The Means of Uniting Them
Elizabeth watched as Mr. Darcy – Fitzwilliam – walked away from the Parsonage. He turned back just at the bend in the lane and she would almost have been upset by the formality of the bow he bestowed upon her was it not for the splendid smile that accompanied it. Taking a deep breath, she pushed open the small gate that led to the garden and gathered her courage to face the house's inhabitants.
Mary was occupied in the small sitting room and, upon Elizabeth's entrance, looked up to see such a complete reversal of the sentiments which they had spoken of that morning as to quite shock her.
"Lizzy! What has happened! Surely one walk could not have wrought this much of a change in your spirits?"
Elizabeth laughed as she replied, "Indeed it did not. Oh Mary, I should make you guess the source of my profound happiness but you never shall so I'll tell you – Mr. Darcy is not engaged to his cousin. Indeed, he is so far from being engaged to Miss De Bourgh that he is engaged to me!"
Mary said nothing and Elizabeth watched as shock, happiness, and then uneasiness played across her sister's face.
"But what can he mean by it?"
"Mr. Darcy! Lady Catherine would have no need to spread scandalous falsehoods that involve her own daughter and the gentleman did nothing to refute her claims! Lizzy, what if he has imposed on and lied to you?"
Elizabeth, seeing her sister's distress, quickly told her all the important points that were revealed during her discussion with the gentleman that morning and not half an hour later, Mrs. Collins and Miss Elizabeth were happily ruminating on the latter's good fortune. It was not till the entrance of Mr. Collins, announcing his return from the daily visit to Rosings, that Elizabeth realized how precarious was her situation.
She had assumed that Mr. Darcy would have set his aunt's ridiculous notions straight before approaching her with an offer of marriage but she couldn't be positive. And here she was, delighting loudly with her sister of the engagement under the same roof as a man who hid nothing from the very same aunt!
"My dear Mary and Cousin Elizabeth - I had wondered whether your ailments were anything serious after our speedy retreat from Lady Catherine's drawing room but I am pleased to see you both looking so well. "
"Indeed, Mr. Collins," replied his wife. "You see us both quite recovered."
"I see you have followed her Ladyship's excellent advice and remained indoors this morning. I am quite sure Lady Catherine was correct in her estimation that it is these long walks which tax you so."
"No indeed, Mr. Collins," Elizabeth said with a slightly mischievous expression. "It was my morning walk which restored my health."
Mr. Collins looked quite confused for a moment and then, remembering the happy tone of the voices he had heard when he entered the house, turned to Mrs. Collins and said, "It sounded like something very exciting was happening when I entered. I hope I didn't interrupt?
Elizabeth felt herself panic until the gentle voice of Mary replied, "There was no interruption, Mr. Collins. In fact, Lizzy was just going up stairs to write a letter to our sister Jane." She turned to Elizabeth expectantly.
"Yes, I was," Elizabeth eagerly agreed. "I pray you would excuse me."
She left the room with a quick, grateful look to Mary and made her way upstairs. Once she had calmed herself enough to think clearly, she pulled a sheet of paper from the small desk in the room and began a letter to Jane. The letter, though brief, was full of the past 24 hour's revelations – both those of the night before and the morning – and Elizabeth's pen could barely keep up with the joy of her thoughts.
Elizabeth was hard-pressed to contain her excitement and soon found that the day had passed in a state of glorious inattention. The next day brought heavy rain to the countryside so it wasn't until the second morning following their engagement that Elizabeth was able to walk outside again in hopes of meeting Mr. Darcy.
She did not have to wait long before his tall form was walking towards her and her heart fluttered when he greeted her with delight and raised her hand to his lips for a kiss. The immediate, and weighty, realization on both their parts that soon they would be truly reunited in marriage and they would not have to plan assignations in the park in order to gain some privacy, seemed to hover around them. Elizabeth felt herself whole and complete when near him, the idea that she had missed him terribly even in the last two days, made her sigh and lean into his chest.
Darcy, who had taken himself to task only that morning about maintaining propriety and not scaring her with his attentions, found her quiet sigh almost more than he could bear. Without quite realizing he was doing so, he pulled at the laces of her bonnet until it fell back from her head, wrapped his arms around her frame and rested his cheek against her hair. If a few tender kisses were placed on her brow, no one but they were any the wiser.
Neither spoke for several moments, content to be near the other and secure in each other's unspoken feelings. However, Elizabeth soon realized how long she had been in his arms and blushed. She adjusted her bonnet before taking the arm he had immediately offered – he couldn't be without her touch. They walked in the grove for some time, simply reminding the other of their engagement and whispering endearments when bold.
As was her nature, Elizabeth's spirits soon rose to playfulness and she wanted Mr. Darcy to account for his having ever fallen in love with her.
"How could you begin?" said she, gently squeezing the arm she was holding. "I can comprehend your going on charmingly, when you had once made a beginning, but what could set you off in the first place?"
"I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun."
"My beauty you had early withstood, and as for my manners—my behavior to you was at least always bordering on uncivil, and I never spoke to you without rather wishing to give you pain than not. Now be sincere; did you admire me for my impertinence?"
"For the liveliness of your mind, I did."
"You may as well call it impertinence at once. It was very little less. The fact is, you were sick of civility, of deference, of officious attention. You were disgusted with the women who were always speaking, and looking, and thinking for your approbation alone. I roused, and interested you, because I was so unlike them. There—I have saved you the trouble of accounting for it; and really, all things considered, I begin to think it perfectly reasonable. To be sure, you knew no actual good of me—but nobody thinks of that when they fall in love."
"Was there no good in your affectionate behavior to Jane while she was ill at Netherfield? Or to myself when you listened to my long tale about Mr. Wickham?"
"Dearest Jane! And despicable Wickham! Who could have done less? But make a virtue of it by all means. My good qualities are under your protection, and you are to exaggerate them as much as possible.
This made her companion laugh heartily and she continued, eager to maintain that delightful expression on his face: "In return, it belongs to me to find occasions for teasing and quarrelling with you as often as may be."
Oh yes, and I shall begin directly by asking you what made you so unwilling to come to the point at last. Why did it take Lady Catherine's ill-timed announcement for you to declare yourself?"
"But, I was not unwilling!"
Elizabeth looked apprehensive and he laughed slightly as he continued, "Indeed, dearest one, I had quite made up my mind to speak to you soon, but I had not wanted to do it in Kent, with you so far away from your family and me under my Aunt's watchful eye. You need not distress yourself - Lady Catherine's unjustifiable actions were the means of removing all my doubts. It showed me how easily I could lose you and that was all the impetus I needed."
"Lady Catherine has been of infinite use, which ought to make her happy, for she loves to be of use. But tell me, what did you come down to Kent for? Was it merely to continue a courtship that only you knew about? Or had you intended any more serious consequence?"
"My real purpose was to see you, and to judge, if I could, whether I might ever hope to make you love me."
Elizabeth blushed at such sincere and honest feelings but covered her own happy embarrassment by asking, "Shall you ever have the courage to announce to Lady Catherine what is to befall her?"
"I am more likely to want more time than courage, Elizabeth. But it ought to be done."
"In what manner do you plan on telling her?"
"I am afraid I have no plan as of this moment, though I suppose I should tell her in person."
"Have you –" Elizabeth hesitated.
"Yes?" Darcy asked, laying his other hand on top of hers.
"I do not mean to doubt you, however, have you corrected Lady Catherine's announcement? Or does she think you engaged to your cousin?"
"Heavens, no! I spoke to her the moment you left Rosings and said, in no uncertain terms, that I would not marry Anne."
"Oh! That is quite a relief; I can now fully explore my own happiness!"
"Are you happy, Elizabeth?"
She looked up into his handsome face and smiled so joyously that Darcy felt the breath leave his chest.
"More than I could possibly say, Fitzwilliam. Indeed, more than I thought I would ever be when you left Netherfield so suddenly."
Darcy felt all the shame of her chastisement, intended or not, and stopped to look at her squarely.
"That is something for which I should ask your forgiveness."
"Why did you do it?" Elizabeth asked simply.
When Darcy seemed to struggle for words, she continued saying, "Why would you tell me that you loved me but that you couldn't stay with me?"
"The night of the Netherfield Ball, when I asked you if you had any Burns for me… you quoted Farewell Eliza."
"I remember thinking of you when I read the poem but…" Suddenly his face became ashen and he looked at Elizabeth with an expression of incredible grief.
"How you must have hated me!"
"Yes, I'm afraid I did! I determined to think of you no more."
"You laugh, but I cannot imagine you so calm when I first left the neighborhood."
"I was not."
His hands slipped to her neck and tilted her head but she refused to meet his eyes until he softly called her name.
Her voice trembled as she replied, "I was very angry with you. I thought that you were my friend and had every hope that we might continue to be so. I was quite sure you felt nothing for me and that my only feelings were too new and confusing to be of significance. And then to look up the poem and find that, if you had meant to imply anything, you loved me, adored me, but couldn't, no wouldn't, stay. I'm afraid I was incredibly disappointed in you."
"My love," Darcy whispered as he slowly brought their foreheads together. "I do not deserve your love, nor your kindness. I behaved abominably. I can only account for it by acknowledging my own stubborn fear. You enchanted me, captured me with your laugh and your generous nature. The strength of my attachment to you after so short an acquaintance was terrifying. I determined that what I felt was only a vague inclination and would pass when I was no longer in your presence."
"But it was not?" She whispered, longing to hear him explain himself and dreading to hear any more about his reasons for leaving.
"No, my admiration for you had taken up permanent residence in my heart. I still cannot say that I loved you then as fully as I do now, because my love was selfish. I'm afraid it wasn't until you believed my aunt's declarations that I truly began to see how egotistical I truly was – I couldn't understand why you would believe her." He paused and drew back as his hand began to trace a pattern on her cheek, "until I realized that I had given you no reason not to. I didn't speak to you, or your father, of my intentions. I had not shown you enough of my character for you to know that I would never dream of toying with you. I'm afraid Lady Catherine was very useful indeed, as her announcement, and your quick belief of it, forced me to look at myself clearly. That is why I did not run after you – you deserved a man who could admit to being wrong, utterly and completely, and I needed time to…. To…."
"I suppose so – to restructure my love for you."
"Fitzwilliam, I had my epiphany early in our acquaintance. Your honest confession of your acquaintance with Mr. Wickham and your continued kindness to me made me realize that perhaps I was not so correct in my initial impression. It taught me that I should not be so hasty and prejudiced in my judgments. It seems your moment of realization came a bit later, but that does not make it any more or less significant than my own. Remember what I told you before? Think only of the –"
"Past as its remembrance gives you pleasure. Yes I remember." He smiled at that and she turned her face to press a shy kiss into the palm of his hand holding her face.
"You are goodness itself," he whispered, suddenly dizzy from her gesture.
She laughed quietly at that and said, "And you are doing an excellent job of exaggerating my good qualities."
"I will continue to do so," he replied. "I – may I replace the memory of one Burns poem with another?"
She nodded. As he spoke the words, she mused that they seemed to be written for them, for this moment.
"Behold, my love, how green the groves,
The primrose banks how fair;
The balmy gales awake the flowers,
And wave they flowing hair.
The lav'rock shuns the palace gay, And o'er the cottage sings:
For Nature smiles as sweet, I ween,
To Shepherds as to Kings.
Those wild-wood flowers I've pu'd, to deck
That spotless breast o' thine:
The courtiers gems may witness love,
But, tis no love like mine."
Elizabeth was quite sure that she could die of happiness, reveling in the moment, surrounded by the beauties of Kent, and held by her Fitzwilliam.
Having hidden their feelings so well from both each other and themselves, there is no doubt that – once having made the decision to delay the announcement – Mr. Darcy and Miss Elizabeth were the epitome of propriety. In the Rosings drawing room or at the Parsonage, Darcy was as much as he ever was – quiet and reserved – save for the occasional glances in Elizabeth's direction that betrayed his deep adoration. Elizabeth, now more than ever, was constantly aware of his presence and it took all of her skill at conversation and pleasantry to not solely seek his opinion or act too enthralled when he spoke. They reserved their loving looks and warm effusions for daily walks which made each day bearable while also hurrying the passage of time. Before they knew it, Saturday was upon them and Darcy met her in their own little hamlet of Rosings before leaving Hunsford with Colonel Fitzwilliam.
"And shall you miss me?" Mr. Darcy asked after they exchanged pleasantries.
"Of course I shall."
"And you are happy?"
"I am the happiest creature in the world. Perhaps other people have said so before, but not one with such justice. I am happier even than Jane; she only smiles, I laugh."
Darcy found her accompanying laugh, as he spun her around to face him, intoxicating and he wrapped his arms around her quickly.
"You must never stop laughing, Elizabeth!"
"I shall continue then, to please you."
"You shall have a whole week to practice until we are reunited in London. I expect much laughter and many smiles when I call on you."
Though Elizabeth was pleased with his own attempts at teasing, her attention was focused on his hands, one of which had found its way to the small of her back and the other to her cheek. She tried to think of a clever reply but found that all she wanted was for him to pull her closer.
Seeming to guess the direction of her thoughts, his arm tightened and brought their foreheads together, a closeness Elizabeth had come to cherish.
"A whole week. How I shall miss you!" Elizabeth repeated.
"Yes, and then we will never spend a week apart again, if I have anything to say about."
"That is rather convenient because I had quite determined to never let you leave again." She raised her eyes to measure the effect of her boldness only to find his cheeks flushed and his eyes dark.
He kissed her forehead then, and her cheek, and along her jaw, until suddenly Elizabeth felt her face cupped between his hands and his mouth dangerously close to hers.
"Elizabeth," he breathed. Slowly, he allowed his lips to press into hers. He was sure she could feel the tension in his body, as he could feel it in hers. Her hands crept up from her side and she placed them on his forearms, almost seeming to need his strength. He lingered only for a moment before drawing back, but it was enough for Elizabeth to flush and feel lightheaded.
"I must go." His voice implied how dearly it cost him to suggest his removal after such a moment and Elizabeth quickly worked to regain her composure and relieve him.
"You always walk me back and then must return on your own. May I escort you back instead, Fitzwilliam?"
His smile was all she needed to know how pleased he was and she took his proffered arm. When they were almost in sight of the manor house, she removed her arm and, bowing before him, placed a kiss upon his hand, imitating his formal goodbyes.
"Good day, Mr. Darcy."
"Good day, Miss Bennet. Thank you for the walk."
"It was no inconvenience."
"I hope not," he replied tenderly.
"A safe journey, Fitzwilliam." She turned to leave before her nerves failed her and she begged him to stay. However, she had only taken a few steps before she felt his hand on her waist – he was in front of her in a moment, kissing her with an urgency that had not been present before.
When his lips left hers, she felt bereft and hugged his chest closer to compensate.
"My dearest, loveliest Elizabeth. I swear, 'tis no love like mine.'"
His gentle promise gave her the courage she needed to release him from her embrace and take a step back.
"I should go now. I will see you in a week, Fitzwilliam, with many smiles and much laughter, as I recall."
He watched her make her way back through the more formal gardens and then into the grove. She turned there and waved at him.
"A whole week," he repeated as he returned her wave. "How I shall miss her."
Burns, John. Behold, My Love, How Green the Groves. (1794)