Darcy stayed at Netherfield only long enough to change his clothes and his mount before he headed directly for Longbourn to tell Elizabeth the miraculous news. He was free to marry the woman that he loved.
Kitty ran into the sitting room. “Jane! Lizzy! None other than Mr. Darcy has just ridden up!”
Jane and Elizabeth, anxious to hear what happened, met him at the door.
“I know that there are many questions that need answers,” he said. “I will explain in full. However, before I do that I would like to state that my engagement is no longer; my fiancee has chosen to marry another man. With that being said, might I have a moment to speak with Miss Elizabeth alone?”
Even Mrs. Bennet knew better than to ask questions. The entire household seemed to disappear, leaving Elizabeth and Darcy alone. Elizabeth knew (and suspected that Darcy did as well) that the female members of the house were waiting with their ears to the door to hear what was said.
“Is it true?” she asked. “Are you free?”
“Not free, nor do I wish to be,” he said. “From this moment on I am yours, if you will have me.”
“Yes,” she whispered. “There is nothing in this world that I wish for more than to marry you.”
“Then our fondest wishes are in concert.” He lifted her had to his mouth, and this time the kiss on her hand lingered. Elizabeth blushed prettily, unable to believe the turn of events in just a few days.
“What happened?” she asked. “How did this come to be?”
Darcy did not want this part overheard by eager ears. He pulled her over to the settee on the other side of the room and sat down, never letting go of her hand.
“Mr. Wickham finally maneuvered a situation that he could not get free of. In an attempt to revenge himself on me, he seduced Caroline. All he had to do was flatter her, which is something he has a special skill at.”
Elizabeth nodded; she had been the recipient of Mr. Wickham’s flattery.
“Once she was in trouble, she made the mistake of turning to him once again for help. He convinced her that I would abandon her as soon as I found out about her situation, and that her only way out of public humiliation was marriage to him. After that, he intended to blackmail me by threatening to tell people that I was the father of the child and that I had left her when I found out. He believed that this threat would keep me paying him for quite a long time. In addition, he would be married into the Bingleys’ wealth. It was an audacious plan, and one that did not entirely fail. I was willing to pay to induce him to actually marry Caroline, which he has. I kept this from him, but I would have paid him any amount for the freedom to marry my love.”
Elizabeth was overwhelmed by the entire story. “So they are wed?”
“Bingley and I witnessed it ourselves.”
“Poor Mr. Bingley, with a brother in marriage like Wickham!”
“Bingley may seem amiable above all else, but he has a strong enough will that I think Wickham will not test him. In fact, Bingley held Wickham at gunpoint.”
“I cannot imagine sweet Mr. Bingley reacting in such a way!”
“Can you not, towards the man that ruined his sister?”
“I suppose that would incite the calmest of men.”
“It will be in Wickham’s best interest to keep the peace. Marrying Caroline Bingley is a step up for him, and he will not want to risk losing the benefits of marrying into that family.”
“This has been such a sordid mess.”
“I am sorry that you were exposed to treachery such as Mr. Wickham’s.”
“I am sorry that you were exposed to unfaithfulness such as Miss Bingley’s.”
“Ah, that I can never feel sorry about. If it were not for Caroline’s fickleness, I would be chained to her for the remainder of my life. But now, I am free to marry the woman that I love.”
They looked at each other, reveling in the fact that what had seemed impossible just days before was now a reality. Darcy reached up and cupped Elizabeth’s cheek.
“You have bewitched me, body and soul,” he whispered, “and I never wish to be parted from you again.”
A tear ran down her cheek. “And so you will not, my love,” she whispered back.
After taking another moment just for themselves, they opened the door to the sitting room to let in the very anxious women on the other side.
“If you will pardon me, ladies,” he said, with a bow. “I must speak with Mr. Bennet on urgent business.”
The Bennet women crowded around Elizabeth. Mrs. Bennet was a mixture of confused and elated.
“Did Mr. Darcy just make an offer to you?” she asked Elizabeth breathlessly.
“Yes,” she replied with a smile. “And I accepted, with all my heart.”
“I do not understand,” said Kitty. “What happened with Miss Bingley? And when did you warm to Mr. Darcy? I thought you disliked him immensely.”
“I admit,” said Elizabeth, “that I was prejudiced against him, before I came to know what a fine man he truly is. Now that I do know him, I know that I could not possibly ask for anything more than him.”
Jane embraced her sister and smiled at her.
“Suddenly, the idea of a double wedding seems much more charming,” she said.
The door to Mr. Bennet’s study opened and Darcy’s smile was all that it took to tell Elizabeth that her father had agreed.