A Night Spent in Conversation
Note: This continues from where I left off after 10 Days in London. Again I have borrowed heavily from Jane Austen, but then, don't we all to some degree?
Darcy's face betrayed little emotion as he left Longbourn that evening; only Elizabeth caught the barest hint of a smile in his glance towards her as he left. She could not help but blush a little and smiling in return when she saw it, but she did not believe the brief exchange had been noticed by anyone but herself. Certainly, her mother had eyes for no other but Bingley; again and again, she would pointedly refer to him in a manner that left no doubt that his presence was not overly welcome, and was barely civil in her addresses to him; her fond farewell to Bingley was noticeably colder than her curt 'Good evening, Mr Darcy', much to Elizabeth's chagrin. Darcy said nothing in return; only the curtness of his bow and a slight twitch of his cheek revealed his affront at her incivility, yet his parting glance towards her reassured somewhat, as he had intended it should. All going well, the mother's faults would be brief, and therefore could be tolerated somewhat.
Bingley spent much of the ride home relating his discussions with Miss Bennet, regarding, for the most part, the wedding plans they were making - a conversation that required very little in the way of reply. Bingley needed little encouragement, and Darcy, for the most part, was happy to oblige him.
As they entered the drawing room at Netherfield, Bingley asked his friend when he thought he might be similarly attached, yet, when he had to repeat his question for a third time before it received a distracted reply, his friend's preoccupation came to his attention.
"I say, Darcy," cried he, "you are unusually quiet this evening. Are you ill? I declare you have hardly heard a single word I have said."
"No, I am perfectly fine, thank you." Darcy replied, absently, the very manner of his reply further convincing Bingley that something was indeed amiss.
"Come, man. I can see you have something weighing on your mind. What is it that bothers you? You have barely spoken a word all evening, except when you were spoken to directly; and here you were just yesterday giving me your word that you would try to be more agreeable. As I recall, you practically leaped at the chance to pay them a visit - it was you who suggested the walk, if I remember correctly, yet there you were standing about as stupid as ever. If you did not mean to keep your word and enjoy yourself, Darcy, I rather wonder that you gave it. I did not think the evening all that unpleasant, there was plenty of lively conversation to be had if you would see it - if you thought otherwise, I cannot help but think it is no fault of my own."
"The walk was pleasant enough, I agree, but if you enjoyed your evening more than I, it was likely due to the fact that you had your lovely Miss Bennet to occupy your attentions. With such charm and beauty before you, one could hardly expect you to attend to much else."
His abrupt reply startled Bingley, who had witnessed him behave so but once; - at Pemberley, when he had discovered urgent business in town that made his immediate return imperative. The evening before he had seemed more distracted and restless than usual - much as he was now - and his hurried manner when he informed the party of his return to town, had convinced Bingley of its utmost urgency that he had not thought to inquire what could be so important that required his attention, not two days after he had arrived in Derbyshire. Caroline had not such reservations, but had not received an answer to her satisfaction. Darcy had not said what had necessitated his sudden change of plans, only that it required his personal attention and that it could not be delayed. He had not known what to say then, but had offered what assistance was in his power, and that was all he could do now; if Darcy chose to confide in him, he would.
Bingley thought Darcy had finished and was about to speak, when the latter, staring vacantly into the fire, roused himself from whatever thoughts he was contemplating and spoke:
"Forgive my rudeness, Bingley; there is nothing the matter. As you have so astutely perceived, I have only myself to blame if I did not enjoy the evening. I admit I was largely preoccupied with other matters to pay attention how I felt."
"I say," Bingley cried, jumping to his feet, "you are not going to dash off to London again, are you? You only just arrived yesterday; I declare you are becoming as bad as I with your coming's and going's."
"I have no intention of leaving again so soon; in fact, quite the opposite; I have every intention of remaining at Netherfield for quite some time."
"I am glad to hear it! I should like to have your company while I am here; but tell me, if you are not ill, then what is it that bothers you? If you do not feel it is something you can confide in me, I shall understand, yet I offer my services if they are of any use to you."
"You have my thanks, but it is not a matter that requires a solution." Darcy could contain himself no longer. "I am engaged, Bingley. Elizabeth Bennet has consented to be my wife."
Bingley blinked at him incredulously, momentarily struck speechless by this revelation. "Engaged? To Miss Elizabeth Bennet?" He sat down rather suddenly, unable to credit what he was hearing. "Do my ears deceive me; did you say you are to marry Elizabeth - Miss Elizabeth Bennet?"
"Your hearing is perfectly fine; Elizabeth and I are indeed engaged; I asked for her hand just this morning, and she accepted."
"Well," said he, still not quite able to believe it, "well, I must say, this is a surprise. The last thing in the world I expected to hear was that you were engaged, and to Elizabeth! Are you sure?"
Darcy was unable to suppress a small smile at his friend's astonishment. "Do you doubt me?"
"Heavens no! but you can imagine my surprise. It is rather hard for a fellow to judge what you are thinking at the best of times, Darcy, and though I felt you were rather removed this evening, I never guessed you were engaged! Forgive me; it is all quite a lot for one to absorb all at once, and I find it difficult to believe you are being serious."
"You are heartily forgiven - I would not expect you to discern the reason for my distraction, even had you not otherwise been engaged. It is no mystery that I have love her, if you would but consider it, and I am sure your own recollection of my behaviour at times, will convince you that I am perfectly serious - I could not be more so. Never have I been more certain of anything in my life as I am of this."
"Now that I think on it, I do believe you are right. This explains why you were so long out walking; we thought you must have walked further than you intended, and were unaware we had turned back. Well, if this was your excuse, I no longer wonder that you walked so far." He stood up and shook Darcy's hand enthusiastically; delight evident on his face. "Congratulations, man! I could not have heard gladder tidings than when I heard my own dear Jane accept me! Well, we must celebrate your good news!" He called for a servant and instructed him to fetch a bottle of the best wine from the cellar. "You have my heartfelt congratulations, Darcy, and I wish you both to be as happy as my own dear Jane and I. You must be overjoyed with the news."
Darcy was unable to stop a smile of unalloyed happiness that spread over his face. "Indeed, I could not be happier than you see me; I am convinced she will make me the happiest of men, and her the happiest of women."
"I fully comprehend your sentiments, Darcy - they mirror my own exactly. I had no idea that you felt so deeply for her; to think that all this time you were in love, and you never gave a hint of it! What luck that you and I should become engaged at the exact same time! We must have a double wedding; I was going to ask you if you would consent to be my best man, however, it seems you will be wanting one of your own. Just think! we shall not merely be best friends, but brothers too. Jane will be delighted with the news, we were just discussing the other day whether you should be married, and whether Elizabeth would be so fortunate as to be your choice, but we both thought it highly unlikely that such a happy event would occur any time soon."
The wine returned then, and Bingley offered a toast to his friend's betrothal, which Darcy then returned. After sitting a while in a companionable silence, Bingley's curiosity eventually got the better of him, and he ventured to ask what prompted his decision.
"You never showed her any preference whatsoever before this - except to own that she has fine eyes and an intelligent mind. It cannot merely have been the work of a whim; I should like to think you were not so abrupt as to propose without taking what that means into careful consideration. I was always under the impression that I was the only one prone to hasty decisions."
"You are not the only one with a claim to spontaneity, Bingley," replied Darcy, "however much you should like to maintain it. One can only hope that married life will settle you somewhat, and that your lovely wife will moderate your penchant for hasty decisions. However, in this instance, your estimation of my character is quite accurate. During the many months in which I have known her, my regard for Elizabeth has undergone so material a change - which few but myself could have been aware of - and overcome many obstacles; both of my own forming, and those born of considerations which, considering my station, I felt I must pay heed to, that it cannot compare to what it once was. My admiration and esteem for her intelligence, her charms, her wit, has come upon me so gradually, that I hardly know where or when they began. Yet, it may surprise you to learn that I could never be assured of her acceptance until this morning; she had refused me once before, and with such a thought in mind I could hardly dare hope she might accept me a renewal of those addresses."
For the second time that evening, Darcy was witness to his friend's amazement. "Did I hear you say, that you had previously proposed to Miss Bennet, and she had refused?"
"She did, at Hunsford. The experience was pleasant for neither of us," a small grimace of pain crossed his face, "and rather enlightening on my part. I learned a great deal that day not only of myself, but also of Elizabeth. I had grievously misjudged her reception of me, much to my consternation, and left with my pride in tatters. By her, I was well and truly humbled. I was a fool, Bingley, and I am not ashamed of admitting it."
"You can be withdrawn at the best of times, Darcy, but I never once suspected your reason for it; that you had proposed and been rejected would have been the last thing that would have occurred to me."
"I am not," replied he, "in the habit of publicly exhibiting my emotions, as you can attest; - such a display of emotion is not in my nature. My withdrawal was due to an inability to reconcile my desires with the actuality of my situation. I thought I could conquer my feelings if only I could occupy my mind with other affairs and keep myself employed, that I might not always have the leisure to think of her. It was a vain attempt, and it seemed that no matter how I struggled, I could not dismiss her entirely. She has haunted me ever since the day we met, and in the end, I felt that if I could not earn her love, I could at least attempt to earn her respect, and perhaps lessen her disgust of my arrogant behaviour.
"When I encountered her unexpectedly at Pemberley, it was as though God had smiled on me. Indeed, I had not expected to meet with her so soon, but within half an hour of that meeting I resolved to demonstrate that I bore her no ill-will for what had passed between us. All seemed to be going well; Georgiana was delighted that Elizabeth and her aunt called at Pemberley the very next morning - and I must confess it gratified me to see them so well pleased with each other - yet, even before I could fully impress on her how much I had changed since I saw her last, the business with her sister's elopement intruded, and she was forced to leave prematurely, much to my dismay."
He was silent a moment, and Bingley, having rarely heard him speak so candidly, did not wish to interrupt. Rarely had he heard his friend speak with such unreserved passion; it was a side of his friend he never before had the opportunity to witness. After a while, Darcy continued.
"I have, not unjustly, much to hold him accountable for the despicable dealings he has had, both with me and my family, yet, though I had cause to believe him much as he ever was, I made the foolish presumption of allowing myself to be persuaded that I knew his character well enough; that money was ever his object. I have often berated myself for the pride and disdain which prevented me from making his character more widely known; I thought in my arrogance, that no greater harm could be done by its being known, yet, for the second time, my foolish pride had led my judgement of another astray, to the detriment of Miss Bennet and her family. It was this oversight which refrained me from making his character better known when I discovered his presence in Hertfordshire, and it was this alone that determined my resolve in finding him out and seeing to an end to the disgrace he brought upon her family by his selfish actions, though I do not doubt Lydia took little persuasion to agree to it."
"What do you mean, Darcy? Am I to understand that you arranged the match?"
"I did." He sighed, and poured another glass of wine for them each, seating himself opposite Bingley. "It is not something that many are aware of, and not something I wish widely circulated; Mr and Mr Gardiner know, of course; I could hardly arrange the marriage without the consent of her parents, and, if I wished to conceal my part in the affair, as I did, I could not do so without their assistance; and Elizabeth, once she learned through Lydia's indiscretion, of my presence at the wedding, wrote to her aunt for all the particulars it was in Mrs Gardiner's power to give. As we are soon to be brothers, I see no reason why I should not include you in my confidence.
"I will attempt to keep my account of the saga as brief as possible, as the details are of no great consequence to anyone except myself, and need not be dwelt on or elaborated further. Suffice to say that I had, in my previous dealings with Mr Wickham, come in contact with a Mrs Younge - the details of how and why, I cannot recall without distaste and do not wish elaborate further - and it was she I sought when I first arrived in town. With much difficulty, I discovered where she was staying, extracted from her the whereabouts of Mr Wickham, and tracked him down. My disgust at his deplorable situation, I could not conceal, yet I endeavoured to remain calm throughout the whole of that first meeting - I cannot say that I was overly successful. I returned Lydia to Mr and Mrs Gardiner at once, arranged a suitable inducement," he spat the word out with distaste, "for Wickham. With the kind assistance of the Gardiners, I saw to it that her parents consent to the financial arrangments was acceptable so that they could be married as soon as it could be decently arranged, and personally accompanied Wickham to the church. The rest of the affair is public knowledge, which I am sure, you are fully aware of."
"Indeed, much of what I know is from Jane. So, this was the unexpected business that required your urgent attention in London those few weeks ago. No wonder that you left immediately once you learned of the disagreeable business. It cannot have been pleasant for you; to have to deal with this man under such circumstances, and I admire your forbearance. It seems you are full of surprises tonight, Darcy," he chided, yet his smile belied his words, "Is there anything more you feel I should know, or have you run out of things to shock me with?"
"There is but one other detail that may interest you, and that is my reason for returning to Netherfield."
"Do go on; I have not heard a tale such as this since I was a young lad."
Darcy finished the last of his wine, and set his glass aside. "When I returned with you to Longbourn, I still entertained the idea that I might secure Elizabeth's esteem; yet, on arrival, I found her manner distant and reserved towards me, and thought perhaps I might have mistaken the brief cordiality we shared at Pemberley. When unrelated business affairs, though not urgent, necessitated my presence in town, I was of the partial conviction that there was no hope for me, and so welcomed the intrusion, yet, it was with some reluctance that I departed, for I carried with me the knowledge that I might never renew my attentions to Elizabeth again. Such it might have been, were it not for the timely visit my aunt paid me. It was an event that, fortuitously for me, altered the whole course of my life, such as I then believed it would be."
"Lady Catherine? I confess I am rather curious to know what she said that necessitated your immediate return to Netherfield. Elizabeth said little of her visit to Longbourn, and we assumed she had thought to call on her while passing through Hertfordshire. What could your aunt have to say that would alter you so? I had rather thought she would be against your marrying Elizabeth."
"She was, and, I do not doubt, still is, against the match. An alliance with Elizabeth Bennet, with such relations as hers, she believes, would be a disgrace to my father's name, and taint my very respectability in society; it could not be tolerated by any who had a concern in my welfare. I have long since given up such pretences to fortune and status, for what are they in the face of love?"
He paused, staring distractedly into his glass. "I will not dwell on what was spoken between us, for I cannot recall the greater part of it without emotion, however, I will say, that, during her visit with me, Lady Catherine apprised me, in the most severe language, of her interview with Elizabeth, the reason for it, and of the outcome. She dwelt emphatically on the impropriety of her family, her relations, and of Elizabeth's behaviour towards herself, in the belief that it would likewise persuade me to think of her as she did. Little did she know that no such censure could persuade me to think ill of her; but it was not that which decided me, rather, it was her communication of Elizabeth's adamant refusal to promise never to enter into an engagement with me. I do not doubt she came with the design of extracting the exact same promise from me, yet, how was it possible, with this information, to accede to her wishes? The woman of my heart had defied the will of my aunt; for what reasons I could not know, but I determined at once to discover them."
"And so you returned without delay to propose."
"Once my aunt had left me, I found myself faced with little alternative; I could not rest until I knew Elizabeth's motive for refusing my aunt's request. Had my aunt known in advance, the effect her communiqu» would have on me, I doubt very much that she would have ventured from Rosings to seek assurances that we were not engaged. Her visit gave me the hope I needed to expect Elizabeth might welcome my addresses."
"And what said Lady Catherine when you told her of your intentions? I imagine she was not well pleased with the idea."
"My aunt is ignorant of my return to Netherfield," Darcy said with a wry smile. "So profound was her revelation to me, that I had great difficulty in attending to the rest of her visit, and thus my silence and distraction satisfied her that I shared her sentiments. It was, for the most part, unintentional, however I confess that, once I discovered my error, I did not correct her. I can offer no excuse, but that I deemed it wiser to say nothing until I could ascertain whether or not I had reason to hope. She was unaware, at the time, of my feelings for Elizabeth, or she would never have abused her so in my presence; nor, do I believe, does she know that I ever held hopes of making her my wife. I have much to thank her for, yet, I rather doubt she would welcome my gratitude with anything but displeasure."
"I do not envy you the task of writing to her, Darcy; but I am sure you will handle the matter with the delicacy it requires. Georgiana, however, will be delighted with the news. How soon will you make your engagement official?"
"That will be determined tomorrow; I intend to discuss it with Elizabeth as to how best to approach her parents."
"Splendid! Now, I think, we have talked long enough, however before we retire for the evening, I propose one last toast for the night. To a life of health and happiness!"
Mr Darcy was unaware of the consternation he caused Mrs Bennet, by his arrival at Longbourn the next morning. Though he could well imagine her vexation at his appearance, it entertained him to think how different her behaviour once his engagement to Elizabeth was made known to her. How would she receive him then? No doubt much the same as she did Bingley; determined that nothing should displease him and that all his opinions, however half formed, should be instantly agreed to as her own.
As soon as they entered the parlour, Bingley looked at Elizabeth so expressively, and shook hands with such warmth, as left her in no doubt of his good information; and he soon afterwards said aloud, "Mrs. Bennet, have you no more lanes hereabouts in which Lizzy may lose her way again to-day?"
Darcy shot his friend a grateful glance. He had entertained such an idea on his ride here, and had been about to suggest it himself, but Bingley, knowing all to well the afflictions he had suffered at Mrs Bennet's hand, had pre-empted him.
"I advise Mr. Darcy, and Lizzy, and Kitty," said Mrs. Bennet, "to walk to Oakham Mount this morning. It is a nice long walk, and Mr. Darcy has never seen the view."
"It may do very well for the others," replied Mr. Bingley; "but I am sure it will be too much for Kitty. Won't it, Kitty?"
"Yes, I'd much rather stay at home, mamma, if it's all the same to you."
"I do not believe," Darcy interjected, "that I have yet had the opportunity of walking to Oakham Mount and I should take much pleasure in a walk this morning, if Miss Bennet would do me the honour and consent to accompany me."
Elizabeth silently consented, and it was settled. Mrs Bennet followed her daughter out of the room as she went to get ready, leaving behind an awkward silence. The twinkle in Bingley's eye told him that he had purposely suggested the walk in order for them to be alone, and the warm smiles of Jane hinted at her also discerning the reason for it. Elizabeth returned promptly, darting suspicious glances, though not altogether displeased, at Jane and Bingley, before they set off.
"Your family seems in good health," Darcy began hesitantly as they set off down the lane, suddenly uncomfortable. "Jane, in particular looks quite well."
"Yes, she is. Her marrying Mr Bingley has done wonders for her happiness. There is scarcely a cross word anybody could say that would upset Jane as she is, and she is so constantly at Mr Bingley's side, that anyone who intruded on their conversation would find themselves so overcome by their happiness, that all thought of a harsh word would vanish in an instant. She was always disposed to think well of people, and now I doubt me she will ever think ill of anybody."
"Then your sister and Bingley are both well suited for each other; it is a rare occasion to hear Bingley speak unfavourably of anyone."
They were silent a moment, and walked on in awkward silence, neither of them quite so used to being newly engaged that they knew what to say next. Elizabeth found, unusually so, that she was quite at a loss for words, where previously she had much to say. She was so used to teasing him; and, feeling all the awkwardness of their conversation yesterday, she knew not whether he would misconstrue her teasing on so a sensitive topic and be affronted by it, so instead said nothing. Darcy, meanwhile, had much he wished to say; but knew not how to say it. His heart was full of emotion, and burst with an eagerness to express the depth of his ardour, and declare how much he cherished her sparkling eyes and lively wit, but he knew not the words with which to express it, nor where to begin to find them. The quiet unease between them extended uncomfortably, until Elizabeth could bear it no longer and said:
"My mother was most concerned when she saw you accompanying Mr Bingley this morning, and was quite anxious that we go walking. She is entirely unaware how amenable I was to her proposition, or that she would be furthering our happiness by our walking together. I think she rather feared that your being at Longbourn would interfere with Jane's happiness, although I know Jane would not have the slightest objection to your being there."
"In this it seems that Mrs Bennet and Mr Bingley have but one mind," Darcy observed, "though each has entirely different motives for proposing a walk; your mother, so that your sister might be alone with Bingley, and the latter that I might be alone with you. Your sister is fortunate to have such a well intentioned mother - Mrs Bennet's concern for her daughter's happiness does her much credit; and I am fortunate that I have a similar friend in Bingley."
"Yet the two could not be more dissimilar in character and partiality towards others; your Mr Bingley is all good-nature and easiness in his addresses to everyone - one feels assured of the genuine affection in his welcome; yet my mother wants great a deal more in discernment and civility; I cannot help but see how she slights you at every turn."
"Do not concern yourself on that point," replied he, "She does not know the happy truth, and if I must endure her slights that I might have the pleasure of seeing you, I can bear with tolerable equanimity the occasional lapse in civility."
"You are more generous that I could be," she cried. "Her manner of address, her very want of propriety and lack of courtesy towards you, is a constant vexation I cannot ignore. It is not the occasional lapse that upsets me; if it were, I should not bother much with it, but that she would be constantly disrespectful to you."
"Elizabeth," cried he, catching her hand, "pray, do not let it distress you. If I am so mean as to spite you for your family's indiscretions, I would not be worthy of your love. I would gladly brave a hundred such insults, if it were the only means of my having the pleasure of your company. Not even the knowledge that I am now kin to your younger sister's husband could induce me to love you any less than with all my heart, therefore your family's comments can be of little consequence to me. Though it would ease my mind somewhat to know I am not so disliked by your parents, it is not their good opinion of me that I desire, but yours."
"That, sir, I believe you have," she replied, blushing, "yet I cannot dismiss it so easily."
"Such things will soon concern us but infrequently, my dear Elizabeth," he brushed her cheek delicately with the back of his fingers, "however, until then, say no more of your fears that I might be suffering at your mother's incivility. It is but a small price to pay for your esteem."
"Mr Darcy, you are far more charitable than I had ever believed," she exclaimed, her heart bursting with love, "to overlook what must cause you great offence solely for my benefit. My esteem for your forbearance increases with every hour I am in your company, and had I merely my own feelings to consider, I would inform my general acquaintance at once of every circumstance regarding your unselfish disposition. Yet, as there those whom I would not wish to inflict injury upon - not the least of those being your sister, I must refrain from this impulse. Though it pains me to leave it so, Hertfordshire in general must remain ignorant of the true depth of your generosity and forgiving nature."
"I dare say I shall not suffer their lack of it; I have become so accustomed to their disapprobation of me, that were they to cease their censure of me, I should not know how to behave. Yet, if it gives you comfort, you may inform your family of my actions regarding your younger sister. As you know, at the time I had not intended my involvement in arranging Lydia's marriage to become public knowledge, and did my utmost to see it remain that way, however, if it is your wish, you may impart the details of Lydia's marriage to whomever you feel it beneficial."
"You may trust to my discretion on this matter, sir, that no one shall know who does not need to know; however, here I must beg your forgiveness, for my happiness over our engagement was such that I could not bear to refrain any longer from sharing my joy with Jane, and last night I confided to her your part in Lydia's affair."
"You need not ask for my forgiveness, Elizabeth. Your love for your sister I beheld at an early stage of our acquaintance, and I would not begrudge you your sister's closeness, or her confidence. Many times these last months I have felt the lack of just such a confidant," he smiled at her, "yet now that I have found you, I need not suffer alone any longer."
"I should hope not," replied she, returning his smile. "You may feel free to confide in me as much or as little as you choose."
Elizabeth slipped her arm into Darcy's, and they continued their walk to the Mount, content for the moment to walk in silence until they came to a break in the trees that afforded a spectacular view of the countryside.
"I do believe," Elizabeth said with a smile, after they had admired the view a while, "that Mr Bingley purposefully suggested that we two walk out together; - that it was his particular intention that we be alone this morning." She turned to him playfully; knowing full well that Darcy was aware of his motive for suggesting the walk. "What do you think could have prompted him? He was quite discouraging that Kitty should join us. Perhaps he meant for us to lose ourselves in the beauty of the walk again, that he might spend more time with Jane."
Darcy perceived her underlying meaning instantly, yet with all honesty and equal easiness replied:
"That was, I believe, his purpose in proposing a walk. My time in London affords me little opportunity to get outside as much as I would like, and he is a great believer that the country air vastly improves one's general well-being and outlook on life; and also, I believe, my temper."
"And is he correct in his surmise? Is it the fresh country air in Hertfordshire that agrees with you, or perhaps the degree of sophistication in the society here that you find appealing; - or is it," she suggested archly, "the company of one in particular that draws you Netherfield?"
"Mr Bingley is a gentleman who is agreeable wherever he goes, be it in town or at Netherfield," he replied calmly, knowing he was supplying her with an answer other than the one she sought. "He is the most amiable man of my acquaintance, however, with regards to my health, I can safely say that any country air will suffice to eliminate the oppressive atmosphere of London, be it Hertfordshire, Kent or Derbyshire." He smiled at her. "As for the benefits it offers my temper, I cannot vouch, but I do believe that with the right company, one could be happy almost anywhere."
"Were Bingley solely concerned for your health, I own that a good ride would suffice to cure it, but there is nothing wrong with my health that warrants such an undertaking. I have not had the pleasure of being in town so recently as you have, therefore it is my thought that there is but one reason for his suggesting that we two in particular go for a walk."
"If I am to understand you correctly, then I am in complete agreement, however, I must point out to you that he may have considerations other than our mutual happiness in mind. Have you considered that perhaps he merely wished to speak with Jane on some matter? - A matter which he felt he could not share with me, the wedding, perhaps?"
"Mr Bingley has such a high regard for your views, that I cannot imagine a circumstance where he would not consult your opinion, if it were warranted," argued Elizabeth, "especially with regards to the wedding. If he had wanted to speak with Jane alone, why did he not instead ask her to walk with him? - as it is, he has my mother and Kitty to deal with as well. I cannot think what he should have to say to Jane, that he would not have already discussed with you."
"Can you not? Do you assume that, with his upcoming nuptials, he would continue to confide his designs, or the reasons for them, to me, now that he has your dear sister to share his heart with? Where it is warranted, I do believe he would consult me, but who am I to say that this is just such a case? You share most everything with your sister, and likewise, I would assume, she with you. You are perhaps better suited than I, at speculating what they could be discussing which requires my absence."
"Mr Darcy!" cried she, frustrated with his answers, yet too laughing to be angry with him, "I do believe you are deliberately avoiding my questions. You know full well what I refer to, yet you persist in deflecting my questions. Bingley's manner of greeting to me made it plain that he knew we were engaged to be married, yet I might wonder why you chose to be evasive with me when I am to be your wife and the mistress of Pemberley."
"And I might wonder the same of you," replied he. "Your manner of asking made it apparent from the first, that you were aware he knew of our engagement and had suggested the walk for our convenience, yet, instead of asking me directly, you chose to employ an indirect and, might I add, a rather underhanded method of gaining confirmation of your suspicions. Were you not also being evasive in your method of asking?"
"Perhaps, I was," she conceded with a small smile, "yet I admitted to you early on that I had confided in Jane, when you, - so readily discerning my design, continued to avoid a direct answer. How do you explain your actions there?"
"I did not feel such an admission was required, since it was clear to me that we both understood each other perfectly. I did not attempt to conceal that I had confessed to him our engagement, had you asked, you would have received a satisfactory answer; however, it was your thought to force an admission of my disclosure to Bingley, to justify your confiding it to Jane, -and perhaps I objected to your indirect method of inquiry."
"I felt a more direct approach would be impertinent of me."
"Forgive me if I am wrong, but I believe you thought nothing of the kind. After previously being subjected to your indirect questioning, both at the Netherfield ball and again while you were in Kent, you could hardly suppose I would be affronted by a further repetition of it, therefore I concluded such was not your intention."
Elizabeth laughed gaily. "Well then, if you do not object to my being impertinent, I shall be forward and ask you directly if Mr Bingley knew of your proposal to me yesterday."
Darcy smiled back. "I have no objection to your asking, and now have the pleasure of informing you, that he is indeed apprised of our engagement. After I returned to Netherfield last night, I revealed to him my good news, and I believe that was his reason for suggesting a walk. In this, we had but one mind on the matter, for had he not suggested it I myself would have; but this morning I found myself conveniently pre-empted, and it was, so it would seem, by his design."
"And if not you, then I am certain my mother would suggested it." She laughed. "We are all as bad as each other, for I was also struck by the convenience of such a scheme."
They wandered along the path a little way, yet Elizabeth soon grew thoughtful. "Would my mother like you for a son, do you think?"
"You would know the answer to that better than I," he replied. "Not only am I ill qualified to judge her thoughts regarding myself with impartiality, but she is your mother, and thus you are more qualified to know her disposition than I. Your father, I gather, is very much fond of you, more so than your mother, however if your father does not object, I cannot see that your mother would protest."
"Should we apply for my parents consent soon, do you think? I cannot help think that doing so would frequently expose you to the notice of my relations, and I am in two minds as to whether it ought to be attempted soon; yet, nothing can be gained by its delay, but the increasing anxiety one feels of the approaching moment, - therefore it is my belief that it ought to be done without delay."
"If it is your will, I will apply to your father this evening for his consent."
"Then I shall undertake the application of my mother's, however, I feel it should be done after you and Bingley have gone, that you need not be subjected to her effusions any longer than necessary - I do not doubt there will be plenty of time for that once it is known."
It was thereby settled between them, and their walk continued in pleasant conversation on other things, without much attention to the progress of the morning, until their watches reminded them they would be late for lunch if they did not quicken their pace; and so it was a slightly hasty couple that arrived at Longbourn an hour late for lunch, looking rather embarrassed at losing track of the hour for a second time.
Mrs Hill met them in the hall as they were divesting themselves of their coats, and informed them that the family was just sitting down to eat, as Mrs Bennet had declared that they could not wait for them a moment longer; to which Elizabeth asked if she would be so kind as to offer their apologies and inform them that they would be there directly. Darcy caught her half supressed smile with a knowing look, and Elizabeth hoped Mrs Hill would not misrepresent their tardiness and secret smiles to her family, but she had missed the conspiratory looks between them and was already gone.
"If you can discern my ploys with such ease, Mr Darcy," said she, pausing at the door where her family sat, "next time I seek an answer from you that I do not wish to ask directly, I shall not be so apparent in my questioning."
"Then I shall look forward to it," replied he, with a smile, and followed her into the dining room.
That evening, when Mr Bennet retired to the library, Mr Darcy followed him, expressing an interest in seeing it. His own library was extensive, and Bingley had informed him that, though it was small, for a country gentleman Mr Bennet's was not inconsiderable and the collection of books he had were of good quality. After some little silence, Darcy ventured to inquire as to which books Mr Bennet was partial to. They spent some time discussing the merits of this work or that, and eventually Darcy, deciding there was no point in forestalling the moment further, put down the book he had attempted to take an interest in, and addressed Mr Bennet:
"It can be no small wonder to you, that I have expressed a desire to see your collection of works, when previously I have not. - I confess that I have a great interest in reading, and take a prodigious deal of pride in my own library. It is one subject has never yet failed to inspire me."
Indeed, Mr Bennet had been wondering what had prompted his sudden interest, and said as much. "But I have no objection," he added, "to converse with those who share my interest in reading. It is not often that I meet with a gentleman who shares my passion for books, and seldom still, that his taste should be so similar to my own. I dare say, and you may well agree, that there is nothing like a good book to divert oneself from life's little trials. With five females in this house and a wedding to prepare for, there is only so much lace and muslin a man can endure."
"Having never had a marriage to look forward to of my own, sir, I cannot comment on the finer points involved with matrimony. Bingley's marriage to your eldest daughter constitutes almost my entire experience in such affairs. However, though my knowledge of such things is of little consequence, my interest was but a small part of the reason I followed you here it brings me to the point of my visit, involving a matter of a similar nature."
"Well then," the former closed his book, "if solitude and books was not your true purpose, let us hear what it is. I am all attention. You have not, I hope, any objections to Jane's marriage," he added, suddenly concerned.
"I have no scruples to your eldest daughter marrying Bingley. - There is not one man whom I would wish see as happy in his choice of wife than he - except perhaps, myself - and in Miss Bennet, he has found one who will bring him the greatest of joys; - one can only pray that her sisters will find equal felicity in marriage. The matter I speak of relates to Miss Elizabeth Bennet."
"Lizzy? What? has she offended you?" Mr Bennet had not his wife's love of matchmaking, and, ignorant as he was of the events leading to this meeting, and still retaining the belief that his daughter held no partiality for Mr Darcy, it had never occurred to him that the latter could seriously entertain the idea of marrying his daughter, let alone that she would accept. - That Darcy alluded to something more was furthest from his mind. "Well then, I believe I can discern your motive, yet allow me to say, Mr Darcy, that I believe you have unnecessarily troubled yourself for something so trifling; - but, perhaps you take such things with more gravity than we. I can only assume that this nonsense of your supposedly being engaged to Lizzy has come to your attention, and, either you feel impelled to come all the way to Longbourn because the rumour offends you and you seek an end to it; or you feel it is your duty to gratify your honour that Lizzy has entered into no such false misconception; in which case you may lay your concerns to rest. - I assure you that neither she nor the rest of her family are under any illusions such as you imply, and I own the matter has quite diverted us. I expect it will all die down eventually and you shall have your dignity restored to you, though perhaps not as soon as one would like."
"Miss Bennet has not offended me; - believe me, when I say I hold your daughter in the highest regard. I have nothing but the deepest respect and admiration for her; she is the most agreeable woman I have had the pleasure of knowing, and, I hope, I will continue to know her as such. Under such circumstances as you suggest, I would indeed feel impelled to act, yet your conjecture is based on the assumption that I find myself offended by the rumour, when such is not the situation. In fact, it was that rumour which drew me thither, with the thought of proposing to your daughter without further delay, and yesterday I had the honour of being accepted."
Mr Bennet's astonishment could not have greater. He sat back in his chair, quite speechless for several seconds.
"Well," said he, "well then, this is something I did not expect. Quite a surprise in fact." He poured himself a glass of brandy, offering Darcy one as an afterthought, which was declined. "I have not been so astonished since an express came to tell us of Lydia running away from Brighton in the middle of the night. So you wish to marry my Lizzy, do you? And she has consented to this?" Darcy confirmed this was so. "How - when did this come about, if I may inquire? I had not the slightest notion that there was any partiality, on either side."
"I sought for, and was given, her hand in marriage while out we were out walking just yesterday. For Elizabeth's side of the story, you must inquire of her, but it had been my thought since the moment I discovered there being a doubt of your daughter's indifference, to know at once her feelings towards me and seek her consent to be my wife. Your daughter I admired long before I cared to admit it to myself, and longer still before I found the courage and the words with which to express it. It only remains that the consent of yourself and Mrs Bennet be given."
"Well then, if she has agreed to it, and you are certain you shall both be happy together, I doubt there is not one man in the whole of England who would dare oppose such a match." He recovered his aplomb somewhat, and stood to shake Darcy's hand. "Mrs Bennet will be pleased to hear she has a third wedding to plan for, when one would have sufficed to satisfy her; and her eldest two married to two highly respected gentlemen, I am sure we shall not hear the end of it for weeks. I wish you every happiness in life, and hope you both share equal joy in it. If you could send Lizzy in here on your way out, I would much appreciate it."
Though there was genuine affection in his heartfelt congratulations, as he left, Mr Darcy perceived the former's poorly concealed unease, yet attributed the greater part of it to surprise. On entering the parlour, his eyes immediately sought Elizabeth's and gave her a reassuring smile. In a few minutes he approached the table where she was sitting with Kitty; and, while pretending to admire her work said in a whisper, "Go to your father, he wants you in the library." She was gone directly.
Her father was walking about the room, looking grave and anxious. "Lizzy," said he, "what are you doing? Are you out of your senses, to be accepting this man? Have not you always hated him?"
How earnestly did she then wish that her former opinions had been more reasonable, her expressions more moderate! It would have spared her from explanations and professions which it was exceedingly awkward to give; but they were now necessary, and she assured him, with some confusion, of her attachment to Mr. Darcy.
"Perhaps I did not always love him as I do now, but my belief in his arrogance, his indifference towards me, without a greater understanding of his disposition and character so well as I thought I should, was in grave error. Without knowing the circumstances which surrounded him or troubling myself to become more fully acquainted them, I was affected by my pride in judging others, and spoke out in his censure with thoughtless imprudence and an ill-judged opinion. On becoming more acquainted with him, through our meeting at Hunsford, and again while touring Derbyshire with my aunt and uncle, I have gained a deeper understanding of his character, seeing a side free from reserve and hauteur; and all my former prejudices have since been reversed, to the point where I believe him to be the most amiable man of my acquaintance. I can think of no other man more agreeable to me than he is at the moment."
"Or, in other words, you are determined to have him. He is rich, to be sure, and you may have more fine clothes and fine carriages than Jane. But will they make you happy?"
"Have you any other objection," said Elizabeth, "than your belief of my indifference?"
"None at all. We all know him to be a proud, unpleasant sort of man; but this would be nothing if you really liked him."
"I do, I do like him," she replied, with tears in her eyes, "I love him. Indeed he has no improper pride. He is perfectly amiable. You do not know what he really is; then pray do not pain me by speaking of him in such terms."
"Lizzy," said her father, "I have given him my consent. He is the kind of man, indeed, to whom I should never dare refuse any thing, which he condescended to ask. I now give it to you, if you are resolved on having him. But let me advise you to think better of it. I know your disposition, Lizzy. I know that you could be neither happy nor respectable, unless you truly esteemed your husband; unless you looked up to him as a superior. Your lively talents would place you in the greatest danger in an unequal marriage. You could scarcely escape discredit and misery. My child, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life. You know not what you are about."
"Sir, I am fully aware of what I am doing, and I do it with the greatest expectation of being the happiest of people. I could not marry any other than Mr Darcy, nor could I be as certain as I am, of being more contented with him than with anyone else. He is the most agreeable man I have ever known. I know it must seem that our affection for each other is but the work of a day, but it has withstood the test of many months' suspense. During the time I have known him, my respect and esteem for him have grown so gradually, that I was unaware of the depth of my admiration and gratitude until a few months ago; in this I believe, his feelings are much the same as mine. He is so generous, - you cannot know how generous he is, and he is not proud at all. It is merely reserve that makes him appear so, and he merely lacks the talent of conversing with ease that others have among those with whom he is not intimately acquainted. I have seen how perfectly amiable he can be, and he is not awkwardness and pride at all."
"Well, my dear," said he, when she ceased speaking, "I have no more to say. If this be the case, he deserves you. I could not have parted with you, my Lizzy, to any one less worthy."
"It gladdens me to hear you say that, papa. I feared you would be very much disappointed by my decision, but now let me tell you of the reasons why I so dearly love Mr Darcy. We are deeply indebted to his kindness and generosity, sir, more than words can express our gratitude. I was quite distressed, as you may well imagine, on hearing of Lydia's elopement. Moments after reading Jane's letter I could scarcely think with any vestige of sense or reason, but to find my aunt and uncle with all possible haste, yet, even before I could reach the door, before I even had time to compose myself, Mr Darcy entered the room. It was impossible for me, distressed as I was to conceal the reason for my affliction, and thus I disclosed the whole of it to him. He stayed but a short time to give what consolation he could - though he knew it could not be enough, and I thought as he left, how improbable it was that I should ever see him again; that no matter what his feelings for me, it could not be enough to overcome his unwillingness to participate in our disgrace, yet I could not have been more mistaken in my presumption, nor later rejoiced that I had misread his gravity. A day after we left Derbyshire, I have since learnt that he himself left for London, with the sole purpose of discovering Wickham and Lydia. He knew, far better than anyone in Hertfordshire could ever discover, that a woman with so little fortune as she had to give would not tempt Wickham to marry her. He has every reason in the world to despise Mr Wickham, however Mr Darcy felt responsible for with-holding his greater understanding of Wickham's character, and set out not only discovered where they were hiding, but offer him sufficient money to make it worth Wickham's while to marry Lydia. He then paid off all his debts such as they currently existed, and bought him his commission in the north.
"There is not a doubt in my mind that no other man would have the means or the inclination to accomplish what has been done, and, once I became apprised of what he had done for poor Lydia; - that he deigned to put himself to so much trouble for my sake," Elizabeth could not help blushing a little at this point, "I could not help but express to him my deepest gratitude. That he determined to use any method within his power to make the match solely for my benefit merely increased my already highly favourable admiration for him, and endeared him to me more. It is my belief that no other man is more perfectly suited to my temperament."
Mr Bennet heard her in silent astonishment until she had finished, exclaiming at the end of it, "This is an evening of wonders, indeed! And so, Darcy did every thing: made up the match, gave the money, paid the fellow's debts, and got him his commission! So much the better. It will save me a world of trouble and economy. Had it been your uncle's doing, I must and would have paid him; but these violent young lovers carry every thing their own way. I shall offer to pay him to-morrow; he will rant and storm about his love for you, and there will be an end of the matter."
He then recollected her embarrassment a few days before, on his reading Mr. Collins's letter; and after laughing at her some time, allowed her at last to go - saying, as she quitted the room, "If any young men come for Mary or Kitty, send them in, for I am quite at leisure."
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