What If He Were To Pick Me?
It wasn’t long after Mr. Bingley rented Netherfield that all the Mamas and daughters in the neighborhood worked themselves into a fine flurry of romantic expectation brought about by the near presence of so gallant, so young, so generous and personable a SINGLE young man.
And when word leaked out that he would be attending the Meryton assembly screams of excitement rose to a glass-breaking pitch.
It was said that the business of Meryton drapers and dress makers increased ten fold in the first week. It seemed like there wasn’t a single "girl" between the ages of thirteen and thirty who wasn’t getting a new frock made in the hopes of attracting the attention of blond, blue-eyed Mister Bingley, with his blue jacket and his five thousand a year and likely more.
The Bennets were no different from the rest of the neighborhood. Well, perhaps a little more eager than their neighbors, as they had not one, not two, but five girls to marry, and — their property being entailed away on one of Mr. Bennet’s male cousins — no way to provide for any daughter who failed to make an advantageous marriage.
So, Mrs. Bennet, whom the complexity of marrying all these girls had long since driven insane, commandeered the first services of the dressmakers, to outfit her eldest, most beautiful and sweetest daughter, Jane; her sparkling-eyed, inquisitive second-born, Elizabeth; her studious, bookish daughter, Mary; her prettyish daughter, Kitty, and her lively, enthusiastic daughter Lydia.
"All of you girls are to have new bonnets," Mrs. Bennet’s sharp voice, much trained in lamentation and self-pity, rose in wavering anxiety. "And new gowns. Ah, Mr. Bennet," she added to her husband who sat, reading the paper, across the fire from her in their cozy sitting room — a sitting room most inconvenient in summer, with its windows full west. "I don’t know what will become of us. Why, the lace on Jane’s gown--"
Mr. Bennet’s paper rustled ominously. From behind it, his impatient voice was heard to mutter, "No lace, Mrs. Bennet. No lace."
Mrs. Bennet sighed. "It’s just as well that such a man should come to the neighborhood. What a fine thing for our girls."
After a while the corner of Mr. Bennet’s newspaper was lowered, revealing his ruddy, bewhiskered face. Twenty years older than his wife, he had white hair, and the kindly expression of a well-settled country gentleman. He looked over his reading glasses at his wife of twenty five years, with a half-bewildered expression.
Mrs. Bennet turned the page on the pattern book she had been studying. Her five girls crowded around the back of her chair, looking over her shoulder at the rather frilly concoction.
"Oh, that would suit me so well," Lydia said. She was a well-grown, fearless girl of fifteen. Her finger, pointing at the gown, trembled a little. "I like the lace, and the low cut."
Mrs Bennet nodded. "I dare say it would suit you, Lydia. I dare say it would. We shall show this one to Mrs. Terryt and see if there is enough lace to make it with."
"Mrs. Bennet?" Mr. Bennet cleared his throat and rustled his paper, still intent on his wife. "Why does it matter that Mr. Bingley came to the neighborhood? Pray, how can this affect our girls?"
Mrs. Bennet sighed, a sigh that implied men could be altogether too thick. "Why, you must know I’m thinking of his marrying one of them."
Mr. Bennet’s eyebrows rose on his broad forehead. "And pray, is that his intention in renting Netherfield?"
Mrs. Bennet turned the page to a gown of severe splendor, not too low cut, that she thought would fit Jane’s serene beauty wonderfully. She bent the corner on the page. "Intention. Nonsense. But I think he might very well fall in love with one of them...."
"It is commonly known," Elizabeth said, in her teasing voice. "That any single man of great fortune must be in want of a wife."
"Indeed it is," her mother agreed, bending down yet another corner of another page, having found a rather plain, straightforward gown that wouldn’t call too much attention to Lizzy and her quarrelsome ways. If only that girl learned to behave with Jane’s demure calm.
"Well... well," Mr. Bennet said, grinning. "He might very well pick Jane, she is amiable enough. And Lizzy has a little more wit than the rest."
Mrs. Bennet found a gown for Mary. She would have it done in brown. "And let’s not forget our other girls," she said.
"Aye," Mr. Bennet said. "For they’ve arms and legs enough between them. And are three of the silliest girls in England." He got up, setting his paper down on his broad arm chair, and stepped over to the fireplace, standing in front of it to warm himself. "Well, well, he might prefer a stupid woman, as others have before him," he said. And, turning on his heel, left the room, leaving wife and daughters to talk and fuss over the patterns.
"Ah, Jane." Lizzy sat at her vanity, combing her curly hair, while her sister, Jane sat at the edge of Lizzy’s bed. "If I could love a man who loved me well enough to want me for only fifty pounds a year, I’d be very happy indeed." She paused, staring at her face in the mirror. "But such a man could hardly be sensible, and I could never love a man who was out of his wits."
Jane smiled. "Lizzy, we are not very poor."
"No, but with father’s estate entailed away from the female line, we have little but our charms to recommend us to any suitor. At least one of us shall have to marry very well, and since you’re quite five times as pretty as the rest of us, I’m afraid that burden will fall on you."
Jane frowned. "Ah, Lizzy, what good is my beauty. I’m almost three and twenty, and yet no man has proposed to me. Nor have I...."
"Nor have I fallen in love with any of them. And, Lizzy, I would very much like to marry for love." She knit her pale brows together. "A marriage where neither party respects nor loves the other.... That cannot be agreeable."
"As we have proof daily." Elizabeth rolled her eyes. "But do not worry, Jane, you shall marry for love.... provided you take care to fall in love with a man of good fortune."
"And you?" Jane arched her brows.
"I..." Elizabeth stared at her reflection in the mirror. "I am determined that nothing but the deepest of loves shall entice me into matrimony."
Into the silence that followed, came Lydia’s high, merry voice, "Lord, I’ll dance with as many gentlemen as he brings with him."
Kitty’s responding laughter echoed through the house.
Mr. Bingley did grace the assembly with his presence. With him came his tall, silent friend, Mr. Darcy, his two sisters, Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst, his brother in law, Mr. Hurst, and Mr. Hurst’s younger brother, Mr. Stephen Hurst, who was reading for the law at Cambridge.
And it wasn’t long into the dancing, that it became apparent that Mr. Bingley preferred Kitty Bennet above all other girls. For though he danced the first one with Jane, he was visibly put off by Jane’s dignified, stand-offish posture, made all the more imposing by the elaborate dark-red and gold brocade dress in which Jane’s mother had chosen to attire her and which Jane had been too sweet to protest.
So he danced the second and third one with Kitty Bennet who smiled a lot, and was light on her feet. And when, having bespoken Miss Kitty for the fourth dance, he realized that his friend Darcy was standing around in a stupid manner. Mr. Bingley approached him, peremptorily. "Come on Darcy, you must dance. I must have you dance."
Mr. Darcy sighed, running his gaze over the sitting women in the room. Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley were dancing, as were all the Bennet sisters, except the two eldest, whom Darcy decided must have been passed over because local men knew something about them — because otherwise, surely, with their looks, someone would be dancing with them. Why, even the third sister was dancing, with Mr. Stephen Hurst. "Bingley, I am in no mood to give consequence to girls who were passed over by other men. Go back to your partner. Enjoy her smiles. You’re wasting your time with me."
But, just then, Lydia came walking up, a glass of wine in her hand. Mr. Bingley saw his opportunity and seized it. "Here, Darce, here. This is my partner’s younger sister. She’s very pretty too. Very agreeable, I dare say. Allow me to present Miss Lydia Bennet."
Lydia had stopped, steps away, looking up at Mr. Darcy with a vague smile.
Darcy sighed, and bowed. "How do you do," he said. And, his eyes on her low decolletage, he stammered out, "I would be very glad to dance the next one with you. If you do me the honor."
She grinned. "Oh, Lor," she said. "Why not?"
"Oh, Mr. Bennet," Mrs. Bennet said, as she rushed into the house and overtook him in the sitting room, where he sat reading a book. "Our girls were so admired. And Mr. Bingley showed great favor to Kitty, for he danced the first one with her, and then what do you think, in the third dance he got Mr. Darcy, his friend, to dance with Lydia. And then Mr. Darcy danced every one with Lydia, and what do you know, he has a fine estate in Derbyshire, and ten thousand a year. Ten thousand. And Mary, too, danced almost every one with Mr. Stephen Hurst, the brother of Mr. Bingley’s brother in law, and they talked together a great deal, and I dare say she’ll be engaged before the year is out, and then what do you think?"
"No more, Mrs. Bennet, no more," Mr. Bennet said, getting up with a thunderous frown, and setting his book down with a bang on a little occasional table that rocked under the impact. "I wish they’d all sprained their ankles on the first dance."
As he walked towards the door, he passed Lizzy and Jane who sat together on a sofa by the door. "Did you dance much Lizzy?" He asked. "And you Jane?"
"No, not at all," Jane said.
Mr. Bennet’s frown increased, as he left the room, banging the door and muttering about young bucks without taste.
"So you liked Miss Lydia Bennet?" Bingley asked, after everyone else had retired, when he and Darcy sat together in the studio, sipping port.
Darcy smiled, one of his rare smiles. "I tell you, Bingley, she’s an angel. At first, I thought she smiled too much." He frowned at the fireplace. "But I soon realized that’s just the sort of woman that suits me — pleasant and joyful, always ready to draw me out of myself and not let me think too much. Yes, Bingley, I like her very well indeed."
Bingley smiled into the fire. "I like Miss Kitty Bennet very well too," he said. He got up and poked at the log with the fireplace irons. "It’s much too early to say, Darce, but wouldn’t it be grand if we ended up being brothers?"
Soon, all of Meryton knew of Mr. Bingley’s and Mr. Darcy’s preference for the two Bennet sisters. Of course, this was spread by the gossip of Mrs Bennet and her female relatives.
"Sister," Mrs. Phillips said, one day, as she rushed into Mrs. Bennet’s room. "Have you heard, sister?"
She settled down in a settee, across from the chaise in which Mrs. Bennet ordinarily indulged in attacks of nerves, and where she now indulged in revery about Lydia’s future. "It is said that Mr. Darcy haunts Meryton, in hopes of seeing Lydia, on her way to the shops. He is that love-sick."
"Oh, sister," Mrs. Bennet answered, with a giggle. "Why, I believe Lydia needs a new hat." Getting up, she walked to the door of her room, and called, in her shrill voice, "Lydia, child. Go down to the shops and get a new hat. Your old one is not fit to be worn." Closing the door, she came back into the room. "Not fit to be worn by the intended of Mr. Darcy, a man with ten thousand a year." And, swooning upon her chaise, she added, "Oh, sister, what jewels, what carriages she shall have. What lace. Why, a house in town. Everything that’s elegant."
Mrs. Phillips leaned forward, encouragingly, "And that will throw the girls in the path of other rich men."
In Meryton, Mr. Darcy indeed, rode up and down the main street, in hopes of seeing the bewitching Miss Bennet, with her low, low cut dress.
Bingley, a good friend, rode apace with him. Besides, he wouldn’t be averse to seeing Miss Kitty Bennet, though he wasn’t perhaps as eager as his friend. In fact, after three or four turns down the street, he turned to Darcy. "Should we not be getting back to Netherfield, eh, Darce?"
"Why?" Darcy asked, distracted, as his gaze swept the street for the sight of the girl. "We stayed out later, yesterday."
"Well, we’ve been going up and down the street so regularly every morning that I believe shopkeepers are setting their clocks by us, Darce. And we haven’t seen them yet."
Darcy opened his mouth to answer, but he stopped.
Because, walking up the street and waving cheerily at him was none other than his new found heart light.
"Yoo hoo, Mr. Darcy," she said, and grinned as she approached his horse.
Darcy blinked. In anyone else this gesture would have been uncouth. But Lydia couldn’t be uncouth, could she? No, impossible, he could never be attracted to an uncouth woman. She was just simple and full of charming country manners.
Besides, as she approached to stand directly beneath him, as he sat on his horse, Darcy had a full view of her very low cut dress. True, she wore some kind of shawl around her neck, to disguise the neckline, but the shawl was translucent and let the rosy hue of her flesh shine through.
"We’ve been riding back and forth in hopes of meeting you," he said.
She giggled at his remark. "We just came to town to see you. What a good joke."
The giggle was a little uncouth, too, but then Lydia was young and naive. She’d learn better.
"We?" Bingley said.
"Oh, I hurried on ahead of Kitty."
Mr. Bingley looked worriedly solicitous, as he fixed his eyes on a moving point in the distant horizon, then set off, intent on talking to Kitty.
Mr. Darcy thought that it was very unfeeling of her to leave her sister behind like that — but then, she was just a healthy, well-built -- he stared down through the translucent shawl -- simple country girl. What could be wrong with that?
"My aunt Phillips is having a gathering tonight. Would you like to come?"
"I would, gladly, if Mrs. Phillips invited me."
"Oh," Lydia giggled. "No one cares for such things now a days. Come along."
And though Mr. Darcy knew better and had always been known to be a stickler for propriety, yet he couldn’t resist her little giggle, and the way the shawl moved up and down with her merriment.
Miss Bingley, having come to Meryton with Charles, in dogged pursuit of Mr. Darcy, had not heard the gossip of the town.
Oh, she’d noticed that Darcy danced non-stop with Lydia at the assembly, which she had found exceedingly vexing. "It’s the cut of her dress," she’d told her sister, Louisa Hurst that evening. "It was all that lace. I should have a dress like that."
But Mrs. Hurst, fanning herself while sitting on the living room sofa, had shaken her head. "You can’t have a dress like that, Caroline. It wouldn’t be... well."
"Why can I not?" Caroline stomped her foot.
Mrs. Hurst blushed, and gazed at the area where her sister was notably inferior to Miss Bennet. "Well, it wouldn’t be seemly."
"It would if it’s orange," she said.
Louisa had sighed and left it at that.
And Miss Bingley had labored, over the next few days, to attract Mr. Darcy’s attention, an effort only slightly hampered by his spending every morning riding up and down Meryton main street for exercise which he claimed to need urgently.
To own the truth, though she didn’t list to Meryton gossip, she did for a while fear very much that Mr. Darcy had found a way to meet the Bennet girl somewhere.
But, on the night that Darcy and Bingley returned from Mrs. Phillips’ assembly, Caroline heard something that set her mind quite at rest.
It was near on to midnight, and she should have long fallen asleep but, having forgotten a book she’d been reading — all right, skimming — in the library, she went down to pick it up. To own the truth, she might also have heard Mr. Darcy’s and Charles’ horses outside.
She had climbed down the broad stair and got lost on her way to the library, since all the candles were out. All right, all right, to tell the absolute truth, she heard the men’s voices from the billiard room. By pure coincidence, she walked past it, and, by the merest accident, hid in the shadows just outside the door.
She didn’t eavesdrop, of course. Properly brought up gentlewomen didn’t eavesdrop.
But she just chanced to hear Mr. Darcy say, "Well, Bingley, we might yet be brothers after all."
After that, though she returned to her room, she didn’t sleep, of course.
She lay awake in the dark, staring at the canopy over her bed, wondering when he was going to propose.
Oh, she was the happiest of women. She had to have her wedding dress sent for and soon. After all, orange wedding dresses weren’t that common.
So enthralled was Mrs. Bennet with the idea of marrying off her prettier daughters, that she had not paid any attention to her middle daughter, the quiet, bookish one.
This was a great problem, for, as Mary herself would have said in her more sensible days, idle hands are the devil’s playground. Or, in this case, idle brains.
Mary liked Mr. Stephen Hurst a great deal, and their relationship had been progressing apace.
Mr. Stephen Hurst was a tall, gangly man, with a prominent Adam’s apple and an adenoidal voice, but he had great appreciation for what he liked to call Mary’s superior powers of intellect.
With the tacit consent of her parent’s indifference, she met him in the little wilderness beside the house almost every day.
They walked, and read together, and talked over life, citing important maxims and encouraging each other in memorizing sermons and books of proverbs.
It was there that Mr. Hurst told her, one morning, that he would be overcome, indeed, overwhelmed, if she’d do him the honor of sharing his life.
She agreed eagerly, of course, but there was catch.
"You see," he said. "I’m only the second son, and my family is not at all wealthy, which is why we find it necessary to stay with Mr. Bingley. Mr. Bingley is paying for my courses at Cambridge, but I haven’t yet finished reading for the law. My brother has hopes of my marrying into fortune, and thereby rescuing the whole family. So, Miss Mary we must keep our engagement a secret until I finish reading for the law, this term, and then I will speak to your father."
Mary, who’d thought she’d have to wait a lifetime for someone to propose to her, agreed most readily. She did not want to end up an old maid, like Jane and Elizabeth were in danger of becoming.
"I have received a letter," Mr. Bennet announced at breakfast one morning.
"Oh, it’s from Mr. Bingley asking for Kitty’s hand," Mrs. Bennet said.
"No. It’s from Darcy, asking for mine," Lydia said. She and Kitty broke into wild giggles.
Mr. Bennet waited until they had stopped laughing. "It’s from a man I’ve never heard from in the whole course of my life." He went on to announce that it was from his cousin, Mr. Collins who, after his death would inherit from him and, if he wished "turn you all to starve in the hedgerows." This Mr. Collins, having taken orders and received a living from the hand of his most noble patroness, lady Catherine De Bourgh, wished to make peace with the Bennet family. To that end, he would be coming to town for a fortnight, and staying at Longbourn.
"Well," Mrs. Bennet said. "He is a wretched man, to be inheriting Longbourn. But he is single, and if he is disposed to make amends, he would do very well for Jane." She looked across the table, at her elder daughter, who blushed at her mother’s words. "Yes, indeed. We don’t want our Jane to be an old maid."
Mr. Collins arrived at Longbourn within a week.
He was a waddling, overweight man, with rather greasy dark hair that gave off a rancid smell. The main part of his not very keen wit seemed devoted to giving compliments to those he considered his betters. And, in this at least modest, he considered just about everyone his better.
It wasn’t many hours of his being in the house, that his continuous fawning on Mr. Bennet’s amiable daughters, on Mr. Bennet’s prodigious erudition; on Mrs. Bennet’s excellent arrangements — which rather reminded Mr. Collins of this or that room at Rosings, the home of his noble patroness Lady Catherine De Bourgh — had driven Mr. Bennet past amusement and into permanent seclusion in his library.
The only other person in the family who found anything at all amusing in Mr. Collin’s dismal prattle was the Bennet’s second daughter, Elizabeth, who grinned behind her hand at his stupidity, and turned her smiling countenance way from his overwhelmingly transparent compliments.
However, Elizabeth was not amused with the preference that Mr. Collins showed to her sister Jane.
She had said as much to Jane, in Jane’s room, just the night before. Sitting on Jane’s white bedspread, her hands drawn about her knees, Lizzy — as the family called her — had listened to the chirping crickets in the garden outside, and watched her prettiest sister comb out her golden hair.
"I’m afraid he means to marry you, Jane."
Jane looked at the mirror and sighed. "I’ve come to believe so, also, Lizzy," she said, her countenance barely disturbed.
"And you don’t mind?" Lizzy asked. "You mean to refuse him. Tell me you mean to refuse him, Jane."
Jane sighed again. She turned back from the mirror and stared at her sister. Jane’s big, blue eyes swam with uncried tears, but her voice was still serene as she said, "I don’t think I can, Lizzy. How can I refuse a connection that would give such security to all my dear family?"
"Security?" Lizzy spat. "Security. Jane, you’d be marrying the stupidest man in England. It would be so humiliating."
"Lizzy," Jane said. "You take no account of different circumstances. You’re not one and twenty yet, and I’m almost two and twenty. Every man who’s ever been in love with me has faded out before proposing. Remember that clerk of uncle Gardiner’s, when I was but fifteen? He walked away. He never came back. All of them have done that. Our cousin is a respectable man. He’s not vicious. And, considering his connections, he’s likely to give me a comfortable home." Her voice was calm as ever, her gaze even and blue. But the candle light flickered in the water in her eyes, and gave the lie to her serenity.
"Oh, Jane," Lizzy said, exasperated. "It is not true. You’re not resigned. You do not love him. Beautiful as you are, there is no reason you should marry for less than love."
Jane set her ivory-handled brush down. "There is enough reason. Mr. Collins will inherit father’s estate after father’s death. If I’m married to him, I can ensure that he treats mother well...." She tried to go on, but her voice failed her. She rested her elbows on her vanity, she hid her face in her hands and she cried.
Watching Jane cry, Lizzy bit her lower lip. This was insupportable. Jane would be made miserable by that waddling toad of a man, but she would go to the altar like a victim to the sacrifice, for the sake of her dear family to whom Jane could deny nothing.
Lizzy was not about to stand for this.
Not for nothing was she spirited, perhaps too spirited, if one listened to her mother. If Jane wouldn’t save herself, it remained to Lizzy to save her.
She knelt beside Jane’s chair and held her tightly, while Jane cried on her shoulder.
"All will be well, Jane. All will be well. I shall see to it."
The regiment of militia of the ----shire had come to town, and girls and women were given fresh hopes somewhat dashed by Mr. Bingley’s and Mr. Darcy’s preference of the Bennet sisters.
Meryton assemblies gained considerable sparkle from the presence of so many young men. Visions of red coats and weddings with a guard of honor with sabers drawn danced in female heads.
This should not have affected either Kitty or Lydia, practically engaged women as they were. However, the fact is that the younger Bennet misses were driven more by a competitive instinct than by any sort of infatuation. And, seeing the other girls compete for the officers attentions, they had to join in.
As such, they often found excuse or occasion to go into Meryton, in search of fresh gallants to smite with their charms.
This happened the day after Lizzy’s and Jane’s talk related above.
All five daughters had been in the garden, occupied with their different pursuits, while Mr. Collins and Mrs. Bennet walked in the garden, absorbed in some private conversation that looked to be of great import.
When Lydia approached her mother and asked if they might all walk into Meryton, Mrs. Bennet had smiled, confidently, and said, "Oh, yes, of course. And I think Mr. Collins would like some exercise as well."
Mr. Collins, seizing the hint and grasping the moment by its straggle of hair, as it ran past, had immediately made so bold as to ask his amiable cousin Jane for her company.
Jane dropped her gaze, and blushed, and her lips trembled, but before she could say a word, Lizzy advanced. "Oh, Mr. Collins. I was hoping for the pleasure of your company. I wanted to discuss with you a point in Fordyce’s sermons that I can’t make out at all."
Mr. Collins looked puzzled, the puzzled expression peculiar to very stupid people who always feel as if the world were putting one over on them.
Lizzy smiled, a dazzling smile, heart and soul in it. She batted her eyelashes, and sighed, looking at Mr. Collins unprepossessing figure. "You must help me, sir. You must. It’s of great doctrinal importance."
Mr. Collins impression of being taken for a fool seemed to increase, his eyes narrowing to a small pinpoint of suspicious. In his experience, pretty girls had never thrown themselves at him. (Though a couple of them had threatened to throw themselves in rivers if he came any nearer.)
And yet, Miss Elizabeth Bennet smiled so enticingly, and her eyes promised such delights — not that Mr. Collins had ever viewed the female form as a source of delights of a grosser nature, something he was sure his bishop would disapprove of — that he couldn’t help but stammer, "Yes, yes, of course. If it is so."
"You are all kindness, sir," Elizabeth said, taking his proffered arm.
Mr. Darcy, having spent a couple of days shooting at the game, felt confined and tired by the unvarying society of Miss Bingley who had, all of a sudden, become solicitous enough that Mr. Darcy had contemplated jumping into a river to avoid her. Or even better, pushing her into a river.
He dragged himself away from an image of a bedraggled Carolyn, her feathered head-gear all wet, with the stern admonition that it was not gentlemanlike, and, looking at Charles Bingley, he said, "Charles, how would you like to ride into Meryton?"
Charles agreed readily, and it wasn’t long before they were riding down the main street of Meryton amid carters and passerby.
It also wasn’t long before they spotted the Bennet sisters. All five of them clustered around three men in regimentals. Two of them were somewhat known to Darcy, from his dinner’s with the officers. They were Denny and Carter, annoying but otherwise inoffensive young officers. But the third....
Mr. Darcy drew in breath, in horror and shock.
He was the son of the late steward of Mr. Darcy’s father, and the two had grown up together, almost like brothers, at Pemberley, Mr. Darcy’s vast estate in Derbyshire.
But Wickham had turned out very wild, running into gaming debts and debauch wherever he went.
There were other reasons why the sight of him should be painful to Darcy but the most poignant was, perhaps the one that should have affected him less.
The last time they’d crossed paths — after Mr. Wickham’s almost successful attempt to convince Darcy’s younger sister, Georgiana, to elope — Wickham had told Darcy that if only Darcy hadn’t been so proud and thought himself above everyone, perhaps their friendship would have subsisted and perhaps Wickham would have had that moral support and guidance for the lack of which he’d become a villain.
From the way Wickham had flung the words out, Darcy was sure he had not the slightest idea of their being taken seriously.
But, in fact, they had haunted Darcy every day since then. He could see in his own aunt Catherine De Bourgh an impression of what unrestrained pride might do to the personality that let it run wild, like brambles upon fertile ground.
Seeing it, knowing it for a blemish upon his own character, Darcy had, since then, sought to husband it.
He thought he’d done well enough at it. The old Darcy would never have glanced at Lydia Bennet, seeing only the lack of restraint, the country manners that would have put him off.
But the new Darcy saw the innocent charm, the enthusiasm behind the manners, and felt drawn to that enthusiasm like a moth to .... well, to a flame, only not as fatally, Darcy hoped.
Only, right now, his flame’s enthusiasm was turned, with smiling face and intense dark eyes to Mr. Wickham.
Bingley, approaching the group, had engaged one of the Miss Bennet’s — not Kitty, but the self-contained blonde one — in conversation, now and then casting hopeful looks at Kitty who was engaged in a laughing tete-a-tete with a smirking Denny.
Darcy could not bring himself to join in the conversation, could not approach a group of which Wickham was part.
He took his hat off at the ladies, and bowed.
As he rode away, he heard Lydia’s loud, unrestrained voice say, "Oh, Mr. Darcy is fine enough. But he would look better if he were in the militia. I think a man looks nothing without a red coat."
Darcy rode away, puzzled by the sort of mind who thought the master of ten thousand a year and vast estates in Derbyshire should enlist in the militia.
Who did she think would look after his estates, then?
Young, he told himself. Young. She was only fifteen, younger even than Georgiana. No doubt, time would teach her better sense and better restraint. But, until then....
He shook his head. No, that would be the attitude of the old Darcy. The old Darcy would have written Lydia Bennet off without a second glance. The new Darcy must be more understanding.
He’d give her another chance.
The box had arrived by special parcel post — as tall as a woman (Carolyn Bingley) and as wide as an armoire, it was covered in orange flowers and tied with a gigantic orange bow.
Charles Bingley watched his sister receive it and call for the help to carry it upstairs.
"Carolyn," he said. "I thought we’d agreed you’d not order any new dresses for the season, since we are in the country and no great elegance is required."
Carolyn grinned at him. "I shall have a new dress at my wedding," she said.
Charles looked taken aback. "Your wedding? Your wedding? Is there...." He hesitated. "Has someone spoken to you of marriage. Have you accepted...." He looked visibly embarrassed. "I understand I’m only your brother, but I am the head of the family. Shouldn’t my consent have been applied for?"
Carolyn waved the idea of consent away, while two footmen, groaning under the weight of what must be a vast amount of ruffles and lace, carried the dress upstairs. "Oh, you’d never refuse your consent to your oldest and dearest friend."
"My oldest, dearest--" Bingley looked speechless.
Carolyn turned to follow the box.
"Am I to understand Darcy proposed to you?" Charles managed to ask.
Carolyn turned back, with a sly grin. "Well, not exactly. Not yet. But he undoubtedly will." She smiled indulgently at her brother. "Come off it, Charles. I heard your talk with Darcy in the library, about how you shall soon be brothers."
"But--" Charles said. "But--" He could not bring himself to say any ore. He could not, in cold blood, dash his sister’s bright expectations of happiness.
Feeling like a worm, a spineless worm, he covered his face with his hands, while his sister grinned.
"Oh, I daresay it was very wrong of me to listen," Carolyn said. "But, Charles, you were talking about me."
Charles bit his tongue. Bless him, if he knew how to get out of this bind.
"Pray, tell me," Wickham said, sitting beside Lizzy in the love seat in her aunt Phillip’s house. "Have you known Darcy long?"
Lizzy muttered something about his being the suitor of her sister Lydia and, other than that, her not having any opinion about him one way or another.
With which opening, Wickham preceded to pour into her ears the story of how Darcy, contravening his father’s will, had refused to give Wickham the legacy of a living which had been the elder Mr. Darcy’s intent that Wickham should have.
Shocked, shaken, Elizabeth stared at him. "But," she said. "No wonder he chose not to attend this assembly today because you would be here. The man is a monster. He deserves to be publicly exposed."
"He will be," Wickham said, his eyes following the younger Bennet sister, whom Elizabeth had said was Mr. Darcy’s intended. "He will be. But not by me. As long as I remember the father, I could not expose the son. And besides," he continued, raising his voice slightly, as Lydia edged closer. "I am happy enough. I have employment — I can’t bear to be idle! — and now I find myself in as pleasant a company as I’m likely to be in. So, you see, I forbid you to feel sorry for me."
"Lizzy," Lydia said, drawing close. "Why should you feel sorry for Mr. Wickham?"
"Because.... Because...." Wickham looked up, his eyes bright. "Because I haven’t had a dance these three weeks."
"Oh, Mr. Wickham," Lydia said, faced finally with a plight that she could understand. "Well, you shall have one now. "
And, shouting instructions at Mary to play something jolly, Lydia dragged Mr. Wickham away to dance.
Lizzy watched them go, with a pensive look.
Mr. Wickham was very dashing. Very pleasant she dared say.
But she was more worried about Mr. Darcy. Should her father be acquainted with Mr. Darcy’s villainous nature before he gave his consent to a match between Mr. Darcy and Lydia?
Seeing Mr. Collins making a bee line for Jane, who stood talking to Charlotte, Lizzy hurried to intercept him and — she blushed in doing something so crass — beg him to be her partner in the next dance.
Through the dance that her boldness earned her, while Mr. Collins punished her by treading on her feet, Lizzy felt as if saving her sisters from themselves were getting more and more complicated by the hour.
Kitty had to miss the assembly the next week. She had caught a dangerous cough that forced to stay at home, lest it should turn putrid.
Darcy watched, bemused, as his friend, Charles Bingley, seemingly forgetting all about Kitty after initial enquiries about her health, devoted himself to amusing the elder Miss Bennet.
True, Miss Bennet was very beautiful. Darcy could tell that. For this assembly, obviously not trying so hard as the first time, she wore a muslin dress ornamented with little green sprigs. It made her look very young and innocent and not nearly so inapproachable as the previous concoction of velvet and brocade.
Still, watching his friend flirt and talk with Miss Bennet, Darcy reasoned that she must be less approachable than Miss Kitty Bennet. Judging by the serenity of Miss Bennet’s countenance, her heart was not likely to be easily touched.
Which was just as well, considering Charles Bingley’s mutable interests. In the last year, he must have been in love with a good ten girls.
However, Darcy must confess that he didn’t feel quite as sanguine about his choice of Miss Lydia, himself.
She had been dancing most of the evening, and she couldn’t seem to talk to him for more than five minutes without their running into some topic that divided their opinions.
Darcy expressed his frustration with this to Charles, on the way home. "When I asked her if she knew Shakespeare, she told me that she scarce knew anything of Derbyshire society and I couldn’t expect her to know all of my acquaintance until I introduced her to them."
Charles Bingley chuckled. He looked flushed and happy.
"And then," Darcy continued, "When I asked if she were putting me on, or if she truly had no idea who Shakespeare might be, she asked me if he looked good in a red coat."
Charles’ chuckles had turned to guffaws. "I think you might have shot amiss this time," he said. "Really, Darcy. You cannot establish a friendship, much less love, with a woman who does not understand you." He sighed, and his eyes twinkled. "Now, the elder Miss Bennet...."
Darcy’s turn to laugh. "Oh, come off it, Charles. Only a week ago, you were in love with her sister."
Bingley smiled, with the serene look of a man contemplating childhood folly. "Ah, the pretty Miss Kitty. As time went on, I found her conversation somewhat vapid and vacant. Now, Jane, there’s a woman I could listen to forever."
Mr. Darcy sighed. "And no doubt you’ll be in love with Miss Elizabeth next week. You should thank the Bennets they had so many daughters."
But Charles frowned. "Miss Elizabeth? Oh, you mean the curly-haired one? I think not. She seems quite infatuated with that repulsive cousin of hers. But for that, I might have considered her a woman of taste and sensibility."
Darcy nodded. Thinking back on the party, he felt a tinge of regret at the thought of how Miss Elizabeth deported herself. "Yes, yes. No woman who pursues such a man in so determined a fashion can be a sensible woman."
Back at Longbourn, the two sisters gathered for a talk in Lizzy’s room.
Jane sat on Lizzy’s bed, while Lizzy brushed her hair at her vanity. Lizzy took the opportunity to tell Jane everything that Mr. Wickham had told her about Mr. Darcy.
Jane looked nonplused. "But, Lizzy, I can’t believe him to be so very bad. I mean, to not respect his father’s dying wishes, he would need to be a complete villain. I can’t think so badly of him."
Lizzy sighed, setting the brush down — it never did much good on her unruly curls, anyway, and she was afraid it might become permanently attached to them. "I can. I can more easily believe Mr. Darcy to be a villain than I can believe Mr. Wickham to have made up such a story. He gave me every particular. All the details..."
Jane smiled and said, with what was for her a most wicked twinkle, "I believe you like Mr. Wickham, Lizzy."
Lizzy blushed. "Indeed, I like him. I don’t see how anyone could not like him. There is something very open and honest about him."
But Jane’s face had resumed its serious cast. "But I can’t believe Mr. Bingley would be friends with such a man as Wickham describes Darcy."
Lizzy grinned. "And I believe you like Mr. Bingley, Jane."
"Oh, I do. I consider him...." She sighed. "The most agreeable man of my acquaintance."
Lizzy looked at Jane, her face all serious. "Take care, Jane. Don’t forget, last week he was courting Kitty."
Just then, Kitty’s voice was heard, from downstairs, "No, Mr. Collins. I do not wish to hear about the fireplace in the great room at Rosings."
Lizzy and Jane flinched and shared a commiserating glances.
In her mind, Lizzy tagged all the problems that she must solve.
First there was Mr. Collins. Distracting him from Jane was all very well, but Lizzy had no intention of marrying him. Much as she prized Jane and Jane’s goodness, there was a limit to what she would sacrifice for her sister’s happiness.
Second, there was Mr. Darcy. She suspected he might be getting ready to offer for Lydia. Before that, Lizzy must make sure to talk to her father about him and his dubious character. Lydia might be a flighty young girl, but nothing could be won by tying her to a black-hearted villain. In this, Lizzy knew she would be going against her mother, whose heart’s desire would be to close quickly on the offer of such a rich man.
Why, even now, Mrs. Bennet was browsing through leaflets and books about elegant weddings, planning the union of her youngest daughter with the richest man in Derbyshire.
Then there was Mr. Bingley. If he continued the way he was, Lizzy was sure that Jane would soon be very much in love with him. But he had favored Kitty not so long before. How could Jane find happiness with such an inconstant man?
Miss Bingley waited up, against Mr. Darcy’s return from the assembly. She had tried on her wedding dress and it looked well enough, though maybe a little pale with its white feathers and lace. She must order a nice orange bouquet to go with it.
But first, she must secure Mr. Darcy’s offer and find out where the wedding would be taking place, whether at Pemberley, as it was proper, or in London, where they had the most friends.
Really, having spoken of marrying her so many days ago, Mr. Darcy should have offered by now. However, as Caroline remembered from Louise’s own courtship, sometimes a man tarried and needed to be given a hint that his proposal would be well received.
After all, Mr. Darcy was a very proud man — all of the ton thought so — and he might not wish to expose himself to ridicule by having his proposal refused.
She sat in the library, and flipped through books she had no interest in. She always saw Mr. Darcy reading them, but she couldn’t understand what he found so fascinating in such dull subjects: Greek Philosophy, indeed. The Punic Wars — as if there weren’t enough modern wars to worry about. The Chronicles of Julius Caesar, as if anyone cared what those Italian people did. AND Shakespeare. Shakespeare. Two hundred years old.
When Caroline became Mrs. Darcy, she would have to introduce Mr. Darcy to more modern and relevant playwrights.
Finally, as her eyelids grew heavy, she heard the carriage draw up front.
Hastening towards the entrance hall, she heard Mr. Darcy say he would go to the library for a book before retiring. She expected this, as he did it every evening.
She waited, just out of sight of the front hall, while her brother said goodnight and hastened up the stairs.
Then, as Mr. Darcy entered the narrow hallway to the library, she emerged from the shadows. "Mr. Darcy."
Mr. Darcy jumped, startled, but recovered his countenance like a true gentleman and bowed to her. "Miss Bingley."
She giggled, as if he’d said something very funny. Which, of course, he hadn’t, but she had trouble containing her happiness at how happy she would make him by letting him know of her true feelings for him. "Oh, Mr. Darcy," she said. "You will forgive me talking to you this late at night, but really, there is an urgent matter we must discuss."
"There is?" he asked, staring at her as if he had no idea at all what she could be talking about.
She took his arm and started leading him to the library. There were things she would not wish to say in public. After all, there was no reason for the servants to know that Mr. Darcy had to be prodded into proposing. Let them think he’d asked her first.
After all, what business was it of the servants, anyway?
She pulled him to the library, with its gloomy shelves of leather bound books, its single candle, its dusty smell. Not the place she would choose for her proposal, but it would have to do.
Tomorrow, she could always make him repeat it in the rose garden, and that would be the proposal she would tell everyone about.
"Mr. Darcy," she began. "I know it’s not proper to ask, but really, if we are to make arrangements, I must know — Where would you like to have the wedding? At Pemberley? Or in London?"
"The wedding?" Mr. Darcy looked at her, eyes wide open, as if he could scarce understand a word she was saying.
"Oh, come, Mr. Darcy," she said, and smiled. "You know. The wedding."
He raised his dark eyebrows. "Whose wedding, Miss Bingley? I do not have the pleasure of understanding you."
She stomped her foot. "OUR wedding, Mr. Darcy. " She looked away and blushed, as she admitted, "I confess I heard your conversation with Charles, and your wish that you should be brothers. I understand you have not made me a formal answer, but...."
She paused, modestly, waiting for him to jump into the breech with protestations of ardent love and admiration.
When silence lengthened, she looked up.
Mr. Darcy stood where he was, and looked very odd indeed, as if he were about to have a fit of coughing, or perhaps .... but no, he could not be overcome with a desire to laugh.
However, his cheeks went in and out, and his lips trembled. At length, he seemed to get himself under control, and when he spoke, his voice was cold, "Miss Bingley," he said. "You presume too much. You are the last woman in the world I would ever marry. I couldn’t make you happy and I know you couldn’t make me so. Good night."
And on that, without further explanation, he bowed, and left the library.
Caroline stood, rooted to the spot, unable to understand the sudden collapse of all her hopes and dreams.
Darcy could not have said what she thought she’d heard. It must all be a terrible nightmare.
Early morning, steeling herself to the task, Lizzy knocked at the door to her father’s study, and went in.
Having announced that she meant to talk about "this business of Lydia’s," she proceeded to pour out her misgivings and what she’d heard of Darcy.
Mr. Bennet, forced to put his book down for this, listened with a skeptical look. "How good of Mr. Wickham to entertain you with the stories of his misfortunes," he finally said. "With such stories, who needs novels?"
Lizzy stopped, shocked. Ever before now, she’d considered her father such a sensible man. She stared. "But father, I really believe Mr. Darcy treated Mr. Wickham abominably."
"No doubt he did," her father said, and smiled. "No doubt he did, Lizzy. But Mr. Darcy might turn out to be no more of a black hearted villain than any rich person who insists on having his way."
"But Father, you cannot imply that you would consider his offer for Lydia."
"IF he offers for Lydia, yes, I shall consider it most happily. Only think, Lizzy. Lydia is a very silly girl, and she shall not rest, until she has money aplenty for pins and carriages and dresses. A respectable marriage would be the best way for her to attain such status."
"But Father, to marry such a man--"
Mr. Bennet resumed his book. "Please leave, Lizzy. I believe it will all turn out well."
Mrs. Bennet received a gold-edged invitation that day. She read it aloud to her girls, "If you’d do us the honor, la dee da, la dee da, of bringing your most charming family, and Mr. Collins also to a ball at Netherfield tomorrow evening." She grinned across the lunch table at her youngest girl but one, "Oh, Kitty, this is a compliment to you, you know."
She didn’t notice that Kitty ducked her head and looked doubtful.
"And you shall all have partners girls," she grinned at her brood. "You must have new dresses as soon as possible."
Lydia giggled. "Oh," she said. "New dresses. And hats."
Mr. Collins looked to Lizzy and Jane. "I shall look forward to this ball," he said, and leered.
"But should you go, sir?" Lizzy asked. "Would it be quite proper? Would your Bishop approve?"
"Your scruples do you credit, Cousin Elizabeth," he said, and turned the full stomach-churning intensity of his leer on her. "Indeed. But I cannot believe that ball of this kind, given by a respectable man to well-meaning people can have any evil tendencies. In fact," his leer achieved insulting proportions, "I am so far from objecting that I’ll ask for the hands of all my fair cousins for the dance. And I’d like to request yours in particular, Cousin Elizabeth, for the first two." He finished with little hissing sniggers.
Elizabeth was left in grim contemplation of the best method of reinforcing her dance slippers with steel. It was either that or be crippled for life, after two dances with Mr. Collins.
Louisa Hurst had not seen her sister, Caroline, at breakfast.
Since Caroline was usually an early riser, Louisa very much feared that she might be ill. Therefore, after breakfast, Louisa knocked on Caroline’s door.
She was answered by disconnected grunts and mumbled words.
Now, this was quite normal when Louisa knocked at her husband’s door. But NOT Caroline’s.
"Caroline? What is wrong?"
More grunts and murmurs.
Could Caroline be drunk? No. She didn’t drink. More likely in a fever.
But, trying the handle, finding it unlocked and opening the door, Mrs. Hurst found that her sister was only in a fever of packing.
All ten of the clothing trunks that Caroline had brought with her to Netherfield stood open, and into them Caroline was throwing dresses, hats, plumes and jewelry, in complete disregard of the famous volume The Art Of Good Packing, by Lady Catherine De Bourgh.
"Caroline. What’s wrong?"
"Thinks he can— Of all the— Honestly— He shall not have— Give him the pleasure of seeing me— What have I done with my orange scarf? Ah, there it is. He shall never— Never been so humiliated--"
"Caroline, you must tell me what’s wrong," Louisa said, alarmed. Her sister’s face was marked by recent tears and she looked like she’d spent the night awake. In her fireplace was an enormous mountain of ash. "What have you been burning?"
"Wedding dress," Caroline said.
"Which wedding dress?" Mrs. Hurst asked, fearing her sister had gone distracted. "Whose wedding dress?"
But Caroline only shook her head.
"And why are you packing?" Mrs. Hurst asked. "Surely you don’t mean to travel."
But Caroline looked up, and spoke in a very determined fashion, "I have a great desire to be in London tomorrow. I hope you and Mr. Hurst and Mr. Stephen Hurst will escort me. I’ll make it worth your while."
Now, here, a parenthetical remark must be made about the relationship between the two sisters. Though they were fraternal twins, yet Caroline had always held the ascendant over Mrs. Hurst, who found it very hard to deny anything to her stronger-willed sister. To that was added the inducement of making it worth Mrs. Hurst’s while.
Louise’s dowry had long since been drunk by her husband. But Caroline, by shrewd investment -- she was nothing if not a shrew -- had so far grown her own portion of her father’s estate, that she could indeed make it worth Louisa’s while to cooperate with Caroline’s schemes.
All Louisa could do was drop on Caroline’s still-made bed and object in a thread of voice, "But, we can’t go today," she said. "You know Charles counts on us for the ball tonight."
The argument swayed Caroline only slightly. She dropped the lid of the nearest trunk, and set on it, to squash her finery into submission. "We’ll leave directly after the ball, then."
Louisa nodded, wondering how Mr. Hurst and Mr. Stephen Hurst would take these news. Mr. Stephen Hurst had seemed so fond of that insipid girl, Mary Bennet.
The ball at Netherfield was all the neighborhood could have anticipated. The grand ball room sparkled with candles. The orchestra sounded heavenly.
If anyone noticed the tight lips and drawn countenance of Miss Caroline Bingley, as she greeted the guests, no one said anything.
Most people, like the Bennets, were too busy being greeted by and greeting their friends, admiring each other’s ball gowns, and, of course, dancing.
"So, Lizzy," Charlotte Lucas said, as she took her friend Lizzy by the arm — as much as anything, to prevent poor Lizzy from falling, as she was limping so badly after dancing with her cousin, Mr. Collins. "I see Mr. Darcy is not paying quite as much attention to Lydia."
Elizabeth Bennet looked at Mr. Darcy, who stood alone, in a corner of the room, glowering at everyone and particularly at Miss Bingley, who returned the favor in kind. Then she glanced at her younger sister, who stood by the dance floor, for once still, talking intently to Denny.
Was that a note that Denny had passed Lydia? Lizzy squinted, but she couldn’t quite see. "Yes, he is, Charlotte, and I can’t tell you how glad I am."
Charlotte, looking puzzled, primmed her thin lips. "How so? I thought your family would be congratulating themselves on the attentions of a man of such great fortune."
Lizzy sighed. "Ah, Charlotte, great fortune is not all. And I have heard from Mr. Darcy’s old acquaintance. Enough to tell you that he is the proudest, the most disagreeable--"
"Lizzy!" Charlotte yelled, looking over Lizzy’s shoulder.
Turning, Elizabeth saw that Mr. Darcy stood right behind her. He bowed stiffly. "Miss Bennet, I wonder if you would do me the pleasure of dancing the next one with me, if you’re not engaged."
Speechless, Lizzy sought for a way to decline. But she couldn’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t be awfully rude. She blushed, she lowered her gaze, and finally she stammered, "Thank you sir. I am not engaged."
Inside, she raged. The insufferable man. How dared he ask her to dance? And after paying such marked attention to her sister, so recently.
Oh, Mr. Wickham was right. Mr. Darcy was the darkest villain in the world.
Fitzwilliam Darcy couldn’t have said what he was feeling, or what had made him dance with Elizabeth Bennet.
He couldn’t say, except that he had stood there long enough, all alone — Miss Bingley not being in talkative mood, Bingley being engaged in conversation with the bewitching Miss Bennet, Mr. Hurst being in rather poor spirits (or rather, having had a lot of spirits) and Mr. Stephen Hurst being nowhere in sight — to start noticing that the second Miss Bennet had a lovely figure and a sparkling pair of dark, dancing eyes.
From such thoughts to asking her to dance was a small step, such as one takes, in the dark, without thinking, and that lands one in a room quite different from that in which one fell asleep.
He started realizing his mistake as he led Miss Bennet to the dance floor. She was so light, so perfect, her steps so graceful. And her hand in his felt like a feather.
Her other attributes too, nicely encased in a tight lace dress, were no less admirable than those of her younger sister. But in Miss Bennet’s case, Darcy found himself admiring more than the fact that she was rounded in places. Her smile, for instance, and the way her eyes sparkled. [ Though right then her eyes sparkled in a way that he didn’t know would often be employed by B-grade movie makers a couple of centuries in the future.] But she wasn’t smiling.
After they danced in silence for a while, she made some slight observation on
the dance. He replied, and was again silent, wondering at his own feelings and the lightness of her step, and how he could easily allow himself to fall for yet another Miss Bennet and how this time it might be serious.
After a pause of some minutes, she addressed him a second time with:
"It is your turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy.—I talked about the dance, and you ought to make some kind of remark on the size of the room, or the number of couples."
He smiled — her banter was certainly more interesting than her sister’s -- and assured her that whatever she wished him to say should be said.
"Very well.—That reply will do for the present.—Perhaps by and by I may observe that private balls are much pleasanter than public ones.—But now we may be silent."
That was more like it, the sparkle in her eye more like flirting. Knowing himself in danger and fearing to fall, yet he couldn’t prevent himself from tempting fate. He grinned at her, "Do you talk by rule then, while you are dancing?"
She seemed to mull it over. "Sometimes. One must speak a little, you know. It would look odd to be entirely silent for half an hour together, and yet for the advantage of some, conversation ought to be so arranged as that they may have the trouble of saying as little as possible."
He sensed something odd, as though Miss Bennet were deliberately insulting him. But why should she do that? What had he ever done to deserve her disdain? All right. He’d courted her younger sister. But it should have been obvious to anyone — except perhaps Miss Lydia and her Mama — that he wasn’t serious.
In a trembling tone, he asked, "Are you consulting your own feelings in the present case, or do you imagine that you are gratifying mine?"
"Both," replied Elizabeth archly; "for I have always seen a great similarity in the turn of our minds.—We are each of an unsocial, taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak, unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room, and be handed down to posterity with all the eclat of a proverb."
"This is no very striking resemblance of your own character, I am sure," said he. "How near it may be to mine, I cannot pretend to say.—You think it a faithful portrait undoubtedly."
"I must not decide on my own performance."
He made no answer, and they were again silent till they had gone down the dance, when he, at a loss for friendly conversation, asked her if she and her sisters did not very often walk to Meryton.
She answered in the affirmative, and, unable to resist the temptation, added, "When you met us there the other day, we had just been forming a new acquaintance."
Wickham. She’d been meeting Wickham. She was obviously pleased with Wickham. Darcy stared at the lovely dark eyes, wondering how it would be to have them smile on him. Wickham, no doubt had experienced that.
Wickham with his ease of address, his way of making friends wherever he went. Wickham whom Darcy had thought to emulate, without succeeding in doing more than almost becoming engaged to a hoyden. And yet Wickham, with his common touch, had sparked interest from Miss Lydia’s obviously more deserving sister. The world was not fair. "Mr. Wickham is blessed with such happy manners as may ensure his making friends—whether he may be equally capable of retaining them, is less certain."
"He has been so unlucky as to lose your friendship," replied Elizabeth with emphasis, "and in a manner which he is likely to suffer from all his life."
After that, Darcy could not account for the rest of the conversation. Hell, this obviously intelligent woman preferred Wickham to himself. What could he say for himself? He had lands and titles and exceedingly snobbish relatives, but what did all that matter, if he could never — as a snob or as an easy-going man — attract the attention of worthy women?
He returned Miss Bennet to her place, and bowed to her, all in a confusion of misery.
Miss Bingley caught his eye and, for a mad moment, he considered just asking her to marry him. She wasn’t wonderful, but she was probably the best he could ever get.
However, even miserable, Darcy was not that suicidal that he didn’t know what life with Caroline Bingley would be like. And, Lord knew, he might not have the good fortune to go deaf at an early age. Besides, Caroline would make Georgiana miserable and that Darcy could never allow.
Instead, he snatched a glass from the tray of a waiter who’d been headed towards Mr. Hurst. He drank it down in a single gulp. Then he drank another.
Sometime later, in an alcohol induced haze, he heard Mrs. Bennet say, "Ah, when Lydia marries Mr. Darcy, there will be a marriage. And that will throw the girls into the path of other rich men."
This time, when he intercepted the waiter, Mr. Darcy took the bottle and, in a way that would have made his aunt Catherine disown him forever, retreated to the corner to drink directly from the cut-crystal bottle.
In all his life, he’d prized sobriety. Maybe it was time he made some changes.
For Miss Mary Bennet, the evening had scarcely been less bewildering.
Upon arriving at the ball — quite proud in her new silk gown, and for once sure that she had someone to dance with her — she was immediately met by a nervous looking Mr. Stephen Hurst.
He danced the first one with her, and the second one too, and then he suggested they go out into the garden to take in the fresh evening air.
Mary agreeing, they soon found themselves amid the shrubbery.
"Miss Mary, I have to tell you something," Stephen finally said.
The way he said it was such that Mary’s heart sank, believing he was about to withdraw his earlier protests of affection.
Instead, he squeezed her hand with his sweaty one, "We are leaving for London tomorrow," he said. "And I fear I shall never see you again."
"Leaving?" Mary asked, scarce comprehending it. "For London? But, Mr. Bingley can hardly leave his house so soon after the ball."
"Not Mr. Bingley." Mr. Stephen Hurst shook his head. "Not Mr. Bingley at all. Miss Bingley, and her sister, my sister, Mrs. Hurst, and my brother. My brother and sister are being paid to go with her. Miss Bingley is in some heat to leave Netherfield. I do not know why." His voice had degenerated into a whine and there was a glittering suggestion of tears in his eyes.
Mary felt strangely calm and composed. Perhaps because she had never really expected romance, she’d never quite believed it was true. It was all the easier to see it dissolve now. "I see," she said. "I see you did not mean your earlier protestations to me."
"Oh, Miss Bennet, Mary. Oh. I did. I mean them. You are the woman I wish to spend my life with."
"And yet you’d go to London without me, and perhaps never see me again."
Stephen turned feverish grey eyes to her. "What else can I do? I am a second son. And even the first son has no great fortune. How am I to live? Where am I to stay, if I don’t go to London."
But Mary’s mind had revived. His voice, the tone of it saying he loved her, the despair of it, as he explained his circumstances. She must — MUST — secure him. This was true love, like Romeo’s and Juliet’s. She would allow no one to separate them. Of course, she also didn’t approve of suicide. Poison and a dagger. So very messy. And silly really. There were other ways around things. And Miss Mary, who read so much, found herself thinking through her problem with a lawyerly calm. "If we were married," she said. "Then perforce your brother would accept me. And Mr. Bingley would probably continue to support you in your studies. You saw how much he fawns on my sister Jane. Why, chances are we’d be doubly related. He’d not allow you to starve."
Mr. Stephen Hurst stared at Mary, uncomprehending, "Yes, but how are we to get married, like this, with no consent, no--" he stopped and his eyes widened further.
Because Miss Mary was smiling. "I think I have just enough saved," she said. "To hire a carriage to Gretna Green."
"Mary!" he said and blushed. "But, reputation in a woman is as beautiful as it is fragile. You cannot be too guarded towards the undeserving of the other sex."
But Mary smiled and took his arm. Her lace dress rustled seductively. And even she could tell that all of Stephen Hurst’s resistence melted as she whispered in his ear, "Aw, Stevie, you’re NOT undeserving."
Darcy woke up.
The room was dark and empty. Well, empty of all save Bingley, who paced back and forth across the ballroom’s polished floor, his steps echoing with the force of little explosions.
Darcy’s head ached. The room smelled of stale wine and sweat. "Bingley," he croaked. "For the love of God, stop that infernal noise."
"Oh, there you are, Darce. I wondered where you’d got to." Bingley stopped pacing two steps from Mr. Darcy. "What noise?" he asked.
"That," Darcy waved weakly. "Stomp, stomp, stomp."
Bingley looked puzzled. "Were you drinking?"
Darcy managed to open his eyes — a hard feat as someone seemed to have set a large stone on each eyelid, and poured sand between eyelids and eyes — and gave Bingley a blood-shot glare. "It’s no business of yours."
Bingley cackled. "By God, you were."
Darcy scowled. "I don’t see why this amuses you."
Bingley grinned, his smile brilliant enough to light a thousand such rooms. "Because perfect Darcy, Darcy the model of morality has got himself stinking drunk. Tell us why, Darce? Did the lovely Lydia refuse you? I noticed she left halfway through the ball."
"Miss Lydia Bennet. The girl you like."
Darcy’s head pounded. He wasn’t sure he’d ever like another human being again. Right then and there he viewed them as noisy, inconsequential creatures put in the world in order to aggravate his headache. "Don’t be ridiculous," he sneered. "I’d have nothing to do with that family. Their uncle is in trade and their mother— Their mother!" He remembered her tirade at the ball and shuddered.
But Bingley recoiled from his words, and stepped back. "Well," he said, stiffly. "Miss Bennet — Miss Jane Bennet — is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld and an angel of patience and modesty and.... and I want her to be my wife."
Darcy laughed, though it made his head hurt. "Your wife? Charles, you fall in love with a different woman each week. Only last week you worshiped her sister."
"It is quite forgotten," Bingley said, stiffly. "It never happened. Didn’t even Romeo forget Rosalyn when he met Juliet." He grinned. "I never saw true beauty till this night," he quoted, then cleared his throat, self-consciously. "Actually, of course, I knew her long ago, but--"
Darcy managed to pull himself up, unsteadily, and stand, glaring down at his friend. "You will not propose to this Miss Bennet," he said, ill tempered. "You will not propose to any Miss Bennet. I will not allow you to do this."
Bingley started a little, or perhaps just stepped back from Darcy’s alcoholic breath. But he squared his jaw. "I can’t see where it’s any of your concern, Mr. Darcy," he said.
"Of course it is my concern," Darcy said. "Because.... Because.... Because...." Normally, in his sane and sober state, Darcy would have been able to come up with plenty of reasons. But just then, his stomach realized he was standing up and, startled at the change in position, jumped full force towards his throat.
It was all Mr. Darcy could do, to make it to a window, before he was most undignifiedly sick.
As he recovered, he heard Bingley say, behind him, "I don’t quite see how you can give advice on anyone’s conduct. I don’t see why I should take your opinion. In fact, I think I’ll go ask for Miss Bennet’s hand now."
"Now?" Darcy croaked. "It’s the middle of the night."
But Bingley had a mad look in his eye. "Now. Right now. True love chooses not its hour."
He ran out of the room, screaming for his steward to saddle his horse.
Strange, Darcy thought. I’m the one who drinks and Bingley the one who acts drunk.
But all this was beyond him. He crept up to his bed and had just fallen into uneasy sleep when he was briefly awakened by the sound of Caroline’s trunks being dragged downstairs by three sleepy man servants.
He heard the thumping and the men’s complaints at the weight, and it all resounded in his head like shots of pain.
Covering his head with his pillow and moaning, he fell into an oblivion not totally devoid of images of Miss Elizabeth Bennet dancing light and poised, like a spirit of the air — so perfect, so beautiful, so unattainable.
At the same time that Mr. Darcy struggled with his conscience and his aching head; at the same time that Mr. Bingley harassed his stable help into saddling a horse in the middle of the night; at that very time, the Bennet household found itself in unprecedented uproar.
Always, ever since she’d been a very little girl, Mary had been forgotten by both her parents. Mr. Bennet favored his two older, sensible daughter. Mrs. Bennet favored her two pretty, flighty younger daughters. In the middle, forgotten, Mary had always been left to do pretty much as she pleased. And, up till now, what she pleased was reading and quoting boring maxims. None of which was conducive to disgracing the family.
But this night, upon returning from the Netherfield Ball, all other four sisters had retired to their rooms, Lizzy expounding on Mr. Darcy’s odiousness, Jane speaking brightly of how pleasant a man Mr. Bingley was, and Lydia and Kitty giggling and talking of officers. Through it all, Mr. Collins had tried to interject compliments, mostly to Jane but often to no one in particular. Mrs. Bennet had raved about lace and silks and gowns and how great, how important they would all be when Lydia married Mr. Darcy.
It wasn’t till an hour after going to bed, that Lizzy woke up and, staring at the white ceiling of her room, mentally recapped the evening and their journey home and realized that she hadn’t seen Mary since halfway into the ball.
"Mary," she said, sitting up in bed, startled. "Mary."
Something she could not explain made her heart beat faster, her palms sweat. Something had happened to Mary. Something. She was sure of it.
Getting out of bed, while her rational self sneered and mocked -- because what COULD have happened to mousy, stay-at-home Mary? — she stumbled, in the middle of the night, to her sister’s room, and felt her uncertain way to the bed, only to find it made, the cover neatly tucked as Mary always left it.
Frantically, she ran her hands over the cover again and again, trying to feel for the body that wasn’t there.
Her hand closed on a small piece of paper and she stopped.
Clutching the paper, she made her way back to her room, and, standing by the window, read by the moonlight, what words she could make out.
"Dear family," the letter read. "Do not worry yourselves on my account. Circumstances dictated that Mr. Stephen Hurst and I should get married with all possible speed and — regretfully — without asking consent. Do not trouble yourselves to recover me. We have gone to Gretna Green and I shall soon be back, married, and the happiest of women, as Mrs. Stephen Hurst."
Lizzy read the paper over and over, again and again, but her brain refused to believe it.
Years later, she wouldn’t be able to remember rousing her family or reading the letter to them. She meant only to read it to Jane, to wake Jane up and read her the letter.
But, somehow, alarm propagated through the house.
Mrs. Bennet stood up crying that they were all ruined and Mr. Bennet, pale and drawn in his white night shirt and night cap looked like an older Macbeth bound for slaughter. Jane urged everyone to calm and quiet because Mary and Stephen were sensible and loved each other. Kitty, big eyed and scared looking, hid in a corner of the room.
Mr. Collins’ snore resounded through the room.
And in the middle of the emotional scene, while Mary’s letter got passed around, Lizzy mentally counted her sisters, wondering why — with all the din — it seemed yet very quiet.
Then she realized it, and yelled, "Lydia. Lydia."
Mr. Bingley had no doubt at all of what he was going to do, and the fact that he had no doubt almost scared him.
Riding through the fields in the dark of night, he thought only of Jane who looked exactly like an angel come down from heaven and who was all goodness and kindness.
Mr. Bingley had no experience of many kind women and having finally found one decided he must secure her. He must secure her as soon as may be.
Only half way there did he start wondering if he’d be waking up the Bennets.
Still, he could not go back. He could not go back and face Darcy and admit to any loss of resolution. No. He’d sleep at the door to Longbourn if that’s what it took and propose first thing in the morning.
But, drawing closer to Longbourn, he realized that this would be quite unnecessary. Every window in the Bennet house showed light. From one of them, on the northwest corner, curtains floated outward in the breeze, and a little rope ladder hung to the ground.
Closer still, words reached Mr. Bingley’s ears.
"Oh, Mr. Bennet, Mr. Bennet, we are all ruined."
"Mama, calm yourself."
"I’m sure they love each other and will be very happy."
"Oh but Mary! Lydia. My dear, dear girls. Who will fight Darcy and Hurst and make them marry? Mr. Bennet, you must fight them. You must. Only don’t get killed or we’ll be turned out to starve in the hedgerows."
"Calm yourself Mrs. Bennet," Mr. Bennet’s peremptory shout.
Mr. Bingley slowed his horse’s gallop to a canter. Darcy? Hurst? Darcy was drunk as a Lord in the Bingley ball room. And Hurst.... Well, Hurst had a wife. Who could he be forced to marry? And Miss Mary Bennet? Who would marry Miss Mary Bennet, forced or not?
Leading his horse apace to the source of this puzzling noise, Mr. Bingley thought there must be a good explanation, for the Bennet’s were very good people and wouldn’t needlessly smear his friend and his brother in law.
It was the letter found on Miss Lydia Bennet’s bed that tore it. It read, "I’m going to Gretna green, and if you can’t tell with whom, then you’re all simpletons. Don’t worry about me. My sisters will be disappointed at not being bridesmaids, but that can’t be helped. I’ll be with the man I adore. Your daughter, Lydia Bennet (for now. But I’ll soon trade it for a better sounding name.)"
Mrs. Bennet, hands over mouth, started screaming immediately, while what color remained to Mr. Bennet drained, leaving only a marble-like hardness to his look.
Lizzy put her hands to either side of her hips. Darcy. She knew it. Darcy. Mary was all her fault, of course. She hadn’t even thought that Mary was in danger. But Lydia! She’d tried to protect Lydia from Darcy. If only Lizzy’s father had listened to her.
Well, there was only one thing to be done now, and Lizzy was ready to do it.
She doubted the two would be gone very far from Netherfield. Maybe the villain had even thought to keep her sister there for the night. He struck her as the sort of man who might very well take his comfort even in this, selfish as he was.
She would go to Netherfield and recover her sister. That’s what she’d do.
She went to the stables and saddled Nan, and climbed on the nag, without even thinking to change out of her white nightshirt.
Riding like the wind past a very-slow-moving Mr. Bingley, she didn’t think of what an odd spectacle she must present but only, "what is HE doing here?"
Bingley saw Elizabeth Bennet ride off, with a puzzled look. The poor girl, he thought. She must be sleep riding. How she could sleep with all this noise her family was making, he didn’t know.
The noise was now explained, though. They must be shouting to try to wake her.
He was glad HIS Jane was tainted by such aberrations.
Thus thinking, smugly, he knocked on the door.
The door was thrown open by a housekeeper who looked frazzled and sour.
"Mr. Bennet," Bingley said. "I would like to see Mr. Bennet and er.... Miss Bennet but not, er, in that order."
The housekeeper had the look of a person who has resigned herself to insanity.
She took his hat and conducted him into the house where the sight of Mrs. Bennet, her hair loose down her back like a golden cascade and her lace nightgown molding her figure more than any dress, made Mr. Bingley blush and his heart race faster.
He smiled at her, a big smile. "I came— I mean, Miss Bennet, if you’re not engaged, I wonder if you’d marry the next one with me.... I mean, marry me.... I mean...." The poor man hardly knew what he said, staring into his beloved’s blue, blue eyes.
But Jane seemed to understand his stammering. She put her hands forward and walked a step towards him. She smiled her angelic smile. "I am not engaged sir," she said. "I mean, I would love to be. I mean...."
Bingley stretched his hands towards her and they would surely have held hands except for Mr. Bennet stepping between them. "What do you think you’re doing sir?" he asked Bingley.
"I.... sir.... I would very much like to marry your daughter, Miss Bennet."
"Jane? Marry Jane?" Mr. Bennet’s eyes flashed indignant disbelief. "No, dear sir. I wouldn’t trust you nearer my daughters than the village. No. You shall not marry her. Nor any of my other daughters, before you ask."
"I do not wish to marry your other daughters. Only Jane."
"NO," Mr. Bennet shouted. He had the wild, insane look of a man whose inner springs of reason have dried up, or at least do no more than trickle softly onto the sands of his madness. "No. Oh, no. I have at last learned to be cautious. Marry? None of my daughters shall marry. I have learned to be cautious. No soldiers shall visit this house, or even pass through the village. No men shall ever come near them. Balls are strictly forbidden, unless they stand up with one of their sisters. And none of them will stir out of the door until they can prove to me that they’ve spent ten minutes that day in a rational pursuit."
This last sentence was too much for Kitty, who burst into loud sobbing.
Mr. Bennet seemed to notice this, as he hadn’t the horrified looks of his other daughter or his wife wailing, "Oh, let her marry Bingley Mr. Bennet, for otherwise Collins will turn us out of this house, and we’ll all be ruined."
Mr. Bennet’s eyes paused on his youngest daughter present with something like amazement. "Oh, Kitty," he said, softly and tried to smile paternally — only he was very far from the state in which a man can smile credibly without looking like a mass murderer. "Don’t distress yourself my dear. If you’re good for the next ten years, I’ll take you to a review."
Kitty shrieked, stomped her foot in fury, and ran, screaming, down the hallway and up the stairs to the bedroom level.
Seconds later, Mr. Collins’ thunder-like snore stopped.
"Well, that’s torn it," Mr. Bennet said. "She woke the toad." And, turning his same helpful countenance to Bingley that he tried to turn on his daughter, he said, "You see, dear sir, you cannot marry Jane because I’m sure you will be your friend’s second in the duel over my daughter Lydia. Yes. I can’t have you for a son in law, because how would it then look if I shot you. So you must be patient. After the duel, you can marry Jane. Unless you’re dead, in which case, of course, you shouldn’t, though I read in this Russian book...."Prattling with a horrible amiability that could only arise from a profoundly disturbed mind, he led a shocked, scared Bingley to the door and out of it to the dark night and his waiting horse.
The whole episode had been so strange that it was halfway to Netherfield before Bingley fully comprehended that he’d been refused.
Lizzy got to Netherfield, and found it dark and slumbering.
It would have deterred her at any other time, but now she was in no mood for it. "Neither dark of night," she told herself. "Nor being in a nightgown, nor the deviousness of Mr. Darcy shall keep Lizzy Bennet from defending her sisters."
Thus muttering, she knocked at a side door.
She didn’t know this side door was right underneath the window to Mr. Darcy’s chamber.
Mr. Darcy woke up with a frightful thunderstorm.
At least he thought it was a thunderstorm. One of the most awful ones he’d ever heard, the claps resounding through the house with a force to make the walls tremble and the doors buckle.
And, with the thunderclaps, there was an unearthly voice, a voice he could hardly believe was from this world, a voice not unlike that of the second Miss Bennet.
Upon opening his eye a fraction of an inch, against what appeared to an elephantine weight installed upon his eyelid, Mr. Darcy tried to focus on the words that angelic — if ever so slightly hysterical voice was saying. Presently he distinguished, "Open up within." And, "Unhand my sister, you villain."
The only thing Darcy’s alcohol-beclouded brain could make of all this was that Bingley had lost his mind and eloped with the fair Jane, or possibly kidnaped her when Jane refused to be the object of a man who but so recently pined for her younger sister.
"Idiot," Darcy thought, and mumbled something very like "‘ni’niot" because his tongue didn’t seem to fully obey the commands of his brain. His mouth tasted like an unswept stable. But through it all, he was fairly sure that Bingley had been an idiot and, in all the tender mercies of male friendship, thought up several curses for Bingley’s less than normal brain.
"Should have listened to me," he thought. What he said sounded like a disconnected series of grunts, which we’ll refrain from reproducing. "Should have listened to his best and oldest friend. What would have happened to his dumb behind if I weren’t forever pulling it out of trouble."
The thunder — which Darcy now perceived to be the sound of fists pounding on a door — and Miss Bennet’s shrill demands continued.
There was no sound of a servant stirring, no sound of anyone going to open the door. Of this Darcy was soon, because to his sensitized ears and head, the sound of a mouse creeping across the floor would be too loud.
"Idiot," Darcy thought, sitting up. "If that idiot didn’t allow his servants to do as they pretty much please, they would have some respect, and I wouldn’t have to get up."
He held his head between his hands, fairly sure that, but for that precaution, said part of his anatomy would into and — possibly — allow the emergence of a fully armed woman from within (like Zeus birthing Athena from his cranium.)
But no, the fully armed woman was outside, Darcy thought, as Miss Bennet’s voice shrieked, "if you had any honor you’d open this door."
He flinched, not so much from the words but from the shrillness, and rather hoped than believed that Miss Elizabeth Bennet wouldn’t be fully armed.
Standing up, he let the covers drop and realized he was naked, though he couldn’t remember undressing.
Casting about for his dressing gown, he grabbed it from the back of a chair and, slipping it on, descended the back stairs — which the servants SHOULD have been using — to open the door to Miss Bennet.
As he opened the door he realized that what he’d mistaken for his dressing gown was indeed his evening jacket — just long enough to serve the demands of absolute modesty, but leaving his chest and most of his muscular legs exposed.
His appearance stopped Miss Bennet’s shrieks for a moment.
To be honest, they stopped her thoughts.
It was only, after all, the normal reaction of a respectable young lady upon being confronted by a so called gentleman who’d bothered to wear no more than his jacket.
At least she thought he didn’t have on more than his jacket. It wasn’t like she wanted to enquire upon the presence or lack of his underwear. She cleared her throat and blushed, and if thoughts about the exceptional curliness of the chest hair visible through the jacket’s upper opening or the exceptional shapeliness of the muscular legs visible beneath the jacket, crossed her mind, it must be excused and put down to her most dreadful shock.
For it wasn’t every day that a woman saw a man wearing only an evening jacket — was he wearing only an evening jacket? — and it wasn’t every day — she certainly hoped not — that a woman saw a man who looked as .... um.... muscular as Mr. Darcy. At least Miss Elizabeth Bennet hoped it wasn’t every day, for should this be a common sight, she wasn’t sure she could respond for either her respectability or sanity in the future.
Indeed, her shock — and rambling imaginings — were such upon beholding Mr. Darcy in this state of undress that for the first time Miss Elizabeth was thwarted in one of her determined pursuits.
She completely forgot what she’d come for and stood there, becomingly flushed, in her white lace nightgown, one hand holding the reins of the family horse, old Bessy, who, at any rate lacked both the energy and the interest to wander off.
Lizzy stood still so long in fact that Mr. Darcy had time to compose himself and bow most correctly — fortunately she wasn’t behind him, or the correctness of the situation would have been, we’re sorry to report, somewhat impugned — and said, "Miss Elizabeth Bennet. How may I help you?"
Darcy was very surprised at the words emerging from his mouth. Not only because they were normal words, not a series of grunts and smacks, but because he wasn’t thinking anything so civilized.
What he was thinking, the words running in a continuous loop through his mind was, "she is an angel. Idiot Bingley. Jane an angel? No possible way. This is an angel." He thought it over and over again, while his gaze took in the lace nightgown that had slipped most becomingly off the shoulder, and the curly hair in wondrous, unstudied disarray that not the most skilled stylist could have made more becoming, and the eyes — Elizabeth Bennet’s flashing brown eyes.
While he was thus watching, she stomped her dainty bare foot on the dirt path, and her eyes flashed more amazingly than ever. "You need not try to put me off, you villain," she said. "For I know you’ve taken my sister Lydia, and you’re hiding her somewhere here."
But let’s leave Lizzy with her flashing eyes, and Mr. Darcy who might, accidentally flash her at any moment, and pursue the fate of another member of the family.
Not fair Jane who, stunned and worried is tending to her mother with salts and patience. Not Mr. Bennet who has retreated to the library and a medicinal glass of Port — but Kitty.
When last seen, the youngest-but-one Bennet girl was desperately in pursuit of the marriage that her father said he’d never allow to his remaining daughters.
Judge the extremity of her despair, when we tell you that she marched to Mr. Collin’s room and, with amazon like force, pulled the covers off the snoring, grunting amphibian.... we mean parson, of course.
Mr. Collin woke up, and sat up in bed and, by the convenient light of the moon coming through the window, saw a beautiful woman standing by his bed.
Now, this situation was not totally unknown to Mr. Collin. He had often dreamed of it, in fact, with such vivid intensity, that he could find nothing new in the actual event.
Besides, his mother had been comely — or at least people didn’t run screaming when they saw her — and she’d often visited him in his room when he’d been an infant. Or at least he thought so, though his only memory of his mother was of her looking at him and shaking her head, while muttering something about, in retrospect, feeling all the material advantages that a little infidelity might have bestowed on the family line.
Right then, Mr. Collin simply blinked his porcine little eyes, and opened his mouth in astonishment, on recognizing his fair cousin, Miss Kitty, and upon listening to what Miss Kitty had to say.
"You’re getting up," she said. "And getting dressed. We’re going to Gretna Green and getting married forthwith."
Mr. Collin, who was fairly sure that eloping with one of his fair cousins was NOT what his noble patroness had in mind for his visit to Longbourn, tried to make some sounds in favor of reason and decorum.
But Miss Kitty’s eyes flashed — she’d been taking lessons from Miss Elizabeth — and she stomped her foot — obviously she had — and said, "We’re getting married and that’s all you need to know. I’m not going to be an old maid for nobody."
Miss Bennet had looked under the bed, and in the closet of Mr. Darcy’s room, and was now engaged into peering in his jacket pockets.
"You can believe I’m carrying her in my pocket," Mr. Darcy said, exasperated, as he stood in the middle of his room, feeling somewhat put upon and somewhat flattered, because he could have sworn looking in his pockets was just an excuse to take a closer look at his chest, that he kept in shape and muscular through regular fencing and swimming.
Miss Bennet blushed and backed off. "This is most vexing," she said. "Have you perhaps hidden her in one of the servant’s rooms?"
"My dear Miss Bennet," Darcy said. "Why would I stop here mid-elopement, anyway. And why would I hide her in a servant’s room if I meant to marry her?"
Elizabeth stared at him. "But, this is most vexing," she said. "Mr. Wickham warned me about you and your ways. I should have seen this coming."
"Mr. Wickham?" Darcy said, as enlightenment dawned.
Fully dressed, being dragged down the backstairs, Mr. Collin still tried to protest.
But he could do nothing as Miss Kitty dragged him to the stables, where she had already harnessed their second-best horse to the curricule.
However, considering the state of the Bennet’s second best horse, Mr. Collin did not take long to realize that he could easily jump from his conveyance.
Which he took the opportunity to do, midway to Meryton.
He headed through the fields, in the dimly remembered direction of Lucas house.
As he ran, he heard running steps behind him and realized, in fear, that Miss Kitty had thought to abandon her horse and run on foot. A much faster conveyance.
Then he heard a horse’s hooves, and a male voice cry out, "holla, what’s here?"
"This, Miss Bennet," Darcy said, managing to look very correct despite his state of unrest. "Is my full account of my dealings with Mr. Wickham." He’d just told her everything, from Wickham’s attempt at milking him for money, to Wickham’s near-seduction of Georgiana.
Miss Elizabeth Bennet had gone pale enough for her cheeks to match her nightgown. "But if this is true," she said. "Then Wickham must have taken Lydia. That means she’s ruined forever and we must partake of her disgrace."
Mr Darcy retained just enough sense to go wake up Bingley’s butler — who was ever so slightly dismayed at Darcy’s attire — and get Miss Bennet a restorative glass of wine. After which, he saw her to Bingley’s carriage, and on her way to Longbourn, with her horse trotting behind.
As for Mr. Darcy, he washed his face and head in freezing water to dispel the last remains of drunkenness. He MUST trace Wickham and make him marry Lydia.
Kitty stopped her desperate running, as a very handsome man, mounted on a very handsome horse, stopped in front of her.
She recovered her breath just enough to point in the general direction of Mr. Collin’s flight and say, "Follow that toad."
But the gentleman, who rather resembled a Greek god in riding habit, raised an eyebrow and asked, with cynical humor. "Why? You can not want him."
Mr. Henry Crawford, trying to get as far away from the scene of his recent debacle with Mrs. Rushworth, suddenly found himself, amid country fields, staring at a very pretty young woman who, nonetheless, seemed to be out of her wits.
He could swear she was just pursuing a fat, disgusting parson.
But it couldn’t be true. She looked so rational.
Even as he thought this, the lady asked, "Are you married, sir?"
"Me?" he asked. "Me? Oh, no." He laughed. "I have a low view of the marriage state."
The young lady rummaged through a giant bag on her arm.
Presently she withdrew a large pistol. "I think, sir," she said. "That you’re about to change it." She said. And then, incomprehensibly, "Ten years. Phui. A review. Phui. We shall see about THAT."
Mr. Bingley rode home in a state of righteous anger. Well, to begin with in a state of confusion, which changed to a state of righteous anger the closer he got to Netherfield and to round astonishment before he ever got into the building.
Mr. Hurst had run away with Mary Bennet. Mr. Hurst! No wonder Louisa and Carolina and all had cleared out so quickly. They probably wanted to hide Louisa’s shame. And as for Darcy--
Bursting into the house, he carelessly stomped to Mr. Darcy’s bedroom, and pounded on the door.
Mr. Darcy opened the door.
He was attired in a most odd way, in a proper dinner jacket, but with apparently nothing beneath. And his hair was dripping wet. He held a towel in his hand and looked at Bingley out of blood-shot eyes. "Yes?" He rasped, impatiently.
"I want Miss Lydia Bennet," Bingley said, having gone cold with fury. He’d been rejected. He’d been rejected all because of the marauding ways of his friends and relatives. "I want Miss Lydia Bennet."
Darcy did an obvious double take and opened and closed his mouth, like a fish out of water. He could be heard to mutter something under his breath that Bingley would swear was "D--n, and I thought I was drunk."
"You heard me," Bingley insisted. "I want Miss Lydia Bennet."
"Well, all right man," Darcy said. "Though I could swear earlier on you wanted her sister Jane. You can’t quite have an harem, you know, illegal and all that. Though I never quite understood why, since an harem would probably be its own punishment— what?"
This last said because Bingley had stepped into the room, his hands bent like claws and aimed at his best friend’s neck. "I-want-you-to-unhand-Miss-Lydia-Bennet."
Darcy held Bingley’s wrists keeping the fingers of doom at bay. "Oh. You thought I had her? I don’t, Bingley, though I think Wickham might."
"Wickham?" Bingley asked, weakly, ceasing his struggle.
"Yes, yes. At least that’s what Miss Elizabeth Bennet and I think."
"Wickham?" Bingley said again. "I was rejected because of your father’s never do well protegee?" He blinked. "Not you."
"Not me, old boy," Darcy said, cheerfully. "And it’s no use at all to ask to look in my jacket pockets, because Miss Bennet already did. I don’t have Lydia in there?"
"In your pockets?" Mr. Bingley wrinkled his forehead, trying to follow the reasoning, or lack thereof, of his friend.
"Yes. I don’t, I mean. Have her in there. Miss Elizabeth checked.... ahem.... most thoroughly."
He looked so smug that Bingley almost strangled him again, but he couldn’t muster the strength to raise his hands. "Oh, d--n," he said. "Mr. Bennet rejected me. What am I to do? I must have Jane."
"Well," Darcy said. "You and I must find Wickham and make him marry the strumpet — I mean, Miss Lydia — and then when her parents are grateful, we marry them."
"Them?" Bingley asked. "The parents?" After all that Darcy had said, this seemed perfectly logical.
Darcy looked shocked. "Of course not. Are you drunk? I mean Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth Bennet." He grinned at the stunned Bingley. "Now, let’s go. I’ve asked your butler to have breakfast served early." And as he spoke, he tried to lead Bingley out of the room.
This was too much for Mr. Bingley. Even sleepless, love struck and frustrated, he still knew what was proper. "Um... could you put on more decent.... attire?"
Darcy looked on himself. "Of course," he said. "Of course. Can’t wear a dinner jacket to breakfast, can I?" And, grinning like a lunatic, he went within to change.
Elizabeth got back home to find that the situation hadn’t improved. On the contrary. As she came in, her mother was throwing herself to the floor and flopping about. "Kitty," she screamed. "Kitty. My salts. Jane, you must fetch me my salts."
"Mama," Jane was saying. "I’m sure she only left with Mr. Collins and no woman in her right mind would ELOPE with Mr. Collins. Besides, he has too much devotion to his living to do such a thing. Indeed, what would his Bishop think?"
"Kitty?" Lizzy asked, approaching Jane. "With Mr. Collins?"
Jane looked harried, as she waved a giant bottle of salts under her mother’s nose. "‘tis true, Lizzy. They left out the back door while we were all... occupied." And, despite her reassurances to her mother, Jane looked worried.
Lizzy felt worried too. Kitty and Mr. Collins. No. It wasn’t possible. There were laws — natural laws, for one — about marrying outside one’s species.
She’d understood Kitty to be upset, but no one could be that upset. She pictured Mr. Collins in her mind and shuddered. Suicidal people, fished out of the rivers in which they’d tried to drown were not that upset.
"Where is father?" she asked.
"I believe he is in the library," Jane answered, waving the bottle again just in time to forestall a scream of, "Mygirls,allmygirlsaredisgracedIshallruninsane."
Lizzy knocked at the door and went in, and quickly related to her dejected father the substance of her talk with Mr. Darcy.
Mr. Bennet heard her in silence, then sighed. "I’m afraid it is worse than we expected then, for Mr. Wickham does not have a reputation to preserve. Had she gone with Mr. Darcy... Well.... I want you to know, Lizzy, that you were justified in your warnings to me and I was a fool for not listening to you.
On such sad reflection, Lizzy had to be contented to go to bed.
And in her bed she reflected on Mr. Darcy. She was sure he hadn’t noticed how he exposed himself to her notice when he walked up the stairs ahead of her. Did he?
The memory of his muscular anatomy kept Lizzy awake well into the night.
How could a man who looked like that be undeserving? Surely, at the bottom of it, fundamentally, Mr. Darcy must be more amiable than she’d given him credit for.
Mr. Henry Crawford was in a muddle of emotion.
His beautiful unknown had climbed up behind him, without ever losing her aim on his head.
She now held the pistol — its muzzle cold and hard — against the back of his neck.
"Miss.... um.... miss," he said. "You can’t mean to marry me. I’m a stranger. Um.... a stranger with an unsavory reputation. That’s it. Unsavory. And scandalous."
The gun pressed harder against his neck. "Ask me if I care," she said. "I thought I told you to get this horse at a gallop. It’s Scotland we should be doing to, and what if I’m pursued?"
Mr. Crawford should be afraid. He knew he should be afraid. And he was. We confess that there were fibrillations of fear and palpitations of terror within his heart. After all, he knew nothing about this girl — such, as, for instance, if she was given to sudden fits of sneezing — who held a gun against him. And.... And she could fire at any minute.
But, mingled with a terror was a most strange tingle, a feeling of excitement, of being alive, such as he’d never experienced before.
Even he couldn’t quite make sense of it.
"I seduced a married woman," he yelled. "I unsavory and.... and unreliable."
"Not after we’re married," she said, seductively. The gun pressed closer to the back of his neck. He was sure it would leave a bruise. "I’ll make a gentleman out of you."
Suddenly, Henry Crawford understood. He’d known a number of coquettes and flirts, like Mrs. Rushworth. He’d known a saintly woman like Fanny. He’d enjoyed the first and thought he loved the last, but no....
If he’d loved Fanny, truly loved her, he’d never have been able to betray her.
No. What he loved was danger. Danger was what had led him to seduce married women. Because their husbands might take a gun to him.
He turned back, slowly, to look at Miss Kitty Bennet, and saw her maddened eyes at the other end of the gun.
And for the first time in his life knew love in the only form he could understand it.
"Gretna Green," he whispered. "Right now, my love."
"Well, Lizzy," Mrs. Bennet said at breakfast. "What do you think of this sad business of our Jane?"
Lizzy stared around the more-than-half empty breakfast table, where Lydia, Mary and Kitty were all missing.
Frankly, she wasn’t sure what Mrs. Bennet could be talking about.
Jane, sitting at her place looked demure and well, if a little tired around the eyes.
"To think she could be Mrs. Bingley by now," Mrs. Bennet said. She shot a venomous look at her husband. "It would be such a comfort to me. But your father is determined to ruin us all."
Mr. Bennet looked up from the paper and shot her a bewildered look.
"My consolation is that I’m sure that Mr. Bingley will die of a broken heart, and then Jane will kill herself over his grave. And then your father will be sorry."
Mr. Bennet looked at Lizzy. "Life holds few distinctions, dear Lizzy," he said, by way of conversation. "But I think we can safely say I married one of the silliest women in all of Britain."
Mrs. Bennet stared at him agape. "You married another woman? Oh. Jane. My smelling salts. Your father is bigamous."
Before Jane could get the smelling salts, though, or before the stunned Lizzy could decide whether her mother was being sarcastic or just silly, a footman came with a note.
Mr. Bennet opened it and, despite his depressed spirits, guffawed aloud. "Lizzy, you’ll never believe this," he said. "Charlotte Lucas is engaged to Mr. Collins."
Mrs. Bennet erupted in loud weeping, from which "starving in the hedgerows" emerged.
Over it, Lizzy could be heard to exclaim, "But I THOUGHT there were laws against marrying someone from another species. And an amphibian, yet."
Her father paused and said, thoughtfully. "I wonder who Kitty truly eloped with. Ah, it doesn’t signify. It can’t be worse than Wickham or more repulsive than Mr. Collins."
The first ones to return to throw themselves on parental mercy were Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Hurst.
They erupted into the house, two days after, early in the morning, looking like young people whose conscience had ridden them all the way back.
"Where is my father?" Mary asked, coming in the house with Mr. Hurst --who was quickly getting used to the married man’s role — trailing behind her, half alarmed at her anxiety. She pushed past Lizzy and Jane. "I must see my father."
And with that, the obviously suicidal lady knocked on her father’s library door.
"Yes?" Mr. Bennet asked from within.
"Father, I must talk to you," Mary said, opening the door.
At that they both froze, staring at the other.
Mary because she’d never before seen her father in nightcap and powdering gown and, to own the truth, was having some trouble repressing her laughter.
Her father because Mary had never, that he remembered, in his entire life, spoken directly at him. Not unless it was in a proverb.
And he was fairly sure she hadn’t said, "It is a truth universally acknowledged that girls who have eloped must talk to their fathers." So he stared at her, open mouthed, wondering who this stranger was, and what she’d done with his shy and very silly daughter.
After a while, he recovered enough to push his spectacles back — he would need all his power of vision to examine the new Mary — and say, not without a small edge of fear, "Yes, Mary."
Mary took a deep breath. She was still having trouble not laughing. "Well, father," she said. "Well, father." She took another deep breath. She heard her dearest Stephen step up behind her. Her father might decide to challenge Stevie for a duel. No. It must not be permitted. Stevie was sensitive and delicate and would probably faint at the sight of guns. "Father, I know you probably have said you don’t want my name pronounced again in your presence, but do not do anything rash, until we’ve told you why we decided to take such a shameful step as eloping."
Mr. Bennet still stared at her, then at Stevie. He cackled — a most awful, hollow sound. "Bah," he said. "Elope." He waved his hand carelessly in the air. "Doesn’t everyone? I’m amazed there isn’t a coach service to Gretna Green." His eyes lit up as though with sudden inspiration. "My word. A coach service to Gretna Green. Express of course. It is a good idea, is it not Mary? I think I’ll ask you uncle Gardiner to join me in the venture."
Mary’s wish to laugh had given way to a queasy feeling of guilt and fear. Her poor father had gone insane. Oh, what had she done? She’d never known she was so important to him.
Her voice trembling, she asked, "Papa, may I tell you why I eloped?"
Her father, who’d started scribbling figures on a pad of paper, looked up at her. "You want to tell me," he said. "And I have no objection to hearing it."
And, while her father continued to scribble — pausing occasionally to cackle — Mary told him the reasons she’d chosen to elope.
Afterwards there was a long silence.
"Father?" Mary said.
Mr. Bennet looked up. "Yes, Mary."
"Father, are we forgiven?"
"Forgiven?" He grinned. "Oh, there is no occasion for that, I’m sure. What have you done that other girls haven’t? You’re welcome home, Mary. And you, son. We’ll talk about your financial situation later. If this coach business works out...."
"Father!" Mary screamed, in some distress. Conscious of having violated propriety, she’d expected at least a mild rebuke. This.... This made her feel as if she’d stepped, full body, into a different world. "Father."
This time, when Mr. Bennet looked up there was true annoyance in his gaze. "Yes, yes, child. Go. Go to your mother. Let her have hysterics over you. Can’t you see I’m drawing out a business plan?" He cackled. "Coaches to Gretna Green."
Trembling, Mary walked away, to almost run into her mother, who had been alerted to the arrival by Jane.
"Mary!" her mother screamed.
Mary’s heart fluttered and she thought. "Oh, true reproach at last."
But her mother grinned from ear to ear. "Oh. Mrs. Hurst. Oooooooh. How well that sounds. Mrs Long will be ever so envious. My Mary is married. And only nineteen. Wait till I tell Lady Lucas." Speaking thus, she put her arm through Mary’s and, cackling, led her off towards the door, obviously intending to go on a round of visiting.
Which would have been alarming enough if Mrs. Bennet hadn’t been wearing nightgown with an amazing number of ruffles.
"Mother!" Mary said, blushing. "You’re not.... We cannot go visiting. I’ve transgressed. And you’re not.... you’re not attired properly."
Her mother looked at her own clothes, then stared at Mary, then gave a short, satisfied cackle. "Transgressed. You’re married now, Mary, you must forget that. And as for my attire.... Well, it’s my second best nightgown. Just wait till Lady Lucas sees it. She’ll be ever so envious. She doesn’t have one half as good."
It was too much for Mary, who fainted on the spot, attended by an anxious Mr. Hurst.
The second couple to return to the parental abode was more of a surprise.
Kitty they knew, of course, but both Bennet parents — whose elder daughters had persuaded them to dress in something other than sleeping attire — stared blankly at the gentleman with her.
That he was a gentleman there could be no doubt. Why, his coat alone must cost.... Mrs. Bennet glazed over. Definitely the coat of a gentleman with at least ten thousand a year. And he was... well, he was.... She stared at his marked masculine features, his black curls just unruly and long enough to touch the back of his neck. She perceived his broad shoulders, his narrow waist, the well-shaped length of him. She felt unaccountably very hot and fanned herself with her hanky.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bennet had put his newspaper down and stared also at the gentleman. Lord, he looked like a politician. Where HAD Kitty found him?
Mr. and Mrs. Hurst -- who, in the course of the afternoon had received the news that Mr. Hurst would have a job as clerk in Mr. Phillips firm, and had, thereby secured that modicum of income that would allow them to purchase a small house in Meryton — looked from their books in astonishment.
Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth Bennet stared, also, as if not sure what could be happening.
The former Miss Kitty strolled into the room, looking just embarrassed and ashamed enough to show her good breeding. But this look was somewhat dimmed by her splendorous attire. It was obvious to one and all that Kitty had stopped at a dress shop somewhere and that her new husband had bought her the best he could afford — and probably chosen for her, since the dress she wore was expensive, flattering, and lacked a single ruffle or bow.
Like Mary had done, she walked into the room trailing her husband who, eyes downcast, smiled modestly like a debutante at her first ball.
But she did not plead for forgiveness. Instead, she motioned her husband forward peremptorily and, on his obeying and coming to stand beside her, she said, "Mother, Father, this is my husband, Mr. Crawford. We apologize for the manner of our marrying, but hope you’ll forgive me, when you know that he has ten thousand a year and a great estate called Everingham, to which you’re all invited."
Mrs. Bennet shrieked, "Ten thousand a year," and swooned, in happiness.
Mr. Bennet still stared. He opened his mouth, swallowed. "Ah. Um.... I see, Kitty and where did you and Mr..... uh.... Crawford meet?"
At this, Kitty looked at a loss for the first time.
But now Mr. Crawford spoke, with a visible squeeze of his wife’s hand. "Oh, we met ever so long ago," he said. "That I doubt not Kitty can’t remember it. In fact ours is an attachment of such long duration we’d have waited long still except for the events that precipitated our eloping. Ahem. "
Mr. Bennet was slowly recovering the wits that the recent events had shaken. "And those were?" he asked.
Mr. Crawford looked at a loss, and blushed most becomingly. He glanced quickly at Kitty and found no help. "They were.... uh.... I believe they were your threatening to take my wife to a review."
"Quite so," Mr. Bennet said, grinning wide, his look that of a true connoisseur of human folly who spots a new and prime specimen. "Quite so. Faced with the prospect of a review, who would not, indeed, elope?" He stood up, folding his paper and setting it aside. "Mr. Crawford, if you’ll do me the honor of coming to my library, we’ll discuss the amount to be settled on my daughter and any children...." adding, just under his breath.
And thus he left, leaving the just revived Mrs. Bennet to grab Kitty’s hand and practically eat the expensive diamond wedding ring with her gaze. "Oooooohhhh. I hope you had your hand out of the carriage on the way here, that everyone might see your ring."
And, before Kitty could reply, her mother stood up and put her arm through Kitty’s. "Mrs. Crawford. How well that sounds. And you never told me a word about your secret engagement, you sly thing. What a good joke. We must go see Mrs. Long and Lady Lucas. They will be so upset I have two daughters married. And Kitty only seventeen."
The next day, Lizzy got out of the house for tea with Charlotte Lucas. She had to go somewhere where people acted more rationally.
And — she thought — since she’d reached the point at which even the Lucases seemed rational, she supposed there was little or no help for her.
Besides, she wanted to make sure Charlotte realized what she was about to do.
"Why should you be surprised?" Charlotte asked. "Why shouldn’t I marry Mr. Collins?" She took a sip of her tea. "I’m not romantic, you know. All I ask is a comfortable home."
"But Charlotte," Lizzy protested. "There must be laws against marrying amphibians."
Charlotte stole a look at Mr. Collins on the other side of the room and her eyes darted about, nervously. "A law! Don’t be silly. A recommendation, at most. And, Lizzy, I’m sure he has a comfortable lillypad, I mean home, and that’s all I ask. Besides the patronage of lady Catherine the Bore — I mean de Bourgh — ensures us a good future." The tea cup she held trembled alarmingly. "I shall be happy," she said, an edge of hysteria to her voice. "I know I shall." Her eye twitched.
"Charlotte, Charlotte," Lizzy said. "I cannot allow you to do this."
"Oh, Lizzy," Charlotte said, and her voice broke. "He asked in the middle of the night. I was so sleepy I scarce knew what I said..... and then Papa immediately ran down to the paper and had them put out a special edition to announce our engagement. What am I to do? I can’t break it now. I shall be disgraced. And my father is so happy."
As Lizzy was about to recommend that Charlotte elope with the first stranger she came across, Mr. Collins oozed across the room from where he’d been boring — we mean talking to — Sir Lucas.
He oozed up to Charlotte and grabbed her hand in his flipper — we mean hand. "Cousin Elizabeth, you see before you the happiest of men. I know that you had some hopes and your sister Kitty obviously.... well.... But with the recent elopements and all, as my noble patroness would say, who would connect themselves with such a family? I’m sure all sisters must suffer from the misstep of...." he paused and visibly counted in his head. "Three of them. Which is all the more regrettable, since I have reason to believe it resulted from a faulty degree of indulgence," he looked at Charlotte and explained, didactically. "Nasty things, indulgences," he said. "A papist concept which our church, thank heavens, doesn’t have. I’ll explain all about it to you someday, my dear."
He drooled all over Charlotte’s hand. "You have so much to learn, my dear," he said. "And I so much to teach you."
Charlotte looked frozen by revulsion.
She turned to stare at Lizzy, and her mouth formed the words "help me."
But Lizzy had no idea what to do. Did everyone expect her to put everything to rights? Who could help her? Where was Mr. Darcy? He’d reveal the bottom of his.... ahem.... heart to her and then vanish? Oh, what was she to do?
"We’ll be married Saturday a week," Mr. Collins said. He didn’t cackle, but it was implied.
Back in London, where he’d followed Wickham’s trail, Mr. Darcy had made some progress. He and Mr. Bingley had found where Wickham was living, and found that Lydia was living with him.
There didn’t seem to be any intention of marrying.
Darcy located the Gardiners, whom he knew were related to the Bennets, and proceeded to explain the situation and how he wanted to pay Wickham to marry Lydia without it appearing that he’d done so.
For one, because he knew Wickham would ask for a lot more if he knew he was dealing with the bottomless Darcy pockets. In fact, he’d been sponging off the Darcys for so long that Darcy was sure that if he undressed Wickham — something he couldn’t contemplate without revulsion — he’d find that the body of his childhood playmate had become riddled with little holes and would swell to twice its size when dipped in a liquid. Liquid acid, if Darcy had a choice.
Darcy, who had calmed down and was wearing a full gentleman’s attire, including pants and shirt — had Mrs. Gardiner known what she was missing thereby, she would, no doubt, have been grieved — talked to Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner.
He found them pleasant and rational, though he was disturbed because, misled by Mrs. Bennet’s letters they insisted on condoling with him over Lydia’s elopement.
But, other than that, they got along famously, and, by the time Darcy left, everything was arranged.
Unfortunately, on coming out, Mr. Darcy ran into Miss Bingley.
"Mr. Darcy," Miss Bingley said. "In Cheapside? Might I enquire why?"
She might not, but Darcy couldn’t tell her that. Conscious that he’d offended her in the past, and trying to be proper and correct to deserve Miss Lizzy’s hand, he bowed, gentlemanly, and said the first thing that crossed his mind, which, since this came in the wake of thoughts of Lizzy was, "Why, to prepare for the wedding, of course."
"The wedding!" Miss Bingley said. "I am all astonishment." She did not ask whose wedding. She looked up at the facade of the house, then at Mr. Darcy. "I see. And when is the happy event to be?"
Mr. Darcy had no idea why she cared, but he sighed. "Saturday a week." He’d agreed with Mr. Gardiner that was the minimum time needed. He wouldn’t rest until he saw the scoundrel united to the strumpet, so he wanted it as soon as possible.
Miss Bingley had gone very pale. "I see," she said.
And while she appeared immobilized by shock — Lord alone knew why — Mr. Darcy bowed and made his escape.
Miss Bingley had long since found out that this was the address of the Bennets uncle. In fact, that was why she prowled just outside it. Hoping for news, though she now hated him.
Did she hate him?
Yes, of course she hated him. Why, he was going to marry Miss Lydia Bennet. The nerve. He preferred her to Caroline. Preposterous.
She heard her own stiff lips say, "Over my dead body. Not if I have to run into the church, interrupt the ceremony and claim I am with child by him."
She grinned at the evil plan and went back home to tell her bewildered sister that they were returning to Netherfield. They must get there before Saturday a week.
Meanwhile, Miss Elizabeth Bennet was sure that her sister Catherine had gone insane.
What cemented this belief was that Lizzy had awakened by footsteps in the middle of the night, and — since it might mean Jane was eloping now — had opened her bedroom door.... To see Mrs. Crawford, in dainty nightgown, walking from the backstairs towards her room carrying a rather large horsewhip.
"Kitty!" Lizzy said.
Kitty jumped and made a vain attempt to hide the whip behind herself. "Uh," she said and blushed. "Uh. I wasn’t .... I couldn’t sleep, so I thought I’d go and get--"
"A whip? You thought you’d go and get a whip?" Lizzy asked, shocked.
Kitty looked down at the whip in her hands, as though seeing it for the first time. "Um.... yes. Our pillows are very.... um.... unruly. That’s why I couldn’t sleep."
Lizzy was about to protest this, but just then her father opened his bedroom door and called out, "What’s all the commotion?"
Taking advantage of Lizzy’s moment of inattention, Kitty scurried to her room and opened the door.
Lizzy turned just in time to see — she would later unfortunately be sure she HAD seen — Mr. Crawford in a rather embarrassing position, tied to the bed’s four posts.
Then the door was slammed and she saw no more.
"Father," she said. "Kitty had a whip."
Mr. Bennet stared at his second daughter. "Did she tell you why?"
"She said they had unruly pillows."
Mr. Bennet nodded. "Yes. Yes. I understand that." She could swear he was suppressing laughter. "Serious problem, that."
"But, father, I saw--"
Mr. Bennet grinned and shook his head. "Leave, it, Lizzy. I believe it will turn out very well."
From behind the Crawfords closed — and presumably locked — door, he could be heard to say, "oh, please...." in a begging tone.
The days swam by in a bewilderment of confusion. After Mrs. Crawford’s triumphant return all of Merryton waited the return of Miss Lydia in whatever married state she might have managed.
But a week slid by quietly and the only thing that arrived was – via special messenger – a collection of jewels for Miss Jane. As a mark of Mr. Bingley’s affection.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth hadn’t slept in nearly a week. Between the nightly pleadings from Kitty’s room next door – often alternating with the most unearthly groaning and moaning, which led Elizabeth to believe that Mr. Crawford must suffer from some yet unacknowledged illness – and her memories of Mr. Darcy’s muscular, pleasant anatomy, she could hardly close her eyes.
And then there was the excitement of Charlotte’s engagement and her impending marriage. And Lizzy’s quite certain belief that women shouldn’t marry toads.
While Lizzy helped Charlotte finish her dress and arrange flowers and prepare for the big ceremony she noticed that Charlotte was looking more and more panicked every minute. Her eye had started twitching and she often acted distracted while muttering "flies, flies, he’ll want to dine on flies."
However, the day drew on, inexorably.
And soon, very soon, Elizabeth found herself in church, standing beside Charlotte, who looked quite ravishing in her full-covering veil and dress.
And she had to admit that, at least from behind, Mr. Collins didn’t look all that bad. Why, he was almost as tall as Mr. Darcy and the blue suit, bought for the wedding looked uncommonly like Mr. Darcy’s own.
Caroline Bingley was simply not going to allow Mr. Darcy to marry Lydia.
For days she did not sleep, and when she slept she had nightmares that Mr. Darcy was introducing Lydia to society and Lydia had a most fetching orange dress that would have looked much better on Caroline.
Tortured by lack of sleep, half hallucinating, wishing Charles were near to tell her what Darcy was planning to do, Caroline found herself in a carriage, headed for Merriton. And erupting into the church just as the minister said, "If anyone can show just cause why this man and this woman should not be united–"
"I can," Caroline said. "I can. He promised me marriage and an orange dress. He MUST follow through. He must..."
The parson dropped his bible in horror. The guests turned to her suppressed gasps, exclamations, shudders. Sir William Lucas, in the front row stood up and said, "This is outrageous."
"Indeed, not,"Caroline said. She had found her footing and was sure that she would carry it all her way. "Indeed not. The groom has led me to believe he intended to marry me and only me, and I had my dress ordered and then he– "
"What you say is very grave," the parson said. "And I can’t imagine why an otherwise sane woman would say it if not true." He turned to the groom who remained with his back turned. "Sir, I must demand you stop this marriage and marry the aggrieved lady at once."
"But..." the groom said, then turned around and displayed the full oleaginous features of Mr. Collin. "I must say, I never knew I’d led the worthy Miss Bingley on. But of course, my charms are such, and with my position in life, indeed, I’m sure many young women pine for me. I must say, my dear Charlotte, you must allow me to break our promise, as Miss Bingley had the earlier claim."
"I don’t..." Caroline said. She felt her voice fail her. "I don’t understand..."
At that moment the door flung open and on the threshold stood Mr. Darcy, Charles, Colonel Fitzwilliam and a very well dressed Lydia.
Caroline looked from Mr. Collins who was, casually, flicking his tongue about and catching the occasional fly. Then she looked at the new arrivals.
Merciful blackness closed upon her, but not before she caught sight of Charlotte ripping off her veil, tossing her flowers and running through the church, laughing madly and twirling pirouettes.
Caroline took the screams of, "I’m free, I’m free, ah ah, free," with her into unconsciousness.
"Well, there was nothing for it," Bingley said. "But she had to marry him. What? After her display in church? She was bound to be the talk of the ton if she did not." He made a face. "I cannot promise that she will be happy, but Caroline should make a very interesting parson’s wife."
"And a source of entertainment to Lady Catherine De Bourgh," Mr. Bennet said.
"Indeed," Mr. Darcy said. It was three weeks after their return to Meryton and he was almost at the point of asking the delightful Miss Elizabeth to marry him. Almost. If only she could be sure she felt about him as he did about her. "I must say – my aunt hasn’t been the same since my cousin Anne De Bourgh used your carriage service to Gretna Green to elope with the stable boy."
"And a very happy couple they made," Mr. Bennet said. "They tipped the coachman most handily and all." He cleared his throat. "Indeed, my coach service is doing so well that I..." He cleared his throat again. "That is... My daughters will have very handsome dowries."
"I’d take Jane in her shift," Mr. Bingley said. Then blushed. "That is, I’d much rather she be properly attired in public and all, and I haven’t been imagining her in her shift or... ahem... out of it at all, but you must understand–"
"Stow it Bingley," Mr. Bennet said. "You’re marrying Jane tomorrow and you can see fit to imagine her in any way you wish."
Bingley blushed again and sighed. "She is an angel."
From another part of the house came the sound of loud shrieks of laughter and the echoes of Mrs. Bennet admonishing her daughters – doubtless on the details of tomorrow’s fete.
Close at hand, the clock on the wall of the study ticked loudly.
"Just imagine that," Mr. Bennet said. "Of all my daughters Lizzy would be the only one unmarried. And she with more wit than all the rest." He cleared his throat. "Now, if some gentleman, with, say, ten thousand a year, should offer for her, I should surely say yes."
From upstairs came the sound of a whip flying through the air, a brief, strangled male scream, followed by moans and the sound of a bed hitting the wall.
"You must pardon me," Mr. Bennet said, staring at the ceiling. "My daughter Kitty and her husband have a room directly above and they are afflicted with unruly pillows."
Mr. Darcy nodded, absently. Cracks appeared on the ceiling. Plaster rained down.
Mr. Bennet swept the plaster dust off his desk. "If a gentleman with ten thousand–"
"Yes, yes," Mr. Darcy erupted, his temper getting the best of him. "I UNDERSTAND, sir. But what guarantee have I that she will accept me?"
Mr. Bennet looked at him with raised eyebrows. "Guarantee, why none, sir. You will have to take your risks with the rest of us. Ask her already."
Mr. Darcy stood for a moment, staring at the man, thinking this was the most bluntly anyone had ever talked to him.
And then he took in a deep breath and saw the pure genius of the man who could think up a line of carriages to Gretna Green and think that asking Lizzy was all a matter of ... asking Lizzy.
He grabbed his walking stick and hat and determined to pull Miss Elizabeth from the press of her mother and sisters and take her for a walk. Now.
But his treacherous tongue would not speak. They walked in silence amid the lovely fields and he could not find words to speak.
"Mr. Darcy," Lizzy said, at last. "I am a selfish being and for the sake of relieving my feelings I don’t care what discomfort I cause others. You must tell me what happened in the matter of Lydia. Did you extricate her from that villain, Wickham?"
"Indeed no," Mr. Darcy said. "It turns out that some militia men in London were alerted to his dishonorable act and intercepted him. Among them was my cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, who was immediately smitten by her... charms. He fought Wickham and killed him at a duel and married your sister the same day, to save her reputation."
"But you did go to London intent on saving her," Lizzy asked.
"Indeed, it was only my duty."
"I... I would be willing to marry a man who performed such a service for my family."
"Yes," Darcy said, feeling his heart sink. "Unfortunately, you see, she was already married, so I didn’t, indeed–"
"Surely, Mr. Darcy, the intention is the same as the act and my gratitude demands that I sacrifice myself on the altar of holy matrimony to you."
Mr. Darcy cleared his throat. Couldn’t she hear him? And besides, he didn’t want her gratitude. He wanted her love. "I must say that this is totally unnecessary since–"
Lizzy stooped and grabbed a thick stick. "I am an impatient woman, and for the sake of relieving my feelings, I will clobber you over the head this minute, unless you say you will marry me."
Darcy was speechless for a moment, but – as she started to raise her arm – he screamed, "Stop, stop. I will marry you. Indeed, it’s what I wish and I’ve never desired anything different. I’ve loved you ever since you searched my pockets for your sister."
Lizzy dropped the stick and fell into his arms. "I’ve loved you since that very night, too," she said, as a vision of Mr. Darcy’s informal attire formed in her mind.
"It just so happens, that, against the event you should take me out in the middle of the fields and demand that I marry you, I have purchased a special license. We can be married at the same time as Bingles and Jane, if you wish."
Happy for all her maternal feelings was the day Mrs. Bennet rid herself of her two eldest, more worthy and still single daughters.
Contemplating their departing carriage, and while Mrs. Hurst, Mrs. Crawford and Mrs. Fitzwilliam took their leave also, to go to their various abodes, Mrs. Bennet turned to Mr. Bennet, "Five daughters married," she said. "The Good Lord has been very, very good to us."
"So it would seem," Mr. Bennet said, patting a pocket full of the precedes of his carriage scheme. "So it would seem."
And they lived insanely ever after...
Except Charlotte Lucas, who, dressed as a man took to the sea and ended up as a pirate captain. It is said she eventually married a foreign prince she captured, but all we know about that are rumors.
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