Beginning, Section II
At the same time that Mr. Darcy struggled with his conscience and his aching head; at the same time that Mr. Bingley harassed his stable help into saddling a horse in the middle of the night; at that very time, the Bennett household found itself in unprecedented uproar.
Always, ever since she'd been a very little girl, Mary had been forgotten by both her parents. Mr. Bennett favored his two older, sensible daughter. Mrs. Bennett favored her two pretty, flighty younger daughters. In the middle, forgotten, Mary had always been left to do pretty much as she pleased. And, up till now, what she pleased was reading and quoting boring maxims. None of which was conducive to disgracing the family.
But this night, upon returning from the Netherfield Ball, all other four sisters had retired to their rooms, Lizzy expounding on Mr. Darcy's odiousness, Jane speaking brightly of how pleasant a man Mr. Bingley was, and Lydia and Kitty giggling and talking of officers. Through it all, Mr. Collins had tried to interject compliments, mostly to Jane but often to no one in particular. Mrs. Bennett had raved about lace and silks and gowns and how great, how important they would all be when Lydia married Mr. Darcy.
It wasn't till an hour after going to bed, that Lizzy woke up and, staring at the white ceiling of her room, mentally recapped the evening and their journey home and realized that she hadn't seen Mary since halfway into the ball.
"Mary," she said, sitting up in bed, startled. "Mary."
Something she could not explain made her heart beat faster, her palms sweat. Something had happened to Mary. Something. She was sure of it.
Getting out of bed, while her rational self sneered and mocked -- because what COULD have happened to mousy, stay-at-home Mary? - she stumbled, in the middle of the night, to her sister's room, and felt her uncertain way to the bed, only to find it made, the cover neatly tucked as Mary always left it.
Frantically, she ran her hands over the cover again and again, trying to feel for the body that wasn't there.
Her hand closed on a small piece of paper and she stopped.
Clutching the paper, she made her way back to her room, and, standing by the window, read by the moonlight, what words she could make out.
"Dear family," the letter read. "Do not worry yourselves on my account. Circumstances dictated that Mr. Stephen Hurst and I should get married with all possible speed and - regretfully - without asking consent. Do not trouble yourselves to recover me. We have gone to Gretna Green and I shall soon be back, married, and the happiest of women, as Mrs. Stephen Hurst."
Lizzy read the paper over and over, again and again, but her brain refused to believe it.
Years later, she wouldn't be able to remember rousing her family or reading the letter to them. She meant only to read it to Jane, to wake Jane up and read her the letter.
But, somehow, alarm propagated through the house.
Mrs. Bennett stood up crying that they were all ruined and Mr. Bennett, pale and drawn in his white night shirt and night cap looked like an older Macbeth bound for slaughter. Jane urged everyone to calm and quiet because Mary and Stephen were sensible and loved each other. Kitty, big eyed and scared looking, hid in a corner of the room.
Mr. Collins' snore resounded through the room.
And in the middle of the emotional scene, while Mary's letter got passed around, Lizzy mentally counted her sisters, wondering why - with all the din - it seemed yet very quiet.
Then she realized it, and yelled, "Lydia. Lydia."
Mr. Bingley had no doubt at all of what he was going to do, and the fact that he had no doubt almost scared him.
Riding through the fields in the dark of night, he thought only of Jane who looked exactly like an angel come down from heaven and who was all goodness and kindness.
Mr. Bingley had no experience of many kind women and having finally found one decided he must secure her. He must secure her as soon as may be.
Only half way there did he start wondering if he'd be waking up the Bennett's.
Still, he could not go back. He could not go back and face Darcy and admit to any loss of resolution. No. He'd sleep at the door to Longbourn if that's what it took and propose first thing in the morning.
But, drawing closer to Longbourn, he realized that this would be quite unnecessary. Every window in the Bennett house showed light. From one of them, on the northwest corner, curtains floated outward in the breeze, and a little rope ladder hung to the ground.
Closer still, words reached Mr. Bingley's ears.
"Oh, Mr. Bennett, Mr. Bennett, we are all ruined."
"Mama, calm yourself."
"I'm sure they love each other and will be very happy."
"Oh but Mary! Lydia. My dear, dear girls. Who will fight Darcy and Hurst and make them marry? Mr. Bennett, you must fight them. You must. Only don't get killed or we'll be turned out to starve in the hedgerows."
"Calm yourself Mrs. Bennett," Mr. Bennett's peremptory shout.
Mr. Bingley slowed his horse's gallop to a canter. Darcy? Hurst? Darcy was drunk as a Lord in the Bingley ball room. And Hurst.... Well, Hurst had a wife. Who could he be forced to marry? And Miss Mary Bennett? Who would marry Miss Mary Bennett, forced or not?
Leading his horse apace to the source of this puzzling noise, Mr. Bingley thought there must be a good explanation, for the Bennett's were very good people and wouldn't needlessly smear his friend and his brother in law.
It was the letter found on Miss Lydia Bennett's bed that tore it. It read, "I'm going to Gretna green, and if you can't tell with whom, then you're all simpletons. Don't worry about me. My sisters will be disappointed at not being bridesmaids, but that can't be helped. I'll be with the man I adore. Your daughter, Lydia Bennett (for now. But I'll soon trade it for a better sounding name.)"
Mrs. Bennett, hands over mouth, started screaming immediately, while what color remained to Mr. Bennett drained, leaving only a marble-like hardness to his look.
Lizzy put her hands to either side of her hips. Darcy. She knew it. Darcy. Mary was all her fault, of course. She hadn't even thought that Mary was in danger. But Lydia! She'd tried to protect Lydia from Darcy. If only Lizzy's father had listened to her.
Well, there was only one thing to be done now, and Lizzy was ready to do it.
She doubted the two would be gone very far from Netherfield. Maybe the villain had even thought to keep her sister there for the night. He struck her as the sort of man who might very well take his comfort even in this, selfish as he was.
She would go to Netherfield and recover her sister. That's what she'd do.
She went to the stables and saddled Nan, and climbed on the nag, without even thinking to change out of her white nightshirt.
Riding like the wind past a very-slow-moving Mr. Bingley, she didn't think of what an odd spectacle she must present but only, "what is HE doing here?"
Bingley saw Elizabeth Bennett ride off, with a puzzled look. The poor girl, he thought. She must be sleep riding. How she could sleep with all this noise her family was making, he didn't know.
The noise was now explained, though. They must be shouting to try to wake her.
He was glad HIS Jane was tainted by such aberrations.
Thus thinking, smugly, he knocked on the door.
The door was thrown open by a housekeeper who looked frazzled and sour.
"Mr. Bennett," Bingley said. "I would like to see Mr. Bennett and er.... Miss Bennett but not, er, in that order."
The housekeeper had the look of a person who has resigned herself to insanity.
She took his hat and conducted him into the house where the sight of Mrs. Bennett, her hair loose down her back like a golden cascade and her lace nightgown molding her figure more than any dress, made Mr. Bingley blush and his heart race faster.
He smiled at her, a big smile. "I came- I mean, Miss Bennett, if you're not engaged, I wonder if you'd marry the next one with me.... I mean, marry me.... I mean...." The poor man hardly knew what he said, staring into his beloved's blue, blue eyes.
But Jane seemed to understand his stammering. She put her hands forward and walked a step towards him. She smiled her angelic smile. "I am not engaged sir," she said. "I mean, I would love to be. I mean...."
Bingley stretched his hands towards her and they would surely have held hands except for Mr. Bennett stepping between them. "What do you think you're doing sir?" he asked Bingley.
"I.... sir.... I would very much like to marry your daughter, Miss Bennett."
"Jane? Marry Jane?" Mr. Bennett's eyes flashed indignant disbelief. "No, dear sir. I wouldn't trust you nearer my daughters than the village. No. You shall not marry her. Nor any of my other daughters, before you ask."
"I do not wish to marry your other daughters. Only Jane."
"NO," Mr. Bennett shouted. He had the wild, insane look of a man whose inner springs of reason have dried up, or at least do no more than trickle softly onto the sands of his madness. "No. Oh, no. I have at last learned to be cautious. Marry? None of my daughters shall marry. I have learned to be cautious. No soldiers shall visit this house, or even pass through the village. No men shall ever come near them. Balls are strictly forbidden, unless they stand up with one of their sisters. And none of them will stir out of the door until they can prove to me that they've spent ten minutes that day in a rational pursuit."
This last sentence was too much for Kitty, who burst into loud sobbing.
Mr. Bennett seemed to notice this, as he hadn't the horrified looks of his other daughter or his wife wailing, "Oh, let her marry Bingley Mr. Bennett, for otherwise Collins will turn us out of this house, and we'll all be ruined."
Mr. Bennett's eyes paused on his youngest daughter present with something like amazement. "Oh, Kitty," he said, softly and tried to smile paternally - only he was very far from the state in which a man can smile credibly without looking like a mass murderer. "Don't distress yourself my dear. If you're good for the next ten years, I'll take you to a review."
Kitty shrieked, stomped her foot in fury, and ran, screaming, down the hallway and up the stairs to the bedroom level.
Seconds later, Mr. Collins' thunder-like snore stopped.
"Well, that's torn it," Mr. Bennett said. "She woke the toad." And, turning his same helpful countenance to Bingley that he tried to turn on his daughter, he said, "You see, dear sir, you cannot marry Jane because I'm sure you will be your friend's second in the duel over my daughter Lydia. Yes. I can't have you for a son in law, because how would it then look if I shot you. So you must be patient. After the duel, you can marry Jane. Unless you're dead, in which case, of course, you shouldn't, though I read in this Russian novel...."Prattling with a horrible amiability that could only arise from a profoundly disturbed mind, he led a shocked, scared Bingley to the door and out of it to the dark night and his waiting horse.
The whole episode had been so strange that it was halfway to Netherfield before Bingley fully comprehended that he'd been refused.
Lizzy got to Netherfield, and found it dark and slumbering.
It would have deterred her at any other time, but now she was in no mood for it. "Neither dark of night," she told herself. "Nor being in a nightgown, nor the deviousness of Mr. Darcy shall keep Lizzy Bennett from defending her sisters."
Thus muttering, she knocked at a side door.
She didn't know this side door was right underneath the window to Mr. Darcy's chamber.
Mr. Darcy woke up with a frightful thunderstorm.
At least he thought it was a thunderstorm. One of the most awful ones he'd ever heard, the claps resounding through the house with a force to make the walls tremble and the doors buckle.
And, with the thunderclaps, there was an unearthly voice, a voice he could hardly believe was from this world, a voice not unlike that of the second Miss Bennett.
Upon opening his eye a fraction of an inch, against what appeared to an elephantine weight installed upon his eyelid, Mr. Darcy tried to focus on the words that angelic - if ever so slightly hysterical voice was saying. Presently he distinguished, "Open up within." And, "Unhand my sister, you villain."
The only thing Darcy's alcohol-beclouded brain could make of all this was that Bingley had lost his mind and eloped with the fair Jane, or possibly kidnaped her when Jane refused to be the object of a man who but so recently pined for her younger sister.
"Idiot," Darcy thought, and mumbled something very like "'ni'niot" because his tongue didn't seem to fully obey the commands of his brain. His mouth tasted like an unswept stable. But through it all, he was fairly sure that Bingley had been an idiot and, in all the tender mercies of male friendship, thought up several curses for Bingley's less than normal brain.
"Should have listened to me," he thought. What he said sounded like a disconnected series of grunts, which we'll refrain from reproducing. "Should have listened to his best and oldest friend. What would have happened to his dumb behind if I weren't forever pulling it out of trouble."
The thunder - which Darcy now perceived to be the sound of fists pounding on a door - and Miss Bennet's shrill demands continued.
There was no sound of a servant stirring, no sound of anyone going to open the door. Of this Darcy was soon, because to his sensitized ears and head, the sound of a mouse creeping across the floor would be too loud.
"Idiot," Darcy thought, sitting up. "If that idiot didn't allow his servants to do as they pretty much please, they would have some respect, and I wouldn't have to get up."
He held his head between his hands, fairly sure that, but for that precaution, said part of his anatomy would into and - possibly - allow the emergence of a fully armed woman from within (like Zeus birthing Athena from his cranium.)
But no, the fully armed woman was outside, Darcy thought, as Miss Bennett's voice shrieked, "if you had any honor you'd open this door."
He flinched, not so much from the words but from the shrillness, and rather hoped than believed that Miss Elizabeth Bennett wouldn't be fully armed.
Standing up, he let the covers drop and realized he was naked, though he couldn't remember undressing.
Casting about for his dressing gown, he grabbed it from the back of a chair and, slipping it on, descended the back stairs - which the servants SHOULD have been using - to open the door to Miss Bennett.
As he opened the door he realized that what he'd mistaken for his dressing gown was indeed his evening jacket - just long enough to serve the demands of absolute modesty, but leaving his chest and most of his muscular legs exposed.
His appearance stopped Miss Bennett's shrieks for a moment.
To be honest, they stopped her thoughts.
It was only, after all, the normal reaction of a respectable young lady upon being confronted by a so called gentleman who'd bothered to wear no more than his jacket.
At least she thought he didn't have on more than his jacket. It wasn't like she wanted to enquire upon the presence or lack of his underwear. She cleared her throat and blushed, and if thoughts about the exceptional curliness of the chest hair visible through the jacket's upper opening or the exceptional shapeliness of the muscular legs visible beneath the jacket, crossed her mind, it must be excused and put down to her most dreadful shock.
For it wasn't every day that a woman saw a man wearing only an evening jacket - was he wearing only an evening jacket? - and it wasn't every day - she certainly hoped not - that a woman saw a man who looked as .... um.... muscular as Mr. Darcy. At least Miss Elizabeth Bennett hoped it wasn't every day, for should this be a common sight, she wasn't sure she could respond for either her respectability or sanity in the future.
Indeed, her shock - and rambling imaginings - were such upon beholding Mr. Darcy in this state of undress that for the first time Miss Elizabeth was thwarted in one of her determined pursuits.
She completely forgot what she'd come for and stood there, becomingly flushed, in her white lace nightgown, one hand holding the reins of the family horse, old Bessy, who, at any rate lacked both the energy and the interest to wander off.
Lizzy stood still so long in fact that Mr. Darcy had time to compose himself and bow most correctly - fortunately she wasn't behind him, or the correctness of the situation would have been, we're sorry to report, somewhat impugned - and said, "Miss Elizabeth Bennett. How may I help you?"
Darcy was very surprised at the words emerging from his mouth. Not only because they were normal words, not a series of grunts and smacks, but because he wasn't thinking anything so civilized.
What he was thinking, the words running in a continuous loop through his mind was, "she is an angel. Idiot Bingley. Jane an angel? No possible way. This is an angel." He thought it over and over again, while his gaze took in the lace nightgown that had slipped most becomingly off the shoulder, and the curly hair in wondrous, unstudied disarray that not the most skilled stylist could have made more becoming, and the eyes - Elizabeth Bennett's flashing brown eyes.
While he was thus watching, she stomped her dainty bare foot on the dirt path, and her eyes flashed more amazingly than ever. "You need not try to put me off, you villain," she said. "For I know you've taken my sister Lydia, and you're hiding her somewhere here."
But let's leave Lizzy with her flashing eyes, and Mr. Darcy who might, accidentally flash her at any moment, and pursue the fate of another member of the family.
Not fair Jane who, stunned and worried is tending to her mother with salts and patience. Not Mr. Bennett who has retreated to the library and a medicinal glass of Port - but Kitty.
When last seen, the youngest-but-one Bennett girl was desperately in pursuit of the marriage that her father said he'd never allow to his remaining daughters.
Judge the extremity of her despair, when we tell you that she marched to Mr. Collin's room and, with amazon like force, pulled the covers off the snoring, grunting amphibian.... we mean parson, of course.
Mr. Collin woke up, and sat up in bed and, by the convenient light of the moon coming through the window, saw a beautiful woman standing by his bed.
Now, this situation was not totally unknown to Mr. Collin. He had often dreamed of it, in fact, with such vivid intensity, that he could find nothing new in the actual event.
Besides, his mother had been comely - or at least people didn't run screaming when they saw her - and she'd often visited him in his room when he'd been an infant. Or at least he thought so, though his only memory of his mother was of her looking at him and shaking her head, while muttering something about, in retrospect, feeling all the material advantages that a little infidelity might have bestowed on the family line.
Right then, Mr. Collin simply blinked his porcine little eyes, and opened his mouth in astonishment, on recognizing his fair cousin, Miss Kitty, and upon listening to what Miss Kitty had to say.
"You're getting up," she said. "And getting dressed. We're going to Gretna Green and getting married forthwith."
Mr. Collin, who was fairly sure that eloping with one of his fair cousins was NOT what his noble patroness had in mind for his visit to Longbourn, tried to make some sounds in favor of reason and decorum.
But Miss Kitty's eyes flashed - she'd been taking lessons from Miss Elizabeth - and she stomped her foot - obviously she had - and said, "We're getting married and that's all you need to know. I'm not going to be an old maid for nobody."
Miss Bennett had looked under the bed, and in the closet of Mr. Darcy's room, and was now engaged into peering in his jacket pockets.
"You can believe I'm carrying her in my pocket," Mr. Darcy said, exasperated, as he stood in the middle of his room, feeling somewhat put upon and somewhat flattered, because he could have sworn looking in his pockets was just an excuse to take a closer look at his chest, that he kept in shape and muscular through regular fencing and swimming.
Miss Bennett blushed and backed off. "This is most vexing," she said. "Have you perhaps hidden her in one of the servant's rooms?"
"My dear Miss Bennett," Darcy said. "Why would I stop here mid-elopement, anyway. And why would I hide her in a servant's room if I meant to marry her."
Elizabeth stared at him. "But, this is most vexing," she said. "Mr. Whickam warned me about you and your ways. I should have seen this coming."
"Mr. Whickam?" Darcy said, as enlightenment dawned.
Fully dressed, being dragged down the backstairs, Mr. Collin still tried to protest.
But he could do nothing as Miss Kitty dragged him to the stables, where she had already harnessed their second-best horse to the curricule.
However, considering the state of the Bennett's second best horse, Mr. Collin did not take long to realize that he could easily jump from his conveyance.
Which he took the opportunity to do, midway to Meryton.
He headed through the fields, in the dimly remembered direction of Lucas house.
As he ran, he heard running steps behind him and realized, in fear, that Miss Kitty had thought to abandon her horse and run on foot. A much faster conveyance.
Then he heard a horse's hooves, and a male voice cry out, "holla, what's here?"
"This, Miss Bennett," Darcy said, managing to look very correct despite his state of unrest. "Is my full account of my dealings with Mr. Whickam." He'd just told her everything, from Whickam's attempt at milking him for money, to Whickam's near- seduction of Georgiana.
Miss Elizabeth Bennett had gone pale enough for her cheeks to match her nightgown. "But if this is true," she said. "Then Whickam must have taken Lydia. That means she's ruined forever and we must partake of her disgrace."
Mr Darcy retained just enough sense to go wake up Bingley's butler - who was ever so slightly dismayed at Darcy's attire - and get Miss Bennett a restorative glass of wine. After which, he saw her to Bingley's carriage, and on her way to Longbourn, with her horse trotting behind.
As for Mr. Darcy, he washed his face and head in freezing water to dispel the last remains of drunkenness. He MUST trace Whickam and make him marry Lydia.
Kitty stopped her desperate running, as a very handsome man, mounted on a very handsome horse, stopped in front of her.
She recovered her breath just enough to point in the general direction of Mr. Collin's flight and say, "Follow that toad."
But the gentleman, who rather resembled a Greek god in riding habit, raised an eyebrow and asked, with cynical humor. "Why? You can not want him."
Mr. Henry Crawford, trying to get as far away from the scene of his recent debacle with Mrs. Rushworth, suddenly found himself, amid country fields, staring at a very pretty young woman who, nonetheless, seemed to out of her wits.
He could swear she was just pursuing a fat, disgusting parson.
But it couldn't be true. She looked so rational.
Even as he thought this, the lady asked, "Are you married, sir?"
"Me?" he asked. "Me? Oh, no." He laughed. "I have a low view of the marriage estate."
The young lady rummaged through a giant bag on her arm.
Presently she withdrew a large pistol. "I think, sir," she said. "That you're about to change it." She said. And then, incomprehensibly, "Ten years. Phui. A review. Phui. We shall see about THAT."
Mr. Bingley rode home in a state of righteous anger. Well, to begin with in a state of confusion, which changed to a state of righteous anger the closer he got to Netherfield and to round astonishment before he ever got into the building.
Mr. Hurst had run away with Mary Bennett. Mr. Hurst! No wonder Louisa and Carolina and all had cleared out so quickly. They probably wanted to hide Louisa's shame. And as for Darcy--
Bursting into the house, he carelessly stomped to Mr. Darcy's bedroom, and pounded on the door.
Mr. Darcy opened the door.
He was attired in a most odd way, in a proper dinner jacket, but with apparently nothing beneath. And his hair was dripping wet. He held a towel in his hand and looked at Bingley out of blood-shot eyes. "Yes?" He rasped, impatiently.
"I want Miss Lydia Bennet," Bingley said, having gone cold with fury. He'd been rejected. He'd been rejected all because of the marauding ways of his friends and relatives. "I want Miss Lydia Bennett."
Darcy did an obvious double take and opened and closed his mouth, like a fish out of water. He could be heard to mutter something under his breath that Bingley would swear was "D--n, and I thought I was drunk."
"You heard me," Bingley insisted. "I want Miss Lydia Bennett."
"Well, all right man," Darcy said. "Though I could swear earlier on you wanted her sister Jane. You can't quite have an harem, you know, illegal and all that. Though I never quite understood why, since an harem would probably be its own punishment- what?"
This last said because Bingley had stepped into the room, his hands bent like claws and aimed at his best friend's neck. "I-want-you-to-unhand-Miss-Lydia- Bennett."
Darcy held Bingley's wrists keeping the fingers of doom at bay. "Oh. You thought I had her? I don't, Bingley, though I think Wickham might."
"Wickham?" Bingley asked, weakly, ceasing his struggle.
"Yes, yes. At least that's what Miss Elizabeth Bennett and I think."
"Wickham?" Bingley said again. "I was rejected because of your father's never do well protegee?" He blinked. "Not you."
"Not me, old boy," Darcy said, cheerfully. "And it's no use at all to ask to look in my jacket pockets, because Miss Bennett already did. I don't have Lydia in there?"
"In your pockets?" Mr. Bingley wrinkled his forehead, trying to follow the reasoning, or lack thereof, of his friend.
"Yes. I don't, I mean. Have her in there. Miss Elizabeth checked.... ahem.... most thoroughly."
He looked so smug that Bingley almost strangled him again, but he couldn't muster the strength to raise his hands. "Oh, d--n," he said. "Mr. Bennett rejected me. What am I to do? I must have Jane."
"Well," Darcy said. "You and I must find Wickham and make him marry the strumpet - I mean, Miss Lydia - and then when her parents are grateful, we marry them."
"Them?" Bingley asked. "The parents?" After all that Darcy had said, this seemed perfectly logical.
Darcy looked shocked. "Of course not. Are you drunk? I mean Miss Bennett and Miss Elizabeth Bennett." He grinned at the stunned Bingley. "Now, let's go. I've asked your butler to have breakfast served early." And as he spoke, he tried to lead Bingley out of the room.
This was too much for Mr. Bingley. Even sleepless, love struck and frustrated, he still knew what was proper. "Um... could you put on more decent.... attire?"
Darcy looked on himself. "Of course," he said. "Of course. Can't wear a dinner jacket to breakfast, can I?" And, grinning like a lunatic, he went within to change.
Elizabeth got back home to find that the situation hadn't improved. On the contrary. As she came in, her mother was throwing herself to the floor and flopping about. "Kitty," she screamed. "Kitty. My salts. Jane, you must fetch me my salts."
"Mama," Jane was saying. "I'm sure she only left with Mr. Collins and no woman in her right mind would ELOPE with Mr. Collins. Besides, he has too much devotion to his living to do such a thing. Indeed, what would his Bishop think?"
"Kitty?" Lizzy asked, approaching Jane. "With Mr. Collins?"
Jane looked harried, as she waved a giant bottle of salts under her mother's nose. "'tis true, Lizzy. They left out the back door while we were all... occupied." And, despite her reassurances to her mother, Jane looked worried.
Lizzy felt worried too. Kitty and Mr. Collins. No. It wasn't possible. There were laws - natural laws, for one - about marrying outside one's species.
She'd understood Kitty to be upset, but no one could be that upset. She pictured Mr. Collins in her mind and shuddered. Suicidal people, fished out of the rivers in which they'd tried to drown were not that upset.
"Where is father?" she asked.
"I believe he is in the library," Jane answered, waving the bottle again just in time to forestall a scream of, "Mygirls,allmygirlsaredisgracedIshallruninsane."
Lizzy knocked at the door and went in, and quickly related to her dejected father the substance of her talk with Mr. Darcy.
Mr. Bennett heard her in silence, then sighed. "I'm afraid it is worse than we expected then, for Mr. Wickham does not have a reputation to preserve. Had she gone with Mr. Darcy... Well.... I want you to know, Lizzy, that you were justified in your warnings to me and I was a fool for not listening to you.
On such sad reflection, Lizzy had to be contented to go to bed.
And in her bed she reflected on Mr. Darcy. She was sure he hadn't noticed how he exposed himself to her notice when he walked up the stairs ahead of her. Did he?
The memory of his muscular anatomy kept Lizzy awake well into the night.
How could a man who looked like that be undeserving? Surely, at the bottom of it, fundamentally, Mr. Darcy must be more amiable than she'd given him credit for.
Mr. Henry Crawford was in a muddle of emotion.
His beautiful unknown had climbed up behind him, without ever losing her aim on his head.
She now held the pistol - its muzzle cold and hard - against the back of his neck.
"Miss.... um.... miss," he said. "You can't mean to marry me. I'm a stranger. Um.... a stranger with an unsavory reputation. That's it. Unsavory. And scandalous."
The gun pressed harder against his neck. "Ask me if I care," she said. "I thought I told you to get this horse at a gallop. It's Scotland we should be doing to, and what if I'm pursued."
Mr. Crawford should be afraid. He knew he should be afraid. And he was. We confess that there were fibrillations of fear and palpitations of terror within his heart. After all, he knew nothing about this girl - such, as, for instance, if she was given to sudden fits of sneezing - who held a gun against him. And.... And she could fire at any minute.
But, mingled with a terror was a most strange tingle, a feeling of excitement, of being alive, such as he'd never experienced before.
Even he couldn't quite make sense of it.
"I seduced a married woman," he yelled. "I unsavory and.... and unreliable."
"Not after we're married," she said, seductively. The gun pressed closer to the back of his neck. He was sure it would leave a bruise. "I'll make a gentleman out of you."
Suddenly, Henry Crawford understood. He'd known a number of coquettes and flirts, like Mrs. Rushworth. He'd known a saintly woman like Fanny. He'd enjoyed the first and thought he loved the last, but no....
If he'd loved Fanny, truly loved her, he'd never have been able to betray her.
No. What he loved was danger. Danger was what had led him to seduce married women. Because their husbands might take a gun to him.
He turned back, slowly to look at Miss Kitty Bennett, and saw her maddened eyes at the other end of the gun.
And for the first time in his life knew love in the only form he could understand it.
"Gretna Green," he whispered. "Right now, my love."
"Well, Lizzy," Mrs. Bennett said at breakfast. "What do you think of this sad business of our Jane?"
Lizzy stared around the more-than-half empty breakfast table, where Lydia, Mary and Kitty were all missing.
Frankly, she wasn't sure what Mrs. Bennett could be talking about.
Jane, sitting at her place looked demure and well, if a little tired around the eyes.
"To think she could be Mrs. Bingley by now," Mrs. Bennet said. She shot a venomous look at her husband. "It would be such a comfort to me. But your father is determined to ruin us all."
Mr. Bennett looked up from the paper and shot her a bewildered look.
"My consolation is that I'm sure that Mr. Bingley will die of a broken heart, and then Jane will kill herself over his grave. And then your father will be sorry."
Mr. Bennett looked at Lizzy. "Life holds few distinctions, dear Lizzy," he said, by way of conversation. "But I think we can safely say I married one of the silliest women in all of Britain."
Mrs. Bennett stared at him, mouth agape. "You married another woman? Oh. Jane. My smelling salts. Your father is bigamous."
Before Jane could get the smelling salts, though, or before the stunned Lizzy could decide whether her mother was being sarcastic or just silly, a footman came with a note.
Mr. Bennett opened it and, despite his depressed spirits, guffawed aloud. "Lizzy, you'll never believe this," he said. "Charlotte Lucas is engaged to Mr. Collins."
Mrs. Bennett erupted in loud weeping, from which "starving in the hedgerows" emerged.
Over it, Lizzy could be heard to exclaim, "But I THOUGHT there were laws against marrying someone from another species. And an amphibian, yet."
Her father paused and said, thoughtfully. "I wonder who Kitty truly eloped with. Ah, it doesn't signify. It can't be worse than Wickham or more repulsive than Mr. Collins."
The first ones to return to throw themselves on parental mercy were Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Hurst.
They erupted into the house, two days after, early in the morning, looking like young people whose conscience had ridden them all the way back.
"Where is my father?" Mary asked, coming in the house with Mr. Hurst --who was quickly getting used to the married man's role - trailing behind her, half alarmed at her anxiety. She pushed past Lizzy and Jane. "I must see my father."
And with that, the obviously suicidal lady knocked on her father's library door.
"Yes?" Mr. Bennett asked from within.
"Father, I must talk to you," Mary said, opening the door.
At that they both froze, staring at the other.
Mary because she'd never before seen her father in nightcap and powdering gown and, to own the truth, was having some trouble repressing her laughter.
Her father because Mary had never, that he remembered, in his entire life, spoken directly at him. Not unless it was in a proverb.
And he was fairly sure she hadn't said, "It is a truth universally acknowledged that girls who have eloped must talk to their fathers." So he stared at her, open mouthed, wondering who this stranger was, and what she'd done with his shy and very silly daughter.
After a while, he recovered enough to push his spectacles back - he would need all his power of vision to examine the new Mary - and say, not without a small edge of fear, "Yes, Mary."
Mary took a deep breath. She was still having trouble not laughing. "Well, father," she said. "Well, father." She took another deep breath. She heard her dearest Stephen step up behind her. Her father might decide to challenge Stevie for a duel. No. It must not be permitted. Stevie was sensitive and delicate and would probably faint at the sight of guns. "Father, I know you probably have said you don't want my name pronounced again in your presence, but do not do anything rash, until we've told you why we decided to take such a shameful step as eloping."
Mr. Bennett still stared at her, then at Stevie. He cackled - a most awful, hollow sound. "Bah," he said. "Elope." He waved his hand carelessly in the air. "Doesn't everyone? I'm amazed there isn't a coach service to Gretna Green." His eyes lit up as though with sudden inspiration. "My word. A coach service to Gretna Green. Express of course. It is a good idea, is it not Mary? I think I'll ask you uncle Gardiner to join me in the venture."
Mary's wish to laugh had given way to a queasy feeling of guilt and fear. Her poor father had gone insane. Oh, what had she done? She'd never known she was so important to him.
Her voice trembling, she asked, "Papa, may I tell you why I eloped?"
Her father, who'd started scribbling figures on a pad of paper, looked up at her. "You want to tell me," he said. "And I have no objection to hearing it."
And, while her father continued to scribble - pausing occasionally to cackle - Mary told him the reasons she'd chosen to elope.
Afterwards there was a long silence.
"Father?" Mary said.
Mr. Bennett looked up. "Yes, Mary."
"Father, are we forgiven?"
"Forgiven?" He grinned. "Oh, there is no occasion for that, I'm sure. What have you done that other girls haven't? You're welcome home, Mary. And you, son. We'll talk about your financial situation later. If this coach business works out...."
"Father!" Mary screamed, in some distress. Conscious of having violated propriety, she'd expected at least a mild rebuke. This.... This made her feel as if she'd stepped, full body, into a different world. "Father."
This time, when Mr. Bennett looked up there was true annoyance in his gaze. "Yes, yes, child. Go. Go to your mother. Let her have hysterics over you. Can't you see I'm drawing out a business plan?" He cackled. "Coaches to Gretna Green."
Trembling, Mary walked away, to almost run into her mother, who had been alerted to the arrival by Jane.
"Mary!" her mother screamed.
Mary's heart fluttered and she thought. "Oh, true reproach at last."
But her mother grinned from ear to ear. "Oh. Mrs. Hurst. Oooooooh. How well that sounds. Mrs Long will be ever so envious. My Mary is married. And only nineteen. Wait till I tell Lady Lucas." Speaking thus, she put her arm through Mary's and, cackling, led her off towards the door, obviously intending to go on a round of visiting.
Which would have been alarming enough if Mrs. Bennett hadn't been wearing nightgown with an amazing number of ruffles.
"Mother!" Mary said, blushing. "You're not.... We cannot go visiting. I've transgressed. And you're not.... you're not attired properly."
Her mother looked at her own clothes, then stared at Mary, then gave a short, satisfied cackle. "Transgressed. You're married now, Mary, you must forget that. And as for my attire.... Well, it's my second best nightgown. Just wait till Lady Lucas sees it. She'll be ever so envious. She doesn't have one half as good."
It was too much for Mary, who fainted on the spot, attended by an anxious Mr. Hurst.
The second couple to return to the parental abode was more of a surprise.
Kitty they knew, of course, but both Bennett parents - whose elder daughters had persuaded them to dress in something other than sleeping attire - stared blankly at the gentleman with her.
That he was a gentleman there could be no doubt. Why, his coat alone must cost.... Mrs. Bennett glazed over. Definitely the coat of a gentleman with at least ten thousand a year. And he was... well, he was.... She stared at his marked masculine features, his black curls just unruly and long enough to touch the back of his neck. She perceived his broad shoulders, his narrow waist, the well-shaped length of him. She felt unaccountably very hot and fanned herself with her hanky.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bennet had put his newspaper down and stared also at the gentleman. Lord, he looked like a politician. Where HAD Kitty found him?
Mr. and Mrs. Hurst -- who, in the course of the afternoon had received the news that Mr. Hurst would have a job as clerk in Mr. Phillips firm, and had, thereby secured that modicum of income that would allow them to purchase a small house in Meryton - looked from their books in astonishment.
Miss Bennett and Miss Elizabeth Bennett stared, also, as if not sure what could be happening.
The former Miss Kitty strolled into the room, looking just embarrassed and ashamed enough to show her good breeding. But this look was somewhat dimmed by her splendorous attire. It was obvious to one and all that Kitty had stopped at a dress shop somewhere and that her new husband had bought her the best he could afford - and probably chosen for her, since the dress she wore was expensive, flattering, and lacked a single ruffle or bow.
Like Mary had done, she walked into the room trailing her husband who, eyes downcast, smiled modestly like a debutante at her first ball.
But she did not plead for forgiveness. Instead, she motioned her husband forward peremptorily and, on his obeying and coming to stand beside her, she said, "Mother, Father, this is my husband, Mr. Crawford. We apologize for the manner of our marrying, but hope you'll forgive me, when you know that he has ten thousand a year and a great estate called Everingham, to which you're all invited."
Mrs. Bennett shrieked, "Ten thousand a year," and swooned, in happiness.
Mr. Bennett still stared. He opened his mouth, swallowed. "Ah. Um.... I see, Kitty and where did you and Mr..... uh.... Crawford meet?"
At this, Kitty looked at a loss for the first time.
But now Mr. Crawford spoke, with a visible squeeze of his wife's hand. "Oh, we met ever so long ago," he said. "That I doubt not Kitty can't remember it. In fact ours is an attachment of such long duration we'd have waited long still except for the events that precipitated our eloping. Ahem. "
Mr. Bennett was slowly recovering the wits that the recent events had shaken. "And those were?" he asked.
Mr. Crawford looked at a loss, and blushed most becomingly. He glanced quickly at Kitty and found no help. "They were.... uh.... I believe they were your threatening to take my wife to a review."
"Quite so," Mr. Bennett said, grinning wide, his look that of a true connoisseur of human folly who spots a new and prime specimen. "Quite so. Faced with the prospect of a review, who would not, indeed, elope?" He stood up, folding his paper and setting it aside. "Mr. Crawford, if you'll do me the honor of coming to my library, we'll discuss the amount to be settled on my daughter and any children...." adding, just under his breath.
And thus he left, leaving the just revived Mrs. Bennett to grab Kitty's hand and practically eat the expensive diamond wedding ring with her gaze. "Oooooohhhh. I hope you had your hand out of the carriage on the way here, that everyone might see your ring."
And, before Kitty could reply, her mother stood up and put her arm through Kitty's. "Mrs. Crawford. How well that sounds. And you never told me a word about your secret engagement, you sly thing. What a good joke. We must go see Mrs. Long and Lady Lucas. They will be so upset I have two daughters married. And Kitty only seventeen."
The next day, Lizzy got out of the house for tea with Charlotte Lucas. She had to go somewhere where people acted more rationally.
And - she thought - since she'd reached the point at which even the Lucases seemed rational, she supposed there was little or no help for her.
Besides, she wanted to make sure Charlotte realized what she was about to do.
"Why should you be surprised?" Charlotte asked. "Why shouldn't I marry Mr. Collins?" She took a sip of her tea. "I'm not romantic, you know. All I ask is a comfortable home."
"But Charlotte," Lizzy protested. "There must be laws against marrying amphibians."
Charlotte stole a look at Mr. Collins on the other side of the room and her eyes darted about, nervously. "A law! Don't be silly. A recommendation, at most. And, Lizzy, I'm sure he has a comfortable lillypad, I mean home, and that's all I ask. Besides the patronage of lady Catherine the Bore - I mean de Bourgh - ensures us a good future." The tea cup she held trembled alarmingly. "I shall be happy," she said, an edge of hysteria to her voice. "I know I shall." Her eye twitched.
"Charlotte, Charlotte," Lizzy said. "I cannot allow you to do this."
"Oh, Lizzy," Charlotte said, and her voice broke. "He asked in the middle of the night. I was so sleepy I scarce knew what I said..... and then Papa immediately ran down to the paper and had them put out a special edition to announce our engagement. What am I to do? I can't break it now. I shall be disgraced. And my father is so happy."
As Lizzy was about to recommend that Charlotte elope with the first stranger she came across, Mr. Collins oozed across the room from where he'd been boring - we mean talking to - Sir Lucas.
He oozed up to Charlotte and grabbed her hand in his flipper - we mean hand. "Cousin Elizabeth, you see before you the happiest of men. I know that you had some hopes and your sister Kitty obviously.... well.... But with the recent elopements and all, as my noble patroness would say, who would connect themselves with such a family? I'm sure all sisters must suffer from the misstep of...." he paused and visibly counted in his head. "Three of them. Which is all the more regrettable, since I have reason to believe it resulted from a faulty degree of indulgence," he looked at Charlotte and explained, didactically. "Nasty things, indulgences," he said. "A papist concept which our church, thank heavens, doesn't have. I'll explain all about it to you someday, my dear."
He drooled all over Charlotte's hand. "You have so much to learn, my dear," he said. "And I so much to teach you."
Charlotte looked frozen by revulsion.
She turned to stare at Lizzy, and her mouth formed the words "help me."
But Lizzy had no idea what to do. Did everyone expect her to put everything to rights? Who could help her? Where was Mr. Darcy? He'd reveal the bottom of his.... ahem.... heart to her and then vanish? Oh, what was she to do?
"We'll be married Saturday a week," Mr. Collins said. He didn't cackle, but it was implied.
Back in London, where he'd followed Whickam's trail, Mr. Darcy had made some progress. He and Mr. Bingley had found where Whickam was living, and found that Lydia was living with him.
There didn't seem to be any intention of marrying.
Darcy located the Gardiners, whom he knew were related to the Bennett's, and proceeded to explain the situation and how he wanted to pay Whickam to marry Lydia without it appearing that he'd done so.
For one, because he knew Whickam would ask for a lot more if he knew he was dealing with the bottomless Darcy pockets. In fact, he'd been sponging off the Darcys for so long that Darcy was sure that if he undressed Whickam - something he couldn't contemplate without revulsion - he'd find that the body of his childhood playmate had become riddled with little holes and would swell to twice its size when dipped in a liquid. Liquid acid, if Darcy had a choice.
Darcy, who had calmed down and was wearing a full gentleman's attire, including pants and shirt - had Mrs. Gardiner known what she was missing thereby, she would, no doubt, have been grieved - talked to Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner.
He found them pleasant and rational, though he was disturbed because, misled by Mrs. Bennett's letters they insisted on condoling with him over Lydia's elopement.
But, other than that, they got along famously, and, by the time Darcy left, everything was arranged.
Unfortunately, on coming out, Mr. Darcy ran into Miss Bingley.
"Mr. Darcy," Miss Bingley said. "In Cheapside? Might I enquire why?"
She might not, but Darcy couldn't tell her that. Conscious that he'd offended her in the past, and trying to be proper and correct to deserve Miss Lizzy's hand, he bowed, gentlemanly, and said the first thing that crossed his mind, which, since this came in the wake of thoughts of Lizzy was, "Why, to prepare for the wedding, of course."
"The wedding!" Miss Bingley said. "I am all astonishment." She did not ask whose wedding. She looked up at the facade of the house, then at Mr. Darcy. "I see. And when is the happy event to be?"
Mr. Darcy had no idea why she cared, but he sighed. "Saturday a week." He'd agreed with Mr. Gardiner that was the minimum time needed. He wouldn't rest until he saw the scoundrel united to the strumpet, so he wanted it as soon as possible.
Miss Bingley had gone very pale. "I see," she said.
And while she appeared immobilized by shock - Lord alone knew why - Mr. Darcy bowed and made his escape.
Miss Bingley had long since found out that this was the address of the Bennetts uncle. In fact, that was why she prowled just outside it. Hoping for news, though she now hated him.
Did she hate him?
Yes, of course she hated him. Why, he was going to marry Miss Lydia Bennett. The nerve. He preferred her to Caroline. Preposterous.
She heard her own stiff lips say, "Over my dead body. Not if I have to run into the church, interrupt the ceremony and claim I am with child by him."
She grinned at the evil plan and went back home to tell her bewildered sister that they were returning to Netherfield. They must get there before Saturday a week.
Meanwhile, Miss Elizabeth Bennett was sure that her sister Catherine had gone insane.
What cemented this belief was that Lizzy had awakened with footsteps in the middle of the night, and - since it might mean Jane was eloping ow - had opened her bedroom door.... To see Mrs. Crawford, in dainty nightgown, walking from the backstairs towards her room carrying a rather large horsewhip.
"Kitty!" Lizzy said.
Kitty jumped and made a vain attempt to hide the whip behind herself. "Uh," she said and blushed. "Uh. I wasn't .... I couldn't sleep, so I thought I'd go and get--"
"A whip? You thought you'd go and get a whip?" Lizzy asked, shocked.
Kitty looked down at the whip in her hands, as though seeing it for the first time. "Um.... yes. Our pillows are very.... um.... unruly. That's why I couldn't sleep."
Lizzy was about to protest this, but just then her father opened his bedroom door and called out, "What's all the commotion?"
Taking advantage of Lizzy's moment of inattention, Kitty scurried to her room and opened the door.
Lizzy turned just in time to see - she would late, unfortunately be sure she HAD seen - Mr. Crawford in a rather embarrassing position, tied to the bed's four posts.
Then the door was slammed and she saw no more.
"Father," she said. "Kitty had a whip."
Mr. Bennett stared at his second daughter. "Did she tell you why?"
"She said they had unruly pillows."
Mr. Bennett nodded. "Yes. Yes. I understand that."
"But, father, I saw--"
Mr. Bennett grinned and shook his head. "Leave, it, Lizzy. I believe it will turn out very well."
From behind the Crawford's closed - and presumably locked - door, he could be heard to say, "oh, please...." in a begging tone.
The days swam by in a bewilderment of confusion. After Mrs. Crawford's triumphant return all of Merryton waited the return of Miss Lydia in whatever married state she might have managed.
But a week slid by quietly and the only thing that arrived was - via special messenger - a collection of jewels for Miss Jane. As a mark of Mr. Bingley's affection.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth hadn't slept in nearly a week. Between the nightly pleadings from Kitty's room next door - often alternating with the most unearthly groaning and moaning, which led Elizabeth to believe that Mr. Crawford must suffer from some yet unacknowledged illness - and her memories of Mr. Darcy's muscular, pleasant anatomy, she could hardly close her eyes.
And then there was the excitement of Charlotte's engagement and her impending marriage. And Lizzy's quite certain belief that women shouldn't marry toads.
While Lizzy helped Charlotte finish her dress and arrange flowers and prepare for the big ceremony she noticed that Charlotte was looking more and more panicked every minute. Her eye had started twitching and she often acted distracted while muttering "flies, flies, he'll want to dine on flies."
However, the day drew on, inexorably.
And soon, very soon, Elizabeth found herself in church, standing beside Charlotte, who looked quite ravishing in her full-covering veil and dress.
And she had to admit that, at least from behind, Mr. Collins didn't look all that bad. Why, he was almost as tall as Mr. Darcy and the blue suit, bought for the wedding looked uncommonly like Mr. Darcy's own.
Caroline Bingley was simply not going to allow Mr. Darcy to marry Lydia.
For days she did not sleep, and when she slept she had nightmares that Mr. Darcy was introducing Lydia to society and Lydia had a most fetching orange dress that would have looked much better on Caroline.
Tortured by lack of sleep, half hallucinating, wishing Charles were near to tell her what Darcy was planning to do, Caroline found herself in a carriage, headed for Merriton. And erupting into the church just as the minister said, "If anyone can show just cause why this man and this woman should not be united-"
"I can," Caroline said. "I can. He promised me marriage and an orange dress. He MUST follow through. He must..."
The parson dropped his bible in horror. The guests turned to her suppressed gasps, exclamations, shudders. Sir William Lucas, in the front row stood up and said, "This is outrageous."
"Indeed, not,"Caroline said. She had found her footing and was sure that she would carry it all her way. "Indeed not. The groom has led me to believe he intended to marry me and only me, and I had my dress ordered and then he- "
"What you say is very grave," the parson said. "And I can't imagine why an otherwise sane woman would say it if not true." He turned to the groom who remained with his back turned. "Sir, I must demand you stop this marriage and marry the aggrieved lady at once."
"But..." the groom said, then turned around and displayed the full oleaginous features of Mr. Collin. "I must say, I never knew I'd led the worthy Miss Bingley on. But of course, my charms are such, and with my position in life, indeed, I'm sure many young women pine for me. I must say, my dear Charlotte, you must allow me to break our promise, as Miss Bingley had the earlier claim."
"I don't..." Caroline said. She felt her voice fail her. "I don't understand..."
At that moment the door flung open and on the threshold stood Mr. Darcy, Charles, Colonel Fitzwilliam and a very well dressed Lydia.
Caroline looked from Mr. Collins who was, casually, flicking his tongue about and catching the occasional fly. Then she looked at the new arrivals.
Merciful blackness closed upon her, but not before she caught sight of Charlotte ripping off her veil, tossing her flowers and running through the church, laughing madly and twirling pirouettes.
Caroline took the screams of, "I'm free, I'm free, ah ah, free," with her into unconsciousness.
"Well, there was nothing for it," Bingley said. "But she had to marry him. What? After her display in church? She was bound to be the talk of the ton if she did not." He made a face. "I cannot promise that she will be happy, but Caroline should make a very interesting parson's wife."
"And a source of entertainment to Lady Catherine De Bourgh," Mr. Bennet said.
"Indeed," Mr. Darcy said. It was three weeks after their return to Meryton and he was almost at the point of asking the delightful Miss Elizabeth to marry him. Almost. If only she could be sure she felt about him as he did about her. "I must say - my aunt hasn't been the same since my cousin Anne De Bourgh used your carriage service to Gretna Green to elope with the stable boy."
"And a very happy couple they made," Mr. Bennet said. "They tipped the coachman most handily and all." He cleared his throat. "Indeed, my coach service is doing so well that I..." He cleared his throat again. "That is... My daughters will have very handsome dowries."
"I'd take Jane in her shift," Mr. Bingley said. Then blushed. "That is, I'd much rather she be properly attired in public and all, and I haven't been imagining her in her shift or... ahem... out of it at all, but you must understand-"
"Stow it Bingley," Mr. Bennet said. "You're marrying Jane tomorrow and you can see fit to imagine her in any way you wish."
Bingley blushed again and sighed. "She is an angel."
From another part of the house came the sound of loud shrieks of laughter and the echoes of Mrs. Bennet admonishing her daughters - doubtless on the details of tomorrow's fete.
Close at hand, the clock on the wall of the study ticked loudly.
"Just imagine that," Mr. Bennet said. "Of all my daughters Lizzy would be the only one unmarried. And she with more wit than all the rest." He cleared his throat. "Now, if some gentleman, with, say, ten thousand a year, should offer for her, I should surely say yes."
From upstairs came the sound of a whip flying through the air, a brief, strangled male scream, followed by moans and the sound of a bed hitting the wall.
"You must pardon me," Mr. Bennet said, staring at the ceiling. "My daughter Kitty and her husband have a room directly above and they are afflicted with unruly pillows."
Mr. Darcy nodded, absently. Cracks appeared on the ceiling. Plaster rained down.
Mr. Bennet swept the plaster dust off his desk. "If a gentleman with ten thousand-"
"Yes, yes," Mr. Darcy erupted, his temper getting the best of him. "I UNDERSTAND, sir. But what guarantee have I that she will accept me?"
Mr. Bennet looked at him with raised eyebrows. "Guarantee, why none, sir. You will have to take your risks with the rest of us. Ask her already."
Mr. Darcy stood for a moment, staring at the man, thinking this was the most bluntly anyone had ever talked to him.
And then he took in a deep breath and saw the pure genius of the man who could think up a line of carriages to Gretna Green and think that asking Lizzy was all a matter of ... asking Lizzy.
He grabbed his walking stick and hat and determined to pull Miss Elizabeth from the press of her mother and sisters and take her for a walk. Now.
But his treacherous tongue would not speak. They walked in silence amid the lovely fields and he could not find words to speak.
"Mr. Darcy," Lizzy said, at last. "I am a selfish being and for the sake of relieving my feelings I don't care what discomfort I cause others. You must tell me what happened in the matter of Lydia. Did you extricate her from that villain, Wickham?"
"Indeed no," Mr. Darcy said. "It turns out that some militia men in London were alerted to his dishonorable act and intercepted him. Among them was my cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, who was immediately smitten by her... charms. He fought Wickham and killed him at a duel and married your sister the same day, to save her reputation."
"But you did go to London intent on saving her," Lizzy asked.
"Indeed, it was only my duty."
"I... I would be willing to marry a man who performed such a service for my family."
"Yes," Darcy said, feeling his heart sink. "Unfortunately, you see, she was already married, so I didn't, indeed-"
"Surely, Mr. Darcy, the intention is the same as the act and my gratitude demands that I sacrifice myself on the altar of holy matrimony to you."
Mr. Darcy cleared his throat. Couldn't she hear him? And besides, he didn't want her gratitude. He wanted her love. "I must say that this is totally unnecessary since-"
Lizzy stooped and grabbed a thick stick. "I am an impatient woman, and for the sake of relieving my feelings, I will clobber you over the head this minute, unless you say you will marry me."
Darcy was speechless for a moment, but - as she started to raise her arm - he screamed, "Stop, stop. I will marry you. Indeed, it's what I wish and I've never desired anything different. I've loved you ever since you searched my pockets for your sister."
Lizzy dropped the stick and fell into his arms. "I've loved you since that very night, too," she said, as a vision of Mr. Darcy's informal attire formed in her mind.
"It just so happens, that, against the event you should take me out in the middle of the fields and demand that I marry you, I have purchased a special license. We can be married at the same time as Bingles and Jane, if you wish."
Happy for all her maternal feelings was the day Mrs. Bennet rid herself of her two eldest, more worthy and still single daughters.
Contemplating their departing carriage, and while Mrs. Hurst, Mrs. Crawford and Mrs. Fitzwilliam took their leave also, to go to their various abodes, Mrs. Bennet turned to Mr. Bennet, "Five daughters married," she said. "The Good Lord has been very, very good to us."
"So it would seem," Mr. Bennet said, patting a pocket full of the precedes of his carriage scheme. "So it would seem."
And they lived insanely ever after...
Except Charlotte Lucas, who, dressed as a man took to the sea and ended up as a pirate captain. It is said she eventually married a foreign prince she captured, but all we know about that are rumors.
© 2000, 2001, 2004 Copyright held by the author.