Happy Halloween! I can’t believe it’s already Thursday. I’ve had a busy week and it seemed my plans for posting kept getting thwarted! By the way, did you see the excerpt I shared earlier in the week? Check it out here.
Well, we have an accepted offer. Let’s see what Mr. Bennet thinks of all this!
Elizabeth’s feet slowed as they neared Longbourn. She did not relish entering the house, which now had a gloomy pall over it. Taking Darcy through the back entrance, as she hoped to avoid Mr. Collins, Elizabeth led her intended to her father’s book room. Mr. Bennet had not been moved from there, as the doctor believed the stairs would be too much for him, and Bennet objected to being carried.
Inside the chamber, sat Jane. She worked on embroidery as Mr. Bennet lay quietly reading.
“Is that you, Lizzy?” Mr. Bennet asked without looking up, his voice straining and rough.
“It is. How did you know?”
“I know all the steps of my family. What is more, I know you have something to tell me which you think will displease me.”
Tears pricked Elizabeth’s eyes. She had not thought her father noticed that much about them. She had always loved him, but perhaps she had been too harsh on him.
“Well, come here, child.”
“Jane, might we have a word with Papa alone?”
At the word “we” both Jane and Mr. Bennet finally glanced up. The look of astonishment on their faces would have caused Elizabeth to laugh if the occasion were not so sombre.
“Of course,” Jane said as she gathered her things and stood. “It is good to see you, Mr. Darcy. Do excuse me.”
Quickly, leaving the room, Jane shut the door behind her.
“Well, I must confess I am curious about this.” Mr. Bennet chuckled, which led to a coughing fit for several minutes.
Elizabeth brought him a glass of water, her heart lurching.
“Do not fuss so over me,” he said. “Your worrying cannot stop the inevitable.”
“Please do not talk so. The doctor might be wrong; they have been wrong before.”
“There is no use in fruitlessly hoping. Now, your mother tells me Mr. Collins has made you an offer of marriage, and that I must insist you accept it for the sake of her and your sisters. However, as he is not the young man before me, I suppose you have found an alternative solution?”
Elizabeth smiled to see some of her father’s usual cheerfulness come out. He raised a brow at her and glanced between her and Darcy. “Mr. Darcy has asked for my hand, and I have accepted.”
Although said in surprise, Elizabeth perceived her father was not as astonished as he pretended. She supposed it was because Darcy had entered with her, although she wondered at her father’s lack of amazement that she accepted.
“Are you quite certain that is what you wish, Mr. Darcy? Elizabeth has not tricked you in some way, has she?”
Elizabeth and Darcy spoke simultaneously, making Bennet grin. He waved a hand at them. “I am only teasing. I know what your family and acquaintances may say about such a union and wanted to see how you would handle such an argument. I also know your first opinion of Elizabeth was not very high nor hers of you. It seems you have both altered your feelings since then.”
Again, he raised a brow, and Elizabeth blushed. Only yesterday she was complaining about Mr. Darcy. How mercenary of her to marry him solely for the benefit of her family! Would her father tell Mr. Darcy the truth? She fidgeted in her seat. Fortunately, Darcy saved Elizabeth from embarrassment by speaking.
“Mr. Bennet, I know my demeanour in the neighbourhood has not been the picture of gentility. However, I have come to admire Miss Elizabeth and believe she would be an asset as a wife. It is well that you bring up the fact that might my family and friends might disapprove of the match. Your daughter and I have discussed this.”
Elizabeth noted with chagrin that Mr. Darcy had no qualm with stating over and over again that no one he knew would appreciate their marriage. Still, she had never displayed cowardice before, and she would not be quelled from helping her family because of ladies like Miss Bingley.
“Indeed? I am surprised a man with your pride would deign to marry a country gentleman’s daughter with no fortune. Your relatives must prefer someone else for you.”
“I assure you their preferences are of no consequence. None of the ladies they have ever suggested are superior to Miss Elizabeth in the most important ways.”
“You are a very young man to be so determined. Are you sure you are ready to thumb your nose at your relations? I do not know that I should give my blessing to a man who uses my daughter only as a means of rebellion. Although, I am hardly in the position to refuse you.”
Elizabeth’s eyes grew wide. How was it even when her father was sick unto death, he found enough energy and breath to tease and provoke? Beside her, Darcy stiffened.
“I did not propose to your daughter out of rebellion. I have run my estate since my father’s death five years ago. In that time, I have thwarted plot after plot from my family. I have recently determined that to end their schemes once and for all, I should take a wife, and Miss Elizabeth is the most eligible candidate with whom I have met.”
Mr. Bennet stroked his chin as he peered at his potential son-in-law. Elizabeth held her breath.
“And you will not regret your decision later? Many men do, you know.”
Elizabeth did not have to wonder at her father’s thoughts. He had married her mother in a fit of self-determination and now regretted it daily. Her parents were fond of each other, but there was not genuine and abiding love. In its place, misunderstanding and lack of respect had grown. Elizabeth had always meant to marry for love, to avoid having a similar household. Alas, one could not have everything they wished for.
Unexpectedly, Darcy chuckled. “If I say I am determined, you call me rebellious. If I were to admit to any doubts, you would say I am unworthy. The truth is, there is nothing I can say that would convince you I am worthy of Miss Elizabeth’s hand. That is as it should be.” He smiled at Elizabeth before returning his eyes to her father. “As you have said you are not in a position to refuse me and know I can amply provide for your daughter, I assume that this was all done as a means to amuse rather than put me off. Go on, sir. I am not afraid of teasing.”
Mr. Bennet’s brows had raised at the beginning of the young man’s speech before settling in a relaxed position and a grin emerging. His eyes met his daughters, communicating his pleasure and surprise. Elizabeth shared her father’s emotions completely. Who knew Mr. Darcy could handle a tease so well? Miss Bingley would be humiliated for him.
“Well, now you have taken all the joy out of it. Teasing is never as much fun when the participant knows the game.”
“Papa!” Elizabeth laughed. “Do not take him seriously now, Mr. Darcy. He is still attempting to shock.”
“I am not surprised to hear it. I gather the apple does not fall far from the tree there.”
“You have been on the receiving end of some of Lizzy’s teases then? Well, there is nothing more to say, sir. You must know what you are about and still want to take her off my hands. Beware, daughter, for I worry you must be marrying a man of unsound intellect. She does not ramble on about lace, I will give you that, man.
“No, Miss Elizabeth’s conversation is far livelier than that. There is never a dull moment when she is around.”
Darcy looked at her with genuine admiration, and Elizabeth’s heart skipped a beat. Did he truly enjoy her liveliness? She had believed him to be staid and too refined to partake in any sort of merriment. Perhaps he was seeking a reprieve from such a life. She had never been considered useful to another person before.
“Very well, I will tease no longer. In any case, I tire. Well, Lizzy, I congratulate you and am very pleased that although you refused Mr. Collins, you have found a far more sensible match. Perhaps that will be enough to appease your mother.”
Elizabeth merely shook her head and stood to kiss her father’s cheek. “Thank you, Papa. Shall I send Jane back in?”
“No, I think I will sleep now. Go and tell your mother.”
Elizabeth’s smile vanished at the grim prospect. “I think I will wait until after Mr. Darcy leaves.”
“Mr. Darcy is not to be put off by your mother’s effusions, I believe,” Mr. Bennet replied but arched his brow and looked at Darcy with a challenge in his eye.
“Indeed, I will not. I am very pleased that our union will bring Mrs. Bennet joy.” Darcy stood as Elizabeth approached the door.
“Just a moment, Mr. Darcy. I would speak with you about the settlement and arrangements now if you please.”
“Of course, sir.”
“Go on with your news, Lizzy.”
Elizabeth sent a nervous smile to the men and opened the door. Just before she left, she thought she heard her father mutter, “There is little time to waste.” Her heart sank, and her knees wobbled as she left the room.
Darcy wondered if he would hear Mrs. Bennet’s expected screeching from her husband’s study. It was little wonder the younger girls had such unrestrained enthusiasm with that as an example. He did not know how Elizabeth and her elder sister were so proper.
Mr. Bennet interrupted Darcy’s thoughts. “I hope you will not keep her from the family too much. They are silly women, but they are her family, and I think they will improve as they age.”
Darcy nodded. “I have a much younger sister and know the folly that young ladies are prone to experience. I would wish to start my married life as I mean to go on with it. That is to say, I would not want them to reside at Pemberley, but they would be welcome to visit, and we shall visit them as well.”
“And what of her other relations? I am sure you know her favourite aunt and uncle live in London. He is in trade, and my wife’s brother-in-law is the town solicitor.”
Darcy hid his cringe. He had met Mr. Phillips once and did not look forward to knowing the man better. His wife, from the accounts of Bingley’s sisters, was no better than Mrs. Bennet. Relatives in trade? Well, it would only show how determined he was to be his own man.
“I will not hold Miss Elizabeth’s relatives against her if she does not hold mine against me,” he answered. “I will not pretend that I am not sensitive to the loss of esteem I will face due to such a connection. However, I am also aware that it is vain and shallow. If all that can be said of Miss Elizabeth’s relations is that they are not gentry and border on silly, then that shall be an improvement upon my own as many are scheming and mean-spirited.”
Mr. Bennet seemed to accept Darcy’s words. Seeing the man’s energy fade, Darcy directed the conversation to settlement matters. He was unsurprised to hear that Elizabeth’s portion was so small. He did not need any income from her and would be able to supplement it very well to meet the needs of their children.
Next came the matter of where the Bennets would reside. The gentlemen agreed something close to Meryton would be for the best. Not only would they be among their friends, but it also avoided the mischief the younger ladies could enter in a larger city. Additionally, it was far more economical. Bennet did warn that his wife might push for London or Bath, but should a manor house be available, it might appease her. Darcy was of half a mind to lease Netherfield from Bingley. Darcy did not think his friend was serious about settling in the country. It had no tenants for Mrs. Bennet to worry over, and she would enjoy being the mistress of such a large house. It was also the closest house available.
Finally, they discussed the date of the wedding. Surprisingly, but not unpleasantly so, Mr. Bennet suggested they wed the next week. Darcy’s heart thundered, and his pulse raced as he assured the older gentleman he would be able to purchase the necessary license and send the papers to his solicitor in the morning.
“Her mother will want to make a big fuss of it, but I know that is not the sort of wedding Lizzy would want,” Mr. Bennet said. “And I think it best if we make it as soon as possible. I would not want to miss it.”
Darcy watched as Mr. Bennet’s eyes misted, but the older gentleman glanced away and coughed.
“Now, then. I think that is all. I am amazed that I do not hear my wife screeching from the rafters. You had better check on our girl and make sure she has informed her mother. I do not confess to entirely understanding your motives, but I think you are a good sort of man and will treat my daughter well. You have noticed her worth, and that is a mark in your favour. I thank you for your liberality with my family, as well.”
Mr. Bennet extended his hand, and Darcy shook it with genuine esteem. He did not entirely approve of how Bennet had reared his household, but he had enjoyed speaking with the gentleman. He knew from his father’s demise that Elizabeth would be devastated when the man died.
“I would like to add,” Darcy said, “that we will keep close to Longbourn until your time has come. And then afterward, to settle her family. I will not sweep her away.”
“Thank you,” Bennet’s voice cracked, and the eyes misted again. He waved his hand at Darcy. “Off with you now. I must rest.”
Darcy nodded and sought out Elizabeth.