Can Darcy and Elizabeth find their happily ever after?
Miss Bennet, I must tell you that almost since our first …
No. Too formal.You must be aware of my attentions …
Would that assume too much?
You must allow me to tell you how much I admire you …
This came closest to expressing his sentiments, but would she view it as excessive?
Darcy guided his stallion along the path to Hunsford Parsonage, anxiety increasing by the minute. Somehow the perfect words for a proposal must come to mind. He was close by the parsonage.
Almost out of time.
He took a deep breath. The master of Pemberley was unaccustomed to such agitation of the mind. But Elizabeth Bennet had a habit of unsettling his nerves as no one else could. Not for the first time, he wondered why that should indicate she would be the ideal companion of his future life. However, he had wrestled with his sentiments all day and finally concluded that it must be so, despite his objections to her family.
He had not slept the night previous and only fitfully the night before that. Practically his every thought was occupied by Elizabeth Bennet. Every minute of the day, he would recall a pert response she had made to his aunt or a piece of music she had played on the pianoforte. Or the sparkle of life in her fine eyes.
Yes, at first she had seemed an unlikely candidate for the mistress of Pemberley, but his passion could not be denied.
He no longer made the attempt.
Strange. He had been angered with himself for months that he could not rid himself of this … obsession with Miss Bennet. But once he had determined to surrender to the sentiment and propose to her, he felt almost … happy. Despite the fleeting sensations of guilt and doubt, he could not help but imagine how joyful it would be to have her as his wife.
He pictured the expression on Elizabeth’s face when he declared himself. Undoubtedly, she was aware of his admiration, and she had returned his flirtatious banter on more than one occasion, but she could have no serious hopes for an alliance. Her delight would make any of his misgivings worth it.
The woods on either side of the path thinned, and Darcy slowed his horse to a walk as he reached the clearing surrounding the parsonage. Initially, he had been bitterly disappointed when Elizabeth’s headache had prevented her from accompanying the Collinses to Rosings for tea, but then he recognized a perfect opportunity to speak with her alone.
Excusing himself from the gathering had not presented any difficulties. His cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, had received a letter that day with word of an unexpected inheritance of property following the death of his mother’s sister. Darcy was well pleased for his cousin, who had chafed at the limitations of a second son’s life. Richard had excused himself to plan for an immediate departure from Rosings the next day so he could soon visit his new estate. Darcy had seized on the excuse as well – since, naturally, he would be taking Richard in his coach and would necessarily need to prepare.
Darcy turned his thoughts to the task at hand.
You must allow me to tell you how violently I admire …
No. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you …
Darcy swung his leg over the pommel and slid off his saddle, tying his horse up at a post outside the Collinses’ front door. Pausing for a moment, he breathed deeply, willing his body to calmness. Then he seized the door knocker and rapped.
The maid who answered the door appeared unnecessarily flustered. As he followed her down the short hallway to the Collinses’ modest drawing room, Darcy had a dawning sense of wrongness.
Voices already emanated from the drawing room. Darcy immediately recognized Elizabeth’s lovely soprano. But the other voice was male, too muffled for him to hear. Had Collins returned home unexpectedly?
Darcy quickened his stride, almost crowding against the maid as she opened the drawing-room door. “Mr. Darcy, ma’am,” the maid announced before swiftly scurrying away.
Darcy blinked several times. His mind had difficulty understanding what his eyes saw. His cousin Fitzwilliam was in the drawing room. With Elizabeth. With Darcy’s Elizabeth. In actuality, Richard sat beside her on the settee, almost indecently close.
Why is Richard here? Darcy wondered with some irritation. Should he not be packing for his departure rather than preventing me from proposing? Richard and Elizabeth had been smiling at each other, but now both regarded Darcy in surprise.
For a moment, all was silence. Darcy could hear the crackling of logs in the fireplace. He had the nagging sensation of having missed something of importance but could not identify it.
“I … uh … came to inquire after your health, Miss Bennet.” Given the circumstances, Darcy was proud that the words emerged at all coherently. “I am feeling much recovered, thank you.” Her voice was somewhat breathless.
A look passed between Richard and Elizabeth, and she gave a tiny nod. Darcy’s sense of mystification increased. Finally, Richard sprang to his feet with a huge grin on his face. “Darcy, you arrived at just the right moment. You can be the first to congratulate me.” At that moment, Darcy started to get a sinking, gnawing feeling in the pit of his stomach. “Elizabeth has consented to be my wife!”