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Another Month Complete 8

July 21, 2020 11:29PM
CHAPTER 8

At precisely three o'clock the next day there was a knock on the Gardener's door. Elizabeth opened it herself and was momentarily taken aback … for it was not Fitzwilliam and Georgiana, but Charles Bingley.

“Oh, this is indeed a wonderful surprise!” said Bingley, stepping inside and reaching for Elizabeth's hand. “I know it is too early to call you sister, Miss Elizabeth, but I so look forward to that day. One could not wish for a more perfect sister!”

Bingley tried to keep his focus on Elizabeth but his eyes wandered about the foyer for a glimpse of his beloved Jane. He was soon rewarded by her smiling face and blushing cheeks. He extended his hands to grasp hers and announced excitedly, “Your papa gave his consent and your mama is all in a tither, I'm afraid. I believe she will be descending upon Cheapside within a day or two, my love.”

The happy reunion was suddenly interrupted by the appearance of the Darcys just in the open doorway. It was an awkward, first moment, for despite the tone of his friend's letter, Darcy was not entirely certain that Charles had forgiven him. The two men looked squarely at one another for a long moment, before Charles Bingley came forward to embrace his friend. No painful memories today. He was much to happy and much too thankful for his good fortune!

There were hearty handshakes, embraces and congratulations all around and Georgiana was quickly introduced to Jane Bennet.

“What a very beautiful bride you will be, Miss Bennet!” exclaimed Miss Darcy. “Your smile lights up the entire room already.”

“You exaggerate Miss Darcy, but thank you,” blushed Jane. “ I am very happy, it is true.”

Elizabeth's eyes smiled at Darcy as she invited everyone into the parlor. “I shall let the Gardeners know that you have all arrived.” she said, excusing herself when everyone was seated. “But don't reveal anything of significance before I return!”

After nearly an hour of sharing bits of news, anecdotes of the engagement, and the stories of Huntsford that could be told, Darcy asserted himself in order to find some time alone with Elizabeth. So much had changed and yet nothing had actually been put into words. He was desperate for the affirmation of his assumptions. Although he felt it was too soon to risk another proposal, he had actually tucked his mother's engagement ring into his vest pocket.

“It is such a fine day,” he began, “would not a walk in Monument Park be pleasant? We can take the children with us, Mrs. Gardener, if you allow it.”

Elizabeth was the first to rise from her chair. “I've been eager to walk about a bit. Too many hours of sitting in that carriage yesterday. What do you say Jane. Shall we all go?”

There was no need for a verbal reply, as everyone rose, gathered their hats and gloves and were ready to head out immediately. Mrs. Gardener lectured her children concerning their behavior and happily sent them on their way.

It did not take long for the couples to separate themselves a bit, and Georgiana was delighted to be pulled along by the children towards the duck pond. They had brought their sailboats, a ball and a jump rope, but they were far more interested in the pretty young lady who was eager to listen to their stories and answer their many, many questions.

Darcy deliberately slowed his pace, allowing the engaged couple to walk ahead of them. There was no need for anyone to observe them while in private conversation. Body language revealed so much. But for the moment, it mattered not. They strolled along in silence, each with their own, anxious thoughts. It was Elizabeth who broke the silence.

“Mr. Darcy, I can go no longer without apologizing to you for the inexcusable accusations I made concerning your treatment of Mr. Wickham. I was prejudiced and arrogant and ….”

Darcy's shock was palpable. He stopped walking and turned to face her. “Miss Bennet, if anyone needs to apologize for what was said that dreadful day, it is I! You had good reason to think me selfish, arrogant and even mean spirited, perhaps. I showed you no other side of me.” Then more softly, he added, “Perhaps there was none.”

“I will not deny that I felt quite humiliated, sitting there, listening to you pass judgement on my suitability as your wife. But you are a sensible man, Mr. Darcy, and I, believing myself to be a sensible woman, acknowledge that what you said was true. It is as true today as it was then.”

Darcy breath caught in his throat. “Dear G-d, what is she saying? Does she now believe us ill suited? ”

“Clearly it was very wrong of you to interfere in my sister's relationship with Mr. Bingley,” continued Elizabeth, “ but it was equally wrong of me to believe every nasty bit of gossip concerning you. Of course, I did not know that Wickham's tales were malicious inventions at the time, but I was so eager to be justified in my dislike of you.”

Darcy tried once again to stop her from continuing. He had no idea where this conversation was heading, but he would not allow Wickham to have a part in it. “Elizabeth , please!,” he said in an impassioned tone, a bit louder than he had intended. She placed her hand on his sleeve but would not be silenced.

“While we were still at Rosings, I received a letter from Jane informing me of Mr. Wickham's engagement to a Miss King, a wealthy young lady, relatively new to the neighborhood. My sister wished to protect my feelings, as she believed I was developing an attachment to Mr. Wickham.”

Darcy stopped breathing.

“I will admit that I thought him rather charming and easy to talk to before I left for Huntsford, but I honestly didn't think of him at all whilst I was away – except for that evening, of course. And when I learned of his engagement, I felt nothing, nothing at all.”

“Is she saying that to spare me?” thought Darcy, “Good heavens, how shall I bare loosing her to HIM!”

“Then, last night, after everyone had gone to bed, Jane showed me a letter from our Aunt Phillips, telling her that the engagement had been broken off by Miss King's uncle and guardian. It seems that Wickham had accumulated large debts from merchants all around Merriton and the surrounding villages, but was now nowhere to be found. When the magistrates of these villages came to Colonel Foster inquiring after his whereabouts, they were told that Wickham had requested a transfer to another regiment. It has been confirmed that he has used this tactic time and time again. Even more shocking is the fact that the daughters of several merchants have claimed to have an understanding with Wickham and were devastated to learn that they were one of many.” Here, Elizabeth stopped to take a breathe and gauge Darcy's reaction to her words. His face was frozen and unreadable.

“So you see, Mr. Darcy, it is only the news of these terrible incidents that have forced me to hold a mirror up to my own face. Even believing his slanderous tales, it was not my place to accuse you of anything. I had no proof of his assertions. And now, learning of his true character, his thoroughly untrustworthy nature, I am certain his stories were fictions created to turn me further against you. But then again, that was what I wanted, and it seems he knew it.”

Elizabeth was suddenly dreadfully worried. How was Fitzwilliam taking all this painful information? She had even shocked herself as the words came spilling from her mouth. Yet once she had started, she could not stop. She had only meant to tell him that she knew Wickham for the scoundrel that he was, without breaking her word to Georgiana. And miraculously, Aunt Phillips's letter had come just in time.

Overwhelmed by the intensity of their feelings, they resumed their walk in silence. Darcy's countenance was difficult to read. Sadness, confusion and anger crossed his face in waves. But then, as they continued down the path, he took her hand in his. They strolled along wordlessly for quite some time.

“I am much relieved to know that you see Wickham for who he is, Elizabeth. But I am truly ashamed for not having warned you against him myself. I knew it was my moral obligation to do so, but more importantly, I wanted to protect you from him. Yet each time I tried to tell you, I could not get the words out..... I was afraid you might not take my word against his and didn't want to give you another reason to think meanly of me. Forgive me, Elizabeth. You should have learned of it from me.”

Her fingers tightened against the palm that still held hers. “What a sad and tiresome pair we make, Fitzwilliam. Here I thought we were out for a pleasant walk. Instead, we have nothing but apologies to offer one another.”

“That is not true, Elizabeth,” said Darcy turning to face her. “ I have a great deal more to offer.” He paused to search her precious face for encouragement and received it in a countenance full of love and eager anticipation. “But tell me, do you fear the obstacles you eluded to earlier. Do you think it fool hearty for us to ...”

“We both know that your family will not approve, Fitzwilliam. Nor could I blame them. And you may lose some friends and acquaintances – even business associates, perhaps. We must be clear headed and sensible.”

“Is it sensible to spend the rest of one's life with a partner you do not love or may even despise, to increase your fortune or social standing? Is it sensible to live separate lives, to share a bed only until an heir is born, to seek affection and even companionship outside your marriage for the sake of family honor? I think not, Elizabeth. I see all too many men who live such lives at my club. I do not wish to be one of them.”

Elizabeth's eyes were brimming with tears. She took both his hands in hers and whispered, “ So then, Mr. Darcy, will you allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you?”

His heart had been racing throughout the entire conversation and now seemed to have stopped altogether. For an instant his eyes revealed the shock and confusion he felt, but he recovered quickly!

“Indeed I will allow it, Miss Bennet, but only if you promise to say those precious words each and every day of our lives together. Elizabeth, my love, “ he murmured, as he took her face in his hands and lowered his lips to hers. He kissed her ardently, then softly, then more deeply and passionately again.

“How I love you, Elizabeth!,” he breathed between the kisses he now planted on her face. “But I need to hear the words,” he said, hurriedly taking the ring from his vest pocket. “Miss Elizabeth Bennet, will you have me? Please, I beg you,” he whispered nervously.

Elizabeth wrapped her arms about his neck and kissed him softly. “Of course, I will, Mr. Darcy. I do love you so!”

***

Georgiana Darcy had been frequently glancing towards the path that her brother and Miss Bennet had taken more than an hour ago. When she spotted them, she observed them closely though she could not yet make out their faces. But their body language spoke volumes and she jumped up from the bench to announce, “They are engaged! I know it! I can tell!

“Yes, you are right, Georgiana! I can see it as well,” laughed Jane. “Oh, but do come sit down and pretend we suspect nothing. They must have the pleasure of sharing their good news with us themselves. I wonder,” said Jane, after a few thoughtful moments, “if Mr. Darcy would be amenable to a double wedding.”


Finis!
SubjectAuthorPosted

Another Month Complete 8

Gaby A.July 21, 2020 11:29PM

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