To Love Mr Darcy
However, the untimely interference of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and Darcy’s subsequent actions, makes it impossible for Elizabeth to break their engagement.
Yet, in the midst of all this chaos, love blossoms, and in the most unlikely manner…
The Bennet family finally arrived home from the Netherfield Ball in the early hours of the morning. They collectively declared the ball was a great success, and professed to have enjoyed it immensely, with four of the five sisters being engaged for almost every dance. All except for Mary, who thought such frivolous activities were a waste of time. She preferred more sombre pastimes, like reading and practising on the pianoforte. Whether this was true or she was just making excuses because no-one asked her to dance, none of them knew.
So it was no surprise that the entire family, even Mr Bennet, had decided to forgo breakfast in favour of the warmth and comfort of their beds. Imagine their surprise, when midway through a light luncheon, Mrs Hill announced a caller was waiting in the parlour.
“If quite convenient,” Mrs Hill conveyed, “He would like to speak to the master in private.”
“Is it Mr Bingley?” Mrs Bennet, still a little queasy from her overindulgence the previous evening, quietly asked.
“It is not,” said Mrs Hill, “but it is that gentleman’s close friend, Mr Darcy.”
Mrs Bennet momentarily forgot the pounding in her head and demanded with a raised voice,
“Mr Darcy! What business can he have with you, Mr Bennet? He is too proud for my liking and danced with almost no-one last night. How I hate the very sight of him. Tell him to cool his heels until you have finished your plate, sir,” expelled Mrs Bennet, wishing she had not been quite so exuberant with her speech.
“Now, now my dear, it is the calling hour after all. Though I must confess, I am interested to know what Mr Darcy could want with a humble squire like me?” replied Mr Bennet as he tried to soothe his wife’s ire.
Mr Bennet did not return to finish his food. So it was to the small sitting room where the ladies usually passed their time, which he returned. He wore a very solemn expression and quickly ordered Jane to take her three younger siblings upstairs. Then, Mr Bennet raised his hand to silence his wife as she began to question his actions. Turning to his favourite daughter, he said,
“Lizzy, my dear, Mr Darcy would like to speak to you; he is waiting for you in my study. Run along now, don’t keep him waiting,” he instructed.
Elizabeth was confused. She could think of no reason why Mr Darcy would wish to speak to her. He was universally disliked by the whole family and only tolerated because he was Mr Bingley’s particular friend.
She tapped lightly on the door and then entered.
Mr Darcy, who was looking out of the window, now turned and offered her a slight bow. He motioned for her to take a seat, although he remained standing. His tall, muscular frame filled the small window, and only a few shafts of light escaped from around his silhouette.
“You are well after last night’s festivities, Miss Bennet?” he asked curtly.
“Yes,” she replied, and then sat quietly waiting for him to continue.
“Miss Bennet, these last weeks since I arrived in Hertfordshire have seen my emotions thrown into turmoil,” he began. “I have experienced periods of great pleasure, and ones of confusion and self-reproach. And at the heart of all this is you, Miss Bennet. My heart is not easily touched, and, struggle as I might, I find that you have found a place in it. As I have confided with your father this morning, I am willing to overlook your inferior birth, your lack of fortune and lowly connections in the pursuit of my own happiness. Therefore, Miss Bennet, I would ask that you accept my hand in marriage and consent to be my wife,” he finished.
Elizabeth sat in stunned silence. Had he just asked her to marry him? Apparently so, if you could call being insulted an offer of marriage. Obviously, it was quite impossible. However, she was mindful of the honour he conferred upon her and said,
“I thank you, sir. I am conscious of the honour your offer would bestow on both my family and me, but I must decline.”
“Miss Bennet, you misunderstand me,” he said stoically, “My asking you is merely a formality. Your father has already approved the match, and we will be married here at Longbourn in one month.”
Elizabeth could not believe what she was hearing. Her father had given his consent, and without talking to her first? No, it could not be.
“I am afraid there must have been some mistake sir. My father would not have approved our match without seeking my opinion first.”
“I assure you, there is no mistake, Miss Bennet. I laid out my terms to your father, and he found them quite acceptable,” he informed her.
“Well, sir,” Elizabeth said defiantly “I am not inclined to accept your offer, and nothing could induce me to do so.”
Darcy studied her for a moment, not missing the defiant tilt of her chin. She was earnest in her rejection.
He pulled up a chair and sat before her.
“Miss Bennet, you are a dutiful daughter, I am sure, and will in time come to see the wisdom of your father’s decision,” he said in a slightly softer tone.
“You have many qualities that I admire in a woman. You are a gentlewoman of good breeding and from a respectable family. You have a keen mind and a sharp, but not unkind wit. You enjoy the outdoors, and though a little too tanned for society, you are a very handsome woman.” He paused briefly before adding, “And though you are not inclined to show it at present, I know you possess a kind and generous heart. These are all qualities that I would look for in my wife.”
Seeing her pursed lips, he concluded by saying,
“I am seven and twenty, Miss Bennet, an age when marriage is more appealing to me than the pursuits of a bachelor.”
By now, Elizabeth was furious and no longer tried to hide her ire. A fine speech, yet there had been no mention of love or affection. As she had sworn to marry for only the deepest kind of love, which clearly was not to be found here, she was firm in her resolve to refuse him. She folded her hands in her lap and raised her chin even higher.
Darcy could scarcely contain his smile. Her stubbornness was another quality he admired, but best not to encourage it just at this moment.
The upward turn of his lips made her angrier than ever. And now he is laughing at me. She wanted to stamp her foot in frustration as he enjoyed her predicament.
“I am sorry, Mr Darcy, but my answer stands. I cannot marry you. Now, if you will excuse me.” She stood to leave.
Exasperated by her continued refusal and dismissal of his heartfelt speech, Darcy also stood. Then, as she made her way to the door, he delivered his fait accompli,
“Miss Bennet, you are not one and twenty for four months. You will follow your father’s direction. And trust me, we will be married four weeks hence.”
Desperate to escape the room to ask her father if it was true, Elizabeth shot him a burning glare of defiance and then slammed out of the room.
Unfortunately, she bumped straight into Mr Collins, who gave her no time to make her excuses.
“My dear cousin Elizabeth, how fortuitous that we should meet like this. I was just coming find you. Your mother has given me her blessing to seek a private interview with you,” he said in a nasal drawl.
Elizabeth, still in shock from her encounter with Mr Darcy, let herself be guided to the sitting room. It wasn’t until Mr Collins closed the door behind her that she understood the full meaning of his words. She was about to protest that his words would be in vain when he began his address.
“I have happily received the blessing of my esteemed patroness, Lady Catherine De Bourgh, in my mission to find a wife. And more by design than luck, I have found her here, at Longbourn. You, my dear cousin Elizabeth, are the recipient of my love, which I can tell you has been building these past few days. I can honestly say, no other could fill that place in my heart, but you.”
Elizabeth was astonished to be receiving a second proposal, both of which were unwelcome. How ironic that her mother was concerned that none of her offspring would find a husband, yet here she was receiving her second proposal in one day. She looked at Mr Collins and felt a pang of pity. He was confident his position in life, elevated by the acquisition of his noble patroness, would bring him all he desired. In truth, he was only her puppet. Elizabeth knew she could never love or respect a man like that. She waited for him to conclude his speech and then replied in a conciliatory tone,
“Mr Collins, I am honoured that you would pick me to be your companion through life, but I am afraid I have just received and accepted another proposal.”
A white lie, she knew, but she did not want to give him hope where there was none.
His expression of anticipated acceptance changed to crestfallen rejection. She gave him a weak smile and then rose to leave.
“Miss Elizabeth, might I ask who has beaten me to your heart?” he asked.
“Mr Darcy,” she replied with a forced smile.
“Then, cousin, I am heartily sorry for you.”
Why would he feel sorry for her? She may not like it, but even Elizabeth could admit Mr Darcy was a highly eligible catch.
“The match is an elevation for you to be sure, my dear, but do not suppose that the likes of Lady Catherine De Bourgh, or Lord Matlock, will welcome you into the family. No, my dear cousin, a life of rejection and isolation lies before you.”
Ignoring his bitter words, she hurried from the room to find her father. She must demand that he rescind his consent before this went any further. He must see that she could not marry a man like Mr Darcy. Not only was he universally disliked in the town, but because of his despicable treatment of Mr Wickham.
When she reached the rear parlour, she flung the door open and scanned the room for her papa. But before she could utter a word, Mrs Bennet jumped up and took her into her arms, kissing her on both cheeks.
Elizabeth was taken by surprise, as this kind of outpouring of affection was usually reserved for Jane or Lydia.
“Oh, Lizzy, how clever you are to make Mr Darcy fall in love with you. And all the while we thought him indifferent. What fine things you shall have, carriages, servants, and plenty of pin money. And with your connections, you can introduce the girls to other rich men. But we must make haste with the preparations, for Mr Darcy was most insistent on you being married before Christmas. Oh, Lizzy, you have saved us all, has she not, Mr Bennet?” she gushed.
Mr Bennet was clearly irritated at his wife’s outburst and hurried her out of the room so that he may talk to Elizabeth alone.
“Now, Lizzy, I know you are angry with me, but if you think about it, I am sure you will conclude it is a good match. I am not getting any younger, as Mrs Bennet is so fond of reminding me, and if there is a chance I can ensure the wellbeing of my family before my demise, then I must act upon it. Besides, Mr Darcy is not a man you say no to.” He took her by the hand and led her to the sofa.
“My dear, I know that we have made sport of Mr Darcy in the past, but he came to me with a sincere proposal, and I believe it is a good one. I understand your reluctance, but to my knowledge, no other gentleman has made you an offer,” he said tenderly.
“But, Papa, I do not love him, and I am convinced he does not love me. I have seen how he looks at others he considers beneath him, including our family. Can we not wait and see if Mr Bingley makes an offer for Jane?” she pleaded. “I cannot marry him, Papa. Please don’t ask me to.”
Elizabeth was his favourite child, but he was disappointed that she had given no thought to the advantages her union with Mr Darcy would bring, and not only to her but to her entire family, especially her sisters. Their marriage would elevate the family to a level in society they could only dream of. Reluctant thought he was, he could not deny them this opportunity.
“I am sorry you feel that way, Elizabeth, for it is all settled. We shook hands on it, and as a gentleman, I will not go back on my word.”
Her downturned mouth indicated her unhappiness at his statement.
“However, Mrs Bennet tells me your cousin intends to make you an offer this morning; surely Mr Darcy is a better prospect than the parson?” joked Mr Bennet as he tried to lift her spirits.
Elizabeth offered only a weak smile in reply. It appeared she did have a choice in the matter after all. Either marry Mr Darcy or marry Mr Collins. As it was impossible to even consider marrying her cousin, she must, therefore, try to look forward, and embrace the prospect of becoming Mrs Darcy.
I thoroughly enjoyed writing this variation. To Love Mr Darcy still has the tender moments expected in a romantic novel, but I have also shown a stronger side to many of the characters. I hope you like it.
Martine Jane Roberts
To Love Mr Darcy is my third, Pride & Prejudice variation novel.
Mr Darcy’s Struggle, and Darcy to the Rescue, are also available on Amazon, iBook’s, (iTunes), Nook, Kobo, Barnes & Noble and Createspace. Available in Kindle format as an eBook or paperback.