Unpleasant Scenes Might Arise.
""I found," said he, "as the time drew near that I had better not meet
Mr Darcy; that to be in the same room, the same party with him for so
many hours together, might be more than I could bear, and that scenes
might arise unpleasant to more than myself.""
Pride & Prejudice; Chapter XXI.
"Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife."
Elegy Written In A Country Churchyard.
Until Elizabeth had entered the Ballroom of Netherfield Hall, it had never occurred to her to doubt Mr Wickham's presence. Even now, as this notion came to her mind, as the sudden thought of his being purposely omitted for Mr Darcy's pleasure in Mr Bingley's open invitation to the officers, came to her, it was discarded almost immediately.
Mr Wickham in the company of Denny, made his way to her and the sisters she was standing with, bowed, and solemnly asked for the honour of her fair hand, for the first two dances of the evening. His manners were still the same as when she had met him last, and Elizabeth felt the disappointment of having to decline him deeply. With regret she announced herself already pledged to Mr Collins.
"Then," he began, in a fresh attempt, "dare I ask you for the two next? Or are you engaged for those as well?"
"No," replied she. "I am not engaged."
"Good." He bowed again, and surrendered to the whims of her sister Lydia, who along with Kitty, dragged him and Denny off, leaving Elizabeth free to cast her eye around the room in search of other guests. She soon managed to fix her gaze upon Charlotte, whom she had not seen for a week, and made her way over to her. Miss Lucas was glad to see her, and they made themselves inseparable from each other until the hired orchestra began to play the music for the first dance.
This brought a return of her previous brief distress, for they were dances of mortification. Mr Collins, awkward and solemn, apologising instead of attending, and often moving wrong without being aware of it, gave her all the shame and misery which a disagreeable partner for a couple of dances can give.
What made this distress even worse, was a sight which she happened to catch upon conducting a turn, and never managed to avoid from that moment. Mr Darcy was observing her again. At times, she fancied him having difficulty in restraining his humour, whenever Mr Collins made an error, but mostly his countenance remained solemn and severe.
As she and her cousin made their way down and up the lines of the dancers, so did he, in the space between them and the chattering groups of remaining guests. When the torture was over, he was in perfect view of her, standing behind Mr Collins against the wall, his expression inscrutable.
Elizabeth parted from her reverend cousin in ecstasy, happily coming to take Mr Wickham's hand, as he met her from across the room. She began their first dance in the same emotion, until it was tempered by her catching sight of Mr Darcy, who was observing her and her partner with a stony stare.
Every turn she made, his eyes seemed determined to meet hers, as he conveyed all the anger that he felt at the sight of her dancing with his enemy. Elizabeth soon felt an annoyance of her own. She could not see why he should be angry, she was not his to command. It was an insufferable arrogance.
By the end of the dance, it was obvious to her that she was not the only one to notice his angry observation. Mr Wickham parted from her with his usual civility, then made his way directly over to his former childhood friend. Elizabeth, her curiosity about the possible outcome of a meeting roused, followed at a discreet distance.
The two gentlemen made a place for themselves by the wall beside the large ornate fireplace, their expressions something akin to those of ones facing a battle. A minute or so was passed in silence, as each seemed to weigh up their opponent, deciding on which verbal form of attack was best.
Mr Wickham began the onslaught of conversation. "I suspect you are surprised to see me here, Darcy."
On the contrary," he replied, refusing to give him that satisfaction, "I expected nothing less of your audacity."
Wickham remained unaffected by that, merely laughing before continuing with, "By the by, how is dear Georgiana?"
Darcy's expression darkened slightly, but otherwise the words appeared to have no impact upon his countenance. "You have no right to speak of her in such terms, let alone refer to her by her first name."
"I wonder," his companion said next, "if she has, as I do, fond memories of our time in Ramsgate last summer."
Darcy made no reply to this. Instead, catching him by surprise, he suddenly shoved Wickham against the wall, holding him there with his hand upon his neck. Elizabeth gasped, stared, coloured, doubted and then was silent. She glanced around the ballroom to see if this scene had caught anyone else's attention.
Their host seemed to catch sight of it, stare at the event for a moment, and then returned to his dancing companion, who, being her sister, also could not avoid witnessing the sight. For everyone else however, the confrontation went entirely unnoticed.
Wickham too seemed unperturbed by the position he was in. Calmly he replied to his attacker, "You would not dare. You know how it easy it would be for me to expose and ruin both you, Darcy, and your precious Georgiana right now? No one here would believe you, thanks to your typical manners from the moment you arrived here."
He paused to adjust his head slightly, for Darcy had tightened the pressure, then continued. "You know, Georgiana was really sweet to me during the summer in Ramsgate. So sweet and pliant in her nature. I congratulate you, Darcy. She will make a most willing bride to any rake in Society."
Darcy reluctantly let go of him, letting Wickham gather his breath and composure before continuing the verbal part of the conversation. "Wickham, don't make me angry," he warned in a deadly tone.
Wickham merely smiled, and replied in a slightly lowered tone, "I have already chosen my next conquest, and she has the one thing your sister lacked: spirit. You made the decision for me. You forget how well I know you," he remarked, "I saw your love for her in your face while we were dancing.
"I must say I'm surprised, Darcy. I thought Lady Catherine had more influence over your opinions than to let you fall in love with a girl worth only fifty pounds. She will be so easy to persuade, you know. I don't even have to go as far as asking her to marry me. And then you will have two ruined girls on your conscience: Georgiana, and Miss Elizabeth Bennet."
Even as the lady in question gasped in shock, Darcy's expression became suddenly composed. "Tomorrow at dawn," he announced in the same tone, "the field between the Netherfield and the Longbourn Estates, and swords."
He then walked away, leaving both his old friend and the woman he loved in the deepest and most profound shock at all which had just passed before them.
For Elizabeth, the next few moments passed her by as if they were a dream. She watched Wickham leave the room, and Darcy deftly extract Mr Bingley from her sister for a brief conversation without any real concern directed upon either of those events. All she could think about was what she had just overheard between Mr Darcy and Wickham.
Of neither gentleman could she now think without feeling that she had been blind, partial, prejudiced, and absurd. Till this moment, she had never known herself. How despicably she had acted! She who prided herself on her ability to discern character! She who had often disdained the generous candour of her sister, and gratified her vanity in useless or blameable distrust. Had she been in love, she could not have been more blind.
But vanity, not love, had been her folly. Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other from the very beginning of her acquaintance with them, she had refused to see the impropriety of Mr Wickham's confession to her within the first evening of each other's company.
What possible advantage could a gentleman have to gain by confiding in a girl something so terrible upon their first evening together? Elizabeth could think of only one, and it was not of a nature which could be revealed to the general public at large, without being considered utterly scandalous. Tonight had she borne witness to each gentlemen's real character. Mr Wickham had not been the charming man she had thought him to be.
Mr Darcy had not displayed arrogant disdain. Indeed, Elizabeth could see now that he had obviously been under a lot of strain since Wickham had arrived in the neighbourhood. A strain which could only have been made worse because of her behaviour towards him. Not once had she ever suspected those looks directed towards her by him to be not in a quest to find fault with her, but because of love.
He who had declared her only to be just tolerable when first confronted with her! It was almost too incredible to believe. Yet she could not doubt it, for Wickham's belief in it had pushed Mr Darcy to the edge of his control, and forced him to throw down the gauntlet of a duel. Elizabeth realised that how she regarded this idea now, was a priority. For if Mr Bingley's preference to Jane was to continue, then the longer would his friend remain in the country.
It was at this moment however, that she was abruptly brought back to reality, as her fine eyes came to fix on what was before her, or rather, who was before her. It was the gentleman who had been the object of her thoughts.
"Miss Bennet," began he, "if you are not engaged, would you do me the honour of dancing the next with me?"
"I had not," Elizabeth started to answer, as her desire to find a place of solitude to think over all what she had just heard, rose above others in her mind. Abruptly it was swept away by the idea that she might gain an opportunity to learn more about the matter, causing her to add, "I thank you, yes."
The introduction of that dance was then commenced by the orchestra, and Mr Darcy held out his hand for her to take. They took their place in the set, both, due to their internal thoughts, oblivious to the amazement which their decision to dance together was held in.
For some time the conflict of their minds and emotions served to create a silence between them. Then Darcy, who, since his encounter with Wickham, had been pondering upon something, uttered in a voice only audible to her, "Miss Bennet, did you perhaps hear what passed between Mr Wickham and me? I could not help noticing your proximity to our position by the fireplace."
At first Elizabeth was at loss as to how she should reply, and what outcomes either answer were likely to produce. Then she realised that her hesitation would display the falseness of a negative, and so, in the same quiet tone, assented that she had.
The answer did not take him by surprise. Instead a resigned expression came over him, and he furthered lowered his tone to continue the conversation. "Then, would you consent to follow me somewhere after this dance, to a place where we are unlikely to be interrupted? There is something very particular that I wish to tell you."
Elizabeth was unsure as to whether she should accept. She suspected that he might wish to tell her of his feelings towards her, a confession which she was not yet ready to hear. Though her opinion of Mr Darcy had begun to change from her original disinclination caused by his slight of her at the assembly, her recent impressions of him required further consideration. If he sought to propose to her now, he would receive a refusal that she might later regret giving, if her opinion of him continued to alter. But her curiosity won her over, causing her to incline her head in acceptance.
The rest of the dance then passed in silence, both being too concerned with their thoughts and what was to come to manage a general conversation. The lateness of their coming to take their place in the set gave them fortune to escape Sir William's parade around the room, and Darcy's instant yet silent removal towards one of the exits, the fortune to evade a meeting with Miss Bingley.
Once in the corridor between the Ballroom and the other rooms of Netherfield, Darcy halted and turned to her to ask for her view to aid his decision. "The Library, perhaps?" he queried, gesturing with a hand towards its entrance.
Elizabeth consented and followed him inside the room. Being currently in the ownership of Mr Bingley, it was no credit to his character that the shelves contained not as many books as they could support, but neither of the room's new occupants cared to notice this neglect at such a moment. The lady took the refuge of a comfortable chair, the gentleman remained standing.
For a few moments Darcy paced the floor before the hearth in silence, contemplating which was the best way to begin his tale. From the moment he had discerned her standing in a position to overhear the conversation between him and Wickham – whether Wickham had noticed her or not, he had been unable to determine, - he had realised that the chances of her remaining ignorant of all that had passed between them were low.
This made the matter of her having full knowledge of his family's past history with that man a necessity. He had realised suddenly that his behaviour tonight, together with the possibility of her having heard his words about her at the assembly in Meryton, could have considerably lowered her opinion of him, making the chance of a future intimacy between them impossible. He could not bear her to think ill of him, no more than he could bear loving her unrequitedly, therefore her opinion of him must be rectified immediately.
"Mr Wickham," he began, coming to a halt before her seat, "was the son of a very respectable man, who had, for many years, the management of my family's estate. His son was my father's godson, a responsibility which my father being the man that he was, could not ignore. He supported him at school, and afterwards at Cambridge." Darcy turned for a moment, to inspect the mantle clock that his hand had absently started to finger. "We played together as children."
"Mr Darcy," Elizabeth began then, having realised that her original suspicion of what he wanted to talk to her about was now invalid, and furthermore, comprehending a sudden wish within herself that he did not cause himself any greater stress before the duel tomorrow, "there is no need for you sir, to confide in me something which might cause your family pain. I completely understand now why you and Mr Wickham are at odds, and will never trust him again."
"No, no," he remarked, so immediately that she at first thought he had not heard her, "I need, I want, to tell you this. The history between us has played too direct a part on my present character for it to be otherwise." He turned from the fireplace to face her once more, and in a calm collected voice, related the rest of the tragic tale.
He spoke well, but not without a hint of the feelings which each action in the past had caused him to display, both then and now. Not once did his eloquence convey to her any other conviction than that he spoke nothing less than the truth. She felt all the justness of his refusal to give Mr Wickham the living he had previously declined, and all the horror that the scroundrel's next actions concerning Miss Darcy could possibly evoke.
At the end of the tale, she could do naught but silently prove his conviction that the history had determined a part of his character. She could see now why he was reticent among the occupants of Meryton. Why his good opinion once lost, was lost forever. Why he had been so unconcerned about how the neighbourhood in general regarded him. And finally, why he decided to challenge Wickham to a duel, an action which was illegal, a seeming contradiction to his character and professed beliefs, yet a course which Wickham's behaviour had driven him to. Looking up at his face, Elizabeth realised that he had been waiting for her to speak, and so she made herself do so.
She thanked him for feeling able to confide in her, declared her belief in all that he had told her, and promised not to reveal it to anyone without his permission. He responded with the acceptance that she might wish to tell Miss Bennet, and that he would not disapprove of such a notion.
She thanked him again, and then asked if he would leave her alone for a while, as their dual absence from the Ball in all probability, would have been noticed by now. Therefore, if they returned to it separately, the speculation would dissipate. He accepted her reasoning, bowed before her, and then quitted the room.
Elizabeth was out of her chair the moment he had closed the door, and began, unaware to repeat the same motions which he had performed when he was telling her the tale which she was now reviewing; pacing about the room. All her previous shame at her partial and prejudicial convictions was now further compounded by all that he had just related to her.
She recognised now all the evils of Mr Wickham's behaviour towards her. And the possible motives such a man had held. Would he have been able to ruin her as he had implied? Elizabeth felt that she could no longer rely on her discernment in characters to answer that query with a resounding negative.
She realised for the first time how much her lively nature and natural impertinence could lead those who talked to her astray in their opinions of her. That, in a way, she was almost as bad as her sister Lydia for, there was only a fine line between impertinence and outright flirting. As Jane's persistence to seek the good in everybody often led to her to trust in unworthy people, so did her own impertinence and liveliness.
The trust which Mr Darcy had placed in her was the only good assurance that she was not wholly bad. What a contrast those two gentlemen posed! One had relied on her liveliness and impertinence to lead her astray, while the other had found it an irresistible attraction. Elizabeth could not escape the flattery of the latter. Her first impression of him must now be completely discarded, and a new one taken up. He was not arrogant, just shy around strangers.
He was proud, but with such a vast estate under his control, perhaps he had every right to be. In combination with her first new judgement, what he had said to her concerning pride could now be regarded as true; he did keep it under good regulation. His loyalty to his sister and to his father, shown by all that he had told her, added another good point to his character. In short, she could not help but like him now.
It was then that her present surroundings and time returned to her attention. The music of the orchestra, which, because of the Library's proximity to the Ballroom, had been audible to her all the time, now ceased, signalling the commencement of the break for supper. If she did not rejoin it now, her absence would soon cause concern. With reluctant determination Elizabeth shoved her previous thoughts to the back of her mind. She could focus upon them later. Then she exited the Library and re-entered the Ballroom.
Her timing could not have been better. The guests were still in the midst of moving into the adjoining room, where supper had been laid out. Elizabeth joined at the back, managing to secure a seat by her sister and Mr Bingley, who welcomed her with such cordiality, and involved her so attentively in their conversation, that the rest of the events during the meal completely passed her by. She noticed nothing of Mr Collins imposing himself on the nephew of his patroness.
Nor did she hear anything of Mrs Bennet's animated discussion with Lady Lucas, concerning her boasting expectations of the future between Mr Bingley and her eldest daughter, along with her predictions for another daughter to be involved in the passing of the Longbourn entail. All that did concern her attention, was the happy display of the depth of affections between her sister and Mr Bingley, and the future which she could see with all the more certainty of occurring now.
After the meal was over, Elizabeth found herself retreating back into her thoughts once more. Too occupied was she in how she now regarded Mr Darcy and all his possible feelings for her, that she was fortunate enough to miss her sister Mary's performance at the pianoforte, Mr Collins' long speech after it, and the chase of Lydia by an officer by an officer whose sword she had taken.
Her family were the last to leave, and even this incident did not bring her out of her reverie. Elizabeth found herself unable to stop her eyes from regarding Mr Darcy, who seemed to be staring into nothingness, ignoring Miss Bingley, who had been trying unsuccessfully all evening to secure his attention.
Having now secured a better and more lasting impression of him, if perhaps still more than a little confused as to whether or not she could return his feelings, her mind had turned to think of the events of the morrow. She could not escape a certain curiosity as to how they would proceed, and a certain concern as to who would be the victor.
Her fear that it might be Mr Wickham soon overwhelmed every other thought to such a degree, that when the dawn came, she could do naught but rise, dress appropriately, and escape out of the house in order to witness the illegal event.
They had played together as children. They had been taught by the same tutors, sent to the same London school and had both attended Cambridge. To conclude, both had been raised with a gentleman's education, which included, among other things, fencing. To be able to fence with a sword was considered the skill of gentlemen, and, thanks to the wealth of the Darcys, they had been provided with one of the best masters.
However, after Cambridge, their education in the practice became different. Darcy had continued with his membership at the London club which catered to it, along with the employment of the master who had taught him at Pemberley. Wickham meanwhile, had been living in town too long for Darcy to know if he had kept up the practice.
But that could give his childhood companion an advantage; for living in and amongst the inhabitants of the rookeries would have made the learning of street fighting a necessity if one wanted to survive.
But then, Darcy considered, he also possessed an experience which Wickham did not. Aside from the continued practice in the art, he and his cousin had often trained together, whenever the latter had leave from his regiment.
Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, the second son of an aristocrat by birth, had begun his military career as a Ensign, with the expectation of his father that he would earn his way up the ranks not by seniority, but by experience in battle, making the rapid rise to Colonel solely by his own merits. Due to their long standing close friendship, Fitzwilliam had taught Darcy all that he needed to know concerning the art of fighting on a battlefield.
All this Darcy had mulled over the night before. Now it was close to dawn, and he was not abed, but standing in the field, waiting for his opponent to arrive. While he was waiting, he was also mulling over something else. Something which could be described by one sentence of conversation.
"You did not have to come."
Charles Bingley, his only companion apart from the local doctor, merely shrugged. "For the ninth time," he replied, his usually implacable good humour slightly diminished by his friend's constant repetition of the same statement, "my reasons for coming were twofold. Firstly, in the proper role of your second, and, lastly, because I have no desire for Georgiana to receive news of your death by the hand or form of Wickham."
"I am not worried about being killed by him."
"Again, if you are not, somebody has to be, and if you are not, how come you have done nothing since we arrived, but hold your sword arm out, taking swipes at the grass? At this rate, you will have killed the entire field before he even gets here."
Darcy merely shrugged and continued to exercise his arm and hand with the sword. Bingley continued with his one-sided conversation. "I still do not understand why you have swords anyway. Why did Wickham not choose pistols?"
"I did not give him a chance to follow the usual rules of the practice," Darcy replied, still cutting at the long grass around them.
Darcy briefly ceased his exercise, causing the doctor beside them to relax, as he answered, "He was goading me, seeing how far he could push me before he reached my limit. I caught him by surprise with the mention of time, place and the weapon, then walked away before he could remind me of the rules."
"Oh," Bingley commented in understanding. He watched his friend return to exercising his arm. "Why is it called grass before breakfast anyway?"
"I have absolutely no idea," was his friend's reply.
The sky was beginning to lighten somewhat. Darcy ceased his practising and took a look at the view around them. "He's late," he commented.
"Would not you be, in his position?" Bingley returned. "You've been spoiling for this since Ramsgate. Come to think of it, so has Fitzwilliam. In fact, if his regiment had not called him back so soon afterwards, I would have laid odds of ten to one, that he would have got to Wickham first."
The comment seemed to make his friend suddenly hesitate. He lowered the sword point temporarily towards the ground. "I did not cogitate upon the merits of this action after Ramsgate," he remarked.
Bingley was surprised. "But I thought, considering the mood you were in......" he trailed off in confusion.
Darcy turned to watch for the arrival of his opponent and second, although his thoughts had turned inward. "Wickham alluded to one of his future actions during his stay here, and I realised that I would have to act lest he was inclined to attempt the same scene twice."
His friend was still puzzled at the reasoning. "If he means to.... involve himself with the women here, they have other gentlemen to protect them. You cannot be the champion of all of Meryton's virtue, Darcy."
The champion in question seemed to hesitate, then uttered a resigned sigh, before replying with, "You are unusually slow this morning. Your sister has been going on about it ever since the first evening at Lucas Lodge."
Knowing his friend's penchant for honesty and economy, Bingley was not insulted by the first sentence. Instead, he took some time to think, and a brief silence emerged upon the field, broken only by the swishing of cold steel in the light morning breeze.
A minute or three later, and he had found his friend out. "My felicitations, Darce. Miss Elizabeth Bennet is an excellent choice."
"How would you know?" Darcy returned. "You've barely taken your eyes off her sister ever since we arrived."
"I did dance with her at the Assembly, remember?" Bingley reminded him. "We talked enough during that evening and others for me to form the opinion that she and you would suit each other perfectly. I just hope she did not hear your remark about her being just 'tolerable.'"
"I fear that she did," Darcy remarked. "But then she also overheard last night's confrontation, and I had a chance to talk to her as well, which I hope, has improved her opinion of me."
Bingley was about to ask something more, but their conversation was brought to a sudden close, as two figures came into view. His friend swished at the grass a few more times, then ceased once more as the two men came to stand before them.
The first was Wickham, looking a little pale, a complexion probably induced by the witnessing of the last display of his opponent's skill, but otherwise sober. His second was Lieutenant Denny, whose grim expression almost matched that of Darcy's.
The tenant of Netherfield Hall stepped forward. "I give you a final chance, Lieutenant Wickham," Bingley remarked, his general good humour entirely done away with, "will you apologise for your remarks to Mr Darcy?"
"No," replied he.
Bingley nodded then turned back to his friend. Darcy calmly shed his jacket and waistcoat, handed them to his second, then stood with his sword at the ready. Bingley folded the silk waistcoat inside the jacket so it would not be stained by the dew when he placed them on the grass, then turned to watch the others.
A few minutes later, and Wickham, having taken off his uniform jacket, and retied his officer's sash around his shirt, raised his own sword so that the blades touched. Mr Denny then drew his own sabre and placed it below the crossed two. A moment later and he swept it upwards so the swords parted.
The duel had begun.
A short distance away, and somewhat higher up, on Oakham Mount, a figure kneeled in order to escape detection. Elizabeth had arrived just after Mr Darcy, Mr Bingley and the doctor. She had witnessed since then the actions of those three gentlemen, though her position had impeded her from hearing any of their conversation.
Now she could only look, and pray, as Mr Wickham and Mr Darcy began their duel. She watched as the figures holding their swords each waited for the other to strike first. Then Wickham suddenly lunged, intending perhaps to catch his opponent by surprise. The move failed; Darcy parried easily, before countering with an attack of his own.
Even from this view Elizabeth could tell that both gentlemen were well matched. Each move from one was skilfully countered by the other. For a time she wavered between hope and despair, suspecting that either could emerge the victor. Then she descried an ability to anticipate on the one side, and her hope rose. When Darcy struck the killing blow, she was standing and almost moved to cheer aloud.
The wound was not fatal however, and, unbeknownst to both Elizabeth and his opponent, Darcy had not meant to kill Wickham. Just to render him an injury that would last until he could arrange, through his and his cousin's contacts in the militia, for Colonel Forster's regiment to be quartered elsewhere, or perhaps even have Wickham transferred to the regulars.
Discovering soon into the duel that he was able to anticipate his opponent's next move, Darcy had chosen his final strike with care, waiting until Wickham left his body unguarded, then lunged forward to slash open his shirt at the stomach, the traditional symbol of victory. It was a narrow wound, and, thanks to the skill of the attacker, not too deep, thus not at all fatal.
Darcy stepped back, handing his sword to Bingley, then put on his waistcoat and jacket. He then turned to face his opponent, who was getting his required treatment from the doctor.
Lieutenant Denny met their gaze. "Honour is satisfied, gentlemen?" he asked.
Darcy merely nodded in reply, before walking away. He had eaten his grass before breakfast, and survived. All that remained now, was to finish his note to Colonel Fitzwilliam before Bingley left as planned for London.
Above him, Elizabeth descended the Mount, and made her way home. Her thoughts were full of all that she had just witnessed, and the events of the night before. She had still been unable to reach a conclusion on whether or not she could return Mr Darcy's affection, if indeed he ever declared it to her. She knew that she held a concern for his welfare, an emotion which had come to the fore throughout the duel.
But if was deep enough for love, she could not tell.
She remembered hearing last night, during a brief conversation with her sister, some words which had further enforced the idea in her mind that Mr Darcy cared for her. Jane had confirmed the reality of the duel, having been informed by Bingley of a brief summary of their conversation.
Apparently, against Darcy's wishes, but out of friendship, Bingley had volunteered to be his second. He had told Jane that Mr Wickham had made a slander against Darcy's family, and that 'Darcy would do anything to protect his sister and those that he loved. Once his loyalty is given to someone, it is unswerving and eternal.' Such words had made Elizabeth even more susceptible to the idea of Darcy's regard for her.
She returned to Longbourn to find her mother waiting for her in the entrance hall. "There you are, Lizzy!" exclaimed she. "Come, undo your bonnet and coat. Mr Collins wants to speak to you in the Parlour."
Before Elizabeth had time for anything but a blush of surprise, her mother had taken her hand and practically dragged her into the room. When she had let go, Elizabeth turned to Mrs Bennet with the words, "Mama, I beg you will not go. Mr Collins must excuse me. He can have nothing to say to me that anybody need not hear."
"Nonsense, Lizzy, I insist upon your staying here and hearing Mr Collins."
Elizabeth, her senses overwhelmed by the events of the night and the morning, in combination with a lack of sleep, was defeated. She sank into a chair, and tried to hide her expression.
"Believe me, Miss Elizabeth," Mr Collins began as soon as her mother had exited the room, "that your modesty, so far from doing you any disservice, rather adds to your other perfections. But you can hardly doubt the reason of my discourse, however your natural delicacy may lead you to dissemble. Almost as soon as I entered the house, I signalled you out as the companion of my future life."
Elizabeth, now recovered enough to listen to the speech, held herself back from contradicting her cousin's obvious falsification. For she would have been blind not to notice the marked attention directed upon Jane during the first evening of his arrival, an attention which, she presumed, had only ended when her mother had decided to intervene in Mr Bingley's favour.
She listened to his ramblings in silence, as he enumerated all of his reasons for marrying, most of which she believed his patroness had had a hand in. That he actually cared for her, she did not believe, for his change from Jane to herself had been the work of one night, not many. He was in love with the idea of being in love, an emotion proved by his presumption that she was willing to accept him.
"You are too hasty sir," she cried, when he had at last stopped for breath, "you forget that I have made no answer; let me do so now. I thank you for the honour of your compliments, but for me to accept them is impossible."
"I am not now to learn," Mr Collins replied, not in the least perturbed by her answer, "that it is usual with young ladies to reject the addresses of the gentleman whom they secretly mean to accept when he first applies for them. Therefore, I hope, my dear cousin, to lead you to the altar before long."
"Upon my word sir," Elizabeth replied, rising from her seat, feeling that if she kept it any longer, he might be moved to prostrate himself at her feet, "your hope is an extraordinary one in view of my declaration. My feelings forbid acceptance to you in every respect. You could not make me happy, and I am convinced I am the last person in the world who could make you so."
"Cousin, I beg you to consider your words carefully," Mr Collins responded, "my situation in life, my connection with the noble family of de Bourgh, are circumstances highly in my favour. You should be aware that it is by no means certain that another offer of marriage may ever be available to you."
Elizabeth walked towards the door, justly insulted by his last statement. There had also appeared in her mind an image of another gentleman making her an offer, though she hoped in much better eloquence than that of her cousin, which had made her further impervious to his continued persistence.
"Let me assure you sir," she replied, "that I have no pretensions to whatever kind of elegance consists in tormenting a respectable man. I am fully aware of my situation regarding matrimony. I firmly believe to act in a manner which will regard my own happiness concerning marriage, and, with all the truth of my heart, I can tell you that I do not possess any lasting love for you."
"Oh you are uniformly charming!" cried her cousin, causing Elizabeth to open the door, and leave, as he went on to profess the belief that when sanctioned by her excellent parents, his addresses would not fail of being acceptable.
She went out into the passage, and then into the drawing room, shutting the door with an inward sigh of relief at her escape. Then she caught sight of the occupants, and blushed. Her father, Jane and Kitty, were playing host to Mr Darcy, and all seemed to be waiting for her arrival. Surely he had not come to make an offer to her now?
"Ah, Lizzy," her father began at that moment, "here you are. Mr Darcy here has a message from Mr Bingley to tell Jane, and I was waiting for you before giving him leave, as I hoped you would accompany them in a tour of the grounds."
Elizabeth felt a sigh pass through her thoughts. She could not refuse both Jane and her father. She silently followed them out into the passage and then into the gardens. As she exited the house, she felt an abrupt relief, as the sound of her mother's exclamation, presumably having heard by now from Mr Collins how his proposals went, reached her ears.
When they were some distance from the house, and of the views of the windows which looked on to that part of the grounds, Mr Darcy came to a halt, and turned to Jane. "Miss Bennet," he began, "I beg you will excuse the impropriety of my question. Believe me, I only voice it out of a desire to safeguard my friend. Do you love Mr Bingley?"
Jane gasped in surprise, but did not refrain from answering the question. Her sensibilities did not allow her to do otherwise. "I can safely say, sir, in all honesty, that I do. With all my heart."
Mr Darcy seemed to inwardly sigh with relief, then smiled. His smile, not seen by either Jane or Elizabeth before, caused them surprise, for it gave his features an even more handsome expression. "Thank you for answering me. I am afraid that I can offer no other reason for my impertinence than that of friendship. I have often seen Bingley in love, but never as deeply as he is now. I do not wish him to be hurt."
He paused to take something out of his pocket. "This is the message I was intrusted with from my friend. He means to assure you that his trip to town is of a brief nature, and that he will soon return. Despite whatever his sisters might say to the contrary." He held it out for her to take.
Jane blushed prettily at the moment of holding the note from her suitor, thanked its messenger with a further assurance of her affections regarding his friend, then almost ran back to the house.
Darcy turned to his other companion, who had been silent all this while. "I hope Miss Bennet," he began after a slight pause, "that the events of last night did not distress you too much?"
"No," Elizabeth replied, feeling relieved that he had not spotted her watching them from Oakham Mount earlier. "May I ask," she added in a low voice, "as to the conclusion of the duel?"
"It concluded satisfactorily," Darcy replied, "but without fatalities. Mr Wickham sustained a light injury to the stomach, while I had the good fortune to escape without a scratch."
"I am very glad that you did, sir," Elizabeth responded before she had a chance to realise the meaning of her words.
"Are you?" he responded in surprise, coming to a halt. "Miss Bennet, let me apologise for anything you might have overheard at the Meryton Assembly, the first night of my arrival in Hertfordshire.
"All I can offer in my defence was that it was my first social occasion since Ramsgate, and I was ill equipped to deal with it in a rational manner. Could you, perhaps, be able to forgive me, and let us start our acquaintance with each other afresh?"
"Yes," replied Elizabeth, this time in full possession of her thoughts and feelings, "I believe I could."
When the letter from Caroline Bingley came to Jane the next day, Miss Bennet did not regard its contents with any distress. The note from her brother the day before had contained enough to assure her that he would return from town in time to fulfil the engagement of dining at Longbourn as the earliest possible convenience.
Indeed, the only thing that had the potential to cause her any mortification, was the idea that Miss Bingley wished to deceive her, and persuade her brother not to return to Netherfield. It was the first time that Jane had been awakened to the idea that anyone could be capable of wilful deceit, and in such a convincing manner. She did believe that if Mr Bingley had not thought to send her a note, Caroline's letter would have completely taken her in.
Indeed, Jane was very fortunate that day. The departure of the Hursts and Miss Bingley was not discovered by any of Meryton's citizens, a circumstance helped perhaps by Mr Darcy remaining at Netherfield Hall, and making a somewhat public ride about the village's main street.
Mrs Bennet therefore knew nothing about it, giving her no opportunity to wail about anything save Mr Collins and Lizzy. That matter had continued to plague her for the rest of the day and night, as she found the idea of her daughter refusing their cousin most reprehensible. As soon as Elizabeth had returned to the house from her walk with Mr Darcy and Jane, Mrs Bennet set upon her with renewed zeal.
Ten minutes was all that her daughter would stand, leaving her mother forced to seek her husband's support. Until Mr Bennet actually declared his refusal to side with her, Mrs Bennet did not believe in the possibility that he would not order Lizzy to accept Mr Collins.
This disappointment still however did not make her give up her point. She continued to talk to Elizabeth again and again; coaxed and threatened, even tried to persuade the rest of her daughters to assist her, but in vain. Elizabeth would never concede.
The confusion over this matter had been brought to a temporary pause by the arrival of Charlotte Lucas in the previous afternoon, then had been resumed until, it was suddenly put aside, about an hour before luncheon.
Jane had received Miss Bingley's letter only a half an hour ago, and the rest of the Bennet girls had just returned from Meryton, the two youngest with news of Mr Wickham's terrible accident during a sword practice, when their mother was sent into a flurry of agitation and activity, by the news of Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy being not a mile from the house.
She rang for Hill, calling out orders for the best food they had in the house to be made ready, ordered Jane to run upstairs and put on her blue gown, before realising it was too late to make such a change, briefly commented on the shame that she had no news to give them, with a look of meaning to her second daughter, before resuming her seat with all the appearance of one who had been sitting down for quite some time, and awaited their arrival.
The door was opened, their names announced, and the gentlemen entered. Mr Bingley's first look was to and for Jane, who could not receive it without blushing in happiness at the message she descried in it. His friend was likewise concerned with only one occupant of the room. He fixed his gaze upon Elizabeth immediately.
Mrs Bennet however allowed them no time for private civilities with her daughters. First they must have lunch; they had come here to dine, and dine they must. She held the conversation until the meal was announced, feeling herself able to act as emissary of all the news Mr Bingley might have missed during his absence in London.
The mention by him of his sisters and brother in law being now in town was completely passed over without any comment, likewise any word directed at Jane. As for his friend, hated by their hostess ever since the night of the assembly, he was allowed the freedom to sit by the object of his thoughts, and occasionally able to answer and make an inquiry to her, whenever Mrs Bennet's conversation gave him the freedom to do so.
Longbourn's owner then put in a brief appearance from his library, that sanctuary having been invaded by the estate's heir apparent some minutes ago. Accompanied by Mr Collins, Mr Bennet opened the door of the sitting room to inform his wife that the servants had taken the care to mention to him that they placed the first course for luncheon on the dinner table. Mrs Bennet bemoaned their neglect to perform the same office for her, to which Mr Bennet remarked that they had attempted to do so, however their knocks went unanswered.
Mrs Bennet commented that the manners of her household staff daily tried her nerves, before leading the way into the dining room. All her hopes of soon having a daughter married were now returned to the fore. Refraining from making the gentlemen sit by her, she directed the arrangements so Bingley was by Jane, Mr Collins by Lizzy, and Mr Darcy by Mary, being of the opinion that one silent person would attract another.
Despite the obvious disappointments for some concerned, the meal passed off very well. Mr Bennet was able to obtain a release from his
cousin, and a chance to involve his favourite daughter in his quest for amusement, and Mrs Bennet had the satisfaction of seeing her eldest daughter and Mr Bingley in private conversation throughout the entire meal.
Mr Collins was torn between talking to his cousin Elizabeth of the wonders of Hunsford Parsonage, and Mr Darcy about his gratitude for the unceasing generosity of his patroness, and what a joy it must be to have such an Aunt, while Lydia and Kitty busily vied for their mother's attention with news of Mr Wickham's injuries.
After the meal was at an end, Mr Bingley commented aloud on the fineness of the weather that day, followed by a suggestion that they all walk out. Mrs Bennet seized the opportunity with all the adeptness of her usual inclinations, but proved unsuccessful with regards to Mary, who wished to read Fordyce, and Mr Collins, who begged leave to be excused from such an excursion, when Mary inquired as to the meaning of a particular passage. The four accordingly left the room, claimed their hats and coats, then made their way out of the house.
Elizabeth and Darcy, more prone to walking about the countryside, soon outstripped their companions, with only the former, in concern for her sister, trying to check their pace in order to observe the two that lagged behind. But Mr Bingley was far too happy to be alone with Jane, and too eager for the arrival of a spot for solitude, to worry about any one else who was outside with them.
They reached the part in the path where it separated for ways to the village and to Oakham Mount. Darcy led the way to the latter destination, then took his companion by surprise, as he came to a sudden halt half way up. He turned round to look behind them, and suddenly faced her with a smile.
Elizabeth knew not what to make of him. "Mr Darcy?"
He silently gestured to where his gaze had been fixed on. "My friend is about to propose to your sister."
She gasped as he had suspected she would, and turned to look down the path. She saw at the foot the figures of Jane and Mr Bingley. The latter had halted them both, and was now kneeling down, and in the process of removing something from his pocket.
"Come," Darcy remarked suddenly, bringing her out of that temporary reverie, by impulsively taking her hand and leading up the path to the Mount. "I have always felt that those in love should be left alone to enjoy that newly acknowledged moment of joy. We must not disturb them a moment longer."
He did not stop until they had reached the summit of the Mount. Only then did Elizabeth have a chance to ask, "Did you know about this before he left for London?"
"I did," Darcy answered. "It was one of the reasons why I came to Longbourn yesterday. I had to know if your sister felt the same for my friend as he does for her. Her assurance that she did, was what stopped me from following the Hursts and Miss Bingley to London."
"Jane did receive a note from Miss Bingley, you know," Elizabeth commented. "It intimated that you were anxious to see your sister, and that Miss Darcy was their hopeful favourite for the title of Mrs Bingley."
Darcy gasped in surprise. "I had no idea that was her thinking. It is true that I am anxious to see Georgiana, and nothing but Wickham's presence in the neighbourhood has prevented me from sending for her from town. But she is far too young to be the bride of my friend, even if either of them claimed to possess that inclination. I cannot think what Miss Bingley was about. Georgiana is not even out."
"I think," Elizabeth tentatively remarked, "she has hopes that one Bingley-Darcy alliance will bring about another."
Darcy was all astonishment for but a moment. Then he laughed out loud, catching Elizabeth by surprise in the loveliness of the sound. "I suspected she might have an inkling in that quarter," he began in reply, "but there is no way that I would ever allow her to succeed. I have no desire whatsoever to marry Caroline Bingley. My feelings have long been directed towards someone else."
He looked at her, with serious, earnest intent, and would have continued, had not it been for the occasion of their being interrupted at that moment. Mr Bingley and Jane came upon them, both all smiles to the degree that no one who saw them could be insensible as to what had just passed between them.
Jane only had eyes for her sister, embracing her with joyful happiness, claiming it was 'too much, far too much,' and wondering aloud 'why everyone could not be as happy,' as she was. Her suitor embraced his friend like a brother, in raptures of his good fortune. Any hope that the couple had held for continuance in their private conversation was done away with, as Bingley and Jane led them back to the house to announce their news to the rest of the family.
The day after the above proceedings saw the Bennets dining at Lucas Lodge, and during the meal, the announcement of the engagement was made. Mrs Bennet was indeed reluctant to make the delay any longer, happy to have something with which at last to gloat over Lady Lucas. She dropped it into the conversation during the starter, ensuring that it was the only subject throughout the rest of the courses.
As for the rest of the family, they paid her no mind. Jane was too happy to feel that the subject had not been spoken of enough, and Elizabeth too glad for her sister to be annoyed at the frequency with which Mrs Bennet referred to Netherfield Hall, the house in town, the carriages and speculated on the amount of the pin money.
The remaining girls stayed silent, except for the occasional word from Lydia to Maria, about the trips to town she would now have, and the chances to shop which her mother had promised her, but which she had yet to ask of Jane. As for Mr Bennet, he just observed the actions of all, his quest for amusement satisfied.
Mrs Bennet made but one mistake during her long narrative about the matter. She commented on her belief in the idea that one engagement often brings about another, with significant looks directed at all her girls. Only one member of the dinner chose not to ignore this supposed pearl of wisdom.
Unfortunately for one of her daughters, Mr Collins happened to pause in his praise of his patroness to Miss Lucas, and thus catch her words of advice. The wisdom of the phrase did not escape his sensibilities. Indeed, he thought it to be of the same worth as those from his
wonderful, most generous patroness, the honoured Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
How wise was dear Mrs Bennet! Such wisdom there in supposing one engagement to bring about another. Cousin Elizabeth would miss her sister dearly when Miss Bennet was called to the altar by Mr Bingley. Where else would consolation be found for her but in a similar arrangement for herself? Mr Collins considered his dear cousin so fortunate in having such a wise mother as Mrs Bennet.
He would act on her advice on the morrow.
Elizabeth knew nothing of Mr Collins' thoughts, for he kept them to himself. Nor did she suspect anything from his behaviour, for her friend Charlotte kept him occupied in conversation the entire time spent at the Lodge. Therefore, when she was 'accidentally' left alone with him in the breakfast parlour the next morning, she thought nothing of it. Indeed, until he made his declaration, Elizabeth had no idea that their seclusion held a double motive.
"My dear cousin Elizabeth," Mr Collins began, coming to stand before her, with expressive looks, "your dear mother Mrs Bennet avowed last night a certain pearl of the most profound wisdom, which I do not think anyone would acknowledge to have any falseness within. That one engagement, often brings on another.
"The eventual loss of your elder sister to Netherfield Hall, a sister whom I know you are very close to, is something which no one can hope to do entirely away with. But I believe that the movement of yourself to an establishment of your own, will fill a little of the hole left behind in Miss Bennet's absence."
By now, Elizabeth had long since realised what her cousin had in mind, and was forming actions and replies to prevent it being attempted again. Rising from her chair at this pause in his speech, she inclined her head in a silent excuse, and ran out of the room into the grounds.
Mr Collins, assuming her exit to be in a quest to find her father and mother, who were, to his knowledge, out walking in the gardens of Longbourn, also left the room to follow her. Instead of coming upon her though, he came to a sudden and unlooked for halt, as another more pressing matter came into his sights.
His youngest cousin was outside with cousin Kitty, and a couple of officers. They were Lieutenant Denny and Captain Carter, whom had arrived at the house soon after breakfast, to call upon the young girls. Mr Collins had been present when Mrs Bennet had sent them out into the grounds to while away some time at the swing on the large oak tree, and then thought no more about them. Mr Collins however, now saw an error in the wisdom of that judgement.
For cousin Lydia, instead of being the demure, if rather energetic, excellent young lady he knew her to be, was shamefully in close contact with Captain Carter, pulling at the coat of his uniform, in dreadful flirtation. Mr Collins, after standing about and observing the matter with all the proper disgust of a priest, decided that it was up to him, both as a member of the Bennet family, and as a man of the cloth, to rectify the matter immediately.
"Cousin Lydia!" He cried in tones of the deepest, most earnest admonishment, and walked forward to separate her from the officer.
It was a reluctant partitioning. Captain Carter who had by now realised that he had stepped beyond the bounds of proper decorum and propriety, and was also conscious of the fact that it was Miss Lydia who had begun the move, made the motion to separate, but Lydia was not ready to be deprived of her fun.
She resisted most strongly, causing Mr Collins to take her by the arms, and drag her away. Then there developed a scene which no one could have foreseen. Her struggle resulted in a misstep, followed by a series of stumbles, and the matter concluded with her falling to the grass, with Mr Collins toppling on top of her.
There was a moment of universal silence, broken suddenly by Lydia laughing at the incident, and then by the cry of astonishment by another, as the rest of the family, to the great surprise of everyone concerned, came upon the scene.
Mrs Bennet was the author of that cry, and she now stood amongst Jane and Elizabeth, while Mr Bennet had crept quietly up from the other end of the grounds.
Even Mary had been drawn from her reading place in the house to the scene at the sound of her mother's cry. A few minutes of observation was all that it took for all to reach a conclusion upon the matter, even if some had come to the wrong one.
"Oh, my poor Lydia!" cried Mrs Bennet. "She is ruined! Oh, Mr Collins!" She wailed for some time.
Mr Collins himself had taken the opportunity to scramble off his cousin and stand up, readying himself to provide Mrs Bennet with an explanation of what had happened. He was sure, in the end, that her wisdom would be enough to make her see the truth of the events he would now detail. "My dear Madam," he began, "I can explain......."
But Mrs Bennet would allow him no further. "Oh my poor Lydia!" She cried for the tenth time. "She will be ruined forever!"
"Not unless Mr Collins makes the appropriate moves to restore her reputation," Mr Bennet, who had all this while been unobserved by his heir apparent,- who now turned to face him in astonishment, -calmly remarked.
Mrs Bennet seized upon her husband's words with gratitude. "Oh yes, Mr Bennet! How right you are! They must be married as soon as can be arranged! Oh, my Lydia will be Mistress of Longbourn! Married! And only fifteen! Mrs Collins! How well that sounds!"
The speech of cries continued, much to the amusement of Elizabeth and Mr Bennet, whose quick minds had easily discovered the real events, and had not believed in Mr Collins willingly compromising Lydia. As for the prospective couple, to observe that they were ecstatic about the match would be to have observed wrongly.
Lydia looked sullenly at her mother and father, while Mr Collins looked to be at a loss for words. He had not thought his actions to be so misinterpreted! He had, he must and had, to speak. He turned to include the officers, but Lieutenant Denny and Captain Carter had quitted the estate at some point during Mrs Bennet's monologue.
Mr Collins sighed inwardly at the disgrace of officers in this day and age. Then he raised his eyes to his host. "Mr Bennet," he began, "Surely you can see that there is a more reasonable explanation for what happened? You must know that, with all due respect to my cousin Lydia, where my actual feelings lie?"
"Are you saying, Mr Collins," Mr Bennet began, concealing his humour at the situation, "that Lydia was not compromised?"
"Oh, I fear she was, but not....."
Mr Bennet did not give him time to finish his answer. "No, Mr Collins, you have said quite enough. I perfectly understand your feelings. I shall speak to the curate of Meryton Parish this afternoon. And tomorrow, you can set off for Hunsford."
"For Hunsford?" Mr Collins repeated in confusion.
"Why of course, sir. Surely you must inform Lady Catherine de Bourgh of your intended marriage, and ready the Parsonage to welcome its new mistress?"
Thus Mr Collins and Lydia were left to try and find something about the match to rejoice on, while Elizabeth debated over whether to grieve at her sister's unhappiness, or laugh at the absurdity of all, while breathing a sigh of relief at her escape.
When the news of this second engagement for one of the Bennet girls came to the neighbourhood the next day,- after Mrs Bennet had gone to Meryton to inform her sister Phillips, -all the surrounding inhabitants were, very naturally, surprised at the match.
While very few of them could answer without a resounding negative as to whether they knew Mr Collins very well, all could testify with some authority, that they knew Miss Lydia Bennet. Indeed, with her frequent, almost daily, visits to town, who could not come to know her so well?
And with this in mind, the fact that she had accepted a man of the cloth was too improbable to believe, and, had it not been confirmed by Meryton's curate, none of them would have.
All had expected her to be married soon, but their thoughts had centred on an officer being her future- whether that person was willingly or reluctantly agreeing, they would not like to comment -husband, not the Reverend Collins.
They were all wild to see the intended happy- they at least presumed they were happy -couple, and were most disappointed when they discovered through Mrs Phillips that Mr Collins had returned to Kent to inform his patroness of the match.
Then they were further disappointed when Miss Lydia did not make her daily appearance in the village. At first, they put her absence down to the possibility that she was pining for the brief loss of her intended to Kent, but when she had neglected the walk for a second day, Meryton's inhabitants confessed to find themselves lacking an appropriate explanation.
Of course they knew nothing about the real truth of the matter. They may have surmised correctly when speculating upon the opinion that Miss Lydia was wild about the match; for indeed she was, only in quite a different way, and one wholly contrary to their expectations.
Having always been assured of being her mother's favourite, Lydia had expected to possess a certain amount of choice when it came to who she wanted as a partner in life. So, when she was confronted with the engagement to Mr Collins, she had naturally expected to be rendered single again very quickly.
As far as she was concerned, the tumble resulting in her cousin being on top of her for a brief moment, was nothing more than that. It had been an accident, that was all. A hilarious one, but nothing that should have any consequences to follow. Indeed, when she first became aware of the match that had been made between her and Mr Collins, Lydia had regarded it as a joke. She was convinced that by the next morning, the entire mess would be sorted out.
Instead, she was confronted with the news that she would be married as soon as a license could be procured. In other words, she would be Mrs Collins before the year was out! Lydia could not understand why. She tried to assure her mother that Mr Collins had not compromised her, but Mrs Bennet was too wrapped up in wedding arrangements for her daughters to listen. Even her father, whom she had never expected to allow Mr Collins to marry any of them but Mary, declared himself too settled on the match to change it.
She ranted at her sisters, pressing Jane and Elizabeth for assistance. But neither could be prevailed upon. It was not because they did not believe Lydia's story, rather that they could not get Mrs Bennet to see its truth, nor could they get their father to see anything but humour in the idea.
In the midst of all this mess, the gentlemen from Netherfield arrived at Longbourn, in order to pay a call, on the future mistress of that great estate. Mrs Bennet, delighted at their visit, quite happily left them alone with her two eldest daughters, dragging a reluctant Lydia off upstairs to debate over the merits of Meryton or London lace.
Seeing, and in fact hearing most of the chaos that was alive in Longbourn at present, Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy wisely proposed the idea of walking to the Miss Bennets, and Jane and Elizabeth were only too happy to agree. The two sisters had had little time to themselves since the Netherfield ball, due to the number of events which had occurred, and now with the protestations of Lydia to contend with, the only peaceful solitude they could look forward to was the night. All thus agreed, they set out immediately in the direction of Oakham Mount.
Bingley and Jane, anxious to be alone, soon allowed her sibling and his friend to outstrip them, lagging behind, leaving Elizabeth and Darcy to entertain each other. Of these two, it must be said that neither looked upon the walk without a certain degree of trepidation.
Mr Darcy was only waiting for the right moment to speak, and Elizabeth was trying to decide whether she wanted him to or not. Her feelings had undergone such a material change since the Netherfield ball, that she had scarcely begun to learn to trust their permanence. Before the twenty-sixth of November, she had considered Mr Darcy to be the most disagreeable man she had ever met, and one that she would never dance with.
That opinion had then been entirely swept away, when she chanced to overhear his conversation with Mr Wickham. Not only that, but she had also danced with him afterwards, and heard and seen enough to believe that he was in love with her. And while she was flattered with the idea of such a man being in love with her, Elizabeth had not yet had the time to work out whether she returned those feelings.
She accepted that he was handsome, that many of their tastes were not as dissimilar as she once thought them to be, and that he was truly a gentleman, but whether that constituted a deep enough affection for him to be called love she did not know. So many things had happened in so few days. Could she really presume to believe that her recently formed good opinion of him would remain constant?
Elizabeth could not be sure. She stole a glance at him as he walked beside her, blushing in embarrassment as she met his eyes, which had come to steal a gaze themselves. In her mind she recalled the previous proposal she had received, substituting Mr Collins with the gentleman beside her. Could she refuse him as easily as she had refused her cousin?
The question would have to be left unanswered. Or rather, discounted, for Mr Darcy came to a sudden halt. He turned towards her with a cautious, serious look. "Miss Bennet," he began, in a tone laced with uncertainty, "Elizabeth," he added then, in a voice that could not be mistaken for its intent, "what you overheard upon the night of the Netherfield ball was true.
"Almost from the first moment of our acquaintance I have come to feel for you, a passionate, admiration and regard, which despite my realisation that you did not care for me, has long since been impossible to control or ignore. I am in love with you. I am willing to wait, if you wish, to court you as you deserve to be, but I would be honoured if you would make me the happiest man alive, by accepting the offer of my hand in marriage."
Elizabeth, as she listened to the speech, had pictured herself asking for him to stop, to delay his asking, to allow her some more time to think over it, but when he had finished, she found herself replying almost immediately, and with words she had not expected to be able to give him yet.
Though not very fluently, she gave him to understand that, despite the few days between her better understanding of his character and her previous dislike of him, her sentiments had undergone such a material change, as to enable her to receive and accept, with gratitude and pleasure, his proposal.
The happiness which this reply produced, was such as he had probably never felt before, and he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do; by taking her hands, and catching her lips in a kiss.
Caught in surprise by her reply, Elizabeth was further astonished to feel herself respond to him. Then, as she began to be wrapped in the kiss, she realised what had made her accept his addresses. The tone he had used to speak her name, was one that she had never heard before, but could not help being caught by. It had resonated with such tenderness, such deep passion, as to make it impossible for own feelings for him not to be awakened.
For indeed, as she was fast discovering, she did have feelings for him, feelings that did indeed equal passion, admiration, regard and, above all else, love. So suddenly was she overwhelmed by the existence of those feelings, that she found herself astonished that she had not discovered them before. She had hated him so violently, and was not hate a side of the same coin as love? If she had not cared for him, why had she professed to hate him so much?
Feeling his control beginning to buckle even further, Darcy reluctantly ceased the kiss, inwardly smiling when he felt her resistance. Silently, he gestured to the rest of the path ahead of them. Elizabeth nodded, and they walked on, no longer caring for the direction.
There was too much to be felt and said. Still clasping one of her hands, he found himself bringing it up to his lips for a kiss every now and again, as he told her of feelings which, in proving of what importance she was to him, made his affection every moment more valuable.
He still could not believe his luck. Indeed, as much as he hated Wickham, he realised now that he was somewhat indebted to him. For, had his enemy never decided to come to the Netherfield ball, he would never have had a chance of succeeding with Elizabeth this soon. Indeed, he dreaded to think of the possible future he could have experienced.
But no more. Speculation upon such was unnecessary. He had asked her, and had been accepted. There was no longer any need to dwell on what might have been. He was at liberty to imagine the wonderful future ahead of him.
With Elizabeth by his side.
Who can be in doubt of what followed? When any two young people take it into their heads to marry, they are pretty sure by perseverance to carry their point, be they ever so poor or ever so imprudent, or ever so little likely to be necessary to each other's ultimate comfort.
This may be bad morality to conclude with, but I believe it to be the truth; and if such parties succeed, how should a Mr Darcy and a Elizabeth Bennet, with the advantage of maturity of mind, consciousness of right, two characters that, while differing in some aspects, could not fail to compliment each other, and one vast, independent fortune between them, fail of bearing down every opposition, should any exist?
Indeed, there were very few within their acquaintance that felt that emotion. Mrs Bennet was naturally overjoyed at the good fortune of it all, and very happy to add the plans of another wedding to the two previously secured. With what delighted pride she afterwards visited and talked of Mrs Darcy, may be guessed very easily.
As for her remaining, yet to be attached, daughters, there was no objection from them either. While Mary learnt to submit herself to mixing more in society, and to be no longer mortified by the comparisons between her sisters' beauty and her own, Kitty, away from the influence of her younger sister, was able to loose her insipidness, her irritability, her ignorance, and what little of an ungovernable temper she may have acquired in Mrs Collins' company.
She had many opportunities of staying with her elder sisters, both in town and in the neighbouring counties that they soon came to reside in, and formed a close friendship with Miss Darcy.
As for Mrs Collins, I wish I could say, for the sake of her family, her husband, and her husband's patroness, that her marriage produced the happy effect of transforming her into a sensible, amiable, well-informed woman for the rest of her life. However, Mr Collins, nor indeed Lady Catherine de Bourgh, could never be that lucky.
Year after year of marriage, of quiet life in Kent, with the lack of assemblies and militia encampments, did nothing to alter her wildness, or her temper. As for Mr Collins, though he soon became reconciled to the match, he never did come to form that unswerving passion which
might have existed within him had he chosen another wife.
Mr Bennet was perhaps the most surprised by the match of Elizabeth and Mr Darcy. Being convinced that his favourite daughter had disliked Mr Darcy with a passion, he had been very naturally surprised when that same gentleman came to ask for her hand, the evening after he had made his proposal.
W hile being immediately assured of the gentleman's constant affection, some persuasion had needed to be worked upon him before he could believe in Elizabeth's assurances, that she did care for Mr Darcy as much he did her.
Mr Bennet had taken pains to become acquainted with her suitor, and soon found much to like about him, so much so, that when the couple had moved to Derbyshire, he took delight in visiting, especially when he was not in the least expected.
After Mr Bennet, it must be said that Lady Catherine was the next in line to being surprised at the actions of her nephew. Indeed, when Mr Collins presented his own Bennet wife to her, she was prepared to think the very worst of Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Almost immediately had she set off for Longbourn, expecting to find an older version of Lydia Collins, and an anxious to make amends nephew.
The contrast however, between Mrs Darcy and Mrs Collins, was so apparent and so great, that Lady Catherine soon found herself, despite her having little inclination to do so, becoming reconciled to the match.
As for Miss Caroline Bingley, who may be supposed as being the next in line of abstainers from the general felicity to the match, she never returned to Netherfield after departing from it as she had done so after the ball. The moment the announcement of her brother's and Mr Darcy's future marriages appeared in the papers, she had very happily engaged herself, to a man of even greater fortune and estate, and who, in a certain light, bore a startling resemblance to the very gentleman she had previously chosen as her future partner in life.
Indeed, Caroline was so fortunate as to have her suitor also possessing the same first name as Mr Darcy, as well as the same initials. With such good fortune, she felt no resentment to the new Mrs Darcy, especially when she became Mrs Dancy.
As for Jane and Bingley, once wed themselves, they retained the tenancy of Netherfield Park only a twelvemonth. So near a vicinity to her mother and Meryton relations was not desirable, even to his easy temper, or to her affectionate heart.
While enroute to a stay at Pemberley, they chanced upon the sight of a vacant estate through the sudden parting of some trees, and were desirous of taking up residence immediately. Of Pearlcoombe Abbey they found much to delight in, especially as it was within thirty miles of Pemberley.
For those that might be wondering what happened to Mr Wickham, here is some satisfaction granted. Due to his injury from 'sword practice' he was unable to ever appear on active duty, and forced to remain in the militia, at the lowly rank of Lieutenant for much of his life, until Colonel Forster discovered the many unpaid expenses and ruined tradesmen daughters, whereupon he was consigned to the hell that is a debtor's prison.
Finally, we return to Elizabeth and Darcy themselves. The former had much time before her wedding to become accustomed to those previously surprising feelings of love and devotion for the latter, and by the time they were ensconced in Pemberley, she could hardly ever remember the time when she had hated him.
As for her husband, he fell more in love with his beautiful, witty, and wonderful wife each day, witnessing with bliss the pleasure she derived from the beauties of his estate, and the instant close attachment to his sister.
One thing he always made sure of. That the twenty-sixth of November was reserved with sacred memory forever in their minds, and in the minds of those around them, as he threw a ball at Pemberley upon every passing of its date.
And, though he could never receive his once childhood friend at his home, Darcy made sure the man's many illegitimate children were catered for, and that most, if not eventually all, of his debts were paid off. For, after all, his presence at the Netherfield Ball, and the events which followed, were the means of uniting them.