Posted on: 2015-09-29
As Elizabeth Bennet sat reflecting on the letters she had received from her sister Jane, she was surprised by the sound of a guest arriving at the parsonage. To her utter amazement, she saw Mr. Darcy walk into the room. In a hurried manner he immediately began an inquiry after her health, imputing his visit to a wish of hearing that she was feeling better. She answered him with cold civility. He sat down for a few moments, and then getting up, walked about the room. Elizabeth was surprised, but said not a word. After a silence of several minutes, he came towards her in an agitated manner, and thus began:
"In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."
Elizabeth's astonishment was beyond expression, but before either of the party could say another word they were interrupted by entrance of the housekeeper.
"Forgive the interruption, Miss Bennet, but this express has just arrived."
Elizabeth accepted the express, and immediately began opening it (as it was sent express, so must be of some urgency).
Mr. Darcy hardly noticed the housekeeper as she exited the room, keeping his eyes fixed on Elizabeth. He could not fail to note all of the color drain from her face as she read her missive. As tears streamed down her cheeks, he approached her. As his shadow fell across the page in her grip, Elizabeth suddenly remembered that she was not alone.
"You must excuse me. I have urgent business to attend to," Elizabeth squeaked out between tears.
"What has happened? How may I be of assistance to you?"
Elizabeth found she did not even have the energy to look directly at Mr. Darcy. With tears in her eyes, all she could do was stare straight ahead as she replied.
"There is nothing you can do. My father has died, I must return home."
"Let me arrange for your transportation," Mr. Darcy almost pleaded. He had never seen Elizabeth so despondent. It reminded him of his own father's death, and he determined he would do all within his power to ease her suffering.
"It has all been arranged," Elizabeth replied listlessly, slumping into the chair she had previously occupied.
Determined to discover all the details, Mr. Darcy quietly freed the express from Elizabeth's hands, placing a handkerchief in its place. She continued to quietly weep as he read.
Our Dear Lizzy,
I am writing with the most dreadful news. We have just received word that your father was thrown from his horse this morning and has passed away. I am writing, begging you to return home. I will send our carriage to retrieve you at first light. It will bring you as far as London tomorrow. On the day following we will return you and your sister Jane to your mother at Longbourn.
Always remember that you have a home with us for as long as necessary.
We will all be waiting most anxiously for your arrival.
As always, Your Loving Uncle,
Although his face was as inscrutable as ever, Mr. Darcy's mind was working quickly. He understood that travelling from London to Kent, back to London, and then on to Hertfordshire all in one day would be difficult to accomplish, thus the reasoning for the Gardiner carriage to collect Elizabeth the next day and proceeding on to Longbourn the day after. There was no reason, though, that he could not escort the woman he was going to marry to Hertfordshire the next day, as long as they were chaperoned. It was only fifty miles, and could easily be traversed in a single day. The fact that Elizabeth had not yet accepted him did not even cross his mind. He was certain that if he had been given sufficient time to finish his proposal she would have gladly accepted his suit, so he proceeded as if they had been able to finish their conversation.
He was conscious of the fact that the Collins' were still at Rosings Park, and Elizabeth would surely find comfort from her friend. He did not want to leave Elizabeth alone until her friend arrived, but he did have much to accomplish if he were to leave the next day. Excusing himself from the room, he obtained writing utensils from the housekeeper and penned quick notes to both Colonel Fitzwilliam and his valet asking them to be ready to leave first thing in the morning. Knowing he would need a place to stay in Hertfordshire, he penned a note to Charles Bingley, asking for use of Netherfield Park for the time being. He also addressed a letter to Edward Gardiner, informing him that he would escort Elizabeth to Hertfordshire the next day, and that they should leave for Longbourn in the morning instead of waiting for Elizabeth to arrive. The last two letters he included in the note to his valet, with instructions that they be sent express.
His notes finished, Mr. Darcy again sought out the housekeeper and instructed her to have a servant carry them to Rosings Park. He further told the housekeeper that the servant should fetch Mr. and Mrs. Collins home. After also ensuring that a maid would be sent up to pack Elizabeth's belongings, he returned to the room where he had left Elizabeth.
Elizabeth was in a daze. She had taken very little note of her surroundings after reading the news concerning her father. As she slowly regained her senses, she realized that she was alone in the room. Assuming that Mr. Darcy had excused himself and returned to Rosings Park, she tried to locate the letter from her uncle so she could go to her room and pack her belongings in readiness for her journey on the morrow.
When Mr. Darcy returned to the room, he was surprised to find Elizabeth on her hands and knees. Thinking that there was something wrong, he rushed to her side.
"Are you well? Can I help you to stand?"
Surprised at the return of Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth sat up quickly, knocking her head on the table she was looking under.
"Please take care," Mr. Darcy said, gently grabbing one of her arms to help her rise. "It would not do for me to return you to your mother injured."
"I am quite well," Elizabeth replied after regaining her feet, but barely holding on to any semblance of composure. "I am at a loss as to what happened to the letter from my uncle. I cannot find it."
"I am sorry. I thought you were aware that I took it with me," Mr. Darcy said, pulling the letter from one of his coat pockets. "I needed the address of your uncle in order to send a reply."
"Why would you send my uncle a reply? I will see him on the morrow."
"I have instructed him to escort your sister to Longbourn in the morning. If I escort you to Hertfordshire tomorrow you will be able to arrive at your home a day earlier than anticipated. I predicted you would want to hasten home as quickly as possible."
Elizabeth's relief at being able to return home on the next day caused her not to question the source of her transportation. She could only be grateful.
"I do not know how to thank you, Mr. Darcy," Elizabeth replied, with tears in her eyes. "I would very much like to return home as soon as possible. I am afraid I need to pack my things."
"I have already arranged for a maid to gather your belongings. I have also sent a note to Rosings Park instructing the Colonel to prepare to leave in the morning. I am afraid that if I left him behind he would skin me alive."
"I do not know why you have taken on so many of my concerns, but I do thank you. It will be a relief to be with my family at this time."
"I am just grateful that I am able to be of use," Darcy replied, grasping her hand. "I remember the death of my own father. The compassion of a friend can ease your suffering."
"Are we friends, then?" Elizabeth asked, slightly confused.
"I have considered us such for quite some time," Darcy replied, with a small upturn of his lips.
They were interrupted at this moment by the return of Charlotte Collins and Maria Lucas.
"What has happened, Lizzy?" Charlotte asked, walking toward her friend.
Seeing the compassion in her friend's eyes caused Elizabeth's tears to again flow freely. As Charlotte reached her friend, Elizabeth easily fell into a comforting embrace. As Darcy felt the loss of Elizabeth's hand from his own, he found himself growing jealous at the intimacy which was allowed between female friends that propriety would not let him offer.
While Elizabeth took comfort in her friend's arms, Darcy began explaining the circumstances. "Miss Elizabeth received an express relaying the news of her father's death. In the morning, I will escort her back to Hertfordshire so that she can be with her family."
As Charlotte listened to Mr. Darcy relate the news of Mr. Bennet's death, she was glad that her husband had decided to stay behind at Rosings Park. They had been playing whist with Lady Catherine and Colonel Fitzwilliam. When the servant called them away Charlotte was anxious to find out the cause, so Mrs. Jenkinson had been enlisted to take her place. Mr. Collins had opted to stay behind until Lady Catherine was no longer interested in playing cards.
"Come, Elizabeth," Charlotte said. "I am sure you would like to retire to your chambers and prepare for the morrow before Mr. Collins returns."
"Thank you, Charlotte," Elizabeth replied, stepping away from her friend and walking toward the door to the room. "I will see you in the morning, Mr. Darcy."
It was not until she was sitting on her bed, surveying the trunks that had been very efficiently packed by a servant that she realized she was clutching a handkerchief with the initials FD embroidered on a corner. She fleetingly wondering where it had come from before laying down, still fully clothed, and crying herself to sleep.
There was still at least an hour before dawn when Elizabeth awoke. When her discomfort made it clear she should have taken the time to prepare herself for bed, at least removing her stays, she immediately felt guilty that she could be concerned about her own comfort when her dear father was no longer of this earth. She tried her best to control her tears as she attempted to make herself presentable.
Elizabeth had managed to change into the travelling dress that had been laid out for her the evening before when there was a light knock at the door preceding Charlotte's entrance. One look at her friend, and Charlotte was folding Elizabeth in an embrace. After holding her for a few minutes, she attempted to offer what little comfort she could.
"You need not worry about Mr. Collins immediately attempting to evict your from Longbourn, Dear Eliza. I do not know what Mr. Darcy said when Mr. Collins returned last night, but after Mr. Darcy returned to Rosings Park it became clear that Mr. Collins now feels as if it would not be proper to attempt to claim his inheritance for at least three months, and that it would be excessively unseemly to attempt to encourage your family to leave Longbourn until you have passed into half mourning in six months time."
"Thank you, Charlotte," Elizabeth replied, confused as to why Mr. Darcy would feel the need to ensure Mr. Collins treated her family with respect.
Moments after the first rays of the sun showed themselves over the horizon the sound of a carriage approaching could be heard. With one last tearful embrace, Charlotte led Elizabeth down the stairs to greet Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam.
It would be impossible to miss the compassion in the eyes of both gentlemen as they offered their condolences for the loss of Elizabeth's father. It took only moments for Elizabeth's trunks to be loaded on the carriage, and for her to find herself ensconced inside with one of the maids she was familiar with from Hunsford Parsonage. After ensuring that the driver was aware of their destination, Darcy and the Colonel joined them inside.
In her grief, Elizabeth gave very little thought to any implications that would be attached to Mr. Darcy escorting her to her home. The shock of her father's death had completely driven from her mind the words Mr. Darcy had spoken just moments before reading the express. As the hours passed in the carriage she briefly contemplated the fact that the generosity and compassion that he was showing was not what she would have expected from the man, but her grief quickly pushed aside any other thoughts. She did not need to know Mr. Darcy's motivation to be thankful for his generosity.
Although Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner would not have been entirely astonished to receive an answering express from Elizabeth, they were stunned to receive a reply from Mr. Darcy. They had never met the gentleman, and were not of the understanding that he and Elizabeth were on friendly terms. The contents of the express shocked them even more. Although they knew there was more to learn about the situation, they were certain that unless there was truth in the contents Mr. Darcy would not have taken so much upon himself. Hoping that Elizabeth had not made a hasty decision in response to the news of her father, they knew there was little they could do before arriving at Longbourn. If they were to attempt to send another express, it would not reach Hunsford Parsonage before Elizabeth was already on her way.
Knowing that Elizabeth would be safely escorted to Longbourn, the Gardiners and Jane left Gracechurch street early the next morning. When Jane questioned them concerning Elizabeth's absence, they simply told her that one of her acquaintances from Kent had offered to transport her home.
As London was located between Kent and Hertfordshire, Darcy arranged to have the carriage stop at his house in town. When the carriage pulled up in front of his home, Elizabeth finally came out of her daze.
"Where are we? Did you not say you would take me to Longbourn?" For the first time that day, apprehension concerning something besides her father rose in Elizabeth's heart.
"We are only stopping at my house in town," Darcy replied. "I will have you shown to a room to refresh yourself while my men change the horses. We will be back on the road momentarily."
The answer did much to soothe her, and she felt she was tolerably composed by the time the carriage door was opened and Darcy was handing her out. As he turned Elizabeth over to the care of his housekeeper, he assured her that they would be ready to resume their trip within a quarter hour, but that she should take as much time as necessary to refresh herself. With a ghost of a smile she thanked him, then followed the housekeeper to a room that would allow her to wash away the worst of the travel dirt, as well as relieve herself in other ways.
When Darcy had sent an express to Bingley asking for the use of Netherfield Park, he had anticipated a sloppy reply would be waiting for him on his arrival at Darcy House. Instead, he found his friend, luggage and all.
"Surely you did not expect me to send you to Netherfield Park without coming as well?" Bingley asked in response to an inquiry from Darcy. "I would not be much of a host if I was not even in attendance."
"It is kind of you to accompany us," Darcy replied. "Though, I do not plan on making many social calls."
"Your express was rather ambivalent as to the nature and duration of your stay," Bingley prompted.
"While visiting with her friend, Mrs. Collins, Miss Elizabeth Bennet received the dreadful news that her father had passed away in an unexpected accident. I was with her at the time and offered to escort her home. We plan to return to the carriage as soon as she is done refreshing herself."
"Then, let us waste no time in loading my trunks," Mr. Bingley replied. "Miss Elizabeth must be anxious to return to her family.
Upon returning to the carriage, Elizabeth was a bit surprised to find that they had exchanged Colonel Fitzwilliam for Mr. Bingley, but she did not dwell on the thought. She was much too anxious to be home.
Mrs. Bennet had not yet found the energy to leave her room by the time the Gardiners and Jane arrived at Longbourn. With some coaxing from Jane, she allowed herself to be dressed soon thereafter. It was not until she enquired as to Elizabeth's location, that she learned her second child had not yet returned to Longbourn. Concerned at the neglect her brother had shown in not ensuring both of her absent daughters returned home safely, she found the energy to descend the stairs in order to berate her brother.
"What can you be thinking, to allow Elizabeth to be escorted home by someone wholly unrelated to us?" Mrs. Bennet asked.
"As it allowed us to arrive a day early than we anticipated, it seemed like the most prudent choice," Mr. Gardiner replied.
"But who is escorting her?" she asked. "How are we to know she is safe?"
"Mr. Darcy has kindly offered to bring her home," Mr. Gardiner replied. "His note made it very clear that Elizabeth's wellbeing is his utmost priority."
"That selfish, unfeeling man?" Mrs. Bennet exclaimed. "Why would he condescend to help our poor Lizzy, stranded so far away from her home?"
Exasperated with his sister, he finally told her it was all explained in the note Mr. Darcy had sent, and handed it over to Mrs. Bennet. It was not until he turned toward his wife and saw the look on her face that he remembered exactly what was contained in the note, and that they had hoped to talk to Elizabeth before revealing its contents to her mother.
Although the note was fairly short and to the point, Mrs. Bennet stared at it with wide eyes for a full ten minutes.
Mr. Edward Gardiner,
Allow me to express my condolences on your loss.
I was in the midst of a private conversation with your niece, Miss Elizabeth Bennet, when your express arrived. Due to the nature of our conversation, I feel it is well within my authority to escort Miss Elizabeth to her home on the morrow. This will allow you to leave for Hertfordshire in the morning, while we will arrive later in the day.
Although the next several days will be occupied in grieving, I anticipate taking the opportunity to discuss the future of the Bennet family before you are required to return to London. Although Miss Elizabeth's future cannot be in doubt, I anticipate that she will not feel well settled until plans have been made for the rest of her family. To this end, I will endeavor to make myself available to discuss future plans at your convenience.
Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy
Mrs. Bennet's mouth opened and closed several times before comprehensible words came pouring out.
"My dear, dear girl. She has saved us all. I should have known she would not refuse Mr. Collins without reason. Such a sly girl. I wonder at her not revealing her intent sooner, but then again she dearly loves a joke. It was surely her plan all along to surprise us with her engagement on her return from Kent. Certainly, she only accepted Charlotte's invitation so that she could see her beau and meet some of his family. Oh, Mrs. Darcy, how well that sounds!"
As the carriage drew closer to Longbourn, Elizabeth became more and more agitated. Never again would she have her father beside her as she viewed the familiar landscape. Before she realized that her tears had once again escaped her eyes, she found a handkerchief being pressed into her hand. She looked up to see the compassionate eyes of Mr. Darcy.
Darcy's grip on her hand may have lingered longer than necessary before he shifted back into his seat. Mr. Bingley, not being a very observant gentleman, did not notice. Sally, the Hunsford maid that was acting as chaperone, chose not to notice.
It was not long before the carriage turned into the drive that would lead to the only home Elizabeth had ever known.
The sound of the carriage drew the remaining Bennet family to the front of the home. As they lined up to welcome Elizabeth home, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner whispered silent prayers that Mrs. Bennet would not do anything to embarrass her daughter.
As the door to the carriage was opened and Mr. Darcy stepped out, Mrs. Bennet started forward in hopes of congratulating him and Elizabeth as soon as she exited the carriage. She stopped in shock when the next person to exit the carriage was not her daughter, but Mr. Bingley.
Darcy had just turned back to the carriage to assist Elizabeth as she exited when he heard a commotion behind him. Turning back around, he saw Bingley holding a prostrate Mrs. Bennet.
Mrs. Bennet had received many shocks to her system in rather quick succession over the previous few days. Although she had complained vociferously about her poor nerves, the sight of Mr. Bingley exiting the carriage was the straw that broke the camel's back. Her nerves finally gave out completely, and she fainted. Fortunately, Mr. Bingley was close by and was able to catch her before she hit the ground.
As Mr. Gardiner relieved Mr. Bingley of his burden, he wondered whether or not his sister fainted as a result of his earlier prayer. Feeling slightly guilty that he may have been the cause of his sister's faint, he whispered another prayer, asking that she recover quickly. Unbeknownst to him, his wife was silently whispering a prayer of thanks and gratitude for the timely intervention.
In the chaos that ensued, one of Mr. Darcy's footmen assisted Mr. Gardiner in carrying Mrs. Bennet back to her room. Another footman removed Elizabeth's trunks from the carriage, and with direction from Mrs. Hill deposited them in her room. Sally also had her belongings removed from the carriage and asked for directions to the servants' quarters. As Mrs. Hill was otherwise occupied, one of the Bennet's maids showed her the way.
Hannah, the Bennet's maid, was responsible for helping all five Bennet sisters to prepare themselves for the day, and the evening, and any other time that a change of clothes might be necessary. When Sally explained that she would be staying at Longbourn until Miss Elizabeth was married in order to act as her personal maid, Hannah was more than willing to share her room. She was well aware that having her own room was rare, and would gladly relinquish the privilege if it meant she would no longer be responsible for all five sisters.
Neither maid was conscious of the fact that no one in the Bennet household was aware that Mr. Darcy had arranged for Sally to be Elizabeth's maid for a more permanent duration than the carriage ride from Kent.
The Bennet sisters and their guests entered Longbourn in a jumble. Arms were thrown around each other in quick embraces as they moved from the drive into the sitting room. Through the chaos, Elizabeth was unaware that Mr. Darcy had lightly rested his hand on the small of her back to help lead her into the house. It did not last long, and most of Elizabeth's relatives were completely unaware it had happened. Mrs. Gardiner saw the caress, and it gave her comfort. She could only assume that Elizabeth would be aware who was touching her in such a way. Elizabeth's complete lack of protest seemed a silent sign of her acceptance of Mr. Darcy.
As they settled in the sitting room, Darcy and Bingley both offered their condolences. Although both gentlemen wished to stay and offer whatever comfort they could, it was clear that the huddled mass of sisters needed some time together on their own. When Mr. Gardiner returned to the group they took their leave, promising to call on the morrow.
The remaining hours of the day were spent in quiet reminiscing about Mr. Bennet. Elizabeth had not realized how many fond memories she and her sisters carried of her father, but as the evening wore on the stories continued to flow. She was surprised when Lydia shared through her tears that she used to hide behind a large chair in their father's study when she wanted to escape. When she first discovered the hiding place, she thought her father was unaware. She quickly discovered she was wrong when the next time she needed to hide she found a box of treats waiting for her.
As the sisters went to bed for the night they helped each other undress. By unspoken agreement, they cuddled together in Jane's room to sleep. None of them wished to be far away from each other.
Morning brought a couple of puzzles to Elizabeth. They began when she rang for a maid and Sally arrived in her room instead of Hannah. Perplexed, Elizabeth asked Sally why she was at Longbourn.
"Mr. Darcy asked me to stay to be your maid," Sally replied.
"I'm sorry that he promised you a position," Elizabeth replied, "but Hannah has been our maid for many years."
"Hannah will still help your sisters, Miss," Sally replied. "Mr. Darcy hired me to be your maid."
"But, why would he do that? I must confess I do not know how I will be able to pay you."
"Mr. Darcy has already taken care of that, Miss," Sally replied. "Do not worry about me. I'll be here whenever you need me."
A confused Elizabeth decided to drop the subject for the time being. She wished to have a moment alone with her deceased father before callers came for the day. She had chosen not to see him the night before as she wanted to be alone when she said her goodbyes.
The gowns that Elizabeth had not taken with her on her visit to Kent had been dyed black, and it was into one of these that Sally assisted Elizabeth to dress.
Elizabeth had expected to be able to walk past her mother's room without interruption. She was not to be so lucky. It almost appeared as if her mother was waiting for her, and immediately called her in to her room.
"Oh, my dear, dear girl!" Mrs. Bennet said, embracing her daughter. It appeared as if she wished to say more, but she devolved into tears instead. After several minutes, during which time Elizabeth's shoulder was completely soaked through with her mother's tears, she began to pull away. The motion brought the ability to speak back to Mrs. Bennet. "Thank you, my dear. You cannot know how surprised I was when I heard the circumstances that prompted Mr. Darcy to escort you home. I can only tell you how very pleased I am."
"I was surprised as well," Elizabeth confessed. "No matter his other faults, he was very compassionate when he found out father had died. But, perhaps you should be thanking him. I had very little to do with the arrangement. He took care of everything."
"I will thank him as soon as possible," Mrs. Bennet assured her daughter.
With the unusual encounter at an end, Elizabeth left her mother's chambers. Once again, she hoped to make her way to the parlor which contained her father's remains. As she could hear the rest of the house stirring, she was beginning to have doubts that she would have any time alone to say her goodbyes.
In order to reach the room she desired, Elizabeth had to pass by her father's study. She was surprised to see the door ajar, and poked her head in, anticipating that she would see an empty room and close the door as she continued on her way. She was wrong, as her uncle was sitting behind her father's desk, staring at a piece of paper. She thought to leave her uncle to his ruminations and continue on her way, when he called out to stop her.
"Elizabeth, you are just the person I was hoping to speak to this morning," Mr. Gardiner said. "I wanted to get your opinion on a few things before Mr. Darcy arrives."
"How can I help?" Elizabeth asked.
"Do you have any preferences for where your mother and sisters will be living in the future?"
"Would it not be better for you to talk to my mother?" Elizabeth asked.
"Normally, that might be the best, but in this case I think it would be better to talk to you. You will be a bit more reasonable."
"Then, should you not be asking Jane. She is the eldest."
"But it will not be her husband that will be shouldering some of the cost," Mr. Gardiner replied. "Since Mr. Darcy has so kindly offered to help with the plans for your mother and sisters, it is only reasonable that you should have a chance to share your opinion."
"I don't understand." Elizabeth had latched on to one word her uncle had said. "I don't have a husband."
"Not yet, but that will change soon enough. When we first received the express from Mr. Darcy, I will admit that we were a bit apprehensive. But Madeline told me how comfortable you seemed to be with his touch on your back as he escorted you into Longbourn yesterday."
"I still don't understand," Elizabeth said. "What, exactly, did the express say?"
"Here, you can read it for yourself," Mr. Gardiner said as he handed her the piece of paper he had been studying on her entrance.
Elizabeth read the note with growing horror. She read it a second time, certain that she must have misunderstood it the first time through. The third reading did not cause any of the words to miraculously change. She started desperately trying to remember what Mr. Darcy had said to her before they were interrupted. Certainly she couldn't have missed something this life altering, could she? She could not remember exactly what he said, but she was certain that it had not been a proposal of marriage.
She wanted to deny Mr. Darcy's assertions, but then she read the note one more time. He was offering to help support her family. Charlotte had already told her that he had convinced Mr. Collins to wait several months before expecting them to leave Longbourn. What if she denied that they were engaged? What would Mr. Darcy's reaction be? He would have no reason to help her family. If he were upset enough, he may even encourage Mr. Collins to change his mind about the amount of time to allow them to remain at Longbourn.
Before she could come up with any sort of response to her uncle, there was a knock on the door, and Mr. Darcy was announced. As he walked through the door, wearing the same tailcoat as he had when he arrived at the parsonage that horrible night. The words he spoke came rushing back to her.
"You love me?" Elizabeth asked quietly, completely horrified and confused.
"Most certainly," Darcy replied, just as quietly, as he stepped closer to Elizabeth.
Expecting that the couple would want a little bit of privacy, and not really wanting to be in the room, Mr. Gardiner excused himself for a few minutes.
"None of this makes any sense," Elizabeth said as she burst into tears. "I don't remember you asking me to marry you."
"Admittedly, I was in the process when we were interrupted," Mr. Darcy confessed. "But, I had at least told you that I love you."
"I'm so confused. I don't know what to do."
"Don't worry. I will take care of everything. You do not need to do anything."
With these words, Darcy drew Elizabeth into his arms. Although it was not quite the type of embrace he was looking forward to in the future, he was pleased that he was finally able to offer Elizabeth some sort of physical comfort.
Elizabeth's tears only increased. As she soaked his waistcoat with her tears, she finally understood why he would hire a personal maid to take care of her. She also understood what her mother had been thanking her for. She did not know what she should do. It confused her more as she realized she did find it comforting to be in his arms, even though he was causing so much of her confusion. This thought brought on a fresh bout of sobs. Several minutes later, as her tears subsided, she took a slight perverse satisfaction to see that she had completely ruined his waistcoat, and not just with tears. It appeared that as she sobbed she must have wiped her nose against his chest. As her nose flowed almost as freely as her eyes when she cried heavily, it really had created quite a mess.
Posted on: 2015-10-21
Although Mr. Darcy would have been content holding Elizabeth for the entire day, he knew there was much that needed to be done. He reluctantly released Elizabeth, who immediately fled from the room. When Mr. Gardiner returned to the study, he questioned Mr. Darcy about his missing niece. When Mr. Darcy assured him that he had promised Elizabeth he would take care of everything, the two gentlemen began the discussion concerning the future of the Bennet family.
"I feel as if we should start by discussing your interest in the matter," Mr. Gardiner began. "You certainly hinted at your intentions in your letter, but I feel we should have a clear discussion."
"I was in the midst of asking for Elizabeth's hand in marriage when the express arrived, alerting us to the death of her father," Mr. Darcy replied. "As I remember the turmoil that I went through after the death of my own father, not five years ago, I immediately set about easing the way for Elizabeth, to the best of my abilities."
"And so, I am assuming you would like to ask me a question, as I am the closest male relative Elizabeth now has."
"Of course. May I marry Elizabeth?" Mr. Darcy replied. In truth, his mind had been so fully engaged in planning for the future, he had forgotten that he had not yet asked anyone for Elizabeth's hand in marriage.
"I am pleased to give my consent," Mr. Gardiner replied. "Have you given any thought to when the marriage will take place?"
"As our engagement has not been announced, it would be unseemly to marry while Elizabeth is still in full mourning," Mr. Darcy replied. "Although I would wish for a shorter engagement period, it would be best to plan for a marriage in six months' time."
"That seems reasonable," Mr. Gardiner agreed.
"In the meantime, I will have the settlement papers drawn up," Mr. Darcy stated. "Once the settlement papers have been signed it will be proper for me to provide for Elizabeth's mother and sisters, even if we are not to marry for some time."
The conversation then devolved into more particulars concerning Mrs. Bennet's future living arrangements and other needs.
When Elizabeth fled the study, her thought was to get as far away as possible. She quickly donned her outer clothing and made her way to Oakham Mount. The view had long been a favorite of hers. She sat upon the ground, leaning against a tree. If she spared a thought for her clothing, it was only that dirt would not show well on black.
As she stared into space, she gave no thought for the time. Tears fell, unhindered, as she attempted to reconcile herself to a marriage with Mr. Darcy. She did not know how she could do it, yet she did not know how she could refuse. She knew she did not love him, yet he professed to love her. She thought he was full of pride and conceit, yet he did not complain as she made a mess of his waistcoat with her tears. She had always thought that he gave no thought to the feelings of others, yet he had been so compassionate and caring when he learned of the death of her father.
The one thing she knew is that he still puzzled her exceedingly. The one question she needed answered was whether or not she could spend the rest of her life married to such a man.
After Charles Bingley arose and prepared for the day, he was a bit perturbed to find that his friend had already left for Longbourn. Bingley had anticipated that they would travel to Longbourn together in order to pay a condolence call. He had not expected his good friend to leave well before polite visiting hours.
After eating his breakfast he rode over to Longbourn. When he was shown into the sitting room, he expected to find his friend. Although there were already several others from the neighborhood paying condolence calls, there was no sign of Darcy.
Although Bingley was not the most observant gentlemen, even he could not miss the fact that all conversation stopped when he entered the room. He was also not oblivious to the awkward winking and hand signals Mrs. Bennet employed to insist one of her daughters move from the chair closest to Jane. Not wanting to cause a scene, he took the now vacant seat next to the now mortified Jane.
Bingley was preparing to open his mouth to offer his condolences, when he was addressed by Mrs. Bennet.
"It is so good of you to join your friend. When Mr. Darcy first arrived on his own this morning, we began to despair ever seeing you again."
"Darcy is a rather early riser," Bingley replied.
"Of course, you will have much business to conduct now that you have returned to your estate," Mrs. Bennet continued. "Will your sisters be joining you?"
As Bingley related the fact that his sisters had no current plan to return to Netherfield Park, he realized that the room did not really have the feel of a house in mourning. It was clear that Miss Bennet and her sisters were deeply distressed, but there was an undercurrent of excitement emanating from Mrs. Bennet and her friends. He once again attempted to address Jane Bennet, in a hope to comfort her in some way, but Mrs. Bennet had not finished her enquiries.
"Do you plan to stay long at Netherfield, or will Mr. Darcy be remaining on his own?"
"I would imagine I will stay at least as long as Mr. Darcy is in residence," Mr. Bingley replied, slightly confused.
"So, you will be here for the wedding, then?" Mrs. Bennet asked.
"Wedding?" Mr. Bingley replied, suddenly realizing that while he was away his Jane may have formed an attachment to another gentleman. Even though he knew that it was not completely reasonable to be jealous of the unknown gentleman, the thought of Jane married to another caused his stomach to twist into knots.
"Well, yes. I imagine that Mr. Darcy and my brother Gardiner are discussing the particulars at this moment."
Bingley did not know how to respond. He knew his friend well enough to know that he would not have engaged himself to Jane Bennet. All of a sudden, the realization hit, and in his relief that it was not Jane that would be getting married, he spoke his revelation out loud.
"That is why they were together when word arrived concerning Mr. Bennet's death." Bingley was incredibly surprised. After the many arguments Darcy had made against his own match to a Miss Bennet, it was astonishing that he would engage himself to her sister.
"Yes, it seems he had only just asked Elizabeth to marry him when the express arrived. It really is quite romantic."
It was only when Mr. Bingley looked back at Jane once more that he realized the whole conversation was causing her distress. He did not know how to comfort her when her mother continued to interrupt any attempts he made at conversation. He was saved by the timely entrance of his friend.
Mr. Darcy and Mr. Gardiner had been able to cover the basic plans for the future in a relatively short amount of time. They had come to an agreement on everything that should be included in the settlement papers. Though Mr. Gardiner thought Mr. Darcy was being much more generous than necessary, he was not going to complain.
Although there were still several months before the wedding, Darcy hoped to have the settlement papers signed as soon as possible. He promised to send his instructions to his solicitor by express. He knew it would still be a couple of days before the solicitor would be able to get the papers in order, but the sooner he had the information, the sooner he would be able to start.
With everything settled as well as it could be, the gentlemen made their way to the sitting room. Neither of them found the woman they were looking for. Mr. Gardiner was quickly able to determine that his wife had been called away to tend to one of their children.
Mr. Darcy was disappointed that no one seemed to know where Elizabeth was located. Jane immediately volunteered to look for her, and all her sisters jumped up to help, eager to escape the room. It was clear that Mr. Darcy was expected to wait in the sitting room, so he took the seat abandoned by Jane, closest to Mr. Bingley.
"Mr. Darcy, we were just discussing how romantic it is that you had just proposed to our Lizzy when the express arrived informing her of her father's death."
"Indeed," was the only response Darcy could muster. He would never understand how his Elizabeth had such a woman for a mother.
"Have you decided on a date for the wedding?" Mrs. Bennet asked.
"We will marry when Elizabeth enters half-mourning," Darcy replied.
"Six months!" Mrs. Bennet replied in shock. "Surely you do not want to wait such a long time."
"It would not be proper to marry any sooner," Darcy replied.
"But you were engaged before you learned of Mr. Bennet's death."
"And those few moments are the only reason I do not feel it would be best to wait a year," Darcy replied, growing agitated. "Miss Elizabeth will be my wife for the rest of my life. I can certainly wait six months so that she has time to grieve."
At all the approving nods from her friends in the room, Mrs. Bennet could do naught but agree. Secretly, though, she was a bit worried that if Mr. Darcy did not marry Elizabeth soon, one of them might change their mind.
By the time visiting hours were over, Darcy was becoming worried that none of the Miss Bennets had returned with news as to Elizabeth's location. As the neighborhood women were taking their leave, Jane reappeared. It was clear she had been crying.
Although he was worried that something had happened to Elizabeth, Jane quickly put his mind at ease. As she tried to apologize for the behavior of her mother, Darcy assured her that he did not hold any of them to blame for the actions of their mother. As he and Bingley took their leave, he was told that Elizabeth would most likely be found on Oakham Mount, if he wished to speak with her again. Expressing his gratitude, he took his leave.
"I believe you failed to mention some very important news when you asked to stay at Netherfield," Bingley mentioned as they started down the drive.
"I told you that Mr. Bennet had died," Darcy replied.
"Yes, but you did not tell me the reason you were escorting Miss Elizabeth home was due to the fact that she was your betrothed."
"I thought it would be obvious."
"Next time, just assume that you will need to explain everything. Your thoughts are not always clear to those around you."
"I will try to remember that for the future," Darcy replied.
When they reached the path that would lead to Oakham Mount, Darcy veered off, but asked Bingley to go on to Netherfield without him. When he reached the top he found Elizabeth sleeping on the ground. Not wanting to disturb her, he removed his overcoat then draped it over her as a blanket. He also removed his tailcoat, folded it, then placed it under her head as a pillow. He would watch over her while she slept, imagining the future, when he would be free to watch her sleep every night if he so desired.
Posted on: 2016-01-04
As Elizabeth slowly woke from her nap atop Oakham mount, her disorientation quickly gave way to mortification.
It did not take long for her to notice that Mr. Darcy was sitting close by, missing both his overcoat and his tailcoat. She was embarrassed to realize his state of undress was to provide for her comfort. It also did not take long for her to realize that he was staring at her. When her eyes reached his, she could not look away.
It is impossible to know how long Darcy and Elizabeth would have sat, silently staring at each other, if it was not for the intervention of a woodpecker. Although the intrepid bird had been knocking away at a tree in the area for some time, it did not really disturb our couple until it decided that a strand of Elizabeth's hair would make a perfect addition to its nest. A lot of flapping and arm swinging then ensued. After the bird had been driven away, Elizabeth wondered how she came to find herself folded within Mr. Darcy's embrace twice in one day.
Although the next day was the Sabbath, Elizabeth did not join her family at church. Someone needed to stay with their father's remains, and she had not yet had an opportunity to say a quiet goodbye. If timing had been different, her father would have been laid to rest this day. Instead, the family would wait one more day, so as not to have the burial on the Sabbath.
Initially, she had reached for her father's hand, hoping to hold it as she spoke. The icy coldness shocked her, and she quickly dropped it, then felt guilty for doing so. Steeling herself, she carefully arranged his hand back to the position it was in when she entered the room.
"Oh, Papa, I don't know what to do," she finally whispered, as she took the seat next to his coffin. In whispered words, her torment poured out. After expressing her confusion about Mr. Darcy, and her frustration that it did not appear she would be given a choice as to whether or not she would marry him, she quieted. "I miss you so much, dear Papa."
Darcy had decided to attend Sunday services with the Bennet family. He arrived at the church early, in order to be there to greet Elizabeth. When the Bennet family arrived, sans Elizabeth, he questioned Mr. Gardiner. When he learned that Elizabeth had decided to stay at Longbourn, he quietly exited the church and made his way to the Bennet home. Remembering his desolation at the loss of his father, he did not want to leave Elizabeth alone.
He found Elizabeth sitting quietly in a chair next to her father. Her tears were fresh, and it was clear she had not bothered wiping them away. Once again taking out a handkerchief, Darcy approached the woman that he loved. So distracted with her thoughts, Elizabeth didn't notice him until he had kneeled in front of her in order to wipe away her tears. Embarrassed, Elizabeth took the handkerchief from him in order to wipe her face.
Looking down, Elizabeth realized that this handkerchief was a twin to the one that she had inadvertently acquired in Kent. She silently fingered the initials embroidered in one corner. While pondering what the "F" in "FD" could stand for, her mind was taken back to the letter Mr. Darcy had written her uncle. She had read the letter all the way through several times; each reading ending with his signature: Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. Unfortunately, by recalling the letter she was reminded that she was not being given the courtesy of an opinion in her marriage. As fresh tears began to spill, Darcy silently brought her into his embrace, holding her while she cried.
When her tears had again subsided, Elizabeth pulled away. As she had been sitting while he kneeled beside her, this time her tears had made a mess of his tailcoat. When she lifted the handkerchief to try and wipe away her tears, Darcy caught her hand in his.
"That is not necessary," he softly told her.
"But I am ruining all of your clothes," Elizabeth replied.
"I am sure they can be cleaned," Darcy responded. "And if not, it is inconsequential."
Elizabeth pulled back further, preparing to object to his disregard for his own wardrobe, when she noticed a black ribbon tied to his upper arm. Hesitantly, she brought her hand to the ribbon, running her fingers through the ends. With watery eyes, she rested her hand on his arm and looked back to Darcy's face.
"You would wear this for my father?"
"I would wear it for you."
With one hand, Darcy reached up, using his thumb to wipe away the newly fallen tear. Instead of retrieving his hand, he cupped the side of Elizabeth's face. When Elizabeth let her head rest in the palm of his hand, he could feel his heartbeat accelerate. It was only then that he questioned his sanity in not calling for a chaperone when he first realized that Elizabeth was alone.
Although he was desperately tempted to kiss his beloved, his reason intruded. He did not think sitting next to her dead father was the most opportune time to create the memory of their first kiss. Reassuring himself that he would not need to wait much longer, he pulled his hand away, putting more distance between the two of them.
"You still puzzle me exceedingly," Elizabeth admitted quietly.
"Ask me anything. I hope that one day you will know me better than any other."
While Elizabeth pondered the confusing thoughts swirling around her brain, a question fell from her lips before she had truly settled on the best question to ask.
"How can you be certain that you love me?"
"Because of the way I desperately missed you while we were parted. I left Hertfordshire in November with no plan to return. It was unacceptable for me to align myself with a poor country miss with a vulgar family and no connections. I thought my feelings for you were an infatuation that I could easily conquer. Instead, I found myself comparing every lady that I met to you. Every single one came up wanting.
"When I visited Lady Catherine, and realized you were visiting at the parsonage, I quickly determined to see you again; to see if the image I had retained in my mind was accurate. As you conversed with my cousin it was like a breath of fresh air. Neither of us looks forward to our annual trip to Rosings Park, but with you there it was different. At first, I was content just knowing you were close. As time passed, though, I found myself drawn to your side more and more often.
"I had already put off our departure from Kent in order to spend more time with you. I was debating whether or not to extend the visit again, but Fitzwilliam expressed his desire to spend at least some of his leave with Georgiana. I could not, in good conscience, keep him in Kent, but the idea of leaving you was torment.
"I realized that none of my objections to our match could keep me from loving you. I needed you by my side. I needed you as my wife."
This speech had thrown Elizabeth into turmoil. There was no doubt that Mr. Darcy believed himself in love with her, but how long would that love last if he considered her a "poor country miss with a vulgar family and no connections?" Would he come to respect her, or would their marriage devolve into something resembling her own parents?
Elizabeth was saved from responding to the insulting, yet tender, speech by the arrival of her family. It seemed that every attempt she made to better understand her current situation only caused her more confusion.
As Elizabeth's family gathered in the room, Darcy pulled further away from her.
"Mr. Darcy, whatever have you done to your coat?" Mrs. Bennet asked as soon as she looked at him.
Once again embarrassed, Elizabeth lifted the handkerchief to try and wipe away the evidence of her tears. Once again, Darcy caught her hand.
"It is nothing of consequence. I merely spilled some tea."
Not noticing the complete absence of so much as a teacup in the room, Mrs. Bennet began giving Mr. Darcy advice on the best way to remove tea stains from clothing. After only a few minutes, Darcy excused himself, explaining that he should return to Netherfield Park.
Although Darcy hoped that Elizabeth would see him out, he did not want to ask her. When it was clear she had no intention of following him to the door, he gently raised her hands to his lips for a quick kiss. Elizabeth was left wondering whether or not Darcy had decided to leave in order to take care of his coat, or if he was just desperate to remove himself from her family.
"Elizabeth, next time you must be sure to walk him out," her mother admonished her. "How else is will he be able to steal a kiss?"
Right at that moment, Elizabeth could not find it in her heart to blame him.