A.N. Here is the next exciting installment of; A Love Most Ardent.
I expect the last chapter might have given you a clue as to what might happen in this one, but are you right?
Be honest and leave a comment telling me if you predicted what would happen next.
The sun was going down before the visiting gentlemen thought to take their leave. The good Reverend had gone to his home some time ago, and Colonel Fitzwilliam waited outside while Jane and Mr Bingley, and Elizabeth and Mr Darcy said their farewells.
Charles shyly kissed Jane on the cheek, then with the promise to return in time for breakfast, went to wait with the colonel.
Darcy sought Elizabeth’s hands and stood gently caressing them with his thumbs.
“This is, without doubt, the happiest day of my life. Thank you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth.”
“I hope we will have many more such days, sir.”
Darcy leant closed, willing to risk discovery for just one more taste of her sweet lips.
“Yes, well, get along now, Elizabeth. Your mother is looking for you. Something about a double wedding,” chimed in Mr Bennet.
Darcy straightened and had the good grace to blush. Taking liberties with ones intended was frowned upon by one’s prospective fathers-in-law, especially should you be caught.
“I am expecting my man of business to call on me in the morning, but I will come in time for luncheon,” Darcy said, then made his bow and joined the Colonel and Bingley as they made their way to the stables.
Mr Bennet had mixed feelings about losing both his sensible daughters, but he would feel the loss of Lizzy the most. They had spent many an afternoon or evening in companionable silence, either reading a book or perusing the day-old papers Mr Gardiner sent them from London. Only Elizabeth shared his keen sense of the ridiculous and was unafraid to speak her mind. Qualities he admired in a sensible woman. Yet soon she would be gone to Derbyshire.
Slipped her hand through the crook of her father’s arm, Elizabeth gave it a reassuring squeeze. She sensed that she was the reason for his melancholy mood.
“I am going to get a plate of cold meat before Mrs Hill has it cleared away. Shall I get you one too, father? We could eat it together in your study.”
“Thank you, Lizzy. And if you can slip me one of the cook’s blancmanges too, it would be much appreciated.”
Mr Bennet waited at his study door to help Lizzy in.
As soon as she passed through the portal, Mr Bennet closed the door behind her.
“Did your mother see you?” he asked.
Elizabeth shook her head.
“Good. It’s just that I have already eaten two of cook’s flummeries. I would not want Mrs Bennet to know I’d had a third.”
“Mamma has retired for the evening, Father. You are quite safe.”
Mr Bennet sat at his desk but turned to face Elizabeth, who sat by the open window, as they tucked into their illicit supper.
“So, Lizzy, I presume everything is settled between you and Mr Darcy?”
“Yes, sir. Mr Darcy and I are engaged.”
“Good, that will help your mother rest easy in her bed, knowing that she has two daughters engaged to be married.” Mr Bennet studied his plate for some moments before asking, “And did you enjoy your evening stroll with Mr Darcy?”
Elizabeth she did not mind that he was teasing her; it was the humorous banter between them that made Mrs Bennet bearable for them both. Not that they did not love her, because they did, but sometimes, just sometimes, she did make herself appear ridiculous. The day she visited Jane at Netherfield sprang to mind. She had been abominably rude to Mr Darcy.
“Would it surprise you to know that Mr Darcy proposed to me again?”
“Not in the slightest. Darcy told me of his intentions some days ago.”
“He did?” Elizabeth sounded surprised.
“Oh, yes, in this very room. Mr Darcy said that you had some notion that we were indebted to him. Though Darcy assures me you will start your married life on an even keel, Lizzy.”
Elizabeth did not think her reasoning was silly. They were indebted to him, and not only for his timely intervention with Lydia and Mr Wickham. Had it not been for Mr Darcy anticipating Wickham’s direction, they might still be searching for them in London. Then there was the money he had dowered to Lydia. Three thousand pounds was enough for a frugal person to live out their entire life.
“But Father, we are, or at least we were, in Mr Darcy’s debt, both financially and morally. Only now the debt has been repaid.”
“You are referring to Lydia, as well as the assistance we rendered Mrs Galbraith?”
Elizabeth looked puzzled.
“Yes, of course.”
Mr Bennet had assumed that when Darcy proposed to Elizabeth earlier, he would take a moment to make a clean breast of things. He could not recommend they speak their marriage vows with a lie between them.
Elizabeth sensed something had changed. Her father suddenly seemed distant.
“I still have the accounts to do, my dear, get off to bed now.”
Elizabeth put her plate on the desk and kissed her father’s brow.
“Good night, Papa.”
“Good night child.”
Darcy was euphoric as he rose and dressed the next morning. Nothing, he declared, could dampen his spirits this beautiful summer day. He was engaged to the woman he loved, he had a special licence in his pocket. Soon, Elizabeth would be his wife.
Descended the stair with a spring in his step he made his way to the breakfast room to join Bingley. Moments later, a footman appeared with his mail on a silver salver.
“You have written to Miss Darcy and asked her to join us here at Netherfield?” Mr Bingley enquired of Darcy.
“I have, and she should be with us in only a day or two. I could not get married without my sister present.”
“No, of course.” Charles sounded nervous, but he did not keep Mr Darcy in suspense for long.
“Darcy, do you think I should invite Caroline and the Hurst’s to attend my wedding?”
Darcy put down the letter he was reading and thought hard for a moment.
“Your decision is a difficult one, Charles. One the one hand, you should have your sibling present for such a momentous day in your life. But, on the other hand, on more than one occasion, Miss Caroline has proved that she cannot be trusted to be civil, especially where the Bennet’s are concerned.”
“So, what do I do?”
“Invite them to the wedding breakfast, but not the service. The last thing you want is to go through the same ordeal as Mrs Galbraith!”
Charles seemed satisfied with that answer. It was the perfect solution and now he no longer needed to think about it, he turned his attention back to his plate.
Darcy, who was still sifting through his mail, was surprised to receive a hand delivered missive. It was from Mr Bennet.
Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy,
A matter of some importance has been drawn to my attention, namely
that you have not yet been honest with Elizabeth.
I desire that you resolve this matter with alacrity, and must request that
you seek Elizabeth out at your earliest convenience to rectify this
Mr Darcy folded the note and slipped it into his waistcoat pocket.
Directly after breakfast, he and Mr Bingley rode to Longbourn, where Charles immediately sought out Jane’s company.
Darcy, meanwhile, made his way to Mr Bennet’s study.
“Come in, sit down,” Mr Bennet said, though he remained standing.
Darcy felt relaxed and happy as he seated himself in the chair opposite his host’s desk. He assumed Mr Bennet wanted to talk about the marriage contract.
Mr Bennet stood with his back to the window, and his hands clasped firmly behind his back. His countenance was sombre as he addressed Mr Darcy.
“I will come straight to the point, sir. You had already won my daughter’s heart, and she has accepted your proposal?”
Clearly, it was a question, but to what Mr Bennet was alluding, Darcy did not know. Shifting in his chair, Darcy now sat straight-backed as he realised his host was not in the best of moods.
“Then you have also enlightened her to the deception that brought you to this happy conclusion?”
Darcy stared at Mr Bennet, for once lost for words.
“Do I take it then sir, that you intend to enter into this marriage with a lie between you?”
“I…I do not sir, but I thought I could reveal my part in Anne’s elopement at some later date.”
“Not good enough, sir,” said an irate Mr Bennet. “You are not being fair to Elizabeth, she deserves more from you, sir. She deserves your total honesty. Elizabeth is no-one’s fool, and she is as likely to think you tricked her into marriage as not.”
Darcy hung his head. Of, course, Mr Bennet was right. All his life he had abhorred deceit of any kind, and yet he had been willing to deceive Elizabeth. He was heartily ashamed of himself.
“I will go and speak to her now sir.”
Mr Bennet believed that Darcy would indeed, seek Elizabeth out and reveal his part in Anne’s elopement, but he doubted he’d had much practice in explaining why he had lied. If it were in his power to soften the blow, for both Elizabeth and Darcy, then he must do so.
“Good. Now, might I suggest that you say that Anne came to you and asked for help?”
“But is that not just replacing one lie with another, sir?”
“I am convinced, that in time, your cousin would have sought you out, sir, and asked for your assistance. You merely expedited the process.”
There was no denying that in the past, Anne had occasionally asked for his advice or assistance. Darcy had been only too willing to offer his services to his cousin in the absence of a father or brother. He chose to believe that Mr Bennet was right; Anne would have eventually sought him out to assist in her affair of the heart. She had no-one else to turn to.
Darcy walked out of the room, his mood slightly lifted, though he was still dreading the coming conversation he must have with Elizabeth.
After looking in several rooms, it was Mrs Hill who told him where to find her.
As he drew near to the entrance of the walled garden, Darcy bumped into Mr Collins.
“Ah, Mr Darcy,” he said giving a low bow, “I did not have the opportunity to congratulate you on your betrothal to my dear cousin, Elizabeth.”
Darcy immediately felt irritated by the presence of the Parson. Though he had no doubt in his mind that any man who had dared to initiate a courtship with Elizabeth would have also irritated him.
“Thank you, Collins.”
They stood face to face, with Mr Collins blocking the entrance to the area where Darcy wanted to go.
Compelled to make further conversation, Darcy asked, “And Mrs Collins, she is well?”
“Oh, yes, thank you, sir. Quite well. I have sent her an express only this morning asking her to join me. I do not think it prudent to return to Hunsford at this moment, not after her ladyship…well, less said.”
Darcy’s irritation turned to pity. His aunt was a formidable opponent at the best of times. For a weak man such as Mr Collins, there had been little chance of him standing up to her.
“I feel sure you will not regret your decision, and Mrs Collins is a sensible woman and will see the advantages of your move. Now…”
Mr Collins stepped aside, bobbing lower than ever, bolstered by the reassuring words of the illustrious, Mr Darcy.
With only a couple of strides behind him, Darcy was surprised when he heard Elizabeth speak his name.
“That was kind of you, Fitzwilliam. Mr Collins does not possess a strong character, and I suspect your aunt often used his weakness to her own advantage.”
Darcy closed the last few steps between them, and he lifted her hand to his lips, placing a light kiss on her fingers.
“Elizabeth,” he said, and they exchanged salutes.
“It is going to be a warm day; shall we sit in the shade?” asked Elizabeth.
He followed her to the end of the garden, where the trees shaded her special bench.
Darcy sat beside her and kicked at the grass with his boot as he struggled to find the words to begin his confession.
“Elizabeth,” he started, “I have not been entirely honest with you.”
At first, Elizabeth thought he was jesting, but his grave countenance soon told her that he was in earnest.
She was shocked. Elizabeth distinctly remembered Mr Darcy telling her when she was at Netherfield last winter that deceit of any kind was abhorrent to him.
“A lie, Mr Darcy?” she asked.
“Do not judge me too harshly, Elizabeth. The happiness of four people rested on my actions.” He could not meet her gaze. Instead, he looked at his boots. “I…I discovered that my cousin and Mr Galbraith were in love, quite by accident really, but once in possession of this knowledge, I used it for my own personal gain. Not financially you understand, but…emotionally.”
He stole a sideways glance at Elizabeth, hoping to gauge her reaction. From her rigid stance, he knew she was disappointed.
“I could have offered Anne the use of Pemberley or even my townhouse to get married at, but I did not. I knew my aunt would have her people check out my properties first. So, I advised them to throw themselves on your father’s mercy.”
Her voice was quiet, but there was an underlying tone of anger in it.
“And what if he had turned her away? Would you have been so proud of humiliating your cousin then?”
“Oh, but Mr Bennet had already agreed to aid them. I would not have been so insensitive as to send Anne to Longbourn unannounced.”
Elizabeth was fuming. To be deceived by the man who you loved was bad enough, but to drag her father, and probably her entire family into his deception was unforgivable.
“Why are you telling me this now?”
“I could not marry you without being totally honest with you first,” Elizabeth said nothing; looking only ahead.
Decided to throw himself on her mercy, Darcy pleaded, “Elizabeth, being dishonest is not my wont, you know it is not, but you would not entertain my proposal, try as I might offer you my hand. Your notion of being indebted to me was ridiculous…”
Darcy fell silent as Elizabeth stood abruptly.
“I find I have a fierce headache, sir, and must return to the house.”
“Elizabeth,” Darcy called out, but her quick strides only grew faster as he called to her.
Reluctantly to chase after her, Darcy returned to Netherfield. How could he have misjudged her reaction so badly? If he were in her shoes, would he have been so quick to temper? If he were honest, he probably would have been. Regret was another unfamiliar emotion to him, but he felt it keenly this day, and he did not like it. Elizabeth had every right to be displeased and disappointed with him.
Tomorrow, he would call on her again and hope that her mood had softened as she gave his confession some thought. But for tonight, he decided to find solace in the bottom of a brandy bottle.
So, did it pan out how you expected? Leave a comment and let me know.
Till next time,
p.s. Look out for my article on Emma after the Epilogue of, A Love Most Ardent. Also, in the autumn I will be doing a giveaway for anyone who has read, Mr Darcy’s Proposal.