“Goodness,” cried Kitty as she looked out the window. “A man on a horse approaches. He rides so fast!”
Mrs. Bennet was quickly next to Kitty at the window. “Oh, his clothes are so fine. It must be Mr. Bingley! He has returned for Jane! Everyone make yourselves presentable.” The relief in Mrs. Bennet’s face was obvious as she prepared the room to receive Mr. Bingley.
Elizabeth struggled not to smile at the idea her letter had worked. Mr. Bingley had come to make an offer to Jane, and the family would be saved. She would not be obligated to marry the terrible Mr. Rowe after all.
“No, Mother,” said Kitty. “It is not Mr. Bingley. It is that strange man who is always around Mr. Bingley—Mr. Darcy. What could he possibly want here?”
Elizabeth’s mood fell as quickly as it had risen. She did not know what business Mr. Darcy had at Longbourn, but she knew it could not possibly be to their benefit. If Mr. Bingley was in Hertfordshire he should not have sent Mr. Darcy alone to visit the Bennets.
Darcy dismounted and handed the bridle to the Bennets’ groom. He adjusted his hat and his gloves and realized he was very nervous. He still had not the slightest idea what he would say to Miss Elizabeth nor how he would explain his presence at Longbourn. He would have to figure it out as he spoke. He took a deep breath and knocked on the door. He was admitted and led to the sitting room, where the Bennet women sat looking proper and not at all surprised by his visit.
“Mr. Darcy,” said Mrs. Bennet regally, “welcome to Longbourn. To what do we owe this unexpected visit?”
Darcy bowed low. “Madam, I have heard the terrible news about Mr. Bennet. I returned to Netherfield to offer you any assistance you may need.”
Elizabeth was shocked by his statement and worked hard to keep it from showing on her face. The only assistance they needed was that of Mr. Bingley. She could not imagine what Mr. Darcy thought he could do.
“Well, Mr. Darcy,” said Lydia, “you could marry my dear sister Lizzy and keep her from marrying that horrible butcher!”
Elizabeth turned white and then red in embarrassment. “Please excuse Lydia, sir. Sometimes the words are out of her mouth before she even considers them.”
“What is this about marrying a butcher?” asked Darcy, confused.
“Oh!” continued Lydia, “Mr. Rowe made Lizzy an offer right before Papa’s funeral. Of course, Lizzy does not want to accept it as Mr. Rowe is just awful, but what else are we to do?”
Jane stepped over and took Lydia’s arm firmly. “Let us go for a walk,” she said. “I could certainly use the fresh air. Kitty, come with us.” Kitty looked none too happy to leave but she followed her sisters out the door.
“Mr. Darcy, please forgive Lydia’s impertinence. The shock of our father’s death has affected us all deeply, and sometimes she does not realize what she had said,” said Elizabeth.
Darcy had no concerns about Lydia but plenty about Elizabeth.
“Is it true Mr. Rowe has offered for you?” he asked, trying to keep his voice from sounding strained and nearly succeeding.
“It is, sir,” replied Elizabeth.
“I was not aware there was a connection between the two of you.”
“There has not been. When he heard of our troubles, he made the offer in hopes of assisting us.”
Darcy doubted that greatly. It was more likely the fact that the man saw an opportunity and took it.
“Should I wish you congratulations?” he asked.
“Not as of yet, as I have not answered him,” Elizabeth replied uncomfortably.
“Well, he will be a fortunate man if you do him the honor of becoming his wife. Mrs. Bennet, Miss Elizabeth, Miss Mary, if there is anything I can do to be of service to you, please feel free to call upon me. I will be staying at Netherfield.”
With that, Darcy bowed and made as quick a retreat as dignity allowed from the house.
Why had he been so arrogant as to think he was the only one who had noticed Elizabeth? Darcy’s anger was mostly directed at himself for being blind to the fact Elizabeth might have other suitors. Why would he not imagine other men might be similarly impressed with Miss Elizabeth?
He had not been able to clearly get a sense of whether Elizabeth was inclined to the match with the butcher. She had seemed uncomfortable when speaking about it, but Darcy could not be sure whether it was the situation or her dislike of her suitor that caused her to react in such a way. And if she was not pleased with the match, was it too late for her to consider another offer?
Darcy had not intended to make Elizabeth an offer any time soon, of course; he had only hoped to provide any service that was necessary in the aftermath of such a tragedy. Although, upon reflection, he realized he had never been opposed to the idea of his being improved in Miss Elizabeth’s esteem.
Darcy leaned back in his chair in the Netherfield study, swirling his brandy in its glass. He had not expected to find clarity in the drink, but the more he thought about the circumstances, the more determined he became: he could not let Elizabeth marry another man without making an offer for her.
He was not sure how he would react if she rejected him. He tried that idea out for a bit—how would he feel if she would rather be married to the local butcher than to be wed to him? He shuddered at the thought of Elizabeth choosing the coarse tradesman over him. He took another swallow of the brandy and felt it warm him from within. Now was not the time to lose courage.
He finished his drink and retired for the night. Regardless of the outcome, he knew the following day would be an eventful one.