An Encounter at Netherfield
Chapter 1: Darcy travels back to Hertfordshire.
Mr. Darcy stared absentmindedly at the beautiful prospect as his carriage neared Hertfordshire. The weather began to turn a little cold in anticipation of the winter. He had made an early start from London because he had slept little.
He relived his interview with Lady Catherine the day before. Over and over the words that his aunt quoted as Elizabeth's repeated in his head: "He is a gentleman. I am a gentleman's daughter: so far we are equal." Why did she not tell Lady Catherine that she had accused me with great truth of not being a gentleman?
Another quote from Elizabeth was "the wife of Mr. Darcy would have ample sources of happiness." What are for her "ample sources of happiness"? he wondered. Was it possible that her feelings of disgust had changed and been replaced with something more kind? I'm sure she's not after my money, because if she were she would have accepted me at Hunsford. That is one of the things I love most about her. She would never let material considerations take over her own happiness or her self-respect. He realised now that her acceptance of his proposal at Hunsford would have ruined all the good principles that ruled her life.
Darcy decided to ask her as soon as possible. He must find an opportunity to be alone with her. She is the only one who can conduct him on the path of happiness or despair. My heart is all hers! She could make me the happiest of men if she chose to! His life and happiness is entirely on her hands now.
The other difficulty was how he should tell her how much he loved and longed for her. "Miss Bennet, I love you. Will you marry me?" No, it was too short. Maybe something like this: "Miss Bennet, since many months now I realised the truth of your censure of me at Hunsford. I hope that in the future you could help me to mend my bad manners". Or maybe just take her in my arms and... No that will do. She could lose in an instant the little hint of respect and interest she began to show at Pemberley. He did not want to lose her respect for the whole world.
One thing was certain, though. He must not repeat his hurtful words of pride spoken last April. He must let her to see that he had changed and how much grateful he was for her merciless but good and enlightening lesson. She turned out to be his redeemer after all! If he had not met her, he could never have known his flawed character; he could never know what real love was, which includes respect of the other, devotion, forgiveness of the faults, and tolerance. Elizabeth may not have a perfect family but I am in love with her, not her family. And Mr. Bennet, for the little he has seen of him, seemed a man of some sense and wit. And Mrs. Bennet could not be so bad because she had given birth to his beloved Elizabeth. If he became engaged to Elizabeth, he would endure her manners with good humour. I couldn't stand if Elizabeth accused me to be "ungentlemanlike" once again!
He was shaken from his reflections as the carriage neared Netherfield. He stepped from the carriage and went inside of the house in search of Bingley.
Chapter 2: A conversation in Netherfield
"Darcy" exclaimed Bingley shaking the hand of his friend "I was not expecting you so soon. What compelled you to come back so early?"
"It was for Elizabeth" he thought.
"Well", Darcy said aloud "My business was nearly finished and I can postpone the rest, which was not very important. But Bingley, let me congratulate for your engagement to Miss Bennet"
Bingley grinned widely: "Thank you, my friend. I could not be happier. My dearest Jane loves me as much as I do her. She is a true angel. In fact, she is here at Netherfield. Would you like to see her?"
"Of course, I will be glad to greet her. Come on, let us go."
Jane greeted Darcy with her usual genuine charm and kindness. Darcy was convinced she would be the perfect match for Bingley.
The three adjourned to the drawing room and Bingley rang for tea. Darcy decided to talk to Jane, whom he really wanted to know better. After all he had rarely spoken with her. And maybe it would please her younger sister if she learned about that, because he knew they were very close.
"Miss Jane, may I enquire to the health of your family?"
"I thank you, sir. They are all in excellent health. But I am a bit worried about Lizzy though."
Darcy's heart began to beat faster, as it did every time Elizabeth's name was mentioned, and for the fear she would be ill "I hope Miss Bennet is not seriously ill!"
Jane glanced at Darcy. His face betrayed everything he felt for Elizabeth. Darcy was aware of the fact, but he couldn't help himself. Jane smiled at Bingley knowingly before answering:
"Oh no, do not distress yourself Mr. Darcy. I only thought that because these last days she was unusually quiet and not so cheerful. But she assured me she was quite well."
Why was she a little out of spirits? Perhaps her thoughts were elsewhere and flying like me? Did she reflect on...me?
At this moment the butler, Fosset, entered and announced "Miss Elizabeth Bennet, sir."
Chapter 3: An unexpected visitor
Everyone who was in the room stood when Elizabeth entered it. Darcy had to restrain himself from not crossing the room to greet her, as he so much wanted to do.
"Dearest Jane, I hope you enjoyed..." Elizabeth began but stopped short when she realised who else was in the room. "Mr. Darcy!" said she as she curtsied, hoping to hide her flush of pleasure.
"Miss Bennet," answered Darcy, bowing in response. For a few moments, they just stared at each other, silently communicating their delight at the presence of the beloved.
Then noticing the knowing smiles Bingley and Jane exchanged, Elizabeth recovered and said "How was your visit to your future home, Jane?"
"Oh, thank you Lizzy, it was a lovely visit," said Jane, glancing lovingly at her fiance.
"I decided to take a walk in the neighbourhood and decided to stop on the way back. Do you mind it, Mr. Bingley?"
"Not at all, sister," said Bingley, and Elizabeth's eyes sparkled on the last word, "We are all delighted to see you as well." Bingley continued glancing mischievously at Darcy, who since the beginning of the visit had great difficulty tearing his adoring gaze from Elizabeth.
"But Jane, we must go back to Longbourn. The dusk is coming and I'm sure Mama's nerves would not stand the thoughts of us lost in the dark!" laughed Lizzy. "Moreover, she instructed me that you convey an invitation to dinner to your fiance. See what a dutiful daughter I am!"
Bingley and Jane laughed heartily and Elizabeth glanced at Darcy who could not help but smile at Elizabeth's teasing.
"Come on. Let us go," said Jane.
Bingley asked, "Will not you not join us, Darcy?"
"Of course, if you don't mind it," Darcy answered though his answer was more for Elizabeth than Bingley.
The four people collected their coats and hats and departed. As they started the walk Bingley and Jane arranged a convenient distance because they knew that the two remaining people had a lot to say to each other.
Chapter 4: A Blissful walk
Darcy and Elizabeth began their walk in silence. They were both busy conjecturing how to start a conversation and to clear their doubts about the feelings of the other. Darcy couldn't help staring admiringly at Elizabeth's fine eyes and at her rosy cheeks, always a slightly pink from her recent walk and a becoming flush that spread on it.
Finally Elizabeth decided she couldn't bear the uncomfortable silence one minute longer and began to speak, although her voice was very tight and tinged by her anguish: "Mr. Darcy, there is something I must tell you since I have the courage to say it. I learned about what you did for Lydia and my family. I want to thank you from the depths of my heart for all the mortifications you must have endured to restore the honour of my family."
"Miss Bennet, how do you know of my dealings with...?" Then he realised it must be one of the Gardiners who have told her. "I thought Mr.s Gardiner was to be trusted to maintain secrecy."
"Oh please, do not blame my aunt. It is Lydia who betrayed first your presence at her wedding and I couldn't bear to stay in this state of suspense. So I wrote to my aunt asking her to give me an explanation. I could not say how much I was... delighted to find such a.... friend in this moment of mortification."
"Miss Bennet," Darcy interrupted "I am unworthy of your thanks. If I did it, it was to crush my pride once and for all. Your refusal at Hunsford opened my eyes to my flawed character. When you refused me, it took very little time to know that I had got what I deserved".
Here, Elizabeth tried to protest, but he silenced her by putting his hand lightly to her lips for some time. He continued: "These past months, I realised your true worth and despaired of one day being worthy of your attention. I hope that in time I will not be as disagreeable to you as I was in the past. If I decided to interfere on the business, it was for your sake. How much I respect your family, it was done for you."
"Sir, I can not allow you to take the blame all upon yourself. I have made errors too. When I think how I defended Mr. Wickham against you, I am so ashamed. These past months, I realised that I have misjudged your true character. I was so blind and I didn't see that you are all the goodness. I am not worth your consideration, Mr. Darcy." And tears began to roll over her cheeks.
Darcy couldn't bear to see her crying and said softly, wiping gently her tears away with his thumbs: "On the contrary, Miss Bennet. You are worth every consideration. I hope that in time you will be able to see how much I want and need you. But there is one thing I must ask you before my courage failed me: Elizabeth Bennet, will you marry me?"
Elizabeth lifted her head and Darcy saw the answer in her eyes then she answered: "Mr. Darcy, I love you so that I can hardly put words to all I feel! Yes, I will marry you."
Darcy said in a soft voice: "Am I not dreaming...Elizabeth?"
Elizabeth stepped near him and encircled his neck with her arms "Was that a dream?"
Darcy embraced her tightly, saying, "No I don't think it was, Elizabeth."
"I feel so protected when I am in your arms, Fitzwilliam."
"So I shall never pull you apart, dearest."
"Never?" she said with a bit of insecurity in her voice.
"Never!" he said firmly.
Finally, Elizabeth regained her composure "We had better continue if we do not want to be lost in the dark, Fitzwilliam."
"I do not care to be lost so long I am with you, Elizabeth."
"And I with you, Fitzwilliam" Elizabeth recovered quickly her teasing manner "However if we not come back, my mother will send all the hunters of the county looking for us!" She laughed and Darcy smiled broadly back as he recognised her charming tease.
He answered as they resumed their walk: "I didn't know your mother is so well acquainted with all the hunters of the county!"
"So much you don't know about my family, sir! After all, we dine with four and twenty families!" she answered laughingly.
Darcy laughed too. The rest of the walk towards Longbourn was silent. Each was so comfortable with the other that they didn't need to talk, but their eyes spoke a great deal.
When they finally reached the door of Longbourn they separated reluctantly. Darcy said, "If you permit me, I will speak to your father this evening."
"Oh, please do and I will speak to my mother once you are gone."
They agreed and separated with a lot of affectionate and tender smiles. After Elizabeth had entered the house, Darcy stared at the heavens and said "Thank You". Now he was complete.
Chapter 5: Mr. Bennet's consent
The dinner at Longbourn was cheerful. Both Elizabeth and Darcy were silent and tried to prevent anyone from suspecting any kind of attachment. Darcy found it very difficult to tear his loving gaze from his secret fianc»e. He tried to be civil to his future mother-in-law and to speak with his future father-in-law, and he saw his actions were approved by Elizabeth. She blushed for a few moments when she witnessed the coldness and rudeness of her mother. Her blush further enchanted Darcy, who reassured her with a little smile.
After the dinner, when Mr. Bennet withdrew into his library, Darcy get up and went knocking on the door.
"Enter," said Mr. Bennet. "Mr. Darcy! How can I be at your service?"
"May I speak to you, Mr. Bennet? There is one thing I wish to discuss with you."
"Of course, Mr. Darcy. I'm at your will."
"Mr. Bennet, I wish to talk to you about your daughter Elizabeth. I am aware, sir, that you know very little about me and therefore your opinion would not be very friendly. When I arrived in Hertfordshire I know I made myself disagreeable to all, including your family. But there is the real motive to come to you now. This afternoon I proposed to your daughter Elizabeth and to my delight I was accepted. And I come now to apply for your consent."
"Marry... Elizabeth. Do you mean you contemplate marriage with my... Lizzy?" stammered Mr. Bennet "And she has accepted you?"
"Yes, sir, most wholeheartedly I believe. I can sense your doubts but let me say I am quite serious and it is not a passing fancy. I have loved her for many months now and even before I recognised it myself. Our characters have changed and she now sees me as an acceptable suitor. I would like your consent before we can make it public."
"I didn't know you two were so acquainted. Lizzy never signalled a change in her feelings towards you, so you understand I'm somewhat overwhelmed to hear it. But if Lizzy agree to it, then of course you have my permission. Can you call her in here? I wish to speak to her before we make it public."
"Thank you Mr. Bennet. I assure you will never regret your permission. I promise to love, cherish and respect Elizabeth till the rest of our lives."
"Can you call Lizzy in here, please?"
"At once, sir."
Darcy went in the parlour in search of Elizabeth. Upon his entry, Elizabeth looked up, worry plainly written on her face, but relaxed seeing his smile. He approached her pretending to admire her embroidery and whispered: "Go to you father. He wants you in the library." She nodded and with a last look at him went to the room.
Chapter 6: Departure from Longbourn
Darcy waited impatiently for Elizabeth to return from her father. This interview took much longer than he expected and he began to fear that Mr. Bennet would forbid her daughter to let them marry. But as soon as his doubts reached high heights, Elizabeth returned. She seemed to have cried. Profiting from a moment where they were not observed and noticed, he whispered: "Dearest, why have you cried? Did you father not consent?"
"I cried because I'm so happy. Yes, Fitzwilliam, he has consented. How could I bear so much happiness?" She smiled radiantly.
Darcy's emotions can not be well explained with plain words: they oscillated between a large happiness and an overflowing love for the woman sitting next to him. Soon this lovely creature will be my wife! I will never be alone anymore! What did I do to deserve such a good fortune?
As the gentlemen prepared to leave, Darcy managed to be alone with Elizabeth. He kissed her hands, never letting go his adoring gaze from his fianc»e. She responded with equal ardour in her eyes.
"Good night my sweet, bewitching, and lovely lady. I'll be counting the hours till I see you again. Sweet dreams, my love."
"The same for you, sir," she answered breathlessly.
"I'll see you tomorrow then, my dearest Lizzy," he said in a more passionate and lower tone.
"I will miss you so, William," replied Elizabeth in the same tone and then more casually as she saw the others approached: "Good night, Mr. Darcy."
He bowed deeply and answered: "Good night Miss Bennet". Then he said his farewells to the whole family but shot constant looks at his beloved.
After a last discreet and tender look at his beloved, Darcy rode to Netherfield with Bingley.
Chapter 7: Different Conversations
Part A: Conversation between Darcy and Bingley.
As they rode, Bingley noticed something very unusual on his taciturn friend: a huge grin. Darcy grinning! That was strange indeed!
"Well Darcy, I never saw you in such good spirits before. Was your walk enjoyable?"
"Very much so, Bingley," said Darcy, smiling even wider.
"Well are you going to tell me the good news or may I hazard a guess about what makes you so joyful?"
"I think you already know, Bingley."
"You have talked to Miss Elizabeth and won her heart." Darcy nodded and never stopped smiling. "You are a lucky fellow Darcy. I wish you joy from the depths of my heart. I saw you talk to Mr. Bennet. Did he give his consent?"
"Capital!" grinned Bingley. "Now, we shall a double wedding. We are to be brothers the same day, what do you think?"
"If the ladies agree, I could not refuse it."
The gentlemen went the rest of the way back in silence, each lost in thoughts.
Part B: Conversation between Elizabeth and Jane.
Meanwhile at Longbourn, a similar conversation was taken place between the two eldest sisters. Elizabeth, as soon as the gentlemen left, asked Jane if she could come to see her in her room. As Jane saw her sister enter, she noticed Elizabeth's bright smile and glow in her eyes. Her low spirits seemed to have disappeared.
Jane finally said: "Did you enjoy your walk today, Lizzy?"
Elizabeth laughed and hugged her sister: "Oh Jane, You can not know how happy I am!"
"Oh and what makes you so happy, dearest Lizzy?" mischievously asked Jane.
"Oh Jane, do not play the innocent! I think you know why I'm in such a state."
"I think I know dear sister and I do wish you joy." Jane laughed.
"I love him so very much. And in a few weeks I will be Mr.s Darcy. I can't really wait!"
"Lizzy, it makes my own happiness complete to see you so much in love and happy." The sisters embraced each other lovingly.
"Now Jane, I must go to speak to Mama. I don't know how her nerves will withstand the news!" laughed Elizabeth. Jane laughed back and Elizabeth kissed her sister on the top of her head before she went to her mother's bedroom.
This story is dedicated to Christine Tartamella and Mary S. for all the messages they send me. Thank you my net friends!
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