Authors: C.P. Odom
Now Elizabeth saw Darcy was almost quivering with some kind of dreadful excitement, and she almost asked if he was feeling ill. He did not appear ill, though he did look tired, so she continued.
“First, sir, it is an uncomfortable subject, but I must mention the matter of my family’s situation in the world. And I am not talking about the social difference to which you alluded . . .”
At this, Elizabeth was amazed to see Darcy close his eyes as if in pain, and he actually swayed on his seat as if he might pass into unconsciousness. She was so startled she blurted, “Mr. Darcy! Are you unwell?”
Darcy steadied himself, though it was several seconds before he opened his eyes. “I am tired, Miss Bennet,” he said in a hoarse voice, “but I am not ill. Please continue.”
Elizabeth was not convinced, but she could do little else than to fulfil his request. “Very well, sir. As I was saying, my family’s situation is not the best. In fact, to be perfectly forthright, when my father should die, Mr. Collins will inherit my father’s entire estate, and my mother and sisters will be essentially destitute. And, while I have no doubt that you would do the honourable thing, still—”
Elizabeth was more than a little shocked at the way Darcy suddenly sat up straighter, as if he had abruptly thrown off a terrible burden. She stopped talking at the unexpectedness of his reaction, and now a smile appeared on his face and grew until he suddenly threw back his head and laughed delightedly to the skies. She sat in stunned silence unable to make any sense of his reaction, and when he lowered his head, he no longer looked dejected. His eyes blazed with intensity as he leaned closer to her.
“Miss Bennet,” he said clearly, “I understand your question perfectly, and I assure you that you need have no fears on that account. In fact, it might be more clear if I express it this way. I have a sister, who is very dear to me, do I not? Yes, exactly. And, if we do, in fact, marry, would you not agree that
sister would become
Elizabeth could only nod in agreement, though she was still confused by Darcy’s reaction.
“Perfectly so. By the same token,
sisters will become
sisters. Do you think I would allow my sisters to be paupers while I took my ease in luxury in town?”
Elizabeth was stunned by the simplicity of his explanation, and Darcy read the dawning comprehension on her face.
“Of course not!” he continued. “I always understood the obligations I would assume. I do not know what would be best—to have your mother and sisters come stay with us, or perhaps to set up an establishment for them in Hertfordshire, close to their friends—but that is a matter for the future—certainly, after I hear your second question!”
Elizabeth was somewhat shaken by Mr. Darcy’s response and explanation, but she made herself concentrate and continue. “Secondly, Mr. Darcy, you will remember my mentioning last night that your proposal was a complete surprise to me. And you will also remember how
were surprised by
surprise. Due to the obvious fact that I was not expecting your declaration and in reality believed your opinion of me to be diametrically opposed to your actual sentiments, it would not be believable were my sentiments to match yours overnight. Accordingly, I feel it is incumbent upon me to ask whether this in any way changes your intentions. Please believe me; there will be no ill feelings on my part if you now wish to withdraw your offer.”
Darcy’s smile only grew wider. “I have no such intention, Miss Bennet. My feelings and affections are unchanged.” He leaned forward intently. “Now that I have answered your two questions, might I ask if you are ready to answer mine of yesterday?”
Elizabeth could not make her eyes leave his, despite the fact she dearly wanted to do so. She was still feeling the inner turmoil that had not left her since the previous day, and her stomach seemed to turn over inside to such a degree that she wanted to jump up and run away. Nevertheless, she had done all her thinking the night before, so she forced her emotions under control. In a few seconds, she was able to answer gravely, “Then, Mr. Darcy, my answer is, yes, I will marry you.”
The words seemed to echo in her ears, and she could not help wondering whether she had just sentenced herself to a lifetime of misery. Charlotte had argued otherwise, and her arguments had seemed logical and reasonable.
In fact, this marriage would have suited Charlotte well
, thought Elizabeth mournfully,
since she believed it was best to know as little as possible about one’s chosen partner. I certainly have no idea what kind of husband Mr. Darcy will make!
However, her innate self-honesty could not let that thought pass without countering it with another.
Except that he did promise—and in the most forthright manner possible—to provide for my mother and sisters when it becomes necessary. And he did so with an analogy that cannot be refuted: my sisters will be as much his sisters as his own sister will be mine. Even though I have lately found reason to doubt my judgment of character, I do believe his promise. So I WILL make myself stop worrying! Events will transpire as they will transpire, and I do not want to sow the seeds of future unhappiness by nursing inner anger or misery towards the man I have just promised to marry!
Darcy’s eyes still held her own as these thoughts rippled through her consciousness in an instant, and she saw how the expression of heartfelt delight suffused his countenance at her reply. His smile, in fact, transformed his face, and it seemed his happiness was greater than he had ever felt before. If he had been taciturn before, he became positively loquacious now, expressing himself as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love ought to do. Despite herself, Elizabeth found herself gratified by the manner in which he told her of feelings proving what importance she was to him.
Somehow, in the excitement, Darcy seemed to have captured her hand in his, and, despite the tenderness with which he held it, a single tug proved he had no intention of surrendering it. In fact, his smile only grew greater.
Eventually, Darcy’s commentary tapered off, and Elizabeth summoned the courage to ask what had caused his look of trepidation when they first sat down. Darcy grew grave at this question and, after a moment’s hesitation, responded quietly, “I was certain you intended to reject my offer because of the incredible botch I made of my proposal.” He shook his head in embarrassment. “I cannot understand how everything I wanted to say could have come out so wrong—or so objectionable. I desired to show the depth of my affections, so I proceeded to dwell on our difference in social position, to insult not only you but all of your family. I kept thinking of that as I walked back to Rosings, and remembering your strange looks at me, I became convinced I had offended you so badly you would certainly refuse me.”
He paused and looked at Elizabeth expectantly. Remembering her vow of just moments ago, she was able to manage a weak smile. “Perhaps it was somewhat less than romantic, Mr. Darcy, but Charlotte again came to your defence and pointed out that you were reputed to be quite civil and amiable in other settings. She could think of no other reason for your being so often tongue-tied and, well, incoherent, than that you were possessed by some violent love.”
Darcy smiled at her comment. “I obviously owe your friend a debt of gratitude, for she was exactly on the mark. I do apologize for both my manner and the words I chose. Usually, I try to think of what I am about to say before I say it, but in your case, I have been so often struck speechless that I would blurt out the first thing that occurred to me. Last night was a night of misery for me; thinking of the manner of my proposal and your delay in responding, I was convinced you were going to reject me.”
“I did wonder at the reason for your sudden laughter.”
Darcy beamed at her. “I knew then that you could not be asking such a question if you were going to refuse me. I could not contain the sudden release of tension. I do not think I slept ten minutes last night.”
“And I am afraid it shows, Mr. Darcy. Have you looked at your eyes in the mirror?”
Darcy winced. “Yes, I did, but there was nothing I could do. That is why I was walking in the Park so early—I have been dressed since before dawn.”
Darcy grew grave and looked at Elizabeth closely. “I promised you last night I would remedy whatever I have done and said that could have led you to believe I held you in contempt. I make this vow in addition to those vows we will exchange in church: I will spend the rest of my life proving to you that you have not made a mistake this day, Miss Bennet.”
Elizabeth finally had to look away from Mr. Darcy, for the emotion in his voice and the love in his eyes were too open, too raw, for her to stand. She remembered her vengeful impulse of the previous evening and was thankful she had not given in to her urge to hurt only to cause pain. She might not be sure exactly what he was, but he was certainly more than he had seemed.
At length, she ventured, “Perhaps we should talk of what we should do now, Mr. Darcy?”
Darcy nodded in agreement. “Certainly, I must visit Longbourn and ask for your father’s permission. But I believe we could go ahead and make a small announcement to the party here at Rosings—my aunt and my cousins, Anne and Richard, as well as your friend and her husband.”
Elizabeth thought that would be an extraordinarily bad idea, but remembering her own private vow, she did not directly contradict Mr. Darcy. Rather, she simply stood by in silence for several moments, avoiding his eyes, until his casual certainty began to waver.
Eventually, he licked his lips and ventured, “Do you . . . disagree, then, Miss Bennet?”
Elizabeth forced herself to smile gently while she placed her other hand on Darcy’s arm. “I hesitated to offer advice on your relations within your own family, Mr. Darcy, but in this case, I believe I have enough familiarity with the character of your aunt to be somewhat concerned as to her reaction when you tell her, firstly, that you will
be marrying Miss de Bourgh, and, secondly, that you
be marrying me. I cannot believe she will be pleased at this news, and I have noticed she is rather unrestrained when expressing her opinion.”
Darcy considered her statement for some seconds before comprehension dawned. “I . . . see! Yes, you are right, Miss Bennet. That . . . that might well bring forth one of my aunt’s formidable rages. I have in the past tended to avoid her propensity to intrude into my affairs by ignoring what she said and nodding occasionally. This subject, however, is not one where my usual response would be useful. No, you are entirely correct; I should not be too hasty in informing her.”
“She will have to know at some point, but to do so now might cause words to be said in anger that would cause untold future troubles.”
Smiling, he said, “I agree. I should have known better, but I was so happy I did not pause to think.” After some moments, Darcy ventured, in the manner of a person not accustomed to asking advice, “Do you have any suggestions, then, Miss Bennet?”
“Well, perhaps we ought to think in terms of small steps rather than big ones. Rather than informing everyone, perhaps you should do what you mentioned first—ride to Longbourn and talk to my father. If you do not tell your aunt, and if I do not tell Charlotte—though she already might make some accurate guesses!—you could return to London on your schedule, and I could return to London on mine. We could then discuss the other arrangements with more knowledge.”
After considering her suggestions, Darcy eventually agreed with her reasoning. “What you have suggested is sensible, Miss Bennet,” he said rather unwillingly. “I am tempted to say it is my wont to avoid disguise of every sort, but knowingly courting trouble is not the path of wisdom either. However, I must tell you that being reasonable is not what I wish to do. I do not want to be separated from you for more than a week, especially when I have only now reached the point where I no longer have to conceal my feelings from everyone.”
Though Elizabeth did not share those feelings, she was considerably heartened by both his affection and his willingness to listen to her. Perhaps she, in time, could soften the harshness of his pride and arrogance. It would need slow, careful work; his character had been formed over the years, and modifications could not be accomplished overnight. In the meantime, it was essential she not damage his regard for her, for his affection would be the motivation to induce him to change his manner, if such were actually possible.
“I understand your unwillingness, Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth responded carefully, “but I can only suggest that, in not too much time, the separation of a week will be forgotten. In the meantime, I have another thought. I ought to give you a letter for my father. He will be surprised by the news you bring him, and since I will not be there, I want him to have my account of the particulars.”
Darcy agreed. He was not really concerned about asking her father’s permission, but a letter from Elizabeth would certainly make the meeting go more smoothly. “Richard and I planned to make our farewells at the Parsonage this morning, but I can delay that long enough to allow you time for writing. But how shall you give it to me? Since none will know of our engagement, it would be improper for you to openly hand me a letter.”