, the place she would turn to when her mother's chattering was too loud or Kitty and Lydia's arguments too grating. Soon Pemberley would be her home; when she next came to Longbourn, it would be as a visitor, as Mrs. Darcy. Elizabeth wondered if she would stay in this room, or in guest chambers, and if her husband would join her. She blushed at the thought.
A knock at the door interrupted Lizzy's reveries.
"Lizzy, may I come in?" inquired Jane, who had left Netherfield early in the morning to help her sister.
"Of course Jane!"
Jane entered and closed the door gently, as not everyone was yet awake. She walked to her sister, who was now sitting in front of her vanity.
"How do you feel, Lizzy?"
Elizabeth turned to her sister. "Oh Jane, I feel as though I am in a dream. When I think of what I might have experienced; what would have happened had not William visited Rosings? Do I deserve such happiness?"
Jane smiled and embraced her sister. "Lizzy, of course you do. There is no need to regret what happened. Wickham can no longer cause you pain. In a few hours, you will be Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy and everything will be as it ought." She kissed her sister's cheek.
"You are right. It is as William said when he proposed, everything that happened this spring served to prove that he and I were meant to be together. When we first met, I never imagined I could love him as I do now. I am thankful every day that I was able to rethink my prejudices." Lizzy arose. "Do we dare awake our mother, or should we have a few more moments of quiet?"
The sound of Mrs. Bennet running through the hall, crying "It's Lizzy's wedding day!" quickly ended that discussion.
A few hours later, Darcy stood at the altar, waiting for Elizabeth to walk down the aisle. He could hardly stand still from the anticipation.
Georgiana and Colonel Fitzwilliam led the procession, followed by Jane and Bingley, the matron of honor and best man. Georgiana kissed her brother on the cheek, while Jane and Bingley flashed encouraging smiles and the colonel again offered his congratulations. However, Darcy hardly heard or saw a thing, until he gazed upon his beloved entering the church on her father's arms.
Elizabeth was clad in a simple white satin gown, trimmed with lace at the cuffs and neckline. On her neck she wore a pearl strand that had been worn by the six previous Mrs. Darcys when they were brides. It and the matching earrings had been a gift from William. Her hair was in loose curls, covered with a short lace veil. In her gloved hands she held a bouquet of irises and white roses.
Darcy was not the sort of man who cried, but his eyes began to mist when Elizabeth reached the altar. After so many months, the woman he adored with every fiber of his being would be his, to protect and cherish for all of his days. He prayed silently that he would never give Elizabeth any reason to doubt his devotion.
Mr. Bennet embraced his favorite daughter and then sat by his wife.
The ceremony was brief but poignant. Darcy chastely kissed his wife and led her down the aisle to the congratulations of nearly the whole crowd. Caroline sat quietly the entire time.
Because there was not enough room at Longbourn to hold all the guests, the Bingleys hosted the wedding breakfast. The Darcys stayed for a little more than an hour. Their carriage was sent to Longbourn to pick up Lizzy's trunks, while she and Jane went upstairs so that Elizabeth could change into her travelling clothes, which had been brought to Netherfield earlier in the week.
"I cannot wait until you visit Pemberley, Jane," declared Lizzy.
"I believe many things will keep you occupied, dearest Lizzy," her sister teased. "But I do look forward to seeing Pemberley, Charles declares there are few estates more beautiful."
Elizabeth and Jane returned to Netherfield's dining room, where Darcy arose and took his wife's elbow.
"Shall I lead you to our carriage, Mrs. Darcy?" he whispered. "It is time for us to go home."
Darcy and Elizabeth enjoyed a quiet ride to Pemberley. Elizabeth rested her head against her husband's chest, while he wrapped his arms around her and told her of the beauties of Pemberley in between kisses.
Sometime after dusk, Darcy gently removed his arms from Lizzy's waist and directed her to the window.
"Look outside, my love. We will soon be home."
Elizabeth sat up and cast her eyes to where Darcy was pointing. All she could see was rolling hills and majestic trees. She gasped at the beauty of the surroundings. In time, the image of a sturdy stone house began to loom. She turned around and saw William smiling.
"That is Pemberley you see before you. I hope you approve."
"Oh William, I do not believe I have ever seen a home more happily situated." And so it was; Pemberley appeared to have grown naturally from its surroundings, in stark contrast to Rosings, which had altered its grounds to match the ostentatiousness of the home.
It was not long before the carriage had reached the front gates of Pemberley. Two footmen were standing nearby, waiting to remove the trunks. Darcy gently lifted his wife from the carriage and escorted her to the door. One of the footmen scurried over to open the door.
"Hello," said Darcy, as he led Elizabeth inside. "I would like everyone to meet the new mistress of Pemberley."
Elizabeth saw before her several dozen employees, all who worked in Pemberley or on its grounds. She began to worry that she would never remember all their names or responsibilities.
Sensing Lizzy's discomfort, Darcy led her to a pleasant-looking middle-aged couple.
"Elizabeth, may I introduce Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds? Mr. Reynolds is our head groundskeeper and his wife is the housekeeper. They have been in my family's employ since I was four years old. There is nothing about Pemberley or its grounds that they do not know. If you ever have any questions, they are the ones to ask. I confess I have often had questions of my own," he laughed.
"I am very pleased to meet you," said Elizabeth, extending a hand to Mr. Reynolds. He shook her hand while Mrs. Reynolds curtsied.
"We are delighted to meet you, Mrs. Darcy," said the housekeeper. "I knew from the way Master Darcy spoke of you when he came to Pemberley earlier this month that he had found the perfect wife."
"I hope I can be so, Mrs. Reynolds."
"I have no doubt, Mrs. Darcy."
Elizabeth smiled and turned back to Darcy, who began to introduce her to the other employees, including the cook, Mrs. Evans, and Elizabeth's maid, Margaret. Elizabeth could see how much Darcy and his staff respected each other. It gave her yet another reason to love him-there was not a sign of the haughtiness that he had displayed so long ago. It was at Pemberley where Darcy showed that he was an even better man than Elizabeth had believed.
When the introductions concluded, Margaret led Elizabeth upstairs to her new chambers.
"Do you need anything, Mrs. Darcy? Shall I prepare a bath or help you unpack?"
"No thank you Margaret, I believe I shall be fine. I will let you know if I have any requests."
Margaret curtsied and returned downstairs.
Elizabeth gazed at her new surroundings. Everything was decorated in ivory and peach, her favorite colors. The bedroom was twice as large as the one at Longbourn. A door at the back led to the nursery, while the dressing room was through the door to the right. To the left was the door that connected her room to the sitting room she would share with Darcy.
The rooms were furnished elegantly but simply with no unnecessary frills or finery. In the center was a beautiful oaken-canopied bed. Two plush chairs and a writing desk completed the bedroom furnishings.
Elizabeth entered the equally beautiful dressing room. Her trunks were already on the floor, near the spacious closets (which had no shelves). She opened the smaller of the two and removed a nightgown and matching robe. Made of the finest silk, they had been Jane's wedding gift-a purchase she had made in Florence. The ivory cloth shimmered in the candlelight. Elizabeth ran the garments through her hands and breathed deeply.
The next time William sees me, she thought, I will be wearing that. I hope he approves.
Taking another deep breath, Lizzy slipped her dress off and pulled the nightgown over her body. She wrapped the robe around herself and walked to the vanity. Elizabeth released her hair from its pins and picked up the hairbrush. Carved into its ivory handle were the initials E.D. She brushed her hair, a dreamy smile etched on her face. After she applied some lavender water to her neck, Elizabeth returned to her chambers and sat in a chair, waiting for her husband.
A knock soon interrupted her reverie.
"May I come in, Elizabeth?" said the voice she cherished above all others.
"Yes, William," she replied.
Darcy strode into her room. Elizabeth caught his gaze and blushed, tying the sash of her robe a little more tightly.
"You look beautiful, Elizabeth."
Elizabeth smiled in reply. She could not talk, amazed as she was at her husband's appearance. He was clad in nothing more than shirtsleeves, a vest, and breeches. Elizabeth had not realized until that moment exactly how handsome her husband was.
Darcy took his wife's hand.
"Come with me to our sitting room, dearest. I have had a supper sent up for us."
Darcy led her into the room, which was also furnished in Elizabeth's favorite colors. In the center was a table laden with soup and cold meats.
"William, everything is so beautiful. My rooms, I cannot picture one more suited to my tastes."
"I am glad you approve, Elizabeth. When my father died, I moved into his room, but I never touched the sitting room or my mother's chambers. I wanted everything to be new for you, to show how my life did not truly begin until I met you. However, the writing desk in your room was the one my mother used. I felt you would approve."
"There is nothing that I would change, William," Elizabeth replied softly.
Lizzy had thought herself hungry when she had waited for Darcy a few moments earlier, but now she could do little more than sip her wine and take a few bites of roast beef. She ran her eyes around the room, stopping at the door that led to the master bedroom. She blushed when she realized that Darcy had followed her gaze.
Their eyes locked and they stared at each other for many moments. At last Darcy broke the silence and stood up. He walked around the table, kissed Elizabeth's hair, and murmured, "Let me prove how much I love you, Mrs. Darcy." Softly kissing her lips, Darcy lifted Elizabeth from her chair and carried her into his chambers.
Posted On Wednesday, 4 June 2003
And so Mr. and Mrs. Darcy began what would be a very long and happy marriage. They might have had a few more disagreements than the Bingleys, but the Darcy's reconciliation more than made up for any verbal skirmishes.
Darcy and Elizabeth raised two sons and two daughters, while Jane gave birth to three angelic girls before at last presenting an heir to her husband. Only the first birth occurred at Netherfield. Not long after their first anniversary, the Bingleys departed Hertfordshire and settled into an estate not thirty miles from Pemberley.
The younger Bennets spent most of their time with their elder sisters and Georgiana. As Georgiana had promised, they spent their seasons in London. During that first season, the Bingleys, Bennets, and Darcys attended a ball hosted by a Viscount and his wife, the former Eleanor Tilney. The Viscountess introduced her guests to her brother and sister-in-law, Henry and Catherine Tilney. Henry Tilney's quick wit immediately endeared him to the Darcys, while the sweetness of Catherine Tilney ensured that Georgiana and the Bennet girls would become her lifelong friends. Hearing of Mary's interest in Scripture, she introduced Miss Bennet to her brother, James Morland. Not many months passed before Mary wed the kindly clergyman.
On a visit to Pemberley the following spring, Lydia met a friend of Colonel Fitzwilliam's, a promising young officer named Shepherd. He was everything that Lydia or her mother could desire-a handsome red coat with an income of 3000 pounds a year. Meanwhile, Kitty fell in love with the doctor who had successfully treated young Richard Charles Darcy when the heir to Pemberley was gravely ill. She soon settled in Kympton, the village just north of Pemberley.
Georgiana was the last to marry. She saw each day at Pemberley the benefits of a happy marriage and longed to enjoy that in her wedded life. Her moment arrived nearly four years after the Darcy's marriage. A wealthy man of six-and-twenty moved into an estate barely a dozen miles west of Pemberley. Georgiana became acquainted with his sister on an excursion to Lambton and soon found herself spending considerable time at Rosedale. Gregory Davis was a kind and handsome man who even Fitzwilliam Darcy could acknowledge was worthy of his beloved sister.
On the night of Georgiana's wedding, Elizabeth turned to her husband as they lay in bed.
"Georgiana looked beautiful, William. I am not sure I have ever seen so beautiful a bride, except perhaps Jane."
"I have," Darcy replied, absentmindedly playing with her dark locks. "A bride with the most expressive eyes I have ever seen. I thought I would never be happier than I was at the moment she became my wife, but my happiness has grown every day since then. I still do not know what I did to deserve you."
"Believe me, Mr. Darcy," replied Elizabeth as she reached up to kiss him, "I do."