Chapter 17 - A Proposal At Last
Darcy's visits took on a certain regularity. He would arrive early, before breakfast, enjoy a long walk with Elizabeth, returning to breakfast with the Bennets and staying - walking with Elizabeth in the garden or playing chess with Mr. Bennet or sitting with Elizabeth as one or the other read aloud - until luncheon when he would return to Netherfield to deal with the volume of correspondence that seemed to follow him wherever he travelled. Mrs. Bennet was receiving callers who came on a regular basis to watch the process with no little interest and were not loath, on occasion, to intrude on the courting couple for conversation. In general, Elizabeth and Darcy bore such intrusions with goodwill, although Elizabeth could see that some of the visitors - particularly her Aunt Philips - strained Darcy's tolerance and, in such cases, she made an effort to shield him as much as possible. Darcy, the Colonel and Bingley would usually join the Bennets for dinner and visit with them for the evening, although Bingley was not infrequently invited to spend an evening with other families. Darcy was usually exempted from such entertainments unless the Bennets were invited also.
After one of these dinners, Mr. Bingley called again after breakfast the next morning. Darcy and Elizabeth were ensconced in Mr. Bennet's library. Bingley came in such very good time that the ladies - apart from Elizabeth - were none of them dressed. In ran Mrs. Bennet to her daughter's room, in her dressing gown, with her hair half finished, having called Elizabeth from the library and dragging her behind and crying out, "My dear Jane, make haste and hurry down. He is come - Mr. Bingley is come. He is, indeed. Make haste, make haste. Here, Sarah, come to Miss Bennet this moment, and help her on with her gown."
"We will be down as soon as we can," said Jane; "but I dare say Kitty is forwarder than either of us, for she went up stairs half an hour ago."
"Oh! Hang Kitty! What has she to do with it? Come be quick, be quick! Where is your sash, my dear?"
But when her mother was gone, Jane would not be prevailed on to go down until accompanied by Elizabeth who was relieved to see Darcy sitting with Bingley in the front parlour. To Elizabeth's surprise, Darcy spoke up, "I think Elizabeth and I would enjoy another walk. Would Miss Bennet and Bingley care to join us? Perhaps a walk to Oakham Mount would please us all."
Bingley was quick to assent to the proposal and Elizabeth and Jane retrieved their bonnets, spencers and gloves and within minutes had set off on the walk. Mrs. Bennet, seeing Jane escorted by Bingley and Elizabeth by Darcy, made no effort to include Lydia or Kitty in the group in the hope that at least one of the couples might return to announce an engagement.
Darcy encouraged Elizabeth to walk at a much brisker pace than Jane and Bingley could maintain and within ten minutes a distance of some fifty yards separated the two couples. Elizabeth became concerned at the increasing separation, cast frequent glances back at her sister and was about to suggest that they slow their pace to let the others catch up, when Darcy said, "Do not worry, Miss Elizabeth. Bingley requested me, as I left for Longbourn, to suggest a walk and to afford him some privacy with your sister."
Elizabeth looked at him in surprise, "Does he mean to propose then?"
"He did not inform me of his intentions."
"Do you think he will?"
Darcy smiled, "I cannot say but I admit I have rarely seen him so enthusiastic!"
Elizabeth looked at Darcy and wondered at his thoughts and intentions. When would he offer her? He had stated that the timing was in her hands and she knew that, while she would not object to waiting a while longer, should he propose, she would accept his offer. She was not sure how he would know that she was ready or, should he need a sign from her, how to indicate her readiness. With these thoughts her mind was fully occupied and they walked in silence for some minutes until Darcy stopped and bid her look back at her sister and Bingley.
The faces of both, as they hastily turned round and moved towards Darcy and Elizabeth, would have told it all. Elizabeth could not but feel an effusion of joy for her sister and she began to hurry towards her. Within seconds Bingley was asking for and receiving congratulations from his friend whilst Jane, who could have no reserves from Elizabeth, where confidence would give pleasure, instantly embracing her, acknowledged, with the liveliest emotion, that she was the happiest creature in the world.
"'Tis too much!" she added, "by far too much. I do not deserve it. Oh! Why is not everybody as happy?"
Elizabeth's congratulations were given with a sincerity, a warmth, a delight, which words could but poorly express. Every sentence of kindness was a fresh source of happiness to Jane. But she would not allow herself to stay with her sister, or say half that remained to be said for the present.
"I must go instantly to my mother;" she cried. "I would not on any account trifle with her affectionate solicitude; or allow her to hear it from anyone but myself. Mr. Bingley is to go my father immediately. Oh! Lizzy, to know that what I have to relate will give such pleasure to all my dear family! How shall I bear so much happiness?"
She then hastened away to her mother who was sitting upstairs with Kitty; Bingley followed her into the house and sought an interview with Mr. Bennet. Elizabeth and Darcy, who were left by themselves, smiled at the rapidity and ease with which an affair was finally settled, that had given them so many previous months of suspense and vexation.
"And this," said Elizabeth to Darcy, "is the end of all your anxious circumspection! Of all his sister's falsehood and contrivance! The happiest, wisest, most reasonable end!"
"Yes, and I am glad that my friend and your sister can have reached such a happy conclusion. They will do very well together."
By the time they had entered the house and had settled comfortably in the parlour, they were joined by Bingley, whose conference with Mr. Bennet had been short and to the purpose."Where is your sister?" said he hastily, as he opened the door.
"With my mother upstairs. She will be down in a moment, I dare say."
He then shut the door, and, coming up to her, claimed the good wishes and affection of a sister. Elizabeth honestly and heartily expressed her delight in the prospect of their relationship. They shook hands with great cordiality; and then, till her sister came down, she and Darcy had to listen to all he had to say of his own happiness, and of Jane's perfections; and in spite of his being a lover, Elizabeth really believed all his expectations of felicity to be rationally founded, because they had for basis the excellent understanding, and super-excellent disposition of Jane, and a general similarity of feeling and taste between her and himself.
It was an evening of no common delight to them all; the satisfaction of Miss Bennet's mind gave a glow of such sweet animation to her face, as made her look more handsome than ever. Kitty simpered and smiled, and hoped her turn was coming soon; Lydia managed to conceal her unhappiness at a sister being married before her long enough to offer a tepid congratulation. Mrs. Bennet could not give her consent or speak her approbation in terms warm enough to satisfy her feelings, though she talked to Bingley of nothing else for half an hour; and when Mr. Bennet joined them at supper, his voice and manner plainly showed how really happy he was.
Not a word, however, passed his lips in allusion to it, till their visitors took their leave for the night; but as soon as they were gone, he turned to his daughter, and said, "Jane, I congratulate you. You will be a very happy woman."
Jane went to him instantly, kissed him, and thanked him for his goodness.
"You are a good girl;" he replied, "and I have great pleasure in thinking you will be so happily settled. I have not a doubt of your doing very well together. Your tempers are by no means unlike. You are each of you so complying, that nothing will ever be resolved on; so easy, that every servant will cheat you; and so generous, that you will always exceed your income."
"I hope not so. Imprudence or thoughtlessness in money matters would be unpardonable in me."
"Exceed their income! My dear Mr. Bennet," cried his wife, "what are you talking of? Why, he has four or five thousand a year, and very likely more." Then, addressing her daughter, "Oh! My dear, dear Jane, I am so happy! I am sure I shan't get a wink of sleep all night. I knew how it would be. I always said it must be so, at last. I was sure you could not be so beautiful for nothing! I remember, as soon as ever I saw him, when he first came into Hertfordshire last year, I thought how likely it was that you should come together. Oh! He is the handsomest young man that ever was seen!"
Jane was beyond competition her favourite child. At that moment, she cared for no other. Her younger sisters soon began to make interest with her for objects of happiness which she might in future be able to dispense. Mary petitioned for the use of the library at Netherfield; and Kitty and Lydia begged very hard for a few balls there every winter.
Bingley, from this time, was of course a daily visitor at Longbourn; coming frequently before breakfast in company with Darcy, and always remaining till after supper; unless some barbarous neighbour, who could not be enough detested, had given him an invitation to dinner which he thought himself obliged to accept.
The next morning, as Darcy and Elizabeth were returning to Longbourn and breakfast, they espied Kitty sitting on the bench in the rose garden a little distance from the house, hugging herself and appearing to be in some distress. Elizabeth looked at Darcy in puzzlement before turning and hurrying to her sister.
"Kitty, whatever is the matter?"
Kitty made no answer, simply turning her face away and Elizabeth could see that she had been crying.
"Come Kitty, you must tell what has distressed you so!"
"Nothing! I am fine now!"
"Do not be silly! You have been crying! About nothing? I do not think so!" Elizabeth looked more closely at Kitty. Was she frightened? If so, perhaps a less aggressive approach was needed and she spoke with a softer voice, "Come Kitty. Has something or someone frightened you?" Suddenly a premonition struck Elizabeth, "Is it Mr. Wickham?"
At the mention of that name, the eyes of both Kitty and Darcy snapped to gaze at Elizabeth but only Kitty responded, "How did you know?"
"A guess, nothing more! But a correct one obviously."
Darcy finally interjected, "Miss Catherine, you must tell us what happened. I can assure you that no harm will come to you."
Kitty's eyes flickered between them before settling on her sister, "I...I was simply walking in our park, along...along the path that circles the pond. I had not intended to walk so far. I.."
"Were you not accompanied by a footman?" asked Elizabeth.
"I did not intend to be out of view of the house. I am sorry Lizzy! I simply did not realize where I was."
"What happened next?"
"Mr. Wickham stepped out on the path - not very far away - and spoke to me."
"What did he say, Kitty? Did he importune you? Did he harm you?" Elizabeth looked more closely at Kitty and could that her left arm was red, "He did! You arm is hurt!"
"I was so surprised to see him that I could not move for some seconds. He asked me to go with him and stepped towards me. I...I turned to run but he grasped my arm. Then he started to say something but we both heard people's voices - yours perhaps, I do not know - and he whispered that I should say nothing or else it would be worse for me. He let me go and I must have run here, although I was so frightened that I do not remember doing so." She rubbed her arm, "It does not hurt."
"You may have a bruise, I think. How long ago was this, Kitty?"
"Not more than a few minutes before you found me."
"Then it is possible you heard us talking." Elizabeth looked at Darcy who had been listening to Kitty's recital with intense interest and he, reading the question on her face, nodded and said to Kitty, "We...you must tell your father, Miss Catherine. Miss Elizabeth and I will go with you."
Kitty was, at first, not inclined to speak to her father; rather fearing his displeasure and censure but was, after a few minutes, convinced that her father would be more displeased if she did not reveal to him what had happened. As Elizabeth asserted once more, "We cannot hide this from papa, Kitty. I must tell if you will not. You must see that, surely!"
Kitty shortly conceded the point and, seconded by her sister and Mr. Darcy, related her misadventure to her father who, though displeased that she had forgotten to be accompanied as she should, understood that it was inadvertent and reserved his ire for Mr. Wickham, "The impudence of the man! To accost Kitty within our own park and so near the house." He glanced at Darcy who had acquired a thoughtful mien, "Mr. Darcy, some aspect of this matter puzzles you?"
"Your question or observation is rather pertinent. How did he get so close? I would have thought he would not risk it but it seems that we cannot relax our vigilance at all. I am afraid we must warn all your daughters once more"
And so it was that Mr. Bennet, a short while later, related to all the household what had transpired between Wickham and Kitty. He was quite satisfied that all of his daughters - save Lydia - viewed the matter with the appropriate amount of concern. Lydia's reaction achieved quite the opposite effect. That young lady rolled her eyes upon receiving the warnings and gave little evidence that she viewed the restrictions as anything more than a nuisance and the threat from Wickham as a joke. Pressed on the issue, she promised to abide by her father's dictates but neither Elizabeth or her father could place any confidence in her assurances.
Chapter 18 - An Unwelcome Visitor
Posted on 2015-06-02
One morning, about a week after Kitty's unfortunate misadventure with Wickham, as Bingley and the females of the family were sitting together in the dining room, their attention was suddenly drawn to the window, by the sound of a carriage; and they perceived a chaise and four driving up the lawn. It was too early in the morning for visitors, and besides, the equipage did not answer to that of any of their neighbours. The horses were post; and neither the carriage, nor the livery of the servant who preceded it, were familiar to them. It was not the Darcy carriage for certain as that gentleman had been detained at Netherfield on some urgent business and would not be calling for a half hour at least. As it was certain, however, that somebody was coming, Bingley instantly prevailed on Miss Bennet to avoid the confinement of such an intrusion, and walk away with him into the shrubbery. They both set off, and Mary quickly decamped to practice her music and Lydia was equally eager to remove to her bedroom claiming to be indisposed. The conjectures of Kitty and her mother continued, though with little satisfaction, till the door was thrown open and their visitor entered. It was announced to be Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
They were of course all intending to be surprised; but their astonishment was beyond their expectation; she was, of course, unknown to them all with the exception of Elizabeth. Her purpose in visiting must also, of necessity, be unknown to them all since no word of her coming had been sent. Elizabeth alone could have some suspicion of Lady Catherine's object in visiting and she anticipated little pleasure from it and hoped that nothing arose to delay Darcy's arrival.
Lady Catherine entered the room with an air more than usually ungracious, made no other reply to Elizabeth's salutation than a slight inclination of the head, and sat down without saying a word. Elizabeth had mentioned her name to her mother on her ladyship's entrance, though no request of introduction had been made.
Mrs. Bennet, all amazement, though flattered by having a guest of such high importance, received her with the utmost politeness. After sitting for a moment in silence, she said very stiffly to Elizabeth, "I hope you are well, Miss Bennet. That lady, I suppose, is your mother."
Elizabeth replied very concisely that she was.
"And that I suppose is one of your sisters."
"Yes, madam," said Mrs. Bennet, delighted to speak to a Lady Catherine. "She is my youngest girl but one who is upstairs. My eldest is somewhere about the grounds, walking with a young man who, I believe, will soon become a part of the family, and Mary is practicing her music."
After making a few inconsequential statements about the smallness of the estate's park, the small size of the sitting room and its inconvenience due to the location of the windows to which Mrs. Bennet responded most civilly and then inquired after the health of the Collinses to which she received an assurance as to their health.
Elizabeth now expected that she would produce a letter for her from Charlotte, as it seemed one possible excuse for her calling - the other she was in no hurry to have explored. But no letter appeared, and the certainty she felt as to her ladyship's intentions, increased. Mrs. Bennet, with great civility, begged her ladyship to take some refreshment; but Lady Catherine very resolutely, and not very politely, declined eating anything; and then, rising up, said to Elizabeth, "Miss Bennet, there seemed to be a prettyish kind of a little wilderness on one side of your lawn. I should be glad to take a turn in it, if you will favour me with your company."
Mrs. Bennet suddenly remembered that her ladyship was aunt to Mr. Darcy and supposing her to be calling in respect of his courtship of Elizabeth; and wishing to extend her courtesies about it, interjected, "Your Ladyship is very kind. I cannot tell you how pleased we are that your nephew is courting our Lizzy. It is altogether delightful. Such a handsome young man and so very wealthy. I am sure you could wish to have such a gentleman courting your daughter. Mr. Collins was quite profuse in his praises of her. She did not accompany you, I gather. That is unfortunate since I am sure that she would have wished to speak with him and Lizzy. I do hope she is well! Your nephew is staying at Netherfield House. Are you planning to see him? I am sure he will be delighted to see you. He is such an amiable gentleman. And I am..."
Lady Catherine, unused to being required to listen to another speaker, sat down again, her countenance clearly expressing her displeasure at being addressed so familiarly. Gathering herself and glaring at Elizabeth, she interrupted, "Neither you nor your mother can be at a loss, Miss Bennet, to understand the reason of my journey hither. Your own heart, your own conscience, must tell you why I have come."
Elizabeth was saved from any effort to respond to a woman who was now more than usually insolent and disagreeable by her mother's taking on that obligation. How could I ever think her like her nephew? Elizabeth thought, as she looked in her ladyship's face.
Her mother, with unaffected astonishment, answered, "Indeed, your ladyship! I assume that you are here to visit Elizabeth and extend your blessing on a match between Elizabeth and your nephew. What other reason could call you here from Kent?"
"Mrs. Bennet," replied her ladyship, in an angry tone, "you ought to know, that I am not to be trifled with. But however insincere you may choose to be, you shall not find me so. My character has ever been celebrated for its sincerity and frankness, and in a cause of such moment as this, I shall certainly not depart from it. A report of this supposed courtship" and her ladyship almost spat the word, "reached me several days ago. Though I know it must be a scandalous falsehood, though I would not injure him so much as to suppose the truth of it possible, I instantly resolved on setting off for this place, that I might make my sentiments known to you."
Mrs. Bennet, who had been greatly affronted by her ladyship's tone, replied with equal anger, "Falsehood! Impossible? I think not Madam! Mr. Darcy applied to Mr. Bennet to court my daughter and has been doing so for some days now."
"Your Ladyship's belief in its impossibility" said Elizabeth, colouring with astonishment and disdain, "will not alter the fact that the courtship does exist. I wonder you took the trouble of coming so far. What could your ladyship propose by it?"
"At once to insist upon having such a report universally contradicted."
Mrs. Bennet was becoming increasingly affronted, "Contradicted! How can that be? We shall certainly not do so! What can you mean by this?" She cast a look at her daughter, almost beseeching her support.
"Your coming to Longbourn, to see me and my family," said Elizabeth coolly, "to obtain such a result as you have indicated will, unfortunately for your ladyship, be unrewarded."
"This is not to be borne. Miss Bennet, I insist on being satisfied. Has he, has my nephew, made you an offer of marriage?"
"Your ladyship has declared it to be impossible; however, it is the usual conclusion to a courtship, is it not?"
"It ought not to be so; it must not be so in this instance, while he retains the use of his reason. But your arts and allurements may, in a moment of infatuation, have made him forget what he owes to himself and to all his family. You may have drawn him in."
"If I were such a person, do you think I would own to it?"
"Miss Bennet, do you know who I am? I have not been accustomed to such language as this. I am almost the nearest relation he has in the world, and am entitled to know all his dearest concerns."
"But that does not entitled you to know mine; nor will such behaviour as this, ever induce me to be explicit."
Lady Catherine turned to Mrs. Bennet, saying, "Let me be rightly understood, Madam. This match, to which you and your daughter have the presumption to aspire, can never take place. No, never. Mr. Darcy is engaged to my daughter. Now what have you to say?"
Mrs. Bennet was growing increasing confused by the exchanges between her daughter and Lady Catherine and Elizabeth could see that this last statement had upset her greatly and forestalled her mother's response, countering, "Only this; that if he is so, you can have no reason to suppose he will make an offer to me."
Before Mrs. Bennet could marshal her thoughts on the matter, Lady Catherine, after hesitating briefly, replied, "The engagement between them is of a peculiar kind. From their infancy, his mother and I planned the union: and now, at the moment when the wishes of both sisters would be accomplished in their marriage, is it to be prevented by a young woman of inferior birth, of no importance in the world, and wholly unallied to the family! Do you pay no regard to the wishes of his friends? To his tacit engagement with Miss De Bourgh? Are you lost to every feeling of propriety and delicacy? Have you not heard me say that from his earliest hours he was destined for his cousin?"
Mrs. Bennet finally gasped, "What is she saying, Lizzy? Is Mr. Darcy already engaged? How could he be courting you, if he is engaged to another?"
Elizabeth directed her attention to her mother who was visibly distraught.
"Mama, do not concern yourself. I have spoken to Mr. Darcy on this matter. He has given his assurances that he is bound by neither inclination nor honour to his cousin, Lady Catherine's daughter."
Turning back to Lady Catherine, Elizabeth struggled to control her disdain for her visitor from becoming too apparent.
"I had heard this story before. But what is it to me? I shall certainly not be kept from marrying your nephew by knowing that his mother and you wished him to marry your daughter. You both did as much as you could in planning the marriage. Its completion depended on Mr. Darcy and he has chosen not to comply with those plans. If I am his choice of a wife, why may not I accept him?"
"Because honour, decorum, prudence, nay, interest, forbid it. Yes, Miss Bennet, interest; for do not expect to be noticed by his family or friends, if you wilfully act against the inclinations of all. You will be censured, slighted, and despised, by everyone connected with him. Your alliance will be a disgrace; your name will never even be mentioned by any of us."
Mrs. Bennet could no longer be silent, "They would not be so foolish, surely? Censure, ignore a man of ten thousand a year and in possession of a fine estate? They would be mad to do so!"
"My mother has the truth of the matter. These would be heavy misfortunes indeed should they occur," replied Elizabeth. "But the wife of Mr. Darcy must have such extraordinary sources of happiness necessarily attached to her situation, that she could, upon the whole, have no cause to repine. I believe I can tolerate your neglect tolerably well. I suspect that you will find very few to join you and, I assure you, I will not repine the loss of those that do."
All three ladies had been so absorbed in their disagreement that Darcy's entry into the room had gone unnoticed until his voice overrode his aunt's. All three gaped at him and, if the circumstances had been otherwise, he might have taken some amusement from the expressions on their faces; however, he had no thoughts other than to prevent his aunt from further abuses against Elizabeth and her family.
"Lady Catherine, you will cease this....disgraceful behaviour at once." he raised his voice as he saw his aunt about to speak, "No madam, you will be silent!"
Turning to Mrs. Bennet, he made a slight bow and asked, "Mrs. Bennet, may I have the use of the dining room to talk with my aunt?"
Gaining her assent, he turned to Elizabeth, "I will speak with my aunt."
Firmly placing his aunt's hand on his arm, he led her to the dining room and closed the door behind them. Mrs. Bennet's and Elizabeth's interest in their discussion was too great to not make some effort to overhear it and accordingly they found themselves standing in the hall outside the dining room. Neither of the room's inhabitants was inclined to moderate their tones and thus much of the conversation was easily understood. Lady Catherine wasted little time in making her opinions known to her nephew.
"She is an obstinate, headstrong girl! And I am ashamed of you! You are to understand that I came here with the determined resolution of carrying my purpose; nor will I be dissuaded from it. I have not been used to submit to any person's whims. I have not been in the habit of brooking disappointment."
Darcy's voice carried an overtone of amusement as he replied, "That will make your situation at present more pitiable; but it will have no effect on me. I am my own man, Aunt, and not subject to your wishes or dictates. Your brother cannot command me. He knows this well! If he cannot, on what basis do you believe that you can do so?"
"I will not be interrupted, Fitzwilliam. Hear me in silence. You and Anne are formed for each other. You are both descended, on the maternal side, from the same noble line; and, on the father's, from respectable, honourable, and ancient - though untitled - families. Your fortunes are splendid. You are destined for each other by the voice of every member of their respective houses; and what is to divide them? The upstart pretensions of a young woman without family, connections, or fortune. Is this to be endured! But it must not, shall not be. If you were sensible of your own good, you would not wish to quit the sphere in which you have been brought up."
"You are wrong on two counts, Aunt. I have already spoken to your brother on this matter. This union that you speak of is an illusion of your own and my uncle has stated as much to me. One the second count, I should consider that Miss Bennet and I occupy much the same sphere. I am a gentleman; she is a gentleman's daughter; in that we are equal."
"True. She is a gentleman's daughter. But who was her mother? Who are her uncles and aunts? Do not imagine me ignorant of their condition."
"Whatever her connections may be," said Darcy, "I do not object to them and, in several cases, feel myself to have been a worthy addition. In any event, if I do not object to them, they can be nothing to you."
"Tell me once for all, have you made her an offer of marriage?"
"It is, as you have been informed, a courtship. I have not made her an offer as yet but you can be assured, madam, that I intend to do so - as soon as I am firmly convinced she will accept it."
Outside the door, Mrs. Bennet squealed and Elizabeth, mortified at her mother's indiscretion, hushed her directly. Fortunately, Darcy and his aunt were too wrapped in their argument to have noticed.
Lady Catherine seemed could not be pleased at her nephew's statement. "I insist you promise me, never to enter into such an engagement?"
"I will make no promise of the kind. Lady Catherine, I insist you give over this importuning! I shall not be dissuaded from my course. You must realize that I will not marry your daughter under any set of circumstances. Insisting that I not offer for Miss Bennet will not change that fact. I will not marry Anne! You must accept that. I regret that I have not made my feelings explicitly known to you on this matter in the past. Perhaps I should have done so but I had no wish to distress either you or Anne and believed that my actions in not having offered for her would make you aware of my intentions. Apparently I was wrong. For that I do apologize."
"Fitzwilliam I am shocked and astonished. I expected to find you more reasonable. But do not deceive yourself into a belief that I will ever recede. I shall not go away till you have given me the assurance I require."
"And I certainly never shall give it, Aunt. Allow me to say that the arguments with which you have supported this extraordinary application have been as frivolous as the application was ill-judged. You have widely mistaken my character, if you think I can be worked on by such persuasions as these."
And he moved towards the door as if to lead his aunt from the room. Lady Catherine rose, remaining highly incensed. "You have no regard, then, for the honour and credit of your family! Unfeeling, selfish man! Do you not consider that a connection with her must disgrace you in the eyes of everybody?"
"Lady Catherine, I have nothing further to say. You know my sentiments."
"You are then resolved to have her?"
"Indeed I am, Lady Catherine! Indeed I am! I am resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to any person connected or unconnected with me."
"It is clear then. You refuse, then, to oblige me. You refuse to obey the claims of duty, honour, and gratitude. You are determined to ruin yourself in the opinion of all your friends, and open yourself to the contempt of the world."
"Neither duty, nor honour, nor gratitude," replied Darcy, "have any possible claim on me, in the present instance. No principle of either would be violated by my marriage with Miss Bennet. And with regard to the resentment of my family, or the indignation of the world, if the former were excited by such a marriage, it would not give me one moment's concern - and the world in general would have too much sense to join in the scorn."
"And this is your real opinion! This is your final resolve! Very well. I shall now know how to act. Do not imagine, Fitzwilliam, that this matter is over. I hoped to find you and Miss Bennet reasonable; but, depend upon it, I will carry my point."
Darcy stopped before opening the door and turned to his aunt and his tone was fierce, "You have not listened, Aunt. You never do! But you will listen now! Understand this, I shall marry Miss Bennet, if she will have me, and there is nothing you can do, no one for you to apply to, who will prevail against my wishes in this matter."
He opened the door and showed his aunt out. Elizabeth and Mrs. Bennet had retreated to the parlour but could hear Lady Catherine's representations until the closing of the front door blocked her voice. Elizabeth's wait did not last above another five minutes and, at the sound of a departing carriage, she hastened out to speak with him. Finding him pacing angrily in the garden, she approached him cautiously at once, concerned at his anger. She doubted not that Lady Catherine's remonstrations to him were more severe than to herself. He looked up at the sound of her footfall and immediately his face cleared, he walked quickly to her and took her hands in his.
"Never!" exclaimed he, "Never allow me to criticize your relations! Never!"
"Was it so dreadful then, Mr. Darcy?"
"I know not what my aunt said to you but to me spoke most insultingly of you. Unless she apologizes to you, I...we will have no further contact with her." He shook his head, "I gather your cousin informed her of our courtship which prompted her visit. What did she want of you? To break the courtship?"
Elizabeth was startled at the news of her cousin's involvement but quickly realized that Charlotte's family had likely written her of the news, from which it was but a short step to Lady Catherine. Her cousin would not have wasted any time making her acquainted with it. "Lady Catherine simply wanted my assurance that I would not enter into an engagement with you. That, I would not provide her." She hesitated slightly before continuing, "Will Lady Catherine's opinions carry weight with your family?"
"My aunt's opinions carry little weight within the family or anywhere else fortunately. You have been in her company and can appreciate how little enjoyment there is to be had in it. Richard and I are, I think, her only relatives who visit regularly and we are reluctant to spend more than a fortnight. My uncle - Richard's father and her brother - visits as rarely as possible. He bears a certain likeness to my aunt and possesses a full measure of her arrogance but he is a sensible man of some discernment and knows well how unreasonable she can be. He has never, to my knowledge, favoured the idea of a marriage between my cousin and myself. In truth, the whole idea was never mentioned until after my father's death, so the suggestion that my mother favoured the plan is, I believe, nonsense and a concoction of my aunt's."
Darcy turned a teasing eye on Elizabeth, "So, you would not give her your assurances that you would not enter an engagement with me. Is this correct, Miss Bennet?"
Elizabeth found herself unable to look at him and aware of a sense of nervousness. She had, by that admission, almost acknowledged that she would accept an offer of marriage from him. And he had declared most forcibly his intentions of doing so. Would he make that offer now? She knew her feelings and opinions of him well enough to know that such an offer would be accepted with pleasure should it be made. Unable to do more than nod her head, she began to return to the house which he did not prevent. Nor did he say more on the subject although her quick glance revealed a small satisfied smile on his face. She could not understand his reasons for delaying but neither was she inclined to press the point. She found his company altogether too enjoyable to wish for a diminution of it that might arise once an engagement was announced.
Chapter 19 - Courting & A Letter from Mr. Collins
The next morning, as she was going down stairs, she was met by her father, who came out of his library with a letter in his hand. "Lizzy," said he, "I was going to look for you; come into my room."
She followed him thither; and her curiosity to know what he had to tell her was heightened by the supposition of its being in some manner connected with the letter he held. It suddenly struck her that it might be from Lady Catherine; and she anticipated with dismay all the consequent explanations.
She followed her father to the fire place, and they both sat down. He then said, "I have received a letter this morning that has amused me exceedingly. As it principally concerns yourself, you ought to know its contents. I knew that I had two daughters on the brink of matrimony and have obtained a full measure of enjoyment out of watching your suitor. Let me congratulate you on a very important conquest. Now I wish to share another source of amusement."
The colour now rushed into Elizabeth's cheeks when her father continued, "You look conscious. Young ladies have great penetration in such matters as these; but I think I may defy even your sagacity, to discover the name of the author of this letter. This letter is from a former admirer, Mr. Collins."
"From Mr.Collins! And what can he have to say?"
"Something very much to the purpose of course. He begins with congratulations on the approaching nuptials of my eldest daughter, of which, it seems, he has been told by some of the good-natured, gossiping Lucases. I shall not sport with your impatience, by reading what he says on that point. What relates to yourself is as follows."
"Having thus offered you the sincere congratulations of Mrs. Collins and myself on this happy event, let me now add a short hint on the subject of another; of which we have been advertised by the same authority. Your daughter Elizabeth, it is presumed, will not long bear the name of Bennet, after her elder sister has resigned it, and the chosen partner of her fate may be reasonably looked up to as one of the most illustrious personages in this land."
"This young gentleman is blessed, in a peculiar way, with everything the heart of mortal can most desire, - splendid property, noble kindred, and extensive patronage. Yet in spite of all these temptations, let me warn my cousin Elizabeth, and yourself, of what evils you may incur by a precipitate closure with this gentleman's proposals, which, of course, you will be inclined to take immediate advantage of."
"We know, of course, who this gentleman is. But now comes out the purpose of his letter."
"My motive for cautioning you is as follows. We have reason to imagine that his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, does not look on the match with a friendly eye."
"I gather Lady Catherine has already visited. Did she also relate her objections to the possible match? Was that the purpose of her visit?" He chuckled, "Was she attempting to convince you or Mr. Darcy that she would withhold her consent?"
Elizabeth tried to join in her father's pleasantry, but could only force one most reluctant smile. It was not a subject that could provide further amusement, the memory of her encounter with Lady Catherine was too fresh for that, "Indeed, she did - most forcibly. I am not surprised that our cousin would echo her concerns."
"Are you not diverted?"
"Oh! Yes. Pray read on."
"After mentioning the likelihood of this marriage to her ladyship last night, she immediately, with her usual condescension, expressed what she felt on the occasion; when it become apparent, that on the score of some family objections on the part of my cousin, she would never give her consent to what she termed so disgraceful a match. I thought it my duty to give the speediest intelligence of this to my cousin, so that she and her noble admirer may be aware of what they are about, and not run hastily into a marriage which has not been properly sanctioned."
The rest of his letter is only about his dear Charlotte's situation, and his expectation of a young olive-branch. But, Lizzy, you look as if you did not enjoy it. You are not going to be Missish, I hope, and pretend to be affronted at such a report. For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?"
"Oh!" cried Elizabeth, "I am excessively diverted. From our interview, Lady Catherine appears quite unprepared to accept Mr. Darcy's intentions no matter how explicit he is in stating them."
"Yes - that is what makes it amusing and so delightfully absurd! Much as I abominate writing, I would not give up Mr. Collins's correspondence for any consideration. Nay, when I read a letter of his, I cannot help giving him the preference over anyone else of my acquaintance."
She rather thought it was a day for letters as one glance at Darcy's mien and behaviour - how quickly she was learning to understand his moods, she thought - was enough to make her aware of his pensiveness and inattentiveness. Since he was receptive to taking a walk, they were shortly on a leisurely stroll with no particular destination in mind. To maintain the proprieties, Mary was walking some distance behind - reluctantly, Elizabeth knew, since her sister despised being separated from the pianoforte or her books during the day and neither could be available when walking - to afford them sufficient privacy to talk intimately.
They had walked for some few minutes and Darcy had remained obstinately silent, perhaps, Elizabeth thought, not even aware of his abstraction and inattention; so, she believed, some coaxing was called for and proceeded apace.
"Mr. Darcy, I wonder at your coming to Longbourn? You could have as easily ignored me at Netherfield."
Her teasing tone as much as her question demanded his attention and she was pleased to see a slight flush on his face. She smiled and, before he could respond, said, "Will you not share with me what has so obviously distressed you?"
Darcy slowly nodded, "I do apologize. I had not realized that...well, you are quite correct. I have been ignoring you but I assure you Miss Bennet that it was done most inadvertently." His smiled at her apologetically before continuing, "You see my aunt, Lady Catherine, wrote her brother the Earl, Lord ____ when she returned to Rosings after meeting with us. I do not know specifically what she wrote but clearly she did not spare her expressions of displeasure and condemnation of you - and me as well - if the tone and manner of my uncle's letter is any guide."
"I had never expected Lady Catherine's approbation but had not thought much about how your other relatives would react. Is there aught to concern us?"
Once she might have interpreted Darcy's silence as indicative of a heavy concern for such opinions; however, now she was prepared to allow him to take the time to form his thoughts carefully. Of his intelligence she had no doubts; that he had considered this matter she knew - he had said as much himself - and also that he had resolved the matter to his own satisfaction. His expression of those thoughts and decisions she now knew would necessitate some thought. So she waited patiently and her patience was soon rewarded as he addressed her once more.
"I have been perhaps remiss in not contacting my uncle before this or in anticipating my aunt's actions. I did not think it necessary to do so until I was actually engaged. My aunt and uncle bear some similarities but he is, fortunately, much more sensible than she. Whereas she believes she can direct my actions - indeed that she has the right to do so -, he is quite aware that I am my own man and not accountable to him for my decisions. He apparently, however, saw no reason to question my aunt's disparagement of your character and background and, as a consequence, his letter expressed his dismay that I would attach myself to someone who was apparently so unsuitable. I can...I will disabuse him of these malicious lies. I had not expected him to view our match with favour. He has, over the years, been urging me to marry and mentioned several ladies that he considered suitable matches." Darcy gave Elizabeth a small grin, "None of whom, I may add, engendered the slightest interest from me."
His thoughtful air returned as he continued, "He will be disappointed I am sure but he is also quite practical and will not wish to sever ties with me which would happen should he oppose the marriage. He knows this well. We have disagreed before and he has not bent me to his will. On this matter he most assuredly will not."
"Mr. Darcy, I can understand that you would be angered but it seems to me that there is more to the matter than you have told me."
Darcy shook his head in consternation, "I am continually surprised how much you have come to know me Miss Bennet. I am, I admit, angered at my aunt's insults of you and that my uncle would accept and repeat them so casually. But even more I am greatly angered that they would think so little of me, of my judgement, to believe I would court a woman such as they have described. My aunt perhaps I can understand, but for my uncle to do so as well disappoints me. I had thought better of him. He will, I know, be greatly embarrassed when he finally meets you and learns how very wrong his suppositions were."
Elizabeth was silent for several minutes as they continued their walk and then, cautiously, broached a subject which had lain dormant in her thoughts for some days but now, she felt, must be voiced. That she had not done so before now was due mainly because it would only become a concern if they were to marry and that possibility had become increasingly likely - almost to the point of certainty. At the same time, she recognized that part of her reluctance to raise it was that doing so would expose and share those fears which she had never been willing to entrust to anyone - apart from Jane. Yet she knew that she should have no secrets from the man she was to marry and that she could trust in his understanding and acceptance.
Darcy must have become aware that she was bothered by some matter as he asked, "You are very quiet and you appear...pensive I guess is the most appropriate word. Will you not tell me what troubles you?"
"Indeed, I will. I am just trying to summon the courage."
"It must be a serious matter indeed if it discomposes Miss Elizabeth Bennet!"
Elizabeth awarded him a small smile for his attempt to tease her but did not allow herself to be distracted, "When I spoke with your aunt, I was quite decided in expressing my willingness to stand against anyone who would oppose our match. That has not changed but..."
After several moments, she continued, "I would not wish to embarrass you or your family. I fear that I would lose your respect and your love should you think I have failed in some manner."
"Elizabeth" and his voice was almost a caress, "Elizabeth, do you think I have not already considered this? Of your abilities I have no doubts. I believe you will be an excellent Mistress of Pemberley. There will be a period of learning to be sure but I doubt it will take all that long. Those of my relatives whose opinion I value will be charmed by you. My friends - my true friends - as well. You would win them all over effortlessly with your charms, your beauty, your kindness and your wit. They will be as entranced with you as I."
Elizabeth felt as though she would weep and struggled to suppress her tears and, not trusting, herself to speak, simply nodded.
"Elizabeth, I believe my parents would have approved of you - loved you - when they came to know you. Theirs was a happy marriage and I am sure they would have wished the same for me."
Chapter 20 - An Abduction
Posted on 2015-06-06
Several days later Darcy and Elizabeth had accompanied Jane and Bingley to Netherfield Hall where Jane was to receive a tour of the house of which one day she was to be mistress. If the ostensible purpose was to review to the furnishings and furniture in order that she might consider which would require to be changed, in reality, both couples wished to escape, for an afternoon, Mrs. Bennet's desire to parade her daughter around the neighbourhood so as to share the happiness of her engagement with as many as possible. They had only managed to escape without Mrs. Bennet's insisting upon accompanying them by virtue of the fact she had taken a nap so as to be fresh for her triumphal tour later in the afternoon.
But escape they did and, after an hour touring the house, they had wandered outside to walk the paths of the Netherfield gardens. The couples had separated and Darcy and Elizabeth were so enjoyably engaged on a discussion of a Shakespearean play on which they held strong but opposing opinions that they were quite oblivious to their surroundings until a footman ran up gasping, "Mr. Darcy! Miss Elizabeth! Come quickly! An accident!"
Elizabeth first thought was that something had happened to Jane, "Jane? Has something happened to Jane?"
"No, ma'am. Miss Lydia!"
Elizabeth and Darcy looked at each other in amazement and immediately began running towards the house where they encountered Bingley and Jane coming around the other corner of the house and obviously as worried and confused as themselves. Hurrying inside they were informed by the butler that Miss Lydia had been carried upstairs to a bedroom and that the apothecary had been called. Elizabeth and Jane hurried to see their sister while Darcy and Bingley attempted to find someone who could tell them what had happened.
When Elizabeth and Jane entered the room, it was to find Lydia lying on the bed and crying and moaning in obvious discomfort. Mrs. Nichols, the Netherfield housekeeper, looked up as they approached and briskly stated, "She has a broken arm but no other serious injuries as far as I can determine."
"But what happened?" demanded Elizabeth.
"I cannot say, Miss Elizabeth. I cannot get two words of sense out of her. Something about Wickham and eloping but none of it makes much sense, I am afraid."
Elizabeth stopped in shock, "Wickham?" she gasped.
At Mrs. Nichols' nod, she attempted to control her thoughts. Her first instinct was to ensure privacy and, to this end, she thanked Mrs. Nichols for her help and assured her that she and Jane would care for their sister until the apothecary - Mr. Jones - arrived. Mrs. Nichols assented and directed the maid, who was cleaning Lydia's scratches, to return to her regular duties. As Elizabeth drew closer to Lydia she could see that the lower part of her left arm, cradled by her right hand, was bent at an unusual angle. As well, her dress was torn around the shoulder and the side of her face and upper arm badly scratched. Taking the cloth left by the maid she and Jane finished the job of cleaning the scratches, removing earth and gravel from the sores. Not wishing to do too much until the apothecary arrived, they satisfied themselves with laying clean cloths over the wounds.
Attempts to calm Lydia and find out what happened proved difficult; while her crying had lessened, she would not answer their questions at first - simply shaking her head when they pressed her more closely.
Finally, in exasperation, Elizabeth snapped, "Lydia, you will tell us eventually. Our father will not be satisfied with your silence! I suspect you have done something...tried to do something incredibly foolish! Eloping! Wickham!....Dear God, you were eloping with George Wickham?"
Lydia burst into a fresh torrent of tears but before Elizabeth could say more than, "You foolish girl! What have you...?" Mr. Jones entered the room, his displeasure at his patient being harangued evident in the glare he directed at Elizabeth.
She huffed and was silent for several minutes as he began his examination of Lydia. Finally, she could restrain herself no longer and, looking at Jane, said, "I am going down to find out what happened. You must stay with Lydia." And without waiting for Jane's agreement, hurried from the room and went looking for Darcy who, she was sure, had more information to share with her.
The butler directed her to the study where she found Darcy and Bingley listening to a man with whom she was quite unfamiliar. Seeing her enter the room, Darcy came to her asking, "Your sister, she will be well?"
"As well as one can be with a broken arm, I believe. She bears some scratches and bruises but nothing worse, I suspect. Mr. Jones and Jane are with her now. Can you tell me what has happened to her?"
"We are just finishing up talking to Brooks here. He found her and brought her to Netherfield. Let me finish with him and I will explain all." Saying which he led her to a chair beside him and asked Brooks several more questions. Satisfied as to the answers, he dismissed him and drew up a chair next to hers. Not waiting for his explanation, Elizabeth blurted, "Lydia would say nothing but eloping and Wickham. But how could she have come to be injured so?"
"That, I can explain but first, Brooks, whom you just met, is one of two grooms from Pemberley that I brought here to guard you and your sisters privately. I told no one, except your father and Bingley, about them and Bingley here had to be told since they stay here at Netherfield."
"Why the secrecy? Could I not have been told?"
"I could, and probably should, have told you but did not want to worry you unnecessarily which I thought you might do."
"I am not a child, Mr. Darcy! You do me no favours by hiding from me something which affects me so closely." Elizabeth realized that she had spoken too sharply and, after a brief pause, spoke in a softer voice, "However, I recognize the kindness of the intent and appreciate it."
"Well...Anyway, Brooks had followed your two sisters, Kitty and Mary, to visit your Aunt Philip and had dismounted and was watering his horse some distance away - your sisters were also accompanied by a groom who was waiting inside in the kitchen apparently. Anyway, as Brooks was watering his horse, a curricle came through Meryton at a very fast clip and was past Brooks before he fully realized who was in it; however, he recognized your sister, Lydia, and wondered at what she was doing. Failing to see an escort, he immediately became worried, mounted and gave chase. By this time the curricle was, according to Brooks, some quarter mile ahead of him but he was quickly able to overtake it and within a few minutes had closed to a hundred yards. As he was riding he could see you sister looking back and pointing at him and by the time he had closed to less than a hundred yards, the driver himself looked back. Brooks said that it looked to him that your sister was pushed out of the curricle as it was moving. As he passed her, he could see that she was injured. He admitted that he could have caught the curricle but felt it more important to help your sister and stopped his chase." Darcy spoke with some bitterness as he said, "That was obviously Wickham's intent, his hope, and he was able to escape - this time."
Elizabeth shook her head in bemusement, "It was Wickham, then?"
Darcy nodded, "Brooks could not be sure. The man was bearded but he states that Miss Lydia claimed it to be him. I think it unlikely, under the circumstances, to be anyone else."
"She chose to elope with Wickham? After all that has been said about that man! Did she believe none of it? Obviously not, but how did this come about? She must speak."
"I agree. Your father will be most seriously upset over this but...let me finish Brooks' tale." At her nod he continued, "Once he had returned to Miss Lydia, he found that she was unlikely to be able to walk due to the pain from her arm. He thought Netherfield was the closest spot to bring her and, since he did not think himself capable of carrying her that distance, he placed her on the back of his horse." Darcy grimaced, "He said he had never heard such a crying and whining in his life; but they made it safely and he said he was quite happy to turn her over to Mrs. Nichols while he waited to tell me of what had happened."
Bingley spoke up for the first time, "I do not understand why she would do such a thing."
Elizabeth ignored this comment and turning to Darcy asked, "Has a note been sent to my father?"
"No. I shall send one now. Brooks can deliver it quickly."
A note was written and sent off within minutes. Elizabeth and the two gentlemen remained in the study until Mr. Jones came to impart the news that Lydia had suffered no worse injury than a broken arm and some scratches. She would remain in bed for several days at least but was young, healthy and should heal quickly. He had administered a small dose of laudanum and left more should her arm pain her further. She was sleeping now and he recommended against moving her for a week at least.
Shortly after Mr. Jones had returned to his home, Jane joined them having ensured that Lydia was being attended by a maid. Mr. Bennet arrived a quarter hour later both confused and concerned. After being apprised of events, he immediately went to look upon Lydia but returned shortly to report that between laudanum and her distress she was hardly comprehensible. After some thought he indicated that he would prefer Elizabeth and Jane to return to Longbourn - for the sake of propriety - and would send Mary to nurse his youngest daughter. While both Elizabeth and Jane would have preferred to spend the evening in the company of their betrothed at Netherfield, they also realized that it would be most improper since there was no older lady to act as chaperone. Mr. Bennet departed for Longbourn in company with his two oldest daughters who were assured that their betrothed would journey there also for supper. Mr. Bennet had impressed upon his daughters that Mrs. Bennet should only be told that Lydia had suffered an accident while riding in a curricle. The circumstances and the name of the driver would be suppressed for the time being. That Lydia's accident would be the main subject of conversation during the meal was to be expected although Mrs. Bennet was diverted - to the satisfaction of all - to discuss the upcoming Assembly and waxed eloquent upon the pleasure of talk there of one daughter engaged and another courted by a most eligible suitor. That it would be a most suitable occasion to announce a second engagement was broadly hinted at, to the mortification of Elizabeth and the amusement of Mr. Bennet and, to Elizabeth's surprise, Mr. Darcy. However, when this topic had exhausted Mrs. Bennet's conjectures and effusions, Mr. Bennet had the happy thought to inquire as to where Jane's wedding clothes were to be purchased and the even happier thought to suggest that Meryton would be the appropriate location. To this Mrs. Bennet could not be persuaded and waxed long and eloquently on the benefits and superiority of venturing to London to acquire all the necessities. After dinner she remained so absorbed in the topic as to retire to her rooms to begin preparation of the list of items that would be most appropriate to a young lady marrying a man of five thousand a year.
If Mrs. Bennet could be so diverted, the remainder of their party could not; perforce Kitty had to be made aware of the essentials of what had transpired and pledged - on the forfeit of her allowance for a month - to secrecy on the matter. Since Lydia could, as yet, not be questioned as to the particulars of her presence in the curricle, they could only review such details as were known until she could be questioned the next day.
So it was that the next morning, shortly after breakfast, Mr. Bennet, Jane and Elizabeth were welcomed by Mr. Bingley at Netherfield. The betrothed couple were not long in finding themselves pleasantly engaged in touring the rooms of Netherfield, suitably chaperoned by Mr. Darcy and Mary, in order to assess what changes the future mistress might contemplate.
Mr. Bennet and Elizabeth were less enjoyably engaged in meeting with Lydia so as to find out how she had come to be in the curricle with Wickham. She, having been denied a further dose of laudanum - as expressly ordered by Mr. Bennet - was in some discomfort from her broken arm and the various bruises she had suffered. If the prime motivation for Mr. Bennet's direction had been a desire to have her coherent for their discussion, it may be also easily understood if he had felt little sympathy - and perhaps some satisfaction - in observing her discomfort. After her pleas for relief had been refused several times, she was finally given to understand that such would not be available until a full accounting for her actions was made. To this she reluctantly agreed - a circumstance which did little to comfort either of her questioners as to the probable propriety of such actions.
The discussion took the better part of an hour and such information as could be obtained was gleaned from a most reluctant subject. In essence, Lydia had not fully believed the warnings about Mr. Wickham; his handsome features and amiable manners having so recommended him to her that she was willing to accept his assurances that he was being most infamously treated by all and sundry and that Mr. Darcy, in particular, was quite prejudiced against him for reasons which he had previously related to her. She had met him, secretly, on several occasions and, on the last such occasion, been persuaded of his attachment to her and agreed to elope with him. Since that meeting had not been planned, she had not the opportunity to pack any clothing and thus they were - according to Lydia off to London to shop for the same before proceeding to Gretna Green to be married. She had thus accompanied Mr. Wickham quite willingly and the speed with which he had passed through Meryton had excited no thoughts in her other than pleasure and excitement. That he had become increasingly agitated she had noted but had not realized that it derived from the recognition of being pursued, until she herself had looked behind the curricle to note the rider who was giving chase. It had been clear - to her - that they were to be overtaken quite soon but she had been totally shocked to be suddenly thrust from the curricle by Wickham. Indeed he had struck her several times to ensure her departure and her fall had been quite awkward as she struck her head on the hard ground as she landed. Her disparagement of Mr. Wickham and his treatment of her were quite as vociferous as her previous commendations had been and she felt herself to be quite ill-used by the whole experience and quite unable to feel that her behaviour was wanting in any respect. With this, her father - and Elizabeth - were very much in opposition; and, if Mr. Bennet had any reservations about sending her to school to learn proper conduct, they were vanquished by her attitude.
Some few additional minutes were spent in convincing Lydia to claim that she had been forced into the curricle - her presence there could hardly be denied since she had been seen by half of Meryton. It took threats of banishment to a school in the north and no allowance for her to comprehend that Mr. Bennet was both serious and resolved to have his way before he was convinced that she would comply with his directives. Elizabeth, who had largely been silent throughout the interrogation - mortified by her sister's want of sense and propriety and, upon reflection, by the failure of both her parents in her sister's education - could find no words to either chastise or sympathize with Lydia and left the room as silently as she had entered it.
She and her father removed to the study, there to apprise Darcy of the circumstances of Lydia's involvement. He made no comment other than to approve of the measures that Mr. Bennet had taken and the cast of his countenance remained sombre throughout. Elizabeth found it almost impossible to look at him, her embarrassment extreme and the errant thought crossed her mind that he might be extremely reluctant to attach himself to such a family. Would he end their courtship as a result of Lydia's actions? It seemed likely, since he could not fail to attach great importance to preserving his family's name and reputation. Therefore it was with a mixture of trepidation and embarrassment that she agreed to his request to join him on a walk in the Netherfield gardens. Mr. Bennet, recognizing their need for privacy, did not require a chaperone provided they were in view of the house.
Darcy and Elizabeth walked silently out to the gardens and when Darcy placed her hand in the crook of his elbow, she felt a palpable sense of relief. He could not be considering ending their courtship if he acted so. Of that she was certain. How else he might feel about the issue, she could not ascertain but she was positive that he was angry; however, it did appear that her family was not necessarily the cause or source of that anger. So wrapped in her thoughts was she that his voice surprised her.
"You appear quite downcast, Miss Elizabeth. I realize that your sister's situation must be of a concern. I hope there is nothing else that concerns you."
Elizabeth forced herself to speak, "It is true that Lydia has been quite...successful in mortifying me. I had not thought her so foolish as this but, on reflection, she has been poorly instructed in proper behaviour."
"She is but fifteen, Miss Elizabeth. There has been no harm done this time and she has time to improve. I suspect the lesson will be taken to heart."
"I am not as sanguine as yourself. I did not hear from her any expression of regret or understanding of the impropriety of her actions."
"Schooling becomes even more important therefore."
"On that we may agree."
"Is there aught else to concern you?"
Elizabeth was reluctant to raise her concern and, after several moments, asked instead, "Why were you so sombre, so angry before?"
"Did I appear so? I am sorry." He shook his head, "I was angry at Wickham for his actions and at my failure to apprehend him before he could further harm your family. His actions yesterday caught me quite by surprise. I had not expected such precipitous actions from him. It was rather desperate now that I think on it. Quite unlike him."
"What shall you do now?"
"I have informed my cousin of what has happened and he apparently is quite active in his efforts to discover Wickham; however, as he has a horse and curricle at his disposal, the area he could be hiding is rather extensive which makes the search more difficult."
Chapter 21 - An Assembly To Remember
Despite the turmoil of the past week or so involving as it did Jane's engagement and the attempted elopement - although abduction might be the more appropriate word - of Lydia, who was now more discontented because of having to miss the Assembly on account of a broken arm than discomposed by the failure of that attempt, and seemed to still harbour an affection for Mr. Wickham, despite being treated so badly - the ladies of Longbourn had spent the best part of the afternoon preparing themselves for the occasion.
Elizabeth had managed to escape the house early in the morning, before her mother could rise and prevent her from doing so on the grounds that such an outing might lead to a cold or fever that would prevent her attendance at the Assembly, and possibly - Mrs. Bennet hoped - an offer of marriage from Mr. Darcy. As her mother had expressed peevishly more than once, he did appear rather slow to come to the point and Elizabeth's manners or behaviour must therefore, in some fashion, be lacking. Nevertheless, escape she did and was quickly joined by Darcy for a brisk walk of more than an hour before breakfast. Their pace, that day, was too brisk to admit of much conversation apart from brief mentions of the scenery. It was very much a beautiful late spring day and, as such, one to be enjoyed for itself alone.
Darcy had travelled to London the day before - leaving early and returning late. The purpose of the trip had not been disclosed, other than business, and Elizabeth had given it little thought since he had made several similar trips during his stay at Netherfield. This trip was no exception and her only thought was to the pleasure she experienced in having him with her once more. There had developed a comfort and easiness between them that she had never previously experienced - not even with her father - and if she was not as close to Darcy as she was to Jane, that was a matter she fully expected to change once they married. At the moment, her first loyalties remained with her family but once married, her husband and their family would command her loyalties above all others. This she knew intellectually, but was coming to understand that emotionally she was already transferring those loyalties to Darcy. Painful as it was to acknowledge, Darcy was a better man than her father in those respects which must matter to a women who was to be his wife. That she could, in so short a time period as a month, come to this realization had amazed her and she knew that somehow, even when disliking Darcy, she must also have been attracted to him and aware of some of his excellent qualities. However, she did not let her thoughts dwell overmuch on these matters as they walked, but forced her attention to remain on her surroundings, pointing out to Darcy, as they walked, objects or views which had significance to her as she grew up: the brook where she and Jane and a few of the neighbourhood children used to wade and catch frogs, trees she climbed, places where they picnicked during the summer and her favourite spot for seclusion when her family's foibles made such a necessity. Darcy listened and laughed with her, seeming to enjoy her pleasure in these reminisces, finally saying, "You know do you not, should we marry that I would never deny you your parents or their home. We would visit often and they will be welcome in our homes."
Elizabeth looked at him softly, "I know my mother tries you greatly but I do love her despite her faults. I...I thank you. I was sure that you would not deny me my familybut it relieves my heart to know that I will see them."
Darcy was spared from answering as Longbourn came in view. Their approach did not go undetected and Kitty was shortly seen to hurry towards them exclaiming, "Lizzy, Mama wants you inside right now. She was most seriously displeased to find you had gone for a walk." Kitty laughed when Elizabeth rolled her eyes. "I am just the messenger, Lizzy. Do not blame me!"
"Indeed, I do not." Elizabeth looked at Darcy, "Are you to join us for breakfast, Mr. Darcy?"
"I dare say I should. If I am there your mother may be less severe with you and I wish to speak to your father as well."
At Elizabeth's quizzical look, he simply shrugged saying, "Business, just business." However there was that about his manner - Elizabeth was not yet able to discern all his expressions - that suggested that the matter was not that simple but, apart from a suspicious glance, she declined to pursue it further and they very shortly joined the remainder of the Bennet family at breakfast. Darcy did indeed closet himself with Mr. Bennet for near a half hour and, when he rejoined Elizabeth and her sisters, could not be persuaded to reveal the nature of those discussions. Since Mrs. Bennet was convinced that preparations for the Assembly could not be satisfactorily completed unless they began immediately following luncheon, Darcy and Bingley - who had arrived shortly after breakfast - were required to return to Netherfield.
Darcy and Bingley had offered to convey the Bennets to the Assembly in their carriages - an offer which Mrs. Bennet was quick to accept since both were noticeably finer than that of the Bennets - and so Darcy and Elizabeth in company with Mr. Bennet and Kitty arrived in the Darcy carriage while the Bingley carriage provided a similar service for Mrs. Bennet, Jane, Mary and Bingley. Their entrance into the hall met with all of Mrs. Bennet's expectations as they were the centre of all eyes and quickly the subject of most conversations. While Mrs. Bennet had been assiduous in her efforts to ensure that all her neighbours were aware of her good fortune in acquiring a wealthy husband for Jane, the opportunity to further share her pleasure with them could not be too little valued. To see her two eldest daughters escorted to the dance floor by two such eligible suitors could only enhance such pleasures.
Elizabeth could not remember when, or if, she had enjoyed a dance more. She hardly spoke a dozen words with Darcy throughout. Neither felt the need to speak. If Darcy had been somewhat stiff and uncomfortable at the beginning of the dance - the intense interest that had been focussed on him and Elizabeth when they entered the hall had activated his natural reserve and Elizabeth's presence had only ameliorated it slightly - Elizabeth had quickly solicited his attention and, with his eyes captured by hers, his mien softened greatly. Discriminating observers were able to discern a slight smile on his lips and it was apparent to everyone that he viewed Elizabeth with affection. That lady's affections were even easier to read and any suggestion that her motives were mercenary was quite dispelled.
At Elizabeth's gentle urging, Darcy exerted himself to dance with other partners once his dance with Elizabeth was done. Jane and Kitty obliged him with pleasure although both were required to recall his attention as his gaze tended to drift to watch Elizabeth as she was being partnered in the dances. It was with no little relief that he claimed Elizabeth's hand for the fourth dance and, if Elizabeth wondered at his unusually nervous manner, she gave little thought to it since it affected his dancing abilities not at all. They had completed the first dance of the set when Darcy placed Elizabeth's hand on his arm and began to lead her towards one of the balconies looking out onto the terrace behind the building saying, "I feel a need for a small respite and fresh air. Would you oblige me, Miss Elizabeth?"
Elizabeth made no effort to conceal her surprise, "Where are you taking me, Mr. Darcy? I must speak with my father or mother first."
"I have already spoken with your father."
"You appear to have planned this, Mr. Darcy." Elizabeth made no attempt to mask the amusement in her voice; however, if this initiative was for the purpose she suspected, the small frisson of anticipation that arose suddenly made her nervous. She was barely conscious of her surroundings until she felt the cooler air that greeted her as she stepped on to the balcony. That her anticipations were correct she quickly realized as Darcy turned her to face him and took her hands in his.
"Elizabeth, I started to fall in love with you last fall. From almost the first moments of our acquaintance I was bewitched by your liveliness, your intelligence, your kindness. I hardly was able to remove my eyes from you when you were in my presence. I admit I struggled against the attraction because you were not what I was expected to acquire in a wife and in that struggle I led you to misunderstand the attraction I felt. Yet the more I was in your presence, the more I realized you were exactly the woman I needed and wanted as my wife. You had just reason to question my character and behaviour. I hope - I believe - that I have amended those faults which you so correctly charged me with. I most ardently love you and would be honoured if you consented to become my wife."
Elizabeth could not help the smile that graced her face or the joy that was imbued in her voice as she quietly replied, "I have come to respect and love you very much and would be honoured to be your wife."
The happiness which this reply produced was such as he had probably never felt before; and he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do. Had Elizabeth been able to encounter his eye, she might have seen how well the expression of heartfelt delight, diffused over his face, became him; but, though she could not look, she could listen, and he told her of feelings, which, in proving of what importance she was to him, made his affection every moment more valuable.
"Before we return to join your parents, there is one more thing I must do." said he and reaching into a pocket of his waistcoat retrieved a small box. "I would wish you to wear this ring - it was my mother's and was to be given to my betrothed upon our engagement." Opening the box he showed her a gold ring, elegant in its simplicity with a small diamond with two rubies on either side.
"It is beautiful! Perfect!" and Elizabeth could say no more as he removed the glove from her left hand and slipped the ring on. "My mother would have been delighted to see you wear this," said Darcy.
After he raised her hands to his lips, kissed each warmly and then tucked her hand onto to his arm and said, "I fear we must rejoin your parents. I have kept you an unconscionably long time."
"I am only sorry we must do so. I shall not tell my mother tonight - I fear the volume of her reaction." She paused, "You will, I gather, speak to my father tomorrow?"
"That is not necessary. This was the subject of our discussion early today. I sought his approval then and permission to address you tonight." He paused, "I believe he plans to announce our engagement before the last dance."
"Are you displeased?"
"No, not at all. It just seems to have been taken out of my hands." She said with a slightly rueful smile.
"It need not be so. I can ask - we can ask your father to wait until tomorrow."
Elizabeth thought for a moment as they walked the perimeter of the hall and approached her father and mother, "No, let it be as you have planned. I was being a little missish I fear. And even if I was not, my father would not hesitate to lay the charge upon me." Her smile at him was missed by none of those who were watching their approach and her father's raised eyebrow was answered by a slight nod from both Darcy and Elizabeth. Even her mother seemed to have grasped what had happened and exclaimed, "Lizzy?"
Elizabeth murmured to Darcy, "I fear any circumspect announcement is no longer possible."
However Mr. Bennet, for once, restrained his wife placing a hand on her arm and a sharp whispered, "Mrs. Bennet!" recalled her to a sense of propriety. "I will make an announcement shortly, Madam. Please restrain your enthusiasms until I have done so."
Elizabeth hardly remembered the rest of the evening. The announcement was made and the couple received a multitude of congratulations - most of them sincere, although some obviously touched by envy and jealousy. Elizabeth was a popular object of affection for numerous young gentlemen and, if her poverty in dowry had precluded many of them for offering for her, the pleasantness and liveliness of her manner made her a popular partner in social settings. As for Darcy, the poor opinion that had been engendered during his first sojourn in Hertfordshire had been largely dissipated by his less reserved manners while courting Elizabeth. If he was still someone that was regarded with reserve, he was no longer actively disliked and when it became known that he had recovered all of Mr. Wickham's debts, his assurance of being greeted with pleasure in any of the shops in Meryton was beyond question. In short, they were in no doubt of the approbation that their engagement received.
Their final dance - the last of the evening - was danced in almost total silence. Neither felt the need to converse and such communication as did take place was by means of looks, smiles and lingering touches of the hands as they moved through the patterns of the dance. They parted, for the night, in complete and mutual sympathy.
Elizabeth slept very little that night - or rather - it was late before she was allowed to get any rest. Her mother's effusions could not be restrained with the prospect of two daughters so advantageously married and she returned to Elizabeth's bedroom twice to express her pleasure and to ensure that her daughter was aware of all that must be done to ensure that Mr. Darcy's commitment to the engagement did not waver. Jane, perhaps realizing her sister was too full of what had occurred and too beleaguered by their mother to converse with her, did not attempt to engage her in that late night talk which so frequently happened after an event of such magnitude.
Her mother, however, was not prepared to allow Elizabeth to recapture the sleep which she had been denied the night before and woke her several hours earlier than Elizabeth would have wished in order that she be dressed and ready to receive Mr. Darcy or those persons which Mrs. Bennet fully expected to call on Longbourn this morning. In this she was proven correct as many of those who had wished Elizabeth well the night before, called once more to extend their congratulations and hopefully be provided with those details which could form the substance of gossip for several weeks. Wedding plans, Mr. Darcy's income, the particulars of his estate, his carriages, townhouse and relatives were all worthy of discussion and repetition. If Elizabeth herself was of lesser interest, it could be attributed to the fact that she was well known to them and she had to be largely resigned to accepting their congratulations about capturing such a worthy husband and, if not a few mothers wondered how she did so, they kept such conjectures to themselves - at least in Mrs. Bennet's presence.
This was to be the pattern for several days. Darcy would arrive shortly after breakfast although Elizabeth was frequently not able to be much in his company as her mother demanded of both her eldest daughters to meet with the callers that were disturbing the tranquility of Longbourn. Darcy and Bingley found refuge on many occasions in Mr. Bennet's study, there to read, play chess or converse - all quietly.
Neither Darcy nor Bingley could escape some attentions from the many callers and, if Bingley bore it easily and displayed no obvious reluctance, Darcy bore it, at least, with admirable calmness. He could even listen to Sir William Lucas, when he complimented him on carrying away the brightest jewel of the country, and expressed his hopes of their all meeting frequently at St. James's, with very decent composure. If he did shrug his shoulders, it was not till Sir William was out of sight.
Mrs. Philips's vulgarity was another, and perhaps a greater, tax on his forbearance; and though Mrs. Philips, as well as her sister, stood in too much awe of him to speak with the familiarity which Bingley's good humour encouraged, yet, whenever she did speak, she must be vulgar. Nor was her respect for him, though it made her more quiet, at all likely to make her more elegant. Elizabeth did all she could to shield him from the frequent notice of either, and was ever anxious to keep him to herself, and to those of her family with whom he might converse without mortification; and though the uncomfortable feelings arising from all this took from the season of their engagement much of its pleasure, it added to the hope of the future; and she looked forward with delight to the time when they should be removed from society so little pleasing to either, to all the comfort and elegance of their family party at Pemberley.
After several hours of such scrutiny, Elizabeth usually managed to escape the house in company with Darcy, Bingley and Jane and wander for a while in their company. The two couples did separate to give the other privacy and despite the irritation that the morning's activities had engendered Elizabeth's spirits soon rising to playfulness again, she wanted Mr. Darcy to account for his having ever fallen in love with her. "How could you begin?" said she. "I can comprehend your going on charmingly, when you had once made a beginning; but what could set you off in the first place?"
"I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun."
"My beauty you had early withstood, and as for my manners - my behaviour to you was at least always bordering on the uncivil, and I never spoke to you without rather wishing to give you pain than not. Now be sincere; did you admire me for my impertinence?"
"For the liveliness of your mind, I did."
"You may as well call it impertinence at once. It was very little less. The fact is that you were sick of civility, of deference, of officious attention. You were disgusted with the women who were always speaking, and looking, and thinking for your approbation alone. I roused, and interested you, because I was so unlike them. Had you not been really amiable, you would have hated me for it; but in spite of the pains you took to disguise yourself, your feelings were always noble and just; and in your heart, you thoroughly despised the persons who so assiduously courted you. There - I have saved you the trouble of accounting for it; and really, all things considered, I begin to think it perfectly reasonable. To be sure, you knew no actual good of me - but nobody thinks of that when they fall in love."
"Was there no good in your affectionate behaviour to Jane while she was ill at Netherfield?"
"Dearest Jane! Who could have done less for her? But make a virtue of it by all means. My good qualities are under your protection, and you are to exaggerate them as much as possible; and, in return, it belongs to me to find occasions for teasing and quarrelling with you as often as may be."
By the time they had returned to Longbourn, it was to discover that Mrs. Bennet's exertions in regards to exclaiming the benefits to befall the Bennet family had quite worn her out and she had no choice but to retire to her chambers for a rest. This unexpected quietude was too precious to be ignored and those chores, such as letter writing, best undertaken in quiet could now be attempted.
Accordingly Elizabeth teased her betrothed, "Shall you ever have courage to announce to Lady Catherine what is to befall her?"
"I am more likely to want more time than courage, Elizabeth. But it ought to be done, and if you will give me a sheet of paper, it shall be done directly."
"And if I had not a letter to write myself, I might sit by you and admire the evenness of your writing, as another young lady once did. But I have an aunt, too, who must not be longer neglected."
Elizabeth had not attempted to keep Mrs. Gardiner fully informed as to the progress of the courtship and that lady had declined to inquire, knowing her niece would answer those unasked questions when she was ready to do so; but now, having that to communicate which she knew would be most welcome, she was almost ashamed to find that her uncle and aunt had already lost three days of happiness, and immediately wrote as follows:
"I would have thanked you before, my dear aunt, as I ought to have done, for your long, kind, satisfactory, assistance to me but to say the truth, I was too hesitant to write - the fear of expressing my hopes only to have them dashed made me avoid expressing them on paper as though the thought, the fear would become a reality. But now suppose as much as you choose; give loose to your fancy, indulge your imagination in every possible flight which the subject will afford, and unless you believe me actually married, you cannot greatly err. You must write again very soon, and praise him a great deal more than you did in your last. I thank you, again and again, for your advice and guidance. I wonder that I could be so happy now without it! Your wish to go round the Park every day in a phaeton and ponies shall be a reality. I am the happiest creature in the world. Perhaps other people have said so before, but not one with such justice. I am happier even than Jane; she only smiles, I laugh. Mr. Darcy sends you all the love in the world that he can spare from me. You are all to come to Pemberley at Christmas.
Mr. Darcy's letter to Lady Catherine was in a different style; and still different from either was what Mr. Bennet sent to Mr. Collins, in reply to his last.
I must trouble you once more for congratulations. Elizabeth will soon be the wife of Mr. Darcy. Console Lady Catherine as well as you can. But, if I were you, I would stand by the nephew. He has more to give.
Your's sincerely, &c."
The joy which Miss Darcy expressed, on receiving similar information, was as sincere as her brother's in sending it. Four sides of paper were insufficient to contain all her delight, and all her earnest desire of being loved by her sister.
Before any answer could arrive from Mr. Collins, or any congratulations to Elizabeth from his wife, the Longbourn family heard that the Collinses were come themselves to Lucas lodge. The reason of this sudden removal was soon evident. Lady Catherine had been rendered so exceedingly angry by the contents of her nephew's letter, that Charlotte, really rejoicing in the match, was anxious to get away till the storm was blown over. At such a moment, the arrival of her friend was a sincere pleasure to Elizabeth, though in the course of their meetings she must sometimes think the pleasure dearly bought, when she saw Mr. Darcy exposed to all the parading and obsequious civility of her cousin .
Chapter 22 - Plans & More Courtin'
Posted on 2015-06-10
The engagement having been made public, attention must then be directed to those practical matters of great import which precede a marriage: the date of the wedding must be canvassed, wedding clothes purchased, settlement papers drawn up and, to Mrs. Bennet's delight, neighbours given the opportunity to express their pleasure for her great, good fortune in having two daughters so advantageously married.
The date of the wedding was quickly resolved and, to Mrs. Bennet's dismay, the two couples agreed upon a joint wedding. If Mrs. Bennet was unhappy at losing the prospect of organizing two grand weddings which would amaze all of her neighbours, Mr. Bennet was not unhappy to be inflicted with all of the noise and turmoil of only half that number. However much distress Mrs. Bennet suffered in this regard, she was pleased and appeased that it was not to take place until mid-August or two months hence.
Elizabeth found the discussion of the marriage settlement much more disturbing. Darcy had sent the papers to Mr. Bennet who had then sought her Uncle Gardiner's advice. She had known that Darcy was a wealthy man but the extent of that wealth, when expressed on paper, had almost overwhelmed her. Then she had to absorb the amounts that he was proposing to settle on her in terms of an annual income - what her mother called her 'pin money' - and those amounts which would secure her future should he predecease her. That thought alone had discomposed her for several minutes. Her embarrassment with his generosity was equalled only by her distress at contemplating his death and both were severe. She strove to mask both although she questioned the effectiveness of her efforts when he smiled and shook his head at her. She thought the settlement to have covered all the necessary items in greater detail than she had anticipated. If her father and uncle were satisfied, so would she be.
Nevertheless, afterwards Darcy invited her to walk with him in the garden and almost as soon as they were able to speak privately he said, "Our discussion has unsettled you?"
His small play on words drew a smile from her.
"Not at all, Sir! I have simply quite settled it in my mind to ensure that you survive for a very long time!" she protested.
"Elizabeth, I know that... I could see that you were disturbed. Will you not tell me why you were distressed? And please, trust me that I will not be unhappy at anything you say."
"You can promise that, sir?" she teased.
"Well, at least not too unhappy and for a very short time." He responded with a matching smile.
"I simply find myself embarrassed at bringing so little to the settlement and at your generosity. I had not...I knew that you were rich. I had been aware of your ten thousand a year. If I had not, my mother would surely have dealt with my ignorance most satisfactorily. It had never been real, you see, and not really a factor in my thoughts. I knew you could provide for me and our children and I thought little more of the matter. But you have settled so much on me, and my allowance! How will I ever use it all? Do I need it?"
Darcy let the following silence persist for a minute or two before answering, "That is one of the reasons I have come to love you so much. To be valued as Fitzwilliam Darcy instead of for my income or Pemberley is...well I do not have the words to express how much I value your approbation and respect." He cleared his throat which had become suspiciously husky before continuing, "However, there are some very practical reasons for what has been settled on you. The first, and most important, is for my peace of mind."
"How is that a practical reason, William?" Elizabeth's interruption was accompanied by a quizzical glance up at him.
"Very simple, my dear. I would forever be worried about your well-being, your safety, your...well suffice it to say that I will rest more easily knowing that, should I be taken from you unexpectedly, you would be well cared for. I would not have you placed in a position where you wanted for anything."
"William, dearest, you know that in such circumstances, I would be lacking that which is most precious."
Darcy felt himself unable to continue this line of conversation and determinedly returned to the topic at hand.
"The other reasons are equally practical, I assure you. You will find that the demands placed on you as my wife will require an expansion of your wardrobe. I am not inclined much towards society but we will have to be more engaged than I have been in the past; we will have to entertain and be entertained. My friends, my family and even society in general, will wish to meet Mrs. Darcy. You will charm them I know but your task will be eased if they see you appropriately dressed. Besides, there are some family jewels that you should wear and while you would wear them with distinction even in the simplest and plainest gown, I daresay I will have trouble with my composure seeing you dressed in a most beautiful gown and adorned by the jewels."
"I see, so I am to dress to discompose you, sir?" she gave him a mock frown, "I find that idea rather...interesting."
Darcy cleared his throat once more, "Yes, well..." he laughed, "I am discomposed now...I almost dread my condition when...I fear I shall become a veritable fool."
Elizabeth made no effort to mask her grin but chose not to tease him further. He, after casting a glance at her, returned to their initial subject, his countenance more serious than previous and his voice taking on a slightly fierce tone.
"The last reason is that this is what my station in life demands of my wife or, perhaps better said, that society expects my wife to have. I will not let anyone think less of you or that I do not value you highly which they would most assuredly think, if I did otherwise. In truth, Elizabeth, that I have provided so well for you is a testament to society of how much you mean to me. This I will tell you now. To the extent that it is within my power, you shall never have cause to doubt that I will do whatever is necessary to protect you and our family."
Elizabeth found herself bereft of words, stopped and placing a hand on his chest, placed the gentlest of kisses on his cheek. Her intent to step back and resume her place by his side was prevented as she suddenly found herself being most firmly embraced by Darcy. Resting her face against his chest some minutes later, she realized how enjoyable and comforting it was; however, her pleasure was all too soon ended, by a distinct cough sounding behind her and Darcy's arms had relinquished their hold in response. Her father's voice was redolent with amusement as he gently chastised them both.
"Elizabeth, Mr. Darcy...I would ask you to observe the proprieties. Mrs. Bennet's nerves could not withstand the sight. I fear she might insist on your being married immediately."
Elizabeth could not resist teasing her father, although her blushes were obvious to both men, "You leave me with an easy choice, Papa. To distress my mother and wed quite soon; or not, and suffer her attentions until I am wed in August!"
Both men began to chuckle although Mr. Bennet, mindful of the rather hopeful look in Darcy's eye, quickly shook his head. "It will not do, Lizzy, delightful as the thought may be for you both and, indeed, for myself. So please, humour your old father and avoid a repetition of such...activities."
Later that evening Darcy approached her with a proposal that had won her immediate support - not least because it would remove her and Jane from the tumult of her mother's wedding plans. He had proposed that she and Jane, in company with her mother, travel to London for two weeks to buy their wedding clothes and then - after Mrs. Bennet returned to Longbourn to organize the wedding - the two betrothed couples in company with Georgiana and the Gardiner family would travel to Pemberley for three weeks returning to Longbourn a fortnight before the wedding. The Gardiners had intended to tour the lakes that summer, although the exigencies of Mr. Gardiner's business had shortened the amount of time they could spend travelling and they had, as a result, thought to limit themselves to touring Derbyshire and visiting Mrs. Gardiner's acquaintances in Lambton where she had lived until her marriage about ten or twelve years previous.
Bingley's and Jane's support was quickly sought and received, Mr. Bennet applied for his consent, which was given most reluctantly since he could not be pleased to lose his two most sensible daughters so early. Only murmurings from Elizabeth about Gretna Green wrung a final consent from him and he insisted that his daughters would have to be responsible for informing Mrs. Bennet of their plans. A rapid exchange of letters with the Gardiners settled the matter to everyone's satisfaction except Mrs. Bennet who, upon being told of the plan, was most unhappy and only reconciled to the loss of her daughters by a fortnight in London purchasing wedding clothes.
The trip to London was shortly undertaken with the greatest expediency. Mr. Bennet had been applied to, and had granted, sufficient funds for a substantial enhancement of the wardrobes of both Jane and Elizabeth. Their suitors, well aware of the demands to be placed upon their betrothed when introduced to London society, had insisted upon, and allowed to have their way to Mrs. Bennet's great delight, a further enhancement of those wardrobes. Thus it was that the two young ladies accompanied by their mother, Mrs. Gardiner and frequently by Miss Darcy assaulted the milliners, drapers, cobblers and other such shops as provide those garments and accessories so essential for the proper appearance of a young lady when being introduced into society.
Suffice it to say that Mrs. Bennet's pleasure in the shopping experience was only exceeded on one occasion - that being the day those same daughters were finally wed. The patience and good natures of both her eldest daughters were sorely tried by the experience, not least because almost every purchase involved a battle with their mother over the proper amount and type of lace and trimmings that must be embodied in each dress. They, with the support and guidance of their aunt and Miss Darcy, were able to dissuade their mother from the fullest expression of that lady's preferences but she could not be overruled altogether and finally Elizabeth had to be consoled by her aunt's advice.
"Lizzy, remember that lace can be removed. Once you are married, you may do as you wish with the dresses."
The fortnight was not spent wholly in visiting the shops and Darcy and Bingley, although not allowed to claim much of their betrothed's attention for the first week - the ladies being too engaged in shopping in the day and rather too tired by the evening for much more than a quiet hour or so in their company - did assert a claim for the following week. Walks in Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, a visit to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens and an art exhibit were arranged and enjoyed by the two couples. Evenings saw them dining with the Gardiners, Darcys or Bingleys. Their most public outing involved a trip to the theatre and, for Elizabeth, the occasion was not dissimilar to that earlier event during their courtship. While no public announcement of their engagement had been promulgated, the news had been most gleefully made known by Mrs. Bennet during her shopping efforts. From the shops to a more general dissemination was but a short and quick step and their passage from the entrance of the theatre to the Darcy box was made torturous by the frequent impingement of those wishing to be introduced to the future Mrs. Darcy and, although less frequently, to the future Mrs. Bingley.
While society did on occasion intrude, such impositions were rarely discomfiting nor did they detract from the pleasure of the outing. The dinner at the Bingley home, with Miss Bingley acting as hostess with all of her most charming insincerities displayed, allowed Miss Bennet the opportunity to assess the furnishings of her future London residence. If the fixtures and furnishings were rather too ornate for her liking she hid it well, simply resolving that, once married, changes could be made as necessary. Her mother's suggestions and directives were received complacently and, since they were not too dissimilar in substance from those of Miss Bingley as reflected in the existing furnishings, were received with the fullest intent of being ignored. None of this showed on her countenance and neither Mrs. Bennet nor Miss Bingley were aware of Miss Bennet's inclinations; only Elizabeth, with whom Jane confided, and Mrs. Gardiner, from an appreciation of her niece's preferences, had an idea about her thoughts and intentions. Only in the Mistress' chambers was the touch of Miss Bingley absent. There Miss Bennet, although listening to her mother's directives, was clear in her instructions to the housekeeper. Such changes as were necessary, and not a few were, as the rooms had not been used for over ten years, reflected Miss Bennet's preferences, and Miss Bennet's preferences only - to her mother's considerable annoyance.
Elizabeth had visited Darcy House often during the early days of her courtship and had found little that required change and those too few and too minor to need immediate attention. The Mistress' chambers were, on the other hand, quite dated, not having been changed for more than twenty years. Knowing her mother's proclivities, Elizabeth allowed her mother to view them and dispense such advice as she believed important, nodding politely all the while; however, a separate, later viewing in company with only Mrs. Gardiner and the housekeeper was undertaken and those changes deemed necessary were identified. Since the wedding was not to take place until August, sufficient time existed to carry out the modifications required.
Perhaps the meeting most fraught with tension for Elizabeth was her introduction to Darcy's noble relations. She had, of course, already met Colonel Fitzwilliam and his amiability and gentleman-like manners had won her regard from their first meeting. She could but hope that his parents and siblings were equally amiable, although from the little that Darcy had revealed, this wish was not likely to be fully granted. Unwilling to face them without further knowledge, she posed her concerns to Darcy and begged that he be more forthcoming. With some reluctance, he complied.
"I am sure you have noticed my...hesitancy in answering your questions. The truth of the matter is that I am close only to Richard of my Fitzwilliam relations. My uncle, the Earl, and his wife are too much like my Aunt Catherine for my comfort; they are, I admit, not as overbearing as Aunt Catherine, nor are they as...as...blind to realities. But they are conscious of rank, not altogether welcoming to those of inferior station and apt to be almost as condescending as Aunt Catherine. It was always a marvel to me that Richard is so sensible and amiable - he is also not altogether happy with his parents' manners but, for the most part, his duties allow him separation and the ability to overlook their behaviour." He paused for several moments before pressing on, "I believe Richard's army career has much to do with it. He once said he had met too many decent, honourable men who held no rank to wish to attach too much importance to rank and station. If I remember correctly, his words were, 'I find it impossible to stand beside a man, born to a farmer's croft, who is prepared to die so that his friends might live, to attach much importance to the gift of birthright that belongs to a noble.'
"I like your cousin a great deal."
Darcy gazed out of the window but looked at her out of the corner of his eye, "I suspect that if his circumstances had been better, he might have pursued you very strongly. I have never seen him as much interested in a young woman."
Elizabeth knew he was seeking her assurances and was not reluctant to provide them. "His circumstances were not different, he made no effort to gain my affections and any pleasure that I took in his company was simply that provided by an amiable gentleman." She thought for a few moments before saying, "I believe you once claimed him to be as close as a brother to you. That is what he is to me as well - a brother." She grinned at him once more, "I have always wanted a brother and you have now gifted me with an exemplary one. Thank you!"
Reassured, he returned her smile, "I accept your thanks."
Elizabeth was not content to let the matter rest and returned to her original concerns, "I remember, when your Aunt Catherine...called upon me, your saying that your uncle knew better than to order you."
Darcy did not object to the change of topic and rejoined, "Yes, he has, on occasion attempted to impose his wishes on me. He and the Countess have applied to me more than once to marry someone they believe suitable. I met, and dismissed, all of their...candidates. The matter was quite an issue until I finally made it clear that I would wed as I chose and that I would not accept their importuning and that I would demand that any woman I did choose be accepted by the family." He grinned slightly at her, "You can imagine how well that was received; nevertheless, the prospect of an estrangement in the family was not something they wished to occur. They will accept you, Elizabeth. Of that and my love, you may be assured."
Elizabeth smiled wistfully, "It is to be a publicly polite, privately cold relationship then?"
Darcy could only acknowledge her words with a nod of the head and was forced to be content with stating, "They will be polite in public and in private. You may be assured of that. I will permit no disrespect."
The fearful event took place the day before they were to return to Longbourn. The Earl bore a marked resemblance to his sister, Lady Catherine, and his wife was a thin, stiff-featured woman a few years younger than her husband. Mrs. Bennet, whose exuberance and volubility would not endear themselves to the Earl or his wife, was convinced by the Gardiners to remain at Gracechurch Street that evening - reluctantly on her part since the prospect of a daughter attached to a titled family was one that she had previously never thought possible. As a consequence, the dinner was a small affair encompassing only Darcy and his sister, the Earl and his wife, Elizabeth and Jane and Bingley. The Colonel, who had hoped to attend, was required by his duties to absent himself; and, since, those duties involved the capture of Wickham, no one was prepared to complain about his nonappearance.
Elizabeth having found herself sitting at Darcy's right hand, with the Earl beside her and the Countess across the table, soon felt all the discomfit of her position. She remembered her initial reaction to Lady Catherine. She had felt no awe when introduced to that lady and, indeed, had quickly come to view her with amusement. Part of that reaction she knew was due to the knowledge that Lady Catherine was of little significance in her life and could not materially affect her future. She owed nothing to her other than the civility she bestowed on almost all her acquaintances. The situation, she told herself, was not much different with respect to the Earl and his wife except that they were a part of her soon-to-be family and, for her future husband's sake, she must attempt to ensure that relations between them remained civil. She had expected to be the object of many questions and was not disappointed.
Her introduction to them and the conversation that preceded their removal to the dining room was all that was civil and trivial. The manners of both Earl and Countess were polite, albeit somewhat distant and stiff. She hoped that, when seated at the table, they would relax and be more conversational. In this she was somewhat disappointed. The Countess initiated the conversation.
"Your sister is quite beautiful, Miss Elizabeth. I understand you have three more sisters at home."
"I do, your ladyship."
"My sister, Lady Catherine, tells me that they are all out and that your family never had a governess."
Darcy felt compelled to intercede, "Mr. Bennet's estate is not a large one, Aunt, and the cost of a governess might well have been onerous. Besides, Mr. Bennet is quite a clever gentleman and his daughters never wanted for such masters or education as they wished for."
Elizabeth smiled at him, "True, Mr. Darcy although I admit to a wish that my father had borne the expense." She looked at the Countess, "as for being out. It is true; while I might have wished that my youngest sisters had not been allowed the privilege, it would have been hard in our country setting, to deny them the pleasure and, as I told Lady Catherine, it would hardly have promoted sisterly affection between us." Elizabeth wondered what else Lady Catherine had imparted to her brother and could only believe with great confidence, that nothing kind or reasonable had been contained in the letter.
Neither the Earl nor the Countess appeared to take much pleasure from this information and shortly began to question her further and she felt the impertinence of their efforts and was about to respond in kind when Darcy intervened and murmured so as to prevent his voice carrying the length of the table.
"Aunt, uncle, I suggest you desist in these questions. I fear you have taken too much heed of Lady Catherine's complaints which, as you are both aware, stem mainly from her displeasure that I have refused to marry Cousin Anne." He glanced at them both before speaking in more normal tones, "Now, Elizabeth and I were fortunate enough to attend a recent performance ...."
His relations allowed the introduction of a safe topic of conversation and gradually the mood at their end of the table eased and conversation meandered its way through plays, books, theatre and other such topics. The Countess and Earl both appeared to relax slightly and the latter, who spent much of his time at his country estate, began to discuss some of the problems he had recently encountered there and, while the Countess suggested that such topics were best reserved for when the gentlemen were enjoying their port after the meal, a question or two by Elizabeth kept his attention on the matter. Perhaps surprised that a woman would be interested in the topics, he was initially reluctant to discuss the particulars of the matter but close questioning made him forget his reservations and he began to expound in more detail. The Countess, perhaps piqued that her admonitions had been ignored, had several times begun to mention names of those prominent in her circle and, on each occasion, Darcy or Elizabeth, led the conversation back to topics that all could share. Finally the Countess directed her attentions towards Jane and Bingley and began an interrogation about Hertfordshire. Elizabeth was too tightly focused on listening to Darcy and his uncle that she had little attention to spare for the conversation being between the Countess and her sister and Bingley. She could only believe that they had acquitted themselves well - perhaps Jane's innate goodness and gentility had won the Countess' approbation - since her manner towards Elizabeth seemed to have softened when the ladies removed to the drawing room after the meal.
The remainder of the evening passed quietly and, if not one of the most enjoyable of her life to date, Elizabeth felt satisfied that she had done nothing to earn the disapprobation of her betrothed's closest relations. In fact, she rather thought she saw a slight smile of approval on the Countess' face when Elizabeth and Georgiana performed a duet that they had been practising. That Georgiana approved of her brother's choice for a wife, was comfortable in her presence and that Elizabeth was treating her with obvious respect and kindness must be discernible to even the most obtuse observer, and the Countess was not blinded so by prejudice.
As Darcy was to relate to Elizabeth the next morning as they were carried back to Longbourn, "My aunt and uncle are not disposed to give any more heed to Lady Catherine's objections. I will not pretend that they are overjoyed at my choice, Elizabeth. They are not. But they are also, neither of them, inclined to object either and they were more favourably impressed by you than they had anticipated." At her raised eyebrow, he chuckled, "I am sure that their opinion will continue to improve as they come to know you better. My uncle was rather astounded in regards to your interest in estate issues. My aunt does not discuss such matters with him at all."
Elizabeth glanced at her sister and mother but both had drifted off to sleep under the motion of the carriage and it was almost as though she and Darcy were totally alone. "I hope you will not follow his example, William."
"I have no intention of doing so. I would not waste your intelligence so - and it would indeed be a waste."
"Tis a very pretty compliment, sir, but you must know that..." another glance at her mother assured her that she remained asleep, "I have not been trained to the duties involved in being mistress of such a large estate as Pemberley is purported to be."
"No, I am aware of that, Elizabeth. It is of no significance. Pemberley and Darcy House have been without a Mistress for many, many years - since my mother died. They have functioned quite well nevertheless. I have every confidence that with the help of Mrs. Reynolds, who has held the position of housekeeper at Pemberley for more than twenty years, you will be quite able to assume the responsibilities"
His attention seemed to wander for a few seconds before he resumed, "You will make mistakes. I certainly did after I took over as Master from my father. But they will not be of lasting import and correctible. I have no worries, no concerns, in this regard."
Further conversation was prevented as Jane was roused from sleep when the carriage stopped to change horses and allow its passengers to refresh themselves. Within thirty minutes the carriage was once more rolling towards Longbourn and Elizabeth found herself napping for much of the remaining distance.
Chapter 23 - A Good Time Had By All
They had been at Pemberley for over a week now and only another week remained before they must return to Longbourn and their wedding. Pemberley was all and more than she had expected and Elizabeth found herself eagerly awaiting the day when she would sit as Mrs. Darcy and Mistress of Pemberley. If there was one cloud to mar the days that had passed, it was that Darcy himself had been so engaged with estate business as to allow him little time to share with her. This, he had promised, would soon change and by ensuring that his business was undertaken now, he was ensuring his leisure after their marriage. For, as he promised, their first month of married life would be devoted to her.
Darcy was sitting at the table enjoying his breakfast when Elizabeth came downstairs to join him and they were joined shortly thereafter by Georgiana, Bingley and Jane. The Gardiners had already breakfasted and were outside walking and playing with their children. As the five young people discussed their plans for the day, Mr. Reynolds entered with the day's post; prominent amongst which was a very thick letter that was laid beside Darcy.
Identifying the handwriting as that of Colonel Fitzwilliam - which he made known to the others - he begged their leave - which was granted - to open it directly and did so. That the letter contained important news was readily apparent from both the concentration and seriousness of his mien as he read and, when he finished, he was importuned by Elizabeth to share the news. After a few moments he chose to pass the letter to Elizabeth saying, "I believe you should read this - perhaps aloud to everyone."
I must impart some important news, which I am sure you assumed from the thickness of the letter. I do not know if it is good or bad news since I accept that your feelings toward George Wickham are much more ambivalent than mine. For myself, I take great satisfaction and feel no regrets. The man has been a boil for years and lancing it gives me a definite measure of satisfaction.
To put it bluntly, Wickham has been captured and awaits a court-martial which I believe will take place within a matter of a fortnight or so. But, I am putting the cart before the horse - although I did so as to insure your relief as soon as was possible.
The tale is rather simple although not without being fraught with a significant degree of frustration on my part. As you know, we have been searching an increasing area in the neighbourhood around Longbourn as we progressed. We knew Wickham to be in the area but found few indications of his presence. Our searches did turn up a few vacant cottages in somewhat obscure corners and several showed signs of recent, albeit temporary, occupation but nothing that tied such to Wickham directly. It was not until we approached the River Stort, which borders Hertfordshire and Essex, that we began finding more traces of Wickham - at least, we believed them to be so anyway.
I do not know if you are familiar with the River Stort - I was not until recently and now know it better than I could wish - but it is quite a popular fishing spot and fishing cabins dot both sides of the river along certain stretches. We began to inspect each cabin on the Hertfordshire side and, although there were signs that many cabins had been used, it was not clear that they were used by anyone other than fishermen. In fact, we encountered numerous fishing parties during our efforts and, when questioned, none could say with any certainty that someone answering to Wickham's description had been observed. We searched thus for over a week with no success.
It was a matter of fortunate circumstance that led to our success. I had resolved to shift our efforts to the other side of the river when I happened to encounter young Robert Goulding at a dinner hosted by his family. I had not planned to attend but, frustrated by our lack of success, I resolved to seek some company to distract my thoughts. Besides, Miss Goulding is rather charming. I could wish she had a more substantial dowry. Ha! I can see you now shaking your head. Your lovely Miss Elizabeth is right in the generalities when she noted that I need a wife with a decent dowry. In the particulars, I believe her to be wrong. Fifty thousand pounds is much more than I require but twenty might serve me well! Alas Miss Goulding's portion falls much too short.
I am allowing myself to be diverted. Goulding asked how our searches are progressing and was as unhappy as I about our lack of success. Apparently many young women are finding the restrictions placed on their freedoms, by the threat of Wickham, to be unwelcome and are making their unhappiness known. Goulding's pleas for more effort on our part were joking but tinged with sincerity. When I described our efforts and where we had been searching, he thought that Wickham could easily be hiding along the river and asked if we had searched the woods fringing the river, stating that a number of cabins were secluded in those woods. This was a surprise to me and shows, upon reflection, that I should have included someone more knowledgeable about the area in our searches. I had assumed that the squad assigned to the search had become quite familiar with the area during the time they were quartered there. Such a stupid mistake.
Anyway, young Goulding offered to show us the cabins on the following day and so it was that we ventured out with him as our guide. It took us an hour or two to reach the woods which abut the river for almost a half mile and are almost as deep. We had not attempted to search them since the trails seemed sparse and we had not known of the presence of cabins. Goulding did not reveal why they had been built in such secluded spots but I suspect the owners did not have fishing rights to the river. In any event, he showed us several trails that led to a number of cabins and it was the third that we visited which provided a hope of success. We did not find Wickham but we did find clear evidence of his presence - including his uniform - and it appeared that he had used the cabin recently. We decided to hide two men close enough to the cabin to see if he returned. We changed the men every six hours, keeping ourselves to the cabin owned by the Gouldings, which is but a twenty minute ride distant. Three days later, we were successful as one of the men came to tell us that Wickham had returned to the cabin very late that night.
Unfortunately, we could not move through the path to the cabin until first light the next morning and, since it appears that several of the men assigned to me were born with two left feet, our progress was not as quiet as I could have wished. Wickham must have heard us because he made a bolt for the river. He appears to have secreted a boat on the shore and was in midstream when we reached the river. One of my men fired a warning shot which, I believe, must have frightened Wickham, because he fired back wounding Lieutenant Sanderson. Two of my men returned his fire and Wickham was wounded twice and knocked out of the boat. I must say I was impressed with their marksmanship. He was not an easy target. Goulding, who is quite familiar with the river, went in and managed to save him although I am not altogether convinced it was worth the effort or risk. Anyway, his wounds proved none too serious and won't save him from a court martial.
By the way, Sanderson was wounded in the leg but the bone was not broken and the surgeon expects him to heal nicely. It was an incredibly stupid thing for Wickham to do, although I suspect he was only trying to discourage us and had not aimed at Sanderson in particular. It could have been worse. He could have hit me! Ha!
Anyway his actions have worsened the case against him and I doubt he can escape the noose. If he had simply surrendered, I suspect he might have gotten off with an assignment to the regulars fighting in Spain, or transportation. But wounding an officer - that will count very heavily against him.
I plan, at Colonel Forster's request, to escort Wickham, wounds and all, to Brighton tomorrow to face his court martial. He should be fit to be tried in a fortnight or so. I also met with the Bennet family to inform them of the particulars of Wickham's arrest and likely outcome. Mr. Bennet was, as I am sure you can appreciate, much relieved at the news and expressed his appreciation for all our efforts. His daughters also appeared very relieved although Miss Lydia seemed somewhat disconsolate - does she still harbour a fancy for Wickham do you think? If so, I am sure that Mr. Bennet is doubly relieved since she is just the type that Wickham enjoyed preying on - young and foolish!
Unfortunately, I must remain in London until the court martial is concluded. I will, however, keep you fully abreast of any further developments. Give my best to all your guests. I am sure they will be most relieved at the news I have imparted.
Silence reigned for a full minute before Mr. Gardiner broke it by saying, "I cannot grieve his possible fate too much. I do not know what he could have done but I am sure it would bode poorly for our family."
Elizabeth first thought was for Darcy. He was, even for him, uncommonly quiet and, in a moment of inspiration, she realized that this news engendered mixed feelings in him; she resolved to speak of it with him as soon as an opportunity presented. Since he appeared to have little appetite and she herself had finished eating, she induced him to walk with her and, by her manner, indicated to the others that she wished for some privacy. To allay any fears of her uncle about propriety, she directed Darcy's footsteps towards the formal garden behind the house. As soon as they were assured of privacy, she began thus, "This news has discomposed you greatly. Will you not speak to me about it?"
Darcy led her towards a bench and, after seating her, sat himself beside her, leaning forward with his elbows resting on his knees. She had rarely seen him perturbed but waited for him to speak, knowing he would do so when he was ready. Several minutes passed until he finally sat upright: "You know much of my history with Wickham, do you not?" she assented and he continued, "We were boys together. For many years, he was the closest thing I had to a brother. I was perhaps closer to him as a child than I was to Richard....I cannot help but feel that loss. George betrayed me, he betrayed Georgiana and he even betrayed my father - although he never knew of it; and yet....I cannot wish his death." He rubbed his eyes, "I had thought - expected - that he would be punished by transportation. That would have satisfied my desire for revenge - and lest you think poorly of me, I admit such a desire is most unchristian - but I feel it nonetheless and will make no apology for it."
"I would neither expect nor ask that of you! Your anger and disgust, I can easily understand ...understand and share, in fact. When I think of his actions towards Georgiana, I am filled with such disgust as to amaze me. I should never wish to feel so about another being."
Darcy gave her a small smile and placed her hand between his own, "It is good to talk of him with you."
Elizabeth encouraged him to stand and begin to stroll the garden path arm-in-arm with her and then prompted him to remember those happier times with Wickham. Their return to the house some hours later saw them not happier but more content and at peace with the life and fate of George Wickham. His miniature was removed from the mantelpiece where it had sat from the time of Darcy's father. And with its removal, the last vestiges of Wickham were removed from Pemberley; they would have no cause to speak his name in the future. As Darcy finally said, "He had so much given to him, so many opportunities but he could only see the pleasures of a gentleman's life, he saw or would not see any of its responsibilities. He had no concern for the welfare of anyone other than himself."
The remainder of their stay at Pemberley passed much as the first part although the press of business no longer weighed on Darcy as it had. He and Elizabeth were able to enjoy daily walks of some duration, suitably chaperoned of course, in the process of which their knowledge and comfort with the other improved. Their other guests could not be ignored and Elizabeth, Jane and Mrs. Gardiner enjoyed travelling to Lambton to visit acquaintances of Mrs. Gardiner. That those people would become acquainted with the future Mrs. Darcy was an additional benefit and before they had returned to Longbourn the reports of her kindness and friendliness had been spread widely. The gentlemen were equally well amused and, to the delight of Mr. Gardiner, he was encouraged to exploit the streams of Pemberley to such an extent that the fish population had been seriously compromised although Pemberley's cook was more than eager to add the product of his efforts to their dinners. Between fishing, shooting and riding the gentlemen had no shortage of activities to engage their attentions.
A week after receiving the news of Wickham's capture, the Pemberley party made the trip back to Longbourn and a fortnight later....well, suffice it to be known that Elizabeth and Jane Bennet wed Fitzwilliam Darcy and Charles Bingley respectively, as planned, in a double wedding in August. What is there to say about the ceremony itself that has not been said countless times before? Every wedding is unique to the couple being married. For Elizabeth the only part she carried away to treasure was the exchange of vows. To hear the man she was to call husband for the remainder of her life say, with more tenderness and assurance than she had ever previously heard him express, "I, Fitzwilliam, take thee Elizabeth, to my wedded Wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth."
When the Reverend took Darcy's right hand, giving it to Elizabeth to hold in hers, she could not tear her eyes away from Darcy's as she repeated: "I, Elizabeth, take thee Fitzwilliam, to my wedded Husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my troth."
She never felt more right, more certain of her decision than at that moment. Darcy was to reveal afterwards that, for him, as moving as the exchange of vows had been, he remembered most the feeling of joy when he placed the ring on her finger and pledged, "With this ring, I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."
It was, as he admitted later, the happiest and most frightening moment of his life. He had been almost overwhelmed when he had to take on responsibility for Pemberley and his sister after his father's death but now the well-being and happiness of one he loved more than anyone had been placed in his hands. As he murmured to her as they drove away from the church, "This is my private pledge to you, Elizabeth. You shall never have cause to doubt my love and respect for you, and our children, all the days of my life."
"Nor shall you ever have cause to doubt mine, my love!"
Mrs. Bennet's effusions of happiness that followed the ceremony would not have been restrained if not for the preceding fortnight in which her two eldest daughters were paraded once more throughout the neighbourhood to the point of exhaustion for all three of them and the neighbours upon whom they had been forced. If the truth were known, Mrs. Bennet required a whole month's quietude to recover from her endeavours to the pleasure of her remaining daughters and her husband.
The newly wedded couples were understandably eager to depart after the ceremony and, while required to attend the wedding breakfast where, once more Mrs. Bennet's preparations were extensive, exhaustive and excessive, they could not be persuaded to remain more than an hour before summoning their carriages and taking their leave. The Darcys were bound for Pemberley - a trip to The Peaks for a month's wedding tour had been considered but discarded in favour of a month's solitude at Pemberley; while Mr. and Mrs. Bingley had chosen to travel to Scarborough and Yorkshire, there to visit Mr. Bingley's relatives for a month and then to return to Pemberley for a month. Both couples would then voyage to Town to take part in the fall season. And on this cheerful note we will take our leave of the happy couples - our story done, our tale told.
Posted on 2015-06-13
"Walk with me."
He took his last sip of coffee - he only allowed himself a cup in the mornings now - before rising from his chair. She noticed the suppressed grimace as he did so - he found the dampness of the early April morning harder on his joints than she - but said nothing - what was the point. They both had their share of aches and twinges but neither of them had the power to reverse time. He grasped her hand as firmly as ever and, hand-in-hand, left the breakfast room together.
"I am glad to get out before the children descend on us. I love them dearly, Lizzie, but the exuberance is more than I wish to bear so early."
"I know. That is why I am absconding with you now."
They walked in the comfortable quiet that fifty years of marriage endows. Their occasional comments frequently needed little more than a chuckle or a nod of the head in response. It was not that all sources of conversation between them had been exhausted - rather the reverse if truth were known - but today remained very special to them both. In the fifty years of their marriage, they had failed to visit Rosings Park on only three occasions. The first being the year following their marriage when Lady Catherine had yet to reconcile to their marriage and twice when Elizabeth's confinements had precluded their travel.
Their feet carried them to the grove where their life together had its roots. A bench had been placed there some forty years ago - Elizabeth had been quite pregnant at the time and, while still quite capable of walking for some duration, found it helpful to rest periodically. Grandmama's bench, it was called, although Elizabeth teased her husband that it could now just as easily be called Grandpapa's bench since he welcomed its presence as much as she.
"Fifty years" sighed she.
She could see his thoughts turn reflective and she knew he was remembering the past. "I hope, William, that your thoughts of the past are only the pleasant ones."
His response was slow as he considered her words. "Of course, my dear. I am allowed nothing else, am I?"
She responded to his tease with a chuckle, "Very well, you may continue them then."
Gradually the view before her receded as her own thoughts travelled the course of fifty years. Their marriage ceremony had been wonderful - despite her mother's best efforts - and their month alone at Pemberley - she had eschewed a wedding trip in preference to being at Pemberley with her new husband - had been everything she could have hoped for. Even now, fifty years later, she could not but remember those days and nights of intimacy with a flush of pleasure. She had not realized there could be so many private places in the Pemberley park in which she could be intimate with William - so many, in fact, that it had taken them almost ten years to discover the last and even then she wondered if the presence of their children had not inhibited further exploration. As it was, they had almost been intruded upon more than once during those years. She glanced sideways through her lashes to see if her husband had noticed her flush but he seemed absorbed by his own thoughts and not unpleasant ones if the small smile on his lips was an indication.
She could not be sure if any of her children had been conceived during one of those moments though the timing of her fourth was rather auspicious in that regard. She thought happily of her family. To have given birth to six children, four of them sons to carry on the Darcy name, and seen them survive into adulthood, all of them married with children of their own - she had six and twenty grandchildren for heaven's sake and almost as many great-grandchildren, with more to come - was no little accomplishment. The Darcy family had grown to the point where Pemberley could barely contain all of their numbers and, indeed, when Georgiana's family were included, it was filled to overflowing. She had married a gentleman whose estate in Shropshire was only a day's travel distant from Pemberley - and now only a few hours with the advent of trains. Such proximity had ensured frequent visits between his estate, Pemberley and Amberdown, where the Bingleys had finally settled when they left Netherfield a year after their marriage. Georgiana provided her husband with a brood of children, two sons and three daughters, over the course of their marriage but her passing some fifteen years ago after a prolonged illness had left him desolate and his own decline and death some two years later had not been unanticipated. Fortunately, the children were now all married with families of their own and the connection with their Darcy cousins remained as strong as ever, to the point where two of Elizabeth's grandchildren had each married one of Georgiana's grandchildren.
Jane and Charles had been similarly blessed with a healthy brood of offspring - all of them a healthy mixture of the reserve and amiable natures of their parents. How could they be otherwise, she thought, given the characters of their parents. Oddly enough, as close as the Bingley and Darcy families were, none of the Darcy children or grandchildren had formed an attachment with a Bingley cousin.
She could not help but consider her other sisters. Her father had been persuaded - and her mother had not raised any serious objections - to send Catherine and Lydia for schooling. Mary had spent several years with her two older sisters and received much benefit from their society and exposure to such masters as would advance her musical abilities. If she did not become truly proficient, her performances were subsequently greeted with much more pleasure than in the past - particularly since she no longer endeavoured to accompany herself vocally. Mary never married but had remained at Longbourn upon the death of her father, some fifteen years after Elizabeth's marriage, to live with the Collinses. Mrs. Bennet, of course, would not reside there and had taken up residence in Meryton with her sister Mrs. Philips, herself widowed for some five years by that time. They lived quite happily together, gossiping endlessly about their numerous grandchildren and ensuring that all of Meryton was not unaware of the splendid matches made by the Bennet sisters. Both ladies had been in their graves for twenty years or more.
Catherine and Lydia both married well, if not as prominently as their elder sisters. Their husbands were respectable men able to provide comfortably for their large families. That these husbands were both more closely tied to trade than Mrs. Bennet could perhaps have wished was of lesser consequence than the size of their respective incomes and - to Mr. Bennet's satisfaction - their ability to esteem and respect their wives. For, instead of being the two silliest girls in the country, Lydia and Catherine had developed into moderately sensible young women and, if neither was as intelligent as Elizabeth or possessed the decorum of Jane, they never gave their husbands cause to question their behaviour. Both lived in London and were frequent visitors with the Darcys when they could be persuaded to come to Town.
Elizabeth could not think of Longbourn without regret. After her father's death, they had little cause to travel to Longbourn and the changes that had taken place there under the guidance of Mr. Collins had distressed her greatly. She had hoped that Charlotte's sensibleness would guide and direct Mr. Collins in managing the estate. That, unfortunately, was proven to be wishful thinking. Mr. Collins was not a sensible man and Charlotte's ability to manage him in her personal life could not apparently be extended to management of the estate. His inability to accept any advice that did not emanate from Lady Catherine and the years he had ignored his wife's guidance in preference to that of her ladyship, had ill-equipped him to listen to his wife's advice. A steward who was more interested in promoting his own interests and fully aware of his master's ignorance had not worked to the benefit of the estate or the Collinses.
The ending of the war against Napoleon had caused problems for all estates as the high prices that had supported the lifestyle had fallen and estate incomes as well. Even Pemberley had to retrench. Longbourn, under her father's rather indolent management had not fared as well and when Mr. Collins took over, the situation deteriorated even more. It was perhaps fortunate that Mr. Collins had died some ten years after her father - a love of eating and a distaste for exercise had eventually overtaxed his heart. His son inherited Longbourn from his father and good sense from his mother and he had gradually reversed much of the damage inflicted by his predecessors - foremost amongst which was the removal of the steward. Longbourn, if not affluent, eventually returned to producing a respectable living and, oddly enough, young William Collins had married a Bingley daughter and the Bennet line was once more established at Longbourn.
Lady Catherine had resisted acknowledging her nephew's marriage to Elizabeth until the birth of his son, and the Darcy heir, a year after the marriage. She, and her daughter, attended the christening and comported herself civilly with Elizabeth, although heard on more than one occasion to mutter about the impertinence of his wife and that her own daughter would have done as well. For her part, Anne was quite happy with her circumstances and confessed to Elizabeth a private relief that she was not to wed. The prospect of childbirth was viewed by her with trepidation rather than appreciation. Sadly, Anne did not outlive her mother; her poor healthy and a severe winter in 1822 combined with widespread illness claimed her life. Lady Catherine was finally persuaded, a few years after Darcy's marriage, to acknowledge that Anne would not wed and give birth to an heir for Rosings Park. She was further persuaded by her brother, the Earl, to name Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam as the heir presumptive and to allow him, some five years before his cousin's passing, to take on the management of the estate. The change in his fortunes afforded the Colonel to opportunity to retire from the military; within a year he had married - a most sensible young woman of modest means but impeccable connections - and, five years later, was the father of two children. He and his wife resided at the Dower House until Lady Catherine's death ten years after her daughter's - living with her ladyship on a daily basis not being desired by either of them - at which time they removed to the manor house with an even larger family.
The Darcys had visited Rosings Park at Easter two years after their encounters in the groves that abutted the estate and returned every year (but three) afterwards, accompanied by children and, in later years, by grandchildren. When the Darcy heir, young Bennet Darcy, met and eventually married his cousin, Rachel Fitzwilliam, in his twenty-sixth year, Lady Catherine's wish to see a connection between Rosings and Pemberley was finally granted, although she would have been greatly displeased that the two young people's marriage was founded on a mutual esteem and affection that had begun and grown over the years of those annual visits. That young Rachel had spurned the attentions of the heir to a dukedom to wed Bennet Darcy would have displeased Lady Catherine greatly. But that is another story.The End