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More Responsible Than We Realized (Conclusion)

May 17, 2015 04:00PM
Over the next week, the ladies of Longbourn settled into their the routine of being officially grief-stricken. Older dresses were died black to be worn during the first six months, the traditional period of “deep mourning.” Arrangements for the service were made with the vicar. Callers were received, and condolences gratefully acknowledged.

Bingley, as Darcy had predicted, arrived on the day after Elizabeth’s arrival home. Within an hour of his arrival at Hertfordshire, he was calling at Longbourn, expressing his sincere condolences, and offering any assistance that might be needed. The death of a beloved parent was not the most auspicious occasion for resuming a courtship, but Bingley, as discreetly as he could, made the most of it, and Jane seemed very comforted by his presence.

On the evening of the third day after Elizabeth’s arrival, the family, and most of the community, held vigil in the church. On the morning of the fourth day, they gathered in the church again for the requiem service.

After the service concluded, the Bennet ladies, in accordance with custom, did not attend the actual internment in the churchyard, but returned home, where they prepared to receive callers who would be offered a modest repast.

Early on the morning of the seventh day, Elizabeth, in her newly died black dress, walked by herself to the churchyard, and, with tears in her eyes, knelt at her father’s grave and offered up a silent prayer. When her tiny, personal memorial service was completed, she stood and turned toward the Bennet estate to begin her walk home. She was surprised to see Mr. Darcy standing there waiting.

“I did not hear you approach, sir,” she said.

“It seemed a private moment, Miss Bennet,” Darcy replied. “I tried to be quiet so as to avoid interrupting. If your visit is finished, may I walk you home?”

She nodded, and took his arm.

“I will be returning home to Pemberley today,” he said.

“Oh,” said Elizabeth. She found, with some surprise, that this news troubled her. She had come to take comfort in the strong, reassuring presence of the wealthy young squire from Derbyshire. She could take no pleasure in being deprived of that presence.

“Bingley will remain at Netherfield for at least the next six months. Possibly for a year. He has not told me explicitly, but I believe he means to offer for your sister almost as soon as the six months of deep mourning are completed. He has told me that, in the meantime, he intends to court her as discreetly and respectfully as possible.”

“I thank you for your role in that decision.”

“I did no more than correct an error.”

“Many would not even admit the error, sir.”

They walked in silence for awhile, then Darcy spoke again.

“It is my intention to return in six months and court you in earnest, Miss Bennet. If that is acceptable to you.”

“Thank you, sir. It is acceptable.”

“I know I have not yet earned your regard, Miss Bennet. That I still have many bad first impressions to overcome. But I ask you for one promise. I can accept losing your heart if I have been given a reasonable chance of winning it. But if your heart is already engaged when I return, I will have no reasonable chance. I know you cannot give me your heart now. Can you at least pledge that no one else will win it in the interim? That I will have my reasonable chance? In short, Miss Bennet, can you give me any hope?”

She was silent for a few moments.

Finally, after carefully choosing her words, she said, “I think I can offer you more than just the merest hope, sir. I still can not say I love you. Nor can I promise that I ever will. But I can tell you that I have come feel a very warm friendship for you. A friendship I have come to value more than I ever thought possible. And, if I am not mistaken, I believe friendship might be a very strong foundation on which to build an edifice of love. In short, sir, I will welcome your attentions when you return. If I cannot guarantee success, I can at least assure you that you will find me very willing to be persuaded.”

“That is more than I hoped for, Miss Bennet. Whatever happens, I, too, will always value your friendship. I have already spoken to your uncle, Mr. Gardner. With your permission, I will speak to your mother when we arrive at Longbourn.”

*


When they arrived at Longbourn, Darcy asked Mrs. Bennet if she could favor him with a private conference. They stepped into Mr. Bennet’s library.

*


Elizabeth viewed this with some trepidation. On the one hand, she was complimented that Mr. Darcy was showing her mother such respect. On the other hand, though her mother had been unusually restrained, Elizabeth was very much afraid that her natural boisterousness would reassert itself at the news that such a consequential personage as Mr. Darcy sought a courtship with her, and that, within seconds of Mr. Darcy’s informing her of her intentions, every person in the county would be also be made aware of it from her mother’s ostentatiously thunderous response.

*


In fact, Mrs. Bennet’s naturally vigorous personality was still substantially muted, first by the death of a husband that, in spite of appearances, she really had loved very much, and then by the unexpected boon of learning she would not be immediately turned out of her home, a horror that had, over the years, turned her sparkling disposition into a nervous one, and finally, by the calmness generated by the return of Mr. Bingley, with its promise that Jane’s future, and, to some degree, that of the rest of her family, would be secured.

All of this being the case, she took Mr. Darcy’s request with much more composure than anyone acquainted with her might have expected.

“Mrs. Bennet, I am leaving today for my estate in Derbyshire,” he had said.

“Spring planting,” she replied.

“Indeed. I wished you to know that I will be returning is six months. Your daughter, Miss Elizabeth, has granted me permission, provided you approve, to court her.”

Mrs. Bennet did not, as she would have the previous week, shriek her joy to the heavens. Being, however temporarily, of a more contemplative turn of mind at the moment, she was instead puzzled.

“You wish to court my Lizzy, Mr. Darcy?”

“Very much, Mrs. Bennet. I am deeply in love with her. I have, in fact, already proposed marriage. However, your daughter was no less surprised by this than you are, and we mutually agreed that, in the interest of her getting to know me better so she could consider rationally whether or not we would suit, it would be better to enter into a courtship than a formal engagement. In any case, given your recent loss, it might be thought unseemly for a wedding to occur until a proper period of respect toward your husband has passed. If I press my case after the initial period of deep mourning is ended, that would give your daughter six months to get to know me. If I am successful in my endeavor to win her heart, we could be wed after the year of mourning has ended.”

“You have thought this through very completely, sir. I appreciate that you are sensible of the necessity of paying respect to my late husband, especially since he and Lizzy had a particularly close bond. Still, if you do not mind my pointing it out, Lizzy seems an odd choice for a man of your temperament.”

“In what way, madam?”

“You are a . . . ,” she paused while seeking a word that would be accurately descriptive and yet complimentary. Or at least not unintentionally insulting. She continued, “ . . . well, you are what I might call a solemn man. And my Lizzy is not a solemn young lady. If you wish to court her, and if she finally accepts you, I will certainly approve the match. I am sure my brother, as the male head of our family now, would also do so.”

“In fact,” said Darcy, “I have already spoken to Mr. Gardner, and been given his permission. However, as Miss Elizabeth’s last remaining parent, I felt I should secure your approval as well.”

“I thank you for your graciousness, sir. To continue with my point, however, are you sure that a man like yourself, so used to being in charge, so used to having your commands immediately obeyed, would be happy with someone as opinionated and impertinent as Lizzy? I love her dearly, but her independent streak has annoyed me since she was in leading strings. Also, a man like you is used to the very best. I know that, here in Hertfordshire, Lizzy is regarded as one of the prettiest girls in the area, though she is nothing to Jane, of course. Can a girl who you thought at one time to be merely tolerable really compare to the great ladies of the Ton?”

Darcy was more than little rankled that his thoughtless comment so many months before was still coming back to haunt him, but decided that continued graciousness was called for.

“Madam,” he said, “it is perhaps just that you should call me to task for my intemperate, and untrue comments when I was first introduced to Meryton society. Nevertheless, I will assure you, as I assured Miss Elizabeth, that I have, for some time, considered her one of the handsomest women of my acquaintance. I can understand why you regard your eldest as superior since she favors you in looks, just as I can understand the special bond between you and Miss Lydia, since you are so similar in temperament. But you must realize how much of you is in Miss Elizabeth. Her intelligence, quick wit, and love of books are the bequests of her late father, but surely you see that she gets her spirit and vivacity from you. And while her looks are not the same as yours, I can see, now that I look at you more closely, that the feature that first drew me to her is also one of your bequests to your second daughter. Would you think me impertinent, Mrs. Bennet, if I speculated that it was your eyes that first caused your husband to fall in love with you?”

The eyes Mr. Darcy had just complimented started to glisten with tears.

“Indeed, sir,” she said, stifling a sob, “my Thomas told me that very thing when we were first courting, and repeated it many times during the first few years we were married.”

“I’m sure he continued to think it, even after he stopped saying it.”

“For such a dour man, sir, you have an uncommon talent for pretty compliments. That, and your so obviously feeling for Lizzy what she would call a ‘fine, stout love,’ disposes me, not merely to permit you to court her, but to wish you every success in your efforts. Travel safely, Mr. Darcy. You will be most welcome at Longbourn when you return.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Bennet,” said Darcy. “If you need any assistance of any kind before then, please notify me.”

With that, he handed her his card.

“I will do that, sir.”

*


After Mr. Darcy took his leave, and departed, Mrs. Bennet, to at least a degree, reverted both to form, and to her normal personality.

“Good gracious!,” she said taking Elizabeth’s hand. “Lord bless me! Only think! Dear me! Mr. Darcy! Who would have thought it? Oh, my sweetest Lizzy! How rich and how great you will be! What pin-money, what jewels, what carriages you will have! I am so pleased, so happy. Such a charming man! So handsome! So tall! Oh, my dear Lizzy! Did you know that he said you and I have the same eyes? Such a charming man! Pray apologize for my having disliked him so much before. I hope he will overlook it. Dear, dear Lizzy! A house in town! Everything that is charming! Ten thousand a year! Very likely more! Oh, Lord! What will become of me? I shall go distracted. I can think of nothing else! ‘Tis good as a lord!”

This was enough to prove that her approbation need not be doubted; and Elizabeth, rejoicing that such an effusion was not heard by Mr. Darcy, interrupted to remind her that they were not engaged, but had only agreed to keep company in order to get to know each other.

“But Lizzy,” Mrs. Bennet said, “he told me he proposed.”

“Yes, Mama, he did. But after discussing it, we agreed that I did not know him well enough to accept. We agreed to a courtship in order to become better acquainted.”

Mrs. Bennet said anxiously, “Surely you do not mean to turn him down! You can’t go through life refusing eligible men!”

“I don’t mean to refuse him, Mama,” said Lizzy, chuckling and drawing her mother into a hug to reassure her. As much as the sedate lady who had temporarily taken over the body of her mother was easier to live with, it was oddly a relief to see that Mrs. Bennet’s real self had not been completely buried by the weight of sorrow and worry brought on by her father’s death.

“I have come to like him very much already,” she said. “But we are all going through a difficult and emotionally taxing time. It is best if I consider his offer when we are in a more settled state. When I make a final decision, I want to be sure it is the decision that will best insure my happiness.”

And, she thought to herself, his.

Curiously, it never occurred to her that, if she was concerned for his happiness, she had, without consciously realizing it, already come to a decision.

*


On the evening of the day after Mr. Darcy’s departure, the girls’ Uncle Gardner and Uncle Phillips conducted a family meeting in the dining-parlor regarding the state of the Bennets’ finances.

“Your father,” said Gardner, “for reasons of his own, owing I imagine to his pawky sense of humor, wanted what I am about to tell you kept secret until after his death. I never agreed with this approach, but I suppose he wanted one last joke on all of you after he departed this world.”

He paused for a moment to allow that to sink in, then continued.

“Shortly after the birth of Lydia, realizing that the possibility of he and Fanny producing a son who would keep Longbourn in the family was growing more remote, my brother started taking steps to insure that you all would be provided for after his death. Accordingly, he managed to raise the annual income of the estate by small amount. No more than a few hundred pounds above the two thousand that was already being produced, but still it was an increase. That amount he trusted me to invest on his behalf each year. Some of this I put in very safe investments which produced a small, but steady return. Some I invested in riskier ventures that were not as certain of success, but which promised a very good return if they did succeed. This has been going on for some fifteen years now, and I flatter myself that my investment advice has proven quite wise. The long and the short of it is that the small amounts my brother had me invest for him have grown into a rather handsome fortune of £26,000. Combined with the £4000 already set aside for my sister at the time of her marriage, that comes to a round sum of £30,000. Prudently invested in the Funds, it will provide you all with an annual income of £1250 to £1500. That’s well short of the £2000 you have been used to, but, when you move from Longbourn, and set up a somewhat smaller establishment it should sustain you all quite comfortably.”

Mrs. Bennet almost fainted from relief, then recovering said, “Oh, that man! Always having a joke at my expense, even from his grave. When I think of what my nerves have been all these years. And all the time he was providing for us without our knowing. Oh, what a vexing, teasing man!”

This last was said with a trace of a smile.

Mr. Phillips took the floor.

“My brother, Bennet,” he said, “charged me to be on the lookout, when he passed, for any property that might serve when you all had to leave the estate. I have been able to find a well-built, medium-sized house just outside of Meryton that I believe might suit. Only one small parlor, and the dining space is also used for breakfast. No study, so Bennet’s books might have to be stored. But it does have five bedrooms upstairs, plus two rooms for servants below. Assuming the Hills stay with you - . . . ”

“They have already assured us that they will,” said Elizabeth. “We are very fortunate in that respect. They have always been like family. It will make the transition much easier.”

“It will indeed,” said Mr. Philips. “In that case, the Hills can share one room, leaving the second for a maid of all work. Since it is a smaller home, you will not need as extensive a staff. The number of rooms upstairs will mean that Lydia and Kitty will have to share, but, as the older girls leave to start their own families, the ones left can spread out a bit, and spare rooms can be converted into guest rooms, sitting rooms, or even a library or study. It will be available in five months, so you would be able to move in just as you are starting to emerge from deep mourning. It can be rented for £50 a year”

“Will there be room for the pianoforte?” asked Mary.

“Sadly, no,” said Mr. Phillips. “There is no music room, and the only parlor is comparatively small. But it would accommodate a small spinet in one of the corners, and I think,” he said, turning to Mr. Gardner, “that the fund might accommodate such a purchase.”

Mr. Gardner nodded.

“It sounds perfect,” said Jane, as prone to think the best of a house she had never seen as she was to think of a person she had never met.

Mr. Gardner took the floor again.

“Finally, it was my brother’s wish that, when the time came, a dowry would be provided for each of you upon your marriages. Shortly before he died, he told me that, when the time, came, each of you would receive £5000. This would leave the final £5000 for Fanny when all of you are married. Should any or all of you not marry, the dowry would be awarded to each of you upon your 30th birthday, administered by me, or whoever I designate. Until that time, the bequest stays together providing an income for you all.”

*


So it seemed Mr. Darcy was right. Papa had provided for his family.

Which meant she no longer had to marry a man she despised to secure her family’s financial well-being.

Except that she no longer despised him. So how did she feel? She knew she had come, despite all of his pride and all of her prejudice, to quite like him. But did she love him? Enough to wish to spend the rest of her life with him?

There was a knock at her bedroom door. At her invitation, Jane entered and at down next to Elizabeth on her bed.

“What a surprise, Lizzy!” said Jane.

“Indeed,” said Elizabeth. “It seems Papa was more responsible than we realized.” Which, given what she knew, made it an even greater surprise for her than it was for the rest of her family.

“Had you any notion of his actions?”

“I assure you, I had even fewer notions that anyone else. I loved Papa with all my heart. But I knew his indolent nature. That he was able to do this without anyone suspecting astounds me.”

“I wonder what Mama will do, now that she no longer has to worry about our futures.”

“She’ll find something else to worry about, or complain about, I have no doubt.”

*


In fact, Mrs. Bennet’s nerves, the “old friends” of Mr. Bennet’s married life, all but disappeared. As she became resigned to the death of her husband, her emphatic personality began to reappear. But it was no longer polluted by the anxiety for the future of her family that had plagued her for so long. As a consequence, though she could still occasionally be a trifle embarrassing in company, and still had a tendency to make awkward or annoying comments now and then, she became much more pleasant to be around.

Seeing this change, one had to wonder why Mr. Bennet kept secret his plans for taking care of his family after his death. Was a joke, a joke that he would not even be around to enjoy, worth living with a woman whose fear of the future had made her such irksome company for so many years?

Certainly Elizabeth wondered at it.

*


The next five months was quite busy, as the family spent much time gathering and packing those items that belonged to them, rather than to the estate.

The good china and silverware, though Mr. Collins had gazed covetously at it during his first visit to the estate, in fact belonged to Mrs. Bennet, as did a set of plate and cutlery for everyday use.

Elizabeth insisted that all of her father’s books accompany them.

Clothes, jewelry, combs, tools, the hundreds of household items that pile up in a life spent together, were all, little by little, packed for the upcoming move.

Though unable to write to each other since they were not engaged, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth found ways to keep channels of communication open. Mr. Darcy started by writing a long letter to Mrs. Bennet full of sentences that began, “Please tell Miss Elizabeth . . . .” In the course of that letter, he asked if she had any objection to Elizabeth’s corresponding with his sister, to whom he hoped to introduce them all when he returned to Hertfordshire. Of course Mrs. Bennet gave her permission, and, not having the patience to read Mr. Darcy’s long letter aloud to Elizabeth, simply handed it to her and told her she was free to read it herself. Elizabeth immediately wrote a letter to Miss Darcy, full of sentences that began, “Please tell Mr. Darcy . . . .” After that initial letter to Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth simply used Miss Darcy as their conduit of correspondence.

While all this was going on, the Militia Regiment that had been quartered in Meryton prepared for its move to its summer encampment in Brighton. Kitty and Lydia were, naturally despondent about the move, but, being in deep mourning, they were prevented from taking part in most social activities anyway.

An invitation extended by Mrs. Forster, the pretty new wife of the Regimental Commander, for Lydia to spend the summer at Brighton with them had to be turned down for the same reason. This upset Lydia excessively, but she rallied more quickly than anyone might have imagined. Her father’s death had sobered even her, at least to a degree.

Most surprising was the news that, just before the move to Brighton, Lt. Wickham had been arrested for debt. In Meryton alone he had been found to have run up bills that amounted to more than he could earn as a low-ranking militia officer for his entire term of service. He apparently had a history of moving from town to town and leaving unpaid debts behind. Someone, no one knew who, had been backtracking all of Wickham’s moves and tallying up and buying all his debt, and the final total was said to be truly staggering. Within a week he was off to the Marshalsea in London.

Once there his troubles did not end. Or, more correctly, they ended most conclusively. He was said to have been found attempting to force himself on the pretty young daughter of one of the Marshalsea’s most senior inmates. When he was pulled away from the young lady by a gentleman named Clennam, he produced a knife and attacked said gentleman. In the course of defending himself, Clennam managed to turn the knife against his attacker, and thus Wickham found himself permanently released from the Marshalsea, only to be turned over to the tender mercies of a much crueler jailer than any he could have met with in life.

There were stories that the young lady Wickham had imposed upon, one Miss Amy Dorrit, had, a few months later, come into a huge fortune (or, anyway, that her father had), and that she and the gentleman who had saved her, Mr. Arthur Clennam, were later married, but this seemed altogether too romantic and unlikely a result.

True or not, no one could deny that it had been an eventful five motnhs.

*


At the end of five months, the Bennets started slowly transferring their personal property from the Longbourn estate to their new home on the outskirts of Meryton. Since the new house was furnished, much of their furniture was left behind for the Collinses to use.

By the end of six months, the move was all but complete, except for the family themselves. They were there still in the Longbourn Estate to welcome its new residents when they arrived.

After refreshments were served, and some pleasantries exchanged about the final stages of the move, the ease or difficulty of the trip from Kent, what sort of gentleman had been chosen to take over the living at Hunsford, etc., Mrs. Bennet turned to her cousin by marriage and said, “Mr. Collins, your kindness to a widow and her children will never be forgotten by any of us. I believe it is now time for us to leave, and let you settle in to your new home. We have imposed on you for these last six months, and that is quite long enough. We will all be forever grateful that you allowed us to impose upon you for so long.”

All of her daughters heartily seconded these comments.

Mr. Collins very sincerely, but also at very great length, told them they were all quite welcome.

Mrs. Bennet then pulled Charlotte into a warm embrace and said, “Dear, it’s no secret that, if I could not have a son, I wanted one of my girls to succeed me as mistress of this estate. But you have always been almost like another daughter to me, and I know my husband felt the same way. If none of my daughters could take my place, I’m very glad it’s to be you.”

In spite of all her manifest faults, Mrs. Bennet was known to be a very good-hearted sort of woman. But she was rarely gracious. It was a talent or an art for which she simply lacked any aptitude. So to say that Mrs. Collins was surprised by such a gracious statement would be something of an understatement. A practical, unromantic woman, Charlotte Collins was rarely moved to tears. Mrs. Bennet had just managed to do so.

Again, each of her daughters embraced Charlotte and also assured her they were all happy for her, and happy they would all be living so close to each other again.

Then they boarded the estate carriage for what would be their very last time as official residents and departed for their new home.

*


A week after they moved to their new home, three riders rode up to the front door. The first was Mr. Bingley, who was already almost a daily visitor and had been, first at Longbourn and now at their new home, since his arrival months earlier. The second was Mr. Darcy. The third was a tall young woman who was clearly an accomplished horsewoman. After reining in, the trio dismounted, knocked, and were warmly invited to enter.

The young lady turned out to be Mr. Darcy’s 16-year-old sister, Miss Georgiana Darcy. She was quite tall and, despite her youth, her figure was formed and her appearance womanly and graceful. Elizabeth, having learned to disregard anything she had learned about the young lady from the now-disgraced (and deservedly dead) Wickham, was not surprised to find that Miss Darcy was not, as reported, exceedingly proud, but only exceedingly shy. Indeed, it was difficult to obtain a word beyond a monosyllable.

Mrs. Bennet, as a widow, was still in black, but her daughters had transitioned to “half-mourning,” grays, browns, lavenders, or similarly subdued colors, with black trim. And, as deep mourning was completed, limited social engagements were now possible, so the three were invited to dine with the Bennets.

*


Miss Darcy, surrounded by a group of young ladies whose personalities ranged from Jane’s sweet demureness to Lydia’s bombastic exuberance, but all of whom were warm, friendly, and welcoming, soon began to let down her guard and enjoy the company. She was particularly glad to make the acquaintance of the young lady with whom she had been corresponding over the last few months, the young lady her brother had told her he intended, if he could win her heart, to marry.

Miss Darcy liked her very much already. Elizabeth Bennet was not only lovely but seemed to be one of those fortunate people who are completely comfortable with themselves, and, in consequence, do not put on any airs. At first blush, she didn’t seem the sort of lady who would be her brother’s choice. She was more outspoken that most of the gently born ladies with whom Miss Darcyt was familiar. She actually had opinions on a variety of subjects that she was not afraid to express, and defended them forcefully, though courteously, when she met with opposition. But, on closer observation, Miss Darcy realized that it was precisely this natural sense of self, this confident demeanor, that awakened her brother’s admiration. The closer she observed Miss Elizabeth, the more she began to think she’d be a fine wife for her brother.

And a fine sister for her.

*


The autumn weather was pleasant, and the two couples began to make a habit of taking walks together around the countryside. The wisdom of having two courting couples chaperoning each other might be questioned, but the two young ladies in question had sufficient faith in their own rectitude, and in the self-control of their two suitors, and the walks took place on public enough thoroughfares, that, on the whole, it did not occur to anyone that there was any violation of propriety.

On one such walk, Elizabeth deliberately slowed down to a degree sufficient so that Mr. Bingley and Jane were close enough to be seen, but far enough away that she and Mr. Darcy could converse in private.

When she was sure they were out of earshot, she said, “Tell me, sir. Was it you intention to keep your generosity to my family a secret forever, or were you going to confess once you felt you had secured my affections?”

“Secret, Miss Elizabeth?” said Mr. Darcy.

“Come now, sir. Did you have so little regard for my intelligence that you thought I would not find out who it was that had bestowed on us a great fortune of £26,000?”

He looked terribly troubled, and finally said, “I did not think your uncles so little to be trusted.”

“My uncles revealed nothing. It was my own reckoning and my own knowledge that led me to this conclusion. I am happy to have my judgment confirmed by your admission, just now. But both of my uncles kept your confidence.”

“How did you know?”

“As I said, you just admitted it.”

“Then how did you come to suspect?”

“Really, sir, who do you think kept the ledgers and calculated the income for my father’s estate? It has been my task since I was fourteen. Even now I am continuing to assist Charlotte with the chore, since we both know that Mr. Collins would be hopeless at it. My father was a very good man, but an indifferent master to his estate, particularly when it became clear to him that he would have no son to pass it onto. He saw to the needs of his tenants, and he managed, just barely, to keep his family from outspending the estate’s income. But that was all. I knew there was nothing left for him to put aside for investments. He neither curbed the spending habits of his family, nor made efforts to increase the yield of the estate. Since he was healthy, and could have been expected to live many more years, it did not occur to me that he was acting irresponsibly. I now see what a perilous situation he was creating for us all, but even so, I cannot find it in my heart to condemn him too heartily for it. You need not fear that I will expose you, sir, but please, you must allow me to thank you on behalf of all my family. If they knew to whom they owed their fortune, I should not have merely my own gratitude to express.”

“If you will thank me, let it be for yourself alone. Much as I respect your family, I believe I thought only of you. Or, perhaps more correctly, of myself. I wanted you to be free of any worries about your future so that you would not feel constrained to accept me out of financial necessity. I wanted it to be secret so that you did not feel any obligations of gratitude. If you accepted me, I wanted it to be solely because I had won your heart on my own merits.”

“And so you have, sir.”

Darcy looked at her questioningly.

“How can this be?” he asked.

“Mr. Darcy, I quite understand your reluctance to create any feelings of obligation, though I am a little surprised that you were able to persuade both my uncles to participate in this subterfuge. But surely you knew that my feelings were starting to warm toward you when you left. And that those feelings only got warmer as we exchanged letters through dear Georgiana. Can you not see how gratitude for your actions, joined with my realization that you went to such lengths to keep them secret precisely so that I would feel no obligation to do anything but follow my own heart would serve to make your love for me that much more evident, and to make me so very happy to follow my heart straight to you?”

“Can this be true?”

“It can be and it is.”

“Then, with regard to the question I asked you in Kent all those month ago?”

“It is not only my honor, but my very great pleasure to accept the offer you made at that time, and to assure you, once again, that you already have my heart, as you will soon have my hand.”

Hearing steps they looked up to see Mr. Bingley and Jane turn around and walk back toward them.

“Darcy,” said a joyful Bingley, “what do you think has happened? My angel has, just this moment, accepted me.”

“Then it seems, my old friend,” replied Darcy, “that I am to gain you as a brother and Miss Bennet as a sister. For so has mine.”

*


The wait of nearly six months was excruciatingly difficult for both couples, but it gave everyone time to attend to all the details of the wedding with a complete thoroughness that would have not been possible in less time.

The articles were prepared and signed. Among many other generous guarantees, both Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley immediately settled £5000 of their own money on their ladies, simultaneously refusing the dowries that had been reserved for them from the fund supposedly accrued by Mr. Bennet’s investments. This meant that the £25,000 meant to be divided equally among all five of the Bennet daughters upon their respective marriages only had to be divided among three.

The one thing that is always true about time is that it goes by, quickly when we want it to be slow and slowly when we want it to be fast, but it always goes. And so it was with the period of mourning still remaining. In due course, the banns were called, the year and a day since Mr. Bennet’s demise had passed, Mrs. Bennet and her daughters put away their mourning clothes and began wearing brighter more attractive apparel, and the date of the wedding was finally upon them.

Happy for all her maternal feelings was the day on which Mrs. Bennet got rid of her two most deserving daughters. With what delighted pride she afterwards visited Mrs. Bingley, and talked of Mrs. Darcy, may be guessed. I wish I could say, for the sake of her family, that the accomplishment of her earnest desire in the establishment of two of her children, and the certitude of financial security for the rest, produced so happy an effect as to make her a sensible well-informed woman for the rest of her life. It did seem to permanently banish the nerves that had formerly been so easily irritated, which rendered her more amiable, but it did not make her any less effusive, nor any more discreet in expressing her effusions.

Surprisingly, Mrs. Bennet found she missed her second daughter exceedingly; her newfound affection for Elizabeth (to say nothing of her delight in Elizabeth’s new home) drew her oftener from Meryton than anything else could do. She delighted in going to Pemberley, especially when she was least expected.

Even more surprisingly, the dour Mr. Darcy, who had come to appreciate that his own wife’s high-spirited vivacity derived from Mrs. Bennet’s animated personality, always warmly welcomed her. Having been motherless from a young age, he found that he quite enjoyed the affectionate attentiveness of the mother he had gained through marriage, however much her conduct might occasionally embarrass him. To his sister, Georgiana, who had barely known their mother, this affectionate quality, bestowed on her no less than on her brother, was an even greater benefit.

Mr. Bingley and Jane remained at Netherfield only a twelvemonth. So near a vicinity to her mother and Meryton relations was not desirable even to his easy temper, or her affectionate heart. The darling wish of his sisters was then gratified: he bought an estate in a neighboring county to Derbyshire; and Jane and Elizabeth, in addition to every other source of happiness, were within thirty miles of each other.

Kitty and Lydia, to their very material advantage, spent the chief of their time with their two elder sisters. In society so superior to what they had generally known, their improvement was great. And with the example of Georgiana, they both grew less ungovernable than had formerly been the case, while Georgiana, for her part, became more outgoing.

Mary was the only daughter who generally remained at home; and she was necessarily drawn from the pursuit of accomplishments by Mrs. Bennet's being quite unable to sit alone. She was obliged to mix more with the world, but could still moralize over every morning visit. And, if she was not spending as much time with her two eldest sisters as Lydia and Kitty, she was spending at least as much time with them as her mother, and derived the benefits of those visits.

With the Gardiners and the Phillipses Mr. and Mrs. Darcy were always on the most intimate terms. Darcy, as well as Elizabeth, really loved them; and they were both ever sensible of the warmest gratitude towards Elizabeth’s two uncles who, by agreeing to participate in Darcy’s scheme to provide for the Bennets (who never did find out to whom they actually owed their prosperity), had been the means of bringing them together.


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SubjectAuthorPosted

More Responsible Than We Realized (Conclusion)

Jim D.May 17, 2015 04:00PM

Re: More Responsible Than We Realized (Conclusion)

Agnes BeatrixMay 18, 2015 10:04PM

Re: More Responsible Than We Realized (Conclusion)

ShannaGMay 18, 2015 06:22PM

Re: More Responsible Than We Realized (Conclusion)

Kathy BerlinMay 17, 2015 10:37PM

Wonderful!! (nfm)

LisetteMay 17, 2015 10:04PM

Re: Wonderful!!

LucieMay 18, 2015 02:33AM

Re: More Responsible Than We Realized (Conclusion)

JuneMay 17, 2015 06:48PM

Re: More Responsible Than We Realized (Conclusion)

Elizabeth A.May 17, 2015 06:11PM



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