Posted on Tuesday, 7 June 2005
Fitzwilliam Darcy was sitting at his desk working when his butler knocked on the study door. Trying to work was perhaps a more accurate term, however, considering that although he was physically in London, his thoughts had not left Hertfordshire since he had departed from there several days previously. His mind had been particularly focused on that county today however, ever since he had received Bingley’s hastily scribbled letter containing the news of his engagement to Jane. Darcy was thrilled for his friend, of course, for he was convinced not only of Bingley’s attachment for Jane, but also of her returning his affections. Unfortunately, his excitement on the occasion was dampened by the thoughts of Elizabeth that naturally followed upon the heels of his reflections on Jane’s engagement. She had been much more difficult to read than her elder sister, for as much as he had tried to ascertain her feelings for him in the few moments they spent in each others’ company, he had learned nothing. The few glances she had sent him, though charged with the knowledge and secrets they shared, had been veiled and almost embarrassed. As much as he desired it, he was certain there had been no delight in her face at the moment he had walked into the sitting room at Longbourn last week. As a result, his thoughts today had been particularly mixed, and the time he spent in his study decidedly unproductive.
“Lady Catherine de Bourgh to see you, sir.” Gresham’s usually placid voice was harried, and Darcy looked up in surprise. The reason for the butler’s worry became apparent as soon as his aunt walked through the door, stamping her walking stick on the floor to emphasize every word she said, her voice rising in volume as she made her way further and further into the room.
“Darcy,” she announced imperiously, “I must speak with you immediately on a matter of utmost importance. A rumour reached me only three days ago of a most alarming nature, and it has since been verified to me in the worst possible manner. Now I need your word to me that you will do your duty to your family and set matters right at once.” She stared sharply at him, waiting for his reply.
“Do sit down, Aunt Catherine,” Darcy invited shortly. He had little patience for his aunt on the best of days, and today was not one of those days. “Now, forgive me, please explain the problem. I’m afraid I didn’t catch it all the first time.” He had learned that there was very little use in expecting his aunt to understand that she was being unclear or abrupt; it was far easier and much more painless to simply, through questioning, have her retell the story. Fortunately, in her own righteous indignation, she remained unaware of her nephew’s annoyance, and proceeded to rail against the very woman his thoughts had been dwelling on before her entrance.
“I have just now arrived from Hertfordshire and an errand that had the most vexing results. Three days ago I heard from my vicar Mr. Collins, who, as you may recall, has unfortunate connections to the Bennet family, of a rumour involving you and Miss Elizabeth Bennet, which alarmed me greatly. I rushed immediately to confront Miss Bennet on the whisperings that have obviously resulted from her scheming. She, however, despicable girl that she is, refused to give me any satisfaction, and so the entire matter remains in your hands.”
She stared at him imperiously, expectantly, but Darcy’s mind was whirling at a pace too fast to allow him to formulate a reply. Finally he managed, “I’m sorry. You – these rumours announce an engagement between myself and Miss Bennet?”
“Well, I am glad to see that you see the impropriety in the situation,” Lady Catherine replied, taking comfort in his shock. “She was not so obliging. Although she was forced to admit that an engagement between you has not been formed, she absolutely refused – selfish girl! – to give me her word that she would not do so in the future.”
At this pronouncement, Darcy was forced to sit down in shock. His aunt, however, continued her tirade, unaware of the impact her words had had on him. “Her designs on you are obvious, Darcy, and I for one will not stand for it. To think of her presumption, given her low connections and horrid family! Her younger sister only recently made all the scandal sheets with that infamous elopement, and her home is decidedly second-rate. You, of course, will be marrying Anne, but Miss Bennet refused to consider that an obstacle to her pretensions towards you.”
She took a breath to continue, but Darcy had by this time recovered to some degree and was finally capable of speech. Heart pounding in disbelief, his head spinning with the implications of what his aunt had already said, he urged her to retell the story from the beginning and with as much detail as she could spare. She did so with all of the relish that her wounded pride would allow, finally concluding with her demand that he give the promise that Miss Bennet had been so obstinate as to refuse. Darcy took a deep breath, determining to choose his words carefully.
“I assure you, aunt, that no engagement has been formed between myself and Miss Bennet.”
Lady Catherine’s shoulders drooped briefly and she sighed in audible relief at his words. Her guard was soon back in place, however, as she demanded, “And you will, of course, do nothing to endanger the family name by entering into such an engagement?”
Darcy stiffened at the implied insult her words held towards Elizabeth, but he also saw in them a route by which he could pacify his aunt without compromising the truth, and said only, “I would not marry any woman who would bring discredit to the Darcy name.” He did not add that as Elizabeth could only make his family proud, he had no intention of abandoning his hopes for her. Lady Catherine, however, was not privy to his private thoughts and, pacified by his words, allowed herself to be shown to her carriage and sent off in the direction of her own house.
Lady Catherine’s peace of mind, however ill-founded it may have been, stood in direct contrast to the state of mind she left her nephew in. He sat at his desk, all attempts at work forgotten as his stunned mind worked through the implications of his aunt’s visit. She had heard these rumours from Mr. Collins; after all, he and his wife were the only ones near Rosings who had any connection to Hertfordshire. But, how had they arrived at such conclusions? Certainly not from Elizabeth – she was much too wise and guarded to discuss such a thing with even a friend as dear to her as Mrs. Collins. Darcy was at a loss as to that particular point. But in the end, he concluded, it did not matter. Lady Catherine had deemed the matter urgent enough to occasion a journey to Hertfordshire with the sole reason of confronting Miss Bennet, and Miss Bennet had stood up to her. The thought brought a small smile to Darcy’s lips, and an image of Elizabeth standing before his aunt, tendrils of hair blowing in the autumn breeze and dark eyes flashing with repressed fury, came unbidden to his mind.
Elizabeth – what could her actions towards his aunt mean? To be sure, there had been no dislike in her gaze when he had last been at Netherfield, but were her hesitations and veiled glances, stolen secretly and quickly when she thought he wasn’t looking, any better? There had been none of the open warmth that she had displayed at Pemberley, and when he had left Netherfield for London he had despaired of ever winning her affections, certain that his connection to Wickham had lost her to him irrevocably. This had been his conviction until Lady Catherine had disturbed his solitude only moments before, and now the sudden whirl of what might be, even after all that had happened, overwhelmed him.
His Elizabeth – for in his mind he was unable to call her anything less, regardless of propriety or reality – abhorred deceit and would not have replied to his aunt as she had, unless she had reason to. But dare he hope that the reason could be in his favour? In the end, Darcy knew, there was only one way to discover the truth behind the matter.
“Gresham,” he informed his butler hurriedly as he ran up the stairway to his quarters, “alert the staff. I will be going to Hertfordshire as soon as possible.”
Part II - To Hertfordshire – and Miss Bennet
Posted on Sunday, 12 June 2005
As much as he would have preferred to leave that very day, it soon became clear that due to unfinished business that needed to be completed, Darcy would be unable to leave London for several days. He felt them to be among the longest and most anxious of his life. He sent a note ahead to Bingley requesting his hospitality several days hence under the guise that he wished to congratulate his friend on his engagement to Miss Jane Bennet in person, and the rest of his time was spent concluding all his business and correspondence matters as expeditiously as possible. On the eve of his departure, he ate dinner with Georgiana, who, aside from her surprise at her brother’s sudden anxiousness to leave London so soon after his just-as-surprising arrival, was envious of his trip to Hertfordshire and worked as hard as her sweetness and timidity would allow to persuade him to agree to her accompanying him.
“Oh, Fitzwilliam, I so desire to meet Miss Bennet – Miss Jane Bennet, that is – and to see Miss Elizabeth Bennet again. Please take me with you, for although I have often heard you describe Netherfield I have not yet had the opportunity to see it, and you know how much I have wished that I might.” These arguments were as much as her courage could bear, and although her bravery was rewarded by a tender smile from her brother – the kindest and most relaxed action she had seen from him throughout his worried stay – he still refused her permission.
“’Tis only a gentlemen’s shooting party at Netherfield, Georgiana; I cannot bring you with me. At some point in the future I shall do so, but you shall have to wait to see the Miss Bennets until that time.” He smiled at the crestfallen look on her face, sighed, and amended his promise slightly. “If the situation changes at all and the party at Netherfield is enlarged, I shall write to you immediately to join us there.” This promise allowed for some measurement of hope, and the glow of Georgiana’s smile told Darcy that it was a hope she would cling to. In the meantime, she inquired as to the length of his stay there. Something flickered in Darcy’s eyes at the question, but his answer was restricted merely to, “I am not entirely certain. I have not yet decided.”
He left the next day for Hertfordshire, arriving at Netherfield to find that Bingley was at Longbourn for the day and was not expected until the evening. As impatient as he was to see Elizabeth, Darcy tried to relax and enjoy some reading while awaiting Bingley’s return. He soon found that the library was too confining for his anxious thoughts and took himself and his book outside, wandering the Netherfield grounds aimlessly before settling in a well-kept corner of the gardens to breathe in the crisp scent of the early autumn air and persuade his spirits to calm. Such a task, however, was easier imagined than accomplished, and Darcy found that the openness of Netherfield’s gardens was not any more conducive to his efforts than the confines of the library. Elizabeth was a mere quarter-hour’s ride away, and relaxation was impossible. Lady Catherine’s sharp rant continued to roll through his mind as it had since she had left his house days earlier, and although the hope that had flared suddenly with her arrival in London still burned, Darcy found that he had need to convince himself of his chances with increasing regularity. Knowing of Elizabeth’s nearness, knowing that he would have answers – either good or bad – to all of his questions in a matter of mere hours, had the very natural effect of making it impossible to concentrate on little else except what her reaction to him would be.
Darcy only ventured back into the house when it was too dark for him to make out the letters on the pages any longer. Strangely enough, he found upon making his return that the hours of fresh air and solitude had done him well, despite his inability to focus on his book. He ate dinner alone – for Bingley had not yet returned – in the best spirits that he had been in for several weeks, for hope, even tempered as it was by his invariable logical caution, was still a much more heartening emotion than the despair and resignation that had haunted his thoughts during the previous days and weeks.
It was late when Bingley finally returned, but he entered the library where Darcy was reading with all his typical ebullience and cheer in place.
“Darcy! It is good to see you, man!” He clapped Darcy on the shoulder as Darcy rose to greet him. “Terribly sorry I wasn’t here to greet you, but your note was not specific as to the exact day of your arrival, and I simply could not neglect my Jane.” His eyes took on an entirely new look as he spoke Jane’s name, and for a moment, his gaze and smile took on a distant look. Darcy smiled knowingly.
“There was no problem; I was not expecting you to be here. I occupied myself without difficulty, and it was good to have some time to relax after the journey.” He shook Bingley’s hand warmly. “I know I wrote it in my letter, but I’ll say it again – congratulations on winning Miss Bennet, sir. There is no one more perfect for you.”
Over a week after winning his beloved’s consent, Bingley was still hardly able to believe his good luck. “No, there isn’t, is there? Jane is an angel, Darcy, a pure angel.”
Darcy could hardly contain his grin. Smitten. “And how is Miss Bennet? When will I be able to give her my congratulations?”
“I am to dine there tomorrow,” Bingley informed him, “and I am certain it will hardly be a difficulty to have that invitation extended to you as well, Darcy.”
Tomorrow. He would see her tomorrow. Suddenly the pit of nervousness that had disappeared over the busyness of the previous days and the relative relaxation of the afternoon had once again settled itself heavily inside his stomach. His mind involuntarily played the words Elizabeth had thrown at him that day in Hunsford, words that had tortured him for months. You could not have made me the offer of your hand in any possible way that would have tempted me to accept it… Had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner…. And, by far the worst, I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry. The look of disgust in her eyes – he was unable to forget it, and the hope that had buoyed his spirits over the past few days started to melt in the face of the sudden reality of what tomorrow morning held.
Bingley noticed Darcy’s sudden withdrawal, and inquired concernedly, “Darcy? Is everything all right, man?”
Darcy looked up quickly and realized that he had not responded to Bingley’s first statement. He forced a smile. “Oh – yes, of course. A little tired from the journey.” Bingley, blissful after another day spent with his fiancée, was content to believe that everyone was as happy as he was, and accepted Darcy’s statement at face value. Being a good host however, Bingley turned his good spirits towards another avenue of conversation.
“And how is Georgiana? You mentioned her when you wrote to me, but your notes were uncharacteristically brief. Whatever business it was that called you away to London so suddenly, it must have kept you very busy.” Bingley nodded to affirm his words, then added as an afterthought, as he remembered his original question, “But then, you are always good to Georgiana; I am certain you were more than happy to spend time with her.”
His comment discomfited Darcy – he did not enjoy being this transparent – but when he answered, he endeavored for an even tone of voice, assuring Bingley that Georgiana was doing very well, excelling in her studies and particularly in her skill at the pianoforte. Bingley, of course, was pleased to hear this.
“She has such natural talent for music, and it is good to hear that she is improving. She played particularly well the last time I heard her, at Pemberley in the summer. Of course, she then had Miss Elizabeth to encourage her.” His eyes lit suddenly. “But, Darcy, they shall see each other at the wedding! I hope they shall play for us again, they played so well together!”
Darcy could think of no possible reply to this, so he just murmured a non-committal “Hmm,” and, taking a drink, hid his grimace behind his glass. Knowing that Bingley was waiting for some comment from him, he finally said, “Yes, well, Georgiana was very pleased at the news of your engagement to Miss Bennet and was terribly disappointed when I would not permit her to accompany me today. She begged me to pass on to you her most sincere good wishes, and hopes to meet Miss Bennet as soon as may be.”
Bingley, of course, was thrilled to know that one more person shared in his happiness, and was all generosity. “How very kind of her! Jane will need to be in London before the wedding to make preparations and arrange for her trousseau – we shall have to be very certain they are introduced and spend an afternoon together, at the very least. Jane will be delighted to know her; they shall get along famously, I am certain!”
At this Darcy managed a genuine smile. Jane Bennet, with all her quiet ways, was sensible, encouraging, and kind, and although her manner was very different from Elizabeth’s sparkling wit, she would, he was certain, prove to be a very good and trustworthy friend for Georgiana. That his sister would have to opportunity to gain the acquaintance of Miss Jane Bennet was certain, particularly after that lady became Mrs. Bingley. The possibilities for a connection with Miss Elizabeth, however, were uncertain, and once again Darcy was reminded of how many things hinged on this visit and the time he would spend at Longbourn tomorrow.
Still weighed down by the darker thoughts that had plagued him all evening, Darcy felt the need to gauge as much as was possible of the current mood characterizing Longbourn, and so, shifting the conversation slightly he asked, “And how have the rest of the Bennets received this news? With joy, I imagine.”
Bingley laughed. “I am certain you can imagine it – they are most satisfied, although, I dare say, not nearly as satisfied as I! Mr. Bennet seems to approve of the match and has been all that is amiable, and Mrs. Bennet –“ here his smile faltered momentarily and then re-emerged with a gleam that was both mischievous and resigned, “is simply delighted.”
Darcy chuckled silently at this. He could imagine it indeed. However, he still did not have the information he desired most of all, and pressed further. “And her sisters?”
“They approve wholeheartedly, particularly Miss Elizabeth, I think, which bodes very well. Jane is very close to Elizabeth and Elizabeth’s support means the world to Jane.”
“Miss Elizabeth seemed well to you, then?”
“’Tis odd that you ask it, for she has been rather quiet of late. She does try to hide it, and has the same smile when called upon to give it, but she seems to be much more withdrawn than I recall from either our time here last year or her visit to Pemberley. Your aunt, Lady Catherine, made a strange visit here last week soon after you left in which she apparently demanded to speak to Elizabeth. Elizabeth says very little about it and the rest of us can hardly make out Lady Catherine’s reasons for visiting, so the entire thing has been somewhat of a mystery.” A gleam suddenly entered Bingley’s eye. “Why are you concerned for Miss Elizabeth, Darcy? Last year you did not even like her, but at Pemberley you extended an invitation to her and her relatives and defended her to Caroline. Since then you have not spoken of her! Is there anything I should know here? Because, I warn you, as her brother I owe her my loyalty.”
Darcy was torn between grimacing at Bingley’s suspicion and smiling at his defense of Elizabeth, and momentarily debated whether or not he should reveal the truth to his friend. He quickly decided against it, however, reasoning that nothing should be said until the matter was decided once and for all. And so he only smiled and replied, “I am concerned for her, Bingley – you would be too if you had been there when she received her sister’s letters. Her world came crashing down around her, and it is not something I can forget, even now that the matter seems to be settled.”
Bingley nodded and, content with Darcy’s answer, did not pursue the matter further, instead moving the conversation to other areas. Darcy, however, was once again distracted by his thoughts. Elizabeth was not the same; she was withdrawn and quiet. She had been so upon his visit to Longbourn several weeks ago; had that been in response to him, or was it a merely a remnant of the scandal surrounding Lydia’s marriage to Wickham? Doubts once again assailed him. He could not be certain about anything, could not allow himself such a luxury. He had been certain once before, but it had proved to be an arrogant presumption. The memory of that afternoon at Hunsford and all of the agony that had followed would not allow him to make the same mistake again. No, he could not presume anything, one way or the other. She was distracted, withdrawn, distant – but she had also defied Lady Catherine. Darcy did not know what to make of this apparent contradiction, and the idea of facing her tomorrow in his current state terrified him.
He was, he suddenly realized, exhausted. Exhausted from the past months of working at such a frantic pace as to avoid thinking about her, exhausted from the past week and all of the new speculations and hopes that had followed his aunt’s visit, exhausted from his journey, exhausted from worry. He spoke with Bingley for several more minutes, but excused himself as soon as he could. Bingley, sensing his fatigue, attributed it to a long day and the trip from London to Hertfordshire and bid Darcy goodnight. As Darcy moved to slip out the door, Bingley inquired, “You will be able to join us at Longbourn tomorrow?”
Despite all of his worries over Elizabeth, Darcy’s smile in the face of Bingley’s earnest desire to include him in his happiness was real. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Of course you wouldn’t, his heart taunted him, but are you sure?
He didn’t dare to try formulate a reply.
Morning found Darcy staring at a view of Netherfield Park painted by dewy sunrise and framed by his bedroom window. The rumpled covers on the bed behind him testified to hours of unsuccessful attempts at rest, and his errant curls had been mussed one too many times by an agitated hand. For all of the despair of the past weeks and the hope of the past days, Darcy was unable to convince himself either of the hopelessness or the certainty of the affection of Miss Eliza Bennet. His mind was at war with itself, and no conclusion to the battle seemed to be in sight.
He saw in his mind the picture of her he treasured the most, standing in his home beside his sister, her hand on the back of Georgiana’s chair in a subtle gesture of protection and her eyes turned towards him, the tiniest hint of a smile and – he hardly dared to presume it – fondness glimmering in her gaze and in her upturned lips. Her manner at Pemberley had been so markedly different from all their encounters prior to it that he could not doubt that she had changed, that her opinion of him had altered in his favour. He had been certain of it then – so certain that when he had set out to see her the next morning at the inn in Lambton, he had had every intention of renewing his proposal.
Wickham and Lydia, however, had changed all of that. Elizabeth might have thought favourably of him before her sister had disappeared with George Wickham, but Darcy’s connection to the man who had very nearly ruined the fortunes of her entire family, not to mention his failure to bring Wickham’s true nature to light when he had had the chance had, he was certain, irrevocably changed any chance he might have had of winning her. Her face again flashed through his mind, but this time it was as he had seen her in the inn at Lambton, her eyes were wet with tears and devastation written in every aspect of her face. He had made his escape that day as quickly as he could, certain that at least a part of her shock was directed at him. His efforts to find Wickham had been driven by that image of her, the significance of what his silence about Wickham’s character had cost her fueling not only his urgency but his anger and determination to make things right.
He had done all that he could, he knew that, and perhaps that was what terrified him the most. All his life, he had been in control – of his emotions, his estate, his future. But from the moment he had seen her across a stuffy Hertfordshire ballroom, he had never been in control where Elizabeth Bennet was concerned. He had deceived himself for a while, but even that illusion had been shattered when she refused his proposal at Hunsford. He dared deceive himself no longer, and could rely only on what he had seen and experienced with her. It was not that she disliked him, for her embarrassed silence during his last visit to Longbourn was vastly different from her disdain when they had first met, but there was none of the warmth, as hesitant as it had been, that he had seen at Pemberley during the summer. He simply did not know what to make of her, and this unnerved him tremendously.
In the end, all Darcy was left with were the words of his aunt, the words that had prompted this second visit to Netherfield and all of the soul-searching that accompanied it. He knew not what her silence when he had last seen her resulted from, but he did know that when confronted by his aunt, Elizabeth Bennet had refused to denounce the possibility of marriage to him. And until he saw her and talked to her for himself, that knowledge would have to be enough.
Posted on Saturday, 18 June 2005
They breakfasted early, as Bingley was eager to be on his way to Longbourn. He had apparently been admitted into that house as early as could possibly be deemed proper for most of the days since winning Miss Bennet’s hand, and Darcy, one amused eyebrow raised, saw no reason to challenge his friend’s practice. When they arrived at the entranceway to Longbourn they were greeted and shown directly to the drawing room, where Mrs. Bennet and her daughters were enjoying the morning sun.
Bingley, of course, was confident in his welcome and his being held in good opinion by all and, eager to once again enjoy the presence and company of his dear Jane, entered the room with his usual exuberance, wishing all of the room’s occupants a cheerful “good morning” and wasting no time in taking Miss Bennet’s hand to greet her. Darcy however was not afforded the same level of familiarity thanks to both his nature and position within the household, and he hung back slightly, waiting at the door. His gaze immediately searched out and found Elizabeth, who had been sitting with Jane at the small table to one side of the room. She had been reading, but her book had closed around her hand as she stood up, her finger marking a place now forgotten as startled eyes met his almost as soon as Hill pronounced his name. He watched her openly and intently, his eyes remaining on hers even as his head lowered in a bow, and after a moment’s hesitation, she looked away. The look on her face told of her surprise at his joining Bingley this morning – of course no news had been given of his arrival – but her lowered eyes and carefully neutral expression made it impossible for him to deduce any more than that.
Pleasantries were exchanged, and buoyed by a feeling of good-will in general and the relative newness of Jane and Bingley’s engagement in particular, their greetings were cheerful indeed. Although Darcy wondered at what his reception would be once Bingley had properly been received, he was spared the repetition of Mrs. Bennet’s reluctant good-wishes when Bingley suggested almost immediately, “It is a fine day! Shall we all walk towards Meryton?”
Jane, of course, nodded immediately, as pleased at the chance to be alone with Mr. Bingley as he was at having the presence of mind to suggest it.
“Oh, what a fine idea!” Mrs. Bennet cried, her support for the idea stemming not nearly so much from her appreciation of the merits of the brisk fall air as from her desire to have as many of their neighbours as possible see the radiant Miss Bennet on the arm of her sought-after fiancé. “My nerves could not handle such a trial, but you young people simply must experience this beautiful day. And downtown Meryton is so pretty at this time of year!” – the last statement, of course, having the double value of reinforcing Bingley’s excellent opinion and taste while subtly prompting the company to present themselves in town where they could be seen by as many as possible.
“What of you, Mary,” asked Bingley, turning to the third Bennet daughter as she sat reading by the window, “will you join us?”
“Thank you, no. Reading and the exercise of the mind are, in my opinion, time much more usefully spent than an afternoon’s aimless wandering and soon-forgotten conversations.” Mary’s gaze, which had returned to her book only seconds after the gentlemen appeared in the doorway, shifted towards Bingley only after she began her reply and returned to the page as soon as the last words had passed her lips. Darcy felt his lips twitch as Mary effectively dismissed his friend. To his credit, Bingley seemed unfazed, either through obliviousness, which Darcy doubted very much, or the much more plausible reason that he was too much in love to respond to a petty – and likely unintentional – slight by any member of his lady’s family.
“Will you walk with us, Kitty?” This time it was Jane who issued the invitation, and Kitty accepted immediately.
Bingley turned to Elizabeth next.
“I know you will join us, Miss Eliza,” he declared. “I should be very disappointed in you if you did not, for I know how much you enjoy the out-of-doors.”
“Indeed I do,” Elizabeth responded with a smile, “and indeed I shall. I can think of no better way to spend the day.”
“’Tis settled, then.” Bingley said cheerfully, and while Darcy knew that he could be affronted by his friend’s failure to ask him whether or not he wished to walk out, he supposed that there really was only one answer he could give. After all, even if he were not a great lover of the outdoors, he could hardly stay behind with Mrs. Bennet and Miss Mary.
It took only a few moments for the ladies to collect their capes, jackets and bonnets and the small party was soon on its way. Not surprisingly, Mr. Bingley and Jane had soon fallen far behind the remaining three, but when Kitty suddenly requested permission to take an alternate route and pay a visit to Maria Lucas, Mr. Darcy found himself in the happy position of walking with only Miss Elizabeth for company.
He knew that he must say something – but what was he to say? He had had this conversation with her a thousand times in his head, but now that the time had come, Darcy was unable to recall a single word. They walked wordlessly for a time and all the while Darcy berated himself mentally, for he could not think of one sentence with which to begin a conversation. Wickham and Lydia seemed to hang over them like a thundercloud ready to let loose its downpour, and any comment that he might have made, however trite, would have seemed ridiculous.
And yet this would simply not do. He finally decided that Charles and Jane’s current happiness was perhaps the most safe topic he could arrive at and was about to make some comment along those lines when, to his surprise, Elizabeth spoke.
“Mr. Darcy,” she said, her speech somewhat halting in her nervousness, “I am a very selfish creature; and for the sake of giving relief to my own feelings, care not how much I may be wounding yours. I can no longer help thanking you for your unexampled kindness to my poor sister. Ever since I have known it, I have been most anxious to acknowledge to you how gratefully I feel it. Were it known to the rest of my family, I should not have merely my own gratitude to express.”
Darcy was momentarily speechless – this was the last thing he had expected from her. He had not wanted her to know what he had done, should it have appeared to her from the way the information was presented that he had acted as he had in order to wield some level of influence over her and her family. He said as much to her at once, adding, “I did not think Mrs. Gardiner was so little to be trusted.”
Elizabeth, however, rushed quickly to her aunt’s defense. “You must not blame my aunt. Lydia’s thoughtlessness first betrayed to me that you had been involved in the matter; and, of course, I could not rest until I knew all the particulars.” Now that, Darcy thought, made much more sense. He had no doubt that Lydia’s loose tongue could easily have let slip some sort of information, and that Elizabeth’s sharp intellect should seize onto it.
Elizabeth continued, “Let me thank you again and again, in the name of all my family, for that generous compassion which induced you to take so much trouble, and bear so many mortifications, for the sake of discovering them." She was suddenly quiet, having run out of both words and courage.
What she had said, however, was more than enough. Darcy hardly knew what to make of the situation. Generous compassion? What was he to think of such a phrase? That she was not angry with him was abundantly clear, but more than that he could not distinguish. His greatest fear now was that she spoke out of gratitude alone.
In the end there was only one way to find out, and the words tumbled out of his mouth before he had time to think of how to respond.
“If you will thank me, 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."
He stopped, and silence reigned. Her failure to speak unnerved Darcy, but he had gone much too far now to consider turning back. He took a deep breath, stopped walking, and turned to her. “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 for ever."
There. It was done, said, and it could not be taken back, no matter how much pain her response to it might provoke. Now all he could do was wait for her to speak. They had begun walking again, and he dared to glance over at her, looking for any sign that might betray her thoughts. Her cheeks were stained a becoming rose and she was clearly searching for words. Finally she spoke.
“Last April… I am ashamed of the things I said to you then, of the things I felt. I have wished on many occasions for the chance to have that moment back, so that I could change everything about that day – most particularly my answer to you.” This time it was she that stopped and turned to face him, and when she looked up at him, Darcy saw that the slightest sheen of tears shimmered gently in her eyes. “But I hardly dared hope – after everything – that I should ever have a chance to explain to you my regrets and to appeal to you for… for some chance to regain your affections.”
Darcy shook his head, unable to believe what was happening. This was real. All of his dreams, all of his hopes – he hardly dared to speak for fear of ruining what could not possibly be more than the last in the series of dreams that had haunted him for months. And yet speak he must. He smiled tenderly.
“Regain my affections? Elizabeth – you never lost them, not once. It was I who was afraid of losing you, first at Hunsford, and then again in Derbyshire, and then yet again only weeks ago when Bingley came back to Netherfield. If only you could have seen me these past months – I have been terrified of losing you, of losing my chance to win you. To hear you say that I may have that chance is so much more than I deserve.” He paused, astonished at the words, however halting they were, that came to his mind and his lips. Eloquence had never been his strong suit, but these words came naturally. “Elizabeth, you are everything to me – your wit, your smile, your intelligence and beauty, the way your eyes spark at me when you are angry, the manner in which you defend those you love. I have hoped for so long, but yet never dreamed –” Once again he stopped, still unsure, despite all of her assurances, of the reception of his next words. Finally he spoke. “I fell in love with you long ago, and I am not myself, my true self, without you. I know that should you accept the advantage would be entirely on my side, but I am a selfish being and shall ask you regardless: Elizabeth Bennet, would you do me the very great honour of becoming my wife?”
In all of this, Elizabeth had been silent, amazed at the words and the depth of feeling pouring from the man before her. Now Darcy, waiting for her answer, watched as she swiped away a few stray tears and then smiled brilliantly.
“The honour, Mr. Darcy, would be all mine. I should love to be your wife.”
They walked for hours, aimlessly and without direction, talking about everything and nothing, delighting in the shy depth of an intimacy so much deserved and so long delayed. Finally Darcy asked the question every lover wonders – when had she recognized her love for him?
“I cannot rightly say,” she replied slowly. “It happened so gradually that I cannot place it at any one day or moment. It began with your letter, I suppose, for it revealed a side of you that I had never before encountered. It did not make me love you, but it gave me a much more complete understanding of you – indeed, it challenged many of my previous perceptions of your character. And then, last summer at Pemberley, you were again a completely different person than the man I had imagined you to be. With your sister you were caring and affectionate, and with my uncle and aunt you were more than generous. And to me – I expected little more than civility and knew that that was all I deserved. Your attentions to the Gardiners and myself shocked me completely.” She laughed softly. “I was rather a mess that night after our dinner at your home. I no longer knew what to make of you, nor did I know what you thought of me. It was terribly vexing.” She was quiet for a moment. “I do not know if I loved you then, but if I did not, I think I must have been very close to something like it. So often I have wondered what might have happened if Jane’s letters had not come when they did – if Lydia had not done what she did.”
That last comment threatened to send the direction of the conversation in a very serious turn indeed, and such a thing could not be tolerated in such happy circumstances. Elizabeth smiled suddenly up at her companion. “But considering the many revelations I encountered after that disastrous day at Hunsford, I think my falling in love with you was the most natural thing in the world. I cannot comprehend, however, how you managed to fall in love with me so early on as when my every action communicated my dislike for you.” She sent him a smile that, although serious enough to convince him of the truth of her words, was also slightly cheeky. “This was, you understand, previous to my being enlightened as to the truly excellent nature of your character.”
Darcy shook his head, her admissions and explanations and the assurances of her love for him overwhelming to a mind that barely a week ago had dismissed the very thought as ridiculous. He replied, “It was not as difficult as you make it out to be. It was infinitely more difficult to fall out of love as it was to fall into it. I was unable to manage that at all.” He grimaced ruefully and then continued. “I think perhaps it began with your reaction to me. You were so different from any other woman I had met; you intrigued me. When I made that horrible remark to Bingley at that first party, any other woman would have been terribly hurt, but you laughed at me. I had never encountered such a reaction before, and I found myself wondering about it far too often for my own comfort. You continued to act coldly towards me, but this only fed my curiosity and I found myself searching for ways to have your eyes and your wit turned in my direction. Your beauty, of course, held me in thrall from the beginning. By the time you spent those few days tending Jane at Netherfield, I was utterly captivated. Seeing you in Kent only increased my determination to win your hand.”
During this entire recitation, Elizabeth had listened without making a sound, and now she seemed rather overcome. She looked at him for a moment and then looked away, and her voice was quiet when she said, “All that time… Mr. Darcy, I never knew. I am so sorry – I never knew.”
Mr. Darcy. He wanted her to use his Christian name, but he would have time to remind her of that later. At the moment, he was determined to address another matter which was of singular importance.
To anyone else, her words may have been vague and confusing. But to Fitzwilliam Darcy, they made perfect sense. “Of course you didn’t. My behaviour towards you was not exactly of the sort that would encourage any such thoughts. When I think of how I acted I am ashamed. My manner prior to that day at Hunsford is difficult enough to recall, but the recollection of my words that day – of my conduct, my manners, my expressions during the whole of it – is now, and has been many months, inexpressibly painful to me. Your reproof, so well applied, I shall never forget: 'Had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner.' Those were your words. You know not, you can scarcely conceive, how they have tortured me; though it was some time, I confess, before I was reasonable enough to allow their justice.”
"I was certainly very far from expecting them to make so strong an impression,” Elizabeth replied in amazement. “I had not the smallest idea of their being ever felt in such a way."
"I can easily believe it. You thought me then devoid of every proper feeling; I am sure you did. The turn of your countenance I shall never forget, as you said that I could not have addressed you in any possible way that would induce you to accept me."
Elizabeth blushed and would have responded, but Darcy stopped her. “Do you not see how you have changed me? As a child, I was given good principles and was taught to take pride in them. I thought myself a gentleman, but my pride was only conceit, and that is all it would be today, if it weren’t for you. It was you who showed me that without proper humility, no set of principles can properly be conceived of as virtuous, nor is there any reason to take pride in them.”
Your refusal of me at Hunsford, as difficult as the recollection may be for both of us, was what led me to that final realization. And so you see – “ here he sent her a slight smile, “ – you truly have nothing to be sorry for.”
Elizabeth was silent for a moment in the face of such regret and compassion, but when she spoke there was a smile in her voice. “Well, Mr. Darcy, I must say that as much as I believe that we must share the blame in our past actions towards each other, it is also my philosophy to think of the past only as it gives you pleasure. Since such unhappiness obviously does not contribute to such a goal, I believe we have no choice but to put this matter behind us – especially as it is much too lovely a day to begin our first argument.”
Darcy raised his eyebrows at this. “Our first argument? My dear, I am sorely afraid we passed that milestone months ago.”
Elizabeth laughed in delight at that and tucked her hand into his arm as they walked. Her action was so natural and unthinking, and Darcy was thrilled. He reached over and used his other hand to cover hers, partly to prevent her from pulling her hand away later and partly for the simple reason that he now had the freedom to do so.
That particular freedom brought another to mind, and he said, “There is one more problem we must deal with, Elizabeth.”
Her face clouded over with uncertainty. “And what might that be?”
“It is the matter of my name.”
“Whatever is wrong with your name? It is perfectly lovely and utterly respectable. That it shall soon be my own is an honour I am not unconscious of.”
Darcy smiled. “It is you who will be giving us the honour, Elizabeth, but that is not what I meant. I spoke of my first name.” He looked over at her. “Do you not think that, since you have just promised to take my last name for your own, you could now call me by my given name?”
The worry in Elizabeth’s eyes was replaced by tenderness and she answered with a smile. “I could wish for nothing more – Fitzwilliam.”
Neither could he.
Darcy wondered at what their reception would be when they arrived back at the house, but very quickly realized that he had nothing to be concerned about. Although the first question as they walked through the door and joined the others in the sitting room was an inquisitive, “Why, Lizzy, where can you have been walking to all this time?”, Elizabeth simply smiled.
“Here and there, and nowhere, really. It was a beautiful day and you know how I love to walk. Mr. Darcy was kind enough to oblige me.” Mrs. Bennet, her mind already moving to the upcoming meal and her hopes that Mr. Bingley would enjoy it, was content with Elizabeth’s answer, and if anyone else in their company was questioning Elizabeth’s use of “Mr. Darcy” and “kind” in the same sentence, they did not say a word.
Not surprisingly, it was late when Darcy and Bingley returned to Netherfield, but Bingley, being very much in love and anxious for his friend to have enjoyed the day as much as he did, suggested they relax with a drink before retiring for the night.
“Well?” Bingley demanded impatiently once they were settled. Darcy raised his eyebrows at his friend, a silent command for elaboration. Bingley, or course, obliged him at once. “How did you enjoy Longbourn today? And can you be in any remaining doubt as to my happiness with Miss Bennet?”
“I was in no doubt as to your happiness with Miss Bennet when I left Netherfield for London several weeks ago; I did not need to visit Longbourn today to assure me of that. I did, however, enjoy the day very much.”
Bingley, knowing Darcy’s aversion to certain members of the Bennet family, was rather shocked by this admission. “Really? Are you in truth, man?”
“Of course,” Darcy assured him. “It was a lovely day filled with good conversation and an excellent meal. I enjoyed it tremendously.”
“Well, good.” Bingley eyed his friend dubiously, but was prepared to leave the subject at that. “I am simply glad that the weather lent itself to walking out this morning. I do not think I have enjoyed any walk more.”
“Nor I,” Darcy agreed absently. “Bingley, there is something I need to tell you.”
Bingley looked at his friend in surprise. “Well, go ahead then.”
“This morning, I asked Elizabeth Bennet for her hand in marriage, and she accepted my proposal.” He grinned. “I am afraid you and Miss Bennet may no longer have the distinction of being the only engaged couple in Meryton. You are the first to know – unless, of course, Elizabeth has already told her sister.”
Bingley stared at Darcy for a full ten seconds. Darcy continued to grin. Finally Bingley sputtered, “Engaged? To Miss Elizabeth! You are joking!”
Darcy shook his head. “I am very serious. After all that has occurred between us, she, for some reason unknown to mankind, has fallen as much in love with me as I have with her, and she has agreed to be my wife.”
“But when? How? I knew that you did not dislike her, but… love? And, forgive me, Darcy, but has she not always hated you?”
Darcy smiled. “It is all forgotten. Much has happened that you – that no one – has any knowledge of, and there has been a change of heart on both sides. A rather long and arduous road, I grant you, but the end seems to be reached.” Or rather, he thought, the point of convergence. I should say it is merely the beginning.
His friend was silent for several minutes as his rather stunned brain processed such a significant and surprising announcement, but after considerable thought – and several swallows of brandy – had persuaded him of the truth of the match, he grinned. “Congratulations, Darcy! Miss Elizabeth… I had not thought it possible, but I cannot say how delighted I am. I wish you all the joy in the world – and I daresay, by the look on your face, you may come close to experiencing the kind of joy that my Jane has given me.”
“I daresay I shall,” Darcy murmured. “I daresay I shall.”
They were quiet for several more minutes, Darcy content with recalling the events of the day and Bingley continuing to process Darcy’s surprising information. I really should tell him everything, Darcy thought after some time. He is, after all, my closest friend, and he shall very soon be family. He took a deep breath, bracing himself for his friend’s reaction, and then said, “Bingley – I think you should know. Today was not the first time I proposed to Miss Elizabeth. It was the second.”
Bingley, who had been taking what was supposed to be a restorative drink, choked mid-swallow. “Excuse me?” he gasped when he was able to speak. “Do you mean to say… that Miss Elizabeth had already refused you once?”
Darcy nodded. “That is correct.”
“But you proposed again today?”
“And she accepted the second time.”
Bingley shook his head in amazement. Of all the people in the world, Fitzwilliam Darcy was the last person he would have expected would come to him with a story such as this. He certainly hoped there were no more revelations to come – the next, he feared, would incapacitate him. “Darcy,” he said carefully, “perhaps you should tell me exactly what has occurred between you and Miss Elizabeth. In detail. Since the day you met in that Meryton ballroom.” His eyes narrowed suddenly. “You did meet her for the first time that day, did you not? You have not secretly known each other since infancy or some other such crazy tale?”
Darcy laughed aloud at this. “No, Bingley. I did not meet Elizabeth Bennet before that night.”
Bingley sighed in relief. “Good. Alright, then. Tell me everything, man! And do not leave anything out!”
Despite the fact that Bingley was expected at Longbourn the following morning and both gentlemen had every intention of looking and feeling their best, it was not until very late indeed that they retired for the night.
Posted on Monday, 27 June 2005
Bingley’s suggestion of a walk the previous day had been made entirely for his own benefit and that of his beloved’s, but when he and Darcy arrived at Longbourn the following day and he once again remarked upon the loveliness of the day and its being simply wonderful weather for taking in the fresh air, there was a twinkle in his eye that betrayed to the careful observer the special delight he seemed to be feeling. He greeted Elizabeth very particularly, and Jane was seen to smile at Mr. Darcy with an especially expressive look on her face. All of this, however, was apparent only to the careful observer, and as the only truly careful observers at Longbourn that day were either already in on the secret or sequestered away in the study to avoid the incessant female chattering that seemed to pervade every other room in the house except that one, any secret communications that were expressed through smiles, glances, and secretly pressed hands remained, at least for the moment, secret. It was with very little ado, therefore, that Mr. Bingley, Mr. Darcy, and the Misses Jane and Elizabeth Bennet departed the Longbourn courtyard in search of pathways and conversation – but the topic of the conversation could not have been imagined by the remaining occupants of the house had they been forced to stake their lives upon it.
Bingley, unsurprisingly, was the first to speak. “Elizabeth, Darcy here told me the most fantastic story last night when we returned home to Netherfield, and he tells me that I may apply to you to corroborate it. Is it true that I am indeed to offer my congratulations?”
Elizabeth smiled happily and looked up at Darcy for a moment before replying. “It is indeed, sir.” And although Darcy’s gaze remained as steady as always as he looked down at her, his lips quirked upwards and his eyes softened, and both Bingley and Jane were astonished to see the tenderness that filled his gaze. Had Bingley had any remaining doubts as to the motivations behind the union on either side, that shared glance would have wiped them all away.
“Well you have all of my good wishes then,” he congratulated Elizabeth, adding mischievously, “and all of my prayers too, for I am in no doubt that you shall have need of them!”
“Charles!” Jane gasped from beside him, but Darcy only laughed.
“Without a doubt, my friend, without a doubt.”
“And you have my congratulations too, Mr. Darcy,” Jane put in, “for although I must admit to being a little unbelieving when Lizzy first spoke to me last night, I am tremendously happy for you both.”
“Thank you,” Darcy bowed smartly, and his mouth quirked upwards once again, “and do not concern yourself on that account – I must admit to being a little unbelieving myself.”
Elizabeth coloured, raised her eyebrows slightly, and said nothing.
The topic, so new and unexpected to Jane and Bingley and so very welcome to Elizabeth and Darcy, occupied the two couples until a fork in the road presented them with the very convenient opportunity of halving the small party and turning to much more intimate conversation. Having not had the opportunity at the house, given the secrecy of their relationship, to greet Elizabeth as he should have, Darcy did so now. He touched her cheek with his gloved hand, smiling when he felt her lean into his touch ever so slightly. “You are lovely today, Elizabeth.”
Elizabeth blushed prettily and thanked him, and then laughed suddenly. Darcy was a little surprised; he had not imagined his compliment to be amusing. Elizabeth caught his look and explained immediately. “I am sorry – I suddenly thought of my mother’s reaction this morning when she realized that you were once again accompanying Mr. Bingley. She was afraid that you posed a threat to Charles’ and Jane’s solitude and thus ordered me to walk out with you so that they might be alone together. She had no idea she was giving me the very opportunity I sought.”
Darcy smiled and reached over for Elizabeth’s hand, tucking it securely into his arm. “She is indeed to be thanked.”
“And she so loves to be useful,” Elizabeth added, “which shall, of course, only add to the thrill.”
“Of course,” Darcy agreed, then grew concerned as Elizabeth’s face suddenly grew serious. “Elizabeth? Is something the matter?”
Elizabeth’s face continued to cloud and she hesitated for a moment before turning to him to speak. “It is only that – well, I must admit that I am concerned over my family’s reaction to our engagement. I am afraid that they do not think as highly of you as I do and am forced to wonder at how they will respond when the announcement is made.” She bit her lip for a moment and averted her gaze. “I know that we cannot keep this to ourselves, but I do rather wish that we might, at least for a little while.”
Her words, so carefully selected and haltingly spoken, were deeply felt by her companion, for he knew her worry stemmed from concern for him. Of course, he did not know exactly how much he was liked or despised at Longbourn and in Hertfordshire – such things were not exactly spoken of in the presence of the person concerned – but he was certain that his past behaviour and arrogant carriage had left impressions that still remained strongly impressed on the memories of many in Meryton society. Mrs. Bennet’s chilly reception of him during his visits to Longbourn with Bingley was an indicator of that, to be sure. He was forced to admit that he was as skeptical in his hopes for a warm response to their announcement as was she, but there was one piece of information that he believed threatened their happiness more than anything else.
“Are you concerned,” he asked, “that your father will refuse his permission?”
Elizabeth shook her head. “No, I believe he will give his consent. It is still –“ she blushed here, “– a good match and will secure my future. But he will not believe that I will be happy, and so even though he will give his consent, I fear his disapproval.”
Darcy, ever the realist, saw that this information had both its positive and its negative values. Although it did nothing to complete their happiness by guaranteeing the support and well-wishes of Elizabeth’s family and friends, Darcy knew that with Mr. Bennet’s granting of his daughter’s hand, their union itself was indeed secure. With this in mind, he strove to reassure her as best he could.
“I too fear that the response both from your family and from society in general may be rather dubious, at least initially, and it is something for which I must take the blame, for the manner in which I acted and carried myself when here last year with Bingley’s party has only encouraged the current sentiments regarding my character. But there is also a part of me that cannot but hope that, when faced with our happiness and the very true regard that we have for one another, they shall be forced to re-evaluate their opinions.
“Elizabeth, I love you, and I do not care if – nay, I want the world to know it merely from observing us together. We have both erred in the past towards each other, but we have forgiven and been forgiven, and I do not think that the changes that have resulted cannot be marked and obvious to anyone who seeks to see them. Once the announcement is made, people will seek to see them, even though they may have initial reservations.”
He could see that she agreed and was somewhat comforted by his remarks, but he had one more thing to add. “However, even if the reaction is not as positive as we desire, in the end, the truth remains the truth, however little it is acknowledged. I love you, Elizabeth, and as much as it would please me to be well accepted by your family and friends in order that your heart may be at ease, my love for you is in no way dependant upon them for its survival. You are what I want.”
Elizabeth was deeply moved, and was silent for a moment as she absorbed his words and collected herself. She picked up an autumn-dyed leaf from where it lay resting on a nearby fencepost and twirled it absentmindedly between her thumb and index finger. Finally she quietly, “I love you too, Fitzwilliam, and I should choose in a moment to be with you despite the approbation and skepticism of others, but it pains me that they cannot see you as the man I know you to be, and that they understand so little of me to think that I could settle for anyone less a gentleman than you.” She bit her lip in frustration. “How I wish now that I had been quiet in my dislike of you! Perhaps we might not be facing this!”
Darcy smiled at this. “Ah, but I must say that I quite appreciate your frankness. Without it, I may not have had the courage to return here yesterday at all.”
This caught her attention and she looked up at him questioningly, so he explained. “Several days ago, I received an unexpected visit from my aunt, Lady Catherine, in my house in London. She recounted to me a wholly unexpected tale, saying that she had only just been to see you here in Hertfordshire in response to a rumor that had been told her to the effect of an engagement between you and myself. She was terribly upset because, although you admitted that no such relationship was in place, you were – according to my aunt – adamant in your refusal to give her your word that you would never enter into an engagement with me.”
“Oh dear,” Elizabeth moaned, “she said at the end of that horrific day that ‘she would know what to do’, but I never dreamed she would go as far as to confront you.” She bit her lip and looked up at him. “Was she very angry?”
Darcy smiled at her mortification – it was so very like her to take such a defiant stand when confronted, but he was certain the entire episode had caused her much anxiety following his aunt’s enraged departure. “Indeed she was,” he answered, “and told me as much of your conversation word for word as she could possibly remember, certain, I am sure, that I would agree with her at once and immediately give my word where you had not.” He nearly grinned at the recollection of his stunned response to his aunt’s enraged invective. “She had no idea that my response would be the very opposite of what she hoped for.
“Oh, I humored her,” he promised hastily when Elizabeth looked distressed at the thought of a loud exchange between aunt and nephew. “She left my house without any suspicion. But your refusal, in all its frankness and defiance –“ here he looked down at Elizabeth with a smile and no small measure of pride, “– taught me to hope as I had scarcely ever allowed myself to hope before. I knew enough of your disposition to be certain, that had you been absolutely, irrevocably decided against me, you would have acknowledged it to Lady Catherine, frankly and openly. It was all I could do to usher her into her carriage so that I could properly process all that she had spoken. After that, I finished all my business as expeditiously as possible so as to return and find out for myself whether or not my hopes had any foundation whatsoever.”
Elizabeth expelled a soft breath of amazement at his story. “It seems to me that your aunt, much like my mother, has been extremely useful without having had any intent to be so. Although,” she added as an afterthought, a sliver of mischief appearing in her sudden smile, “I highly doubt that she would appreciate being grouped in the same class as my mother.”
He smiled at her comment and pressed her hand where it still lay in the crook of his arm, relieved at the re-emergence of her sense of humour after the serious nature of their conversation. It was ironic, Darcy mused, that they had now arrived at a place where it was he who cared nothing for society and she who was concerned for it. She was right in her fears, he knew, for as much as their happiness centered in the love they shared between the two of them, it could not possibly be complete without the support of the community of which they were a part. But at the same time he did believe that that support, however hesitantly given initially, would come with time. The biggest hurdle would come when he applied to her father.
They walked quietly for a few more moments, he enjoying her company and the bright morning scenery, and she apparently deep in thought. She turned to him suddenly, and her words made it clear immediately that her thoughts remained on their previous conversation and his revelations concerning Lady Catherine. “Thank you for coming back, Fitzwilliam.” She bit her lip again and continued to twirl the leaf absentmindedly between her fingers, all her attention focused on Darcy. “After all that had happened, I did not think there was any hope either. Thank you for believing enough to come back and find out.”
“Oh, my love,” he replied immediately, “how could I not?”
They agreed before returning to the house that Darcy should talk to Mr. Bennet that evening, and so when Mr. Bennet retired to his library following dinner, Darcy followed him. Mr. Bennet, surprised to have his guest accompany him, nevertheless invited him in and offered him a drink, which Darcy accepted gratefully. He scanned the bookshelves as he collected his thoughts and gathered his courage, noting absentmindedly that although Mr. Bennet’s collection might be small, it was both diverse and of excellent quality. However, he had not entered this room to contemplate his host’s literary tastes, and Mr. Bennet, although his silence was all that was patient and polite, was nonetheless immensely curious as to what had prompted this young man’s unexpected attentions.
Having been offered a seat upon entering the room, Darcy sat down and, swirling his drink around in his glass, took a breath and looked at Mr. Bennet. “You must be curious as to my reason for intruding upon your privacy tonight.”
Mr. Bennet raised his eyebrows in a gesture very like his daughter’s. “I admit, sir, that I do not believe it is because of your interest in my small library, but as to what else it may be besides that, I should not yet dare to hazard a guess.”
Darcy knew that he was about to give the gentleman one of the greatest surprises of his life, but having garnered his courage as much as he thought possible, did not dare to wait another moment. “I am here to request the hand of your daughter Elizabeth in marriage, sir.” He waited tensely for the gentleman’s response. It was not long in coming.
Mr. Bennet had been raising his glass to his mouth when Darcy’s words arrested all movement. It was with all of his characteristic elegance and measured thoughtfulness that he slowly lowered his hand and leaned forward to pierce Darcy with his gaze, but Darcy knew that he had shaken him. “You wish to… marry… Elizabeth?”
“And my daughter has given her consent?”
Darcy nodded, and despite all his nervousness began to feel rather sorry for the gentleman before him, who was faced with the very sudden shock of being asked to give up one of those most dearest to him. “She has.”
Mr. Bennet watched him for a long moment, then picked up his glass and took a large swallow. He leaned back and stared unseeingly into one of the top corners of his room while in the silence the clock ticked loudly and Darcy could hear the distant sounds of Bingley charming Mrs. Bennet and her flustered replies.
Eventually the older gentleman turned back to his young guest. “Well, Mr. Darcy, I cannot deny that you have surprised me most exceedingly, but I fear before I give my answer you must satisfy me on several counts. I must ask you – when did all of this happen? It would now seem that I was unreasonable in thinking that you were one of the last men who would ever consider my daughter – and yet I have thought just that. When did she give you her consent?”
“I asked her for her hand yesterday, sir, and she agreed. But aside from our various meetings here in Hertfordshire, we had also met in Kent last April and at my home in Derbyshire last summer. We were in each other’s company for several days at both times, and I was greatly impressed, as I had been during our time in Hertfordshire last year, by her beauty and character. When I accompanied Bingley on his visit here yesterday, we walked out together and it was then that she gave me her consent.” Darcy knew that the details were scarce, but the combination of his own natural reticence and his desire to keep the details of their romance private prevented him from elaborating any further.
Mr. Bennet nodded, but his expression gave nothing away. “I know that you can provide for my daughter, Mr. Darcy, and ensure for her a secure future and a good place in society, but I must ask you – why do you want to marry her? You might have had your choice of any number of more… eligible ladies.” He winced at the word. “Why my daughter?”
This time it was Darcy who was quiet. Mr. Bennet’s question came out of his very deep love for his daughter, Darcy knew, but he was not accustomed to explaining how he felt about a person to anyone – particularly when the person in question was a young lady and the inquiring gentleman was the lady’s father. Mr. Bennet, however, was not yet convinced of the merits of Darcy’s proposal, despite all of the security he offered, and Darcy knew that gaining her father’s permission was dependant largely upon his next words.
“I desire to marry Elizabeth because I love her. She is passionate, intelligent and caring. Her love of life and her refusal to fear those who would seek to intimidate her drew me to her immediately and I found that I could not look away. I know that I am rather preaching to the choir, sir, in telling you all this, but she truly is the best woman I have ever known. I desire to marry her because I find that I no longer know how I ever did without her.”
Darcy knew that he had astonished the other gentleman with both the length and the passion of his speech, but as to any response beyond that he hardly dared to hope. All his life his wishes had been carried out, but now, when everything else that mattered hinged on this one all-important reply, he knew that he was in no way able to assume that the response would be a positive one.
Mr. Bennet watched Darcy over his glass for several more seconds before saying slowly, “It is clear that you can provide for my daughter, Mr. Darcy. If you truly love her enough to provide for her in every way, and if Elizabeth has accepted your proposals, then I can see no reason to refuse my consent.”
“Thank you, sir.” Having been unaccustomed to the nervous anticipation that accompanies any form of uncertainty, Darcy was also unaccustomed to the relief prompted by Mr. Bennet’s answer. He found it exhilarating. “I shall do everything within my power to make her happy. You have my word on it.”
“Yes,” Mr. Bennet replied slowly. It was obvious he was deep in thought. “I believe you will.” He stood suddenly, and went over to Darcy to extend his hand. “I congratulate you, Mr. Darcy. If you have won her consent than you are indeed fortunate.” As they shook on it, Mr. Bennet added, “I do have one condition, however. I should like to speak to Elizabeth before any announcement is made. In fact, if you could send her to me now I would be most obliged to you.”
“I will, sir,” Darcy replied as he opened the door and stepped into the hallway. “And thank you.”
When he entered the room where the rest of the party was gathered, he went to Elizabeth, who was sitting at a table with Kitty doing some needlework, as directly as he could without giving away what was still secret. She said nothing when he entered but as he went to stand behind her, she coloured ever so slightly and Darcy could see her tension in the set of her shoulders. He leaned over in the pretense of admiring her handiwork and whispered softly, “Your father wants you in his study.”
Elizabeth’s hands stilled for a moment and then she put her work down. As she stood to leave she looked at him and though she could not say anything, her question was clear in her eyes. The corners of Darcy’s mouth lifted a little and he nodded imperceptibly, but it was enough. Relief flooded her face, her shoulders relaxed, and her own mouth lifted in an answering smile.
It was then that Darcy knew that, even though Mr. Bennet was not convinced of their attachment, even though the shock of their engagement would keep all of Meryton aflutter for some time, in the end it would be alright. Elizabeth had given him her love and hand, and Mr. Bennet his blessing. She was his, and at the end of all things, all would be right.
Elizabeth was gone for some time – over an hour, in fact – but when she re-entered the room and her gaze found Darcy’s, it was her turn to smile, and although her look was a little strained, the relief and peace in it were clear. It seemed that even her father’s final objections had been smoothed over
This assumption was reinforced when that gentleman himself came to see Darcy and Bingley out as they left Longbourn to return to Netherfield. He was his amiable self and although he said little to Darcy, his handshake was firm and his gaze solid as he invited them both back the following day.
Darcy and Elizabeth had agreed during their walk that morning that she would talk to her mother tonight and give her the news, but Darcy wanted to discuss one final thing with Elizabeth before they parted for the night. As the party stood congregated in the entrance hall and the gentlemen donned coats, hats and gloves, he whispered, “I shall write to Georgiana tonight so that she may have our news as soon as may be. I should like to send for her immediately, if Bingley agrees and if that is acceptable to you?”
Her voice was as quiet as his as she replied that she should like it more than anything, but even had she not spoken, her instantaneous smile and the shine in her eyes would have given away her consent and delight. Her appreciation that he had consulted her and her eagerness to see his sister were plainly evident and Darcy suddenly found himself wishing they were anywhere but in that crowded hallway so that he could kiss her happy smile – but that, alas, would have to wait for a more private moment. And so the very subtle and hidden press of her hand as they moved out of doors and towards the gentlemen’s waiting mounts had to suffice, and Darcy found himself anticipating the morrow – and the end to their secrecy – with a new enthusiasm.
The ride back to Netherfield in the growing dusk was quiet, but once the gentlemen had handed their mounts to the waiting footmen and settled themselves inside, Darcy turned to Bingley.
“Have you written to your sisters yet?”
Bingley nodded. “Yes, and I received some beautifully crafted replies. They were patently insincere and so full of compliments that I was forced to blush for them as I read.”
Darcy raised his eyebrows. He was hardly surprised. “So they approve then.”
Bingley half-grinned over the rim of his glass. He sipped and then said, “Well, they hardly have a choice. But they themselves will admit only to having loved Jane from the beginning and knowing that she was the only woman in the world who could make me happy.”
“Ah.” The short syllable communicated Darcy’s sentiments exactly. “And what is Miss Bennet’s response to their congratulations?”
“She is all sweetness, of course. We both know how false their congratulations are, but Darcy, we can either stew over it or laugh at it, and it seems that it is better, in the interests of harmony, to follow the latter course. They may be insincere, but there is little they can do about it. Louisa puts on airs, but in the end she has little to concern herself with as she herself is married. If she is that much against my marriage – which I highly doubt – she has her own home to return to. Caroline, of course, objects much more strongly, but as she relies upon me for her home and allowance, there is very little she can do but support us.”
Bingley shrugged a little wearily. “My loyalties lie first and foremost with my fiancée, and should Caroline act or speak improperly, she will know the consequences. But Caroline is still my sister, and until her actions encourage otherwise, I shall continue to provide for her as well.” He looked into the fire for a moment, then back at Darcy. “And Jane loves me enough to accept me in spite of my family. I don’t deserve her, Darcy.”
Darcy lifted his glass in agreement and modified Bingley’s statement. “Neither of us deserve them.”
They were quiet for a moment until Bingley asked, “And have you written to your sister yet?”
“Not yet. I mean to do it tonight.” Darcy looked over at Bingley. “Which brings me to something I have been meaning to ask you. May I have your permission to have Georgiana come to Netherfield? She so wished to come when I left several days ago and is desirous not only of seeing Elizabeth again but of meeting your Miss Bennet as well.”
Bingley was all smiles at Darcy’s request. “Darcy – you hardly need ask! Of course you must invite Georgiana; you must send for her at once.” He bit his lip suddenly. “There is only one thing – how shall Caroline find out about your engagement? She greatly dislikes Miss Elizabeth and I fear her reaction once she finds out. If Georgiana should let it slip when she sees Caroline in town, she may find herself wishing she had left it unsaid.”
Darcy nodded. “I shall write to Georgiana not to say anything to Caroline. As she will travel here directly there is no one else that she will need to inform. Unless Caroline hears the news from Georgiana directly, she will not know of it.”
“It is best that I tell her,” Bingley said. “And I think it is best that she find out here rather than in Town. I shall invite her, Louisa and Hurst directly, and if they inquire as to why, I will tell them the truth – Jane and I wish that they celebrate our engagement with us. We can give them your news when they arrive.”
Darcy was torn between amusement at the near-silliness of their subterfuge or outrage at its necessity, but he knew that it was the wisest route. Given her dislike of Elizabeth, Caroline would without doubt be furious at her engagement to Darcy. Were she in town when such rage broke loose, Darcy feared the slander that would result from her angry tongue. No, it was better that she hear the news in Hertfordshire, where she would force to temper her reaction.
True to his word, Darcy penned his letter to Georgiana that very night before he retired. While it was not long, it expressed all of the affection he felt for his sister and the joy he felt at being able to communicate the information so long awaited.
Netherfield Park, Hertfordshire
My dearest Georgiana,
I hope that you have continued to do well since I left you several days ago, and I apologize for not having written to you sooner. The journey was an easy one and went without incident.
I am exceedingly sorry that I had to leave you behind. I know I disappointed you bitterly, but I hope to make up for it now with what follows. When I left, I gave you my word that should the situation here change I should send for you at once. Georgiana, I am sending for you now, for the situation has indeed changed to our greatest possible advantage – Elizabeth Bennet has agreed to be my wife.
Please come as quickly as you can, for our happiness cannot be complete until I have you here to share it with us. Elizabeth desires to see you most urgently, and Charles is eager for you to meet his fiancée.
There is one thing I ask of you, however – please do not speak of this to Miss Bingley or Mrs. Hurst. Charles wishes to inform them himself, and will do so when they travel to Hertfordshire.
I shall leave this letter short, for what there is to be said is said so much better in person. Both Elizabeth and I await you most eagerly.
All my love,
Darcy folded and sealed the letter, placing it on his dresser to give to his man in the morning. There was, he suddenly realized, so much to do. He had written to his sister, but he still needed to inform both of his cousins, his uncle and aunt Matlock, Lady Catherine, his housekeepers in both London and Derbyshire, and his attorney. He and Elizabeth needed to talk as well, for many things needed to be planned – not the least of which being when that blessed day would be.
He smiled as he prepared to retire. There was much to do, but there was also much to anticipate. His sister would arrive most likely within the week, a wedding date would soon be set… and tomorrow he would see Elizabeth.
Posted on Sunday, 10 July 2005
It was to Darcy’s very great relief to discover the following day that upon receiving the information that he was to be her son-in-law, Mrs. Bennet was both so much in love with him as to abandon her former prejudices and so much in awe of him as to abandon her regular manner of expression. In fact, her only reaction when he arrived with Bingley at Longbourn the following morning was a rather wide-eyed “Mr. Darcy,” accompanied by her customary curtsey and giggle, and even those were rather subdued.
Mary and Kitty, having been unofficially informed of Elizabeth’s engagement through their mother’s enthusiastic acknowledgement of it the previous night and officially informed the following morning at breakfast, were similarly restrained when Bingley and Darcy arrived at Longbourn as scheduled, both of them finding him much too intimidating to approach. They contented themselves with watching as their sisters stood, smiling, to greet their fiancés. Bingley’s attentions to Jane, of course, were of very little interest to anyone, but Darcy felt nearly every eye on him as he followed Mr. Bingley into the room. It was strange, he thought, to be greeting Elizabeth so openly after having concealed his feelings for her from others for so long, but the smile on her face and the welcome in her eyes were all that he could have wished for, and he felt that the scrutiny of the rest of the room was a small price to pay for being able to see her affection so openly displayed in her gaze.
Their greetings having been finished and the niceties behind them, a moment of silence descended on the room. As much as the majority of the party longed for the out of doors and the relative privacy afforded there, the day was rainy and dismal and not at all conducive to any sort of outdoor activity. Bingley, however, had another suggestion to make. Could they not spend the day at Netherfield? They had been putting it off in order to take advantage of whatever fine weather the waning season offered, but the current conditions could hardly afford any advantage at all. It seemed to him that as he and Jane had intended to spend a day at Netherfield in planning for their nuptials and her consequent residence there, today was the perfect day for it.
The consent was unanimous, and even the threat of any delight Mrs. Bennet would feel compelled to express on Jane’s behalf during their tour was not enough to dim the general good will of them all. It was only when Kitty wondered aloud at the headache her mother had complained of an hour earlier that all of Mrs. Bennet’s great hopes for the day began to go awry.
“Do you feel well enough to travel to Netherfield, Mama?” Kitty inquired. They were standing in the entrance hall donning coats, hats and gloves. “You felt quite ill this morning.”
“Nonsense, child!” Mrs. Bennet scolded. “It was only a minor headache; I am fully recovered now. Certainly well enough to see Jane’s future home.”
Bingley, however, was all that befitted a concerned son-in-law, and immediately suggested that the outing be put off until another day. There were an infinite number of things that could occupy the party at Longbourn, and certainly Netherfield could wait until Mrs. Bennet could accompany them without taxing her health.
Mrs. Bennet’s response was immediate and emphatic. “My dear Mr. Bingley, your concern is very charming, but I must insist that I am quite well and perfectly capable of visiting your beautiful home. Your idea was a lovely one and today is the perfect day for such an excursion. Indeed, I refuse to allow such a minor thing as a headache to stand in the way of it.”
Bingley did not look convinced; however, in the interests of harmony he was ready to accept her explanation and suggest they take their places in the waiting carriages. Unfortunately, before he could open his mouth to speak, the door to Mr. Bennet’s study opened and the gentleman himself peered out. His reading glasses were perched on the end of his nose and he was still holding his book, his finger marking the page where he had been reading. He looked perturbed. “May I ask,” he inquired archly, “as to what the disturbance may be? I do hope it is a minor one so that good order may be promptly restored.”
“Oh, it is nothing, Mr. Bennet,” his wife replied airily. “We are to depart to Netherfield for the day and are just now preparing to leave. Kitty,” she glared at her daughter, “is claiming I have a headache, but that is all nonsense. I am perfectly well.”
Mr. Bennet’s eyebrows raised a notch higher. “Are you certain, Mrs. Bennet? You were pained most severely by it not three hours ago.”
His wife was now quite flustered. “Yes, yes, but that was this morning. I am now very much improved and am determined to go. Yes indeed, I am quite determined.”
Mr. Bennet shook his head mournfully. “I am afraid, my dear, that I must disagree with you. You were so very ill this morning and it will not do for you to jeopardize your health, even if you do feel that you have recovered. We all know how fragile your nerves are and it will not do to overexcite yourself. No, my dear, I must insist that you remain at Longbourn. It is for your own good.” He was the very picture of concern and seriousness, but when he turned his head, Darcy would have sworn he saw him wink at Elizabeth. Beside him, Elizabeth’s eyes widened. The tiniest of smiles pulled at the corner of her lips but she said nothing. Mrs. Bennet, however, was nearly speechless.
“Mr. Bennet! You insist no such thing! The outing is all arranged and the carriages are waiting. We will not be put off; indeed we will not!”
Darcy, extremely uncomfortable at being forced to witness this picture of conjugal infelicity, looked over at Bingley. His friend was just as embarrassed, but both their hands were tied. Mr. Bennet, however, was unperturbed by his wife’s histrionics and replied blandly, “Well, my dear, it will hardly do to cancel the outing then. They shall just have to go without you.”
“Oh, Mr. Bennet!” Mrs. Bennet was scandalized at the very suggestion, but none of her attempts at persuasion had any effect. Her husband was unmoved, and in the end, the carriage that pulled away from Longbourn contained only the two eldest Miss Bennets and their fiancés. At the very last moment, Kitty rather conspicuously remembered an urgent letter that she needed to write (an excuse which, Darcy noticed, caused her sisters to raise their brows at one another in silent and subtle disbelief), and Mrs. Bennet retired to her room with a very great deal of angry tears, furious with both her husband and daughter at the opportunity they she had lost because of them. Mr. Bennet watched with raised brows as his wife stormed up the stairs, then, with a final wink in Elizabeth’s direction, turned around and placidly closed his study door, opening his book to where he had left off.
Inside the carriage, the two Miss Bennets blushed furiously for their parents and did their best to apologize for the scene Darcy and Bingley had been forced to witness. As embarrassing as the situation had been, Darcy and Bingley were nevertheless very pleased with the result and were thus more than inclined to forgive them for their parents’ lack of sensitivity. By the time they arrived at Longbourn, the scene was forgotten and their minds turned to more pleasant matters.
The initial part of the tour consisted of both couples, but it was not long before Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth fell behind. “It should be much easier for them to make their plans without extra listening ears.” He smiled at her. “And besides that, there are several matters we need to discuss as well.”
They wandered for a while, but eventually found themselves in the same room in which they had traded words so many months before, when Jane had been sick at Netherfield and her sister tending to her. They both smiled at the memory as they sat down side by side on a settee.
“I wrote to my sister last night,” Darcy told Elizabeth. “Bingley agreed that she must be sent for at once. I anticipate her arrival within the next week.”
Elizabeth’s instantaneous smile conveyed all of her delight at the information. “I am so glad. It was a terrible disappointment to have our acquaintance cut short last summer, and I have long hoped for the chance to see her again.”
“Not as much as she, I daresay. She very badly wanted to accompany me when I left London. You made a very good impression on her at Pemberley. She is shy, but with you – I have not seen her so comfortable with a new acquaintance in a very long time.”
“She was shy,” Elizabeth agreed, “but all she needs is a little encouragement, I think. She is so very lovely and talented. In fact, I should not at all be surprised if she deserves the title of ‘accomplished’, even by your high standards.” Her smile was perfectly innocent, but her eyes were laughing at him, and Darcy could not help but smile back. He was glad to see her teasing again. The previous days had been so very eventful and unusual with so much to be said and felt, and they were still both of them adjusting to all of the new elements associated with their changed relationship. But as their engagement became public and their courtship settled, they were easier in each other’s presence – and Elizabeth was able to laugh at him again.
“There is, actually, something that needs to be decided regarding my sister, and that is where she will live after we are married.” He watched Elizabeth’s face for her reaction. “Her home has always been Pemberley in the past, but you will be mistress there and I need to know your opinion on the matter. Of course,” he added, “before we arrive at a decision on that point, I suppose a decision should also be made as to where we shall live.”
Elizabeth’s answer was immediate. “Oh, Fitzwilliam, need you even ask? Your home is at Pemberley, and there is no other place that would do as well – for either us or for Georgiana. Of course she must live with us – I could not imagine anything else! She is your sister, and now mine as well. I would not have it any other way.” She reached up and touched his cheek, and her eyes were very soft as she looked at him. “I know that you could not have seen yourself living anywhere else but at Pemberley with your sister, but you asked me anyways. Thank you, my love.”
Darcy felt her cool fingers on his cheek, saw the tenderness in her eyes, and heard the endearment, whispered almost awkwardly as she spoke the words for the first time, and was overwhelmed. “What did I ever do,” he wondered aloud, “to deserve you, Elizabeth Bennet?”
She laughed softly at that. “A great number of things, I am certain.” A familiar gleam came to her eye as she added cheekily, “Not to mention you have a lovely house, a beautiful carriage, and vast amounts of pin money.”
For a fraction of a second, Darcy’s eyes widened in shock; but then he saw her laughing at him and relaxed, relieved. She continued to talk, her eyes daring him to reply. “Oh, ’tis very true, you know. You must have been informed of these qualities by other ladies of good taste and judgment. ‘Tis enough to make me go distracted. Indeed –“
Her words were cut off by his fingers on her mouth. “Stop!” He shook his head as his smile, small at first, widened. “We have had a war of words in this room before, and I have learned my lesson enough to know that it is far better for me to simply concede at once.”
Elizabeth shook her head and spoke against his fingers. “Such an easy victory – I had not thought I should ever achieve such a thing with you, Mr. Darcy.”
“You are my weakness, Elizabeth.” Even though he smiled at her, his gaze was serious. “I think you shall find easy victories come perhaps more often than you had anticipated.”
Perhaps it was the memory of the room, or the easiness that her teasing had evinced, but as Darcy looked down at her laughing face it was suddenly the easiest thing in the world to take his fingers from her mouth and replace them with his lips. Her hand, which had dropped from his cheek to his arm, tightened in surprised reaction, but she didn’t pull away. Her fingers soon relaxed and then slid up to the back of his neck as she instinctively pulled him closer.
When he broke the kiss and pulled back, she looked up at him, unable to speak, her surprise at the suddenness of his action evident in her eyes. Suddenly worried at her failure to speak and unsure as to how to interpret her expression, Darcy panicked. It had been too sudden and unexpected; he shouldn’t have kissed her, should have asked her permission first. “Elizabeth, I’m sorry.” He started to apologize, but her growing smile cut him off.
“I think,” she said slowly, her hand moving to cover his where it lay spread on her cheek, holding it there, “that I shall need to win more often.”
Darcy’s eyes slid closed momentarily in relief, and when he opened them again, he turned his hand over, capturing her fingers and raising them to his lips. “And I think,” he replied slowly, “that concession has never before been quite so appealing.”
The smile that covered Elizabeth’s face in response was both pleased and shy, and when she reached up to the back of his head and lifted her lips, she was irresistible. Darcy’s kiss was soft at first, but what was meant to be light soon turned passionate, and after several moments he was forced to pull away. He tucked Elizabeth’s head to his shoulder and stared unseeingly over her head, waiting for his heartbeat to return to its normal pace.
Darcy knew not how long they stayed in that position, silence and the simple enjoyment of the other’s presence the only conversation that was necessary. He had curled his arm around Elizabeth’s shoulders and was looking down at her, fascinated with the way in which her dark curls blended into the deep tones of his jacket and was considering the very pretty picture she made in his arms, when she spoke.
“Fitzwilliam, Jane spoke to me last night. She asked me if we had considered when we would marry, and when I told her that we hadn’t, she had a suggestion.” Elizabeth shifted against him so that she could meet his gaze. “Jane and Charles want us to marry on the same day as they do – in a double wedding.”
Darcy was quiet for a long moment before an easy smile spread over his face. “I think it is perfect – not only is it easier for planning, and the timing is much better than if we marry either before or after they do. But what do you think?”
“I think it a lovely idea.” Darcy smiled at the enthusiasm in her eyes. “There is no one I would rather share our day with than with Jane and Mr. Bingley. But even practically, I think you are correct – the timing of a separate wedding would be very difficult, particularly if we want to marry before Christmas.” She bit her lip. “That is – you do want to marry before Christmas, do you not?”
I should like to marry you next week if I could, Elizabeth, he thought to himself, but restricted his answer to a more temperate, “Christmas already seems very distant – I do not think I could wait beyond it. And besides, I was rather hoping to spend this Christmas with you and Georgiana at Pemberley.”
It was immediately clear to Darcy that Elizabeth had not thought of this, and her face betrayed all of her eagerness and anticipation. She expressed her delight at once, and any uneasiness he might have felt at asking her to be away from her family during the holiday season was immediately put to rest. He could not help but be amazed at her willingness, indeed, her eagerness, to leave her family and all that was familiar to be with him. As frustrating and even embarrassing as certain relations were to her, Darcy knew that Elizabeth dearly loved every member of her family. While of course it had always been clear that their marriage would mean her removal from Longbourn, her adjustment to all that was new was certain to take time, and he was willing to do anything to make it easier – including spending their first Christmas together at her parents’ home. But she, it seemed, had no trepidation, no reticence in walking into the future that awaited her as his wife, despite all of the changes that it entailed, including her absence from the ones she loved most dearly, and this knowledge only made him fall even deeper in love with her than before.
There is always a need, when a woman is dearly beloved by her father, for that woman’s lover to make himself acceptable in the eyes of her parent. Mr. Darcy knew that having gained Mr. Bennet’s consent to their marriage was one thing, but gaining the estimation of that gentleman would be another thing entirely. That prospect was a rather daunting one, particularly for a man such as Mr. Darcy, whose pride would not allow him to cater to another’s vanity and whose temperament did not provide the easy manner of endearing himself to others that came so naturally to one like Charles Bingley. Elizabeth had told him that in the course of their discussion the previous evening, she had disclosed to her father Darcy’s role in Lydia’s marriage to Wickham, but even in that regard Darcy was hesitant to assume too much. Ultimately, he knew, Mr. Bennet’s good opinion could be gotten only through their interaction and the chance this would afford him to gauge his new son’s worth. The situation troubled Darcy exceedingly, for considering the small amount of time Mr. Bennet spent with the rest of his family and Darcy’s disinclination to interrupt his daily solitude, gaining Mr. Bennet’s favour seemed to be an undertaking that would necessarily develop only over a lengthy period of time.
It was with no small measure of astonishment, therefore, and an even larger measure of relief, that Darcy found his father-in-law unexpectedly joining the rest of the party that evening as they assembled after dinner. Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Bingley, Jane and Kitty were playing at cards at one end of the room, while Mary sat with Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. Mary was thoroughly engrossed in her book, however, leaving Elizabeth to entertain Mr. Darcy. She was conducting herself at that task most admirably when Mr. Bennet walked in the door; so admirably, in fact, that having brought a smile to Mr. Darcy’s face several times over the course of their conversation and even once making him laugh aloud, neither the lady nor the gentleman noticed her father’s appearance until he settled into the chair next to the settee they were occupying. Both were surprised at his unexpected arrival, but while Elizabeth smiled in delight as her father sat down, Darcy merely sat a little taller.
Mr. Bennet seemed remarkably at ease, however, considering the grudging manner in which he had given his consent the previous evening. He looked around the room for a moment, smiled ironically when his wife exclaimed loudly over her cards, and then, turning to Elizabeth, said, “Well now, Lizzy, did you enjoy your day today? ‘Tis clear that your sister did – but you do not smile as often as she does, and so I cannot tell.”
Elizabeth’s laugh told Darcy that her father was teasing her, and she replied easily, “Of course I did, Papa. It was a lovely day, and it was made lovelier by Mr. Darcy’s news that his sister shall be coming to join him soon, possibly even within the week.”
“Ah, your sister is coming to Hertfordshire, Mr. Darcy!” Mr. Bennet turned to the younger gentleman. “She is younger than you, I understand.”
“Yes, she is over ten years my junior,” Darcy replied, “very close in age to your younger daughters, I believe.” That Georgiana was the same age as Lydia Wickham was something Darcy knew for a fact – and something he was certain Mr. Bennet knew as well. If, however, that gentleman chose not to refer to that connection, Darcy was more than willing to oblige him.
“And does she live in Derbyshire, sir?”
“For much of the year, yes, although she is currently in London with her companion.” With anyone else, Darcy would have ended his reply with that, but now he added, “Both Georgiana and I enjoy the country more than London, and most of our time is spent there.”
Mr. Bennet nodded, clearly interested. “Your estate is called Pemberley, is it not?” At Darcy’s nod, he continued, “Both Elizabeth and her aunt, Mrs. Gardiner, tell me it is as beautiful as the rest of Derbyshire.”
“It is,” Darcy agreed, “but I must admit to being biased. The best parts of my childhood were spent there. It holds many fond memories, which, when combined with the beauty of the countryside, make calling any other place ‘home’ very difficult. I hope you shall see it for yourself some day. You are, of course, always welcome.”
Mr. Bennet nodded, his face betraying both his surprise and pleasure at the invitation. “I should like that very much, sir.”
Elizabeth looked over at Darcy and, although she spoke not a word, her smile was all she needed to relay to him all of her delight. Her words to him as they parted that night in Longbourn’s courtyard only confirmed her silent message. “You impressed my father tonight, I think,” she said quietly. She moved a little closer and looked up at him, her smile soft, and Darcy knew that she understood how anxious he had been. “You impressed me, too. I am so very proud of you, Mr. Darcy.”
He groaned inaudibly at both her words and her nearness. This afternoon, he had kissed her and held her, but now, surrounded by her family, he could do nothing more than take her hand. This he did immediately, raising it to his lips. “It is Fitzwilliam to you, my love, and you should not say such things to me when I cannot give you the response they deserve.” Elizabeth’s eyes sparked and widened in sudden awareness at his words, and her lips softened and parted, causing him to catch his breath. He watched her silently for a moment, trying to say with his eyes what the situation prevented him from saying aloud, then kissed her fingers once more before letting go of her hand. And as he and Bingley made their way back to Netherfield in the growing dusk, he smiled to himself. It had been a very good day.
It was to Meryton’s very great shock that the engagement of Miss Elizabeth Bennet to Mr. Darcy of Derbyshire became public. Mrs. Bennet, of course, once she recovered from her shock, was more than willing to relay the news to anyone who was willing to listen, for although she might still be rather intimidated in her son-in-law’s presence, his name and fortune inspired all of her conversations in his absence. And everyone was willing to listen – with, perhaps, the notable exception of Mrs. Lucas, whose once-vaunted son-in-law Mr. Collins could not hold a candle to Jane Bennet’s fiancé, much less Elizabeth’s – for even all of the good fortune bestowed on Jane Bennet in finding such a match as Charles Bingley could equal nothing to Miss Elizabeth’s achievement with Mr. Darcy, regardless of the latter’s temperament. It was, then, perfectly natural that the wholly unexpected connection was the only thing Meryton society could speak of for a week.
There were two events associated with the engagement that were particular topics for discussion. The first was the appearance of Mr. Darcy and Miss Elizabeth at services Sunday morning, for since even the very strong validity of hearing the news from Mrs. Bennet’s own lips was not enough to persuade everyone, Sunday services afforded many curious pairs of eyes the chance to observe for themselves if what was being said was in fact true. It was indeed too much to hope for any sign of an attachment during services, for the gentleman and lady were separated by her family, propriety and several pews, but as the congregation slowly made its way out of the chapel, past the vicar and into the brisk September air, more than one carefully-coiffed head was seen to glance back at the doorway. What they saw when the Netherfield and Longbourn parties met, however, was more than enough, for although the lady only curtseyed and the gentleman only bowed, those who had eyesight sharp enough to see their faces were completely convinced not only of his affection for her, but – miracle of all miracles – her affection for him. The engagement between Mr. Darcy and Miss. Elizabeth now being properly verified by the eyesight of all the most reliable witnesses, the reigning conversation at dinner tables across Meryton that night was the question of whether, given the extent to which Miss Elizabeth clearly liked her fiancé, perhaps – heaven forbid! – his character had been misjudged to begin with.
The second event that gave rise to considerable discussion across Meryton was the pending arrival of Mr. Darcy’s sister later that week. The vast majority of people, having never heard that Mr. Darcy did indeed have a younger sister, were shocked, and everyone wondered as to what her character would be like – would she be proud, as so many had assumed her brother to be, or genteel, like Mr. Bingley’s elegant sisters?
Darcy received Georgiana’s reply to his letter early the following week, a delighted four-page missive that promised her own arrival only days later. She was true to her word and arrived as promised, no less pleased in person than she had been in writing and even more eager to see the Misses Bennet than she had been when Darcy had left her in London a fortnight earlier. She was delighted to meet Jane and encounter in the future Mrs. Bingley a temperament very much like her own, but it was her reunion with Elizabeth that Georgiana had long been awaiting. Darcy looked on in fondness and pride as Elizabeth received all of Georgiana’s shy and heartfelt congratulations with joy, her own openness and enthusiasm prompting the same in his sister. No one could be better for Georgiana than Elizabeth, and Elizabeth in turn was delighted that his sister had come so quickly to share in their celebration.
The questions and curiosity of the rest of Meryton society were answered, once again, after services on Sunday. Having spent the three days since her arrival in Hertfordshire very quietly at Netherfield and Longbourn, Georgiana’s appearance in church was the first time many had seen Miss Darcy. Although attention was drawn more than once to the fine quality of her gown, it was her sweet smile upon greeting Jane and Elizabeth and her obvious devotion to her brother that captured the attention of the majority of observers, once again forcing society to wonder about their previously-held notions of Mr. Darcy. He was attentive not only to his fiancée but to his sister as well, and it was indeed difficult to believe that someone so very well-mannered and sweet-tempered could be as devoted to a man as proud as Mr. Darcy had been supposed to be. What was there to think, more than one person daringly wondered, but that perhaps he had been misunderstood?
Georgiana’s arrival at Netherfield was only a few days past when a second arrival was anticipated. Charles had, as he had informed Darcy, extended invitations to both of his sisters and Mr. Hurst to join their party in Hertfordshire, and both of his invitations had been accepted. Miss Bingley and Mr. and Mrs. Hurst arrived at Netherfield late in on Wednesday afternoon.
“But, Charles,” Miss Bingley exclaimed as soon as the greetings were finished, “where is dear Jane? We were so looking forward to seeing her again, were we not, Louisa?”
“Oh, of course,” Louisa agreed. “Do tell us that she is here, Charles.”
“I am afraid not,” Bingley responded. “She is at Longbourn today. She will join us here tomorrow.” He did not add that Elizabeth would be joining them as well, although he shot a telling glance at Darcy. His sisters, meanwhile, scolded him once more for depriving them of congratulating her until the morrow, and then turned to Georgiana and Darcy, Caroline Bingley being especially certain that both were in no doubt of the extent of her joy at once again being in their company, for “good company really is so hard to find these days – one must make such an effort both at finding and cultivating it; isn’t that so, Louisa?”
“Quite,” Mrs. Hurst agreed with a nod.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent unloading belongings from carriages and, for the ladies, restorative naps after their journey and in preparation for dinner. Dinner itself was a quiet affair, for although both Caroline and Louisa did their best to encourage conversation, no one else was so inclined. Georgiana found herself intimidated by both women and restricted her answers to as few words as possible, while Darcy and Bingley found themselves desirous of the truly ‘good company’ of their fiancées and rather impatient with anything else. Mr. Hurst was never inclined to conversation, and today was no exception.
It was in the sitting room after dinner that, in another increasingly desperate attempt at stimulating some dialogue, Miss Bingley turned to her brother. “Charles, you never did tell me in your letter who would be standing up for you at your wedding. Of course, it must be you, Mr. Darcy. I cannot imagine any one else fulfilling that role.”
“Well, actually…” Charles began to speak but trailed off as he looked to Darcy for help. Darcy shrugged. Caroline would have to find out about his engagement eventually, and considering that both Jane and Elizabeth were to visit Netherfield the following day, she would need to be told sooner rather than later.
Caroline was surprised at her brother’s failure to answer. “Come now, Charles! Mr. Darcy, you will be standing up for my brother, will you not?”
“In a manner of speaking…”
“Caroline, there is something you need to know.”
Darcy and Bingley spoke at the same time, then looked at each other. Darcy grinned a little, then gestured to Bingley to continue. Bingley took a breath and then turned to his sister.
“Caroline, Louisa, Hurst, there is something else that you have not yet been informed of. Darcy will not be standing up for me when Jane and I marry, because he will be a groom as well.” He looked directly at Caroline, and his gaze was particularly steady as he spoke. “That is the reason, you see, that Georgiana is here. Darcy is engaged as well – to Miss Elizabeth Bennet. The ceremony for Jane and me will be for Darcy and Miss Elizabeth as well.”
Posted on Wednesday, 20 July 2005
Silence reigned for a full ten seconds after Bingley spoke. Bingley looked uncomfortable and watched his sister with a rather wary expression upon his features. Louisa, whose features were in all other circumstances perfectly composed, was in this instance incapable of concealing her shock as she looked first to her brother, then to Darcy, then to Caroline, and then back to her brother again. Georgiana, knowing full well what the information meant to Miss Bingley, sat in stiff suspense, ready to cringe at any loud reaction. Caroline, however, seemed unable to speak. Sinking slowly down to the settee behind her, she stared at Charles for several seconds before her gaze swiveled to Darcy’s, who met it evenly. She even looked to her sister as if searching for some sort of confirmation for what must otherwise be attributed to nothing more than an over-active imagination or a very bad dream, but there was, of course, very little help from that quarter.
Darcy leaned back in his chair, the devil inside of him taking great enjoyment at Miss Bingley’s stunned expression. She looked, he thought distractedly, rather like she had that night at Pemberley after Elizabeth had left with the Gardiners – almost like a fish out of water. He almost allowed his conscience to berate himself for that uncharitable and uncomplimentary thought, but decided rather uncharacteristically that he was enjoying the moment too much to spoil it with propriety. And besides, he reasoned, Elizabeth would be forced to agree. Surely she would not censor such a description. He grinned to himself as he imagined how she would have relished the opportunity to observe Miss Bingley at this moment.
It was Hurst, of all people, who broke the stunned silence. “Elizabeth Bennet? Isn’t she one of that family in this neighborhood, the one with all daughters? Loud family, that. Youngest gels loved to dance.” He looked up at Darcy, realization dawning. “I say, Darcy. She is the chit that came for dinner at Pemberley last summer – with her aunt and uncle. Lovely singing voice. Pretty face too. Not a bad choice at all, I grant you.” He harrumphed before settling back in his chair. He raised his glass to Darcy and promptly took a long swallow. “My congratulations and best wishes and all that.”
Darcy’s lips quirked slightly at the gentleman’s characteristic response to Charles’ announcement, but he restricted his answer to a quick nod and a “Thank you, Hurst,” repeating the action when Mrs. Hurst echoed her husband’s remarks. For a moment, Mrs. Hurst looked on in disbelief at her husband’s unconcerned acceptance of Miss Bennet, but it was only for a very short moment, as she very quickly realized that the benefits of maintaining her connection to the Darcy family far outweighed any objections she might harbour against the future Mrs. Darcy, and hastily added her congratulations to her husband’s. Her voice – when she finally found it – was surprisingly steady, although her eyes, Darcy thought, still betrayed her remaining shock.
By now, Caroline had recovered enough to realize the necessity of following the example of her sister and brother-in-law – albeit, of course, in a slightly more genteel manner than Hurst’s brusque reaction – and hurried to offer her congratulations at once. Darcy was impressed with how quickly she schooled her features, pasting on a patently false, although admittedly shaky, smile. “Well, Mr. Darcy, this is a surprise – but a charming one, of course! My best wishes to both you and Miss Eliza… I am sure she must be very aware of how lucky she is.”
Darcy bristled at the note of condescension that leaked into her last statement, and his tone was frosty when he replied, “I am afraid I must disagree with you on the last, Miss Bingley – it is I, not she, who is the fortunate one in this match.”
“Hmm,” Caroline smiled at him as if in agreement, but Darcy knew that she did not dare to contradict him any further. No matter how shocked, angry, and disappointed she may have felt, she, like her sister, valued her connection to the Darcy name and family far too highly to let her jealously of a country miss endanger it. She did, however, seem to feel as if she had personally lost face during that encounter – or perhaps it was simply through the very fact that such an engagement existed between Mr. Darcy and Miss Elizabeth Bennet – and sought to polish her own image by looking to her long-standing friendship with Darcy’s young sister.
“And what think you, Georgiana, of your brother’s engagement?” She inquired solicitously of the quiet girl. Her habit of seeking Miss Darcy’s opinion resurfaced, for even though the primary motivation behind it was now unobtainable, surely gaining the favour of Mr. Darcy’s sister had merit regardless of the availability of the gentleman’s hand, name, and fortune. “Surely you must have been quite surprised.” She was unable to keep the bitter tone from her last words, for surely Miss Darcy would have been less surprised – and, it was to be assumed, more approving – had her brother formed an agreement with her rather than Miss Bennet. Darcy’s irritation at Miss Bingley’s insolence doubled with the silent implications her words and tone contained, and he prepared to defend himself and Georgiana for any ill-disguised onslaught Miss Bingley might embark upon.
Unfortunately for the beleaguered lady, Miss Bingley was once again to be disappointed – and without a word from Darcy.
“Oh, no, I was not surprised at all!” Georgiana’s voice, as sweet and quiet as ever, contained an unusual note of enthusiasm, and her eyes sparkled with her obvious approval of the union. “Ever since Miss Bennet’s visit to our home last summer, I had hoped that she… that is, that my brother… that is to say, that everything might end exactly as it has.” She flushed a little, but the smile she sent to Darcy was completely genuine. “I had hardly dared to hope at first, but I admit that I did nonetheless. And so when my brother wrote to me with the news, I was delighted – but not entirely surprised.”
She smiled at Miss Bingley as if that lady would completely understand and, indeed, as if she would not be able to help but feel exactly the same. However much her hopes regarding her brother’s happiness had been fulfilled, however, her hopes in regards to Miss Bingley’s shared enjoyment at the news were, it seemed, to be dashed, for Miss Bingley looked rather as though she had swallowed something disagreeable and was in no state of mind at that particular moment to share in Georgiana’s excitement.
Darcy, however, was extremely proud of his young sister – and more than a little curious. She had said that since that day at Pemberley she had hardly dared to hope, but yet when she had received his letter announcing Elizabeth’s acceptance of his hand, she had not been surprised. Her response to Miss Bingley, while it had been all that was charming and genuine had also contained exactly the right turn of phrase to discourage her from speaking on that topic again. He began to wonder whether, despite all of her shyness and apparent naïveté, Georgiana Darcy had observed more than he had perhaps given her credit for.
If this was the case, however, Miss Darcy did not let on. During the course of the evening, she was as quiet as ever, seemingly content to enjoy her brother’s company and to look forward to the presence of his fiancée and her sisters on the morrow. And if Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst did not share in her serenity, Georgiana did not seem to notice.
Mrs. Bennet and her daughters were not expected at Netherfield until the afternoon the following day, and Darcy took the morning to work through correspondence and other matters of business as communicated to him by his steward. Among the letters handed to him early that morning was one bearing the Rosings crest, and had it not been an action entirely unbecoming to a gentleman, Darcy would very likely have groaned in consternation. As it was, his closed eyes and thinning lips were all that were necessary to express his lack of enthusiasm for the missive he now held.
Shortly after winning Elizabeth’s hand and the consent of her father, Darcy had written to Lady Catherine to inform her of his engagement, at the same time sending a similar letter to his uncle and aunt, the earl and countess of Matlock. Up until now, he had not received replies from either of his relatives, but he had rather hoped that Lady Catherine’s might have been somewhat more delayed. He sighed momentarily, and then, knowing that to put it off would only be delaying the inevitable, broke the seal and unfolded the sheets contained within.
I write, as I am certain you are aware, in response to your missive received yesterday and to all of the shocking and displeasing information contained therein. Only two weeks ago, you gave me your solemn promise that you should only consent to marriage with a woman who could bring honour to the family name. With an attachment to a woman such as Elizabeth Bennet, however, you achieve only the opposite. To renege on your engagement to Anne, your relative and the bride chosen for you by your own mother, and to break your vow to your family by settling instead upon such a woman is indeed too much to bear. You have shown that your commitment to your honour and to your family are indeed lacking to such an extent that one can only assume that you have been bewitched and ensnared by the young woman’s entrapments.
It is indeed too much to hope that that young woman shall succeed in upholding the family name, heritage and honour, and I am certain that I speak not only on my behalf but also of your dear departed parents, who, should they still be with us, should in all likelihood refuse to approve of this match – as do I – in the most vehement of terms and with greatest displeasure. You must allow, nephew, that my objections to Miss Bennet are both well-founded and properly logical. Consider only her family, her lack of connections, and especially the disgrace that her youngest sister has brought upon her very name with that scandalous elopement some months ago. In attaching herself to you, she has everything to gain and nothing to lose; you, on the other hand, can do nothing but lower yourself and bring disgrace to your heritage in making her your wife. She has some beauty, and it must be this that has enabled her to ensnare you, but I feel it my duty to warn you most strongly against carrying through with this alliance.
Miss Bennet is stubborn, proud, arrogant, and completely unaware of her place in society – in short, she is everything that the mistress of Pemberley and the wife of Mr. Darcy must not be. Her schemes for your fortune and place in society could not be more clear, and indeed, she all but admitted them to me openly in my visit to her some weeks ago. You must escape her devious plans before it is too late; indeed, I insist upon it. I remind you once again of your engagement to Anne and bid you come now to Rosings – you will see in her everything that the best mistress of Pemberley ought to be.
I await your response and insist upon a prompt reply, that we might know when to expect you. Until then, I remain
Lady Catherine de Bourgh
Reading Lady Catherine’s last words was very nearly out of the question, not because Lady Catherine’s slanted cursive was illegible but rather because Darcy’s entire being was at that point shaking so violently with repressed rage that focusing on the sheet he held was nigh impossible. Crumpling the missive and all of its cruelty in his fist, Darcy barely refrained from tossing it into the nearby fireplace, deciding to spare it only so long as it would take for him to formulate a reply.
Such a task was unthinkable at the moment, however, for the force of Darcy’s rage was such that the closed walls and doors of Netherfield threatened to smother him. The sheer violence of his reaction was only released through the driving rhythm of his horse’s pounding hooves as he raced furiously through the fields and woods that were Netherfield Park. He was unaware of how long he rode, his concentration focused solely on regaining the control that was in almost every other circumstance under tight rein. It was the sight of a small stream that finally caused him to pull his mount to a halt. The creature always bore Darcy magnificently; however, Darcy had ridden him particularly hard today and the rippling water offered both refreshment to the animal and a splash of chilly temperance in response to the adrenaline still burning through Darcy’s veins.
That Catherine would be displeased Darcy had not been foolish enough to doubt; he had not, however, prepared himself for either the depth of her ill-will or the ferocity of his reaction. This level of protection, this determination to defend his Elizabeth against the narrow-minded conceit of those of his aunt’s caliber, far surpassed his ire at Caroline’s petty attempts to belittle her and even the fury he had felt at Wickham’s near-victory with Georgiana. Lady Catherine’s unflinching attack on not only his honour and character but most particularly, on the beautiful woman who had consented, despite all of his faults, to be his bride, was unforgivable, and although Darcy’s emotions were once again under reasonable control as he made his way back to the house, he was coldly resolved to end any communication with his aunt with the response she so eagerly awaited.
However much he might have desired to dispense with the task at once, Darcy resolved that Elizabeth needed to be told of the nature of Lady Catherine’s response, and he was determined to find time during her visit with her mother and sisters that afternoon to discuss the matter with her. Doing so, however, was a much easier accomplishment in his imagination than it was in reality, for removing his fiancée from the escort of her family was no easy task, particularly considering Darcy’s reluctance to discuss such a sensitive topic within the hearing range of the ever-alert Mrs. Bennet and especially, Caroline Bingley, whose greeting to Elizabeth when she arrived at Netherfield that afternoon was everything that was charming and insincere.
“Oh, Miss Eliza! It is good to see you again! I hear from Mr. Darcy that we are to offer you our congratulations!”
Elizabeth smiled graciously at Caroline Bingley and accepted her congratulations, but Darcy detected a distinct glimmer of amusement in her expressive eyes, and when she directed a laughing, speaking glance at him only a moment later, he knew that he had not been mistaken. They both watched as Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst turned to offer similar best wishes to Jane, expressing with all of their characteristic style and flattery how very delighted they were that Miss Bennet was to be their sister and that all of their hopes in that regard were finally to be fulfilled. If Jane had made Mr. Bingley the happiest of men, then it seemed utterly certain that she had made Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst the happiest of sisters. Jane, of course, was undeceived, but her sweetness overcame her distrust, and she was far more gracious in her response than either lady deserved.
If, however, Jane and Elizabeth failed to believe all of Bingley’s sisters’ delighted sentiments, their mother received them with the same awe and gratefulness as had characterized her response to those ladies from the beginning. She was glad to see them both, Hertfordshire society had not been the same since they had been away, and she was certain that they would agree with her that while London boasted every element of sophistication and refinement, there was at the same time nothing quite so refreshing as the country air. She for one was delighted that they were here, particularly as they had arrived in time to grace Meryton’s finest with their presence at the celebratory ball to be held several days hence.
“Oh, a ball!” Caroline replied, doing her best to sound excited. Darcy knew that she was indeed making a concerted effort to remain on good terms with both her brother and himself when she dared not even glance at Louisa as she replied. “What a lovely idea.”
That it was a lovely idea was indeed the general consensus amongst those who made up Meryton society and particularly the members of their small party that afternoon. While it occupied the others, however, Darcy had something else that he wished to speak of with Elizabeth. The lack of privacy and the constant presence of the others prevented him from doing so all afternoon and evening, however, and by the end of the night he was exasperated. Finally bowing to the knowledge that complete privacy was impossible under the circumstances, Darcy led Elizabeth to the far end of the sitting room in which the party was congregated.
“I received a letter today,” he said in an undertone, “from Lady Catherine.”
“Ah.” Elizabeth’s monosyllabic reply expressed her sentiments exactly. “It is too much to hope, I daresay, that she has honoured us with her approval?”
Darcy’s eyes were hard and the very topic made his stomach roil in a manner reminiscent of his response that morning. “I wanted to make her reaction known to you, Elizabeth, before I respond to her missive tomorrow morning, but that letter to her will be my last until she finds herself able to accept you as my wife.”
Elizabeth bit her lip in consternation. “Oh, dear. Was she truly that awful?”
His scowl was as black as his temper as he pulled the offending letter from inside his dinner jacket, but as he handed it to her he tempered his expression, both for her benefit and for that of any of room’s other occupants who happen to observe their quiet discussion. “I do not particularly want you to read this… but I think you must.”
Darcy waited anxiously for her as she read, watching her face and eyes for any expression or sign of response. Her reaction came immediately, and when she finally returned her gaze to his, the mixture of fury and hurt in her eyes only strengthened his resolve. Elizabeth’s words, however, stunned him.
“Fitzwilliam, I am sorry.” She looked at him with regret, but determination threaded her tone. “I would not give you up for the world, but I do regret being the cause of any rift between you and your family.”
“I do not care about my family!” Though spoken in a whisper, Darcy’s response was fierce and unhesitating. “It is you I care about; you that I love. Yes, I wish their approval on our union and I greatly desire to have them join us as witnesses when we wed – but, Elizabeth, if they do not give it, if they do not come, it shall never change the fact that I wish to marry you more than anything else, and I shall do so even despite my family’s wishes, should that be the case.”
Elizabeth was quiet for several heartbeats following his impassioned speech, and when she finally spoke, it was with gaze brimming with love and tenderness. “Do you know,” she whispered, “despite all that your aunt might maintain, I do believe you might be too honorable for your own good.”
That brought a smile, albeit tiny and rather reluctant, to his hard and imperturbable visage, and he shook his head. “That, my love, I doubt very much indeed.”
Darcy posted his response to his aunt the following day. It was short and curt, and he neither requested nor expected any reply. Even so, although he, like Elizabeth, regretted the lost connection with one of his very few living relatives, he was confident in the rightness of his action and response.
Although Lady Catherine’s missive had occupied much of Darcy and Elizabeth’s attention that evening, it was the approaching engagement ball that held the anticipation of the rest of Meryton society in thrall. The arrival of Miss Darcy, Miss Bingley, and Mr. and Mrs. Hurst only heightened the enthusiasm as the night grew nearer, but Meryton had not yet seen the last of its guests yet. It was only days before the impending ball that word arrived from the Lucases that they too were entertaining guests – Mr. and Mrs. Collins had just arrived at Lucas Lodge from the parsonage at Hunsford.