After they had left, Elizabeth retired to her room. The headache that had earlier threatened had resumed with full force.
Apparently she was secretly engaged to the man that had been responsible for separating her sister from Mr. Bingley and who had cast off most cruelly the companion of his youth. She was also now to become an heiress in her own right, though that too must remain a secret. She shook her head in disbelief.
She reviewed the events of the evening over and over, wondering if she could have stopped it all from concluding the way it had. Should she have spoken up earlier with her intention of refusing Mr. Darcy’s suit? But then she thought about what Lady Catherine had said, and realized the bitter justness of her words. She could not turn down such a rich man, not without materially damaging the prospects of her sisters. As Mrs. Darcy she could expose them all to men of wealth, men they would not meet otherwise. Perhaps Jane could find a man even better suited to her than the amiable Mr. Bingley. She might even persuade he husband to honor his late father’s will and give George Wickham the living he was intended to have.
Elizabeth exhaled loudly.
It was all so unfair! She did not even like Mr. Darcy. He as a proud, conceited, ill-tempered man! Oh, she did find him very handsome, but until she found herself in this predicament, would have, had he asked her, spat back in his face the same words he had said of her. “He is tolerable, I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me.”
Yet even while she was vexed with him, she could not deny that he had come to her defense, completely unwilling to do anything that would leave her unprotected unwed to him. Put in the impossible position of choosing between her and his aunt, he would only relent when his aunt proposed a solution that allowed him to choose both. That spoke of his fidelity to those he considered under his care.
Such steadfastness to his moral obligations seemed so contrary to his conduct towards Mr. Wickham and also gave her begrudging insight into what must have happened with Jane and Mr. Bingley. Whatever he had done, based on her discussion with Colonel Fitzwilliam, must have its motivation in the protection of a friend. And the Colonel confirmed that Darcy considered it a service.
Elizabeth was very confused about the man who intended to marry her.
With such a wide array of thoughts, it was very late when she finally fell asleep.
Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam came to the parsonage as early as it was polite enough for a call.
“We have come to take our leave of you,” the Colonel explained as soon as they were seated. “Darcy decided last night that his business in Town could no longer be postponed, so we shall be gone.”
Charlotte was sincere in her assurances that they would be missed. The colonel asked if he could entreat them to come on one last ramble about the park before they left. His offer was accepted and he immediately asked both Maria and Mrs. Collins to walk with him, leaving Elizabeth to Darcy.
By an unspoken mutual agreement, they let the three walk on ahead of them a little ways to give them privacy to speak.
“Your cousin proves his usefulness again,” Elizabeth said, amused at how easily it had all happened that they were walking alone.
“Does he know about what happened last night?”
“Most of it; I think he suspected Anne was ill, but not that she was dying. He discerned that I was interested in you, as well. He had no idea about the terms of Anne’s inheritance.”
“And what of Miss deBourgh? Are you engaged to her?”
“Last night, after we left, Lady Catherine and I had a very… pointed discussion. She asked me again to keep our agreement from Anne. I refused.”
“But we decided she should not know.”
“Yes, but I was hesitant even then and by the time we were on our way, I knew I could not keep such a thing from her and I told my aunt. Anne is not a child; she has a right to know. Besides, how will we ever see each other while Anne still lives if she does not? I refuse cut all ties with you while I wait. It is unfair to both of us. How can you know of my constancy? And I would not hide such from Anne.”
Elizabeth agreed with him that Anne deserved to know and said so. She then asked, “Have you told her?”
“As I said, Lady Catherine and I had an intense discussion on the way back to Rosings. After we rejoined the others the conversation was stopped, obviously, but we continued it once the Collins party was gone. I told her that I will not propose to Anne until I see the signed legal papers that will protect you during my marriage and I have my own doctor examine Anne to confirm the diagnosis. I also told her that I was going to include you in my will when I went to make the marriage settlements for Anne. I intend to leave a sum of money to you, should I die before we wed, commiserate to what you would receive in our marriage articles.”
Elizabeth was begrudgingly pleased that he had thought of her in such a way, but she also knew that her chances of avoiding a marriage to this man were rapidly declining.
“After finishing with my aunt, I met with Anne. It was difficult to ask her, but she confirmed that she was aware of the diagnosis. She had been feeling slightly better, but she still tires easily. I then told her about my conversation with her mother, and about the terms of her inheritance. She did not know, Elizabeth. She only knew that her mother was insisting that she marry me. I told her that I was willing to consider it, but that she needed to know something before we made any commitments. I told her about you. I told her how much I loved you, but that I was willing to wait if you asked me to and that you had.”
To hear him speak of his love for her was still so new, and still a shock to hear his say it. But she returned to the discussion at hand, curious to learn more. “What was her reaction?”
“She was surprisingly understanding. Her life has not been easy; Rosings has been a gilded cage for her, and for my aunt. Until my uncle died, they never left Rosings and he was almost never here while he was alive. The steward ran the estate and my aunt had little say over much of anything except what they ate and how they dressed. I think I now understand why Lady Catherine chose such a man as your cousin for her parson. Her husband died a year before Collins’ predecessor. I suspect that when she finally had a chance to pick someone with whom she would have a great deal of contact, she chose the man most unlike Sir Lewis as she could find.”
“I had no idea. She seems so much the mistress of the estate, and not a woman to be gainsaid.”
“I have always remembered her as such, though I never saw her here with my uncle when he was alive. I do remember how poorly my father thought of Sir Lewis, and how concerned his was for Lady Catherine. I always wondered why, since Lady Catherine was such a commanding presence. Her revelations of last evening gave me a new understanding of many things related to her and to Rosings Park and to Anne.”
“So where does that leave me?”
“I was wondering if you would be willing to get to know Anne while you are here.”
Elizabeth looked up at him, the unease easily apparent on her face. “Do you not think that it would be awkward?”
“Yes, but I am confident that you will soon be able to overcome it. As I said, Anne has lived almost as a prisoner at Rosings. She has very few women of her age as acquaintances outside of our small family circle. Elizabeth, she needs a friend. One of the things that I admire about you is how you took care of your sister while Miss Bennet was ill at Netherfield. It could not have been easy nursing her, while fending off the distain of Miss Bingley with such charm and grace. Anne has no one like you in her life. And I think it would bring her comfort to know why I am willing to wait for you, to know that I will be happy once my duty to her is over.”
Elizabeth blushed. She hardly knew what to make of the man who had suddenly turned so eloquent in her presence. His stares had been silent, but now they were accompanied by such words of praise.
“I do not pretend to know why you have come to have such a regard for me. I have hardly given you any encouragement. I am more likely to argue with you than agree.”
“Perhaps that is what has drawn me to you. You have never tried to ingratiate yourself to me. It may surprise you, but I find it refreshing to be seen as a person and not a thing to be possessed.”
“How do you know that I will not marry you for your wealth?”
“I think you do marry me for that very reason, Elizabeth. I have told you that I love you and yet you do not say it back to me, nor claim any sort of tender feeling.”
Elizabeth looked to the side, unwilling to let him glimpse his face.
“I had no idea you even liked me,” she admitted at last.
“But I specifically looked for you on your walks after you told me where you preferred to go, and I called on you alone.”
“I assure you, I was unaware of why you did so, and I thought it a mistake on your part.”
They were both silent for a while.
“Then it is all the more imperative that you and Anne become friends. You and I need more time together so you can know me and that will only happen if you have a reason to come back and stay at Rosings or to meet in Town.”
“I am not sure that it is wise to court another woman while you are married.”
“Then consider it a chance to become friends with Anne and with me. Elizabeth, I cannot stay away from you for years! As hard as it is for you to accept, I do love you and look forward to the day when I can finally call you my own. Only the bonds of family duty are keeping me from riding to Longbourn this day and asking your father for his consent to marry you.”
“You would marry me knowing I do not share your feelings?” Who was this man?
“I wish that you would, but if I am willing to wait for your hand, why would I not be willing to wait for your heart?” They walked on, each deep in thought.
Darcy spoke first. “I also wish for you to meet my sister. She too needs a friend, this last year has been very trying for her.”
“Do not tell me she has been held as a prisoner, too, Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth quipped.
Darcy laughed softly, “No, never that. She has friends her age, but not many. She too, like me, is uneasy around strangers. And though she has a few friends from school, she has even fewer who are older than she, like you. Actually, none of them are lively like you. You will bring a love for life, a vivacity that will enchant her, as it has me and Lady Catherine.”
“She likes you; otherwise she would never have suggested that she make you her heir.”
“She as a peculiar way of showing it,” Elizabeth said ruefully.
“Remember, she was very unhappily married.”
“That does not excuse incivility.”
“But perhaps eccentricities?”
“When you visit with Anne, she will show you another side to her personality. “
Darcy knew that their time was drawing to a close, so he changed the subject. “I will be in London for several days and then I will return to Rosings alone. When I come back I would like to meet with you and my aunt and my cousin to discuss all of our plans for the next few years. Please, visit Anne between now and then?”
“If I am invited to Rosings, I will go. I cannot promise you more. However, you should not tarry in Town for we are to leave Rosings on Saturday next.”
“I have been I Kent for nearly six weeks. My father cannot spare me much longer.”
“Will he come for you?”
“No, Maria and I are to travel by post.”
“Alone by post?”
“My uncle is to send his manservant.”
“I will speak to Lady Catherine before I leave. You will not travel by post if I can help it!” There was the proud Mr. Darcy Elizabeth knew best.
“I am not your sister, Mr. Darcy,” she retorted.
“You are my intended.”
“One of them.” Darcy said nothing, but she could feel him tense. She had, perhaps, pushed him a little too far. “Forgive me, that was unfair. If you wish to secure other, less public arrangements, I would be grateful. Please just have your aunt confirm them so I may write to my uncle.”
“If you give me his address, I will arrange it all with him while I am in Town.”
“He lives in Gracechurch Street.”
“Near Cheapside. That uncle.”
“Yes, that uncle. He is a man of means and of fashion, sir. Do not judge him before you have met him.” It was Elizabeth’s turn to feel indignation.
“Forgive me, I did not mean to give you the impression that I have.” Elizabeth thought it best not to reply to the reminder of his arrogance
“I will bring Georgiana back with me.”
“Then I look forward to meeting her before I return to Hertfordshire.”
The others joined them then, ending their conversation. She had not had the chance to discuss Jane, or Mr. Wickham, but she vowed to herself that they would when he returned. They said their goodbyes and the gentlemen left them to return to Rosings so that they could leave. Elizabeth noticed Charlotte eyeing her with speculation. She chose to ignore her friends and take up her embroidery. They would speak later, but for now Elizabeth was content to loose herself in her thoughts and stitches.
Colonel Fitzwilliam waited until the carriage was several miles into their journey before he began his inquisition of his cousin.
“I had no idea that your fancy for Miss Bennet would lead you to an engagement with Anne.”
“How did I land myself in such a predicament?”
“That you proposed to Miss Bennet is a wonder to me. It is a shockingly bad match, Cousin.”
“Thanks to our aunt, the match no longer quite so bad. She will have a dowry, and through it a connection to our family. Oddly enough, I never did actually propose. Aunt Catherine stopped me before I could ask.”
“Miss Bennet never said yes?”
“It was implied, as was my offer of marriage. As the discussion progressed, it was assumed I would ask and that she would, of course, accept. I would have finished what I started, had she not agreed to Lady Catherine’s offer and told me it was acceptable to her for me to marry Anne to help our aunt. She said it all reminded her of her own mother’s predicament.”
“She is a sensible lady, Darcy. It may be a bad match socially, but she will make a fine Mistress of Pemberley.” Darcy grew even more troubled. “Is that such a bad thing?”
“This morning she did not contradict me when I said she was marrying me because of my money.”
“Ah. That must have hurt. I know you must love her and for her to say she does not love you in return…”
“That is why I asked her to get to know Anne, so that she and I can see each other until… until Lady Catherine is safe and I am free once again to follow my heart. Elizabeth had no idea of my regard for her, Andrew. I need to do something to win her heart and that will only happen if I can be around her.”
“Courting another woman while you are married does not seem the way to make her fall in love with you.”
“It is not a normal marriage.”
“Still, it will not sit well with her. You would be better off staying away from her until you are free to see her as a suitor.”
“Then I will not court her. But I cannot, will not, go for months without seeing her. And I think Anne needs her more than I, at this time. I am confident that she and Anne will become friends and heaven knows Anne does not have many, if any, friends not picked by her mother.”
The Colonel nodded his agreement.
“I still cannot believe that Lady Catherine talked you into marrying Anne. She could have arranged a marriage to any of the other gentlemen in the area.”
“I realized that later, but she must have me for a son.” Darcy shook his head. “I was committed before I knew what was happening.”
“Darcy, I think she chose you because she could trust you with Anne.”
“Of course she can, I have loved Anne as a cousin all of my life. So have you for that matter.”
Andrew knew it was time for Darcy to learn a few things. “I have never told you about the last time I saw Sir Lewis alive.
“Father and I had come to visit Anne and Aunt. Sir Lewis was in London at the time, or so we thought. He somehow got word of our presence and followed us into Kent. We were returning to the house one afternoon after a ride when we heard raised voices and the sounds of a woman in distress. I raced inside to find the cause. I noticed that the servants did nothing to help whoever was in need. The servants stood still, refusing to look at me, just listening. I went into the parlor and found Aunt Catherine with her body coving a cowering Anne. Sir Lewis stood over them both, beating his cane down on our aunt. She was shielding Anne from the beating, receiving it instead. I do not recall exactly what happened next. All I know is that I tried to put a stop to it, attacking our uncle. The next thing I remember is my father pulling me off of Sir Lewis. He was almost in as bad a shape as our aunt. You have no idea how many times I have recalled that moment of clarity, and wishing my father had arrived just a bit later so I could give Sir Lewis the beating he really deserved. Afterwards, Father sent me back to my regiment and he stayed to confront Sir Lewis. Whatever he said, I was never charged for assaulting him, and Sir Lewis did not return to Rosings until he was in a pine box, waiting to be buried.”
“What about Anne and Aunt Catherine, were they hurt?”
“Anne was beaten quite badly before her mother arrived to deflect the blows. I did not see them myself, but that is was Father told me. He also said that Aunt Catherine admitted that it was not the first time Sir Lewis had physically harmed them which was why she was content to stay away from London to avoid him as much as possible.”
“She should have reported him to the magistrate much earlier.”
“You and I both know there was nothing illegal in what he did. A husband has the right to beat his wife as long as the instrument of his infliction is within a certain size.”
“It is not right that a man treats a woman so cruelly, and his child too,” Darcy spat.
“Nevertheless, it is the law of the land.”
Again the men sat in silence, pondering the situation.
“I told Aunt that I would not make a public commitment to Anne until I had her signature on her revised will, and had confirmed the terms of Anne’s inheritance. I do not think that Lady Catherine is lying, but I want to make sure that she has not been misinformed on the true nature of Sir Lewis’ will and her marriage settlements. It may be that Sir Lewis never made the changes he threatened or that Anne’s heir must be her cousin should she die without issue.”
“I would do the same where I in your place and I agreed that I do not think she is lying. She knows you well enough to know that you will check. And Darcy, if it is any consolation, I think that it is because she knows you so well that she chose you for Anne’s husband.”
“I do not follow.”
“She knows you are a man after your father. You would never lay a hand on a woman, especially your wife. You will protect Anne, even if that means you must wait for Anne to die to secure an heir with another wife.”
“I will send my doctor from London, as well. I must hear it from him that she is dying.”
“Again, I would do the same if I where you.”
“If there is any doubt about the prognosis, I will find a husband for Anne myself. One who will treat her kindly and look after Lady Catherine.”
“You could do that now, instead of going through with the marriage.”
“No, my honor is engaged provided the terms of our agreement are confirmed as true. If so, I will secure a license and marry Anne very soon.”
“You do not want to tempt yourself to break it to have Miss Bennet now?” Darcy said nothing, which in and of itself confirmed the colonel’s conjecture. “At least Miss Bennet did not turn you down.”
“I came across her during my annual tour of the grounds yesterday. In our conversation the subject of your saving that puppy Bingley came up and she did not seem too pleased with your actions to save a friend.”
The Colonel blanched. “Darcy, do not tell me it was Miss Bennet Bingley had fancied.”
“Miss Jane Bennet, Elizabeth’s elder sister.” Darcy ran his hand through his hair, clearly agitated.
“I had no idea. Of course I knew you were together in Hertfordshire, I should have guessed she might have known the young lady.”
“What exactly did you say?”
“I do not recall it all, but I did when she asked I defended you by saying there were some strong objections to the lady.” Darcy groaned. “Have I put my foot in it?”
“No wonder she reacted the way she did last night. I am fortunate that she does not hate me.”
“I never thought she particularly liked you.”
“I think I am the one who has put his foot in it.”
“Your honor is engaged, what will you do?”
“My heart is engaged, which is more important. I will do what I must to change her opinion of me. We will have much to discuss when I return. I will need your help, again, to secure some time with her.”
“I remain at your disposal.”