Chapter Thirty Three
Elizabeth's heart was racing as she and Jane made their way back to Longbourn. It was all too much, too fast. Had she really just accepted Mr Darcy's hand in marriage? Such pre-occupation did not go unnoticed by Jane, but being the unobtrusive person that she was, she did not ask her sister what was wrong. She was instead content with waiting until Lizzy felt like disclosing it herself.
The trip was of a short duration and the girls soon found themselves outside their home. They were not met at the door as expected but were drawn into Longbourn by the loud cries emanating from the old house. Rushing inside, they were greeted by a Mrs Bennet very much at her most exuberant.
"Oh! Thank the Lord! We are saved!"
"Oh Mr Bennet! Mr Bennet! How fortunate we are?!"
Standing in the doorway to the parlour Lizzy then spotted Mary and Mr Collins by the mantelpiece, quiet but smiling privately at each other. This lasted but a moment before Mr Collins slipped so easily back into his more dominant persona.
"Oh my dear, dear Mrs Bennet, or Mama should it be now? I cannot think myself any luckier in securing the hand of Miss Mary and lifting the burden of the entail upon this family. I am sure Lady Catherine shall be as pleased with the news as myself, for it was partly under her instruction that I came to Longbourn and 'heal the breach.'"
At this point Mary subtly placed her hand on her fiancé's arm and guided the room's attention onto the two returning sisters. Lizzy was most impressed with this delicate deflection by Mary and her confidence in her younger sister's marital contentment increased.
The two eldest were soon subjected to interrogation on their stay at Netherfield. Neither went into specifics on their short stay, preferring to keep their interactions with their secret suitors private. The virtue and delights of Georgiana and the colonel however were much discussed and the rest of the night passed with no great revelations being told.
It was whilst Lizzy was readying for bed that she finally had a chance to digest the day in full.
She was engaged! Engaged to a man she fully respected and admired. But love? Did she really love the man? She tried to imagine what it would be like if she had refused. A deep pain gnawed at her and she knew that she had done the right thing at this time. She allowed herself a smile as she thought about her morning meeting with Mr- Fitzwilliam. Much needed to be discussed. In essentials she knew the man was all that she desired but she wanted to know more, delve deeper into what made him him and discover what moulded him into the man he was now.
Lizzy had decided against telling her family for two main reasons; first of all she was loathe to take away the adoration her mother was sharing with her younger sister. So seldom was Mary praised by the matriarch that Lizzy would not overshadow her- so confident was she that Mrs Bennet's realisation that Elizabeth had managed to secure a man of such a position and fortune, would excite her mother to levels yet unheard of. She was not looking forward to that conversation. The second reason was that she wanted to talk to Fitzwilliam first before they made any decisions- everything had happened so fast she could only just believe herself that it had actually occurred. It was with such a myriad of thoughts that Lizzy was finally able to succumb to a surprisingly peaceful sleep.
Waking with the dawn, Elizabeth dressed quickly and quietly and escaped into the crisp morning air. She only made it to their property's gate when she saw a figure emerge. With a grin she shut the gate and quickly made her way towards her fiancée.
"Hello Elizabeth." Darcy smiled and gently took both her hands and kissed them.
"Sleep well I hope?"
"Serenely, thank you. And you?"
"I have not had such a good nights rest in months."
"Whoever said being in love deprived you of sleep was clearly mistaken."
This slip of the tongue was not missed by either of the participants and Darcy came to a halt as he observed Lizzy's now reddened face. He fully turned to his companion and cautiously swept a stray lock of hair behind her ear. How he had longed to hear such a declaration!
Lizzy stared at the floor out of embarrassment, but she knew, once the words had left her mouth that in her heart she meant it. Looking up at the man she had pledged her life to she tried to convey the depth of her feelings into her expression.
"Truly. William, I-"
She did not finish her sentence as she felt Darcy's lips on hers. She let out a startled 'umph' and tried to absorb the feelings that were being stirred up within her. After a moment Darcy moved back and looked sheepishly at Lizzy.
"Sorry, I could not resist I-"
It was Darcy's turn to be silenced as Lizzy stood up on her toes and pressed her mouth to his once more. They lost themselves in that moment, not a care in the world, both stunned by the overwhelming sense of recognition. They kissed then and there in the pathway without shame or bravado because although anyone could come and discover them, they were alone in that moment, and recognised without a moment's doubt, that they could never let each other go.(1) A little while later, they separated, faces flushed and breathing laboured. Their smiles as they caught each others eyes were radiant and the shift in their relationship was tangible. No longer were they timid in their affection and everything settled exactly where it felt it should be.
"I have a feeling that I am going to enjoy becoming your wife sir."
"The feeling is mutual, I assure you my dear."
Feeling that they should probably progress with their walk, Lizzy took Darcy's arm and they wandered down the lane and looping the quiet countryroads bordering the estate. Deciding that a forthright approach was best, Lizzy broke their amiable silence.
"I have not told anyone of our engagement."
A slight slowing of his pace was the only outward indication Darcy gave that he had heard what she had said. After Lizzy's declaration he was no longer as unsure as before, he would wait for the reason.
"You see when we arrived home we were met by the news of Mary and Mr Collins engagement. I have not seen my mother in such raptures since Jane's coming out assembly and she was given the satisfaction of gloating to the neighbourhood for weeks about the interest that Jane had received that night. To put it bluntly-"
"You did not want to upstage your sister by announcing your engagement with me?" Darcy smiled down at her.
"You are a kind sister, not many I know would be so thoughtful." Here, images of Charles's sisters flashed through his mind and he repressed a shudder.
"Not particularly – it is just that it is so rare that Mary is the centre of Mother's attention and I am loathe to detract anything from her happiness- besides, there is much we need to discuss.
Darcy silently believed from what he had gathered from the Bennet matriarch that Lizzy was no great favourite and was also not often in her mothers good graces.
"Are you worried that your mother will not give her blessing because I am a mere country gentleman and not a Lord?"
Lizzy let out a most unladylike snort.
"I doubt very much that she will object- I rather expect she will somehow take full credit for our engagement and have the news circulated around Meryton within two hours and all of London in two days."
"Remind me not to let your mother and my Aunt Eleanor in the same room alone for more than five minutes at a time, together I am sure they could inflict some serious damage."
"I shall ensure that they are seated on different ends of the table whenever they are in the same room"
"Thank you my dear."
"Not at all, although I suspect that Mama and your Aunt shall not be in company that often. Especially as Derbyshire is quite a distance from Hertfordshire."
"What is 50 mile of good road? It is not that great a distance. But speaking of relatives, I believe that we should tell your father at least, even if you do not want to announce our engagement to everyone in general."
"I was thinking much of the same. I would not want to keep something of such a momentous weight from him and Jane of course."
"I will tell Georgiana, you can imagine her response I am sure."
A slight squeeze of his arm and a sweet smile accompanied this. "Georgiana is all goodness. I am looking forward to being able to call her 'sister.'"
"I am glad that the two of you are friends, it was always a worry thinking about marrying someone who did not appreciate and understand Georgie's character."
Lizzy felt a pang of irrational jealousy at the thought of William contemplating marriage with anyone but her. She internally rolled her eyes at her own silliness, she was becoming worse than one of those characters in Lydia and Kitty's novels they were always giggling about and she had only been engaged a day!
"And were there many contenders for you affection?"
Catching Lizzy's petulant look despite her best efforts Darcy smirked.
"Oh only half the ton."
With a raised eyebrow Lizzy dryly commented, "Only half? It could be worse I suppose."
"Indeed, although the other half was the mothers of those vying for my attention or already married…"
Seeing that Darcy was in a teasing mood Lizzy huffed before chortling.
"But you love me anyway."
"Apparently so, I am struggling to see why though."
"Because of my ruggedly handsome good looks and heart of gold?"
"I was thinking more of your prosperous estate and kind sister but by any means you may take comfort in whatever reasons you wish."
"But you love me anyway."
"That I do."
"That is all well and good especially as I am hoping that your next port of call young man is my study?"
Darcy and Elizabeth both blanched as Mr Bennet emerged from the shrubbery. They had turned back and headed into Longbourn gardens. Lizzy had not anticipated anyone being outside so early and was mortified that her father was to find out about her and William in such a way.
Darcy was equally if not a bit more mortified. Such an impression on his potential father in-law was not what he would have wanted. At least it was not earlier in their walk. That would have been dangerous indeed.
Mr Bennet had to suppress his glee at the look on his favourite child's face and her companion. He had been innocently taking a stroll in the garden before the hustle and bustle of the house overtook his senses when he heard the tail-end of their conversation.
He had not been ignorant of the relationship; he had talked to Gardiner when Lizzy had arrived home from London and his own observations on the couple left little doubt in his mind that they were well on their way to falling in love. Lizzy's odd behaviour and Darcy's constant presence at Longbourn left little to the imagination if one put their mind to it.
He nodded his head at Darcy and turned around to head towards the house.
"Elizabeth, I am sure that you can spare this young man for a half hour whilst he and I have a little talk?"
Lizzy looked apologetically at Darcy and squeezed his hand before letting go.
"Of course Papa, I shall wait out here in the garden."
Darcy smiled at his fiancée before following the older gentleman inside.
The two managed to avoid being seen by anyone else in the household as they closed the study door.
"Well then, I would not normally drink so early in the day, but I imagine I shall want a glass of port by the end of it" Mr Bennet paused and looked over at Darcy. "and you might do too judging by that look you are giving me. Do not fret. I will not bite."
"I- yes. Thank you sir."
Bennet waved away the comment and poured two glasses of port and set one on the table in front of Darcy and the other cradled in his hand as he settled himself into his chair.
"So…You may begin."
Darcy looked at Mr Bennet and suddenly felt like he did when he was twelve years old and he had accidently ripped one of his father's favourite books when he had tried to take it down from a shelf that was just a fraction too high for him to reach. He had learned then that honesty was the best way forward and was determined to tell Mr Bennet the truth now. How else could Elizabeth's father truly appreciate how much he wanted and loved his daughter? He took a deep breath and began.
An hour later and Elizabeth was pacing the garden wondering what on earth was taking them so long! She started to feel some sympathy for her mother if this was the kind of anxiety she felt on a daily basis! Making yet another turn of the garden she was relieved to finally see her father and William making her way towards her. William reached her first and smiled. Lizzy let out a breath she did not even realise she was holding and beamed. Watching the scene and realising that his daughter and her fiancée were soon going to forget that he was present Mr Bennet discreetly coughed to regain their attention.
"Well. I've spoken to your young man Lizzy; I see that he is determined to take you away from me. I suppose you could have picked worse. Now Darcy, I am sure you will not begrudge me a little time with my daughter?"
Wanting to keep on the good side of Mr Bennet, Darcy hastily agreed and bowed to Elizabeth and Mr Bennet and wishing them well. He would have wanted a more private goodbye but he did not want to test the patience of his soon-to-be father-in-law.
When Darcy had turned the corner and out of sight Mr Bennet turned to his daughter.
"Oh do not look so forlorn Lizzy, he is coming back later to visit."
Seeing the look of relief that slowly turned to hesitation he read his daughter well.
"Do not fret, your engagement will be kept quiet, he is to bring his sister with him, and no doubt Mr Bingley will be accompanying them to fawn over Jane."
This acknowledgment of the engagement warmed Lizzy's heart and she looped her arm through her father's as they meandered through the garden.
"Do you like him Papa?"
"I find that the only fault I can give him is that he is a little quiet and subdued and is really rather tall making it difficult to talk to him when standing without getting a sore neck after a while. But apart from that he seems a devoted young man; just as he ought to be."
"He is the best of men Papa."
"You love him. He loves you. Your future happiness and wellbeing is all that I want for you."
Father and daughter wandered once more around the greenery before making their way inside, contemplating how very different life was going to become.
(1)- I adapted this sentence from one of my favourite quotes from William Golding's 'Free Fall' , it just fit in with what I wanted them to be experiencing in that moment, that first brush with feeling that they truly belonged to each other – the romantic sop that I am!
*cough* So, anyway, Hello everyone. Long time no see (well, you know what I mean). Those of you still sticking around I am all amazement! I owe you all a huge thank you. Your reviews (over 900-crazy!) are so kind and I love that you are still enjoying An Unpopular Notion despite the thoroughly haphazard updating schedule. I am sorry for the lack of updates but truly, you guys are great!
I've had a busy few months I've moved from Derbyshire to London, started a new job as well as finding a new house, which I'm hoping to move into at the weekend! I've also spent the past couple of months exploring and experiencing the capital on my days off! (Those of you living in England must have experienced the ridiculously hot weather and who am I to resist lounging on the park? (armed with factor 50+ sun cream and gallons of water, of course) – however the upside of this was that I didn't remain completely idle in my sun-basking and having brought my note pad to Regents and Hyde Park has given me inspiration and inclination to have finally written the next chapter!)
I hope you enjoyed the chapter and as ever I'm always grateful to hear your thoughts on AUN. Thank you again for sticking around!