"If you will thank me," [Mr. Darcy] replied [to Elizabeth], "let it be for yourself alone. That the wish of giving happiness to you might add force to the other inducements which led me on, I shall not attempt to deny. But your family owe me nothing. Much as I respect them, I believe, I thought only of you."
Elizabeth was too much embarrassed to say a word. After a short pause, her companion added, "You are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged, but one word from you will silence me on this subject forever."
Elizabeth feeling all the more than common awkwardness and anxiety of his situation now forced herself to speak; and immediately, though not very fluently, gave him to understand that her sentiments had undergone so material a change, since the period to which he alluded, as to make her receive with gratitude and pleasure his present assurances.
Pride and Prejudice, Vol III, Ch XVI
"My dear Lizzy, where can you have been walking to?" was a question which Elizabeth received from Jane as soon as she entered the room, and from all the others when they sat down to table. She had only to say in reply that they had wandered about till she was beyond her own knowledge. She colored as she spoke; but neither that, nor anything else, awakened a suspicion of the truth...
Pride and Prejudice, Vol III, Ch XVII
...in anyone except Mr. Bennet, who was determined to learn the cause of that blush. He looked sternly at Elizabeth. He finally caught her eye, but with a laughing smile she turned away.
Throughout dinner, Mr. Bennet kept a close eye on Elizabeth and her co-conspirator, Mr. Darcy. It seemed to him that both Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy were exchanging frequent glances. Though never truly staring at each other, when their eyes did meet, it was plain that they were engaed in unspoken communication. The more Mr. Bennet watched them, the better able he was to interpret their language. It was a look of hunger. Insatiable hunger.
Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth never spoke, but sat so close that their shoulders frequently brushed against each other. For some reason, Mr. Bennet observed, Mr. Darcy ate only with his left hand and Elizabeth with her right. Their other hands remained out of sight, hidden by the tablecloth. He would bet the whole of Longbourn estate that those hands were touching.
Mr. Bennet knew his second daughter well. Ever since she could walk, she had wandered the countryside around Longbourn and Meryton. The older she grew, the farther she went. He knew that she left late that morning in the company of Mr. Bingley, Mr. Darcy, Jane and Kitty. He was also aware that Mr. Bingley and Jane had returned alone in the early afternoon and Kitty not long thereafter. However, it was not until many hours later that Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy had come back.
Although they had been gone for a substantial period of time, Mr. Bennet was convinced that they could not have walked beyond Elizabeth's knowledge. That possibility was not a consideration. Something else had either kept them away or prevented their timely return. Either way, his daughter had been alone with Mr. Darcy, out in the countryside, for the majority of the day.
Mr. Bennet did not want to suspect his daughter of any...what could he say...misconduct...but her behavior at dinner with Mr. Darcy provoked questions he never would have imagined asking Elizabeth. It had been true of Lydia, though, and he would not dare venture an opinion of Kitty's...situation...but Elizabeth?
Determined to know what happened, he excused himself from company and retired to the library. He knew it would be some time before the gentlemen left. Once they were gone, he would have a private conversation with Elizabeth.
Tea had been served and it was time for the gentlemen to leave. The acknowledged lovers exchanged a pressed hand and a tender word. The unacknowledged parted in silence, with longing in their eyes the only communication between them.
Mr. Bennet was out of his library the moment he heard the door close. Walking with as much ease as his agitated mind would allow, he crossed the hall to the drawing room. He found Elizabeth tidying up her needlework.
"Lizzy, will you come to my library? I would like to speak with you," said Mr. Bennet.
Elizabeth thought nothing of this request, as it was not unusual for father and daughter to spend hours reading together and in conversation.
Mr. Bennet followed Elizabeth into the room and invited her to take a seat in front of his desk. He sat in the chair next to hers. After looking into her eyes for a moment with a glance she readily returned, he cleared his throat and began what he hoped would not be a distressing interview.
"Lizzy, did anything happen today about which I should know?" asked Mr. Bennet.
Elizabeth shifted in her seat. Mr. Bennet noticed her discomfiture with raised eyebrows.
"Happen?" she repeated uncomfortably.
"Yes, between you and Mr. Darcy."
"Well, we did all walk out today..." began Elizabeth. She could not continue, and her sentence was left unfinished. She could not meet her father's eyes.
"I am aware of that, Lizzy, but it occurred to me that you and Mr. Darcy were gone much longer than the others, and I was wondering ... Lizzy, did you really walk so far that you did not know where you were?"
"As you know, Father, I do walk many places, and ... well..." She hesitated.
"Well?" quizzed Mr. Bennet, urging her to continue.
"I confess, sir," said Elizabeth meekly, looking down at her clenched hands in her lap, "that we were not beyond my knowledge. I was not completely truthful. I hoped no one would notice. I should have known that you would. I am sorry."
"Dissembling is not a feature of your character, Lizzy. You do not do it well at all," laughed Mr. Bennet.
Elizabeth smiled and looked up, grateful that her father was not truly angry with her. There would, however, be no escape from acknowledging the truth of her situation with Mr. Darcy.
"Sir, something did happen today, though it is not with me that you should speak."
"Oh, and with whom should I speak?"
Elizabeth paused again under her father's unyielding stare.
"With Mr. Darcy, sir."
"I hope nothing unfortunate happened while you were with him, Lizzy."
"Oh, no, sir! Nothing unfortunate at all, I assure you," she said with a smile that seemed to Mr. Bennet to be directed inwardly rather than at himself.
"Will you tell me?" asked Mr. Bennet.
"I know you will not let me leave until I do," she laughed. "Very well. Today Mr. Darcy asked me to marry him, and I accepted. He took me in his arms and kissed me. You cannot imagine the feelings of warmth and tenderness I experienced being touched by him. We spoke of everything. It was not until we turned westward and the sun was low on the horizon that Mr. Darcy checked his pocket watch and realized that we had been gone far too long. But there was so much to say, and I felt so close to him and wanted to be with him. Even now, I can feel his embrace. Oh, Father, I love him!"
"You love Mr. Darcy? I thought you always hated him." Mr. Bennet could not retain his seat and paced about the room. "Are you out of your senses to be accepting that man?
Elizabeth smiled tenderly at her father. "I know that in the beginning I did not always speak favorably of Mr. Darcy."
"Lizzy, is that what you call it? Favorable? My dear, you taught half of Meryton to hate the man!" cried her father.
"I was wrong, so very wrong!" she cried. "I came to know him better when I visited at Hunsford. He was staying with his aunt at Rosings Park and we were with each other daily, and I saw him again in Derbyshire when I traveled there with my aunt and uncle, and I liked him so very well."
Again, Mr. Bennet noticed a faraway look in her eyes.
"Lizzy, I know very little about what you did at Hunsford and nothing at all about Derbyshire," said Mr. Bennet.
"Mr. Darcy proposed marriage to me at Hunsford."
Mr. Bennet could not hide his surprise. "But ..."
"I refused him," she answered, "because I did not know him then. Everything changed when I saw him and fell in love with him in Derbyshire. I loved him, and only news of Lydia's elopement could have taken me away from him."
"What do you mean, 'taken you away'?" Mr. Bennet was incredulous.
"I love him, Father," said Elizabeth unabashedly. "If he had asked me to stay with him at Pemberley, I would have, but," she said sadly, "we left before I had the chance to see him again."
Hesitantly, Mr. Bennet asked the question that had been on his mind all afternoon.
"Have you ... has he ... I mean, have you been..." he cleared his throat. "Has he made any ... inappropriate advances towards you. I mean, have you been ...compromised ... in any way? Is there any reason..."
Elizabeth interrupted him with a gasp.
"I know what you mean, Father, and no, that has not happened. But I will confess that if he asks it of me, I will consent. I will deny him nothing. I know that is wrong, but when he held me today the sensations I felt were indescribable. I want to feel that way forever. Mr. Darcy could ask anything of me, and I would not refuse him. Indeed, I anticipate the day I can truly be a wife to him."
Mr. Bennet took out a handkerchief and wiped the perspiration off his brow.
"You obviously feel a great deal for him, Lizzy," admitted Mr. Bennet, "but is he a good man? Is he the type of person you should be so willing to...to give yourself to?"
"He is the best man I know, Papa. He has the good opinion of all his servants and tenants at Pemberley. My Aunt Gardiner inquired with all her acquaintance in Lambton and the surrounding neighborhood and he is held in high esteem. He is raising his younger sister, Miss Darcy, and you will never meet a more well-mannered, considerate young lady. She is a joy to be around and I look forward with great anticipation to being her sister."
Elizabeth did not give her father time to reply.
"I know I did not speak well of him and that I accused him of pride, but, Father, he has no pride at all. The problem was with me and prejudices I had nurtured from the very beginning of our acquaintance."
"That is all well and good, Lizzy," said Mr. Bennet, "and I will give him credit for being a good brother, master, landlord and neighbor, but that may mean nothing. Does he truly love you or is he just attempting to take advantage of your ... your eagerness?"
"I am sorry, Father. Please do not let my feelings for him, which perhaps I ought to have kept to myself, prejudice you against him. He is a good man and you will love him nearly as much as I do when you get to know him. He is Mr. Bingley's closest friend, and I know your good opinion of Mr. Bingley," argued Elizabeth.
"That is all very true. Why has he not sought my consent?" asked Mr. Bennet.
"He wanted to approach you tonight, but I begged him to wait just one day until I could speak with you. I am certain that you did not understand my feelings for him."
"Very well. Lizzy." Mr. Bennet pondered for a moment and determined to test her commitment. "I do not know if I trust your Mr. Darcy. What if I withhold my consent?"
Elizabeth was shocked and tears involuntarily formed in her eyes.
"Papa, please do not put me in that situation! I love you both and you will love him, too. Please, Father! Please, give us your blessing!"
Elizabeth buried her face in her hands and began to cry. Mr. Bennet watched her for a moment, regretting that he had provoked her. It was never his intent to make her unhappy.
"Hush, Lizzy. All will be well." Mr. Bennet was resigned. Elizabeth would marry Mr. Darcy. "You know, Lizzy, it pains me to give you away."
Elizabeth looked up at her father. "I know, Papa. Please, I love him."
"Come here, child." Mr. Bennet stood pulled Elizabeth into his arms and kissed her forehead.
"I will give you my consent, Lizzy."
"Thank you, Papa. Thank you so much!"
"Well, well. You run along to bed. I look forward to seeing your Mr. Darcy tomorrow."
With a smile, Elizabeth rose and stepped to the door. Just as she took hold of the knob, her father asked her,
"Is it true that you would refuse him nothing?"
Elizabeth nodded affirmatively and was on the point of leaving the room when her father called her back.
"Lizzy, it could be some weeks before you can be married." He cleared his throat. "I think it would be inadvisable to ... if you ... for you to anticipate your wedding," stuttered Mr. Bennet.
"Yes, and that is very frustrating to consider. Why, it is my wedding! Can I not have a plain ceremony scheduled in the shortest time?
"How short a time?" asked Mr. Bennet.
"Mr. Darcy can procure a license from town. We could marry within the week, but Mama..."
"You do not feel you need time to consider your feelings for him? You are certain in your decision to marry him?" asked Mr. Bennet.
"I am. I just wish we did not have to wait. I do not know what to do. It is so frustrating, to be so much in love, but prevented from showing all that I feel."
"I was young once, too, Lizzy, and I have some understanding of what you may be experiencing," Mr. Bennet said with a smile. "I have given you my consent, dearest, and I will give you my assistance. Will you promise me that you will not ... well ... Lizzy, in five days, I promise that you shall be Mr. Darcy's bride. Will you trust me?"
"Five days? You can do that for me? For us?"
Mr. Bennet nodded his assent.
"I will gladly trust you, Papa, but what about Mama?" Elizabeth questioned. "She will insist on a large ceremony with all of Meryton there and ..."
Mr. Bennet cut her off. "I will attend to her. Elizabeth, five more days. Please be patient, my child."
The next morning, Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy arrived at Longbourn in such good time that none of the ladies were dressed for the day.
Mr. Bennet, however, was eager to speak with Mr. Darcy, so he went to the hall and welcomed the Netherfield gentlemen.
"Good morning, Son," said Mr. Bennet to Mr. Bingley.
Bingley laughed, pleased with Mr. Bennet's teasing.
"And you are very welcome, also, sir," Mr. Bennet said to Mr. Darcy while taking his hand. "You have no idea how pleased I am that you could come today, and so early, too."
"Uh...thank you, sir." Darcy was a little surprised at Mr. Bennet's unexpectedly warm greeting. "I am very happy to be here, Mr. Bennet," replied Darcy. "I apologize that we are so early, as I see your daughters are not yet down. Bingley was quite eager to see Miss Bennet, as you can imagine."
Mr. Bennet smiled. "And is that to say, Mr. Darcy, that you are not eager to see a Miss Bennet yourself?"
Bingley nudged Darcy with his elbow while Darcy looked at the floor, struggling to hide a momentary embarrassment.
"Well, I am happy, sir..."
"Mr. Darcy," interrupted Mr. Bennet, "I would like some private conversation with you, sir. If you will please excuse us, Mr. Bingley."
Mr. Bingley bowed his assent and Mr. Bennet led Darcy to the library.
Darcy had intended to arrange for a private interview with Mr. Bennet, but had imagined that it would take place in the evening. For now, he was eager to see Elizabeth again and renew all that they said and felt the day before. He desperately wanted to see Elizabeth alone, if possible, and be assured from her own lips that what she told him yesterday was true - that she loved him. If privacy could be attained, he would take her in his arms and kiss those lips once again.
"Mr. Darcy, perhaps you would like to sit here," said Mr. Bennet, motioning to the chair Elizabeth had occupied the prior evening. Mr. Bennet moved behind his desk.
"I have asked you in here, Mr. Darcy, in order to establish the truth of a marvelous tale I heard last night."
"What kind of tale, sir?"
"Elizabeth tells me that she is in love with a man that she hates!"
Darcy's breath caught in his throat. "I am uncertain of your meaning, sir."
"Let me be frank, Mr. Darcy. From the very beginning of your acquaintance with my family, sir, the only reports I have heard of you have been distressingly unfavorable. Indeed, if it were not for your close friendship with Mr. Bingley, my future son-in-law, you might not even be welcome to Longbourn."
Mr. Bennet knew that Darcy could answer nothing, and he took great pleasure in having the upper hand over him. It was a fleeting victory, though, for if Elizabeth were the prize, then Darcy had already won.
"I pray that you will accept my apologies, sir," began Darcy. "I know that I have behaved in a manner that could appear..."
"Let me see," interrupted Mr. Bennet. "What was it that Elizabeth told me? Something shocking, offensive and quite ungentlemanly."
"I do not understand..."
"Perhaps you will recognize these words, Mr. Darcy. I repeat them as Elizabeth herself related them to me. 'She is tolerable, I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me.' Does that sound at all familiar to you?"
Darcy was stunned at hearing the cruelty couched in his own words. How often had he regretted saying that! How often had he feared that she had overheard him! He had grown easy as time passed and she did not mention that awful occasion, and he was beginning to feel safe in the knowledge that it would not come forward. Now to have it mentioned by her father, who, next to Elizabeth, was the last person in the world he would want to have knowledge of it, was horrible.
"Please let me apologize, Mr. Bennet," begged Darcy. "I did not know Elizabeth and I was in a very ill humor. I wished I could recall those words the instant they were spoken."
Darcy's discomfiture was evident and Mr. Bennet almost felt guilty for having thrust what he knew would be a dagger into Mr. Darcy's heart.
"Mr. Darcy," smiled Mr. Bennet with a look of reconciliation, "you will be happy to know that Elizabeth has forgiven you, and if she can overlook the offense, then so can I."
Darcy was visibly relieved.
"In any case, Mr. Darcy, that is not the reason I asked to speak with you. You see, I am aware that you have some business with me, and for reasons of my own, I want to conclude that business as early as possible. Perhaps you would like to begin?"
Darcy stood up and began to step away from his seat as if escaping confinement.
"It is rather early, Mr. Darcy, but may I offer you a glass of port? You appear to me to be ... uh ... nervous." Mr. Bennet's eyes sparkled as he spoke.
Darcy shook his head and resumed his seat, and summoning up what courage remained in him, began to speak.
"Mr. Bennet, you have me at a great disadvantage and I can only rely on your mercy. I am in love with a woman who hated me, and through circumstances both propitious and fortunate, she now loves me and I have persuaded her to accept my offer of marriage."
"Ah, yes, persuasion. That is something I want to touch upon, but it can wait. I am fascinated, sir," said Mr. Bennet, "please go on!"
"I have asked Elizabeth to marry me, and she has consented. I am now seeking your consent."
"That is very interesting, Mr. Darcy, but I am convinced that she hates you. How can I consent to a marriage based on such feelings?"
"Mr. Bennet, I am quite certain that Elizabeth does not hate me. We have become good friends since our accidental meeting in Derbyshire. It is there that I won her affection and regard. I would have asked for her hand then, had not urgent family business arisen to take her away. You cannot imagine how I suffered when I learned she had left the country and I had not been able to see her."
"If you do indeed feel as you say you do, then, yes, it must have been a difficult time for you."
Darcy was mildly surprised to receive any words of compassion from Mr. Bennet, and his failing hopes gained some life.
"I love Elizabeth very much and we want your blessing to our union," said Darcy.
"And if I withhold my consent?" asked Mr. Bennet.
"You will disappoint and hurt your daughter more than I believe you would desire."
"That is a bold statement, sir."
"I am confident in my feelings for her and hers for me."
"That is a good basis for an understanding. I must be honest with you, Mr. Darcy. I had a private conversation with Elizabeth last night and she has expressed a similar confidence in your feelings for her. She has spoken to me of your good qualities and has convinced me of your merit. It is not my intention to disappoint her, Mr. Darcy. Therefore, you have my consent to marry her..."
"Thank you, sir, I promise that I..."
Mr. Bennet continued his thought. "...but on my terms only."
Darcy's feelings of elation were quickly stifled.
"Elizabeth has allowed that she loves you very dearly and tells me that she will not refuse anything you may ask of her."
Mr. Bennet gave him a pointed look.
"I am flattered by her confidence in me, Mr. Bennet," said Darcy, "but I would never ask anything that would dishonor Elizabeth or compromise her virtue."
"I am grateful for that assurance, Mr. Darcy, but she is a beautiful woman, sir, and I do not expect you to ignore that fact."
"Yes," agreed Darcy, " she is beautiful. I do not wish to ignore it!"
"My daughter is quite impatient to marry you. She has expressed a great deal of frustration over the length of time that may pass before your marriage can be solemnized."
"Wedding arrangements do seem to take some time," answered Mr. Darcy. "I sympathize with her feelings."
"I am certain that you do, Mr. Darcy."
Mr. Bennet eyed Darcy closely. Darcy returned his glance momentarily, but a blush overcame his features and he turned away. Yes, Mr. Bennet thought, he does indeed sympathize with her feelings.
"Allow me, sir, to offer a suggestion. Elizabeth tells me that it is within your power to obtain a license to marry, and that you can do so in a short period of time. Is that correct?"
"Yes, sir, it is."
"I have heard a rumor that you are required in Derbyshire by the beginning of next week to attend to matters of your estate there," said Mr. Bennet.
"Excuse me?" said Darcy, uncertain as to where such a rumor would arise.
"I understand that you must leave Hertfordshire in just a few days."
"My plans were to remain at Netherfield until our wedding," declared Darcy. "I cannot imagine being away from Elizabeth..."
"Mr. Darcy, I thought I understood that you were unable to remain long in Hertfordshire, and therefore a long engagement and a large ceremony were impossible. Is that not true?" said Mr. Bennet with a sly smile.
"Well..." began Darcy hesitantly, "I believe....yes...I believe you are correct. I almost forgot. I must be at Pemberley next Monday. Sir," Darcy was almost afraid to ask, "since we have your consent, is there any hope of an early marriage that will make it possible for Elizabeth to accompany me?"
"Those are my thoughts exactly, Mr. Darcy."
"They are? I thank you." What a relief!
"I propose the following. I suggest that you leave this very day to town to obtain the marriage license. I then recommend that you find some reason to remain in town for three days. On the fourth, you will travel back to Netherfield, where you will have much to speak of with Mr. Bingley. On the fifth day, early in the morning, you will see Elizabeth at the altar of Longbourn church."
"Mr. Bennet, I had not imagined being married to Elizabeth so soon. I am indebted to your kindness and generosity..."
"I am doing all in my power to ensure her happiness. As you said, I would not be able endure seeing her hurt in any way."
"And, perhaps," said Darcy, "sending me away to London for a few days is one method you will employ to obtain that happiness?"
"Do not be confused, Mr. Darcy. After you are married, I hope you will be with us very often at Longbourn, but until then, I feel I must do all in my power to preserve your honor and her virtue. Elizabeth believes that everything she has is yours."
"You do not trust me, then, sir?" asked Mr. Darcy.
"Sir, I love my daughter and you are growing in my esteem each minute. I want to see neither of you injured."
Darcy thought for a moment. Truly Mr. Bennet was a good man.
"I can only thank you, Mr. Bennet, for your love for her and consideration for me. May I be excused to tell Elizabeth the good news?"
"That will be impossible, Mr. Darcy," smiled Mr. Bennet.
"And why is that? I am certain she will be down by now. I have no doubt that..."
"Because, sir, you have already left. I will extend your best wishes and warmest regard to my daughter. Indeed, as you have expressed to me your love for her, I will pass on that message as well, and relate the substance of our conversation. I assure you, Mr. Darcy, that she will be prepared to receive you in five days. In five days, sir, you will obtain your prize. Until then, she is mine."
Darcy was speechless.
"Let me see you to the door," offered Mr. Bennet as he rose from his seat.
"May I ask one thing, Mr. Bennet?"
"You have not imposed a similar separation on Bingley..."
"Jane is shy and diffident. I am convinced she will not surrender anything to Mr. Bingley that is not rightly his. Elizabeth, on the other hand, is convinced that everything she has already belongs to you."
Darcy could accept that Mr. Bennet's analysis was true. It would be a long five days without Elizabeth, he thought, but better five days now than a wearisome several weeks under other circumstances.
Hearing that Mr. Darcy had already arrived at the house, Elizabeth readied herself as quickly as possible. She had passed a long night recalling the course of her relationship with Mr. Darcy. Whatever pain she may have suffered at the beginning of it was easily forgotten by the pleasure of his embrace and knowing that her future with him was secure.
Whatever the day would bring, Elizabeth knew she would spend every moment seeking for opportunities to be in his arms again.
Her father had promised that she would be his wife in five days. Five days! It seemed an eternity away.
Finally she was ready. Elizabeth hurried down the stairs into the drawing room fully expecting to see Mr. Darcy.
Entering the room, she was not met by Mr. Darcy, but by several sets of curious eyes, and one pair, at least, tainted with a look of guilt. The owner of those eyes stood up.
"Elizabeth, may I speak privately with you?"
"Of course, Father, but where is Mr. Darcy? I understood that he was here with Mr. Bingley."
At the mention of his name, Bingley bowed.
"Yes, it is he of whom I wish to speak," confessed Mr. Bennet.
Elizabeth gave him a questioning and confused look, but resigned herself to the fact that she would be seeing her father and not her lover.
"Come with me into the garden, Elizabeth," said Mr. Bennet as he led the way to the door.
Elizabeth had no choice but to follow. Dark feelings began to well up in her heart. Had Mr. Darcy not come? She had been expecting him. What did it mean that he was not here?
"Elizabeth," said Mr. Bennet softly. "I saw your Mr. Darcy this morning."
"But where is he?" cried Elizabeth in obvious agitation of spirits.
"You were correct. Mr. Darcy arrived very early this morning in company with Mr. Bingley. He and I had a serious conversation during which time he asked for my consent to marry you."
"And?" pressed Elizabeth.
"Last night I gave my consent to you, and I gave it to him this morning, just as I told you I would."
"But where is he?" She was desperate to see him. She suddenly felt very alone and only Darcy's assurances of love would ease her mind.
"By now, he has left Netherfield and is on the road to London."
"To London! Father, what have you done?" Elizabeth was growing more frustrated each minute. Her father was not being forthcoming with his information about Darcy and if she understood correctly, it would appear that he had sent him away.
"I related to Mr. Darcy some of the details of our conversation last night. I told him that in five days you would be his. Today he is traveling to London for the license. Business will keep him in town for three days. On the fourth he will return to Netherfield and the company of his friends there and the next day you will see him again early in the morning. He will be at the altar of Longbourn Church. I will accompany you to the church, escort you down the aisle and give your hand to him. The pastor will solemnize your union and you will be his, completely his, and free from all restraint of expression and any future separation."
"But could he not wait to see me?" frowned Elizabeth.
Mr. Bennet looked away for a moment. Elizabeth watched him closely.
"I suggested to him," said her father, "that he should leave immediately to allow plenty of time to complete his errand, which is, of course, to obtain a marriage license."
"It does not take three days to obtain a license, nor does it take an entire day to travel between Hertfordshire and London. Why am I not to see him until then?" asked Elizabeth.
"My child, I asked you to trust me and you said you would. I am asking that you continue to trust me. Please know that I would never do anything to hurt you or Mr. Darcy."
"But it sounds to me as if you sent him away."
"You possess a special gift, Elizabeth, but that gift is not yours to give until your wedding. By sending Mr. Darcy away, I am preserving his honor and your virtue. I know how strongly you feel about Mr. Darcy and I have had sufficient conversation to know he feels the same way about you. He expressed to me how much he does love you and has assured me that he will do nothing to dishonor you."
"Then why must he go?"
"You are a beautiful woman, Elizabeth, and I fear your attractions would overcome his self-restraint. You do not seem to be inclined to govern them yourself."
Elizabeth sat heavily on a nearby bench. A tear escaped her eye.
"I shall dearly miss him, father."
"I know you will, and it is right that you should feel so. In five days, Elizabeth, you will be his. Please, be patient."
"All I can do is submit to your wishes, Papa," said Elizabeth.
"I do not want your submission. I want your participation. Besides, my love, how much time would you allow yourself for preparations for your wedding and imminent departure if you spent every moment with Mr. Darcy? You realize, of course, that there is much to do."
"Yes, that is true. In five days, I will leave this place."
"There is one chore that must be completed before any of the others. We must announce your engagement to your mother. She will be elated, until she learns that she will have no time for lace, finery and an elaborate ceremony."
"That is true. Will she ever forgive me?"
"I will take the burden on myself. After all, it is I and not you or Mr. Darcy that chose your wedding date."
Elizabeth laughed and took his arm. Father and daughter returned to the house to seek out its mistress and share what would be both welcome and unwelcome news.
"Mrs. Bennet," said Hill, "Mr. Bennet would see you in his library."
"That is so like him, to just order me about as if I were a servant." Mrs. Bennet was at her work in her dressing room. She was always resentful of interruptions, particularly by her husband.
"Very well, Mrs. Bennet. Shall I tell Mr. Bennet that you are unable to see him now?" asked Mrs. Hill, trying to hide a smile. This was a ritual in which she participated any time Mr. Bennet summoned his wife. It would end no differently than any other time.
"No, no. Please, do not say such a thing. Of course, I will go and see what my Lord and Master desires of me. I did promise to obey him, you know, on that fateful day three and twenty years ago."
"Yes, ma'am," replied Mrs. Hill, who was preparing Mrs. Bennet for her interview with Mr. Bennet. "I remember feeling some hesitation at that part of the service in my own case. I will say, though, after twenty years of marriage, I have no complaints."
"You are a good soul, Hill. Well, I shall go see what Mr. Bennet is about now." And with that, Mrs. Bennet left her dressing room, descended the stairs and crossed the hall to stand in front of the library. After a moment's hesitation, she knocked on the door.
"Come in, Mrs. Bennet," called her husband.
She entered the library with her head held high, mimicking every appearance of pride and resentment she had ever seen cast. "And just how did you know it was me? It could have been anybody, you know!"
"I was expecting no one but you, my dear. Please, do sit down," said Mr. Bennet, as he pointed to the chair in front of his desk.
"Very well, Mr. Bennet. I am here. You have disturbed me from my work. Tell me what is so important."
"You are not reticent, my dear wife. Very well. Lizzy, please come here."
For the first time, Mrs. Bennet noticed that Elizabeth was also in the room. The later stepped out of the corner, walked to her father and stood next to him near his desk. Mr. Bennet took her hand.
"Mrs. Bennet, I have some very good news. I have just learned of it myself and wanted to share it with you just as soon as possible."
Elizabeth eyes were filled with a look that combined apprehension and excitement. She felt somewhat apprehensive of how her mother would receive the news of her marrying a man to whom she was known to be indifferent. In fact, it was true that she had nurtured Mrs. Bennet's dislike of her fiancÚ. She was excited, because every passing moment brought her that much closer to Mr. Darcy's embrace and kisses, and those kisses would be filled with the thirst of five days abstinence. A shiver flashed up her spine when she thought of it.
"Elizabeth!" said her father firmly.
"Oh, I am sorry, I was just thinking ... that is all"
"I am certain you were," he smiled. "Do you have any news for your mother?"
"Yes. Mama, Mr. Darcy and I are to be married. Papa has already given his consent. I do hope that..."
"Mr. Darcy!" cried Mrs. Bennet. "You are to marry Mr. Darcy?!"
Mrs. Bennet arose and began to pace the room. Elizabeth's heart sunk under the impression that her mother did not approve. Nevertheless, her disapprobation would not shake her determination to marry Mr. Darcy. Nothing would!
"You are to marry Mr. Darcy," repeated Mrs. Bennet. "Lizzy, does he not have a house in town?" she asked.
"I hardly know, Mama," answered Elizabeth hesitantly.
"And does he keep more than one carriage?"
"I believe he has several, ma'am."
"And is not Pemberley a fine estate?"
"It is a beautiful place, Mama."
"Oh, Lizzy! I am so happy! You have no idea! Another daughter married. Oh, Jane will be nothing to you, nothing at all! How much pin money shall you have?...Oh, never mind that. A house in town. A large estate in the country. Ten thousand a year. It is as good as a Lord."
"Hardly that, Mama," said Elizabeth. "The Duke of Devonshire also resides in Derbyshire and his Grace's income is more than ten times that of Mr. Darcy. You must not say such things..."
"What do I care for a duke? Oh, Lizzy, I am so happy. Oh! Please excuse me, Mr. Bennet, I must immediately go into Meryton to tell the good news to..."
"Please, Mrs. Bennet. There is something else you should know," said Mr. Bennet flatly.
"What else could I possibly wish to hear? This is such wonderful news. Oh, Lizzy, please do apologize to Mr. Darcy for my having disliked him, and Lizzy, what is his favorite dessert?"
Elizabeth laughed. "I believe it is treacle tart and custard, Mama."
"We shall have it this very evening. I am certain he will overlook my having disliked him. How could I possibly have imagined such a thing? How wonderful! Our dear Bingley and now our dear Darcy.
"Mrs. Bennet, please!" cried Mr. Bennet.
Mrs. Bennet quieted herself in response to her husband's loudly spoken command.
"Mrs. Bennet, you should also know that this wedding will take place quite early in the morning five days from now."
"How can that possibly be? Oh, Lizzy, you know that we must travel to London for your clothes. I have never trusted the modiste in Meryton ever since she...well, never mind. I shall send a note to my sister Gardiner. We will stay at her house while in town. I would expect that eight or nine weeks will be sufficient time..."
"Five days, Mrs. Bennet!"
"The young people do not know what they are about, you must see that!" answered Mrs. Bennet.
"I am pleased to see that we do agree on one thing. Yes, the young people do NOT know what they are about, therefore, I have chosen their wedding date for them, and it will be in five days. I have promised them both and I will fulfill my commitment."
"Mr. Bennet, I will speak with Mr. Darcy and I am certain he will..."
"Indeed, Mrs. Bennet, I have had extensive conversations with both our daughter and Mr. Darcy and I assure you that a long engagement is impossible."
Mr. Bennet glanced over at Elizabeth with a knowing smile and caught her hiding a blush by adjusting her hair-pins.
"I am the bride's mother. Do I not have some voice in the matter?" asked Mrs. Bennet.
"Mrs. Bennet, you may have as much voice in your eldest daughter's wedding plans as she will allow, but you will have none in Elizabeth's. In five days she will be Mrs. Darcy. Make what plans you can. Once the service is over, they will immediately leave for Pemberley. There will be no need to plan a wedding breakfast. Mr. Darcy must be in Derbyshire within a week's time, and I know it is out of my power to convince him otherwise, and he will not leave without his bride." Mrs. Bennet did not respond and Mr. Bennet went on. "Of course, you can always withhold your consent and then I will be forced to reconsider mine..." He gave Elizabeth an encouraging wink that calmed the distress that had arisen at his words.
"Refuse consent?! Mr. Bennet, I am ashamed. Refuse Mr. Darcy? Indeed, he is the kind of man of whom I could refuse nothing that he asked."
"Mrs. Bennet, Elizabeth shares your opinion, and it is for that reason that her marriage will take place in five days."
"Well, Mr. Darcy shall return for dinner and I will congratulate him then and let him know that I had been considering this very thing. What a good wife Lizzy will make him. I shall tell him I knew it all along!"
Mrs. Bennet ran from the room, unable to contain her joy, and gave orders in the kitchen for treacle tart and custard. Several hours later, she would learn that her future, and favored, son-in-law was not to return to Hertfordshire until the very moment of his wedding.
Elizabeth awoke to the sound of small rocks glancing off her window. Looking outside, she could see the lawn illuminated by a full moon...
...and directly under the window was Mr. Darcy. Her heart skipped a beat when she saw him. Every feeling of love, longing and desire she had for him burst to the surface and she had to restrain herself from crying out.
She acknowledged Darcy with a wave and watched him walk off into the shadows. Pulling her robe over her nightgown, she crept down the stairs, avoiding the noisy steps, and stole out of the house.
The heavy latch of the door locked into place. Elizabeth paused, straining to hear any sound that may be coming from the house. There was none. With a heart pounding with excitement, she ran around the front of the house to the side where she expected to find Mr. Darcy.
Mr. Bennet was oblivious to time while reading a book, and his candle would often burn late into the night as he pursued his favorite occupation. Tonight, the subject had been a little dull, and as his candle burnt low and then out, he fell asleep in his chair. It was the night before Elizabeth's wedding and he was sorrowing at the thought of losing her.
It was not a rare thing for him to fall asleep reading, but it was rare to be awakened by the sound of the front door closing.
He looked towards the window as he rose from his chair, and was in time to see a blur of silk and dark curls rush by.
Mr. Bennet paused for a moment, then began to chuckle to himself.
On the way to his bedchamber, he decided to satisfy his curiosity and walked quietly into Elizabeth's room. He was not surprised to find the door ajar and the bed empty. As he looked out the window, he saw Elizabeth locked in a tender embrace with Mr. Darcy.
Silently, he watched as Darcy raised a hand to her cheek and began to caress her skin. Elizabeth looked at Darcy with such an expression of passion and yearning that even Mr. Bennet was touched by the emotion she must be feeling.
Mr. Bennet watched on as Darcy framed her face with his hands and lowered his lips to hers. Their kiss was tender and delicate, but filled with awakening desire that quickly became a torrent. It was a passionate reunion to witness, and while he was sad to lose his daughter, he could not have parted with her but for the knowledge of Darcy's love for her.
"Fitzwilliam, what are you doing here?" whispered Elizabeth as she was swept up into his arms.
"I could not go another hour without seeing you, Elizabeth. I had to come," replied Darcy.
"I am so glad you did. I missed you desperately."
"Elizabeth, I am sorry I left without a word, but your father..."
"I know. He told me everything. Please do not be angry with him."
"How could I be angry with the man that will give you to me as my wife?" said Darcy.
Elizabeth answered with a smile, and felt the heat of anticipation rise within her as he caressed her cheek.
"I love being touched by you, Fitzwilliam. You cannot know how much I have missed you."
Elizabeth was unable to say more as he captured her lips with his. Darcy held her tightly and her body melted against him.
Darcy was the first to break away.
"Elizabeth, I have brought you a gift, my love," he said.
He took a small velvet bag from his pocket. It was black and held closed with a drawstring. He gave her the bag.
"Open it, Elizabeth."
Elizabeth drew open the bag and pulled out a sparkling necklace that seemed to echo the night.
"Oh, Fitzwilliam, it is beautiful."
"The stones are sapphires, the color of a moonlit night. I hope you will wear this and remember all the nights we will spend together and the love we will share."
"I promise, Fitzwilliam. I will wear it and I will remember."
"Here, let me put it on you now."
Elizabeth offered him the necklace and turned her back to him. He brushed her hair to the side and placed it around her neck. She moved as if to turn around, but he prevented her when his lips touched her skin. Her body trembled in delight at his touch.
"My love, your father told me that everything you have is mine. I want you to know that everything I have is yours."
"It is true, Fitzwilliam," said Elizabeth. "I am yours."
"In just a few hours we will be married, Elizabeth."
"My father told me we are leaving directly to Pemberley from the church."
"Yes, if you concur. I do not wish to do anything against your desire."
"I desire nothing but to be alone with you, Fitzwilliam."
"We will be alone soon, my love. Let me accompany you back to the house. It is chilly and you should not be out here. And..."
"And your father would be disappointed if he thought..."
Elizabeth smiled at his embarrassment.
"I know and I do not want to disappoint him, either."
Elizabeth took Darcy's arm and they walked together to the door, where they turned and faced each other, both consumed by longing and desire. Darcy would not refuse himself the pleasure of kissing her again.
Breathless, Elizabeth leaned her head on his shoulder and gloried in being held by him.
"You cannot know how lonely I felt being separated from you," he whispered. "Arranging for the license took no time at all, and I was left with three days in town to do nothing but think of you. Every moment of the day I was tortured, being denied the blessing of hearing your laugh and witnessing that expression of love that diffuses your face whenever you look at me. Each night I was in agony, knowing that you were mine, but that I could not yet have you. Only now, with you cradled in my arms, do I have a renewal of my hopes for happiness."
Darcy kissed her again.
"I love you, Fitzwilliam."
"I do not want to leave you, Elizabeth, but I must."
"I know," said Elizabeth, "but I shall see you at church in no time at all, and I will wear this necklace as a reminder of our first night together."
"Good night, my love."
Elizabeth climbed the stairs to her room with as much stealth as she left it. As she was closing the door, she heard her father's voice.
She started, but turned to him with a smile of contentment.
"I assume that Mr. Darcy has returned early?" asked her father, knowing full well the answer.
"He has father, but I remembered my promise and I thank you again and again for keeping yours."
Mr. Bennet smiled at her.
"This is a joyous day. You cannot imagine how proud I am of you, Elizabeth. You are so beautiful, so intelligent and it has been a blessing to be your father. I will confess that I am jealous of your Mr. Darcy. He will spend the rest of his life with you and I can only visit."
"Oh, Papa, you will always be welcome at Pemberley.
"You will be very happy, my child."
"I am happy, Father, and I have you to thank for it."
"I have only ever wanted your happiness, Elizabeth."
The wedding of Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn and Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley was celebrated at Longbourn Church very early on Saturday morning. Indeed, a few of the older ladies attending could not remember a service that was ever held quite so early.
Despite the short notice, the church had been decorated with flowers and the bride was clothed in a brilliant white gown and adorned with a necklace of stones the color of a moonlit night.
After the service, the company returned to Longbourn where a sumptuous wedding breakfast had been prepared. Although the absence of the bride and groom was questioned, it was agreed that the breakfast was the most superior affair in recent memory.
"I must say, Mr. Bennet," said his wife, "...
I am certain that you will, he added to himself.
"...that the day has gone off remarkably well. The ceremony was spoken with all the solemnity that it deserved and Mrs. Long said she had never seen more food in the whole course of her life. I like Mrs. Long prodigiously, you know, and her two nieces are not so very plain."
"Indeed they are not, Mrs. Bennet, and you must confess that they are nice girls."
Mrs. Bennet did not seem to hear him.
"Mr. Bennet, I am surprised that you allowed Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth to leave for Pemberley from the church and not attend the breakfast to receive the best wishes of their friends and family."
"I hope that someday you will forgive my interference in what truly ought to be your affair, my dear, but Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy struggled through a great deal this week and I felt it would be appropriate to dismiss them to their own devices once they were married. Besides, I could hardly prevent them."
Mr. Bennet smiled when he considered the dangers to his person he may have invited had he done more than assist the new Mrs. Darcy into her husband's traveling coach. Neither man nor woman was prepared to countenance any type of delay to their departure.
"What could they possibly have had to struggle through, my dear Mr. Bennet? He has been in London most of the week and she has been here."
"Well," said Mrs. Bennet, "he is a very handsome man. Indeed, I am not certain what he saw in Lizzy, but she is very lucky to have him."
Mr. Bennet chuckled. "Indeed, Mrs. Bennet. I am certain that she already has."