It is a truth universally acknowledged that an anxious mother with five unwed daughters to get rid of shall leave no stone unturned in hastening the first one of them who receives an offer of marriage to the altar.
Gracechurch Street - London, 1812
The joy which the second reading of Mr. Bennet’s letter, giving his favorite daughter his consent to wed along with his most ardent blessing, incited in Mr. Darcy and Miss Elizabeth an excitement which neither wished to deny. He lifted her from the floor and holding her tightly in his arms spun around. This closeness unleashed their passions for each other, and their lips met as he lowered her to the edge of the desk. Purposely positioning their bodies just so, a violent expression of their desire for each other ensued.
Elizabeth was so mesmerized by the touch of Mr. Darcy’s lips on hers, and his hands about her waist pulling her closer and closer, she almost forgot they were in her uncle Mr. Gardiner’s study, mere moments away from one of her relations’ possibly barging into the room. Almost.
Mr. Darcy must have felt the same for he gradually lowered her to her feet. Both eased away, albeit reluctantly. Elizabeth missed him already for kissing Mr. Darcy proved more pleasurable than even she had imagined.
“Sir,” she began even as she savored the lingering taste of his lips upon hers, “we ought to return to the others before we are missed.”
Leaning closer, Mr. Darcy brushed his lips against Elizabeth’s one last time. “You are correct; however, if you will give me but a few minutes more, I have something that belongs to you.”
“You do?” Elizabeth asked, wondering what that might be.
Mr. Darcy retrieved a royal blue velvet box from his pocket. Presenting it to his lady, he opened it for her inspection. “I have wanted to give you this for days.”
The brilliant diamond ring inside took Elizabeth’s breath away. “Sir, it is stunning.”
“My father presented it to my mother when she accepted his proposal, and now I present it to you.” He retrieved the ring and slipped it on Elizabeth’s finger. “It is a perfect fit, just as I knew it would be.” He raised her hand to his lips and bestowed a lingering kiss. “Just as you and I are a perfect fit. You complete me, my love. From this day forward, I never wish to be parted from you again.”
* * *
Every inquiring eye fell upon Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth when they entered the room. Having tidied her hair and gown as well as aided her intended to the extent their circumstances called for, Elizabeth hoped their appearance bore no evidence of the liberties she had allowed while alone with the gentleman.
“My dearest Lizzy,” cried Mrs. Bennet, hurrying to where the young lovers stood. “Where on earth did you run off to?” She directed her speech to Mr. Darcy. “Oh! Thank goodness you found her, or I shall have gone completely distracted.”
Assured that their appearance was the last thing on her mother’s mind, Elizabeth silently exhaled.
Mrs. Bennet continued, “Why, I almost feared she had run away to avoid your proposal. It would not have been the first time she acted so precipitously against her better interests.”
“Mama!” Elizabeth exclaimed. Talk of her refusal of another man’s hand in marriage was the last thing in the world to bring up at such a time.
The lady returned her eyes to Elizabeth. “Oh, but you are here now, which is all that really matters.”
“Mama, I did not leave, and nor did I intend to,” Elizabeth replied. “I simply took the opportunity to read Papa’s letter in privacy.” She threw a furtive look of gratitude at her aunt Mrs. Gardiner not only for suggesting Elizabeth steal away to Mr. Gardiner’s study but also for hinting to Mr. Darcy that he might find her there.
Mrs. Bennet’s eyes opened wide. “Well, child, do not keep us in suspense. What does your excellent father have to say? Has he given you his blessing?”
Smiling, Elizabeth nodded. “Papa has given his heartfelt consent.” She held up her left hand so everyone in the room might see her diamond ring. “Mr. Darcy and I are engaged. We are getting married.”
The excitement which Elizabeth’s announcement inspired in her mother, her sisters, her aunt, and even Mr. Bingley was everything that could be expected upon hearing such happy news and included eager proclamations which Elizabeth would rather wish her intended had not heard.
Mrs. Bennet started clapping her hands gleefully celebrating her own good fortune. As if the gentleman was not standing there, she happily proclaimed, “Oh, my sweetest Lizzy! How rich and great you will be! What pin money you shall have for he has ten thousand pounds a year!”
The youngest of the Bennet daughters, Lydia was a stout, well-grown girl of fifteen, with a fine complexion and good-humored countenance. Her wild animal spirits ideally suited her determination to leave her own unique mark on the world. Her mother’s favorite by far, she was just as eager to find herself a husband as her mother was determined to find her one: preferably a tall, handsome gentleman in a red coat.
Picking up where her mother’s exaltations ceased, she exclaimed, “Oh! He is so very rich, and you shall have such fine clothes and exquisite jewels so far as the eyes can see.” Her arms outstretched, she spun herself around. “Why, if only he were an officer I would be so very jealous of you, Lizzy.”
The fourth Bennet daughter, Catherine, suffered a rather accommodating nature which notably manifested itself in less than a desirable way so far as her younger sister Lydia was concerned. Affectionately known as Kitty among her family and friends, she echoed her sister’s sentiments and further added, “That is to say nothing of the magnificent balls you shall have, putting the rest of us in the path of many rich men.”
Try as she might to suffer her family’s antics with every appearance of composure, Elizabeth colored. Surely Mr. Darcy believes we are the most mercenary lot he has ever had the misfortune of knowing. A sidelong glance at her intended gave her to know she had nothing to fear, for he only had eyes for her: eyes filled with love.
The third Bennet daughter Mary’s character relied upon strict adherence to propriety. To her, the appearance of accomplishment and knowing was everything, to the point of deceiving herself of her own true feelings. As it was her turn to speak, she chose her words with some care.
“What are fine clothes, fine carriages, expensive jewels and crowded balls in the grand scheme of things?” Pausing her speech, she pushed her spectacles closer to her eyes. “Balls especially,” she continued. “They are nothing in comparison to good conversation and reading. I have heard it said that Pemberley boasts of having the finest library in all of Derbyshire.” With that said, some semblance of a smile reached her mouth. “I think I shall love to come and visit with you with alacrity.”
Jane’s exuberance though warm, was somewhat more subdued, in keeping with her character. “I am so happy for you, Lizzy.” Amid the ongoing outpouring of felicitations from the others among themselves, she whispered in her sister’s ear. “I have always thought very favorably of your Mr. Darcy. I do not know that I have ever met a more perfect match for you.”
The sisters embraced.
As for the others in the room–Mrs. Gardiner and Mr. Bingley: the happy smiles that diffused over their faces confirmed their joy. Seeing this in the latter of the two, Elizabeth clung to her sister a little longer and wished with all her heart that Jane, too, would soon know such happiness.
While the two youngest sisters continued to flutter about the room, Mrs. Bennet retrieved a crumbled linen cloth from her pocket and used it to fan her face as a means of calming herself. Breathlessly, she said, “You must be married by special license.” Pausing long enough to catch her breath, she continued, “Why, Mr. Darcy is as good as a Lord. No doubt his family will expect nothing less.”
She looked at the gentleman intently. “Pray, we shall soon have the opportunity to meet your relations. From all that I have been told about your aunt, the Right Honorable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, no doubt it will be a great honor for us all.
“Mr. Collins, Mr. Bennet’s cousin, boasts incessantly about her ladyship’s benevolence and her goodness. I can only suppose Lord and Lady Matlock will be equally agreeable.” She pursed her lips. “Although it is entirely possible that they may indeed be the complete opposite, I suppose. But then again, what do I know? I thought you hated my Lizzy—that you hated all of us, in fact, and now look at the two of you - engaged to be married. Who would have thought such a thing possible?”
§ Chapter 1, Part II Preview: If Mrs. Bennet knew what Elizabeth knows about Lady Catherine de Bourgh, would she still be eager to make her ladyship's acquaintance?
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