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The Way It Ought to Be, Chapter 16

November 07, 2016 05:43PM
Thanks again to Agnes, Liz and Debra for their efforts.

Chapter 16: At Every Approach

The next morning brought further evidence of Mr. Darcy’s desire to see Elizabeth, in the form of a carriage from Netherfield, which arrived for her immediately after breakfast. “The coachman says he will wait for you, until whatever time you are ready to depart,” relayed their butler.

“I am ready now.” Elizabeth went to put on her bonnet.

“What, so soon? Jane cannot want you so soon,” cried Mrs. Bennet. “I quite depended on you to help me trim Kitty’s new gown this morning.”

“I will help you later, Mama,” she laughed. “But I did promise, and besides, I must see how Mr. Darcy is, and tell him thank-you for rescuing me so gallantly.”

“Yes, I suppose that cannot be avoided.” Mrs. Bennet paused, and a certain thoughtful calculation came into her eyes. “Lizzy, I know you dislike Mr. Darcy, but he is very rich...”

“I do not dislike Mr. Darcy!” Elizabeth came back into the room in her distress. “Indeed, madam, you are mistaken. It—it is true that I did not always like him so well as I do now, but he and I became very good friends while I was in London, and now we have nothing but the sincerest regard for each other. Mr. Darcy is the best of men, and truly, he is very amiable.”

“Ah!” Her face cleared. “In that case, be off with you. Hurry, hurry now! You don’t want to keep Mr. Darcy waiting!”

At Netherfield Elizabeth found Darcy in an upstairs sitting room, with Jane and Bingley. His foot was elevated on a stool, but otherwise he looked very well, and he smiled as she entered. The Bingleys quickly found an excuse to leave, and they were alone.

As eager as she had been to see him, Elizabeth found that she did not quite know what she ought to do or say. Their adventure of yesterday had swept aside formality and proper comportment, but now they were in a sitting room, and she had shoes on, and they were engaged. In the end, she took refuge in civilities. “How is your injury?” she asked, and sat in the next chair over.

“Only a little uncomfortable.” He stretched his hand toward her, and she took it with a blush. “I confess, I have thought of it very little this morning.”

“I hope your distraction was a happy one.”

“You know it was.” He bent enough that he could raise her hand to his lips.

“I told Jane last night. I hope you do not mind.”

“I expected you would, and I do not have the smallest objection. It is my intention to make our understanding public as soon as possible.”

“My father says he will wait on you this afternoon.”

“I will of course speak to him then.”

He was still holding her hand, still inclining himself toward her, looking at her with those keen, dark eyes of his. She felt herself lost, in love, nearly suffocating from the strength of her feelings, and after the intimacy of yesterday, far too far away from him. To be near him seemed now the most necessary thing, and so she accomplished this by the simple act of moving herself from her current seat to one on his knee. Mr. Darcy, though at first surprised, made no objection to this arrangement, and there she stayed.

“You made me think you were in love with Miss Cornish,” she complained, some time later.

He smiled as tolerantly as if she had not made him think her indifferent for much longer. “My dearest, I was far too preoccupied with thoughts of you to consider such a thing. After all, I had told you I was in love with you, and my remaining in love certainly seemed evident to me.”

“It might have seemed evident to me too, had I not seen you in her company quite so often,” she retorted. “Even when you were with me, you were distracted. I was sure you were thinking of her.”

He kissed her again. “It was quite the reverse. Nor do I think I was in her company quite as often as you and rumour imagined. Your complaint is just, though. I was finding it difficult to be your friend at that time, and I believe I did sometimes agree to escort her merely as a way to avoid you.”

She frowned. “You did not want to be my friend?”

“Of course not. I wanted to be your husband.”

“Oh.” She blushed happily.

He shook his head. “I was not the only distracted one. There was a constraint in your manner, too, even then.”

“The constraint in my manner was Miss Cornish.”

“You were jealous?” He smiled.

“Madly,” she promised. “And besides, I did not know what to think. If you were courting her, what did that mean for me? For us? I had offered you friendship; perhaps that was all you were offering as well.”

“How could you not know that you had me in your power? Elizabeth, I lived for your smiles. Then they began to grow fewer, and when they stopped altogether, I felt utter despair. I was frantic to know what I had done, but you turned me away at every approach.”

Elizabeth felt correctly that such wrongs could not be repented enough, so she wound her arms around his neck, and kissed him, and murmured her penitence, and kissed him again, and murmured some more, until he stopped it all by a very proper kiss indeed. “I had intended to remain civil to you,” she said eventually. “But I could not. Every time I saw you I thought not only of everything I believed you had done, but of my own disappointment. I had finally learned to love you, only to find that the man I loved had never existed. To even be in the same room with you was painful.”

“Painful? It was agony!”

“And you were angry.”

“I was confused.”

“You had every right to be—confused and angry both. But that night, the night of that last ball, what made you decide to speak to me?”

“I felt I had nothing to lose, I suppose. I had heard you were leaving town, going out of my reach forever, as I thought, and then we met in the dance. I could not help myself—I could not let you leave without saying something to you, without making you say something to me.”

“And I was so cruel to you!” She hid her face in his cravat.

“As I was to you. I wanted to hurt you.”

“You had reason.”

“To hurt you? No indeed. I have already been responsible for far too much of your pain, Elizabeth.”

“Surely you are not thinking of that? That is all forgotten now.”

“Not by me. I will never forget it; I still shudder every time I pass those stairs.” He gripped her a little tighter.

She stroked his hair soothingly, and found she liked the activity. “It was not so very bad.”

“I beg your pardon, but it was the worst day of my life—worse even than that day in London. When first you landed on that cursed floor and lay so still, I thought I had murdered us both. And even after—to hear you groaning in your chamber as the surgeon set your bone.” True to his word, he shuddered.

“You remember it far better than I do. I am sorry it pains you to think of it, and you must promise me you will do everything in your power to forget it. In any case,” she smiled coaxingly, “we were discussing my sins, which, I confess, I hope you will also forget.” She smoothed her hands across his wide lapels and pretended to be arranging his cravat (which, however, she knew better than to disturb). She liked touching him, and liked watching the evident pleasure on his face when she did so. “What I ought to say is that if, in London, you had remained polite and gentle, I would not have told you anything. It was only when you became so angry, and then accused me, that I was provoked to explain myself. And when I found out the truth! Oh, you may believe that I was wretched indeed. Admit it: you must have hated me then.”

“Hate you! I was angry, but the real cause of my anger was that I saw your willingness to believe the story as proof that you did not love me.”

“And now I am rebuked indeed,” she sighed. “I did love you, but I did not know how much until I believed I had lost you. When I met Mrs. Jarling that night, when she told me the story of her niece, and did it so unsuspiciously, I felt—I knew that she must be speaking of some other man, but the longer she spoke and the more description she gave, the harder it seemed to deny it. I even wrote to my sister Mary, trying to discover if there really was an understanding between you and your cousin, and her reply confirmed it. When combined with what I thought was your courtship of Miss Cornish…”

“The evidence was against me, I do not deny it.”

“And yet, I should not have believed it. Not until it had been confirmed past any possibility of denial. It seemed impossible, at the time, to speak of it to anyone, and I told myself that I kept silent for your sake, or for Bingley’s sake, but I have long come to believe it was cowardice.”

“Cowardice? I can hardly believe my fearless Elizabeth would ever be guilty of that.”

“And yet I was, for if I had been braver, if I had had more faith in you or more conviction of rightness, I might have found a way to the truth. I might have done both of us more justice.”

Darcy only smiled and kissed her, but she thought she saw a certain satisfaction in his look. It meant a great deal to her, that he approved the lessons she had learned. Then he shifted in his seat, and she thought to move herself, for his comfort. He let her go only after a last caress.

Back in her own chair, Elizabeth found her embarrassment returning. It was easy when she was near him, but she hardly knew how to sit here, like it was a formal call. Casting about for some occupation, she saw that Jane had left some embroidery out, and took it up. When she glanced up, though, she found Darcy watching her with absorbed interest, and that discomposed her into talking again.

“I have been wondering—why did you come back to Netherfield?”

“For you, of course.”

“That is not what I meant. You said yourself you had despaired of my love. Why would you come here, yet again, after the humiliation I had subjected you to?”

“Ah, well, I believe we have your sister to thank for that.”


“She is an inestimable woman.”

“I agree. But what did she say to you?”

“Nothing directly, but I am fairly certain she had the dictation of Bingley’s letter, which was written in such a way as to make me believe I still had hope where you were concerned. It was also, I might add, uncommonly free of blots.”

Elizabeth laughed. “That sounds like Jane. She knew, of course, that I loved you.”

He hesitated. “I came back, Elizabeth, still hurt, but ready and eager to forgive. Your accusations were wrong, founded on mistaken premises, but acted on in the sincerity of righteous indignation. I could not blame you for that. And I loved you too much to allow any opportunity for reconciliation to pass. Bingley’s letter intimated that your grief had gone beyond what mere regret might be expected—”

“It had.”

“And so I came, fearful and hopeful, and unable to stay away.”

Elizabeth shook head, with a small smile. “You are really are much too good for me, you know.”

“That I cannot agree with. What sort of man would I be if not for you? One still locked in heedless pride, unable to see the real truth about myself. But—I want you to promise me that you will never conceal anything like this from me again. We all cannot help but conceal some minor thing about ourselves, perhaps, but if there is matter concerning me, and my conduct now or in the past, that concerns you, you must ask me.”

She put the sewing down. “Of course! Of course I will, but not because I doubt you. I know you could never do anything truly dishonourable.”

“But still, I wish you would ask me immediately, rather than wait and let doubts grow.”

“I promise I will.” She reached her hand to him, he took it, and then it was up for another kiss, and back to her seat. She resumed her sewing, but with many fond glances exchanged between the lovers.

Presently, something occurred to her. “Oh!”

“What is it?”

“I have just remembered something I ought to ask you about—since you wish me to.”

“Some other rumour of my depravity?”


His brows rose; clearly he was surprised. “I had no idea my reputation was so bad.”

“No, of course not. It was not in London, but Meryton. It was Mr. Wickham.”

“Mr. Wickham!”

“Yes. You met him at Jane’s wedding, remember? He had a commission in the militia here.”

“I remember,” he said grimly. “What nonsense did he put in your ear?”

“I only know the rumours. They said he claimed to be your father’s godson, and that Mr. Darcy had desired in his will that he receive a certain living on your estate, but when the time came, you denied it to him out of jealousy for your father’s affection.”

“I remember what your opinion of me was then; I can well imagine his story seemed credible.”

“It might have, if I had not caught him in the shrubbery with my sister,” she said drily.

“Your sister!” He leaned forward in concern. “Elizabeth, was she harmed?”

“Oh, no! But it gave me no very high opinion of him either. I heard the rumours, but did not care to determine who might be in the right. Now, of course, I know it was you. You would never deny any man his just due.”

“Thank you. And you are correct: I did give him his just due, in the form of three thousand pounds, which he himself asked for in lieu of his claim to the living. That did not prevent him from seeking it when it came open, however; I believe he had already spent his inheritance, and was in pressing debt.”

“He spent three thousand pounds? In how much time?”

“Three years. Also an additional thousand pounds left him in my father’s will.”

Elizabeth shook her head. “I am glad he left town with the regiment.” Looking up a few minutes later, she saw that Darcy still seemed abstracted and brooding. “Is it Mr. Wickham’s debts that disturb you?”

He shook his head, and his brooding look cleared. “No. There is another matter connected with him that I will tell you about some day, but not today.” He held out his hand. “Today I wish only to be happy.”

Feeling herself excellently qualified to assist him in that, Elizabeth returned his gesture, and was soon ensconced on his lap again, where she remained until Jane came softly knocking, to tell them that Mr. Bennet had arrived to see Mr. Darcy.


Mr. Bennet was very surprised, upon visiting Mr. Darcy, to receive an application for his daughter’s hand. He consented, however, and once Elizabeth assured him of her happiness and sincere affection, grew quite complacent about it. Mrs. Bennet received the news with both more joy and agitation, and Elizabeth could only be thankful that Darcy’s injury kept him safely at Netherfield, so that he could not hear her raptures. Her mother’s dislike of such a son-in-law was not so inviolable, after all.

Jane and Bingley, of course, were only too delighted with the match. Darcy wrote to his sister, who sent back many pages of congratulations, and letters were dutifully dispatched to Kent and Brighton with the news. Now Elizabeth was at Netherfield every day, and with such lenient chaperones, the couple never lacked for time alone, despite Darcy’s forced inactivity. Elizabeth enjoyed fussing over him, fixing his tea and fetching small items, even reading aloud to him, often while perched on the arm of his chair.

“Oh my word,” said Bingley disgustedly, when he came across them like this one day. “You’ve injured your ankle, not your eyes, Darcy.”

Darcy waved him away. “Mind your own business, Bingley.” He turned his eyes back to Elizabeth’s profile, and Bingley walked away laughing.

What was certain was that he endured the period of his recovery with much more complacency than he would have otherwise.

Upon making an ardent application to her brother, Miss Darcy was soon allowed to journey to Netherfield with her companion, Mrs. Annesley. Both women made happy additions to the household, and Elizabeth embraced her new sister whole-heartedly. Georgiana was a dear, sweet, shy girl, who adored her older brother. She and Elizabeth had become friends in London, and now she blossomed under Jane’s kindness and Elizabeth’s warmth. Mr. Bennet’s wit at first astonished her, and Mrs. Bennet made her look confused, but she soon became accustomed to them, and Mrs. Bennet paid her so much respect, and Mr. Bennet so little mind, that she grew quite comfortable in their presence.

By this time Darcy was walking again, admitting to only the occasional twinge if he remained on his feet too long. Wedding dates were being talked of, but Elizabeth expressed a wish to wait until both Lydia and Kitty returned from their summers away. She felt neither would care very much if she married while they were gone, but marriage meant Pemberley, and while she was eager to see it, she could not reconcile herself to moving so far away without first seeing her sisters again.

The Way It Ought to Be, Chapter 16

Suzanne ONovember 07, 2016 05:43PM

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