Hope your April showers have led to some lovely spring gardens for you all!
In the brilliance of the May afternoon, a young lady, slight but shockingly agile hurried towards a meeting with her lover. They had agreed on a particular place among the lilacs; Lady Catherine was well known for how much she disliked the smell of lilacs and could be counted on to abstain from intruding upon them in a tender moment.
The young man stepped on to the path when he heard her approach. “Thank heavens. I believed you should not come.”
“Mrs Jenkinson was alarmed by my rash!” Anne giggled and gestured to some red marks on her bosom. “I could hardly tell her I had you and your new batman to thank for this!”
“My darling!” Colonel Fitzwilliam exclaimed, then peered closely at her skin. “I had no notion that I caused you such agonies!”
His lady gave him an impish smile. “I scarcely noticed myself at the time. It seems the agreeable sensations produced by your kiss far outweigh the discomfort of your whiskers.”
Such a charming proclamation deserved a kiss, and he was quick to give her several before vowing to instruct his batman to improve upon his methods of shaving. At length they found some time to speak.
“This madness cannot continue,” he began in a low tone.
“What can I do?” she cried. “It is impossible in every way. I assure you I feel it exceedingly.”
“I must speak to your mother.”
“No!” Anne protested immediately. “You know how she is. She is determined that I must marry Darcy.”
“But once she sees how I love you—”
“No, no.” Anne shook her head. “She cares nothing for that. It must be Darcy for reasons only she truly knows.”
The man sighed, removed his hat and scratched his head. “Anne, you are heiress to this estate, you are of age, you do not need her consent.”
“I do indeed,” said the lady miserably. “That dreadful man of business she reains has my fortune tied in knots. It is legally my own, I know, but if she decided to withhold it from me, I would likely spend a long time unravelling it.”
Colonel Fitzwilliam gritted his teeth. In this, his beloved, his dearest Anne, was likely correct. Lady Catherine was not a woman to be gainsaid and was quite willing to do anything within her power to carry her point. If she ever becameenlightened to the truth of the relationship between her daughter and her nephew — the wrong nephew, that is — it would be a dark day indeed.
Anne had grown pensive, and paced, tossing her many thick shawls to the ground behind her as she did. She shook her head. “If only Darcy would marry!
Fitzwilliam snorted. “I begin to think that day will never come. We have awaited Darcy’s move for four years now. I have watched in near apoplectic frustration as he scarcely looks at a woman save to see a blemish!”He stepped a bit closer to her, pulling her close and drawing her hand to his lips. “Patience is the most difficult virtue to achieve I fear.”
“It is no easier for me,” Anne whispered, becoming lost in his eyes. “If we have not money though, I fear we must both be in misery. Neither of us is accustomed to want.”
“And yet, I am enduring want of a most grievous nature,” he said. “For I want you, my dear, more than I want anything else.”
Such words could lead to only one thing, and that one thing would lead to another and another. How far it might have gone was anyone’s guess — until they both stopped, abruptly, hearing the sound of footsteps followed by the crack of a stick.
“My mother!” Anne gasped.
“This way, quickly.” He pulled her back behind the shrubs with alacrity, remembering at the last moment to go back for the shawls which laid still on the ground. He held his finger to his lips to silence her even as they both bent, careful to be wholly concealed by the lilacs.
“Shh,” Fitzwilliam whispered. “I think it is Darcy.”
“Who is he with?”
Fitzwilliam was peering through the dense shrub, his training on the battlefield proving useful in this decidedly un-war-like endeavour. “No one that I can see.”
Darcy, who was plainly in a great agitation of spirits, appeared, muttering something beneath his breath.
“He is in quite a fuss,” Anne whispered into the colonel’s ear.
“What is he saying?”
Fortunately, Darcy chose that moment to raise his voice, addressing his remarks to a well-shaped young cherry tree that stood, pink and blushing before him.
“You must allow me to tell you … how I admire … how ardently I admire … I love… blast!” Darcy sighed, then looked at the cherry tree, extending one hand. “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you. Indeed, from the first moment of our acquaintance… No. No that is wrong.”
He uttered a quiet groan.
“Truth,” he continued. “It is important to mention that which is true. She will respect that, I think. Perhaps I should speak to her of our families, of the opposition we are likely to meet in that quarter.”
“Lord, no!” hissed Fitzwilliam. “Darcy, do not be a fool.”
“Shhh,” whispered Anne with a giggle.
“Yes, yes,” Darcy assured the small tree. “Yes, it would not do to dissemble. I must speak of the struggles within my mind as well as my heart. She must know the difficulties we may face; it is only just. How can she decide if she would wish to accept my offer, knowing not what that might come to us?
“After all,” he began to pace, “being raised by such … people … as the Bennets, she cannot know what better society will expect. She cannot possibly anticipate the disappointment which I will encounter … my family, all that my parents expected…”
Anne rolled her eyes and whispered to Fitzwilliam. “Does he wish to marry her, or does he want to tell her all the reasons he cannot marry her?”
Fitzwilliam looked grave. “If he goes on to her in this way, he will do nothing but offend her.”
“Do you think she loves him?”
Fitzwilliam considered that question. “I think not. She likes to tease him, but I do not think she tries to gain his attentions. Still, for a girl of her position to get an offer from a man of his consequence, it will not be a question. She will accept him for prudent reasons, if not romantic.”
Anne looked awkward for a moment, and then slowly said, “I do not think we can be so certain of that.”
“She has already refused one very eligible offer. True, it was not a very enticing one, but it was eligible as to situation and fortune.”
“Really?” Colonel Fitzwilliam was intrigued. “Do tell.”
Anne pursed her lips a moment to stifle a giggle, and then said, “Our own Mr Collins proposed to her. I have it on his own authority.”
“No!” Fitzwilliam put his hand to his mouth to repress the chuckle which threatened. “But he is not so eligible. ’Tis a good living but—”
“He is also the heir of her father’s estate. Had she married him, she would have been mistress of her home one day, and her future, as well as that of her sisters, would have been secured.” Anne nodded sagely. “Trust me, I have heard it from him many times, what a fool she was to have refused him. He has likely rubbed her nose in it for the entirety of her visit, poor dear.”
“Ah,” Fitzwilliam nodded. “Nevertheless, money is one thing, stupidity is another. She is a witty girl, and he is all that is ridiculous.”
Their attention was drawn again by the sounds of their cousin Darcy, still talking to himself, unaware he was overheard and thinking aloud of his planned proposal to Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
“It is a degradation for me, to be united with one so beneath me in … should I mention that? She will know how my love must overcome such objections.”
Anne’s eyes flew wide and raised her hands to cover her face. “Oh, Darcy!” She looked at the colonel. “He cannot be serious! What a dreadful notion!”
Fitzwilliam was alarmed while still being in danger of a great loud guffaw. “This proposal of his is sure to be a disaster. What can he be thinking? We must go in there somehow, and watch while he—”
“No!” Anne gave him a sharp poke in the side. “We need to help him.”
“Help him?” Fitzwilliam chuckled. “I fear he is beyond remedy.”
“If he persuades Elizabeth Bennet to marry him,” said Anne, “I am free. I can do as I like and my mother will accept it. She shall be enraged by Darcy’s betrayal of me and then you could come in as quite the gallant to save my reputation.”
Fitzwilliam considered that. “A splendid arrangement, nearly perfect save for one thing.”
“Which is Darcy,” Anne concluded.
“On his own, Darcy will make a hash of this,” Fitzwilliam concluded. “Miss Bennet will refuse him, and we will be right back where we are now — unable to marry, scarcely even able to see one another save for these Easter visits.”
“Still worse, his heartbreak might lead him to speak to my mother,” said Anne in urgent tones.
Fitzwilliam sighed heavily and rubbed his hands over his face. “A disaster for us all.”
The two stood quietly, concealed by the shrubs while Darcy continued to rehearse his thoughts on the other side of the lilacs.
At length, Anne asked, “Do you think he suspects the actual reason you come to Rosings with him?”
“Darcy? Oh no,” Fitzwilliam shook his head vehemently. “He has not the least notion. He truly thinks I am here to keep him entertained as he does his duty.”
“And does not notice as we slip off here and there…” Anne smiled, leaning in close to her suitor and putting her arms around his neck.
Fitzwilliam kissed her lightly on the nose. He listened to Darcy muttering something about the impropriety of Elizabeth’s sisters. “We must help him. Can we, in some manner, arrange things such that Miss Bennet is more apt to say yes?”
“Some compromising position? Oh no, I would not wish to shame her in any way,” Anne said anxiously. “Given her position, there will already be talk which surrounds their marriage. Anything more could be a distress to them both.”
“Oh naturally! I only meant that we must assist him in presenting himself in a more favourable manner … a manner which must persuade her.” Fitzwilliam shook his head. “My dearest, I fear we have a formidable task before us.”
An hour later, Fitzwilliam joined Darcy reading in Lady Catherine’s library. Darcy said nothing to his cousin about his conversation with himself, or of his intentions, but then, Fitzwilliam had not expected him to do so.
Without removing his eyes from his book, Fitzwilliam remarked casually, “I had a letter from my father today. He and my mother have grown quite insistent on my need to marry.”
Darcy did not look up from his book either. “Have they?”
“I must say, I begin to see it their way. Ah the courting, the balls, the parties — I find myself quite bored with it all Darcy, do you not as well?”
Darcy raised his head and chuckled. “I was bored with it before ever it began.”
“Settling down does have its appeal, I will admit it.” Fitzwilliam paused and then abruptly said, “So I believe I might offer for Miss Bennet. What say you to that?”
“Miss Bennet!” Darcy darted a look at his cousin, then just as quickly established his usual impenetrable countenance, his eyes trained on his book. “I am surprised.”
Fitzwilliam noted, with glee, Darcy’s clenched jaw, the only sign of his distress. “Well, she is a delightful girl. I find her conversation quite refreshing.” He paused again, watching Darcy from the corner of his eye. “I must say, when I look at her lips, it is all I can do to refrain …”
“That is quite above enough, sir.” Darcy gave him a stern look. “Need I remind you, Miss Bennet is a gentleman’s daughter.”
Fitzwilliam turned his head to hide his mirth.
Darcy warned him, “She has nothing Fitzwilliam, I have mentioned it before, and her family is quite … unchecked.”
“Unchecked?” Fitzwilliam looked at his cousin with a carefully guileless countenance.
“The youngest Miss Bennets lack the manners commonly expected in polite society, silly and unrestrained in their behaviour. Mrs Bennet is vulgar and illiberal and coarse, and Mr Bennet cannot be troubled to leave his study and care for his family properly.”
“Well, if the father cannot be prevailed upon to leave his study, I should think London or Derbyshire would be out of the question.” Fitzwilliam shrugged. “We will see them but little I am sure.”
Darcy said nothing to that, choosing instead to glare at his book. After another minute, he said, “What will you live on? You have always said you could not live on your own means and she has nothing.”
“My father will do something for us I am sure. In any case, as much as my brother drinks and gambles and insults people, I do believe there is a fair chance that I will one day be the next Earl of Matlock.”
Darcy did not reply to that. Fitzwilliam noted the angry flush spreading up his cousin’s neck and did all he could to restrain his glee; however, Darcy, in a brief, sidelong glance, eventually discerned it.
Darcy relaxed his posture. “Fitzwilliam, I know you too well to think that my preference for Miss Bennet has gone unnoticed by you.”
Fitzwilliam allowed a broad grin to overtake his countenance before he chided his cousin. “Yes, but what has been your delay? We leave four days hence — you must speak, man!”
“It is not so easy as that.”
“But of course it is. A very easy phrase it is — do me the honour of becoming my wife. Done and done.”
Darcy rolled his eyes. “Ah, but that it was so easy.”
At that moment, Anne entered, and both gentlemen straightened. Fitzwilliam held his beloved’s eye for an extra moment, and Anne gave him a secretive wink.
“What is easy?” she asked as she glided to a spot near them.
“Nothing,” said Darcy.
“Darcy is thinking of proposing to Miss Elizabeth Bennet,” Fitzwilliam announced.
Anne clapped while Darcy scowled at his cousin. “Fitzwilliam!” He then began to apologise to Anne which she waved off impatiently.
“Oh hush Darcy. I have known for years you do not want to marry me and I have no wish to marry you either. But Miss Bennet! She will make you a charming wife.”
“There are impediments to our union — substantial ones, and so I am not certain—”
“Do you love her?” asked Anne.
Darcy’s flush was back. “Well, erm, ye-yes, but—”
“But nothing!” Anne declared. “She owns your heart. It is done.”
“I cannot so forget my duty to my family.”
“What greater duty is there than to begin your family in a manner such as your parents did?” Fitzwilliam asked. “Now theirs was a fine example.”
Darcy rubbed his neck. “True but you see, in matters of fortune—”
“You are plenty rich,” said Anne dismissively. “In any case, if it was fortune you wanted, you should have married me years ago. What is your next objection?”
“One of her uncles is an attorney in Meryton, and the other is in trade. Lives right in sight of his warehouses.”
“Mm,” said Fitzwilliam sarcastically. “How scandalous to actually earn money.”
“You comprehend the world we live in.”
“She is the daughter of a gentleman. No matter what her relations are or were, her parentage is secure.”
“Her mother’s brothers—”
“Her mother became a lady, gentry, the day she married Mr Bennet,” said Fitzwilliam firmly. “’Tis the way of things.”
“There are people who will never accept Miss Bennet because of it.”
“Oh come now,” Anne scolded. “Not accept Mrs Darcy? Run the risk of offending not only the Darcys but the Fitzwilliams too?”
Darcy looked uncertain, but Fitzwilliam did not permit him too much time to think. “So how shall you do it old man? A walk among the lilacs perhaps? Their fragrance is delightful.”
“Ah… no. I had thought perhaps when they come to dine this evening—”
“What?” Anne made a great show of utter shock. “Darcy not here. My mother will not abuse her in London, but she would not scruple to abuse her here! An unpleasant start to the betrothal indeed.”
“Of course.” Darcy paused a moment, considering. “Well… perhaps I should do better to walk her back to the parsonage after dinner. Speak to her then.”
“Very good,” said Fitzwilliam. “Only you will have to rid yourself of Collins first.”
“True.” Darcy thought about it some more. “Maybe it would be better to meet in the morning.”
“She does enjoy a morning ramble,” said Anne eagerly. “But what shall you say to her?”
“Best to keep it brief,” Fitzwilliam offered.
“I will, of course, offer every appropriate sentiment,” said Darcy with assuredness. “But she is a witty girl, and must realise that I shall degrade myself in offering for her.”
Fitzwilliam winced. “She is a gentleman’s daughter, and you are a gentleman; I should think it will be a greater recommendation to your suit if you leave it at that.”
“But if only you knew of the frequent impropriety in the behaviour of her mother and younger sisters. I daresay, it would shock even you.”
“Yes,” said Anne. “How good it is that your relations never behave improperly.”
“No indeed,” said Fitzwilliam with false cheer. “Your aunt would never tell a guest to go practice the pianoforte in the servant’s quarters.”
“And your cousin would never be about London plundering widows and squandering his fortune.”
“And your uncle would never sire a child by his daughter’s nursemaid.” Both gentlemen looked at Anne in astonishment. “I have known of my father’s bad behaviour for years now. There is a reason my mother wished to see Mrs Jenkinson’s nieces situated as far from Kent as possible.”
Fitzwilliam whistled at that, long and low. After a short silence, he said, “It seems we all have some relations which make us blush.”
“I suppose we do,” said Darcy.
“In any case, as she is a witty lady, no doubt she already knows her mother and younger sisters are humiliating, and does not require your admonishment of them, not during your proposal to be sure.”
Darcy’s eyes held a faraway look, but eventually, he slowly nodded. “There are other concerns as well.”
Saying little — for he admitted he knew very little — Darcy told them how Wickham had blackened his name in Meryton. “I know not the exact nature of his falsehoods, though I can hazard a guess, I am sure.”
“Miss Bennet is too witty to—”
“I think she found him charming,” Darcy interrupted the colonel’s protest. “Perhaps even admired him a little. You know he is capable of that much, for any woman no matter how witty. Certainly more than I am.” A glum countenance fell upon him as Anne, and the colonel shared uneasy glances.
“Darcy, you know I think very highly of you. Indeed, I know not who else is as inherently good, as intrinsically honourable as you.”
“Thank you Fitzwilliam.”
“However, I do not know — and this is only my supposition from some of her remarks — if Miss Bennet has seen that of you. She might… misunderstand you somewhat. So in your offer to her, I would urge you, most strenuously, to do all that you can to show her your goodness. I think that shall recommend your suit more than anything else.”
Darcy considered a moment, then said, “I do believe you must be correct in this. She… she has not always seen me at my finest, to be sure.”
“And if Wickham has blackened your name, then do as you must to disabuse her of whatever good feeling she has towards him. The truth, if it must be known.”
“The truth? But to lay my actions open—”
“You are asking her to be your wife,” Anne reminded gently. “As excellent a reason for openness and frank discussion as any.”
Darcy seemed lost in thought for a time then, staring out the window and occasionally pacing to and fro. When nearly a quarter-hour had passed, he said, “I must say, it is quite fortuitous that we had this discussion. I daresay it shall prove to my advantage.”
“We wish for nothing more than your happiness,” said Anne.
Fitzwilliam clapped him on the shoulder. “And I shall only add, God bless you.”
And in the warmth of that charitable adieu, Darcy set off, to do as he could.
How lucky that Anne was able to keep the colonel from spilling the beans about Bingley! Oh it might not have led to an immediate engagement but their intervention DID prevent an immediate refusal and after the working out of a few additional kinks, D&E were a bit quicker to their HEA.