Darcy leaned against the wall outside of Mr. Bennet's library. He had just received the most shocking blow of his life. Not even the dismay of being told at twelve years old that he would no longer be an only child compared to this. Perhaps having his puppy run away when he was eight was close...
Rejected. Dismissed. How humiliating...
And now he was faced with the frightening prospect of telling Elizabeth. The more Darcy thought about the tears and anguish he was about to face the tighter the knot in his stomach became. Hysterical females were just not something Darcy was comfortable with.
With a deep sigh, he pushed himself off the wall and went outside to find Elizabeth.
Lord Darcy completely underestimated Elizabeth's reaction to the news. There were no tears, no hysterics, and certainly no need for him to worry about comforting her. This last thought caused Darcy to feel some degree of disappointment. It might not be so bad to put his arms around her and comfort Elizabeth... However, she did none of those things. In fact, Elizabeth flew into a furious passion over the stupid injustices of the situation. Darcy began to think he really didn't know Elizabeth as well as he thought. And he was intrigued..
Elizabeth's voice had risen with each statement to a level of shouting which was now assaulting, "How dare he! As if I am not capable... As if I would stupidly choose someone who could make me miserable."
"DON'T darling me now Fitzwilliam. Of all the idiotic notions my father has ever concocted." Elizabeth stood and pointed an accusing finger at him. "YOU are as much to blame as he is."
Darcy looked shocked. This was a new tactic.
"Explain yourself Elizabeth." he said coolly.
"You probably just sat there and LET my father dictate our future, or lack of one if he continues in this idiotic notion. You men have no sense at all."
"I really don't see how this comes back to me." Darcy was torn between amusement and irritation. She was awfully cute when she was angry, but he didn't like having his character questioned twice in one day.
"Stop looking amused. It was YOUR reputation. My father wouldn't have these objections if you hadn't spent a great deal of time and effort making a cake out of yourself all over London."
"And Paris. And don't forget all the money I threw away as well. Flirtations are not cheap."
This response was so unexpected Elizabeth was stunned silent for several moments, mouth agape. She soon recollected herself, gave a chuckle, and shook her head. "Yes probably that as well. Paris must be shockingly expensive."
"It is. And I promise to take you there and spend more money on you than I ever have. Now come sit here so we may discuss this."
"Oh you are odious." She chuckled and sat next to him.
"My father is correct in one respect: There are no guarantees that you have reformed your ways and it would make me miserably unhappy if were to take a..." she halted, refusing to give voice to her fears. "Which you will not do." she spoke firmly.
"I am glad you have faith in me." Darcy said. "Or do you intend to rule me with an iron fist?"
"OH no, not iron." She laughed, "I do wish you would be serious for a moment. I think perhaps I've seen a side of you my father and even the rest of my family have not. At Pemberley there was no sign of a hardened rake, you were only a country gentleman who seemed more at home working in the fields than you did in formal dress at a party. I suspect that if my father knew you like that his fears would abate."
Taking her hand, Darcy spoke quietly, "I was considering removing from Netherfield and giving him time to cool off."
"No!" she exclaimed violently. "Stay. I could not bear to be away from you now."
"I cannot hold you to our engagement." Darcy said quietly.
This earned him a sideways glare and a superior sniff, "I can hold you to it. And I will.... that is unless you really don't want."
"Believe me darling Elizabeth, I want nothing more that to marry you. But I do not see your father being easily persuaded. I fear we may have a very long wait on our hands."
They sat quietly for a moment before Elizabeth suggested Gretna Green.
It was Darcy's turn to object now, declaring that running off would very likely lead to an estrangement from her family. Darcy doubted that Elizabeth would favour such a prospect, despite her earnest declarations that not speaking to her father for several months (since she was certain Mr. Bennet was sure to relent in his opposition after a short time) was a small price to pay for being married to Darcy.
"Oh I just wish my father was not so determined in this. If he would only try to see you as you are. You are correct. There will be no elopement. You must stay and show my father how good you are. He needs to know you. We need to show him that my affections are not ill-placed. I believe he would consent if he sees that you will not hurt me. And if he does not, then we can marry in a year when I am of age."
Lydia, Col. Fitzwilliam and Georgiana were watching Darcy and Elizabeth discreetly. The discretion was compliments of the Colonel, who felt some compassion for his cousin. The stormy look on Elizabeth's face indicated clearly that Darcy's interview with Mr. Bennet had not gone well. Lydia and Georgie were quite put out that the Colonel refused to allow them close enough to hear and insisted they content themselves with watching or he would loudly inform Darcy of their presence.
"What's he doing?" Georgie whispered.
"Just sitting there."
"I can see that. But why?"
"Because Lizzy is pacing." Lydia giggled.
"So?" Georgiana was annoyed. Conversing with Lydia was similar to understanding Latin, and Georgie hated the year her brother and George Wickham had been bored during school break and attempted to teach her Latin. Lydia was amused with her new friend. Obviously Georgie had never seen Lizzy irritated.
"When my sister paces it's best just to sit down. She likes to step on things when she's mad."
"I don't think she looks mad."
"Of course she does. See how she keeps clenching her hands and look at her eyes."
"Yikes. She's mad."
"You cannot see her eyes from this distance." Geoffrey injected.
"You are just not very observant Colonel Fitzwilliam," teased Lydia. "Even from here Lizzy's eyes look like that painting Father has of a volcano."
"I think it's time for us to leave them alone." Colonel Fitzwilliam hinted.
"No. They're not through." Georgie pouted.
"But if we leave now we can be in the house when they come in and we will get to hear what happened."
"Oh." Georgie and Lydia nodded in unison and scampered off. Geoffrey Fitzwilliam, who had been envious of his cousin renewed his vow of bachelorhood before following Lydia and Georgie into the house.
Elizabeth found Jane and Charles in the sitting room with Mrs. Bennet. "Good you're all here. Please keep his lordship company. I am going to speak to father."
Jane looked questioningly at Darcy and Bingley. "She flounced. Elizabeth never flounces. What is going on?"
"I spoke to you father." Darcy said quietly.
"OH HOW WONDERFUL!!!" Any further explanation into Elizabeth's odd behaviour had to wait until Mrs. Bennet's raptures had ceased. It was only when she began some time later, to prattle on about warehouses and society weddings, that Darcy was able to satiate Charles and Jane's curiosity. Exchanging a compassionate glance, their course of action was wordlessly decided: Charles took Darcy outside for some air while Jane broke the news to Mrs. Bennet.
"Father?" Elizabeth knocked again. "Father, let me in."
Mr. Bennet opened the door. "Come in child. What brings you here?"
"You know very well sir why I am here." Elizabeth sat across from his desk and crossed her arms; her mutinous expression boded ill.
"Truly Elizabeth I'm am quite surprised to see you."
"Father. Why did you refuse Lord Darcy?"
"He is not a suitable match for you." Mr. Bennet spoke evenly.
"Not suitable?! A viscount? Heir to a Marquis and one of the best estates in England? He's not suitable?" Elizabeth narrowed her eyes to glare at her father. "Have you need of a compote? I think you must if you have arrived at this ridiculous conclusion."
"Elizabeth, that is enough. You will not speak to me like that. The man is a scoundrel and a libertine. I would think you'd be happy I wasn't blinded by his title and his wealth.
"Happy?! I love him! And he is not a scoundrel. He is a very honourable man. Not two weeks ago you told me yourself you did not believe he was trifling with me."
"That was because I know you my dear. And you would never have allowed it. However I do NOT know what has transpired in his previous acquaintances."
Elizabeth gaped and sputtered, "But... "
Suddenly the door flew open and Mrs. Bennet scurried inside.
"MR BENNET! Do you mean to sit there and tell me that YOU refused his lordship?! Why I don't understand how you could do such a thing."
"Madam, I have no intention of explaining myself to you."
"Well I should think you better. Your daughter finally accepts a marriage proposal, and from a very eligible nobleman, and you refuse consent. You are determined to see us turned out among the hedgerows and starving."
"Mama, please. I don't think this is helping."
"Oh be quiet child. I do think this is important. How on earth you managed to land a viscount with that impertinent tongue I shall never understand. Though I confess I feared he wanted something other than marriage at first and I was ever so relieved when Jane informed..."
"I believe Mrs. Bennet, you have just proven my point. The man is not for Lizzy."
"Oh Mr. Bennet...." wailed Mrs. Bennet.
"Yes, yes. Now go away, both of you. My decision stands." Mr. Bennet ushered them out and shut the door, leaving Elizabeth and her mother gaping in the hallway.
"SO he thinks that's the end of it does he? Well we'll just see about that." Mrs. Bennet muttered as she stalked off, leaving Elizabeth wearily leaning against the wall.
The ride back to Netherfield was made in silence; even Georgiana seemed to lack conversation skills. Darcy was heartily grateful for their compassion and good sense. Suddenly Georgiana sighed:
"I wish Papa were here."
The other men looked startled. Darcy finally asked his sister why.
"Because he always knows how to fix things. And I am quite certain that Mr. Bennet would give his consent after speaking with Papa for two minutes."
"Georgie, no doubt he could. But I am not going to ask my father to sort out my life. It is my responsibility." The earlier looks of despair on Darcy's face was now replaced by a grim determination to prove his worth to Mr. Bennet How he would do this was another matter which thankfully occupied his mind.
When they arrived at Netherfield Darcy spoke quickly:
"Charles my friend, my brother. If you value me in any way, allow me to be excused from dining with you tonight. I am not good company this evening." With these words Darcy hastened into his chambers at Netherfield and slammed the door, leaving Charles and Geoffrey to face Caroline.
"Charles where is his lordship? I was certain good manners would require his presences this evening since the three of you have been gone for most of the day."
"Caroline, weellllll...... um... Darcy...."
"Really Charles spit it out. Sometimes you are really so slow."
"He's not feeling well Miss Bingley. I believe he has a headache." Geoffrey saved Charles from further explaining by engaging Caroline in a discussion of her day. He made a mental note that for this sacrifice Darcy and Charles would owe him a decent bottle of scotch -- no, he amended, several bottles.
'News' travelled fast in Meryton, by virtue of its small size and relative lack of exciting events. And as you well know, Everyone loves news. Netherfield being let was news; the arrival of the militia was news; Mrs. Parker's twins both breaking an arm falling off the roof of the parsonage was news; Mr. Bennet refusing to honour the suit of A VISCOUNT for his second, somewhat pretty, very impertinent daughter was more than simple news. This was news that demanded to be heard and passed along. This was gossip of the first degree.
Mrs. Phillips was only briefly annoyed by the very early visit from her sister the next morning. Fanny Bennet would rouse herself this early only if she were bringing news of the utmost interest. She hurried though her morning toilet and down to the breakfast parlour.
"Sister, whatever has happened!" exclaimed Mrs. Phillips in her most solicitous voice.
Mrs. Bennet bristled, "Why can I not come for a visit unless there is something dreadfully wrong sister?"
"Of course you may dear, but it is s unlike you to be out walking this early. I know your health has never been the best and I would think you try to avoid such strenuous activity. SO something must be wrong."
Mrs. Bennet, feeling sufficiently justified in her forthcoming hysteria, proceeded with no other prompting. "Oh it is too awful, sister." She sobbed heroically into her handkerchief, giving Mrs. Phillips time to be served and dismiss the maid.
Once they were alone, Mrs. Phillips leaned over, "Now tell me, has this something to do with Lizzy?"
Mrs. Bennet nodded.
"Has his lordship proposed something improper?"
"Oooooohhhh. It's worse than you can even imagine."
Mrs. Phillips possessed a rather healthy imagination and had some difficulty thinking of things that might have happened that could be worse. She succeeded.
"Elizabeth is with child! HA! And he refuses to honour her!? I tried to warn you. I did. I thought that perhaps something like this might occur. That girl of yours is too strong-willed and you've done very little to curb her. It is a pity she doesn't have the looks of Jane or Lydia, perhaps then he might at least acknowledge the child."
"Oh for heaven's sake what ARE you prattling about sister? Lizzy has done no such thing! I never.... In FACT Lord Darcy has made her a very respectable offer of MARRIAGE." Mrs. Bennet looked very satisfied and helped herself to a good portion of eggs.
"But what is the problem with that?" Mrs. Phillips pressed on.
"Oh," here she paused to swallow a mouthful. "MR BENNET refused his consent. He did! There was some nonsense about it not being a good match."
"Indeed! And now the poor man is walking around Longbourn like a ghost."
"NO. Lord Darcy. I've never seen a man so distraught. I tell you sister he doesn't even look like the same gentleman who came to us a few months ago."
"Oh the poor man. Perhaps I ought to invite him over for dinner."
"You'll do no such thing! I will not have the poor man dragged around like he was up for auction simply because Mr. Bennet hasn't the sense to use the sense God gave him. It would break poor Lizzy's heart to see everyone chasing after him."
"Oh sister! I wasn't thinking anything of the sort. I know very well how attached they are to each other. Tell me, do you think they might elope?"
"Oh I don't see any other way. For Lizzy will not give him up, and her father will not consent. They will have to elope."
The women sat for a moment thinking about how nice a large London wedding would have been. It was very hard to give up the prospect of going to the best warehouses, and shopping for bridal clothes. Mrs. Bennet sighed.
"I think that an elopement would be highly romantic." sighed Mrs. Phillips. "Especially with a handsome lord who wanted me in spite of my father's objections."
"Oh but think of the double wedding I might have had. And the wedding breakfast the his lordship's house in town." Mrs. Bennet lost herself in daydreams of attending her daughters wedding and a very fashionable luncheon at the Darcy Townhouse, which she would of course insist on arranging; since that dear child little Lady Georgiana Darcy was in no way capable of such a huge task.
Mrs. Bennet was correct in that one assumption. Georgiana did not have the skill or knowledge to arrange such an event; but did she want to. Attending the events was much more fun that worrying over ices and ducks and other nonsensical details. Her come out ball was scheduled for early April and much of Georgiana's time was spent with Elizabeth planning details and dreaming of handsome men dancing attendance on her.
Mrs. Bennet and Mrs. Phillips occupied several hours that morning discussing weddings, elopements, and the utter unpredictable, instability of husbands. By afternoon all of Meryton had heard of Elisabeth's plight and more than one matchmaking mama was trying to arrange a hasty dinner party to include Darcy in.
Sir Peter Henry Standridge occupied a modest estate a corner of Hertfordshire so far to the south that most of the inhabitants of Meryton were entirely unaware of its existence. As Mr. Standridge he had been secretary to a minor government official until he happened some ten years ago to accidentally rescue the Duke of Wessex from highwaymen near Bath. Then Mr. Standridge, his elevation to knighthood had come last year, had come upon his lordship after he had unwisely and very drunkenly ventured out one evening with only an elderly footman and a rather stupid coachman; Mr. Standridge having a fondness for solitary rambles happened upon the robbery; which in actuality was two half starved youths begging for food, thus saving the Duke. Mr. Standridge for this earned a post as the Duke's secretary and a prize just large enough to allow for his current lifestyle without a great deal of economy. A modest man, unwilling to put himself forth much, he was not particularly handsome and his naturally nervous disposition had contrived to keep him a bachelor and he was quite content with his life.
Which is why it was all the more disturbing that he had been sent for this job. Certainly this was an awkward situation. And had it been anyone else he would have found a way around this assignment; but Geoffrey Fitzwilliam had been his closest friend throughout school, defending the young man from many bullies. Now Sir Peter was in a unique position to help his old friend.
The Crown Boar Inn of Meryton was respectable enough and the proprietor kept his cellar stocked with some of the finest spirits available legally. There was talk that the right amount of money and trust could also get you certain free trade items not normally advertised in public venues and it was with no unpleasant feeling that he sat down by the fire in the public room to wait.
"Chilly day today, ain't it." Sir Peter found himself being addressed by a very neat gentleman trying hard to look inconspicuous.
"It is." he acknowledged. "Good fire though. Perhaps you'd care to join me?"
The man sat down and signalled for another glass. They sat silently until after the barmaid had served them.
"I believe we have business to discuss." Sir Peter began in low tones.
Money and documents were soon exchanged and each man went on his way feeling that perhaps he had struck a good bargain.
Geoffrey Fitzwilliam had had enough. He was sick of the weather, he was sick of waiting, he was even sick of his family... Well, that was nothing new, but such feelings usually required the presence of his brother and father. Darcy and Georgie were usually very pleasant company, and rarely annoyed him. Lately everyone seemed to be annoying him. It was good that things would change soon.
His swung his horse into the woods, following the small path. He wanted his to be over, before the impending snow he felt began. Used to the pace and order of the army, this stay at Netherfield was severely testing his patience. Things were not going to accomplished at this pace with such a stupid, stiff shouldered nag. It was a wonder that Bing wasn't broke by now; he made some of the poorest purchases in horseflesh.
The meeting place was deserted. D**n, d**n, d**n, he repeated over and over; a strange mantra of frustration and disappointment. He turned his horse around and began plodding back.
"Colonel! Colonel wait!" The voice behind hissed loudly.
Fitzwilliam turned in his saddle only to spy Sir Peter frantically waving at him from behind a brush.
"Peter?! What the devil are you doing in there?"
"Well, I thought... that is I had to....."
Recognition flickered across Fitzwilliam's faced. He grinned, "You always have had the worst timing and the least control Peter."
Sir Peter flushed, "well it's easy for YOU to criticize.."
"Enough Peter. I haven't time for your stammering embarrassment. I meant nothing by it." Fitzwilliam dismounted and walked over to Sir Peter. "I'm glad you can help me in this my friend."
"Yes, well," he was rapidly recovering from his embarrassment. "My meeting was successful."
"Good. I knew I could count on you Peter."
"I am Sir Peter now." He spoke with the pride of one who was used to being the peon and was now elevated beyond his imagination.
Fitzwilliam looked unconcerned. "Yes, I had heard. Congratulations Sir Peter." There was a hint of boredom, learnt from Darcy, as he carefully pronounced the title.
"Yes, well. I have the documents." Sir Peter hastily slipped some papers out of the security of his topcoat and handed them over. "Is everything else set?"
"Yes, I've seen to the details."
Sir Peter breathed a sigh of relief. "The I'll be on my way."
"No. I need you to stay here in town of just a while. I may need another meeting. Why don't you come to Netherfield with me and we can have a bite and some warm drink."
Sir Peter followed Colonel Fitzwilliam muttering about insipid problems and hoping that Netherfield at least had a decent cellar.
"Lizzy would you hurry. I can see the carriage now." Jane rushed her sister downstairs to greet their guests. Jane and Elizabeth had arranged to alternate visits with Mr. Bingley, Lord Darcy, and Georgie. They happily escaped to Netherfield, or welcomed Darcy and Bingley to Longbourn, anything to distract Mrs. Bennet from her fidgets over Jane's wedding plans and weeping over Elizabeth. Elizabeth was quickly tiring of her mother and the neighbors. Had Darcy asked, she would have eloped any time he named, but the stubborn man was honourably trying to change her father's opinion. In calmer moments Elizabeth loved him all the more for this.
Mr. Bingley was charmingly rumpled as he descended the carriage and handed out Georgiana. With a sigh Elizabeth noted that Darcy had not come with this time.
Georgiana quickly embraced Jane and moved to draw Elizabeth off.
"My brother send s his particular regrets. We had some unexpected company arrive at Netherfield this morning and he is there, taking care of business."
Blushing slightly Elizabeth enquired as to their visitor.
"Some friend of Geoffrey's from his school days. Sir Peter Standridge. He is staying at the inn, and Fitzwilliam remembers him slightly. He's not at all handsome. I mean not like Geoffrey or Mr. Wickham. But he is rather pleasant to talk to. Miss Bingley seems very interested in him. But I don't think she likes him quite that way."
"Georgiana how can you tell whether a woman likes someone that way? You are not even out yet and you claim an expertise in the matter."
Georgie huffed. "I've spent enough time watching you and my brother make moon-faces at each other. And I've seen plenty of girls in Derbyshire get that look whenever my brother or Geoffrey's brother comes near."
"And do they never make such faces at the colonel?"
Georgie pondered the question seriously, "They do, but I think since he has little fortune they do not hang about."
"The poor colonel."
"No he is too stuffy by half. He even glares at me if I flirt a little with him. Really Lizzy between him and my brother I will never find someone to love."
"I think Georgie that you will have half of London in love with you the minute they see your face, and the other half immediately after they discover the size of your fortune."
"OH you are terrible!" She cried and the girls dissolved in a fit of giggles.
Georgiana was correct about her cousin disapproving of her practiced flirtations with himself. Georgiana was a little too naive to understand the effects of such behaviour on some men and he did worry about her. Darcy had become much too wrapped up in his own melodrama to notice much lately save for Elizabeth. Darcy had become positively morose lately. The laughter and chatter was gone. He seldom smiled and then only about Elizabeth. When Miss Bingley heard there was to be no engagement she had tried to comfort Darcy and this drove him to avoid everyone, staring morosely out of the window unless Elizabeth were present. All in all he was a pathetic sight, becoming more taciturn and almost haughty in his desire to avoid anyone save his sister and Elizabeth.