Rivals & Rascals
August 30, 1812
Elizabeth had to deliberately slow her pace down to keep a sufficient distance between herself and Jane and Mr. Bingley. She eventually tired of walking at a snail’s pace and turned around and headed back toward Netherfield. It was a relief to Elizabeth when her sister and Mr. Bingley were no longer in sight, not only because she wanted to give the newly betrothed couple privacy, but because it was painful for her to see them so obviously in love when she herself was brokenhearted. Being in Mr. Bingley’s company was also uncomfortable because he occasionally made veiled references to Elizabeth’s ‘engagement’ to Mr. Darcy.
It has been almost three weeks since I last saw him, thought Elizabeth desolately. Three weeks since we last kissed, since I told him that I love him, and where is he now? When there were numerous obstacles to their marriage, she had encountered Mr. Darcy everywhere and he had repeatedly brought up the subject of marriage between them. Now, however, when all obstacles to a marriage between them had been eradicated, or at least lessened significantly, Mr. Darcy had disappeared. Elizabeth kicked a stone in her path and groaned aloud at the contrariness of it all.
“Insufferable man!” she said aloud.
“Are you, by chance, referring to anyone that I know?”
Elizabeth whipped around and came face to face with Georgiana Darcy. She stared at the young woman silently for a moment and then threw her arms around her.
“Georgiana! It is wonderful to see you.”
Georgiana returned Elizabeth’s embrace with equal warmth.
“I am so glad to see you. You can not imagine how much I have missed you.”
“I have missed you, too.” And I have missed your brother even more, thought Elizabeth , but she did not dare say it aloud.
“I hear that congratulations are in order. I understand that your sister Lydia has married Mr. Shelby. I have met him before and I believe him to be very kind.”
Elizabeth nodded. “Yes, he does appear very kind and most devoted to my sister. He is a bit silly at times, but in that he and my youngest sister are well matched. ”
“I would like to meet Mrs. Shelby someday. I believe that she and I have something in common.” Georgiana colored slightly and kept her eyes fixed on the wood path in front of them.
Elizabeth looked closely at her friend; this was the closest that Georgiana had come to referring to her history with Mr. Wickham. Mr. Darcy must have told her about Lydia’s escapade with Mr. Wickham; she wondered what else Mr. Darcy had told his sister.
”They have gone to Bath to visit with Mr. Shelby’s family but they will return to London before too many weeks.”
Elizabeth was aware that Mr. Shelby was a close friend of Colonel Fitzwilliam, but she did not feel comfortable raising the subject of the colonel with Georgiana, at present. She felt even less comfortable broaching the subject of Mr. Darcy, although she was longing for news of him.
“Further congratulations are in order. My sister, Jane, has recently become engaged to Mr. Bingley.” Elizabeth glanced at her friend to see how she took this news and was relieved to see that Georgiana’s face revealed unequivocal delight.
“Oh! I am very happy for both of them. Even Miss Bingley says that she is an angelic creature and I believe that Mr. Bingley deserves no less. I would dearly love to meet your eldest sister.”
Elizabeth smiled at her friend. “She would love to meet you, as well. I have told her much about you. I am delighted myself at her engagement to Mr. Bingley. I believe they shall be excessively happy, I have never seen a couple more suited for each.”
“Have you not?” asked Georgiana with a sly smile.
Elizabeth blushed slightly and turned her face away from Georgiana to hide her embarrassment.
“When did you arrive in Netherfield? Mr. Bingley did not say that he was expecting you; although he informed us this morning that his sisters and Mr. Hurst would soon be coming to Netherfield.”
“I daresay that Mr. Bingley does not know that I am here. I had been staying with my governess in London, but found it rather dull, so I took advantage of Miss Bingley’s invitation to join her and the Hursts for a visit to Netherfield. We only just arrived a few minutes ago. I walked out to stretch my legs after the carriage ride and had the pleasure of seeing you.”
Elizabeth smiled. “Well, I am sure Mr. Bingley will be delighted to see you, although he could not be more delighted that I am.” Elizabeth paused to pluck a blossom from a flowering tree and handed it to Georgiana. “This is one of my favorite flowers, it is so delicate, but it has a bold fragrance.”
Georgiana sniffed the flower and smiled. Elizabeth tucked her arm under the younger woman’s as they circled the gardens of Netherfield.
“I am surprised that Mr. Bingley’s sisters have returned from Scotland so soon. It was rather a short stay for a such a long distance. ”
“Yes, I gathered that Scotland was not to their liking.” Georgiana lowered her voice, although there was no one around to overhear . “I also understand that Miss Bingley had heard of her brother’s intentions to propose to your sister, and was intent on hurrying home to prevent it. She seemed to think my brother could stop him from proposing, but my brother was not in London when they arrived. She entreated me to come, however, thinking, perhaps, that my brother would soon follow me here. In any event , it seems we have come too late to prevent the engagement, and for that, I am glad.
”I hope that once they realize that they can no longer prevent the marriage, that Mr. Bingley’s sisters will accept Jane as their new sister.”“I believe that they will. As I said earlier, Miss Bingley refers to your sister as an angel and both she and Mrs. Hurst talk about her with affection. I understand that it is not your sister that they object to, but her lack of wealth and the undesirability of her family connections.” Then, as if suddenly realizing to whom she was speaking , Georgiana covered her mouth with her hand. “Oh, Elizabeth; I beg your forgiveness, I did not think...”
Elizabeth gave her friend’s arm a reassuring squeeze. “Pray, do not apologize, I am quite familiar with their objections.” Your brother has had no qualms of telling me of these same objections, she thought. Elizabeth could no longer suppress her desire and curiosity regarding Darcy. “And where is your brother? ”
“I do not know precisely where he is, when last I heard he had to go suddenly to Matlock Hall, our uncle’s estate. I must confess that I am rather vexed with him.”
“You, vexed with Mr. Darcy! Why, I thought that he was the paragon of brothers. What could he have done to have fallen off his pedestal.” Elizabeth spoke in a teasing manner, but her mind was preoccupied with news that he had gone to the colonel’s family estate.”
Georgiana sighed. “He has been most secretive about his private affairs, although perhaps, no more so than usual. I am simply aggrieved that he has abandoned me, once more, to the company of Mr. Bingley’s sisters. Forgive me for speaking so plainly, but I am also vexed at him for failing to pursue his courtship of you, Elizabeth. I was so hoping to have you as a sister.”
Elizabeth smiled at her friend.
“Never mind, my dear. We may not be sisters, but we can nonetheless enjoy a close friendship, and am sure you and Jane will become great friends, as well . My sister Jane and I are dining tomorrow at Netherfield, so you will have an opportunity to meet her then.” Elizabeth spoke with a lightness of expression that belied her troubled heart.**************************************
That afternoon shortly after she and Jane returned home, Elizabeth was met by her father who came out of his study with a letter in his hand.
“Lizzy,” said he, “I was going to look for you; come into my room.”
She followed him there and her curiosity to know what he had to tell her was heightened by the supposition of its being in some manner connected with the letter he held. She followed her father to the fireplace and they both sat down.
“I have received news this morning that has astonished me exceedingly. As it principally concerns yourself, you ought to know its contents. I did not know before that I had two daughters on the brink of matrimony.”
The color now rushed into Elizabeth’s cheeks in the instantaneous conviction of its being a letter from Mr. Darcy. She could not tell which emotion was the stronger one, her relief that he had applied to her father for her hand, or her irritation at Mr. Darcy for broaching the subject of matrimony to her father before he had reached a firm understanding with her himself.
“It seems you have made a conquest of a very well connected gentlemen. I am sorry to say that based on the contents of this letter I cannot call this a felicitous conquest.”
Elziabeth stilled. “I know you think him an unpleasant man, but, once you know him better , I believe you will find him perfectly amiable.”
Mr. Bennet looked perplexed. “How can I think him unpleasant when I have never met the man. Indeed, it his reputation, not his temperament that concerns me.”
“His reputation, sir?”
“Yes, My correspondent tells me that your betrothed has gotten involved in a duel with a man of a lower station, there is also talk that he did not conduct himself honorably during the duel. I understand that his family is threatening to cut off ties with him, and that his fitness to be an officer is being questioned.”
Elizabeth was horrified by this news, but tried to keep her voice steady. “Am I correct that you are referring to Colonel Fitzwilliam?”
“Yes, Lizzy, how could have you accepted this man? He is the son of an earl to be sure, but his family have proved to be singularly disagreeable and proud. He is the first cousin of Mr. Darcy, you know, and the nephew of Lady Catherine de Bourgh.”
Without thinking, Elizabeth immediately jumped to the colonel’s defense. “Colonel Fitzwilliam is not at all proud and his manners are generally remarkably agreeable.”
“Well then, for that I must be thankful, but I do not like that you are engaged to a man who is reckless enough to engage in a duel, and dishonorable enough to fight someone who is beneath him in social position, and not to fight fairly, at that. Surely you must see how unwise it is to align yourself to a man of this sort.”
In order to counteract her father’s adverse impression of the colonel, Elizabeth confided in him that the person that he had engaged in the duel with was none other than Mr. Wickham, and that he had engaged in the duel in an attempt to protect Lydia’s honor and reputation. “So, you must admit, sir, that although he did challenge a man from a lower station, Colonel Fitzwilliam had excellent reasons for doing so.”
Mr. Bennet’s expression turned sober and thoughtful. “He fought Wickham, did he? Well, I can hardly condemn him for doing something that I would done myself if I had had the opportunity and the courage. And I assume then, that Colonel Fitzwilliam is responsible for scarring Wickham so horribly that Lydia had no recourse but to elope with Mr. Shelby. We owe him a debt of gratitude, indeed. Perhaps, he is worthy of you after all, Lizzy. Although, I do wish that you had discussed this matter with me earlier.”
“But Father, I am not engaged to him. Your information is inaccurate.” For the sake of simplicity, Elizabeth decided against telling her father just how close she had come to being engaged to the colonel.
“Well then, there is only one little matter left to discuss.” Mr Bennet’s manner had changed from one of gravity to one of levity as he pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket. “As it turns out, Lizzy, I have received not one but two letters today. This one is from Mr. Collins.”
“From Mr. Collins! What can he have to say?”
‘He begins with congratulations on the approaching nuptials of my eldest daughter . I shall not sport with your impatience by relating what he says on the subject. What relates to yourself is as follows. “Having thus offered you the sincere congratulations of Mrs. Collins and myself on this happy event, let me add a short hint on the subject of another. Your daughter , Elizabeth, it is presumed will not long wear the name of Bennet after her sister had resigned it, and the chosen partner of her fate, may be reasonably looked up to as one of the most illustrious personages in this land.”’
Mr. Bennet’s face shone with glee. ‘Have you any idea, Lizzy, who this gentlemen is? But now it comes out. “My motive for cautioning you is as follows. We have reason to believe that his aunt Lady Catherine de Bourgh, does not look on this match with a friendly eye.” ‘Mr. Darcy you see is the man! Now, Lizzy, I think I have surprised you. Could he have pitched on any man, within the circle of our acquaintance, , whose name would have given the lie more effectively to that which he related ? Mr. Darcy who never looked at a woman except to find a blemish, and who probably never looked at you in his life. It is admirable!’
Elizabeth tried to join in her father’s pleasantry but could only force one reluctant smile. Never had her father’s wit been directed in a manner so little agreeable to herself.
“Are you not diverted?”
Lizzy smiled half-heartedly at her father. “Oh yes. Pray read on.”
‘”After mentioning the likelihood of this marriage to her ladyship last night, she immediately with her usual condescension, expressed what she felt on the occasion; when it became apparent that on the score of family objections concerning Miss Elizabeth, she would never give her consent to what she termed so disgraceful a match.” Only imagine what Lady Catherine would have said if she had heard that you were romantically entangled with both of her nephews, she would have some cause for disdain, indeed! But, Lizzy, you do not look as if you enjoy it. You are not going to Missish, I hope, and pretend to be affronted by these idle reports.’
“Oh!” cried Elizabeth, “I am excessively diverted. But it is so strange.”
“Yes, that is what is makes it so amusing. The idea that you could be engaged to two different men is entertaining, in and of itself, but to have fixed you up with both of Lady Catherine’s nephews, and one of them Mr. Darcy with his perfect indifference and your pointed dislike! It is so delightfully absurd.”
Elizabeth nodded her head, and looked with longing at the door.
“I must say, entertaining as this all has been, I was worried for a moment that you might have gotten engaged to Colonel Fitzwilliam. As much as we are indebted to him, I am relieved to hear that you will not be marrying him. The preparations for Jane’s wedding clothes and wedding breakfast are giving me amusement enough; I think I would suffer from a surfeit of pleasure if I had to hear about the lace on your gowns, as well, Lizzy.”
To this comment, Elizabeth replied with a short laugh. Elizabeth had never been more at a loss to make her feelings appear what they were not. It was necessary to laugh when she rather would have cried. Her father had most cruelly mortified her, both by what he said offMr. Darcy’s indifference, and by his comment about her romantic entanglement with both Darcy and his cousin being cause for disdain. She was also feeling considerable discomfort over the news that the colonel was having difficulties with his family and the military as a result of the duel. Elizabeth made her escape from her father’s study by claiming to hear her mother calling for her.
August 31, 1812
Elizabeth was in low spirits the following day as she and the rest of her family traveled by carriage to Netherfield . She was not looking forward to renewing her acquaintance with Miss Bingley and the Hursts, and she was especially not looking forward to her mother and younger sisters exposing themselves to Miss Bingley’s derision. Her mother had two favorite subjects these days: her darling Lydia’s recent marriage, and how fine a match her Jane had made. Mrs. Bennet spoke about these subjects at exhaustive length and with no small amount of indelicacy. Elizabeth dreaded seeing the predatory looks that Mr. Bingley’s sisters would exchange when Mrs. Bennet spoke on these pet subjects. She was also worried that Mr. Bingley would make some allusion to her ‘engagement’ to Mr. Darcy. p>
Kitty was leaning out of the rather cramped carriage as it pulled up in front of Netherfield. “La, that man who stayed with Mr. Bingley before is here; that tall proud man.”
Elizabeth felt her throat tighten with surprise and emotion. Mrs. Bennet joined Kitty in craning her neck out of the window.
“Good gracious, it is Mr. Darcy! I must say that I hate the very sight of him but we must be civil to him, I suppose, since he is a guest of Mr. Bingley’s.”
Mr. Bennet leaned over and winked at Elziabeth. “Speak of the devil, eh Lizzy? Perhaps, he has come to propose after all.” Mr. Bennet leaned back and laughed heartily at his own joke.
Elizabeth was too preoccupied to respond with even a slight smile. Her first thought was that Mr. Darcy’s feelings for her must still be unshaken. But she would not be secure until she had a chance to observe him and to speak with him.
When it was Elizabeth’s turn to step down from the carriage, Mr. Darcy stepped forward to help her down. She ventured only one glance at Darcy; it was enough to learn that he looked as serious and expressionless as he usually did among those not in his close circle. He did not speak one word to her as they walked with the rest of the party to the house.
She had slept little the night before, due to concern over the news regarding Colonel Fitzwilliam . She was troubled both by worry for the colonel and guilt over the fact that he had engaged in the duel for her sake. Most of all, she was disturbed by the thought that Darcy had stayed away from her these past weeks because he blamed her and her family for his cousin’s troubles and did not want to have anything more to do with her. Darcy’s severe expression and his reticence lent credence to her fear that his wishes and affections had changed. She worried that an evening spent in her mother’s presence would give him further incentive to distance himself from her.
When they were shown in to dinner, Elizabeth found herself sitting as far away as possible from Mr. Darcy. He was placed between Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley, who had dropped her pretense of disinterest in him and now fawned over him more than ever. Although Elizabeth could not speak with Mr. Darcy, she was able to look at him. A number of times during the course of dinner, she found herself unable to resist raising her eyes to his face. He did not return her glance, however, and seemed mostly engaged in conversation with Miss Bingley. That lady seemed delighted to be monopolizing Mr. Darcy’s attention and paid little attention to the rest of her guests.
Elizabeth was in no humor for conversation with anyone but Mr. Darcy. Luckily, she was sitting between Mr. Hurst and her father, neither who expected much in the way of interactive conversation. Mr. Hurst occupied himself with his dinner and on informing anyone who would listen about how much he had disliked the food in Scotland. Her father was content to regale Elizabeth with a stream of sardonic comments about Miss Bingley and the Hursts, spoken in a voice so low that only she could hear. Elizabeth merely had to smile and make a few remarks designed to indicate her enjoyment of her father’s jests.
Suddenly, Mrs. Bennet spoke up in a voice loud enough to be heard by everyone at the table. “It is a delightful thing to have a daughter well married, but it is very hard to have Lydia taken from me. Mr. Shelby has taken her to Bath to visit his brother’s family and I believe they are to stay there through September. I almost wish she had married Mr. Wickham, he does not have relatives in Bath.
When the name Wickham was spoken, a general hush came over the entire room, punctuated by an odd choking sound coming from Miss Bingley’s direction. Elizabeth and Jane exchanged looks of mortification, and then Elizabeth glanced quickly at Georgiana to see how she was taking it. Georgiana displayed remarkable composure; she calmly took a sip of wine as if nothing untoward had happened, and her hand shook only a little where it gripped the glass. Elizabeth finally glanced at the other end of the table and saw that Mr. Darcy wore a dismayed expression. She did not dare look at Mr. Darcy after that, but kept her eyes fixed on her lap for the remainder of dinner.
Mr. Bennet had observed the various responses that his wife’s comments had received and decided it was best to leave directly after dinner. As soon as dinner was finished, therefore, Mr. Bennet announced that Mrs. Bennet and his daughters had wedding details to attend to, and they must leave immediately.
Although Elizabeth could not have been more anxious to leave, she was further mortified by her father’s abrupt announcement. She murmured her thanks to Mr. and Miss Bingley and then went to say her goodbyes to Georgiana. As she was speaking to Georgiana, she heard the unmistakable voice of Mr. Darcy behind her.
Elizabeth turned slowly towards him. “Mr. Darcy.”
“The weather is remarkably fine, Miss Elizabeth, are you still taking your morning walks?”
Elizabeth, overcome with confusion, replied that she was. Before the conversation could progress further, Mr. Darcy was claimed by Miss Bingley who practically dragged him to the other end of the room.
Elizabeth spent the rest of the evening meditating on Mr. Darcy’s question. Was he trying to arrange a private meeting with her, or had he merely been making polite conversation? She could tell nothing from his manner. Elizabeth decided that she would go to Belfry Lane early in the morning, as she and Mr. Darcy had planned to do weeks ago.**********************
Elizabeth slipped out of the house at first light the next morning. It was a fine morning, and despite her many anxieties the night before, her heart felt lighter. She decided to take the short cut up the hill that abutted Belfry lane. When she reached to top of the hill, she looked down and saw the tall figure of a man dismounting from his horse. She recognized him immediately and her heart skipped with hope. She started walking quickly down the hill. When she was halfway down the hill, Mr. Darcy glanced up at her, and smiled radiantly. Elizabeth started running; she barreled down the hill at an alarming speed until suddenly she tripped and fell. She found herself tumbling and rolling until she collided with a sturdy object.
The world spun around in a dizzy circle. Elizabeth closed her eyes until everything stopped spinning. When the world finally stood still again, Elizabeth opened her eyes and looked up, right into the fine eyes of Mr. Darcy. She realized that she was lying on the ground with her head in his lap.
“Are you injured?” he asked hoarsely.
“Not at all, except that I feel quite lightheaded.” She smiled into Darcy’s eyes and he gave her another radiant smile in return. Elizabeth was not sure whether her lightheaded condition was a result of her tumble or the feel of Mr. Darcy’s thighs underneath her head.
“We seemed to have switched positions since we last met in London.” Mr. Darcy said.
“Yes.” Elizabeth paused for a moment. “Since that is the case, I hope you will not take it remiss if I ask you a question.”
“You may ask me any question you like.”
Elizabeth kept her eyes fixed on Darcy’s. “Are you feelings and wishes with respect to me unchanged?”
“Yes. Well, no.”
“No?” Elizabeth whispered with a mounting fear.
“My feelings of love for you have increased; my desire for a future with you is stronger than ever.”
Elizabeth’s heart started pounding. “Then I must ask you a second question.”
She tried to sit up, but Mr. Darcy’s strong arms kept her firmly in place. “You must not get up too soon. You can ask me your question from your present position.”
“There are actually any number of questions I would like to ask, that I must ask you, about yourself and your cousin. But there is one that I must ask you before all the others.”
She could feel Darcy’s thighs tense slightly underneath her. Elizabeth gathered her courage and then looked back up into Darcy’s eyes.
“Mr. Darcy will you do me the honor of becoming my husband?”
Darcy’s eyes widened and he drew in a sharp intake of breath. “Elizabeth!” he cried. “Are you certain?” He leaned down and peered at her closely. “Perhaps, you are more light headed than you realize.”
Elizabeth sat up and gave Darcy an indignant look. “I suppose, to a man, it seems light headed for a woman to propose, but I assure you that I am in my right mind, sir, and quite certain. Now, will you be so good as to answer my question; I am not inclined to ask it again.”
Darcy leapt to his feet and quickly pulled Elizabeth first to her feet and then into his arms.
“Yes; always, yes.”
Elizabeth threw her arms around his neck and laughed for the joy of it all. Then Mr. Darcy, lifted her off her feet and spun with her in an exuberant circle until they both felt very lightheaded, indeed.
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