Alternate Endings and Deleted Scenes
Posted on 2008-08-02
Here are some alternate scenes to go along with my recently completed story A Noteworthy Courtship. Since fanfiction in general tells more than just the original story and lets us play "what-if", I hope you enjoy seeing the same with this story. For those of you who wished Elizabeth had been bold enough to confront her correspondent at the bookshop, or wanted throttle Mr. Collins every time he came into the scene (or maybe throttle the author for keeping him around), this is for you! There is also an extended epilogue with more details of the Darcy and Bingley families visiting the Beaumonts at Ashingdon.
The Indigenous and Migrant Toad Populations of Thompson's Pond
We start our scene on a crisp December morning, when a walking party was dispatched from Longbourn, consisting of a thoroughly besotted Mr. Bingley, his future wife (though not yet betrothed) Jane, Elizabeth, unfortunately escorted by Mr. Collins, and Mr. Darcy, who in Mrs. Bennet's mind was escorting Kitty, though his attention was perhaps drawn to another of the lady's daughters. We join the group as they reach their destination overlooking Thompson's pond.
Finally the walking party reached a knoll overlooking the pond, and seeing the small bench situated at its crest, Mr. Bingley offered Jane the opportunity to sit and rest. Mr. Bingley then turned to converse with Mr. Darcy as Mr. Collins rambled on to no one in particular about the surrounding flora and how such specimens would thrive at his parsonage under the advice of Lady Catherine. Elizabeth gladly took the opportunity to quit her cousin's company and seated herself beside Jane. Unfortunately, upon witnessing her movement, Mr. Collins moved to stand beside her, and his comments alternated between courting his cousin and displaying reverence to the nephew of his patroness.
As Mr. Collins' monologue continued, Mr. Darcy turned his head away from the rest of the party and stared into the horizon. Elizabeth grew angry that he would willingly arrive at Longbourn only to stalk off as though they were unworthy of his attention. He was under no obligation to mix with Meryton society if he found their company insufferable. If only she could have read his thoughts, she would have known it was only Mr. Collins he found insufferable, and on that subject, they were in perfect agreement.
It was greatly providential then, that at that precise moment, Mr. Darcy turned to glance in Miss Elizabeth's direction, and caught the exaggerated rolling of her eyes aimed at the back of her rambling cousin. She looked as though she knew not whether to flee in any given direction or entertain a hope that steadfast glowering might inspire his spontaneous combustion. Mr. Darcy watched a multitude of less than polite but highly understandable reactions passed across her features as Mr. Collins' speech on the superior natural waters to be found near Rosings Park continued. At length, he met her eye as she let out an animated though silent huff. She immediately froze, embarrassed at being caught indulging in such child-like behavior, and by Mr. Darcy of all people. Before she could turn her discomfited gaze to the ground, however, Mr. Darcy winked at her, and his eyes darted in Mr. Collins' direction. Elizabeth rolled her eyes slightly as she shrugged understandingly, offering a small smile in appreciation of his good humor. Her expression quickly changed to surprise as Mr. Darcy strode decidedly towards her.
"...as I was instructed by Lady Catherine deBourgh, there is no more suitable a remedy than..." Mr. Collins halted his speech abruptly upon observing the decided movements of his revered audience. It was with a great haste that surprised even himself that he rushed to Miss Elizabeth's before the gentleman could reach her, hoping to smooth over whatever offences she might have caused.
"Mr. Darcy, sir, I beg you would forgive my young cousin. She has rarely had the good fortune of being in company with esteemed persons such as yourself, and I assure you she shall quickly learn to curb whatever behavior offends you when she becomes Mrs. Collins. Your noble aunt is excessively attentive to all these things, and has assured me she will instruct my wife as to whatever manners would be conducive to the parish's needs should her education be found lacking."
"Mr. Collins..." Elizabeth cut in sharply, though her voice was quickly spoken over by her cousin.
"Do not trouble yourself, dear cousin, that our arrangement has not been formally announced. A man of Mr. Darcy's standing..."
"...finds it terribly rude to interrupt a lady." Mr. Darcy finished sternly. Turning towards Elizabeth he added, "You were saying, Miss Bennet?"
Elizabeth was astounded by the strength of his address, and even more so that he seemed to have spoken in her defense. Realizing the attention of the entire party had turned towards them, she observed the shock on Jane's face, the glare on Mr. Bingley's, and tried to ignore the appall on Mr. Collins'. Mr. Darcy's eye was turned to her intently, and as he raised a brow she nodded in acknowledgement and said, "I was attempting to express that while it is true no formal announcement has been made, Mr. Collins, it would be misleading indeed to suggest that such an announcement is forthcoming, as I have not entered into any ‘arrangement' with you, nor do I expect that I shall do so in the near future.
Always master of his countenance, Mr. Darcy was certain he kept a stern façade in light of this pleasing revelation, though the gleeful look on Mr. Bingley's face and wink in his direction was troubling. Little time for reflection was allowed however, as Mr. Collins gathered the proper words to address his...well, apparently just his cousin.
"Cousin Elizabeth, surely you understand the marked attentions I have bestowed upon you. However if I am incorrect in this presumption, your innocence only adds to your feminine charms, and I shall happily make my intentions known to you."
"That will not be necessary, sir, as your intentions have long been understood by myself. The clarity of your intentions, however, does not infer that they must then be welcomed."
"Cousin Elizabeth, I fear you misunderstand..."
The resounding sharpness of Mr. Darcy's outburst surprised even the gentleman who verbalized it, and he soon found himself placed firmly beside Elizabeth.
"Mr. Darcy, I must apologize. If I could simply remove my fiancée from your presence I am certain she will apolo..."
"The lady has stated that she is NOT betrothed to you."
"But her mother..."
"Oh, BLOODY HELL!"
And with one great shove from the master of Pemberley, Mr. Collins found himself reeling down the muddy bank of Thompson's pond, arms flailing uselessly as he careened into the water with a great splash.
Jane gasped. Mr. Bingley restrained the urge to cheer and nearly settled for lobbing any loose object he could find in the parson's general direction, however a nearby log seemed too large to be worth the effort, and he was rather fond of his walking stick. A third member of the group did find her voice.
"Mr. Darcy!" Elizabeth cried, her tone exuding more a sense of astonishment than displeasure.
The gentleman turned towards the lady who had addressed him, as any proper gentleman should, and smoothing his coat, glanced at the cumbersome gentleman who seemed rather well situated amongst the cattail reeds and the toads.
"I suppose I should apologize for that," he commented nonchalantly as he straightened his gloves, "though I have the distinct impression it was bound to happen eventually."
He then looked up at the lady whose own glove was making a valiant effort at disguising a most becoming smile and offered his arm, "Miss Bennet, might I escort you home?"
A More Assertive Elizabeth (Elizabeth the Daring)
A week before the Yuletide Ball, Elizabeth, deciding she's had enough of caution and patience, takes matters into her own hands.
Elizabeth had greatly enjoyed the secrecy of her correspondence, and rather enjoyed toying with whatever young man in the neighborhood thought himself so particularly clever. What said man had not anticipated, however, was that Elizabeth would soon lose patience with her efforts to reason out his identity on her own. While the pattern to the days she had determined would bring his delivering a note was no great secret, her accurate speculation as to the time at which he might arrive on this particular day was as shocking to her as it would eventually be to him.
Elizabeth had chosen her location carefully, being fully aware of the unknown gentleman's particular destination, and therefore also aware of the best location for discreetly observing any movements in the vicinity without being discovered. The borrowed bonnet from her sister Mary worked quite well at masking any distinctly recognizable evidences of her identity, should the gentleman happen to be conscious of such particulars. After all, she could not be too cautious in supposing that her odd questions at recent social gatherings had not gone unnoticed. Her musings over the potential outcome of her plan were interrupted as heavy footsteps moved in her direction, each step further indicating her probable success. As the footsteps paused in the predicted location, she rose lightly from her seat, moving to return the book she held to its shelf, just one row behind the aisle which contained her primary interest. With the briefest of upward glances over the shelf as she replaced the book, she was afforded a clear view of the gentleman's profile.
Only intense fear of discovery kept Elizabeth silent as she felt the shock of seeing Mr. Darcy handling her book just a few feet away. She silently moved back to the chair she had vacated, gently seating herself with complete disregard for the pretense of reading another book. Her breath caught in her throat as the heavy footsteps began again, each contact of riding boot to wooden floor pounding in her ears with more magnitude than the last. She held her breath as the rhythm of the fading steps gradually increased and sighed with relief as she heard the door open and close. Not daring to approach the note, which in all likelihood was still warm from its author's hold, Elizabeth waited restlessly for a quarter hour to pass before exiting the shop herself.
That evening, Elizabeth pored over each of the notes she had received, vainly attempting to reconcile the impression she had drawn to the man she now knew to be behind them. As difficult as it was to consider that her impression of Mr. Darcy was false, believing that she had misinterpreted her correspondent was inconceivable. In her efforts, she did not get on at all, her every confidence in her discernment questioned by the conflicting conclusions she had drawn. Until this moment, she sighed, I never knew myself.
The following day, on which she intended to pick up the note, though she had witnessed its being placed; Mr. Bennet called his favorite daughter into the library, suggesting a ride into Meryton for a little holiday shopping. He noted that his Lizzy still seemed rather preoccupied, just as she had when she returned from her walk the previous day before disappearing into her room.
Mr. Bennet was increasingly puzzled by his daughter's apprehension as their carriage departed for Meryton, as was about to inquire as to its cause when Elizabeth hastily spoke.
"Papa, forgive me the impertinence, for I can longer restrain my curiosity. Of what did you and Mr. Darcy speak at Netherfield when Mr. Bingley invited us to dine? I could help noticing that you joined us several minutes after the other gentlemen."
Mr. Bennet sighed, "I had hoped I would not need to relate this information as the gentleman it pertains is no longer in the area. However since you have inquired directly, I see little harm in sharing with you that the subject of our discourse was Mr. Wickham, and I believe we were all misled as to the true state of affairs between the two gentlemen."
Mr. Bennet proceeded to relate the knowledge he had gained of the history between Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham, which of course included the matter of 3,000 pounds given in exchange of the living at Kympton and the depletion of said funds which implied an undesirable shade to Mr. Wickham's character. The narrative did not, however, include the more recent particulars of Mr. Darcy's acquaintance with Mr. Wickham, which the more respectable gentleman would wish to forget; as such information had not been related to Mr. Bennet.
To say that this information increased Elizabeth's confusion would be a rather modest portrayal of her state of emotion. Upon returning to Longbourn and reading Mr. Darcy's note, however, she was thankful that she had discovered his identity when she did, else his reference to accomplished ladies may have inspired her to make references which would certainly reveal her identity to him.
As the Bennets arrived at the Yuletide Ball, Elizabeth's feelings were very little clearer than they had been over the past several days. Of one thing she was certain -- for better or for worse, her correspondence with Mr. Darcy needed to end before any damage could be done to her reputation by its accidental discovery. The severity of the impropriety committed could no longer be ignored when the identity of her correspondent was revealed to be not a young local boy, but the master of Pemberley. While her examination of his notes and the information from her father had greatly deflated her ill opinion, she still could not imagine an obligatory marriage would be amenable to either party.
Elizabeth could no longer reflect on how to best handle her predicament, as at that moment, the gentleman in question entered the room. Mr. Bingley had arrived at the ball in company with the Bennets, as he had offered use of his carriage for their conveyance, and it was of little surprise to Elizabeth that the remainder of the Netherfield party would arrive at an hour considered fashionably late. Neither was she surprised by the haughty air that graced Miss Bingley's countenance as she was escorted into the ballroom by Mr. Darcy. As expected, her expression was matched in the face of said gentleman. Upon further observation, however, Elizabeth observed that Mr. Darcy cast a somewhat wistful glance at Mr. Bingley as he led Jane to join the first set, and he sighed as Miss Bingley used a rather forcible manner to lead him into conversation with some of the local ladies and the Hursts. Elizabeth quickly averted her eyes as Mr. Darcy made his escape from Mr. Bingley's sisters, only to join the gentlemen himself as he led her sister away from the dance floor and the trio came towards her.
"Bingley, Miss Bennet." Mr. Darcy bowed as he greeted the couple, "As this is the first public event in honor of your engagement, allow me to again offer my congratulations."
"No need for formalities, old man," Mr. Bingley laughed, "I know you have long recognized Jane for the angel that she is."
Mr. Darcy gave a slight nod to Mr. Bingley and turned to Miss Bennet as she thanked him politely.
"Miss Bennet, would you allow me to deprive your fiancé of your company by dancing the next with me?"
"Certainly, Mr. Darcy."
Upon her positive reply, Mr. Darcy offered his hand to escort Miss Bennet to the floor, leaving a shocked Elizabeth in their wake.
"I see you are surprised by Mr. Darcy's inviting your sister to dance, Miss Elizabeth, but he is ever conscious of paying respect where it is due, and he is a very loyal friend." Mr. Bingley smiled and indicated towards the dancing area as he extended his hand. "Would you do me the honor?"
"Why yes, Mr. Bingley. Propriety calls for nothing less, and our dancing now will keep you from the necessity of giving up a later dance with our dear Jane." Elizabeth returned Mr. Bingley's smile, belying the sterile nature of her words.
Mr. Bingley was quick to reunite with Jane after her dance with Mr. Darcy, and offered to bring her refreshment. Mr. Darcy joined him without a word, and upon their return, Bingley offered a glass of punch to Jane, as Darcy did the same for Elizabeth.
"Thank you, Mr. Darcy." Elizabeth struggled to keep a curious expression from her features as she reached to accept the refreshment she had not requested, though she was most disconcerted by her confusion over how to interact with the gentleman in light of the knowledge she had recently obtained.
Elizabeth took a sip of punch, tensing as she observed the excited approach of her mother and younger sister, fearing the mortification to come much more acutely than she had on previous occasions.
"There you are Jane! Oh, what a wonderful affair this has turned out to be, and all in the honor of yourself and Mr. Bingley."
"Yes mama, we are all glad to gather together and celebrate the season with our friends and neighbors."
Ignoring the majority of her daughter's demure response, Mrs. Bennet turned an eager eye upon the eligible gentleman in the group, who then realized with horror that he was the primary reason for her approach. "Mr. Darcy sir, I noticed you dancing with Jane, how kind of you to compliment her thus."
"It is expected that I honor the intended bride of so close a friend."
"Why yes, being such a good friend as you are to Mr. Bingley, we shall all be nearly family once he is married to Jane. And gentlemanly as you are, I am sure you would enjoy giving a dance to one of his future sisters as well." If Mr. Darcy had not deduced meaning of her words, Mrs. Bennet made all clear with a nod and pointed look towards Miss Catherine, before turning back to him expectantly.
Mr. Darcy cleared his throat in futile attempt to break the matron's gaze before replying. "Indeed Mrs. Bennet, I was just about to ask Miss Elizabeth if she might dance the next with me."
Turning to Elizabeth, he asked sedately, "Would you do me the honor?"
Not unconscious of the glare being sent her direction by her mother, Elizabeth assented. She was greatly appreciative of the polite manner in which Mr. Darcy had thwarted her mother's schemes, though not convinced he was entirely pleased by the prospect of dancing with one Bennet sister over another. The gentleman offered his hand to escort her, and without another word, led her to their place in the next set.
Ever skillful at diffusing social tension, Mr. Bingley promptly addressed his future sister, "Miss Catherine, I would be delighted if you might dance the next with me."
Mr. Bingley then escorted her to the floor as well, leaving Mrs. Bennet and her eldest daughter to each other's company.
"Well Jane, can you believe the nerve of her!" Mrs. Bennet huffed. "First, Lizzy allows her fiancé to leave for Kent without so much as a formal announcement to the neighborhood, and now she is dancing with Mr. Darcy, who we all know finds her only tolerable. I dare say I cannot blame him, what with the impertinent remarks always flying from her mouth, but how is Kitty to catch his eye if Elizabeth wastes his time so?"
As the dance began, Elizabeth addressed Mr. Darcy.
"It seems I am to apologize for my mother's behavior Mr. Darcy, as she goaded you into this dance."
"Do not apologize for conduct that is not your own."
The emotionless tone of his voice convinced Elizabeth that Mr. Darcy had spoken with more politeness than sincerity, though she could not blame him for the sentiment in face of her mother's impropriety. The weight of her present situation inhibited her skills at conversation and she was glad when at length, Mr. Darcy spoke.
"Do you have any particular plans for the holiday season?"
"Mr. Bingley has been kind enough to invite us to spend Christmas Day at Netherfield."
Elizabeth fought back her frustration as the movement of the dance turned her away from Mr. Darcy. His meager attempt at forwarding the conversation was hardly encouraging, considering the revelation she needed to make.
"And yourself, sir?"
"I shall be leaving shortly to spend the holiday with my sister."
Elizabeth smiled, "I wish you and your sister a merry holiday then, sir. I understand that she is rather shy, and would imagine she prefers a quiet holiday with her brother to a house full of acquaintances."
"She does," Mr. Darcy replied cautiously, searching his memory for an instance when Georgiana's reserved nature had been mentioned in Miss Bennet's presence.
Rallying her courage, Elizabeth added, "I imagine she also anticipates the enjoyment of your company, as the discussion of many subjects, such as recently published books for example, are better served by direct conversation than written correspondence."
Mr. Darcy nodded in agreement, and the remainder of the dance was spent in silence, a circumstance which was not particularly objectionable to either party. The gentleman still bore an impassive expression as he led Elizabeth off the floor, though rather than silently turning away, he hastily requested the supper set, which she could not politely refuse.
Mr. Darcy then retreated in search of a less crowded room, or preferably an empty hallway, where he might attempt to order his thoughts.
The supper set arrived with no little amount of apprehension on the part of Mr. Darcy and Miss Elizabeth, thus conversation during the set was stilted at best. The earnest looks cast in her direction left Elizabeth in no doubt that upon reflection, the gentleman had deduced the correct meaning the words she had spoken during their previous set, though the responding sentiment behind said looks was not as easy to discern.
Mr. Darcy offered his arm to escort Elizabeth to supper, and given the silence that primarily reigned over their repast, each finished rather quickly. Elizabeth flicked her fan, attempting to dispel the nervous agitation she felt seated beside the gentleman to whom she wished to say so much, though little of the subject matter could be addressed in company.
"Miss Bennet," Mr. Darcy addressed her with practiced calm, "I fear the dining room has become rather warm for your taste. Might I offer you additional refreshment, and perhaps to escort you out for some fresh air?"
"Yes." Elizabeth smiled slightly, anxious to relieve the tension between them, "I believe that would be quite welcome, sir."
Mr. Darcy offered a small smile in return before setting upon his face the same stern countenance he had so frequently worn. Offering his arm, he led Miss Elizabeth from the dining room, collecting a glass for each of them from a nearby servant as they followed the small contingent of guests beginning to return to the ball room.
Upon gaining the hall, however, Mr. Darcy took an abrupt turn down a partially lit corridor which opened upon the far end of the balcony. After reaching the location he deemed most appropriate for private conversation without the outward appearance of an overt attempt at seclusion, he looked out into the darkened sky as he addressed Elizabeth in a collected manner which few men could achieve.
"Miss Bennet, I gather the conversation during our first dance this evening was of greater import than the subject matter would normally imply."
"I confess that such communication was my intent, sir." Elizabeth replied nervously, turning to rest her hands upon the railing.
The tender hesitance which overtook his features would have been plainly visible to the lady, had she dared to look upon his countenance. "Then you mean to say...that is...Have you become rather fond of the bookshop in Meryton as of late?"
Elizabeth smiled delicately, turning her eyes up to his as she spoke. "It seems we have both become rather diligent patrons of the bookshop in Meryton, yes."
Any irritation Mr. Darcy felt in discovering her to be the lady behind the notes began to dissipate, as a certain part of him insisted he could not imagine a more pleasing end to his clandestine correspondence. He could not prevent a slight upturn of his lips, knowing that his suspicions were correct. With such an expression continuing on his face, containing neither smugness nor disdain, Mr. Darcy rested his elbows against the railing beside Elizabeth, turning his face to hers as he addressed her. "I admit myself rather curious regarding how you came into such information. I had not thought my words to be that transparent."
"Indeed they were not," Elizabeth smiled impishly, considering that perhaps his honest expression and casual stance were indicative of his true nature, "but a girl does what she can, sir. I believe you know enough of me to realize I do not have the timidity that would keep me from discovering you by covert means, when simple conjecture from your written words was insufficient."
"In that case, I can at least take some comfort in knowing that a well-strategized scheme was required to discover me, as Bingley was quite correct when he accused me of putting a great deal of study into choosing my words carefully."
"I admit I am well aware of the truth in that statement. Your fastidious style leaves little room for improvement." Elizabeth chuckled lightly, earning a soft response from her companion. However he soon moved his head ever so slightly closer to hers, his tone becoming slightly more serious as he spoke.
"Your manners towards me seem to have softened since discovering this information."
"I might say the same of you sir."
At this moment, the musicians could be heard from the ballroom, breaking the hazy spell that had cast itself upon them, and reminding the pair that while relatively private, their location was not far from prying eyes.
"Miss Bennet, I believe the dancing is about to resume."
Mr. Darcy extended his hand, and with no further communication between the two, escorted her to the ballroom and into the dance.
Though neither party was particularly more verbose than during their previous dances, the easy manners and congenial smiles of both made for pleasant conversation, a circumstance not unnoticed by several parties in the room. Miss Bingley had yet to dance with Mr. Darcy, and while her feelings towards the present pairing in the dance were highly predictable, a certain gentleman's were not.
Mr. Bennet had never found more than a passing amusement in the possibility of Mr. Darcy taking an interest in his daughter, but by his count, and apparently many other attendees of the ball were in accord, Mr. Darcy's present dance partner gave statement to a very particular interest in his Elizabeth. All the more surprising was the pleasant nature of Elizabeth's response to the gentleman, which gave Mr. Bennet to certain suspicions regarding the identity of her correspondent and her good information regarding the same. The dance soon ended, and after Mr. Darcy had delivered Elizabeth to Miss Lucas' company, Mr. Bennet took the opportunity to seek the young gentleman out.
"Mr. Darcy, I see you have developed quite a fondness for dancing, and with my Elizabeth in particular, though I hope you realize your recent partiality has established a certain expectation, and leads me to inform you that many gentleman in the neighborhood frequently call at Longbourn, finding me at leisure for a game of chess, or otherwise if necessary."
"With your permission, sir, I believe I may avail myself of your hospitality in the morning."
"In that case, sir, I believe my daughter may find herself in need of a partner for the last set, as while she had originally attempted to coerce me into the activity, I believe there are others more suitable to the task."
The grin on Mr. Darcy's face left Mr. Bennet in no doubt of the accuracy of his supposition, nor the wisdom of his suggestion. He had never been a man to pay great mind to the gossiping hens of the neighborhood, and if harmless circumstances that were highly agreeable to his daughter and her suitor would set the ladies talking, then so be it.
"Miss Elizabeth, might I request your hand for the final set?"
"I regret sir, that my dance card is full for the remainder of the evening."
"I see. I should tell you that have it on good authority, in fact from the gentleman himself, that your partner for the last set finds himself unequal to the task, and has graciously requested that I take his place."
"For no purpose other than his own inability I am sure." Elizabeth smiled impishly, "How gracious of you to intercede."
"The honor is all mine, I assure you." Mr. Darcy returned her smile, a slight chuckle on his lips as he extended his hand to escort her.
Though the looks exchanged by Mr. Darcy and Miss Elizabeth during their dance could never rival those that passed between Mr. Bingley and Miss Bennet, it was no less a heady experience for either party. His drastic transformation was so different from what Elizabeth had imagined would be the result of her reveal, and would have been more than she could believe if she were not bearing direct witness to it.
"I believe we must have some conversation, Mr. Darcy, and though I have said as much on previous occasion, it is no less true during the fourth half-hour of eachother's company than the first."
"Indeed you are correct, and I hope you understand I only mean to impress one particular occupant of the room when I say your appearance is even more stunning this evening than it was on the occasion to which you refer."
Elizabeth blushed lightly, glancing down before she replied, "Your compliments inspire me to respond in kind, and say that you are turned out rather handsomely yourself this evening, sir."
"And yet with no reference to my previous appearance, I may assume that at the last ball I was rather frightful."
Elizabeth laughed, "You jest, sir. And to think you claimed that I was prone to the twisting of other's words, I believe you are now twisting mine."
"Perhaps it is so, in which case I may say you have a very mischievous influence on me, Miss Bennet."
"Very well then, if nothing more than an influence, I can rest assured that as the instructor of your emerging teasing abilities, I may yet find myself victorious."
"An experience I shall look forward to having repeated frequently in the future."
Elizabeth found herself unequal to anything more than a modest smile in response.
"I hope it will not bother you that I intend to call at Longbourn tomorrow morning, and said as much to your father this evening."
"He has invited you to play at chess then." she replied archly.
"That he has, though my primary incentive for visiting Longbourn lies elsewhere." his tone turned from playful to sincere as he added, "I hope you would not object to my calling at Longbourn, Miss Bennet."
"Not at all, sir. I confess I shall be looking forward to it."
Mr. Darcy's eyes darted over her shoulder, and Elizabeth turned her head to follow his line of sight, finding the Hursts and Miss Bingley across the room, searching the diminishing crowd as they retrieved their cloaks.
"The weather looked promising earlier today that its mildness might continue into tomorrow." Elizabeth offered tentatively.
Mr. Darcy studied her face as he replied, "That it did, in which case we might indulge in a short walk before I meet with your father."
"I would enjoy that, Mr. Darcy." Elizabeth said softly as she boldly met his gaze, wishing to communicate her understanding.
Mr. Darcy met her gaze, raising her hand in his, "As would I, Miss Elizabeth," he answered huskily before placing a lingering kiss upon her fingertips and turning to rejoin his party for their departure.
The following morning brought Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy to Longbourn, at an hour deemed appropriate in consideration of the late hour of the ball the night before, though that is not to say it met the preference of one gentleman in particular who could have easily been prepared to leave at dawn.
Upon arriving at Longbourn, the gentlemen were led to the parlor where the ladies of the house were assembled. Mr. Bingley greeted Jane warmly, and suggested they might walk out into the gardens and enjoy what remained of the unseasonally pleasant weather. Mr. Darcy looked at Miss Elizabeth in askance, to which she supplied the information that her father was occupied at present, but would join the party for luncheon.
Mr. Darcy responded with a smile, and offered his arm to escort her out of doors, following Mr. Bingley and Miss Bennet.
Upon leaving the house, however, Mr. Darcy showed little interest in joining the others as he led her towards the little wilderness on the outskirts of the garden and continued on through it down a path towards the nearby wood. As the gentleman seemed determined to remain silent, Elizabeth resolved to enjoy the companionable silence until he chose to speak, which at length, he did.
"I hope you found the festivities last evening to your enjoyment."
"Indeed I did, sir. For fear of expressing myself in a manner more expected from my sister Jane, I must say I cannot recall when I last had a more pleasant time nor enjoyed more pleasant company."
Mr. Darcy smiled. "I am glad to hear it." He then cleared his throat and stated, "There is a decision I made last evening, Miss Bennet, and I admit I have been able to think of little else but your opinion on the subject."
Mr. Darcy then stopped abruptly and turned towards Elizabeth. She looked up at him, her eyes entreating him to continue.
"Miss Elizabeth, I hope you would not object to my frequent presence at Longbourn, for I would be very pleased if you were amenable to my calling here. Would allow me to court you?"
"I would, sir. I look forward to your calls."
Mr. Darcy reached for her hand, and placed the lightest of kisses upon it. "Thank you, Elizabeth, I shall look forward to this as well."
He placed another lingering kiss upon her hand before intertwining her arm tightly in his and returning to others gathered in the garden.
It was not long before all assembled agreed they ought return to the house, as Mrs. Bennet had prepared for a late luncheon to be served for her guests. Mr. Bennet joined the family for the meal, which passed pleasantly with conversation centering on the previous evening, and of course Mr. Bingley and Miss Bennet's engagement, as Mrs. Bennet could speak of little else. As the meal drew to a close, Mr. Bennet patted his napkin on his lips, clearing his throat with a pointed glance towards Mr. Darcy as he rose from the table. The younger gentlemen soon excused himself to join Mr. Bennet in the library under the pretext of challenging him to a game of chess.
Mr. Darcy rejoined the party in the drawing room just as Mrs. Bennet insisted the gentlemen must stay for tea. Each accepted the invitation politely before they were once again ushered out of doors that the matron might make the appropriate preparations.
Mr. Bingley and Jane seated themselves comfortably on a stone bench where they might converse quietly, while the newly courting couple chose to ramble about the garden. Miss Elizabeth engaged Mr. Darcy in many pleasant topics of conversation, the former laughing delightedly as the latter exhibited his wit and new-found ability to tease. After some time, the gentleman found himself entirely spellbound. The lady's confidence in herself and ease in the gentleman's presence were such that her melodious laughter and delightful conversation continued, despite his increasingly hazy replies. So might their conversation have continued until tea had Mr. Darcy not suddenly pulled her aside and led her into a small copse beside the garden.
Just a few moments after his swift movement had interrupted her laughter, Elizabeth found herself standing directly before Mr. Darcy, his earnest gaze upon her and her hands clasped in his. How she had even mistaken his intense look for dislike she could no longer understand. She swallowed sharply as at length, the gentleman spoke.
"You will think me positively rash, I am sure of it, though I beg you not to refuse me and turn me away outright if I need exercise a greater amount of patience.
Elizabeth was overwhelmed by the fervently passionate expression dancing in his eyes as he inclined his head ever so slightly closer to hers. Goodness, he wants to kiss me.
"Though we have only just discovered the true depths of our acquaintance, I have long known you to be the most enchanting and remarkable woman I have ever met. I can no longer deny how ardently I admire and love you, and I can only hope that you might return some portion of my feelings and will consent to be my wife."
"Yes." Elizabeth smiled widely, amazed at how simply and clearly she had known her answer to his unexpected question.
"Yes, I will marry you, and yes, you may hope that your feelings shall be returned. Though I confess the feelings I have for you at present may not be as strong as your own, I cannot but anticipation that they soon shall be."
"Elizabeth," Mr. Darcy smiled brightly, unable to keep a grin from reappearing in-between his words as he spoke, "You have made me so happy. For a moment I feared your reaction, you looked apprehensive when I first began to address you."
Embarrassed, Elizabeth blushed and turned her eyes to the grass beneath her feet. "I was simply imagining you had a different request to make of me."
Amused by the thought of his Elizabeth -- oh, the glory of being truly able to think of her as such -- displaying any form of timidity he inquired playfully, "And what request might that be?"
"Nothing." Elizabeth replied, striving for a semblance of her typical good humor, "It was quite silly, and it was not what you had in mind anyway."
"You need not fear telling me." he said earnestly, compelling her to meet his gaze.
"I thought you were wanted to...I thought you were asking to...kiss me." she admitted, her eyes still trained on the nearby foliage.
Mr. Darcy smiled and stepped closer, raising their joined hands between then, "Well in that case, you were not entirely wrong, as while we both know that is not the particular request I made, I would very much like to kiss you."
At last Elizabeth raised her eyes to his, and inhaled sharply when she realized the closeness of his face to hers. The expression in her eyes answering the question in his, she closed her eyes as she felt his lips brush gently against her own.
Her eyes fluttering open to meet his same intense gaze, she nervously thought to lighten the atmosphere surrounding them, "You must think me rather brazen for suggesting such a thing."
"Not at all, you merely save me the trouble of asking directly by anticipating my next request."
Each shared a tender smile with the other which, in combination with the loving gazes so fixed between them, could not but result in another, longer, display of his love for her, and her mutual regard. It was but a moment's work before Elizabeth found herself wrapped in Mr. Darcy's gentle embrace, relishing in the comfort brought by the gentleman of her affections, and the joy of knowing that he returned her feelings in kind.
For those who felt the previous alternate ending was sloshed in superfluous mush, rest assured that while portions of this next scene are sloshed in an equally sticky substance, the result is quite the opposite.
An Unfortunate Mishap at Rosings Park
Colonel Fitzwilliam was taking his tour of the Park as he did each year upon his visit to Rosings, this year venturing forth rather earlier than usual on account of his cousin Darcy's imminent departure. He had rather enjoyed the scene in the drawing room as Darcy tried to justify his reason for visiting an old acquaintance. Fitzwilliam did remember rather well the friendship between his cousin and Andrew Beaumont, but to resume the acquaintance now, after having heard nothing of the gentleman during the years since his marriage, was puzzling. If he had not known his serious cousin's disposition so well, he would have suspected a young lady to be involved -- that would certainly be motivation enough for the Colonel to resume a tedious acquaintance from his own Cambridge days. Chuckling over the idea of Darcy secretly being in love, he failed to notice the streak of black headed towards Rosings along a nearby path. When his dog, Brinkley, eagerly ran off towards the same path, he thought little of it as he assumed the dog to be chasing a squirrel or perhaps a rabbit. Good riddance, as his aunt's grounds seemed to be riddled with a superfluous population of rodents.
It was not until Brinkley's ferocious barking was answered by a piercing shriek followed by muffled and indiscernible sounds that Fitzwilliam became concerned, his alarm mounting as the cries ceased but the growling of his large canine was still audible. By the time the colonel reached the other side of a large hedgerow, he gasped, making the stark realization that he had arrived too late, and nothing could be done but notify his aunt of the unfortunate event that had taken place.
"Darcy!" Colonel Fitzwilliam shouted as he approached the gates of Rosings Park.
Mr. Darcy nodded in acknowledgement of his cousin, thankful to have his escape from the house interrupted by the only person of the household who would not have been sent by his aunt's bidding to summon him back to the house like an escaped pig.
"Darcy!" Colonel Fitzwilliam called out again, his urgency now evidenced not only by his tone of voice but by the quickening of his step.
"Fitzwilliam?" Mr. Darcy answered tentatively.
"Darcy, I am afraid there are tidings I must share with our aunt that are equally unpleasant as they are bizarre."
Mr. Darcy looked at his cousin in askance, bidding him to continue.
"Brinkley and I had set out into the park, as is our usual habit...oh I never conceived a single thought that such a thing could occur."
"Fitzwilliam, you are making about as much sense as our great-uncle Milton when he used to mutter that the French were after his boiled potatoes."
"It seems I neglected to inquire with my man as to whether or not Brinkley had been fed before leaving."
"I hardly see reason to be so distressed, Fitzwilliam, Brinkley has always been skilled at hunting."
"You need not remind me, cousin, as I have encouraged that trait in him! That only makes it worse, though I have never known him capable of attacking a man! But why he had to have all that damnable ham on his person? I wonder if all of this could have been prevented."
"Damnable ham? Do you mean to say that Brinkley has attacked someone?"
"I am afraid he has done more than attacked him. I begin to regret any jests I made at the expense of the man. I would never have wished such an end on our aunt's parson."
"....Mr. Collins? You mean to tell me that Brinkley....and now he is...?"
"Yes. Satchel full of ham and all."
"Well, there is nothing for it but to inform our aunt I suppose, after which we shall commission ourselves to the parsonage to relate the sad truth there as well. Through my acquaintance with the gentleman in Hertfordshire I am aware of his only living relations, and I will take upon myself the task of informing them of the unfortunate incident."
The next morning an express rider made a delivery a Longbourn, and much to the chagrin of Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Bennet refused to reveal the contents of the letter, insisting that he must write to Mr. Gardiner in London and Mr. Bingley at Ashingdon with utmost haste. He hardly knew how to explain the bizarre events to his family, though he assumed as little detail as possible would be the most prudent approach with his wife and youngest daughters. As to composing his letters, it seemed vulgar to discuss the ramifications his cousin's fatality would have upon the estate, which both Mr. Gardiner and Mr. Bingley would realize by their own conjecture, so he resolved that a quotation of Mr. Darcy's own letter would best suit his brother and son. After all, there could not be more than one way to explain that Mr. Collins had instructed his cook to slosh excessive amounts of extracts from his beehives over a large ham, and sought to impress his patroness with a large sample of the honey-baked concoction.
It was not until supper that Mr. Bennet left his study, seating himself at the table with a feigned air of nonchalance and began to eat his dinner. With a huff, Mrs. Bennet resigned her efforts of extracting the news and turned her attention to her remaining daughters, such that she was taken quite by surprise when her husband spoke.
"Well my dear, it seems the entail on Longbourn has been broken, as Mr. Collins has been eaten."
After sufficient pause for the ladies at the table to realize he was in earnest, the sentiment acknowledged by the gaping of their mouths and widening of their eyes, Mr. Bennet added, "It seems there was an unfortunate incident involving an overly aggressive canine that had missed its breakfast."
Mr. Darcy fears Discovery
Shortly after his covert correspondence begins, Mr. Darcy fears his secret will be found out when someone enters the bookshop just as he prepares to hide a note.
The door of the shop could be heard and Mr. Darcy glanced discreetly over his shoulder to see who had entered. Just as he espied none other than Lydia Bennet, his eyes went wide as he noticed she stood on tiptoes, her eyes taking survey of the shop and moving perilously close to his direction. "holy hell!" he exclaimed under his breath as he ducked his head behind the shelf. He was certain that if he were a boy of ten he would have hunched down and run to the other side of the shop, but he was a gentleman, and he moved discreetly but quickly! across the wooden floor, thinking the section devoted to agricultural reference least likely to attract her attention. A burst of giggles embellished by a snort caught his attention, and he rolled his eyes as he observed her purpose in entering the bookshop. The young man in the shop, of some relation to Mr. Awdry if he had heard correctly, rested a crate upon the counter as the young "lady" placed a hand on his arm flirtatiously, jabbering about some nonsense Mr. Darcy did not bother to attend.
With a huff, he exited the shop; his errand would just have to wait. Perhaps he could invent some business at the tailors, it certainly would not be the quality he was used to, but after all, Miss Bingley had complimented how fine he appeared in the waistcoat he had worn out riding the day before, saying the tawny hue was quite her favorite -- there's an article of clothing I'm never wearing again.
Bennet Ladies and Interfering Carpeting
Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley are in the library, discussing the upcoming engagement dinner in honor of Charles Bingley and Jane Bennet.
"So the Bennets shall be dining at Netherfield." commented Mr. Darcy once the gentlemen had gained the privacy of the library. "One might wonder if you will be able to keep yourself from Longbourn's door long enough for the family to prepare for the evening."
Mr. Bingley chuckled as he poured a glass for each of them. "Come, Darcy. You know as well as I it is only appropriate for me to invite them to dine, particularly in light of my sisters' reluctance to pay a congratulatory call on Miss Bennet. I recognize your distaste for her family, but I am confident even you can survive their company for one evening."
"And have you invited the riveting Mr.....gah!" Mr. Darcy began to pace the room, his reply halting abruptly when the toe of his shoe caught on the rug, nearly causing him to spill his drink as he fought to keep his balance. Turning his eye to the offensive carpet, he looked agitatedly at the awkward edging of the ostentatious design. Singular choice for a library, he muttered.
"What is this style of rug called, Bingley? I do not recall it being present the last time I attempted to walk across this room without losing my dignity."
Mr. Darcy raised his brow, entreating his friend to continue, which he did.
"Its name is money. Caroline had it ordered from London, insisting that it is of the latest fashion and apparently believed my library would be an embarrassment without it. Exactly who she thinks to impress when she disdains the local society, I have not the slightest idea." Mr. Bingley cast a mischievous glance at Mr. Darcy, "Then again, perhaps I do. However I really should reign in her spending habits regardless."
"Here," he gestured for Mr. Darcy's assistance as he reached down to grab the offending rug, "let us roll it up and ask a servant to place it in the attic before the effect of this port settles in and one of us impales himself in attempt to walk over this atrocity."
"Indeed, remove it we shall, however if you are amenable, the attics shan't be necessary. Tell me the number of pounds this monstrosity has cost you and I shall purchase it from you." Mr. Darcy smiled impishly as he moved to assist his friend, "It is exceedingly difficult to find gifts for my Aunt Catherine, and apparently I should have thought to solicit your sister's similar taste long ago."
Christmas in London
Mr. Darcy paced back and forth in his study, interrupting his motion only to occasionally poke at the fire, glancing wistfully at the shaggy mop of his dog Jemma as she lounged beside the fire, sprawled on the generously sized stuffed bed Georgiana had commissioned for his canine companion. He was not entirely surprised at Georgiana's bringing the animal to town when she traveled from Pemberley, he only reflected on the irony that for all the times Jemma begged for attention and unsettled his paperwork with her rambunctious behavior, now, when he would most appreciate the distraction, she would not trouble herself to be roused from her lethargy. With a last vengeful poke at the fire, he let out a large sigh and decided to seek out his sister's company in the drawing room. As much as he anticipated Thompson's return, that he might know his note had been delivered safely, the earliest he might be expected to arrive was still over an hour away, and there was a good chance he would not have a return note from her so close to Christmastide.
"Brother, I am glad you have come to join me." Georgiana greeted cheerfully as her brother entered the room.
"Yes, I was just about to drag you out of your study." Colonel Fitzwilliam added jovially, "Great estate or not, every master deserves his fair share of leisure to enjoy the festivities."
"Fitzwilliam, how kind of you to join us. I hope you have been keeping Georgiana entertained."
"Oh, I think we managed tolerably well, even without the addition of your enrapturing conversational skills." his cousin jested.
"I have just received a letter from Caroline Bingley," Georgiana added kindly, "she asks that I extend to you her fondest holiday wishes."
"How kind of her." Mr. Darcy replied. His attempt at a civil reply for the sake of his sister was somewhat effective, though the sarcasm he attempted to disguise was not entirely lost on his cousin.
"She gave brief mention to her brother's engagement to Miss Bennet. Can you tell me of her? Miss Bingley declares Miss Bennet to be a sweet girl, though she fears the manners of her many sisters may overwhelm me."
"Mr. Bingley is quite satisfied with his choice of wife, and though another match could have been an improvement in terms of fortune and connection, I admit I can find no fault in the lady herself. Her sisters however..." Mr. Darcy trailed off, reminding himself of the old adage that if one could not say something nice, one should not speak at all.
"Let me guess," Fitzwilliam chuckled, "since you are Bingley's friend, the next eldest must by default try to make a catch of you too, eh Darcy?"
"Not to any large degree, as Miss Elizabeth's penchant runs more towards the argumentative and impertinent."
"A bluestocking then? I suppose she must not be very pretty if she lacks the confidence to garnish your attention with her charms."
"Oh she is quite beautiful," Mr. Darcy retorted a bit too quickly before adding, "though definitely confrontational."
That explains Miss Bingley's comment on her ‘fine eyes'. Georgiana thought amusedly, the slightest of smirks forming upon her lips as she observed her brother. She startled as she noticed her brother scrutinizing her with an inquisitive expression, and excused herself before he might ask her to explain.
"Tell me Fitzwilliam, how long have you been in town?" Mr. Darcy asked his cousin.
"This past fortnight." the gentleman replied.
"And this is the first I have seen of you? I suppose I should not be surprised, considering there are plenty of young ladies to entertain you during your leave."
"That there are, and though I may not be able to entice them into matrimony with so little fortune to accompany my share of the Fitzwilliam name, finding an enjoyable young lady to flatter at a ball is easy enough."
"Yes." Mr. Darcy scoffed, "I suppose it is a simple business to walk into a ballroom and single out the one lady in all of England whose lively nature fills your heart with joy."
"Ha! I doubt I have ever met a lady of that description amongst the peerage or gentry who make up our insipid society -- have you?"
The wan smile Mr. Darcy offered in response did little to communicate his opinion on the subject, though his mind quickly turned to a certain lady in Hertfordshire, and when he might avail himself of Bingley's hospitality once again.
An Unexpected Meeting
Having arrived the night before at Netherfield for Mr. Bingley's wedding three weeks hence, Mr. Darcy had anxiously ridden to the Meryton bookseller's and relished in her light-hearted note, discussing their mutual appreciation for the outdoors and the written word. He had already determined to return to Hertfordshire to court his Elizabeth, and reading these words only increased his confidence in his decision to pursue the woman who already owned his heart. Little did he know that a slight detour on the way back to Netherfield would bring him face to face with the object of his affections.
Elizabeth walked out into the sunshine, enjoying the gradually warming weather and the opportunity to escape the house before her mother confined her along with her sisters in preparation for the evening's festivities. A simple dinner at the Philips' it may be, her mother still would not allow any of her daughters to go out into society without displaying themselves to advantage, particularly as her eldest would soon gain the prestigious title of Mrs. Bingley.
Having removed her bonnet, Elizabeth continued to walk along the wooded path until a sudden gust of wind stripped the article from her fingers' loose and inattentive grasp. She sighed, reflecting on the irony that of course her wayward bonnet would settle into the nearby stream. Fruitlessly attempting to retrieve the lost item before it drifted out of reach, Elizabeth huffed and searched the surrounding bank for a means of fishing it out. Little did she know what a charming picture she created for the approaching horse and rider as with a triumphant "Aha!" she picked up a long stick, bending slightly forwards as she stretched to hook her prize upon the branch's end.
"Miss Bennet, might I be of assistance?"
The sound of Mr. Darcy's voice startled her from her concentration, a drenched bonnet then slipping from the end of her stick as she jerked into an upright position.
"I was getting on well enough, sir." Elizabeth replied, unsure of how to proceed as she dared not continue her improvised fishing in the gentleman's presence.
"Allow me, Miss Bennet."
Elizabeth stared awkwardly and loosened her fingers as Mr. Darcy took the stick from her hands, only to place it on the ground beside him as he moved down the bank. Within a few moments he reached the bonnet, his tall riding boots partially submerged as he lifted the item and flashed her a cheeky grin.
"We gentleman must have some advantage." he said smugly as he extended the dripping bonnet towards her, its saturated ribbons dangling perilously close to her skirts.
Elizabeth placed her hands upon her hips, and was preparing a retort suitable for the occasion. Noticing her rising indignation, he wondered if perhaps he had been to rash in teasing her. He spoke hastily before the inevitable remark escaped her lips.
"Excuse the interruption, Miss Bennet, but please allow me to stop you from saying something you will only come to regret for the rest of our lives."
His steady gaze was finally broken as he looked down at drenched article in his hands, the continuing flow of droplets being absorbed into the grass between them. "I can hardly expect you to accept this in its current state."
Mr. Darcy then gently wrung out as much of the remaining water as possible before again offering the retrieved bonnet to her.
"Will you be in attendance at the Philips' this evening?" he asked hesitantly.
"Yes, my family and I shall attend the dinner party."
"I am glad to hear it." Mr. Darcy smiled politely as he spoke before turning to mount his horse.
"Until this evening, Miss Bennet."
Elizabeth responded in kind, and with a tip of his hat, Mr. Darcy departed, leaving her to wonder at his uncharacteristic ease of manners, and at least one of his statements in particular. He had referred to the rest of their lives. In any other man she would have acknowledged the implication. As impossible as it was to credit such implications to Mr. Darcy, assuming that he had spoken in reference to frequently being in each other's company through the Bingleys was not entirely plausible either. And what did he mean by the boyish grin as he fished out her bonnet? A gallant Mr. Darcy? Implausible, indeed.
Mr. Bingley's Revenge (or Bingley the Hun)
We return to a warm spring afternoon, at a modest estate just off the coast of Essex, where a merry party consisting of the Beaumonts, the Bingleys, Mr. Darcy and Miss Bennet had gathered on the lawn for a game of cricket.
Just as the informal cricket match came to a close, little Alexander Beaumont had begun to fuss, and after a few moments of failed attempts to sooth him through various entertainments and changed positions, Mrs. Beaumont relented and expressed that she would be returning him to the house for a nap. Mr. and Mrs. Bingley shared a smile, and announced their intent to return to the house as well. Mr. Bingley rose from his partially reclined position at his wife's side, and offered his hands to pull her up as well, gleefully stealing a quick kiss once she gained her feet.
Arm in arm, they walked towards the house, Mr. Bingley suggesting that while he would first gain a fresh change of clothes, he would enjoy escorting his wife on a quick tour of the gardens before dinner. They had just crossed the foyer and nearly reached the stairs when a carriage was heard approaching. Mr. and Mrs. Bingley paid it little mind until the front doors of Ashingdon House opened rapidly, immediately followed by an imperious voice demanding to see Mr. Darcy.
Espying the last swish of Mrs. Beaumont's skirts disappear down an upper hallway as she rushed her fussing babe towards the nursery, Mr. Bingley turned and descended the few stairs he had gained, hoping to be of assistance.
"If you would allow me, madam, may I inform you that Mr. Darcy is expected to return to the house momentarily. Might I be of assistance?"
"You, sir, may be of great assistance by locating my nephew."
"If you please, ma'am," interjected Mrs. Nicholls, the Beaumont's housekeeper, "might I offer to escort you to the drawing room for refreshment while we anticipate the gentleman's return from the afternoon's sport?"
"A fine idea, Mrs. Nicholls," Mr. Bingley enthused, "My wife, Mrs. Bingley and I, would be happy to offer our company..."
"Mr. Bingley," greeted Mr. Collins with a solemn bow, having just entered the house in his patronesses' wake, "forgive me when I suggest that you assist us in locating Mr. Darcy directly, as Lady Catherine has urgent business with the gentleman."
"You are Mr. Bingley?" Lady Catherine sniffed, "In that case, Collins -- you shall stay with your future relations that you might sort out your own affairs, and you," she gestured to Mrs. Nicholls, "shall direct me to my nephew, immediately."
Shocked expressions graced the faces of Mr. and Mrs. Bingley as they witnessed the great Lady exit the house as quickly and deliberately as she had entered it, though their attention was quickly drawn back to Mrs. Bingley's cousin as he returned from escorting his patroness to the door.
"Mr. Bingley, Mrs. Bingley, allow me to greet you properly now that my revered patroness' needs are being attended."
"You are very welcome, Mr. Collins." Mr. Bingley greeted, baffled in no small degree, "I believe Mr. and Mrs. Beaumont will forgive us the presumption of retiring to their drawing room in their absence."
"Indeed. I shall call for some refreshment." Jane curtsied as headed towards the kitchen, considering it most prudent to inform the kitchen staff personally, as Mrs. Nicholls was otherwise engaged.
"Mr. Bingley, I flatter myself that the day I may call you ‘brother' approaches at an ever increasing pace. It is with great honor that I have received the assistance of Lady Catherine deBourgh in securing my future happiness, and with your blessing, I hope to secure an audience with Elizabeth directly that I may relate to her the considerations that have been so generously provided to us."
"I beg your pardon, sir." Mr. Bingley said with some concern, "Do you mean to say that your arrival here is not for the assistance of Mr. Darcy's aunt, but rather your intent is to locate Elizabeth?"
Mr. Bingley stared confusedly at Mr. Collins. How the gentleman had come to know Elizabeth's present location was puzzling, though the particular outcome he expected to result from his traveling thither was less discernable. "I fail to understand your request for my blessing, both in the specific action you wish me to approve and your reason for approaching me, her brother, as opposed to the lady's father, Mr. Bennet."
"Indeed, it is most troubling, sir -- Mr. Bennet's condition, that is. It is most providential that you have recently married, as you may now fulfill the duties of head of the family. Though I suppose considering my age and future inheritance of Longbourn, I might fill such an office for my wife's sisters once Elizabeth and I are married."
Mr. Bingley stared and sputtered, completely taken aback by Mr. Collins' presumptuous remarks, not knowing which portions he found most offensive and most disturbing, though he assumed each word he had the misfortune of hearing fit into both categories. Unfortunately for Mr. Bingley, his silence was interpreted by Mr. Collins as encouragement to continue his speech.
"Lady Catherine so kindly provided my transportation into Essex, that I might request your blessing, though I suppose it is merely a formality, as Mrs. Bennet has thoroughly supported the match, and though Mr. Bennet has attempted to dissuade me, none of his family can truly mean to refuse me, considering my status as heir to the estate. Now sir, nothing remains but for Elizabeth to join me at my side. I confess Lady Catherine was seriously displeased to hear of my dearest's unconventional behavior, but given Mr. Bennet's infirmity, I cannot blame her for the confusion. I assured Lady Catherine that Elizabeth will quickly learn to submit, as a wife ought to her husband, and a parson's wife ought to her patroness, and as soon as we are married I will set about making sure she..."
"Why you..." Mr. Bingley barked forcefully before his powers of speech failed him, though his interruption was successful in silencing the abhorrent man before him, and the immense reddening of his complexion related his sentiments more clearly -- and far more civilly -- than any of the words forming in his mind.
A barbaric shout resonated into entrance hall of Ashingdon, and Mrs. Bingley burst into the drawing room just in time to see her husband throw himself at Mr. Collins, leaping enragedly from his current position, the sofa between them only offering further leverage for his vengeful descent upon the odious man.
What havoc Mr. Bingley might have then wreaked upon Mr. Collins' person will unfortunately never be known, as at that moment, a sharp voice cried out.
"Darcy?" Mr. Bingley questioned innocently, popping his head up above the overturned sofa in search of his friend, heedless of the repulsive gentleman whose chest was now firmly pinned between his knee and the floor.
Upon observing that the room now contained many more spectators than he had anticipated -- namely Mr. Darcy, Lady Catherine, Mr. and Mrs. Beaumont, Miss Elizabeth, and of course his wife -- Mr. Bingley cleared his throat and stood, removing himself from Mr. Collins person, though neglecting to offer any assistance before moving to stand beside his wife.
"Mr. Bingley." Lady Catherine stated icily. "I have already borne sufficient shocks today over the appalling behavior conducted in this house, and have no need of witnessing such wild displays as you have just forced upon me. Let it be known that though you shall become a brother to Mr. Collins, you shall never be welcome at Rosings Park."
"Never fear, madam. I doubt you shall be exposed to my outlandish and offensive behavior again, as under no circumstances will Mr. Collins become any closer relation to me than a cousin by marriage."
"But..." Mr. Collins sputtered sheepishly, not entirely fond of the idea of further upsetting the gentleman who had recently tackled him like Attila the Hun.
"Mr. Collins, not only have you insulted the good name of my wife's father, but you have also greatly trespassed upon the reputation of my sister. I speak confidently of Mr. Bennet's opinion in saying that you will never receive his daughter's hand in marriage should you approach him to request it, a sentiment of which you would be aware had you troubled yourself to solicit his consent." At this Lady Catherine turned her steely gaze from Mr. Bingley, and raised a formidable eyebrow in her parson's direction.
"As for you soliciting my blessing," Mr. Bingley continued stalwartly, "Miss Bennet's father is of sound mind and body, and therefore my opinion of the matter is of no consequence to your suit, though I believe I have made my sentiments known. I am also quite knowledgeable of the fact that the lady in question has repeatedly expressed her sentiments of the same vein. At this juncture you can have nothing further to say, and as Miss Bennet's brother, I demand that you leave this house at once."
Mr. Bingley had stepped forward during this speech, placing himself protectively before his wife and sister. He then turned to the ladies and offered an arm to each of them, silently passing the remaining occupants of the room as he guided the ladies through the open doors and up the staircase, safely depositing the ladies into Mrs. Bingley's room. Whether or not he immediately retired to Mr. Beaumont's study for a stiff brandy in neither here nor there, as is whether or not he overheard a rather heated conversation from the window of said study, which soundly distinctly like Mr. Darcy addressing his aunt with a speech not dissimilar from the one he had just addressed towards Mr. Collins.
An Interlude at Ashingdon
I have been kindly informed of the capital offense committed by naming the Bingley's children in my epilogue and failing to provide a similar service for the Darcy's. As reparation, I gladly offer a little further insight into one of the many holidays spent at Ashingdon, in particular the spring of 1820, eight years following the first gathering of this particular group of family and dear friends.
The carriage ride from Pemberley to Ashingdon started much as it had in years previous, save the addition of a third darling child traveling on the lap of his mother. The Darcy's had only traveled as far as the Bingleys' estate the previous year due to Mrs. Bingley's confinement, a circumstance which was not too grievous as at the time Mrs. Darcy must preferred the shorter journey with her own toddler being so young. The fresh salty air signaled the nearness of their destination, and Elizabeth smiled in remembrance of her first occasion to experience the sensation of the sea breeze.
Once the carriage finally lurched to a halt in the drive, a tall boy the age of seven leapt from the open door, his excitement matched by the tousle-headed lad making a similar escape from the house. With a brief nod from his father, the taller of the boys ran off towards the gardens, his friend hard upon his heels. At a much more genteel pace, the remaining occupants of the carriage descended, the gentleman first, assisting his five year old daughter Margaret before cradling his sleepy two year old Matthew on one arm as he handed down his wife. Mr. Darcy looked in the direction of his long disappeared son and shook his head, knowing full well that once his William was reunited with Nathaniel Beaumont, the two were thick as thieves, and lord knew what mischief they would invent - a trait he universally claimed could only stem from his mother.
"I recognize that look, Fitzwilliam, and I would advise you not suggest that our son's mischievous nature is my doing, lest I be required to solicit your cousin for tales of your own childhood exploits."
"Touche, my dear. Though should you make good on your threat, I may be forced to remind you that your father has long since provided stories from your younger years, several of which bear a striking resemblance the tales of my own."
Elizabeth Darcy laughed. "Well in that case, I have often said it is best we not argue over who carries the greater blame, and I suggest we apply such wisdom to our present circumstances. I would not wish dear Evelyn to think we have traveled across a half-dozen counties simply to stage a debate in her drive."
"Darcy! There you are." Mr. Beaumont called jovially as he descended the front steps of his home, bowing properly to Elizabeth as he approached.
"Mrs. Darcy, it is a pleasure as always to welcome you to Ashingdon." After taking a brief survey of the family noting one missing from its number, he added slyly, "I gather by the absence of your eldest that my Nathaniel has anticipated your arrival, and the two have already run off to see what trouble they might drum up."
"Your supposition could not be closer to the truth." replied Mr. Darcy, "I thought it an excellent idea that the boys practice their writing skills by corresponding with each other, and while I admit it has inspired William to be rather attentive to his penmanship, I fear the two shall be inseparable as I have heard of little else these last weeks but the sand crabs and garden snakes to be found near your estate."
Mr. Beaumont laughed, "I cannot say that surprises me in the least. Well, let us get the remaining members of your party indoors. I am sure you would appreciate a good rest." he smiled fondly at young Matthew resting his weary head on the broad shoulder of his papa. "The Bingleys arrived yesterday afternoon, and are eager to see you as well, I am sure."
Margaret Darcy obediently held her mother's hand as Mrs. Nicholls lead the young family to their suite of rooms. Mr. Darcy gently lowered Matthew onto his bed, handing him a very worn and well loved stuffed animal, aptly named "Puppy", assuring the little boy that his nursemaid Hannah would come in and check on him shortly with a glass of milk from the kitchens to soothe him to sleep.
As Mr. and Mrs. Darcy quietly left the room, young Margaret's patience had been expended and she eagerly asked if she might be excused to seek out her cousin Emma. In a house occupied by two brothers, female companionship was important to her, even at the age of five, particularly as she knew her cousin Emma Bingley to be as enthusiastically fond of dolls as she. The fact that Margaret was equally fond of playing with the dogs or climbing trees -- where Emma most definitely was not -- was of no great importance, as there would be ample time for such activities when she returned to Pemberley, a home decidedly overrun with brothers.
Fortunately for Margaret, her Aunt Jane was met in the hall, and after fond greetings were exchanged, she learned that while ten month old Elizabeth Bingley was sleeping soundly, her cousin Emma could be found in the small drawing room downstairs. Aunt Jane quietly admonished her for the squeals of delight that might awake the young ones as a result of her offer to escort her niece downstairs.
Mr. Bingley was found keeping company with his daughter, slightly embarrassed to be caught playing tea as he intoned an interesting falsetto for the voice of Mrs. Perifeathers, as his daughter's doll had been named. Margaret was quick to intercede, however, leaving the adults to converse amiably as six year old Edward Bingley proudly told his Uncle Darcy of his recent accomplishments and insisted that this year they would not play checkers, but chess.
In the weeks that followed, Nathaniel Beaumont and William Darcy canvassed every conceivable aspect of their mutual penchant for mischief. Thankfully, each boy was well-bred enough to target only each other with respect to their antics. Each evening commenced with the boy's eager tales of exploit, giving every impression that a frog in one's wash basin or a garden snake slithering beneath the door gave delights that rivaled those to be expected on Christmas morning. After being dutifully scolded by their mothers that the maid did not appreciate the occasional honor of being the first to discover such prizes, the theme of their evening tales shifted to the likes of slingshot contests and pirate's battles.
Edward Bingley frequently joined his cousin and friend at play, until he discovered Alexander Bingley's mutual interest in games -- chess in particular -- despite their three year age difference. The ladies could not but smile at the singular picture painted by the pair of chess tables set up in the library, and the equally studious expressions of the young lads at one, and the grown men at the other.
It was not long before Margaret Darcy and Emma Bingley announced that there would be a ladies afternoon tea held in the gardens. It was with some persuasion that they agreed to allow the men and boys of the house to join them, and only on the condition that the ladies would still meet in the gardens, albeit a half hour before tea time, and the gentlemen could meet them for refreshments on the green. Alexander and Nathaniel requested that their father arrange for the cricket pitch to be set up for the early afternoon, but Mr. Beaumont suggest croquet might be more suitable to the refined party the young ladies had in mind. Delighted giggles divulged the girls' opinion of the scheme, and after wagering a stash of sweet drops on whether Nathaniel Beaumont or William Darcy could hit the ball farther, the boys agreed as well.
That afternoon, the ladies of the house did enjoy eachother's company, Elizabeth Bingley included. Mrs. Darcy commented on how much her namesake had grown since Christmas, and Mrs. Beaumont marveled that they could not have chosen a more appropriate namesake, as the little girl's hair was a striking auburn, in tone with her aunt and a great contrast to the pale blonde of her elder siblings.
The ladies soon prepared to move to the lawn, and were joined by two husbands eager to escort them. Mr. Bingley joyfully scooped his little Lizzybeth off of her mother's lap, alternately tickling her feet and making a good display of rapt attention to her mumbled attempts at speech. With a bit of concern, Mrs. Darcy looked in askance at Mr. Darcy, who explained that two year old Matthew had been eager to remain with his brother and the other boys, a sentiment which greatly pleased him when coming from his shy little boy.
Thus the party gathered on the lawn, enjoying their refreshments under the shade of a large oak. The older children were quick to finish their tea and start a game of croquet, the adults remaining to enjoy the repast, which always took a little longer when assisting the younger children with their refreshments. Lizzybeth gripped tightly to her mother's hands as she took a few steps, laughingly dropping to crawl to her papa and take another slice of fruit from his plate.
Mr. Darcy asked young Matthew if he would like to play, and as he grinned in response to his son's eager jumps and shouts, led him to the grass and showed him how to hold the croquet mallet. As two year old boys are wont to do, he took a few swings as his father instructed, but soon found himself content to swing it sidearm, shouting triumphantly with each hit as the ball tumbled across the grass. Laughingly enjoying their son's antics, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy gave him an extra ball to play with at a safe distance from the playing field and innocent bystanders, and decided to play a match between themselves instead. Mr. Darcy always admired the sparkle in his wife's eyes when they entered into competition, as much as her desire to win might be concealed beneath her merriment and laughter.
Neither the Darcys nor the Bingleys dwelled greatly on the subject of their daughters' eventual marriages, as they strongly desired their girls to one day marry for love. However the thought did occasionally cross their minds that should the children grow to have such an inclination, they would gladly welcome Alexander or Nathaniel Beaumont as a son, that by extension their dear friends Andrew and Evelyn Beaumont would be family in truth, just as they would always be in spirit.The End (again)