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Walk With Me - Chapters 8-9

May 06, 2015 06:46PM
Chapter 8 – A Decision Rendered

The next day arrived, rather cold, blustery and rainy which prevented any thoughts of venturing out of doors for a walk. Jane and Maria’s departure was effected after breakfast, the weather not proving to be a deterrent to travelling by coach. Jane was dispatched with strict orders from her sister to write as to how their father had acted in respect of Mr. Wickham. Elizabeth had no expectation of her father writing to her particularly, since he expected her to accompany Jane. With their departure, Elizabeth was thrown upon her own resources and given that she had arrived at a decision, Elizabeth was eager to inform Mr. Darcy of it; the forced inactivity – physical at least – was trying her patience. Finally her aunt, exasperated undoubtedly by her niece’s restlessness, banished her to Mr. Gardiner’s study where she would, as Mrs. Gardiner put it, ‘be in nobody’s way there’. Fortunately for Mr. Gardiner, he had already left for his warehouse and the intrusion of a restless, fidgety niece into his private room could not be of any concern. Why she was so restless, Elizabeth could hardly answer, but there it was, and she found herself forced to feign an interest in a novel, although she finished barely two chapters in the several hours she spent reading.

At last, early in the afternoon, she took up a station with her aunt in the sitting room to await Mr. Darcy. A scant quarter hour later, the sound of a carriage stopping in front of the house was heard and, shortly thereafter, Mr. Darcy was shown into the room. It took but a single look to see that the gentleman was decidedly uncomfortable - his efforts at masking his uncertainty quite fruitless – and, while he attempted to converse easily with both Mrs. Gardiner and Elizabeth, his gaze was regularly drawn to Elizabeth as though he wished to read her answer upon her countenance. Elizabeth made such efforts as she could to set him at ease and reduce his discomfort but it was clear that such efforts were meeting with small success.

Mrs. Gardiner at last rose from her chair, saying, “I believe you both desire a private conversation. I will be in the room across the hall and the door to this room will be left open. Your privacy here is assured as all my servants have been instructed to remain downstairs.”

Upon Mrs. Gardiner leaving the room, Elizabeth could not resist teasing Darcy, “You look overset, Mr. Darcy. Surely you are not uncertain of my answer?”

The half smile that she wore and her gentle tease – he believed he knew her well enough to know she would not tease him so if she meant to refuse him – drew a bark of laughter from him; she could see his body and features visibly relax, before he replied, “Miss Bennet, I was never more uncertain about anything when I entered this room. I admit to feeling more hopeful now.”

“And so you may be – quite hopeful, in fact. I have decided to accept your offer of a courtship.” She could not but be pleased by the happiness she could read on his countenance – it was not that he wore a broad smile but his eyes seemed to warm as he gazed at her. She held up a hand to restrain him, as he appeared about to take her hands in his own, saying, “There are some conditions I must attach to my acceptance. I do not think them particularly onerous but you must decide for yourself.”

“And these conditions are?” A trace of uncertainty had returned as he awaited her answer.

“I am sure you are aware that my cousin, Mr. Collins, made me an offer of marriage last November – your aunt must have spoken of it to you, I am sure – and not too kindly, I would hazard. I refused the offer, against my mother’s wishes, but was supported in it by my father. Nonetheless, my mother spoke warmly of my disregarding her wishes for months afterwards.” She looked calmly at Darcy, “I wish to keep our courtship private for the first fortnight or so; and my aunt has kindly offered to host me here for that time.”

Darcy considered her suggestion, “By private, I assume that your mother would not be informed. I do feel bound by honour to obtain your father’s consent. Will he be in agreement with this condition?”

“I believe so. I realized that you would need his consent and thought to have you take a letter from me for him. I sent a note to him with Jane, who returned to Longbourn this morning, as to why I did not return - as well saying my aunt wished for my help with the children. If my conditions are acceptable to you, I will send another outlining the reason why I have accepted the offer. It will, I believe, be necessary since my feelings towards you were quite negative when last I spoke with my father.”

Darcy nodded before asking another question, “Why only a fortnight here? Do you expect to arrive at a decision so soon?”

Elizabeth rose from her seat and began to pace the room for several minutes before turning to face him, “I felt that a fortnight would allow us both to reach a conclusion and decide whether we want the courtship to proceed further.” Her gaze now commanded his attention, “I believe…I know that my station in life is much inferior to yours. I have come to believe that you have resolved your uncertainties about the difference, but I admit to a concern that….further reflection may lead you to regret an attachment. That you may lose respect for me is something I could not bear. Should you feel this likely, I would hope for you to withdraw from the courtship.”

Darcy was speechless for almost a minute before finally saying, “I had quite resolved all those matters while I was at Rosings and my sojourn here in Town has quite fixed the matter in my mind. I have never sought to be much in society and would much prefer to spend my life at Pemberley – a few weeks in London would satisfy my cravings for its pleasures. And with respect to my friends, well…to put it simply, if a friend cannot accept my wife, he is cannot be counted amongst my friends. I fear you cannot hope to escape this way, Miss Bennet.” His grin was surprisingly cheerful, “And what is the decision you face?”

“I have said I do not know you. If we continue the courtship at Longbourn, I will have come to view a possible offer of marriage more favourably; however,” and her smile disappeared, “I expect to bring to Longbourn the Mr. Darcy that I have come to appreciate lately.” Then her grin returned, “And you shall have the pleasure of my mother’s solicitous behaviour. She will, I assure you, be most favourably impressed by your ten thousand a year and quite, quite attentive.”

Darcy nodded, “I consent to these conditions quite readily, Miss Bennet. Since this courtship is to be conducted under your uncle’s protection, I believe I should speak to him as soon as may be.”

Mrs. Gardiner was applied to and, after extending her congratulations to them both, invited Mr. Darcy to dine with them that evening, an invitation which he was quick to accept and, indeed, requested permission to include his sister so that he might introduce her to Elizabeth. The surprise of such an application was great indeed; it was too great for her to know in what manner she acceded to it. She immediately felt that whatever desire Miss Darcy felt of being acquainted with her must be the work of her brother; and without looking further into the matter, decided it was satisfactory. Elizabeth was not altogether comfortable – that was impossible; but she was flattered and pleased. His wish of introducing his sister to her was a compliment of the highest kind. It also, she realized as she considered it further after his departure, improved, if only slightly, her opinion of Mr. Darcy himself.

Mr. Darcy remained but a short while longer, claiming the need to return home to apprise his sister of their engagement to dine. Elizabeth saw him to the door and could not help but be pleased by his courteous manner as he bowed over her hand when he took his leave. She rather thought she might enjoy this courtship, although she told herself firmly that she had disliked the gentleman in the past – a circumstance based on his behaviour then – and, if she could not say she liked him now, at least she did not dislike him so severely as in the past. Pushing such thoughts aside, she removed herself to her room to write her father who believed her quite opposed to Mr. Darcy - to hold him in serious dislike. To explain the dramatic shift in her feelings was not something to be undertaken easily. Fortunately, her deliberations with her aunt had forced her to review her acquaintance with Mr. Darcy and that experience made the task of communicating the change less onerous. She was honest with her father, she did not profess an attachment to her suitor but focused on identifying those areas from which the misunderstandings arose – including his role in separating her sister and Mr. Bingley. It took four full sheets of paper to express her thoughts and she could only hope her father would credit her reasons for accepting the courtship.

Mr. Gardiner had, when apprised that Mr. Darcy and his sister were to be guests for dinner, arrived home somewhat earlier than was his wont in order to greet them; of particular interest, of course, was the gentleman who was to court his favourite niece. About an hour before dinner, Miss Darcy and her brother appeared, and this formidable introduction took place. With astonishment did Elizabeth see that her new acquaintance was at least as much embarrassed as herself. From Mr. Wickham she had heard that Miss Darcy was exceedingly proud; but the observation of but a very few minutes convinced her that she was only exceedingly shy. She found it difficult to obtain even a word from her beyond a monosyllable and cast a fulminating thought in Mr. Wickham’s direction.

Miss Darcy was tall, and on a larger scale than Elizabeth; and, though little more than sixteen, her figure was formed, and her appearance womanly and graceful. She was less handsome than her brother, but there was sense and good humour in her face, and her manners were perfectly unassuming and gentle. Elizabeth, who had expected to find in her as acute and unembarrassed an observer as ever Mr. Darcy had been, was much relieved by discerning such different feelings.

Very shortly after they were introduced, Elizabeth had led Miss Darcy to a settee where they ensconced themselves comfortably and she made every effort to engage her conversation. It proved a somewhat difficult task as Miss Darcy’s shyness limited her to the very briefest of answers. It was not until the subject touched on music and her studies that she so far lost her reserve as to speak entire sentences complete and, within the half hour, had begun to describe her favourite places at her home – Pemberley. As Miss Darcy’s comfort with Elizabeth increased, she allowed herself the liberty of asking Elizabeth about her home and its environs; and, by the time they were called to dinner, she was speaking with slightly more ease of her time at school and the girls she had met there. With some embarrassment, she admitted that she had become friendly with only two girls with whom she maintained an acquaintance via correspondence since they were separated by such distance as to preclude an easy exchange of visits. She freely admitted that she found herself reluctant to enter into an acquaintance with some young women, who were desirous of doing so, because it had become quickly obvious that the presence of her brother was the chief attraction for them. Elizabeth found herself expressing sympathy with her saying, “It seems that there is more than just one Miss Bingley.”

Miss Darcy looked embarrassed as she said, “Miss Bingley is very fulsome with her praise. I sometimes think she values my accomplishments too highly.”

“I dare say she does. I believe she considers you one of the most accomplished ladies of her acquaintance.” Elizabeth’s smile was meant to reassure Miss Darcy but her embarrassment deepened and she whispered, “I suspect I would be less valued if my brother was less worthy.”

Elizabeth patted her hand and said, “Perhaps in the mind of Miss Bingley, but in no else’s I am sure. Your brother speaks very highly of you and I trust his opinion. I should very much like to hear you play.”

“My brother says that nothing gave him greater pleasure than to listen to you sing and play.”

Elizabeth smiled and teased, “I fear he praises me too highly, undoubtedly for some mischievous purpose of his own.”

Miss Darcy’s concern was immediate, “Oh no. My brother never exaggerates, although I believe he is too kind to me.”

“A perfect older brother then! I could wish I had a brother but have only four sisters.”

Elizabeth could not miss the wistfulness in Miss Darcy’s expression as she replied, “I could wish that I had a sister.”

“Well, when your brother marries, he shall provide you with one.”

Miss Darcy looked down at her hands and murmured, “I hope that I do not have to wait too long.”

Elizabeth could think of no response to this statement and purposefully changed the subject and soon had engaged Miss Darcy in a discussion of their favourite composers – a subject which they were to carry into the dinner itself.

It was not often that Elizabeth could turn her eyes on Mr. Darcy himself who was being ably entertained by her aunt and uncle; but, whenever she did catch a glimpse, she saw an expression of general complaisance; and, in all that he said, she heard an accent so far removed from hauteur or disdain of his companions, as to convince her that the improvement of manners which she had so lately witnessed, however temporary its existence might prove, had at least outlived one day. When she saw him thus, seeking the acquaintance and courting the good opinion of people, with whom any intercourse a few months ago would have been a disgrace; when she saw him thus civil, not only to herself, but to the very relations whom he had openly disdained, and recollected his past behaviour in Hertfordshire, the difference, the change was so great, and struck so forcibly on her mind, that she could hardly restrain her astonishment from being visible. Never, even in the company of his dear friends at Netherfield, or his dignified relations at Rosings, had she seen him so desirous to please, so free from self-consequence or unbending reserve, as now, when no importance could result from the success of his endeavours, and when even the acquaintance of those to whom his attentions were addressed, were it known, would draw down the ridicule and censure of the ladies both of Netherfield and Rosings. It was consoling that he should know she had some relations for whom there was no need to blush. She listened most attentively to all that passed between them, and gloried in every expression, every sentence of her aunt and uncle, which marked their intelligence, their taste, or their good manners.

While the Gardiners usually dined in company with their oldest children – even when their nieces were visiting – tonight they had chosen to have them eat in the nursery and thus the company around the dinner table was a congenial blend of intelligence, good humour and amiability such as to produce lively and interesting conversation. Miss Darcy found herself sitting at Mrs. Gardiner’s right hand with Elizabeth beside her while Mr. Darcy sat to Mrs. Gardiner’s left. That lady was able to revisit with Mr. Darcy the subject of Lambton and her upbringing there and if, between them, they were unable to exhaust their descriptions of Derbyshire and environs of Pemberley, it was not from want of trying. Their discussion was so animated as to draw Miss Darcy into it and led her to ask whether Mrs. Gardiner had met either of her parents. That lady was able to satisfy her only slightly, saying that Mr. and Mrs. Darcy had come but rarely to Lambton but that her father had occasion to meet them both as he was the rector for the Lambton parish. She did recall visiting Pemberley once, as a young girl – the occasion being Miss Darcy’s christening. She thought she remembered seeing Miss Darcy’s brother on that occasion but would not have recognized him now since he had grown so tall – leaning over to Miss Darcy, she whispered, “and handsome.” Whether Mr. Darcy heard that comment, Elizabeth could not be sure, although his faint blush suggested he had.

The dinner was one of the most pleasant that Elizabeth could recollect and she was beginning to seriously question the basis for her former dislike of Mr. Darcy. When they rose from the table, Mr. Gardiner invited Darcy into his study for a glass of port and, Elizabeth had no doubt, a discussion of the possible rules of propriety that would govern their courtship. Elizabeth knew that her aunt and uncle would not be as blatant as her mother in allowing a courting couple unchaperoned privacy, although they would ensure the couple opportunities to converse privately.

While they waited for the gentlemen to return, Elizabeth and Miss Darcy continued their easy conversation, ably assisted by Mrs. Gardiner; and, finally, after much persuasion, Miss Darcy was encouraged to play a few pieces with Elizabeth turning the pages for her. She was half finished her second piece when Mr. Gardiner and Mr. Darcy returned and they greeted her efforts with vigorous applause. Induced to play a third selection, she agreed only on condition that Elizabeth also perform – and her performance was greeted with equal enthusiasm which, even if prompted by the regard of one of her listeners, was no less appreciated by her.

A few minutes before the Darcys left, Darcy indicated his plans to ride to Longbourn in the morning to speak with Mr. Bennet and his expectations that he would return by the middle of the afternoon. An invitation to tea for that afternoon was extended by Miss Darcy to Elizabeth and Mrs. Gardiner which those ladies were pleased to accept. Darcy also expressed a desire to meet with the Gardiners and Elizabeth to discuss his meeting with Mr. Bennet and suggested that Mr. Gardiner join them at his home for dinner. The Gardiners being amenable to these arrangements, the Darcys took their leave, albeit not before Elizabeth had given Darcy a letter to deliver to her father when they met.

The observations of her aunt and uncle began shortly after the Darcys left; and each of them pronounced him to be infinitely superior to anything they had expected. “He is perfectly well-behaved, polite and unassuming,” said her uncle.

“There is something a little stately in him, to be sure,” replied her aunt; “but it is confined to his air, and is not unbecoming. I can now say that though some people may call him proud, I have seen nothing of it.”

“I was never more surprised than by his behaviour to us. It was more than civil – it was attentive – although there is obviously a reason for such behaviour. Nonetheless, I find it hard to believe he was so disagreeable when in Hertfordshire. On the contrary, there is something of dignity in his countenance that would not give one an unfavourable idea of his heart.”

Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner smiled with delight at Elizabeth’s blushes and she found it advisable to remove to her bedroom to consider all that had happened that evening.

Chapter 9 – Mr. Bennet has a Visitor

The following day saw the Darcy carriage arrive at the Gardiner residence shortly after two in the afternoon to transport Mrs. Gardiner and Elizabeth to the Darcy house. It was a tall, four stories building on Curzon Street in the more exclusive part of London, considerably larger than the Gardiner home and Elizabeth was quick to note its easy access to Hyde Park – a matter of a few minutes' walk to enter. Greeted by the butler, they were quickly led to join Miss Darcy in her private sitting room. Elizabeth saw with admiration that the furniture was suitable to the fortune of the proprietor and that it was neither gaudy nor uselessly fine, with less of splendour and more real elegance than the furniture of Rosings. “And of this place,” thought she, “I might be mistress! With these rooms I might be familiar! I may rejoice in them as my own and welcome to them as visitors my aunt and uncle.”

Before these thoughts could overwhelm her, they were ushered into the room where Miss Darcy was sitting with a lady with whom she lived in London. Georgiana’s reception of them was very civil; but attended with all that embarrassment which, though proceeding from shyness and the fear of doing wrong, would easily give to those who felt themselves inferior the belief of her being proud and reserved. Mrs. Gardiner and her niece, however, did her justice, and pitied her.

On their being seated, a pause, awkward as such pauses must always be, succeeded for a few moments. It was first broken by Mrs. Annesley, a genteel, agreeable looking woman, whose endeavour to introduce some kind of discourse proved her to be truly well bred and between her and Mrs. Gardiner, with occasional help from Elizabeth, the conversation was carried on. Miss Darcy looked as if she wished for courage enough to join in it; and sometimes did venture a short sentence, when there was least danger of its being heard. Gradually the ease with which she had conversed while visiting the Gardiners returned and she was able to claim a larger share of the conversation.

Elizabeth expected every moment that Mr. Darcy would enter the room. Whether she wished or feared, she could scarcely determine, although she knew it unlikely he would have returned already from Longbourn. The next variation which their visit afforded was produced by the entrance of servants with cold meat, cake, and a variety of all the finest fruits in season; but this did not take place till after many a significant look and smile from Mrs. Annesley had been given to Miss Darcy, to remind her of her post. There was now employment for the whole party; for though they could not all talk, they could all eat; and the beautiful pyramids of nectarines and other fruit soon collected them round the table.

Upon satisfying their hunger, a tour of the house was offered and immediately accepted and, if Elizabeth could remember few details of most of the rooms they visited, she saw nothing to contradict her initial impression as to the furniture and furnishings. The rooms were large and well proportioned and the furniture and furnishings appropriate to each. Of two rooms she took particular pleasure; Mr. Darcy’s study was suitably furnished but her eye was caught first by the quantity of bookshelves that lined the room but more impressive were several pictures which portrayed the Darcy manor – Pemberley, she was informed – from different prospects. Having seen them all, she could not choose a favourite although she kept returning to one that seemed to have been painted from a height overlooking the front of the house. Miss Darcy smiled at such behaviour saying that the picture portrayed the view that visitors encountered when they first saw Pemberley. That it was a favourite of hers and her brother she admitted, stating that her brother had it commissioned so as to remind him of their home when he was forced to come to London.

“So your brother prefers the country to London, then?” asked Elizabeth.

“Oh yes. We both feel more comfortable, more at home there. I doubt my brother would stay much in London at all.” Elizabeth had little time to consider such thoughts before Miss Darcy led her into the library; several times larger than her father’s study, it contained such a number of books that Elizabeth found herself drifting down one side of the room, her fingers grazing the spines of the books contained on the shelves. A pair of deep chairs was comfortably placed in front of the fireplace and others situated by windows which she found overlooked the grounds of the house. The prospect from each window was most appealing and Elizabeth could, with very little trouble, imagine herself comfortably ensconced in a chair with a book to read and a view to admire. She was only recalled to her company by her aunt’s teasing comment, “I fear we will not be able to remove Lizzy from this room.”

Miss Darcy stepped up beside Elizabeth as she gazed out the window at the grounds below, “It is delightful in the spring, is it not. We are not here too often at this time of the year.”

At Elizabeth’s questioning glance, Miss Darcy continued, “Oh, I meant that usually my brother wishes to return to Pemberley after visiting my aunt. While the need to oversee the work of the estate is partially responsible, I find that Pemberley is too beautiful in the spring to want to be anywhere else. My brother, I believe, is of a like mind.”

Elizabeth nodded in agreement, “I can well believe that. After a long winter, I relish being able to venture out on the paths around my home. I love to visit my aunt and uncle here in town,” and she gave a grateful smile to Mrs. Gardiner, “but I admit to feeling most at home in the country.”

Conversation continued in an amiable fashion as they returned to Miss Darcy’s sitting room where a tea service with biscuits and cakes was awaiting them. The two ladies remained for another hour cheerfully talking, with Mrs. Gardiner engaging Miss Darcy’s interest by speaking of the years she lived in Lambton, and Elizabeth of her life with four sisters. As they conversed, Miss Darcy was increasingly able to contribute to the conversation with memories of Pemberley and her activities there. Finally, Mrs. Gardiner felt that she and Elizabeth must return home to refresh themselves and prepare to dine with the Darcys that evening. That she also wished to spend some time with her children, she freely admitted; and was as delighted and proud as a mother can be when Miss Darcy expressed an interest in meeting them. A visit several days hence to Gracechurch Street was planned, with Elizabeth and Miss Darcy to accompany the children and their nurse to the nearby park. Elizabeth hoped that Mr. Darcy would accompany them as well and tentatively suggested as much to Miss Darcy who smiled and said she thought it quite likely.

When the Gardiners and Elizabeth returned later that evening to dine with Mr. and Miss Darcy, that gentleman welcomed them in the drawing room saying, “Georgiana is still upstairs. I asked her to give us some time before dining to discuss my meeting with Elizabeth’s father. I hope that is agreeable to you.”

Upon finding that this was agreeable to all, he drew Elizabeth to sit in a chair next to his own while the Gardiners settled on the settee facing them. Mr. Darcy’s manner was relaxed and Elizabeth could discern no sign of concern or worry. His first words dispelled any such worries she held.

“The meeting went quite well although I admit that it was uncomfortable at the beginning. I spent over an hour with your father, Elizabeth, and we parted, I believe, on amicable terms. I have his consent for the courtship - but perhaps I am getting ahead of myself. I should tell you of our meeting as it unfolded.” As Darcy spoke he gradually relaxed, leaned back in his armchair, his eyes half-closed while he relived his experience such that his words contained an immediacy that his listeners readily understood.

The day being fine, he had chosen to ride to Longbourn, expecting that doing so would allow him to return to London by mid-afternoon and perhaps encounter Elizabeth while she and her aunt were taking tea with Georgiana. His horse welcomed the exercise and they covered the twenty-four miles in excellent time. Arriving at Longbourn, he had assigned his horse to a groom who had quickly made an appearance and, after being welcomed into the house, handed his card to the housekeeper say, “Mr. Darcy to see Mr. Bennet.”

She bustled off with his card and while he waited for her return, he could hear the voice of Mrs. Bennet talking in the parlour. One of the youngest daughters stuck her head out of the parlour door to see who the visitor was but quickly withdrew and informed Mrs. Bennet, since that lady was shortly approaching him to say, “Mr. Darcy, We are pleased to see you here.” Her voice held equal measures of curiosity and coolness and Darcy remembered her obvious dislike of him and her lack of reluctance in expressing it. He bowed and said simply, “Thank you, Ma’am. I am here to see Mr. Bennet on business.”

At this point the housekeeper returned and showed Darcy into Mr. Bennet’s study where that gentleman rose from behind his desk to greet his visitor, making no effort to conceal his curiosity as to the purpose of the visit. After inviting him to sit and having received Elizabeth’s letter, he supposed that Mr. Wickham was that purpose and said as much, “I suspect, Mr. Darcy, you are here on business related to Mr. Wickham.”

“You are correct, sir. That is indeed one of my purposes in calling on you.” Darcy hesitated, unsure whether discuss the courtship or Wickham first but, since Mr. Bennet had raised that issue, he thought it best to deal with it first. “I do not wish to impose on your goodwill, Mr. Bennet, but I am interested to know what steps you may have taken with respect to Wickham?”

Mr. Bennet sat in considerable surprise. He had just heard Mr. Darcy speak more in the few minutes that he had been in his room than he had expended in his company while staying at Netherfield. He answered slowly, “I received Lizzy’s letter and have spoken to a number of tradesmen in Meryton – not all, mind you – but enough to learn that the gentleman probably owes about two hundred pounds to various people. I have spoken to Colonel Forster, who was dismayed at the fact and he has promised to take action although I know not what he can do beyond attach Mr. Wickham’s income to pay the debts which surely exceed Mr. Wickham’s income. As well, according to Colonel Forster, the gentleman has a number of debts of honour.”

Darcy found himself nodding in agreement, “I suspected as much. What has been done about the debts in Meryton?”

“Nothing to my knowledge….and I will also say that while nothing was told me about dalliances with young women, several people were distinctly uncomfortable when I mentioned the topic. I fear the worst there.”

“I can well believe it possible. I am sorry that Wickham has imposed himself on your community.” He paused and then said, “I would ask a favour of you.” Mr. Bennet nodded tentatively, although Darcy did not construe that as acceptance, “If you will endeavour to buy up Mr. Wickham’s debts in Meryton, I will recover the cost from you.”

Mr. Bennet sat upright in his chair and Darcy could see his features contained a look compounded of suspicion and amazement as he exclaimed, “Why should you do such a thing? What is your purpose?” He shook his head as if to clear his thoughts. His tone was almost uncivil as he exclaimed, “I cannot understand why you are bothering yourself with our affairs. You made your opinion of us quite clear to everyone when you were staying with your friend. Your disdain was very clear indeed.”

Darcy ‘s immediate angry reaction to being chastised in such a manner was quickly overtaken by the realization that Mr. Bennet was not unreasonable in his reaction and throttling his anger, sighed softly and hoped that Mr. Bennet could discern the sincerity as he explained, “Mr. Bennet, to my dismay your…charges are not unfounded. I can only look back on my manners and behaviour with regret. I have no possible excuse and will make none, but simply make my apology to you and hope that you grant me a chance to make amends.”

Mr. Bennet considered him for several seconds before nodding reluctantly, “Granted. But that does not explain your involvement with Wickham. After all, whatever happens to tradesmen in Meryton will have no effect on you.”

“Perhaps that is true, but I do feel a responsibility. Had I made Wickham’s character known when I was here, none of this would likely have happened. My reluctance to lay my private affairs before the public, allowed Wickham to impose himself on all of you. I cannot claim to have been in ignorance of his probable behaviour.”

“I believe you take too much upon yourself, Mr. Darcy although I do agree that revealing his character would have been a very honourable act.” That Mr. Bennet was not altogether satisfied with the answer he had received, Darcy could perceive from his manner and gaze and, to forestall any further questions, he quickly asked, “So, we are in agreement then – you will acquire Wickham’s debts from the tradesmen and I will recover your cost?”

“Indeed!” Mr. Bennet made as though to rise, obviously expecting that their business had been concluded but sat down again when Darcy showed no inclination to leave, saying, “Is there something else you wish to consult me on?”

Darcy felt unaccountably nervous – that Mr. Bennet had not thought well of him had been made clear and he could not know the degree to which his character had been rehabilitated – and was sure his uncertainty was reflected in his voice, “Actually sir, Mr. Wickham was only incidental to the main reason I called on you.”

Mr. Bennet’s eyebrows would have disappeared into his hairline, if it had not already receded to such a degree as to make it impossible, and his murmured, “Really?” was accompanied by a sharpening of his gaze. Darcy could see him rapidly considering and rejecting alternatives until he finally said, “I am all atwitter with anticipation, I assure you, Mr. Darcy.”

Darcy could see no purpose to be anything but blunt, “I have asked your daughter Elizabeth if I could court her and she has agreed.” The shock that flooded Mr. Bennet’s face could not be disguised and he was speechless for almost a full minute before sputtering, “But…but she detests you and you…you considered her not handsome enough to tempt you!”

Darcy grimaced – pride and arrogance were exacting a fearsome price of him - but thankful that Elizabeth had anticipated her father’s response and thought to send a letter to him, he withdrew that letter and slid it across the top of the desk, “Your daughter has sent this letter, sir. Perhaps you should read it before we talk further.”

Mr. Bennet was still overset and the hands that opened the letter trembled slightly. Darcy sat silently as Elizabeth’s father read her letter during which he occasionally glanced up at the man sitting across from him. Darcy could see a play of emotions on his countenance as he read it. He took more than five minutes to do so and then he deliberately re-read certain sections. When he was ready to speak, his first words were, “Have you read what Lizzy has written?” and, upon seeing the negative shake of Darcy’s head, he asked, “Would you like to read it? Lizzy has given me permission to show it to you.”

Darcy considered this only briefly, “Yes I would, but not now perhaps. I suspect our time could be more usefully spent by my answering any questions you might have.” He paused for a few moments before saying, "You should know that my intentions towards your daughter are honourable and, if I can improve her opinion of me, to make her an offer of marriage. I have told her as much. I realize that I have much work to do to change her opinion, but I am resolved to do so.”

“Well, if this letter is an indication, her opinion has improved quite markedly in the last several months.”

“I admit I am relieved to hear that but there remains much to be done yet….Are you comfortable with the need for secrecy. I will state that this is by your daughter’s wish - not mine - and was made at the suggestion of her aunt. I gather your daughter does not want to expose the matter to her mother until she believes it possible that she might accept an offer from me.”

Mr. Bennet nodded ruefully, “Probably wise – her mother made her life a misery when she rejected Mr. Collins and I dread to consider how she will behave once she learns that you are courting Lizzy.” He chuckled, “Lizzy is sparing you also, sir – my wife will be quite attentive when, or if, the courtship comes to Longbourn.”

“When, sir! Not if!” Darcy’s face had a small smile when he said this and Mr. Bennet’s surprise was obvious which caused Darcy to say, “Something surprised you, Mr. Bennet?”

“Indeed, Mr. Darcy. I just discovered that you may have a sense of humour. There is hope for your suit, if you can show it to Lizzy.”

Darcy shrugged, “That, sir, is very much a part of what I am hoping to do. Now are there any questions you have for me?”

“Several, in fact. How much does this courtship weigh in your involvement with Wickham?”

“I cannot deny that it is a consideration – a major one – and I suspect that if your daughter had not taken the initiative I might not have become involved but, once she did, I felt I had no choice but to act in a way that protects her and her family since I hope to make them mine as well.”

“I see.” Darcy could not read Mr. Bennet’s face to discern his thoughts and that gentleman was absorbed in reflections for several moments before asking, “I must admit that I saw no sign of your interest in Lizzy when you were here in Hertfordshire and yet it must have started then – I recollect you danced with her at the Netherfield Ball.”

“It was a most confusing time for me and when I look back on my behaviour, I am appalled by it. I began to develop an interest shortly after I met her…”

“But you insulted her at the Assembly! And I can assure you that Lizzy felt it most seriously although she made light of it at the time.”

Darcy’s face expressed his discomfort, “I know she heard what I said….you suggested as much earlier but I was distracted and did not realize it had such common currency…she has told others of those stupid comments? It is of little wonder that I am held in such dislike by her mother and others.”

“I think an apology and grovelling may be in order, Mr. Darcy.” That Mr. Bennet found the situation quite amusing could not be mistaken and Darcy was hopeful that Elizabeth would be equally forgiving.

Darcy attempted to explain that his interest had grown the more that he had come in contact with Elizabeth and, since nothing less than the truth would serve, explained his reservations about an attachment and his desire to avoid awakening any expectations on her part. If he touched but briefly on his concerns about the impropriety shown by certain members of the Bennet family and the family's poor connections, he did not fail to castigate his own prejudices whereby connections and station in society were of paramount concern. He freely admitted that it had taken him several months of separation from Elizabeth to understand how little importance should be attached to such consideration. But, as he admitted to Mr. Bennet, it was fortunate that he did not propose to Elizabeth while she was in Kent; he was sure to have insulted her deeply since he thought her to be expecting his offer and he had not considered that she would not accept it. Her response, he thought, would likely, given her dislike of him and the misunderstandings that existed, have been a most angry rejection.

The two gentlemen talked for a few more minutes before Mr. Bennet, after extending an invitation to stay for tea which was refused due to a need to return to London as quickly as possible, showed Darcy to the front door. They both could see Mrs. Bennet hovering and Darcy knew that she would besiege Mr. Bennet with questions as to why he had been closeted with him for over an hour. Since the matter of the courtship could not be disclosed, he did not envy Mr. Bennet the task of dissembling that lay ahead.

“… and the return journey was not at all tedious, since I carried the news that our courtship was approved and that measures to constrain Wickham were in place.” Darcy’s satisfaction was apparent to all his listeners.

Elizabeth looked at Darcy coolly as she said, “I will have you explain the insult at the Assembly, Mr. Darcy but not tonight.” A slight smile crossed her lips as she said, “And did you read my letter to my father?”

“Not yet!”


“He gave it to me to read and I propose to do so tonight.” The upturn of the corner of his lips was the only sign that he recognized her discomposure at that thought. Further discussion was prevented by the announcement from the housekeeper, Mrs. Gray, that dinner was ready. Darcy escorted Elizabeth to the dining room where Georgiana awaited them. Apprised of the news that Mr. Bennet had consented to the courtship, her pleasure was obvious to them all and the hug in which she enfolded Elizabeth both warmed and surprised her - and Darcy as well since such demonstrative behaviour was uncharacteristic of his sister. The evening passed as such evenings usually do when the company is congenial and of a mind to enjoy themselves.

Walk With Me - Chapters 8-9

PeterMay 06, 2015 06:46PM

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Lucy J.May 08, 2015 07:15AM

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terrycgMay 08, 2015 02:27AM

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KateBMay 07, 2015 05:31PM

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mpinneyMay 07, 2015 01:23PM

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