I know there were many questions about how Mr. Collins and Mrs. Bennet would take the news. I think we all know by now how that will play out. Instead, I’m going to focus on how Darcy and Elizabeth are taking the news of their engagement. 🙂 That is not to say that there will not be scenes featuring Mrs. Bennet or Mr. Collins later, just that I had to keep focus on what mattered most.
Darcy found Elizabeth in the drawing room, speaking with her eldest sister. Their sudden cessation of conversation made Darcy nearly certain he had been the subject of their discussion. Elizabeth blushed and looked away, but Miss Bennet stood and approached him.
“Lizzy told me of your proposal and my father’s approval. Welcome to the family, Mr. Darcy. I will be pleased to call you brother.”
She curtsied, and he bowed. “Thank you, Miss Bennet. Where are the others?”
“Kitty and Lydia are with Mama, and Mary has isolated herself to pray for our father. Mr. Collins has gone for a walk.”
“Ah, I see.” Darcy glanced at his betrothed, who still avoided his eyes. “Miss Elizabeth, might I have a word with you?”
“Do excuse me,” Miss Bennet said and left the room.
Darcy approached Elizabeth and despite her lack of offer, seated himself next to her on the settee. “Your father and I have agreed on all the vital things. I thought I would share them with you.”
“You would do that?”
“Did you expect differently from me?” Darcy furrowed his brow. He had not thought Elizabeth would be uninterested in his conversation with her father. That left only that she had believed he would not share it with her. Why should she think that?
“I am not thinking clearly with all the events that have transpired.”
“Indeed, it is much to take in, even more so in your case. My mind was a ball of confusion in the days after my father’s death.”
Elizabeth shuddered at his final word, and Darcy perceived she had not yet hardened herself to her father’s imminent demise. “Forgive me. I did not wish to pain you.”
“You are not at fault. However, I would rather talk about what you and my father discussed than…” she took a deep breath, “his passing.” The words and breath rushed out at once, making them hard to hear.
“I understand.” He placed a hand atop hers and squeezed it. As they had removed his gloves upon entering the house, it was their first skin to skin contact. A jolt of awareness leapt up his arm. Elizabeth’s eyes had widened as well. Did she feel the same thing? Should he pull away or keep his hand on hers? She made no move, so Darcy allowed his hand to remain, thrilling in the small intimacy.
“Well, we discussed the settlement. You are to want for nothing, and I will amply provide for any children. I can tell you the particulars of the amounts if you like.”
“No, that is of little interest to me. You have likely already discovered that I am not a fashion plate and do not spend my days buying fripperies. I am sure whatever has been settled will be more than sufficient.”
“Very well,” Darcy nodded. “We determined that your mother and sisters would be most comfortable near Meryton. I shall begin inquiries to suitable homes in the neighbourhood and would welcome any of your recommendations. I had even thought Netherfield might do.”
“Netherfield? Would Mr. Bingley quit it? Why Jane would be—”
Elizabeth halted her speech, and Darcy leaned back in surprise, careful to not break the connection to her. Was Miss Bennet sincerely attached to his friend? He had thought it was only the fanciful machinations of her mother. On his friend’s side, he had believed it was only his standard flirtation. However, if Miss Bennet’s heart had been raised, then it changed matters entirely. He would need to examine the two carefully.
“Go on,” Darcy squeezed Elizabeth’s hand again and returned to his previous position. “You were saying?”
“It is not my information to share. Only, I would be in no hurry to put my family into Netherfield, and I do not think their feelings would differ from mine.”
There would be time to discuss Miss Bennet’s feelings for Bingley later. Darcy nodded in understanding. “We can talk about which houses might suit later. I also told your father that I would not immediately sweep you away. I know how important it is to you to be close to him at this time and be a support to your family afterward.”
“Thank you!” Elizabeth’s shoulders sagged in noticeable relief, and she smiled for the first time since they had met earlier in the morning. “That means a very great deal to me!”
“I am pleased to have made you happy. Your happiness will be my utmost consideration in life.” Darcy did not take the duties of being a husband lightly. He had not rushed into marriage earlier as his estate demanded too much of his attention. Elizabeth blushed as he squeezed her hand once more.
“We will marry after…” She trailed off once more, unwilling to articulate the words of her father’s death. She cleared her throat. “Perhaps we will marry in the summer?”
“Your father suggested next week.”
Instantly, she pulled her hand away and stood up. Darcy mourned the loss of her touch. “Mr. Darcy, honestly, I feel that is nearly impossible and most improper. Why is there to be a rush?”
She paced before him. Was she again worried that gossips would think she had entrapped him? “Your father wishes to be present.”
Elizabeth ceased her movements, and Darcy could see the fight drain from her body. “Yes,” she whispered. “Yes, I would like that.”
Standing, he came to Elizabeth’s side and raised one of her hands to his lips. “I understand it is a sudden change. We will be married without having to wait for a mourning period. As your husband, it will allow me to fix things for your mother and sisters with ease. However, I do understand most couples have a longer courtship. Allow me to put your mind at rest. Although we will be married, we shall continue as though we are only betrothed.”
Elizabeth’s hand tightened around his. “Thank you for understanding.”
Darcy nodded. He began to perceive what he had not earlier. She had been shocked by his proposal and perhaps had never considered him as a possible suitor.
“May I ask how you can be so composed during all of this?” Elizabeth inquired. “I know your character is not easily given to fits of emotion, and Miss Bingley reports you are very steadfast—”
“Miss Bingley knows nothing about me.”
Before Darcy could say more, Miss Bennet appeared in the open doorway. “Lizzy, Mama says she will see you now.”
“You have not told her?” Darcy glanced at Elizabeth.
“No, she has refused to see me since I rejected Mr. Collins. She would not allow me to explain anything.”
“Then, might we go together?”
“Jane? Is Mama presentable?”
“Yes, she is in her sitting room, not her bedchamber.”
Darcy watched Elizabeth. She hesitated. He leant his head down and whispered to her, “I think she will be favourably inclined toward me and will not abuse you if I am present. I hate to think of her criticising you and not allowing you to have a word. I will not be put off by her enthusiasm.”
Elizabeth glanced up at him, peering into his eyes and searching his face. Finally, she nodded and looped her hand through his arm. “Very well, Mr. Darcy. Let us tell my mother about our engagement.”
As they ascended the stairs arm in arm with Jane ahead of them, Darcy said for Elizabeth’s ears alone, “I am calm this morning because for many weeks I have considered offering for you. I had hoped to see you this morning and begin my courtship in truth. This is merely an advancement of my plans.”
Elizabeth’s steps faltered as she walked in tandem with Mr. Darcy. When he had proposed, he had explained that he had admired her for some time. Still, hearing that he had considered marrying her for so long surprised her. She was so distracted by the thought that he had been studying her with interest and not hatred for the weeks of their acquaintance, that she was quite able to ignore her mother’s unseemly outburst at the news of her engagement.
As Darcy had promised, he did little more than flinch at Mrs. Bennet’s exuberance. Thankfully, Jane was able to calm their mother by reminding her that Mr. Bennet needed rest. The necessity for the speed of the ceremony further sobered the woman. However, it was evident to Elizabeth that despite the theatrics, her mother genuinely appreciated Darcy’s proposal and promise to take care of the family upon her father’s death. Hating that she brought nothing to the marriage, and he could not respect or like her family, Elizabeth hoped that Mrs. Bennet’s gratitude would be enough to raise her mother in his esteem. She doubted further acquaintance would help the matter.
In her heart, Elizabeth continued to wonder at Darcy’s decision to marry her to prove to his family that he would no longer countenance their interference. Her fear that he would one day regret the union had only been momentarily silenced and still hung heavy around her heart. However, it was all done now, and she could not go back on her word. She would not rescind her acceptance for his sake and only hoped to give Mr. Darcy as little reason to regret her as she could.
He left soon after they had informed her mother, with the promise of calling on the morrow and then going to London to begin necessary matters there. He would return as soon as he had the special license and settlement.
Mrs. Bennet had sent Jane down to chaperone them, and although she stood away from them, Elizabeth could tell that Darcy had to restrain himself with his leave-taking. She would have sworn he had wanted to kiss her again, but he settled for raising her hands to his lips. However, the contact was enough to have Elizabeth’s body hum with new sensation.
After Darcy left, she attempted to continue about her day. However, Kitty and Lydia teased her mercilessly. Mrs. Bennet extolled their good fortune from the rooftops, modified only when Mr. Collins returned. He had looked peculiar when he heard the news of Elizabeth’s engagement, but she only supposed it was because he had been rebuffed. As it was, Mrs. Bennet pushed Mary toward him, and as the day wore on, Mr. Collins threw himself into attending toward her, giving pointed praise to Mary when Elizabeth was in the room.
In the afternoon, Mrs. Phillips arrived to call on her sister. While Mrs. Bennet did not feel it appropriate for her or any of her daughters to walk to Meryton given Mr. Bennet’s situation, she regaled her sister with Elizabeth’s news. She commanded the older woman to spread it far and wide. The Bennets were not to be pitied. They had been distinguished among the families of the neighbourhood.
At length, Elizabeth could bear it no more and read in a different room. Her mother went on as though she were to become a countess. Mr. Bennet’s imminent demise cast only the palest of shadows over his wife’s behaviour until he had another attack. The entire house sobered when the doctor left the library with a grim look on his face. Mrs. Bennet seized her heart and shrieked. Only continued statements that her husband still lived calmed her enough to have Jane and Mrs. Hill take her above stairs to rest and breathe her salts.
After the doctor left, Elizabeth quietly entered the library. Mr. Bennet rested, but still, she kept watch. A pinching grew in her heart as she steadily observed the rise and fall of her father’s chest. Undoubtedly, the day had been exceedingly long. She had felt she aged one hundred years in the span of two days. The girl she had been upon waking yesterday morning was gone in the course of mere hours. That girl had laughed with merriment. She had teased and found joy in the frivolity and folly of those around her. Now, it appeared only grim days were before her. Her heart was not made for such wretched sadness, and Elizabeth had never before faced seriousness for more than a few moments. However, the inevitable death of her father and the prospect of marrying Mr. Darcy could not be shaken. Assured of her privacy as Mr. Bennet slept soundly, Elizabeth buried her face in her hands and wept silently.