Their trip lasted for several more days, but Elizabeth did not remember any of it. Everything had happened so very quickly at Pemberley – from the time she realized her feelings for Mr. Darcy to their separation was no more than hours. She still had not had time to really understand how it happened, but she knew that she had never been more certain of anything than she was of the fact that she loved him. What she had mistaken for pride had been no more than a desire to keep his own counsel. She also now had proof that there was not a love connection between Darcy and Caroline Bingley. That should have soothed her, but it actually had the opposite effect. Knowing that Caroline was only interested in him because of his status and fortune made it all the more difficult for Elizabeth to bear.
Darcy had brought up the possibility that they might never see each other again. The idea of never seeing him again made her feel empty, as if she might never be happy again. But would it be better to see him, knowing each time that they could not be together? She could not imagine the pain that would cause. It seemed that there was no way this situation would resolve without causing her and Darcy more pain.
When Elizabeth returned to Longbourn, there was no question whether she would confide in Jane. She could not bear the burden of carrying these secrets alone. She told Jane the entire story, and Jane’s eyes grew wider and wider the longer Elizabeth talked.
“Lizzy, I do not even know where to begin. I thought you hated Mr. Darcy.”
“I thought so as well, Jane, but now I understand that I never really knew him before that evening at Pemberley. He is entirely different than I believed him to be.”
“I cannot imagine anything more incredible that you could tell me than the fact that you are in love with Mr. Darcy.”
“But what of it? We cannot be together. He is promised to Caroline Bingley. What shall become of me? Am I also to enter into a loveless marriage, now that I know the depth with which one can love and be loved?”
“I do not know, Lizzy. Would that I did.”
“The only answer, dear Jane, is to get back into my routine as quickly as I can.”
And that is what Elizabeth did. She took daily walks, accompanied Kitty to Meryton, and read her favorite books yet another time. She laughed with her father and rolled her eyes at her mother’s foolish behavior. She wrote letters to Mary. She tried, desperately, to return things to how they were before she laid eyes on Fitzwilliam Darcy.
She failed, miserably.
Around a month after Elizabeth returned home, Kitty let out a shriek.
“Whatever is it, Kitty? My nerves!” cried their mother.
“You will never believe who is walking up the front path,” said Kitty. “It is none other than Mr. Bingley!”
At the mention of his name, Mrs. Bennet jumped into action, arranging her daughters in the way that she thought they would look more picturesque. She had only just finished when Mr. Bingley was announced.
“Please send him in,” she said in as regal a voice as she could manage.
Bingley walked into the parlor and looked, nervously, at all of the ladies, who were staring at him intensely. “Mrs. Bennet. Miss Bennet. Miss Elizabeth. Miss Kitty. It is a pleasure to see you,” he said.
“Mr. Bingley, how good of you to come visit after all this time! We were worried that you had quite forgotten about us, had we not, Jane?”
Elizabeth sent her mother a warning look.
“I am very pleased to see you, Mr. Bingley,” Jane said softly.
“And I you,” he said with a smile. “In fact, I was hoping to have the chance to speak with you alone, Miss Bennet.”
Mrs. Bennet’s smile could not have been any larger. “Of course! Come now, girls, let us give them some privacy.”
In the Bennet household, there was rarely such a thing as true privacy. The door to the parlor was closed, but Mrs. Bennet’s ear was pressed to it, with Elizabeth and Kitty right behind her trying not to dance with joy.
“Oh, they are talking so quietly I cannot make out what they say!” said Mrs. Bennet after several minutes of a fruitless attempt to hear. Luckily for her, she need not wait much longer. After just a moment, Jane opened the door. There were tears on her cheeks and a smile on her face.
“We are to be wed,” she whispered, and then she was pulled into an embrace with both her sisters. Their mother promptly burst into tears, and Mr. Bingley could not stop smiling in spite of the amount of feminine emotion in the room.
“May I speak with your father?” he asked Jane.
“Oh yes, of course. Papa!” Jane called, leading Mr. Bingley to the study.
As Bingley spoke with their father, Jane provided some details.
“He thought me to be indifferent to him. He did not even know that I was in London! All this time, he has believed it was I who did not wish to marry him!”
Everyone in the room was crying delighted tears, to see Jane and Bingley reunited.
“No one shall ever again question the strength of your love for one another,” said Elizabeth, embracing Jane once more. If anyone deserved a happy ending, it was Jane.
Mr. Bingley returned, having secured the heartily given permission of Mr. Bennet. He and Jane looked at each other and both smiled the most beautiful smiles. It was enough to make Elizabeth tear up again.
“You are to be my wife, my lovely Jane,” he said.
“Forever,” she whispered in return.
And finally, there was some joy brought to the Bennet household once more.
Elizabeth recounted how Mr. Bingley had proposed to Jane in letters sent to Mary and Lydia. Mary replied warmly that matrimony with a soul that understands your own soul is life’s greatest joy. Elizabeth marveled once again at how well-suited Mary and Mr. Collins were. Lydia replied that she had thoroughly expected to be the first to be engaged, but she could still manage to be the first married if she found a suitable officer. Elizabeth did not relay Lydia’s sentiments to Jane.
Certainly, something as momentous as an engagement called for a fine dinner, and Mr. Bingley began to make plans for a sumptuous feast at Netherfield. There was a small family gathering planned, with a larger party planned for all the neighbors a week later. The Bennet girls all dressed together for the dinner. With Lydia and Mary gone, Jane and Elizabeth did not want Kitty to feel left out. The three girls giggled as they dressed in their finest and decked themselves in so much ribbon Lydia would have been terribly jealous. Elizabeth felt the weight of her sorrow lift from her shoulders for the first time.
However, upon their arrival to Netherfield, Elizabeth realized that she had ignored the single greatest threat of a family dinner. A family dinner included Miss Bingley, as well as her fiance. As soon as she walked into the room, Darcy turned towards her, almost as if he could sense her presence. Their eyes met, and she felt the full force of the love she felt for him. She could tell just by looking at him that his passion for her remained as strong. Mr. Darcy looked away after just a moment, trying to not alert Caroline to the fact that there was anything amiss.
Miss Bingley did not seem to have noticed. She continued to speak with Mrs. Hurst, to the exclusion of everyone else in the room. When Mr. Bingley finally led Jane over to his sisters, they began to speak of how delighted they were to see her and how much they looked forward to having her as their sister. Jane replied politely, but coolly. Elizabeth was extremely proud of the way that Jane comported herself with those hateful women.
As they sat down for the meal, Mrs. Bennet very much behaved as she usually did. She loudly spoke of what a propitious match Jane had made and began talking about how Netherfield should be decorated differently when Jane was its mistress. Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst glared at Mrs. Bennet, but she did not care. She felt that this engagement dinner was as much in celebration of her and what she considered to be her exceptional matchmaking skills as it was in celebration of Mr. Bingley and Jane.
Mr. Darcy took the opportunity of Miss Bingley’s distraction to look at Elizabeth across the table. He knew that he was not making the situation any easier by seeking her out, but he could not resist with her being so close. Her eyes were on his as well, and they shared the look for as long as they dared. Finally Caroline bored of being offended by Mrs. Bennet and turned her attention back to Darcy.
“Perhaps we should having a double wedding, Fitzwilliam,” she said, looking at Jane and Bingley. Darcy knew that it was a ruse. There was no chance that Caroline would be willing to share her attention with anyone else, much less Jane Bennet.
“Oh, yes, that would be a fine idea,” he replied, trying not to see the pain that crossed Elizabeth’s face. “Get all this wedding business out of the way in a single day.”
Caroline looked sour at the idea that their wedding was a ‘business’ to be endured and Darcy managed quite successfully not to smirk. He knew that Caroline had no real desire to be wed to him aside from her desire to be the mistress of Pemberley and he was bitter that he had to give up his chance at true happiness for a superficial marriage. You are the one who proposed to her. She is as she always has been, he reminded himself. However, with Elizabeth sitting directly across the table, he could not help feeling bitter about the situation he was in.
“I’m sure that Jane and I have quite different ideas on what a wedding day should look like,” said Caroline, not even trying to mask her animosity. “I would not want her to feel uncomfortable with a degree of elegance to which she is not accustomed.”
Even if she had felt nothing for Darcy, Elizabeth would not have been able to abide that sneering remark about her sister. “Elegance, I believe, is something one must be born with. No amount of money can buy it if there is a deficiency. Unlike some, Jane was born with a surplus.”
“Ah, Miss Eliza graces us with her wisdom. Please, I am fascinated to hear what you have to say about elegance and love. When is your wedding, again?” Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst giggled at each other behind their hands.
“Enough.” The one word rung out clearly in the dining room. It was Darcy. “Miss Elizabeth is quite right that no amount of money can buy good breeding. I will have no wife of mine be this uncivil to anyone, much less to people she is about to be connected to by marriage.” He glared at his fiancee. She turned red and stared down at her plate.
“Caroline, I think you ought to apologize to Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth.” Darcy continued sternly.
“My apologies,” Miss Bingley said softly. After that, everyone at the table turned to a new subject to try to mask the embarrassment. Elizabeth was glad that the tense moment was over. She glanced across the table at Miss Bingley. She was staring directly at Elizabeth with an ugly look on her face. Elizabeth suspected that Miss Bingley would search for a way to extract revenge for this humiliation.