“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”
His words were still pounding in her head. She couldn’t believe it. This man, whom she believed to despise her, had just opened his heart to her. Her astonishment increased, mingled with exasperation and resentment, as she heard him describing his inner turmoil. His objections towards her family… How dare he insult her in such a manner?
“I must beg you to consent to be my wife”, he concluded sighing deeply.
Raising her eyes to him she could easily see that he had no doubt of a favourable answer. He had spoken of apprehension and anxiety, but his countenance expressed real security. This could only exasperate her farther, and when he ceased, the colour rose into her cheeks, and she started coolly,
“In such cases as this, it is, I believe, …”
Elizabeth stopped as she heard a loud commotion in the hall and before she could say anything, Mr Collins burst into the drawing room. He was obviously upset and unable to realize that Elizabeth had a visitor with her. He shouted nervously,
“My dear cousin, my poor cousin… I’ve just received the most dreadful news… from Longbourn!”
Somehow Mr Collins acknowledged Darcy’s presence and bowed mellifluously towards him.
“Sir, it is an honour to have you in my humble abode…”
Elizabeth tried to capture his attention in vain… She wanted to know what happened… But he ignored her and carried on talking to Darcy.
“Have you heard the news already, Mr Darcy? You must have, and you give us great honour by coming here to condole with us…”
Elizabeth gasped and paled. Trembling she whispered…
“What happened Mr Collins, I beg you to tell me this instant.”
He still ignored her and rambled on about the honour of having Lady Catherine’s nephew’s presence at such a dark moment. Darcy, clearly impatient with the never-ending nonsensical babbling, curtly shouted “Get on with it, man! What is the matter? Can’t you see you are upsetting Miss Elizabeth?”
“Well, if you insist upon it, my fair cousin, I will tell you that my dear cousin, Mr Bennet, was killed in a carriage accident this morning.” Thus stated, he sat in a chair with a grin of self-satisfaction.
A horrified gasp was heard. Darcy looked quickly at its source and observed Elizabeth growing frightfully pale. Her lips lost their lively cherry colour. They were in a tight white line. Her eyes closed and her body was shivering violently. Darcy instantly recalled that she was her father’s favourite daughter and, having still fresh in his mind all the pain he had suffered after losing both his parents, he understood what she was feeling. Yet, he was unable to help her… How he wished to spare her from all the pain…
“Mr Collins, how dare you be so cruel and insensitive! This is no way of breaking these dreadful news to Miss Bennet!” Darcy angrily scolded the parson as he approached Elizabeth. Reaching out his hand towards hers, Darcy was surprised to feel her skin very cold. He heard a sob of deep misery before she collapsed at his feet.
“Well, this is certainly most inconvenient, my dear cousin…”
But the parson was silenced by Darcy’s murderous glance. Kneeling down, he scooped Elizabeth tenderly into his arms. Glancing at the doorway, he saw Charlotte standing there. She looked pale and very worried about her friend. She had obviously witnessed the latest events in her parlour. Breaking the silence, as she regained her composure, she directed Mr Darcy to follow her to carry Elizabeth to her room.
“Mr Darcy, I must protest! cried Collins “This is highly improper! I must not allow this behaviour. What will her ladyship say when she learns that you, a single man, carried my unfortunate cousin to her room?”
Stopping in the middle of the hall, glancing back at him, Darcy pierced Collins with a cold stare and snapped “Miss Bennet is not unconnected to me. She is to become my wife. We have become engaged this evening. Therefore, I don’t deem this as being improper!”
The Collins gasped in surprise. Collins retreated hastily into the parlour as Charlotte guided Darcy towards Elizabeth’s room. Whispering an apology for her husband’s behaviour, Charlotte opened the door to her friend’s room and rushed downstairs to summon a maid’s assistance.
Before depositing her on the bed, Darcy lingered for a few moments to enjoy the sweet luxury of having Elizabeth’s soft body in his arms. He held her tightly against his chest as he grazed his lips through her lavender-scented curls. Her hair was so silky... so soft… How he loved her dearly…
Gently, lovingly, Darcy laid Elizabeth on her bed. He couldn’t resist her nearness so he stroked her cold pale face with his fingers. He sat on the bed and enveloped her with a tender glance. She was so lovely… Her skin was smooth and silky and her dark curls menaced to tumble over her pillow midst her fragrance of lavender. She was so lovely… He found himself leaning over her, sensing her supple body… He couldn’t resist temptation. He grazed his lips on her forehead and her eyes when, suddenly, he felt her stirring.
Standing abruptly, Darcy called for Charlotte to attend to her awakening friend.
Elizabeth slowly blinked as she tried to recognize where she was and sat up quickly in astonishment when her eyes captured Darcy’s.
“Sir, what are you…” She started when she suddenly recalled the horrible news that her cousin so unfeelingly had disclosed. Her paleness increased and a wave of panic overwhelmed her. She started sobbing and murmuring “Papa” repeatedly. Her despair was such that she couldn’t say anything.
Darcy observed her as grief took over his beloved and he felt utterly helpless. He wanted to hold her and enfold her with his love, shielding her from all her suffering. But he couldn’t. The least he could do was hold her hand. And that he was determined to do. Approaching softly the bed where his Elizabeth was sobbing miserably, Darcy sat on the edge and grasped gently her hand and enveloped it safely between his.
“Elizabeth, please try to calm yourself… Don’t worry about a thing. I’ll make all the necessary arrangements for your journey back to Longbourn. I assure you that we’ll leave first thing in the morning.”
Elizabeth didn’t fully grasp what he was telling her. Her grief and the unfamiliar warmth she was feeling on her hand left her too uncomfortable and too overwhelmed to utter anything. The gentle but passionate kiss bestowed on her hand left her astonished but warm. Charlotte encircled her shoulders in an attempt to comfort her.
Darcy stood and after memorizing her beloved face for a few moments he left them after informing the lady of the house that he would be at the parsonage early in the morning.
* * * * * * * * * *
Hours later, whilst tossing around in her bed, Elizabeth, unable to sleep, realized that she hadn’t given Darcy an answer to his proposal. She would have to refuse him in the morning before leaving Hunsford. It seemed he assumed that there was an arrangement between them. She couldn’t allow this misunderstanding to go on.
She was confused as she recalled his loathsome proposal and his gentle manner after hearing about her beloved father’s death. She had felt warm with his touch and his gaze was so deep… He really seemed to love her… But how could she accept such a man… He who has the cause of her sister’s broken heart and Mr Wickham’s misfortune…
Yet, she had felt so… cherished?
No, she must refuse him. She had to tell him something before she left.
* * * * * * * * * *
Unable to sleep, Elizabeth got up and dressed before sunrise. She swiftly packed her belongings so that she could depart to Longbourn as soon as possible.
Despite her grief, she thought she should have some breakfast. So she approached the dining-room. Mr Collins and Charlotte were already partaking of their meal when she entered the room. After murmured “good mornings”, silence fell upon them. Mr Collins glanced nervously at her several times but didn’t say a word. His countenance seemed to reflect his disapproval at Elizabeth. She couldn’t understand why… after all, she was keeping her loss in a discreet manner…
Elizabeth served herself with some tea and a toast, trying to eat something. She quietly enquired her cousin about the travelling arrangements.
“Well, my dear, dear cousin, we shall depart as soon as we finish breakfast. My modest equipage will take us to the post at Bromley. My dear Charlotte and I will be accompanying you.”
Elizabeth whispered her heartfelt thank you but the parson kept on rambling…
“… Mr Darcy said he would send his carriage but that would certainly be most improper… he is after all engaged to that pearl, Miss De Bourgh… Certainly he will submit to his aunt’s will.. It will not do, my poor cousin, to aspire to such a match… And most definitely not now… “
Elizabeth could hardly grasp his babbling due to her distress but his last words had caught her attention.
“… you have no dowry, no connections and no estate… And now Longbourn is finally mine. Lady Catherine has been quite adamant that I must take hold of Longbourn immediately!”
While Mr Collins babbled on and on, Elizabeth grew paler and indignant. What has he said? She glanced at Charlotte who looked away mortified. Then it was true?
“Take hold of Longbourn, sir? What do you mean?” she managed to enquire shaking.
“Why, my dear poor cousin… the entailment… You certainly know that Longbourn is entailed to the male line. Therefore, it is mine now… And as Lady Catherine has wisely determined, there is not an instant to be delayed… If you had not refused… But on this matter it is better to be silent…”
Charlotte winced at his words and couldn’t bear to look at her friend. Elizabeth stood up and holding herself to the table cried out in a rage,
“How dare you, Mr Collins? My father has just died! Are you turning us out?” Tears streaked her pale cheeks. “ You… you have no heart… How can you?”
“My dear, you must understand… it is my duty, my right. As the noble Lady Catherine has said… I must claim my inheritance now…”
In her distress, Elizabeth hadn’t noticed that Darcy was in the doorway where he had listened to most of this indignant exchange. He couldn’t believe the insensitivity of his Aunt’s advice and the abominable readiness that the parson revealed in his desire to hastily claim his inheritance. That would certainly leave his beloved Elizabeth’s family destitute. And that would please his Aunt. Lady Catherine had already been informed, by her dutiful parson, of Darcy’s engagement. Her fury was lashed at him at the early hours of dawn. She berated him for betraying his family, her dearest wishes and his intended, Anne. She cursed Elizabeth for her arts and allurements and even accused her of using her father’s demise to trap Darcy into marriage. Disgusted by his Aunt’s obnoxious behaviour, Darcy quickly summoned Colonel Fitzwilliam so that they would leave Rosings as quickly as possible.
He couldn’t bear looking at Elizabeth’s misery and as she collapsed in her chair, sobbing convulsively, he raised his voice and addressed the odious parson:
“Mr Collins that is enough! Have you no sense at all? I will not allow you to distress my fiancée any longer!”
As she heard the word “fiancée”, Elizabeth started and realised that she hadn’t refused him yet. She could no longer let him believe she had accepted him.
“Mr Darcy… you cannot be engaged to her. What of Miss De Bourgh? Lady Catherine will be seriously displeased… you will dishonour your family by connecting yourself with a woman, a family who has no place to live...” he sneered satisfied.
As Darcy harshly replied at Collins, Elizabeth’s mind was in a blur… She must refuse him yet, what would happen to her and her family? Certainly the Gardiners would help them… But… a sudden moment of clarity, or lunacy Elizabeth mused, crossed her mind: would it be prudent to refuse Mr Darcy? She had already shown great sense in refusing that obnoxious cousin of hers… Then she recalled her feelings of the night before… She had felt so… cherished, hadn’t she?…
Raising her tearful face towards Darcy she was caught by his deep gaze… For her family, she thought. I must accept him, for my family. He seemed to have assumed her acceptance. Should she allow him to continue with this misconception? I had vowed to marry only for the deepest love… and now I marry for deepest despair…
Could she live with him? Could she truly live with such a man? A man who ruined her sister’s chance of happiness and Mr Wickham’s future? What of her pledge for marrying for love? Should she deny her principles? For her family? For her sake?
As her turmoil crossed her mind, her conflicting thoughts reflected upon her countenance and she frowned her brow nervously. Darcy, attuned to her expressions, quickly perceived that something was amiss. He swiftly approached her and touched her hand very gently.
“Elizabeth, are you unwell?” he whispered looking intently into her brown teary eyes, stroking lovingly her hand.
Elizabeth felt that she was losing herself as she looked into his deep dark eyes. There was something about his gaze that she couldn’t fully understand. She felt drawn into them and that frightened her. Confused, she withdrew her hand from his and whispered that she wanted to leave as soon as possible.
“Certainly, I’ll take you to Longbourn myself.” As he helped her leave the dining-room he explained briefly about the necessary travelling arrangements and that he would personally take care of anything at Longbourn to help her and her family. “They are my responsibility now, my love. Fear not for your family. I’ll deal with Mr Collins.”
“Thank you” she whispered trembling. She wondered how this man could be so hateful and caring at the same time. What sort of man am I marrying? In response to his warm gaze, she boldly reached for his hand and squeezed it. “Thank you, kind sir,” she whispered amazed at her own impulsive gesture.
* * * * * * * * * *
The journey and her arrival at Longbourn seemed like a blur to Elizabeth. Her father, whom she loved so dearly, was the most important person in her life besides Jane. She felt lost as she sobbed quietly during their journey. To her distress she felt Darcy’s constant and intense gaze upon her all the way, even as he conversed with his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam.
She allowed Darcy to hold her hands tightly, drawing gentle circles on her palms, in an attempt to soothe her anguish. Strangely, Elizabeth felt a warm calmness descend upon her as she allowed his caresses and attentions upon her. This only added to her confusion as far as her emotions towards this man were concerned. It seemed that her heart was telling her to trust this man… but her mind kept warning her about what the misery he brought to other people…
Once at Longbourn, the family’s distress could be heard from the entrance of the estate. Her mother wailed loudly in her room and once she learned about Elizabeth’s arrival she started berating her loudly about her refusal of Mr Collins’s proposal. Darcy started at this piece of information and took in Elizabeth’s distress and shame of her mother.
Mrs Bennet wailed on about how that odious Mr Collins would turn them out of Longbourn and how Elizabeth was such an ungrateful daughter who didn’t do her duty to her family and secure the heir to Longbourn.
Darcy asked Elizabeth to allow him to talk to her mother about their engagement so that he could take charge of the necessary arrangements for her family and her father’s funeral.
“You must get some rest, my love. I’ll let you know what your mother has decided after having talked to her.”
Elizabeth looked at him wondering, once again, how such a man could be so caring with her. She nodded her agreement, giving in to her weariness, and started ascending to her room after instructing Mrs Hill to take Darcy to her mother.
* * * * * * * * * *
Two hours later, Elizabeth woke up and felt an odd feeling about the silence the house seemed to be involved in. Her mother’s wailings had stopped and her younger sisters’ as well. Jane was quietly sitting in her room waiting for Lizzy to wake up.
“Oh, Jane… How are you my dearest?” Elizabeth whispered.
“Lizzy… how I’ve missed you… Thank G-d you’re back. And what of Mr Darcy? Is it true that you’re engaged? I thought you didn’t even like him!”
“Jane, dear Jane… so much has happened… But it is true. I’m engaged to Mr Darcy. He proposed to me just before I learned about Papa… Oh Jane, how I shall miss our father…”
The sisters embraced, holding on to each other in hope of acquitting some of the pain from their loss. A few moments later, Jane managed to inform her sister that the Gardiners had arrived and that both her aunt and uncle had been conversing with Mr Darcy.
Elizabeth was slowly becoming a bit annoyed at Darcy’s private talks with first her mother and now the Gardiners. What could they be talking about? Their engagement? Was he determining already her future? Making decisions without consulting her? Her distress grew as these thoughts rushed through her mind.
Jane and Elizabeth rushed downstairs into the drawing-room where they found the three in deep conversation over some tea. As they ladies entered, the gentlemen stood up and Darcy’s gaze was fixed intently on Elizabeth, assessing her state of mind. She lovingly embraced her aunt and uncle and whispered her gratitude for their presence and support in such a moment of pain. Turning to her fiancé, she raised her eyes and coolly stated,
“I’m sorry I wasn’t here to properly introduce you to my dear Aunt and Uncle from Cheapside, sir…” She regretted her tone the instant she spoke. She shyly looked at him and winced when she realized he was displeased. He frowned at her, wondering what she meant. Certainly her relatives were far above from what he had expected. But even if they weren’t, did she believe he wouldn’t acknowledge them? For her sake, he would have put up with much worse!
He decided that he had been there for too long. The family needed privacy to mourn their loss. After excusing himself from the Gardiners and the elder Miss Bennet, he requested his intended’s company to the door.
“Elizabeth,” he whispered as he grabbed her arm with one hand and let the other touch her face. “You must be tired of all this… I’ll be spending the night at the inn. Your Uncle and I have already taken care of all the arrangements regarding Mr Bennet’s funeral. He’ll give you the details.”
She gasped softly as he mentioned the funeral and closed her eyes. It was too painful to hear that word. Understanding her distress, Darcy pulled her towards him in a loving embrace. She stiffened at the novelty but quickly surrendered to the warmth that enveloped her. How she wished to forget her sorrow, her family’s misfortune and her sad engagement… Could she allow herself to give in to this man?
Before she could protest she felt his hot lips grazing hers so softly she could barely feel them. She opened wide her eyes and backed away from his boldness.
“Mr Darcy! Wh-wh…”
“Good night, my love” he whispered in her ear and dashed through the door without looking back.
“Insufferable man, how dare he!” she seethed stomping her foot in indignation. And she marched up to her room letting her emotions flow as she collapsed sobbing in her bed.
* * * * * * * * * *
The following days left Elizabeth in a daze of pain. The funeral took place and her father was definitely gone. The wake had made her endure the whispering about her swift engagement as the large wave of friends, family and acquaintances rushed through Longbourn to pay their respect to its late master. It was odd, Elizabeth recalled, that Mr Collins seemed to have vanished from Longbourn even before the funeral… Unfortunately not before telling all present about what impended over the Bennet ladies… a cruel eviction.
After her father’s funeral, Darcy informed Elizabeth he would be back in three weeks for their wedding. The usual arrangements had to be taken care of in London. As for the wedding preparations, there weren’t many to be taken care of as it would be a very subdued affair due to their mourning. Very few family members would be attending as her recent loss wouldn’t allow a proper event.
She would have preferred a longer engagement, as propriety dictated it, but her circumstances wouldn’t allow it. She couldn’t wait until the mourning was over. Her family owed a great debt of gratitude to her fiancé. The dreadful cousin of hers continued announcing to all who listened to him that he demanded to take hold of Longbourn after the funeral of the late Mr Bennet. Even her Uncle Gardiner seemed to bear no positive influence on the man. Mr Darcy, on the other hand, had somehow persuaded him that he should wait to give the family time to establish themselves elsewhere. Even risking Lady Catherine’s displeasure once she learned about this, Collins had agreed to let the ladies reside at Longbourn until Darcy’s wedding. Elizabeth’s mother and sisters would be moving the next day to their new home: Netherfield.
Elizabeth was amazed at the generosity shown by Darcy. Even though the property was about to become his, he had told her mother and uncle that he would draw up a contract with his lawyer to secure the Bennet ladies as tenants at Netherfield until their marriage or death. However, this arrangement upset Elizabeth thoroughly… On one hand, she felt as if she was part of this “bargain”; she kept telling herself that she was the one who was selling herself and Darcy hadn’t a clue about it. On the other, it signified that Jane’s Mr Bingley would not be taking residence in Hertfordshire any more… Hopefully, he would come to their wedding and Jane being her maid of honour would be reacquainted with Bingley as the groom’s best man.
In a month she would be Mrs Darcy. A short engagement would be for the best. Elizabeth knew the more they lingered on, the more nervous she would feel about this arrangement. She felt trapped and that made her grow resentful… It wouldn’t do to go to her groom loathing him… His presumptuous manners exasperated her. He took into his own hands her own fate as well as her family’s. She knew he was being extremely generous… but she couldn’t stop herself from falling into a pit of self-pity and self-righteousness.
* * * * * * * * * *
One beautiful morning, Elizabeth was strolling in the garden lost in her thoughts. How she missed her dear father… She felt lost, utterly hopeless. She had never been able to rely on anyone. Not even her father. She had always been a strong-willed independent young woman. Yet, her father had always been there and he truly understood her. She knew that if she needed him, he would not fail her. She believed she could count on him.
But now he was gone. Her family was distressed with the loss of the beloved father, though Lydia never seemed to feel anything but her perpetual silliness. Jane was as miserable as well. But Elizabeth suspected that her gloom had to do with a certain absent blond gentleman. Mr Bingley had not come to the funeral. And Jane’s heart was utterly broken… Elizabeth kept telling herself that Darcy must have been responsible for this absence. Certainly he didn’t inform his friend. Now Jane was the object of Meryton’s gossip… his absence at the funeral and the sale of Netherfield to Darcy signified to all he wasn’t coming back…
Oh, insufferable, insufferable man! She stomped and stomped her foot in absolute annoyance. Her impending nuptials now flooded to her mind and she sighed miserably… She was so lost she hadn’t heard a male voice calling out her name nor his footsteps approaching. A strong hand touched her shoulder and, turning around abruptly, she flushed violently as she gazed into his eyes.
“Mr Wickham!” she mumbled nervously.
“Miss Bennet, it is always a pleasure seeing… Even under theses trying circumstances… Allow me to convey my deepest sympathy for your loss. I wish I could have been to the funeral to pay your dear father and family my respects.”
“I thank you, Mr Wickham. It has been very hard indeed,” tears welled up in her dark eyes. “But we must endure it as we can…”
“I would have been there for you, my dear Miss Elizabeth, but, as you know, a certain gentleman’s presence… unpleasant scenes might have arisen…”
Elizabeth gasped and turned her face away. They remained silent for some time and resumed walking around the garden.
“Miss Bennet, I understand that, despite your misfortune, congratulations are in order… May I say… I… I must confess I’m quite surprised about your engagement…”
“Why, Mr Wickham?” she curtly asked.
“Well, I know you despise him as well as I do… But I do understand why you’re doing it. After all it isn’t every day one gains a large estate as Netherfield… and a 10 thousand pound husband!” he remarked cynically.
“Mr Wickham, you must not…” she flashed at him indignantly.
Wickham stopped and interrupted her swiftly. “Pray tell me, Miss Elizabeth, will you miss me?” he whispered softly into her ear.
“How dare you, Mr Wickham! You must not speak to me as thus!” she backed away from him.
“Why not? You must know how I feel… If only Darcy had respected his father’s wishes… I could be the one… the one to offer for you and help your dear family.” He grasped her hands and pulled her slowly closer to him.
“Mr Wickham…” she trembled as he kissed her hands.
“But we do know where your heart is inclined to, don’t we, my sweet Elizabeth?”
“Stop! Please, Mr Wickham!” she yanked her hands from his strong hold. She felt awkward about his touch. “I’m engaged to Mr Darcy! Please leave!” She retreated quickly towards the house but not before feeling his kisses on her hands again.
“I’ll be back, dearest.” He sniggered to her back as she closed the door. “I promise you…”