Please keep up! I’m going to delete this story before I publish which will be soon after I post my final chapter.
Tomorrow we leave for the US. My heart is bleeding profusely. Yes, we are both pleased to return to English being spoken, clean water we don’t have to boil, and food safe for eating. But, we do adore the simplicity of life here in the Andes Mountains. We had a small earthquake on Thursday that was centered very close to our apartment so we all felt it except for John. He was busy watching car races with the headphones plugged in and completely missed it. How does that happen?
If you are just starting, here’s the link to Chapter One: Chapter 1
Her response took him by surprise.
“You are bartering for me?” She pulled her hand from his clasp then fisted it at her side, poised to strike.
He had no doubt who would be her victim.
“For what purpose, Mr. Darcy?” Her voice mimicked her father’s sarcastic tone. “Am I to be set up as mistress to watch as you marry a woman more deserving than me to grace your home? Am I to be a companion to your sister as a replacement for the four I will be losing? Tell me, sir, what gentleman of good sense would bargain with a father without first declaring your purpose to the lady in question?”
Did she question his honor? How could she impugn improper motives to him, a man who had fought the fire at her home with his whole being? A man whom she had kissed seemingly willingly and eagerly? How dare she!
He stomped towards her, his stride purposeful. Leaning over Elizabeth, he knew his position was intimidating. He cared not! She deserved his anger.
“You are quick to vilify me, Miss Elizabeth, and I am now ashamed of what my feelings have been.” He waved towards the men in the room. “In front of friends and family, you accuse me of immoral plans for your person?
“Wait! What feelings?” She demanded.
“What feelings? You truly do not know?” Flummoxed, he threw his hands into the air, then endeavored to rub the confused expression that was surely covering his face.
“Tell me.” Her words were for his ears alone.
Unable to contain himself, his tone still held the surprised annoyance threatening to overrun the emotional barriers he was trying to erect.
“I love you, Elizabeth Bennet…” Dropping his hands, he tipped his head back as if beseeching the heavens for a measure of patience he had never before received. “and I fear I always will.” Turning from her, he returned to the sofa and sat. Putting his elbows on his knees, his weary body seemed to collapse into itself. Ignoring the burns on his cheeks, he yielded to the weakness in his neck and held his face between his palms, his eyes staring unseeingly at the pattern on the carpet below. “I would never degrade a woman to make her my mistress. Never!”
She approached, giving him the boldness to continue.
“I would have asked you to be my wife, the mistress of our estates, and the mother of our children.”
“Oh!” Her hand on his shoulder was gentle. “Well then, yes.”
He glanced up in time to see her curtsey. Her eyes avoided his as she scanned the room. “Gentlemen. Papa.”
Without any other acknowledgment, she left.
What on earth had happened?
“She is tired, Nephew, and so are you. So are all of us.” Uncle Hugh was the first to react after Elizabeth vacated the room. He snorted. “Lord, but if she does not remind me of your mother, Darcy.”
His attention was fully engaged. His mother? Lady Anne Darcy was a paragon of womanly charm. She was a lady in every sense of the word. “How do you mean?”
“I was almost your age when Anne came to me demanding my approval for her to marry George Darcy.” Lord Matlock poured himself a brandy and took a sip before continuing. “Personally, I could not see her attachment to your father. He was, much as you are, a quiet, somber man weighed down by his responsibilities. Anne was as impertinent and lively as your Miss Elizabeth.”
His uncle shook his head. “I was wrong to think she could find a better man amongst my peers who would keep her in the society of which she was accustomed.” Sipping again, he continued, “She cared not for the trappings of the ton. Nor was Pemberley what drew her to your father. She took one look at him and saw the gold buried in the stone. Anne loved him dearly.” He sighed. “They had a wonderful union. She lightened every aspect of his life until his burdens became, not only bearable but almost refreshing. She challenged him to simplify so they could spend more time together. At the same time, he grounded her and gave her purpose.
“Your father told me almost a year after her passing what he missed more than anything was the way Anne looked at matters. She pondered situations deeply and gave her opinions freely on the human aspect of any situation. George said she enriched his life more than he thought was possible.” His uncle set his glass on a side table, then looked directly at him. “I believe Miss Elizabeth will do the same for you.”
Darcy had thought the same. Did he still?
“Ask yourself, was your parent’s union always peaceful? Did you ever doubt their love for one another? Then, when you have your answers, go to Miss Elizabeth and offer your humblest apology.”
“Whatever for? She is the one who badly misjudged me.” Darcy insisted, unable to comprehend what exactly had happened.
“Nephew, you will learn, as I did with your Aunt Helen and your father did your mother, that a woman yearns to have peace while at the same time she delights in keeping her mate unsettled. It is a lady’s joy, for some odd reason.” Hugh Fitzwilliam snickered. “However, know the rewards of pleasing a woman willing to be pleased is worth begging for her approval fairly regularly. Apologizing dignifies her value in her own eyes and shows her more than actions that you value her as well. Trust me, Darcy, the first admission of wrong is the most difficult. Yet, once done and the gift received, you will soon look for opportunities to repeat yourself because there comes a rich bounty. There always does.”
Darcy did not understand and doubted he would until he had slept a day away. Nonetheless, his uncle was not a fool. He and his aunt got on fairly well.
“Mr. Darcy,” Mr. Bennet addressed him as he tried to formulate a response to Lord Matlock. “I would not have thought it after the comment you made at the assembly about my daughter’s undesirability, but I do believe you might be tempted after all.”
Bingley’s laughter bounced off each wall. “I will say so.”
“Therefore, as the father to Elizabeth, I both accept your offer of aid and extend my blessing and consent for your betrothal.” Placing both hands on the arm of the sofa, he stood and offered his hand.
Seeing the inflamed skin, Darcy adjusted his grip accordingly.
“I am betrothed?”
“You are.” At that, Mr. Bennet took a page from his daughter and left the room.
“I am betrothed.” If he repeated himself often enough he might start to believe in the truth of what he was saying. He hoped!
“Indeed, you are.” Replied his uncle and Bingley in unison.
This time it was he who retired from the library. He was betrothed to Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Never could he have imagined at the start of the day how it would end.
Betrothed. To Miss Elizabeth.
The world could not contain his smile.
Elizabeth woke to the sound of movement next to the bed. The sunlight filtering through the curtains and her eyelids indicated the day was far along. Surprised she had slept that soundly when her mind was in turmoil, she pictured the expression on Mr. Darcy’s face when she told him ‘yes’.
“You are giggling with your eyes shut, Lizzy Bennet. Would you be dreaming of your Mr. Darcy?” Jane tugged on the end of her sister’s braid. “Wake up. Lady Matlock returned from Meryton with an armload of garments that need fitted for our use. Poor Mama is beside herself to have a countess shopping for her daughters, although she did bemoan the lack of lace and ribbons.”
“I imagine so.” Elizabeth sat us and rubbed her eyes to clear the fog. “What has happened, Jane? Oh, you sound much improved.”
“I am. My throat is without pain and the stuffiness is almost gone. Perhaps standing in the cool air was more beneficial to me than I imagined.” Jane chose a yellow dress with green stripes from a small pile draped over a chair. “I believe this one will do for you.”
At that point, Elizabeth noted the details of the room. Luxuriously outfitted to reflect the beauty of a rose garden, the pink flowers on green vines creeping around the room on ivory wallpaper was lovely. Jane, in her robin’s egg blue dress with snippets of white lace at the color and the sleeves looked right at home.
“Mama was unable to contain the ire of Kitty and Lydia when they realized Lady Matlock had only procured undergarments and nightgowns for them. The Countess had been surprised to discover they were out in society so chose dresses for you, me, and Mary.” Jane’s eyes sparkled. “Oh, Lizzy, you cannot imagine how Mary looks.”
“Whatever can you mean? I am familiar with my sister from every angle.” Elizabeth teased.
“Just you wait, Lizzy Bennet.” Jane selected stockings and a new chemise from the pile. “Lady Matlock selected a dress of pale pink with petite white daisies embroidered at the collar, sleeves, waist, and hem. I swear our shy sister stood three inches taller when she was finally dressed. The Countess’ maid restyled her hair and pinched some color into her cheeks before Mary was turned to see her reflection in the mirror. Her blush was most becoming.”
Elizabeth’s chest hurt, her heart was so full. Mary was practically invisible to their parents. She often hid behind books of sermons in an effort to remain such. However, Elizabeth had long suspected she used Fordyce’s words instead of her own out of trepidation rather than piety. Perhaps, with Lady Matlock’s assistance, she could be aided to step out from behind boring tomes and antiquated opinions. We shall see!
The noise from the drawing room was deafening. As Elizabeth descended the stairs with Jane on one side and Mary, who indeed was captivating, on the other, they easily heard Lydia’s complaints before they had reached the ground floor.
“Lady Matlock, you simply do not understand. My own parents have allowed me to participate in society since the day I became fifteen. My Mama thinks I will be the first of her daughters to marry and I cannot think her words to be untrue. Why, how ashamed I would be to not be married by three and twenty like Jane.” Lydia was undoubtedly preening, a practiced pose she believed made her look more mature. “With the militia’s arrival, I am sure to catch the eye of many officers. I shall be wed before the holiday season, you mark my words.”
“Why on earth would an officer want you for a bride, Miss Lydia? What accomplishments have you? What experience do you have managing a home? Can you live on a much smaller income than what you are accustomed? Can you care for children?” Elizabeth could almost see Lady Matlock shaking her head, or her finger at the young girl. “What have you to recommend yourself other than your youthful vitality?”
“Why, cannot you see it?” Lydia asked, puzzled.
Oh, no! Keep your mouth shut, Lydia Marie Bennet. Elizabeth’s wish was in vain.
“Though I am the youngest, I am the tallest.” Lydia stated matter-of-factly, as if the Countess was missing the obvious.
Glancing at each of the sisters at her side, Elizabeth saw their mortification and knew her face reflected the same. While very little penetrated Jane’s mask, hearing their youngest sister express shame at being unattached at Jane’s age was brutally painful.
“Enough, Lydia.” Elizabeth marched her sisters into the fray. Disappointment with their father, who reclined in his chair with a smirk upon his face as he looked at his youngest, and their mother who saw nothing wrong with the vulgar conduct of her baby, shook her. It was agonizing to see her family as others saw them. She looked to Mr. Darcy, had been standing with his back to the group until he heard her voice.
Gratefully, his eyes were only towards her. Curtseying, she moved to stand alongside him.
“Miss Elizabeth. Elizabeth,” he whispered, testing the address as if he was afraid she would object. When she did not, he continued. “you will marry me?”
She wanted to chuckle aloud, glorying in having unsettled him. “Yes, Mr. Darcy.”
The tender moment was shattered by Lydia’s whine. Almost immediately, she was joined by Kitty.
“I have not said enough, Lizzy. This woman,” she rudely pointed to Lady Matlock, “is determined to ruin my fun and I will not have a person wholly unconnected to me changing my future on a whim. Mama said you will be able to throw me in front of rich men when you marry Mr. Darcy and I want an officer who will keep me in style, who will jealously watch me dance every dance at every society ball, and who will see I am cherished as the daughter of a gentleman. I will have my way!”
The chortle coming from the Countess said more than words. “Little Miss, should your sister throw you in front of rich men, they would simply throw you right back.” Being finished with the conversation, Lady Matlock stood and walked to where her husband was hiding himself behind a newspaper. “Hugh, would you please help this child see reason?”
Lord Matlock folded the paper carefully before looking up at his wife. Surveying the room, Elizabeth noted his eyes lingering upon her father.
“I will not.” Placing the circular upon a side table, he rose. “It is easy to see she is unreasonable as is her sister. They are lacking the firm hand and guidance of their parents. Therefore, I suspect nothing I say or do would affect them in the slightest.”
Reaching over to clasp his nephew on the shoulder, he said, “Darcy, I would insist as part of your settlement that you provide funds for schooling for those two before they cause an upset to society and embarrass the Darcy name. I also suggest they be removed to the nursery immediately. No harm will come while the militia are here.”
“But…but…” Mrs. Bennet saw her dreams of riding herself of two more children disappearing before her eyes.
Mr. Bennet, to Elizabeth’s keen shame, nodded his head, undoubtedly grateful to have someone else make his decisions for him.
“I would also suggest you marry as soon as you can obtain a license. There is no reason to wait. Miss Elizabeth’s wedding clothes can be obtained after the wedding as all of her garments will need replaced anyway.” Hugh Fitzwilliam nodded to himself. “Yes, this will also accomplish the feat of keeping Miss Lydia from being the first to the altar, or the anvil.”
Before Mr. Darcy or her father could make a reply, the butler came to the doorway of the drawing room to announce visitors.
“Mr. Bingley, I would like to present a delegation from the newly arrived militia. “Colonel Henry Forster, Captain Robert Carter, Mr. Alistair Chamberlayne, Mr. Matthew Denny, and Mr. George Wickham.”
Mrs. Bennet, Kitty, and Lydia squealed their delight. Mr. Bennet growled. Mr. Bingley smiled in welcome, Lord and Lady Matlock glared at the interruption, Jane and Mary looked at the newcomers curiously, and Mr. Darcy…well, Mr. Darcy was positively livid.
Elizabeth wondered why.