A Rewarding Rivalry
When Colonel Fitzwilliam returned from his walk with Elizabeth, he found his cousin in the library at Rosings. "There you are Darcy," he said.
Darcy could see that his cousin intended to engage him in conversation and so he closed his book, saying with a smile, "yes, here I am. How was your tour of the grounds? Did you find everything to your satisfaction?"
"It was very pleasant. I came upon Miss Bennet, and she joined me for part of my walk."
"In that case I can have no doubt that you had an enjoyable time," replied Darcy trying not to betray his discomposure by the mere mention of that young lady's name.
"Yes, I enjoyed her company very much. She is quite an extraordinary young lady."
"That she is Fitzwilliam," replied Darcy with a sigh.
"It is a shame, though, that her situation in life is so ineligible," returned his cousin.
Darcy was aware of his cousin's desire to marry for money to maintain the manner of living to which he had become accustomed. This knowledge coupled with his own preoccupation with the young lady in question would account for Darcy's failure to discern any serious design on his cousin's part with respect to Miss Bennet. The fact is that the thought that Colonel Fitzwilliam might propose to her had never even crossed Darcy's mind. And, if it had, it would have been dismissed immediately due to his cousin's perceived need to marry for money. Both men were aware, however, that from Miss Bennet's perspective, Fitzwilliam's situation was an eligible one. To Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam's last statement was merely a recitation of the fact that precluded Fitzwilliam from forming a serious attachment to Miss Bennet. Darcy failed to consider that his own predicament was proof that one's intent to not form a serious attachment, did not always prevent such a result.
The truth is that when Darcy gave his next reply in this conversation he was thinking more of his own situation than his cousin's and was completely unaware that he was unconsciously giving Colonel Fitzwilliam the extra push he needed to overcome his own objections to a union with Miss Bennet, as well as Darcy's sanction of this choice. Indeed, if Darcy had been aware of how close his cousin actually was to proposing to the young lady, he might not have spoken at all. But as it was, he was forming a similar resolution of his own, and he simply voiced the thoughts he had been ruminating over all day, and for the past several days, when he said quietly, more to himself than to his cousin, "yes, it is, but I suppose any objections to her situation could be overlooked where there exists an affection that is both strong and true."
At that moment, both men formed the same resolution and each was ignorant that the other had done so. Colonel Fitzwilliam simply said, "I believe you are right. Thank you Darcy."
Darcy was rather preoccupied with having finally come to a decision on something he had been struggling over for months to notice that his cousin had thanked him or to wonder why. He simply nodded as Colonel Fitzwilliam left the room, and then smiled to himself, rather satisfied with the prospects certain to result by such a resolution of his struggles. "I will make her mine," he thought to himself. He really had no choice.
Both men waited anxiously for the appearance of the party from the parsonage that evening. Both hoped to have a few moments alone with Miss Bennet. Both had the same purpose in mind for wanting that time with her. Both were disappointed when she did not arrive. When he received the news that Miss Bennet had remained home with a headache, Colonel Fitzwilliam decided he would call upon her in the morning. Darcy however, became concerned for her well being, and was cognizant of the fact that it would be a perfect time to find her alone and make his addresses. He did not fail to consider the possibility that she might have purposely orchestrated the current situation, to give him just such an opportunity. Having already resolved to marry her, he could not disappoint her now. Within a few moments, Darcy excused himself with no explanation and was off to the parsonage. The events that took place at the parsonage between Darcy and Elizabeth are well known; and, as it is not the purpose of this work to repeat what has already been so ably described, such a repetition will not be attempted.
Meanwhile, back at Rosings, Colonel Fitzwilliam was becoming more and more anxious to execute his plan to engage Miss Bennet. He and Darcy were planning to leave Rosings the day after next, so he must secure her hand as soon as possible. As he lamented his inability to do so before the morning, it occurred to him that she was alone, right now, at the parsonage. He would go to her. He began to make his excuses, but Lady Catherine would not hear of him leaving with his cousin absent from the party as well. He concluded that surely Darcy would return soon, and then he could go to her. As it turned out, by the time Darcy had returned, the carriage had already been ordered for the parsonage party.
Colonel Fitzwilliam was too wrapped up in his own disappointment at his missed opportunity to notice his cousin's extremely foul mood, or the fact that he retired to his room almost immediately upon his return, staying in the drawing room only long enough to apologize to the Collinses and Miss Lucas for his absence during the entire evening, or to even wonder where Darcy had been all that time. That night, Colonel Fitzwilliam consoled himself with the thought that he would secure his future happiness first thing in the morning. Darcy's only consolation was the hope that the letter he was writing to Miss Bennet might raise her opinion of him from hatred to indifference.
The next morning, both men left the house early, eagerly anticipating meeting Miss Bennet in the park. Darcy was successful first. A few moments after he handed Elizabeth his letter and walked away, but before she had a chance to find a spot to settle down and read it, she came upon Colonel Fitzwilliam. He addressed her saying, "Miss Bennet, good morning."
"Good morning, Colonel," Elizabeth replied trying to appear unaffected by having just encountered Darcy, and by her exchange with him the night before. She could not be pleasant, she could scarcely be civil, she wanted only to read her letter, but, she reluctantly put it into her reticule and continued, "how odd that we should meet again so soon in this manner."
"I must confess that our present meeting was no accident. I came out in the hopes of finding you."
Elizabeth immediately assumed that Mr. Darcy must have spoken to his cousin and that Colonel Fitzwilliam had sought her out on his cousin's behalf. But she thought it odd that he would send his cousin to meet her knowing that he had himself been hoping to meet her and give her his letter. The fact that Mr. Darcy must have known she would not have an immediate opportunity to read it puzzled her. However, she only smiled to Colonel Fitzwilliam and said, "Then I hope you will tell me your purpose in doing so."
"Miss Bennet, my reason for seeking you out this morning was to declare my feelings for you and ask for your hand in marriage," he said, more directly than he had intended.
Elizabeth's surprise can only be imagined.
"Surely, you cannot have failed to notice my admiration of you. You cannot be surprised by my application," continued her suitor.
"I confess, I have noticed your attentions towards me," she replied blushing, "but yesterday, you made it clear that you had no serious intentions. I have no dowry."
"Yes, but after I left you yesterday, I had a talk with Darcy," Elizabeth's eyes widened in surprise, "and he made me realize that the happiness I would have with you by my side would be far greater than what I would be sacrificing. I certainly have not the means my brother has, or my cousin for that matter, but we could be quite comfortable in a modest sort of way."
"You spoke about this with Mr. Darcy?"
"Yes, I am indebted to him for helping me decide my course to happiness, for it is he who convinced me to discard my objections and follow my heart, but please do not be distressed, my cousin is the embodiment of discretion."
Elizabeth became very pensive, Mr. Darcy, who had felt the need to enumerate the unfavorable aspects of his own possible union with herself and to dwell warmly on his objections to such a union, had convinced the Colonel to discard his own objections regarding her. Mr. Darcy, who had, only the night before, declared his ardent love for her had convinced another man to offer for her. It was too puzzling to think about now. And it was only when she looked up at her suitor that she realized he was still waiting for a reply. In an effort to end his suspense, she said, as quickly as possible, "I thank you for the compliment of your addresses Colonel Fitzwilliam. I have greatly enjoyed your company these past few weeks, but I am afraid I must decline your offer, as I do not believe we know each other well enough to enter into an engagement at this time."
Colonel Fitzwilliam appeared distressed and confused for a moment, then he smiled and said, "then I hope you will not object to my wish that we further our acquaintance."
Elizabeth could not help but smile. His request was all the proof of the sincerity of affection that she could hope for. "I would like that very much, but I do not see how it will be possible. I will be returning to Hertfordshire soon and you, I am sure, are required to be elsewhere."
"But you will be in London for a time before returning home will you not?"
"Yes, for a very short time."
"May I call upon you there?"
"Colonel Fitzwilliam, I cannot encourage you in this."
"Will you at least tell me where you will be staying?"
"Would that not amount to encouragement, since I am aware of your intentions?"
"I suppose it would, but I would very much like to see you again, and I would be pleased with any form of encouragement you are disposed to give me."
Elizabeth laughed at this and replied, "very well, Colonel Fitzwilliam, but you must understand that by giving you this information I am consenting to nothing more than a visit from you."
"I understand Miss Bennet."
"I will be staying with my aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Edward Gardiner, in Gracechurch Street."
She noticed a slight reaction from him when she gave the location of her relations? home before he replied, "thank you Miss Bennet, I look forward to seeing you there. Now, may I walk you back to the parsonage?"
Elizabeth wanted nothing more than to be alone. She knew that if she stayed outdoors Colonel Fitzwilliam would offer to stay with her and she would not be able to refuse him. So, she agreed to walk back to the parsonage house with him. They walked in silence, which gave Elizabeth some time to reflect on what had just passed. She was confused about Mr. Darcy's part in the colonel's decision to propose to her, but she could not even contemplate Mr. Darcy now. She simply focused, for the time being, on her conversation with Colonel Fitzwilliam and what it meant. As she turned her thoughts to his declaration, she realized that he had never actually said he loved her.
As it turned out, Colonel Fitzwilliam remained at the parsonage for another half hour visiting with all of its inhabitants. When he finally took his leave, with a meaningful look and a smile in Elizabeth's direction, she took the earliest opportunity to go to her room where she could be alone. There, she was finally able to read Mr. Darcy's letter in peace. The contents of the letter, and Elizabeth's reaction to it are also well known, and need not be related again here.
When Colonel Fitzwilliam returned to Rosings, after proposing to Elizabeth, he was in high spirits, and he wished to share his happiness, and thank his cousin for helping him make the right choice about Miss Bennet. Darcy was not in the library, nor was Colonel Fitzwilliam able to locate him in any of the common rooms of the house. Finally, he decided to check Darcy's personal rooms. He found his cousin sitting alone with no book or other employment. He wore a grim look and appeared deep in thought. But Colonel Fitzwilliam was too wrapped up in his own concerns to notice that anything was amiss with Darcy's countenance or his behavior. "Cousin," said Colonel Fitzwilliam jovially, "I owe you a debt of gratitude."
"What?" asked Darcy gruffly, emerging from his dark reverie.
"It is with regards to Miss Bennet, I followed your advice and proposed to her this morning."
Darcy's astonishment was beyond expression. He rose from his chair and walked to the window to hide his discomposure. As Fitzwilliam's words sunk in, their effect on Darcy, when combined with the grin on his cousin's face, could lead him to only one conclusion, and it made him sick. When Elizabeth had rejected him, he had been angry and his pride had been hurt. But he had also felt relieved. He believed the outcome was for the best, and he would not be tormented by her any longer. But now that she was to marry his cousin everything changed. He felt all the remorse of having been so foolish as to lose his chance with her, and now she would marry another and he would never have another chance. He had not even realized until this moment that he had been harboring such a hope. Then it occurred to him that he never really had a chance, she despised him, ever since he knew her in Hertfordshire. But he reasoned this was because of his behavior there. If he had not behaved as she described he would have had a chance, they might be engaged right now. Instead, she would be married, lost to him forever, and to his cousin of all people. He would be subject to witnessing their conjugal felicity more often than he cared to imagine. She would be happy, she deserved to be happy, but he certainly did not wish to have to see her enjoying the attentions of another man, another husband. Despite the certainty that her response had been favorable as betrayed by his cousin's happy demeanor, Darcy had to ask, "what did she say?"
"She said that she did not know me well enough to consent to marry me."
Relief washed over Darcy. He again turned away from his cousin, closed his eyes and breathed deeply just taking in the news that she was still free, and allowing it to repair the damage done to his wounded heart by his previous assumption. When he had regained his composure and was able to consider what he had learned in a rational manner, he could scarcely believe that Elizabeth had rejected two very eligible marriage proposals in two days, indeed, within the space of a few hours. He was pleased, not only because she was still free, but because of what this news spoke about her character. He admired her even more because of her obvious resolve to not give herself in marriage lightly. He considered that she could not have objections to his cousin similar to those she had voiced against himself. She would not give herself even to a man which such qualities as those possessed by her cousin, which must be appealing to her, if she did not feel that she loved him. Darcy was a bit mollified by these thoughts, but when he looked at his cousin again he was reminded of the colonel's grin and realized there must be more. "You seem to have taken it well cousin," he prodded cautiously.
"She has agreed to continue our acquaintance. She has consented to allow me to call on her at her uncle's house while she is in London. I confess that I was surprised that her relations live in Gracechurch street. I had no idea her connections were so low." The colonel's lack of knowledge was, of course, understandable since he was absent during the first few weeks of Elizabeth's visit during which her personal life was aired quite thoroughly by his aunt.
All Darcy could think was that he had known it all too well. When this next piece of information had been fully absorbed he responded, "she returns your affections then?"
"She did own that she enjoys my company, but would not say anything more than that." Darcy experienced another wave of relief, which was quickly dashed by the supposition that she could not love his cousin because her heart was engaged elsewhere ? she was in love with Wickham. But if she gave any credit to the contents of his letter, her sentiments would not last long, and if he could not have her, his cousin would be a much better husband than Wickham, and surely she would not have encouraged his addresses had her heart been engaged elsewhere.
"Do you love her?" Darcy had to ask, as he tried to conceal his emotions.
"I know that I have never enjoyed being with anyone half so much. I know that she is everything lovely and charming. I know that I am happy when I am with her. I dare say, that if I am not in love yet, I am well on my way. I have plenty of time for falling in love, Darcy. Perhaps she is correct, and my addresses were a bit premature, but as we are leaving tomorrow, I had to do something, and now I have succeeded in gaining the privilege of furthering my acquaintance with her. Now that I have secured a continuation of our acquaintance, falling in love with her should by easy enough."
Darcy had no doubt of the colonel's last statement. He then said, "and you are willing to give up your hopes of marrying a woman of fortune for one that you do not even love?"
"Darcy, I have lived to the age of thirty without yet finding a single woman who I have wanted to marry. Then I met Miss Bennet, who is handsome, lively, and everything charming. For the first time, I feel that I have met exactly the kind of woman I can see myself content with. I do not believe I will ever find a woman who has a fortune, whom I can admire so much as I do her, and who is willing to marry me. Thus, I have resigned myself to the improbability of finding such a wife. I used to think that I could not do without a fortune sufficient to sustain my lifestyle, but now I have realized that I would much rather have the happiness that can be provided only by the constant society of such a woman as Miss Bennet. I believe a poor companion whose company I can endure is a much wiser choice than a wealthy one who I can only despise."
"That is a wise perspective cousin," was all Darcy could say. He meditated on his cousin's speech for a few moments, his heart filled with self reproach. He should, presently, be informing his cousin of his own engagement to that very woman. Then, he recalled that Colonel Fitzwilliam had thanked him upon entering the room and said, "did you say you were following my advice when you proposed?"
"Yes, thank you cousin. I am in your debt for my current and future happiness. If you had not voiced your approval of the match I do not believe I would ever have proposed."
Darcy became extremely ill at the realization that he himself had been the creator of the very real possibility that Elizabeth would be married to another man, and lost to him forever, very soon. "You speak as if you are already engaged," he ventured weakly.
"I believe that it is only a matter of time. But you do not seem happy for me. Certainly you cannot be opposed to the match. I was counting on your support when I announce my engagement to my parents and Aunt Catherine."
"My mind is a bit preoccupied with other things at the moment, Fitzwilliam. I assure you, that if and when you are able to secure the young lady's affection and her consent, I will be happy to defend your choice to your relations, if needed."
"Thank you Darcy."
The gentlemen left for London the following morning. Elizabeth and Miss Lucas were to depart the following week. Due to their aunt's extensive interrogation of Miss Bennet and Miss Lucas, Darcy and Fitzwilliam were aware of exactly when Elizabeth would be in London. As she was scheduled to arrive on Saturday, Fitzwilliam made plans during their drive to London to call at Gracechurch Street on Monday morning. He invited Darcy to accompany him. Darcy was very tempted to agree to go with his cousin. He was desperate to see Elizabeth again and determine whether his letter had made her think better of him. He also wished to see her with his cousin to try to gauge her feelings for him. He wanted to do everything in his power to prevent an attachment between them. But he imagined how uncomfortable seeing both of them for the first time since their respective proposals would be for her, especially with respect to himself because of the vehement argument they had had, and to endure seeing them together, would be too much to inflict upon her. He had no right to seek her out now. She had given Fitzwilliam her consent for a visit, but she had made it clear she had no desire to see him again. He remembered her words, her accusations. In addition to her discomfort he considered how such a meeting would affect himself. No, he could not see her, it was too soon, it would be too overwhelming for him. He did not think he could maintain his composure when his feelings of both love and remorse were so strong and so intense. He could not see her on his own, much less while witnessing the attentions of his cousin, knowing what his intentions were. No, it would be better for both of them if he did not go to Gracechurch Street. He declined his cousin's invitation and though it would require the greatest effort, he resolved to stay away from Elizabeth Bennet.
Darcy was however, by no means, resigned to his cousin's suit, but he was unsure how to act. 'He does not even love her for God's sake,' he thought to himself. He was consoled by the corresponding thought, that she did not love him either. He wondered, not for the first time, and not for the last, whether she indeed loved Wickham, but surely, after reading his letter she could not still harbor feelings for that beast. That is, if she gave credit to his assertions. 'No,' he surmised, ' she would not have encouraged Fitzwilliam if her heart was engaged elsewhere.' He told himself, 'She does not love Wickham, and by now, she knows the truth about him.' As he came to this realization the thought of her being married to some unknown stranger troubled him even more. At least with his cousin, Darcy could be sure of her happiness, and be in a position to render any assistance to them that might bring that about. If she married anyone else, save himself, he would be useless. She might be lost forever in a life of misery and he would never know, or worse yet, would be in no position to do anything about it. Yet, could he ever become accustomed to seeing her as his cousin's wife, bearing his cousin's name and his cousin's children. This last thought made his stomach churn. He found himself in a precarious position with respect to his cousin's situation. He wanted Elizabeth for himself, but if he could not have her he could think of no better husband for her than Colonel Fitzwilliam. Thus he could hope for neither the success nor the failure of his cousin's suit.
Lost in the conflict of these ruminations, his mind then drifted to Elizabeth's accusation regarding his interference with her sister's happiness. He was not relieved of culpability so easily in this circumstance, as he was with Wickham, for while he could explain his actions with respect to Bingley and Miss Bennet, his interference had, nevertheless, been inappropriate. His actions had hurt Elizabeth, he had made her unhappy, and if Elizabeth was right, it had hurt Bingley and Miss Bennet as well. This was a matter in which he could take action. It was within his power to make this right, to help Bingley and Miss Bennet find their happiness, to please Elizabeth, and to correct a gross error on his part.
He would speak to Bingley, he knew Bingley's affection for Miss Bennet was unabated, he would tell him of her presence in town, and send him to Gracechurch Street. As much as he wanted to see Elizabeth, he knew he could not go with him. But seeing her sister made happy with Bingley would please her. Then it occurred to him that he could be making an even greater mistake by attempting to reunite them. If Miss Bennet did not still love Mr. Bingley, his friend would suffer anew. Then he checked himself, considering that he must not interpose his own judgment between the two anymore. He would simply tell Bingley the truth and let nature take its course.
Darcy knew that telling Bingley of Jane's presence at Gracechurch Street would not be enough, he would have to reassure his friend that his previous assessment of the young lady's lack of affection had been in error. He could not do that from his own perception, but Elizabeth had said that Miss Bennet loved Mr. Bingley, and surely she would know her sister's heart. He put his own faith and his friend's fate in her words to him. He would simply tell Bingley what Elizabeth had told him and that it had shed doubt on his own previous opinion as to Miss Bennet's indifference. Surely that would be enough for Bingley. All he could do was tell Bingley the truth and hope for the best.
Upon arriving in London, Darcy sent a note to Grosvenor Street informing Bingley of his return and inviting him to remove to Darcy's townhouse. As it was late Saturday when Bingley received the note, he responded that Darcy should expect him on Monday morning. When he arrived, his sisters were with him, under the pretense of visiting with Georgiana. Miss Bingley resumed her usual attentions to Mr. Darcy and privately rejoiced to him in the triumph of their joint efforts to separate her brother from Miss Bennet. Darcy endured her attentions with equanimity. She disgusted him more than ever. Being in her presence caused him to reproach himself all the more for his unworthy behavior towards Elizabeth. Nevertheless, he felt compelled to invite the Hursts and Miss Bingley to remain to dinner and they stayed so late that he did not have an opportunity to speak privately with Bingley.
When Darcy was alone in his room that evening, sleep evaded him, he divided his thoughts between Elizabeth, who was always uppermost in his mind, and his intended interview with Bingley. He deliberated at length on how to approach Bingley, what to say to him, and how much to reveal. The next morning, Darcy took his first opportunity to talk to Bingley and approached his friend at breakfast saying, "Bingley there is a matter of some importance that I wish to discuss with you."
"Yes, Darcy, what is it?"
"When I was in Kent, I saw Miss Elizabeth Bennet."
"You did? How was she? How was her family? Did she have news of her sister?"
"Yes, she was visiting her friend Mrs. Collins who lives at the parsonage house in Hunsford, near Rosings. She was well, and she did state that her family is well, although her sister, Miss Bennet, has been in low spirits lately."
"What? But why?"
"Bingley, Miss Elizabeth gave me to believe that I may have been wrong about Miss Bennet's feelings for you. We spoke of the two of you and she disclosed to me that her sister was not indifferent towards you as I had believed. According to Miss Elizabeth, Miss Bennet has been rather disappointed since your removal from Netherfield."
Bingley's countenance brightened significantly, as he replied, "Darcy, this is wonderful news. Her sister's knowledge in this matter cannot be doubted." He rose from his chair and began to pace the room thoughtfully as he continued, "I must make preparations to return to Netherfield as soon as possible. If she does love me, if there is even the possibility, then I must return, perhaps I still have a chance." He stopped and grasped his friend's hand saying, "thank you Darcy."
"I do not believe you would wish to return to Netherfield at this time, Bingley."
Bingley looked at his friend incredulous, "Darcy, you cannot still mean to dissuade me from my suit. You must know that the other objections you raised mean nothing to me if she returns my affection."
"Miss Jane Bennet is here, in London, now."
Bingley became even more jubilant, if that is possible, and asked, "How long as she been here? Where is she staying?"
"She is staying with her aunt and uncle in Gracechurch Street, and she has been in town since January."
"Since January? I wish I had known sooner, but at least you were able to learn it from Miss Elizabeth in Kent. Though I wonder that she never told my sister of her being in town, I believed that they corresponded for a time."
"She did write to your sister and told her she was coming to town. She also visited Miss Bingley in Grosvenor Street and Miss Bingley returned the call three weeks later. I did not just learn of her presence in town from Miss Elizabeth in Kent, I knew everything at the time. Please forgive me for keeping this information from you, I truly believed her to be indifferent, and I thought that it would be best for you not to see her. I am trying to make amends now that I have Miss Elizabeth's reassurances of her sister's regard."
"You knew she was in London all this time, and you did not tell me?"
"Caroline knew as well?"
Bingley was thoughtful for a few minutes as the treachery of his sisters and friend seared his heart. Soon Darcy broke the silence, "my cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, made the acquaintance of Miss Elizabeth in Kent," he said with as much composure as he could manage. "He is planning to call upon her in Gracechurch Street on Monday morning. Perhaps you could accompany him."
Bingley's reverie was broken, as he comprehended his friend's meaning. "You will not accompany me when I call?"
"No. I am exceedingly sorry for interfering where I should not have, and I hope you can forgive me. I wish you every happiness with Miss Bennet, but there are reasons completely unrelated to your situation that must prevent me from attending the visit with you."
"Darcy, do not distress yourself, you are forgiven. I know you only wished to protect me. But I do wish you would accompany me."
Darcy was very tempted to make the visit with Bingley. They would not have to go at the same time as Colonel Fitzwilliam. But he was again reminded of the vehemence of Elizabeth's dislike for him, and of how difficult seeing him would be for her after what had passed between them, and he renewed his resolve not to see her. He said, "I am sorry, I cannot."
"Well, I had hoped to call sooner than Monday, I was thinking of going there immediately, or tomorrow morning."
This was a new idea for Darcy. If Bingley went before Colonel Fitzwilliam called, he could accompany him, since Elizabeth would not be there. Yes, this was an ideal plan. Then, he thought about Jane's feelings. Would she not wish for the affection and support that could only be provided by her sister's presence at a time such as this? Knowing as he did that Miss Bennet believed Bingley had known of her being in town, and if she had indeed been in love with Bingley all this time, then his calling upon her would be extremely difficult for her to bear. Elizabeth, being aware of Bingley's innocence might be able to offer her sister some reassurance when Bingley informed Miss Bennet of his ignorance. He reasoned that although Bingley would also benefit from having his friend present, Bingley would be more concerned with Miss Bennet's feelings on such a momentous occasion, and certainly, Colonel Fitzwilliam could be of service to Bingley in Darcy's stead. Thus, Darcy said, "I understand your urgency Bingley, but perhaps the next few days will give you time to prepare yourself to meet Miss Bennet again and to plan what you will say to her. You might also consider that she will have her sister with her on Monday, whereas she is quite alone at present, save for her aunt, whom we do not know. If she has truly been disappointed, seeing you again will undoubtedly be a trying experience, although a happy one. I believe having Miss Elizabeth there may be of some benefit to her well being. I can also assure you that you have an ally in Miss Elizabeth, she is in favor of the match as she believes it will bring her sister happiness."
"Very well, I can see your point. I suppose it will be best to wait until Monday. When can I speak to your cousin?"
"I expect him at any moment now. He assured me he would call this morning after breakfast." Thus, Colonel Fitzwilliam soon made his appearance and he and Bingley made the appropriate arrangements for the visit on Monday.
Chapter 3On Saturday, when Elizabeth arrived at Gracechurch Street, she was very happy to see her sister, as well as her aunt and uncle. She would have preferred to wait until they were at Longbourn to discuss the events that occurred in Kent with her sister, but as she expected the Colonel to call upon her while they were in London, she decided to tell Jane everything as soon as possible. There was a park near the home of her relations where Elizabeth enjoyed taking her walks when she was in town. It was not as pleasant as the open air of the country, but it was the best she could do while in town. After church on Sunday, Elizabeth and Jane took a turn in the park and Elizabeth told her sister of both proposals. Jane was amazed that her sister had rejected two eligible suitors within but a few hours of each other. Elizabeth did not wish to hurt Jane by telling of Mr. Darcy's interference with Mr. Bingley, but she told her all about the letter as it pertained to Mr. Wickham, as well as her expectation of Colonel Fitzwilliam's visit and her puzzlement at his declaration that Darcy had convinced him to propose. Jane was equally baffled, and neither could account for it.
Darcy quickly learned the direction of the Gardiner home on Gracechurch Street and ascertained which public park was closest to it. He knew of Elizabeth's love for walking outdoors, and that she would likely take her daily walks in the park closest to her relations' home. On Sunday, he was rewarded as he watched from a quiet bench while Miss Bennet and Elizabeth strolled through the park arm in arm speaking animatedly to each other. A man servant accompanied them, but kept a respectable distance. Just seeing her warmed him. He noted the happiness in her countenance at being with her beloved sister. He so wished that his own presence could bring her so much joy. He delighted in her smiles and the expressiveness of her lovely eyes. He watched the two young ladies unnoticed until they disappeared into one of the homes on the square and he left the park with a heart full of love and hope.
On Monday, Elizabeth began to become anxious for her suitor's promised call, as she knew it was the first opportunity since her return for him to visit her. She tried to tell herself that he would probably not call at the earliest possible opportunity. When the doorbell rang, she started, and Jane took her hand to soothe her. Both ladies were astonished when not only Colonel Fitzwilliam was announced, but Mr. Bingley as well. After the introductions were made, and civilities were exchanged, Bingley immediately entered into a conversation with Jane. Elizabeth was near enough to attend their conversation, and although Colonel Fitzwilliam's presence at her side demanded her attention, she was able to hear Bingley say, "Miss Bennet, I was so pleased to learn of your presence here in London from Mr. Darcy. I had no knowledge of your having been in town until just last week. I hope you have enjoyed your time here."
"I have, thank you," replied Jane quietly.
"Mr. Darcy told you that Jane was here?" interjected Elizabeth.
Mr. Bingley tore his gaze from Jane long enough to address her sister, "yes, he told me of his meeting with you in Kent, and of speaking with you regarding Miss Bennet." Elizabeth blushed at the recollection of that conversation. "I had hoped he would accompany us on our visit today, but he was prevented from doing so."
Jane appeared confused by Mr. Bingley's assertion that he did not know of her presence in London. After some deliberation she said carefully, "I cannot help but be surprised by your assertion Mr. Bingley, for your sister assured me that she had informed you of my being in town."
"I am sorry to say that despite her assurances to you of my knowledge of it, she never told me that you were here, or that you had called on her and that she had returned the visit. I owe all of my knowledge of those events to Mr. Darcy."
Jane could scarcely believe Miss Bingley's willful deception. She had not thought anyone capable of such malice. After her sister's disclosures yesterday regarding Mr. Wickham, and what she learned today of Miss Bingley, Jane's faith in the inherent goodness of human nature was significantly shaken.
The young gentlemen stayed for about a half hour and everyone enjoyed a pleasant visit. Elizabeth was so preoccupied with thoughts of Mr. Darcy that she could scarcely attend to the conversation. She had been able to acquit him of all guilt with respect to Mr. Wickham, after reading his letter. She had even been able to understand his part in separating her sister and his friend. But she could not regret her refusal. Learning that he was a good, honorable man did not change the fact that he was arrogant, conceited and selfish.
His gesture, in reuniting Jane with Mr. Bingley, for to him their reunion must be credited, however, spoke of his thoughtfulness, and his attendance to her reproofs. In his letter he had stated that he could not repent his interference with Bingley and Jane, he had said he would not apologize for it. But here he was attempting to atone for his mistake and to make things right. Not only did this show that he acknowledged his error and that he wanted to correct it, but he had obviously given thought to the feelings of the two people involved.
This line of thought led her to wonder why he had stayed away today himself. She was not surprised, considering their most recent encounter, but he could easily have used this visit as an opportunity to impose himself upon her, if he had wished to. She could contrive no explanation for his failure to appear, other than that he did not wish to see her, he must hate her after the things she had said to him, not the least of which were the unfounded accusations she had placed at his door. She was not distressed by her conclusion that he did not wish to see her. In fact, she was relieved he did not take advantage of the visit made by Bingley and Colonel Fitzwilliam to seek her out. For, she never wished to see him again herself. She could not imagine having to experience the mortification and embarrassment that would necessarily attend such a meeting. She felt that he could not recover too soon from having loved her and hoped never to see him again. She was also relieved for his sake. Her conclusion that he could no longer care for her, prevented her from lamenting any hurt she might have inflicted upon him by her rejection.
Instead, she turned her attentions to her present suitor, who was becoming more charming by the minute. Colonel Fitzwilliam was just the type of man who could make her happy, and she was growing to like him more and more as the visit progressed. She truly looked forward to furthering their acquaintance and was well disposed to falling in love with him.
When the gentlemen rose to depart, an invitation was extended by Mrs. Gardiner for them to dine in Gracechurch Street on Thursday evening. Bingley accepted eagerly, and Colonel Fitzwilliam did likewise after only a slight hesitation.
After they left Elizabeth and Jane were able to share their delight in the visit. Jane expressed to Elizabeth how much she liked Colonel Fitzwilliam and how well she thought he was suited to her. Elizabeth was pleased, but was eager to turn the conversation to Mr. Bingley. Jane was very well pleased that he had called and she was pleased to acquit him of knowing she had been in town. She was still troubled by his never having returned to Netherfield for her, but that could not be addressed between them unless and until he declared himself to her. In light of having learned of his sisters' deception regarding her presence in London, she began to give more serious consideration to her sister's earlier suspicions that his sisters had managed somehow to prevent his return to Netherfield.
After departing the Gardiner home, Colonel Fitzwilliam accompanied Bingley back to Darcy's townhouse. Both men were extremely pleased with the visit. When they entered Darcy's drawing room, they found Miss Bingley and the Hursts visiting with Darcy and Georgiana. Mrs. Annesley was also present. Upon their arrival, Miss Bingley said, "there you are brother, I have not seen you since you removed here last week. Where have you and the colonel gone out to this morning?"
"We have just called upon Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth in Gracechurch Street," replied her brother.
Miss Bingley was disconcerted and looked at Darcy in astonishment. She was further surprised when he simply smiled at Bingley and asked whether he had enjoyed his visit. "Very much Darcy," he replied, "you must allow me to thank you again for informing me of their presence in town. I dare say that Miss Bennet seemed pleased to see me. You might ask your cousin's opinion, although I do not know whether he was able to spare any attention for my situation at all." Darcy did not like this reference to Colonel Fitzwilliam's attentions to Elizabeth. He did not know how much more of his cousin's courting her he could endure.
Colonel Fitzwilliam laughed and said, "Miss Bennet seemed surprised, but very pleased to see you Bingley."
"And how was Miss Elizabeth?" asked Darcy, looking at his cousin.
"She was very well, she appeared in her usual good looks. Although she seemed much more interested in attending to the conversation between Mr. Bingley and Miss Bennet than in speaking to me," replied the Colonel. Darcy was pleased by this disclosure.
"I am sure you noticed her very fine eyes Colonel Fitzwilliam, I dare say they are her best feature," said Miss Bingley, receiving a conspiratorial smile from her sister. She was indeed very pleased with the direction of the conversation. Although she was baffled by Darcy's having apparently sent her brother to Jane's door, as well as Colonel Fitzwilliam's sudden acquaintance with the Bennets, she was very well pleased with the colonel's apparent interest in Miss Elizabeth. Although she was, most decidedly, beneath the Colonel, his cousin's interest would prevent Mr. Darcy from giving her further attention whenever they should be thrown into her company again, as now appeared inevitable by the reunion of her brother and Jane. She cared not what mistakes Colonel Fitzwilliam made with his life, particularly if they were convenient to herself. He was, after all, only a second son.
"I did," replied the colonel with curiosity, for in his limited acquaintance with her he had never heard Miss Bingley compliment any other woman with the exception of Georgiana, "and I must agree that her eyes are very lovely" Then, with a hint of mischief he concluded, "but I would not say that they are her best feature." Two of the other gentlemen in the room did not miss the implication of this assertion. Mr. Darcy closed his eyes briefly and let out a small sigh, and Mr. Hurst simply gave a chuckle, his first contribution to the conversation, and received an odd look from his wife but was ignored by the rest of the room.
As the good colonel did not seem inclined to disclose just which of Miss Elizabeth's features was his favorite, Mr. Bingley took up the conversation. "Her sister, your dear friend, was also looking very well," said he, looking pointedly at Miss Bingley.
"I am happy to hear it," replied she quietly.
"Indeed, I say Darcy, why did you never tell me what a beauty the elder Miss Bennet is?" asked Colonel Fitzwilliam. Then, after pausing a moment, he resumed his mischievous tone and continued, "although her eyes are certainly not as pleasing as her sister's." Mr. Hurst laughed again, his last contribution to the conversation. While Bingley, though not understanding that anything other than eyes had been meant, protested this assertion, Darcy gave Mrs. Annesley a meaningful look and she immediately summoned Georgiana from the room. Colonel Fitzwilliam noticed this exchange, as well as his young cousin's exit, and had the good grace to appear contrite.
Darcy was weary of his visitors and was happy that he and Georgiana were engaged to dine this evening with Colonel Fitzwilliam's parents, although Bingley was invited to dinner at the home of Darcy's relations he had already agreed to dine with the Hursts. Darcy felt that Bingley wished to speak to his sisters about their duplicity with respect to Miss Bennet in the privacy of their family circle.
Darcy was anticipating a quiet family dinner at his uncle's home. When he arrived he encountered nothing short of a full blown party. The guests numbered in the twenties, at least. Having been congratulating himself on escaping another evening enduring Miss Bingley's attentions, he noticed with disappointment that among his uncle's guests were several young ladies of his acquaintance, who behaved towards him in a similar manner, and who were just the type that he was disposed to avoid. As he looked around the room, he noticed his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, ensconced amongst a group of them, talking and laughing, and very much enjoying the charms of so many young ladies.
Upon seeing the crowd, Georgiana, wishing to avoid the inevitably forthcoming attentions of the young ladies who attempted to insinuate themselves into her good graces in misguided attempts to please her brother, went immediately to her aunt's side, where she stayed until dinner. Darcy's entrance into the room had the usual affect. Several young ladies approached him to bestow their attentions upon him. He found himself less in command of his ability to be civil than he had ever been. When he caught Colonel Fitzwilliam's eye, he attempted to give his cousin a look of reproach for enjoying the attentions of these young women, while openly courting another. Colonel Fitzwilliam, however, remained unaffected.
Darcy had always disapproved of his cousin's propensity to give marked attention to young ladies towards whom he had no intentions. He had done this even with Elizabeth. Now, he felt the offense to Elizabeth of his cousin's conduct, as he observed the man who had openly confessed his intentions to marry her, unabashedly flirting with a roomful of other women. For his part he retreated into his usual reserve and with the utmost politeness and civility did his best to discourage the attentions of the ladies present. He found himself a chair in a quiet corner as he thought ruefully that now he should be introducing Elizabeth to those assembled here, as his future wife.
These thoughts led to further speculation about how different the evening would be if Elizabeth was present. He considered how she would react to the attentions being bestowed on his cousin. Then he realized that if Elizabeth were present, his cousin would not be indulging those attentions. He considered how she would react to his own behavior. He smiled as he told himself that she would know that he cared nothing for any of these women. Then he remembered her most stinging words that evening, 'had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner.' She had come to dislike him from nearly the first moment of their acquaintance because of his manners. He recalled her description of him at the Netherfield ball as being of an 'unsocial taciturn disposition' and her belief that he was 'unwilling to speak unless he had something to say that would amaze the whole room and be handed down to posterity with all the éclat of a proverb.' He sighed, then smiled to himself as rose from his chair in search of someone to talk to. He was at a loss to determine how he was to be friendly and agreeable to the other guests without giving rise to expectations in any of the young ladies present, who were so well disposed to take even the slightest gesture as a sign of encouragement. But, he resolved to improve himself, and spent the evening making an admirable effort to be the perfect gentleman to everyone in the room.
After dinner, when the ladies withdrew, Colonel Fitzwilliam approached Darcy and asked, "have you met Miss Rowland yet?"
"Yes, I was introduced to her briefly," replied Darcy, hoping that his cousin was not intending to forward a match between himself and that young lady.
"She is a cousin of my sister-in-law who has come to visit her in London. She is a lovely young lady, is she not?"
He was tempted by his supposition that his cousin intended to match him with Miss Rowland to repeat his first assessment of Elizabeth's beauty, 'she is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me.' He winced at the recollection, how could he ever have said such a thing? It was too painful to remember, much less repeat. Instead he replied, "Yes, I suppose she could be called handsome."
"She also has a fortune of forty thousand pounds."
Darcy was a bit startled by his cousin's enthusiasm for this young lady and her fortune. Surely, Colonel Fitzwilliam would not make such a significant reference to a woman's large fortune with Darcy in mind. As Darcy did not seem inclined to continue the conversation, Colonel Fitzwilliam approached his brother to ply him with questions regarding his wife's cousin. This convinced Darcy that Colonel Fitzwilliam was interested in Miss Rowland for himself, but he could not rejoice in his cousin's interest in another woman, for he knew that the retreat of his rival would bring him no closer to gaining Elizabeth's hand, although it would give him more time, by foreclosing the possibility of her immediate marriage to another. He could only lament the offense to Elizabeth occasioned by his cousin's duplicity.
The men joined the ladies in the drawing room shortly thereafter. After tea and coffee were served, several of the young ladies were applied to for entertainment. Darcy enjoyed listening to the music, but could not help but miss Elizabeth's playing. When Miss Rowland took her turn at the instrument, he was taken with her easy, unaffected manner of playing, it was very reminiscent of Elizabeth's style. Miss Rowland seemed to play out of pure enjoyment, and her skill was of the highest order. Darcy had to concede that Miss Rowland's execution was superior to Elizabeth's. When she finished playing, she curtseyed in response to the applause and gracefully accepted several applications for her to play again, despite the number of young ladies present who had not yet performed.
After her third song, Miss Rowland finally took a seat next to Colonel Fitzwilliam on one of the sofas. Mr. Darcy had been seated in a chair next to his cousin, so he was in a position to converse with both of them. Although Miss Rowland had sat next to Colonel Fitzwilliam, she immediately addressed his cousin with, "I have not had very much opportunity to speak with you this evening Mr. Darcy, my cousin has told me so much about you. I was glad to finally meet you."
"It was a pleasure to make your acquaintance as well Miss Rowland," replied Mr. Darcy.
"How much longer do you plan on being in town?"
"I will be returning to the country for the summer, but I have not yet determined the date for my departure."
"You have an estate in Derbyshire, is that right?"
"Yes, it is called Pemberley."
"I have heard that it is lovely there," observed she.
Before Darcy could respond, Colonel Fitzwilliam added, "it is very lovely indeed Miss Rowland. It is a grand estate with a stately house and beautiful grounds. Darcy has done his best to preserve the natural beauty of the park."
The next player had begun her song at the instrument, so Darcy merely bowed and then politely turned his attention to the performer. Miss Rowland however, said something to Colonel Fitzwilliam, and the two engaged in a whispered conversation throughout the next few songs. Darcy was glad to see the card tables being set up after the last young lady in the room with any talent or ability had played her last song. He joined one of the card games with Colonel Fitzwilliam, Miss Rowland, and Mrs. Fitzwilliam, and stayed there for the remainder of the evening. Colonel Fitzwilliam and Miss Rowland continued to engage in light flirtation, which under normal circumstances would be considered quite harmless, and even endearing; but where the gentlemen was openly courting another having spoken his intent to secure her hand in marriage, the propriety of such behavior was questionable.
As Darcy played at cards, he considered his cousin's behavior throughout the evening. He decided that he would speak to Colonel Fitzwilliam after the guests had left about the impropriety of his conduct. Then, Darcy considered how his castigation of his cousin would appear should his own feelings for Elizabeth ever become known. He laughed at himself for still harboring such a hope, but if by some remote chance those hopes ever came to fruition, his interference now, would appear in hindsight, to have been prompted by his own interests. He could not taint Elizabeth's future choices by creating the possibility for speculation that she might have chosen differently had it not been for his interference, even if that interference was only in the form of admonishing his cousin to behave honorably towards her. He felt helpless, useless - a rare experience for him. He could not very well go running to Elizabeth to tell on his cousin. He knew how that would appear to her. There was nothing he could do but wait and hope that she would perceive enough to know what was in, or more to the point, what was not in his cousin's heart. For, Mr. Darcy knew what it was to love, and as he observed his cousin's behavior he could easily perceive that Colonel Fitzwilliam did not.
Chapter 4The next morning Darcy received a note from Mrs. Hurst inviting him to dine at Grosvenor Street a week hence. He sent back an acceptance quickly and left the house, eager to escape alone before anyone came calling. At the park, Darcy waited less than half an hour on his bench before he was rewarded by seeing Elizabeth emerge from her uncle's home. This time, she was accompanied by both Miss Bennet and Miss Lucas as well as four children. He smiled at the sight of her. Just seeing her relieved him and raised his spirits. He watched her walk about with her young cousins, talking playfully for some time. When she finally returned to the house, he went home.
On Tuesday evening, Mr. Bingley and Colonel Fitzwilliam arrived at the Gardiner home for dinner as planned. The former bearing a note from his sister inviting the entire household to dine in Grosvenor Street on the following Tuesday evening. Indeed, Mr. Bingley had been severe on his sisters on Monday evening and their remorse was so deeply felt that he was able to extract, with only a small amount of effort, an agreement from Mrs. Hurst to host a family dinner for their dear friend, Jane, and her relations. Mr. Hurst could not help but feel that, although he abhorred playing the role of host, the satisfaction of watching Mr. Bingley set down both Caroline and Louisa was well worth the inconvenience and the cost of the dinner. Bingley understandably had a suspicion of Colonel Fitzwilliam's intentions towards Elizabeth and, therefore, insisted that he be invited, along with his relations as well. Miss Bingley was pleased that the colonel would be present to keep Elizabeth occupied, and naturally, both she and her sister were always delighted to be dining with the family of an earl. Mrs. Gardiner commissioned Mr. Bingley to carry a note to Mrs. Hurst thanking her for her kind invitation and assuring her of the attendance of their whole party.
The dinner at the Gardiner residence went well and everyone enjoyed the evening. The Gardiners made every effort to get to know the gentlemen courting their nieces, while Jane and Elizabeth basked in the attention of their suitors. Colonel Fitzwilliam's attention to Elizabeth was all that she could hope for. After dinner, when the gentlemen rejoined the ladies, Elizabeth played the pianoforte upon the application of Colonel Fitzwilliam, while he turned the pages for her. After she tired of playing, the Gardiners engaged the others in conversation. Although Bingley was enraptured by Jane, he seemed pleased to get to know the Gardiners and spoke to them openly with his usual ease and friendliness. Elizabeth could not help but notice however, that Colonel Fitzwilliam, who she knew to be in possession of similar easy friendliness, seemed interested in attending only herself. He was by no means rude to his hosts, however. To the contrary, he responded to their inquiries with his usual friendly manner, but his conversation with them seemed to Elizabeth to lack any genuine interest. It was very late when the gentlemen finally went away after securing permission from the lady of the house to call again, and Thursday morning was settled upon.
The following morning, Elizabeth and Jane awoke earlier than Miss Lucas and had the opportunity to walk out alone and have some private conversation. They spoke extensively of the night before. Elizabeth related her concerns to Jane that Colonel Fitzwilliam had not seemed interested in getting to know her relations, but Jane assured her sister that he was merely preoccupied with her. This turned Elizabeth's thoughts and she had to confess to Jane that she had been very pleased with his attentions during the evening. Elizabeth had to own that she was growing to like him as much as she had anticipated, but she was not yet ready to call it love.
When they returned to the house, the others had already eaten so they quickly went to the breakfast room. Their aunt joined them there to obtain a moment of privacy with them and said, "I have been thinking that the two of you and your friend might like to stay in town longer." Seeing their surprise at her invitation, she continued, "I simply felt that since both of you have suitors here, you may not wish to return home as soon as you had planned. I am sure you can obtain permission from your parents, and if Miss Lucas wishes to stay as well, and can do likewise, you are free to stay as long as you like."
Both girls thanked their aunt for her thoughtfulness and she immediately protested that she had not been the one to think of extending the invitation. "Colonel Fitzwilliam spoke to your uncle last evening and wondered whether you could stay in town longer," said Mrs. Gardiner, under the impression that such a disclosure would please her niece. Elizabeth, however, was surprised. She felt that Colonel Fitzwilliam was circumventing her consent and forcing her into a courtship that would inevitably inhibit her choice in whether to marry him. She was displeased by his presumption in speaking to her uncle about such a matter without first consulting her. But, she would not entirely foreclose the possibility of staying longer without first learning Jane's feelings on the subject. Each sister wished to discuss the matter with the other and they settled it with their aunt that they would consider her invitation and let her know their decision in time for her to gain Miss Lucas' consent and give her time to write home, if they decided to stay.
After a few moments they returned to the drawing room where Maria was writing to her sister. Mrs. Gardiner told them of her plans to spend the day out. She had a few calls to make and she wanted to visit some shops. All three young ladies agreed to join her. Thus, a pleasant day was spent by the four ladies, but it was not until they returned home, that Elizabeth and Jane had the chance to speak of their aunt's offer to remain longer in town. Elizabeth expressed concern for her sister's having been away from home since January. She knew that Jane's courtship was little reason to remain in London. For, if Jane removed to Longbourn, Bingley could easily come to Netherfield, and she had little doubt that he would do so.
"But what about you Lizzy?" asked Jane, "and Colonel Fitzwilliam?"
"Jane, I can hardly know what will happen. We are in such an awkward situation. I confess that I like him very well, but I know not whether another fortnight will give me enough time to decide that I can accept him without reservation. But if it is not, who is to say what amount of time beyond that would be required? I am not disposed to allow my comings and goings to be dictated by the progress of his suit. Besides, as much as I enjoy the company of the Gardiners, I believe I will grow weary of being in town by the end of that time. Summer is approaching and town will soon become unbearable. I long for the countryside. I also miss Pappa. The expression in his letters of his anticipation of our homecoming is becoming increasingly fervent. I confess that I would like to allow myself more time with Colonel Fitzwilliam, but when I agreed to allow him to call on me here it was with the understanding that such was the extent of my consent. I gave him no reason to believe I would extend my stay, and to own the truth, Jane, I am affronted by his taking it upon himself to see about keeping me in town longer. I do not wish to reward his behavior in failing to learn my feelings on the matter before approaching my uncle."
"Lizzy, I can understand why Colonel Fitzwilliam's actions might make you angry, and your wish not to allow his behavior to influence you, but you must not allow that to get in your way of happiness. Do not give him up for this one infraction if you believe you could be happy with him. I am sure he had the best of intentions and only wanted to keep you near him as long as possible."
"Well, we shall see about Colonel Fitzwilliam, but for the moment we must decide whether to stay in town. I would rather not. What is your wish?"
"I too would wish to return home as planned." They quickly advised their aunt of their decision and their reasons for it, not forgetting to thank her for having extended the invitation.
The following morning brought another call from the two suitors. Mrs. Gardiner suggested that the five young people walk out to the park together. Elizabeth was delighted with the idea, and they soon set out. The five stayed close enough together to maintain a general conversation that included all of them. Elizabeth had a pleasant time, but she could not help but notice that Colonel Fitzwilliam's thoughts seemed distracted. She imagined that he was considering when he should renew his proposal and this lead her to consider what her answer might be. She had to concede that at present, she could not accept him. This lead to further thoughts which caused her to reproach herself for being too selective. Her situation was not an eligible one and yet, at twenty she had rejected three very advantageous marriage proposals. Was she being selfish? Was she not considering the future of her mother and sisters? Here she had a man who was agreeable and respectable, came from an excellent family, had an eligible fortune and who admired her a great deal. Was all this not enough? She began to question whether it was wise to hold out for a feeling that she might never experience, and whether she even had the right to do so.
Elizabeth was stirred from these ruminations by her sister's asking her whether she agreed with something, but Elizabeth knew not what.
"Forgive me, Jane, what did you ask me?"
But Mr. Bingley interjected, "never mind, Miss Bennet, they are both of them quite distracted today. We had better leave them to themselves."
Elizabeth looked at Colonel Fitzwilliam who seemed to be drawn out of his own reverie by Bingley's comment. His expression only caused Bingley to laugh more and Jane suggested that they return to the house. The gentlemen stayed another quarter hour and Bingley amused himself by making further commentary about the distraction of both Elizabeth and Colonel Fitzwilliam. The two people in question bore it with equanimity. Colonel Fitzwilliam had returned to his normal humor and responded in kind to Bingley's remarks. Elizabeth however, could not shake the uneasiness brought on by the gravity of her thoughts. She was glad when the visit was over and was able to spend some time in her room in quiet reflection.
On Friday evening Darcy had planned to hold a dinner party for his relations and Bingley's family. When he awoke Friday morning, he went to the park near Gracechurch Street. It had been several days since he had been able to go, and he could not go when he knew Colonel Fitzwilliam to be there. Luckily for him, the circumstance of Bingley's residence in his house made him privy to the intelligence of when the two gentlemen would call at Gracechurch Street since the two gentlemen always visited together so he had been able to avoid being there when the gentlemen visited. On Friday morning, Darcy felt a great urgency to see her. He was disappointed. He waited nearly an hour around her usual time for going outdoors, but she did not emerge. It occurred to him that something had happened to her, that she might be ill. But if that was the case he would have heard something from him cousin or Bingley. It stung him to realize he had to wait to hear news of his beloved from her suitor. Darcy went home, dejected and in low spirits, to prepare for his dinner party. He attempted to rally his spirits and renewed his resolve to maintain his friendly manner.
Darcy knew that it would have been appropriate for him to invite Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth to his dinner party. He was well enough acquainted with them to extend an invitation and considering that they were being courted by two of the gentlemen who would be attending, it would have been more than acceptable, almost expected for him to invite them. Colonel Fitzwilliam considered the possibility that they had been invited, and was eager to be sure that such an invitation had not been made, as he had no desire to be in company together with both Miss Elizabeth and Miss Rowland.
Thus, when Darcy returned from the park, he found Colonel Fitzwilliam with Bingley in his library. A few minutes after Darcy had he entered the room Colonel Fitzwilliam asked, "who may we expect at dinner this evening, Darcy?"
"Your parents, Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam, Miss Rowland, Mr. and Mrs. Hurst, Bingley, Miss Bingley, yourself, myself, and Miss Darcy. Mrs. Annesley will be dining with some relatives of hers." Colonel Fitzwilliam was satisfied, then Darcy said, "why do you ask?"
"I was just surprised that you did not invite the Miss Bennets."
Bingley's interest was piqued as if the thought had never before occurred to him.
Darcy maintained his composure and offered by way of explanation, "I am not acquainted with their aunt and uncle."
A look of understanding crossed Colonel Fitzwilliam's features and he replied, "I am not surprised you would not wish to admit them into your acquaintance."
"It is too late now, in any case," added Bingley.
Soon it was time for dinner and Darcy, together with Georgiana and Bingley made ready to greet the guests. The Hursts and Miss Bingley arrived first. Then, the Earl's family arrived. When everyone had been greeted and introduced, dinner was served. When the men rejoined the ladies after dinner, Darcy noticed that Colonel Fitzwilliam went directly to Miss Rowland's side. Darcy joined them, hoping to temper his cousin's attentions to the young lady. This, of course, drew Miss Bingley to them as well. Soon the four of them were conversing amiably. Miss Bingley was not pleased by the attention Miss Rowland was showing to Mr. Darcy and she soon began to stake her claim. Miss Rowland, for her part, was amused by Miss Bingley's jealousy and was only encouraged to increase her attentions towards Mr. Darcy in order to incite Miss Bingley further. Darcy would have been amused by the spectacle before him if he had not been the object of the obvious tension between the ladies. He was always thinking of Elizabeth, but at this moment, he was reminded of her unaffected manner and her generous nature, she would never behave in the manner in which these two well-bred ladies of fashion and fortune were now conducting themselves.
In an effort to draw Miss Rowland's attention, Colonel Fitzwilliam asked her, "how did you enjoy your excursion this morning to the Kew Estate* Miss Rowland?"
"Very well, thank you, sir. The gardens were quite beautiful. There were so many exotic plants from all over the world. It is amazing what grows in some places. Have you been there Mr. Darcy?"
Darcy was stirred from his meditations on how much Elizabeth would enjoy such an excursion. "I took Miss Darcy there two years ago. We enjoyed it very much."
"Oh yes," chimed in Miss Bingley, "it is a lovely place. Mrs. Hurst and I made a visit there last season. But I must say, we were quite fatigued by the time we had walked over most of the grounds. I hope the walking was not too much for you Miss Rowland."
"Not at all. Mrs. Fitzwilliam and I were able to pace ourselves so that we were not fatigued at all. I believe we were too caught up in the beauty of the scenery to be thinking of our own comfort. It is pleasant to be able to enjoy so much natural beauty while in town. It reminds me of being at home in the country on my father's estate in Devonshire."
Colonel Fitzwilliam was, at that moment, called upon by his brother to settle a point of contention between himself and Mr. Hurst and he reluctantly left Miss Rowland's side. Darcy was glad to see it, but was not as happy to be left alone at the mercy of the two young ladies.
Scarcely acknowledging the colonel's departure, Miss Bingley continued, "Yes, there is nothing like a country estate for natural beauty. Although I have traveled little in Devonshire, I must profess a preference for Derbyshire. I have never seen a lovelier country."
Miss Rowland gave Darcy a knowing smile, which he did not acknowledge, and then said, "is your family's estate in Derbyshire, Miss Bingley?"
Miss Bingley colored a little bit before answering, "No indeed, my brother's estate is in Hertfordshire. We spent several months there last year. What a wretched place. I have been encouraging him for some time to give it up and settle in Derbyshire."
"But Hertfordshire is closer to London, surely you would consider such a convenient distance an advantage."
"The distance from town to Derbyshire is nothing to me. I have made the journey several times. I could have no objection to being well settled in Derbyshire. It is certainly infinitely more preferable to the neighborhood in which Netherfield is situated. The increased distance is but a small sacrifice to make for the benefit of superior society."
Both Darcy and Miss Rowland comprehended that Miss Bingley's idea of being well settled in Derbyshire contemplated Pemberley as her home rather than any house her brother might purchase. Darcy remembered his conversation with Elizabeth about a similar topic, and smiled to himself, as he considered her words, "Where there is fortune to make the expense of traveling unimportant, distance becomes no evil." Miss Rowland caught his eye and, thinking he was as amused by Miss Bingley's obvious implication as she was, smiled back.
"And what did you find so objectionable about Hertfordshire?" asked Miss Rowland, returning her attention to Miss Bingley.
"I have never been surrounded by a more tedious group of people. They were, all of them, so absorbed in their petty concerns. I am sure I have never been suffered to endure the society of such an unfashionable, distasteful lot. I was never so happy to leave a place in my life as I was upon our removal from Hertfordshire."
"All of them? That is a rather sweeping condemnation. I cannot speak of the society in Hertfordshire as I have never been there, but you were also there, were you not, Mr. Darcy? Do you agree with Miss Bingley's assessment?"
"Not at all. Most of the society was tolerable, and I found some of them to be quite pleasant."
"Oh yes," cried Miss Bingley, "we cannot forget the lady of the fine eyes, and such an excellent walker, I dare say she would do very well at the royal gardens Miss Rowland."
"Fine eyes?" asked Miss Rowland, looking at Darcy, who had colored slightly at the reference.
He made no answer and Miss Bingley, having sufficiently amused herself, moved on to another topic. Miss Rowland was disappointed at not learning the identity of the woman referred to by Miss Bingley. It had not occurred to her that there might be someone out there that Mr. Darcy admired.
Soon after, Darcy issued a general petition for some music and appealed to Miss Bingley to play first. Although the prospect of being left alone with either of the two ladies was not particularly appealing to Darcy, he preferred the company of Miss Rowland to Miss Bingley. Darcy was a bit disappointed when Colonel Fitzwilliam, anticipating that Miss Rowland would soon be playing and wishing to escape the conversation of his brother and Mr. Hurst, offered to turn pages for Miss Bingley. Although he was happy to escape having to do so himself, he could not approve his cousin's motivations. Miss Bingley, who had been hoping Darcy would turn the pages for her, was likewise disappointed in the colonel's offer.
After Miss Bingley and Miss Rowland played, Mrs. Hurst and Mrs. Fitzwilliam each played briefly, and then Georgiana gave a short performance. Darcy was delighted with his sister's playing. She was becoming more comfortable playing for others, and he was pleased. He did not like the idea of forcing her to perform against her will, but she had to accept that certain things were expected of her and once she was out she would not be at liberty to decline requests for her to play while in company.
The card tables were soon placed and Darcy again felt obliged to follow his cousin who immediately sought out Miss Rowland's company. Miss Bingley managed somehow to join their table. Due to the even number of people, Darcy was cognizant that Georgiana would have to play, and he had hoped to secure a seat for her with himself, for her comfort, but his plan was foreclosed by Miss Bingley's eagerness to be near him. The Fitzwilliams and the Hursts sat down together, and Darcy was pleased to see that Georgiana was at least able to sit with her aunt and uncle who were joined by Mr. Bingley. Darcy noticed Miss Bingley's smile in consequence of seeing Georgiana and Bingley sitting at the same table, and he avoided any sign of acknowledgment of her conspiratorial glance in his direction.
On Saturday, Darcy again visited the park on Gracechurch Street. After he waited for over half an hour and Elizabeth had not appeared he feared that she might have taken her walk before breakfast. He could not resign himself to another disappointment and was resolved to remain until she emerged. At length however, he could stand it no longer and he was about to rise and go home, crestfallen and disheartened, when the door to the Gardiner house opened and Elizabeth emerged holding a child with each hand. The manservant followed and closed the door behind him. He was surprised to see that she was walking without her sister. As usual, seeing her pleased him, warmed him, and raised his spirits. The disappointment of the day before melted away. All of his concerns were temporarily forgotten as he lost himself in watching her. He considered, not for the first time and not for the last, how happy her continued presence would make him.
Darcy's bench was in a secluded part of the park and somewhat hidden from view, while allowing a view of most of the park from where it was situated. This had heretofore allowed him to observe Elizabeth without being detected. On this occasion, however, he noticed Elizabeth's eyes turn in his direction at one point. He was not sure whether she had perceived him until she rested her gaze on him, her face registering surprise and embarrassment. He simply looked back at her unabashedly, with his slight smile and bowed in acknowledgment. This shared look lasted only the briefest moment until Elizabeth was distracted by the antics of her young cousins. When she was able to return her attention to the bench, a few seconds later, Darcy was gone. She looked around the park, but perceived no trace of him and she began to consider that she might have imagined having seen him.
This exchange in the park gave Elizabeth something entirely new to think about. She had already accepted it as a foregone conclusion that Darcy would soon overcome his attachment to her and that it had probably already been accomplished. She had dismissed what had happened between them as an unfortunate event in her past that could not be too soon forgotten. But now, she realized that if Darcy had been there, there could be only one reason for it. He had come because of her. She began to reconsider her previous notions that he could not possibly still love her. For continued affection could be the only reason to account for his behavior in coming to the park. That he could still love her was a bit troubling to Elizabeth. She was gratified by the possibility that he could still love her and wish to be as near to her as circumstances would allow, after everything that had passed between them. These thoughts evoked feelings of gratitude and respect for what his behavior said about the depth of his regard, and for his constancy. She was impressed by his apparent ability to forgive her all the petulance and acrimony of her manner in rejecting him, and all the unjust accusations accompanying her rejection. But the suspicion that he might still love her could not give her pleasure, and it only evoked compassion for his situation and further self-reproach on her part.
These thoughts caused her to reevaluate her reasoning for his having stayed away rather than joining his friends in their visits. If he had come to the park to watch her, then his avoidance of her company could not be attributable to a lack of desire to see her. If he was still desirous of seeing her, she could only attribute his failure to do so to an unwillingness to make her uneasy. His consideration of her feelings in that regard was remarkable. From what Colonel Fitzwilliam had said, she believed that Darcy was aware of his cousin's suit and realized that Darcy must have known how difficult for her meeting both of them together would have been. If he still loved her, he must have been most eager to attend the visits in which his rival was courting her. Then she was more confused as she reflected that it was Mr. Darcy himself who had sent that very rival to ask for her hand. Nevertheless, he had put aside any desire to see her and to observe her interaction with his cousin either to protect her from embarrassment or out of respect for her decision, or perhaps both. She could not but appreciate this sign of his consideration for her feelings.
When Elizabeth returned the house, she found time for a private discussion with Jane before dinner, and she told her sister that she thought she had seen Mr. Darcy in the park. Jane agreed that if that be the case, he must still be in love with her. Elizabeth continued to tell her sister about her feelings in response to this possibility and Jane's singular act of listening and caring served to soothe Elizabeth significantly.
On Monday morning, Mr. Bingley and Colonel Fitzwilliam called again at Gracechurch Street and again went for a walk in the park with the Miss Bennets and Miss Lucas. Their visit was a pleasant one, enjoyed by all. As they were walking out, Mr. Bingley began to speak animatedly of his evening with the Darcys. He spoke of having renewed his acquaintances with Colonel Fitzwilliam's parents and brother and sister in law. Then he spoke of having met Miss Rowland. In his description of the young lady, Mr. Bingley gave his companions to know that he considered her an ideal match for his friend, Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth was surprised by the disturbance of her own feelings at this suggestion and looked expectantly at the colonel when Mr. Bingley applied for his corroboration of the compatibility of the two people in question. Elizabeth discerned that Colonel Fitzwilliam also appeared uncomfortable by the suggestion, but answered with composure that she was a fine young lady who could possibly meet even his cousin's high standards, but that Darcy would not take kindly to any matchmaking on his behalf.
Bingley continued to speculate on the relative feelings of the gentleman and the young lady towards each other. He confessed that he had never seen Darcy show any signs of interest in any young lady in the past, and went on to describe the various ways in which Darcy had appeared to make every effort to make himself agreeable to Miss Rowland on Friday evening.
The thought of Mr. Darcy moving on would have relieved Elizabeth were it not for her having recently been convinced of his constancy to herself upon seeing him in the park. But because she had seen him in the park, and drawn certain conclusions about the meaning of his presence there, she was baffled by his behavior. She questioned that he could be showing marked attentions to another woman so soon after having proposed to herself. Such behavior did not speak well of his honor nor of the depth of his feelings for her. Particularly in light of the passionate manner in which he had proposed. He had declared his love for her so ardently and had described how it had endured many months of struggle, with such emotion as made such a quick and thorough recovery from it, such as to be courting another within but a few weeks, seem unlikely. Darcy's behavior, as described by Bingley, could not but shed doubt on the strength of Darcy's former declaration.
Being familiar with his manner, she knew that for Darcy to exert himself in social intercourse as Bingley described could only be attributed to strong feelings for the lady to whom those exertions were directed. This would be particularly true when the expression of his feelings need not be tempered by any disparity in situation between himself and the young lady receiving his attentions. It had been different with her, but then Mr. Darcy had been struggling with his feelings, and he would not have wanted to make apparent his regard for someone so inferior to himself. With a woman of such standing as Miss Rowland he would have the freedom to let his feelings and intentions be perceived. And she knew all too well, that if Darcy did not have intentions of that nature, he would not be showing such attentions to the lady.
When calling Mr. Darcy's honor into question, she considered that her vehement rejection of him would have gone far in quelling his affection for her, and that perhaps he was not courting one woman while still loving another. After all, she could not expect him to pine away for her forever. But then why did he appear in the park near the home of her relations and so far from his own home? why had he apparently been watching her and smiled so when she noticed him? This new information only caused Elizabeth further confusion. If he did not love her, why did he come to the park to see her? and if he did love her, then why did he seem to admire another? If her rejection of him had prompted him to make a match of convenience, then he need not behave so uncharacteristically towards the young lady as Bingley described. She could comprehend him continuing to harbor feelings for herself, and she could likewise comprehend his not acting on them given the nature of her rejection and his cousin's suit. But the only way she could reconcile his attentions to this Miss Rowland was to surmise that he no longer loved her, which was not in accordance with his appearance at the park. Then, the most despicable possible solution occurred to her. Perhaps he was awaiting the success or failure of his cousin's suit and wished to have Miss Rowland's regard secured pending its outcome. But she quickly dismissed the idea, she could not think so ill of him, and she instead remained in a state of doubt and confusion regarding the enigmatic Mr. Darcy. Little did she know how close her idea was to being right, but about the wrong man.
*Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew.
DNA: I do not pretend to know anything about London (although I have been there once!). I didn't want to make something up, so I looked on the internet for a touristy place for a day trip that would have been around during this time period and would have attracted the fashionable set, and required walking. I found this place - the Kew Estate - which is about 10km SW of London. There is a brief history on the internet (www.kew.org). Apparently, it was an estate acquired by the royal family prior to the time in which this story is set, which was in the process of being transformed into pleasure gardens and into which plants were imported from around the world around the time of this story. I could not readily discern from the information online that it was definitely open to the public during this time period, but I believe it was at least open to visitors. I got the impression that fashionable people would have been allowed to go in and tour the grounds. If anyone notices that I have made some kind of mistake, please let me know. Likewise with the mention of Devonshire, I know nothing about it except that it is a name of a county in England. If someone notices some inconsistency with Miss Rowland's being from there, please let me know. Thanks.
Chapter 5On Monday evening, before going to bed, Jane and Elizabeth had an opportunity for a few minutes of private conversation and Elizabeth was able to share the feelings and concerns that had been plaguing her all day. They discussed the visit made by the gentlemen earlier and Jane was surprised at the level of Elizabeth's agitation and puzzlement with respect to Mr. Darcy. Jane conceded that she could not reconcile Mr. Bingley's report of his attentions to Miss Rowland with his appearance in the park. Lizzy's preoccupation with Mr. Darcy caused Jane to wonder whether Elizabeth had made up her mind with respect to his cousin. When she asked Elizabeth about it, her sister's agitation grew even stronger.
"Oh Jane, I am not sure that I wish to continue to accept Colonel Fitzwilliam's addresses. Am I being selfish? Am I demanding too much? Should I just marry him and be done with it?"
"Of course not Lizzy. You should not marry a man you do not love, and you cannot make a decision while you have these doubts."
"That is just the trouble Jane, I believe I am prepared to make a decision, but it is the opposite one that I anticipated making."
"Perhaps you should defer your choice until after you see him tomorrow evening. You will meet his family, and perhaps you will learn something that will assist you."
"Do you suppose Mr. Darcy will be there?"
Jane was surprised the Elizabeth had so quickly turned the conversation back to Mr. Darcy. But, she could understand that her sister would be experiencing no small level of anxiety at the prospect of meeting him again. "I am sure he was invited, but if he has been purposely avoiding you up to now, I do not see why he would change his mind and appear there tomorrow. Would it make you terribly uncomfortable to see him again?"
"I do not know Jane. He said such offensive things to me, but his letter has helped improve my opinion of him. And the thought that he might still love me after everything, is compelling. I am beginning to doubt even my assessment of his pride and selfishness. Still, I cannot wish to see him again, nor repent my refusal. I know I made the right choice, for I could never be happy with such a man. It is so easy for you Jane, you know Bingley is the right man, and you know that he loves you. All you have to do is wait for him to declare himself."
"Lizzy, you know it has not been entirely easy for me, and I am not unaware of my own good fortune, but the easiness of my own situation merely gives me leave to attend more to yours. I will be of as much assistance to you in sorting this all out as I can be."
"Thank you Jane. You are the best sister anyone could want." Their conversation concluded on a pleasant note, and they retired for the evening.
On Tuesday morning, Colonel Fitzwilliam called on Darcy early enough to breakfast with him and Georgiana. Bingley was still abed. Colonel Fitzwilliam was pleased with the way things had been going with both Miss Elizabeth and Miss Rowland and he wished to discuss his interactions with both ladies with his cousin. After they had exchanged good mornings, Colonel Fitzwilliam said, "well Darcy do not you wish to ask how my visit with Miss Elizabeth was yesterday?"
"How was your visit yesterday cousin?" he asked dryly.
"It went very well. Miss Elizabeth was pleasant company as always, though I did not have much opportunity to converse with her privately. It is a shame she had planned to spend so little time in town, but I believe I may have arranged for her to stay longer."
"How have you managed that?" asked Darcy attempting to hide his interest.
"The night we dined at Gracechurch Street, I mentioned to her uncle how unfortunate it is that she and her sister are to leave so soon, and how much I would have enjoyed more time getting to know them. Bingley was also helpful by supporting my suggestion that perhaps the ladies could remain in town a bit longer. He is certainly mad in love over the eldest Miss Bennet, but who can blame him?"
"What was Mr. Gardiner's response?"
"He said that he would invite the Miss Bennets to stay longer if they so desired. I have not yet received any information with respect to their decision, but I feel confident that they will remain. They really have no reason not to. I am anxious to hear what they have decided, in any case. At least I will learn something about Miss Elizabeth's feelings from her decision on whether or not to extend her stay in town."
Darcy observed to himself that certainly if she stayed that would be a favorable indication for his cousin, because Jane's situation alone would be no reason to stay, as Bingley could easily go to Netherfield. But, if she did not stay, he could not say that would definitely be an unfavorable indication for his cousin, as there might be several reasons for her decision to return home as planned. He did not voice these considerations to his cousin however, although they might have eased the colonel's mind a bit. It also seemed to Darcy that Colonel Fitzwilliam's anxiety to understand Elizabeth's feelings was due more to a wish for leave to more openly pursue Miss Rowland than a concern that his feelings for Elizabeth might be unrequited.
Darcy found himself torn again by this new information. If Elizabeth stayed in London, there was the possibility that he might be able to see her, but so would his cousin, and probably more so; but more importantly, it would probably mean she was inclined to accept Colonel Fitzwilliam. If she left, there was at least the possibility that it meant she did not wish him to continue his suit. However, it would mean that Darcy would not be able to see her unless he went to Netherfield with Bingley. Her leaving would force him into a position to make the choice of whether or not to go to Hertfordshire. His dilemma was that while he wanted nothing more than to follow her there and make every effort to win her, he did not feel that he had the right to do so given her recent bitter and unequivocal rejection of him, and he did not want to cause her any uneasiness by forcing his company on her.
Colonel Fitzwilliam had seemed inclined to speak at length about both Miss Elizabeth and Miss Rowland, however Darcy did not wish his sister to be exposed to his cousin's simultaneous raptures over two different women, and he cut the conversation short.
Later, that evening, when the party from Gracechurch Street entered the Hursts townhouse, they were greeted with all the warm insincerity Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley could contrive between the two of them. Upon entering the drawing room, Elizabeth immediately looked around to discern whether Darcy was in attendance, when her eyes were arrested by the sight of Colonel Fitzwilliam sitting on a sofa in very close proximity to an attractive young lady with whom he was engaged in a quiet but lively discussion. Elizabeth was surprised at the lack of jealousy in her own reaction, although she did comprehend the insult to herself at his apparent intimacy with the woman. In fact, she thought she felt some measure of relief, but had not the time, at present, to reflect on that feeling.
When the initial shock of the scene wore off as she was introduced to some of the other guests, Elizabeth was able to reason away the concerns she had felt upon the sight that she had witnessed when she entered the room. She supposed that this young lady was in all probability not unlike Miss Bingley and she initially laid all the blame for the appearance of intimacy between that young lady and Colonel Fitzwilliam at the former's door. She reasoned that Colonel Fitzwilliam could hardly ignore the woman if she insisted on demanding his attention and although Mr. Darcy usually responded to similar treatment from Miss Bingley by being distant and terse, she allowed that Colonel Fitzwilliam had a much warmer disposition and thus, would be more inclined towards conversation. Upon perceiving Elizabeth, Colonel Fitzwilliam had arisen and come forward to greet the party from Gracechurch Street. In so doing, he introduced Miss Rowland to them.
Elizabeth was surprised to learn the woman's identity, and she soon settled into a conversation with Miss Rowland, which caused her to question her initial perception and her preconceived ideas about the young woman. Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner fell into easy conversation with Colonel Fitzwilliam's parents, while Bingley, Jane, and Miss Lucas spoke to his brother and sister, and Colonel Fitzwilliam settled down near Elizabeth and Miss Rowland. The Hursts and Miss Bingley talked among themselves, staying near the door, to welcome the guests they were still expecting. Elizabeth quickly discerned that Miss Rowland was a self assured, confident and independent young lady. Her manners bore little resemblance to those of Miss Bingley and she certainly did not seem intimidated in the least by Elizabeth's intrusion into her conversation with Colonel Fitzwilliam. The two ladies took an immediate liking to one another.
Meanwhile, when Darcy made ready to go to the Hursts' townhouse, he was, again, expecting a quiet family dinner with only six total in attendance, but he was again mistaken. Due to his pressing matters of business, not to mention his trips to the park on Gracechurch Street, Darcy had spent little time in Bingley's company over the past several days and they had spoken little of the upcoming dinner at the Hursts. Thus, when Darcy arrived at the Hurst home, he was surprised to find the assembled party much larger than he had expected. When he entered the drawing room, his gaze was immediately drawn to Elizabeth. Their eyes instantly met, and the cheeks of each were overspread with the deepest blush. He absolutely started, and for a brief moment seemed immovable from surprise. His comprehension of who else was in attendance only followed his awareness that she was there. Shortly recovering himself, however, Darcy immediately averted his eyes to avoid causing her any embarrassment or distress. This exchange lasted only the briefest moment and no one in the room noticed it but the two persons involved. In spite of Miss Rowland's proximity to Elizabeth, Darcy's eyes did not drift to her at all during or after this exchange.
Elizabeth then noticed the young lady at Darcy's side, who she supposed to be his sister. Miss Bingley had already claimed her place at Darcy's other side and begun praising his sister. At her first opportunity Miss Darcy retreated to her aunt. This behavior caused Elizabeth to observe that Miss Darcy seemed to be extremely shy. Mr. Darcy, after managing to extricate himself from Miss Bingley's grasp, began to make his way around the room and greet the other guests. Elizabeth was able to observe him unnoticed, while continuing her conversation with Miss Rowland. He began with his aunt and uncle and was introduced to the Gardiners. Elizabeth watched carefully to discern any reaction to their identity, but she perceived none. She noticed that he stayed and talked to them for several minutes, much longer than would have been required by mere civility. He seemed to take an interest in the conversation and from what she could discern, he was taking some initiative in getting to know them.
After spending some time with them, he moved to greet Bingley, Jane and Miss Lucas, along with Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam. When he finally made his way around to Elizabeth, he was able to greet her, if not with perfect composure, at least with perfect civility. When he approached the two ladies he said, "Miss Bennet, Miss Rowland, it is a pleasure to see you both again." He spoke to both of them, but he looked only at Elizabeth. They both thanked him and returned the compliment. He continued, "I must confess I was surprised to find so many people here this evening. I suppose I have become too accustomed to quiet family dinners with the Hursts and the Bingleys." Elizabeth realized that he wanted her to know that he had not known she would be there. She surmised that he wished her to understand that he would not have come had he known she would be there, but whether this was because he no longer loved her and did not wish to see her, or out of regard for her comfort she could not immediately say. When she was finally able to look at him however, she no longer had any doubt that it must be the latter, because the former simply was not the case. She was able to discern as much upon looking at him because, while his demeanor was reserved, his eyes spoke volumes of his repressed passion. His feelings were evident, she could easily see that he still loved her. She immediately comprehended that he could not have felt what she saw in his eyes while forming or acting upon any designs towards another. Mr. Bingley's description of his prior behavior towards Miss Rowland must have been in error. She also did not note anything pass between the two indicative of any previous intimacy.
Miss Rowland responded to his comment, "well, this is a much more intimate gathering than the one at which we first met, Mr. Darcy, last week at your uncle's home."
"Yes, that is true Miss Rowland," he replied, then glancing at Elizabeth and then back at Miss Rowland, he continued, "please do not believe that I am in any way disappointed." He then made civil inquiries as to the families of both young ladies.
After a few more awkward moments, dinner was announced and the party moved into the dining room. Elizabeth happily found herself situated between Colonel Fitzwilliam and Jane. The dinner was very well done, and all of the guests enjoyed themselves. Elizabeth was well entertained by the lively conversation of Colonel Fitzwilliam and Miss Rowland, who was seated across from her. Jane's attention was preoccupied almost entirely by Mr. Bingley, who sat on her other side, undoubtedly due to a subtle suggestion to Mrs. Hurst made by the man himself.
After dinner, when the ladies withdrew to the drawing room, Miss Rowland took a seat next to Elizabeth and the two spent the time getting to know each other better. Elizabeth learned of Miss Rowland's fortune, and of her family connections, and Miss Rowland learned of Elizabeth's sisters and the unfortunate circumstances attendant upon their father's estate. The two ladies found that their opinions and ideas coincided greatly and were becoming fast friends. Their growing intimacy was interrupted when the gentlemen entered the room, and Colonel Fitzwilliam joined them.
After a few moments and several significant hints from his wife, a half-hearted entreaty for the young ladies to play was forthcoming from the host. Miss Darcy blushed deeply when she was immediately applied to by Miss Bingley, and Elizabeth was about to volunteer to save the poor girl from her obvious embarrassment, even though she knew her own performance could not compare to Miss Darcy's, when Miss Rowland thankfully stood up first saying, "dear Miss Darcy, do not distress yourself, there is no need to play if you do not wish to. I will oblige the company in your stead, if you will agree to turn the pages for me." The young girl looked relieved and happily obliged.
Elizabeth was attentive to Miss Rowland's performance, as were the other guests. Both Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr. Darcy were watching Miss Rowland and listening to the lovely music she was making. She noticed however, that Darcy shifted uncomfortably from time to time and glanced in her direction more than once. Miss Rowland played two more songs in response to entreaties from her audience and then rose to return to her seat. Miss Bingley was now struck with a very satisfying notion, and in an effort to have Elizabeth's inferior playing contrasted with the capital performance just witnessed, she implored her to oblige the company. Elizabeth was able to comprehend Miss Bingley's motive, but moved to the instrument unintimidated.
Georgiana remained, and turned the pages for Elizabeth as well. She played a piece she was well acquainted with, and managed to execute the whole of it with no mistakes. Each time she looked up from her playing she noticed Mr. Darcy watching her in rapt attention. His gaze was not unlike the one she used to mistake for disapproval before he confessed his love for her. Now, she wondered that she had ever failed to see the feelings he harbored. The first time he caught her eye, he maintained a steadfast gaze for a moment, but remembering his resolve not to make her feel uncomfortable he soon looked away. He averted his eyes each time she looked at him thereafter. When she glanced at Colonel Fitzwilliam, she noticed that, although he was attentive to her, he exchanged a few whispered comments with Miss Rowland throughout her performance.
When Elizabeth had finished one song, she was entreated to play again, but she politely refused. Mrs. Hurst then urged Miss Bingley to play, and everyone enjoyed her performance as well. After the music ended, the card tables were brought out and most of the guests were seated around them. Elizabeth and Miss Rowland remained in their position in the hopes of resuming their previous talk. She was surprised to see Mr. Darcy sit down to a game with Mr. Bingley, Jane, and Miss Lucas, which was also joined by Miss Bingley. Colonel Fitzwilliam was urged to play by his brother and they sat down to a game with the Hursts. Elizabeth and Miss Rowland were left to their own devices for a few moments. They were not alone for long however, when Mrs. Fitzwilliam approached them, and asked her cousin, "how do you get on this evening Emma?"
"Very well, Elinor," replied Miss Rowland, and then continued in an amused tone, "although I must confess my disappointment that Colonel Fitzwilliam has been far less attentive to me tonight than the two times we dined in company together, last week." Elizabeth was taken aback by this observation, and by Miss Rowland's next comment, "his cousin, however, is as reticent as ever."
"Actually, I was surprised to notice last week an improvement in his usual reserved demeanor," replied Mrs. Fitzwilliam, "I do not believe I had ever seen him so sociable as the two times we dined in company with him last week, and he seems to be conducting himself in like manner this evening." Elizabeth stole a glance at Mr. Darcy who was participating animatedly in the card game before him, and appeared to be fully absorbed by it.
"If his behavior tonight and last week is more affable than usual, I can only imagine how withdrawn he must have been in the past. He seems different to me tonight than he was last week. Although he is being friendly enough, he seems uncomfortable, as if he is preoccupied by something. Nevertheless, it does me little good that he is sociable to everyone else," returned Miss Rowland, in the same playful tone, "he seems to be unaffected by my charms, which, I flatter myself, are considerable. For that matter, he was unresponsive to the charms of any of the many single ladies who were present last Monday night, but at least he was uniform in his indifferent treatment to all of us. I can console myself in the knowledge that it is not me alone that he avoids. At least Colonel Fitzwilliam gives the appearance of enjoying my company."
"Perhaps that is because he has greater need for a wife," said Mrs. Fitzwilliam mischievously.
"Which is exactly what makes Mr. Darcy more desirable," replied Miss Rowland with growing amusement. "Luckily for me, my situation is such that I do not find myself in need of a husband, and would be happy to live out my life in all the luxury and comfort my fortune can afford a spinster." Both girls laughed at this, and Elizabeth smiled. "Sadly," continued Miss Rowland turning to Elizabeth, "I cannot say the same for my newest friend. But you are young yet Miss Elizabeth, surely you still have plenty of time to find a good husband."
"I hope that I can find both happiness and moderate comfort through matrimony," replied Elizabeth, "but I'd rather be a governess to my sister's children than marry without love and respect." She glanced at Jane and Bingley as she finished.
"Yes, she seems to have achieved the ideal situation: love and money, much like my cousin here. But are they engaged?"
"Not yet," replied Elizabeth.
"I am surprised," returned Miss Rowland, "they are obviously very attached."
Miss Bingley, tired of making a fifth at the card table, left the game to join the ladies in conversation. "Who is very attached?" asked she as she sat down with the other three ladies.
"Your brother and Miss Bennet," replied Miss Rowland.
Miss Bingley's distaste with the idea was evident. "They have only recently renewed their acquaintance."
"Yes, of course, Miss Elizabeth was just telling us that she is from Hertfordshire. You and your brother must have made their acquaintance during your stay there last fall."
Miss Bingley nodded her assent.
"Miss Bingley was telling us the other evening all about her acquaintance in Hertfordshire," said Miss Rowland to Elizabeth. Then she looked at Mrs. Fitzwilliam and replied, "perhaps that is the reason for Darcy's immunity to the charms of ladies Elinor, did not you say, Miss Bingley, that there was a young lady that had caught his fancy in Hertfordshire?"
Elizabeth was alarmed and she blushed heavily. "I said no such thing," replied Miss Bingley, not deigning to glance at Elizabeth lest she betray the identity of said young lady. The last thing Miss Bingley wished to do was give Elizabeth any idea that Darcy might admire her.
"You did mention something about a young lady with 'fine eyes' whose company he had enjoyed." Elizabeth was astonished that Mr. Darcy might have confided in Miss Bingley regarding his feelings for her.
"I certainly never said anyone had caught his fancy."
"But he did voice a compliment, at least to you, on the fineness of some mysterious young woman's eyes, did he not?"
"He did say something to me once, but it was merely a comment made in passing."
"But you will not reveal the name of this young woman to us?"
"I do not really recall who it was," said Miss Bingley.
"You seemed pretty certain of her identity on Friday evening, in fact, I believe you said something of her also being an excellent walker."
"Did I? I am sure I do not recall."
"Then we must appeal to you, Miss Elizabeth, to discover who this young lady might be." Elizabeth struggled to maintain her composure, "did you ever notice him being particularly attentive to any one young lady while you were in company with him in Hertfordshire?"
"No, I did not discern anything in his manner that evinced a particular regard for any of the young ladies in the neighborhood."
"How mysterious!" replied Miss Rowland. Miss Bingley then changed the topic of conversation.
While the two cousins continued their conversation with Miss Bingley, Elizabeth desired a moment alone, to consider all that she had just learned. She walked to a table on one side of the room where supper had been laid out. As she perused the offerings, she considered, what Miss Rowland had said about Colonel Fitzwilliam's attentiveness to her last week as compared to tonight. Elizabeth found that she was not so much disappointed in Colonel Fitzwilliam's attentions to another, as she was cognizant of the insult to herself inherent in his behavior. She was certain that the difference in the colonel's attentions to Miss Rowland on the two evenings last week in contrast to this one, was due to her own presence. Colonel Fitzwilliam's conduct made Elizabeth doubt his regard for her, which was yet undeclared, even further.
Then Elizabeth considered what both ladies had said about Mr. Darcy. His behavior last week had been marked by less of his usual reserve, according to Mrs. Fitzwilliam. Elizabeth had noticed that even tonight, while he seemed uncomfortable being in her presence, he was behaving more warmly towards his company in general, than she was used to seeing him. She had witnessed his uncharacteristically open demeanor while meeting and talking to her uncle and aunt. Although she could not hear what they said, she was able to perceive an absence of his usual haughtiness. His conversation with the very relations whose inferior position he had spoken of with such disdain during his offer to herself had been marked by an easiness and affability that she was unused to seeing in him, but was not unbecoming. She could not help but wonder whether this change in him was in response to her reproofs. But she guarded against making such an assumption.
Even more amazing however, were Miss Rowland's complaints that she had been unable to gain his attention. She recalled Mr. Bingley's assertion that Mr. Darcy had been very attentive to Miss Rowland. She was certain that Darcy felt nothing for Miss Rowland so she supposed that what Mr. Bingley had perceived had been merely Darcy's more open demeanor, as observed by Mrs. Fitzwilliam. The idea that Miss Rowland had been attempting to gain Darcy's attention explained why they had spent so much of the evening together, and Mr. Darcy's more open manner would account for his failure to rebuff her attempts, at least in Mr. Bingley's eyes, for Miss Rowland certainly had a different view of things and clearly felt that he had not been responsive to her attempts.
She thought only briefly on Miss Bingley's comments. She could not account at all for her obvious intelligence regarding Darcy's feelings. All Elizabeth could be sure of was that apparently Mr. Darcy had complimented Elizabeth to Miss Bingley.
Elizabeth was interrupted from her thoughts by the very subject of her reverie who appeared beside her. Darcy had noticed Elizabeth walk towards the other side of the room, and seizing an opportunity to speak with her alone, he had excused himself from his card game and approached her. "Miss Bennet," he began quietly, "please forgive me for taking the liberty of speaking with you in this manner. I simply wished you to know that I was unaware you were to be in attendance this evening. I would not have come if I had known it, for I would not wish to cause you any discomfort or uneasiness by my presence."
Elizabeth was amazed at the civility with which he addressed her, as well as his compassion for her feelings, and she made every effort to respond in kind, "I appreciate your thoughtfulness, Mr. Darcy, however, I am glad to have the opportunity to speak to you." His countenance brightened in response to this. She continued, "I wish to thank you for telling Mr. Bingley of Jane's presence in London and reassuring him of her regard."
Darcy looked remorseful as he replied, "please do not thank me, it is unwarranted. I only did what was necessary to correct my own error. I am pleased with the result, they both appear very happy."
"I believe they are, and I anticipate that their friendship will lead to its most natural and appropriate result this time, thanks to your efforts."
"You give me too much credit, Miss Bennet. Although I do confess that I am able to see things from a different perspective now, only recently having learned to appreciate the level of pain I inflicted on my friend by my interference."
Elizabeth was visibly startled by his speech. She blushed and averted her eyes, not knowing how to respond.
"I am sorry," he said upon noticing her discomfort, "please accept my apology. I should not have said that. Causing you any distress was the last thing I wished to do, and what I most feared would occur by my speaking to you."
She looked up at him and was able to see an expression of the deepest love, mixed with all the pain associated with its being unrequited. At that moment, she felt an urge to hold him in her arms close to her, she wished to comfort him and tell him everything he wanted to hear her say, to relieve his suffering. But she could not. These thoughts however, had caused her to blush and avert her eyes again. After a moment, she merely smiled weakly and said, "no, it is all right, there is no need to apologize."
"You are too generous," he replied sincerely.
"No. It is I who owes you an apology, Mr. Darcy." He looked at her in surprise and confusion. "I grossly misjudged you and accused you . . . "
"Please Miss Bennet, you owe me no apology. You had no way of knowing the truth and I gave you no reason to disbelieve the lies that were told to you. I would not wish you to distress yourself over the matter. I am only relieved that you are no longer deceived."
After a moment, she said, "I am very sorry about your sister."
His expression became sad, as he replied quietly, "thank you."
Then, after a momentary pause he said, "Miss Bennet, I noticed that you have not yet been introduced to her. Would I be asking too much to be allowed to introduce her to you? She wishes very much to make your acquaintance."
The surprise of such an application was great indeed. Elizabeth immediately comprehended the compliment of such a gesture, and immediately felt that whatever desire Miss Darcy might have of being acquainted with her must be the work of her brother. "I would be very happy to meet your sister Mr. Darcy. Thank you."
"If you will wait here a moment, I will fetch her."
Elizabeth returned her attention to the table while Darcy approached his sister who was sitting between her aunt and Mrs. Gardiner watching their card game. He guided her to where Elizabeth was and made the introduction. Elizabeth was then able to confirm her suspicion that the girl was not proud at all and was only extremely shy. In fact, she had difficulty extracting a response greater than a monosyllable from her at first. But after a few moments the two girls fell into a comfortable conversation, although Miss Darcy contributed much less to it than Elizabeth. At length, Miss Darcy asked Elizabeth how much longer she planned on being in town. Elizabeth responded by giving the original date for her departure, to which Miss Darcy replied, "I understood from my cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, that you might be staying longer."
Elizabeth glanced at Darcy who appeared a little apprehensive. She wondered whether he knew of Colonel Fitzwilliam's machinations to effect her continued residence in town. "My aunt was kind enough to extend us an invitation to stay longer, but both my sister and I, as well as Miss Lucas, have been away from home for a very long time and we are all eager to return." Darcy appeared relieved, while Miss Darcy appeared disappointed.
Darcy then walked the two ladies back to where Mrs. Rowland and her cousin were still conversing with Miss Bingley. Once the five ladies were situated comfortably, he excused himself and returned to his card game. When Mr. Darcy had gone, Miss Rowland gave Elizabeth an inquisitive look, but said nothing about her private conversation with Darcy. Miss Rowland was not the only one who noticed and was curious about the exchange between Elizabeth and Darcy. Nearly everyone in the room accounted for it in some way or other.
That evening, when he went home Darcy recalled his encounter with Elizabeth with pleasure. She had read his letter, and she had believed him! Two of her objections had been attended to. There was but one left to address, but it was the most difficult. He must amend his manners, but he had already made progress to that end. Once she could see that her reproofs had been attended to, then he could begin to try to win her love.
Due to the lateness of their departure from the Hursts, Jane and Elizabeth had no opportunity for private conversation that evening. The next morning, however, they took a long walk in the park. Darcy had not dared return to the park to watch Elizabeth since the day she had seen him there. During their walk, Elizabeth told Jane all that she had learned of Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr. Darcy from Miss Rowland, of her subsequent conversation with Mr. Darcy, and of her introduction to Miss Darcy. Elizabeth determined, with the help of her sister that she did not wish to continue accepting the attentions of Colonel Fitzwilliam. She would be relieved to be separated from him by her removal to Longbourn.
Elizabeth still enjoyed Colonel Fitzwilliam's company and found him to be very agreeable, but she felt that she could not love him, and she doubted whether he loved her. He seemed to take the issue of marriage very lightly, and she had not been able to reconcile his previous views about needing to marry for money with his sudden change of heart towards her. She also had trouble with the fact that his proposal to her had not been brought about of his own accord. He had required a push in her direction from an external source. She realized that she did not approve of the easiness with which he gave his attentions to young ladies upon whom he had no designs. She observed this both in his treatment of herself, as well as Miss Rowland.
This reminded her of Mr. Darcy's contrasting behavior before his proposal. At first she had disapproved of his detached manner, but now, after having heard his confession of how long he had loved her and how he had struggled with his feelings, she realized that he had been guarded towards her because he did not want to show her any sign of particular regard until he was sure of what he wanted. She considered how difficult it must have been to be in love with her and maintain his distance when he would have wanted to be in her company. Instead of indulging such selfish desires, he had done the honorable thing by avoiding her, except he had overdone it a bit, and behaved too reticent, causing her to dislike him more. Then she recalled that he had danced with her at Netherfield, he had allowed himself that pleasure and she had endeavored to make it as unpleasant for him as possible. He had chosen a safe opportunity for enjoying her company, for surely one dance could not be perceived as an indication that he had intentions towards her, but being that she was the only woman with whom he danced, outside his party, during the whole ball, and indeed all the time he was in Hertfordshire, she realized that from him something as mundane as a dance, had been a sign of particular regard. She had just not seen it. Elizabeth was able to comprehend that Darcy's efforts to stay away from her probably stemmed as much from his desire to prevent raising expectations he had no intention of meeting, as from his attempts to overcome his feelings, but she could not find fault with his behavior in that regard either. The only thing that stung her was that he had wanted to overcome his feelings, but even for that she could not really blame him, considering the disparity in their situations, the behavior of her family, and the demands of his. Never could she approve of his behavior that evening at Hunsford, but perhaps she could forgive it.
When she was able to return her thoughts to Colonel Fitzwilliam, she knew she had made her decision . She censured herself for throwing away a good prospect over such seemingly trifling concerns, but in the end, she just did not feel right about marrying him. When she had shared her concerns with Jane, her sister had agreed, and earnestly entreated Elizabeth not to make such a momentous decision unless she was certain that she wanted it. Jane could not bear the idea that Elizabeth might be resigning herself to a lifetime of unhappiness in a loveless marriage.
With that decided, Jane said, "but Lizzy, what about Mr. Darcy?"
"What about him?"
"He seems to still be in love with you."
It more than 'seemed' that Darcy was still in love with her. After all that had passed between them the night before, she was certain of it. Nevertheless, she asked her sister, "why do you say that?"
"It was quite obvious to me Lizzy, even before I learned of your conversation with him, but I have the advantage of knowing of his proposal to you. What passed between the two of you last night only confirms it. Oh Lizzy, can you have any doubts as to his feelings?"
"No, I believe that you are right."
"Would you be receptive to him should he renew his addresses, in light of everything new you have learned about him and his improved behavior?"
"I do not know Jane, his previous address to me was so offensive and insulting that its effect cannot be easily overcome. Yet he seems now to be repentant. He seems to have changed." Jane had agreed that Darcy's demeanor did appear less grave than he had always seemed in Hertfordshire. "But really, one cannot expect a man such as him to make a second attempt on a woman like me, particularly after I rejected him so bitterly. Oh Jane, I cannot help but wonder whether misjudging him so grievously might have been the worst mistake of my life."
"Do you regret your refusal?"
"No, I cannot regret it, given the way he addressed me; and if he addressed me in a like manner again, I would refuse him again, even knowing everything I now know about his character."
"I believe he is clever enough not to repeat that mistake. But Lizzy, what if he were to address you properly?"
"I do not know, Jane. I really do not know him very well. Nearly everything I thought I knew of him has been overthrown."
"Perhaps he will come to Netherfield with Mr. Bingley and you will have the opportunity to get to know him better in Hertfordshire."
"I doubt that he is even considering such a notion Jane. I am sure that he is eager to return to Pemberley for the summer. In any case, he has been avoiding me since I returned to town and he admitted to me last night that he would not have attended had he known I was to be there. Surely, he will not now follow me into Hertfordshire."
"If he does not it will only be because he fears his presence there would cause you anxiety. But, if those fears were allayed, I believe he would be equally as eager to return to Hertfordshire as his friend."
"But how can I manage to allay his fears Jane? I will not likely see him again before we go."
"First you must decide whether you wish to dispel his fears Lizzy, whether you wish to encourage him. But from what you have told me, I believe your behavior towards him last night may have gone far in easing his mind. And with respect to not seeing him again, there are ways around that. I am sure that some well phrased inquiries to Mr. Bingley regarding his friend's plans for the summer may find their way to Mr. Darcy's ear."
"Jane," cried Elizabeth in astonishment, "I am shocked at you. You would not truly encourage me to resort to such measures, would you?" she laughed.
"I do not think such methods are all that shocking when you have so few alternatives," Jane responded, joining in her sisters mirth.
The two walked companionably back to the house, and when they arrived they were greeted by Georgiana who had called with Mrs. Annesley, to wait upon the ladies of the house. They learned that she had been visiting with Mrs. Gardiner and Miss Lucas for about a quarter hour hoping that she would have an opportunity to see them as well. Elizabeth was amazed that such a shy young woman would take the initiative of calling upon friends she had only met the previous evening, and in such a part of town. She knew Mr. Darcy must have encouraged the visit. The ladies spent an enjoyable morning together and when the visitors rose to leave, Mrs. Gardiner requested Miss Darcy's consent to return her visit on the following Monday. Miss Darcy seemed very pleased and immediately gave her enthusiastic consent.
On Friday morning, Mr. Bingley and Colonel Fitzwilliam called again. Their visit was short, and Mr. Bingley spoke mostly of his intended removal to Netherfield for the summer. He inquired of Jane how much longer she intended to be in town in such a manner as bespoke the dependence of his own plans on hers. Colonel Fitzwilliam appeared a bit uncomfortable when Jane gave the date of their intended departure. He looked at Elizabeth, but she was engrossed most diligently in her embroidery. Jane then asked Mr. Bingley, "does Mr. Darcy plan to travel to Netherfield with you?"
Elizabeth was surprised by the question, as she had never confirmed to Jane that she wished to see Mr. Darcy again, and she could not discern for sure whether Jane was carrying out her previous suggestion or simply making conversation. She did not dare lift her eyes or show any sign of interest. "I do not know," replied Mr. Bingley, "I have, of course, discussed my plans to go with him, and invited both him and Colonel Fitzwilliam," Colonel Fitzwilliam confirmed it with a bow, "but Darcy has not yet answered my invitation, which surprises me, he rarely tarries over making decisions." Elizabeth blushed as she recalled Darcy's confession of how long he had 'tarried' in deciding whether to propose to her. "It must run in his family, for I have not had an answer from his cousin either," continued Bingley looking towards Colonel Fitzwilliam. Elizabeth blushed again as Colonel Fitzwilliam smiled and apologized to Mr. Bingley for 'tarrying' but assured him he would be able to give him an answer soon.
"But you will have the company of your sisters and Mr. Hurst."
"Yes, so I will not be entirely alone even if my friends cannot join me."
"It would be so pleasant though, for Mr. Darcy to renew all of his acquaintances in Hertfordshire. Do you not agree, Lizzy?"
"I am sure, he would be well received," said Elizabeth quietly.
Jane, feeling that she may have offended the colonel by singling out Darcy and indicating that he would be welcome, then added, "and I am sure everyone would take great pleasure in meeting you as well, Colonel Fitzwilliam."
"Thank you Miss Bennet, Bingley tells me that your family and neighbors are delightful."
The gentlemen took their leave soon after. Mr. Bingley expressed a desire to return on Monday morning, but Jane advised him of their plans to call on Miss Darcy. Thus, he deferred his visit until Tuesday.
The residents of the Gardiner household enjoyed a quiet family dinner, and enjoyed another evening to themselves. Elizabeth looked forward to Monday's visit with trepidation as she once again considered whether she would meet with Mr. Darcy. She could not decide whether she more hoped or feared seeing him again, but after their first meeting since their ill-fated encounter at Hunsford, any future meetings would certainly entail less anxiety. She considered that she would discover the validity of Jane's supposition that he might have been encouraged by her treatment at the Hursts by whether he was present for the visit to Georgiana, or continued to avoid her.
When she arrived at Darcy's townhouse on Monday morning, Elizabeth could not help but be affected by its grandeur. When they entered, she admired the foyer and hallway, and as they were shown to the drawing room, she was able to glimpse several other rooms. She observed that they were lofty and handsome, and their furniture suitable to the fortune of their proprietor; but Elizabeth saw, with admiration of his taste, that his home was neither gaudy nor uselessly fine; with less of splendor, and more real elegance, than the furniture of Rosings. 'And of this place,' thought she, 'I might have been mistress!' They were shown into the drawing room where Georgiana was already entertaining Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst, as well as Mrs. Fitzwilliam and Miss Rowland. Mr. Darcy was not present.
The visit went as well as could be expected. Elizabeth did not improve her acquaintance with Miss Darcy as much as she would have liked. With such a number of ladies present to occupy Georgiana's attention, as well as her inherent shyness, and Miss Bingley's interruptions to her conversation with anyone else, it is no wonder that Georgian said little. Elizabeth did enjoy her conversation with Miss Rowland and Mrs. Fitzwilliam. Although the visit was long, Mr. Darcy never made an appearance. Upon inquiry from some of the other ladies, Miss Darcy disclosed that he was out of the house for the morning. "How odd," observed Miss Bingley, "he must have had some particular business, for I know that he is usually at home in the morning when we call on you."
"He did not say anything about his business," replied Miss Darcy quietly. Elizabeth observed that Mrs. Annesley then tried to draw Miss Bingley into conversation with herself, undoubtedly to shield her charge from that woman's unwanted attentions. After about an hour, Mrs. Gardiner rose to take leave, and the other members of her party followed suit.
The following morning, Mr. Bingley and Colonel Fitzwilliam called as promised. The party took another turn in the park together and the morning was spent contentedly. Elizabeth watched happily as Jane and Mr. Bingley's friendship continued to flourish. She was also able to enjoy Colonel Fitzwilliam's company better than she had since his proposal. Having resolved her own feelings, her time with him was not burdened by the anxiety of the decision that had been weighing on her for the past few weeks, and she was able to be at ease. She would be departing in only a few days, and then she would never have to concern herself with what had passed between them again. Soon after they returned to the Gardiner home, the gentlemen departed, with a promise to return on Friday to take leave of the ladies, who would be returning to Hertfordshire on Saturday morning.
The next two days were spent quietly at Gracechurch Street, dominated by preparations for the departure of the three young ladies. All of them were eager to return home. Jane and Elizabeth speculated gaily about the date Mr. Bingley was most likely to arrive at Netherfield. Meanwhile, Mr. Bingley was making his plans for returning to Netherfield. He had spoken to his sisters, and both had determined to accompany him, and he had invited Darcy as well as Colonel Fitzwilliam. He had invited the latter, because their friendship had grown during their various visits to Gracechurch Street, and he wished to facilitate the colonel's obvious attachment to Miss Elizabeth. He had not the slightest suspicion of Darcy's own regard for the same young lady.
Darcy was pleased to receive the invitation to Netherfield, but he was a bit disappointed at the possibility of Colonel Fitzwilliam's presence there as well. He had not yet decided whether to go himself, but he had, nevertheless, been indulging the prospect of being able to improve his acquaintance with Elizabeth without his cousin underfoot. Thus, Darcy was amusing himself with speculating on how Colonel Fitzwilliam would be able to endure the vulgarity of Mrs. Bennet and the attentions of Elizabeth's younger sisters on Thursday evening after dinner and after Georgiana had retired for the night, when his cousin was shown into his study.
"What are you doing here at this hour, Fitzwilliam?" asked Darcy.
"I came to seek your advice on a matter of some importance Darcy. I have always held you up as a pillar of gentlemanly conduct," Darcy inwardly flinched at this praise remembering Elizabeth's reproof, 'had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner.' Colonel Fitzwilliam did not notice, "and I hoped to obtain your guidance on a matter of some delicacy." Darcy now feared that the colonel wished to discuss Elizabeth, and he fervently desired to escape the conversation. Unaware of his cousin's discomfort, Colonel Fitzwilliam continued, "I fear I may have been too hasty in making my addresses to Miss Elizabeth Bennet." Darcy only nodded. "As I explained to you when I proposed to her, I had then despaired of meeting a more ideal candidate for marriage. Since I later made the acquaintance of Miss Rowland, however, I realized that she might be closer to what I was originally looking for. She has a sweet, lively disposition, not unlike Miss Elizabeth's, although I believe she is a bit more mischievous, and I could just as easily see myself falling in love with one of them as the other. But, Miss Rowland also has the fortune I had always hoped to obtain through marriage as well as an excellent family and connections, and I think she might be disposed to accept me, in time. But my dilemma lies in my conviction that I am bound by honor to give my hand to Miss Elizabeth if she desires it. I would not be unhappy with the union, but I believe I would prefer a more profitable alliance. Yet, I openly declared myself to her and sought her hand, then when she declined I entreated her for more time to gain her consent, clearly indicating an intent to renew my addresses. Now that Bingley has extended this invitation to Netherfield, I could follow her into Hertfordshire and continue my suit. Or, I could simply let her go on Saturday, decline the invitation to Netherfield, and never pursue the matter further. I would much rather remain here in town and further my acquaintance with Miss Rowland, but I feel that I am obligated by my previous actions to offer for Miss Elizabeth again." Colonel Fitzwilliam paused to let out a frustrated sigh then finished, "what is your own opinion?"
Darcy's heart leapt. He turned away from his cousin and walked about the room in deep contemplation. It was within his power to end his rival's suit here and now with but a word. His feelings were torn between the relief and hope he felt at his cousin's desire to withdraw his suit, and the anger and indignation he felt towards his cousin for trifling with his Elizabeth. 'Elizabeth is your second choice?!' he thought to himself. 'Good god, she is his second choice, he could just as easily love one as the other!' Darcy could not believe what he had heard and it took him a moment to regain his composure, although there was no outward sign perceptible to his cousin, that he had lost it. Then he considered the advice he had been called upon to render. His response to the question at hand would have been immediate had his own feelings not had a stake in the matter. Of course his cousin was bound by honor to renew his offer to Elizabeth. This, however, was the last answer he wanted to give, both because of his own feelings and his indignation on Elizabeth's behalf at her being his cousin's second choice. But he could not avoid giving the right answer without compromising his own integrity. There was one possibility, if Fitzwilliam's behavior had given rise to similar expectations of his intentions towards Miss Rowland, it may simply be a choice of which obligation of honor to obey, since he could not follow both. He could make but one choice between two equal claims on his honor. Trying to conceal his hope (of which sentiment he was utterly ashamed), he asked, "has your behavior towards Miss Rowland compromised your honor in any way?"
Colonel Fitzwilliam was a bit taken aback, and responded promptly, "not at all. I have not been any more forward with her than my usual manner, which I know, is more than what you approve, but my behavior toward Miss Rowland has been nothing in comparison to the open declaration I made to Miss Elizabeth."
Darcy walked towards the window pensively, to hide his disappointment. He knew what he had to say. He tried to argue that his answer would not be the best one for Elizabeth's sake because his cousin did not love her, but he knew this did not change the answer he must give. His cousin was bound by honor to renew his offer and she was entitled to accept it if that was her choice. Although his cousin's admission that he was not in love with Elizabeth gave Darcy pause, he reminded himself of his cousin's reassurance that he could easily grow to love her and that he had already been well on his way to loving her. Indeed, how could he help himself, particularly once they were married. Colonel Fitzwilliam was not of a nature to resent Elizabeth because he had addressed her prematurely and had married her for the sake of his honor, instead he would rejoice in her qualities that had induced him to propose in the first place, and make the best of their financial situation.
Darcy tried to reconcile himself to his decision by considering that Elizabeth did not love his cousin, therefore, she would not accept him. He soon acknowledged however, that he had no way of knowing Elizabeth's sentiments towards his cousin. He was completely ignorant of whether she felt that she knew Colonel Fitzwilliam well enough now to make a choice, and if so, whether she was inclined to accept him. He flinched at the possibility that she might love his cousin. He knew she would only marry him if she loved him. Therefore, if she did not love him she wouldn't accept, and if she did accept him, it would mean she loved him, and if that was the case, she would be happy, which she deserved. Darcy realized that either way the outcome would be for the best.
At length Darcy turned to face his cousin, and with an expression utterly devoid of emotion said, "then you must offer for Miss Elizabeth again, but I see no reason why you cannot do so tomorrow, before she leaves. If she refuses, you need not go to Netherfield. If she accepts, you will no longer have a reason to stay." Darcy then realized that his own decision of whether to go to Netherfield would also depend on the outcome of his cousin's renewed proposal.
"I believe you are right Darcy, and I think it best to speak to her tomorrow as you suggest. It makes sense. Her objection was that we had not had sufficient time to get to know each other. The longer I wait, therefore, the more likely it is that she has had time to overcome this objection. Thus, I have a greater chance of a refusal if I renew my offer sooner rather that later. Thank you cousin," said Colonel Fitzwilliam as he rose to take his leave.
"Fitzwilliam," said Darcy. The colonel turned to look at his cousin, who continued, "if she refuses you again, you would do well to accept her answer this time."
Colonel Fitzwilliam chuckled and said, "indeed, if she does refuse again, I will make my intentions, or lack thereof, very clear."
With that, Colonel Fitzwilliam quitted the house. Darcy was left incredulous that his cousin would propose to a woman, to Elizabeth, with the hope of being turned down. Recalling the pain of her rejection of himself he could not comprehend how his cousin could wish to be rejected by her. She was so sweet and lively and compassionate and intelligent and generous and . . . . He buried his face in his hands. How could anyone not want her? Then he was reminded of his own laborious attempts to purge her from his heart. He had not wanted to love her. He remembered his words to her, 'I perfectly comprehend your feelings, and now have only to be ashamed of what my own have been.' Ashamed of loving Elizabeth? 'Never,' he thought to himself, 'how could I have said such a thing. I can only be ashamed of not wanting to love her. That, I most assuredly regret, and the way I addressed her that evening, and the way I behaved in Hertfordshire that caused her to form her ill opinion of me.' Now, all Darcy could do was wait, and hope that his cousin's suit would be rejected, again. It was some consolation to know that his cousin would be more relieved than pained by the rejection, although it was difficult to comprehend that any man could wish to be refused by his Elizabeth. Darcy also knew Colonel Fitzwilliam would not be entirely disappointed by an acceptance either, but presently, he could not even consider that possibility. And if not for the wretched state of his heart he might have laughed at the cruel twist of fate that had caused him to send his cousin to propose to his beloved Elizabeth -- twice.
Darcy scarcely slept that night, and the sleep he was able to obtain was less than restful. When he awoke he could think of nothing except his cousin's visit to his beloved. He tried to occupy his mind with some employment, but found it impossible to distract himself. He was spending the morning in the drawing room with Georgiana, who was expressing her delight with her new acquaintances with the Bennets and Miss Lucas, as well as her disappointment that the young ladies would be leaving tomorrow. She had just mentioned to her brother that she wished to call at Gracechurch Street today to bid them goodbye, when they heard the doorbell. Georgiana was dismayed by the arrival of visitors and hoped it would not be Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst, as their call would probably dash her hopes of making her intended visit. She was pleased when Mrs. Fitzwilliam and Miss Rowland were announced instead, with the purpose of inviting her to accompany them on exactly such a visit as she had been contemplating. Darcy promptly gave his permission and the three ladies set out.
Meanwhile, Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr. Bingley made their call to Gracechurch Street. A few moments after their arrival, Mr. Bingley suggested a walk in the park. Miss Lucas was not inclined to go, as she still had some last minute packing to finish. But the other four young people set out for the park. Mr. Bingley claimed Jane's company, so Elizabeth walked next to Colonel Fitzwilliam. The former two soon outstripped them, and Colonel Fitzwilliam took the opportunity to meet his obligation to Elizabeth. Thus, he began, "Miss Elizabeth, since you are leaving town tomorrow, I wished to renew my offer of marriage to you, now that we have had more time to get to know one another."
Elizabeth blushed, and replied, "thank you sir, for your patience. I have given it much thought these past few weeks, and I have decided that I do not think you and I would be happy together. I do respect and esteem you, and I enjoy your company. I hope that I may always count you among my friends."
Colonel Fitzwilliam smiled, and to Elizabeth's relief, his expression was devoid of the devastation one might see in the eyes of a man who had been rejected by the woman he loves - the look she had seen in Darcy's eyes. "I would like that very much Miss Elizabeth, and I would wish you to know that I will never mention this matter to you again," was all he said. They soon caught up with Bingley and Jane, and all returned back to the house.
Soon after the gentlemen departed, Miss Darcy, Mrs. Fitzwilliam and Miss Rowland called on Elizabeth, Jane and Miss Lucas. Elizabeth was delighted with their company and was particularly pleased by a request from Miss Rowland that she correspond with her. Jane also found a correspondent in Mrs. Fitzwilliam. Miss Darcy wished to begin a correspondence with Elizabeth as well, but was too shy to say anything about it. The ladies spent nearly an hour in pleasant conversation before the visit was ended.
Mr. Bingley and Colonel Fitzwilliam went directly to Darcy's house upon their removal from Gracechurch Street, where they found Darcy sitting contemplatively in his study. Darcy immediately observed his cousin, but could discern nothing from his countenance. He was cheerful, but Darcy knew that he would be so in either case. Mr. Bingley immediately began to tell Darcy of their visit, and of his plans to return to Netherfield in a fortnight. The suspense that Darcy experienced during this conversation was torture. He was a bit heartened by the fact that the other two gentlemen did not speak openly of an engagement between Colonel Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth, but then his cousin might not tell Bingley such news until the engagement had been sanctioned by the lady's father. Nor did it appear that the Colonel had yet spoken to Bingley about any decision on whether to accept his invitation to Netherfield. Darcy made every effort to listen attentively to Mr. Bingley and participate in the conversation while hiding the preoccupation of his thoughts.
The gentlemen had removed to the billiards room after the other two gentlemen had had a sufficient dose of Mr. Bingley's enthusiasm. They were thus engaged when Miss Darcy and her companions returned to the house. Upon their arrival, the gentlemen joined them in the drawing room. Darcy became hopeful that he could discern something as to whether his cousin was engaged to Elizabeth by observing his behavior with Miss Rowland. Soon after the arrival of Miss Darcy and her companions, Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst also arrived to pay a call to Miss Darcy. Darcy's agitation during the afternoon was ever increasing and he paid little heed to the conversation at hand. Colonel Fitzwilliam's behavior towards Miss Rowland betrayed nothing from which Darcy could guess with any certainty as to the outcome of his earlier conversation with Elizabeth. His cousin was as open and friendly as ever with Miss Rowland, but did not engage in behavior that would appear inappropriately intimate. At length it was time for the guests to be departing to attend their respective dinner engagements, and any private conversation with Colonel Fitzwilliam was thus foreclosed for the evening.
Darcy spent a quiet evening at home with his sister. After dinner she played for him and they talked about her visit to Gracechurch Street. Darcy spent several hours alone in his study after his sister retired, and it was well into the night when he finally made his way to his rooms. Sleep evaded him however, as his mind continued in its wretched state of suspense. He met the following morning with the same perturbation that had prevented him from resting during the night. The additional anxiety of just knowing Elizabeth was leaving town today, and concern over her safety while she traveled only caused him further distress. But Darcy was resolved to at least alleviate that amount of his anxiety which he had the power to address. He would no longer live in suspense as to the status of his beloved Elizabeth. Soon after breakfast, he made his way to his uncle's home in the hopes of obtaining a private interview with Colonel Fitzwilliam.
Darcy was pleased to find his cousin alone, as the ladies of the house were out visiting several shops and Lord _____ and his eldest son were making a call on business. "Darcy, I was just about to depart to call on you, as things are quite dull around here with everyone out of the house," said the colonel.
"I confess I am surprised to find you within, and all alone." Darcy was at a loss on how to raise the subject that he wished to discuss with his cousin without betraying his personal interest in the matter.
"Yes, well, you understand me well enough to know that I am never content with merely my own company, but I still deemed solitude a better choice than accompanying my father and brother on whatever tedious matter of business has called them forth this morning. I suppose there are some benefits to being the second son."
"Your acknowledgment of such is a novelty indeed. I have only ever heard you complain about your status within your family."
"Well I suppose that my dealings with Miss Elizabeth may have amended my perspective somewhat on that. She is the one who pointed out to me that there are sufficient benefits associated with merely being the son of an Earl to make up for not being the firstborn."
Darcy, while trying not to appear affected at the mention of Elizabeth's name, took the opportunity to learn the intelligence he sought by his visit, "and speaking of that young lady, how was your visit with her yesterday?"
"Luckily for me, she is an intelligent woman, Darcy, and would not have me. But thankfully, only my vanity has been injured by her refusal." Darcy could scarcely contain his relief and pleasure at hearing this news. But his joy could not be complete as the prospect of her eventual marriage to someone else continued to linger in the back of his mind. He stood up and moved about the room until he found himself standing in front of the window. "It is for the best, I suppose" continued Colonel Fitzwilliam, "but I hope she knows what she is about. As for me, I shall strive to me more careful with these matters in the future."
"And what of Miss Rowland?"
"I intend to endeavor most strenuously to fall in love with her before I offer her my hand. It should be a much easier matter now that my honor is not engaged elsewhere. Subduing her heart in return may be a bit more difficult, as I fear I will have to turn her attention from you."
Darcy was surprised by this assertion and protested that the young lady in question had not shown any preference for himself, to which Colonel Fitzwilliam replied, "she certainly seeks your notice more than mine. It just happens that I receive her attentions more warmly."
"Yes, and you offer your own attentions to her quite freely as well."
"And you, cousin, are uniformly reticent. Sometimes I believe you are wholly immune to the charms of women. I do not know whether to pity you or envy you."
"I simply do not wish to raise expectations where I have no intentions."
"A wise resolve, especially considering the eagerness with which even the slightest gesture on your part would undoubtedly be received, but how you manage to adhere to it so fastidiously, particularly in the face of all the attention you receive from ladies, is quite beyond my comprehension."
"Do you suppose their attentions towards me to be rooted in anything but the most superficial motivations?"
"Ah, then it is cynicism that has made you so diligent in avoiding the delights of the fairer sex?"
"Perhaps you are right, but tell me, cousin, how much attention you suppose I would receive if I had a lesser fortune and estate?"
"A great deal less I would imagine Darcy," replied the colonel laughing, "that is how I console myself on the disparity of our treatment by women ? by remembering the disparity in our fortunes. Although I suppose I would be overlooked entirely if it were not for the fact of my being the son of an Earl, while you are only his nephew. But then, you are much taller and a great deal more handsome, but I dare say I have a more engaging disposition."
Darcy, still meditating on the motivations of women who courted his attention responded, "but of what consequence is a man's disposition when all that is looked at is the value of his purse? Can you name even one lady of our acquaintance who has looked upon me for the man I am, who has not merely seen my fortune, who has not viewed her association with me with the sole hope of improving her own financial situation?"
Colonel Fitzwilliam thought for a moment, and then said, "yes, Miss Elizabeth Bennet."
"What?" Darcy cried in surprise, for indeed, he had been thinking of that very lady himself, but that his cousin had noticed that Elizabeth fit this description disturbed him. He wondered if she had told his cousin of his proposal, but Colonel Fitzwilliam had not betrayed any such knowledge. He immediately dismissed the idea, certain that Elizabeth would not have spoken of it.
"She is probably one of the only unmarried or unattached women who I have seen in company with you, who does not seek your attention. Indeed, now that you mention it, I have never before seen a woman behave towards you with such utter indifference. Perhaps that was part of my own attraction to her at Rosings, she gave me much more attention than she gave you, and that was certainly a novelty for me. But I did not see her with you in Hertfordshire, perhaps she acted more in accordance with the usual treatment you receive from ladies, but was chastened by your failure to respond to her overtures, and so gave up her quest."
Darcy was wounded by his cousin's observation of Elizabeth's indifference towards himself. How could he have ever thought she wished for his addresses? Then he thought, Colonel Fitzwilliam had not seen them together when he was alone with her, on their walks at Rosings. But argument was futile, his cousin was right, she had been wholly indifferent. No, not indifferent, she had said as much herself, her feelings were quite beyond indifference. She despised him. He looked to his cousin and only replied, "no, indeed, her behavior towards me in Kent was no different than it had typically been in Hertfordshire."
"Then she is the one," said the Colonel, not realizing the dual meaning his friend assigned to this observation, "she is the woman who answers your questions. She has never sought to attach you for your fortune. She must know of your fortune, and I know her heart can not be otherwise engaged, or she would not have encouraged my own suit. Therefore, I must conclude that her lack of any desire to attach you must only be the result of plain good sense." The Colonel chuckled lightly, and then finished saying, "no, I do not believe she is of a nature to be in possession of mercenary intentions."
"Indeed," was all Darcy could reply, he was all too well apprised of that fact.
The two continued to converse amiably about other subjects until, at length, Darcy took his leave.
When Darcy returned to his own house, he was informed that Georgiana and Mrs. Annesley had gone out with Lady _____, Mrs. Fitzwilliam and Miss Rowland, who had stopped by to invite her along to visit several shops with them. He was thus at leisure to enjoy the knowledge that Elizabeth was not engaged to his cousin, and that Colonel Fitzwilliam had, at last, relinquished his suit. He was happy, and he was hopeful. He now also had to consider whether to go to Netherfield with Bingley. He knew he wished to see Elizabeth again, but he did not want to distress her with his presence. She had made it clear at Hunsford that she had no desire to see him again. But she had been civil and receptive to him at the Hurst dinner party. To pursue her in spite of her rejection would be disrespectful of her wishes, but she had rejected him when she had thought ill of him, she had since learned that her opinion had not been entirely accurate, and as for that part of it which had been accurate, how was she to learn of his improvement if they were never together? He had not yet made a decision when his friend joined him in his study.
"There you are, Darcy," said Bingley, "dare I hope that you have made up your mind about accompanying me into Hertfordshire?"
"Please forgive me for keeping you in suspense Bingley, I was considering the matter at this moment."
"I have a suspicion as to why you might not wish to go," Darcy looked up suddenly, "and I can hardly blame you."
"What is your suspicion?" asked Darcy warily.
"It has to do with a certain young lady of our recent acquaintance."
Darcy was increasingly agitated as he wondered how Bingley could have learned of what passed between he and Elizabeth, unless Elizabeth had told Miss Bennet and Miss Bennet had told him. "Which young lady?"
"Miss Rowland, of course, I believe she likes you very well."
Darcy was relieved. "I think she is better suited to my cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam."
"But your cousin is courting Miss Elizabeth."
Darcy's displeasure at hearing such a statement was significantly tempered by the knowledge that the courtship referred to was now at an end. "Be that as it may," he replied, " I can assure you that I have no attachment to Miss Rowland."
"Then, why would you not wish to come to Netherfield for a few weeks?"
"Do you suppose your neighbors would welcome me back?" asked Darcy, voicing his concerns about Elizabeth's reaction to his return.
"Since when have you concerned yourself with such things?" laughed Bingley, "I cannot imagine why they would not, but do not be distressed, Miss Bennet expressed to me yesterday her hope that you would accompany me."
"Yes, in fact, even Miss Elizabeth said you would be most welcome."
Darcy's heart surged with renewed hope. "Miss Elizabeth said that?"
"Yes she did, so you see, you must come, you cannot disappoint her," teased Bingley.
"No, I cannot," was all Darcy said, as he tried to suppress a smile. Elizabeth's approbation was all he needed to hear, he would go.
"Colonel Fitzwilliam has not yet given me his answer either, but I am confident he will join us. I believe he and Miss Elizabeth are very well suited to each other, do not you agree?"
Darcy, having no wish to answer the question posed, responded, "I spoke to Colonel Fitzwilliam last evening, and I believe he is not planning to remove to Netherfield. I think he would prefer to remain in town."
"Are you quite certain?" asked Bingley with some surprise.
"Yes, but, I shall accompany you after all, Bingley."
Bingley was surprised, with respect to the choice of both gentlemen. He had expected the reverse. But, he would be glad to have his friend with him, so he smiled, "I am glad to hear it Darcy, I am sure I will enjoy your company and no doubt my sisters will find some relief in your presence from the tedium of my lovemaking, for I am determined to win Miss Bennet."
"I am sure you will be successful Bingley."
"Miss Darcy is welcome to join us as well, Darcy, it is getting rather warm for her to stay in town."
Darcy was unsure whether Wickham continued in residence at Meryton, and had no intention to bring his sister there until he was certain that he was gone from the area. Nothing could induce him to bring her into the same country with that man, save his own wedding, which he did not foresee in the near future. He told Bingley, "Thank you Bingley, but I think it is best for her to remain in London for now, perhaps I will send for her in time, or send her to Pemberley."
Bingley went on at length to describe all the joy he anticipated finding in Hertfordshire, and for the first time in months, Darcy was content to listen to Bingley's effusions.
When Elizabeth arrived at Longbourn that afternoon, she was happy to be home, and she caught up on all the local news from her mother and sisters. In particular, she learned that Mr. Wickham was not to marry Mary King. Her father merely expressed his happiness at the prospect of sensible conversation that could now be afforded by the return home of his two eldest daughters. The next morning, Elizabeth and Jane wrote a joint letter to the Gardiners to tell them of their safe return home and to thank them for their hospitality. Then Elizabeth wrote to Miss Rowland and Jane to Mrs. Fitzwilliam, as promised.
A few days later, Elizabeth received the following response from her new friend:
Dear Miss Elizabeth:
Thank you for your recent letter. I was pleased to learn of your safe arrival home and I am glad to hear that your family is well. Things are the same as they always have been here, although it is getting late in the season for being in London and I am eager to return to my home in the country. There are so few people left in town now to provide good company. Mrs. Fitzwilliam and I have been spending a great deal of time with Miss Darcy. We took her out to a few shops the other day, and we all enjoyed ourselves very much. Yesterday, when we visited her, she asked if I had heard from you yet, and she was pleased to learn that you had reached home safely, and asked me to give you her best regards. The poor girl is really very shy, and my cousin and I have been trying to put her at ease as much as possible.
I must confess my disappointment that every time we visit her, her friends Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst also seem to feel inclined to wait upon her. I dare say I could do without their company. I know you will not be shocked by my saying so since I could easily perceive that you are of like mind. With that being said, I know you will not be offended when I tell you that as soon as Miss Darcy mentioned you, Miss Bingley began to abuse you to her. I thought her behavior very ill bred, and if not for poor Miss Darcy's discomfort I would have found it very diverting. I do believe Miss Darcy likes you very much, for although she could not respond to Miss Bingley's affront, she blushed profusely on your behalf. You need not concern yourself however, for I took it upon myself to defend you most strenuously.
I do believe that Miss Darcy tires of the visits from Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst. Elinor and I are constantly contriving to take her out whenever possible, to avoid their visits and offer her our own superior society. I wonder that her brother does not realize how little value the friendship of such ladies can be to his sister. I understand that he is a good friend of their brother, but I am surprised that he has not perceived the poor influence they can be on his sister. Luckily, Miss Darcy is in possession of a strong mind. She does not express her thoughts very often, but it is clear that her judgment is not faulty.
I understand that Mr. Bingley has finalized his plans to remove to Netherfield next week. I am happy for my own sake as well as Miss Darcy's that he will be taking his sisters with him, although it means that you will have to endure their company! I am not so pleased that he will also be removing Mr. Darcy from our company. Now there is a man who is a complete mystery to me. I flatter myself, Miss Elizabeth, that I have been admired by most single and unattached men who find themselves in my company, and those who do not admire me right away are quickly subdued by my charms. That is, until I met Mr. Darcy. I have never met another man like him. He scarcely speaks, and when he does it is about general things. He is more open when he is just in the company of his family circle, but those visits are rare. Elinor tells me he used to visit his uncle's house much more often before he went to Kent. She has also noticed that he has become more affable lately in company than he used to be, but he is, nevertheless, careful to never show particular attention to a lady. He shows no emotion, except affection for his sister, and perhaps, to a lesser degree, his aunt and uncle, and cousins. But I cannot believe him to be emotionless, he must feel something. In spite of his lack of expression, I am of the opinion that he must be capable of the deepest passion. I suppose it would be interesting to see his potential awakened. I am sure Miss Bingley would agree. If he was not to be leaving for the country so soon, I might indulge myself in the challenge of trying to make him fall in love with me just for the sport of it. But, I know you would not approve of such behavior in a young lady, and since I wish to retain your good opinion, not to mention that I doubt the possibility of success and feel no real affection for the man, I will leave Mr. Darcy be. Perhaps while he is in Hertfordshire you can discover the identity of the lady of the 'fine eyes,' for I would be interested to know what woman could capture the heart of such a man.
His cousin is also a very interesting subject, though less mysterious. He has always been attentive to me, but in the past few days, he has become increasingly so. I must confess that I like him a great deal, and find that I take great pleasure in his company. We spent a most agreeable half hour together this morning, walking in the park. He is lively and clever and quite charming. I confess that my vanity has often been gratified by the attentions of young men, but my heart has yet to be touched. I fear, however, that if Colonel Fitzwilliam continues in his present manner, it may be in some danger.
My cousin wishes me to send you her best wishes and asks that you thank Miss Bennet for her recent letter and give her every assurance that it will be soon answered. I am afraid that Mrs. Fitzwilliam is not as diligent a correspondent as her dearest cousin. I wish you all the best, and await, most eagerly, your next letter.
Elizabeth was surprised by many of the disclosures in this letter. Although Elizabeth had liked Miss Rowland very much, she could not approve of some aspects of her manner. She admired the ladies' efforts with Miss Darcy and their perception of Miss Bingley's true nature, as well as Miss Rowland's defense of herself. She was a bit surprised by the references to Colonel Fitzwilliam's attentiveness towards Miss Rowland, so soon after his addresses to herself, but she hoped he could find happiness. As she considered the possibility of the match, it occurred to her that the two were well suited for each other. In her reply, Elizabeth earnestly implored her friend not to sport with Colonel Fitzwilliam's feelings.
Elizabeth was also surprised by what was written about Mr. Darcy. She heartily disapproved Miss Rowland's easy manner of discussing such a thing as a man's passions, but it reminded her of his description in his letter of his feeling 'the utmost force of passion' for her. Elizabeth also could not approve Miss Rowland's mention of sporting with his feelings, but she could perceive that it was said in jest. She did not know how to feel in response to learning that Darcy was coming to Netherfield with Mr. Bingley, as she could not help but believe that she was the reason for his coming.
Meanwhile, this time was spent by both Bingley and Darcy in eager anticipation of meeting the women they loved, one expressed these sentiments openly, the other made every effort to conceal them. Colonel Fitzwilliam, for his part, was daily becoming more successful in his endeavor to fall in love with Miss Rowland. The lady was gratified by his attentiveness and growing more and more disposed to reciprocate the feeling.
Thus, in the last week of May, the same five who had inhabited Netherfield the previous fall, once again took up residence there. The fates of two of the gentlemen in particular, hanging precariously in the balance.
On the second day after the arrival of the Netherfield party, the ladies of the house called upon the ladies of Longbourn, with some little encouragement from their brother, and invited the family to a dinner at Netherfield the following evening.
The Bennets were the only family in attendance at Netherfield for dinner. Things began much the same as they had used to be the previous autumn. Mrs. Bennet was overly attentive to Mr. Bingley and uncivil to Mr. Darcy at every opportunity. Miss Lydia and Miss Kitty continued to conduct themselves on the border of propriety, and Mr. Bennet continued to overlook the flaws of his family. Elizabeth began to long to return to London. But she glanced at Darcy who appeared grim, and resolved that they were her family and she would not be ashamed of them.
After dinner, when the gentlemen rejoined the ladies, she was surprised when Darcy came to sit near her and began a conversation, "I hope you are enjoying your evening Miss Bennet."
"I am, thank you. I hope your sister and your other relations in London were well when you left them?"
Darcy smiled, "yes, they were all very well, I thank you."
"How long will they remain in town?"
"My uncle will remove to his estate next week and take the whole party with him. Even Georgiana is to go."
"And will Miss Rowland remain with her cousin or does she return home to Devonshire?"
"I believe she will stay at my uncle's estate for some time."
"I dare say she will be happy to leave town, she indicated in her letter to me that she longs to return to the country."
"I did not know that you and she corresponded."
"Only since my return home." There was a pause in the conversation, the Elizabeth said, "and will Miss Darcy enjoy being in the country?"
"Oh yes, she is nearly as attached to her uncle's home as she is to Pemberley, and she is growing ever more fond of Mrs. Fitzwilliam and Miss Rowland."
"I am glad to hear it, I am sure they provide her with pleasant company."
At that moment the attention of both was distracted by Mrs. Bennet who had, up until then, been facilitating the beginning of a conversation between Bingley and Jane, and now, seeing them conversing agreeably, was so charitably disposed as to inform the Netherfield ladies of all the local news since their departure, "so much has happened since all of you went away last November," she began loudly, "Charlotte Lucas is now married and settled, to our cousin Mr. Collins, and is quite happily situated at Hunsford parsonage. Elizabeth visited her there in the spring." Elizabeth blushed as she felt Darcy's gaze upon her at this reminder of Hunsford.
Lydia then picked up where her mother left off and added, "and Mr. Wickham had a near miss. He nearly became engaged to Miss Mary King, but he was saved by her going away to Liverpool." Elizabeth glanced at Darcy to see how he bore this reference. "If not for her ten thousand pounds," continued Lydia, "I am certain he would not have been in danger at all, for he could not have really admired her. She is not at all handsome, what with all those freckles." Lydia and Kitty giggled together and Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley shared a disapproving look -- as if they never had anything uncomplimentary to say about anyone!
"Well, Mr. Wickham is a fine young man, indeed," said Mrs. Bennet with a pointed look to Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth thought she saw Darcy flinch at such a favorable reference to Wickham. Her mother continued, "it is a shame that his situation is so unfortunate that he cannot marry where he might wish." She said the last giving Elizabeth a significant look, which did not go unnoticed by Darcy. He arose from his chair and walked over to the window, unable to listen composedly to any more.
Elizabeth sensed his discomfort and tried to end the subject by saying, "soon the regiment will be leaving Meryton, so it does not much signify on any account."
This however caused her mother to embark on an extensive speech detailing her sorrows that the regiment was to leave Meryton so soon, her own dissatisfaction with her husband's refusal to take her family to Brighton, and her delight that Lydia had been invited by the Forsters to join them. Elizabeth closed her eyes briefly. When she opened them she was met with an unexpected look of understanding and a small smile from Darcy who had turned away from the window to observe her. He walked back and resumed his seat.
Mrs. Bennet's comment was followed by Lydia's expression of satisfaction with her own situation, and Kitty's expression of disappointment at not being invited, which ended with the observation that, "If the regiment would only stay at Meryton then all would be well. I cannot see why they must go away. All of the young ladies in the neighborhood will be disappointed." Then she looked at Lizzy, "well except for Lizzy, who has said she is happy the regiment is going away. Although I do not see how she can possibly be happy about it."
"She is not really happy that they are going, Kitty," interjected Lydia, "she merely does not want everyone to know the reason for her disappointment. I dare say she is envious of me."
Elizabeth, feeling all the embarrassment of her family's behavior, wished to change the conversation again, and so she addressed Miss Bingley saying, "did you have much opportunity to visit with Mrs. Fitzwilliam and Miss Rowland before leaving London, Miss Bingley?"
When Miss Bingley turned to respond to Elizabeth she could not help but notice Darcy regarding her with open admiration. His secret compliments of her had been diverting when she knew he would never develop any serious design on Elizabeth, but this was unacceptable.
Miss Bingley's pause gave Mrs. Bennet the opportunity to interject, "Miss Rowland, is that not the young lady with whom you have been corresponding, Lizzy?" Miss Bingley appeared surprised.
Elizabeth, pleased with her own success in having turned her mother's thoughts, replied, "yes ma'am. She is a cousin to the wife of Mr. Darcy's cousin, Mr. Fitzwilliam," and returned her attention to Miss Bingley.
"I am so well pleased that you were making such friends during your time in London Lizzy," said Mrs. Bennet.
Finally Miss Bingley answered, "We were able to enjoy their company several times on our visits to Miss Darcy. They are both very agreeable ladies, and so elegant and fashionable. I do hope to continue my acquaintance with them."
Elizabeth recalled all that she had been told by Miss Rowland in her last letter and could readily perceive the insincerity in Miss Bingley's tone. "As do I," she replied, "and how was Miss Darcy when you saw her last? I was very pleased to make her acquaintance at the Hursts dinner party."
"She was very well. She was a bit disappointed that she was unable to come to Netherfield with us, but I believe she is removing to her uncle's estate in the country, is she not, Mr. Darcy?"
"Indeed she is," replied the gentleman.
The conversation continued, and Mr. Darcy was content to simply sit back and admire Elizabeth. He made no further attempts at private conversation with her that evening, as she was a participant in the general conversation. Bingley and Jane were the only ones sharing private discourse, a little detached from the rest of the party. Darcy's behavior for the entire evening continued to display the renewed manners he had exhibited since his return from Kent. Elizabeth was very pleased to see that his manners were decidedly lacking in the reserved haughtiness that had previously marked his behavior.
She noticed that he spoke at length to her father at one point during the evening. He had also complimented Mary's playing and had even responded to one or two of Mrs. Bennet's comments that had been sensible enough to allow for a response. Elizabeth was astonished by his behavior and one glance at Miss Bingley told her that the sentiment was shared.
Before the Bennet family had departed, Mrs. Bennet invited all of the Netherfield inhabitants to dine at Longbourn two days hence. The invitation was eagerly accepted by Mr. Bingley on behalf of his entire party.
As soon as her guests were gone, Miss Bingley immediately began to abuse Elizabeth, "how very ill Eliza Bennet looked this evening. I must confess that I never saw any beauty in her. Her face is too thin; her complexion has no brilliancy; and her features are not at all handsome. Her nose wants character, there is nothing marked in its lines. Her teeth are tolerable, but nothing out of the common way; and as for her eyes, which have sometimes been called so fine, I never could perceive anything extraordinary in them. They have a sharp, shrewish look, which I do not like at all; and in her air altogether there is a self-sufficiency without fashion, which is intolerable. How surprised I was to learn that your cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, admired her, but he seems to have come to his senses, although it is unfortunate for her that she should lose his interest."
Although Miss Bingley still could not conceive that Darcy would form any serious design on Miss Elizabeth, her suspicion that he admired her was enough to support her desire to disparage her to him. However, she did not realize that if her suspicions were true, such behavior as she was now exhibiting was not the best way to recommend herself. But angry people are not always wise; and seeing him at last look somewhat nettled, she had all the success she expected. He was resolutely silent, however, and, from a determination of making him speak, she continued, "I remember when we first knew her, how amazed we all were to find that she was a reputed beauty; and I particularly recollect your saying one night, after they had been dining with us 'she a beauty! I should as soon call her mother a wit.' But afterwards she seemed to improve on you, and I believe you thought her rather pretty at one time."
"Yes," replied Darcy, who could contain himself no longer, "but that was only when I first knew her, for it has been some time since I have considered her as one of the handsomest women of my acquaintances." He then went away, and Miss Bingley was left to all the satisfaction of having forced him to say what gave no one any pain but herself.
When Darcy, at last, was able to be alone with his thoughts, he reflected happily on all that had passed between himself and Elizabeth. He also thought about what had been said about Mr. Wickham. Apparently everyone in the neighborhood was rather fond of him, and remembering Mrs. Bennet's look at him when she described his misfortunes, it occurred to him for the first time that Elizabeth's was not the only mind Wickham had poisoned against him. The possibility that Wickham had spread his lies about his dealings with Darcy about all of Hertfordshire caused him some distress. For, although he had never really cared what others, particularly those beneath him, thought of him, he did not want his good name blackened. But more importantly, if he was going to show Elizabeth that he had accepted her reproofs and was determined to change, he would have to make himself agreeable to all of her neighbors. The probability that all of them now thought him dishonorable would only make his task more difficult. He also thought about the young lady that Wickham had almost succeeded in marrying. That he had been able to impose upon her in such a way affected Darcy as he realized that any respectable woman who would accept Wickham would have to be misled about his character, and that once they were married such a young woman would be condemned to a life of disappointment, disillusionment and misery. However, his thoughts could not stray from Elizabeth for long, and as he envisioned her lively smile, he fell asleep with his mind very agreeably engaged.
The morning after next, several officers, including Mr. Wickham, called at Longbourn and were asked to stay to dinner. Elizabeth was extremely distressed by this situation as she could not perceive anything worse than an evening spent in company with both Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham. Elizabeth wished there was a way she could warn Mr. Darcy of Wickham's presence, so that he might avoid coming to dinner, but she could conceive of nothing.
Feeling that she would have to endure the officers' company enough during the evening, she escaped Longbourn for a long walk a few hours prior to dinner. Her mind was filled with vexations over what the evening might bring, when she suddenly heard the approach of a horse from behind her. She moved to the side of the path to allow the rider to pass, and was surprised when he slowed next to her and dismounted. "Mr. Darcy!" she exclaimed.
"Miss Bennet, I seem to have a talent for finding you on your solitary rambles."
She blushed and responded, "I am glad that you did, for there is something I would wish to speak to you about." His expression betrayed as much happiness as surprise at her declaration. She continued, "some of the officers were visiting at Longbourn this morning and were invited to remain to dinner. Mr. Wickham was among them, and will still be there this evening. I only wished to warn you so that you could avoid meeting him."
He smiled warmly, touched by her concern, and replied, "thank you, Miss Bennet." They walked in silence for a few minutes, then he spoke again. "I received the impression the other night at Netherfield, that you are not the only person to whom he has maligned my good name."
"No, I am afraid not. He told everyone of his misfortunes at your hand after you left the neighborhood last year. Nearly everyone was very sympathetic to him, and your character has consequently been lowered in their esteem."
Darcy looked grim as he replied, "well then, I suppose I will just have to improve their opinions of me." He saw the surprise register on Elizabeth's face, and smiled. "And what about this Miss King?" asked he.
Elizabeth was all amazement. "His attentions turned towards her as soon as he learned of her fortune of ten thousand pounds. She is lucky to have escaped him."
"Yes, and I always knew he intended to marry for money, but I had never considered how the young woman would be affected. I have always been so concerned with not exposing my sister's near miss at Ramsgate, that I have never considered making his bad character sufficiently known to prevent any respectable young lady from being taken in by him. Perhaps, I should have done so."
Elizabeth looked at him earnestly and said, "you are not responsible for him, Mr. Darcy."
He smiled, "but if I have information about his character that others have no way of knowing. Perhaps I have a responsibility to expose him for the protection of others."
"Even if such a responsibility existed, it could not supersede your responsibility to protect your sister's reputation. And you certainly could not be expected to notify everyone with whom he comes into contact."
"No, but I could do what I can with respect to those with whom I am acquainted, at least. I believe I could make his true character known without having to mention my sister's involvement with him."
"But if you did make such an attempt, he may be the one to bring up your sister's name as a form of retaliation."
Darcy was contemplative for a moment, then finally he said, "and what of your sister, Miss Lydia? she spoke rather enthusiastically about him last night."
"Lydia is enthusiastic in everything she says and does. She likes nearly all of the officers and I have not discerned any particular preference for Wickham on her part when I have seen them together. Anyhow, she cannot be at risk to being the object of prey to a fortune hunter such as he."
"I am glad to hear that she does not have a preference for him. As for her being safe because of her lack of fortune, I would not underestimate Wickham's motivations. I am sorry to say it, but I have witnessed his habits in years past and he enjoys the company of ladies very well. The only discrimination he makes on the basis of their fortunes has to do with the prospect of marriage." Elizabeth's eyes grew wide as she understood Darcy's implication. She realized that Lydia's vanity, lack of understanding, and lack of any real sense of propriety would make her all the more vulnerable to such a design. Darcy continued, "I feel I must do what I can to prevent other young ladies from facing the fate narrowly escaped by Miss King. I know that I cannot warn every young lady against Mr. Wickham and that in all likelihood he will eventually be successful in marrying one with some fortune, for his manners are such that he is able to gain the trust of those he meets quite easily, but I may be able to prevent his imposing on some."
Elizabeth was very pleased to hear Darcy speak with such consideration for the unsuspecting masses of young women of fortune. "I do not know that you will be believed by anyone in this area, if you do attempt to reveal his character."
"As you say, he is going away, and as anxious as I am for your family and neighbors to think well of me," Elizabeth blushed becomingly, "I think when it comes to exposing Wickham's true character, a few words to Colonel Forster might be sufficient. I do not believe I would have to tell him about Georgiana, and I can invite him to contact Colonel Fitzwilliam for corroboration of my information. Young ladies are not the only ones who should be wary of him, you know. He leaves unpaid debts wherever he goes. I have no doubt he will leave Meryton in debt to several of the local tradesmen. No one should extend him credit."
Elizabeth realized for the first time, that Wickham had been plaguing Darcy his entire life and she felt a surge of sympathy for him. After a few more moments of silence, she exclaimed that she should be returning home and, to her surprise, Darcy turned back to walk with her. "You need not accompany me back home, sir." Darcy appeared disheartened and immediately comprehended that she no longer wished for his company. Elizabeth realized that he misunderstood her remark, but she felt that if she said anything to correct him, it would be taken as an encouragement. Finally she thought it would be safe to merely add, "I would not wish you to trouble yourself."
"It would be no trouble, Miss Bennet. Indeed, it would be my pleasure to escort you to the gate of Longbourn," replied Darcy. Then, he added in almost a whisper, "It would be rather ungentlemanly of me to leave you here to walk home alone, would it not?"
Elizabeth blushed a great deal, to Darcy's satisfaction, but made no further protestation and they continued companionably for some time, talking sparsely about the countryside. During this time, Darcy was considering whether to go to dinner at Longbourn. Wickham's presence alone was not a deterrent for him, but if any sign of Darcy's feelings should escape him and provoke Wickham's suspicions, he might make an attempt to use Elizabeth to hurt Darcy, as he had done with Georgiana. Darcy could not think about the possibilities raised by such a prospect, 'no, I will protect her,' he thought to himself, 'I would not let him hurt her.' The idea of not being present, however, was equally unappealing, as he would rather keep his eye on Wickham when he was near Elizabeth. The very idea of him being in the same house with her sickened him. In fact, he was loathe to allow her to return home now, knowing Wickham was currently at Longbourn. He felt he could hide his feelings well enough, after all, he had managed to do so for several weeks while he had been at Netherfield last fall. He just hoped that Elizabeth's growing good opinion of him would not be affected by such behavior. In any event, he wished to have the opportunity to see her alone again, should the events of the evening require explanation. Thus, as they approached the gate Darcy asked her, "do you often walk along the path where I encountered you?"
Elizabeth was surprised by the question but found that she was gratified as well, "I really walk everywhere hereabouts. But, yes, I do take that path rather frequently, mostly when I feel that I require some solitary reflection. It lies in the opposite direction of Meryton, and is not the way to Lucas Lodge either, so I rarely meet anyone else when I go that way."
"I see, perhaps that is the same reason I found myself riding there," he replied contemplatively.
"Thank you for accompanying me home, Mr. Darcy," said she as she passed through the gate. Then she added in a quiet tone, with that mixture of sweetness and archness that he loved so well, "it was most gentlemanly of you to do so."
He smiled broadly, and responded that it had been his pleasure and that he had enjoyed her company and conversation immensely. He watched her walk away and did not mount his horse until she was quite out of sight.
Elizabeth was surprised when Darcy arrived at Longbourn for dinner, she had expected him to send his excuses, after her warning earlier in the day. Wickham had persisted at her side ever since she came in from her walk, and he was there still when the Netherfield party arrived. Darcy perceived immediately Wickham's proximity to his beloved, but he did not allow his eyes to wander in their direction. After he was announced, and while he was greeting several of the neighbors, most of whom he had not seen since November, Mrs. Bennet made it a point of bringing Wickham to his notice, saying, "and of course, you already know Mr. Wickham."
"Yes, madam," said Darcy confidently, with no sign of discomposure. He felt the eyes of the room upon him. Indeed, Wickham must have told everyone his lies. He gave a curt bow in Wickham's general direction and walked another way, without even acknowledging Elizabeth. She began to wonder if he was angry that she had been speaking to Wickham. Miss Bingley noticed the exchange, and Darcy's decided neglect of Elizabeth. She was extremely pleased. Clearly, Miss Eliza's obvious intimacy with Wickham had disgusted him. She smiled to herself as she recalled the Netherfield ball and reflected how pleased she was to see that Elizabeth had not heeded her warning.
Dinner was soon announced and Wickham was seated next to Elizabeth, but thankfully, Darcy was seated on the other end of the table. She was astonished to observe him making polite conversation with those at his end, and found herself disappointed that he did not venture to look at her even once. Miss Bingley also noticed Darcy's uncharacteristic friendliness and was shocked by it. That a man of such standing, indeed one of the most illustrious personages in the land, should condescend to make small talk with the likes of those assembled here was preposterous! She was sitting near enough to him for conversation, and she drew his attention to herself as much as she could, but it was difficult for her to maintain his attention as she was also preoccupied with distracting her brother from Miss Bennet. Mr. Wickham's conversation was lively and charming as always. He began a conversation with Elizabeth about her recent travels.
"How did you like Kent?
"I liked it very well, thank you."
"I understand you met Lady Catherine de Bourgh?"
"Yes, I did. She was everything my cousin, Mr. Collins, described." She glanced at Darcy but he showed no reaction and only continued to attend his own conversation as if he had not heard them at all.
Just then, Lady Lucas interjected, "I understood from my correspondence from Charlotte, that Mr. Darcy had been visiting Rosings while you were at Hunsford, Eliza."
"Yes, Lady Lucas. I did meet Mr. Darcy on occasion during my stay," she purposely did not mention Colonel Fitzwilliam because she did not feel comfortable talking about him, especially in Mr. Darcy's presence.
But Darcy did not want Wickham to get ideas of himself and Elizabeth and so he added, directing his comments to Lady Lucas, "Miss Elizabeth was also able to make the acquaintance of my cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, who was visiting Rosings with me."
"Colonel Fitzwilliam, did you say?" asked Colonel Forster, looking up from his discourse with Mr. Bennet. Darcy nodded. "I was acquainted with him some time ago. He is a good man. I hope he is well."
"He is very well, I thank you," said Darcy.
"And I understand," added Miss Bingley, "that he took quite a liking to our dear Miss Eliza." Elizabeth's color rose, but Darcy showed no sign of discomfort. He was secure in his knowledge that his cousin's suit was over, he could no longer be bothered by any references to it.
"What?" said Mrs. Bennet. The prospect of marrying a daughter off was always at the forefront of her mind, thus she needed only to shift her present thoughts from Jane to Elizabeth. "Why did you not tell us all about him Lizzy? I suppose he is a fine gentleman? A cousin of Mr. Darcy's, I dare say he was very agreeable. I hope you shall have occasion to see him again, and that we all might have a chance to meet him."
'At my wedding, perhaps,' thought Darcy, easily perceiving Mrs. Bennet's thoughts.
"And how did you like Colonel Fitzwilliam, Miss Elizabeth?" asked Wickham, raising his eyebrows.
"I liked him very well," she said blushing slightly, "are you acquainted with him at all?"
"Yes, there was a time when I saw him often, he is a very gentlemanlike man," and then, more quietly he added, "his manners are very different from his cousin's."
"Yes, very different," responded Elizabeth in the same quiet tone, "but I think his cousin improves on acquaintance." Elizabeth could not readily discern whether Darcy heard her commendation. He did not look in her direction, but she thought she saw something in his expression that could mean he had heard it.
"Indeed," said Wickham curiously, but before he could say more, they were interrupted by the two youngest Miss Bennets.
Lydia and Kitty began plying Colonel Forster, Elizabeth, Wickham, and even Darcy, with questions regarding Colonel Fitzwilliam, and Lydia particularly wished to know whether there was a chance he would be at Brighton. When their questions were exhausted, Wickham resumed his conversation with Elizabeth, "And how did you find Miss de Bourgh?"
"I found her to be very quiet, but she seemed agreeable enough."
"I hope she was in good health."
"She appeared quite well to me."
"I suppose she must be openly engaged by now," said Wickham, with a brief glance in Darcy's direction.
"No mention was made to me of an engagement."
"Then it has not yet been made public I suppose."
Mrs. Bennet, always in the mood for a good intrigue said, "Mr. Wickham, are you suggesting that Miss de Bourgh is secretly engaged?"
Before he could answer, Lady Lucas responded, "Charlotte has written nothing about Miss de Bourgh being engaged, and her intimacy with Rosings is such that she would most certainly be aware of such a circumstance."
"Perhaps we should appeal to her cousin, he is likely to know of Miss de Bourgh's affairs better than anyone else present," said Wickham, "do you know whether or not Miss de Bourgh is engaged yet, Darcy?"
"Yes, I do know," came Mr. Darcy's reply.
"Well," asked Mrs. Bennet impatiently, "is she or is she not engaged?"
"She is not."
"How very odd," continued Mr. Wickham to Elizabeth, "I had thought the arrangement would be formalized by now."
"What arrangement?" asked Mrs. Bennet.
"Well, I had understood, from my associations early in life, that Miss de Bourgh was to marry one of her cousins." A look of alarm crossed Miss Bingley's features, surely it was not Mr. Darcy, it must be another cousin. "Is that not so, Darcy?"
By now, Darcy was seething on the inside. From the moment he had entered the house and seen Wickham near Elizabeth he had been angry, then it had only escalated by their proximity at dinner, the conversation about his cousin, and now, this familiar address by Wickham, for the second time. He exercised admirable control however, and showed no outward sign of his inner thoughts. He looked Wickham in the eye and replied evenly, "you are quite mistaken in your information, Mr. Wickham. No such arrangement was ever made."
"You must be looking forward to going to Brighton, Mr. Wickham," interjected Elizabeth. Darcy was pleased at her interruption, and was thankful for her effort, but he hated the idea of her talking to Wickham. He still did not look at her and, instead, resumed the conversation he had been having with his neighbors at the table.
"Yes, I must say that I am. I believe I shall like it very much, but I shall certainly miss the society I have enjoyed while residing in Meryton." As he said this, Wickham gave Elizabeth a libidinous glance that another man could not possibly mistake. Darcy nearly choked on his mouthful of food, but managed to swallow it, and after drinking some wine, he recovered unnoticed by anyone, except for Miss Bingley who asked, "are you quite all right, Mr. Darcy?" He assured her that he was well, while several thoughts involving severely injuring Mr. Wickham and carrying Elizabeth far away crossed his mind.
"But, do not forget Mr. Wickham, that you will still have my society," said Lydia flirtatiously.
"Thank heavens for that, Miss Lydia, you shall be my saving grace," replied the ever-charming Mr. Wickham.
"I suppose the work of settling all of your business affairs in Meryton, must be very tedious," said Elizabeth.
"One benefit of having little fortune, Miss Elizabeth, is that I have few business affairs to manage." Darcy felt himself being admonished with looks from around the table, in response to Wickham's reference to his fortune. He paid little heed, however, as he had been agitated, by Wickham's manner of speaking Elizabeth's name. He had paused between saying 'Miss' and 'Elizabeth' and the result was a very familiar sounding address. Apparently Miss Bingley had noticed it too, because she shot Darcy a look of smug satisfaction.
Then Mrs. Bennet added, "yes it is a shame that your circumstances have been so unfortunate, Mr. Wickham."
"Thank you Madame, I am making the best of my situation."
"What do you think of Mr. Wickham's situation, Mr. Darcy?" asked Mrs. Bennet. Elizabeth flushed with embarrassment for her mother's ill-bred comment. All eyes turned to Darcy. Wickham sat back in his chair and regarded Darcy with a look of satisfaction. He had Darcy in a precarious position, if Darcy said anything unfavorable about Wickham, then he would simply reveal Georgiana's weakness from the previous summer.
"I do not think anything of his situation as I know very little about it."
"It is common knowledge that you were the cause of it, so you must know something about it."
Elizabeth wished to chasten her mother, but was too far across the table from her. Jane was seated next to her, and had been talking mostly to Bingley throughout the evening, but now said something quietly to her mother. Before Darcy could reply to Mrs. Bennet's attack, however, Mr. Bennet's voice was heard from the other end of the table. "Mrs. Bennet, I dare say our guests would be far better entertained by your effusions on lace than by airing the personal history of these two gentlemen."
"Well I did buy the most exquisite lace yesterday to re-trim Lydia's blue ball gown. For she must have nice clothes to take with her to Brighton. I dare say it is the finest lace I have seen in Meryton." Darcy and Elizabeth might both have found this turn in her mother's mind extremely amusing if both their own minds had not been so tumultuous, as a result of the conversation. However, Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst scrupled not to exchange an amused glance and even let out a giggle or two. Elizabeth was pleased that her father had, for once, taken the trouble of checking his wife.
"Well," resumed Elizabeth to Wickham, "I certainly hope you have time to take care of whatever business you do have in Meryton."
"Thank you, Miss Elizabeth, but I dare say, I am quite finished with my packing and today I am bidding farewell to all my friends. What else could I possibly have to do before leaving?"
"I suppose the packing was tedious, but I am sure you do not view your attendance tonight unhappily. Still, gentlemen always seem to be rushing about on account of urgent matters of business. Certainly you must have things that need to be attended to." She paused contemplatively for a moment and then added, "for example, you must settle all of your accounts with the tradesmen in town, before you go."
"Surely he has taken care of that already," said Denny, turning away from his conversation with Lydia and Kitty, "have you not Wickham? I did so yesterday and it was, indeed, very tedious, Miss Elizabeth."
"I believe I have paid everyone," replied Wickham a bit uneasily, "but I will make sure of it before we depart on Saturday. Thank you for the reminder, Miss Elizabeth."
'Well done, Elizabeth,' thought Darcy to himself, but he still did not look at her.
"You are quite welcome," she replied to Wickham.
Thankfully, dinner soon ended and the women withdrew to the drawing room. Elizabeth was concerned for Darcy, being in even more sparse company with Mr. Wickham, and she awaited the return of the gentlemen with no small amount of anxiety.
She was in no humor for Miss Bingley's conversation when she was accosted by her, "I see you are still indulging the attentions of Mr. Wickham. I wish, for your sake, that you had heeded my warning about him."
"I appreciate your concern, Miss Bingley, but I assure you I am in no danger from Mr. Wickham."
"I am sorry that you still believe in his innocence."
"I have asserted no such belief, Miss Bingley."
After a few awkward moments, Miss Bingley tried another tactic. "I was surprised when my brother informed me that Colonel Fitzwilliam did not intend to join us at Netherfield." This was intended as an affront, as Miss Bingley firmly believed that it had been Colonel Fitzwilliam who decided to end his suit.
Elizabeth smiled and replied, "I rather expected that he would not be coming to Hertfordshire."
The ladies, having very little else to say to each other and a mutual aversion to continuing the conversation, soon parted ways.
When the gentlemen returned, shortly thereafter, Elizabeth was relieved that neither Wickham nor Darcy sought her company. Wickham went to speak with Kitty, Lydia, and Miss Lucas, and Darcy engaged Mr. Bennet in conversation, and was soon joined by Miss Bingley. Mary soon began playing and after tea and coffee had been served, the card tables were set up. Elizabeth unhappily found herself with Mr. Wickham, but was happy to also be with Jane and Bingley. Darcy found himself seated with the Phillipses and Miss Bingley, who had hastened to join the same table as Darcy, but had been disappointed to note the identity of the other players. Elizabeth knew that such partners could hold no pleasure for Mr. Darcy, but he was not unhappy, and he strove to make himself in every way agreeable to his company. He smiled to himself as he considered his behavior, and thought 'the things one does for love,' as he stole a glance at Elizabeth. He had a clear view of her and as Wickham was seated opposite her, his back was to Darcy, he could steal a glance at her now and again without the risk of Wickham noticing. Elizabeth noticed Darcy looking at her, and considering that it was the first time he had done so all evening, and her resulting disappointment, she smiled quite involuntarily. Darcy was exceedingly pleased and, fortunately for him, he did not witness the expression Wickham returned to Elizabeth, thinking that her smile had been for him, and so his pleasure was untempered. The remainder of the evening passed uneventfully to the satisfaction of both Darcy and Elizabeth.
When she retired after the guests had all departed, Elizabeth was able to reflect on everything that had happened that day and into the evening. She found her thoughts turned to Mr. Darcy quite often. She remembered her disappointment that he had ignored her throughout most of the evening, and she still did not understand his behavior. Yet he had been open and friendly with others. She remembered thinking that he might have changed his mind about her, but then she recalled how relieved she had been when he had looked at her and smiled. She had watched him behave with more than civility to all her family and neighbors. In all that he had said, she had heard an accent so far removed from hauteur or disdain of his companions, that she began to be convinced that the improvement of his manners, which she had first witnessed at the Hurst dinner party in London, was not merely reserved for those affairs attended, for the most part, by his peers, and that it might be a permanent change. She could perceive readily that he still loved her, and she could not help but believe that it was all done for her; but that her reproofs at Hunsford had worked such a change in his manners as she had consistently witnessed since meeting him in London, seemed impossible.
When she remembered watching him thus seeking the re-acquaintance, and courting the good opinion, of people with whom any intercourse a few months ago would have been a disgrace; when she recalled his civility to the very relations whom he had openly disdained; and recollected their last lively scene in Hunsford Parsonage, the difference, the change was so great, and struck so forcibly on her mind, that she was astonished beyond anything she had ever felt. Never, even in the company of his dear friends at Netherfield, or his dignified relations at Rosings, had she seen him so free from self-consequence or unbending reserve as the past evening, when no importance could result from the success of his endeavors, and when even the acquaintance of those to whom his attentions had been addressed had drawn down the ridicule and censure of the ladies from Netherfield and would, undoubtedly, have a similar effect on those at Rosings. Elizabeth was baffled by Darcy's change, but knew to what it could be attributed; but she was even more confused by her own feelings. She was thinking of him more and more, enjoying his company, and hoping for more of his attentions. She finally fell asleep in a state of profound agitation.
Darcy was also thinking of Elizabeth and was very happy with the way things were progressing. She had certainly softened towards him. He cherished every word she had said, every look they had shared, every discomfort she had endured in an effort to abate his own uneasiness. He was still uncertain and knew that a long road still lay ahead of him, but he was more content and more hopeful since he had been since that terrible night when he had proposed at Hunsford. He reflected on what he had said to her with deep regret, and he recalled with satisfaction the way he had behaved this evening. In the beginning, at the first dinner following his proposal, where he had been in company at his uncle's house, he had resolved to be more friendly, only because she wished it. But as he considered his continued change of manners, he found that he had begun to think differently of people. Instead of dismissing them as unworthy of his notice, he now tried to know them, and respect, at least, what good in them he was able to see. Before hearing his behavior described with such contempt, from the lips of his beloved, he had always thought meanly of everyone outside his own family circle.
He began to wonder how he had come to be so, and his mind hearkened back to his childhood and the lessons he had learned from his parents. They had taught good principles, but they had likewise instilled in him a keen understanding of his status and his superiority. He now realized that value could be found in those who lacked the advantages that had been his since birth. He was chastened, he was humbled, he was ashamed of himself, of what he had allowed himself to become; and he was grateful for his Elizabeth, who had taught him a lesson, hard, but most advantageous. She was the opposite of what he had been, she had always looked at people with a view to discovering their true worth. She had not been intimidated by Lady Catherine's superiority, and she did not disdain those who were inferior. Her rejection of his proposal proved her to be in possession of such strength of character and such integrity that he could only respect and love her all the more as a result of it. He finally had something to be truly proud of, he was proud of loving Elizabeth, of having recognized, early on, her numerous qualities, and of accepting her just reproofs. And as his mind conjured up images of Elizabeth's smile to him, he fell asleep in a state of profound contentment.
The next morning, Elizabeth intended to take her walk on the path where she had encountered Darcy the day before. She was surprised to find herself hoping to see him again, as she was sure he would seek her out. She experienced flutterings of anticipation throughout breakfast, but all her hopes were for naught, for Mrs. Bennet's nerves were highly agitated in preparing Lydia for her departure in only two days time, and she required Elizabeth's attendance on several matters. By the time Elizabeth had a chance to walk out, it was rather later than her usual time, but she was eager to go nonetheless. She had gone upstairs to fetch her bonnet and had just returned to the drawing room to announce her departure when the Netherfield inhabitants arrived to call on the Longbourn ladies.
As soon as they had entered the room and exchanged greetings, Mr. Bingley said, "we had intended to call earlier this morning, but Mr. Darcy went out riding by himself, very early and was gone for several hours." Darcy glanced at Elizabeth and noticed her color rise and she dropped her eyes. This told him that she knew he had been out looking for her; and she had her bonnet in hand, was she planning to walk out to meet him now? "So," continued Bingley, "I waited for his return, although I was nearly ready to go out without him, by the time he arrived," then he added with a laugh, "not that Caroline would have allowed me to do so."
Lizzy had set her bonnet on the table and sat down during this speech, and her mother observed, "were you not going to walk out Lizzy?"
"I was going to Mama, but now that we have company, I believe I shall stay in."
She saw a small smile on Mr. Darcy's face as she said this. "Perhaps we could all walk out," ventured Bingley, "or have you already had too much exercise today, Darcy?"
"Not at all," replied Darcy, "a walk would be very refreshing." He so wanted to talk to Elizabeth privately, but he knew there would be no opportunity today.
And thus, a large walking party was assembled, consisting of Jane and Elizabeth, Darcy, Bingley, Lydia and Kitty, Miss Bingley, and the Hursts. Lydia and Kitty walked ahead together, and Mr. Bingley offered Jane his arm. Mrs. Hurst took her husband's arm and they followed. Darcy fervently wished that Mr. Hurst, or even Bingley, would offer an arm to their sister, but as neither was disposed to do so, he had little choice but to walk with both Elizabeth and Miss Bingley. The latter immediately claimed his offered arm, but the former declined, contenting herself with merely walking on his other side.
"I was surprised that none of the officers were visiting your home today, Miss Eliza."
"I imagine that they are occupied preparing for their journey to Brighton."
"I am sure your family, especially, will feel the deprivation of their company, and of Mr. Wickham in particular, he seems to be such a favorite at Longbourn."
"I received a letter from Georgiana yesterday," said Darcy, deliberately not allowing time for an answer, and turning slightly towards Elizabeth as he spoke.
"Oh, how is our dear Georgiana?" asked Miss Bingley, "is she looking forward to going to her uncle's home?"
"Yes, she always enjoys visiting there. She has written more of how much she enjoys the company of Mrs. Fitzwilliam and Miss Rowland. She writes that my aunt, Lady Catherine, and my cousin, Miss de Bourgh, have also agreed to visit my uncle's home while she is there, so they will be a rather large party."
"Nearly all of your family will be together, then," observed Miss Bingley.
"Yes, I seem to be the only one who will be absent."
"I wonder what could be keeping you at Netherfield when such an opportunity to be with all your relations assembled in one place, is at hand." She was obviously thinking of herself as the probable inducement.
At that moment, Darcy's hand brushed against Elizabeth's as they walked, and she looked up at him startled, she could not discern whether it had been accidental or whether he had done it on purpose. He did not return her glance, but she thought she could discern a small smile on his lips.
"Georgiana asked me to convey her warmest regards to you, Miss Bennet."
"Thank you," replied Elizabeth, "please send her mine in reply."
"I have already done so. I hope you will forgive my presumption, but I already wrote back to her, and I knew you would wish to send your greetings."
Elizabeth laughed, "you are a very kind brother, Mr. Darcy."
He could not help looking directly at her, as this was the first favorable thing she had ever said about him. "Thank you," he replied quietly. Miss Bingley was obviously vexed by what was occurring between the other two, but her vexation grew when Mr. Darcy then stated, "she asked whether I thought you would object to her writing to you. I encouraged her to do so in my reply, but I believe her shyness will prevent her from it." Miss Bingley was aghast. She had always wished to correspond with Miss Darcy, but it had never been proposed. Now, she wished to correspond with Miss Bennet! This was not to be borne!
"Do you think she would welcome a letter from me then?" Miss Bingley gaped at Elizabeth's presumptuous suggestion.
"I know she would be very pleased to receive one. Thank you."
"It will be my pleasure to correspond with her."
"You may be able to renew your acquaintance with her soon, as Bingley has authorized me to invite her to Netherfield."
"What a wonderful idea. Yes, she must come. Her company is always welcome," said Miss Bingley.
"I would be delighted to see her again," said Elizabeth.
"I received a letter from Colonel Fitzwilliam as well." Elizabeth could not think of a reply. "He also sends his regards."
"Thank you. Please return mine when you write him next."
"With pleasure. He also wrote that he is improving his acquaintance with Miss Rowland."
"I am delighted to hear it."
"Oh yes, Miss Rowland is such a sweet girl," added Miss Bingley, "although I am surprised by what you say, I had no idea that Colonel Fitzwilliam and she were such close friends. In spite of her sweet disposition, however, I am sorry to say that I do not find her very handsome."
"Oh, I disagree," protested Elizabeth, "she is a very beautiful woman, her eyes are particularly fine, what say you Mr. Darcy?"
Darcy smiled, wondering how Elizabeth had learned of his comment from so long ago. Keeping his gaze fixed directly in front of him, he replied with intrepidity, "I have seen finer." Miss Bingley was effectively silenced.
The others had turned around from farther ahead, so Darcy also turned with his two companions, and now they were in the front of the group. They continued walking, in companionable silence, Elizabeth and Darcy making comments about their surroundings, both feeling there was so much more to say and wishing for some privacy. Finally, they returned to Longbourn, and Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley both complained of fatigue so the Netherfield party soon departed.
That evening, Elizabeth could think of nothing but Mr. Darcy. His behavior was so changed from the previous fall, but he did not really seem different to her, she simply felt that she was now seeing something in him that had been present all along but she had never noticed because she had been blinded by her own prejudices. Since seeing him for the first time since her refusal of his proposal at the Hursts, in London, she had never been able to doubt his constancy. Now, she questioned her own feelings, and she lay awake two whole hours endeavoring to make them out. She certainly did not hate him. No; hatred had vanished long ago, and she had almost as long been ashamed of ever feeling a dislike against him that could be so called. The respect created by the conviction of his valuable qualities, though at first unwillingly admitted, had for some time ceased to be repugnant to her feelings; and it was now heightened into somewhat of a friendlier nature by the evidence of his changed manner and continual attentions to her, which brought forth his disposition in so amiable a light as she had witnessed consistently since their first meeting only a few weeks after she had rejected his proposal. But above all, above respect and esteem, there was a motive within her of goodwill which could not be overlooked. It was gratitude. Gratitude not merely for once loving her, but for loving her still after all that had passed between them. He who, she had been persuaded, after their encounter at Hunsford, would avoid her as his greatest enemy seemed, ever since only a few weeks after that evening, had been most eager to preserve the acquaintance, and without any indelicate display of regard, or any peculiarity of manner, where their two selves only were concerned, was soliciting the good opinions of her friends and family, and had been bent on making her known to his sister and on forwarding an intimacy between the two. Such a change in the manners of a man of so much pride excited not only astonishment, but gratitude; for to love, ardent love, it must be attributed. And as such its impression on her was of a sort to be encouraged, as by no means unpleasing, though it could not exactly be defined. She respected, she esteemed, she was grateful to him, she felt a real interest in his welfare; and she only wanted to know how far she wished that welfare to depend upon herself, and how far it would be for the happiness of both that she should employ the power, which she knew she still possessed, of bringing on the renewal of his addresses. At length, she was able to close her eyes, with some greater understanding of her own feelings, but little progress towards the objective of deciding whether she wished for her own future to be united to that of one Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy.
Chapter 9On Saturday morning, Mr. Darcy was in a very good mood. Elizabeth had been more receptive with him and more at ease in his presence yesterday than she had ever been. She no longer disliked him, of that he was certain. Her opinion of him had certainly improved and he began to believe that her feelings for him were beginning to rise to something on the more favorable side of indifference. How he longed to know what was in her mind, or more importantly, in her heart.
He had awoken early and gone out riding, determined not to return to Netherfield without seeing Elizabeth. As Darcy rode, he pondered his situation. He knew he would have to return to Pemberley soon. He decided that he would leave Netherfield in early July, giving him six weeks more in Hertfordshire. In his last letter to Georgiana he had told her of his plans to bring her to Netherfield, if she should wish it, now that Wickham had left the neighborhood. As she would be going to her uncle's home on Monday, he decided to divide her time evenly, and bring her to Netherfield three weeks hence. That would give Georgiana and Elizabeth three weeks to get to know one another better. When contemplating his impending departure, he knew he would not wish to leave Elizabeth, and he began to wonder how soon he would be able to return to Netherfield again. Then it occurred to him that Netherfield would, in all likelihood, soon have a mistress. He would not be able to visit as freely then. But at least, he would be able to return for Bingley's wedding, , if the man would ever get around to proposing. Darcy began to wonder whether he could secure Elizabeth's hand before leaving the neighborhood. That seemed too much to hope for. He had so wished to bring her with him upon his return to Pemberley, but now he would have to return there without her, but things were going too well to allow for melancholy. So he smiled at the hopeful thought of seeing her there someday soon.
Elizabeth's walk Saturday morning had been delayed significantly by Lydia's departure. Once she had gone, Elizabeth set out immediately for the lane in which she had encountered Mr. Darcy two days prior. She took with her the letter from Miss Rowland that had just arrived that morning. Elizabeth wandered down the lane, and turned off the road near the spot where she had encountered Darcy previously. She settled herself on a large rock under a tree and leaned against it as she read her letter.
Dear Miss Elizabeth:
Thank you for your last letter. I hope this one finds you well. We are all quite content here, and preparing for our journey to the country. Lady Catherine de Bourgh and her daughter have recently arrived in town to travel with us to her brother's home. I find her company to be very interesting. She was quite put out to learn that Mr. Darcy will not be joining the rest of his family. She could not understand why he returned to Hertfordshire to be with that Mr. Bingley, and she certainly hopes that he is not falling for the arts and allurements of his upstart sister! I am confident she has little to worry about on that head, as from everything I have witnessed between the two, it is evident that there is little danger of Mr. Darcy becoming attached to Miss Bingley. I do believe that Lady Catherine expects him to marry her daughter. I have not yet been able to make out Miss de Bourgh. She is very quiet, and due to her health, does little more than sit placidly with her mother and Mrs. Jenkinson. Lady Catherine seems to be a formidable woman, and if she does intend her daughter for Mr. Darcy, I do not envy the lady of the fine eyes. I was disappointed that you did not mention her in your letter. I do hope you will learn her identity soon. I wonder if Miss Darcy has any knowledge of who she might be, perhaps I will mention it to her.
I was surprised to read your concern for Colonel Fitzwilliam's feelings in your letter. Let me reassure you that it is not justified. Much has occurred since I last wrote to you and my heart is quite lost, already. He recently learned that he must return to his regiment in a fortnight, so he will only be in the country with us for a short time, but I am hoping that we shall reach an understanding before he goes away. I dare say his aunt will approve of me, but then again, he is not intended for her daughter. I find being in love very agreeable and I highly recommend it. I confess that I am surprised that he is the man who was finally able to win my heart. But, as it turns out, he is the sweetest, most charming man I know and I believe we are very well suited to one another. I am always happy when in his presence, and I know I shall be desolate when he is gone.
As for myself, I will only remain with my cousin's family for three more weeks before I return home. I miss my own family. Elinor and I continue to see Georgiana often. It has truly been a pleasure these past few days to enjoy her company without the encumbrance of her other friends. Please write soon and tell me of all the goings on at Longbourn. I hope to hear good news soon regarding your sister and Mr. Bingley, and if you receive another letter from me sooner than expected, you shall know that it bears good news of a similar nature involving myself and a certain officer.
Elizabeth was a little distressed by Miss Rowland's notion of speaking to Georgiana about a lady of 'fine eyes' for she had no idea how much Georgiana knew of her brother's feelings, or of the comment he apparently made to Miss Bingley. However, Elizabeth had little time to ponder the content of the letter further, because when she looked up, she saw Mr. Darcy standing about ten yards in front of her. He had come upon her sitting there reading her letter, and he had been mesmerized by the sight. The opportunity to watch her unnoticed was not one that presented itself often. When she finally looked up, a bit startled, he smiled and approached her.
"Good morning, Miss Bennet," he said, as he tied his horse to a nearby tree.
"Good morning, Mr. Darcy," she replied, moving to stand up.
"Please remain as you are, I would be happy to join you, with your permission."
"Certainly," she replied.
"Thank you," he said as he sat down across from her.
"I was just reading another letter from Miss Rowland."
"I hope she is well."
"Yes, she seems very happy. She mentioned your cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, very fondly."
"I am happy to hear it. I know that he is fond of her as well. She is much better suited to him than . . . . well, they are well suited to each other."
Elizabeth blushed and smiled in amusement. "Yes, I agree, I hope things turn out well for them both. I am planning to send a letter to Miss Darcy tomorrow, as well as to Miss Rowland."
"I am pleased to hear it. I hope to have her at Netherfield soon. I conveyed Miss Bingley's invitation in my last letter to her and I have little doubt that she will express a wish to accept it. I plan to arrange for her to come here in three weeks, to give her some time at my uncle's home as well."
"Will she stay for very long?"
Darcy smiled, "we will both be leaving early in July to return to Pemberley."
Elizabeth realized with some embarrassment that he may have inferred some interest in his plans from her question about his sister's. "I shall be leaving in July myself. My aunt and uncle Gardiner are taking me for a tour of the lake country."
"I believe Mr. Gardiner said something about his plans to tour the lakes this summer at the Hursts dinner party in London, but I did not know that you would be joining them."
"Oh yes, they were so kind to invite me. I am looking forward to it very much."
"It is a beautiful country. I am sure you will enjoy it."
"I believe I will. I have been very impatient for the time when we are to start our journey, and I am happy to learn that I will soon have Miss Darcy's company to help speed the time away. I am looking forward to seeing her again."
"I am very happy to hear it, and I believe she feels the same. She wanted to come with us to Netherfield directly from London, but I could not bring her here then."
"I understand," said Elizabeth, growing more serious. "I was surprised to see you at dinner on Thursday. I can imagine the evening was not very pleasant for you."
"It was not all bad," he replied with a meaningful smile, "and I appreciate your warning to me that morning."
"Mr. Wickham was obviously making every attempt to unsettle you at dinner. I was afraid for a while that he might go so far as to ask after Miss Darcy."
"The possibility did occur to me as well, but I believe even he has some wisdom. I do not think I would have been accountable for my reaction if he had mentioned her."
"I thought you bore his affronts rather well."
"Thank you. I am afraid I have had too much experience dealing with that man."
"Yes, I suppose you do, but it served you well the other night. I would have become very angry."
He smiled, "I suppose I was angry, I just did not show it."
Elizabeth gave him an arch smile and replied in a quiet tone, "but you abhor disguise of every sort, do you not Mr. Darcy?"
How he wanted to kiss her at that moment! He smiled to himself at the thought, and instead, he caught his breath and replied, "Yes, I do. But I prefer not to allow Mr. Wickham the satisfaction of knowing my feelings, and at the time, that was a greater priority."
"Is that why your behavior was more . . . subdued on Thursday night than it has been lately?"
He understood her meaning to refer to his lack of attention to herself on the evening in question. He was surprised, but was happy for the opportunity to explain his neglect of her on Thursday, "unfortunately, I have learned in a most painful manner, that Wickham will do anything to avenge himself on me. He has already tried to hurt me through Georgiana."
Darcy watched carefully as Elizabeth considered his words, and a look of understanding crossed her features. She realized that Darcy feared that if Wickham knew about his feelings for her, he might do something to hurt her, in order to hurt him.
"Well, he is gone now," she replied.
He smiled wondering whether that was an invitation to be more open in his display of his feelings for her. "Yes, and I hope we have seen the last of him."
Elizabeth smiled at his use of the word 'we' and he blushed slightly as he realized what he had said. She stood up and said, "I must be getting home."
"May I have the honor of walking you to the gate, Miss Bennet?"
"Yes, thank you."
They walked companionably back to Longbourn, talking little, and parted at the gate. "Thank you for escorting me, sir," said Elizabeth as she passed through it.
"It was my pleasure, Miss Bennet."
When Elizabeth arrived home, she was pleased to see that Bingley had called on Jane. She felt guilty as she thought of the clandestine meeting she had just had with Darcy. She knew that both she and he had gone out with the expectation of meeting the other. She reflected with satisfaction however, that they were able to avoid her mother's ill-bred comments and expectations, as well as the improprieties of the rest of her family. She would not wish Darcy to openly court her until she was certain that she wanted him to. Should his feelings become known if she was not inclined to accept his addresses, the ramifications would be unbearable. She recalled their meetings during her walks in Kent. She had long since realized that at least two of the three of those encounters had not been accidental. Now he was using the same tactic to spend time with her again, but this time she knew his motives, and his presence was much more welcome. Upon her arrival at home, she immediately went to write to Miss Darcy and Miss Rowland.
Darcy was also reflecting on their meeting as he returned to Netherfield. He was very satisfied with it, but he was wary of presuming too much, he would not repeat that mistake. He too recalled their meetings in the park at Rosings. He had taken her words on their first encounter as an invitation to continue meeting her, and he had taken her behavior overall as encouragement when it was intended as the opposite. He could not help, however, also realizing that now she was aware of his feelings and of the effect her reception of his addresses would have on him. He was certain that she knew he had gone on purpose to meet her and he could not help but believe she had purposely set out to meet him as well. In any case, she had not avoided him.
The following weeks passed away quickly, with frequent social intercourse between Longbourn and Netherfield. Darcy went out nearly everyday to meet Elizabeth, but was only successful a few times. They always talked amiably and he always walked her home. During this time, Elizabeth was growing ever more fond of him as she learned more and more about him. She soon began to realize that he was everything she could ever want in a husband. He was truly the best man she had ever known. They saw one another more often in company, but they both cherished their time alone together above everything else. Although Darcy was no longer hiding his feelings, his natural reserve foreclosed any real display in company. That, coupled with her widely known dislike of him and his previous ill manners and initial slight of her, along with his being so great a man, prevented even Mrs. Bennet from really suspecting anything, although she saw enough to hope and make an occasional comment. If Mr. Bennet noticed an attraction between the two of them, he kept it to himself. Elizabeth knew that Darcy would propose again, it was only a matter of time, and she correctly surmised that he was only wanting some certainty that his addresses would be better received this time than previously, and she began to look for opportunities to give him some modest encouragement.
Elizabeth continued to correspond with Miss Rowland and Miss Darcy, and about a week after having written to them both she received a response from each. Miss Darcy expressed her delight in having received a letter from Elizabeth, and turned out to be a prolific correspondent. She wrote about all her family and friends, their activities and excursions, and all the goings on at her uncle's home. As much as Elizabeth enjoyed reading Georgiana's correspondence, Miss Rowland's letter contained information of weightier import.
Dear Miss Elizabeth:
I do not know where to begin. I am the happiest creature in the world, and the saddest at the same time! Colonel Fitzwilliam declared his love for me and we are engaged, and yet he must go away in a few days. We are to be married in the fall. We have not announced the engagement, as he has not yet obtained my father's consent, but I know that will not be an obstacle. Other than you, Elinor and Georgiana, only his parents and his brother know, and I believe he has written to Mr. Darcy. I never knew such joy was possible!
Now that I have gotten my raptures out of the way I must scold you for deceiving me! You are a sly one Miss Elizabeth, but I have learned your secret. I asked Miss Darcy if she knew anything about your brother and a lady of 'fine eyes,' and she distinctly recalled hearing Miss Bingley use the term to refer to you, Miss Elizabeth Bennet! But I do not think she has ever given any consideration to why Miss Bingley says it. In fact I do not believe she realizes that the compliment must have originated with Mr. Darcy. I do not think she suspects at all that Mr. Darcy is in love with you, but I dare say you had some idea. In what a different light does this place his behavior and yours while we were all in London together! No wonder Miss Bingley was so vexed by your presence. I do hope that I have not presumed too much, and that you will be as happy as myself.
Please write soon, I am anxious to hear all about it.
Elizabeth's distress in the contents of this letter was extreme. Her first thought was to wonder whether Miss Rowland had said anything about her suspicions to Colonel Fitzwilliam. She wrote back immediately, first sincerely congratulating Miss Rowland on her engagement, and then making it clear that she did presume too much about herself and Mr. Darcy, and begging her not to make her suspicions more widely known. When she next saw Mr. Darcy, she was more embarrassed than ever. She felt he ought to know about the possible rumor regarding them, but it was not a subject she could broach with him. He noticed that her behavior became more subdued with him. The knowledge of Miss Rowland's suspicion weighed upon Elizabeth's mind and her resolve to give Darcy encouragement was abandoned in the wake of her efforts to conceal her own feelings and their mutual attraction from others.
Within the week following her receipt of this letter, Bingley finally proposed to Jane and was accepted. Elizabeth and Jane had gone out walking with Darcy and Bingley. Before long, Elizabeth looked back and noticed that the other couple had disappeared. She felt the embarrassment of her own situation, although she had been alone with Darcy a few times, this was the first since Miss Rowland's letter.
"Where can Jane and Mr. Bingley have gone?" she said in surprise.
"I believe there was something particular Bingley wished to speak to her about today," he replied with a knowing smile.
Elizabeth's eyes widened as she immediately understood, her happiness apparent. "Jane will be so happy," she said quietly.
"Yes, I believe both she and Bingley will be."
They both felt uncomfortable talking about the prospect of Jane and Bingley's marital felicity, as both had their own feelings and hopes in the forefront of their minds; and neither wished to be reminded of their quarrel at Hunsford. Thus, Elizabeth introduced the letter that had been plaguing her for over a week, "I received similar news from Miss Rowland last week."
Darcy looked at her, unsure of how she had borne the news of his cousin's engagement. "Yes, Colonel Fitzwilliam wrote to me last week as well. I am happy for him."
"As am I, for them both. I believe both couples are well matched, and that both marriages will be happy ones."
"I agree," he said quietly.
Elizabeth and Darcy soon returned home and were not surprised that Jane and Bingley were not yet there. After visiting with the ladies of the house for half an hour or so, Darcy joined Mr. Bennet in the library to wait for Bingley's return. About an hour later there was a knock on the door. Mr. Bennet bid the knocker to enter and a very happy but nervous Bingley entered the room. Darcy, immediately comprehending his friend's business, excused himself from the room and returned to the drawing room where all of the ladies were congratulating Jane. He observed Elizabeth first, her eyes were filled with tears of joy. Then he looked at Miss Bennet, she was positively glowing with happiness. When her mother and sisters had given her some space, Darcy approached and offered her his warm congratulations.
Bingley and Mr. Bennet soon entered the room as well. The former, grinning, claimed from the younger Miss Bennets the good wishes and affections of sisters and was even gallant and affectionate towards Mrs. Bennet. The latter simply congratulated his daughter, gave her his every assurance that she would be very happy, and commented on how well matched she and Bingley were. Elizabeth was extremely happy for her sister, and she could see that Darcy was genuinely happy for them as well. The gentlemen stayed to dinner, and in the evening after they had gone, Jane and Elizabeth spoke at length of the happiness Jane was to expect in marriage.
The next morning, the Netherfield ladies called on Jane to offer their congratulations. Their expressions of delight and repetitions of all their former professions of regard for Jane were all that was affectionate and insincere. Jane was not deceived, but she was affected; and though feeling no reliance on the two ladies, could not help receiving their spurious attentions graciously and returning to them sentiments of greater kindness than either lady deserved. The week immediately following this monumental event was dedicated, by Mrs. Bennet, to sharing the news of her good fortune with the entire neighborhood. Miss Bennet kindly obliged her mother and attended the round of visits dutifully.
Georgiana and Mrs. Annesley arrived at Netherfield on the appointed Saturday afternoon, without incident. Her brother was very happy to see her. She was also very pleased to see him, and a good deal less happy to see Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley. Georgiana called at Longbourn with Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst on Monday. Both Jane and Elizabeth were surprised that the gentlemen did not accompany them. Elizabeth was particularly surprised at the idea that Darcy would allow Georgiana to meet her relations that he had so justifiably criticized, without his presence as protection. Mrs. Annesley had not even come with them.
Georgiana was as shy as Elizabeth remembered, but she seemed genuinely pleased to meet Mary and Kitty. Elizabeth was careful to attend to Georgiana's conversations with the others, but nothing happened to cause her any shame, and Mr. Wickham's name was not even mentioned. Kitty suggested a scheme to walk with Georgiana to Meryton the next day. Georgiana was visibly pleased with the idea, and it seemed she might even voice her consent when Miss Bingley interjected, "I do not believe we will be able to undertake such an engagement tomorrow dear Georgiana. Besides, it is a mile walk, I believe it may be a bit too far for you. And you know, we must speak to your brother before we agree to anything." She said the last in a tone that spoke of her confidence in his disapproval.
Elizabeth could not say that she disagreed. Considering all that Darcy had said of her family in the past, and his general disapproval of their behavior, she could not be certain that he would allow Georgiana to walk to Meryton with the Miss Bennets, particularly if they were to visit the Phillipses. Nevertheless, she said, "I think it is a wonderful idea, Miss Darcy. You will have an opportunity to see the village as well as much of the surrounding countryside. The walk is not very long and you will not become fatigued if we walk at an easy pace."
"Oh certainly, a walk of a mile can be nothing to someone like yourself, Miss Eliza, who is in the habit of walking out frequently," said Miss Bingley, "You may think nothing of walking a mile, or three miles even. I dare say it is a common occurrence. But Georgiana lives in London, where so much walking is just not done. She is unaccustomed to such exercise."
"Perhaps you can ask your brother's opinion this evening, and if he agrees to it, we will arrange to go," said Elizabeth to Georgiana.
"Yes, I believe I will, thank you," she replied quietly.
Exactly one half hour after their arrival, Miss Bingley announced that it was time for them to be going.
When Georgiana returned to Netherfield, she wished for a private moment to speak with her brother, but none was available throughout the day. After dinner, while Georgiana was playing at the pianoforte Miss Bingley approached Darcy, and hoping to make him realize the danger of allowing his sister, and perhaps himself, to associate with such a family, she said, "we had such a dreadful visit at Longbourn today. I could not bear to see poor Georgiana subjected to the behavior of such a family. Miss Kitty Bennet actually suggested that Georgiana walk to Meryton with her tomorrow. Georgiana! A young lady of her breeding and status has no business scampering about the countryside. I fear that the Bennets will not be a good influence on her. I would hate to see her behavior degenerate into their wanton ways. I specifically recall you saying, on the day Miss Eliza walked over here from Longbourn in the mud, that you would certainly not wish your own sister to make such an exhibition."
Darcy was seriously displeased by Miss Bingley's presumption of telling him what was or was not good for his sister, or what she had any business doing. "Thankfully," he replied, "the road between Meryton and Longbourn is a good one; and, as it has not been raining, it should be free of mud on the morrow."
Miss Bingley simply shook her head in disbelief and Darcy arose and walked over to his sister. "Your playing is lovely, as always, my dear; but will you not come and sit with me? I wish for you to tell me about your day." They settled comfortably on a sofa, far from Miss Bingley, and while the others conversed among themselves, he asked, "did you enjoy your visit to Longbourn today?"
"Yes. Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth are both as delightful as I remember, and their sisters were also very pleasant."
"And what did you think of Mrs. Bennet?
"She was very attentive to me."
Darcy smiled at her diplomatic description of Mrs. Bennet. "And what was talked of?" She looked down for a moment and he gently prompted her, "what is it Georgiana?"
"Well, Miss Kitty suggested that I might walk to Meryton with them tomorrow, but Miss Bingley did not like the idea. She seemed to think that you would disapprove. But Miss Elizabeth told me I should ask you anyhow."
Darcy smiled again, very pleased with Elizabeth's intervention, "do you wish to go?"
"Then you may go. Mrs. Annesley will accompany you to Longbourn in the carriage tomorrow morning, and then return to fetch you at some fixed time later in the day. Would that be acceptable?"
"Oh yes," she replied, smiling brightly, "thank you."
"You are quite welcome," he said, touching her cheek affectionately.
After a moment, she summoned her courage and said, "Fitzwilliam, may I ask you something?"
"Anything, my dear."
"Do you know why Miss Bingley is always commenting on Miss Elizabeth's fine eyes?"
Darcy was a bit amused, but also curious as to the direction of his sister's thoughts, "why do you ask?"
"Miss Rowland asked me whether I knew the identity of the lady whose fine eyes Miss Bingley is always mentioning. I confess that I never thought about it before, but Miss Rowland said it would certainly be someone that you were acquainted with. I remembered Miss Bingley speaking of Miss Elizabeth one day, before I had met her, and saying she had fine eyes, so I told her that it was Miss Elizabeth. Miss Rowland seemed very surprised."
Darcy recalled that Elizabeth had seemed to know about his long ago declaration of admiration for her eyes, and wondered if Miss Rowland had told her about his comment. "When did Miss Rowland ask you this?"
"A couple of weeks ago, at my uncle's home."
His theory was proven wrong, Georgiana had been still in London when Elizabeth had made it known that she was aware of what he had said. How she learned of it was still a mystery, for he was certain that Miss Bingley would not have told her. Then Darcy remembered his sister's question, and finally satisfied her curiosity, "I did tell Miss Bingley, once, when we were here last fall, that I thought Miss Elizabeth's eyes to be fine. She has been teasing me about it ever since then."
Georgiana became pensive as she thought of Miss Bingley teasing her brother, and the intimacy between them. She knew they spent a lot of time together, but Miss Bingley's ambitions all seemed to be one sided. He had always ignored her attentions, and had never spoken of them. Now, her brother's easy reference to Miss Bingley's blatant overtures made her wonder if there was not more between them.
Meanwhile, Darcy was thinking of his cousin. If Miss Rowland even suspected his feelings for Elizabeth, he felt certain she would communicate her suspicions to Colonel Fitzwilliam. He did not know how his cousin would react to his feelings for Elizabeth, but he had hoped to tell him himself, if there was ever a reason to do so.
Miss Bingley had been trying in vain to overhear the conversation between Mr. and Miss Darcy, but after a few moments, her brother had insisted that she replace Georgiana at the instrument. Georgiana glanced at the young lady playing, and confident that she would not be overheard, asked her brother meekly, "do you admire her?"
Darcy smiled widely, as he was stirred from his meditations, and replied, "yes, very much."
Georgiana became pale and a look of sorrow crossed her features. Darcy immediately became concerned, "what is the matter Georgiana?" a tear began to glisten in her eye, "what is it, my dear?"
"You will marry her then?" asked Georgiana, casting down her eyes, ashamed of her display.
Darcy took her hand in one of his and tilted her chin up to look at him with the other, "if she will have me, yes," then believing he understood his sister's distress as concern over his getting married at all, said, "but I shall not neglect you, and she will be a wonderful sister to you. I know you will come to love her as well as I do."
Georgiana looked up at him with a mixture of bitterness, incredulity and amusement in her expression, and replied, "if she will have you?" then glancing at Miss Bingley she said, "you cannot truly be in doubt that she would."
Darcy then looked from Georgiana to Miss Bingley and back to Georgiana, "good God Georgiana, I was speaking of Miss Elizabeth, not Miss Bingley!"
Georgiana gasped in surprise and then sighed in relief. She squeezed his hand and said, "I am so happy to hear it." Darcy was concerned that her happiness was due more to her dislike of Miss Bingley than to her like of Miss Elizabeth until she continued, "I like her very much. She is delightful. I do believe she will make you very happy."
"I do not doubt her ability to make me happy Georgiana, but my ability to make her so."
"Oh Fitzwilliam, you are the most wonderful man in the world, and I am sure she realizes it as well."
He smiled and replied, "we shall see, Georgiana, we shall see."
The following morning, Darcy went out riding very early in the hope that Elizabeth would be out walking, as he wished to see her to confirm Georgiana's plans for the day. He traveled the lanes in the area where he usually encountered her a few times, and then, beginning to lose hope, he stopped near the rock where he had previously found her reading a letter, to rest a while before returning to Netherfield. When Elizabeth came upon him, she smiled to herself as she saw him leaning against the tree with his eyes closed and a small smile on his lips. She approached him quietly and, when within a few feet of him, she said, "good morning, Mr. Darcy."
He opened his eyes suddenly as his smile widened. "Good morning, Miss Bennet," he said, scrambling to his feet, "I hope you are well this morning."
"I am very well, thank you."
"My sister told me of her visit with your family yesterday. She enjoyed her time at Longbourn and meeting your younger sisters very much."
"I am glad to hear it. We all enjoyed her company as well." Then, with a slight hesitation she asked, "my sister, Kitty, invited her to walk to Meryton with us today, did she mention it to you?"
"Yes. Mrs. Annesley will be bringing her to Longbourn this morning, and then return to fetch her later in the day, if that is agreeable."
Elizabeth was obviously both surprised and pleased, "Yes, that is very agreeable. I am delighted that she will be joining us."
"You are surprised?"
"A little bit. I thought you might object to the scheme, and I never imagined she would not be accompanied by Mrs. Annesley."
"Would it be preferable to you for Mrs. Annesley to stay with her?"
"No, I did not mean to imply that at all. I would not object to Mrs. Annesley's company, of course, but we will be very happy to have Miss Darcy to ourselves."
"I wish to thank you for encouraging her to ask me about it yesterday. She may not have done so otherwise, particularly after receiving hints from another source that I might not approve of the idea."
Elizabeth was pleased by this acknowledgment. "You are quite welcome. I am glad to be of any help to Miss Darcy."
Darcy captured her gaze with his and looked intensely into her eyes for a long moment, as if searching them. Elizabeth's heart skipped, and she began to think he might propose again. At length, however, he simply said, "she likes you very well, she told me so last night."
"The sentiment is shared. I am also very fond of her."
"I am very pleased to hear it," he said meaningfully. Then, after a moment's thought he said, "may I ask why you thought I might object to her joining you and your sisters today?"
Elizabeth was surprised, and she blushed slightly but met his eye, "well, I know you do not wholly approve of the behavior of my younger sisters . . . "
"Miss Bennet, . . . " he tried to interrupt her.
She stopped him by continuing, "no, Mr. Darcy, please allow me to say that some of your previous observations regarding certain members of my family were justified and I would not blame you if you did not wish your sister to associate with them."
Darcy was quiet for a moment, then he said, "I had no right to judge them as I did."
"Your judgments about them were more justified than mine about you."
"Only some of your judgments, as you call them, were unjustified and those were based on misinformation."
Elizabeth was a bit unsettled by the implication of his words. "Am I to understand," she asked, "that you think some of them were justified."
"Yes," he replied simply.
"May I ask which ones?"
"All of those that were not based on incorrect information."
"The only thing I am aware of having been misinformed about was your dealings with Mr. Wickham."
"That is my understanding as well."
"I cannot agree that my previous impression of you with respect to everything else was wholly accurate."
"Has your impression changed then?"
Elizabeth blushed deeply, this turn in the conversation took her by surprise. Instead of responding to her comment regarding the accuracy of her prior opinions he had focused on her use of the word 'previous.' She looked away as she said, "yes."
Darcy smiled, "I am very happy to hear it, Miss Bennet."
Elizabeth was extremely embarrassed and replied, "I believe I should go home," as she began walking towards Longbourn. Darcy fell in step beside her as she continued, "what time will Miss Darcy be coming to Longbourn?"
"She will depart after I return to Netherfield. I believe she sent a note to your sister this morning so that she would know to expect her."
They walked quietly together until they reached Longbourn's gate, where they parted. Darcy was extremely pleased with the encounter. She had stated that her opinion of him had improved. That was enough to make him happy. Elizabeth was also pleased. He had admitted the justice of her reproofs. She thought back over his behavior since their return from Kent and her prior confusion over whether his improved manners were due to her reproofs. After this morning's conversation she could have little doubt that they were. That he had been able to set aside his anger, which was completely understandable considering her behavior, recognize that she had been right, and then improve himself, showed a great respect for her. She also could not fail to appreciate his constancy and what it said about the depth and strength of his love for her.
When Elizabeth arrived at home, she found a letter waiting for her from her Aunt Gardiner advising her that their planned excursion would be postponed for an additional fortnight. The letter also indicated that they would not have time to go to the lake country, but would have to limit their tour to Derbyshire. This intelligence was immediately related to her parents and sisters upon Mrs. Bennet's inquiries as to the contents of the letter. Elizabeth could not think about Derbyshire without thinking of Pemberley and its owner. She remembered his telling her that he would be returning to his estate in July, she further remembered that the town of Lambton, where she would be spending some time, was less than five miles from Pemberley.
Miss Darcy and Mrs. Annesley arrived at Longbourn a little later, and after sitting with the family for a quarter hour, Mrs. Annesley fixed a time to retrieve her charge with Mrs. Bennet, and then took her leave. The five girls set out for Meryton soon after. As much as Elizabeth wished to speak to Miss Darcy herself, she hoped that a friendship would be formed between her and Kitty, and as Kitty had been the one to invite Miss Darcy, she was content to leave the two girls to themselves and walk with Jane and Mary.
Georgiana however, had other ideas. She also wanted to continue her friendship with Kitty, but her primary interest was in Elizabeth and discerning her feelings for her beloved brother. She hoped for an opportunity to converse with Elizabeth, but she was far too shy to attempt to bring about such a circumstance on her own. Luckily, just such a situation presented itself as her conversation with Kitty turned to Pemberley.
Kitty was asking Georgiana questions about her home, and was soon reminded during the course of the conversation that Pemberley lie in Derbyshire. Then Kitty said, "Lizzy will be touring Derbyshire in a few weeks with my aunt and uncle. They were supposed to go to the lake country, but my uncle's business would not allow for it. I wonder if she will pass anywhere near Pemberley." Georgiana's interest was piqued, as Kitty called to her sister, and stopped to let the three others catch up to her and Georgiana.
"Yes Kitty?" said Elizabeth.
"I have just realized that Miss Darcy's home is in Derbyshire, I wonder if you will be traveling near there during your tour next month."
"I know we will be spending a good deal of time in Lambton, where Aunt Gardiner used to live."
"Lambton," said Georgiana, "why that is very near to Pemberley. I believe it is within five miles." Then summoning all her courage, she said, "I hope that you and your relations will have the time to visit us at Pemberley while you are there."
Elizabeth was uncomfortable. She had hoped neither Mr. nor Miss Darcy would learn of her changed plans as she did not want to seem to be pressing them for an invitation. She knew that it would be very awkward for both herself and Mr. Darcy for her to go to Pemberley, where she might, by now, be mistress. But, there was nothing she could do but accept Miss Darcy's kind invitation. In truth she had not been sure it would have been wholly polite to go to Lambton and spend so much time there without calling on her friend at Pemberley. "Thank you, Miss Darcy, I think that would be delightful. I will mention it in my next letter to Mrs. Gardiner. I am sure there can be no objection to calling on you at Pemberley."
Georgiana smiled widely. "I understand that you were to visit the lakes, but that your plans changed. I hope that you will have another opportunity to see that part of the country, it is very lovely."
"You have been there?"
"Yes, my brother took me there two summers ago. We had a wonderful time. I believe he has always wanted to return for another visit."
Elizabeth felt herself blushing as she considered whether Georgiana was suggesting that Mr. Darcy would take her to visit the lake country. She wondered what Mr. Darcy had told his sister about his feelings for her and of their past dealings. "Have you not wished to return as well?" she asked.
Georgiana smiled and blushed then replied, "yes, it is very beautiful, and I do hope to be able to go back there someday."
The rest of the outing passed pleasantly. Georgiana was introduced to Mrs. Phillips, and her aunt's behavior gave Elizabeth some uneasiness, but overall the visit went well. Georgiana spent most of her time with Kitty, but when they returned to Longbourn, she wished to renew her efforts to learn Elizabeth's feelings regarding her brother. When she finally had an opportunity to converse with Elizabeth she said, "I understand that you have met my aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh."
"Yes, I visited my friend, Mrs. Collins, at Hunsford parsonage last spring."
"I believe you were there during my brother's visit to Rosings over Easter?"
"Yes, we were in company together quite a bit." She purposely did not mention having also met Colonel Fitzwilliam and Georgiana did not seem to wish to talk about him either.
"Sometimes. Your aunt was kind enough to invite us for dinner or tea several times, but Mr. Darcy also called on us at the parsonage regularly."
"Did you enjoy your time in Kent?"
"Yes. I missed my friend a great deal and it was very pleasant to spend time with her again."
Georgiana was not wholly satisfied with this answer but she could not think of anything to say that would get Elizabeth to talk about her feelings for Darcy. "I understand that she was married only a few months before your visit."
"Yes, her husband is my cousin."
"I hope that she is happily settled."
"She seemed to be quite content to me."
"I am happy to hear it. My cousin, Miss de Bourgh, has written to me about Mrs. Collins, and I look forward to making her acquaintance the next time I visit Rosings."
They continued talking about Rosings, and Elizabeth related how much she had enjoyed her walks in the park. Georgiana concurred that she enjoyed the grounds at Rosings very much, but confessed a preference for Pemberley, and expressed an eagerness to show her home to Elizabeth when they should meet in Derbyshire in a few weeks time. Their conversation was finally ended when Mrs. Jenkinson arrived at the appointed time. She stayed a few minutes to converse with the family and then returned to Netherfield with Georgiana.
Elizabeth was very pleased with the day Georgiana had spent with them, and she was amazed that no one had ever even mentioned Mr. Wickham in the girl's presence. After Georgiana went away, she was glad to finally have a few minutes of conversation with Jane. She talked about Darcy and the change in her feelings for him. She also told Jane about her encounter with him that morning and of his admission. Jane was happy for Elizabeth and agreed that Darcy was still very much in love with her and that he only wanted some certainty about her feelings before he would propose again. She was very happy that Elizabeth had decided in favor of Darcy and hoped that everything would soon be arranged between them. She could easily see that Elizabeth was pleased with the prospect of becoming engaged to Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth also spoke of her anxiety regarding meeting the Darcys in Derbyshire and going to Pemberley. Jane was able to make her feel better, and soon they turned the conversation to Jane's engagement and the preparations for her wedding.
Georgiana was equally happy with her visit. She had found a new friend in Kitty and she had furthered her intimacy with Elizabeth. When she arrived at Netherfield, Georgiana immediately sought out her brother in his private sitting room and told him all about the visit. He smiled brightly as he listened to her enthusiastic tale of all that had occurred. She related her conversations with Elizabeth in detail, including their discussion about Elizabeth visiting Pemberley during her stay at Lambton. Darcy was very pleased with these arrangements, and with the change in Elizabeth's plans. He did lament her disappointment in not seeing the lake country, but he would be happy to take her there someday. When Georgiana had given all of the information she had about the events of the day and about Elizabeth in particular, she concluded saying, "I shall like my sister very much Fitzwilliam."
Darcy chuckled, "do not be too hasty Georgiana, she has not yet consented to be your sister."
"But she will, Fitzwilliam, I am sure of it."
"I wish I could be as certain of it as you are, my dear."
Over the next two or three weeks, Georgiana's intimacy with Longbourn increased. The ladies called upon one another frequently and Darcy was content to see a strong attachment forming between Georgiana and Elizabeth. There was constant interaction between the Longbourn inhabitants and the Netherfield party, but Darcy and Elizabeth did not encounter one another alone again due in part to the weather and in part to the extra work occasioned by wedding preparations for Jane. In addition to everything Mrs. Bennet felt needed to be done, Elizabeth was making several items to give to her sister as gifts and she wanted them to be completed before leaving with her aunt and uncle, as the wedding would be shortly after her return.
Although they only saw one another in company, Elizabeth attempted to give Darcy what encouragement she could, and by the time his last week in Hertfordshire was upon him he was only wanting to find time alone with her to make his proposal. He was nervous about the prospect but he was sure she would have taken care to make every effort not to encourage him if she did not mean to accept him, considering that she knew how he felt. In fact, she was doing quite the opposite and she seemed to want to make him understand that she approved of the changes he had undergone and that her opinion of him had improved.
As the Darcys' last week at Netherfield passed, they began to make ready to remove to Pemberley. Darcy was becoming frustrated with his inability to have a moment alone with Elizabeth. He went out in the hope of meeting her every morning that the weather would allow it, but he was disappointed each time. When they were in company together Elizabeth would often make a point of saying that she had missed her walk or had to go out later than usual, so that he would not believe she was avoiding him. He began to vary the time of his going out, but it seemed that they were not fated to meet alone when it was most important that they should.
On the night before the Darcys departed Netherfield, Bingley hosted a large dinner party and invited the Bennets and a few other families in the neighborhood. Darcy was determined to have a moment alone with Elizabeth during the course of the evening. As it turned out, Jane had made plans to come to Netherfield early as she was to greet the guests at her future husband's side as they arrived. Miss Bingley was still the hostess for the evening, but Bingley wanted Jane to begin assuming the role in what small ways she could. Jane had prevailed upon Elizabeth to come to Netherfield early with her and she agreed, thinking she could spend the time with Georgiana. As it turned out however, all of the ladies of the house were still dressing for dinner when the Miss Bennets arrived. Jane was entreated by the housekeeper to see to the preparations for the evening with her and Bingley enthusiastically supported the suggestion. Elizabeth urged her sister to go, but opted to stay in the drawing room herself and wait for the other ladies. The fates finally smiled upon Fitzwilliam Darcy as he entered the drawing room after dressing for dinner to find Elizabeth there, alone.
"Miss Bennet," he said with obvious surprise, "good evening."
"Good evening Mr. Darcy."
"I am surprised to see you here so early, has your family already arrived?"
"No, Jane came early and asked me to accompany her."
"Well, I am glad to see you, I have been hoping for an opportunity to speak to you for some time," he said with obvious anxiety.
"Oh?" said Elizabeth with no small amount of apprehension.
Darcy took a deep breath before continuing, "You told me a couple of weeks ago that your opinion of me has improved since April. I was only wondering whether it has improved enough to cause you to reconsider the offer I made to you then. My affections and wishes are unchanged. I love you, more than ever, and I pray that I am now worthy of your hand. Will you do me the great honor of becoming my wife?"
Elizabeth was overcome with emotion. It was now her turn to breath deeply. After a brief moment she spoke, "Mr. Darcy, I . . . ."
At that moment, the door to the drawing room burst open, interrupting Elizabeth's response. She and Darcy impulsively took a step away from one another. "Mr. Darcy, there you are, all ready for the evening, I see," said Miss Bingley. Then noticing Elizabeth she added, "Miss Bennet, you are here early."
"I arrived with Jane," she explained curtly as she turned away and walked to a window.
Darcy closed his eyes briefly and sighed as Miss Bingley walked over to him and, ignoring Elizabeth, continued, "I do hope you shall have pleasant weather for your journey tomorrow, Mr. Darcy. We have been having so much rain here lately."
Darcy could scarcely make a civil response to Miss Bingley, but he managed to observe that he hoped for good weather on the morrow as well.
"I know that the rain has prevented you from your early morning rides on occasion." He did not respond and she continued to prattle on incessantly. Elizabeth would have tried to join the conversation to save Darcy from enduring Miss Bingley alone, but she could not bring herself to move from the window. Georgiana finally arrived, making both Elizabeth and Darcy a little more comfortable. Upon entering the room she immediately noticed Elizabeth and went to her to strike up a conversation. They talked quietly by the window until Jane and Bingley returned. Mr. and Mrs. Hurst finally joined them and the guests began to arrive soon thereafter.
The entire evening was spent very uncomfortably for both Darcy and Elizabeth. At first he hoped to contrive a way to have another moment alone with her, but he soon knew it would be impossible. The best he could hope for was a moment of private conversation in a room full of other people. He did not know if she would be willing to give her answer under such circumstances, but he hoped to give her the opportunity. There was no chance before dinner and at the table they were seated as far away from one another as possible.
After dinner, when the gentlemen rejoined the ladies Darcy went directly to Elizabeth, but Miss Bingley was at his side in a moment. He did have the pleasure of listening to Elizabeth play the pianoforte and he looked forward to the time when Miss Bingley would take her turn at the instrument to give him some freedom from her constant company, but even when she did, there was never a moment when Elizabeth was not engaged in conversation with someone else. All hope was lost when the card tables were set up and he was seated at a different table from Elizabeth. Although they had not had the opportunity to speak further about the subject at the forefront of both their minds, the tension between them was almost palpable when they were near enough to each other for conversation, and when they were not, they shared several glances during the course of the evening.
Elizabeth did have the opportunity to speak to Georgiana and finalize their plans for her arrival in Derbyshire. Elizabeth would send a note to Georgiana at Pemberley upon her arrival at the Lambton Inn.
As the Bennet carriage drove away from Netherfield, both Elizabeth and Darcy had the same thought, they would meet in the morning at their usual spot. She was unsure how early he would be leaving for his journey, but she felt certain that he would try to meet her. She planned to go out early for that purpose. He intended to go out very early as well and simply wait for her, and he cared not whether he was delayed as a result. However, the morning brought a steady rain that prevented either walking or riding. Mr. Darcy considered putting off his journey for another day, but he knew his business affairs would not allow it. He had spent far too much time away as it was, and he had already set plans in motion that would require his presence at Pemberley at the time of his scheduled arrival. He would have to contrive some way to communicate with Elizabeth, or simply wait for her to arrive at Lambton. He castigated himself for taking so long to finally come to the point of proposing again, and imagined that Elizabeth now thought him a fool. He could think of nothing else during the first stages of the journey and was happy for the peace and quiet Miss Darcy and Mrs. Annesley saw fit to afford him. Georgiana could see that he was preoccupied and imagined he was disappointed to be leaving Elizabeth. Clearly they had not yet reached an understanding.
Elizabeth was as disappointed with the rain as Darcy had been. She wished fervently that she had been able to give him an answer and she felt terrible that he had been forced to leave the country without learning it. She wondered that he had waited until the last day of his stay at Netherfield to renew his proposal, but she could not blame him for having been uncertain, considering what she had said to him the last time he had proposed. She tried to think of a way to communicate her response to him, but she decided that it would not be worthwhile to take any drastic steps or breach propriety when she would see him again in a few weeks.
The remaining time before Elizabeth's excursion was spent in the company of Jane and in preparing for the wedding. She was able to derive some consolation from Miss Darcy's letters which always conveyed her brother's warmest regards. She was careful to include a response to his greeting in each reply she sent.
Three days before she was to depart, Mr. Bennet received the following letter by express:
Dear Mr. Bennet:
Something has come to my attention of which I felt you should be made aware. It seems that Lydia has formed an imprudent attachment with Mr. Wickham. Under normal circumstances I would not be alarmed by such a circumstance, however, before leaving Meryton I received some disturbing information from Mr. Darcy about the character of that particular gentleman. That report has been supported by subsequent events I myself have witnessed.
It has been a pleasure to have Miss Lydia as our guest, and I would not wish you to believe that her behavior has been in any way faulty. I am only concerned that her attachment to Mr. Wickham may lead her to trust him more than she ought. Such a circumstance would only result in evil consequences when the man in question is not an honorable one. I believe it would be best for Miss Lydia to be taken away from Brighton, and thus out of his company, at once. She does not know that I have written to you regarding this matter. Please write back as soon as possible to advise me whether you will fetch her yourself; or, if not, how you wish her journey home to be accomplished.
Mr. Bennet made arrangements to travel to Brighton the following morning and sent an express to Colonel Forster, thanking him for his letter and informing him of his own plans. Mrs. Bennet was opposed to having Lydia fetched home, and was sure that there was nothing to be concerned with, for she knew Mr. Wickham to be an amiable man and anything Mr. Darcy had said about him had to have been said out of spite and jealousy. Darcy, having recently left the neighborhood without securing the hand of one of her daughters, had fully restored her prior ill opinion of him and all that he had gained of her favor during the past two months now vanished at the prospect that Lydia's pleasure might be curtailed because of his influence.
Elizabeth had a private conversation with Mr. Bennet in which she explained with more particularity, what she knew of Wickham's character from Mr. and Miss Darcy, and although she told him of Wickham's attempt to elope with a young heiress without her family's consent, she did not mention that it had been Georgiana. Mr. Bennet had already made up his mind to bring Lydia home, but he was glad to have the information offered by Elizabeth. He set off the following morning, and returned the next evening with a very unhappy Lydia.
Elizabeth was glad to see her sister home, and upon witnessing the vehemence of Lydia's displeasure and the strength of her expressions of love for Mr. Wickham and her faith in his returned love - indeed, she was convinced that he would come for her - she could not help but feel that Darcy's communication to Colonel Forster had prevented a far worse situation. The Gardiners had arrived at Longbourn on the same day with their four children, who were to remain under the care of Jane during their absence, but were only to spend one night before leaving for Derbyshire, taking Elizabeth with them.
Elizabeth and the Gardiners enjoyed the first week of their excursion very much. They visited several places of interest and took great pleasure in viewing the countryside as they passed through it. Elizabeth, of course, was extremely preoccupied with her situation, which did not escape her relations. But, as she showed no signs of being unhappy and seemed to be enjoying the trip, they let it pass. It turned out that Mr. Gardiner had been extremely conservative in his planning and everything took less time than he anticipated. As a result, they arrived at Lambton three days earlier than planned.
This was a happy circumstance for both the ladies accompanying him, as Mrs. Gardiner was pleased to have more time with her acquaintances, and Elizabeth hoped to give Darcy her answer that much sooner. This consideration was the deciding factor in determining whether to wait to send her note to Miss Darcy or do so immediately upon her arrival. Although she had told Georgiana the expected date of her arrival, she had promised to give her the earliest possible information of it, so she had a note sent to Pemberley soon after they were settled at the inn.
Georgiana was extremely pleased to receive Elizabeth's note. It was too late in the day for a visit, but she immediately sent a reply indicating that she would call on Elizabeth and her aunt in the morning. Upon receipt of the note Elizabeth became extremely apprehensive about what the morning would bring. She had no doubt that Mr. Darcy would accompany his sister, and although it was rather late in the day she was a bit surprised that he had not come to her immediately, considering the way in which things had been left between them. As she told herself that he knew she was so near, she wondered if he was suffering the same anxiety as she.
Elizabeth knew that her life would change forever the next day. She knew that it would be an occasion of happiness if she could have the opportunity to consent to his proposal, but she also foresaw awkwardness and discomfort, as she could not know whether such an opportunity to be alone with him would present itself, and if so, how she should broach the subject. Would it be too presumptuous for her to bring it up and offer her answer without being prompted? and if she did not do so would he be discouraged and take it as a rejection? or would he raise the subject himself yet again? and if he did would that not amount to a third proposal? There were too many questions to be answered, and she knew she would have to wait and see how he behaved before deciding what approach to take. In addition to the weightier concern of answering Darcy's proposal, Elizabeth was also eager to let him know that his communication to Colonel Forster had proven useful and to thank him for saving Lydia from a situation that could have become scandalous, perhaps she could use this topic to open a conversation. She slept restlessly that night, as she anticipated what the morning would inevitably bring.
As it turned out, all of her anxiety that night was for naught, for the following morning brought extreme disappointment for Elizabeth when Miss Darcy arrived at the inn with only Mrs. Annesley accompanying her. Elizabeth was happy to be reunited with her friend, but she became pale and weak at the thought that Darcy was avoiding her, and the possibility that he now regretted his proposal. She quickly pushed those thoughts out of her mind, reminding herself of his constancy over the past several months. Georgiana noticed Elizabeth's distress and was quick to offer an explanation for her brother's absence, "My brother had some business with my uncle and has been gone to his estate for the past few days. I expect him to return the day after tomorrow." Elizabeth's relief was evident and she smiled to herself as she realized that Darcy had timed his return to Pemberley for the same day she had expected to arrive in Lambton.
The visit with Georgiana went very well, and the two girls renewed their friendship on the happiest of terms. Georgiana was also very pleased to renew her acquaintance with the Gardiners and both she and Elizabeth were glad to see how well Mrs. Gardiner and Mrs. Annesley got on together. When the ladies arose to take their leave, Mrs. Gardiner expressed a wish to return the visit in the morning. Georgiana graciously assented and, with a diffidence that marked her little in the habit of giving invitations, she invited Elizabeth and the Gardiners for dinner the evening after next. The invitation was accepted by Mrs. Gardiner on behalf of her party. Elizabeth realized that this was the day Mr. Darcy was expected home, and wondered if that had anything to do with the choice of date on Miss Darcy's part. She now felt secure in knowing when and where and in whose company she would meet Darcy again. She only hoped that she could contrive a moment during the dinner party to give him her answer.
The rest of the day was spent by Elizabeth and the Gardiners walking about Lambton and renewing Mrs. Gardiner's old acquaintances, with whom she made several engagements for the following day. Elizabeth's night was not quite so restless as the last one had been, since she knew she had at least one more day and night before she would see Darcy. She did not like the delay, but it allowed her to put off her anxiety over the meeting. She was happy also that she would have the opportunity to see Pemberley for the first time without his presence. She thought it might be too overwhelming to have him nearby with things still unsettled between them, when she entered the house for the first time where she intended to live the rest of her life.
Mr. Gardiner spent the next morning at the inn, reviewing his business correspondence, while his wife and niece called at Pemberley. On the way there, Mrs. Gardiner reminded Elizabeth that due to her other engagements for the day, they would only be able to stay at Pemberley for about half an hour. Elizabeth murmured her understanding as she noticed the house appearing over the horizon. She drew in a deep breath. Pemberley house was situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road, with some abruptness, wound. It was on a ridge of high woody hills; and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal nor falsely adorned. Both she and Mrs. Gardiner were warm in their admiration and Elizabeth realized at that moment, more than ever before, what it would be to be mistress of Pemberley. Undaunted by the prospect, she smiled to herself in anticipation of her marriage, and felt pride in her future home as she listened to her aunt's praise of it while they descended the hill, crossed the bridge, and drove to the door.
Upon entering the house they were shown to a drawing room where Georgiana was seated with Mrs. Annesley. Elizabeth immediately liked the room. It was on a corner of the house, and thus, was filled with natural light from windows that covered the walls on two sides. The furnishings were elegant and, though suitable to the fortune of their proprietor, were neither gaudy nor uselessly fine. The four ladies talked amicably together and after several hints from Mrs. Annesley, Georgiana ordered refreshments to be served. Once they had all enjoyed the offerings of cold meats, cakes and all the finest fruits of the season, Georgiana expressed a desire to show Elizabeth some of the grounds close to the house. Elizabeth expressed her gratitude and explained that she would be delighted to tour the grounds, but that there was not time at present as she and her aunt had to return to Lambton to fulfill her aunt's obligations there. Georgiana then invited Elizabeth to remain at Pemberley with her for the day and offered to escort her back to Lambton in the Darcy carriage, with Mrs. Annesley, later. Mrs. Annesley nodded her approval and gave Miss Darcy a look of approval, for her initiative. Elizabeth looked at her aunt and Mrs. Gardiner said, "that is a lovely idea Miss Darcy, if it is agreeable to Lizzy. I am sure she would prefer to spend her time here with you than visiting in Lambton with me. I dare say she would become quite bored while I reminisce with my old friends." Elizabeth could see that Mrs. Gardiner truly would not mind her staying behind, so she agreed to the plan.
As soon as Mrs. Gardiner went away, Mrs. Annesley left the girls alone. Miss Darcy said, "now that we have the whole day ahead of us, perhaps I should show you some of the house before we go outdoors."
Elizabeth was delighted with the idea, "I would love to see the house," was all she could say.
Georgiana proudly showed Elizabeth the principal rooms, including the dining room, the library, the study, and the music room, where a new pianoforte, just purchased for her by her brother, stood. The rooms were lofty and handsome, and Elizabeth admired them all as much as she had the drawing room. She admired also Mr. Darcy's taste in the way they were fitted up, and was pleased to notice that there was less of splendour and more real elegance at Pemberley than at Rosings. At Georgiana's suggestion, Elizabeth looked out one of the windows in the dining room, at the grounds and was pleased with the prospect. The hill, crowned with wood, that she and Mrs. Gardiner had descended on their approach to the house, receiving increased abruptness from the distance, was a beautiful object. Every disposition of the ground was good; and she looked on the whole scene, the river, the trees scattered on its banks and the winding of the valley, as far as she could trace it, with delight. As they passed into other rooms these objects were taking different positions; but from every window there were beauties to be seen. As she moved from room to room admiring the grounds and the house she could not help but smile as she thought to herself, 'and of this place I will be mistress,' then she thought ruefully, 'I might already be mistress here, but for my own misjudgment. With these rooms I might now have been familiarly acquainted, I might now have rejoiced in them as my own, and welcomed to them as visitors my uncle and aunt. But I shall have many occasions to do so,' she reminded herself, 'how surprised they will be when they learn this is to be my home.'
Elizabeth was surprised when Georgiana led her into Mr. Darcy's study. Elizabeth felt as if she was intruding into his personal space, but Georgiana did not seem to be the least bit concerned. In truth, she would not have shown this room to any other guests, but knowing her brother's intentions towards Elizabeth, she was happy to give her friend a more personal glimpse of him by showing her the room where he conducted his business. Elizabeth liked the room very well. It was large and comfortable, with a large desk by a window. Elizabeth could imagine Darcy sitting there working on matters of estate business and she wondered whether she would ever sit in this room, by the fire, doing her own work while he attended to his. Her attention was then drawn by some miniature portraits suspended over the mantelpiece. Her eyes first rested upon the portrait of Mr. Darcy, but then she noticed that there was also a portrait of Mr. Wickham. She was surprised, but able to account for its presence when Georgiana explained that the display had remained just as her father had left it when he died. After this explanation, she allowed her attention to be drawn back to the likeness of her future husband.
Georgiana noticed Elizabeth looking intently at Mr. Darcy's picture and said, "there is a finer, larger picture of him in the gallery upstairs." Elizabeth blushed in embarrassment as she followed Georgiana to the portrait gallery. They walked past frame after frame containing family portraits that could have nothing to fix Elizabeth's attention. She walked on, in quest of the only face whose features would be known to her. At last it arrested her ? and she beheld a striking resemblance to Mr. Darcy, with such a smile over the face as she remembered to have sometimes seen when he looked at her. She stood several minutes before the picture, in earnest contemplation and was informed by Miss Darcy that it had been taken in her father's lifetime. As she stood before the canvas on which he was represented, and fixed his eyes on herself, she saw him before her as she never before had, as master of this great estate. She considered the magnitude of his responsibilities, how much of pleasure or pain it was in his power to bestow, how much of good or evil must be done by him, and how many people's happiness were in his guardianship as a landlord, a master, a brother, and soon a husband and a father. She thought of his affectionate solicitude for Georgiana, and she realized that her own life would soon be added to those within his care, hers and any children she might have. The thought gave her comfort, rather than fear. She trusted him.
When all of the house that Georgiana considered it proper to show its next mistress had been seen, they returned downstairs and ventured into the gardens. They crossed the lawn and entered a beautiful walk along the side of the river. Every step brought forward a nobler fall of ground, or a finer reach of the woods to which they were approaching. When they entered the woods, they bade adieu to the river for a while as they ascended some of the higher grounds; in spots where the opening of the trees gave the eye power to wander, there were many charming views of the valley, the opposite hills, with the long range of woods overspreading many, and occasionally part of the stream. They chatted amiably throughout their walk and Georgiana took care to point out both her own and her brother's favorite spots as she told anecdotes of past events at various locations in the park, which indicated to Elizabeth that the Darcys were in the habit of walking out together frequently; while Elizabeth, to the great pleasure of her companion, commented favorably on all she saw.
The circuit they walked brought them, after some time, in a descent among hanging woods, to the edge of the water, and one of its narrowest parts. They crossed it by a simple bridge, in character with the general air of the scene; it was a spot less adorned than any they had yet visited; and the valley, here contracted into a glen, allowed room only for the stream, and a narrow walk amidst the rough coppice-wood which bordered it. Elizabeth expressed a longing to explore its windings, and she thought she saw something in Georgiana's look indicating a certainty that Elizabeth would soon have the pleasure of exploring all the grounds. Verbally, however Georgiana's response was only to ask in which direction they should wander first.
At length, they returned to the house, glowing with the delight of each other's company and the exercise they had undertaken. As they entered through a side door, Georgiana said, "let us have a few moments of rest and some refreshment together before we set out for Lambton." Elizabeth readily approved the scheme and followed Georgiana to the drawing room they had visited in earlier. As they approached the room, they happened to pass a serving maid on her way back to the kitchen and Georgiana stopped her to order their refreshment. Meanwhile, Elizabeth boldly walked on towards the drawing room. Upon opening the door, she was confronted by two gentlemen, Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam, who were both equally astonished to behold her as she was to see them.
In truth, the gentlemen had only just arrived at the house, expecting to find Miss Darcy in the drawing room, and had not yet even had the chance to ask the housekeeper or Mrs. Annesley where their charge was at present. They had traveled that morning from the home of Darcy's uncle, where Colonel Fitzwilliam had been visiting with his family for a few days. It was now his purpose to travel to Devonshire to see Miss Rowland before returning again to his regiment until his wedding. As Pemberley lie directly on the path he intended to take, he had suggested traveling as far with Darcy and staying a night there to save him at least one night at an inn on his journey. Darcy had agreed to the plan reluctantly, as he expected Elizabeth to be in the neighborhood on the day of his arrival and he was most eager to finish his business with her, preferably without his cousin's presence. A solution had presented itself upon his receipt of a letter from his steward describing a matter of estate business that could, if convenient, be called urgent enough to call him home a day early. Seeing as it was convenient to his plans, Darcy had advised Colonel Fitzwilliam that he wished to leave a day early, using the letter as an excuse. As Colonel Fitzwilliam was always at his cousin's disposal where travel arrangements were concerned, and as he was certainly in a hurry to see his beloved, he had readily consented to the arrangement. Darcy, had been thus relieved by the knowledge that Colonel Fitzwilliam would be long gone from Pemberley when Elizabeth should arrive at Lambton. As it turned out, Darcy had left the estate of his uncle, with his cousin, only about a half hour before the express, sent to him by Georgiana the previous day to advise him that Miss Bennet was already at Lambton, arrived at his uncle's home. And so it was, that Darcy now stood before Elizabeth in a moment that they would both, undoubtedly, look upon fondly later in life, but was now the most awkward that either had ever experienced.
Darcy felt his heart nearly leap out of his chest upon beholding Elizabeth, and it next began pounding so hard that he was certain she could hear it. This sensation was accompanied by a nervous churning in his stomach and a dry mouth that rendered him speechless. Elizabeth fared no better. She blushed profusely - each gentleman reasonably believing himself to be the cause of it - and experienced nervous flutterings throughout her body. In spite of these sensations, it could not be said that either was displeased by the presence of the other, although both were a bit discomforted by the presence of the third person in the room. Although he had even less understanding of Elizabeth's presence in the drawing room at Pemberley than Darcy did, Colonel Fitzwilliam was the first to speak, perhaps prompted by a feeling of responsibility for the awkwardness of the situation, "good afternoon, Miss Bennet, it is lovely to see you again"
"Good afternoon Colonel Fitzwilliam," said Elizabeth as she felt her cheeks grow warmer. Then she timidly turned her glance upon Darcy who had his gaze fixed on her and said, "Mr. Darcy," she had intended to smile, but was unsure of her success.
"Miss Bennet, I am pleased to see you again," said he, recovering himself enough to allow for rational speech.
"Thank you, it is a pleasure to see both of you as well."
Georgiana, had walked into the room by now, and the ladies were quickly informed of the reason for the early return of one gentleman and the addition of the other to their company. The gentlemen's curiosity was likewise satisfied when Elizabeth's early arrival at Lambton was explained. Her dinner engagement for the following evening was also disclosed to Darcy.
Elizabeth then ventured to say, graciously, "Miss Rowland informed me of your engagement, Colonel Fitzwilliam, allow me to offer you my most sincere congratulations."
"Thank you, Miss Bennet," replied he with a smile, "I know that your correspondence brings her great pleasure." Elizabeth immediately wondered whether Miss Rowland had informed him of her suspicions regarding Darcy's affections.
Colonel Fitzwilliam's ease of manner allowed for a conversation of sorts to be maintained between himself and Elizabeth, in spite of the strain resulting from their own history with one another. Even Georgiana joined in now and again with a comment, in the hopes of putting her brother more at ease, for she had never seen him more unsettled in Elizabeth's company. And, although Darcy was so overwhelmed with emotion that he spoke not a word, indeed a man who had felt less might have talked to her more, Elizabeth felt his gaze upon her at all times. She wanted to speak to him, to include him in the conversation, to let him know she was not ignoring him, but she could not even bring herself to look at him, much less speak to him, and she could think of nothing to say in any case. In truth, Colonel Fitzwilliam was a bit put out by this untimely return of his cousin's previous reticence. As Darcy was acquainted with all the particulars of his previous dealings with Miss Bennet, and moreover as their host, he felt that his cousin should now be cognizant of his own awkward situation and doing what he could to alleviate it.
The refreshment tray was brought in, allowing for the enjoyment of lemonade and biscuits to occupy everyone for some time, and conversation was even more sparse. Darcy now, seemed to realize that he should say something to the woman who he hoped to marry, however his cousin had already covered the topics that were readily available, namely her journey and her tours of the various places of interest she had passed along the way. Finally, he was able to ask, "I hope your family was well, when you left them Miss Bennet."
She turned to him as relieved as she was surprised that he had finally addressed her. "They were all very well, I thank you, sir," she managed to reply, her blush growing deeper as she raised her eyes to meet his. "My sister returned to us from Brighton only the day before I set out with my aunt and uncle."
"How did Miss Lydia enjoy her stay at Brighton."
"Too well, I am afraid, but she managed to escape without getting into trouble."
Colonel Fitzwilliam thought this a rather odd comment, and was even more surprised by his cousin's apparent understanding. Indeed, Darcy recalled his previous conversation with Elizabeth regarding the possibility that Lydia might be drawn in by Wickham's charm. "I am glad to hear it," he replied.
When the dishes were cleared away soon after, Elizabeth turned to Georgiana and said, "I believe it is growing late and I must return to the inn, my aunt has made a dinner engagement for us this evening with some of her friends."
"Of course," said Georgiana, "I will find Mrs. Annesley, please excuse me."
Upon Georgiana's exit the housekeeper entered the room and addressing Colonel Fitzwilliam said, "sir, the man who will be attending you tonight and tomorrow is new to Pemberley and not familiar with your preferences, do you have a moment for a word with him?"
"Certainly," he replied as he too exited the room.
Darcy was in no humor to waste a moment of the present opportunity to speak to Elizabeth about what was at the forefront of both their minds. They began to speak simultaneously however, and as a gentleman he implored her to continue.
"I only wished to thank you sir, for taking the trouble to warn Colonel Forster about Mr. Wickham. As it turned out, your conjecture regarding Lydia's feelings were not unfounded, and she formed an attachment to him while at Brighton. Mr. Forster noticed the situation and warned my father to fetch her home. He confessed that had it not been for your information he would not have been concerned by the situation. Considering the character and disposition of each, I am certain that had the attachment between them gone unchecked something dreadful might have happened."
"I am sure you give me too much credit, but I am pleased to learn that it all ended well," replied Darcy. He then moved to Elizabeth's side on the sofa she occupied and addressed her thus, "I hope you will forgive me for changing the subject so abruptly, but I have waited more than two weeks, nay much longer than that, for this moment, Miss Bennet, is it too much to ask you to give me an answer to the inquiry I made the last time we saw one another?"
"No," she replied with some trepidation. Then, she paused for a moment, though she was as impatient to give her answer as he was to have it, before giving her response in a most direct manner, "and, yes."
Darcy had not realized he had been holding his breath until he let it out a sigh of pleasure and relief in response to her words. He only had time to smile and kiss her hand before the sound of approaching footsteps required them to separate again. Georgiana and Mrs. Annesley entered the room, and they waited a few minutes so that Elizabeth could bid farewell to Colonel Fitzwilliam. There was some little conversation during which the two lovers avoided looking at each other. Darcy was unsure if he could conceal his happiness, but wished to speak further to Elizabeth before making their happy situation generally known. Colonel Fitzwilliam soon returned and good-byes were exchanged. Then, within moments, Darcy and his cousin were escorting the three ladies out to the waiting carriage. Darcy had half a mind to go with them, but decided against it. He and Elizabeth shared a meaningful look as he assisted her into the equipage and then she was gone.
When the two gentlemen returned to the house, Darcy directed them to his study, rather than the drawing room. Since Colonel Fitzwilliam was leaving tomorrow anyway, he was sure Elizabeth would not object to telling him of their engagement right away as he wanted to tell him in person rather than by letter, considering the history he had with Elizabeth, and he would probably not have another opportunity to do so before the wedding itself. Darcy had not realized that he had been smiling to himself until his cousin addressed him thus, "I hope you have brought me here to tell me what has suddenly delighted you so."
"Indeed I have cousin," he replied still smiling. He waited until they were each settled into a comfortable chair and then said, "I am engaged to Miss Elizabeth Bennet."
Colonel Fitzwilliam was stunned and stared at his cousin in bewilderment for several seconds. Certainly they had not greeted one another today as an engaged couple. To the contrary, they had all but avoided speaking to each other. Surely there had not been time during Georgiana's absence and his own from the drawing room for Darcy to propose and be accepted. The timing of the event was, of course, far less astonishing than the occurrence of it and Colonel Fitzwilliam's thoughts soon turned. That his cousin would marry a woman such as Miss Elizabeth was intriguing, to him. She was beneath Darcy, without a doubt, and his fortune could certainly win him the hand of a wealthier woman of far greater consequence in society. Yet, unlike himself, his cousin could afford to marry a woman with no fortune. He remembered pointing out to Darcy that Miss Elizabeth was the only single and unattached woman who he had ever known that did not pursue him, and he could not help wondering if this was the reason for his cousin's choice. Was this some kind of protest against his treatment by the ladies of London society? Finally he asked, "why?"
Darcy smiled, "because I love her."
Colonel Fitzwilliam was thoughtful for a moment and then said, "I see, and does she love you?"
"I believe so."
"She has not told you so?"
"No, but I am certain she would not have accepted me if she did not. In truth, there has been no opportunity for her to do so. Our engagement was only accomplished a few moments before she left here."
"Surely Georgiana and I were not out of the room long enough for you to propose."
"No. I had already done so, in Hertfordshire, the day before I left, but we were interrupted before she had a chance to answer. Today was the first time we have seen one another since."
"You have been waiting all this time to receive an answer?"
"Darcy, I know you said that you love her, but are you quite sure that this is what you want?"
"Then I wish you joy, and I have no doubt that you shall have it."
"Nor do I," replied Darcy with a smile.
"How long have you loved her?" asked the colonel with some curiosity as to whether Darcy's feelings began while he was still courting Elizabeth or after.
"Since last November," came Darcy's reply.
Colonel Fitzwilliam's amazement at this revelation was beyond anything he had experienced so far this evening. "Since November! Good God man! Do you mean that all the while we were at Rosings, and then in London, you were already in love with her?"
"Before I even met her."
"And yet I spoke to you about her so many times, I sought your advice about my own courtship with her. You sent me to propose to her twice!"
Darcy smiled ruefully, "that was not my intention the first time, and the second there was no other choice under the circumstances."
"Circumstances brought about solely by my foolishness!" replied Colonel Fitzwilliam, realizing how much additional and unnecessary pain he had placed on his cousin. He had pursued the woman that his cousin loved, and had loved for months, all the while confessing to him that he did not love her! "If I had not behaved so impetuously, you might not have suffered so, you might have won her sooner."
"I do not know about that," replied Darcy a bit enigmatically, his cousin still did not know all.
Colonel Fitzwilliam did not respond. His comprehension of all the consequences of his own thoughtless behavior continued to play out in his mind. Now knowing what it was to love, he was able to feel compassion for Darcy's situation, such as it had been, and admiration for his strength and equanimity through the whole of it. "It must have been terrible for you, all those weeks," he added. Then, as if just struck with the thought, as if it had never occurred to Darcy but should have, and as if it would have resolved everything, he asked, "but why did you not propose to her sooner yourself?"
"I did, in April, the night before you did."
Colonel Fitzwilliam was again astonished. He pondered this new information for a moment then indicated his recollection saying, "the night she stayed at the parsonage when the Collinses came for tea. That is where you disappeared to." Then after a brief moment of further reflection he added with more than a hint of doubt as to the possibility, "but that must mean that she refused you."
"But why did she refuse you then, only to accept you now?"
"I asked for her reasons at the time, and she gave them. The first one being that she had recently learned of my involvement in separating Mr. Bingley from her sister."
"Yes, of course, I am the one who told her. I am sorry. I had no idea at the time of your feelings for her, or even that the lady in question was her sister."
"She had also become acquainted with George Wickham, who had given her his version of his past dealings with my family."
"I remember now you saying that he had been in Hertfordshire. I assume you set her to rights with respect to him?"
"Anything else?" asked the colonel in a teasing manner.
"Plenty," said Darcy with a hint of a smile, "but the rest had to do with her own dealings with me while I was in Hertfordshire last fall."
"Do not tell me she refused you because you would not dance at a ball," said Colonel Fitzwilliam recalling his conversation with both of them at Rosings, while Elizabeth had been playing the pianoforte.
"I am afraid that was only the beginning, cousin, but it is all in the past now. I have secured her hand, and I am a very happy man."
"Yes, but you have only answered half of my question. You explained at least some of why she turned you down, but none of why she has now accepted you."
"Her reasons for refusing me no longer exist."
"Bingley is engaged to her sister and she now knows the truth about Wickham. What about the other reasons, those that you will not disclose, do they likewise no longer exist?"
After another long moment of reflection, Colonel Fitzwilliam said, "I still cannot credit that you have been in love with her all this time. I never had the slightest suspicion. Even when we spoke of her, of the possibility of my marrying her, you never showed even a hint of such feelings for her."
"It was not easy work to conceal them, I assure you."
"If she had accepted me, she would have been lost to you forever."
"I considered her lost to me in any case, after my failed proposal. I knew eventually she would marry someone else. Besides, she would only have accepted you if she had loved you, and had that been the case I could only have rejoiced in her happiness. I certainly had no claim on her at the time. I loved her yes, but she soundly rejected me with no glimmer of hope in the form of an invitation to court her as she gave you."
"That is why you never called at Gracechurch Street with us."
"Yes," replied Darcy. Then he added, "if she had been as kind in her rejection of my first proposal as she had been in rejecting yours, you would have had a far more tenacious rival for her hand."
"I am glad it did not come to that. Yet, even after such an unkind rejection, as you put it, you persisted in loving her?"
Darcy smiled at his cousin's choice of words as he recalled his early persistence in attempting to not love her. He replied, "I loved her all the more for it. Her rejection of me and all the unkindness attendant upon it were well deserved, I assure you."
"You have not told me all, so I must take your word for it."
"Good. Now, I must prevail upon you to agree not to share this news with anyone. You may tell Miss Rowland, if you trust her confidence, but Miss Bennet and I have not yet spoken about the extent to which we wish to make our engagement known before I speak to her father. I will tell Georgiana this evening, but no one else."
"Of course. I will tell no one unless you give me leave to do so, save Emma. She likes to gossip well enough, but she will keep your confidence if I ask her to."
The conversation between the two men continued until Georgiana and Mrs. Annesley returned. Then everyone retired to prepare for dinner. On the way to Lambton, Georgiana had noticed a change in Elizabeth's demeanor and wondered what had passed between her friend and her brother during her brief absence from the drawing room. When she returned to Pemberley she was surprised to see her brother in very good humor as well, but it was not until after dinner that she would learn the cause.
When Darcy told Georgiana of his engagement, she was delighted with the news, but surprised by how quickly everything had been settled between them. He then explained the circumstances of his proposal and Elizabeth's acceptance.
It was not until he went to bed, and replayed the scene of Elizabeth's acceptance again in his mind, that Darcy began to realize the ambiguity of her response. He recalled the exact wording of his question and the way she had formed her answer, and became a little apprehensive that he might have misunderstood her, in his eagerness for a favorable response. Then he remembered the look she gave him while ascending into the carriage and he was somewhat soothed, but he would not be easy again until he could see her and talk to her and confirm that she had indeed accepted him. After so many months of disappointment and uncertainty he could scarcely believe that he had finally secured her hand. It took him a long time to fall asleep that evening as his thoughts and feelings ranged from joy to uncertainty to fear and ultimately back to joy. He finally managed to gain sleep with very pleasing visions of his Elizabeth at the forefront of his mind.
Chapter 12Elizabeth's mind as she left Pemberley was in a whirl of confusion. Had she just become engaged? Yes, so it seemed. She had been so eager to give her answer that she had failed to realize that there was so much more to be said between them. Nevertheless, she felt that a great burden had been lifted from her. She had answered him, they were engaged, and perhaps tomorrow they could speak further about it. There was still so much left unsettled between them, leaving just such an amount of anxiety, that she knew rather than felt herself to be happy.
In the morning, Elizabeth received a letter from Jane. She and her aunt and uncle had just been preparing to walk out as it came in; and her uncle and aunt, leaving her to enjoy it in quiet, set off by themselves. When Elizabeth opened it a second letter fell out, it was from Miss Rowland and had been sent to her at Longbourn. She attended Jane's letter first. It contained an account of all their little parties and engagements, with such news as the country afforded and stories of the doings of her little cousins. The letter also described Lydia's continued ill temper, Mrs. Bennet's nervous fits, and Jane's own continued joy in Mr. Bingley's society and anticipation of her wedding. The rest of her family continued as usual, as did Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley, the latter lamenting, on occasion, the loss of Mr. Darcy's society. It seemed that Darcy had invited Bingley and his sisters to Pemberley for the summer sometime last spring, but as Bingley had become engaged, their plans had changed and his sisters were most seriously displeased. Elizabeth laughed to herself at such a description and was relieved that Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst were not presently in residence at Pemberley. Jane closed by indicating that she was enclosing a letter from Miss Rowland that had been sent to Elizabeth at Longbourn.
Miss Rowland's letters had contained no references to Mr. Darcy since she had written her suspicions as to that gentleman's feelings for Elizabeth. Nor had she ever indicated whether she had told them to anyone, including Colonel Fitzwilliam. She had simply dropped the subject entirely from their correspondence. Elizabeth could only assume this to be a result of her own response to that letter, and had been glad to put the subject to rest. However, it was now renewed in this letter:
My Dear Miss Elizabeth,
I do hope this letter reaches you at Longbourn before you depart for Derbyshire. What a turn of luck for you that you shall spend so much time in that county! How could you even wish to be going to the Lakes instead? I know from my beloved Colonel Fitzwilliam that your Mr. Darcy will be at Pemberley during the time you are in that neighborhood, though I have told him nothing of your travel plans or of my suspicions regarding where Mr. Darcy's affections lie, as you requested. I hope you will not think ill of me for indulging myself so far as to mention it here. Have I not behaved myself long enough? I have done as you asked, I have told no one any part of it, but now that I learn of your plans to travel into the very vicinity of Pemberley, I can be silent no longer, and I hope you will not begrudge me this one opportunity to share my thoughts on the matter. I do not know why you wish to keep it such a secret. I imagine that Mr. Darcy would tell his own cousin about his feelings in any case, so Colonel Fitzwilliam may already know. I do long to wish you joy, dear Elizabeth, you deserve every happiness. Please send word of your engagement just as soon as it is accomplished.
The rest of the letter told of the goings on in Miss Rowland's household, the expected visit of her betrothed, and her wedding preparations. Elizabeth, for once, was not distressed by her friend's presumption and was eager to write back and tell her about her engagement, but she wished to speak with Mr. Darcy first. As if by the will of her thoughts, the door was opened at that moment by a servant to admit Mr. Darcy into the room. She stood as soon as she heard the door opening, and the instant he saw her he smiled. The door was closed behind him and they were alone.
"Good morning, Miss Bennet."
"Good morning, Mr. Darcy."
"I expected to find Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner with you, I had hoped to meet them again."
"They have gone out walking. I stayed behind to read some letters I just received."
He approached her cautiously and stood in front of her. He did not know what to say, he was suddenly struck again by the force of the fears and anxieties he had experienced the night before. He looked into her eyes, and she seemed to be waiting for him to say or do something. He took her hand in his and heard his own voice speak with an urgency that it did not usually carry, "say it again, Elizabeth."
She smiled, and with an impertinent glance, said, "yes."
"Yes what?" he asked, taking a step closer to her.
"Yes, I will marry you, Mr. Darcy."
He smiled the most natural, yet the most charming smile she had ever seen. He raised her hands to his lips and gently kissed the back of each one. Feeling the danger of being discovered thus, he let their hands fall, but did not release hers, and took a step back. They spent the next few moments exchanging words of affection while still holding hands, and Darcy finally had the joy and satisfaction of knowing that his love was returned. His happiness in response to her verbal confirmation of her regard can be well imagined, considering the pain caused by the vehemence of her prior rejection and the strength of his own feelings. He need not have told her of his heartfelt delight for it's expression in his countenance was enough to convey it; but tell her he did, and she could not have hoped for a more satisfying account of the depth of his regard or his joy that it was, at last, requited. As he told her of feelings which proved how important she was to him, his affection, his devotion, and his constancy became, every moment, more valuable to her. She could sense from the passionate and unrestrained nature of his narrative that he had long been withholding much in the expression of his affections. Knowing that she had always been secure of his feelings while he had been suffering for many months, at worst the pain of rejection and at best the anxiety of doubt and uncertainty, she was compelled to make him as certain of the strength of her own attachment, as was presently possible. The emotion evident in his eyes as he listened to her give voice to words that he had, for so long, yearned to hear was almost more proof of the depth of his love for her than Elizabeth could bear. When all reassurances of their mutual affection had been shared, they separated and sat down opposite one another.
"I hope you do not mind that I told Colonel Fitzwilliam of our engagement last night," began Darcy. "I had always planned on telling him in person, if events turned out as I hoped, and I knew I would not see him again for several months. He departed quite early this morning for Devonshire."
"I do not mind your telling him. How did he react?"
"He was surprised, he never had any idea of my feelings."
"Perhaps you can explain something to me now. In April when he," she averted her eyes to make the reference, "proposed to me at Rosings he said that you had talked him into it, and yet you had only declared yourself the night before. I have been confused about this ever since."
Darcy then explained to Elizabeth most of what had occurred between himself and Colonel Fitzwilliam with respect to her. He did not have the heart to tell her some of the things that Colonel Fitzwilliam had said. Nevertheless, it was more than enough to relieve her of her confusion. She was amazed to learn of Darcy's close involvement in his cousin's suit. She realized how painful those weeks must have been for him and she felt a surge of sympathy for him. She remembered feeling something similar at the dinner party where they had met for the first time after his proposal at Hunsford. She was pleased to realize now that she could express those feelings, and she gave him to know her understanding of all that he had suffered. Her compassion again elicited an emotional response, and he had to take a moment to compose himself before telling her that it had all been well worthwhile to have reached the result.
They then spoke of their own past dealings with one another. His proposal at Hunsford, his letter, and his attendance to her reproofs were discussed at length. He credited her with opening his eyes to his faults and expressed his gratitude to her for giving him the opportunity to improve himself. Elizabeth, in turn, spoke of her own foolishness in misjudging him so grievously, but he would hear none of it. He insisted on taking full responsibility for not only his own past behavior, but her misunderstanding of his character as well. Nor would he allow her any share of the blame for the bitter exchange that had occurred at Hunsford. He insisted that if he had behaved like a gentleman when first addressing her, she would not have been incited to respond as she did. Finally, when all their history had been canvassed, there was nothing more urgent to talk about than their anticipation of future happiness. The immediate future being on their minds, they spoke of the dinner planned for that evening at Pemberley, which led to the subject of Georgiana. Elizabeth related to Darcy how much she had enjoyed spending the previous day with his sister and her admiration of the Pemberley house and grounds.
"I also told Georgiana last evening about our engagement. I knew you would not object, but I did not know how you felt about telling anyone else before I speak to your father."
"I am glad you told Georgiana. I hope she was pleased."
"She was extremely pleased. She is most eager to see you again today."
"I believe I will tell Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner as well, and I would like to write Jane and tell her. I received a letter from Miss Rowland today. She already suspects something, and has expressed her hope that I will soon have good news. But, I suppose I can wait to tell her until after you have spoken to Papa."
"You may as well write to her with the news. My cousin has already said that he will tell her when he sees her."
"Then I will write to her today," then she looked at him mischievously and added, "but you did not seem surprised when I told you that she suspects something."
"My sister told me that Miss Rowland asked her why Miss Bingley is always remarking on a lady of fine eyes in my presence. Georgiana knew the reference was to you because Miss Bingley had made similar comments in her presence when talking about you. Georgiana told Miss Rowland that you were the mysterious lady of the fine eyes, and then told me of their conversation. That is how I knew that Miss Rowland suspected the direction of my tendencies."
"Miss Rowland told me she had learned my identity from Miss Darcy. At first, she wondered to me who this woman could be that Miss Bingley so often teased you about, then when she found out she was surprised, but she did not think I would be."
"I confess I was not. I had considered the possibility after I first heard Miss Rowland questioning Miss Bingley about it. But I must know the particulars of the event which has given Miss Bingley so many opportunities to exercise her wit. For, I never knew that she thought my eyes to be so particularly fine and I must remember to thank her for the compliment."
Darcy smiled, "I am afraid that your gratitude would be misplaced, for the compliment did not originate with her."
"Then do you care to enlighten me on its origination, sir?"
"Gladly. It was long ago, at a dinner party in Hertfordshire. I believe we had scarcely known each other a fortnight. I was already forming an attachment, one that I foolishly did not wish to acknowledge, and Miss Bingley approached me with a claim that she could read my mind. When she conjectured as to the direction of my thoughts, she could not, of course, have been further from the truth; and I graciously enlightened her that I was meditating on the very great pleasure that a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow. She insisted on knowing whose eyes had the credit of inspiring my reflections and I could not, as a gentleman, disappoint her curiosity. Unaccountably, she has taken it upon herself to remind me of my pleasant ruminations that evening, on many occasions."
"Then she has earned my gratitude after all, for I would surely be remiss if I failed to thank her for doing me the great service of keeping me at the forefront of your mind."
"I hardly required her assistance for that, my dear."
Elizabeth smiled archly and added, "and though I have you to thank for the compliment itself, she must still lay a greater claim to my gratitude for having communicated it to so many."
"But I still have the advantage of claiming the credit for having communicated it to her in the first place, that she might be empowered to tell others. I might have chosen a less loquacious recipient for my raptures regarding your beauty."
Elizabeth was a little overwhelmed by the compliments of his last few speeches. She replied meaningfully, "you shall always have the greatest claim on my gratitude, Fitzwilliam."
He smiled in delight at her use of his name, and in understanding of the meaning conveyed in her speech. He gently reached out to touch her hand as he replied, matching her meaningful tone, "and you on mine, Elizabeth."
She then sought to lighten the mood by changing the subject, "when do you plan to speak to my father? will you write to him or travel to Hertfordshire?"
He withdrew his hand from hers and replied, "I was already planning to return to Hertfordshire for Bingley's wedding, and as that is to occur very soon after your return to Longbourn, and since I do not wish to leave Pemberley while you are still at Lambton, I did not think I should change my plans. In fact, I believe my plans to return to Hertfordshire may coincide, rather conveniently, with the timing of your own return to Longbourn." Elizabeth smiled at this. He continued, "I would rather speak to your father in person than in a letter, but unless you object, as anxious as I am to have our happy news generally known, I believe it can wait until my planned return to the neighborhood. I would like to speak to your uncle today, however, in your father's stead, and if it is his wish to write to your father, then so be it."
Elizabeth could find no fault with the plan and was pleased to see he had given it some thought. After she expressed her approval, he suggested that they walk out in search of her relatives. Accordingly, they set out in the direction of the church, where they soon met with the Gardiners, who were surprised to see Mr. Darcy with their niece. After greetings were exchanged, Elizabeth immediately went to her aunt's side and Mr. Darcy began speaking to Mr. Gardiner, as they all turned their steps back towards the inn. Elizabeth set a slow pace with Mrs. Gardiner, allowing the gentlemen to outstrip them. Mrs. Gardiner could see that her niece was beaming with happiness and that Mr. Darcy appeared equally pleased, and she suspected the truth of the situation. Though Elizabeth was unaware of her aunt's suspicions, as soon as they were out of hearing range of the gentlemen, she took the opportunity to confirm them.
"Aunt I have some news to share with you."
"Does it have anything to do with Mr. Darcy?" asked Mrs. Gardiner with a knowing smile.
Elizabeth looked surprised, and blushed lightly, as she replied, "Yes, we are engaged."
"Oh, Lizzy, I am happy for you. But I hope you will not blame me for asking if you love him Lizzy, it is only because you previously professed to disliking him so. I know he has much to recommend him, but I would not wish you to marry without love."
"Oh yes, Aunt, I do. He is truly the best man I have ever known."
"And what of his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam? he was courting you not so long ago, have your sentiments transferred so quickly from one cousin to the next?"
"No indeed. I am very fond of Colonel Fitzwilliam, but I never felt for him what one ought to feel upon entering a marriage, nothing like what I now feel for Mr. Darcy. In any case, Colonel Fitzwilliam is engaged to another. And, I believe he and Mr. Darcy have reconciled the matter between themselves."
"I see. And what of Mr. Darcy's feelings for you?"
"I know that he loves me very much, Aunt. He has given extraordinary proof of his constancy."
Mrs. Gardiner seemed satisfied, and did not wish to press her niece for the private details of what must have constituted such unquestionable proof. The two ladies continued talking of Elizabeth's future, as they walked contentedly.
Meanwhile, the gentlemen were having a similar conversation. As soon as the women were far enough behind to allow for some privacy in their conversation, Mr. Darcy said, "Mr. Gardiner, I had wished to speak to you about a particular matter."
"What is it Mr. Darcy?"
"It is about your niece, Miss Elizabeth Bennet. She has done me the great honor of consenting to be my wife." He paused, but Mr. Gardiner, though he looked surprised, said nothing. "I will speak to her father as soon as I return to Hertfordshire for my friend, Mr. Bingley's wedding. I hoped that you would sanction the engagement in the meantime."
"By all reports I have heard, Mr. Darcy, you are a good man. My niece has spoken very highly of you," this observation caused a small smile from the listener, "and if she has accepted your hand then I know you must be worthy of hers. Since I have no reason to believe my brother, Bennet, would object to you, though you do wish to deprive him of his favorite daughter, the only thing I can request of you before giving what you ask is your assurance of your regard for her."
Darcy was quick to answer, "I hold the deepest affection for Miss Bennet, sir. She will have everything it is within my power to give her. I speak not only of material comforts, but of my own respect and devotion."
"In that case, you have my consent, as far as that goes, to this engagement, contingent, of course, on my speaking to Lizzy to obtain the same assurance from her. However, it is her father who shall have the last word on the matter."
"Thank you, sir."
When they had reached the inn, Darcy took leave of the others, with an expression of his anticipation of seeing them all at Pemberley for dinner.
Mr. Gardiner spoke to Elizabeth of his conversation with Darcy and was more than satisfied by her expression of affection for the gentleman and her confidence in her own future happiness. With the entire party content, they went about the rest of the day according to their plans, until it was time to prepare for the dinner at Pemberley.
The dinner party at Pemberley was marked by an intimacy and a contentment sufficient to meet the hopes of all who attended. The meal was passed in pleasant conversation with the informality of a quiet family dinner, and yet the elegance that must result from the efforts of a thoughtful host bent on pleasing those who are determined to be pleased.
The freshness of their newly formed engagement gave Elizabeth and Darcy an air of embarrassment about them that was endearing to their loved ones. Their mutual affection and contentment was evident in every look shared and every word spoken. To one member of their audience, the sight inspired happiness for a most beloved brother, delight in the acquisition of an extraordinary new sister, and the hope and anticipation of finding something so perfectly satisfying for herself at some yet unfixed future time; while, to the others it brought on fond memories of their own happy courtship and a reminder of all the contentment still shared in a match of equal affection and compatible dispositions. But to no one, would the scene have given even the slightest hint of the bitterness that had once passed between the two.
After dinner, the separation of the sexes was short. When the gentlemen returned, tea was served and the pleasant conversation that had permeated their meal was continued, a conversation marked by wit, intelligence, and occasional laughter. Rare indeed was such an assemblage of persons to be found whose interactions were marked by nothing unfavorable, but instead, by only mutual satisfaction and delight in each other's company.
After tea, Darcy entreated Elizabeth to play on the pianoforte, and she, in turn, asked her future sister to join her in a duet. Darcy was surprised to see the willingness with which his sister accepted the proposal. She was obviously very comfortable in her present company. Thus, Georgiana played on the harp, and Lizzy on the pianoforte, and all three ladies joined in the singing. The result was sheer pleasure and delight for the two gentlemen who looked on, as well as the three ladies who participated in the entertainment.
Too soon, it was time for the evening to come to an end. As the Gardiners and Elizabeth awaited their carriage, Darcy invited them to return to Pemberley the following morning for a picnic, and proposed taking them on a tour all the way around the park. Mrs. Gardiner had planned to make several calls in Lambton in the morning, and a time was fixed on that would be convenient for her. The gentlemen then determined that they would spend the morning fishing together. Mr. Gardiner was to come to Pemberley very early, and Mrs. Gardiner and Elizabeth would join him there later in the day. With all the arrangements fixed, there was little to be done but to exchange good-nights.
The following morning, Elizabeth accompanied Mrs. Gardiner on her visits. She delighted in meeting her aunt's old friends, and hearing them tell stories and anecdotes of their past times together. With such entertainment, the morning passed quickly by and Elizabeth and Mrs. Gardiner soon found themselves again at Pemberley. When they arrived, they found that the gentlemen had already returned from their fishing expedition, had refreshed themselves to be presentable to their ladies, and were sitting patiently with Georgiana in the drawing room. Once the two women arrived, the departure of the entire party was accomplished with alacrity, and the five soon found themselves in an open carriage with Darcy holding the reins and two large baskets from the Pemberley kitchens in tow.
Elizabeth and the Gardiners took great pleasure in their tour of the grounds, and expressed their delight with every new aspect that met their vision. Darcy enjoyed listening to Elizabeth's expressions of delight with his home and he was happy to observe that her taste for natural beauty seemed to match his so well. When they had gone all the way around the park, and returned to their starting point, Darcy started again as if to make a second circuit, but soon turned into a lane that wound into the woods along the river. When they reached a well shaded area, they descended from the carriage and enjoyed their picnic. Once they had all eaten, Elizabeth expressed a desire to explore the woods in their immediate vicinity.
As if acting in concert, three of the party declined to embark on such an adventure, protesting that they would prefer to enjoy the fresh air and scenery without the exercise. The other two were only too happy to have each other's exclusive company, and Darcy offered to guide Elizabeth in her intended explorations.
They walked along a path that sloped down towards the river and soon found themselves walking along its bank, where Darcy boldly took her hand in his. They crossed a foot bridge and entered a clearing as they passed out of the trees that lined the water. Elizabeth felt the sensation of the sun's warmth rush upon her as she exited the cool shade of the trees. She turned to look upon Darcy but was caught by a glimpse of the house behind him. The clearing afforded a full view of the facade that had been blocked by the trees and the lowness of the ground in the area from whence they had just emerged. Elizabeth was awed by the scene before her. The house stood proudly amidst the natural beauty that surrounded it, as if it belonged there. Darcy watched Elizabeth's expression and smiled when she finally looked at him.
"I can see why you love Pemberley as you do. Everything is so beautiful here."
"Yes," he said looking at her meaningfully, "it is," she blushed, and he continued, "which is exactly why you belong here."
"No," she said, "I belong here, because I belong with you, and this place is a part of you."
He smiled, "I think, perhaps, I am rather a part of Pemberley."
"Then so shall I be, and I am well on my way already to loving it as you do."
Darcy was touched not only by her eagerness to cherish his home as her own, but by her understanding of all that this place meant to him. He drew closer to her and placed his hand on her cheek, "you know not how I have longed to have you here with me. I was loathe to return without you."
"Soon, I shall be always with you, whether it be here or anywhere else you go."
"And I would forsake everything, even this place, to have it so," he said with emotion, as he placed his other hand to her other cheek, while looking at her intensely.
"I fervently hope that you shall not have to forsake anything or anyone for me."
"As do I, my sweet, but I believe it may be unavoidable in some cases," he said wistfully as he removed his hands from her face and took hold of both her hands. Each of them was now thinking of his relatives who might disapprove the match, and one in particular who was certain to be most seriously displeased.
"Do you suppose we shall walk out together among these paths often?" she asked him after a moment, purposely embarking on a more pleasant subject.
"It has long been a hope in my mind, and is now already well established there as a certainty. I look forward to the prospect of acquainting you with every inch of the park."
"I would like that," she replied, and they stood in silence for a few moments.
She returned her gaze to the house, and he stepped quietly behind her to behold it as well. As he watched her admire his home, he knew it was not its grandeur that she was taken with; yet, in spite of her recent words to confirm it, it was almost too much for him to be able to credit that her awe of his home was due to its association with himself. He felt a pride in his home, at this moment, that was stronger than any he had ever before experienced, and it was not because of its resplendence, nor even because of what it represented about him and his family, but for a reason entirely new to his sensibilities. He felt proud of his home because he was able to give it to her, and he knew that had he been the proprietor of the smallest cottage, he would have felt the same pride in installing her as its mistress. He put his hands on her arms and leaned in close to her ear to whisper, "shall you like to have such a home?"
She could feel his warm breath on her cheek and she almost started at the discovery of his nearness that it caused. She became cognizant of a fluttering sensation deep within her that was rather pleasant. "Very much," she replied quietly.
His face was still very near her ear and he could not resist raising his hand to run a finger along its curve and down along the back of her neck. She tingled with the sensation of his touch, and was disappointed when he removed his hand. As she turned around, he said a bit reluctantly, "shall we return to the others?"
"Yes," she replied as she took his arm.
They walked along contentedly, almost in silence, simply enjoying one another's presence until they reached the others.
Once Darcy and Elizabeth returned to where the Gardiners and Georgiana awaited them, the picnic things were collected and they all returned to the house. When they were all inside, Mr. Darcy extended them an invitation to stay for dinner, but Mrs. Gardiner explained that they had a prior engagement with some old friends of hers and they really should be going to return to the inn and prepare for dinner.
On their way out, as Georgiana said her good-byes to the Gardiners, Darcy drew Elizabeth away for a private word, "I would like for you to see more of the house, particularly the rooms that will soon be yours, before you leave Derbyshire. That way, any changes you wish to make can be attended before your return. Can you come tomorrow? I will send a carriage for you, and I know Georgiana and I will both enjoy your company."
"I cannot come tomorrow. Mrs. Gardiner has a long-standing engagement with friends that live some miles outside of Lambton. I understand the excursion will take the entire day."
Darcy looked a little disheartened, "then I hope I can see you the day after next, for you will be leaving the following morning."
"I do not believe we have any fixed engagements for Friday, as it is to be our last in Lambton and we must prepare for the journey. We will depart very early on Saturday morning."
"Then I shall call at the inn on Friday morning, and, I hope, bring you to Pemberley for your last visit."
"My last visit? I was under the impression that I would see Pemberley again, sir."
"And so you shall, but never again as a visitor." This observation evoked a smile from the lady.
The Gardiners were already waiting in the carriage when Darcy handed Elizabeth in. Both he and his sister stood and watched it drive away until it was quite out of sight.
Elizabeth enjoyed the next day's excursion into the country very much. She and the Gardiners spent the day with Mrs. Gardiner's good friend, a Mrs. Hilliard along with her husband and their three small children, at their estate some twelve miles outside of Lambton. Elizabeth had enjoyed taking in the picturesque views of the countryside during the drives to and from Hilliard Manor. She had also enjoyed playing with the children and walking the lush grounds of the estate. Mr. and Mrs. Hilliard were a delightful couple, and overall she could not have spent a more pleasant day, except that she missed Darcy terribly.
As for the gentleman in question, he was faring no better. He could scarcely think of anything but Elizabeth all day. He missed her now, though he was only apart from her for one day, more than he had during the weeks he had spent in torment waiting for an answer to his proposal. He went to the rooms that used to be his mother's and would soon be his wife's to seek some form of comfort. He had not entered these rooms for many years. Nothing had been changed since his mother had lived in them, but all her belongings had been removed by Darcy's father some years after her death. All that remained were the furnishings. They were elegant and tasteful, but certainly not the latest fashion, and yet, he imagined that Elizabeth would like them. He wondered whether she would wish to change anything. The walls were painted a light yellow that gave the room a warm feel. The draperies and floor coverings were also light and cheerful. The entire room had a feminine atmosphere. He let his eyes fall to the bed, with it's white translucent bed curtains with pale yellow flowers. His mother had died in that bed, and he could not think of it without remembering himself as a young boy sitting by her side, holding her hand, trying to fight back the tears. Somehow his memory of the room had become much darker than it's present ambiance. How could he have forgotten the bright and cheerful warmth that had always surrounded his mother?
As he looked at the bed his mind naturally turned to thoughts of its next occupant. He sat down upon it tentatively, and thought about his future with her. Considering where he sat, some of his thoughts were very pleasant indeed. He allowed himself the indulgence of imagining himself joining her in this bed in the evenings, and waking with her here in the mornings.
After a while he arose and walked over to the window. The room was on a corner of the house and had many windows. He knew Elizabeth would like that. He walked into her dressing room, and her sitting room. Everywhere he went, he imagined Elizabeth occupying these rooms. He fervently hoped that she would like them, and he could not help but think she would. Then it occurred to him for the first time that he would not be able to be with her when she looked into these rooms tomorrow. In no way would propriety allow him to accompany her into a bedroom while they were yet unmarried, even with her aunt's chaperonage. He would have to ask Georgiana to accompany Elizabeth in viewing the rooms, and he would have to rely on Georgiana's account of Elizabeth's reactions. He hoped his sister would not be uncomfortable showing her mother's rooms to their next occupant. But, she had been very young when their mother had died, and had no memory of her.
When he returned to the bedroom, his eyes were drawn to a door on one wall that he knew led to his own bedroom. That door had remained locked since he took up residence there over a year after his father's death. The lock would now be removed. Mrs. Reynolds would see to it. She would have everything ready when he returned with Elizabeth. He was unsure whether he would return to Pemberley at all before the wedding. He thought that even if he was required to leave the immediate environs of Longbourn, he would not go further away than London. He did not wish to return to his home without his bride.
He resolved to tell Mrs. Reynolds of his engagement today, so that tomorrow she might accompany Elizabeth and Georgiana on their tour of these rooms and any other parts of the house Elizabeth had not yet seen. Perhaps she would like to see the nursery. This thought brought a smile to his lips. But then, he realized that if she waited until after their wedding, he could show her everything himself. Perhaps tomorrow's tour should be limited to her own rooms.
Before leaving the room, he glanced around once again, and he noticed one of the drawers on the dressing table was slightly open. He walked over to push it closed, but memories of his mother sitting before the mirror brushing her hair began to come back to him. He knew all of her belongings had been removed, but instead of closing the drawer, something compelled him to open it further. Darcy was extremely surprised to see his mother's gold locket sitting inside the drawer on top of a folded piece of paper. He picked it up gently to examine it. It had a rose etched on the front and the Darcy crest on the back. He remembered her wearing it always and he knew it contained a tiny miniature of his father. When he opened it he was surprised to find a miniature of himself inside it instead. It was a smaller copy of the miniature over the mantel in the study, which had been taken only a few months before his father's death. Darcy then took up the piece of paper that had been underneath it, and opened it to reveal, in his father's neat hand, but a few words: "for the next Mrs. Darcy" Tears began to form in Darcy's eyes. He returned the items to the drawer, just as his father had left them, and closed it securely, then left the room.
It was very late in the evening when Elizabeth and the Gardiners returned to the inn. When she arrived, Elizabeth was surprised to find that she had received a letter, as she knew that neither Jane nor Miss Rowland could have had time to receive her letter and write back to her and she could not imagine who else would write. Then she thought it might be from Georgiana, but when she glanced at the handwriting, she recognized it immediately. The Gardiners noticed her blush and exchanged knowing glances with one another as they realized the identity of the sender. Elizabeth excused herself and retired to her room for some privacy. She carefully opened the letter and read the following:
My Dearest Elizabeth:
I cannot say that I have any urgent news to share with you that requires me to send this note. Georgiana and I are both very well. The reason I am writing to you is simply because I can. I have been missing you terribly all day. I hope that you are having a pleasant time with your aunt's friends. Georgiana and I have just returned from walking in the park together. She is now playing a song for me while I write to you. She asked me to send her affectionate regards.
I went into your rooms today to make sure they would be ready for you to inspect tomorrow. I hope that you will like them. You may, of course, change anything you wish, or even choose different rooms. I noticed that the furnishings are a bit outdated, but we will soon fit everything up anew, according to your tastes.
I have informed Mrs. Reynolds of our engagement. She will accompany you tomorrow to view your rooms and she will ensure that everything is in readiness for your arrival as mistress of Pemberley. She is most anxious to speak to you again tomorrow, and awaits your instruction on anything you wish to have done before you return.
I am very impatient to see you again tomorrow, and Georgiana is eager to see you again as well. I do not know how I will be able to go a week without seeing you, and I have already begun looking into the possibility of leaving for Hertfordshire earlier than I initially planned. I would write to you everyday in the interim, but I know you cannot receive a letter from me at Longbourn, since your father has not yet consented to our engagement.
I look forward to seeing you tomorrow morning, my love. Sleep well.
Elizabeth was extremely pleased with her letter, and she was, indeed, able to sleep very well.
The next morning, Darcy arrived while the Gardiners and Elizabeth were still at breakfast. He joined them at table but declined any food, as he had already eaten. There, they discussed their plans for the day. As it was their last full day in Lambton, Mrs. Gardiner wished to make several calls and had some other matters of personal business to attend to. They agreed to dine at Pemberley, but they saw no reason that Elizabeth should be required to remain with them for the entire day as she was scarcely acquainted with Mrs. Gardiner's Lambton friends. Unsure of whether Mr. Gardiner intended to join his wife in her endeavors, Darcy invited him to Pemberley for some fishing, while Georgiana showed Elizabeth the house. Mr. Gardiner, however, declined the invitation in favor of accompanying his wife.
And so it was that Elizabeth returned to Pemberley with Darcy directly, to be joined later, by her aunt and uncle for dinner. She felt extremely awkward, riding alone with him in his curricle. She had, of course, never been so alone with a man in her life. There was not even a servant with them. She knew their engagement prevented such an occasion from being considered improper, but the fact that her father had not yet approved it, and indeed did not even know of it, made her uneasy. She was actually surprised that her uncle had allowed her to go.
Darcy's mind was much more agreeably engaged. He felt none of the uneasiness that she was experiencing. He was only happy, very happy, to have her here with him, alone. He imagined that things could not be much better at the moment, until he began thinking of things that could make them better. He considered, for a brief moment, driving to some remote location in his woods and kissing her sweet lips, and perhaps her neck, definitely her hands, and her face. But he quickly dismissed such thoughts.
They spoke not a word for several minutes, as each was engaged in these meditations. Then, after they passed well beyond the outskirts of Lambton, Darcy easily held the reins in one hand and took Elizabeth's hand in his other one. They continued thus, in silence for some time.
At length, he spoke, "I trust that you received my letter yesterday?"
Elizabeth blushed, "yes, I did. Thank you."
"I hope you did not mind me writing to you."
"Not at all, I was very pleased by it."
"Were you?" he asked, with a hint of a smile.
"Of course, should I not have been?"
"No indeed, I am pleased that you were pleased." She laughed at his teasing. Then he said more seriously, "I missed you yesterday, Elizabeth," as he briefly brought her gloved hand to his lips.
She smiled, "I missed you as well."
"Are you going to question everything I say today?"
"No indeed," he replied, as he glanced at her with an expression that had become more serious.
"What is it, Fitzwilliam?"
"Nothing you need concern yourself with, my sweet."
"Please tell me."
He glanced at her again and sighed deeply. "It is just that so much has happened between us. I spent so much time, first trying not to love you, then despairing that you could ever love me back, that now I sometimes find it difficult to credit that my hopes have been answered. When you say things that reflect your feelings for me, I cannot prevent some doubt from intruding into my mind. I do not doubt you or your word or your regard for me, but the possibility of it all, the reality that it has actually happened."
She was touched by his explanation. She knew he was unaccustomed to sharing his feelings, and she wanted to reassure him of her devotion. "I am yours, Fitzwilliam" was all she said, in almost a whisper. He caught his breath when he heard her words, as his heart filled with contentment. Then he leaned over and placed a gentle kiss on her cheek. After his gesture, she let go of his hand, and he was alarmed for the briefest moment until she placed her arm inside his and took his hand again. Their fingers entwined instinctively, and they spoke lightly about various topics, until they reached Pemberley.
Georgiana and Elizabeth's greeting was everything Darcy could wish for. They were delighted to see one another again. The three sat down and talked for a few moments, and soon their conversation turned to the purpose of the present visit. Then, Georgiana said, "shall we go up and have a look at your rooms now?"
Elizabeth replied, "I would like that."
Darcy now realized that the Gardiners were not here, he could accompany them, but he quickly dismissed the thought from his mind and said, "I will wait for you in my study."
Georgiana summoned Mrs. Reynolds who came immediately, and greeted Elizabeth with warm congratulations. The three then proceeded upstairs to the mistress' chambers. The first room they entered from the corridor, was a large private sitting room. Elizabeth found it to be extremely pleasant, and readily expressed her delight in everything. There was a sofa and two chairs, as well as a writing desk with some bookshelves. There were windows on the far wall and she walked over to see that they overlooked the pleasure gardens. There was a door on the wall on either side of her. Mrs. Reynolds opened the door to the right of the one they had entered, which led to a spacious dressing room, with windows along the wall to her left. Elizabeth immediately walked over to the windows to see that they afforded a similar view of the gardens to those in the sitting room. The furniture in the room was elegant and she began to doubt whether she had enough things to fill half of the space provided to hold her personal belongings.
Finally, they passed back through the sitting room and through the door on the opposite wall, which led them to the bedroom. Elizabeth was taken by the bright, airy feel of the room. She exclaimed again, and again how lovely everything was. She was very happy to see that the room had windows on two walls. She looked out one set of windows to her right, to see the rose garden below and the woods beyond, and then went to the other set opposite the door she had walked through, to see a completely different, but equally charming prospect of the pleasure gardens with wooded hills in the distance. She again praised the view, as well as everything else about the room. When she turned around, she noticed another door on the wall to her right. She walked over and tried to open it, but it was locked.
"What is beyond that door?" she asked her companions.
Georgiana did not seem to know, but Mrs. Reynolds appeared a bit amused by the question. She answered as evenly as she could, "that door leads to the master's rooms."
"Oh," whispered Elizabeth as she felt her cheeks grow hot. She wondered to herself whether the lock would be removed. As she turned back and cast her eyes about the bedroom again, they rested on the bed with much greater embarrassment than she had previously felt. She immediately averted her eyes, and walked back out through her sitting room. She could not meet the gaze of either of her companions and was glad that their walking through the corridor and back downstairs prevented her from having to make eye contact.
To Darcy it seemed that they were gone an eternity. He tried to focus on a book, but he could not. He longed to know what Elizabeth's thoughts were, how she liked her rooms. At last, there was a knock on the door to his study. "Enter," he said.
The door opened and Georgiana entered the room followed closely by Elizabeth. She was a bit embarrassed to look at him after what had been going through her mind in the bedroom. Darcy smiled at them and immediately began to ask questions about how Elizabeth liked the rooms. She said that she liked them very much, and expressed her delight with them animatedly. He was pleased with her reaction, but insisted that she tell him of anything she wished to have done. She protested that she did not presently wish to change anything, and it took some time to convince him that she was in earnest.
After they had discussed her rooms sufficiently, the three of them decided to go outdoors for a walk. They had an enjoyable time together and walked out extensively. Shortly after their return to the house, the Gardiners arrived for dinner. The evening was passed in as enjoyable a time as their last dinner together had. Though for Darcy and Elizabeth, their impending separation was a source of unhappiness. As much as they enjoyed their time together, each experienced a growing anxiety as the evening drew to a close. The Gardiners and Elizabeth wished to depart early to get a full night's sleep as they would be required to awaken very early to begin their journey back to Longbourn.
As they said their good-byes, Darcy communicated his intent of calling at the inn early in the morning to see them off. Elizabeth protested that it was not necessary, but Darcy insisted. Georgiana expressed her approval of the scheme and her intent to join him. When it was all settled, the Gardiners and Elizabeth boarded the carriage and returned to Lambton. Once they were gone, Darcy questioned Georgiana about Elizabeth's reaction to viewing her rooms, and his sister satisfied him that she had been truly delighted with everything.
Georgiana went to bed early after carefully instructing her maid as to the time she was to be awakened, and eliciting a promise from her brother that he would not leave in the morning without her. Darcy's mind, on the other hand, was too uneasy with the prospect of Elizabeth's departure, for immediate sleep. He meditated on the developments of the past few days. His entire life had changed with the uttering of one simple word from Elizabeth's lips. She had accepted him, she would be his wife, she loved him. She loved him, not for his money or his position or his name, but for who he was. He was happy, happier than he had ever imagined possible, prior to knowing her, and happier than he had ever dared hope he could be before he had secured her affection and her hand.
He could scarcely recall the wretched state he had been in immediately following his first proposal. The feelings of hopelessness, of helplessness, and of such profound anguish were forgotten. He could no longer even conjure up those sensations in his mind, though he had experienced them so acutely. His current happiness was more than just the opposite of his previous misery in sensation and measure. He knew he would suffer it a hundred times again to feel as he did at this moment. Not only was his present felicity secured, but he had every reason to believe it would last the rest of his days. And knowing that he made her happy, that she too felt this way ? because of him ? was such an overwhelming source of joy that he knew not how he could contain it. The only thing to temper his good humor now was the knowledge that he would be apart from her for a week. But he knew that though he would miss her terribly, he could console himself in the knowledge that she returned his love. And, he reasoned, such a separation was nearly inconsequential when they would have their whole lives together.
Elizabeth, too, was restless that evening, and her thoughts were similarly bent. She too experienced the pleasure of knowing that she was loved for herself, in spite of everything unfavorable associated with her situation. Darcy had loved her without her ever knowing it, and he had continued to love her in spite of his knowledge that she detested him, in spite of her entertaining the addresses of his cousin, and in spite of the bitterness of her rejection and the unjust accusations she had made against him. She had no doubt whatsoever that she had made the right choice, and she felt fortunate to be the object of his choice. She only wished she had seen all the good in him from the beginning, so that he might have been spared the pain of her earlier rejection and of watching his cousin court her. How she longed to remove any scars he might yet bear. She was again reminded of her security in his regard, of the proof in his constancy that she had borne witness to again and again. She wished more than anything to give him that feeling of security that he had so thoroughly instilled in her. She resolved to show him over time, as he had done, the true depth and strength of her regard, one simple gesture at a time. She took his letter out and read it again. Then she smiled to herself as a wonderful idea occurred to her.
The following morning, Elizabeth awoke with the sun, and readied herself for the day of traveling ahead of her. She made her way outside where the trunks were being loaded onto the carriage and waited anxiously with her aunt, while Mr. Gardiner settled their account with the innkeeper. It would soon be time to go, and Darcy had not appeared. She was deciding to herself that he had overslept when the sound of horses drew her notice. In a few seconds, Darcy and Georgiana pulled up in front of the inn in his curricle. They descended the carriage and Georgiana was the first to bid Elizabeth a warm farewell. When she moved on to speak to the Gardiners, Darcy came forward to address Elizabeth.
"I was beginning to despair that you might not come," she said in a teasing manner.
"I told you that I would," he replied.
"So you did."
"I would have been here sooner, but I had to wait for Georgiana." He then took her hand in his and kissed it gently, remembering he was in full view of her uncle and did not yet have her father's consent, "I will miss you Elizabeth."
A slight blush crept over her features and she said, "I wish to give you something."
He smiled, "I have something for you as well."
She reached into her reticule and pulled out a small bundle of papers tied with a ribbon and handed them to him discreetly. He examined them quickly and saw that they were seven notes and each of them was sealed. He smiled broadly, and quickly put them in his coat pocket as Elizabeth explained, "that is one note for everyday that we are to be apart, starting tomorrow. Do not start reading them today, and do not read them all at once."
His delight with her gift was evident on his face. "I will not, I promise, I will open one each morning, starting tomorrow." He then reached into his pocket and withdrew a small book, which he handed to her. She looked at it for only a moment and quickly put it into her reticule. "It is a book of poetry. I began reading it when you told me that poetry could drive away a thin inclination. I know that you did not mean it literally when you said it, but I could not help testing your theory, since I was so determined not to love you. When reading it only reinforced and confirmed my feelings, I realized I could no longer deny them. According to your reasoning, my love was a "fine, stout, healthy love" because it could withstand the reading of sonnets. Yet, I was still determined not to act on my feelings. That book became my connection to you during all those months between November and April, although I tried to resist turning to it during that time. Then it became my source of comfort between April and just a few days ago. Now, I no longer need it. You will find some notations of mine written throughout, which, I hope, will give you some remembrance of me and my devotion, until we meet again."
"I do not need a remembrance of you, Fitzwilliam, but I am happy to have one. I am glad you wish to share it with me. I will cherish it."
With that, they walked to the carriage and Darcy said his good-byes to the Gardiners before handing Elizabeth into the carriage saying, "I shall see you in a week. Have a safe journey."
Too soon, the carriage was rolling out of town and Darcy was overwhelmed with a sense of loneliness. He returned to Pemberley with his sister, determined to keep himself occupied until it was time for his own removal to Hertfordshire.
For Elizabeth, the journey was long and strenuous. She became more despondent with every mile that separated her from Darcy, but she soon reminded herself that by returning home she was drawing closer to her own destiny. Elizabeth was not formed for ill-humor, and as they neared their destination, her spirits began to rise with the prospect of seeing Jane again and sharing in her happiness. She looked forward to throwing herself into the wedding preparations and offering whatever kind of assistance her sister might require. A week would fly by, and she always had her book. She was determined not to open it until she reached Longbourn, though they spent a night on the road. They reached Longbourn on Sunday in time for a late dinner, which had been held on the expectation of their arrival.
Elizabeth's reunion with Jane was as warm as she had anticipated. She was met with almost an equal amount of affection by her father and was even greeted with some enthusiasm by her mother and other sisters. She realized that she had missed the comfort of being at home, among her own family. After everyone retired for the evening, Jane came into Elizabeth's room and the two sisters stayed up another two hours talking together. Jane congratulated Elizabeth on her engagement and Elizabeth told her of how she had spent her remaining time in Derbyshire. Elizabeth then learned of all that had happened at home, and with Mr. Bingley, during her absence.
At last Jane returned to her own room and Elizabeth was alone. It was not until this moment that she pulled out Darcy's book and settled down to read his favorite love poems and his own words reflecting how they had affected him at various times. At the same time, in Derbyshire, Darcy was re-reading Elizabeth's first note to him, that he had eagerly opened the moment he had awakened that morning. Both were very content not only in their own thoughts about each other, but in the knowledge that those thoughts were being reciprocated.
Chapter 14The following week passed far too quickly for everyone at Longbourn, except for Elizabeth. Mrs. Bennet was extremely busy planning menus and flower arrangements for the wedding celebration, instructing her eldest daughter on the intricacies of proper household management, and putting the finishing touches on Jane's trousseau. Jane was busy spending time with Mr. Bingley, organizing her things to be moved, and appeasing her mother. Mary was busy practicing the music she intended to play at the wedding; and the younger girls were busy, as always, walking to Meryton, lamenting the loss of the society of the officers, making do with flirting with the local young men, and avoiding any work associated with the wedding preparations. Mr. Bennet stayed out of everyone's way, as usual, and did everything he could to avoid the visits of the constant stream of well wishers.
Elizabeth was constantly running about doing her mother's bidding, listening to her lament that she could have two daughters well married if Elizabeth had only accepted Mr. Collins, sheltering Jane from Mrs. Bennet's nerves, and overall doing everything she could to help prepare her most beloved sister for this life change. She missed Darcy and Georgiana, but she enjoyed seeing Jane glowing happily with the prospect of her wedding. In spite of her own loneliness, Elizabeth took great pleasure in walking out with Mary as she watched Jane and Mr. Bingley stroll ahead of them arm in arm, talking quietly. Every night when she went to bed, she read more of Darcy's poetry book. The insight into his thoughts and feelings during various times of their acquaintance touched her deeply, and it was almost frightening to realize how much of his inner self he had exposed to her by giving her this book. The commentary was at times lighthearted and witty, at times deeply passionate, and at times sorrowfully melancholy.
On her second day home, Elizabeth had discerned from Bingley's countenance, that he had been informed of her good news. It was on this day, that Bingley invited the Bennet family to dine at Netherfield on Sunday. Elizabeth, knowing that Darcy was expected at Netherfield on Sunday evening, too late for him to call at Longbourn, was grateful for Bingley's thoughtfulness.
It was not until two days later, when Mary declined walking out and Lydia and Kitty had already gone to Meryton, while Bingley, Jane and Lizzy were walking out alone that he had a chance to congratulate her properly. Elizabeth found, as she had suspected, that he had learned of her engagement from Jane, after Elizabeth had sent her letter from Derbyshire containing that information; but she also learned that he had received a letter from Darcy the day before, confirming the news. Bingley also communicated to Elizabeth that, in his letter, Darcy had specifically asked Bingley to give her his regards. She thanked him for the message, and for his congratulations.
The following morning, Elizabeth received two letters herself, one from Miss Rowland, and one from Georgiana. Comprehending that the latter was likely to contain news of her beloved, she took her letters out into the garden and opened the one from Pemberley first. How surprised she was when, upon opening it, another folded sheet of paper fell out of it. She knew it must be a letter from Darcy, and so attended to it first. The contents were as follows:
My Dearest Elizabeth:
I hope you will forgive the secretive manner in which I must convey this correspondence to you. But, when I learned that my sister was writing to you, I could not resist the opportunity to enclose a note of my own. I know, or at least I hope, that your father would not object if he knew of our understanding.
I wish to thank you with all my heart for the letters you gave me when you departed Derbyshire. They have been a great source of comfort to me, and I can only hope that my book has given you similar comfort. I have another gift for you, but it is something that could not be given, or at least could not be used, until after your father's consent is obtained.
I have been trying to stay occupied to avoid missing you, but it is hopeless. Georgiana has been very good about keeping me company. I cannot tell you how pleased I am that the two of you have grown so close, or how I look forward to having you always at Pemberley with me. Perhaps it is selfish of me, for I know you will miss your family, and I do not wish you to believe me insensitive to the great change that marriage will bring to your life.
I have written to Bingley with the news of our engagement. I knew you had told Jane, so I imagined he had already been informed.
I look forward to seeing you very soon. Take care and God bless you.
All my love,
Elizabeth was pleased with her letter, and read it a few times before finally turning to her other correspondence.
Georgiana's letter expressed her delight in all the time she and Elizabeth had spent together in Derbyshire, and in having made the acquaintance of the Gardiners. She also included a communication of her brother's regards and her eagerness to return to Hertfordshire.
Miss Rowland's letter expressed the full measure of her delight and enthusiasm in Elizabeth's engagement. She then went on to express her happiness that her betrothed had visited, and her despondence that he was to soon go away again. She also described all the progress with the planning of her own upcoming nuptials.
Elizabeth had waited on Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst, early in the week, with Jane and Mrs. Bennet. The latter, seemed to behave in every way designed to give embarrassment to her two daughters. She had moved about Netherfield house with a proprietary air, and commented less than discreetly on changes Jane would have to make, tacitly insulting her hostess' abilities and tastes in the process. Elizabeth was once again thankful for the distance of Pemberley from Longbourn.
On Friday, Jane and Elizabeth returned to Netherfield, without their mother, to talk to Miss Bingley and the housekeeper together about the management of the household. Elizabeth gave Miss Bingley credit for being exceedingly gracious about the matter, considering her disapproval of the match. After the meeting was concluded, Jane was at leisure to give Elizabeth a tour of some of the private rooms without their mother's disconcerting presence, Miss Bingley had shown Jane the entire house during the previous weeks, while Elizabeth was away. Accompanied only by the housekeeper this time, Jane now showed Elizabeth the kitchen and then they went above stairs, where they viewed Jane's own rooms, the nursery, the governess' apartments, and several of the other rooms.
Meanwhile, Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst were pleasantly surprised when the Darcys were shown into the drawing room. "Mr. Darcy, Miss Darcy" said Miss Bingley, "it is so good to see both of you again. You are here early, we did not expect you until Sunday evening."
"I had written to Bingley of the possibility that we might arrive early," replied Darcy.
"Oh, I am sorry Charles cannot be here to meet you, he had business in Meryton, but we expect him at any time. Please join us in some refreshment while we wait."
"Thank you, but I must go out on account of some urgent business. I would like to simply freshen up in my room for a moment first."
"Of course, you will be occupying your usual room. I will send up a tray." He bowed again, thanked her and left the room.
The sisters then began to ask Georgiana about her journey and her time at Pemberley. She told them of having seen Elizabeth there, and they were none to happy to learn this information. After they had been talking for some time, they then gave her to know that the two eldest Miss Bennets were in the house at that moment, looking over the rooms that would be Jane's. When she learned this, Georgiana asked whether her brother could be stopped, as she wished to speak to him before he left Netherfield. A footman was summoned to ask Mr. Darcy to stop in at the drawing room before leaving the house, but it was soon learned that they had been too late, he had already left.
Upon arriving at Longbourn, Mr. Darcy was met by Mrs. Bennet, Miss Mary, Miss Kitty and Miss Lydia. He suspected that Elizabeth was out walking but soon learned from her mother, that she was at Netherfield with Jane. Darcy's surprise at this disclosure was great. She had been there, and he had not seen her! After spending a few minutes conversing with the ladies, Darcy asked to see Mr. Bennet. His business in the Longbourn library was quick and successful. Darcy felt a tremendous sense of relief as he exited the room, the last obstacle had been overcome, Elizabeth would be his wife. Darcy wished to return to Netherfield quickly to see Elizabeth, and was determined to remain only a short while with the Longbourn ladies, after the purpose of his visit was met.
Elizabeth and Jane were astonished to find Georgiana in the drawing room with Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst when they returned there from touring the house. Mr. Bingley had also returned from his excursion by this time, and was waiting for Jane in the drawing room with the other ladies.
Elizabeth's heart began to pound when she beheld Georgiana, and it took her a moment to realize that Darcy was not in the room. Jane and Elizabeth shared a warm greeting with Georgiana, and the latter quickly and quietly informed Elizabeth that her brother was at Longbourn. This news only added to Elizabeth's agitation. She had not imagined that the interview between Darcy and her father would occur while she was not in the house. She was anxious to be home, both to see Darcy, and to be available to her father as she had no doubt he would wish to discuss this matter with her.
Georgiana, who was also anxious for Elizabeth to return to Longbourn to be reunited with Darcy, soon confessed her weariness from her journey and asked to be shown to her rooms where she could rest before dinner. Before she left, she promised Elizabeth and Jane that she would wait on them in the morning. Elizabeth was determined to remain at Netherfield a little longer, to allow Jane and Bingley some time together, but Jane could sense her sister's anxiety and soon suggested that they return home.
When Jane and Elizabeth reached Longbourn, Mr. Bennet immediately claimed Elizabeth's presence in his library. They discussed Darcy's application for her hand and he requested and received her reassurances that she loved him, and that he was the object of her choice. All the while, she thought of Darcy waiting in the drawing room, and she struggled to contain her anticipation that she would see him again momentarily. Finally, her father was satisfied with the match and concluded that her representations had convinced him of Darcy's worthiness. She kissed her father, and returned to the drawing room, only to find that Darcy had left before she had ever even arrived at home.
Three miles apart, Elizabeth and Darcy each enjoyed a quiet dinner with only the inhabitants of the house in which each was currently residing. Each felt strongly the disappointment of not having met that day, but was consoled by the anticipation of meeting on the morrow. And each found comfort in reading the other's letters before retiring for a restful night's sleep, filled with pleasant dreams of their future happiness.
Elizabeth awoke early the following morning and set out alone to take a long walk. Somehow, she knew Darcy would be at the place where they used to meet before he had left the neighborhood a few weeks earlier.
Elizabeth walked briskly along the lane where she had previously met him so many times, but Darcy must have heard her approach; for, before she could turn into the clearing where she knew he would be waiting for her, he emerged from it and appeared in the lane before her. They smiled upon seeing one another, as they closed the last few paces between them, and as soon as he was close enough, he swept her into his arms.
"I hoped you would be here," he said, releasing her only enough to grasp her hands.
"I knew you would be here," she replied.
"I was disappointed that I did not meet you yesterday, either at Netherfield or at Longbourn."
She expressed her disappointment as well and they laughed together at the manner in which events had unfolded the previous day, as they walked away from the lane towards the clearing, where his horse was tied.
"I suppose your father told you of our meeting yesterday."
"Yes. I spoke with him at length after I returned home. I hope he did not make things too difficult for you."
"Not at all. In fact, I do not think he was surprised. He wished only for reassurance of my affection and a promise that I would always take good care of you. I was readily able to give him both. Everything was settled, I believe, in under five minutes."
Elizabeth smiled and said, "I am happy to hear it."
Then, changing the subject, he said, "I opened your last letter this morning. Thank you again, Elizabeth, for such a wonderful gift, you do not know what it meant to me."
She smiled and replied, "I am sure I do. You gave me the idea you know, in the letter you sent me to the Lambton inn. I was very pleased to receive another letter from you on Thursday."
"Then you did not mind me sending it?"
"No, not at all, though I was a bit surprised that you would involve Georgiana in such intrigue."
"I confess, I was a bit uncomfortable with sending it."
"Of course, it was a form of disguise, which I know you abhor."
"That is the second time you have reminded me of that statement."
"It is only because it is one of the things I admire about you, though, I am glad that you allow for some exceptions."
Darcy blushed becomingly, he could no longer resist placing a kiss on her forehead. As he did so, he gently placed his one hand against her cheek and slowly caressed it with his fingers. Then he lowered his lips from her forehead to place kisses on her temple, her cheek bone, her cheek, and ultimately the hollow of her neck just under her ear.
Meanwhile she had closed her eyes and was enjoying the sensations evoked by his attention. When his lips reached their final destination, she drew in her breath deeply, overwhelmed by the pleasure of his touch. He misunderstood the meaning of her gasp and abruptly stopped his attentions. With his cheek still resting against hers and with no small measure of alarm in his voice he whispered into her ear, "I am sorry, Elizabeth."
She turned her own face slightly until her lips were close to his ear and replied in a whisper, "I hope not."
He smiled with delight at her response, as he drew back from her to look into her eyes and said, "no, I am not sorry for kissing you, I never could be, but I do not wish to cause you any discomfort, my love."
"I can assure you, sir, that discomfort would be a most inaccurate description of my feelings just before your ill-timed apology."
He stood looking into her eyes for a long moment, his hand having settled on the juncture of her neck and shoulder. With his other hand, he gently pushed back a few stray wisps of her hair and then settled it on the other side of her face. Then he slowly leaned forward and grazed her lips ever so softly with his own. The sensation for each was pure bliss. She was surprised when, instead of pulling away, his lips met hers again and again, each time with more ardor.
Elizabeth felt dizzy with pleasure, as the barrage of kisses continued. She was beginning to doubt the ability of her legs to continue to hold her up when, as if sensing her need for steadiness, his hand moved gently down her arm until his arm went around her waist, pulling her closer. She eased into his embrace as her own arm now found it's way to his shoulder and her hand ultimately rested on the back of his neck.
Darcy was intoxicated by the sweet taste of her lips and by the feel of her body against his. Her response was everything he could have wished for. She was kissing him back, and he felt all of her unspoken passion expressed in her kisses. The feel of her hand moving along his arm and then resting on his neck enthralled him. Everything he had ever felt, all of his longing, his pain, his pleasure, culminated in this one moment.
As if by some unspoken mutuality of understanding, they slowed and ultimately stopped their kisses. Her head fell against his chest and he tightened his embrace around her. Neither could say how long they stood thus, but they finally stirred when the restlessness of Darcy's horse reminded them of the passage of time. They separated only slightly, and he again grasped her hands. Her blush, when she met his gaze, rendered her countenance all the more beautiful.
He relinquished one of her hands to reach into his coat pocket. "I brought you something," he said "do you remember in my letter, I mentioned having a gift for you?"
"I have all of your letters memorized Fitzwilliam."
He was obviously pleased. "I suppose that means I have written you too few. I shall endeavor to correct that," he replied gallantly as he withdrew a handkerchief from his pocket.
"I hope you will not have occasion to write me so many."
By then he had unwrapped the handkerchief, and he only smiled and handed her a gold bracelet with a garnet cross that matched the one she always wore around her neck. She gasped, for she knew that her own necklace was an heirloom with no matching pieces. "Where did you find this?" she asked with great surprise.
"I had it made for you, in London, before I came to Netherfield with Bingley in May. I was so happy that my cousin's suit was at an end and that you had said I would be welcomed back into the neighborhood, that I became very hopeful that I might succeed in winning your hand, and I wished to have a gift for you. I did not count on securing your acceptance in such a way as to require me to wait before receiving your father's consent, which is why I did not give it to you right away. I knew you would not be able to wear it until he approved of our engagement. Do you like it?"
"Very much, it is beautiful. Thank you."
"You are quite welcome, my sweet," he said as he took her hand and gently pulled back her glove, and then pushed back her sleeve to expose a small amount of the bare skin on her forearm. He first raised it to his lips for a soft kiss, and then took the bracelet from her other hand and fastened it around her wrist. He replaced her sleeve and her glove and said, "Now, shall I walk you home?"
"Yes," she said quietly.
When they parted at the gate, he assured her that he would call at Longbourn later that morning with his sister and Mr. Bingley. He kissed her hand as she passed through the gate, and he watched her until she disappeared among the woods of her father's estate, before mounting his horse and returning to Netherfield.
When Elizabeth arrived at Longbourn, she decided to tell her mother of her engagement immediately, that her raptures might have ceased by the time the Netherfield party should arrive. Mrs. Bennet's reaction to the news has been described elsewhere (with much greater skill than what is possessed by this authoress), and does not bear repetition.
Later, Bingley, Darcy and Georgiana arrived at Longbourn to spend the morning. The visit was pleasant, and Mrs. Bennet was in such awe of Mr. Darcy that there was a marked absence of vulgarity in her manner. The three visitors walked out with the three eldest Miss Bennets, as Mrs. Bennet had urged Mary to join the party to keep Miss Darcy company. The excursion proved to be pleasant and agreeable for everyone, even Mary. Though Miss Darcy was quiet, Mary was happy to find a willing listener to her orations on morality. They also talked at length of music, which was a topic that could only give pleasure to both.
During this walk, Bingley suggested to Darcy and Elizabeth that he wished to offer Mr. Bennet the opportunity to formally announce their engagement at dinner tomorrow evening, as he had, already invited some of the other prominent families in the neighborhood to attend. Both assented to the plan so long as it was agreeable to Mr. Bennet.
Thus, when they returned to the house, Bingley sought a word with his future father in law and asked Darcy to accompany him. Mr. Bennet could have no objection to a plan that would be so convenient to himself, and the entire matter was arranged within minutes. The announcement would be made after dinner. The Netherfield party departed Longbourn shortly thereafter with many exchanges of everyone's anticipation of meeting again tomorrow evening.
The following evening, the Longbourn party was the last to arrive at Netherfield for dinner. Thus, dinner was served shortly thereafter. Elizabeth was extremely surprised to find herself seated at the opposite end of the table from Darcy. She had never been seated near him at Netherfield in the past, but she had thought that now, Miss Bingley would have the grace to seat them next to one another at the dinner which was to precede the announcement of their engagement. Elizabeth had long ago learned not to underestimate Miss Bingley's vindictive nature, and as she was not formed for ill-humor, she resolved to enjoy the meal in spite of her hostess.
When the ladies withdrew to the drawing room, Elizabeth conversed amiably with several of the women who were present. At length, she was able to sit next to Georgiana, and the two entered into a pleasant conversation. Soon, Georgiana noticed the bracelet on Elizabeth's arm. She gasped and then smiled widely at Elizabeth. Then she asked, "do you like it?"
"Oh yes, it is lovely and it is a perfect match, I could not believe it."
"But when did he give it to you?"
"Yesterday morning, I was wearing it yesterday during your visit, but my sleeves covered it."
Georgiana took another look at the bracelet and said, "it is beautiful."
At that moment, Miss Bingley happened by them and asked what it was that had Georgiana in such raptures.
Georgiana replied, "Miss Bennet's bracelet, is it not lovely?"
Miss Bingley looked at the bracelet, but it was far too simple for her tastes. She thought however, that it was appropriate to the fortune of its owner and muttered something complimentary about it, adding, "ah and it matches your necklace. But if they are a pair why did you never wear the bracelet before?"
"Well, the bracelet is new, though I have had the necklace for many years."
"Then where did you find a piece that was so well matched?"
"It was made to match, it was a gift."
Miss Bingley, not really caring about Elizabeth's bracelet, only nodded, muttered some additional false pleasantry and walked on to speak to someone else. Elizabeth could not make out this behavior. She reasoned that Miss Bingley must know that the gift was from Darcy and took Miss Bingley's response as some kind of bitterness over her engagement.
The men entered the room a few moments after this exchange, but when Miss Bingley moved to order the tea service, her brother forestalled her and then addressed the company, "Ladies and gentlemen, good evening, I am pleased that everyone has been able to attend our dinner this evening, and I hope everyone enjoyed the meal. As you all know I am to wed Miss Bennet in less than two weeks. This evening, my future father-in-law would like to share some more good news with his neighbors."
As Bingley started his speech, Darcy looked for Elizabeth. She had begun to approach him to stand by his side, when Miss Bingley walked up to him from the other side and took his arm possessively, "what can this be about?" she whispered to him.
"You do not know?" he asked.
"No, but from the looks of Mrs. Bennet, I would wager that she has managed to secure a husband for another one of her daughters."
Darcy looked at Elizabeth with alarm, and she realized at that moment, that Miss Bingley did not know of her engagement, no one had told her. She looked over at Bingley who was finishing his speech. He walked over to stand next to Jane, and both of them fixed their attention on Mr. Bennet. Jane glanced at Elizabeth in anticipation but found that her sister wore a look of alarm. Elizabeth then looked towards her father, but he was already talking, it was too late to interrupt him. And even if she did, what could she do?
While Elizabeth was looking from Charles to Jane to Mr. Bennet, Darcy did not know what to do, should he tell her? Would that do any good at this point? No, being with Elizabeth was important at this moment. Mr. Bennet had already begun talking and all he could think of was a getting away from Miss Bingley and to Elizabeth. He leaned over and whispered "excuse me," to Miss Bingley and began to take a step away, but she did not relinquish his arm, indeed, she did not seem to have heard him.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bennet was saying, "Ladies and gentlemen, friends and neighbors. I am very pleased this evening to announce the engagement of my daughter, Elizabeth, to Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. I hope you will join me in wishing them every happiness in their future life together."
Miss Bingley did not hear a word of the speech following the utterance of the name of the intended groom. As soon as the name was said, however, every eye on the room turned towards the gentleman in question, with Miss Bingley still clutching his arm. As her own ambitions were no secret to any of the assembled party, her current situation was not looked upon with approval. In an instant she caught her brother's eye as Bingley realized his error in not forewarning his sister. Louisa watched helplessly as disappointment cast itself over her sister's countenance. She could see that had her sister not been clutching Mr. Darcy's arm so forcefully, she might have fallen over.
All of this happened so swiftly that by the end of Mr. Bennet's speech, Miss Bingley had determined that experiencing the full sensation of her present emotions would have to be deferred. She would not give Miss Eliza the satisfaction of witnessing any expression of her disappointment. There was only one thing she could do. Raising her chin, as Mr. Bennet finished his speech, she turned to the man whose arm she possessed and said, "why Mr. Darcy, what a secret to have kept, let me be the first of the newly informed to wish you joy." As she spoke she gradually loosened her grip on his arm and then turned to Elizabeth, "Miss Eliza, allow me to tell you how happy I am for both of you," as she said this, she closed the distance between herself and Elizabeth and looking her right in the eye, shook her hand and said in a perfectly amiable tone, "you have my heartiest congratulations." Elizabeth thanked her quietly then Miss Bingley addressed her guests, "come and join me in wishing them well." With that said, everyone approached Elizabeth and Darcy to extend their good wishes.
Bingley had never been more proud of Caroline then at that moment. To have exhibited such grace immediately after having received such a disappointment was admirable, though he never understood how his sister could have continued to entertain her hopes of winning Darcy, when he had made it clear that he did not want her before he had ever met Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
While everyone was surrounding Elizabeth and Darcy, Miss Bingley sank into the background and her sister came to her side. Bingley approached them and said quietly, "Caroline, I am sorry I did not tell you."
"I do not wish to speak of it, Charles. It is of no consequence to me, except that I am still mistress of this house and as such, I believe I have a right to expect to be apprized when such grand events are to occur here."
"Of course," he replied. He returned to Jane who was more willing to listen to his expressions of contrition and to offer her consolation as far as it would go.
Miss Bingley was the perfect hostess for the rest of the evening. She endured the endless expressions of good wishes for the couple with equanimity, she scarcely noticed the admiration in Darcy's gaze whenever it was cast upon Elizabeth, and she was able to ignore the shared look of satisfaction that often crossed between the two lovers. She did not even flinch when Darcy lingered in front of the carriage with Elizabeth and kissed her hand before helping her in; nor did her composure falter when he stood at the edge of the drive with her brother until the carriage had disappeared. The Bennets were the last family to leave and she was only too happy when Darcy excused himself immediately after returning indoors, to the library. Bingley followed and Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley were finally left to themselves. They re-entered the drawing room and closed the door.
Miss Bingley immediately turned to her sister and said in an icy tone, "I never supposed Darcy to be a fool. I can only imagine what arts she employed to captivate him. She will defile his good name. He will live to regret his choice, that is my consolation." Louisa remained silent as Caroline's voice grew evermore impassioned, "all of my efforts for the past two years have been for naught. Everything I have done has been calculated to gain his favor, every word I have uttered has been said for the purpose of pleasing him, everything within my power was done with a view to his pleasure, and this is the fruit of my endeavors? To be made a fool among fools!" By now she was screaming. Still Louisa said nothing, "speak sister for I know you have something to say," added Caroline more calmly.
"Caroline, I was just as shocked as you were, and I am quite of your mind, she is not worthy of him, and his choice will cost him dearly. But there is nothing to be done for it. We must bend our efforts in another direction. You must think of it no more, we will be off to Scarborough after Charles' wedding and you will be away from all this, then we will be in town for the season, where you can surely find ample diversion."
Her sister had scarcely ended her speech when Caroline started again, "Oh yes, Charles' wedding, is that not convenient? They will be brothers after all, and without the benefit of my assistance. What can he be thinking? He has lost all of his senses. How can he prefer a woman who runs about in the mud, who speaks with such impertinence, over one like me. She has nothing whatsoever to offer him. Her family is vulgar, her connections are repulsive, her manners are coarse, she is nothing but an ill-bred, ill-mannered shrew. She is nothing, nothing compared to me. She has no grace, no style, no fashion. She will make him an abominable mistress. She will be an embarrassment to his name, to his ancestors, to Pemberley. He has chosen to marry her, to mix the blood of his family line with that of hers, to debase the identity of his children when he could have had me. I have everything he could have wanted, I am everything proper and appropriate for a man in his situation, and yet he chose her. I have never heard of anything so foolish, and for what? Because he fancies himself in love? Ha, he will soon learn the true nature of what is affecting his sensibilities. I begin to wonder what form of enticements she used to lure him. I had believed that he was above succumbing to such base offerings. He will tire of her before long, and then he will regret binding himself to such a woman. A man such as he does not make a woman such as that his wife, it is just not done!"
Louisa replied, "please Caroline, he shall here you, is that what you wish, to give him the satisfaction of your disappointment?"
This was sufficient to quiet Caroline and she then professed to exhaustion. As she and Louisa made their way upstairs, Louisa told her how well she had borne the news when the announcement had been made. Louisa also expressed her admiration for Caroline's ability to remain composed throughout the evening. Caroline simply said, "I am a lady, Louisa."
When they left the drawing room, Mr. Hurst sat up from his position, sprawled out on one of the sofas in the corner, and watched as the door closed behind them.
When Darcy and Bingley had entered the library, they had poured themselves drinks, settled comfortably into chairs, and begun a quiet conversation. A few minutes into it, however, they were silenced as they heard shrill screaming emanating from the drawing room. It was probably just as well that they could not discern the exact words that were being said, although both could undoubtedly have made an accurate conjecture. When the screaming stopped, there was an eerie silence, during which Darcy asked "why did you not tell her, Bingley?"
"I did not think of it," he replied, shaking his head sorrowfully as he sighed heavily, "I did not think of it."
As they both sat silently contemplating all that had happened, they suddenly heard a loud outburst of masculine laughter echoing from the drawing room.
The morning following the announcement of his engagement, Darcy made sure he had breakfasted and was out of the house long before Miss Bingley was awake. After the events of the previous evening, he thought that any meeting between them must be awkward for her, and he did not particularly want to be near her. Thus, he set off just as the sun was rising. He went for a long ride around the countryside surrounding Netherfield; and after a couple of hours, he decided to rest at the clearing where he usually met Elizabeth, hoping that she would find her way there as well.
It was not long before his hopes were answered in the form of Elizabeth appearing before him. Upon seeing her, he stood up quickly and moved towards her. Both blushed with the recollection of their last meeting here, when they had shared their first kiss.
"Good morning, my love," said Darcy quietly, as he took her hands in his.
"Good morning," she replied, "you are here early. I was planning to wait for you."
"I wished to leave Netherfield early. I did not wish for any company this morning, except for yours," he replied. With that he pulled her into a brief embrace.
"I cannot stay long, as Mama has insisted that I accompany her to call on several of our neighbors this morning after breakfast."
"I was planning to call on you at Longbourn later today, do you know what time you will be home?"
"I am afraid I do not, I am sure Mama will want to visit my aunt Phillips, and they can talk quite a bit. We will very likely call there last and stay for dinner."
"Then I will not see you again today?"
"I do not think it will be possible."
"In that case, I hope I may call on you tomorrow?"
"I would like that, and I will tell Mama of your plans to call. I know she would not wish to do anything to get in your way."
"I am lucky to have such an ally," he replied playfully, as he kissed her lips lightly.
"You will bring Georgiana tomorrow as well, I hope."
"Yes, she would hardly forgive me if I left her at Netherfield while I visited at Longbourn, since she greatly prefers the society of the latter," then he added, "as do I," and kissed her again. This time, they continued kissing for some time. Even when Darcy pulled his lips from hers, he continued showering her face and neck with sweet little kisses until she was giggling. At last he stopped and said, "Elizabeth, we must talk, shall we walk down the lane?"
"I would like that," she replied,
Darcy untied his horse and led it behind him as they walked slowly towards Longbourn. "I plan to write letters to my family today, announcing our engagement."
"I had thought that you would. I know that it will not be long before the news makes it from Lucas Lodge to Hunsford; and I suspect you would not wish for your aunt to learn of it from there."
"No," he replied.
"I will write to Charlotte also. And, I wish to inform the Gardiners that our engagement has been formalized, though I am sure my mother will write to them."
Darcy was preoccupied with thoughts of a very different nature. He sighed as he changed the subject, "Elizabeth, I must go away after Bingley's wedding." Elizabeth was silent. "I do not wish to go, but Georgiana and I cannot remain at Netherfield immediately following Bingley's marriage."
"I know," said Elizabeth quietly, "how long will you be away?"
"I do not know. I imagine I will have to stay away for a fortnight at the very least, though I would not wish to impose upon them even as soon after their wedding as that."
"Will you return to Pemberley?"
"No," he replied quickly. "I will only be going to London. I plan to attend my cousin's wedding in Devonshire in early October."
"I thought you would."
"I plan to invite him to ours as well, unless you object."
"Not at all. I would be happy to have Miss Rowland here for it."
"Good, then it is settled, provided that Bingley will invite them to stay at Netherfield."
"I have no doubt that he will."
"I had considered not returning to Netherfield at all until after my cousin's wedding, though I do not know if I shall be able to stay away, and I expect that Bingley will issue an invitation for me to return sooner."
"I am sure he will. I understand your reluctance to return to Netherfield in the weeks immediately following Mr. Bingley's and Jane's wedding. I do not wish for you to be away either, but I will be satisfied with whatever you decide."
"Elizabeth," said Darcy, changing the subject again, "I hope that we will have a date set for our wedding, before I go away. Have you discussed it with your parents?"
"Not yet, but I will speak to my father about it today. Perhaps by the time you call tomorrow we will have it settled."
"Then I will delay my letters to my family until we have established a date, if you believe it will be done as soon as tomorrow."
"Do you wish to risk Lady Lucas' letter reaching Hunsford before yours reaches Rosings?"
"If I send it by express tomorrow, it should make it there before Mrs. Collins receives the news."
As they approached the gate to Longbourn, she sighed in resignation as she said, "I really must get home."
"Mr. Bingley, I am sure, would like to know whether your sister, Jane, intends to accompany you today."
"Yes, I am afraid Mama has insisted that all of her daughters accompany her. I hope that you and Mr. Bingley will console one another."
Darcy smiled in response to her teasing. "I dare say I shall be better off than he for having seen you this morning. Perhaps I should start bringing him with me when I ride out in the mornings, and you should have Jane accompany you on your walks."
"Now that is a lovely idea. I am certain that Jane will be in need of exercise tomorrow morning."
"I believe Bingley will likewise desire to ride out with me."
"Until tomorrow then," she said, moving towards the gate.
"Until tomorrow," he replied, kissing her hand briefly, before she passed though the gate. When she was out of sight, he returned to Netherfield.
It was during this interlude that Miss Bingley awoke from a restful night's sleep to find that she had recovered tolerably well from the shock of last night's news. She was not one to dwell on helpless situations, and if Darcy wanted to throw away his life on the likes of Eliza Bennet, then she was not going to regret him. Nevertheless, she was loathe to go down to breakfast, but she felt that she had to face Darcy with her head held high. She would not cower in her room for everyone to believe she was wallowing in her disappointment. She would make it evident how very little she was affected by his engagement, by behaving towards him as she always had. In spite of her resolve, however, she was relieved that he was not at breakfast. Nevertheless, meeting the other inhabitants of Netherfield there, gave her no pleasure.
Charles looked at her as if she was a pathetic, pitiable creature whose only hope was to be swiftly put out of its misery. Mr. Hurst looked at her with an expression of satisfied amusement, as if he was fighting the impulse to laugh at her. She had heard his despicable outburst the night before, after she had left the drawing room. He should have made his presence there known, during her conversation with Louisa. But Caroline cared too little for Hurst's opinion to be ashamed that he had heard her expressions of disappointment over Darcy's engagement. The only one sympathetic to Caroline's situation was Louisa, and even she began to assume Charles' expression of pity. Miss Bingley was as cheerful as she could be to everyone, but none of them was fooled.
When she entered the room, Louisa was happy to see that her sister appeared to be in good spirits and said, "ah, good morning Caroline. How are you this morning? I hope you slept well."
"I slept like a babe, Louisa, I thank you," replied Caroline, gingerly reaching for a muffin.
"I am glad to hear it, Caroline," said Bingley, "I was concerned about you last night."
"What ever for, Charles?" asked Caroline, as if there was absolutely no reason whatsoever that he could possibly have been concerned for her.
Mr. Hurst was chortling to himself. Bingley glanced at Georgiana, and decided against continuing the conversation at present.
Pleased that her companions did not pursue the matter, Miss Bingley fixed her mind on her upcoming journey to Scarborough. She was glad that she had already made plans to leave the country after Charles' wedding before having heard the news of Darcy's engagement. Otherwise, her making travel plans now might appear as if she was running away because of her disappointment. Yet, she was impatient to be gone; she was only too eager for her brother's wretched wedding to be done with, and the less she saw of Darcy in the meantime, the better.
As she nibbled her muffin, she mentally catalogued the single gentlemen of her acquaintance that she was sure to meet in Scarborough.
Georgiana remained quiet as a mouse throughout breakfast, ate very little, and then excused herself to practice her playing in the music room. When she had gone, Mr. Bingley appeared as if he was going to say something to Caroline, however he was interrupted by a footman delivering an express that had just arrived. He grinned when he saw the direction of the sender and excused himself to read his letter privately in his study. Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst exchanged a puzzled glance, but said nothing.
After breakfast, the ladies withdrew to the drawing room, and Mr. Hurst left in search of some amusement. Mr. Bingley soon joined his sisters and, seeing that they were alone, decided to take the opportunity to address the events of the prior evening.
"Caroline, Louisa, I am glad to find you both again. I wished to talk to you regarding last night, are you quite certain that you are well, Caroline? If you wish to leave the country sooner than you planned, I will understand."
"Why would I Charles?" asked Caroline.
"Well, I have reason to believe you were . . . disappointed to hear of Darcy's engagement."
"Nonsense, Charles. I was merely surprised. I mean, not so long ago he was quite vehemently opposed to a match between you and dear Jane, because of her situation, her lack of fortune, and her low connections, not to mention the ill-breeding of her nearest relations. He must have known that such evils would be of even greater significance in his own case, and yet he has chosen to marry into the very same family that he objected to on your behalf. Really, I never thought Darcy to be a hypocrite."
Bingley was about to respond in defense of his friend, but he was foreclosed from doing so by a voice from the doorway, "perhaps I have simply learned that such considerations merit less significance than I was previously wont to attribute to them."
Caroline blushed profusely but said nothing.
"Darcy," said Bingley, "you have returned early from your morning ride, though I understand you also left unusually early this morning."
"Yes, I did. I awoke at dawn and was rather restless."
"I am glad you have returned, I wish to discuss something with you, will you join me in my study?"
"Of course," and with that he bowed to the ladies and left the room, followed closely by Bingley.
When they gained the study, they each settled into a chair and Darcy looked at his friend expectantly. Bingley grinned and said, "I am planning to take Jane on a trip to tour the continent, after our wedding."
"I am sure Jane will be very pleased. I take it she does not yet know of your plans?"
"No. I did not wish to tell her until everything was arranged. I just received a letter this morning from my solicitor in London, and all of the preparations have been made. We are to depart one week following our wedding and we will be away for two months."
"Two months?" asked Darcy, wondering if this trip would mean a longer wait for his own nuptials, for he was certain Elizabeth would not wed without Jane present. Then he chastised himself for his selfishness.
"Yes, we shall return in early November. I thought that would give us plenty of time to be back for your wedding."
"We have not, as of yet, set a date for the wedding."
"I am sure that it will not be sooner than November."
"No, I would imagine not," said Darcy, as he recalled that he planned on journeying to Devonshire in October, and he had always contemplated that it would be before his own marriage. Then it occurred to him that if Bingley meant to close up the house during his absence, he would not be able to remain in the neighborhood during most of his engagement. He began to consider the probable comfort of the accommodations at the Meryton Inn, when his anxiety was quickly relieved by Bingley's next speech.
"I have not yet told my sisters of my plans, because I was afraid they would decide to remain at Netherfield while I am away, and I wished to offer you the use of the house first."
"I thank you, Bingley, your offer is very generous and I will not hesitate to accept it. I had always planned to remove to London immediately following your wedding, and I will keep to those plans, but I will return to Netherfield after your departure for the continent."
"Very good. I also want you to know that we will be happy to accommodate any of your guests who come into Hertfordshire for your wedding."
"Thank you, Bingley, I do not yet know whether any of them will attend, but I appreciate the offer."
"Now that all of that is settled, shall we call at Longbourn? I cannot wait to tell Jane about our trip."
"I am afraid that the ladies are not at home. They are, all of them, out today making calls."
"How do you know this?"
"Elizabeth told me."
"But Jane told me nothing of such plans last night."
A slight blush crept upon Darcy's countenance as he replied, "she told me this morning."
"This morning! You have already called at Longbourn, so early?"
"No, I . . . encountered her on her morning walk, while I was out riding."
Comprehension dawned upon Bingley's countenance, and he replied in a teasing manner, "I see, and would I be correct in my suspicion that this was not the first time you encountered her out walking?"
"Yes, you would," he replied, as his blush deepened, "in fact, Elizabeth seemed fairly certain that Jane would be desirous of accompanying her tomorrow morning and I thought that you might like to join me in riding out as well."
Bingley grinned again, "I think an early morning ride would be just the thing tomorrow."
The remainder of the day passed uneventfully at Netherfield. Miss Bingley had to suffer being in Darcy's company during and after dinner, but she managed to endure the evening with equanimity.
The Longbourn ladies called at all of the prominent houses in the neighborhood, and ended their day at the Phillipses, as Elizabeth had anticipated, where Mr. Bennet joined them for dinner. After dinner, Elizabeth was able to gain a private word with her father to raise the question of setting a date for her wedding. After teasing her for being in such a hurry, since the announcement had only been made the evening prior, he gave her to know that he had spoken with the vicar of Longbourn earlier in the day, while the ladies had been out and settled upon a date during the first week in December.
When the Bennet family arrived at home later that evening Elizabeth solicited Jane's company for her morning walk the following day. Jane was surprised by the request, as she was not so avid a walker as Elizabeth and seldom accompanied her sister on her rambles outside of the grounds of Longbourn, but she readily agreed, imagining that her sister must have something particular that she wished to discuss.
The following morning, Jane was quite surprised when Elizabeth talked of nothing but the countryside as they rambled along the lane beyond Longbourn. She was even more surprised, when Elizabeth led her to a clearing off the lane, to find two gentlemen waiting for them.
The four enjoyed a brief interlude before the gentlemen escorted the ladies back to the Longbourn gate. Jane and Bingley were pleased to have some time together away from their relatives, though the former felt a bit guilty about this clandestine meeting. Darcy and Elizabeth, however, felt more restrained during this meeting as they were accustomed to meeting quite alone, but they were pleased with the happiness they brought to their companions.
It was at this time that Bingley told Jane of his plans to take her on a tour of the continent following their wedding. She was surprised and delighted with the news, but had some reservations about leaving Elizabeth during the time she was preparing for her wedding. When they spoke of it later, after they left the gentlemen, Elizabeth assured Jane that, though she would miss her, she could do quite well without her for a couple of months.
During their meeting in the morning, Elizabeth was also able to apprize Darcy of the date that had been set for their wedding. He had hoped it would be sooner, but he was happy to have the date fixed. They also discussed his plans for the time until their wedding. Both were happy that due to Bingley's travel arrangements they would only have to be apart for a week following Jane and Bingley's marriage. He anticipated that he would be gone another week to attend his cousin's wedding in Devonshire in October. Excepting those two weeks he planned to remain at Netherfield throughout their engagement.
After sharing a delightful time together, the two couples parted company with the understanding that the gentlemen would call at Longbourn later that morning.
When Elizabeth and Jane returned home, they joined the rest of the family at breakfast, during which Mr. Bennet advised the rest of the family of Elizabeth's wedding date. When the gentlemen and Miss Darcy arrived, later in the day, Mr. Bingley revealed to Jane's family, his plans for them to tour the continent following their marriage. Although Jane had learned of these plans during their morning walk, she again showed her happiness with the scheme. And, whatever of her delight remained concealed due to her prior knowledge or the serenity of her countenance, was made up for amply by her mother's effusive joy upon hearing the news. Mrs. Bennet was positively beside herself with glee and talked incessantly of Jane's luck and Bingley's generosity. More than once, did she hint to Darcy that he should make similar plans with Elizabeth.
The Netherfield party accepted Mrs. Bennet's invitation to remain at Longbourn for dinner and a note was dispatched to Netherfield inviting the Hursts and Miss Bingley to join them. They declined however, indicating that Miss Bingley had a headache and her sister wished to remain at home to attend her.
Although they were to remain at Longbourn for the day, Darcy, would not postpone informing his relatives of his engagement. Having acquired some paper from Elizabeth, he wrote the required letters. After teasing him about not being at leisure to admire his handwriting while he wrote, she settled in next to him to write her own letters. But Darcy and Elizabeth were not the only ones who had letters to write that day. It was indeed a day of prolific writing in Hertfordshire, producing the following missives.
Dear Aunt and Uncle Gardiner,
I wished to be the first to inform you that my engagement to Mr. Darcy was announced Sunday during a dinner party held by Mr. Bingley at Netherfield. My father gave his consent on Friday, and all was quickly settled between him and Mr. Darcy. My future happiness has been secured. I am the happiest creature in the world. Mr. Darcy sends you all the love that he can spare from me. We both look forward to seeing you soon for Jane's wedding. Mr. Bingley has surprised Jane with a planned trip to the continent following their wedding. I am so happy for her, I cannot think of anyone who deserves such an excursion more. Mr. Darcy and I will be married on December 4th, and we hope you will be able to journey to Hertfordshire again at that time. We also wish to invite you and the children to Pemberley for Christmas.
Dear Miss Rowland,
Thank you for your congratulations on my engagement. It has now been formalized by my father having given his consent and announcing it to our friends and family. Mr. Darcy is now writing letters to his own family advising them of our news. We have set a date for December 4th and Mr. Darcy has communicated his intent to invite Colonel Fitzwilliam to attend the wedding. I hope that he will accept the invitation as I would dearly like to have you here for my wedding. Mr. Darcy, as you must already know, intends to be present for your wedding in October.
Mr. Bingley has just told my sister that he intends to take her on a tour of the continent a week following their wedding. I believe she is writing to your cousin today, and will surely share this news with her. I am so happy for her, for I know how much she will enjoy such a trip.
You will be pleased to know that my friendship with Georgiana continues to grow steadily. She is a dear girl, and I know I will be pleased to have her for a sister. I enjoyed visiting Pemberley very much. Both the house and the grounds are delightful. I hope to see you in December. Until then, I remain,
Dear Mrs. Fitzwilliam,
I thank you for your recent letter. It is less than two weeks until my wedding, and I am growing more nervous each day. My family has been so solicitous in helping me prepare, I am so lucky to have them. Mr. Bingley has just today informed me that we will be touring the continent for two months following our wedding. I am so happy for such an opportunity.
My sister has become engaged to Mr. Darcy. I am very pleased for her. I dare say they will be as happy as myself and Mr. Bingley. They are to be married in December. I understand that your cousin is to be wed in October in Devonshire, will you be attending her wedding? Please give her my best wishes. I hope that we will meet again soon. Until then, I remain,
I wish to communicate the news that my engagement has been formalized. Mr. Bennet gave his consent and everything has been arranged. We will be wed on December 4th. I hope that you and your new wife will be able to attend. Mr. Bingley has offered the use of his house to any of my family who will be in attendance.
I will, of course, be in Devonshire for your wedding in October. I look forward to seeing you there.
Dear Uncle Fitzwilliam,
I wish to announce that I have become engaged and will be married on December 4th. Miss Elizabeth Bennet, of Longbourn, Hertfordshire has done me the great honor of agreeing to become my wife. You may recall having made Miss Elizabeth Bennet's acquaintance at a dinner party last May at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Harold Hurst in Grosvenor Square, London. I also believe she carries on a regular correspondence with Miss Emma Rowland, soon to marry Colonel Fitzwilliam. Miss Bennet also made the acquaintance of my aunt, Lady Catherine DeBourgh and Miss Anne DeBourgh last spring. She and Georgiana have become intimate friends in the past few weeks.
I feel the deepest affection for Miss Bennet, and I am so fortunate as to have every assurance that she returns my sentiments. I hope that you will be able to attend the joyous occasion of our marriage. My friend, Mr. Charles Bingley, has offered you the use of his home, during your stay in Hertfordshire, should you make the journey here for the wedding. I look forward to seeing you at Colonel Fitzwilliam's wedding in October. Until then, I remain,
Dear Aunt Catherine,
I am pleased to announce to you my engagement to Miss Elizabeth Bennet, of Longbourn, Hertfordshire. I believe you will recall having made Miss Bennet's acquaintance last spring when she was visiting her cousins, the Collinses, at Hunsford.
I hope that you will be able to attend the wedding, at Longbourn Parish, on December 4. My friend, Mr. Bingley, has kindly offered you the use of his home. Please give my regards to Anne.
My brother has become engaged to Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Their engagement was formally announced Sunday evening. I know that you will remember Miss Bennet from her visit to Kent last spring, and I know that you will be happy for Fitzwilliam. Both he and I fear, however, that Aunt Catherine will not take the news well. I understand that he has also written to her today to announce the news. I am terribly sorry for what you will have to endure as a result of your mother's displeasure with the match. Fitzwilliam is confident that she will soon be reconciled to his choice. In the meantime, I hope that you will be able to console her by assuring her, again, that you had no wish to marry him. I know that you have tried to tell her so in the past, but perhaps, now she will listen.
Please take care of yourself. I hope that I will see you this winter at Pemberley, as we planned.
I am happy to write to you with the news that I have become engaged to Mr. Darcy. We are to marry on December 4th. The engagement was announced Sunday evening, and I am certain that your mother will inform you of it in her next letter. Mr. Darcy has written a letter to his aunt, Lady Catherine, announcing the news as well. I fear that she will not be pleased with the news and I hope that you will not have to bear her expressions of displeasure. If it will not be any trouble, I hope that you will be particularly attentive to Miss DeBourgh, as she will undoubtedly have to suffer the effects of her mother's disappointment. Mr. Darcy assures me that Miss DeBourgh will not be distressed to any degree by his engagement, but will only be happy for him, and perhaps relieved. She has communicated to Miss Darcy on many occasions that she had no more inclination towards a marriage with Mr. Darcy than he did.
I hope that you will be able to come home to attend the wedding. I cannot tell you how happy I am. Mr. Darcy also seems very well pleased with our current situation. And you can, I am sure, well imagine my mother's pleasure. Even my father is pleased with the match. Please give my regards to my cousin.
Dear Mr. Collins,
I must trouble you for your congratulations once again, for Elizabeth is soon to become the wife of Mr. Darcy. Console Lady Catherine the best you can, but I would stand by her nephew, he has more to offer.
Dear Edward and Madeline,
I have the most wonderful news. Lizzy is to marry Mr. Darcy of Pemberley, Derbyshire. It is almost too much to believe, but it is true, Mr. Bennet made the announcement Sunday evening. I understand that you met Mr. Darcy in Derbyshire, recently. Is he not the most handsome man you have ever seen? And, he is rich, ten thousand a year. I cannot contain my happiness when I think of how rich and important Lizzy is to be. Just think what pin money and jewels and carriages she shall have. He is such a pleasant and amiable young man. I no longer fear Mr. Bennet's death, for I now know that I shall be always taken care of. How happy I am that Lizzy turned down that odious Mr. Collins. I always knew she was a clever girl. And only think of all the opportunities that will follow for Mary, Kitty and Lydia. Lizzy's marriage will certainly throw them into the paths of other rich men. I know that Mr. Darcy has his own sister yet to marry off, but I am certain there are plenty of rich, single men in his circle of acquaintance to go around. I am so happy, I shall go distracted. You must come for the wedding, it is to be held on December 4.
Today we received more good news, when we learned that Mr. Bingley has planned to take Jane to the continent following their marriage. I always knew he was the kindest, most generous man in the world. I have gone quite distracted thinking of the good fortune of my girls.
I must go now, for we are entertaining the Darcys and Mr. Bingley. Until we meet again for Jane's wedding, I remain,
You will never guess what happened Sunday evening. Mr. Bennet announced the engagement of Lizzy to Mr. Darcy. I suppose your conjecture that he admired her in the spring must have been accurate. Though you do not seem to have been correct in your assessment of her feelings, unless they have changed dramatically, for she does not seem to dislike him at all. Although, even if she did, how can anyone blame her for accepting him? She seems very well pleased with the match. Mrs. Bennet, as you can well imagine, was quite giddy, and to be honest, a bit smug about the whole thing on Sunday evening. She came calling yesterday with all her daughters in tow, to gloat about the match. I must say that Miss Bingley did not seem happy at all with the announcement. She was taken quite by surprise and had been clinging possessively to Mr. Darcy's arm when it was made. She made a good show however, of congratulating the couple. I do believe that someone should have forewarned the poor woman, though, as her ambitions were well known.
I do not imagine that Lady Catherine will look favorably upon the match, as I recall that there was talk that she wished Mr. Darcy to marry Miss DeBourgh. I hope you and Mr. Collins might be of use to her if this news causes any distress. You are, of course, welcome to return to Lucas Lodge at any time, particularly if a separation from Rosings should prove desirable. In light of this news, perhaps you should reconsider your decision not to attend dear Jane's wedding. Mr. Darcy and Lizzy are to be married in early December, and I hope that you will be able to travel into Hertfordshire to attend that wedding as well.
Lady Agatha Lucas
Oh how droll things have become here at Longbourn. How I wish I was still at Brighton with you and all the officers. I do not know why Pappa had to come and take me away. There is no fun to be had here. The only gentlemen that call at Longbourn are the ones engaged to my sisters. Yes, another one of my sisters became engaged Sunday evening. Lizzy has accepted that horrible Mr. Darcy, though I am sure it is only because he is so rich. I do not know what she could want with such a serious husband. I had hoped to be the first of my sisters to marry but Jane's wedding is now less than two weeks away and then Lizzy will be married in December. At least I will marry before Kitty or Mary. What news do you have of Mr. Wickham? Have you told him how much I miss him as I asked you to? I am sure that he will return to Meryton for me as soon as he can get away. Well, even if he does not, at least Lizzy is getting married early enough for me go to her townhouse with her for the season. Oh what balls and parties I shall attend then. Jane is going to the continent for two months following her wedding! Can you believe it? I wish I could travel the continent. I will simply have to find a rich husband too who can take me to exciting places, since Pappa never lets me go anywhere. I am sure if I go to London with Lizzy this winter, I will be married by the spring and I can spend the summer in Paris. Would not that be fun? I will simply have to make some rich London gentleman fall in love with me this winter. Then Wickham will be so jealous! Well, I am getting so bored just sitting here writing. I must go now.
Your dearest friend,
With these letters duly sealed and posted, their was naught left to do but wait for responses. Darcy was the only one who felt any apprehension with regard to the reception of his news. He knew that his Aunt Catherine would be displeased, and although he expected some expression of her disapproval, he was confident that she would resign herself to the match. He only hoped that his Uncle Fitzwilliam would not be of a mind with Lady Catherine, and would, instead, support his choice.
As the time passed until Bingley and Jane's wedding, Darcy became increasingly agitated as he had not heard back from any of his relations regarding his engagement. Elizabeth noticed his uneasiness, and the morning before the wedding, when they met on their walk, she asked him about it.
"What is troubling you my dear?"
Darcy smiled back at her. He did not want to burden her with his worries, but he knew he should tell her. "I have not yet heard back from any of my relatives regarding my engagement."
"I see," she said.
Recalling his first proposal to her, he did not wish her to feel that he was dreading their disapprobation. "It does not matter to me, Elizabeth, if they do not approve."
She smiled up at him and placing her hand against his cheek, she said, "I know, dearest. You need not feel uneasy on my behalf in addition to your other concerns. It pleases me that your family is so important to you. It is certainly right that you should hope for their approbation."
"I have little hope for anything like approbation from Lady Catherine. I know that she will be extremely displeased. It is my uncle that I am unsure about. I believe it will be easier for you if he does not oppose our engagement, and if he gives his blessing I think Lady Catherine will come around more easily."
"Your Aunt and Uncle Fitzwilliam were very kind to me when I met them in London and they were quite friendly with the Gardiners."
Darcy spoke carefully, as this was a sensitive subject for them, "yes, and their prior acquaintance with you gives me hope, but I believe there is a rather large distinction between being friendly with someone in company and uniting with their family."
"Fitzwilliam, I know that your relations will not think that you have made a favorable match, and that they will have concerns regarding my suitability, but I believe they will be reconciled when they see how happy you are. Or, at least, I hope they will be sensible enough to realize that there is nothing they can do to change what is to happen."
He drew her to him and replied, "I would marry you in defiance of all of them."
"I am well aware of that," she said with a light laugh, recalling his emphasis on the imminent disapproval of his closest relations in his first application for her hand, "but let us hope you will not have to. Perhaps they are simply waiting to speak to you about it in person when they see you for Colonel Fitzwilliam's wedding."
"But that is more than a month away."
"But it is a possibility. And, it has not been so very long since you wrote to them in any case. It may simply be that they require more time to consider the news before responding to it. Whatever the cause may be for their failure to answer your letters promptly, it will do you no good to worry and speculate over it."
He knew she was right, and he smiled down to her, "you are too good," he said.
"Am I? Then shall I strive to be less so?" she asked playfully.
He kissed her lips a few times in response. Then he looked into her eyes with a serious expression and said, "you do know that I love you, Elizabeth."
"Yes," she replied, "perhaps too well."
He bent his head to kiss her again, but stopped himself when he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. They both looked in the direction of the moving figures to see Jane and Bingley emerging, flushed, from a path they had both taken towards the river. Darcy and Elizabeth shared a glance that was half amusement and half disappointment. Bingley laughed at them and said, "perhaps the two of you now regret inviting us to join you for these meetings, but after tomorrow, you will not have to suffer our intrusions anymore."
Elizabeth blushed becomingly and said, "Jane and I should be returning to Longbourn." The gentlemen walked the ladies to the gate and then took their leave until dinner time. The day was passed at Longbourn in last minute preparations for Jane's wedding. All of her things, except what she would need for the morning, were sent over to Netherfield. The Bennets dined at Netherfield that evening. Everyone was excited with the prospect of the next day's events. The evening was spent pleasantly by all, though some were more merry than others. Elizabeth and Darcy were too happy for Jane and Bingley to be discontented that they would be separated on the morrow, especially since they knew it would only be for a week. Miss Bingley had spent the past week and a half determined to behave towards Darcy as she always had, to show that she was not affected by his engagement, and tonight was no different. The result of this, of course, had been for her to appear as if she was still pursuing him in spite of his engagement. Her constant attentions towards Darcy and Georgiana became quite tiresome to some members of the party.
The wedding between Jane and Bingley was a happy occasion. It took place the following morning without incident, with more than a few furtive glances shared between Darcy and Elizabeth throughout the ceremony. In spite of their impending separation from one another, they were able to feel truly joyous for Jane and Bingley. Mrs. Bennet's maternal feelings at finally having a daughter married, swelled with pride and contentment. Her second daughter's engagement to one of the most illustrious personages in the land could only augment her delight on the occasion. Mr. Bennet was also pleased, for he knew his eldest daughter would be happy with her chosen lot. The bride and groom, it need not be said, were aglow with felicity.
The wedding breakfast was sufficiently grand to satisfy Mrs. Bennet's notion of what was suitable to celebrate the wedding of her most beautiful daughter to the amiable, handsome, and wealthy Mr. Bingley. She was alternately congratulated on her preparations for the event and on Jane's good fortune in making such a match throughout the morning. The newlywed Bingleys were deliriously happy and spent their morning indulging in the good wishes and mirth of their friends and family. The only persons in attendance who were not at all pleased were Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst, though they were gracious enough to refrain from expressing their displeasure.
Darcy knew that he would require some time alone with Elizabeth before he had to leave for London, so he took advantage of a moment when she was otherwise unoccupied and escorted her out to the garden. As she walked out of the drawing room, Elizabeth perceived Miss Bingley watching them leave the room together. Her look was one of disgust and disapprobation, as if she had caught them doing something improper. Elizabeth could not help but be amused by it.
They walked in the garden talking quietly for a few moments and when they stopped, Elizabeth turned to face Darcy. At this moment, she could perceive that they were being watched through the window by Miss Bingley. Darcy turned to see what had captured Elizabeth's attention and he too saw Miss Bingley with such an expression as bespoke a dare for them to seek privacy from the view of the house. Darcy turned away quickly and boldly took Elizabeth's hand, leading her to a private copse concealed from view by trees and shrubbery. When the couple was out of sight, Miss Bingley turned from the window in disgust.
"She seems to wish to catch us in a compromising position. I wonder why, as it would only hasten our wedding," said Elizabeth playfully.
"Would it?" asked Darcy suggestively, as he bent to kiss her. Then he said, "I dare say it does not signify to her how soon our marriage takes place as she cannot stop it, but I suspect she would like to see you embarrassed and disgraced."
"Perhaps she seeks proof of her suspicion that I used arts and allurements to captivate you."
Darcy did not wish to discuss Miss Bingley any further, "indeed," he said as he claimed several more deep kisses from his bride to be. He then relinquished her lips only to begin trailing kisses from her temple, along the side of her face until he reached the juncture of her jaw and her neck, just below her ear, where he was particularly attentive. After several moments of investigating the delicate curves of her ear, he resumed his trek down the length of her neck until he reached her collarbone, which he followed inward, to the base of her neck. From there, he lifted his face to meet her lips. When they finally ceased their kisses, several minutes later, Darcy said, "I will miss you."
"And I you," she replied, breathlessly.
Then Darcy withdrew a small stack of folded letters from his coat pocket and handed them to her. "These are one for each day I will be away, starting tomorrow."
"Thank you," she said, smiling broadly as she took the packet of letters. Then she laughed and said, "you know that you may write to me openly now."
"I plan to, but your father would hardly approve of your receiving a letter from me each day."
"I hardly think he would notice," she replied. Then, after a momentary silence she said, "I am glad you will only be away for a week."
"As am I," he said, "else I would have gotten a cramp in my hand writing five and sixty letters to you yesterday. I am sure I would have run out of new things to write and my letters would have been quite tedious and repetitious."
Elizabeth laughed and said, "I do not think I could sneak so many letters into my room, nor keep them hidden. But surely you would not have stayed away two months."
"No, I could not," he said, stroking her cheek lightly, "if Bingley had not given me use of Netherfield I would have found other quarters hereabouts. I am glad it is to be only a week as well. I will miss you terribly as it is, and I do not think I could suffer to be apart from you for very much longer than that." He kissed her forehead and held her in his embrace a few more minutes before returning with her to the house. Elizabeth quickly deposited the letters in her room and returned to the party resolved to spend the remainder of it with Georgiana.
The Hursts and Miss Bingley were the first of the wedding guests to depart. No one regretted seeing them go. After a lengthy goodbye with the happy couple, during which their wishes for a lovely journey were expressed most sincerely, and a friendly farewell to Georgiana, they left Longbourn, stopped at Netherfield to collect their belongings and servants, and then departed for Scarborough.
Some of the other guests had already begun to leave when Darcy reluctantly called upon his sister to join him in bidding goodbye to their hosts. Elizabeth and Georgiana shared a heartfelt farewell followed by one between Elizabeth and Darcy that was significantly more subdued than the one they had shared earlier in the garden. Darcy tried not to feel disappointed that Elizabeth had not given him any token upon their parting. He consoled himself with the constant reminder that he would simply re-read all of her previous letters to him.
Georgiana did her best to keep up Darcy's spirits during the journey to London. He, in turn, did his best to appear cheerful for his sister's sake. The expectation of his impending removal from Elizabeth's company was never sufficient to prepare him for the heartache he suffered in her absence. As he drove away from Longbourn he felt a loneliness and an emptiness that were little assuaged by his knowledge that he would see her again in a week.
Darcy and Georgiana arrived at their townhouse in time to share a quiet dinner together. After dinner, the butler offered Darcy his correspondence but Darcy was in low spirits and put off reading through it until the next day. Instead, he entreated his sister to play for him and simply enjoyed her company for the rest of the evening.
The following morning, Darcy took a walk with his sister in the park after breakfast. When Georgiana and Mrs. Annesley went to the music room after breakfast, he reluctantly went to face the matters awaiting his attention, hoping that he could find something to distract him from missing Elizabeth, and maybe even hasten the passage of time until he would see her again. He first rifled through his letters to discern who each was from and what the nature of it might be. He stopped abruptly and a large smile appeared on his face when he came to one letter in particular. It was from Elizabeth. When he realized that she had sent him a letter in advance so that it would be awaiting his arrival, he reproached himself for his disappointment the day before that she had not given him anything. He also regretted that he had not at least looked through his letters the previous evening. With strong feelings of joy and anticipation, he set the pile of other letters in his hand upon the desk to read his letter. As he did so, he noticed that the next letter was also from Elizabeth, but addressed to Georgiana. He smiled to himself again and immediately had it taken to his sister. That done, he was finally able to read his own letter:
I suppose that you are surprised to receive a letter from me so soon after your arrival in London. I hope that you were not terribly disappointed that I did not give you any letters when you left Hertfordshire, but I wished to find a new way of pleasing you. Have I succeeded?
You must know that by the time you are reading this letter, I will be missing you quite severely. I hope that you will think of me from time to time during your stay in town, as I will be thinking of you.
I hope that the Bingleys are happy. They will be married when you read this, and I will undoubtedly be persuading my mother not to visit Netherfield on the morning after their wedding.
Though I am sending a separate letter to Georgiana, please give her my love. I look forward to next week, when I will see you both again.
The effect on Darcy of having received such a letter can only be imagined. He was delighted with her expression of anticipation of his surprise in receiving the letter, and with her expressions of affection. He had thought to please her by imitating her prior gesture and leaving her with a letter for each day they would be apart, but her thoughtfulness had, once again, exceeded his own. He smiled at his own good fortune in having won the hand of such a woman and he longed for the time when they would be together always. He was still smiling, after the third perusal, when he finally set it aside to immediately write back to her:
My Dearest Loveliest Elizabeth:
I cannot tell you how happy I was to find your letter here waiting for me this morning. In answer to your question, yes, you have succeeded in pleasing me, as you always do. I have had your letter to Georgiana taken to her, and as soon as I see her I will convey your message to her as well.
Elizabeth, thank you for the wonderful gift of having a letter waiting for my arrival. It has gone far to lift my spirits this morning, as I miss you a great deal already. Please be assured that I think of you constantly, not merely from time to time.
I do not think anything will go very far in speeding up the next week, but I hope to find some diversion for both myself and my sister that might have the desired effect. I believe I shall take her to a concert while we are here, though I am in little humor to be out much in company. Someone very wise once advised me that I ought to practice recommending myself to strangers and so I shall venture out.
I still have not received any correspondence from my family regarding our engagement. I will, of course, apprize you of the substance of any such letters when I receive them.
When you see the Bingleys, later this week, please give them my regards. I hope that all of your family continues in good health. I look forward to being in your delightful company once again next week.
With all my love,
As soon as his letter was sealed and posted, Darcy attended to his other correspondence. When he had read all his letters and invitations and replied accordingly, he sought out his sister's company. She expressed her great pleasure in having received a letter from Elizabeth and told him that she had already posted a response. They then discussed their plans for the week and once Darcy ascertained his sister's preferences, he advised his secretary accordingly.
When the post arrived for the day, Darcy quickly looked through it and was amazed to find another letter from Elizabeth. At first he was concerned that something might be wrong, but he quickly realized that she would have sent it while he was still in Hertfordshire. He could not help but wonder whether this meant that he would receive a letter from her every day. He thought about waiting until the following day to open it, but found that he was too anxious to consider such a thing and he settled for opening it when his sister had retired to prepare for dinner. It read as follows:
Have I surprised you again? I hope that you and Georgiana are well and that you are employing your time in London to handle as many as possible of those tedious matters of business that gentlemen are always running off to handle, so that you will not have to leave me again soon when we are reunited. Though, I hope that you will take the time to seek some diversion while you are there as well. I think Georgiana would greatly enjoy a concert or a play.
This letter must be short, for I am expecting your arrival at Longbourn at any moment. Please give Georgiana my best regards.
Darcy considered responding right away, but he could not post two letters to Elizabeth in one day. He decided to wait and write to her tomorrow or the day after, but he was happy and he could not help but wonder whether he would receive another letter tomorrow.
Meanwhile, at Longbourn, Elizabeth had decided to read her daily letter from Darcy on her morning walk, at their meeting place. The morning after the wedding, after her return from her walk, during breakfast, Mrs. Bennet called upon her daughters to ready themselves to go to Netherfield with her. Elizabeth looked to her father, who only seemed to be smiling to his breakfast in amusement. She then said, "Mama, perhaps it would be best to wait a day or two before calling on the Bingleys."
"Oh do not speak such nonsense, Lizzy," replied Mrs. Bennet, "why should I not call on my own daughter in her own home. I dare say she will be expecting it. And, how would it look if Mrs. Long or Lady Lucas should wait on her first, before her own mother?"
"Surely none of our neighbors plan to call on Mrs. Bingley today, Mama."
"Of course they will want to call on her. It is only her due to be noticed by society as Mrs. Bingley and I am perfectly sure that both Lady Lucas and Mrs. Long plan to call on her today as well as Mrs. Phillips. I will not have them saying that I am neglecting my own daughter."
"I am sure no one would say such a thing. You gave her a lovely wedding only yesterday."
"It did turn out well, if I do say so myself. But she will be going away next week, and she will be gone two whole months. I would like to see her while I still can."
"It is a pity, then," began Mr. Bennet, "that the horses cannot be spared from the farm. Perhaps you could walk to Netherfield, Mrs. Bennet. Or better yet, you could go on horseback, and have the girls walk along with you."
"Oh Mr. Bennet, how can you say such a thing, you know that I am no horse woman, go on horseback, indeed! Nor can you be so silly as to expect me to walk three miles and back. No, I shall take the carriage, I am sure you can spare the horses for an hour or two."
"I expect you to neither walk nor ride, Mrs. Bennet; and as I cannot spare the horses I am afraid you will have to stay home today and hope the Bingleys will call here," replied her husband.
"Oh, Mr. Bennet, how can you be so tiresome, you know the Bingleys will not be making calls today. If I cannot get the horses, then I shall simply write a note to Mrs. Bingley asking her to send her carriage for us."
"You shall do no such thing, Mrs. Bennet. I forbid you to set so much as a foot into Netherfield today. And if any of our neighbors are foolish enough to disturb the Bingleys the morning after their wedding, I hope their butler is under orders to turn them all out." And with that, Mr. Bennet excused himself to his library with his wife gaping after him. When he was gone she began to complain of her husband's ill usage of her, and she was soon in such a nervous state that she decided to retire to her chambers and remain in bed for the rest of the day.
The following morning, her ailments had disappeared and the horses were at her disposal. Mrs. Bennet and her four youngest daughters called upon the Bingleys and found them both to be in very good spirits. Elizabeth was pleased to see that both Jane and her husband appeared to be very content.
In the course of the week, the Bennets dined twice at Netherfield, and the Bingleys dined once at Longbourn. Mrs. Bennet called upon Jane every morning, including the morning that the Bingleys departed for their journey. Elizabeth opened one of her letters each morning, and soon received additional letters by post from both Darcy and Georgiana. Darcy was pleased to receive a letter from Elizabeth each day that he was in London, but continued to be disappointed not to receive word from any of his family. He and Georgiana took the opportunity while in London to attend a concert and dine with some acquaintances. Everyone Darcy encountered was informed of his engagement, and though many people seemed genuinely happy for him, he could perceive disappointment in the countenances of some, and curiosity in all.
The day after Jane and Bingley departed, Darcy returned to Netherfield with Georgiana and Mrs. Annesley. The Darcys called at Longbourn that very day, and though they had no chance of privacy, Darcy and Elizabeth were delighted to be together again. Upon his return to Netherfield, Darcy was given the letters that had been delivered for him in his absence. There, waiting for him was a letter from his uncle, Earl ___ and one from Lady Catherine DeBourgh.
Darcy decided to open the letter from his uncle first, for he wanted to know whether he had his uncle's support in his choice before reading his aunt's missive, which he knew would contain disapproval. To Darcy's relief, the Earl's approbation was granted. Although he was not in raptures over the match, and did express some doubts as to the prudence of Darcy's choice, he did state that he recalled having met Miss Elizabeth Bennet at the Hurst's dinner party last spring, and that she seemed to be a lovely young lady. He was also aware that his future daughter in law corresponded with Miss Bennet regularly and spoke very highly of her, and that their own son, was fond of her as well. Darcy was satisfied with his uncle's reply and happy to have his support.
He then turned to Lady Catherine's correspondence with a sense of foreboding. He had expected her to express disapproval of the match and to reprove him from shirking his duty to Anne. Indeed, he was prepared to receive her condemnation upon himself, but nothing could have prepared him for the level of abuse and denigration she scrupled not in casting upon Elizabeth. She laid her entire disappointment in losing Darcy for her daughter at Elizabeth's door and made some accusations that made him glad that he read them for the first time in a letter, rather than heard them from her lips. He was absolutely incredulous. He determined to read it again, to be sure of what she had written, but he only made it half way through the letter before he was too disgusted to go on.
After spending several minutes contemplating his aunt's words in shocked astonishment, Darcy wrote back to his uncle, thanking him for his approval and support, and informing him of Lady Catherine's position with respect to the match, though he was aware that in all probability Lady Catherine had already written to her brother on the subject. He debated whether to respond to Lady Catherine's letter and decided that he was in no humor, at present, to respond to her disparaging commentary on Elizabeth in a way that could possibly be any good for anyone involved. He was also unsure whether he would write back at all, as he did not feel that her letter deserved the acknowledgment of a response. He was tempted to simply drop his association with her entirely, without further communication.
The reunion between Darcy and Elizabeth the following morning was more intimate than had been possible the day before at Longbourn, but Darcy was burdened with the news he would have to share with her. He told her first that he had received his uncle's approval, and then he described as briefly and generally as he could, the letter he had received from his aunt. To his surprise, Elizabeth urged him not to cut off all intercourse with his aunt entirely. She reminded him that he would see her in October and suggested that, with his uncle's support, he might attempt to reconcile her to the match. Darcy agreed that he would meet her with cordiality at Colonel Fitzwilliam's wedding, but he made it clear that he would not tolerate any further abuse of Elizabeth from her.
And so the weeks passed with preparations for Elizabeth's wedding as the foremost concern at Longbourn. Elizabeth and Georgiana's friendship continued to grow steadily, but Elizabeth also spent as much time as she could with her own sisters as she knew she would be leaving them soon.
Lydia soon made known to Elizabeth her expectation of an invitation to spend the season in town, and was soon joined by Kitty. Elizabeth was quick to deny their requests, but rather then desisting, they procured their mother's assistance in the scheme. Mrs. Bennet, who was a bit put off that Darcy did not seem to have any plans to take Lizzy to the continent following their marriage, felt that if they were intent on remaining in the kingdom, they should, at the very least, providing her two youngest daughters with a season in town. Even though Elizabeth firmly told her mother of their plans to winter at Pemberley, Mrs. Bennet and her daughters continued to press her for an invitation to town for the winter.
Darcy and Elizabeth met alone in the mornings less frequently than either would have liked, due to the increased difficulty for Elizabeth to get away as preparations for her wedding progressed. The Darcys were at Longbourn nearly everyday, however, and the two lovers were able to go on long walks accompanied by their sisters.
At length, it came time for Darcy and Georgiana to go away again to attend Colonel Fitzwilliam's wedding in Devonshire. As Darcy contemplated his cousin's upcoming nuptials, he could not help but think of those weeks when he had been tortured with the prospect of Elizabeth being his cousin's bride. He thanked God everyday for the good fortune that had finally brought her to love him.
Darcy's thoughts were also bent on his upcoming meeting with Lady Catherine. Part of him wanted to refrain from acknowledging her, but Elizabeth had reminded him of his own admission that an inability to forgive was his greatest fault. She playfully observed that though he had undergone quite a lot of self-improvement these past few months, he should not let such an opportunity pass him by. Darcy could not help but admire her for urging him to preserve his relationship with his aunt even after Lady Catherine had been so harsh towards Elizabeth in her letter to him. He resolved, for Elizabeth's sake, to treat his aunt as he always had, but he also told Elizabeth that he would not be accountable for his actions if Lady Catherine should be as abusive towards Elizabeth to his face as she had been in her letter.
Thus, on the appointed day in October, Darcy, having given Elizabeth another packet of letters for each day he would be away, departed with his sister for Devonshire and the wedding of his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam.
The Rowland family of Devonshire, though untitled, was wealthy and well-connected. Miss Emma Rowland, having all the luck of being an only daughter, was endowed with a fortune of forty thousand pounds. Her only brother, who was six years her junior, would inherit her father's estate, one of the largest in the county. Until then, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Rowland resided happily there, and on the occasion of the marriage of their only daughter, opened their grand and spacious home to the accommodation of the family members of her intended husband who came for the wedding. Mr. and Miss Darcy, along with Mrs. Annesley, arrived at Barrington, the Rowland family estate, two days before the wedding was to take place. Mr. Darcy approached the house with some trepidation for he would be meeting all of his family united together for the first time since informing them of his engagement. Though he knew most of his family supported his choice, he was not looking forward to meeting Lady Catherine after her letter to him. He hoped that he could keep his promise to Elizabeth and treat his aunt with civility.
Immediately upon his arrival at the house he was shown into the drawing room, where he met Mrs. Rowland, Mrs. Fitzwilliam, Miss Rowland, his aunts, Lady ___ and Lady Catherine de Bourgh, his cousin, Miss de Bourgh, and Mrs. Jenkinson. Darcy immediately perceived that all of his family had arrived and was only glad to be meeting Lady Catherine in the presence of others. He could not, however, fail to discern her disapproving gaze. Their party was immediately introduced to the lady of the house to whom Darcy expressed his thanks for her hospitality, which sentiment was echoed by his sister. Greetings were then exchanged among everyone, and Darcy observed Georgiana's warm reunion with Miss Rowland and Mrs. Fitzwilliam with contentment. The offensive words of Lady Catherine's letter played upon Darcy's mind as he addressed her, and all of his energy was required to remain courteous. After greetings were exchanged and refreshments ordered for the newcomers, the Darcys were informed that the other gentlemen were out shooting. Everyone then settled into talk of the Darcys' journey.
The conversation soon turned abruptly when Miss Rowland found the opportunity to say, "Mr. Darcy, allow me to congratulate you on your recent engagement to Miss Elizabeth Bennet. I was so pleased when I heard it had finally been accomplished."
Darcy's involuntary smile did not go unnoticed by the others. "I thank you, Miss Rowland, I am quite pleased about it myself."
"Oh yes," added Mrs. Fitzwilliam, "it is wonderful news."
Darcy thanked her as well for these sentiments, and he was then shocked to hear Miss de Bourgh's tentative voice, "I was very pleased to hear the news as well, Mr. Darcy." While Lady Catherine glared at her daughter, Mrs. Rowland took up the conversation asking all the particulars pertaining to Miss Elizabeth and the arrangements for the wedding.
At any other time, Darcy would have been pleased with the subject of discourse, but in this instance it made him rather uncomfortable, as he witnessed the evidence of Lady Catherine's growing displeasure on her features. She judiciously refrained from participating in the conversation, as she did not wish to air her family's business in front of the Rowland ladies.
The women took over the conversation and discussed, not only Darcy's future wedding, but Bingley's recent marriage to Jane, as reported by Georgiana after significant interrogation by the others, and Miss Rowland's upcoming marriage. Darcy, like Lady Catherine, spoke but little.
The arrival of the other gentlemen from their outing brought Darcy a significant amount of relief. He made the acquaintance of Mr. Rowland, and was greeted with cordiality by his uncle and cousins. The entire party was assembled for about another half hour and Darcy was able to observe Colonel Fitzwilliam and Miss Rowland together for the first time since their engagement. He was glad to perceive an easiness of manners between them that bespoke real affection and intimacy. Soon the group was dispersed to prepare for dinner, and Darcy and Georgiana were finally shown to their rooms.
Darcy recalled Elizabeth's suggestion that he appeal to his uncle for assistance in bringing Lady Catherine to accept his marriage, and dressed quickly in the hopes of obtaining a private word with his lordship before dinner. Darcy was surprised when, on his way out of his rooms, he received a message from his aunt, summoning him to appear for a private conference in her sitting room a half hour before dinner. He then found his uncle, who was enjoying a book alone in the library.
"Darcy," said Lord ___ upon his nephew's entrance into the room, "I am surprised to see you again so soon."
"I wished to speak with you, sir, if you will oblige me."
"Of course," he said, closing his book, "what do you have to say?"
"I assume you are aware of Lady Catherine's displeasure with my engagement."
Lord ___ sighed heavily. "Yes, she has written to me twice about the subject since receiving your letter and she has scarcely spoken of anything else since we have been here. She has been trying to enlist my support for her disapprobation. She insists that you be cast off from the family completely upon your marriage."
"She wrote to me as well, in response to my news. Her letter was very abusive of Miss Bennet. She made all manner of distasteful accusations against her. I was prepared to drop all intercourse with her, but Miss Bennet convinced me that I should rather try to preserve my relations with my aunt by attempting to resign her to the match. Since you have already given your blessing to our engagement, I had hoped to enlist your assistance."
His lordship shook his head and said, "I have already tried to reason with Catherine regarding this matter, but she will not be moved. I would offer you any assistance in my power, but there is nothing more I can do."
"Then I will attempt to talk to her. She has summoned me to a private conference in her apartment before dinner."
"I would advise against it, Darcy. You will only be further pained by what she has to say for, I fear, it will probably be even worse than what she wrote in her letter. You will be tempted to quit the house and miss the wedding."
"I believe I must face her without delay. As we will have to be under the same roof for the next three days perhaps it will be best for her to have her say now and be done with it."
"She will never be done with it, Darcy. You must do what you think is best, but be prepared to receive the full measure of her ire."
"I will be ready for it, but if she begins to abuse Miss Bennet, I will simply refuse to listen and leave the room."
"Then it will be a very short interview."
This was not very encouraging to Darcy. He then changed the subject, saying, "I also wished to learn from you whether you will be able to attend my wedding?"
"Tell me, what sort of house does your friend, Mr. Bingley, have? It is not drafty is it?" asked his lordship teasingly.
Darcy smiled, "I find Netherfield very comfortable. It is a good house. It is not so grand as this one, but the apartments are quite spacious."
"Then I can see no reason not to be in attendance at your marriage."
"I thank you, sir," said Darcy. And with that he stood up and added, "I must go to my aunt now."
When Darcy was shown into Lady Catherine's sitting room, a few minutes later, she addressed him thus, "ah, Darcy, how good of you to wait upon me." Then, motioning towards her daughter, she said, "does not Anne look well today?"
"Yes, madame, she looks very well. Good afternoon, Anne."
Anne nodded to her cousin but said nothing.
"You wished to speak to me, Aunt Catherine," said Darcy.
"Yes, Darcy, we must discuss this business of your engagement to this Miss Bennet. I have been thinking, and I now realize that the only reason you would enter into such an ill-advised engagement is that you must have compromised the girl in some way."
Darcy was incredulous. "I will not hear this," he said and turned towards the door.
"There are other ways, Darcy, you need not marry her," continued Lady Catherine.
Just as Darcy had reached the door, a knock was heard from the other side. He opened it and his uncle appeared in the room, but Darcy continued to pass through the door, until he was forestalled by his lordship. "Darcy, please remain," he said.
Darcy turned back towards Lady Catherine and closed the door behind him, but remained near it. Then, Lord ___ said, "Anne, will you please excuse us." Before Lady Catherine could object, Anne hastily left the room. The Earl continued, addressing his sister, "Darcy told me of his impending meeting with you, and as I could anticipate the outcome I decided to join him here forthwith. Catherine, Darcy will be wed to the lady of his choice. Neither you nor I has aught to say about it. Your disapproval has been more than adequately expressed, and duly noted by all of us. Further discussion of the topic will serve no useful purpose. As the head of this family, I have given my blessing to the match and nothing further needs to be said. We are here for my son's wedding, and I will not have a shadow cast upon that event by any discord between the two of you. Once we leave here, following the wedding, we will go our separate ways, and the two of you can conduct yourselves as you please. But now, and at all times in the future while you are together in my presence, there will be no talk of the subject of Darcy's choice of wife. Catherine, I expect you to desist all expressions of your disapproval of Darcy's engagement and all disparagement of my future niece while in this house."
"I will not be spoken to as a child, brother," returned Lady Catherine, "be assured that I am my own mistress, and I will conduct myself as I please at all times. I cannot help it if you fail to see the degradation your nephew will be bringing down upon us all, but I will do my duty to my family by making him see the grievous mistake he has made."
"My mind will not be changed, madame," interjected Darcy, "further discussion of the point is futile. If you will not honor my uncle's wishes and treat me with civility while I am here, then both myself and Georgiana will simply have no choice but to avoid any intercourse with you until we depart three days hence." With that Darcy left the room, and went down to join the ladies in the drawing room. Lord ___ and Lady Catherine joined them just before the bell was rung for dinner. The evening was spent uneasily by Darcy, though he made every attempt to enjoy the company in spite of his aunt.
The gentlemen spent the following day shooting. Georgiana was well entertained with Miss Rowland and Mrs. Fitzwilliam in last minute preparations for the wedding. They attempted to include Anne in their activities, but Lady Catherine objected to every scheme.
Darcy could not tell whether Lady Catherine had taken her brother's advice, and he did not wish to risk learning that she had not, so he avoided her as much as possible during their stay at Barrington. They were together only in company, and Darcy spoke to her as little as civility would allow. Darcy found solace, during his time at Barrington, by reading the letters Elizabeth had given him for this journey. He opened a new one each day, and was comforted by her affectionate and lively prose.
The marriage between Miss Rowland and Colonel Fitzwilliam was a festive and joyous occasion. Darcy took note of as much as he could to inform Elizabeth of the particulars of her friend's wedding. He had to concede that the bride was very beautiful and seemed very happy. He pushed away the fleeting thoughts that it might have been Elizabeth walking down the aisle to his cousin while he looked on in agony and despair, and again thanked God that it had not been so. Darcy preferred to turn his mind in a more happy direction, and as he watched the lovely Miss Rowland approaching the altar he mused to himself that, if he could note the beauty of a woman he was indifferent to on her wedding day, he could only imagine what he would feel when Elizabeth should appear before him at his own wedding. His cousin, likewise, seemed very happy with his choice. Miss Rowland and he were well matched in disposition, and he had obtained the fortune he had wished for. When the celebration was at an end, the bride and groom departed for the seaside where they would spend two weeks before removing to the house they had purchased in London. Colonel Fitzwilliam had resigned his commission with the militia as it seemed that his wife's fortune, along with what his father had given them, would be quite sufficient to sustain him in the lifestyle to which he was accustomed. Lady Catherine departed as soon as civility would allow, without having been able to secure an interview alone with Darcy, which was for the best, as it would only have been unpleasant for both.
The Darcys remained on at Barrington until the following day, when they departed for Hertfordshire. The uneasiness caused by Mr. Darcy's aunt's treatment did not depart with her, and when he was finally on the road, the next morning, Darcy was exceedingly relieved. He longed for the comforting embrace of his beloved Elizabeth. He knew he would have to tell her of his aunt's behavior and he did not look forward to the interview, but first he simply needed to be in her company. He would arrive at Netherfield too late to call at Longbourn, but he consoled himself with the knowledge that he would see her in the morning. She knew he was to arrive at Netherfield this evening, surely she would be at their usual meeting place tomorrow morning.
The following day, Darcy arrived early at the clearing where he usually met Elizabeth, and waited a long time for her. As the morning progressed and she did not appear, he became anxious and impatient. He mounted his horse again and traveled the lanes where they had so often walked together, hoping to encounter her. Finally, he returned to the clearing and, not finding her there, observed that it was late enough in the morning to call at her house. He paced the clearing a few more times, and at last was about to get back on his horse when she appeared.
Darcy closed the distance between them swiftly and soon had her in his arms. He held her close for many minutes, before releasing her. She then noticed that his eyes were moist with emotion. "Was it so terrible?" she asked sympathetically.
"I am so happy to be with you again, Elizabeth," he said, touching her cheek tenderly, before placing a series of urgent kisses on her lips.
"And I am happy to have you back again," she breathed against his mouth at the first opportunity.
He took her face in both his hands and resumed his attentions allowing her kisses and her touch to melt away his pain. At length he leaned his forehead against hers and said, "I love you Elizabeth."
She raised her hand to his cheek, sensing that he had been deeply hurt by his meeting with Lady Catherine, "and I love you, my dearest Fitzwilliam." The effect of her words was immediate. He seemed to be soothed by them. The look in his eyes, for some reason, recalled to her the words he had used so unceremoniously to describe his feelings for her in his first letter to her, "the utmost force of passion." She blushed at the recollection as he turned his face into her hand and placed a gentle kiss on her palm. He was continually amazed by the depth of his own feelings for this woman, and this morning was no exception. He could not resist the temptation to pull her against him once more and wrap his arms around her. After a few moments, she said, "I have been thinking of you constantly since you went away, and sending my prayers that everything would go well with your family. Will you not tell me of your visit with them?"
He let go of her enough to look into her fine eyes, "I will tell you whatever you wish to know, my sweet, but I am afraid there is some unpleasantness to relate."
"Tell me about the wedding first, how was Miss Rowland?"
Darcy was pleased she had chosen an innocuous topic to begin their discussion and as they walked, he related to her all the details he could remember of the wedding, and Miss Rowland's home and family.
"I am glad they appeared so happy," she replied when he was finished speaking. They walked in silence for a few moments, each wondering how to broach the subject of Lady Catherine, until Elizabeth spoke first, "did you speak to Lady Catherine about our engagement?"
"Yes. She summoned me to her on my first afternoon at Barrington. Within thirty seconds I was on my way out of the room as she had already offended me grievously. I was forestalled though, by my uncle's arrival."
"Was he willing to offer his assistance to you with your aunt?"
"Yes, but he had already attempted to speak to her. She was immovable and he advised me not to meet with her. When I insisted that I would face her, he joined us. He asked Lady Catherine to desist voicing her condemnation of my engagement and she refused. They had some further talk after I left the room, but I do not know what was said. I never saw her alone again during my visit, but when we were in company together she scrupled not in making her discontentment apparent in her manners."
"But what did she say that offended you so? You were quite prepared to face her disapprobation. Her words could not have been any worse than what she wrote in her letter. Yet when I first saw you I could see that whatever passed between you and her distressed you greatly."
"I cannot repeat it to you, Elizabeth."
She stopped to face him, and then, taking his face in her hands, she said, "Fitzwilliam, there may come a day when I must face Lady Catherine. Would you see me unprepared for such a confrontation, or do you think she would spare me from hearing her opinions?"
"I would never allow her to impose upon you in that manner, Elizabeth."
"Do you suppose that if she got it into her head to see me, that you could prevent her? You cannot always protect me, but you can allow me the means to protect myself."
He looked at her, as if considering her words. He knew she was right, she should know of what his aunt had accused her. Finally, he began, "she said . . . " but stopped in mid-sentence. He could not look into Elizabeth's eyes and repeat his aunt's words and accusations.
"Yes?" prompted Elizabeth, as he averted his gaze from hers.
Darcy kissed her quickly as if to fortify himself, then he tried again to tell her what Lady Catherine had said, but he could not form the words. He took her into his arms gently and, as he held her close he spoke quietly, close to her ear, "she suggested that our marriage was . . . necessary, because I had compromised your virtue."
"I am sorry that you had to endure such treatment, my love," she replied. After a moment, they separated and resumed their walk. At length, Elizabeth asked, "will you make any further attempt to reconcile with her?"
"No. I will have nothing more to do with Lady Catherine."
Elizabeth determined that it would not be wise to challenge his decision on this point at present. The time for her to be getting home was drawing near, so they began walking towards Longbourn as Darcy assured her that he would call there with Georgiana later in the day. Once at Longbourn's gate, they said their good-byes and parted ways.
The following weeks passed pleasantly for Darcy and Elizabeth, who were now free to enjoy each other's company without the encumbrance of another impending separation. They would be together until their marriage, and then always, thereafter. All thoughts of Lady Catherine's displeasure were soon forgotten as the minds of the lovers were occupied with more pleasant pursuits. The only event of any consequence to interrupt the delightful monotony of their days was the return to Netherfield of Mr. and Mrs. Bingley from their visit to the continent.
Everyone was happy to see both Bingleys looking exceedingly happy and refreshed on the morning after their arrival when they called at Longbourn with the Darcys. Indeed, Elizabeth could honestly say that Jane had never looked better. Marriage seemed to have given her a glow of felicity. Elizabeth was reminded of all the months Jane had suffered from the loss of Mr. Bingley's society and was pleased to observe that her present contentment was exactly contrary to her prior melancholy, but was even greater in its intensity. Elizabeth mused to herself that if happiness in marriage could have such an effect on Jane's already brilliant countenance, would she undergo a similar brightening of her own spirits upon entering the marriage state? She could not help glancing at Darcy as these thoughts passed through her mind and his look told her that, perhaps, his thoughts were engaged along similar lines.
Jane and Bingley spent the day and much of the evening regaling the Darcys and the Bennets with tales of their travels. They had passed a delightful two months touring the French, German and Spanish countrysides and the historic edifices that were sprinkles throughout. Gifts from these places were duly distributed to everyone, introducing new topics of discussion even before the old ones had been exhausted. The return of the Bingleys and the ensuing talk of their journey caused a renewal of Mrs. Bennet's hints that Darcy ought to imitate his friend's generosity in that regard. Indeed, her appeals were made even more fervent by the happiness and enthusiasm with which Jane and her husband spoke of their travels.
Elizabeth attended their discourse with such animation and took such pleasure in their joy that Darcy was moved to address the subject with her when next they were alone. Thus, the following morning, he asked her, "Elizabeth, I have been giving some thought to your mother's suggestions that we might take a tour of the continent following our own marriage. Would you like to undertake such a journey?"
Elizabeth could not help but believe that he must be thinking only of her in his offer. Though she could not suppose him to be truly averse to the idea of traveling the continent with her, she felt his preferences were in line with her own, which were to return to Pemberley after their marriage. "I would enjoy such a trip very much, but I would rather not undertake it immediately following our wedding. What is your own preference?"
"It is in complete accord with yours my dearest."
"I am happy to hear it, since I have already invited the Gardiners to Pemberley for Christmas."
He smiled, glad to have the matter settled with satisfaction to both.
The Bingley's journey continued to dominate the drawing room conversation at both Longbourn and Netherfield for the next several days, but soon gave way, at least partially, to other topics, including the upcoming marriage between Elizabeth and Darcy, now less than a month away.
Elizabeth was delighted to be reunited with Jane and only regretted that they would be separated again so soon following her own marriage, and as the days and weeks passed in preparation for Elizabeth's nuptials, the two sisters spent as much time in one another's company as possible. It was decided during this time that the Bingleys would travel to Pemberley in the summer for an extended visit, and to bring with them both Kitty and Lydia, who would stay with the Darcys until their return to town the following winter.
About a week prior to the date set for the wedding, Darcy's family, all except for the deBourghs, began to arrive at Netherfield, and the Gardiners arrived at Longbourn. The last week was marked by larger dinner parties between the two families, and fewer solitary walks for the lovers, as the demands of their guests and of the upcoming wedding laid greater claim to their time.
Elizabeth was pleased to be reunited with Emma Fitzwilliam, and was happy to note that both she and her husband appeared exceedingly happy with their new situation. Elizabeth also renewed her acquaintance with the elder Mr. Fitzwilliam and his wife. She was able to further her acquaintance with Lord and Lady ___ and was gratified to be received favorably and sincerely by both of them. She had to blush a few times for her mother and younger sisters while in their company, but their prior acquaintance with the Gardiners helped to ease their relations with the Bennets considerably.
On the last morning immediately prior to their wedding Darcy and Elizabeth would not deny themselves the opportunity to meet one last time at their clearing. When they met one another, Elizabeth observed, "this will be our last meeting here, I am afraid."
"Do you remember our first?" asked Darcy.
"Yes, very well. Our topic of conversation then was a rather unpleasant one."
"Indeed it was, in part, but I was very encouraged nonetheless by what passed between us that day."
"Were you?" she asked with surprise in her tone.
"I admit I was a bit disheartened when you did not seem to wish me to walk back with you, but I was glad that you felt enough compassion towards me to wish to spare me from an unpleasant meeting."
"I was very uncomfortable. I was afraid of hurting you further, but at the same time wary of encouraging you."
"I was most encouraged by your parting words to me. After your reproof at Hunsford, your observation that I had behaved as a gentleman took on great meaning for me."
"And I was excessively pleased by your kindness and solicitude during the entirety of the meeting. I was impressed, particularly, by your concern for my sister. Your intervention with Colonel Forster may very well have saved her reputation."
"I was glad to be of service," he replied quietly, before bending his head to kiss her lips. This activity was pursued further with great fervor, for some minutes. At length they desisted, and Darcy drew Elizabeth into a tender embrace.
As they walked back towards Longbourn's gate, their conversation turned again to the surrounding countryside, as it had on so many of their prior interludes. When they arrived at the gate Darcy observed, "you will miss this country."
"Very much, but I shall be happy discovering all the beauties Pemberley has to offer, with you as my guide."
"We will return here to visit."
"I know that we will. I shall miss Jane, though, even more than Longbourn's woods, and my father as well."
"They will be always welcome at Pemberley."
She touched his cheek and said, "I will see you at Netherfield this evening then."
Darcy smiled, "I look forward to it," he replied, turning his face slightly to kiss her palm.
The Bingleys hosted a dinner party on the night before the wedding, with the Bennets and the inhabitants of Netherfield in attendance. The evening was passed enjoyably and came to an end, too soon for some, but not soon enough for others.
Darcy and the Bingleys walked the Bennets out to their carriage. As the others exchanged farewells, Darcy and Elizabeth found a moment of solitude. "Until tomorrow," said Elizabeth meaningfully.
"I will be waiting for you," he replied, raising her hand to his lips.
"Goodnight Miss Bennet.
Elizabeth smiled and raised an eyebrow at him, "is it Miss Bennet, now?" she asked playfully.
"Only until tomorrow," he replied, with a satisfied smile.
The wedding between Darcy and Elizabeth was as joyous an event as could be expected. Darcy experienced an overwhelming sense of contentment and, ironically enough, pride as he beheld his lovely bride approaching him from the church door. Her thoughts and feelings were along the same lines when she caught her first glimpse of him standing at the altar waiting for her. Darcy repeated his vows with a solemnity and a sincerity that touched Elizabeth's very soul. What she did not realize was that her own tone matched his, causing Darcy to experience such strength of emotion as to impair his ability to remain composed. When they were announced as husband and wife, and turned to walk back down the aisle together, Darcy could not help whispering to her, "you look very beautiful today, Mrs. Darcy." His utterance of her new name caused her smile to brighten even further, but she had not time to respond before they were accosted at the church door by well wishers, all of whom addressed her as he had.
The wedding breakfast was passed much the same as Jane's did, but without the disturbing company of her sisters in law. Elizabeth and Darcy took great pleasure in celebrating their joy with their friends and families. At length, however, the time for them to be gone was at hand. They were to travel to London that day, where they would remain a fortnight before returning to Pemberley in time for Christmas. Georgiana and Mrs. Annesley were to stay on at Netherfield and return to Town with Lord and Lady ___ the following morning, where Georgiana would remain at their home until she removed to Pemberley with the Darcys, and Mrs. Annesley would take up her new position, which Darcy had secured for her, attending the education of another young lady.
Warm farewells were exchanged by all. Elizabeth found it most difficult to bid goodbye to Jane, but they promised to keep up a regular correspondence until they could meet again in the summer. The new Mrs. Fitzwilliam then addressed Elizabeth, while their husbands were exchanging their good-byes, saying, "I am so happy for you Mrs. Darcy. I dare say you have caught a husband nearly as perfect as mine is."
"I hope you will forgive me for disagreeing with you, Mrs. Fitzwilliam, but I must speak in favor of the superiority of my own husband's perfections." Elizabeth could not help but catch Colonel Fitzwilliam's abrupt glance, in response to her playful observation. She blushed as she realized that the gentlemen had heard her in spite of their own simultaneous conversation. Indeed, her comment had been entirely innocent as she had quite failed to recall her own history with her friend's husband when she made the remark. Elizabeth also realized at that moment that Colonel Fitzwilliam had never told his wife about his prior suit of herself. She averted her eyes from his gaze as quickly as they had been caught, and looked at her husband, who had witnessed the entire exchange. She was both surprised and amused to see a smile of smug satisfaction grace his handsome features.
The journey to London was spent talking about how the morning had passed. Darcy ventured to mention Colonel Fitzwilliam's reaction to Elizabeth's comment.
"I did not mean anything by it," she replied, "I was merely teasing his wife, and he was not meant to hear it. I had not thought of his prior attentions to me when I said it. I hope he did not take offense."
"I am sure he did not," replied Darcy pensively, "but you should be kind to him," he chided her playfully, "after all it was he that brought us together."
"Oh?" replied Mrs. Darcy, "I had thought it was you who sent him to me and not the other way around."
"I did so unintentionally, I assure you" replied Darcy, "for, as you know, I was quite lost before you ever met him, but you rejected me rather soundly, if you will recall."
"I am trying to forget it," she replied.
"I was very angry after our quarrel, as I am sure you could perceive from the letter I wrote to you. It was my cousin's suit that made me realize that I hoped to change your mind, even when there was no reason to hope. When he told me of his intent to court you, the prospect of it was in every way loathsome to me. My anger gave way to sorrow that I had lost you. I did not feel that loss so much after your rejection as I did when I resigned myself to the possibility that you might marry another so soon. As much as it pained me to witness my cousin's courtship of you, I cannot help but wonder whether I would ever have determined to renew my addresses to you had it never occurred; or, more correctly, how long it would have taken me to do so."
"Then we have much to thank your cousin for, though I dare say his assistance was rendered unwittingly."
"So it was," replied Darcy.
Eventually Elizabeth drifted off to sleep. Neither of them had slept much the night before, and though Darcy could not sleep in the carriage, he contented himself by watching his lovely bride rest peacefully. He could not prevent his thoughts from hoping that her present nap would serve her well, as he fully intended to keep her awake much of the night.
The first two weeks of marriage were as happy as either Mr. or Mrs. Darcy could have anticipated. By the end of that time, they were both eager to return to Pemberley. On the first day of their arrival there, Elizabeth was pleased to see that all of her things had arrived from Longbourn and had been unpacked in her apartments. When she retired for the evening, she sat at her dressing table brushing her hair, as she awaited her husband. When she set down her brush she began to open the drawers to see how her things had been arranged in them. She was surprised when the first one she opened contained none of her things at all. In it she saw only a gold locket on a chain. Her first inclination was to give it to her husband and, with this in mind, she picked up the folded piece of paper lying beneath it. Then she saw the words, "for the next Mrs. Darcy." After hesitating a moment, she opened the locket to see a miniature of her husband.
"My father left that for you," said Darcy who had been watching her from the doorway adjoining their chambers.
When she turned to face him, he could see the tears on her cheeks, and he was touched deeply by her reaction to the gift. He was at her side in a moment to fasten it around her neck. It hung just beneath her garnet cross and the two pieces looked very well together. "Do you like it?" he asked her as they both regarded her image in the mirror.
"Very much," she replied.
He took her hand as she arose from her chair and then drew her to him and said, "welcome home, Mrs. Darcy."
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