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Sufficient Encouragement: A P&P Variation Chapters 22 - 25

July 12, 2022 06:46AM
CHAPTER 22

Jane and Elizabeth did not need to look at one another to know the tumult of feelings bubbling inside each of them as they sat in the Darcy carriage, that was even now winding its way north through Hertfordshire. It had been a teary farewell with the Gardiners, even though they would be returning very soon, as both girls realised how quickly their lives were changing. Their family knew they would be returning, but no details were given as to how and with whom, as neither daughter felt their mother was capable of restraining her imagination, or her tongue, if any advance notice of their happy news were to reach them. Mr Bennet had been forewarned by a long letter from his favourite daughter, though as she had not expected or received a reply, she could only hope it had been read by him, and not distributed widely.

Elizabeth would have preferred to have given him the news in person, but she poured her heart out on the page, leaving him in no doubt of the material change in her affections and feelings, peppered with amusing anecdotes about her interactions with Lady Catherine and Mr Collins, descriptions of the Darcy and Fitzwilliam family, her confidence in her future felicity therein, and a most particular and exacting description of the library at Darcy House, making sure to note several times that it is a tenth of the size of the library at Pemberley. She was in no doubt about the way to her father’s heart, and she was determined to have her Darcy of Pemberley well received by the one person whose opinion really mattered to her, if she could arrange it so.

Their arrival at Longbourn surprised and delighted only Mr and Mrs Hill. Mrs Bennet and her daughters were calling at their Aunt Philips after shopping in Meryton and Mr Bennet was in his library, enjoying the peace and quiet and had insisted on not being disturbed by anyone, for any reason. This being the case, the gentlemen elected to eschew the niceties of continuing to Netherfield and changing out of their perfectly acceptable travelling clothes from the short journey and opted to take refreshments at Longbourn with their beloved fiancées, in the hopes that private interviews would be granted by the Master of the house. Both women were past or nearing their majority, so permission was not critical, but neither wished to marry without their Father’s blessing.

Their entrance was quiet and without fanfare and suited both daughters of the house. Once their intendeds were settled in the family parlour, hastily tidied of the accoutrements of a house full of ladies that were liberally distributed over every surface, and delivered of tea and biscuits, the eldest Miss Bennets sought out their reclusive father. The door to the library was unlocked and as they knew he would not respond to a knock, they entered unannounced.

“I thought I told you I was not to be disturbed by any- Lizzy! Jane!” Thomas Bennet started in surprise but rose automatically to greet his long absent daughters with a welcoming smile and affectionate kisses. He gestured for them to join him on the couch. “Lizzy, you gave me no word in your long and quixotic missive that you would be returning from London today. I must say I heartily enjoyed your tale, but I assume you must have had no amusements at all to craft such a splendid tale of romance with Mr Darcy, of all people, as the hero?”

Elizabeth stared in open-mouthed astonishment as her Father laughed and began describing his favourite parts of her story. He broke off when he saw her face, blushing furiously and frowning in confusion. “Are you wondering how I have seen through your suspiciously detailed and well-crafted tale?” Elizabeth was still unable to find any words. “Your mother has been keeping up with the London gossip and we are well aware that a Mr Darcy has been seen very often in the company of a mysterious woman, who has attended the theatre with him, and was even present at the Matlock Ball where she was invited as the particular guest of Lord and Lady Chilton, his Aunt and Uncle? Your mother even left me the paper the other day… here it is – the mysterious Miss B was seen dangling on the arm of Mr Darcy, recipient of his rare smiles and conversation at the Theatre Royal for King Richard II…”. Thomas Bennet’s voice trailed off as he looked up at his daughter, still blushing but now able to speak.

“Papa. I am the mysterious Miss B! My “story” was suspiciously detailed and well-crafted because I wanted to relate the process of how my feelings became completely reversed. Mr Darcy and Mr Bingley accompanied us for our journey home today. They are waiting in the parlour and hope to speak to you today. I have come to an understanding with Mr Darcy, Father. I was completely wrong about him in so many ways. I truly believe he is the best man I have ever known, Papa. He loves me, and we are engaged. Please disregard my former dislike, I am ashamed of the wounded vanity which caused me to malign and abuse the good name and reputation of an entirely honourable gentleman.”

Thomas Bennet was incensed. “Elizabeth, he called you barely tolerable and not handsome enough to tempt him! In a public place, where it was overheard-“

“By me, Papa! And I was the one to spread the tale abroad! No one else heard it, and I am responsible for that gentleman’s poor reception in the neighbourhood. He has explained it all to me Papa – and he has apologised most profusely for the slight. I am convinced and have forgiven him all.”

“I suppose his ten thousand a year makes almost anything forgivable!”

“Papa! Do you think it is his wealth and consequence that have convinced me? If I was willing to overlook that, why did I spend months abusing him to all of my family and friends? If I was that type of woman, would I have published his slight of me to everyone I knew? It is his heart, his mind and his character which have won me. If you only knew his generous nature, which he has kept hidden for so long because he had never before found a woman willing to look past his wealth to see the man. Papa, he has been nothing but a proper gentleman towards me, he has nothing but honourable intentions towards me and his supposed faults of temperament and reserve – well, I have come to realise they suit me very well indeed. He is truly amiable, Papa, he makes me laugh, he challenges me to overcome my fears, his well-informed mind sharpens my own and he is everything I could have ever wanted in a young man.”

“And he is also handsome, which a young man ought likewise to be, if he can help it.” Jane offered this sally with an impish smile, hoping to draw the same from Lizzy, as the interview was becoming rather heightened. She was rewarded with a brilliant smile from her sister, although her Father was still grim. Elizabeth rose and knelt before her Father as he reclined back into his wingback chair. Reaching to kiss his hands, she looked up at him imploringly, “Papa, I know you are shocked. I had hoped that my letter would help to ease you into the idea of my engagement, and I am even more grateful that I encouraged Fitz-Mr Darcy- to not ride here directly when we arrived from Kent some weeks ago to ask permission. I feared he may not receive a warm welcome. Do you wish to see them today? They have broken their journey here and would welcome the opportunity to speak to you.”

Mr Bennet returned his daughter’s kisses on top of her bent head. “They? You speak in plurals, Lizzy. What purpose does Mr Bingley have in speaking to me today?” It was now Jane’s turn to blush and stammer her way through an explanation of the renewal of her relationship with Mr Bingley and its rapid progression through to their engagement. “Mr Bingley would be pleased to speak to you today also, Papa. He would have preferred to speak to you first, but Elizabeth insisted she must break the news to you, and I am also glad that you have some advance warning, so you are aware of our hearts also Papa. He was very wrong to have left without taking proper leave of us and is wishing to apologise. Like Lizzy, I have forgiven him completely and have complete faith in the constancy of his affections. I do not feel ill-used, Papa, and his faults lay more in his doubting his own judgment, than in malice or caprice. We are both aware of our tendency to trust to the goodness of all people, regardless of their merit, but we believe that knowing that tendency will help us to manage its worst consequences.”

Jane had joined her sister at their father’s knee and had kissed his hands after speaking. “Oh my darling girls, I have aged 20 years in one day. I confess I am still not ready to let you go, it was only yesterday I was bouncing you both upon my knee. I have hidden away in my library in the vain hope that if I didn’t see it, you would no longer grow any more. I am so proud of you both and could not have parted with you for any men less worthy.” He bent and kissed them both tenderly, blinking away the tears that had started to mist his eyes, and continued to whisper his pride, encouragement and love to his eldest daughters.

Some time later, Elizabeth and Jane returned to the parlour and Mr Bingley was directed to the library. He returned in mere minutes, grinning from ear to ear and nodding his old friend into the library. 30 minutes later, Mr Darcy had not returned, and Elizabeth was no longer sanguine. Just as she was going to get up and check the library, a commotion was heard heralding the return of Mrs Bennet, Mary, Kitty and Lydia. They had noticed the fine carriage, but not recognising the Darcy coat of arms were unaware of the owner.

The shrieks of delight that issued forth from Mrs Bennet were enough to bring Mrs Hill up the stairs to investigate. Jane was surrounded by her three younger sisters with hugs, congratulations and requests for trips to London, balls, gowns, and ribbons indistinguishable amongst the tumult. Satisfied that all was indeed well, she withdrew and sent up Sally to refresh the teapot and bring more biscuits. Congratulations were made again and again to Jane, before Mrs Bennet even noticed the presence of her second daughter. “Lizzy! You are looking remarkably well. I hope you have been properly humbled by seeing the situation you were so ungracious to refuse in Kent and are more willing to receive whatever attentions may come your way if you are able to spend more time in London with your sister during the season! How are the Collinses anyway? I presume they talk of Longbourn endlessly? What of Rosings? Does Lady Catherine keep a fine table, and have 4 attendants plus footmen at every meal? Is the chimney piece worth 800 pounds? Has Charlotte begun increasing? I am certain she will have 12 sons and turn us out as soon as your Father dies!” Elizabeth had attempted to answer all of her mother’s questions with no success given the rapidity of her address. “Is that a new carriage of yours, Mr Bingley? It is very fine-”

“No, Mrs Bennet, it is not Mr Bingley’s carriage, it is mine.” Darcy had appeared at the parlour door and looked every bit as forbidding and arrogant as he used to. Elizabeth alone could see his awkwardness and discomfort at the chaos and the vulgarity displayed by her mother and knew that his intent in responding to her question, had not been to censure her but merely to correct her misapprehension. She also knew that her mother would take it completely the wrong way.

She was not aware however that Mr Darcy had heard much of what Mrs Bennet had said to Elizabeth and was valiantly containing his rage at having the love of his life disparaged, disrespected and undervalued to her face by the woman who should know her best. The words, “have you met your Aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh?”, came floating into his mind, at just the right time and in the dulcet tones of his beloved, so he attempted to regulate his speech and interjected at the opportune moment during Mrs Bennet’s rhetorical monologue of questions. Elizabeth leapt to her feet as the room was silenced by his unfamiliar baritone, pitched at just the right level for exactly the wrong effect. “Forgive me, Mrs Bennet, for interjecting,” he continued in a softened tone, with a smile that drew a gasp from several of the young ladies present, “I have just returned from Mr-“

“To take Mr Bingley back to Netherfield, thank you, sir!” Elizabeth widened her eyes and barely shook her head at him, hoping he would understand not to mention their news. “We are so grateful we were able to join you as you returned to Netherfield with Mr Bingley and hope you will join him tomorrow for supper at Longbourn? Let me walk you out with Jane and Mr Bingley so you can get settled at Netherfield.” She had taken a leaf out of her mother’s book and spoke without drawing breath while gesturing to Jane and Bingley to follow her out the door and down the stairs.

Mr Darcy nodded “Good afternoon” to the room at large and followed Elizabeth down the stairs. She pulled him into a little used vestibule in front of the servant’s entrance to the main hall and buried her face in his chest. He looked around swiftly before gathering her to him and whispering, “all is well, my darling Lillybeth, your father has given his permission. I wanted to take the opportunity to discuss George Wickham with him and it was a good thing too. He had noted that Lydia has been speaking of him with more frequency than any of the other officers, so he has been forewarned. He has gone out directly to speak to Sir William and to instruct his brother Philips to discreetly investigate if any debts are owing to any militiamen amongst the shopkeepers and tradesman in Meryton.” Elizabeth sighed with relief and drew him down to kiss his cheek. Upon hearing Bingley’s heavy tread and hearty goodbyes on the staircase above, Elizabeth drew a disappointed Darcy out into the hall. “Why did you not wish to announce our engagement upstairs?”

“Oh Fitz, I love you too well to subject you to my mother’s hysterical effusions of joy, or her invective. I cannot predict how she will respond, but she only has to open her mouth and it will be vulgar and inappropriate. I will tell her this evening, in the privacy of her rooms, where I can ensure the worst excesses of her response will be limited to an audience of one.”

“You are not in any fear that I hold you responsible for what your mother says or does, I hope?” He kissed her hands, fervently wishing he could express his constancy another way. “Of course not, my dear. Fear not, but your constancy will be challenged on every day following my announcement, for regardless of how well she takes it initially, she will spend the entirety of our engagement embarrassing us both with her obsession with your wealth and making use of your consequence to throw the girls in the path of -”

“Other rich men!” They both laughed as Jane and Bingley had just joined them in finishing Mrs Bennet’s dearest wishes for her daughters.



CHAPTER 23

After seeing out their gentleman, Jane and Lizzy returned upstairs and took the opportunity to refresh themselves from travelling before joining their mother and sisters in the parlour. Mary had taken herself to the music room and could be heard learning a new sonata. Kitty and Lydia were bickering at the worktable over the remains of a bonnet and Mrs Bennet was alternately working on repairing a torn shirtsleeve of her husband and gazing dreamily out of the window planning her daughter’s wedding.

“There you are Jane! Have you planned a date? I was thinking next Spring would be the earliest we could plan for, there is so much to be done, your trousseau to order and have made in town, we must consult my sister Gardiner for the best fabrics for your wedding clothes and we will need to have new gowns for all your sisters too!”

“Mama, we will not be waiting until next Spring to be wed. I think we are looking at August at the latest. It will depend on a number of things, but there is ample time to order the few clothes we need, and Aunt Gardiner has already gifted both Lizzy and myself with a number of gowns this season which will be perfect for our wedding. In fact, we designed two of them with the wedding in mind. We have already made plans to return to town to complete our, I mean, my trousseau and to make any other necessary purchases and Aunt Gardiner is more than happy to chaperone us to the best warehouses, though I think Uncle Gardiner’s will be the only one we need to visit if his shipment arrives from the East Indies as expected next week, and we have already visited the modiste for fittings so anything else can be made in good time.”

Mrs Bennet had paid little attention to Jane’s soft voice and had already dismissed the notion of an August wedding date as impossible. “Of course, of course, you will shop in London for your wedding clothes, and you must have new gowns made Jane, befitting your station as the Mistress of Netherfield. I will accompany you of course, your Aunt Gardiner allows you to dress far too simply, there is no adornment, no refinements in the dresses she makes for you!”

“Mama, Jane and I both favour simple, unadorned styles, Aunt Gardiner allows us the freedom to choose and directs us to select the styles that will most suit us, as opposed to the latest fashions. We do not intend to follow Caroline Bingley’s example! What good has it done her to have the latest styles and a hundred peacock feathers in her turban? She is still single, Jane is the one engaged to be married, and she achieved all that with nary a feather or a lace ruffle upon her person!”

“How can you say that Lizzy! I am sure the papers have reported that she is almost engaged to Mr Darcy!”

“Mama, the papers have said no such thing.”

“There was a mysterious Miss B. reported to be in his company very often over the last few weeks, Lizzy! I had assumed she was much in company with them as before. Has she returned to Netherfield with her brother to act as hostess for him until you are wed?”

“No, Mama. Caroline does not approve of Mr Bingley’s choice of bride and as such has made herself scarce. She resides permanently with her sister, Mrs Hurst. Mr Bingley moved temporarily into Darcy House as a guest as he no longer felt comfortable in their home. Mrs Hurst also does not approve of me.”

Mrs Bennet’s lips thinned at the slight, but otherwise dismissed Mr Bingley’s family troubles from her mind. “So, I presume Mr Darcy is here to stand up with him?” Jane looked to Elizabeth, who replied, “Yes, Mama, he came to support his friend. He fully approves of his choice.”

“Well, I suppose that is all to the good, else I hate the sight of him! But he is here to support his friend, despite his superior airs and graces so I shall give him that. He will not stay at Netherfield after your wedding, will he? You shall have to walk out with him often Elizabeth, to give Jane and Bingley time together, before and after the wedding if so! I’m sure you will be able to find ways to amuse yourself with that odious man, for your sister’s sake.”

Jane’s eyes were filled with mirth as Elizabeth struggled to control her laughter. Mrs Bennet took it for distress and added, “Lizzy, if you had done your duty and married Mr Collins, you would not now be faced with the repulsive Mr Darcy and his arrogant contempt. I’m sure he will not come with Bingley every day, will he Jane? There, there, you will find a way to put him in his place, Lizzy, you have always been quite clever at that. And you can ask your Father if he might invite him to join him in his study when you are sick of him. I’m sure he would not be a bother as they would barely speak two sentences to each other.” Elizabeth began coughing incessantly and had to leave the room.

Elizabeth would have enjoyed the relaxed and noisy family supper more if she had not set herself the task of apprising her mother of her engagement to One Repulsive Darcy of Pemberley. She only had herself to blame, but this did not make it any easier to realise that she would be responsible for undoing all the damage her vanity had wrought after the Meryton Assembly, not just with her mother, but with the other families in the neighbourhood. She planted the seed, which was then heavily fertilised by Wickham and the resultant stench was going to be difficult to displace. Her Darcy was still reserved and uncomfortable in unknown company, and he would have made a poor impression at the best of times with his background and experience in the ton creating a standard of behaviour few could rise to. Even if he was warmth and affability personified, such exacting standards would set him apart, guaranteeing an impression of cold aloofness in both men and women. She gritted her teeth, smiled at her family and counted the minutes and hours until she could meet with her mother in her bedchamber.

The conversation never strayed far from the superficial and at every mention of Lt Wickham, both Elizabeth and her father hastened to quell the discussion and went so far as to warn all the ladies present of the less than gentlemanly reputation that had followed that young man from Derbyshire and slowly introduced the idea that perhaps not every word that dripped from his honeyed lips was entirely trustworthy. Mr Bennet was able to report that he had racked up over 20 guineas in various debts with the tradesmen and innkeepers in Meryton and advised that no militiaman would be extended credit any more until his and all their other debts were paid. As they were due to leave for Brighton at the end of the month, it was propitious timing. Mr Bennet enjoined the girls to avoid any situations that would leave them alone with any officer, but particularly Lt Wickham, as he had heard many things which suggested the man was not to be trusted, especially around young women. Lydia vociferously defended the man and would hear no bad word against him, but Kitty and Mary were very affected by the stories of ruined girls in Derbyshire who had been left with child, one of whom died, all of whom naming Lt Wickham as their seducer. Kitty’s spirits did not recover, and she kept glancing at Lydia fearfully when she thought no one was looking. Elizabeth resolved to question her closely the next morning if she could not speak to her privately after supper.

After the excitement of the day, the Bennet family all retired earlier than usual, and Elizabeth had not had to wait overlong for the moment to face her mother. She followed her up to her chambers after waiting an appropriate time for her to conduct her toilette. After being invited to sit next to her mother’s bed, Elizabeth blew out a shaky breath and looked at Maria Lucas’ sketch book gripped in her lap.

“Mama, I wanted to share some news with you about my time away in Kent and London. I am aware that you were deeply offended by Mr Darcy’s slight of me and have found his manners and temperament reprehensible since then. While I was formerly mostly in agreement with your assessment, I discovered a different side to Mr Darcy as I was able to spend some time with him in Kent. He happened to be visiting his Aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, while I was staying with the Collinses and you may have heard how his patroness condescended to invite us to dine and to sup with them on occasion, so we were able to renew our acquaintance.”

Elizabeth looked up to see her Mother watching her curiously. “He, Mr Darcy, is not the arrogant, disdainful monster I thought he was, Mama. He is truly amiable. He asked for, and was given, my forgiveness for his slight at the assembly. He was not speaking of me, he had barely looked at me, he had just wanted his friend to leave him in peace and should have never come out, but that is neither here nor there. He is shy, Mama, uncomfortable with strangers and all he heard all evening were whispers about his wealth and his status and he has been all alone for so many years, simply protecting himself and his sister from fortune hunters…”

“Lizzy, do you love Mr Darcy?” Elizabeth started in surprise at her Mother’s insight. She had given herself as neutral a voice as possible, intending to give her Mother a simple recitation, unadorned by her emotion, but she had been unable to keep the warmth of her love for Darcy out of her voice. Her posture and her mien all betrayed the depths of her heart.

“Yes, Mama, I love him so very dearly and-“

“Oh child, he will never offer for you! You are not beautiful enough or rich enough for a man like Mr Darcy. Did he compromise you?! You have not given him any favours, have you?! Men like him may make promises of all kinds, but he will never marry you, Lizzy.”

“Mama! Mr Darcy is an honourable gentleman and would never make use of a woman like that! I am horrified that you would think that I would stoop to such deceits or seductive arts in order to-“

“Elizabeth, for all his arrogance, Mr Darcy is a handsome man, I suspect there are many who would give him favours without even needing a promise!”

“Mama! I beg you would cease this argument and let me continue to relate what I have to relate before we are both embarrassed!” Elizabeth was trembling at her own mother’s opinion of her and her immediate assumption that Mr Darcy would have used her for favours and cast her aside.

“Very well, Elizabeth, you love Mr Darcy. I suppose next you will tell me that he loves you too and has asked you to be his wife.”

Elizabeth was momentarily speechless. “He has, Mama. He proposed in Kent, we argued, but he listened to my accusations against him, both founded and unfounded, and we came to an understanding just before we returned to London. Mama, I have met his family, his sister Georgiana is delightful, though shy, and his Uncle, the Earl and his wife Lady Gwendolyn have undertaken to sponsor my introduction to society, she has already included us in an invitation to the Matlock Ball, and she is to give a private ball for us in London to celebrate our engagement. And by us, I mean Jane also! We are intending to marry together, a joint wedding in August, and then we will take our wedding tour before Mr Darcy and I spend our first winter and Christmas together at
Pemberley.” Elizabeth had been leafing through Maria’s sketchbook as she spoke, but she looked at her Mother before adding, “Mama, I am the mysterious Miss B.”

Mrs Bennet was rendered absolutely speechless, at first with disbelief, and then with an astonishment bordering on bewilderment and stupefaction. She stared at Elizabeth for a full 2 minutes before she blinked and stared again. Elizabeth rose to join her mother on the bed. “Mama, somehow it helped Jane and Aunt Gardiner to understand my change of heart when they looked at Maria’s sketches taken at various times at Rosings. Would you like to look through them with me?” Mrs Bennet could only nod and looked where Elizabeth directed her as she turned the pages. She stopped Lizzy at her favourite sketch, depicting Mr Darcy’s intent gaze upon her as she was recounting the adventure with Maria, and she watched as her mother tentatively brushed the image of his face with her thumb. The gesture was one Lizzy herself had repeated every time she had looked at the sketch and it brought a tear to her eyes as she finally saw a part of herself reflected in her mother, a woman whom she had been at odds with her whole life.

“Oh, Lizzy, is it true? He loves you? How will it be! And you will marry! A house in town and Pemberley! Mistress of Pemberley! Mrs Darcy – how well that sounds!” She got out of bed and began pacing about her chamber. “Oh, my Lizzy, my sweetest Lizzy! I never would have imagined, my unmanageable child, incapable of flirting or recommending herself to any gentleman, has somehow managed to turn the head of the richest, most handsome man in England! What jewels, what carriages! What pin money! Jane’s husband will be nothing to yours! Oh, Lizzy, you must apologise to Mr Darcy for my disliking him so much. I hope he will overlook it. And his Uncle, the Earl will sponsor your entry into London society! All the girls must join you, we can get rich husbands for them all!”

Elizabeth allowed her mother the joy of her effusions for many minutes more, grateful to have been able to contain them, such as they were, but at length, she was able to convince her mother that her engagement and wedding would be conducted in exactly the manner that Mr Darcy and herself desired, a special licence had already been arranged for both themselves and Jane, there would be no other Bennet sisters in town for their engagement celebration but there would be plenty of time for Mr Darcy and herself to make calls upon all the families in Meryton, with Mrs Bennet, to receive their congratulations in person. Despite her mother’s vehement dislike of the gentleman, she was in reality, somewhat in awe of him and Elizabeth hoped this would curb the worst excesses of her effusions while in company with him. All else she trusted to the constancy of his affections for her and at the worst moments, she knew she could always whisper, “Lady Catherine” in his ear to bolster his forbearance.



CHAPTER 24

Elizabeth rose early as was her custom and dressed for a walk to her favourite vista in Hertfordshire. Watching the sun rise from Oakham Mount was one of the joys she would miss when she removed to Pemberley, and she hoped her fiancé would remember and answer her unspoken wish to meet her there this morning. She was embarrassed at how much she physically ached for his presence, despite having seen him only the day before and knowing she would see him again this evening. It embarrassed and still terrified her, how quickly she had moved from active dislike to the deepest possible love she could feel. Until the next day dawned, and she discovered it had somehow grown impossibly deeper.

She moved down through the house in near darkness and silence, making her way to its burning heart. Mrs Hill was expecting her and had some fresh rolls baked early and wrapped in a clean cloth. She gave her a quick peck on the cheek, full of filial affection for the woman who had comforted her after many falls, many arguments with her mother, and who, more than any other at Longbourn was responsible for bringing her back from the brink of darkness after the death of John Lucas. Mrs Hill’s joy at hearing the news of Elizabeth’s engagement yesterday was everything that was pure and sweet, unalloyed by any counterfeit emotions or expectations other than the future felicity of her favourite Bennet daughter. Mrs Hill had raised three girls and seen them well established in good positions, two of whom had also married well and were soon to be in the family way, but she had a soft spot for the little girl who everyone had hoped would be a boy, and who had spent her childhood trying to best them all. She knew Miss Elizabeth was marrying very well, but she was most gratified to know that above all, Mr Darcy was a most proper gentleman, unfailingly polite to all the maids, footmen and servants at Netherfield and having conversed once or twice with his valet, she knew she had judged him rightly.

“Mrs Hill, I will never be able to eat all these rolls!” Mrs Hill winked, and said, “Never mind, Miss, if there’s any left over when you return, I’m sure the stable boys will be glad of a treat.” Elizabeth looked at her quizzically but took the cloth wrapped rolls with her as she walked out the kitchen door into the washing yard. She moved quickly, beating a well-worn path through the back garden towards her destination, munching on a warm roll and not paying attention to the familiar surrounds, when she heard a crunch of gravel and a low whinny to her right.

“Good morning, Miss Bennet.” The low voice which accompanied the sounds gave her a frisson of delight from head to toe and she suddenly understood why some girls had to squeal. Her entire body was making that sound within her and so she was somewhat breathless as she replied, “Good morning, Mr Darcy.” He reached for her hand to pull her into an embrace, and she giggled as the roll she had been eating was left crushed in his grip. “I see Mrs Hill was right in giving me some spare rolls. Have you come to rob me of my breakfast, sir?” His response cleared her mind momentarily of all thought.

“I missed you, Lillybeth.” He rested his head against hers and breathed deeply.

“I missed you too, Swizz. And you also, Pegs.” The horse had wandered closer to the couple and was nudging her hand which held the crushed roll. “I am not entirely sure this is appropriate food for a thoroughbred like yourself.”

“I am sure I will be able to manage with your country cuisine, Miss Bennet, but thank you for the compliment.” Darcy continued nuzzling her ear, while Pegasus retrieved what was left of the roll from her now open palm. She leaned into her fiancé’s arms, giving herself up to the simple joy and delight in being loved, her heart bursting and surprising her yet again with the new depths it had created to contain her overflowing cup.

Not wishing to miss the sunrise fast approaching, Elizabeth insisted they begin walking, when Darcy picked her up and deposited her on Pegasus. As he swung himself up into the saddle behind her, she finally squealed, partly in fright, partly in delight and then slid her arms around his waist beneath his great coat to secure herself as he took the reins and nudged Pegasus into a walk.

“Can we go faster?”

She was small enough to almost fit side saddle in front of him, but she wriggled herself around to fit her back into his chest and somehow managed to get her legs positioned astride. Her boots were exposed but she wanted Pegasus to run, and this felt like the safest position to do it. Darcy exulted in the feel of her, and in the trust she had placed in him, and he pressed his arm against her to secure her to himself before he urged Pegasus to a loping canter that built to a gallop. They moved as one with the horse and Elizabeth felt no fear, secure in the arms of her beloved and trusting to the safety of the pre-dawn half-light. The ride was over in minutes, and they were dismounting at the base of Oakham Mount, breathing heavily with the exhilaration and excitement of a newfound shared intimacy, and heady with the promise of a life together discovering and enjoying many more such moments. Few words were spoken as they saw daybreak seated together on a fallen log enjoying some slightly squashed but otherwise delicious fresh rolls.

“I used to think I could see the whole world from here.”

“For a time, it was your whole world. For many, it is all the world they will ever know. I am grateful for the privileges my wealth has granted me. To be educated, to travel, to be protected from so many of life’s privations and suffering. And yet, my life feels so much richer for having you in it. My little country Miss B, who took the measure of my soul, found it wanting, and made me anew.” He paused to give her an affectionate peck on the cheek, then took in the view. “Pemberley is not so different to Longbourn. There is a rocky outcrop a short ride away from the house that offers a similar view of the land surrounding my estate. The work is the same, the needs are the same, there are all the same kinds of people. I hope you will come to love it as you love Longbourn, but if you do not, I can purchase an estate in Hertfordshire, even Netherfield if Bingley does not want it, and we can divide our time between both. I confess, I would prefer it here, than in London.”

“Oh, Fitzwilliam, every time I think you could not possibly be more generous, you surprise me again!” Elizabeth brushed the breadcrumbs from her dress as she stood and turned towards him. Climbing behind the log she leaned into his back and drew her arms around his shoulders. Resting her chin upon his head, she spoke softly. “This is all the world I need, Fitzwilliam. I love my family and I love my home and it will always be a part of who I am. But from wherever I am standing, if I can see you, if I can hold you, I will be home.” She stepped back to take in the view with him in it. “You are really quite handsome from any angle, One Darcy of Pemberley.” He turned and affected a haughty glance behind him, before reaching back for her, disliking the distance between them while there were no proprieties to be maintained. She returned to her position leaning against his long back. “And anyway, it is entirely possible for a woman to be settled too near her family, remember? I do not think one word of reproach will ever pass my lips at the distance between Pemberley and Hertfordshire. We will have to convince Jane and Bingley to move north soon, though.”

Darcy drew her down to kiss her cheek, revelling in the freedom she allowed him and in her spontaneous affectionate gestures. He was careful not to abuse her trust and she allowed herself to be guided by him when her innocent actions threatened to break his self-control. In truth, her expressions of love and trust were exactly what he needed to melt his reserve and his anticipation for their wedding increased, not just for the privileges of the marriage bed, but for the comfort and delight of her everyday affections, to have his arm squeezed as she told a story, his cheek caressed as she teased him or as now, to feel his entire person enveloped and cradled by her. Small though she was, her physical presence was all around him and he gloried in her uninhibited way with him. She made him feel like he was a part of her, and it made their time apart a special kind of torture.

“So, I told Mama our news. She was surprisingly speechless for quite some minutes! Though she was just saving up the most embarrassing effusions to shower forth for the next 30. I have always known she was incapable of understanding me, and while her thoughtlessly cruel words do hurt me, I understand that she has always wanted the best for her daughters. It is immaterial that Mr Collins was the best she thought I could ever achieve. I never wanted to be beloved of her like Jane and Lydia are. There is pleasure in being able to give her such joy, but to be regarded well by her is almost as painful as being regarded poorly. Though both are probably decidedly better than being overlooked, as Mary frequently is.”

Darcy did not know how to respond to her wistful monologue, not being sure if she needed comfort or reassurance and not knowing how to give either, he opted for silent caresses. Fortuitously, this was exactly what Elizabeth needed. Her mother was not a problem to solve, and her relationship with all her family was a tangle of love, hate, joy, tears, disappointments and triumphs that in the end wove her into being. She could neither live without them, or live with them, and as fate would have it, marrying into the Darcys of Pemberley would give her the best of both. “I love you, Fitzwilliam.” Having been debating with himself what he should say, he was surprised into asking, “What for?” She could not help laughing and shaking his shoulders before she kissed the top of his head like he was one of her nephews. Bewildered, but unwilling to miss the opportunity for another kiss he lifted his chin to present his lips to hers instead.

They began their walk back to Longbourn, taking much longer for the return journey and Elizabeth related the family discussion about Wickham. Her fears for Lydia’s immovable regard for the reprobate spilled out and she hoped that news of their engagement might offer an added benefit in keeping Wickham away from her family. Darcy feared Wickham’s hatred for him might be an inducement for more clandestine involvement, with a view to besmirching the Bennet name as well as his own. Especially if it became known who had informed the innkeepers and tradesmen of Meryton against him. “Do you think him so corrupted as to purposely ruin my sister when there would be no financial benefit to himself?” She had the measure of him in some ways, but Darcy knew his jealousy and bitterness had caused him to take or ruin many things that Darcy desired as a boy, including women he knew or thought Darcy favoured, so he wasn’t convinced that the lack of a pecuniary reward would overcome his need for revenge and destruction. He had hoped it would not come to this, but it may be time to call in George Wickham’s debts. He would write to his steward, as well as to Richard, this morning.

© Janine van der Kooy 2022
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Sufficient Encouragement: A P&P Variation Chapters 22 - 25

Janine van der KooyJuly 12, 2022 06:46AM

Re: Sufficient Encouragement: A P&P Variation Chapters 22 - 25

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Re: Sufficient Encouragement: A P&P Variation Chapters 22 - 25

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Re: Sufficient Encouragement: A P&P Variation Chapters 22 - 25

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Re: Sufficient Encouragement: A P&P Variation Chapters 22 - 25

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Re: Sufficient Encouragement: A P&P Variation Chapters 22 - 25

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Re: Sufficient Encouragement: A P&P Variation Chapters 22 - 25

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