Letters and Reactions
(This begins a few days after Darcy's second proposal to Elizabeth, and you all know how that ended. So here we go . . .)
The gentlemen from Netherfield were now regular visitors to the Longbourn estate, often arriving quite early in the morning. So when breakfast had passed and no visitors appeared, Jane and Elizabeth began to wonder. A servant from Netherfield soon appeared with a note for Jane.
My dear Jane,
Darcy's cousin and sister have arrived, they left the moment they recieved his letters, it would seem. I am to show them the grounds at Netherfield, and would like you and Elizabeth to join us for lunch. Come as soon as you can on the receipt of this.
"But Jane," said Kitty, "you promised to come with me to Meryton. I am in desperate need of a new dress."
"Yes, so I did. And I shall keep my promise," replied Jane.
"Go to Meryton, when you have been invited to Netherfield!" exclaimed their mother," No you shall not. I want you to go to Netherfield, Jane, and see Mr. Bingley."
"But I have promised Kitty. Lizzy may go ahead of me. I should not take long, and I can take my Aunt Philips' horse and join them before lunch." Elizabeth didn't argue. She was impatient to see Darcy again.
Her family were still in a state of surprise, though they had the knowledge of her engagement to Mr. Darcy for some days. But surprise had not frozen her mother's tongue, and the news of the engagement was spreading like wildfire throughout Meryton.
Elizabeth turned to her father, sitting at the head of the table and asked for the carriage. Mr. Bennet replied that it was not possible. "It seems that whenever an invitation like this comes up, the carriage must be unavailable.
His second daughter smiled and said, "Then I shall, again, be obliged to walk." Mrs. Bennet lamented that Elizabeth would present an unfavourable first impression on her future relatives. Jane laughed and replied that at least it had not rained.
The three sisters set off together. Upon reaching Meryton, they parted. Kitty's eyes automatically roved in search of a scarlet coat but soon corrected herself and proceeded with Jane to the dressmakers.
Alone, Elizabeth walked three miles towards Netherfield. Along the way, she imagined the reactions of each person when she would arrive. When she came in sight of the house, she espied a group of three men and a lady near the trees. She ran in that direction, and to her satisfaction, saw that the members of the group reacted in the way she had imagined them to.
Mr. Charles Bingley gave his greetings then inquired after Jane's whereabouts. She told him that Jane will arrive for lunch, then thanked Colonel Fitzwilliam for his congratulations and his compliments. Georgiana Darcy gave her a shy smile and added her congratulations to her cousins and professed her happiness on their being sisters.
Darcy came forward, kissed her hand (and lingered over it).
"You look remerkably well, Elizabeth. And if anyone should comment on the fact that she has walked all this way alone will have to answer to me!" said he, remembering Miss Bingley's comments last year.
"No fear of that, cousin," said the Colonel, "And I must say that your engagement has improved Darcy enormously, Miss Elizabeth. He was quite desolate during those days in London."
"Oh?" said Elizabeth. She looked tenderly into Darcy's eyes. He had taken her arm and was walking along beside her. "And why was that?"
He smiled back, something that was all to rare before his engagement and replied, "Because I was unhappy - I did not know if I had done enough to banish your dislike of me."
Georgiana was surprised - she had never known that Elizabeth had disliked Darcy. Looking at the couple now, she found the fact to be impossible, and immediatly asked why Elizabeth had disliked her brother so much. Elizabeth said, "Do you really wish to know why?" With the strong assent of the entire party, she proceeded to perform a passing imitation of Darcy at last year's Meryton assembly. She began to laugh as she repeated what her lover had said of her at their first meeting, about her being just 'tolerable'. The entire group except Darcy laughed with her. He blushed and looked away.
"You do not know how many times I have regretted my words that evening. I was a complete fool. Will you forgive me Elizabeth?" He looked back at her and gazed shyly into her face.
Elizabeth moved closer to him and said, "Only if you will forgive me for thinking so ill of you."
Heedless of the company around them, who had become silent and were watching the scene with amusement, he leaned towards Elizabeth. "I do forgive you."
"As do I."
Time seemed to slow, and their lips met in a tender kiss ....... which was cut short by Colonel Fitzwilliam telling them to save it for the wedding. Blushing, they parted amid the good-natured laughter of their friends and family. Georgiana was delighted. She had never seen her brother so happy.
Though their lips had seperated, their hands had not. And they remained like that as the party walked into the house.
Bingley sat down at his desk and thought for a full ten minutes before beginning to write. He then thought of something and called to Elizabeth and Darcy, who were sitting together listening to Georigiana play the piano.
"Shall I inform Caroline of your engagement?"
Darcy looked at his beloved and smiled. "No," he said, "Let us spare her the shock until she arrives here. Then we shall let her know, where we can see her reaction." Elizabeth thought back to all of Miss Bingley's cruel comments and actions towards Jane, and Darcy remembered how irritating Miss Bingley could be, and how spiteful she had been to Elizabeth. They both smiled and anticipated Miss Bingley's reaction to the news.
Darcy told Bingley to tell his sister that he was eargerly awaiting her arrival . . . though for a totally different reason than the one she would imagine.
Jane Bennet soon arrived. Bingley took her hand (he was too shy to do anything more) and introduced her to the Colonel and Miss Darcy. Colonel Fitzwilliwm shook her hand, and Georgiana was immedietly put at ease by Jane's sweet and caring disposition. They sat down to lunch, and afterwards engaged in conversation.
Darcy and Elizabeth soon seperated from the party, and quietly went for a walk outside.
"I am impatient to see Miss Bingley's reaction to the news of our engagement. What do you think she will do?" asked Darcy.
On his side, Elizabeth thought and said, "I imagine she will give us her most charming and insincere congratulations, or she will be shocked into silence."
"One could wish for the latter." They laughed, then fell silent, content to remain in each other's presence.
Darcy led Elizabeth under one of the large trees, surrouded by a carpet of autumn leaves. He gently caressed her cheek and she sighed in happiness. Darcy reached into his pocket and took out a folded white hankercheif, which he unfolded to reveal a simple yet elegant ring. He opened Elizabeth's hand and placed it on her palm.
"I had forgotten to ask Georgiana to bring this with her, but she realised what I had neglected to tell her. Will you accept it?"
Elizabeth smiled. "Yes, I will. But keep it for me until the whole of our aquaintance know about our coming marriage. Have you written to your Aunt Catherine yet? I have yet to tell my Aunt and Uncle Gardiner."
"Yes, I have. I thanked her. And despite what she says, I do not care if we will be censured by everyone. I have you, and that is worth everything."
He moved in closer until his body was pressed against hers. She reached up and brushed back his hair, and they continued the kiss that Colonel Fitzwilliam had interrupted.
(What do you think? The next part will be full of letters, from Kitty to Lydia, Darcy to Lady Catherine plus others, and trace their reactions to the letters. Also, there will be a meeting between Miss Bingley and Lady Catherine . . . )
Kitty was not a great writer of letters, but she kept up her correspondence with her married sister, Lydia, though she recieved very few letters in return. Usually she would write about trivial matters, but this time there was something worth writing about.
My dear Lydia
I hope this letter finds you and Mr. Wickham well. I wish you would write back and tell me all about the officers in Newcastle, I long to hear of them. So many things have happened lately. Firstly, Mr. Bingley has returned to Netherfield.He visited us twice with Mr. Darcy, but on his second visit (he was by himself), Mama made us leave him and Jane alone - and he proposed to Jane and they are to be married in December! I am very happy for her, and Jane has promised to give some balls at Netherfield during the winter.
A few days after that, we recieved a visit from Lady Catherine de Bourgh. I found her quite frightening, she was so critical and cold. Well, it seemed she wanted to talk to Lizzy, probably about Charlotte, for they went for a walk in the garden. Lady Catherine left soon after, for London I think.
But you will never guess what happened a few days later! Mr. Bingley came again (he comes nearly everyday now) with Mr. Darcy and we all walked to Meryton. Jane and Mr. Bingley walked together, and so me and Lizzy walked with Mr. Darcy. We said very little, I was too scared of him to talk and was very glad to go visit Maria Lucas. It would seem that after my departure, Mr. Darcy proposed to Lizzy! We thought all this time that they had detested each other, but it seems we were mistaken, and actually they have been deeply in love!
I am sure you are extremely surprised. Can you believe it? I could not believe it myself and we are all still in a state of disbelief.
I must conclude now - Maria has arrived to visit.
Mrs. Lydia Wickham put down the letter and thought hard. Jane being married to Mr. Bingley was not much of a surprise, but Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy? It was impossible to comprehend! Lydia then realised, that having two very rich sisters, Jane and Elizabeth might be prevailed on to make Wickham's fortune. Maybe she could ask them to give her dear Wickham a place at court ...
A sound from the bed made her turn. Mr. Wickham, his shirt stained with wine rolled over and snored. Lydia quickly brought the letter over and climbed into the bed beside her husband.
"Wickham dear, do get up! I have such surprising news from Kitty!"
Snores were her only reply.
"Wickham, you must read this! Lizzy is engaged to Mr. Darcy!"
Wickham immedietely woke up.
"Read this letter from Kitty."
Mr. Wickham grabbed the letter and read it. He had to read it twice for the information to sink in. When he had finished, he put down the letter and flopped back into the pillow.
"And I would think now that she knows the truth..." he said to himself. He remembered his suspicions after his last conversation with Elizabeth at Longbourn.
"The truth about what, dear?" asked his wife. Wickham looked at Lydia, beginning to regret that he had ever persuaded her to elope with him.
"Nothing, my love."
Lydia snuggled up to him and said, "Will you tell me if I kiss you?"
Wickham turned away, got out of bed and reached for his uniform.
"No I won't, and I must leave. Goodbye."
He left their home in a shock and a foul mood.
Miss Bingley was in a foul mood. She and her sister had arrived in Bath from Scarborough yesterday, and Mrs. Hurst had suggested a visit the Pump-Room. Miss Bingley was only too glad to agree. Maybe the excercise would help dispel the anger over her brother's engagement.
Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst made a few laps around the room, then sighted a slightly familar face. During their long aquaintance with Mr. Darcy, they had met his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh twice. Miss Bingley found Lady Catherine to be a charming woman, and her spirits rose upon seeing Darcy's aunt. They walked over to her to renew their aquaintance. Lady Catherine walked with a self-centered air and was accompainied by two servants.
After the ritual of greetings, Miss Bingley inquired as to why Lady Catherine was in Bath-"for I understand that you come here but rarely."
Lady Catherine nodded and replied, "This is my first visit here. While I was in London, a friend of mine recommended Bath as the place that all people o f fashion go to frequently. As I am a woman of fashion, I had to come here."
Miss Bingley was surprised, for she knew that Lady Catherine also rarely went to London, and politely asked her why she had gone to London.
"I went to London to alert my nephew of a most alarming report. It said that Darcy was engaged to Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn," Miss Bingley gasped in shock, but quietened at the lady's next words, "of course this was a gross falsehood. I immedietly travelled to London to inform my nephew of it. That morning I had spoken very frankly to Miss Bennet, appealing to her sense of honour ... but I found her quite lacking. So I knew that I must tell my nephew. He was quite shocked it would seem. He agreed with me fully, that Miss Eliza Bennet was an adventuress in pursuit of his fortune, and I am sure that the false report will soon be entirely discredited. After all, what decent man will connect himself with a family that includes Mrs. Lydia Bennet Wickham?"
Miss Bingley breathed a sigh of relief. For a moment she was afraid that Darcy would be lost to her forever. Then the name at the end of Lady Catherine's dialogue caught their attention. Mrs. Lydia Bennet Wickham?
"Has the youngest sister married?" asked Mrs. Hurst delicately.
"Oh yes. The youngest Bennet girl had eloped with Mr. Wickham, the son of the lae steward of Pemberley. She lived with the man for several weeks before marriage I had heard, a marriage I believe that was a patched up business by her uncle and father. Such a scandal!" Lady Catherine looked at Miss Bingley and continued, "It is such a shame that your brother is caught in the sister's net. I would advise you to do your best to dissuade him from his choice of wife. He should marry a girl like my niece Georigiana."
Miss Bingley agreed with her; it would be better for Charles to marry Georigiana, and then with one intermarriage, another might be easily accomplished. She smiled as she thought of the disgraceful marriage of the former Lydia Bennet. But Miss Bingley wasn't entirely without sympathy, for Jane was a sweet girl despite her unfortunate relations, and did not deserve such trouble. She said, "But surely Mr. Wickham's bad character was known to the family? I had heard he was a gamester deeply in debt and a seducer, and such debts and affairs could not be hidden for long. So why wasn't the yougest girl imformed of his bad character? Surely someone would have known of it!"
"I would say that the people who held such information are really partly to blame for the elopement, for had they allowed their knowledge to be public, the whole situation might have been prevented! But I suppose that with such a girl as the youngest Bennet daughter, such a disaster would be inevitable."
Miss Bingley nodded and was careful to agree with all of Lady Catherine's opinions, for she did not want to offend so great and charming a lady.
The clock chimed for twelve o'clock, and the the two sisters remembered that they were to have lunch with Mr. Hurst.
"I am sorry, but we must leave you. We are to have lunch with my brother-in-law, Mr. Arthur Hurst."
"Oh? I remember him. A very gentleman-like man I recall. Well then. Miss Bingley, Mrs. Hurst, farewell." Lady Catherine continued with her walk, her two servants trailing behind.
Miss Bingley and her sister left, and took the carriage back to the hotel.
At home, Mr. Hurst had already started eating lunch. The two sisters ate what little was left, and then retired to the lounge room. A servant came in with the mail. There was but one letter, from their brother.
Mr. Hurst streched out on the sofa and promptly went to sleep. Mrs. Hurst yawned and picked up her embroidery, leaving Miss Bingley to read the letter. She opened it and worked its contents, for again, her brother had written it extremely ill.
My dear sisters,
Ever since my engagement, I have been so happy. Jane is everything I could wish for, and I am quite impatient for the wedding in December. Already Darcy's cousin and sister have arrived, and I want you all to come to Netherfield soon. Darcy is quite eager to see Caroline especially, though he will not tell me why.
I shall expect you all in two days, will that suffice?
"Louisa, read the letter from Charles! He says that Darcy is eager to see me! Shall I dare hope?" said Miss Bingley excitedly.
Mrs. Hurst read through it and handed it back to her sister. "It would seem so. Perhaps his aunt's report had offended him deeply and he has lost interest in Miss Eliza Bennet's eyes."
"Please do not remind me of that, Louisa! Oh, I am glad I had seen Richard II while we were in town, for now I can converse on it with him. Louisa, wake Mr. Hurst. We must depart for Netherfield immedietly!"
Please respond, give me your criticisms, I want to know what you all think! Yours, Leareth)
Mrs. Gardiner was teaching her youngest son, Robert how to read when the post arrived. Emily reached for the letter, and to show how wonderful her reading was, read the address out aloud and opened it.
"Who is it from?" asked Mrs. Gardiner.
"It is from Cousin Lizzy, Mama," replied her daughter.
"Oh?" said her mother, interest immedietly caught. "Bring it here, Emily."
She began to read it, and her four children, Alice, William, Emily and Robert clustered around her to see.
My dear aunt,
I must apologise for having been so lax in replying to your long letter. I would have thanked you before, my dear aunt, as I ought to have done, for your long, kind, satisfactory, detail of particulars; but to say the truth, I was too cross to write. You supposed more than really existed. But now suppose as much as you choose; give a loose to your fancy, indulge your imagination in every possible flight which the subject will afford, and unless you believe actually married, you cannot greatly err. You must write again soon, and praise him a great deal more than you did in your last. I thank you, again and again, for not going to the Lakes. How could I be so silly as to wish it! Your idea of the ponies is delightful. We will go around the Park every day. I am the happiest creature in the world. Perhaps others have said it, but not one with such justice. I am happier even than Jane; she only smiles, I laugh. Mr. Darcy sends you all the love in the world, that he can spare from me. You are all to come to Pemberley at Christmas.
"What are you smiling about, Mama?" asked Alice.
Mrs. Gardiner walked quickly to her husband's study and knocked on the door. She entered and gave Mr. Gardiner the letter. He read it through, then gave it back to her with a laugh.
"This is wonderful news! I only wonder, what took the young man so long t o propose?"
Mrs. Gardiner laughed, "Well, we shall go to Longbourn and we will ask him." She called her children.
"William, go and fetch the maid. We are going to Longbourn. Elizabeth is to be married to Mr. Darcy!"
Reverend William Collins was busily eating his breakfast while his dear Charlotte read the post. The letters proved to be nothing of any interest. There was one very short missive that proved to be interesting, however.
My dear Sir,
I must trouble you once more for congratulations. Elizabeth will soon be the wife of Mr. Darcy. Console Lady Catherine as well as you can. But, if I were you, I would stand by the nephew. He has more to give.
Yours sincerely, etc.
Charlotte froze and gasped. Her husband paused long enough from his meal to ask about her apparent distress. Charlotte wordlessly passed Mr. Bennet's letter to her husband and watched as he read it. For once, he did not have anything to say. After five minutes of silence, he spoke.
"I believe that we must hasten to Rosings at once to inform Lady Catherine of this news."
"But 'tis only seven, let us wait a while longer."
"My dear Charlotte, I have the highest opinion in the world of your excellent judgement in all matters, but I must be firm on this subject. Lady Catherine, I believe, will want the earliest knowledge of this."
"I am sure that Mr. Darcy will write to her and tell her of it. He is after all, her nephew."
Her words were in vain, but she managed to delay their visit for a further five minutes while her husband gave lengthy speeches on the reason for their haste.
Lady Catherine was bored. Anne was again quite ill and had remained in her room. The arrival of the post was a welcome relief to the monotony of the morning, and she opened the letter eagerly.
You must allow me to thank you for the information on your meeting with Miss Elizabeth Bennet. It allowed me to hope, and gave me the courage to propose to her for the second time.
In London, you demanded me to do as my mother would have me do. I have obeyed your wishes. My mother would have wished for me to be happy, and I find my happiness in Elizabeth Bennet, who, contrary to what others may suppose, is not an adventuress determined to have my fortune, but the most charming and beautiful woman in the world.
I am sure that you believe that we will be disgraced in the eyes of our family and friends. I must inform you that Georgiana is extremely delighted to have such a sister, and my cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam also supports me.
Give my regards to Anne, and allow myself and Elizabeth to give you our best wishes for your health and happiness.
Yours, Fitzwilliam Darcy.
Lady Catherine threw the letter onto the floor and crushed it under her cane. She stormed into the little-used music room and in her rage, knocked over a vase of flowers. She hardly noticed, but stalked around the room, abusing and cursing Elizabeth at the top of her voice, using language quite inappropriate for a lady.
Anne, hearing the noise, came into the room, and saw the broken vase and a crumpled letter. She picked up the letter and read it through. She smiled - she was actually very pleased with her cousin's engagement. The entrance of her mother though, killed the smile when she saw the expression on her mother's face.
"How can he do this to me?" she hissed, "How can he do this? All my plans for you two and the future of our estates, shattered, by the intrusion of that wretched, despicable girl!!"
Her voice slowly rose with each word, and Anne shrank away, then fled to her room. Once within its shelter, she caught her breath, then sat down to write a sincere congratulatory letter to her cousin.
Meanwhile, alone in the drawing room, Lady Catherine continued to rant and rave. With the arrival of Mr. Collins and his wife, she found something upon which to vent her anger.
"You!" she shouted, pointing a finger at him, "Why did you not inform me of this? Elizabeth Bennet is your relation. Surely you must have known of it!"
Mr. Collins' eyes widened with fear. He stuttered and tried to console his noble patroness.
"M-my Lady, though I am the cousin of Miss Elizabeth (who I assure you, will be most strongly condemned by me when I should see her), I had no information on this . . . unforseeable incident until this very morning, and I - "
"You did not forsee it! You concealed it from me, I am sure of it! You and your whole family are despicable!"
Mr. Collins and Charlotte flinched at this angry tirade.
"Your whole family must have industriously circulated this report, so now it is impossible to prevent this marriage! It is further proof of the slyness and dishonourable ways of your family. Miss Bennet has used her arts and allurements to ensnare my nephew, her sister elopes with the son of the late Mr. Darcy's steward, you conceal this news from me and now you profess ignorance of it?! This is not to be borne!"
Mr. Collins was now in fear of losing her Lady's patronage due to his unfortunate relations and tried to seperate himself from his cousins.
"I assure you, Madam, that I was not in the least aware of this. Though my cousin's family are to be censured, you must believe me to be wholly innocent of any blame. My Lady, had I known of this I would have most strenuously opposed it, as my position as a clergyman I can clearly see the woes of c rossing social barriers, and I know that social intermarriages to be totally unacceptable. As a matter of fact," he added, remembering something, "I sent a letter to Mr. Bennet some time ago advising him against this engagement, and - "
"So! you sent a letter to her father before this! It is proof that you had prior knowledge of this!"
"But, my Lady, I told you of it when my dear Charlotte's father, Sir William Lucas wrote to me and informed me of the coming marriages of Miss Jane and Elizabeth, which was, I most humbly suggest, the reason to your journey to Hertfodshire and London."
Lady Catherine paused in her tantrum to meditate on this.
"That is true. But it does not exclude you from your relations to the wretched Bennet family! Heavens above, I wish I could wipe them off the face of the earth! Darcy has obviously been deceived and I must write to him immedietly and inform him of the real character of Miss Eliza Bennet!"
"Y-y-yes, my Lady. You will, of course, need privacy to write such a letter, and so, we shall leave you, if you do not mind - "
"Leave my presence at once!"
Mr. Collins and his wife quickly hurried out of the room and back to the Hunsford Parsonage.
Charlotte put her bonnet away and sat down. Running while heavy with child had exhausted her and she asked her husband to fetch her a drink. He did not hear her, but sat down beside her to recover from Lady Catherine's accusations.
"I believe that it would be best, if we were to leave the neighbourhood for the time being," said Charlotte. "I have not seen my mother and father for some time, and the journey will remove us from Lady Cathrine's wrath."
Her husband looked at her and thought hard about the proposal,
"Yes, yes, I believe it would be for the best if we were to let Lady Catherine recover from the shock. I feel most extremely sorry for her, and when we go to Hertfodshire, I will do my best to dissuade Mr. Darcy from marrying my wayward cousin."
Mrs. Collins gave Mr. Collins an angry glance.
"No, you shall not do that."
"And why shall I not? I shall inform him of his aunt's disapproval and persuade him to break up his engagement from my cousin. I am certain that he will listen to a clergyman of my position."
"No," replied Charlotte firmly, "Think of the consequences. Mr. Darcy has more patronage to give; he is richer than Lady Catherine and his estate is, I am sure, much larger. You have already angered Lady Catherine, will you insult the nephew?"
"My dear Charlotte, of course not! How could you even suggest such a sin! Better to bear the anger of the less-powerful aunt, than to risk the displeasure of the more powerful nephew. But," he said, getting up and looking down at her, "you will not give your congratulations to my cousin, for she does not deserve such attention. She is, by all rights, be looked down on. Her sly arts show that she is to be compared with the disgrace of her youngest sister. But I shall give my compliments to Mr. Darcy." He bowed to her and left the room to make preparations for the journey.
Charlotte sighed. She was happy for Elizabeth. Who would have thought it! Elizabeth was to be the wife of Mr. Darcy! She smiled as she thought of her words to Elizabeth when she visited her in April, that Charlotte had suggested to her friend that Mr. Darcy was partial to her. Elizabeth had dismissed the thought as nonsense. It would seem that her feelings had changed drastically.
She looked to where Mr. Collins had gone. She felt a wave of depression wash over her. Though she was happy for Elizabeth, she was sad for herself. Elizabeth had found a perfect marriage, with love, respect, and wealth, while she had married a buffoon, who could only promise her security in life.
Charlotte heaved herself up. Her home was slowly losing its charms for her. But she accepted it.
Charlotte went upstairs to pack her trunks, making sure her gowns were placed in exactly the right way in which Lady Catherine had advised them to be placed.
(Well, what do you think of that? That was pretty hard to write, but I managed. Next episode - Miss Bingley and co. arrive at Netherfield . . . )
Before dinner, Mr. Bingley, Jane, Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth, Colonel Fitzwilliam and Georgiana awaited the arrivel of Bingley's relations. They discussed when would be the best time to let Miss Bingley aware of Darcy's engagement. But sooner than expected, the carriage arrived, and they hurriedly decided not to let her know until the time came when she would be the most surprised.
Miss Bingley alighted from the carrige with the help of Mr. Hurst. She looked at the steps leading into the house and put on a charming smile as she saw her brother walk out with Jane on his arm.
"My dear brother, how lovely to see you! And Jane, I am extremely glad to know that I shall soon have the pleasure of calling you sister."
Though no longer decieved by Miss Bingley, Jane kindly gave a hearfelt and sincere thankyou for her compliments.
Miss Bingley smiled even more and more sincerely as she saw Georgiana come down with Colonel Fitzwilliam. She declared it an age since she had seen the Colonel in London last winter, and to Georgiana, she heaped compliments on her musicianship, accomplishments and her beauty. Miss Darcy was too shy and unsure of Miss Bingley to do anything more except curstey and thank her.
The most charming smile Miss Bingley was capable of producing was given to the brother, who merely stood outside the door and gave his greetings. Mrs. Hurst nudged her sister and smiled. Miss Bingley was about to offer a compiment to Mr. Darcy, when Elizabeth stepped out to stand beside him. The smile faded.
"Mr. Darcy, how delightful to see you again! I have not forgiven you for leaving us in Pemberley by ourselves while you went to London, and I demand that you make it up to me. And Miss, ELiza, this is a most unexpected . . . pleasure," The last was said with some resentment.
Bingley noticed this exchange and grinned.
"Shall we go inside?"
After dinner, Mr. and Mrs. Hurst declared themselves to be tired from the journey and went to bed. Georgiana was called upon to perform on the pianoforte, and she proceeded to play Mozart's Sonata in C major, while Colonel Fitzwilliam stood by her side and listened. Bingley talked to Jane, leaving Darcy, Elizabeth and Miss Bingley to conversation.
"Oh, Mr. Darcy, I happened to see the play by Shakespeare while I was in Town, it was Richard II. I have to admit that I do not understand the ending at all, could you explain it to me?"
"Richard II? I thought it to be Richard III," said Elizabeth.
Miss Bingley looked at her. Elizabeth sat with a puzzled expression on her face. Thinking this to be further evidence of Miss Bennet's low level of accomplishments, Miss Bingley replied, "No, it is titled Richard II."
Unseen to her, Darcy smiled and glanced at Elizabeth.
"No Miss Bingley, I must agree with Eli . . . Miss Bennet. You are mistaken. It is Richard III."
Embarrassed, Miss Bingley tried to laugh off her mistake and then repeated her question. Darcy winked at Eilzabeth and, knowing that Miss Bingley had not seen the ending, said, "I thought the ending very simple. King Richard decided to give up his tyranny and become a farmer, crying, 'My kingdom for a horse!'"
Bingley, who had caught all of this, tried not to laugh. While Miss Bingley was not looking, Darcy turned around and gave his friend an amused glance.
"I would have to say that my favourite of Shakespeare's works would be 'Much Ado About Nothing'. I found the character of Beatrice most enjoyable," said Elizabeth.
"That is because her character has a very strong resemblance to yours, Lizzy," said Jane. "You both enjoy witty conversations and enjoy even more, duels of words with a young man."
Elizabeth looked at Darcy, and smiled at him, "Yes, I suppose so. Would you agree, oh Signor Mountanto?"
Darcy laughed, "Oh my dear Lady Disdain, I think I cannot argue with you there!"
Colonel Fitzwilliam came over and interrupted the light banter. He gave an apologetic smile and asked Elizabeth, "Will you excuse me, my Lady Tongue, if I steal Darcy for a moment? I need to speak with him about a matter of business."
Elizabeth said she did not mind. Jealous of her, Miss Bingley began a campaign that would discredit her in the eyes of Mr. Darcy, and with luck, seperate her brother from Jane.
"Miss Eliza, how are your parents? I trust they are in good health?"
"Yes, they are."
"And all your sisters?"
"I can vouch for the good health of all, save Lydia. She has left Longbourn."
"She is lately married."
"Oh, allow me to give you and your family my congratulations," Miss Bingley smiled thinly. "Who, pray, is she married to?"
Elizabeth looked away and said quietly, "Mr. George Wickham."
Miss Bingley smiled; her plan was so far succeeding.
"I had heard that Mr. Wickham had eloped with a young woman . . . Surely that was not your sister!" she said in feigned disbelieve and shock.
Elizabeth refused to look at her. "Yes, it is true."
By this time, the room had become quiet. Georgiana stopped in her piece, Jane looked stricken and Bingley, with a sense of foreboding, gestured to his sister to be silent. She did not see it. The Colonel looked puzzled and Darcy was silent, his face expressionless.
Miss Bingley continued, "But I had also heard that Wickham was badly in debt and had had indiscreet . . . liasons with various young woman of Meryton. Such affaris cannot be held secret for long! Surely your sister had known of his bad character!"
Elizabeth said softly, "No, she had no knowledge of it."
"But someone must have known. A person with such information could have informed your sister of it, and so prevent the elopement and spare your family the pain I am sure they must have suffered."
With these words, Elizabeth looked at the heartless young woman, and choked back a sob.
Miss Bingley delivered her final blow.
"I am sorry to observe, that that unfortunate incident will have had an influence on the honour of your family. I must say that to some, your reputation has been stained with a blot that will be near impossible to remove. But you must not blame yourself. I, personally think that those who had witheld the knowledge of Wickham's bad character are really to blame."
Unable to bear it any longer, Elizabeth got up and walked away to the window. She stared outside, silent tears streaming down her face.
Unknown to anyone, Elizabeth still harboured a guilt that she had not made her knowledge of Wickham public. If she had, her father would have insisted on Lydia's remaining at home instead of letting her go to Brighton, and Wickham would have been prevented for making any designs on other young women. The last statement of Miss Bingley, though not said for intentional harm, had cut the most deeply.
Jane was also upset, and excusing herself, left the room. Bingley followed after her. Georgiana looked stricken, and the Colonel was shocked at Miss Bingley's bad manners and heartless words.
Darcy was unable to bear it any longer, and abandoned the charade. His expression made Miss Bingley's hopes rise for one brief second, but he strode past her to Elizabeth's side. He put a comforting hand on her shoulder and murmured something to her. In the silence that followed, Elizabeth's reply was clearly heard.
"I cannot help . . . feeling that I am guilty . . . for Lydia's disgrace. Had I told everyone of it this . . . . . it could have been prevented, and my family's honour retained . . . . . . I . . . am to blame for it . . . " Her speech trailed off as she turned and sobbed, resting her head on Darcy's shoulder. He stroked her hair, and said, "No, it is not your fault. Elizabeth, look at me." He gently turned her face towards him and continued, "The fault is no one's but Wickham's. You are not to blame. You could not have forseen it. It is not your fault, or your sister's, that you were decieved by Wickham."
As she watched this scene, Miss Bingley looked stunned, then shocked. She could not speak a word, but looked confused, trying to understand the events around her.
The door opened and Bingley entered, without Jane. His face was grim and determined. He looked to the window where Darcy was embracing Elizabeth who was still crying, then at his sister. Bingley spoke. His words were cold and hard.
"Caroline, I must speak with you."
In the next room, Miss Bingley tried to regain herself and decided to begin on the offensive.
"Charles, what in the world is going on? I - "
Bingley cut her off, and spoke in a low tone.
"I advise, dear sister, to apologise to Elizabeth immedietly. You have insulted the future mistress of Pemberley and - "
It was Miss Bingley's turn to cut him off.
"Elizabeth? Mistress of Pemberley? Charles, what are you speaking of?"
Bingley drew in a deep breath and said, "Elizabeth is the future mistress of Pemberley, Georgiana's future sister, in short, she is soon to be Darcy's wife. They have been engaged for some weeks. I advise you, if you wish to retain visiting rights to Pemberley, to apologise to her right now! And, may I add, you are in danger of losing favour with me. Jane is extremely upset, and you are rapidly losing my affection. You have not even apologised to me, for your part in decieving Jane, preventing us from meeting in London! Come now, do not deny it, Jane told me all!"
Miss Bingley was caught off-guard at this outburst. She stood there, shocked. After a while, Bingley turned and left, returning to the drawing room, leaving his sister to gather her wits.
Bingley entered the room. Jane had returned pale but with a semblance of composure, and was also comforting Elizabeth. He cleared his throat and began, "Darcy, I must apologise for my sister's shocking behaviour. Please forgive her, she is upset over her performance."
Darcy glared towards the next room. "Good," he said.
Jane left her sister and came to Bingley's side. "I hope you were not too hard on her," she said, "I am sure Miss Bingley regrets her words."
Bingley gave her a weak smile. "Yes, I am sure she does."
Elizabeth had stopped crying now. She looked away, out at the setting sun.
"I know your words are meant well, my love, but I still cannot help but wonder, what would have happened if Lydia had been prevented from going to Brighton?"
Georgiana spoke up from the end of the room, where she was sitting with Colonel Fitzwillaim.
"Elizabeth, do not distress yourself. It is past, and the past cannot be changed. Put it behind you, and do not worry. My brother and I will always be there to support you."
Elizabeth smiled through her tears. "Thank you."
Darcy came around to look at her.
"Elizabeth, do not cry anymore. It hurts me to see you so unhappy." He gently wiped a lone teardrop off her cheek. Her eyes were bright and she whispered, "I love you."
He bent down to kiss her. No one said anything.
The door opened and Miss Bingley came inside. She opened her mouth to apologise. Her words faded on the tip of her tongue as she saw her rival locked in a passionate kiss with Mr. Darcy.
(*Sigh* I dislike writing of passion, but I thought this was lovely. I'm sorry to say, but I really do not like Miss Bingley. What happens next? Well, Mr. Collins and Charlotte plus the Gardiners will arrive, as well as a certain letter from Lady Catherine . . . )
With a rumble of wheels, the carriage pulled up outside Longbourn and all four Gardiner children poured out, followed in a more dignified way, by their parents.
Mrs. Bennet greeted them all and immedietly related the news of Jane and Elizabeth's engagements, which although they already knew, she could not resist telling for a second time to again hear more congratulations.
"Yes, wonderful news, sister!" said Mr. Gardiner, "But where are the two young ladies themselves?"
"Oh, they are out walking in the garden. Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy usually come quite early, and I must say how wonderful it is to have Mr. Bingley living so close to Longbourn! But Lizzy is to move to Derbyshire, and I so wish for Mr. Bennet to take us all visiting to Pemberley, which I have heard, is a great estate, and Netherfield in comparison is absolutely nothing and . . . "
The rest of this diatribe was cut off by the arrival of the Netherfield gentleman, walking with their fiancees whom they had met on the road, and leading the horse behind. Upon seeing their uncle and aunt, Jane and Elizabeth came towards them and greeted them each with a kiss. Mrs. Bennet suddenly realised that she had to arrange rooms for the Gardiners and left calling for Hill.
The Gardiner children came up and shyly said their greetings. Mr. Bingley, who had never met them before, knelt down to their level and gallantly kissed the girls' hands and bowed to the boys. Jane, as their favourite cousin, was bombarded with embraces and kisses with Elizabeth soon sharing the favour.
Mrs. Gardiner looked at Bingley's display and smiled when she thought of the day when Jane and Bingley would have children of their own. She looked over to her other niece who was being bullied by Alice, the eldest girl, into giving her an account of the way Darcy had proposed.
"Oh no, Alice," laughed Elizabeth, "that is information only Fitzwilliam and I can ever know." Darcy on the other hand, was slightly blushing, for he didn't want such information to become public.
"Well, sir, I can see you finally worked up the courage to propose to Elizabeth. When I first recieved her letter, my first reaction was, 'What took you so long?'" said Mr. Gardiner.
Darcy shook his head. He wasn't quite ready to deal with all the emotions that had kept him going the days before his proposal. He was saved by the arrival of Mrs. Bennet, who fussed around, saying it was cold and hustled them all inside.
Mr. Bennet was in the drawing room, reading the paper. Mr. Gardiner proposed a walk to Meryton where he could called on his sister. So Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner and Mr. and Mrs. Bennet all went walking. Kitty and Mary also went, the former to hear the latest gossip, the latter to avail herself of the opportunity to show off her accomplishments again. They left the two sisters and the two friends to deal with the four Gardiner children.
Robert and William wanted to play outside, and went out to the garden, followed by Alice, as well as Jane and Bingley who went to look after them. This left Elizabeth and Darcy with Emily, who remembering Darcy's visit some weeks ago, went up to him and asked to sit on his lap. Permission was granted, and she curled up, looking extremely at home.
"And how have you progressed with your reading, Miss Emily?" asked Darcy to the little girl. She began to relate to him all the new stories she had read, and then progressed to anecdotes of her brothers and sister.
"Robert is very shy, he was frightened of Mr. Bingley's sister. She glared at him which made Robert hide behind Mama's dress. What does she say about you marrying Cousin Lizzy?"
The sudden change in subject left Elizabeth and Darcy at a bit of a loss. They thought back to the way Miss Bingley, after walking into the room while they were slightly 'engaged' and how she had recollected herself and then apologised for her behaviour. Feeling guilty about how they had treated her that evening, Darcy and Elizabeth had apologised for their behaviour towards her. These continual apologies had broken down the barriers between the couple and Miss Bingley, and though things were still tense between them, it looked as if their relations were heading towards a comfortable conclusion.
Emily looked into Elizabeth's face, waiting for an answer.
"I would say, she is taking it rather well, after the initial shock. At first, she was rather speechless," replied Elizabeth. "But now, she seems to accept it." To get off the still uncomfortable subject, she asked Emily, "And what would you like for Christmas, Emily?"
Elizabeth suddenly remembered something and turned to Darcy. "I hope you do not mind, but I have invited my aunt and uncle as well as their children to Pemberley for Christmas."
"I don't mind at all - I am actually quite glad to hear of it. And when you arrive there Miss Emily, you shall find a kitten waiting for you, as a present for your kindness when you entertained me with your story."
Elizabeth was surprised at Darcy's tenderness to Emily and the rest of the Gardiner children. It was a side of him that she had never seen before, and she was intrigued. She remembered her words lst year, when she had declared that intricate characters were more interesting than less intricate ones. She looked forward to the day when they had children of their own that they could love and care for.
Lured by shouts of laughter from outside, Emily excused herself and joined her sister and brothers in their game, leaving Darcy and Elizabeth alone in the drawing room.
Elizabeth then noticed her lover's troubled face, a fact which had escaped her notice with her occupation with her relations.
"Whatever is the matter?" When he tried to deny the existance of anything wrong, she said, "Come now, I know you too well to not realise something is the matter."
He sighed. "I have a letter. From my aunt."
Elizabeth smiled at his distress. "And what does she say of our engagement?"
He drew a letter out of his breast pocket and wordlessly handed it to her. He then got up and walked to the window, watching the children at play.
Elizabeth opened it, wondering what it contained that made Darcy so upset.
How could you do this to me? Have you forgotten the high hopes your mother and I made for you and Anne? What did that despicable Miss Bennet do to rob you of your wits?
I cannot give you my congratulations on your forthcoming 'marriage'. I must tell you of the true character of Miss Bennet, in hopes it will bring you to your senses. Miss Eliza Bennet is a insolent, vile adventuress with eyes for your fortune, and has used her womanly wiles to captivate you! She is as dishonourable as her youngest sister who has married the son of your father's steward. How can you bear to marry into such a family that includes Mr. Wickham? Does this not shock your sense of honour?
No, of course it does not. I have forgotten that by now, that cunning girl has blunted what remains of your wits. I can do naught but depise her for all she has done. I know, that though you may think yourself happy for the present, Miss Bennet's true nature will soon assert itself and you will see her for the vile, insolent, creature she is! Her abominable, conceited independance is no substitute for the propriety and honour of Anne.
Your parents must be turning in their grave, to know that you have ignored the honour of our family and become engaged to that fool of a girl! I can but hope that this letter brings you to your senses, but if not, depend upon it, your names will never be mentioned by me ever again!
Elizabeth's eyebrows were raising with every line she read. She now understood the reason for Darcy's dark mood. She looked over to him and then walked to his side.
"Don't be angry. I had expected this sort of reaction. After all, she had planned for years for her daughter's marriage, and having her plans upset so quickly must be very vexing."
"She insulted you. I am never speaking to my aunt again," muttered Darcy.
"I think it would be best if you did not write to her for a while, but after she has become accustomed to our marriage I think you should forgive her. She is, after all, your aunt."
He sighed, but then his mood turned more cheerful and he drew out a second letter. It was much shorter than the first, but ten times more delightful and a hundred times more surprising.
"These two letters are extremely interesting when compared to each other. One could not believe that Anne was her mother's daughter." He handed the second letter to Elizabeth, who leaned on his arm while reading it.
My dear cousin,
Though I am sure my mother does not share my opinion, (in fact I know - I think I can hear her abusing poor Mr. and Mrs. Collins downstairs) I am extremely happy for you and Miss Elizabeth. I am delighted with your engagement, for (if you do not take offence) I did not want to marry you. My heart belongs to another . . . and I will not tell you who.
I cannot write much, in fear Mother will find me at it, and so I must conclude. Again, my best wishes for your future together.
Yours, Anne de Bourgh
Elizabeth stared out the window.
"Shall we invite Miss de Bourgh to Pemberley? She might be glad to excape her mother's wrath."
"I would be glad to - she is wonderful when she isn't in the presence of her mother, and she and Georgiana are good friends. But I think her mother will not not permit her."
A commotion at the gate soon drew their attention. Darcy gave Elizabeth his arm and they went out to see what was going on. The lady's eyes widened when she saw that Mr. and Mrs. Collins had come to visit.
"Charlotte, whatever are you doing here?" asked Elizabeth. She disengaged her arm from Darcy's and ran towards her friend.
Charlotte Collins laughed. "Lizzy dear, we came because Lady Catherine was rendered exceedingly angry by a certain letter and we decided it was in the best interests to leave the neighbourhood for a while."
"Well, if the letter we have recieved is any indication, Lady Catherine has not overcome her anger yet."
Charlotte smiled at Darcy who was walking towards them and said, "I congratulate you, Lizzy. You didn't believe me when I suggested that Mr. Darcy was in love with you. Do you believe me now?"
Her companion blushed when she remembered her stay in Hunsford.
"Yes, I do believe you."
By this time, Darcy had arrived and then Mr. Collins appeared beside Charlotte. He gave her a look that spoke volumes of his disapprovement, but when he saw Darcy, he began,"My dear sir, I must say that the news of your engagement has been met with the most wonderful delight in most quarters. But I must tell you of the disapprovement of my noble patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who says . . . " His voice trailed off as he saw the look on the young man's face. " . . . but I will say nothing of that. Her ladyship is unhappy with your choice. Her lovely daughter, I am insructed to inform you, is deeply hurt and and has taken to her bed and . . . " The look of impatience from Darcy, though mostly concealed, was enough to bring his monologue to an end.
"Well, my dear sir, I will say but one more thing, that Cousin Elizabeth, I am sure will adorn her rank in a most wonderful way as to give pleasure to all, and I will give you, my heartiest congratulations."
Elizabeth replied, "Thank you, sir, not only for your congratulations, but for your words to me in April, when you wished me equal felicity in marriage as the one you are experiencing."
Mr. Collins nodded and seemed to be composing a new speech, so Charlotte said, "My father is holding a party in three days time, shall I expect you all to come?"
"Of course. And this time, if your father offers me as a dancing partner to Fitzwilliam, I shall not refuse," replied Elizabeth.
The Collinses could not stay long and so after their departure, Elizabeth and Darcy went to talk to Jane and Bingley.
"Envisioning watching such scenes at Netherfield, Bingley?" asked Darcy, referring to the Gardiner children.
Bingley blushed, but replied in the affirmative.
Feeling a bit mischevious, Jane countered, "And what about you? Do you hear tiny feet racing down the halls of Pemberley?"
This time it was Darcy's turn to blush. Elizabeth laughed and said she couldn't wait.
(Ok then, I had trouble thinking of bad words Lady C could call Lizzy . . . oh well. Next, Lizzy tries to shield Darcy from the notice of her vulgar relations and Meryton population.)
With the wedding only a week away, preparations began in earnest.
The first problem were the dresses; Mrs. Bennet insisted on getting them from London, while her daughters and sister-in-law were adamant on having the dresses they had picked out from the seamstress's shop in Meryton.
"Mama, these are perfectly good. There is no need to go to London," said Jane.
"No! you have to be married in the best cloth, which can only be got in Town!" exclaimed Mrs. Bennet. "Oh, Jane, Lizzy, you are to married to such important and rich husbands, I do not want you disgraced!"
"Sister, calm yourself. Mrs. Harris has done a wonderful job. We do not have the time to go to London," replied Mrs. Gardiner. "Besides, I do not think Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy will look at their attire - their minds will be too full on what is to come."
When Mrs. Bennet insisted on going to London, Mrs. Gardiner said, "Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy have already ordered them, and they were quite happy."
"Aunt!" gasped Elizabeth. "I told you not to let them buy it! We are perfectly able to afford these dresses."
"Oh no, they insisted upon it. Let them be, Lizzy. Husbands always adore buying gifts for their loved ones."
With this Mrs. Bennet quickly changed her mind, and said the dresses were perfect.
Mr. Bennet and Mr. Gardiner, not wanting to become involved with the preperations, had accepted Bingley's information to go shooting. Darcy declined to join them. While his mind had been agreeably engaged elsewhere during the past few weeks, letters and such from Pemberley had been accumulating. So he resigned himself to sorting through these.
After answering two inquires on tenants, one on land allocation, three complaints on a farmer's wandering sheep and six letters of congratulation, he reached a short letter from Mrs. Reynolds. It was as follows:
The harvest was extremely good this year, and we shall have extra to sell and produce a profit. One of your horses has had to be put down - it was ill with colic. One of the servants was dismissed for being lax in her duties, but I have hired a Miss Hannah, formerly of the Lambton Inn.
I hope you do not mind, but I have taken the liberty of altering some aspects of Pemberley. Space has been cleared in the picture gallery, and Miss Georgiana's portrait displayed, and room has been reserved for another. I have done up the master bedroom, as well as the nursery.
I speak for all of us here when we all give you - and Miss Bennet our most heartfelt congratulations. You should have seen your sister, sir, when she first recieved your letter; skipping from the room and crying it out to the whole household. I must say it was quite a surprise, and a welcome change from the quiet creature Miss Georgiana usually is.
I hope you will not think me too impertinent when I add, from myself, that I was extremely taken with Miss Bennet when she visited in the summer. I will be so bold as to inform you, when I was showing her and her relatives the portrait gallery, she stood for a full ten minutes in front of your picture, sir.
I eagerly await your arrival home.
Darcy found himself laughing at the picture of his shy sister shouting. He was very pleased, as he found it further proof of Georgiana's delight in having Elizabeth for a sister.
He had to smile when his housekeeper reported on the changes she had made to the parts of the house that would be the most affected by Elizabeth's arrival. The picture gallery, the bedroom . . .
At this thought, he blushed, "Mrs. Reynolds, I am going to give you a long talk . . . " Darcy muttered to himself, but then immedietly gave up that idea. Mrs. Reynolds would merely smile and take his words (if he could prevent himself from blushing) with all politeness.
It might be best if the wedding night was not spent at Pemberley. And besides, it was two days ride away, so the idea was not practical.
A soft knock on the door was heard. "Come in."
Georgiana came inside. "How are you, brother?"
Darcy groaned. "I have let this all slip too far, and now I am paying for it. I would much rather spend the day in . . . "
"Elizabeth's company?" she inquired, raising a delicate eyebrow.
"Yes," he replied. He handed her the letter from Mrs. Reynolds. "Read that."
She read through it, then looked up with an wicked smile.
"I'm sure she meant well," she said, knowing her brother was shy on that particular subject connected with the bedroom. "I'm sure your bedroom has been done up beautifully, if, er, when you get around to noticing it. You will be busy with various things. People whose minds are occupied elsewhere are not as observant as they usually are . . . . "
Darcy began to glare at her, which was not very effective with a small smile on his face.
Georgiana did not tease her brother often, but when she did, she never lost the advantage.
"I'm sure she fixed the lock on your door as well . . . "
When Darcy jestingly got up, she flew out of the room, leaving only a silvery laugh behind.
He sat back down, trying not to think too much on the subject, which would lead to daydreams, which would mean he stillhad to complete his work. Before his thoughts drifted too far he realised was a lot of work to finish.
After a while, the pile had diminished significantly. Darcy decided to leave the rest, and ride to Longbourn.
"Oh Lizzy, Jane, please, please, please can I be the bridesmaid?" begged Kitty, holding a veil.
"Of course! we could have no other,"said Jane. "But we would need another, who have you asked, Lizzy?"
"Maria. Mary and Georgiana do not wish to be the centre of so much attention. I tried to tell them that all the attention will be focused on us, but they still did not wish for it."
"Is Darcy going to stand up for Charles?"
"Yes, and Bingley will do the same."
Their mother came in to see them try on the dresses.
"Oh Jane, you look extremely beautiful! And my dear Lizzy, why have you changed back already? I had not seen you in your gown. Kitty, put that down, you might tear it, and then what will we do? Oh, these veils are so delicate, the London ones are able to endure much more. Jane, do not sit like that, the dress will be crumpled!"
"Mama," asked Elizabeth, "have you arranged for the flowers?"
"Yes of course. I dare say Miss Darcy will catch one of the bouquets - she is very likely to marry next, what with her large fortune."
"But that is the truth - fortune is very important in a match, more so than love or respect nowadays."
"MOTHER! How can you say that?" exclaimed Elizabeth.
"But it is true. And another thing I must add, the first and most important duty a wife must perform is produce an heir for her husband. After that, you may do as you choose."
Jane and Elizabeth looked at their mother in shock.
"How can you be so mercenary, mother?"
"Mercenary? I'll have you know I am only looking out for the fortunes of your husbands's estates! It is extremely vital that it should stay in the family, and not be entailed away like Longbourn has. Oh, Mrs. Collins will turn me out of this house after your father is dead, and I must rely on you girls to assist me after that melancholy event!"
Elizabeth could no longer stand it. She hurriedly excused herself and walked outside.
On the lane outside, she stormed away in no particular direction. She took no notice of her whereabouts, concentrating on the naive and stupid comments of her mother. She took off her bonnet and held it in her hand instead.
"How can she believe such nonsense?" she said to herself, stomping through the woods, "Does she believe we are marrying for money?"
The tree branches pulled at her hair, until it fell out of its position, causing it to fall about her shoulders.
"Does she not know that only the very deepest love can induce me to matrimony? Money means little! Insufferable presumption!"
Lost in her angry thoughts, she wandered further and further away. When she finally took heed of her surroundings, she saw she was in a part of the woods in which she was unfamilar.
Turning around, she began to walk back the way she came. Only after some minutes walking did she come to realise that she was completely lost.
More angry than worried at first, she scowled and began to walk in another direction. This only made her more and more confused.
Finally, she reached a stream. Tired, she sat on the bank and thought. She knew she would be found sooner or later. She just hoped it would be sooner, rather than later.
A sudden, cold gust of wind caused her to shiver. She embraced herself, trying to keep warm. Her bonnet fell into the stream and floated away.
Elizabeth's blakc mood turned even darker.
Seeing a hollow in a nearby tree, she decided to rest there until help arrived.
Exhilarated, Darcy rode his horse across the field, happy with just being alive. They jumped over a stream; and then he noticed a familar bonnet lying on the bank. He dismounted and picked it up. He looked upstream. The trees were too dense to ride the horse in, so he tethered it to a tree, hoping to return soon.
Back in Longbourn, the whole house was in confusion, for no one had seen Elizabeth for some hours, and she was nowhere to be found.
(Don't ask me how I made this bit up - I just got there and thought it was a great idea, if a bit corny.)
Elizabeth looked outside of her spacious shelter at the setting sun. All hopes of being found before dark were disappearing. She shivered in the cold air, and hoped that it would not snow.
Mr. Bennet and Mr. Gardiner returned from Netherfield only to be greeted by Kitty flying down the stairs on the verge of tears.
"Oh Papa!" she cried, "Lizzy has gone missing! we have not seen her for hours!"
"Calm down Kitty," replied her father, who tried to take his own advice. "Where did she go?"
"To the woods. But she cannot be lost - she's always walking in them!"
"The woods are extensive, and Lizzy does not know all of it," said her uncle. "Come brother. We must organise a search party immedietly!"
After walking for two miles, Darcy had still not come across the owner of the bonnet. He judged that if he had walked so far and still not found her, then she must be very deep in the woods.
Then, as the sun disappeared and after another two miles, he saw, on the opposite bank, two dainty shoes peeping out from inside a tree.
Men armed with torches and dogs combed the area. Soon, they had to call off the search, for it had begun to snow. Heavily.
In the parlour at Netherfield, the inhabitants were getting worried. The horse Darcy had borrowed that day had returned riderless, and news had just arrived that Elizabeth was also missing.
Though Miss Bingley was trying to curb her cattiness, she had not fully succeeded.
"Perhaps they could not wait another week and have eloped to Scotland," she sneered.
"Caroline!" snapped her brother, "Will you please be silent?"
"It's starting to snow," said Colonel Fitwilliam from the window.
Georgiana, near the fire, began to cry.
"Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam are outdoors on such a night!"
"Where did Darcy plan to go?" asked the Colonel.
"Longbourn, to see Elizabeth," said Georgiana.
"Are the search party looking for both of them?" said Bingley.
"Yes, I sent a message to the group," replied the Colonel.
"Are they looking for them seperately? For all we know, they could be together."
"What on earth could have happened?"
"I think they went walking and became lost, and now are unable to find their way back in the snow."
Bingley came to a decision to go to Longbourn and give them all the help he could give. His invitation for others to come with him was taken up by Colonel Fitzwilliam. They saddled the horses and rode away.
"Elizabeth!" called Darcy from one bank.
The lady in question scrambled out and waved.
"Oh, I am so glad to see you!"
"Wait there, I'll come over."
He stared at the water before him. It was not running swiftly, but swimming was out of the question due to the cold temperature. It was too far to jump, and there were no stepping stones . . . but there was a dead tree.
He informed Elizabeth of his plan, then threw to her his coat, hat and shoes. Then he climbed onto the tree and inched his way across.
About a metre from Elizabeth's bank, the tree, unable to bear his weight, broke.
He fell into the cold water, but then swam quickly to the other side, where Elizabeth dragged him out and embraced him, trying to get him warm.
Upon arrival at Longbourn, the two gentlemen found the house in complete chaos. Jane was near to tears and Bingley hurriedly went to comfort her. Mr. Bennet was talking to Mr. Gardiner, while Mrs. Gardiner, Mary and Kitty were trying to calm down Mrs. Bennet.
"Oh what is to become of our dear Lizzy?" cried she, sitting down near the fire, "She will be killed by a wild animal, I am sure of it!"
"Now don't be silly. Lizzy is a very sensible girl, and there are no dangerous animals in these woods," said Mrs. Gardiner, who had just put the children to sleep.
"If not that, she will freeze to death! oh, I had told her so many times not to go into the woods, but would she listen to me? No, reckless girl, she would have none of it! Oh, sister, I am in such a state! Look, I am very unwell! I have flutterings all over me, pains in my head, my nerves are going to pieces and my heart is sure to pound itself to pieces as well!"
"Mother, why don't you sleep and rest yourself?" asked Kitty.
"No! As soon as news about Lizzy arrives, I want to know about it!"
"What does Mr. Darcy know on this, Colonel?" asked Mr. Gardiner.
"I would not know - he is also missing."
"What?! Where is he?"
"A farmer said he had seen a man fitting Darcy's description follow the stream into the woods."
"Then maybe Elizabeth and he are lost together."
"One can hope for it."
In the tree shelter, Darcy began to shiver. Elizabeth pulled him closer to her and rubbed his shoulders. She looked outside.
"Oh no! Look, it is snowing."
"Just what we need, and we are already cold enough!" said Darcy. He looked at Elizabeth. "Elizabeth, what on earth are you doing out here?"
She blushed. "I, ah, Mama had said something that shocked me greatly, and I needed to leave the house. In my anger, I walked deep into the woods and found myself lost."
"What did she say that made you so angry?"
She turned a brighter red. "About how fortune is more important than love or respect, and how an producing an heir for the estate is the only and most important duty of a wife."
Elizabeth was glad for the darkness, for Darcy could not see how embarrassed and angry she was.
"I disagree with all that she has said. Money is not what concerns me in a marriage. I told Jane that only the very deepest love can induce me to matrimony. It proves how well Mother knows me, for she doesn't understand it."
"And is that the reason why you have consented to marry me?"
Silence between them.
"Do you think they are still searching for us?" asked Elizabeth.
"I am afraid they may have called off the search with the coming of snow."
"Then we may not be found until morning."
"So we shall have to spend the night in this tree."
The fact of them spending the night there together was unspoken, but nevertheless, the both knew it and did not look at each other.
Trying to find a subject of conversation, Elizabeth began, "Georgiana is very shy, she hardly speaks except to you or the Colonel, and now me."
"Shy?" Darcy laughed. "Yes, she is most of the time, but you have not seen how merciless her teasing can be. Why only this afternoon, she teased me about . . . " His voice trailed off as he remembered the content of their conversation.
"About?" she prompted him.
"About the parts of Pemberley house Mrs. Reynolds had altered."
"My sister teased me about the arrangements Mrs. Reynolds had made to my bedroom. She said that she was sure the housekeeper had fixed the lock on the door too."
"She had done up the nursery as well."
She shivered. Darcy enfolded her in his coat. Due to his wet shirt, she could feel every muscle and she soon became very warm.
"Shall we spend the wedding night at Netherfield?" she asked dreamily.
"I don't know - Jane and Bingley might want some privacy."
"If they want true privacy, then maybe they should come here. We must be miles away from any home."
"We at least have each other," he whispered in her ear.
Some snow blew onto Elizabeth's leg, where it very quickly melted. She looked up at him, trying to make out his featres in the dim light. She reached up and brushed away some stray locks of hair on his face.
"I've always wanted to do that," she murmered. "I - "
Her words were cut off as he bent down to kiss her.
Elizabeth started thinking; This is not right. We have to wait a while longer . . . after the wedding. The part of her that stood by propriety told her to stop, but she was enjoying it too much. Finally it has he who broke it off.
"I . . . .don't think we should . . . . I won't be able to stop myself," he said.
He stopped and thought.
"One more, then we shall sleep."
He stopped, blushing at the way his words must have sounded.
"I didn't mean that."
"Oh?" she said, looking at him knowingly. "I suppose no one would find out." She shot him a playful glance.
"I think my aunt was right when she said I was totally bewitched by you."
"But you love me for it."
She pulled him closer and kissed him again. Darcy stroked her unbound hair and held her tightly.
Much later, tired, they fell asleep.
(NO, NOTHING HAPPENED, SO GET THAT NOTION OUT OF YOUR HEADS!!!! Hmmmm, maybe I should edit some of this . . . . no, I'm too tired to.)
It was about midnight, and it had stopped snowing. Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr. Bingley had left Longbourn, promising to begin the search again as soon as the sun rose.
None of the Bennet family wanted to sleep, but the exhustion and worries of the day soon closed their eyes.
Elizabeth woke up in the middle of the night with two feelings, one of pleasure and another of discomfort.
She looked outside, it had stopped snowing, but the entrance was nearly completely covered. The feeling of discomfort was centred on her legs, where a blanket of snow was making her feet very cold.
The feeling of pleasure was more easily found. She sighed and snuggled further into Darcy's arms, and looked at him. His face was peaceful, though very white from the cold. Trying not to disturb his sleep, she reached up and touched his face. Darcy woke up.
"I'm sorry, go back to sleep," she whispered.
"I cannot, it's too cold."
She turned around to embrace him.
"Is that better, love?"
Darcy closed his eyes and said yes and held her closer.
"Has it stopped snowing?"
"Yes. I think it is about midnight."
"So we still have to wait a long time before we are found."
"We do not have to stay here and wait to be found by others - we can easily walk ourselves. The woods cannot go on forever."
"I can imagine the reactions of each person when they see us extremely dirty, wet and half-frozen."
"One can hope they will be too concerned with getting us into a warm bed to ask too many questions."
"Yes, the knowing looks and sly glances sent our way might be too much to bear after such an ordeal."
"Mother will be fussing over us and will be telling me to rest myself, and at the same time keeping me awake with her ceaseless talk."
"Bingley will merely be concerned, but Georgiana and my cousin, after reassuring themselves of my saftey will no doubt begin to drop subtle hints about what they imagine happened this night."
Elizabeth giggled. "Let them imagine what they like. Nothing happened, and nothing will happen until the night of December 12." She blushed, then quickly changed the subject. "I never knew your relatives could behave in such a way."
"Believe me, my sister and cousin's favourite pastime together is to tease and laugh at me."
"I think it is good for you, you need to learn to laugh at yourself. My dear Fitzwilliam, you can be too serious at times. In fact, my aunt Gardiner, when she wrote to me informing me of your role in Lydia's marriage, said that if we were to marry, I could teach you the one quality you lacked, which was liveliness."
"Am I really that boring?" he asked her. "I never knew that."
"No. I can now tell that your disinterestedness at social gatherings was really due to shyness, and you are, as you said, ill-qualified to recommend yourself to strangers."
Darcy thought back on his behaviour before his undiplomatic proposal at Hunsford, when the lady in his lap had accused him of and opened his mind to his faults.
"I have tried to improve myself. Have I been succeeding?"
"Am I now a dull person?"
"You never were."
A comfortable silence reigned for a few minutes, before he spoke agin.
"Do you know what I love most about you?"
"I don't know, there are many reasons, I would think."
"Your vivacity and intelligence, and the small fact that you only have to look at me once with those beautiful eyes of yours and I am yours forever."
Elizabeth smiled at this, and was pleased and scared at the same time of being able to hold such power over him. She said, "And I . . . when you look at me, I feel as if I am flying, floating in absolute happiness."
"Well, we had better refrain from looking at each other, or we would never get anything done."
They laughed at this.
"I shall be sad to leave Longbourn," murmered Elizabeth, "I grew up there, I have lived there for all of my life. And though I do not dislike the prospect of leaving it for Pemberley, nevertheless I am a bit apprehensive. I shall be leaving all I have ever known and all my loving family . . . . to become part of another family who loves me just as dearly."
Tears welled up at the thought of leaving. Her mother, though rather empty-headed, was still her mother, and her father, she would miss his witty observations and dry humour. Her conversations with Kitty, when no longer under the influence of Lydia, were refreshing and she enjoyed helping her younger sister in a new, proper direction. Even Mary's quotes from great philosophers she would miss. And Jane, her most beloved sister, she would miss their intimate conversations, their walks and just the sense of Jane being there to comfort her and she being there for Jane in times of need.
Darcy spoke softly, "I have a sense of what you must feel. When my mother, and then my father, died, I couldn't bear it. I kept thinking I would see them, in the weeks after their demise. But they were no longer there. Mother would never again comfort me when I needed comfort, I could no longer go to my father and ask him about something I didn't understand. And I had no one to comfort me; I helped Georgiana through it, all the while holding back my own tears while she wept on my shoulder."
"I at least, will be able to visit my family and write to them. And I have you to comfort me," said Elizabeth. She looked at his face. He was staring at something she couldn't see, not noticing her. Darcy shook himself out of his reverie and took ELizabeth's hands in his own.
"Whatever you feel, remember I will always be there for you."
Elizabeth looked at him, and drew him closer, then kissed him.
"Thank you," she murmered quietly.
Neither of them wanted to be the first to break it off, and so the kiss lasted for a long time, all the while building up their passion and desire.
"I think we had better stop - " she gasped at one point, but gave in to what her heart wanted. A little while longer . . . she thought.
The 'little while longer' extended into a lot longer than either of them intended. And things also went a bit further than any of them intended (but not that far), though they did get rather warm which was gratifying after the cold night so far.
Rather tired, they both fell asleep again, a state which they would remain in until morning.
Colonel Fitzwilliam walked along the stream looking for any trace of the two missing people. He hoped they were lost together, for it had been a rather cold night, and two together would be much warmer than one . . .
He stopped in mid-step, and grinned. It wasn't very likely, since the two people in question were honourable people, but yet . . .
Well, it was only six days until the wedding. Maybe, as Miss Bingley had said, they were rather impatient. Then he shook his head as logic set in. The chances of them finding each other were not that great in so extensive a wood, and so it was more than likely they had spent the night apart, totally unaware of each other. And rather cold.
He walked down the banks of the stream, finding the snow was only up to his ankle which was pleasing, for if it wasn't so deep, then maybe the night had not been so cold.
Suddenly he heard voices in front, which he immedietly identified as his cousin and Miss Elizabeth. Well, talk about luck! he thought. Now, did they meet each other just then, or last night?
"Cousin!" called Darcy when the Colonel came into view . . . on the other side of the stream. "We're over here! Oh, you are on that side. I advise you not to attempt to cross, I tried, and unfortuantely I fell in."
"I can see that," said the Colonel looking meaningfully at the pair. Elizabeth looked rather dirty and cold, while his cousin was in an even worse shape, still damp and also dirty. The looks on their faces did not match the seriousness of the situation. Both looked extremely happy and Elizabeth had her arm in Darcy's and looked strangely content . . . sort of.
"Well, I suppose, we can both walk upstream until we reach the bridge that I crossed earlier. Then we can get the two of you some food, you must be famished! and into a warm bed." The Colonel listened to his words, and thought about how improper they sounded. He began to speak hastily, trying to fix his mistake. "Let me say that again - get you home, Miss Elizabeth, and my wayward cousin back to Netherfield."
(Okay, Teg and people like you - are you happy? I've figured out how to end this, finish with the wedding, and Elizabeth's reaction to Lydia's letter. Darcy also gets a letter from Mr. Wickham. Then it will be finished, and I can write another story.)
The trio, consisting of Colonel Fitzwilliam, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy emerged from the trees and into the company of Mr. Bennet, Mr. Bingley and Mr. Gardiner, not far from Longbourn.
"Lizzy dear, thank God you're safe!" cried her father. "Whatever possessed you to go into the woods by yourself?"
"Darcy!" said his friend, holding the tethers of two horses, while another was tied to a tree, "Are you all right? Georgiana has been worried sick about you!"
"We both quite well, apart from being extremely cold and very hungry," said Elizabeth. She was very tired and wanted nothing more to go to bed.
Noticing her fatigue, Mr. Gardiner hurriedly took Elizabeth and led her to Longbourn.
"Why on earth did you go into the woods?" asked Colonel Fitzwilliam to his cousin, when Elizabeth and her relatives had gone.
Bingley saw that his friend was exhausted, and leaning on his cousin's arm for support. They got on their horses and left quickly for Netherfield.
Elizabeth was tucked up in bed, rather drowsy after having a large breakfast in bed. She tried to go to sleep, which she had had little of last night due to something . . . or more precisely, someone. But she could not rest, for Mrs. Bennet came flying into the room, her hair still in their curling papers and immedietly began scolding her.
"Oh, Lizzy, child, why oh why did you go into the woods? I have told you so many times that those woods are dangerous, and that respectable young ladies do not go walking by themselves! Oh, I was certain you would freeze to death! or that you would be killed by some wild animal, and then what would we do? Mr. Darcy would be heartbroken, and then we could not have the rights to visit Derbyshire! And then we heard Mr. Darcy was missing, no doubt in search of you! See how much trouble you have been causing, miss! You have no compassion on my poor nerves, for last night they were fluttering away, and I was sure that I should faint, and I could get no rest at all!"
Mrs. Bennet continued in this vein for quite some time. Elizabeth pretended to sleep, and ten minutes later, her mother noticed this and left the room.
Her charade soon became reality, and she fell at once into pleasant dreams, mostly concentrating on last nights activities in the tree.
When she awoke, Jane was sitting on the chair.
"Oh, Lizzy, I am so glad you are safe! Are you feeling better? for no doubt you were extremely cold and hungry last night. You might have fallen sick."
"Jane, I am quite well, do not worry."
"But I am curious as to how you managed to keep warm last night. My room, even with the fire lit was quite cold. I shudder to think how cold you must have been."
ELizabeth began to blush.
Jane noticed this, but pretended not to. "Mr. Darcy was also missing in the woods last night. Did you happen upon each other?"
Elizabeth turned even redder, but said yes.
There was some silence after this, then the reason for her sister's red face suddenly dawned on her.
"Surely you did not - "
Elizabeth quickly reassured Jane.
"No, no, it is not what you imagine. But still," she added, looking at her sister and trying not to laugh, "How do you think I was kept so warm last night?"
Darcy was sitting in bed, looking at his sister and cousin, dreading the barrage of questions to come.
"What were you doing in the woods last night?" asked Georgiana with wide eyes.
He groaned inwardly; there was no use hiding anything from her - he had brought her up too well.
"I was searching."
"For - ?" pressed Colonel Fitzwilliam, leaning closer.
Oh, no, why both of them? thought Darcy.
"I was searching for Elizabeth." Seeing his sister and cousin's reactions, he quickly added, "I had found her bonnet downstream, so I went upstream in search of her."
"Did you find her?" asked Georgiana.
"He did - I found them talking together," said her cousin.
"Oh?" she replied, raising one eyebrow. "And when did you find her?"
Darcy was spared a reply by the entrance of Miss Bingley.
"Oh, Mr. Darcy, I am so glad you were found in good health. I was quite distraught last night. I kept imagining all sorts of horrible things that could happen. You could have been attcked by a wild animal, you certainly must have been extremely cold!"
Miss Bingley continued in her cries of relief, but not once did she inquire about his fiancee. Finally, before the group in Darcy's bedroom began to think about pushing her out, Mr. Bingley came in, sized up the situation and gently moved his sister out, leaving them alone.
Colonel Fitzwilliam also left to eat his breakfast.
Georgiana looked at her brother. "I wonder how you managed to survive. Did you not tell me you had fallen into the river?"
"Yes, I did."
"You must have been extremely cold. Are you quite all right now?"
"Is Miss Elizabeth also in good health?"
"I should think so."
"Good. I feel quite sorry for the both of you. You must both have been nearly frozen to death."
"Well, thankfully, we did not."
"I wonder how you two kept warm . . . . "
Georgiana gave him an arch look. Darcy looked away.
"But then I suppose you must practise."
She was silenced when a pillow hit her in the face.
Exhaution was the only thing that had to be cured, and so the very next day, the Netherfield party, excepting Miss Bingley, her sister and brother-in-law, went to Netherfield.
The greetings went as they usually did. Bingley kissed Jane's hand, as did Darcy to Elizabeth. Georgiana went to talk to Mary about music and other things, and Kitty soon joined them, having become good friends with Miss Darcy. The Colonel talked to Mr. Bennet and Mr. Gardiner about the latest news on the French, and the Gardiner children attached themselves to various people throughout the day, watched carefully by their mother.
The disappearance of Darcy and Elizabeth two nights before was the topic of the day, and to escape questions, the pair in question went out to the garden.
Feeling rather mischevious, Elizabeth bent down and made a snowball. This missile was immedietly launched towards the gentleman in front of her, and it knocked off his hat.
Turning around in surprise, which melted into mock-anger, Darcy retaliated - and missed. Throwing another one at him, Elizabeth ran away to hide.
Noticing this commotion, the Gardiner children slipped outside and split up. Emily and Robert joined Mr. Darcy, while Alice, seeing Elizabeth, ran after her with William following.
"Well, it is wonderful to have some allies!" said Darcy to the little boy and girl. Emily looked at him solemnly and picked up some snow, then went in search of the other team.
Robert was quickly ambushed by Alice, who hurled a snowball at his back. It hit, but soon she fled for her life back to the house as her brother ran after her with a rather large snowball.
Emily walked around looking for her elder brother William. She saw him at the same time he saw her. Snowballs were immedietly lobbed towards each other, and more followed. Though very little of them hit, the two children were having so much fun they no longer cared.
This noise caused Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner to come outside. Mrs. Gardiner immedietly bagan to scold them for being outside in the cold without a coat. Bingley, Jane, the Colonel and Georgiana also came out, and tried not to laugh, for the two ruffians were smiling away, obviously hearing not a word of the lecture they were given. Then their attention was turned to the back of the house, where laughter was heard.
Elizabeth, holding a snowball, saw Darcy's hat just above the hedge, obviously lying in wait for her to come closer. She crept to the hedge, intending to attack from behind.
Behind her, Mr. Darcy, without his hat, ran up and caught her. She began to laugh, which turned into a gasp of shock as he put a snowball down her dress.
"That is in return for the one you gave me!" he whispered into her ear. Elizabeth glowered at him; the effect was ruined by her smile. The cold water down her back made her shiver.
"Are you cold?" said Darcy, his voice full of concern.
"Yes, in fact I am quite cold."
This fact was quickly redemied by the gentleman coming closer, embracing her and then giving her a long kiss.
"Is that better?"
Before she could answer, the Gardiner children came into the area, followed by their parents, Mr. Bingley, Jane, Georgiana and Colonel Fitzwilliam. The children began to giggle at the sight, and then Colonel Fitzwilliam, struggling to keep a straight face, said,
"Perhaps we should leave?"
Elizabeth didn't feel like moving away from Darcy, but blushed and looked at Col. Fitzwilliam.
He went on.
"Or maybe we should let you become lost in the woods again?"
Darcy made a snowball and looked at his cousin threateningly.
"Oh, Fitzwilliam, surely you are not think of hitting me with that? Do you not remember our snow fights at Pemberley? And the fact that I always won?"
Mrs. Bennet's voice was heard calling them all for lunch.
Before Elizabeth could go upstairs to change, Hill came up to her and gave her a letter from Lydia.
(Well, I know this is not an important part of the story, but I thought it would be something funny to add. Apart from that, there's nothing more to say, except I'll be back tomorrow night.)
Elizabeth opened Lydia's letter, fully expecting words of congratulation, and she was not fully disappointed.
My dear Lizzy,
I wish you joy. If you love Mr. Darcy half as much as I do my dear Wickham, you must be very happy. It is a great comfort to have you so rich; and when you have nothing else to do, I hope you will think of us. I am sure Wickham will like a place at court very much; and I do not think we shall have quite money enough to live upon without some help. Any place would do of about three or four hundred a year; but, however, do not speak to Mr. Darcy about it, if you you had rather not.
Elizabeth read through the missive twice, then thought about it very hard. She was not surprised that the Wickhams had run out of money already, even with the amount Darcy had given them. She had also been expecting that Lydia would come to her for financial help, and Jane would also recieve a similar letter soon, if not today.
She debated about how to answer her sister's request. No doubt Wickham had put Lydia up to writing it; but then again, Lydia was imprudent enough to ask without thinking about the propriety of it.
Elizabeth went through the letter carefully line by line. Wickham would like a place of court, oh no, that would be impossible. Not enough money to live upon without some help, no surprise there. Do not speak about it to Mr. Darcy if you would rather not. No, I would not want to do such a thing, she thought. He hated Mr. Wickham, and she could only wonder at how he could force himself to assist him, to give him, with no expectation of repayment, over ten thousand pounds. Actually, the reason for that was clear, but to give Wickham even more help? Probably more financial help for the rest of his life? Would Darcy wish to do that?
No, he would not, and the best course of action for her to partake, would be to answer her sister's letter, and put an end to every expectation of the kind. But, she thought, Lydia is still my sister, and I am at least honour-bound to help her. I am sure to have some private expenses of my own - I can give her (not lend, for to expect any return of it would be like wanting wings to fly) some out of it.
Resolved on this, she began to write a reply to Lydia Wickham.
My Dear Lydia,
I write to thank you for your letter, which I have recieved today. Unfortunately, I cannot comply with your requests. I am sorry to say, that a place at court is well-nigh impossible - I do not have the power to ask for one. Nor do I wish to ask Fitzwilliam about it, for I am sure he will disagree, Surely you know of his relationship with Mr. Wickham, and to expect so much will be too much. I, myself will be able to give you enough out of my own expenses, but I am afraid that will be all.
Please be satisfied with this, and I believe it would be for the best if you attempted to limit your wants, and to spend wisely, for then you would not need to rely on others; such reliance is not stable and might, at any time, be denied.
There was no reason to tell Darcy about it - it would only make him worry.
Realising that she had been upstairs for some time, ELizabeth hurriedly sealed and addressed the letter, then went downstairs for lunch.
The Netherfield party stayed for dinner as well, and only at dusk did they finally leave.
The Bennet family were in the drawing room, at the end of the day. The sisters watched their parents as Mr. Bennet teased his wife, and Mrs. Bennet took everything at face value.
"Well, my dear, I must say that out of all my son-in-laws, I value Mr. Wickham the most highly. Shall I believe that you do as well?"
"Wickham? of course not! Mr. Bennet, how can you be so absurd! Wickham's manners are nothing to Mr. Bingley's, and he is a mere soldier, while Mr. Darcy is the master of a fine estate in Derbyshire. No, Wickham was never a great favourite of mine - I had always distrusted his appearance; too smooth for my liking. I always knew there was some ulterior motive."
"Well, I value all my son-in-laws," replied Mr. Bennet. "Jane, your Mr. Bingley is a charming fellow; amiable and good-natured. Very easy-going. And I dare say you will do very well together, just be sure as to help cure his sisters of that illness they always seem to have whenever they are invited to Longbourn."
"Thank you, papa," said Jane, smiling.
"Just make sure that the servants do not cheat you - though with five thousand a year, you can afford to lose some of it."
"Mr. Bennet, how can you say such a thing!" cried his wife.
"Very easily. And you, Lizzy," he continued, turning to his second and favourite child, "I wish you and Mr. Darcy the best for your future together. You have done very well. Well, with the lack of any conversation that is not on marriage, officers or eligible gentlemen, I shall be quite desolate, and I shall end up living in the library, except for the periods of time when I will go to Derbyshire and visit you and your husband. And then I shall hide in the splendid library I have heard so much about and never come out again." Mr. Bennet folded his newspaper and got up. "I am very happy for you, Elizabeth. And I say again, that Mr. Darcy deserves you." He left the room, and his two eldest daughters soon followed his example and retired for the night.
Elizabeth, immedietly after readying herself for sleep, slipped into Jane's room, where her sister was brushing her long golden hair.
"Jane, you do not usually take so much care in your appearance. Are you to impress Bingley?" teased ELizabeth playfully.
Jane turned towards her and replied, "Oh? And who is the one who now takes two hours to make ready for the day in the morning?"
"Yes, but Jane, you are five times more pretty than any of us. And I can Bingley is hopelessly in love with you, he would not care if you turned up in a potato sack. But with your beauty, you would still look like an angel."
"Oh?" inquired jane with one raised eyebrow. "Darcy is so much in love with you, I would think that if you died, he would pine away with grief, or even go so far as to kill himself as soon as he heard the news!"
Elizabeth laughed at this. "Oh, Jane, I shall miss these talks with you when we leave for our respective homes. Promise that you will write to me everyday?"
"Of course I will."
Elizabeth sighed. "And we have to help Mama and Aunt Gardiner with the wedding preparations. Oh, it is in five days, I do not know whether to be imapatient or to hold onto time and stop it from progressing."
"Why the latter?"
"I should not be so foolish - but I am a little afraid of leaving everything familar to me, and going far, far away, to a place I have visited once."
"You will not lack in aquaintances - did not Aunt introduce you to many of her friends in Lambton? And besides, you make friends so easily."
"True," said Elizabeth. Her solemn mood changed and she smiled at Jane. "Come now Jane, you have not told me what Bingley said to you when he proposed."
"It was simple, yet wonderful - he was nervous and asked me very quickly."
Elizabeth looked at her sister with a patient look.
"Oh, very well. He said, 'Miss Bennet, Jane, I can go no longer without telling you of what I feel. Had I known you were in London when you visited, I would have told you sooner, but, well, I am afraid I was under the impression that you no longer cared for me, nor did I know you were in London at the time.' I told him, after a short silence that this was not true. This seemed to give him copurage - before he did not look at me, but then again, I was not much better for I kept looking at his boots. Then he said, 'Jane, I love you with all my heart, and I have done so ever since our first meeting, and I would be the happiest man in the world and honoured if you would consent to be my wife. Will you marry me?' The last was said very hurriedly, but it made no difference - I was estatic and I said, 'Yes.'"
"Is that all you said?"
"I am sure I said more - but my mind was too happy and I cannot remember what I said. Why don't you tell me what Darcy said to you?"
Elizabeth smiled and told her.
Upon reaching Netherfield, Darcy found a letter for him. He went to his room and opened it. He started when he found it was from the last man in the world that he wanted to hear from - Mr. Wickham.
Relations between us have not always been the best, but we did have some pleasurable times; during our childhood we were the best of friends.
I am writing to give my congratulations on your engagement. I can see your attraction; Mrs. Wickham is very similar to Miss Elizabeth, which is hardly surprising as they are sisters.
Speaking of the Bennet sisters, I must inform you that Mrs. Wickham is finding our situation at the moment rather unpromising and difficult. We are in need of support, an officer's wage is not quite sufficient. Miss Elizabeth Bennet's sister, I am sure, will greatly appreciate any help.
Darcy restrained himself from hitting something. Of all the imprudent -- ! The sheer audacity of the man! to expect such from him, after all Darcy had done for him and what Wickham had nearly done to Georgiana! It was absolutely despicable!
When he had calmed down, he re-read the letter. Suddenly he realised the continous references between Lydia and Elizabeth was deliberate. Wickham wanted him to know that if Darcy did not want to help Wickham, he should do it for Lydia, who was Elizabeth's sister. And if he did not, Elizabeth would not be pleased.
Damn the man! Wickham was not stupid - he had probably noticed Darcy's feelings for Elizabeth, and was using it against him. And I am to be brother-in-law to him! he thought angrily. But Elizabeth more than made up for it. Why should he care about Wickham. He had no reason to see him ever again, and if a little financial support was what was required to keep the man quiet and prevent him from forcing Elizabeth over it using her sister, it would not be so bad.
Darcy resolved not to tell Elizabeth about it. There was no reason to worry her about such a matter. Right now, all he wanted was to sleep, and dream about a certain lady.
(Four days until the wedding . . . . nothing much happening in those four days, so tomorrow night will be Letters and Reactions - 11 (final). It's been fun - and when I get back I'll start another story. This one will be rather long - I thought it would be interesting to tell P&P from Darcy's POV. Excuse me if anyone has already done a version of this . . . . I'm still doing it!)
Elizabeth woke up on the morning of the wedding, not quite believing the day had finally arrived. As she sat up, Jane came inside. For her sister to come to talk to her in the morning was quite rare, and only occurred when there was something of great importance.
"Lizzy, are you awake?" she asked, "Aunt Gardiner says we are to eat a good breakfast, for she believes we will not be able to eat a single bite at lunch."
"I don't think I can eat now," replied Elizabeth, getting out of bed. She looked around her room, aware this would be the last time she would see it. Most of her belongings had already been removed.
Jane interrupted her reverie with a soft voice, "I know how you feel. Last night was also my last sleep in my own bed."
"Before you move to Netherfield. At least you are but three miles from Longbourn." said Elizabeth, still gazing around her room. "Fitzwilliam and I are spending tonight at Netherfield - it is too far a journey to Pemberley."
The two sisters fell silent, each lost in their own thoughts.
Mrs. Bennet came rushing into Elizabeth's room.
"Oh girls, come now, get dressed! Not in your wedding gowns - wait till just before the service, or they shall get dirty, and then what will we do! Oh, Lizzy, when will we meet again? You are going so far away, all the way to Derbyshire. At least dear Jane is but three miles away - and I promise that I shall visit everyday! Come, come girls and eat your breakfast quickly. Maria is coming soon to dress, but your father is no help at all, and my brother's children, oh why can't they sit still? They are running everywhere like mad things!"
With a sigh, Elizabeth and Jane looked at their rooms for the last time.
At Netherfield, Darcy woke up to perhaps the happiest day of his life.
He lay there for some time, thinking about how his life had changed ever since, ever since...Elizabeth.
All his life, he had known that something was missing, but did not know what. To an outsider, it would seem he lacked nothing - and true, he lacked no material possessions. But emotionally, he was was rather emprty.
Elizabeth had changed all that. She had shown him that material wealth was nothing compared to love, and all the money in the world could not buy love. Now the empty space in his heart was filled, and today he would vow to love, honour, cherish and protect the woman who had changed his life.
He got up, dressed, and went down for breakfast.
Bingley sat down for breakfast waiting for his friend. His sisters were already there, one with a slightly sad expression on her face, the other resigned to the inevitable event. Georgiana could not keep a smile off her face, and she, astoundingly, chattered away quite gaily. Colonel Fitzwilliam ate his breakfast, but kept talking about how Darcy and Georgiana's life would be different with a mistress of Pemberley. Mr. Hurst looked disinterested as always.
Bingley was too nervous to eat. Though his stomach was at war with his spine, he found no interest in the plate in front of him.
"Do eat, Charles," said Miss Bingley. "We would not want you fainting from hunger at the altar."
He smiled at her and tried to take her advice. But how could he, when his mind was more agreeably engaged on the event that was to occur at twelve?
Darcy entered, but did not sit down. Rather, he walked to the window and stared outside, lost in his own thoughts. Only when his sister repeated what Miss Bingley had said did he sit down to eat.
Georgiana looked at her brother proudly. She was so happy for him, and for the fact that the charming Miss Elizabeth Bennet would soon be officially her sister. A much better choice than the lady who was sitting down to the left of Mr. Bingley, hardly touching her food despite her own advice to Bingley.
Colonel Fitzwilliam looked at his cousin and Darcy's friend and said, "Come now, surely you two are not nervous? All you have to do is stand at the altar, say some lines that the priest will tell you and kiss the bride - which I am sure will be the best part."
"You are not the one standing there with everyone staring at you," retorted his cousin. But he did look a little less nervous.
Mr. Bennet sat in his library with his brother-in-law. A glass of wine sat by his hand, and though the other held a book, he could not concentrate on more than a line at a time.
Today, he was going to give away his two eldest and most deserving daughters away. How I will miss them! thought he. He remembered when they were just babes in arms, and every time he had looked at them then he regretted they were not sons. But now he regretted nothing - Jane and Elizabeth were the best daughters a man could have, and their fiancees, today husbands, both deserved them, and were worthy of his precious daughters.
"Brother, are you listening to me?" asked Mr. Gardiner, "I know how much you will miss Jane and Lizzy, but do not think ill of this day because you are losing them. Think of how happy they are, marrying men who love and respect them, so much so that they were willing to ignore other considerations."
"Yes, I am listening. I am just remembering my daughters."
"They have not even left for the church yet!" laughed his brother, then continuing in a more serious tone, "What is wrong?"
"My favourite daughters have left me. They have grown up from little, silly children to beautiful young ladies and are getting married. Not only am I regretting their loss, but one other fact. Time moves on, brother, and I am getting old."
"We all do some time. Be happy you have lived to see Jane and Elizabeth happily married to two of the best men in England."
Maria arrived at eleven to ready herself for bridesmaid. Kitty greeted her at the door, then literally shoved her into a room with the dress to change. Kitty was already dressed, but could not find her bouquet and ran all over the house for it.
Jane and Elizabeth sat still in their gowns, waiting for the maids to finish with their hair. Mrs. Gardiner sat close to them giving them helpful advice on married life.
Mrs. Bennet fussed all over the place, trying to offer helpful advice, but mostly just got in the way.
Mr. Bennet sat out of the way in the library with Mr. Gardiner, reminising on past times with Jane and Elizabeth.
Mary, dressed and ready, tried to control four active Gardiner children, who evaded her and played hide-and-seek.
Finally, everything was ready, and the Longbourn party climbed into waiting carriages and headed off for the church.
Dressed and ready, Darcy paced the drawing room in nervousness, anticipation, and plain impatience. Bingley had not come down yet, and his sisters were certainly not going to come down for another fifteen minutes.
Colonel Fitzwilliam came into the room with Georgiana on his arm.
"Well, cousin, enjoy your last few minutes of bachelorhood," said he smiling. "You and Bingley both." He sighed theatrically. "'Shall I never see a bachelor of three score again?'" he continued, quoting from 'Much Ado About Nothing'.
"And when will be your turn, Fitzwilliam?" asked Darcy. "I doubt such a man as you will remain single for long."
"Not for some time. And maybe never. As a soldier, I might die on the battlefield, fighting France."
"Oh? And how is that when you are in charge of training our country's soldiers?"
"Maybe my duties will change."
"Cousin," said Georgiana, "you have changed the subject."
"And what was the subject?"
Amazingly, earlier than expected, Miss Caroline Bingley entered the room.
"I hope I am not interrupting anything?"
"Not at all," said the Colonel. "And why are you down here so early? I had heard that you take much longer to ready yourself for any occasion."
"It took a shorter while this time." She looked past him at Darcy, who was looking at nothing with a small smile on his face.
The man in question broke out of his daydream and looked at the woman addressing him.
"I . . . . only wish to say . . . . that I am sorry. For all of my past actions towards you and Miss Elizabeth Bennet. And that I am happy for you both, and I wish you the best for the future."
He looked at her with sincere gratitude.
It was then that Bingley hurried into the room, followed closely by Mr. and Mrs. Hurst.
"Well, shall we go?"
A servant entered the room.
"Excuse me sir," he said to Darcy, "This has come for you by express."
Darcy opened the letter with impatience and read it. Then he read it again, out loud for every one to hear.
Today, I understand is the day you are to disgrace your family name forever with your marriage to Miss Eliza Bennet of Longbourn. I do not write to give you any congratulations, from myself or Anne, only to tell you of our disappointment and displeasure. Your name will no longer be spoken in our house without scorn, and you shall never be welcome at Rosings again!
Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Rosings
Darcy looked up with a wry smile.
"What are you going to do about it, Fitzwilliam?" asked Gerogiana, the only one to speak.
"Nothing. This is what I think of her opinion."
He walked over to the fire, tore the letter into pieces and watched them burn.
Georgiana applauded, an action which was imitated by everyone else.
"Now, I believe we should leave."
They entered the church, and the two friends soon seperated themselves from the others and stood near the altar with the priest. In the pews, the two men noticed many of their aquaintances and friends. Mr. Collins sat beside Charlotte, with the whole Lucas family behind her. Mr. Gardiner was next to his wife and sister, Mrs. Phillips. Georgiana sat down, next to Miss Bingley. Colonel Fitzwilliam was the only red-coat visible. Mr. Hurst, for once looking alert, was behind them with Mrs. Hurst. Mary Bennet stood off to one side. And Mrs. Bennet (looking quite serious) was in the front row.
Darcy looked at his friend, standing beside him. "Are you ready? You look quite uneasy."
"You are no better," whispered Bingley. "Well, you are here to support me, and I shall support you."
The doors at the entrance opened, and Darcy and Bingley forgot all everything as they looked at the group in the doorway. Robert and William Gardiner acted as pageboys, with flowergirls Alice and Emily following. Maria Lucas and Kitty Bennet stood behind a group of three; Mr. Bennet and two women who looked like angels descended from heaven
The congregation stood as Mr. Bennet led his daughters proudly down to the altar, then sat down beside his wife. ____________________________________________________________
Rev. William Collins was not asked to perform the ceremony, so he sat, his eyes half closed as he tried to make sense of the goings-on. He could not imagine how his Cousin Elizabeth had persuaded the nephew of the Right Honourable Lady Catherine de Bourgh of the illustrious Rosings Park to marry her. No doubt, he thought, it is as Lady Catherine condescedingly said, 'She has enchanted him and lured him away!'.
Mrs. Charlotte Collins watched the scene at the altar with a bitter-sweet feeling. Her friend Elizabeth deserved every happiness in the world, but as she looked on the picture, she could not help but feel sorry for herself when she compared Elizabeth's marriage to her own.
Miss Bingley watched as the priest led her brother and Jane through their vows. She still felt a pang of anger at having to bow to Jane as mistress of Netherfield, though Jane herself was such an angelic creature.
When the priest moved to Darcy and Elizabeth, she swallowed tears. No matter how well she hid it, she was still extremely disappointed when Darcy chose Elizabeth over her. She hurriedly collected herself. A lady of fashion does not shed tears in public! she reminded herself.
Georgiana watched as her brother's face glowed with happiness. He had been so melancholy, withdrawn for his whole life, more so since her silly escapade in Ramsgate. It was good to see him happy at last.
Beside Miss Bingley, Colonel Fitzwilliam looked at Elizabeth. Had she been more wealthy, had he been the first born son, instead of a younger son, he would have proposed to her. No doubt they would have been happy together, but looking at her and Darcy, he knew that only his cousin would be the perfect husband for such a woman.
Mrs. Bennet proudly watched the proceedings as the Gardiner boys presented the rings to each couple. Three daughters married! was all she could think. All three of my son-in-laws are perfect. Wickham is so agreeable, so gentlemanly! Bingley is so handsome beside my dear Jane and has five thousand a year. And Elizabeth, dear Lizzy, married to Mr. Darcy, with ten thousand a year and a great estate in Derbyshire!
Mr. Bennet looked at Jane. So beautiful, so amiable, I do not wish to lose you, he thought. But when you are as happy as you are now, I give you up willingly. He turned his attention to Elizabeth. She looked positively radiant, and extremely content. Mr. Bennet smiled. And the young man who looks on you so adoringly is, now that I look back, the only husband you could ever have.
Darcy looked at Elizabeth beside him. After all those misunderstandings, trials, arguments and dislike, she was finally his wife. And from now on, all would be well.
The priest told him to kiss the bride. Bingley looked at his dear Jane, worked up enough courage to do so in front of an audience, and shyly, quickly but tenderly kissed her. He looked towards his friend, who, it seemed, had had no scruples and was passionately kissing his wife without worrying about the on-lookers.
After a while, the congregation began to applaude. Bingley held onto Jane's hand and chuckled as Mr. and Mrs. Darcy seperated.
The congregation walked to the front of Longbourn house and threw flowers as Mr. and Mrs. Bingley walked up to the waiting carriage and got in. Jane looked back as her sister and brother-in-law followed them and climbed into the carriage in front of them, then turned her attention back to her husband.
The carriages began to move off towards Netherfield, and Bingley held onto his wife. He smiled at her for a long while, before turning to face the front.
He pointed to the carriage in front of them, where Mr. and Mrs. Darcy were continuing where they had left off in the church.
© 1998 Copyright held by author