The day after Elizabeth had told her mama about Mr. Darcy's proposal, Mrs. Bennet felt sufficiently recovered to be able to take the carriage into Meryton and call upon her sister Phillips proclaiming the good news. After hearing her sister's enthused congratulations and elation at the superior match of her niece, it galled her into stopping at Lucas Lodge to boast to Lady Lucas of her daughter's good fortune.
Lady Lucas was livid upon hearing the news. After all what was one daughter married to a clergyman, when Frances Bennet had one married to an officer at sixteen, one engaged to the owner of Netherfield Park and Elizabeth due to marry into one of the richest families in Derbyshire? She felt ill and bore Mrs. Bennet's gloating about the size of Pemberley and the jewels and riches her two eldest daughters would have with irate patience. When she bade Mrs. Bennet a joyful farewell, she settled herself into the chair of her writing desk and set about composing a missive to Mrs. Long condemning wholeheartedly "those artful Bennets!"
Once the news had spread, the mamas of Meryton and surrounding areas were inconsolable. Frances Bennet was generally agreed to be the luckiest mother in Hertfordshire, and with the messages of congratulations and good health that poured in for Jane and Elizabeth, other private letters, seeking Mrs. Bennets advice and opinion from anxious mamas with unmarried daughters, also reached Longbourn. Mrs. Bennet answered them as best she could, feeling at last her nerves somewhat settle as she realised the fortunate state she was in.
However while Mr. Bingley and Jane were seen as a couple very much in love, the speculation as to Mr. Darcy's attraction to Elizabeth was greatly debated. The romantics preferred to believe it was a union of passion, comparing it to "Much Ado About Nothing." This opinion was not widely shared as in general most people just thought she was marrying him for his money and estate. After all, although he was a handsome man, who could truly love a man as proud as Mr. Darcy? Elizabeth knew of these gossip and rumours and it hurt her deeply. She failed to see what right any person could have to judge her marriage as merely a mercenary match.
One Friday morning, a fortnight before the wedding Lady Lucas and Mrs. Long called to pass on their congratulations and to admire the trousseaus.
"Shall you all be attending the assembly tonight?" asked Lady Lucas when the ladies were assembled in the drawing room taking tea. Mrs. Bennet, her mouth half full of cream sponge cake, nodded in definite agreement.
"Naturally!" she replied when she had swallowed, "Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley will be in attendance and I know how upset they would be if their fianc»es failed to attend. Besides, there is still Kitty and Mary to marry off, though Mr. Stevens my brothers new clerk has been paying particular attention to my Mary on his visits you know!" Mary blushed and buried her head in "History of the Northern Renaissance" to avoid more gossip on the subject.
Mrs. Long and Lady Lucas raised their eyes privately at each other; both thinking that another Bennet daughter married was all they needed! If Mrs. Bennet could succeed in marrying Mary to this clerk then that was her biggest problem solved, since Kitty was reasonably pretty and would knowing Mrs Bennet's luck grow to be a beauty like Jane when she grew older.
"Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy are due to call later for tea," Mrs. Bennet continued, "They call most everyday. I do believe I have never seen two gentlemen more in love than my daughter's fianc»es! If they do not call, they send letters or a present of some sort. Why Lizzy, show Mrs. Long the bracelet Mr. Darcy gave you on his return from Pemberley the other week. He was delayed in his return and to make amends he brought her this charming trinket of his mother's! He is such a gentleman."
Elizabeth reluctantly allowed her arm be examined by Lady Lucas and Mrs. Long who praised the bracelet. "Is Mr. Darcy often called away on business?" Mrs. Long asked her.
"His affairs in Pemberley do take up much of his time ma'am," answered Elizabeth, "He also has a smallholding in India and a plantation in America to oversee which causes him to be called away to London frequently."
"That is a surprise," replied Lady Lucas who was determined to belittle Elizabeth's good fortune to some extent, "I would have thought if a man was so very much in love as your mother proclaims he would remain by his good lady's side until the wedding. However there is no doubt that you are a very fortunate girl, Elizabeth." She felt a glimmer of satisfaction as she saw Elizabeth's downcast look.
"Yes Mr. Darcy is quite the catch," continued Mrs. Long, "Ten thousand a year, all those estates and a gentleman at that. No wonder you are so willing to marry him!" Lady Lucas giggled, "He is such a fine gentleman too, so friendly and engaging to everyone, always happy and courteous." There was a silence in which no one in the room looked at Elizabeth, save Jane who put a comforting hand on her sister's arm.
"Mr. Bingley appears very much enamoured by you Jane," Mrs. Long finally commented, "Indeed he praises you to everyone, even to my dear husband. Mr. Darcy is somewhat more limited in his acknowledgement. I am sure you will have a very happy marriage." Jane thanked her neighbour.
Elizabeth could bear it no longer and excused herself from the drawing room to go for a walk in the garden. Her neighbours' snide comments weighed heavily on her mind and she felt that everyone in the country must think she was marrying Mr. Darcy for his money and for no true affection. Only her papa, Jane and Mrs. Gardiner knew of her love for her fianc»e and she was at a loss as to how to rectify the situation.
It was in this state of mind that Mr. Darcy found her when he called later that evening. Jane informed him briefly of what had passed in the conversation and entreated him gently to console her sister. He asked of her whereabouts and was directed into the rose garden where he found his beloved sitting on a wooden bench staring at the ground in deep thought.
"Elizabeth," he murmured wrapping a shawl around her shoulders, "Your sister thought you might feel a chill in the air and instructed me to give you this." She moved a little on the bench in order to give him room to be seated. He took her hand and looked into her eyes saying, "Jane also told me of Mrs. Long and Lady Lucas's comments. I am so sorry they have grieved you thus." Elizabeth said nothing for awhile but gave his hand a tender squeeze to let him know she thanked him. Finally she replied quietly, "I wish that I could make people see how much I love you." Mr. Darcy smiled endearingly and put is arm around her.
"What does it matter my love, as long as you and I know it? People must always gossip and speculate, and we are merely a new topic. Next week they will have something new to talk about and we shall be forgotten."
"But will we? How can you be certain?" she asked angrily, "I do not wish to be known as "That Bennet girl who married a rich man." I do not want to be an example for young girls in how to attract a rich suitor. How is it that Mr. Bingley and Jane are considered very much in love and he has five thousand a year, yet I am just marrying for money?"
He was at a loss how to answer. "Perhaps it is because of the difference in personalities between Bingley and myself. He declares and shows his affection where as I am content to merely feel it."
"Well it is your "contentment" that makes every person in Meryton think that I am a mercenary fortune hunter!" she spat out furiously, "You should have heard them mock you Fitzwilliam! Describing you as friendly and courteous to everyone, then highlighting the fact that Mr. Bingley tells everyone of his love for Jane and you barely acknowledge that we are engaged!" Once said, the words were instantly regretted. She felt him draw away from her, and he refused to meet her eyes, staring at the ground as he replied, "I cannot heave my heart into my mouth Elizabeth. If I loved you less perhaps I could act as others do and inform every inhabitant of this village of my regard for you. However I have always felt a true marriage of minds or as Georgiana describes it romantically "connection of souls" requires no such broadcast or acknowledgement, except between the man and woman concerned."
"It just makes me think and feel that you are ashamed in someway of me, and of our engagement," she said hesitantly. He turned instantly to face her and pulled her into his arms.
"How can you think that? How can you feel that I am ashamed of you? I am so proud of the fact you consented to be my wife. Everyday I wake up and thank God for my good fortune! And everyday I wonder and ask myself how can such a beautiful, wonderful, dearest creature like you possibly want to spend the rest of your life with me? I could never be ashamed of you. You must know how much I love you!"
"I do, I do," Elizabeth repeated fervently with her eyes threatening to spill over with tears.
"Perhaps I do not tell everyone of my love for you, but I tell all the people who truly matter to me; Georgiana, Bingley, Fitzwilliam, my friends at my club in London, my Aunt and Uncle Matlock, even Mrs. Reynolds. The people in this neighbourhood do not like me Elizabeth, and it is my own fault for the stubborn proud way I greeted them last year. So how could I ever expect them to understand the regard I have for you? I could not do it justice if I tried."
Elizabeth was overcome by the tenderness and humility in his tone and reached out to caress his face. He caught her hand and kissed it softly.
"Forgive me Fitzwilliam for taking my bad humour out on you. It is just that Lady Lucas and Mrs. Long emphasised your journeys away and undermined our engagement. I forgot that they cannot understand our happiness."
"My journeys away ensure that I have more time to spend with you after we are married dearest. It is necessary to go to London so that I may consolidate my estates and wealth for our future life together and so that I may provide for our children. Believe me I feel every absence as greatly as you do, and would much rather stay than go. But it is business, business that I can neither avoid nor suspend if I am to be able to make our future secure. Besides," he added with a mischievous smile, "my business will be ensure that you have fine dresses, jewels and pin money that your mother may boast about endlessly to those spiteful vindictive women ā an apt revenge indeed!"
Elizabeth laughed reluctantly and leaned up to kiss her fianc»e. "Truly," she whispered, "You are the very best of men."
Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy had returned from the garden in better spirits and after tea both Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy returned to Netherfield allowing the ladies enough time to prepare themselves for the assembly. Jane was fitting on a new pink dress from London when Elizabeth knocked timidly on her door. When she caught sight of Jane with a tender smile on her face which she knew to be from thinking of Mr. Bingley she sighed.
"Oh Jane, you look so very beautiful. He will not be able to take his eyes off you tonight."
Jane blushed prettily and asked shyly, "Do you really think so Lizzy?"
"Definitely!" affirmed her sister, "That dress is almost like a dream Jane. You remind me of a medieval princess in one of those childish story books."
"It was an engagement present from aunt Gardiner," Jane replied. "I only received it yesterday, and it's so pretty! Enough lace and silk to make me feel like a true princess. Would you mind Lizzy?" She held up tiny rosebuds in the same light pink colour to be put in her hair. Elizabeth sat down at the edge of the bed and began threading her sister's fair hair with the flowers. While she was thus occupied Jane began hesitantly, "I hope Mrs. Long and Lady Lucas did not upset you today. They were very unkind."
"Jane!" admonished Elizabeth playfully, "Censure from your lips? Shocking indeed! But in truth I was hurt. I wish they could understand him and think better of him. I hate that the general populace of Meryton believe that I am marrying him for his money. And for Lady Lucas to criticise of all people? You and I know that Charlotte married for a comfortable situation and not for any great regard. It's quite impossible!"
Her sister turned to look at her. "Lizzy dearest I know you love Fitzwilliam, and I believe that anyone who sees you in your intimate moments together can have no doubt of this affection. Mrs. Long and Lady Lucas have forgotten what it is like to be young, I suppose, and now view marriage and love as means of elevating situation or gaining status. How can you expect them to understand that he loves you and you him?"
"That is exactly what he said to me this afternoon in the garden. I do believe you are both correct, and that it would be silly of me to expect anything better from our neighbours. Now my dear I am finished and you are a vision! I shall be very surprised if Charles does not pull you into his arms and beg you to elope before the night is over," she remarked archly. Jane laughed and stood up to smooth the crease in her skirts. Her face radiated the happiness she felt, and Lizzy almost felt a twinge of envy at her sister's transparent jubilation. Almost but not quiteš.after all Charles was no Mr. Darcy!
In Netherfield Elizabeth's earlier words were haunting Mr. Darcy. "You should have heard them mock you Fitzwilliam! Describing you as friendly and courteous to everyone." As his valet fixed his cravat, he took a long hard look at himself in the mirror and the servant used to his master's introspective moods left the room silently. Usually the opinions of Meryton inhabitants mattered very little to him as he considered them brash, vulgar and unruly. But that they would openly ridicule his personality was worrying, and that they should doubt his love for Elizabeth: incomprehensible! A brisk knock on the door stirred him from his reverie.
"Darce! Are you ready?!" Bingley asked with a hint of impatience.
"I'm coming," he replied with a final look at himself. Bingley opened the door, "Darce what ever is the matter? You have been in an odd sort of mood ever since we returned from Longbourn. Did you have a quarrel with Elizabeth?"
"No...no nothing like that. It is just...Bingley, do you think I am not friendly?"
His friend stared back at him, unsure of how to answer.
"Well...you are not as lively as most people in company, and some times you can come across as intimidating, but you are never rude or uncivil. Besides, you are friendly enough with us. Whatever made you ask?"
"Something Lady Lucas said," Darcy responded, "Do you think Elizabeth and I are in love?"
By now Bingley was very perplexed. "Of course man “ everyone can see it from the way you look at each other. I remember you being despondent for weeks in London after she left Pemberley. No one who truly knew you could doubt your love for her...or hers for you."
Darcy nodded, with his fears somewhat settled. "Let us go then. You are eager to be in Jane's company and we have delayed too long." Bingley smiled and they made their way to the porch where the carriage stood waiting. Twenty minutes later they had arrived in Meryton but before Darcy entered the ballroom Bingley stopped him.
"Darce, people always speculate. If it is not you and Lizzy, it is Jane and I. What matters however is what you think and feel yourself, not someone else's opinion."
"Now something odd is up “ you are being the sensible one giving me advice!" laughed Darcy.
Bingley shook his head at him and handed his coat, hat and gloves to the servant. Darcy did likewise and the two men walked on in to greet their neighbours, friends and most importantly their fianc»es. Bingley, not unlike many young gentlemen in the room was struck speechless at the sight of Jane and stood there for several minutes gaping.
"I do believe what my friend wishes to say, were he not trying to imitate a goldfish out of water, is that you look absolutely stunningly beautiful Jane, and that he is the most fortunate man in the world," Darcy told her taking her hand and raising it to his lips. Jane blushed becomingly at his praise and even more at his kiss.
"Why Mr. Darcy," came a voice behind him, "I do believe you will turn my sisters head with your flattery. Are you sure you are not marrying the wrong Bennet sister?" He turned to see Elizabeth smiling archly at him.
"I am most decidedly sure dearest. Bingley may be the most fortunate man on earth, but I am the most fortunate man in the universe. Jane is admittedly exquisite and wonderful, but she does not have your eyes...nor your hair, nor your hands," he replied kissing both palms tenderly.
Elizabeth's eyes widened with a shock that was not altogether unpleasant. He had said all this to her, and in full hearing of Lady Lucas and Mrs. Long too. The two women were looking at Darcy as though he was a strange animal of some sort.
"I beg that you will favour me with the first dance. I shall be definitely despondent should you not dance three or four sets with me tonight." Elizabeth murmured her agreement, and he turned to Jane to ask her for a dance as well. She readily accepted, her cheeks still warm from his earlier comments.
Elizabeth's amazement continued to grow throughout the whole night. Darcy conversed with every gentleman in the room, in particular with her father and Sir William Lucas. They discussed fishing, farming and politics and he even went as far as to extend an invitation to the Lucases to Pemberley next autumn. His charm was in full display when he was in company with Mrs. Bennet, Mrs. Phillips, Mrs. Long and Lady Lucas and he simpered and smiled accordingly, praising Elizabeth's beauty and talent as she played the pianoforte. He bore their intrusive questions remarkably well responding with polite and charming answers. He was full of approval for the proposal of extending the assembly another hour, partnered Mrs. Bennet with a smile for the quadrille, and danced every single dance without so much as a grimace.
Everyone in the room shared Elizabeth's wonder, commenting on what a charming and handsome man he was and how Mr. Wickham was a scoundrel. Elizabeth was happy, or felt she should be but rather wished that she could keep her fianc»e to herself. This desire was not helped when she saw him almost flirting with her sister Kitty and Maria Lucas. Walking over to the three she was about to ask him to take a turn in the garden with her when Lady Lucas interrupted.
"Why Elizabeth you fortunate girl! I can scarcely believe it is the same Mr. Darcy. Mrs. Long and I were just commenting on how changed he is," she remarked in an audible whisper. Darcy heard her comment and turned to face the two. He wrapped a familiar arm around his fiances waist and kissed her hand. "The change my dear Lady Lucas has occurred from the love of a good woman," he replied impertinently with a devastating smile. Lady Lucas felt herself go weak and could speak no more. Seizing this chance the pair escaped to the balcony.
"She is right Fitzwilliam, you...you are not yourself this evening," Elizabeth commented hesitantly.
"Do you disapprove?" he returned studying her eyes closely.
"I do not exactly like to see you flirt and simper and smile and--"
"Yes, yes, I see your point," he said wearily.
"Do you?" she asked hotly, "If I had wanted to marry a man like that I would have encouraged George Wickham!"
Darcy reeled as though she had struck him.
"You believe my behaviour tonight to be equal to his?" he inquired in a faltering voice.
"No! No! Oh forget I ever said such a stupid thing!" Elizabeth pleaded reaching for his arm. He shook her hand away roughly.
"Elizabeth I cannot win with you! This very afternoon you were close to tears because I was not sociable enough “ now you do not like it when I am. What am I expected to do? Tonight I tried to be friendly and courteous since you said they mocked me. I conversed and danced, and every time I wished to retreat to a corner in silence I thought of you, and continued. Do you have any idea of how hard that was? To be jovial with people who have openly criticised me behind my back?"
Elizabeth shook her head and blinked trying to hold back tears.
"I made sure everyone was aware of my regard for you. I showed them all how much I respect and love you. All so that when we return to Pemberley, no one will feel and sympathy or can have any cause to belittle you. And now, it does not please you? Elizabeth I am implicitly following the directions you gave me this morning, yet you are dissatisfied?"
Now she made no attempt to control the tears and they rolled freely down her cheeks.
"I did not wish for you to be like this. I do not like it when you flirt and dance with other women, and pander to mama," she said quietly
"Yet I am to be agreeable when you do so with other men?" he asked, "You are allowed to be extroverted in company and I am not? What kind of a standard is that?"
"It is not you!" she replied desperately, "You are not behaving like yourself, and everyone likes you. This should not be the way to gain affection."
"It is the way everyone does Elizabeth. In our society, you must hold back and sacrifice a part of your true self in order to fit in. You know this for you have done it for years. Everyone has."
"I do not compromise my character completely so that I may "fit in"!" she argued.
"Really? You visit Charlotte and Mr. Collins and be their guest, despite your strong disapproval with the match."
She had no answer for him and she stood silently contemplating his words.
"I do not know which hurts most," he finally said, "the fact that you cannot accept me the way I am or that you despise for trying to become the man you want me to be. Tonight I have gone against my principals and my better judgement in order to please you and it has made you angry. I honestly cannot comprehend why. This can only lead me to wonder that if I can never please you, then perhaps I do not deserve you. I will release you from our engagement."
She stared at him in shock.
"Without so much as a fight? Fitzwilliam, I am hurt," she replied bitterly.
"You do not wish me to fight for you Elizabeth," he returned, "And though it breaks my heart to do so I will not have you married to me and be unhappy." He turned to walk back into the room.
"I could never be unhappy married to you," she stated honestly at his back. "I love you. Nothing in the way you act could change that. Please don't walk away. Perhaps my earlier comments make you doubt my words but I do love you, so very much."
He twisted around to face her, "Then why are we having this argument in the first place?"
"I don't know" she said laughing and crying at the same time. "Tonight I was jealous and foolish. The way you acted in there is the way you usually act with me alone and I am reluctant to share you. That room is now filled with half a dozen women more pretty and accomplished than I and quite willing to take my place. I am afraid that now when everyone realises how wonderful you are, you will be taken away from me."
"Elizabeth, dearest," he soothed pulling her into his arms with no regard for propriety or moral code. "You are a silly girl. I love you. I always will. You are what makes me wonderful. Do you think that any woman in there would look at me, were it not for the transformation you brought about in me?"
She shook her head as he wiped away her tears with his thumb.
"I promise you that I will always remain true to myself when I am with you. It is only in society that---"
She silenced him with her mouth and when they finally broke apart, she smiled.
"I don't think I shall mind what way you act in society, as long as you are there with me. I am so sorry for being an ungrateful wretch tonight and failing to appreciate how much of an effort it was for you to behave so charmingly and agreeable."
"It is my fault," he insisted, "It should not be such an effort to do so, and I should not hold it against you. Let us forget this nonsense! In two weeks we will be married and away from here."
"I cannot wait," she replied simply. He bent down for another gentle kiss, and together they returned to the assembly, determined not to let any further speculation come between them.
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