Elizabeth Bennet, as was her wont, had gone for a walk to assist in clearing her thoughts – in this instance pertaining to her discussion with Col. Fitzwilliam. By contrast, God, as was His wont, had desired to indulge his humour by abruptly changing the arrangement of the clouds so that Elizabeth felt herself very nearly soaked to the bone from rain. She was fortunate to be so hardy as to not get sick in the rain as her sisters would have. She found shelter in a Roman-inspired 'temple' of sorts, likely it had been placed there and built as it was for the specific purpose of giving shelter to people, such as herself, who found themselves caught out of doors in the rain.
She withdrew her scarf from her neck, wrung it out, and had begun to attempt to blot her face and hair a little drier with it when she heard footsteps over the fall of rain, and on turning, gasped to find Mr Darcy standing before her, just as thoroughly soaked through by the rain as she.
"Miss Elizabeth," he greeted.
She bobbed the perfunctory curtsey, but when she looked at him she could not help but think he looked slightly feverish. Perhaps he had been out in the rain for too long, and did not have the most hardy of constitutions. Certainly, Elizabeth was sure, his cousin Anne de Bourge would not have faired at all well to be out in such weather as this.
"In vain I have struggled," he began, and words thereafter began to very nearly trip over each other as they flew from his mouth, a most peculiar state to Elizabeth's mind for him to be in, as she was used to him being quiet and solemn. He had even admitted to her recently that he had difficulty speaking with people whom he was not already intimately acquainted. "It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."
The words, and their meanings, were as shocking to Elizabeth as the speed with which they had come forth from Mr Darcy's lips.
"The past months have been a torment to me," he said. "I came to Rosings for the single object of seeing you, Miss Elizabeth. I have fought against my better judgement, the expectations of my family, the inferiority of your birth, my rank, and circumstance only to realise that I am more than willing to put them aside, ask for your hand, and offer you mine."
Elizabeth was a person who tried to be completely honest with herself as she could possibly be, though she hid behind wit with many others of her acquaintance. Now, in honesty with herself, she had come out into the gardens to walk and think. The rain had interrupted the walking, and Mr Darcy had rather interrupted the thinking, but as so much of her thinking on this day was to be centred around his person and actions, and as the rain was thoroughly set in and likely to prevent them from parting company any time soon, it was perhaps best that she discuss her thoughts for one, and with the object of them, as he was conveniently present.
Still, there was presently an expectation of an answer from her in regards to his confession of love.
"I apologise for having caused you pain, Mr Darcy," she said. This was true. She took her pleasure from folly, particularly the folly of others. She disliked to cause anybody pain. "I hope you will believe me when I say that it was unconsciously done."
"Is this your answer?" he asked, frowning.
"I cannot give you an answer of any kind at this time Mr Darcy," Elizabeth countered firmly, but compassionately. "I have so many conflicting thoughts in my head, and you have added only more by insulting me even as you made your request."
Mr Darcy blinked rapidly as what she said registered within himself. "I could, perhaps, have phrased that better," he allowed. "Though I thought honesty would be better received by you."
Elizabeth chuckled without humour. "You could, perhaps, have stopped at an earlier point in your speech," she advised dryly. "I cannot begin to conceive of how you fell in love with a person you barely know and even resolved not to like. I shall endeavour only to be flattered that you managed it anyway, as I'm sure was your intention in telling me such."
"I could not help it," Mr Darcy admitted. "Your wit and intelligence delighted my humour. Your dedication to your sister when she was ill drew both my sympathy and my empathy. Your beauty -"
"Would not induce you to dance when we met," Elizabeth interrupted him. "I was seated barely five feet from you when you declared me not handsome enough to tempt you Mr Darcy."
"Anything not to dance that night, Miss Elizabeth, quite apart from my discomfort in the company of strangers, which I have since disclosed to you," Mr Darcy countered. "Though I do apologise for my thoughtless and unkind words that evening."
"I accept your apology," Elizabeth answered with a brief smile. "On this matter, though I wonder to whom you would apologise for the sin of hypocrisy."
"Hypocrisy?" Mr Darcy asked, surprised. "In what matter?"
"Mr Bingley," she answered shortly. "Your actions there have ruined, perhaps forever, not only the happiness of my most beloved sister, but the happiness of your friend as well. After this proposal to me, how will you justify to your friend having very deliberately separated him from a person whose character matches his own so completely? From someone who I do not doubt I will find quite adjusted to being heartbroken when I return home to her?"
Mr Darcy paled ever-so-slightly. "I was under the impression that she did not love him," he answered. "I could not bear to see such a man as Mr Bingley in a marriage not founded on love, that was my only objection to the match for him. All other objections made in the matter were made by his sisters, though I confess I said and did nothing to counter them."
Elizabeth nodded in acceptance of this answer. "Then I forgive you for that as well," she said, "if you will write to him directly and correct this misunderstanding."
"I will," Mr Darcy promised.
"I find that I must think better of you for wanting Mr Bingley to marry for love," Elizabeth admitted with a smile. "And for how carefully you guarded him against women who you believed did not love him. My sister is not demonstrative in her emotion, so I can understand how you doubted her, but please do not do so again."
"I shall consult you, or her directly, should I ever wish to know the truth of such matters again," he agreed solemnly. "Where there other matters?" he asked.
"There are the rumours spread by Mr Wickham," Elizabeth allowed. "I should like to know the full truth of that matter, to help me further judge your character."
"It is a messy story," Mr Darcy began, but continued to divulge how Wickham had taken money instead of orders and a living, then come back years later to demand the living he had willingly surrendered.
At this point, Elizabeth made comment. "So that is the sort of man he is," she said. "But it tells me little of your character, though certainly I understand why you did not give him the living. Please continue Mr Darcy."
He obliged, speaking of buying up Wickham's many debts that he always left behind him, of the three children the man had fathered without marrying any of their mothers – this particularly left Elizabeth horrified – and of the interrupted attempt made by Wickham to elope with a girl of fortune who was at the time not yet sixteen.
"Mr Darcy," Elizabeth said carefully. "Why, if you hold the papers for so many of Mr Wickham's debts, have you not had him thrown into debtors prison? The merchants, their daughters, and a great many indeed, would be infinitely safer if you were to do so."
"My father loved him," Mr Darcy answered.
"Would he still?" Elizabeth countered.
"No," the man admitted.
"I have three younger sisters, Mr Darcy, and all are acquainted with Mr Wickham. Knowing now what I did not know then makes me uneasy for them," Elizabeth said. "You do no one any favours by keeping the man out of debtors prison, not even Mr Wickham."
Mr Darcy smiled, just a very little bit, at this comment. "I shall send for my lawyers to take action against him at the same time I send to Mr Bingley," he vowed.
Elizabeth nodded. "Then a great many of my troublesome, conflicting thoughts are resolved," she declared. "You appear to be arrogant, conceited, selfish and disdainful regarding the feelings of others. You maintain this appearance to such a degree as to firmly plant dislike against you in people who are not aware of your discomfort in crowds and in making new acquaintances as to be more than merely reticent to change their minds, in spite of your vast fortune. I believe that I am closer now to understanding your character."
"Dare I hope, then, for an answer to my earlier question?" Mr Darcy petitioned.
Elizabeth shook her head. "My answer, Mr Darcy, is that I still have no answer. My sister and I are both resolved to marry only for love, and while you profess to love me, Mr Darcy, I do not yet know you well enough to be sure of such a matter regarding my own heart," she explained. "You give insult for flattery after all," she pointed out, "and today is the first I have heard of you holding anything even resembling tender feeling towards me."
"Is there something that I may say or do to win your affections, Miss Elizabeth?"
"You have already won my interest, Mr Darcy. Affections, I hold, are best to be built, taught and encouraged, rather than won," Elizabeth answered. "Unlike my friend Charlotte, Mr Darcy, I am romantic."
Mr Darcy smiled slightly, and at that moment, the rain finally stopped. "It will be most awkward attempting to court you here, under the watching eye of my aunt and your cousin," he said, even as he offered her his arm so that he could escort her back to the parsonage.
"Sir Lucas, Maria and I all leave back to Hertfordshire next week," Elizabeth answered. "Use this time to rectify your other matters. After this, I expect that matters will be easier."
Mr Darcy nodded in agreement. "Thank you, Miss Elizabeth, for your time today."
Elizabeth nodded in answer, giving a curtsey, since they had arrived at the gate of the parsonage at last. "Thank you, Mr Darcy, for assisting me in the resolution of matters that had been bothering me."
So saying, they parted ways. In two short weeks, they would see each other again at Longbourne.