Miserable in Derbyshire
Chapter 18: Blissful at Longbourn
(Author's Note: Dear Readers, I have long thought of Pride & Prejudice as my favorite book, but recently wondered why; everyone was always in a constant state of misery! That is where the inspiration for this story came from. Could the reason for my preference be the fabulous and satisfying conclusion to the story? Onward!)
["La! It looks just like that man that used to be with him before! Mr. what's-his-name. That tall, proud man."] (Chapter 53)
When Darcy and Bingley arrived at Longbourn, two Bennet sisters were infinitely happy to see them. After a brief visit with the family, Darcy and Elizabeth were recruited to act as chaperones for Bingley and Jane, who were blissfully engaged. The four of them set out for a walk and Darcy soon found himself conveniently alone with Elizabeth.
"Miss Elizabeth, I can tolerate it no longer. Please put an end to my agony and tell me you have forgiven me for my past behavior!" he pleaded with her.
"Yes, Mr. Darcy, after all of your efforts to correct the mistakes of the past, you are indeed forgiven. And I must thank you for your diligence; my family and I am forever in your debt for your generosity and your kindness," she told him.
"Surely you must know that it was all done for your benefit; I thought only of you and your happiness," he told her.
"I had hoped for that to be so," she said shyly, casting her eyes downward.
"Miss Elizabeth, may I be so bold? Is it possible that your opinion of me has changed? That has been my greatest desire since last April; that you would realize that I have endeavored to be the type of man that you would desire to marry. Have my efforts been in vain?" he asked her humbly.
"No Mr. Darcy, your efforts have not been in vain," she said, now gazing directly at him.
He took her hands and addressed her once again: "Miss Elizabeth, please say that you will make me the happiest of men and agree to accept me," he said, searching her eyes for acceptance.
She searched his eyes, repentant and filled with love and gave her answer: "I think a penance is called for," she said.
"Penance?" he asked, suddenly confused.
"Yes, I will accept your offer if you perform a penance," she told him playfully.
"I accept," he said with a smile.
"You must agree with everything my mother says this evening," she instructed him.
"That is very harsh penance indeed," he complained, still smiling.
"You have already accepted, Sir!" she insisted.
"I am your humble servant," he said as he bowed and kissed her hands.
At dinner that evening, Bingley and Darcy were in attendance with the Bennets. Mrs. Bennet gushed with pride at having two distinguished gentlemen at her table: "Mrs. Hill has outdone herself with this evening's meal, has she not? The fish is exceedingly fresh and the vegetables are cooked to perfection, I must say," Mrs. Bennet said, praising the efforts of the cook.
"I offer my compliments to your staff, Mrs. Bennet. The meal is quite pleasantly presented," he agreed, glancing at Elizabeth, who was hiding her smile.
Mrs. Bennet gushed over Bingley: "Mr. Bingley, such a handsome young man. My Jane is indeed a lucky girl."
Bingley blushed at this praise. Darcy told her: "Yes, Mrs. Bennet. Bingley was quite popular with the ladies at Cambridge and more recently, the ladies of the ton." After seeing the startled reaction of Mr. Bennet and his daughters, he realized that this was perhaps not the most prudent response.
Mrs. Bennet took no offense at this comment and only perceived it as confirmation of Jane's good fortune. "Oh, Mr. Bingley, my Jane is the jewel of the county, is she not?" she asked him.
"Yes, Mrs. Bennet, I must agree," said Bingley.
Darcy interjected: "Miss Bennet is indeed beautiful, Mrs. Bennet, as are all of your daughters."
This response pleased her immensely. "How pleased we are to see Jane so well matched, are we not Mr. Bennet?" she asked her husband, who only mumbled his response in the affirmative, already weary of this conversation.
"Mr. Bingley is the best of men, Mrs. Bennet; however, I believe that it is Bingley who is the most fortunate, to be matched to a woman of such grace, beauty and elegance," Darcy said, smiling and glancing at Elizabeth who was now stifling her laughter. Mrs. Bennet beamed with pride. This exchange did not go unnoticed by Mr. Bennet, who was now captivated by the conversation.
"I agree, Mr. Darcy, and I wish Elizabeth were more like her sister Jane. However, Elizabeth is a most undutiful daughter. She endangered the family by refusing Mr. Collins' proposal. Now, when Mr. Bennet dies, which may well be very soon, the girls and I will be thrown into the hedgerows without a roof over our heads," she lamented, to the objections of her daughters.
"And I am exceeding glad that she did refuse him, Mrs. Bennet; her lively spirit and sparkling personality would have surely been extinguished by such an unsuitable match," Darcy told her with a smile.
"Of course, Elizabeth is nothing compared to Jane, the poor girl. She is more plain in her appearance. If she had been more beautiful, there is no doubt that she would have attracted a suitable match by now," she said to the strenuous objections of her daughters.
"On the contrary, Mrs. Bennet, I must disagree. Miss Elizabeth is indeed most beautiful; in fact, she is most beautiful woman of my acquaintance," Darcy told Mrs. Bennet, gazing at her daughter.
There could now be no question in Mr. Bennet's mind that another young man would soon make an appearance in his study to ask for the hand of one of his precious daughters. This happy information gave him a moment's pause. Seeing her blissful contentment was indeed confirmation that his favorite daughter would soon be leaving him.
The following day, the two couples went out again for a walk. When Darcy and Elizabeth were finally alone, he addressed her: "I know what you are thinking, Miss Elizabeth; I have not satisfactorily performed my penance, have I?" he said with a smile.
"No, you have not, Mr. Darcy," she said with a sly smile. "I now require a story," she told him.
He smiled, happy to comply as he began his story: "I once asked a beautiful woman to marry me, but she rejected me. I thought I had done it correctly; I declared my ardent love and humbly asked for her acceptance, thinking she had been expecting my address and would certainly accept me. But I made the error of expecting her acceptance and hiding my involvement in a scheme against her family. Her rejection was quite harsh but quite correct, I later realized. I had chosen to insult the woman I love and gave her no choice but to reject me. She would have resented me for the rest of our lives otherwise. Ever since that day, I have endeavored to be the type of man that would be worthy of her and be acceptable in her eyes. I would move heaven and earth, I would give her the moon and the stars; I would do anything to win her love, to be the desire of her heart, as she is mine."
She was spellbound by his heartfelt address. Remembering his response to her own story, she asked him: "And did you learn anything from this experience?"
"I learned that when my heart speaks to me, I must listen," he said thoughtfully.
"I suspect that our grandchildren will be fascinated with this story, Mr. Darcy," she replied with a smile.
"Then will you agree to accept my offer?" he asked.
Not yet ready to release him from his penance, she told him: "That was an excellent story, Mr. Darcy; however, I am quite familiar with that particular story. I require a story of your past humiliation, as you once required from me."
He smiled, remembering her story about the ruined slippers. "I also have many stories to choose from, Miss Elizabeth, but your story about your slippers reminded me of a similar one of my own." He began: "When I was about six, I was visiting my uncle's estate in Matlock, touring the pastures and admiring his herd of handsome Guernsey cows. My cousin Richard and I had been repeatedly warned not to enter the pasture alone, but the vastness of the pasture was far too great a temptation for two small boys. When no one was watching, we snuck into the pasture and ran around like demons, frightening the cows unmercifully. I was having so much fun that I neglected to watch out for their droppings, slipped on one pile and landed in another."
She did not bother to hide her delight and laughed uproariously at the image he had described. "That was not bad enough, though, for we were discovered by the steward and brought directly to my uncle who sternly scolded us and threatened more serious punishment if we ever repeated such behavior. Unfortunately, he was unable to avoid my obvious malodorous condition and has referred to me as 'Guernsey' ever since. To this day, that is how my uncle, the Earl of Matlock, addresses me." Elizabeth was now holding her sides from laughing so violently. Hoping that his story had pleased her, he asked her once again: "Will you please accept my proposal, Miss Elizabeth?"
"Mr. Darcy, since I resolved long ago to only marry for love, I find that I must also listen to the desire of my heart and accept your proposal," she said with a loving smile.
He took her hands in his, stroked them and kissed each finger. She gazed up at him with those mesmerizing eyes and he forgot his stoic resolve, embraced her and kissed her passionately until she was breathless and barely able to stand on her own. "And shall we also agree that no penance shall be required in the future?" he asked with a smile.
"Your penance shall be that you must kiss me like that every day from now on, Mr. Darcy," she told him.
"I am your humble servant," he said as he enjoyed another kiss with her.
(Author's Note: OK! I know that kissing before marriage was not permitted in their time, but who could resist a kiss between our favorite couple? Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed this story!)