Previous Section, Section III
Posted on Sunday, 19 December 2004
Few men have not their secret moments of deep feeling.
Wilkie Collins, 'Basil', The 1900 Peter Fenelon Collier Edition of the Works of Wilkie Collins, Volume 10
If Elizabeth had feared Mr. Darcy would be irritated by her pert answer, she was mistaken. He only smiled with such delight that his dimples came into full view. Though she was again startled by the striking sight of it, she was also gripped by the notion that fate had endowed him with what otherwise would have been a hard impediment to conquer. Not for the first time, she suspected him to be very astute. Her conjectures became quite definite as he drew out of his breast pocket a little box containing the most beautiful ring she had ever seen: a glittering stone of the warmest pink imaginable, beautifully shaped as a heart, surrounded by tiny green ones. Her breath caught.
"Miss Bennet," Mr. Darcy said with a ceremonial air, "please do me the honour and wear this ring as a sign of our union. They are tourmalines*. It has been made especially for the occasion."
He took her hand and slid the ring on to her finger. Elizabeth could do nothing but stare at it in utter disbelief. Especially for the occasion - indeed! Must he not have known in advance, what was concocted? Suspicion reared its head and our heroine, not of a disposition to let such a matter rest, cleared her throat to deal with the problem directly. "Sir, it seems to me that you had earlier knowledge of what was to be - and before the announcement in the newspaper. Such magnificence cannot be manufactured that quickly."
He shot her a startled look and an odd expression crossed his face. Seeing her determination, though, he smiled at last. "You have caught me, I fear. I am aware that with you I cannot be otherwise than straightforward and honest. But before I humbly admit defeat, let me draw back a little in time and put in plain words what was driving me." He cleared his throat, collected himself and began, haltingly and thoughtfully at first, with what should highly surprise Elizabeth...
"When I first met you, I thought nothing of you but the observations of a few days and on a few gatherings were enough to give me pause. When I finally comprehended what treasure I had unearthed, it was too late to guard my heart. I cannot determine the word or the spot when it began; I was in the middle of it before I had any notion. I left Netherfield with the conviction that I felt only a slight infatuation, if any at all, and that it would easily be overcome. Soon after my arrival in London, though, I became aware that it was not to be."
"True to unspoken rules in my family and a firm education on what a gentleman's responsibilities were who had ancestors back to William the Conqueror, I found myself in disgrace - as I termed it at that time. To persuade Bingley of your sister's indifference to him was partly ruled by those thoughts, although on that occasion, I meant to be truly honest with him. Reluctantly at first, he heeded my words but was very distressed. To distract us from too much pondering, we went much more into society than was our wont before but I do not think either of us was satisfied.
You were never far from my mind and the journey to Kent and the company of my cousin should offer a more adequate distraction to conquer my weakness. What a cruel fate to find you there! I was so shocked that in the first week I stayed away from you with every intention to escape when the time of my stay would end, usually by the end of a week. However, when the time drew near, I found myself deadly jealous of my cousin, who recounted your every meeting in a disgusting, exalting manner. Incapable of running away, my downfall, unavoidably, underwent its conclusion at the piano in my aunt's drawing room . Then I realized that I was not my own master anymore; that power had deserted me when I first met you.
He paused for a moment to regard her with such tenderness that Elizabeth's heart - if possible - beat any more quickly. She was rendered speechless with wonder.
"How could I help it? You are like the image of a woman that came to my mind in secret moments: fresh, innocent, gentle, sincere and amid the trivialities and hypocrisies of polite society outstanding among women of the highest birth and the noblest pedigree. They cannot be amused, delighted or agitated in a natural, womanly way. To them love is an affair of calculation and in the progress makes them suffer matrimony with contemptuous mockery, if ever they are able to suffer such feelings."
He sighed and begun to pace the floor and then, as if a dam would break, he confessed what had held him thrall all those month thence.
"Early in our relationship I had the vague idea that you presented the perfect contrast to the women of my class, which was shown to be true in the time following. Here lies the secret of your influence over me and maybe that of your sister over Bingley. Wherever you go, you go without either the inclination or the ambition to shine, even though you defeat women who are your superiors in beauty, in accomplishments, in brilliancy of manners and conversation by no other weapon than purely feminine charm of everything you say and everything you do. Love and admiration follows as a tribute to it. Your emotions are warm and impressible; kindness and sympathy inspire your actions and gives one a favourable idea of your heart."
"You happen to fulfill my image such as this and no rivalry can ever overcome the influence you possess because of it. The power of women over men is based on that quality, a rare quality that claims respect and admiration forever. In you, I can put perfect faith and trust, as if I were a child. I despaired of finding such qualities within the hardening influences of my world. I had scarcely ventured to look for a woman like you, never believing you could exist - and then to find you in a solitary place, far away in the country, far off from the great world and in the society of country savages."
"In the beginning of our acquaintance, I have often attended your conversations with others, more or less unnoticed by you. You have the charming presence of a kind, gentle, happy, young girl who is interested in everybody's interests, who is grateful for everybody's affection. Your spirit creates comfort and friendship, induces the most formal people to forget their formality and become unaffected for the rest of the day. You make even a heavy-headed, burly country squire like Sir William feel at his ease when no one else would undertake the task. You listened patiently to his ramblings about his admiration for the St. James' court when other conversations were ongoing that would have been more interesting to you. No wonder Sir William adores you. Wherever you go, you make people feel good, the lofty and the lowly alike. You welcome any grateful attention that they wish to pay you - no matter how little, awkward or ill timed -- and you consider any courtesies you receive as a favour, not as a right. Moreover, with each of your arch smiles you burned admiration deeper into my being. How can I ever stop loving you?"
He paused, looking somewhat embarrassed into her upturned face that was watching him enraptured, then heaved some unsteady breaths and continued, "You always succeed in being friendly by ignoring those pitiful affronts and offences, which play such important parts in the social performance of society, such as my aunt's. Something about you inspires respect as well as love. It is your goodness of heart, governed by purity and I never knew anybody venturesome enough - either by word or look - to take a liberty with you. Only my aunt may be considered untreatable, as she is blind in that respect."
He stood silent for a moment at the window, pondering. Elizabeth, moved beyond measure, could see that there was more on his soul and he continued, "These were the qualities, I had discovered in you, as I, presumptuous fool that I am, approached you on that fateful evening at the parsonage. Believe me or not, I was determined to make you an offer of marriage. I will not dare think what might have happened if your agitated manners had not stopped me or your sister's letter had not delayed my intend. In too quick a time, I painfully comprehended my error in believing what your feelings were towards me; that I should meet with doom if I dared to step over the border."
A gleam of that same uneasiness he once had felt flickered over his face as he looked into Elizabeth's amazed eyes.
"What do I not owe you? Your ridiculing me taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. You properly humbled me. I came to you without a doubt that you expected my suit. You showed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased." He smiled wryly. "You can now, maybe, imagine my shock but as I am a man of quick thinking, hope was not long in coming. Bingley's reconciliation with your sister offered a perfect setting for my endeavours. My aunt and her unerring sense for creating impossible situations supplied another foil, unpleasant but still welcome. I went to London, determined to tend to my faults and equally determined to win your affection. The ring I had designed and ordered immediately; it should be testimonial to my victory. The period of time this should need was unimportant. You, with your clever foresight have rightly suspected that the succeeding events have played into my hands, although I would have wished for a more prudent courtship rather than such a one that has been forced on us by the spectacle in the papers. Holding you in such a powerful regard has helped me to realize the true nature of my flaws; innate flaws but flaws nevertheless. They will be dealt with. At another time, I shall tell you the way of my upbringing, so that you will, I hope, some day understand me a little better. "
"My notion that you would accept my suit at any moment that I considered convenient was the most obvious blunder I committed. Poor, blind me -- and clever, wise Elizabeth. For the first time someone has forced me to ask myself who I really am. How utterly inconvenient and yet, how utterly wholesome! I had a long conversation with Mrs. Tennant on whose judgement I can rely since I had been a child, so my qualms were limited and did not last long. I realized that I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle. As a child, I was taught what was right but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles but left to follow them in pride and conceit. Unfortunately, an only son and for many years an only child, I was spoiled by my parents. Though good themselves - my father particularly, he was all that was benevolent and amiable - they allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing, to care for none beyond my own family circle, to think meanly of all the rest of the world, to wish at least to think meanly of their sense and worth compared with my own. Such I was from eight to eight-and-twenty; and such I might still be but for you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth!"
He drew near and regarded Elizabeth adoringly. "Now I feel that your resentment is not as severe as it used to be and in your eyes I mean to read that willingness for indulgence that releases a repentant sinner from his burden." He smiled, relieved, "Elizabeth, I trust you implicitly and I am convinced that you are not only able but also willing to share and ease my future domestic troubles and anxieties. You will lead me safely and tenderly and so I will you."
During his speech, Elizabeth had sat motionless, overwhelmed by his revelations and powerless as to what to say. What woman had ever heard such praise about herself? How long had she held him in contempt while at the same time he thought the world of her? Every disparaging comment, every ill will and prejudice towards him now pierced her conscience and it hurt her as if she had aimed it all at her own person. She was shaken to the core and not able to utter a syllable or move a limb.
Troubled by her silence, he stepped near, pulled her from the chair and wiped, with cautious fingers, tears from her cheeks. "Miss Bennet, Elizabeth," he said in a anxious manner, "it is not my intention to crush you with my affection. Feel free to criticize me whenever you are overpowered; I shall survive it. Your restraint alarms me!"
This brought the first smile to her lips but not for long. She felt overpowered, indeed, but in a way, she could not explain. A sob stuck in her throat and the only way of getting breath was to cry. This she did in wanton abandon against the lapels of his coat, embraced by his strong arms. If she before had felt fears about her decision to marry him, now his divine declaration had swept away all defences and a flood of emotions, never suspected, severely unsettled her frame. After a while, she gathered her senses as even such a deliriously happy fiancée, as she had to maintain decorum. From nowhere he produced a handkerchief and after applying it diligently, she then was partway restored to her former self.
"Sir," she said with a weak voice, "is this what you have told my father as well?"
He smiled with his endearing dimples and mischievously replied, "I have told him no more than he knew already but enough to convince him that I hold you in high esteem, although he felt not obliged to shed tears."
They stood for a while simply looking into each other's eyes, savouring the wonder. At last, she whispered, "I was shocked by the announcement."
He smiled, delighted, "Is that so? Good for me. As soon as I had read it myself and had overcome my fury, I went directly to the paper to make them correct the blunder." He sounded grim in the end.
"You were very lucky to have the Guardian relent to the scheme," said Elizabeth, glad to find a distraction from her lingering confusion. To her astonishment, her fiancé threw his head back and roared with laughter. "It was a matter of revenge, but not mine." Chuckling in reminiscence, he drew Elizabeth back into his arms and hugged her lovingly.
"How so?" she asked, savouring his nearness. However, her fiancé had other ideas. Having already achieved her father's permission, nothing could stand in the way to coax a kiss from his betrothed, how chaste it may be. However, he could not wonder at her response and after an interval of some moments in silent bliss, she reluctantly acquitted his arms, very flushed and very flustered. She never in her wildest dreams had dared to imagine that to kiss a man and to be kissed by him would afford such divine sweetness. Mr. Darcy, glowing also and mightily pleased with himself, dared guessing, "Elizabeth, may I presume that your feelings for me are what I ever wished them to be?"
Elizabeth hid her face in his lapels once more and nodding imperceptibly, she feebly said, "I do not know what your expectations are, Sir, but my feelings are more than I can possibly bear at the moment." She heard him give a satisfied grunt. He cuddled her deeper into his arms and at last deigned to answer her question,
"Certainly, I would have paid any amount they would have asked of me; I would not have had my aunt disparaged and had a strong resolution to spare her the additional disgrace. However, one of the managers at that paper is a friend of mine, a former pal from Cambridge. Avery is his name, a brilliant head. At one time in our student days, near the end I believe, I took him to Pemberley on vacation. My Aunt happened to be there. You know her. His family is of no noticeable pedigree but a former proprietor of the Guardian, who had seen early in his life his talents, had been sponsoring his education. I am sure you can imagine how well he became acquainted with my aunt, especially as he, in addition to this, was not yet familiar with the ways of the nobility. It was the last year of my father's lifetime. He knew about his approaching end, I presume, and her conduct had him persuaded to leave my sister under my and my cousin's guardianship. As I sought Avery out after I had read the announcement, he saw it as his obligation that he owed me a favour; in fact, he was not to be deterred from it and so invented the excuse."
"Do you have many such friends?"
"A few. They are all remarkable." He smiled into her upturned face.
"How can it be otherwise," sighed Elizabeth smilingly. This was rewarded with another pleasing interval until a knock on the door forced them apart. Mr. Bennet poked his head in and begged to enter. He took her hand, examined the ring and her face each with seriousness, and as if he had seen what he had wished to see, he then bowed and whispered in her ear, "You will have an extraordinary husband, child, just what you deserve. I am very happy for you."
Here was her answer. Her blushing embarrassment and tearstained face did not worry him. He smiled and said aloud, "I believe, now is the time to confess the truth to the family before they are slain by the newspapers, what do you think?"
"Oh, no," Elizabeth cried, still shaky from all the unforeseen emotions, "please give me some minutes to myself. Would you object for me to take half an hour in my room?" Her father's obvious satisfaction with her fate did not amaze her as it had before but curiosity prevailed. Was he so unconditionally altered in his opinion of Mr. Darcy that he unreservedly entrusted him with his beloved daughter? That was most remarkable. Mr. Darcy smiled and her father patted her hand. "Go child. Mr. Darcy and I will have some peaceful talk before we face the world." He chuckled. His daughter curtseyed and after exchanging a trembling smile with her betrothed hurriedly exited the library.
In her room, she sat staring at the ring. Engaged in not quite one hour, her father turned into an ally in scarcely less time. That man was unbelievable, a menace to every good common sense! She breathed deeply to allay the panic that, despite her happiness, swelled up now and then. Though she, by now, fairly well knew her own feelings, events were progressing in a rapidity she found hard to digest. Half an hour seemed barely enough to recover from the experience. Dear heaven, betrothed to Mr. Darcy! What a fate had befallen her! That he of all people loved her enough to marry her, though he had found her not handsome enough to dance with in the beginning was incredible. Now he faced her with an amount of affection that exceeded all of what she had thought possible coming from him and the responsibility overwhelmed her. But eventually the havoc in her mind subsided and while she eagerly recapitulated his recital of her qualities, feelings of delight and satisfaction sneaked into her heart. Now, finally, she allowed her emotions to flow. What an enchanting course her fate had taken! Who would have thought that 'the worst of all men' at last had revealed himself as an endearing human being, tenfold worthy of her love and esteem?
Distant clamour drew her to the window, and she saw visitors sailing into the house, Kitty and Lydia in their wake. After some more minutes in silent meditation, washing her face, combing her hair, and smoothing her dress, she went down. In the hall the sight of Kitty, Lydia and Miss Lucas, suddenly bursting out of the parlour, arrested her. Lydia tried to grasp the door but too late, it shut with a bang. Both sisters exploded into frantic giggles and Maria, more restrained than her friends, hid a smile behind her hands.
"What is the matter?" Elizabeth asked and stepped thither, unsuspecting. By beholding her, all three erupted into laughter that they tried to stifle lest they be heard in the parlour. Even Maria, wavering betwixt bravery and propriety, was red with suppressed mirth. Elizabeth began to feel irritated, as it was obvious that she herself was the cause of their amusement and she knew not what to make of it.
Lydia, gasping for breath and dramatically clasping both hands to her heart, whispered, "Oh, Lizzy, you mysterious apparition, where do you hide Mr. Darcy???"
The question caused them so much more hilarity that Lydia, laughing helplessly, leant for support against the parlour door. Only Kitty recovered enough to enlighten Elizabeth, her words accompanied by amused snorts, "Lizzy, Mr. Collins and Charlotte have come with the newest Courier. Mr. Darcy's secret is out into the open. You dark horse! It is so much fun! They have fled from Kent because Lady Catherine is out of her mind."
"And now," Maria piped, "Mr. Collins condoles with your mother and preaches like mad. Charlotte, Mama and Papa have been trying to stop him the whole of the afternoon already but he is so persistent! He is quite crazy at having his noble patroness affronted by you." Another spasm gripped them and Elizabeth hoped that their mirth was sooner aimed at their cousin's bizarre behaviour than at her own evil fate predicted by him.
"He condoles?" Elizabeth could not make head or tail of the word's meaning and Lydia's response proved that her former hopes had been in vain.
"Oh, Lizzy," hissed Lydia, "You are the black sheep of our family, who would have thought it. That we can witness such fun! You have permitted Mr. Darcy to visit you -- alone! Hah! You met clandestinely with him and have angered his noble aunt by enticing him from his betrothed! Mr. Collins said to Sir William that you are a sinner and fit to be buried alive in some distant hideaway. Mama does not yet realize of what is spoken but soon she will grasp it and then..."
Their fun spilled over at the horror they beheld in Elizabeth's face and another blaze of titters echoed through the vestibule. In this moment, a heavily scowling Mary opened the door to look after the noise outside only to find Lydia, bereft of the door's support, skidding into her arms, a sight that ruined all reminders of discipline in the other two. To make the pandemonium perfect, Mrs. Bennet choose this very moment to perceive what was communicated to her by Mr. Collins and screamed in her highest volume,
"Lizzy! Lizzy! Where are you? Come here this instant!"
*If you are interested why I choose tourmalines, search in the book 'Gifts of the gemstone guardians: The mission, purpose, effects, and therapeutic applications of gemstones in their spherical form'. It can be purchased at amazon.com, uk. and de. I highly recommend it to interested readers.
A short explanation: The pink tourmaline, worn by a woman, increases female energy, and, worn by a man, balances male energy.
The green tourmaline, worn by a man, increases male energy (very strong, to wear moderately), and, worn by a woman, supports female energy.
Worn together they make male or female more mindful of the value of the other.
(I hope I have grasped the meaning correctly.)
Therefore, Mr. Darcy chooses a large pink stone surrounded by tiny green ones. You see how clever he is. ;-)
**Wilkie Collins's works (my (second) favourite author) inspired some of my descriptions of Elizabeth's qualities. His pictures of people are masterfully crafted and fill me always with awe and admiration.
Posted on Wednesday, 22 December 2004
... and the world in general would have too much sense to join in the scorn.
Elizabeth to Lady Catherine, Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 46
Elizabeth immediately leaped past Lydia's shuddering body into the parlour. She beheld Jane with eyes huge as saucers and Mr. Bingley trying to hold his face expressionless, although with apparent difficulty. Troubled flickers in her eyes only enlivened Charlotte's stony countenance and her husband looked at Elizabeth as if he was astonished that she still resided in this honourable house. Lady Lucas and Sir William, good people that they were, looked at no one in particular but were clearly in a state of pained confusion. And Mrs. Bennet, stiffly standing encircled by some hastily dropped sheets of a newspaper, eyed her least beloved daughter like a medusa.
Elizabeth acted right away. Precisely at the moment her mother heaved a breath for storming away, she raised her hand and presented the ring to her eyes, saying, "Look, Mama, Mr. Darcy has asked for my hand in marriage and I have accepted him."
Bereft of all wits, Mrs. Bennet was not in any shape to answer. By the sight of the ring and the awesomeness of the declaration, the room dropped into silence. It was as if the pink glitter brightened every corner and dazzled every eye. Then excitement erupted. In an instant, the girls surrounded Elizabeth, fascinated touching the ring, their amusement reduced to whispers of admiration. Mr. Bingley began to laugh heartily, eyed by a bewildered Miss Bennet and while Charlotte threw her dumbfounded husband a scathing but triumphant look, Mrs. Bennet, after sharply hiccupping, fainted into oblivion.
"Mama!" cried Lydia and Elizabeth in unison, seizing her quickly to ease the tumble. All endeavours to bring her to life again failed; she remained sprawled over the paper sheets, insensible to every attempt at reanimation. Mr. Bingley and Sir William leaped thither and carefully conveyed her into the chair but only Mrs. Hill was capable of sorting out the chaos. Hastily called into the parlour - she, at any rate, had hovered outside after hearing Mrs. Bennet's scream -- she ordered the butler and servants to transfer the whimpering mistress to her apartment. She fought off any help, as she was schooled for ages to handle such maladies. Jane followed immediately. She could not suffer any uncertainty about her mother's condition.
Now Elizabeth found herself in the position of being the heroine of the day. She prayed that her father and Mr. Darcy would stay in the library a little while longer, as the news of her betrothal threw the whole of the audience into raptures and heavy turmoil. To speak to the point: The parlour degenerated into a bedlam.
"I knew it," cried Sir William, triumphantly clapping his hands, "I knew it all along that he is susceptible to your charms, Miss Elizabeth. He has the right eyes in his head and can see behind a surface. All those brooding looks, I knew it. Capital! Capital!" There could be no doubt in his simple mind that it was a love match, Guardian here, Courier there and engagement anywhere.
His proper wife hugged the new bride and declared herself enraptured with her prospects of being a rich wife of a rich husband with all the means to create numerous Darcy offsprings who were able to advance into the world without a care. Admittedly, the good lady loved all her own offsprings to distraction and was of a mind that Elizabeth must share the fervour.
Charlotte spared Elizabeth a fierce blush by embracing her wordlessly, too overcome by emotions, with her simpering husband at her side. Elizabeth understood. "I shall be alright, I love him and he loves me," she whispered in her friend's ear, a confession that had sensible Charlotte squeeze some tears at her shoulder, relived from severe worries evoked by her husband's moralizing over Elizabeth's horrible future. That gentleman would have started on a lengthy discourse, how otherwise, had not his wife gathered her wits immediately and begged to have a word with him. She urged him behind the next settee and Elizabeth could hear her hissing, "My dear Mr. Collins, you of all people should know that all what you have to say in this matter has been said already. We all can thank our lucky star that Mr. Darcy is such a man... Had it been otherwise, who would have been responsible for my friend 'being stowed away in a distant hideaway'? It is not advisable to trot on Elizabeth's toes anymore; they could be, post factum, Mr. Darcy's own toes. - Please bear in mind that he has more to give than Lady Catherine." Mr. Collins flushed unbecomingly and was successfully silenced for one hour - all in one piece.
The younger girls clustered again around Elizabeth with Lydia claiming her sister's attention with a request of immense importance. "Lizzy, at once you must persuade Mr. Bingley to give a ball, an engagement ball; and Mr. Darcy should not be averse to the scheme now he is also engaged. After all, he has danced with you once. It makes me quite dizzy when I think that they should invite all their friends, male friends, you know. How thrilling, rich as Mr. Darcy! You must keep in mind that in a short time, you are, as our married sister, obliged to introduce us into society ...and all the new beautiful dresses we are to wear..."
"I shall not need such furtherance," wailed Mary, aghast at her younger sister's manners. "I shall be content in my way of joining society. A man has to see my worth as it is. Such shallow avidity is the beginning of the end of a marriage that is doomed to fail."
She was rewarded for her somewhat confused speech with a tongue poked at her and the remark that she was a hopeless case anyway but Elizabeth hugged her and said, "When your sisters are married and scattered all over the country you will be the talk of the town in Meryton, believe me, my dear. Your time will come and if you truly believe in your fate, there will be a man who sees your worth, make no mistake. You, of all, should know what our Lord's ways are. Human beings like you he holds in special regard."
Kitty and Lydia eyed the pair with something akin to scepticism in their countenance but dared not roll their eyes lest they evoke Elizabeth's ire, as she had yet arrived at the highest level in their estimation: a rich, powerful wife-to-be of a rich, powerful man. Maria Lucas only blinked, surprised, but she had never been far from being impressed by Elizabeth.
Mary's eyes spilled over. "It is only that I try to find my way into the world without artificial exhibitions." She faltered for a moment and regarded her elder sister with concern. "Will you really be happy with such a man like Mr. Darcy? He would frighten me to death, I am sure." Elizabeth could summon enough persuasiveness to convince Mary that she was perfectly content with her choice of a husband.
Jane, coming back from her mother's room with the comforting news that Mrs. Bennet had reacted to smelling salts and was on the mend, approached Elizabeth immediately. Her concern for her sister warred with the impact of Mr. Bingley's exuberance. She took Elizabeth aside and whispered, "Lizzy, you were very hushed about all the strangeness going on, in fact, you did not tell me anything. Now I see that your aversion against Mr. Darcy is gone with the wind. Strange, very strange. Are you sure that you will be happy? Is he as dear in your mind as Mr. Bingley in mine? Please do not anything rash by marrying a man you do not love. Can you be sure? Is there a happy future for you? Whatever you do, be careful, and know that I shall support you in whatever your decision is." Her anxious eyes regarded Elizabeth thoughtfully. She was not fully convinced that her sister conformed willingly. Elizabeth embraced and consoled her with the sincere promise of being very happy and that she would tell her everything when they would be alone with each other that coming night.
Mr. Bingley proudly proclaimed that he, as Mr. Darcy's friend, had known what had been brewing under the surface and was promptly accused for being sluggish, as they could all have been informed sooner of that smashing intelligence. After pointing out his friendship with Mr. Darcy and that he was committed to silence, he fled into the library where he found both men, in harmony, musing over long forgotten antics of Mr. Bennet's second eldest daughter. The accord they showed made him wonder about what had transpired between them. In the next half hour, an excellent glass of wine rendered the men obedient enough to face the world in the shape of Mrs. Bennet, Lucas and their consorts. As they entered the parlour, the mistress of Longbourn, having recovered like lightning, was in possession of her chair again and cheerfully invited the whole lot of visitors to dinner.
Such were the events on that remarkable day, on which Miss Elizabeth Bennet found herself for the first time in her father's house seated next to Mr. Darcy and engaged to him. And he? He endured the outpourings around him with admirable composure and noble grace. Jane, quite silent, eyed the pair affectionately, as if, now that she could see them together, she had lost her anxiety. Mr. Bingley grinned the whole of the evening.
"Oh, Lizzy," cried Mrs. Bennet in cheerful reproach and Elizabeth braced herself for the attack. "You sly thing, you never dropped a word. To keep us in the dark about such an important matter!"
"Yes, yes," mocked Charlotte with a smug pout at Elizabeth. "It was all quite by accident."
"But Mama," cried Lydia. "Lizzy is a mysterious apparition and is supposed to shroud herself and her life in mystery!" Mr. Bennet's stern look crushed a new spasm of giggles into silence. Then he informed his wife that without his consent, Elizabeth had not been in the position to speak before the proper time.
"Oh, Mr. Bennet," cried she. " Why could she not tell me? I am her mother. Why create such a mystery? Poor Mr. Collins' conjectures were totally false and had almost cost me an attack of my heart."
Mr. Collins, recovered from his wife's snub, was all dignified condescension. "It was such an earnest matter and my gracious patroness being in such an error! Had I but known Mr. Darcy's noble intentions. I can only say that I was highly anxious for milady's health and my cousin's delicate reputation. But now, as the subject is clarified, I wish you well, Mr. Darcy and cousin Elizabeth, and I hope that you both forgive your humble cousin and shall be as happy as I am with my dear Charlotte in your matrimonial union."
His wife closed her eyes in resignation, whereupon the newly betrothed merely nodded their thanks and wisely let the matter rest.
"Mr. Darcy, I hope your aunt is reconciled by now," said Mrs. Bennet, overflowing with curiosity.
He bore her stab with good humour. "I cannot speak for my aunt, Mrs. Bennet. As I cannot be engaged to two women, I had to make my choice."
His future mother-in-law eyed him thoughtfully. "That Elizabeth is your choice speaks highly of you," she proclaimed to the astonishment of all. Elizabeth cringed at the unexpected compliment.
"Thank you, madam. For the first time we see eye to eye," Darcy answered unperturbed. Only his mouth twitched as he and Elizabeth exchanged an amused look. Mr. Bennet shook his head but his wife was satisfied.
Mrs. Bennet's excellent dinner was underway, all ate with appetite but Elizabeth was too excited to do it full justice. She and her neighbour were much too occupied with furtively looking into each other's eyes than to fasten their minds on mundane things. From minute to minute, she felt more drawn to him and the memory of his heavenly account of her did not cease to surge through her veins like sparkling wine. In an unobserved moment, she dared to ask, "Your cousin is not yet returned to her mother, Sir?"
"No," he replied earnestly, "she stays with my sister in London and I can say it is good for Anne to be on her own. I believe she has even grown a bit. At last, Mrs. Jenkinson's incessant fussing has an end; she remained at Rosings to console my aunt." He pondered briefly and continued, "I may say, I am not happy with the situation. She is my aunt, after all, and in a way, I feel some affection for her though she has always been a harridan, which my mother, her sister, never was. Georgiana is scared to the bones of her and I dare not think what might have had befallen the poor girl if she would have been left in her care, a second Ann, maybe."
He looked at Elizabeth with a smile diffusing his features. "I am so happy that my sister likes you. I was mightily proud of her as she told me that she had come to your aid before I appeared on the scene, as I could not know why my aunt had abused her so crudely; it was very courageous of her."
Mr. Bingley interrupted their conversation by brandishing his wineglass and insisted on salutating to the newly betrothed. The others followed and cheered enthusiastically. Not willing to let the matter rest, he cried, "Darcy, are you alert to the fact that, as Miss Elizabeth is my future sister, you will be my brother. It is the most wonderful gift you can ever make to me. To say the truth, I think most highly of you but I never knew you as clever as that!"
"Thank you. Your power of discernment is remarkable."
Bingley continued unshaken and brimming with hilarity, "With all the uproar you have created in our high society, will you allow Jane and I to participate in the light that is now poured over you? May we follow in your wake whenever we are in town?" He chuckled. "I would highly recommend that we marry on the same day at St. Georges Chapel where all the world can see us." A fit of laughter gripped him that was highly contagious, then added, unabashed crying, "His Royal Highness may be so impressed as to grant you knighthood, a fact that may appease your aunt. Maybe you sell the story of your courtship to the Guardian to make amends for the mortifications they have suffered at your hands. Think how it would increase their sales! I can only just imagine their rapture. They should be eternally thankful and grace you with a weekly column."
He smirked at Jane who shot an uneasy look at the other couple but Mr. Darcy only smiled, shaking his head. "You do not expect an answer to that, do you?" he calmly replied and even Mrs. Bennet comprehended Mr. Bingley's propositions as a joke and was very much amused.
That same lively manner kept on the whole dinner and continued when tea and coffee were ready. Affected by the general gaiety and to the surprise of them all, Maria, whose world was suddenly right again, could contain herself no longer and piped, "Oh, Lizzy, I am sooo glad for you both. You are ever so ravishing, witty, and compassionate. I am sure, Mr. Darcy will be very happy."
The man rewarded her with a smile that brought a blush to her from head to toes. "Thank you, Miss Lucas, I appreciate your good wishes very much. You exactly have stated the very reason why I am so pleased that she has accepted me," he said, earnestly looking at Elizabeth. At this underhanded declaration of love, Elizabeth sat in embarrassed silence enduring the open smiles. Lydia and Kitty looked at each other thinking with amazement that Mr. Darcy was a man wholly unknown to them. Was he not the first person to have left their elder sister -- who never had been at a loss for pert answers - speechless?
"Yes," said Charlotte at no one in particular, stirring her tea like she did on that fateful morning at the Hunsford parsonage, "it was all quite by accident."
The others could not find sense in her remark but Elizabeth had the grace to blush. How often had she ridiculed Charlotte and her assumptions? Now she sat amid family and friends, wondering at where she was and who she was with. Becoming engaged in so short a time and to such a man as Mr. Darcy had been a nerve-racking experience. All the friendly banter throughout the evening did not quite reach her, bemused as she was, and as their hands touched and their fingers entwined, it was, of course, all quite by accident.