The Other Side of Pride and Prejudice
Part 55: Duty and Desire
It was a peaceful evening in London. Colonel Fitzwilliam had gone to dine with some of his friends and so Darcy was alone in the library reading. But the tranquility was broken by the sound of a carriage pulling up in front of his townhouse.
With a sigh, Darcy put the book to one side and went to the drawing room to meet this unexpected visitor.
The servant came in and announced, "Lady Catherine de Bourgh, sir."
Darcy barely had time to cover his surprise when his aunt sailed into the room behind the servant. Her expression was dark and grim which immediately put Darcy on his guard. The servant left, shutting the door behind him.
He knew very well that his aunt rarely came to town, preferring to remain at Rosings. Whatever had drawn her away to London at this time of the year was certainly something of great importance.
"Lady Catherine, this is an unexpected pleasure - "
"We can dispense with the pleasantries, nephew," she said sharply, cutting him off. "I am here to save you, perhaps from yourself."
Darcy remained silent, his puzzlement increasing by the minute. Without waiting for an offer, Lady Catherine sat down, indicating that Darcy join her. He did, keeping his features composed while his thoughts turned over, trying to find a reason for her visit and her brusque manner.
What the devil is going on?
"What are your duties?" asked Lady Catherine.
"I beg your pardon?" replied Darcy, caught off-guard by this unexpected question.
"What are your duties, where do they lie?" she said impatiently.
Darcy became even more confused at the direction the conversation was taking. He tried to form an appropriate, yet honest, answer.
Lady Catherine continued when Darcy did not speak. "What do you think is important? The obligation you owe to our family, our family's honour? Or do you intend to put your own interests first?"
"What do you mean, what are you speaking of?" asked Darcy
"I am referring to what I sincerely hope is a malicious rumour, about your supposed, forthcoming engagement to Miss Elizabeth Bennet."
Darcy's shock was immense, yet he kept it hidden.
"I know it must be a most scandalous falsehood, industrially circulated by the Bennets themselves; but every tale has some foundation. Do you have any affection for her?" she demanded.
He was at a loss as to how to respond. There was no way he would reply honestly, yet it went against his principles to lie.
Carefully, he said, "She is an acquaintance of mine."
This did not satisfy the lady.
"But do you have any feelings for her beyond mere friendship?" she pressed.
She has no right to pry in such a manner into my own business!
"Whatever I feel for Miss Bennet, it is no concern of yours!" he shot back.
"It is a concern of mine," replied Lady Catherine, voice rising. "As your aunt and future mother-in-law, I have a right to know!"
Darcy sighed inwardly. For several years now, ever since he had come of age, Lady Catherine had kept pressuring him to marry her daughter, and for several years, Darcy had avoided confronting his aunt over the fact that he did not want to marry Miss Anne de Bourgh. It seemed the time had finally come.
Lady Catherine ranted on. "You are to be engaged to Anne - I must make certain that nothing and no-one comes interferes with your union!"
"With all due respect, madam, I have no intention of marrying Anne."
This calm statement caused Lady Catherine to fall silent in shock. Darcy dryly imagined that she had perhaps never even entertained the fact that he did not want to marry her daughter, heiress of Rosings Park.
Finally she demanded, "And why not?"
"Because I do not love her."
"Love?" spat she. "What does love have to do with it? It is the future of Rosings and Pemberley that I am concerned about!"
"I refuse to marry any woman without love," replied Darcy, controlling his temper.
"If not Anne, then whom? Miss Eliza Bennet?"
Why does she keep talking about Elizabeth? thought Darcy.
"Whoever my choice of wife may be, it is just that - my choice."
Aghast at what she was hearing, Lady Catherine said, "Have you forgotten so soon what obligations you hold to Anne, me - your mother?"
"My mother was a woman who not only wanted me to honour my family but also remain true to my heart."
"You cannot have both - you must choose between our family's honour and what you desire. You have only one choice, and honour and decorum demand that you follow your family's wishes!"
"What if it is possible; what if I could somehow remain true to both my duty and desire?"
"That is the talk of dreamers - believe me when I speak of this."
She turned away from him, a ghostly expression of old pain and sorrow flitting across her hard features. But it was brief, she quickly regained control and said, "Darcy, I forbid you to disgrace yourself with an engagement to her! Promise me you will never act in such an impetuous, irresponsible manner!"
"I will make no promise of the kind," he replied defiantly.
"I am sorry to see that her influence has already gained a hold on you. That obstinate girl said exactly those words to me."
Darcy stared at his aunt. Lady Catherine had spoken to Elizabeth?
"When did she speak to you?" he urgently asked.
"I saw her this morning when I traveled to Hertfordshire to inform her that I speak for your entire family when I say that I do not approve of a marriage between you and her."
Aunt Catherine went to Hertfordshire? She spoke to Elizabeth? His imagination conjured all sorts of possibilities of what they had spoken of, and how Lady Catherine had treated Elizabeth.
"What exactly did you say to her?" said he.
"I found her quite unreasonable. She would not give me any straight answers. She was impertinent and abominably rude. Finally, after much pressing, she finally revealed that you were not engaged." Lady Catherine moved closer to him, her voice taking on a pleading note. "I appeal to you to forget her, resist her seductive arts and remember your duty, your honour, you family."
Darcy sat stunned at his aunt's words. His shocked silence seemed to persuade Lady Catherine that he was coming to his senses. She pressed her advantage, saying condescendingly, "Besides, there is one other thing, nephew."
"And what is that?" he asked suspiciously.
"I am afraid that the object of your infatuation does not even return your imagined affections."
A sinking feeling began in his heart, though he affected bravado when he said, "And how do you know this?"
"One thing she said to me during our conversation, was, 'the wife of Mr. Darcy would have such extraordinary sources of happiness attached to her situation, that she could, upon the whole, have no cause to repine.' " At Darcy's stunned look, she continued, "I am sorry nephew, but she has eyes only for your fortune. She refused not to enter into an engagement with you - obviously she is determined to have you."
Disbelief froze his mind. Her happiness? The wife of Mr. Darcy?
"She - she refused to promise you this?"
"Yes. Can you now see that hers is of a mercenary nature? I told her that if she were sensible of her own good, she would not wish to quit the sphere in which she had been brought up. Do you know what the impudent girl said? 'He is a gentleman; I am a gentleman's daughter - so far we are equal.' She has the audacity to compare her wretched family to ours!"
The stunned expression on his face did not disappear. The words that Lady Catherine had quoted as being those said by Elizabeth echoed in his mind.
He is a gentleman . . .
Lady Catherine smiled. "I am sorry to have to impart such news to you; but I hope I have opened your eyes to Miss Elizabeth Bennet's true feelings."
His mind finally began to work again. Everything Lady Catherine had told him began to form a logical thought, an idea . . . and a spark of hope.
He smiled. "Yes, you have. I thank you."
Lady Catherine breathed an audible sigh of relief. "I am glad to see that you have come to your senses," she said, rising from her seat. Darcy rose also and escorted her to the hall. Outside, her magnificent carriage awaited her. He could see Anne inside, looking rather miserable and tired.
Lady Catherine turned to him once more. "Duty and desire cannot be united. You can only choose one. Family and honour always come first." She descended the steps and Darcy handed her into the carriage. She sat beside Anne, who gave him a sympathetic smile.
As the driver prepared to leave, Lady Catherine said, "Come to Rosings soon. Anne will be there."
The driver cracked his whip and the carriage lurched forward. Darcy stood for some time, watching it but not seeing it. Then, slowly he walked back into the house.
Returning to his seat in the library, he did not pick up the book again. The events of the last few minutes overwhelmed him.
Why did she not tell Lady Catherine that she had decided against me? Why did Elizabeth not admit to her that she detested me? he began, trying to put his thoughts into order. She acknowledged that fact to my face - why not to my aunt?
'Mercenary nature . . .' Lady Catherine obviously thinks Elizabeth is after my fortune, but I know that cannot be true. If she did lust after my money, then she would have accepted me in April.
So if not that, then what are the 'extraordinary sources of happiness' the wife of Mr. Darcy would have?
He thought about the good marriages he knew. The most obvious was that of Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner. Though they did not command the fortune Darcy did, they were content with each other.
They do not have a great fortune - what else do they have? Understanding, respect . . . love.
His heart began to beat a little quicker.
Is it possible?
Elizabeth's words repeated themselves over and over again.
'He is a gentleman . . . so far, we are equal.'
Does she now see me as a gentleman? Is it possible she feels the same as me? She refused not to enter into an engagement with me - she is leaving the possibility open, should I propose a second time.
Everything Lady Catherine had told him seemed to support this theory.
If she truly did not want me, then she would have made that promise to Lady Catherine. But she did not. And neither did I.
Did he dare hope?
Part 56: Hopes . . .
"Aunt Catherine came here?" asked Colonel Fitzwilliam incredulously.
Having arrived back rather late last night, Darcy had been unable to inform his cousin of his encounter with Lady Catherine until the next morning.
"Yes," replied Darcy.
"Whatever for?" asked Fitzwilliam.
Darcy took a deep breath. He himself could not believe the implications of Lady Catherine's words.
"You will find this difficult to believe, but apparently there is a rumour that I am engaged."
"Engaged?" said Fitzwilliam with a laugh. "How in God's name did such a tale come to be?"
"I would not know."
"And who, pray, are you supposed to be engaged to?"
Darcy looked at his cousin straight in the eye. "Miss Elizabeth Bennet."
Fitzwilliam stopped in his mirth. When he did not speak, Darcy continued.
"How Lady Catherine came by such I report I cannot explain. But, her reaction to this news was to travel to Hertfordshire and confront Miss Bennet over it."
"Confront Miss Bennet?" repeated Fitzwilliam, aghast.
"Yes, for she believes that the rumour was circulated by the Bennet family and possibly originated by them as well. I sincerely doubt the veracity of such a theory, for I know full well of their dislike of me. But the rumour's origin is of little consequence - it is what Lady Catherine said to me concerning Miss Bennet that is most startling."
Colonel Fitzwilliam urged him to press on with his tale.
"Lady Catherine believes I am infatuated with Miss Bennet and so tried to extract from me a promise that I would not enter into a marriage with her. Of course, I refused, but then she let fall the knowledge that Miss Bennet had also refused to give her the same promise."
The implications of this were not lost on Darcy's cousin. His eyes widened and Darcy continued.
"Our Aunt believes that Miss Bennet is a fortune hunter, but I know that is not possible, otherwise my first proposal would have been accepted. There are other points of interest as well, cousin." Darcy, unable to contain himself any longer, grew slightly more animated and crossed the room. "She quoted Elizabeth several times. One such quote was 'He is a gentleman; I am a gentleman's daughter, so far we are equal.' Can you imagine the meaning of all this, Fitzwilliam?" asked Darcy earnestly. "Do you think it is possible that Elizabeth returns my love?"
Fitzwilliam smiled as his usually taciturn cousin was transformed into the more fervent young man he had known in younger days. "Calm down, Darcy!" he said laughingly. When Darcy had seated himself in a chair opposite him, it was the Colonel's turn to speak.
"I do not know what to think now," he began. "I will not speculate about the possible truth of Aunt Catherine's report, but neither will I dismiss it. I do advise caution, though. Remember that Lady Catherine is adept at hearing only what she wants to hear."
"But if Elizabeth refused to promise her that she would never accept a proposal of marriage from me . . ." protested Darcy.
"Yes, there is that," said Fitzwilliam. "That one fact speaks volumes and implies a great deal. If Lady Catherine's information is correct, Miss Bennet is leaving the possibility of accepting a proposal from you open. I take it Lady Catherine was not pleased with Miss Bennet about that."
"No, she wasn't. She was even less pleased when I told her quite bluntly that I had no intention of marrying Anne, either."
Colonel Fitzwilliam laughed a little at that. "Oh dear. Our Aunt is not doing too well with her matchmaking. Instead of driving you towards Anne she has opened up new vistas for you and Miss Bennet."
"And for that I am eternally indebted to her." Darcy looked at his cousin pleadingly. "But what do I do now?"
Colonel Fitzwilliam shrugged. "Why do you ask me? Shouldn't you ask your heart?"
Darcy did not answer. He looked away from his cousin, at the bookshelf but did not see it.
"I am to go to Hertfordshire tomorrow," he said slowly. "Bingley is expecting me back at Netherfield in the early evening, but I suspect he will be at the Longbourn at the time of my arrival."
Colonel Fitzwilliam nodded encouragement.
"He visits the Bennet family everyday. Perhaps I should accompany Bingley and speak to her?" he asked hopefully.
"Very good. And - ?"
"I don't know. What should I say to her?"
Colonel Fitzwilliam smiled. "I'd advise you not to repeat your mistakes of April."
Darcy shook his head. "I would rather deal with Mr. Wickham than endure that experience again. What should I say to her, cousin?"
Colonel Fitzwilliam smiled. "Tell her the truth."
"I beg your pardon?"
"There is no need for flowery speeches of any sort. Be simple and speak from your heart, rather than your mind."
"And tell her what?"
"That you love her."
Darcy hung his head. "How can you make it sound so simple?"
"It isn't simple?"
"Life rarely is simple, Darcy," said Fitzwilliam solemnly. "But if you never take the risks you will never find out what happiness you can have."
Darcy looked up and smiled at his cousin. "You are not a soldier, Fitzwilliam," he said. "You are a philosopher."
"Well, here is another piece of wisdom; a difficult courtship can lead to a strong marriage."
Darcy laughed. "I have heard that from another. And you cannot get a courtship more difficult than mine."
"Then let us go, and prepare for your journey tomorrow."
Darcy left London the next morning. Colonel Fitzwilliam was to remain in Town for a few more days before also leaving again for his regiment.
He was restless, thoughts constantly in motion. Fitzwilliam noticed this but kindly refrained from commenting on it.
"Have a safe journey, Darcy," said the Colonel as Darcy prepared to ride off. "And . . . good luck."
Darcy looked at his cousin, a man who had been one of his dearest friends and supporters throughout times of trial. He was forever indebted to him, and Darcy hoped that the next time they met, he would have news of joy to relate.
"Thank you. I will give you news of what happens at the earliest opportunity."
With this, Darcy turned the horse's head out of London, and onto the road to Hertfordshire.
Part 57 . . . and Dreams
The day was crisp and cold, despite the sun shining down brightly. The autumn had turned the leaves russet and gold, and soon it would be winter. Another winter, another Christmas, another year gone, another year to come.
But perhaps this year would see a chapter of Darcy's life closed, and the beginning of another.
He told himself not to hope too much. But it was difficult. Never before had the glittering dream he had cherished for so many months - nay, nearly a year - seemed so close to reality.
Darcy thought back to the first time he had traveled down this road, nearly twelve months ago, looking over Netherfield with Bingley. He had known that something was missing from his life, but knew not what it was.
He knew now. The empty part in him he had never realised before was loneliness - and the one who filled that emptiness was Elizabeth.
And, perhaps at the end of this journey, he would be completed.
Netherfield was visible through the trees now. Beyond, was Longbourn. He could not see it, but he could imagine it in his mind.
What was Elizabeth doing now? Was she with her sisters or by herself? Was she inside, perhaps singing or reading, or outside enjoying the late autumn afternoon?
Was she thinking of him?
Darcy smiled. Only a day ago he would have dismissed the thought as fanciful, but now . . .
Well. Best dwell on that later.
There was no one to greet his arrival, save the servants. Bingley was at Longbourn, in the company of his dear Jane and was unlikely to return until after dinner.
Darcy was grateful for this period of solitude before seeing his friend again. He had much to think about, and after partaking of his own meal, he went to the rather neglected library and sat down in the chair near to the burning fire.
He did not need to fear Bingley's resentment lasting from his confession ten days ago. His friend was of a most forgiving nature and for that Darcy was grateful. He idly wondered if Bingley had yet written to his sisters about his engagement - and, if he had, what were their reactions to the news?
He thought back to his Aunt Catherine's enlightening words that had given him this feeling of hope. She had been emphatically set in the opinion that duty and desire could not be united. However, Darcy thought otherwise.
Darcy did not really care what his aunt thought, if . . . when . . . if he became engaged to Elizabeth. He loved her and that was enough. Marriage wasn't a game of profit and loss, but having thought about it, there were some aspects he had considered.
On a social level, yes, perhaps a marriage between him and Elizabeth might be frowned upon by some. There were many tales of people who were unable to marry the object of their affections because of the simple, yet almost holy laws of social class barriers. But Darcy knew that by marrying Elizabeth he was fulfilling the duty he owed to his family, by taking a wife of honorable family who would win the respect, admiration and even affection of all his family and acquaintances.
It wasn't only that, either. For so long he had been more concerned with the welfare of others, of his estate he hadn't realised just how much joy in life he had missed out. Yes, he had friends and family but he had very few real, close, emotional attachments. He was very closed up emotionally, and though that had diminished somewhat lately, there was still much he had to learn about enjoying life itself.
Elizabeth had such an emotional openness she had drawn him against his will. She was not afraid to declare her feelings for anyone - whether it be a fondness for Mr. Wickham or a hatred of himself, she hadn't been at all hesitant in making her feelings known. And when they did change, she was not ashamed to admit her mistakes either.
That is what he needed to learn, and Elizabeth was the one he wanted to learn it from.
His train of thought was broken by the entrance of Bingley.
"Darcy?" he heard his friend say.
"Yes, Bingley, I am here," replied Darcy, arising from his chair and shaking his friend's hand. "Congratulations, Bingley, on your engagement." He sat back down.
Bingley followed suit and smiled broadly. "Thank you, my friend. I could not be happier. Jane loves me as I do her and I must thank you for making that knowledge known to me."
"Even after I nearly destroyed your hopes?"
"Come now, man, surely you do not believe I am angry with you? You were mistaken and you have more than atoned for it. My sisters have also written to me, in reply to the missive I sent them with the news of my engagement."
"And what did they say?"
"What one would expect - they express their happiness on their sister-to-be but very little on their part in the deceit. I do not think they have to courage to confess to it."
Darcy shook his head. "I think that they are regretting it and do feel guilt. Perhaps they will confess to you, someday, and apologise. For now, I think they fear your reaction, as I did."
"They have good reason to. You, at least, were mistaken whereas Caroline and Louisa went out of their way to hurt her. Jane told me she had been under the impression that I was to marry your sister, a fact she was told by Caroline."
"I am sure they will respect Miss Bennet in the future."
"They will. I will not tolerate any sort of disrespect on their part."
The two men sat in silence for some moments as the fire began to die down.
"Are - are you to go to Longbourn again tomorrow?" asked Darcy as casually as possible.
"Yes, I am."
"Would I be able to accompany you to visit?"
Darcy glanced at Bingley to see if his friend had hazarded a guess as to his motives to joining Bingley on his daily visit. Bingley however was to happy to think about Darcy's desire for coming with him, engrossed, no doubt, in his memories of Jane.
Darcy sighed with relief, then took several deep breaths to soothe his rapidly beating heart.
Tomorrow he would see Elizabeth.
(You're going to have to wait a loooooooooooooooong time for the next part. :P)
Part 58 Completion
(BTW, I am not going by the P&P2 version in this scene. JA leaves a lot of room for the imagination - so here's Leareth's interpretation.)
To a casual observer, it would seem that of the two gentlemen, it was Mr. Bingley who was the most impatient to reach Longbourn, but the more observant could easily discern the restlessness of Mr. Darcy. Whilst Bingley was the first to climb onto his horse and proceed a few step down the driveway calling for his friend to quicken his pace, it was Darcy who had been waiting outside by the stable for ten minutes for Bingley to join him. This brief period of solitude, then the languid ride to Longbourn gave Darcy ample chance to dwell upon what he should say when he found himself face to face once more with Elizabeth Bennet.
He would not, of course, repeat his words of April. Those words had been from his mind, rather than his heart. He had not properly expressed that time, what he really felt for her. However on this occasion, eloquence was unnecessary; as his cousin had said, Darcy had to simply speak from his heart.
"What on earth is troubling you so, Darcy?" inquired Bingley, once he had realised Darcy had not spoken more than ten words the entire morning.
"Nothing of consequence."
Nor could Darcy open up to his friend about his hopes and dreams. What if Elizabeth refused him a second time? He would not ruin his friend's happiness with news of his own sorrow.
But if she accepted, what then?
Darcy smiled at this, then humbly shook his head. He would not let himself expect more than what would happen.
For a change, there was no face at the window watching their arrival. The Bennet family were undoubtedly now used to Mr. Bingley's visits, however they would not be expecting Mr. Darcy to come as well. The housekeeper announced the two men into the drawing room, where the ladies of the house were seated. Darcy could see Jane, her features appearing even more beautiful with the arrival of Bingely, but his attention was immediately fixed on Elizabeth.
She glanced at him apprehensively, but with no antagonism. She was not smiling, and she seemed unsettled at Darcy's presence, however, also perhaps, a little expectant of his coming?
Before Mrs. Bennet could speak, Bingley proposed their all walking out. Whether he knew about his friend's intentions or, more likely, merely wanted to be alone with Jane Darcy was grateful for his friend's suggestion. But his happiness at having a moment to speak to Elizabeth privately was diminished with Miss Catherine's acceptance as well. Nevertheless, it was still better than remaining indoors, with the presence of so many others.
Trying to quell his rapidly beating heart, Darcy fell unconsciously into place beside Elizabeth. She did not look at him, but accepted Darcy's position by her side. Her younger sister followed behind them, whilst Jane and Bingley, absorbed in each other took the lead.
The road to Meryton was not long enough to warrant the use of a carriage, but long enough to give Darcy time to collect his thoughts, forming a desperate resolution, but the presence of Miss Catherine prevented him from carrying that out.
He could not prevent himself from casting his eyes towards his fair walking companion. Her bonnet hid most of her face and the fine eyes he so admired, but Elizabeth's dark curls spilled out to the side, making Darcy wish that she would remove the confining bonnet and let her hair flow out like the wild and free spirit she was. Once he was caught the eye of the lady and he quickly removed his gaze to the road ahead.
Very little was said by either of the three parties, Jane and Bingely having now pulled far ahead of them and were now heedless of the events behind them. Darcy imagined that Miss Catherine was too afraid to speak, whilst Elizabeth was too uncomfortable. He himself could not say a word beyond a monosyllable, caught up as he was trying to form a proposal in his mind.
Darcy and Elizabeth turned to look at Miss Catherine Bennet, the thoughts of both interrupted.
"Would you mind if I just run down the lane to see Maria Lucas?" asked the girl.
Darcy's heart quickened in both excitement and apprehension. Elizabeth gave her consent and in a few moments, the gentleman and the lady were left to continue by themselves.
Much could be said at such a time and chance, but Darcy found his resolve slipping. He would ask her, once more, to be his wife, but before he could say a word, Elizabeth spoke.
The gentleman addressed turned to look at Elizabeth with mild surprise. The lady continued.
"I am a very selfish creature; and, for the sake of giving relief to my own feelings, care not how I may be wounding yours. I can no longer help thanking you for your unexampled kindness to my poor sister."
Darcy stopped in bewilderment, wondering how Elizabeth had come to know about his assistance in Lydia's marriage.
"Ever since I have known it, I have been most anxious to acknowledge how gratefully I feel it. Were it known to the rest of my family, I should not have merely my own gratitude to expresss," said Elizabeth in a tone that was less than settled.
"I am sorry, exceedingly sorry," replied Darcy, in a tone of surprise and emotion, "that you have ever been informed of what may, in a mistaken light, have given you uneasiness. I did not think Mrs. Gardiner was so little to be trusted."
But it was more likely, Darcy realised, that it had been Lydia herself, in spite of his pleas, who had betrayed the knowledge of his help. But it did not matter now.
"You must not blame my aunt. Lydia's thoughtlessness first betrayed to me that you had been concerned in the matter; and, of course, I could not rest till I knew the particulars. Let me thank you again and again, in the name of all my family, for that generous compassion which induced you to take so much trouble, and bear so many mortifications, for the sake of discovering them."
"If you will thank me," replied Darcy slowly, "let it be for yourself alone. That the wish of giving happiness to you, might add force to the other inducements which led me on, I shall not attempt to deny. But your family owe me nothing. Much as I respect them, I believe I thought only of you."
He had said it, he had come too far now to stop. He heard Elizabeth gasp, in surprise, shock or relief he was unsure. Darcy turned to face her, and taking a deep breath, said,
"You are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are what they were last April, tell me so at once."
Elizabeth turned to look at him, her gaze locked to his. Darcy stared deep into her fine eyes, and spoke from his heart.
"My affections and wishes are unchanged, but one word from you will silence me on this subject forever."
He loved her too much to wish her to remain unhappy because of his desire. But the future would be forever dark and cold to him, were she to refuse again.
Darcy did not remove his gaze, determined to see the matter to the end.
"My feelings," said Elizabeth slowly, not looking at him, "my feelings are - I am ashamed to remember what I said then. My feelings are so different now."
Darcy held his breath, waiting for the final blow.
"In fact," said Elizabeth, beginning to smile shyly and clasping her hands behind her back, "they are . . . quite the opposite."
Dawning realisation. Disbelieving joy. Whatever the immediate emotion Darcy felt following Elizabeth's declaration of her love for him, it was overcome by such happiness he had never felt before. He looked away from her then back as he returned her smile.
They stood there for some moments, unwilling to be the first to break the gaze they bestowed on each other. Wondering at his own daring, Darcy reached out to gently take Elizabeth's hand in his own.
"I thank you," he said softly, never looking away as he raised her small hand to his lips and placed a loving kiss on it. She blushed prettily and looked at the ground.
"There is nothing more I could have wanted in life, except your love. And," said Darcy, "I am now complete."
He did not need to say more to tell her just how important she was to him. The words were simple, but spoke volumes already.
The moment could not last forever. But time mattered not anymore to Darcy. As one, they resumed their walk, without knowing in what direction, the pleasant discomfort of both giving way to conversation.
Feeling that he must apologise to Elizabeth for his aunt's behaviour, Darcy spoke first.
"Lady Catherine told me of her meeting with you. You may say that her disclosure had quite the opposite effect of the one she intended. It taught me to hope as I'd scarcely allowed myself to hope before. I knew enough of you disposition to be certain, that, had you absolutely, irrevocably decided against me, you would have acknowledged it to Lady Catherine, frankly and openly."
He felt Elizabeth laugh beside him, her hand still held in his. "Yes, you know enough of my frankness to believe me capable of that. After abusing you so abominably to your face, I could have no scruples in abusing you to all your relations."
Darcy would not let her take any of the blame for their past misunderstandings. "What did you say of me that I did not deserve?" asked he. "For, though your accusations were ill-founded, formed on mistaken premises, my behaviour to you at the time had merited the severest reproof. It was unpardonable. I cannot think of it without abhorrence."
"We will not quarrel for the greater share of the blame annexed to that evening," Elizabeth reassured him. "The conduct of neither, if strictly examined, will be irreproachable; but since then, we have both, I hope, improved in civility."
Darcy laughed a little at this. "I cannot be so easily reconciled in myself. The recollection of what I said, my conduct, my manners, my expressions during the whole of it, is now, and has been many months, inexpressibly painful to me. Your reproof, so well applied, I shall never forget: 'had you behaved in a more gentleman-like manner.' Those were your words. You know not, you can scarcely conceive, how they have tortured me - though it was some time, I confess, before I was reasonable enough to allow their justice."
He thought back to the aftermath of his first proposal, how fearful he had been to his friends and family and himself. But his friends and family had understood, and he was grateful that the lesson had not been wasted.
"I was certainly very far from expecting them to make so strong an impression," replied Elizabeth. "I had not the smallest idea of their being ever felt in such a way."
"I can easily believe it. You thought me devoid of every proper feeling, I am sure you did. The turn of your countenance I shall never forget, as you said that I could not have addressed you in any possible way, that would induce you to accept me."
But the memory of that was soon fading, and in its place was the vision of her happiness, when he told her once again, that he loved her.
"Oh! do not repeat what I then said. These recollections will not do at all. I assure you, that I have long been most heartily ashamed of it."
Darcy mentioned his letter. "Did it," said he, "did it soon make you think better of me? Did you, on reading it, give any credit to its contents?"
Elizabeth proceeded to explain what its affect on her had been, and how gradually how all her former prejudices had been removed.
"I will admit that, at first, I did not believe a single word. I did not want to believe it. However, my blindness gave way to good sense and I realised how wholly I had been mistaken, in my assumptions of you, Mr. Wickham and everything thereafter."
"I knew," replied Darcy, "that what I wrote must give you pain, but it was necessary. I hope you have destroyed that letter. There was one part of it especially, the opening of it, which I should dread your having the power of reading again. I can remember some expressions which might justly make you hate me."
He winced a little as he remembered how proud and haughty his opening paragraph had been.
"The letter certainly shall be burnt, if you believe it essential to the preservation of my regard; but, though we have both reason to think my opinions not entirely unalterable, they are not, I hope, quite so easily changed as that implies," said Elizabeth with mild reproof.
"When I wrote that letter," replied Darcy, "I believed myself perfectly calm and cool, but I am since convinced that it was written in a dreadful bitterness of spirit."
"The letter, perhaps, began in bitterness, but it did not end so. The adieu is charity itself. But think no more of the letter. The feelings of the person who wrote, and the person who received it, are now so widely different from what they were then, that every unpleasant circumstance attending it ought to be forgotten. You must learn some of my philosophy. Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure."
Darcy smiled at this, the last vestiges of any guilt falling away. Yes, he would learn some of Elizabeth's philosophy.
"I cannot give you credit for any philosophy of the kind. Your retrospections must be so totally void of reproach, that the contentment arising from them is not of philosophy, but, what is much better, of innocence. But with me, it is not so. Painful recollections will intrude which cannot, which ought not, to be repelled. I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle. As a child I was taught what was right, but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit. Unfortunately an only son (for many years an only child), I was spoilt by my parents, who, though good themselves (my father, particularly, all that was benevolent and amiable), allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing; to care for none beyond my own family circle; to think meanly of all the rest of the world; to wish at least to think meanly of their sense and worth compared with my own. Such I was, from eight to eight and twenty; and such I might still have been but for you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth! What do I not owe you! You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. By you, I was properly humbled. I came to you without a doubt of my reception. You showed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased."
Such a long speech like he had never made before in his life. Yet it was worth it - to tell Elizabeth just how he was forever hers.
"Had you then persuaded yourself that I should?" asked Elizabeth.
"Indeed I had. What will you think of my vanity? I believed you to be wishing, expecting my addresses." He smiled ruefully at the image of the man he had been.
"My manners must have been in fault, but not intentionally, I assure you. I never meant to deceive you, but my spirits might often lead me wrong. How you must have hated me after that evening?"
"Hate you! I was angry perhaps at first, but my anger soon began to take a proper direction."
He did not mention that this anger was directed at himself.
"I am almost afraid of asking what you thought of me, when we met at Pemberley. You blamed me for coming?"
"No indeed; I felt nothing but surprise."
"Your surprise could not be greater than mine in being noticed by you. My conscience told me that I deserved no extraordinary politeness, and I confess that I did not expect to receive more than my due."
"My object then," replied Darcy, "was to show you, by every civility in my power, that I was not so mean as to resent the past; and I hoped to obtain your forgiveness, to lessen your ill opinion, by letting you see that your reproofs had been attended to. How soon any other wishes introduced themselves I can hardly tell, but I believe in about half an hour after I had seen you. My sister, Georgiana was delighted to meet, she told me many a time, the one who held such an influence over me. She was most disappointed when circumstance forced your party to interrupt your journey."
This line of conversation naturally lead to the cause of that interruption, Darcy told Elizabeth of his resolution of following her from Derbyshire in quest of her sister had been formed before he quitted the inn, and that his gravity and thoughtfulness there had arisen from no other struggles than what such a purpose must comprehend.
Elizabeth expressed her gratitude again, but it was too painful a subject to each, to be dwelt on farther.
After walking several miles in a leisurely manner, and too busy to know any thing about it, they found at last, on examining their watches, that it was time to be at home.
"What could become of Mr. Bingley and Jane!" was a wonder which introduced the discussion of their affairs. "I must ask whether you were surprised?" said Elizabeth.
"Not at all. When I went away, I felt that it would soon happen."
"That is to say, you had given your permission. I guessed as much."
Darcy exclaimed at this but upon giving the matter thought, he had, in a way, given his approval for Bingely to continue his suit. This showed just how well Elizabeth knew him. He felt no embarrassment at being so transparent - rather, content.
"On the morning of my going to London," said he, "I made a confession to him, which I believe I ought to have made long ago. I told him of all that had occurred to make my former interference in his affairs absurd and impertinent. His surprise was great. He had never had the slightest suspicion. I told him, moreover, that I believed myself mistaken in supposing, as I had done, that your sister was indifferent to him; and as I could easily perceive that his attachment to her was unabated, I felt no doubt of their happiness together."
He watched Elizabeth smile and felt a glowing happiness that he would be able to see that smile every day for the rest of his life.
"Did you speak from your own observation," said she, "when you told him that my sister loved him, or merely from my information last spring?"
"From the former. I had narrowly observed her during the two visits which I had lately made here; and I was convinced of her affection."
"And your assurance of it, I suppose, carried immediate conviction to him."
"It did. Bingley is most unaffectedly modest. His diffidence had prevented his depending on his own judgment in so anxious a case, but his reliance on mine made every thing easy. I was obliged to confess one thing, which for a time, and not unjustly, offended him. I could not allow myself to conceal that your sister had been in town three months last winter, that I had known it, and purposely kept it from him. He was angry. But his anger, I am persuaded, lasted no longer than he remained in any doubt of your sister's sentiments. He has heartily forgiven me now."
Elizabeth smiled again at some joke she decided not to share with him. Perhaps it was some observation of her own that she imagined would offend him. Darcy did not really mind. Her observations and criticisms of him would always be welcome.
In anticipating the happiness of Bingley, which of course was to be inferior only to his own, he continued the conversation till they reached the house. In the hall they parted, Darcy most reluctantly letting go of Elizabeth's hand.
They remained in contented silence in the hall for a moment before joining the others in the dining room. Darcy smiled at Elizabeth before they entered, silently agreeing to try not to let any signal of their attachment be visible to others.
"My dear Lizzy, where can you have been walking to?" was the first question Darcy heard from Jane who was seated next to Bingley. This was repeated by many in the room, but Elizabeth deftly answered their inquiries as best she could without letting any suspicions rise. Darcy watched Elizabeth blush slightly but did his best to avert his gaze.
The evening passed quietly, unmarked by anything extraordinary. The acknowledged lovers talked and laughed, the unacknowledged were silent. Darcy, being of a taciturn disposition, was not to let his happiness show itself in mirth, however, those who knew him well would notice a brightness in his eye and an easiness in his manner that indicated something more. He noticed Bingley looking at him curiously a few times during the course of the visit, but he said nothing.
The brightness and easiness increased whenever he looked at, or was near Elizabeth. One smile from her and he felt he was in Heaven.
Love is what brings happiness to all people.
"Engaged?!" exclaimed Bingley, reflexively pulling on the reins.
Darcy smiled at his friend's reaction, and laughed.
"I speak truthfully, old friend. Elizabeth has accepted my proposal and we are engaged."
Bingley's face reflected his immense surprise, then it was soon dispelled by an expression of immense delight.
"Are you not happy?" asked Darcy.
Bingley laughed heartily. "Nothing could please me more! Jane and I had entertained hopes of such a union but had deemed it impossible. I am delighted that you have proved us wrong. This is perfect!"
Darcy smiled and did not reply.
Now everything was perfect.
Part 59 The End of the Beginning
"Will you ask Mr. Bennet today?" asked Bingley as he and Darcy made their way down the road to Longbourn.
"Yes. Unless Elizabeth has done otherwise, I doubt Mr. Bennet - or the rest of her family, for that matter, has any notion of our attachment."
"So you shall be the one to tell him?" said Bignely. He laughed a little to himself. "I believe the surprise he will experience when you ask him will be a sight to see."
Darcy was slightly apprehensive at asking Elizabeth's father. He knew not what opinion the man had of him but he believed it was not very favorable. But he knew that Mr. Bennet loved his daughters very much, so perhaps he would support Elizabeth's decision in accepting Darcy as her husband.
He smiled. No matter. He would cross that hurdle when he got there. For the present, all that mattered was that he had Elizabeth's approval. Compared to that challenge, everything else was much simpler.
"We shall have to arrange for another walk, won't we, Darcy?"
"That is a good idea."
As soon as they entered, Bingley looked at Elizabeth so expressively, and shook hands with such warmth that told Elizabeth that Darcy had informed his friend of their attachment. He soon afterwards said aloud, "Mr. Bennet, have you no more lanes hereabouts in which Lizzy may lose her way again?"
For his own part, Darcy could do no more than smile discreetly at his beloved. She did as well and gave a careful nod towards her mother as Mrs. Bennet spoke.
"I advise Mr. Darcy, and Lizzy, and Kitty," said Mrs. Bennet, "to walk to Oakham Mount this morning. It is a nice long walk, and Mr. Darcy has never seen the view."
"It may do very well for the others," replied Bingley; "but I am sure it will be too much for Kitty. Won't it, Kitty?"
Darcy silently gave his friend his thanks and vocally expressed a great curiosity to see the view from the Mount. Elizabeth nodded and she and Jane proceeded upstairs to get ready, Mrs. Bennet following behind. Darcy could here her speak a little before her voice was lost to his ears.
Very soon, the two couples were making their way towards Oakham Mount. Only when they were out of sight of Longbourn, would they speak.
Jane was the first to do so. "Mr. Darcy, let me offer you my congratulations on your engagement to Lizzy," she said, the warmth in her voice adding another layer of her delight to her words.
By Jane's side, Bingley gave a brief bow to Elizabeth. "My congratulations must be given to you as well, dear sister," said he. "Nothing could give me greater pleasure than to see you attached to my friend."
Elizabeth laughed and blushed as she replied to Bingley. Still slightly embarrassed, Darcy could do nothing more than smile and express his own thanks.
This was but merely the beginning of a walk full of laughter and conversation, in which all four parties were perfectly at ease with each other that gave a hint of what joys were to come, for both couples and for them all as friends and relations. There was much to discuss; plans for a double wedding, events of the months past. Darcy even found the chance - and courage - to apologise to Jane for his actions in keeping her and Bingley apart when she had been in London. Jane forgave him heartily. Arriving at Oakham Mount, they spent several minutes admiring the view across the field, even to where Netherfield was visible in the distance. On the way back, the four split into twos and separated, content to walk in silence in the close company of each other.
"I presume your family, save Jane, are unaware of our engagement?" asked Darcy as he and Elizabeth walked behind Jane and Bingley, their pose a reflection of their own, with Elizabeth's hand in his.
"They are, but I think all shall be revealed tonight," replied Elizabeth.
"Then I shall ask for your father's permission after dinner, then?"
"Yes. But be discreet about it, for I will tell Mama myself, once you have left."
Darcy didn't protest against this arrangement. Whatever Mrs. Bennet's reaction might be to the news of Elizabeth's acceptance of his proposal, he imagined it would be better if he was not present to see it, and he well understood Elizabeth's desire to tell her mother at a time when he would not be around.
"Elizabeth, what does your father think of me?" asked Darcy suddenly.
Elizabeth frowned slightly as she thought. "I am afraid that the only knowledge Papa has of you is through me," she admitted slowly. "And you know very well what I thought I felt about you before. But I was mistaken, and if I tell that to him, then he will understand."
There was something in her voice that Darcy did not miss. "Elizabeth," he said, stopping in his walk and looking at her. "Do not feel guilty about expressing your dislike of me to your father. That is in the past, and have little bearing on the present."
She smiled at him. "Thank you for such sentiments. I am now more worried about how I will convince him that my feelings have changed."
"I am sure that will not be as difficult as you believe it to be."
The inevitable happened as they drew even closer together. Darcy marveled at the sensation of her mouth on his and reluctantly drew away when his embarrassment overcame the pleasure of such an experience.
By now it was time to return to Longbourn. Darcy and Elizabeth caught up with Jane and Bingley and arranged themselves in a manner more fitting two casual and indifferent acquaintances, then proceeded back to the house.
In the evening when Darcy observed Mr. Bennet arise and go to his library, he followed him and knocked firmly on the door. Mr. Bennet called for his visitor to enter and Darcy did so, closing the door behind him.
It would have seemed that Mr. Bennet had been intending to settle down in front of the fire with a book but upon Darcy's entrance, he got up, an expression of astonishment on his features.
It was Mr. Bennet who spoke first. "Mr. Darcy this is a surprise. Can I be of service to you?"
The man's tone was perhaps more formal and cold than Darcy remembered it to be. Darcy stood, uncertain of what to say. He did not know Mr. Bennet very well and had never exchanged any words with him apart from the occasional greeting. How he was to ask for his daughter's hand in marriage he did not know.
"Mr. Bennet, I have come to ask for your permission on a matter of great importance," he began slightly hesitantly.
Mr. Bennet frowned. "Oh? And what might that be, sir?"
Darcy took a deep breath. "I am not quite certain how to say this, sir, but I have come to ask for your permission to wed your daughter, Elizabeth."
Under any other circumstances, the expression on Mr. Bennet's face would have been comical, but the matter was too delicate to warrant Darcy's laughter. Mr. Bennet's eyes widened and he stared at the younger man with an expression of a man who had been caught completely off-guard.
"I - ah," began Mr. Bennet, as he sat down in the nearby chair. "This is quite an unexpected development. When, may I ask did this come about?"
"My proposal was given to Elizabeth yesterday, though I have harbored my feelings towards her for many months now."
"I see," said Mr. Bennet. There was a look of worry on his face that Darcy did not like. "Does anyone else know about this?"
"My friend Bingley and your eldest daughter, Jane Bennet." When Mr. Bennet did not reply, Darcy continued earnestly, "Please sir, do not question my love for Elizabeth or my motives in proposing marriage to her. I truly love her as I have loved no one ever before. I will always love her, care for her and protect her. I know that your opinion of me is not as high as I would like it to be but -"
"Come now, young man," said Mr. Bennet cutting off his flow of words. "Do sit down."
Darcy did so. There was an amusement in Mr. Bennet's features that quieted Darcy more than anything else had. Once he was seated. Mr. Bennet spoke.
"I must admit, Mr. Darcy, that your application has taken me quite by surprise, even with the prior information I received from my cousin Mr. Collins. I had no idea that three of my daughters would become engaged in such a short space of time. You must understand that I wish for my daughters to marry only men who are worthy of them, though in Lydia's case there was little room for argument. Forgive me for asking, but your aunt, what says she to your engagement?"
Darcy grimaced slightly. "She is not happy, though I believe she will eventually come to accept it."
Mr. Bennet leaned back in his chair. "Yet despite her disapproval, you are still willing to marry Elizabeth." A statement, not a question.
"Yes, despite her disapproval, despite the censure of the world if need be," replied Darcy firmly.
Mr. Bennet raised his eyebrows at the younger man's declaration and sat thoughtfully for some moments.
"Have I your approval?" asked Darcy.
Mr. Bennet stood up and after the briefest second of hesitancy, extended his hand across the gap between them. "If that is the way your feelings lie," said he, "then I can do nothing more than give you my . . . congratulations, and every wish for your future together."
Darcy smiled, the last of his worries falling away, too exuberantly joyful to notice anything other than the fact that Elizabeth was to be his wife.
"Thank you, sir," said he, shaking Mr. Bennet's hand.
"Yes, yes, be off with you now," chastised Mr. Bennet waving him away. Darcy walked quickly to the door. Just before he opened it, Mr. Bennet asked, "Send Lizzy in here would you please, Mr. Darcy? I wish to speak to her."
Darcy exited the library and proceeded towards the drawing room where the rest of the Bennet family was seated, talking over cups of tea. Elizabeth immediately turned towards him, her worry plainly seen on her face but it was relieved by his smile. She was sewing at the table, her sister Catherine beside her. Darcy walked over to her, and, while pretending to admire her work, whispered, "Go to your father, he wants you in the library." She was gone directly, and then it was his turn to wait anxiously
Though Mr. Bennet had given his approval, Darcy was certain that the man hesitant about letting Darcy marry his daughter. Darcy could well understand Mr. Bennet's feelings and wryly agreed that if such a man had asked to marry Georgiana, he also would be unsure about the prospect. But though he could understand Mr. Bennet's misgivings, it didn't make it any easier for him not to worry.
Elizabeth did not return for over half an hour, a period of time in which Darcy's feeling of foreboding grew and grew. Just at the time when he was about to knock on Mr. Bennet's door for a second time, Elizabeth returned to the drawing room and gave him a smile that told him that everything was settled and there was nothing to worry about.
Mr. Bennet had also come in to join them, much to the surprise of everyone. Darcy was even more surprised when Mr. Bennet voluntarily sought his company and engaged him in conversation. He could only venture that Elizabeth had told her father everything and Mr. Bennet was now taking pains to amend any past relations, and to become acquainted with his future son-in-law. To his even greater surprise, Darcy found that he quite enjoyed the older man's company, for his dry humor and quick wit made any conversation a pleasure.
Everything was too recent for real gaiety, and for the most part, the evening passed tranquilly away. There was nothing material to be dreaded, and the comfort of ease and familiarity would come in time.
Darcy did wish that he had the liberty of displaying a more affectionate farewell to Elizabeth, as Bingley did to Jane, but was comforted by the fact that tonight was the last night they had to conceal their relationship.
"From Mr. Bennet's behaviour towards you, I take it that your suit has been successful?" asked Bingley as they rode in the moonlight back to Netherfield.
Darcy smiled but said nothing.
Bingley sighed in exasperation and reigned in his horse. "Darcy, come now, lighten up a little! Surely you can display more emotion than that!"
Darcy stopped as well. "I am sorry, but I am not quite sure what I should be feeling now, relief or happiness or both."
"Why must you think about it?"
They began to ride again, coming to the field below Oakham Mount. Suddenly Darcy urged his horse into a gallop, drawing in front of his friend and calling back, "If that is the way you want it, then I shall race you back to Netherfield!"
"Give a man some warning before you start, Darcy!"
Laughing with the gaiety of those who had begun their lives anew, the two friends chased each other back home.
Part 60 -- Letters
When news of the engagement spread, there was no end to the flow of congratulations that came in. It seemed to Darcy that the whole of the local populace had heard of it by the next day after asking Mr. Bennet's approval.
Hardly a day went by without a visit to Longbourn and the joy that the daily meeting with Elizabeth brought to Darcy's heart was but slightly diminished at the fact that he (thanks to the efforts of Mrs. Bennet) had to bear with numerous visits from the neighboring families.
Darcy helped to spread the news further through his own efforts, and took great pleasure in writing numerous (if short) letters to friends and members of his family announcing his engagement to Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
My dearest Georgiana,
I have done my utmost best to fulfil your every wish, but your desire for a sister was rather difficult. However, I cannot contain my joy in informing you of the fact that Elizabeth Bennet has done me the greatest honour in consenting to be my wife.
She expresses her impatience in seeing you again and to continue the acquaintance that was unfortunately interrupted last summer at Pemberley. We are impatient for you to join us here in Hertfordshire at Bingley's estate at the soonest possible occasion. Elizabeth's elder sister Jane is also anxious to meet you.
Your brother is now ecstatically happy - a profound change from those days in London. Elizabeth loves me, and there are no two women I think more highly of or love more than you and her. After so many trials and hardships it is difficult to believe my good fortune. Surely the man I was merely months ago, does not deserve this. But I have not only Elizabeth to thank - you, dear Georgiana I am forever indebted to for your kind understanding and patience with me. I know, young lady, that Father and Mother would be proud of you.
I am sure that you have opened this letter in a state of great anticipation, wondering perhaps if this missive is the harbringer of tragedy or joy. But cousin, put all your fears for me to rest for I have the greatest pleasure in writing to inform you that at long last, I am engaged to marry my dearest Elizabeth.
I know that you are smiling as you read this missive. You may indulge yourself in much-deserved congratulations in the part you played in bringing us together. Without your support of me even when I was rather difficult our engagement would not have been possible.
Your advice to me had been taken to heart. All I had to tell Elizabeth was that I loved her - that was all nothing else. And in return I heard the most wondrous thing - that she loved me as I do her. I have changed, and so has she. We both apologised profusely for our past disagreements, though I still believe that Elizabeth has nothing to be sorry for. The fault was all on my part. But that is all forgotten. We are to married at the same time as Bingley and his Jane. You must grant me the title of happiest man in the world, though Bingley strongly protests that the title belongs to him.
I thank you again and again. You must come to Netherfield as soon as you can. Elizabeth sends you her sincerest regards and all the love she can spare from me.
P.S. It would be greatly appreciated if no word my engagement reaches Lady Catherine for the time being. I am still debating on the most diplomatic way on breaking the news to her.
P.P.S. You have my permission to break this news to W.
More letters of a similar nature followed to family and friends in Derbyshire, London and more. However Darcy hesitated over one of the most important letters.
How he was to inform Lady Catherine de Bourgh of his engagement to Elizabeth he did not know. However he phrased it, Lady Catherine would not take it well.
"Darcy," called Bingley from the door of the study. Darcy looked up from the blank sheet of paper, a small pile of letters, all addressed and waiting to be sent off beside him. There were three crumpled balls of paper near the inkpot - discarded letters to his Aunt.
"It is just before lunchtime - shall we go to Longbourn?" asked Bingley.
This news immediately brought a smile to Darcy's face and he quickly stood up. "Of course. These letters can be completed at a later time."
Bingley laughed. "There is no question as to the more appealing - writing tedious letters to people or spending time with Elizabeth is there."
"I heartily agree, but do you not think that you should write to your sisters and tell them of the latest developments?" asked Darcy as he took his hat from the servant.
Bingley sighed. "I suppose that it will have to be done sooner or later."
"But not now. After we return from Longbourn, and Jane and Elizabeth."
By now it was custom that the gentlemen come over to Longbourn practically everyday, usually for lunch and sometimes for dinner as well. After the midday meal, in which it was not unusual for Mrs. Bennet to bring a friend or three of hers over, the two gentlemen would go walking with their respective ladies for perhaps a more private conversation.
Today in the Longbourn garden, Elizabeth wished for Darcy to account for his ever falling in love with her, a subject that caused the gentleman much speculation, for he did not quite know.
"How could you begin?" said she, "I can comprehend your going on charmingly, when you had once made a beginning; but what set you off in the first place?"
Darcy laughed wryly at Elizabeth's description of 'charmingly'. "I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun."
This answer would not do for Elizabeth. She went into thought and then said, "My beauty you had early withstood, and as for my manners - my behaviour to you was at least always bordering on the uncivil, and I never spoke to you without rather wishing to give you pain than not. Now, be sincere," she said playfully, "did you admire me for my impertinence?"
"For your liveliness of your mind I did," answered Darcy.
"You may as well call it impertinence at once. It was very little else. The fact is, that you were sick of civility, of deference, of officious attention. You were disgusted with the women who were always speaking and looking, and thinking of your approbation alone. I roused, and interested you, because I was so unlike them. Had you not really been amiable you would have hated me for it; but in spite of the pains you took to disguise yourself, your feelings were always noble and just; and in your heart, you thoroughly despised the persons who ad so assiduously courted you."
Darcy was pleasantly surprised at Elizabeth's analysis of him, which was a near perfect reflection of him. Even more pleasing was Elizabeths recognition that he had always been noble and just throughout their acquaintance, even when he had realised he had perhaps not been so. "There," continued Elizabeth, "I have saved you the trouble of accounting for it; and really, all tings considered, I begin to think it perfectly reasonable. To be sure, you knew no actual good of me - but nobody thinks of that when they fall in love."
Darcy thought back to when he had thought Elizabeth to be less than perfect and to the occasion when she and Jane had stayed at Netherfield, in order to prove to Elizabeth that he had known some good in her. He was not a man who could easily tell a joke from seriousness.
"Was there no good in your affectionate behaviour to Jane, while she was at Netherfield?"
"Dearest Jane!" was her reply, "who could have done less for her? But make a virtue of it by all means. My good qualities are under you r protection, and you are to exaggerate them as much as possible; and, in return, it belongs to me to find occasions for teasing and quarrelling with you as often as may be; and I shall begin directly by asking you what made you so unwilling to come to the point at last. What made you so shy of me, when you first called, and afterwards dined here? Why, especially, when you called, did you look as if you did not care about me?"
"Because you were grave and silent, and gave me no encouragement," said Darcy. He was not sure if he would enjoy being teased, and he was not about to give Elizabeth more reason to laugh at him by saying he had been under the impression she had been in love with his cousin.
"But I was embarrassed."
"And so was I."
"You might have talked to me more when you came to dinner," said Elizabeth in mock-reproach.
"A man who felt less, might."
"How unlucky that you should have a reasonable answer to give, and that I should be so unreasonable as to admit it!" exclaimed Elizabeth. "But I wonder how long you would have gone on, if you had been left to yourself. I wonder when you would have spoken, if I had not asked you! My resolution of thanking you for your kindness to Lydia certainly had great effect. Too much, I am afraid; for what becomes of the moral, if our comfort springs from a breach of promise, for I ought not to have mentioned the subject? This will never do."
As Elizabeth got herself into a state over her worry over the Lydia-Wickham affair being the basis for their current standing, Darcy stood and took her hands in his.
"You need not distress yourself," he said comfortingly. "The moral will be perfectly fair. Lady Catherine's unjustifiable endeavours to separate us, were the means of removing all my doubts. I am not indebted for my present happiness to your eager desire of expressing your gratitude. I was not in a humour to wait for any opening of yours. My aunt's intelligence had given me hope, and I was determined at once to know everything."
Elizabeth smiled at him, a loving and relieved smile that warmed Darcy despite the autumn chill.
"Lady Catherine has been of infinite use, which ought to make her happy, for she loves to be of use. But tell me, what did you come down to Netherfield for? Was it merely to ride to Longbourn and be embarrassed? Or had you intended and more serious consequences?"
"My real purpose was to see you, and to judge, if I could, whether I might ever hope to make you love me. My avowed one, or what I avowed to myself, was to see whether your sister as still partial to Bingley, and if she were, to make the confession to him which I have since made."
They sat again on the bench in the garden for some moments, contented with the explanations of the other, until Elizabeth spoke.
"Shall you ever have courage to announce to Lady Catherine, what is to befall her?"
"I am more likely to want time, than courage, Elizabeth. But it ought to be done, and if you will give me a sheet of paper, it shall be done directly."
No sooner was these words spoken than Elizabeth went to fetch writing materials out to the garden, as it was such a fine day.
"And if I had not a letter to write myself," said Elizabeth as she gave him paper and such, then sitting down beside him, "I might sit by you, and admire the evenness of your writing, as another young lady once did. But I have an aunt, too, who must no longer be neglected."
Darcy nodded as Elizabeth began to compose her own letter to Mrs. Gardiner, then returned to the dilemma he had faced that morning. Finally, he wrote,
Lady Catherine de Bourgh of Rosings Park,
There is no manner in which I can put this news to you so that you can accept it in a sagacious manner. I am aware that I go through with this engagement without your approval, and that I risk severing contact between us for a considerable period of time, if not forever. I am aware of your arguments against this union, and of the consequences threatened by you. Please do not think that I have not given your words a hearing when you spoke to me. However, I have decided that the advantages considerably outweigh the disadvantages - what little that exist and that you have imagined, and so I have become engaged to Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn. I know that you will give my future wife every respect and the appreciation she deserves - and receives from me.
You are, of course, invited to the wedding, which will be shared with Mr. Bingley and Jane Bennet.
He finished this missive before he could begin to have second thoughts about what he had written. Elizabeth was still writing to Mrs. Gardiner and Darcy asked her to convey his gratitude and warmth of feeling to them, for he already considered them as his own family.
Part 61 Epilogue
The weeks before the wedding passed like a dream. Darcy paid no attention to the arrangements for the ceremony, hardly noticed the plethora of parties and gatherings which he attended for no other reason than to see Elizabeth again and learnt to forbear the less than refined comments emanating from various members of Hertfordshire society.
He did not have to encourage Bingley to write to his sisters and brother-in-law in Scarborough with the news of Darcy's engagement to Elizabeth, for he did it without reminder. Darcy often wondered what Miss Bingley's reaction to the news was, and how she would act when she returned to Netherfield. He needn't have worried, however, for Miss Bingley's behaviour towards Elizabeth and himself was all that was polite and friendly, perhaps forced in the beginning, but left hope for future relations.
Georgiana's response to her brother's coming wedding was all that was expected. Her four-page reply was filled with joy and excitement of having Elizabeth as her sister-in-law and happiness for her brother. The letter's sender arrived soon afterwards, escorted by her cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam, who had been granted leave to attend the wedding. He also rejoiced in the match and made light of Darcy's change in demeanor, saying more than once how good they were for each other.
The relations of Bingley and Darcy were not the only ones to travel to Hertfordshire that month. Mr. Collins and his expectant wife also came before they sent any congratulations by post. Darcy understood from the clergyman's obsequious talk to him, that Lady Catherine de Bourgh was most exceedingly displeased with her nephew and had severed all connections with him for the present. Whether the breach could be healed was a matter of time. Not surprisingly, Lady Catherine and her daughter sent no congratulations, nor did they attend the wedding.
Nor did Darcy take much notice of the wedding itself. As far as he was concerned, this was merely ceremonial to officially acknowledge his and Elizabeth's union. In his opinion, they had already been united a long time ago.
Spring had once again arrived as it always did, melting the snow and causing the stream to run merrily over the rocks again, and allowing the fish to increase in number, a fact that would no doubt make Mr. Gardiner happy when he came again to Pemberley. But for now there were no fishermen, only a couple admiring the beauty of the Park in the light of the dying sun, content to sit in silence with each other after so long a story.
The lady was the first to break the silence. "I never truly realised just how sorely I hurt you."
The gentleman, his arm around his lady's shoulders smiled. "I would not worry about that, love. It is all in the past, and it was worth it, to be able to live this day with you."
Elizabeth Bennet Darcy looked at her husband with the laughing smile he knew so well. She had looked at him like that at the Meryton Assembly, so long ago. "But you did hate me for a while, did you not?"
"If I ever did, I remember not. I cannot ever believe that I might had entertained such feelings now."
The lady's response to this was to laugh at him. He smiled, then wrapped his free arm around her.
They remained like this, watching the last rays of sunlight disappear allowing the stars to twinkle brightly. A shooting star streaked its way across the blue-black tapestry of night, disappearing as quickly as it came.
"Jane wrote to me today," said Elizabeth, her head resting on Darcy's shoulder. "She says that she and Bingley are thinking about moving to another estate." Darcy laughed. "Has Bingley tired of Netherfield already?"
"I believe it is more the neighbors that are the cause than the house itself," replied the lady wryly. "Has Lady Catherine replied to your letter yet?"
"Not my aunt exactly. Anne de Bourgh wrote and said that her mother had perhaps finally come to terms with our marriage."
"I am glad to hear it. I should be unhappy to be the cause of a loss of a relation."
"But what I have gained is far better."
She looked up at him with a loving smile that was lost to sight as he kissed her.
They broke off after some moments, suddenly aware of the chill of being out doors in the evening. Darcy rose from his seat, and offered his arm to his wife.
"Georgiana and the Colonel are probably waiting for us inside. We should join them."
She took his arm and they slowly walked back to the house.
"Will you play for me tonight?" he asked her.
"Of course, if you will not watch me so intently that I lose my place in the music," she said playfully.
He laughed as they approached the path. The warm lights from the house illuminated them and they could see a familiar silhouette waiting from them just inside the doorway. "You know, you never told me what your side of our story was," commented Darcy, waving at Georgiana. "I know one - what about the other side?"
"You wish for me to tell you what happened to me that year?" asked Elizabeth. "It will a long tale and you will not enjoy it all."
"You did not enjoy all of mine."
"True." She thought intently for a moment. "Now, where shall I begin?"
"At the beginning, when you first heard of Bingley's arrival at Netherfield, of course."
"How right you are. Now, it is a truth universally acknowledged . . ."
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