Witness the power of faithful readers and insistent commenters!
The first part of this story, and the only part I intended to write, appeared two years ago in March 2011.
Over 100 comments later, many eloquently begging for a happy ending, I have succumbed.
And so, by popular demand - the Happily Ever After you have demanded!
The weeks following the Netherfield party's departure were the bleakest of Elizabeth's existence. The inclement weather that accompanied the beginning of winter drove the inhabitants of Longbourne indoors, to a house too small and too populated to allow for any escape from ill humor.
Elizabeth had taken to sitting at the window-seat in her room with a book or sketch pad, watching the rain stream down the pane and turn her favorite walking grounds to mud. Her younger sisters bickered and screeched and tormented the piano to agonies apparently impossible to endure, as was communicated by the terrifying sounds which reached Elizabeth's ears from that wronged instrument. Elizabeth felt herself incapable of any polite interaction with any human beings so entirely devoid of sensibility, and preferred to keep to her room.
Jane often kept her company, sitting in a comfortable armchair and hemming a suspicious quantity of new linen. The smile on her lovely face and her frequent humming were not needed to confirm Elizabeth's suspicions that she and Mr. Bingley had reached an understanding between them. If the absence of her cavalier has not brought Jane to moping, thought Elizabeth, then he will not be absent long, and Jane must be apprised of it.
As for herself, Elizabeth wavered between anger at herself for persisting in such misery, and ecstasies of the memory of every detail of the preceding weeks. What bliss! She thought. And to have refused the offer of extending this bliss for the rest of her life…! I know now that I shall never be happy. Having met him, I can never love another. In turns she reproached herself for refusing him, and in the next moment deplored her own weakness at her inability to justly forget him.
Her moping apparently brought her father to distraction and the rare application of resource to suggest an extraordinary plan that he hoped would occupy his daughter's focus and coax her out of the sullens.
"I have had a letter from your brother today, Fanny," Mr. Bennet began at breakfast. "He proposes a scheme which I am sure will gratify most of you – or all of you, if you will submit to my terms. What do you say, dear, that we remove to London for the season?"
The uproar which greeted this pronouncement was as expected as it was prolonged, but eventually the ladies' curiosity overcame their ecstasies and they quieted down enough to allow their father and husband to proceed.
"Mr. Gardner has seen a furnished house in Harley Street which he proposes we hire for the season. I am sure a bit of diversion will do our eldest daughters good."
"Eldest!" screeched Lydia, "Eldest! Why, it's the most infamous thing imaginable! If we – "
"Lydia!" boomed her father, quelling her objections and her ire with rarely executed mastery. "It is conduct such as you display now which makes me almost retract the next part of my suggestion
"I had thought that all of you could go down to London on the condition – mind, only on the strict adherence to the condition – that the eldest only go into society with their mother. Mary, Catherine, Lydia – you may accompany your mother and sisters and enjoy whatever pleasures are available to young ladies not yet out, provided you do so with a delicacy of conduct that will not reflect poorly – or even at all – on your eldest sisters' debut."
"But father!" protested Lydia, "How can you expect – "
"If you so much as giggle in the street, Lydia, you will be sent to Gracechurch Street to help with the children. If Mrs. Gardiner does not find you useful, you will be packed back to Longbourne immediately."
It consumed a full hour and nigh on all of Mr. Bennet's considerable patience to explain to his family the strict rules accompanying their proposed treat. He unreservedly placed before them the truth of the circumstances – that it was likely to be the only season they were ever to enjoy, unless of course Jane or Lizzy employed their time well and were fortunate enough to contract an eligible alliance, which would then permit them to bring out their younger sisters in the following years. He had scraped the necessary sum together, Mr. Bennet told them, and accepted grudgingly the assistance of his brother-in-law, after he was prevailed upon to see the many advantages of the adventure – none to himself, it was of course hardly necessarily to add.
A month before the fashionable season was truly scheduled to begin, Jane and Lizzy found themselves happily squeezed between their mother and younger sisters in a hired post-chaise on the London road. Not all the preceding weeks had been enough to exhaust their excitement and vociferous making of plans.
"I wonder where they imagine we are to go," said Lizzy to Jane, softly enough that the loud conversation of their family did not allow them to be overheard. "We are of so little consequence – who shall invite us, pray? I am sure you will be perfectly content to never see a soul but your Mr. Bingley, but as for the rest of us - ! With whom are we even acquainted? "
"Oh Lizzy," chided her sister. "London! I am sure that if only we get there, a world of unexpected delights and opportunities will present itself. It is not as though you yourself are so difficult to please! Hyde Park, the Opera, concerts and Hookham's Library! I am sure there is enough to set you up forever."
As it turned out, they had grossly underestimated the scope their activities, or the succession of ever-greater opportunities that could be opened to pretty and lively young girls from a family with the necessary claims to gentility.
No sooner had they arrived in town, than Mr. Bingley and his sisters promptly paid them a visit, which they delayed returning only until they had gone round the shops and purchased some raiment suitable to town.
Mrs. Gardiner took them to the best warehouses, where they purchased a quantity of silks, muslins, ribbons, braids, and lace, and a seamstress procured by their hired butler was occupied from dawn till dusk making up the dresses which the girls had pointed out in the latest fashion plates. Elizabeth was astonished to discover how far her father's means stretched to allow for so much finery, but since he observed it all without demur, her surprise and uneasiness evaporated.
The youngest pouted, at first, at not having any new dresses of their own, but were so sensibly admonished by their Mama to better spend their time enjoying the sights and observing the Fashionable Set with the object of copying their modes, so that they would perhaps stay out of their eldest sisters' way, and assume some deportment worth acquiring.
"Just imagine, girls! Your sisters, dressed as fine as fivepence, junketing about the town, introduced to all sorts of eligible gentlemen! I know it is hard on you, but if you will just remain quiet and patient, I am sure they will marry prodigiously well, which will allow us all to have many more London seasons, and that will throw all the rest of you in the path of other rich men! Think how marvelous! Only do be good, and behave like your father says, so that you can remain with me, or else to whom shall I relate all the particulars of our excursions into society?"
Kitty and Lydia were in time brought round to see the advantages, if not the wisdom, in these words, and if their elder sisters, in turn, were surprised at the unusual and never suspected perspicacity of their mother's admonishments, they were too busy and happy in their own pursuits to think deeply enough as to question its origin.
When Mrs. Bennet and her two eldest daughters did finally return the Bingleys' call, they arrived in Grosvenor Square only to find and be introduced to unfamiliar callers who had arrived just before them. Rather than excuse themselves, as was usual for morning callers supplanted by subsequent visitors, the gentlemen became so engrossed with the lovely sisters' beauty and intelligent conversation, as to spend no less than half an hour in the Bingley's drawing room, during the course of which they discreetly asked, and were given, both the address at which to call and the blushing permission to do so.
In the ensuing weeks, these chance introductions tumbled into a whole set of new acquaintances for the Bennet girls. Meeting their new friends in the park, they were in turn introduced to the gentlemen and ladies accompanying them, who, delighted with their new acquaintances, and upon hearing that they had never before seen the sights of London, instantly formed plans to squire their countrified friends around the Metropolis.
Not much more than this was needed to launch the Bennet sisters into society. It was not long before their succession of new acquaintances included some very fashionable people, who were soon the source of the many cards of invitation proudly displayed on Mrs. Bennet's mantel piece.
Even she had scarcely dared to hope that her daughters would find themselves welcome among such a distinguished set of people, so that the number of balls, breakfasts, rout-parties and card parties she found themselves invited to, astonished her almost as much as it gratified her maternal anxieties and social ambitions.
Again Elizabeth found herself questioning her mother's complaisance and uncharacteristic reserve, but excused it by observing that Mrs. Bennet seemed intimidated by the grandeur of her surroundings, and had few acquaintances among the town with whom to share her maternal aspirations, the discussion of which usually led to the frenzied buildup of emotion and the lowering of the natural inhibitions which prevented sensible persons from exposing themselves to ridicule.
It was at one ball that Elizabeth found an amiable and vaguely familiar military man presented to her. "Colonel Fitzwilliam here has just come home on leave," said Lord Devon, "and is in ever greater need of charming company and witty conversation."
Elizabeth laughed and curtsied, "I shall be happy to oblige! For as you must know by now, my charm and wit are exceeded only by my modesty."
"If I didn't know he was returning to his drills and heroics in a fortnight, I should never dream of introducing him to you, Miss Elizabeth, for fear of being quite cut out."
She took her place in the quadrille with the handsome Colonel, who danced proficiently and carelessly enough to converse throughout.
"Drills and heroics?" Elizabeth teased him.
"Not at all! We are stationed in Yorkshire for the present."
"Ah! To subdue the discontented populace, no doubt?"
"No, merely to defend the county against the French!"
Their laughter and enjoyment was not lost on the Colonel's mother, who beckoned to him once the dance was finished. He presented his partner to the Countess of Matlock, who was as genial as her son, and spent a lovely interlude conversing with Elizabeth, and ended with an invitation to call.
It was at a ball given by the very Countess of Matlock that Elizabeth finally saw the man she had been both hoping and dreading to see, and whose face she had desperately and vainly sought at every foray into society since coming to London.
She was just taking her place in the waltz with Colonel Fitzwilliam, when he relinquished her hand and said, with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, "I believe there is Another whom you would prefer even to myself," and she found herself confronted by the smiling face of Mr. Darcy! She started and colored, and not knowing what she did, found herself firmly and closely held by that gentleman, who was already leading her along the ballroom floor.
"Come, will you not admit to being pleased to see me?" He teased her.
"Oh! How could you?! Absent all this time, only now to appear like this!"
"Are you angry with me, my little love?"
"Hush!" she silenced him, blushing. "What can you mean by this? Where were you until now?"
"Merely waiting strategically in Derbyshire until I was sure you had achieved the social success I foresaw for you."
"Foresaw! But – how?"
"And until you had received – and declined – at least one offer of marriage more flattering than my own. My condolences to Lord Devon – I commiserate with him most acutely."
"Lord Devon! How could you know?!"
He laughed at her consternation and surprise, "I have very loyal and perceptive sources in London, my dear. But his offer, and your splendid career in Town, I hope have all served to banish from your mind all those objections you placed before me last November?"
She was too breathless in her shock and happiness to venture a reply. He went on, "Now that you know very well that you are thought respectable and a fitting match for a man ten times my consequence, you can have no further scruples in accepting my paltry offer. Unless, of course, it is merely your disinclination…?"
"For shame!" she gasped, between laughter and tears, "It is no such thing, as you well know!" She drew her brows together as clarity and discernment began to return. "You say you waited for my success – but how could you know that I would be welcomed into the fashionable set, since it could very well have transpired that I were not – or that I would come to London at all?"
"My dearest, most endearing little love! Can you not guess?" She stared at him in speechless confusion, as he concluded, "I arranged it."
This stopped Elizabeth mid-step. They stood motionless in the center of dozens of twirling, waltzing couples, which she did not even notice, nor he care.
"Arranged it! How?!"
"I wrote to your father and met with him to outline my proposition, and had him sworn to secrecy."
A suspicion began to obtrude. "Did you frank our stay in London?" She demanded.
"Only a very little, my dear, but surely you won't hold it against me? Even your excellent father was brought to realize that a man in my desperate situation could not be dissuaded without fear of yet more drastic consequences."
"More drastic! It can hardly be supposed! How did you persuade him?"
"It was no very difficult task. You know his delight in the ridiculous, and my proposed escapade played very well into his sense of adventure and sport. It was your mother who required more forceful arguments and entreaties."
"My mother! Was she too in league with you – you duplicitous, shameful – "
"Now then, love! Have you never wondered why she did not insist on your younger sisters accompanying you? Or why she never encouraged the attentions of any of your suitors, nor worried unduly at your refusals? Yes, I know there were several!"
"How did you prevail upon her?"
"Merely by promising her an excellent match for you by the season's end. With myself, of course," he clarified.
"Insufferable presumption! How could you know I would be a success, as you call it? Do not dare to tell me you 'arranged' that as well!"
"Oh no, merely that I facilitated your introduction to the leading figures of London society. Your success, my dear, was all your own, as I knew it would be."
"And now, entirely at your own convenience, you finally decide to appear in Town, and relieve my apprehensions – but you do not deserve that I should gratify your vanity! Tell me why you choose today of all days to appear, since you seem to have planned everything else with fastidious calculation, I am sure this appearance too…?"
"Well, I could hardly miss my own engagement ball, could I, dear?"
"Your – ! What!"
He threw back his head and laughed heartily. "You can have no notion what it is to be able to deprive you of intelligent speech, my love! But do say you will have me now, so that my aunt's efforts and preparations will not go unrewarded."
"You – you do not deserve that I should grant you any such assurance!"
"No, for I am presumptuous, arrogant, duplicitous and shameful – do I have that right? But it is all for the best – all for you, my dear – so will you not forgive me?"
She was trembling at this point, "I could no more deprive myself of happiness even if it were by justly punishing you for your masterful conduct. I have not the inclination or even the strength to go on as I have been – and it is only due to that I will not deny you any longer and agree to forgive you."
"Will you marry me, my dearest love?" he asked, gently.
She smiled, sighed, and submitted. "I will!"
At a sign from his fingers, the orchestra stopped mid-waltz, and in the following silence, Mr. Darcy raised his lady's hand, and took a flute of champagne from a strategically prepared waiter. Turning to the assembled guests, he had only time to exclaim, before their congratulations drowned out his voice, "To the future Mrs. Darcy!"
To my dear readers and commenters - Thank you from the bottom of my heart!
If I achieve anything, it is because of you.
Specific and especial thanks, as always, to Golden Sunflower.