Thanks for all the prayers and well wishes. I’m a little late getting this up as my husband was sick all last week, but I think we’re finally turning the corner. Thankfully, although he is miserable at the moment, it’s nothing serious or contagious.
Darcy and Elizabeth will DEFINITELY have a happily ever after in this story (and all of mine). It’s just that Mr. Collins proposed first, and Mr. Bennet is very ill…it certainly leaves Elizabeth in a tight spot! Let’s see what she decides to do.
Previous Chapters: One
Fitzwilliam Darcy closed his eyes as the sharp blade ran over his face. To think other men had to do this on their own every day! Darcy had, of course, been without his valet on occasion. Terrible occasions that is.
A familiar visage appeared before Darcy, and he popped his eyes open again, jerking a little in his seat.
“Are you well, sir?” the valet, Jones, asked.
“Pardon me. It was only a startling thought.”
“Would you like to speak of it, sir?”
Jones was one of Darcy’s nearest confidants, and there was no impertinence in the question. Still, he did not feel free to speak about such a matter. “Thank you, no. I promise to hold still.”
“I hope so, sir. I would not like to be tried for your murder.”
Jones paused over Darcy’s face, allowing him a moment to chuckle at the joke. It was one of the many reasons why Darcy liked his valet so much. He had never been very over-awed by his position. He was always respectful, but there had been an ease and friendliness between them from their first day together when he was sixteen.
Closing his eyes, the face which had startled Darcy only a moment before once more entered his mind. Despite his earlier reaction, he was growing accustomed to the occurrence. It seemed he could not get Miss Elizabeth Bennet out of his head. There was really only one thing to do about it, and that was to court her and then make her his wife.
It aligned perfectly with his plans for the winter, so in that respect, he was ahead of schedule. Before coming to Hertfordshire with his friend several weeks ago, Darcy had determined he should take a wife in the upcoming Season. His sister needed a feminine influence, and he could no longer trust his aunts or cousins. That was not his only reason for searching for a wife, but it was all there was time to consider at the moment for Jones had called his name with a note of concern in it.
“I am finished with your shave, sir.”
“Thank you. I fear I dozed.
I am still not used to my bed and am not sleeping the best. I am sure a morning ride shall restore me.”
“Yes, I’m sure, sir,” Jones said with a smirk that Darcy ignored. “I have your riding attire just here.”
Darcy frequently rode in the mornings. Although, while Elizabeth had been in residence at Netherfield, he had forsaken the activity. Perhaps that was the cause for Jones’ look earlier. He had anticipated that with the departure of the Miss Bennets, Darcy would prefer to return to his earlier pursuits—and be far away from Miss Bingley as often possible.
On his way downstairs, Darcy was surprised to meet Bingley, who looked just as unrested as he, on his way out.
“Darcy! Out for a ride, are you? Breakfast with me first, and I shall ride with you. I wish to call on Longbourn and see how Miss Bennet fares. I worry her leaving so soon after such an illness, and yesterday was chilly.”
“Bingley! Really, you just saw her, do you not care for appearances?”
“That sounds remarkably like what Caroline would say!”
“Well, we cannot have that now, can we?!” Darcy managed a light chuckle.
“What say you to coming to call with me? Certainly, it will look more presentable then.”
Darcy hesitated and squashed the screaming of his heart to ride immediately over. However, upon examination, he realised Bingley had a point. If he insisted upon calling, it would be better if Darcy went as well. Besides, he was not entirely convinced of Miss Bennet’s affections towards his friend, or even of Bingley’s attachment to her for that matter. It would do well for him to have more time to observe them. It would not do for Bingley to raise her expectations or be trapped in a loveless and mercenary marriage.
Eating quickly, they avoided the presence of Bingley’s sisters and brother-in-law. Arriving at Longbourn, the maid appeared nervous but showed them into the drawing room. There, one of the younger daughters stared at them silently until the eldest Miss Bennet, and two of her sisters arrived. Their mother and Elizabeth were absent.
“Forgive us,” Jane said as they all sat. “My father is very ill this morning, and it has agitated my mother. “Thank you so much for calling on us.”
“Of course,” Bingley said with a smile. “We wished to see if your health continued to improve. I am happy to see that it does. I am sorry your father is ill. Did he catch your cold?”
“No, it is something else that ails him.”
Miss Bennet looked anxious as she spoke, and when the door opened to admit a man unknown to Darcy and Bingley, she eagerly gave the introductions and directed conversation to a different topic.
“Are you the Mr. Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire?” the man who had been introduced as Mr. Collins asked.
“Yes,” Darcy answered, certain some amount of flattery would follow.
“I am the rector at your aunt’s estate!” Collins scooted his chair closer to Darcy. “I have the great joy of telling you when last I saw Lady Catherine, but two days ago, she and Miss de Bourgh were in the best of health.” He grinned up at Darcy.
“Thank you for the information.” Ah, this man was Lady Catherine’s rector. She loved the supercilious. Ignoring the man, Darcy redirected his attention to Miss Bennet. “Is Miss Elizabeth unwell also?”
“Oh, Lizzy!” Glancing nervously around the room, Miss Bennet hastily replied, “She felt a great need for a walk. She goes on one to reflect…and pray. Obviously, such a time as this, she will need such fortitude.”
Darcy merely nodded, although he was unsure what about the situation required such serious prayer. Mr. Collins pontificated on the merits of prayer and the necessity of a rector marrying a wife who would be so pious. The youngest Bennet daughters stifled a giggle, and the middle one nudged one with her elbow.
Aside from Mr. Collins’ unrelated ramblings, the conversation remained stilted, and the appropriate time for their call passed in awkward silence. After fifteen minutes, Darcy stood, prompting Bingley to do so as well. His friend promised to aid Mr. Bennet in any way he could. Darcy even offered to send to Town for a physician. Unsurprisingly, Miss Bennet politely declined. Having done their duty and knowing a more extended stay would be rude, the gentlemen departed as soon as possible, given Mr. Collins many farewells and well-wishes of future meetings.
Seeing the path to Oakham Mount, Darcy came to a sudden decision.
“If you have no need of me, Bingley, I would like to ride for a bit longer.”
Bingley, who had been silent since leaving Longbourn, shook his head. “I will make your apologies to Caroline. You do not have to hide your motive for avoiding the house from me. I understand she and Louisa have plans this afternoon if you would like to return then. I would join you, but I have correspondence which Caroline informs me I can no longer put off.”
Darcy nodded his thanks, and with a wave, the two friends parted. Upon nearing the crest of the hill, Darcy espied Elizabeth pacing back and forth, speaking in apparent agitation to a friend. Wishing to overhear her unguarded thoughts, he silently dismounted and tethered his horse. Getting close enough to hear her words without her noticing him was something he was well practiced at by now.
“Think rationally, Lizzy!” A woman Darcy recognised as Charlotte Lucas said.
“Oh, if there was ever a time I could sympathize with Mamma’s nerves!” Elizabeth cried. “He is a toad of a man. Ridiculous, repulsive even. How could I agree to marry him? Have I not seen the disaster such unequal partnership makes in a marriage and the effects on children? Children! Why, of course, I would love them but the begetting!”
“I know you do not wish to hear this, but you came to me for honesty. I have said it before. Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. You may think you detest him now, but once you get to know him better, you will see his finer points of merit. In any case, at least you do not know enough to hate him. You only dislike his manners. I have never seen a couple that did not share some hurt or grievances no matter the love they had in the beginning.”
Elizabeth paused as a deep shudder ran through her body. “Perhaps it is time to give up such romantic thoughts. Maybe it is as you say. At least I do not know him better. I would only dislike him more.”
She paused and shook her head. “It feels dishonest. However, what will become of us if I do not accept Mr. Collins’ proposal? There is not enough space for all of us at the Phillips’ or the Gardiners.’ Mamma would be unable to live on her income. Would Jane and I have to contribute as governesses or companions? I cannot ask my relatives to take on the task of caring for us when I am young and healthy. And yet to enter service? I hear many dangers for a young woman doing such.”
“Calm yourself. You know the answer to all your questions. It has just been neatly presented to you on a silver platter. You are quite fortunate, you know. What shall become of me when my father dies? I will be nothing but a burden to my siblings. You must accept Mr. Collins.
Elizabeth took a step backward, apparently startled at her friend’s bluntness. “You are right. I know Jane would make this sacrifice. She would give up her chance of love and happiness with Mr. Bingley and marry Mr. Collins to protect us. How can I entertain such selfish thoughts?
“Indeed, I would take the offer should Mr. Collins ever asked me. However, you know I do not put much stock in love before marriage.”
“You must think I am a fool to even worry about missing out on love because of Mr. Collins. Who knows if I would ever find love? I am nearly one and twenty and have never been close to a courtship. There are few eligible gentlemen in this area. You were there the night I was recently pronounced as only tolerable and not even handsome enough to tempt a man for one dance when it was clear men were scare, and any gentleman would know his duty to dance in such a situation. In fact, I am so far from being handsome or accomplished and fashionable that he stares at me in disdain and provokes me to display my hoyden ways to the everlasting glee of Miss Bingley!”
“Eliza, why should you care what Mr. Darcy thinks of you? It is Mr. Collins you should consider now.”
“Charlotte!” A young miss called from down the hill.
“Oh, there is Maria. I am needed at home.” Miss Lucas grabbed Elizabeth’s hand. “Now, you know my thoughts. Do not allow this opportunity to pass you. Believe me, you will regret it.”
The two friends hugged, and when Elizabeth pulled back, she wiped a tear from her eye. “Yes, I understand.” She took a deep breath and raised her chin. “It is time for me to grow up. I would never forgive myself if I let Jane throw away her life.”
Miss Lucas nodded and hugged her friend once more before leaving to join her sister down the path which led to Lucas Lodge.
Darcy watched as Elizabeth crumpled to the ground and sobbed. “Oh, Papa! How did it ever come to this! How must we live? How can I live?”
At long last, her tears were spent and with one last resigned sigh and lingering look at the view, as though it could offer some hidden answer, Elizabeth stood.