“Here is Mr. Darcy again!” Kitty called from her position as lookout at the front window. Mrs. Bennet took much less care in arranging the tableau of girls now that she knew Mr. Bingley was not with him. Elizabeth felt suddenly nervous and alert. Mr. Darcy had offered his help the previous day, but what reason would he have to visit again so soon?
Darcy was shown in to the sitting room and bowed to everyone present.
“What a surprise, Mr. Darcy,” said Mrs. Bennet. “To what do we owe the pleasure of another visit?”
“Mrs. Bennet, I was hoping that I might have a few moments to speak with Miss Elizabeth.”
“Certainly,” Mrs. Bennet responded. “There she is, working on her embroidery.”
Darcy turned red. “I was hoping to speak with her alone,” he said, his voice catching on the last word.
“Oh. Oh!” said Mrs. Bennet, as though she finally understood. “Let us take our leave, girls.”
Darcy could not make eye contact with anyone in the room as they left. He felt wildly uncomfortable, but within the constraints of the current situation he knew this was his only chance.
Elizabeth stared at him in confusion, as if she could not understand what was happening.
“Miss Bennet, I know that this is quite unusual,” he began. “I do not know your feelings towards Mr. Rowe, and I apologize if this is an intrusion. However, if your feelings towards him are not strong and you are considering this union purely for practical reasons, I would feel remiss if I did not speak to you.”
He paused, looking for her reaction.
“The strength of my feelings is not what it should be in a woman who is to be married,” she responded in a shaky voice. She had not intended to speak, but the words had tumbled out on their own.
“Please allow me to present you with another option,” Darcy said. “I would be honored if you would consider becoming my wife.”
“Your wife?” Elizabeth whispered. “Sir, you have made it clear that you can hardly bear to be in the same room as me.”
“I apologize with all my heart that you have that impression of me,” he said. He knew that it would be difficult for her to forget his terrible behavior on the occasion when they first met, and he cursed himself yet again for his prior foolishness. “It is not true. Indeed, I have the greatest respect for you, and that is why I do not wish to see you marry below your station if it is not your fondest wish to do so.”
“So you are here to save my reputation?” Elizabeth asked sharply. “Your thought is only to maintain my status as a gentleman’s daughter?”
“Of course that is not the only reason for my offer,” he replied.
She did not respond, but looked at him pointedly and waited for him to continue.
“I admire the quickness of your mind. I feel that you could be the mistress that Pemberley deserves,” he said. And I love you, whispered his heart, but he did not speak the words.
“Mr. Darcy, I do not know what you could have possibly seen in my character that would lead you to believe that I would be a fit mistress for a grand estate,” said Elizabeth. Her eyes softened a bit. “However, I do know this offer is a most generous one, and I will give it the consideration it deserves. May I have the night to consider it?”
Darcy’s heart leapt. It was not a yes, but neither was it a no.
“I will call tomorrow morning. Will that give you the time that you need?”
She nodded. “It will, sir.”
Darcy bowed. “Until tomorrow,” he said, and took his leave.
It was not until he left the room that Elizabeth realized how much she was shaking. Two offers, and neither from men that she had believed had any concern for her whatsoever.
Elizabeth stoutly refused to answer any questions about Mr. Darcy’s visit. In response to her mother’s repeated questions, she could only reply “we are not engaged” over and over again. It was not until she and Jane had retired for the evening that Elizabeth was able to speak of what had occurred.
“He offered for you? What did you tell him?” Jane asked.
“I asked for a night to consider it, but, Jane, is there really any consideration to be done? Mr. Darcy has been stiff and pompous, but his disagreeable traits pale in comparison to Mr. Rowe’s.”
“Yes, I agree with you.”
“But I cannot see myself as Mr. Darcy’s wife!”
“I think he will be kind to you, Lizzy. The fact that he hopes to help you by marrying you speaks highly of his character.”
“Yes, it certainly was unexpected. I know I must choose one of them, and if I must, then it will be Mr. Darcy.”
Jane smiled and embraced her sister. “I think you have made the best choice,” she said.
Elizabeth knew that, of the two offers that had been made, Mr. Darcy’s was by far the best. But sleep was a long time coming that night as she worried about exactly what it would mean to be his wife. Her hope had always been to marry for love. It appeared, at that moment, that she would marry for survival instead.