Turning the Tables
What if Mr. Darcy had not come to Netherfield with Bingley?
"Lizzy!" Mrs. Gardiner rushed out to embrace her niece, her husband close behind her.
"I'm delighted to be with you, Aunt Gardiner; nothing could please me more. And Uncle, how are you?"
"Better than ever, Lizzy. And quite relieved that you've finally come - Mrs. Gardiner has been stationed by the window all morning, not to be called away by any profound attempt of mine." He chuckled and offered an arm to each woman, leading them into the house.
"Are you very disappointed that the trip to the lakes was canceled, my dear?" asked Mrs. Gardiner, a concerned look threatening her joyful countenance.
"Not very," Elizabeth assured her. Then slyly - "But now you will have to take extra trouble to satisfy my every whim."
"We certainly shall try," Mr. Gardiner replied warmly. He led the group to his small study, where they seated themselves comfortably.
"It must be a lucky circumstance to be willing to permit one's wife into the study. My father, for one, has never had such good fortune." Elizabeth smiled.
"Now do tell us about Jane's wedding, Lizzy," urged Mrs. Gardiner, leaning forward eagerly.
"Ah! Now I see the true reason for your anticipating my arrival with such devotion. But I shall be good! Nothing could have satisfied me more. Jane was lovelier than ever, and I am beginning to think that Mr. Bingley deserves her."
"Deserves her! Why, nothing could be more desirable. What a wonderful thing for Jane. I imagine they will be home in a few days, for they only planned to spend a fortnight away."
"What newlyweds plan and what they actually carry out are two different matters, Aunt." Here Elizabeth grinned wickedly, and Mr. Gardiner let out a short laugh before being silently reprimanded by a quick glance from his wife. "So what do you two have planned to entertain me?" Elizabeth teased.
Mrs. Gardiner quickly recovered. "I thought we might take a tour of the country. There are so many lovely estates in the area."
"Alas, nothing can compete with Rosings!" smiled Elizabeth with a roll of her eyes.
"Oh, yes, tell us about your stay there."
"The place and people are nothing incredible, though they would have you think so. While the family is wealthy, they don't have much else to recommend them. As for the gentlemen I saw - one with a definite look of money about him - neither was handsome enough to tempt me. One was agreeable enough to make up for that deficiency, but the other impressed me in no way." She neglected to relate her true feelings of regard toward a particular one of those gentlemen.
"If you speak of Lady de Bourgh's nephews, they are both of them very fine, Lizzy. How can you say such things?"
"I am satisfied with nothing short of divine," Elizabeth replied jokingly.
"You do not say this seriously, but I'm rather inclined to think that you jest about something you really believe."
"When shall we have dinner?" inserted Mr. Gardiner pleasantly.
"No matter what you think, Darcy, I found her quite to my liking. Very amiable and witty - and a pleasing figure." Colonel Fitzwilliam sat with Darcy in the library at Pemberley discussing their recent trip to visit their aunt.
"I found nothing to like," mumbled Darcy.
His cousin laughed. "That is only because of what Bingley wrote to you - about her being the perfect match for you. I am inclined to agree, I must say. I fear his candid remarks have turned you against the young lady, though."
"Nonsense!" cried Darcy warmly; "I could never act so foolishly."
"Yes, cousin, I forgot that you are above the follies of the human race."
"How is your brother?" was Darcy's only ready response. Bingley's description had been enough to make Darcy agree to a visit to Rosings. He was so impressed with this young woman, this Elizabeth Bennet, that he was willing to endure his aunt in order to meet her. He set out with a heart ready to be given away. When he actually arrived, though, he thought it wise to determine himself against her, and so he had. It had not helped matters when he heard her whisper to her friend Mrs. Collins, "That gentleman is so tall and stiff!" Everything pleasing was ignored, and every small fault of character magnified, so that by the end of his stay, he had decided that he could not endure her. Or so he told himself. But there was that something about her which was bewitching, enchanting... dangerous for a mind which was trying to subdue the wishes of the heart.
Pemberley... Pemberley... why does that sound so familiar?" Elizabeth wondered aloud as her uncle handed her into the carriage.
"Perhaps you heard Mr. Darcy mention it at Rosings," suggested her aunt.
"Why, yes, Lizzy, he owns it."
"You never mentioned that when you talked about going to tour it."
"I didn't think it mattered, considering that you didn't think much of the gentleman anyway." Mrs. Gardiner flashed a smile to her husband, which he returned with a wink.
"I don't, really, it's only that... at least I doubt... he might be displeased at my coming," stumbled Elizabeth.
"Nonsense!" was her uncle's reply.
"And it isn't that I particularly care what he thinks," she continued.
"Of course, dear," said her aunt soothingly, with another glance at Mr. Gardiner. "He is a little too tall."
"You think so? Why, yes, I do believe you are right. He is too tall."
A short time later, they found themselves being welcomed into Pemberley by a friendly housekeeper who introduced herself as "Mrs. Reynolds." She informed them that the master was home, but reassured them that he would not be disturbed by their visit. Their visit was pleasant; Mrs. Reynolds gave only the highest praise of her master, and the visitors were impressed by the elegance of his home.
"His sister is the sweetest girl in the world, and quite as handsome as her brother," she gushed. "She has gone to visit his friend Bingley at Netherfield. Perhaps you know of it?"
"Quite well," replied Elizabeth; "my sister is Netherfield's mistress."
"You don't say!" exclaimed Mrs. Reynolds. "I was not aware of a Mrs. Bingley!"
"She has only been so for about a fortnight," Elizabeth explained with a smile. "I'm sure Miss Darcy will enjoy her stay, and I have no doubt that they will be pleased with her. Mr. and Mrs. Bingley are of the sort to find favor with anyone they meet."
The tour was completed soon after that, and after their departure, Mrs. Reynolds knocked gently on the door of Mr. Darcy's study. "Yes?" came the muffled voice from inside.
"May I come in, sir?" she requested.
"Oh, Mrs. Reynolds, yes, of course - do come in."
"I have just finished giving a tour to the most lovely group of people," she began after closing the door. He motioned for her to take a seat across from him, which she did.
"And who were they?"
"They introduced themselves as Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner."
"Hmm... I do not know them."
"And there was another young lady with them, sir; that is the particular reason why I have disturbed you. She informed me that she is Mr. Bingley's sister-in-law, and" -Mrs. Reynolds did not observe her master's flush at this - "she struck me as a most charming, lively, agreeable young lady."
"I see," said Darcy shortly.
"She said that Mr. and Mrs. Bingley were sure to love Georgiana because they are so good-natured, and love everybody."
"I might have known that she meant to insult us... implying that Georgiana was only liked by people determined to find favor."
Mrs. Reynolds looked confused. "I'm sure she did not mean that, sir; that is, I did not interpret her statement in so evil a light."
"I have no doubt as to her meaning," he continued gravely. "She looks for ways to bring people down. Thank you for telling me about their visit, Mrs. Reynolds; you have only confirmed my previous opinions of the young lady." Taking this as her cue to leave, the housekeeper rose and left, leaving a troubled master behind her.
Elizabeth left Pemberley with very different feelings. While she listened to her aunt's praises of the furniture and carpets, her thoughts were on the portrait she had seen of Mr. Darcy in the gallery.
"Wasn't the dining room splendid, Lizzy?"
"Oh! yes." I do not think he is too tall.
"And the carpeting in that hallway just beyond the entrance!"
"Lovely indeed." His face is quite handsome; a wonder it did not agree with me more at Rosings.
"Didn't you think so, Lizzy?"
Elizabeth believed that the last thing she had caught was about the staircase being so elegant, which she acknowledged with, "Yes, very. I was rendered speechless."
In fact, her aunt had asked her to agree with her on the point that Mr. Darcy's portrait showed him to have very fine, penetrating eyes.
You say she's here in Derbyshire, Darcy?" asked Colonel Fitzwilliam excitedly. "I am determined to pay her a visit."
"Only because she is the most pleasant girl I've ever met," his cousin replied with good humor.
"You want me to go with you, I suppose."
"I hadn't intended to suggest it, knowing how..."
"You will be disappointed if I don't go and pay my respects as well. Why don't we go this afternoon and be done with it?"
Fitzwilliam's eyes narrowed and a grin played at the corners of his mouth, but he would say nothing teasing for the world. "Yes, better to have unpleasant things behind us," he agreed.
They were disappointed, however, on arriving at Lambton and finding that Miss Bennet had left that very morning. "Blast!" said the Colonel; but Darcy only tried to hide his frown with a relieved smile.
"I came home as soon as I got your letter, Jane." Elizabeth embraced her sister worriedly. "What would you have me do?"
"We've tried to talk to her, Lizzy, but to no avail. She is quite determined to have Mr. Wickham."
"That scoundrel? Whatever for? Has she no sense?"
"Apparently they almost eloped sometime last year, but her brother convinced her of her folly. Now he has won his way back into her heart, and there is no swaying her."
"Perhaps you should send for her brother, then," said Elizabeth. "I believe... no, I am sure that he would make a better job of it than I."
"Of course he must be told everything when it is over; but I would rather have you talk to her than he at present. Do try, Lizzy, please."
"What shall I say?"
"You know what Mr. Wickham is, how he lied to you and Lydia, and tried to lure each of you to Georgiana's fate."
"Very well, Jane. I will try my best. If I should succeed, though, I would rather that you did not tell Mr. Darcy who was responsible. If I do not succeed, it would definitely be best that he not know who was responsible."
"As you say, Lizzy, but I can have no doubt of your success. If you could make Lydia see the folly in eloping with him, how much more good could you do with Georgiana, whose sweetness and sense (despite this situation) no one can deny?"
"Where is Miss Darcy?"
Elizabeth slowly opened the door to Georgiana's guest room, and her eyes moved to find the young woman, who was sitting motionless at a small desk by the window. She shut the door and approached Mr. Darcy's sister, her mind spinning, trying to think of something to say. "I'm so pleased to finally meet you, Miss Darcy," she began. "You were not downstairs, and I simply couldn't wait to see you."
"Miss Bennet, from my heart I thank you for your kindness, but I know that you were asked to come to me." Her voice was gentle, and as she looked up with eyes full of confusion, Elizabeth could see a trace of her brother in her face. The thought gave her momentary pain, but this was soon overcome by the serious nature of her mission.
"Do call me Lizzy... I cannot lie to you. Please do understand, though, my very sincere pleasure in meeting you at last. Your brother spoke of you warmly at Rosings."
Georgiana smiled. "My brother cannot give away a piece of his heart. With him, it is everything or nothing."
"Which is why, Miss Ben - Lizzy - oh, and do call me Georgiana! - I value his opinions so much. He does only what he thinks is best for me. Yet, I know he would never approve of this, and I seem determined to do it anyway."
"What strikes me, Georgiana," began Elizabeth carefully, "is that you don't sound like you are doing what you really want, nor what you think is right. Is there some other motive behind this decision?" Georgiana made no reply, so Elizabeth continued. "Would I have any success if I told you what you already know about Wickham? I cannot think so. I have every faith in your good sense. Please speak now, and give me some idea of your feelings."
The gravity suddenly lifted from Georgiana's countenance. "You really care, don't you? I knew the others did when they talked to me, but they seemed more determined to talk at me; list Wickham's faults, give me logic. You are interested in how I feel, and I am more than willing to tell you. You remind me so much of my brother. I wish... but no, I will leave it alone."
An hour later, Elizabeth left Netherfield after saying a brief farewell to her sister and Bingley, and assuring them that there was no longer a need to worry. It was with great relief then, that Bingley wrote a letter to his friend later that evening, being careful to observe Elizabeth's wish of having nothing to do with the matter.
"Wickham has been at it again," sighed Darcy to Colonel Fitzwilliam, setting the letter on the table and taking a sip of his brandy. "He takes great joy in disturbing Georgiana's peace."
"Cousin, don't tell me that she has..." he left his sentence unfinished, a look of concern passing over his face.
"No. No, Bingley was able to talk her out of it."
"Thank God." The Colonel seemed thoughtful a moment, then continued, "I wonder, Darcy, if that Miss Bennet had anything to do with it. She left so suddenly from Lambton, you know, upon her sister's request."
"I cannot think so."
"Why are you so set against her? Really, this is most childish! Only because a friend mentioned that she would be a good match for you, you only see ill. You are like a schoolboy."
"She does nothing but insult me."
"And you do nothing but misunderstand her... and, I would say, do so on purpose." Darcy remained silent. "Brood all night, if you like. I'm going to my room to take care of some business. Mark this, though. This restoration of Georgiana is her doing. I am certain of it. Good night."
"Good night." Fitzwilliam had almost shut the door when Darcy called, "Wait."
"What is it?" he asked, stepping back into the room for a moment.
"I should go and see Georgiana at Netherfield. I know her well; she will be in low spirits, and I could perhaps comfort her."
"That would be very good of you, Darcy. And remember that you cannot thank Bingley enough for what he has done." A pointed look, and then he was gone again, shutting the door behind him.
"Welcome to Netherfield, Darcy!" Bingley extended his hand to his old friend. "I'd like you to meet my lovely wife, Mrs. Jane Bingley."
"The pleasure is all mine, Mrs. Bingley," said Mr. Darcy kindly, bowing. She is beautiful, but there is a certain life in her sister's eyes which she is quite without. Darcy quieted his heart and forced his mind to take over again. "Where is my sister?" he asked, looking around.
"Oh, sir, I thought you knew; she is no longer with us," answered Jane. "She has gone to stay at Longbourn."
"Longbourn?" repeated Darcy, puzzled.
"Pardon me, that is my old home. She has gone to stay with Lizzy. They are really the best of friends now. I must say that Lizzy has been a good influence." Here she seemed to want to go on, but she stopped.
"I see." Fitzwilliam's words came back to him instantly, but he tried to ignore them. "Allow me to thank you both for helping Georgiana stay away from Wickham."
They looked at each other; Jane said nothing, but Bingley cheerfully replied, "It was the least we could do for her. She is such a dear person. Jane has been enchanted with her."
Later that afternoon, Darcy found Bingley in one of the sitting rooms, and joined him. He sat silently for several minutes before beginning. "Bingley, you are an old friend, and I trust that you will be honest with me. I am inclined to think that Miss Bennet played a part in the situation with my sister. If you do not tell me now, I will find some other means to find out."
Bingley hesitated, then found a way to divert the topic, if only for a time. "Fitzwilliam wrote to me recently, informing me that my letter to you had the very opposite effect from what I wished in sending it. It was only a comment, Darcy, only an observation to encourage you to go to Rosings and meet Miss Bennet. I hope you will allow her the merits she so justly deserves, and forget my little provocation."
"I have no desire to allow Miss Bennet her 'merits.'"
"You would think very differently..." Bingley did not finish.
"There is no doubt in my mind that Miss Bennet had something to do with this affair. I insist that you tell me, Bingley."
"It is all her doing - all," acknowledged Bingley at last. "Our efforts came to nothing, but Lizzy went to Georgiana's room for an hour, and then all was well."
"Blindness!" cried Darcy after a brief silence. "I have been so blind! So stupidly prejudiced! And after I've been such a beast, she could never give me another chance. I treated her terribly at Rosings - ignored her, gave her nothing but cruel sarcasm, just treated her abominably!"
"If she cared nothing for you, would she have been so concerned about your sister?"
"I really must say she would have. She is all goodness. No, I cannot think that her saving Georgiana was a proof of her good will towards me. What a terrible mess I've made of things!"
"You should go to Longbourn."
"I can't, Bingley. How can I face her knowing what I owe her, and remembering how I treated her? Tell Georgiana that I had urgent business come up suddenly, and had to leave before I could see her. I must go to Pemberley right away."
ane went to Longbourn to tell Georgiana about her brother's sudden departure, and after she left, the latter turned to Lizzy and asked, "Do you think he is very angry with me?"
"I can't see that as his reason for leaving so suddenly," Lizzy assured her. "While he obviously didn't leave for 'business,' it wasn't because of you, I'm sure. If he were that angry with you, he would not have come to begin with. I can't imagine what should cause him to leave so impulsively."
"Perhaps I should join him at Pemberley," reasoned Georgiana.
"I completely agree," Elizabeth replied. "I am returning to Derbyshire next week to complete my visit at Lambton; you are welcome to return with me if you don't think that is too late."
"On the contrary; I think it a wise arrangement. You will come to visit us at Pemberley, won't you?"
Elizabeth smiled ruefully. "I will come to see you, but I don't think your brother would be happy to be in company with me."
"How could he not?" exclaimed Georgiana. "I can't picture two people more suited to each other. Your liveliness, his steadiness... he must enjoy your company as much as I!"
"Thank you for your kindness, but I am afraid that I am the last person your brother could be induced to spend time with willingly." This was said with a soft sigh and downcast eyes; Georgiana missed nothing.
"You love him, don't you." It was a statement, not a question, and luckily too, for Elizabeth had no reply to give.
They arrived at Lambton and were warmly welcomed by Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner. Mr. Darcy was to send a carriage for his sister, and they all sat patiently near the door waiting for its arrival. At last the carriage was announced, and Georgiana was accompanied outside. When Darcy himself appeared, everyone was taken by surprise.
He cast a very brief glance at Elizabeth, then politely greeted her and the Gardiners. "Dear brother, you did not have to come yourself!" protested Georgiana.
"I was so guilt-stricken for leaving you with no good-bye that I had to make up for it by coming in person. And I must also thank Miss Bennet for her kindness in more than one way."
"Perhaps they could dine with us tomorrow," said Georgiana. "I must return Miss Bennet's hospitality and get to know the Gardiners."
"As you wish, Georgiana," Darcy replied. "Will you do us the honor?" he asked them.
"Most readily, sir, ma'am," Mr. Gardiner said.
"Until tomorrow, then!" said Georgiana as Darcy handed her into the carriage.
Darcy shook Mr. Gardiner's hand, bowed to Mrs. Gardiner, then moved to Elizabeth. Never meeting her eye, he lifted her hand to his lips, whispered "Forgive me," then joined his sister.
t's good to see Bingley so happily settled at Netherfield," said Georgiana to her brother as their carriage pulled away from Lambton. "Hertfordshire is such a pleasant place."
"Yes, I was also impressed with Netherfield the short time I was there," Darcy answered her absently.
"And no one was more pleasing to me than Miss Elizabeth Bennet," she continued, trying to capture his expression. He did not disappoint her; a hint of color rose in his cheeks.
"It's a shame that I must live so far away from such a friend as she!"
"Georgiana, you know how very dear you are to me, and I have no wish to give you pain, but I must speak to you about..." He paused, neither wanting nor knowing how to continue.
"About Wickham," she finished for him. "Have no fear, for my good sense (such as it is) has returned to me to stay. I have no desire whatsoever to see him again."
"This gives me great relief," he said. "I'm very happy that you enjoyed your stay at Netherfield and... what is it?"
"Yes, Longbourn. I may not have expressed my pleasure to your satisfaction."
"I'm used to your reserve," she teased. "It would take a momentous something to make you jubilant about anything."
"Or at least something equal to the day I cut off your favorite doll's hair," he said with a smile, enjoying the sound of his sister's laughter.
"I don't know why I laugh; that was so wicked of you! But when you saw me crying so bitterly, you immediately went and bought me a new doll. You've always been so good to me."
"I try to be kind to those I really care about," was his somewhat distracted reply.
"I've never known you to fail," she answered with equal absence of mind.
"You were not with me during my last visit to Rosings. Truly, Georgiana, you would have been ashamed of me. I acted in a most childlike, impudent manner. Fitzwilliam did not let me forget it even to the moment of his departure from Pemberley a few days ago."
"What did you do that was so dreadful?" she asked, fully knowing the answer.
"I treated someone in a way no one deserves to be treated." From his pained expression, it was clear that he wanted to say no more, so Georgiana left him in peace and was determined to admire the scenery for the rest of the journey.
But he surprised her. "Miss Bennet is responsible for saving you from Wickham, isn't she?"
"Did Bingley tell you? Or Jane?"
"It was Bingley. What did she say to you, Georgiana?"
"Nothing at all. She listened to me for an hour. She said not one thing. It was the same strategy you yourself employed last year to such great success."
"Not such great success," he admitted.
"I love you, Fitzwilliam," she said softly, "and I want so much for you to be happy. You know what needs to be done, and I see by your countenance that you really do want to remain silent this time, so I will commit myself to the countryside now." Which she did, and they continued their journey in silence.
he next afternoon found the Darcys, the Gardiners, and Elizabeth seating themselves at the dining table at Pemberley. Darcy sat at the head of the table with Georgiana on his right, Elizabeth on his left, and the Gardiners beside them, across from each other. "Let me thank you warmly for inviting us, Mr. Darcy. It's such an honor to be at Pemberley again." Mrs. Gardiner gave him a sweet smile, which he gratefully returned.
"Mrs. Gardiner could not stop talking about your china, sir, after she had seen it. Now that she has eaten off of it, I am sure there will be no end to her raptures!" Mr. Gardiner said merrily.
"I'm glad you're pleased, Mrs. Gardiner," said Darcy with a kind smile; then, turning to his neighbor on this left, "And you, Miss Bennet, are you pleased with Pemberley?"
"Very much, sir," was her short, but sincere, response. "It's much nicer than Rosings." Elizabeth was commenting on the estate itself, but Darcy took her to mean something totally different.
"That is a compliment indeed," he finally replied.
"Lizzy didn't enjoy her time at Rosings as much as she would have liked," said Mr. Gardiner, completely oblivious to the uncomfortable position of his niece and Mr. Darcy.
Darcy stiffened, and Georgiana tried desperately to fish for a way to save the conversation, but Elizabeth, too much in love to allow him a second more of pain, was the first to reply. "The weather was so unpleasant; I don't think anyone present was in steady character, but I may speak only about myself. It was not altogether terrible, for there I first met you, sir," -glancing at Darcy - "and your very amiable cousin, and had a chance to visit my friend Mrs. Collins."
It is impossible to describe the change in Darcy's countenance after being so delivered. Never had he thought Elizabeth Bennet more beautiful, more charming, more completely perfect than at that moment. Here was hope! Afraid that this might be evident in his expression, he quickly looked down at his plate. Georgiana glowed and silently prayed that before Elizabeth left Derbyshire, her brother would tell her that she was soon to have a most welcome sister. Mrs. Gardiner, who had also been pained by her husband's error, equally showed her relief; the latter looked sorry for his imprudence. And Elizabeth herself, heart racing and eyes continually flitting to Darcy, on the outside seemed composed and raised her glass to drink.
"When will you be leaving Lambton?" Georgiana asked Elizabeth.
"In a few days - you remember that Lydia's wedding to Mr. King takes place before the end of this week."
"Indeed! Only a few days. That really is a shame. But you must promise to come to Derbyshire often."
"I am sure we could never regret her presence," said Mrs. Gardiner.
"No, that should be impossible," was Darcy's gallant, unguarded reply.
"I may have to give myself yet another day to travel, for Mrs. Collins is thinking about attending the wedding, and I agreed to stop at Hunsford for a night and take her with me to Longbourn if she so wished. I expect her reply either today or tomorrow."
"So you may leave us as soon as the day after tomorrow!" exclaimed Georgiana. "What unwelcome news is this; how shall you two live without her?" she asked the Gardiners.
"We will try to manage somehow," replied Mr. Gardiner.
And they had to manage, for Mrs. Collins did want transport, and Elizabeth was gone two days later.
t will be the best thing you've ever done," said Georgiana earnestly an hour or two after Elizabeth had bid them farewell.
"How could I be so bold? How can you expect me to do such a thing?"
"Because, as I told Elizabeth herself, with your heart, it is everything or nothing. You either give everything now, or you must be satisfied with nothing. Leave for Hunsford now, or regret it for the rest of your life. Push away your reason for only this moment, and let your heart lead you where you know you must go."
Never had he heard his sister speak with such conviction, such authority. "I'll be gone within the hour," he said finally.
Darcy approached the door of Hunsford in a very agitated state. What would he say? How could he explain his presence to Mr. and Mrs. Collins, and, moreover, get them to leave him alone with his dearest Elizabeth? He knocked and was shown into the sitting room. Elizabeth looked up, astonishment plainly written on her face. Mr. Collins, honored to have such a distinguished guest, jumped up to greet him.
"Noble sir," said he, extending his hand, "it is a most enjoyable circumstance that you have bestowed your presence upon my humble residence. To what may I owe this distinction?"
To that angel sitting by your wife - that most perfect of all creatures. "I must speak to Miss Bennet on a very important matter."
"Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to grant your wish, sir, but only think how improper! To see a young woman alone, and when she is another's guest! Indeed, I don't think it is within my power to justify such a course of..."
"Sir, I respect your wishes, but I insist on seeing Miss Bennet at this moment."
"If you will only listen to reason..."
"I will be in exactly the same miserable state I've been in for the past few weeks. No, this time I will not listen to reason."
They were interrupted by a voice in the hall. "Collins! Where are you? I must speak with you at once!" Lady Catherine appeared a second later, and Mr. Collins scarcely had time for an eloquent bow before she cried hysterically, "My daughter is gone, sir!"
"Yes, I assure you, quite gone." She noticed her nephew. "What are you doing here? All the better. Your father's steward's son has eloped with my daughter. Now what have you to say?"
Darcy, in all honesty, wanted to laugh aloud, but maintained his composure and replied steadily, "Madam, this is terrible."
"Terrible does not comprehend the problem. Anne de Bourgh Wickham! It is simply intolerable!"
"Yes, indeed, it is."
"Mr. and Mrs. Collins, come with me at once to Rosings." She noticed Elizabeth, who was hunched over in her chair, head buried in her arms. "You had better stay with the young lady, Darcy. But as soon as she is stable with her smelling salts - it should not take her as long as it took me - you must also come to Rosings."
Delightful! "What an all-around horrific circumstance this is."
"It shall not be borne!" was his aunt's last remark before she pushed the Collinses out of their home.
Darcy immediately rushed to Elizabeth's side and knelt down by her chair, hoping to provide whatever comfort he could. "Miss Bennet?" he said tenderly. Oh God, had he hurt her in some way?
She looked up and there were no tears, and no smelling salts needed - unless they be required to revive someone faint with laughter. "It is only too funny!" she exclaimed, bursting into another fit of giggles.
He grinned, then finally erupted into laughter of his own.
When they had finally composed themselves, Elizabeth looked at him seriously. "Why did you come?" she asked directly.
"Because I refuse to be a coward and let you slip through my fingers again." As he said this, he reached for her hand, and she gave it most willingly. "I can only humbly beg your forgiveness, Miss Bennet - Elizabeth - for I have no excuse whatsoever for my actions. You are entirely blameless" - here she tried to protest, but with his other hand he placed his fingers lightly over her lips - "and I have only to be utterly ashamed of my behavior. My only concern now is, can you ever forgive me?" He brought his hand down from her lips and placed it over the one he already held.
Her expression must have said everything, but she knew that a reply was necessary. "How could I not," she managed, "when I love you so completely?"
"It is a miracle that you love me after the way I treated you," he said, his usually strong voice breaking.
"You insulted me with words and manners, yes - but I could easily tell that your heart was not in what you said and did."
"You really are an angel, aren't you?"
"An angel of darkness, possibly." She replied with an arch smile which was quickly covered by Darcy's lips. After he had pulled away, she wrapped her arms around his neck and smiled again. "You have beautiful eyes, sir, and I believe I gave you a compliment on them once, to my aunt, when I meant to be complimenting your very elegant staircase at Pemberley. I recall saying that the staircase quite took my breath away."
"Do you still think so?" he asked with a grin. He was so handsome when he smiled!
"Yes, I am quite breathless, but I do not think your eyes have done it." She blushed at this, and the gentleman was wildly enchanted. He kissed her again, enfolding her waist with his strong arms, pulling her towards him. "Sir!" she exclaimed suddenly, moving away.
"What is it?"
"You have forgotten something." Again that mischievous smile.
"Ah! yes," he said, realizing what she meant. "My dearest Elizabeth, will you -- enjoy my staircase at Pemberley with me forever?"
"Is that a proposal?"
"If you want it to be."
Her only reply was a very sweet kiss, which left Darcy in no doubt that she was an angel, and now his angel.
Five minutes later, they were at Rosings, and Elizabeth held the smelling salts to her nose most convincingly.
"Eliza, it must be quite evident that I cannot return to Longbourn with you," said Mrs. Collins.
Here Mr. Darcy very gallantly expressed his interest in the matrimonial proceedings of Miss Lydia Bennet, and agreed to accompany Miss Elizabeth back to her home. From that night, he was never again able to entertain rational thought, and readily surrendered to his heart.
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