Welcome back to Austen Promises!
Today’s post is Chapter 4 of my very first book, I Promise To …, which is also sponsoring the post (affiliate link: free for you to click on but might earn me a commission). I hope you like it!
Darcy House, London
Two weeks later
Young Fitzwilliam Darcy, age one and twenty and freshly home from his abbreviated Grand Tour, knocked on the door of his father’s study. He had wasted little time getting home upon arriving in England. His father had sent him an alarming letter while he was in Scotland, and he was anxious to see just what his father was about. Fitzwilliam had great respect for his parent and was in general very obedient. However, to hear that he had been engaged to be married and he knew not to whom …!
He prayed fervently the entire trip home that it was not to his cousin, Anne. While he liked her a great deal, he did not wish to marry her. She was quite sickly, and it was not at all certain that she would be able to carry a child safely. As heir to his father’s estate, Fitzwilliam knew that having children was an essential part of his duties, and he needed to make sure that whomever he married, she would be healthy enough to birth his heir.
Regardless, his father had never promoted a match between him and his cousin. However, he had never specifically spoken against it, either, and Fitzwilliam could not be sure where his father stood on the issue. As much as it would pain him, if his father had betrothed him to Anne, he would have to refuse, no matter the consequences.
Upon hearing his father’s bid for him to enter, Fitzwilliam cautiously opened the door and peeked in. “I am home Father; may I come in?”
“Certainly, my boy! It is so good to see you! How was your return trip?” Darcy stood when his son entered, embracing him tightly. It seemed as though he had been gone for years rather than the few months it actually was.
“It was a very comfortable journey. The weather was quite fine, enabling the horses to make excellent time.”
“Indeed, that is good to hear! And what of your travels? Did they meet your expectations?”
“Oh, yes, Father, they certainly did! I saw many amazing sights! I daresay I could not have enjoyed myself more had I gone to France and Italy.” Fitzwilliam smiled at the memories of the sights he had seen and the adventures he had enjoyed.
“Capital!” responded Mr. Darcy. “I get the impression, though, that you are not here to exclaim over your tour?”
“No, sir, I am not, though I would be more than happy to share tales of my travels with you and Georgiana this evening. For the present, though, I must admit to some consternation regarding your recent letter. Please, tell me you have not promised me to Anne!”
“Anne? No, my son, I know you have no desire to wed your cousin, and I am aware that she shares your opinion. I have instead betrothed you to Elizabeth Bennet.” Darcy waited for his son’s reaction. He was not entirely sure what it would be.
“Elizabeth Bennet? You cannot be serious, Father, surely.” Fitzwilliam was shocked. Never had he expected to hear such a thing come out of his father’s mouth. Surely he did not expect his son to marry so far below himself?
“Why can I not be serious, Fitzwilliam? Why not Elizabeth Bennet?” Darcy was biding his time, not giving his son any details just yet. He was well aware that the young man was rather too conscious of the differences between his social class and others. Miss Elizabeth was the daughter of a gentleman, but that gentleman did not move in the same social circles that the Darcys did. He was hoping that Fitzwilliam would not protest too much. He was convinced that the two young people were in love, though not aware of it themselves. He would not move on this. Fitzwilliam would marry Miss Elizabeth, and soon.
“Father … she has an uncle in trade! How is she an appropriate wife for me? Such a marriage would bring scandal to the Darcy name. You cannot have thought this through!” Even as he spoke the words, Fitzwilliam was aware that he was not as shocked as he had been at first. In the back of his mind came the thought, Why not Miss Elizabeth? He could not explain the feeling of certainty and peace he felt at the idea, despite his words.
“Son, you are well aware of my friendship with Gardiner. I will not hear words of censure from you regarding his friendship or his family. I hold the entire family in high regard. If you stop complaining for a moment and think about the relationship between our family and theirs, you will remember that all three of us have professed quite a liking for Miss Elizabeth’s company. You certainly have had no cause to repine your association with her. I believe you have quite enjoyed debating her every time the two of you have met.” Here Mr. Darcy paused. It was time to lay the facts on the table. He could see that his son’s countenance was now more reflective than it had been previously. He was obviously pondering his father’s words.
“Son, Elizabeth is in danger. Her mother has been pushing a suitor at her, going so far as to encourage the gentleman to compromise her. This gentleman struck our girl when she refused an offer from him. Mr. Bennet had intuitively known something was amiss, and followed the two into the garden; he was able to stop the gentleman almost immediately. However, Miss Elizabeth was injured. She was bedbound for a fortnight, during which time her mother harassed her at every turn. Mr. Bennet sent his daughter to London to get her away not only from the man, who is a peer, but from her mother as well.
“She was here a month when the gentleman showed up at the Gardiner’s door, demanding to see her. Mr. Gardiner refused, of course. I have hired guards for the outside of the house, and he has moved some strong footmen from his warehouse to his home to keep watch over the residents inside. I fear that Gardiner himself is in danger from this man because of the threats made, as are his wife and children.” Mr. Darcy paused to gauge his son’s reaction before continuing. Fitzwilliam was quiet and pale. Darcy knew his son well enough to know that he was angry. He decided to push a little more.
“Son, you know that you and Miss Elizabeth share many of the same interests. You both enjoy the theatre, you share tastes in reading material, and you each enjoy the other’s sense of humour. I know you like each other very well. Have you ever noticed how her face lights up when she sees you? “
Here, Fitzwilliam’s head came up.
“And Son, yours does the same. You are very well-matched, you and Miss Elizabeth. And to be honest, my boy, I have long desired to have her for a daughter. She will make an excellent mistress of Pemberley when I am gone and you take over.”
“Father, let us not speak of that! You will be master for many years, I am quite certain.” He paused for a moment to examine his feelings and gather his thoughts.
“I am angry that someone would do this to Miss Elizabeth. Who is the man?”
Mr. Darcy hesitated. He was unsure of the depth of his son’s anger. It would not do for Fitzwilliam to call the gentleman out or in some other way seek retribution. “I will tell you, but you must promise to not run off and do anything foolish. Do you promise?”
It was Fitzwilliam’s turn to hesitate. However, he would always do as his father asked, and once he made a promise, he did not break it. “Yes, Father, I promise.”
“The gentleman is Lord Regis.” Darcy waited for the reaction.
“But, he is a rake of the worse kind! What is Mrs. Bennet thinking?”
“Mrs. Bennet is thinking about the entail on her husband’s estate. She wants to see her daughters well married and taken care of before Mr. Bennet dies. There are many mothers like her in the world, and it would not do to condemn her too harshly. However, you now see the urgency behind my actions?”
“Yes, Father, I do. I will admit, I still have reservations, but I can certainly see that marriage to me would enable us to protect Miss Elizabeth. At the same time, it will ease her mother’s concerns. I cannot believe, though, that she took the news with equanimity. Have you heard from Mr. Gardiner in regards to it?”
“As a matter of fact, Gardiner and I had luncheon together yesterday, as we had business to discuss. I believe Miss Elizabeth took the news about as well as you did. However, she has had a great fright and recognizes the advantages in regards to the safety of herself and her family. She has agreed to the marriage. You know, though, that ladies like to be asked by the gentleman they will marry. Perhaps we should make the trip to Gracechurch Street today, and you can begin on the right foot. I am sure that under the circumstances you will be allowed a few minutes of private time with her.” Darcy rose to ring the bell.
“Yes, Father, I am sure you are right. Let us go now. Perhaps we might invite the family to dine with us this evening?”
“Certainly, Son.” Darcy was quite pleased. He thought the interview went very well, indeed.
Once at the Gardner residence, Mr. Darcy and his son were shown into the family parlour. There, Maddie, Elizabeth, Edward, and the children were gathered. Elizabeth was playing with the children, while Maddie looked on with a fond smile and Mr. Gardiner perused his newspaper, calling out occasional comments and teases to the youngsters.
Mr. Gibson, the Gardiners’ butler, announced the visitors. “Mr. Darcy and Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy.”
After greetings were shared and everyone was seated, Mr. Gardiner asked Mr. Darcy, “What brings you to visit this fine afternoon?” He suspected the reason, based on the looks being bestowed upon Elizabeth by Fitzwilliam.
Mr. Darcy replied, “Well, Gardiner, my son and I had a long discussion today, and it seems he would like some time to chat with Miss Elizabeth.”
Lizzy blushed to the roots of her hair. She knew exactly what the chat would involve. She was still uncomfortable with the idea of marrying a gentleman she was not sure she loved, but she understood both the necessity and the advantages of it.
Fitzwilliam also blushed. While his father had assured him of Miss Elizabeth’s cooperation, he was still uncomfortable with the idea of marrying someone not only not of his circle in society, but also someone of whose feelings toward him he was unsure. However, he came here to ask her to marry him, and ask he would.
“Yes, Father, Mr. Gardiner, I would like a few minutes to talk to Miss Elizabeth, in private if I may?”
“You may, Fitzwilliam. Why do your father and I not retreat to my study?”
Mrs. Gardiner rose as the gentlemen did. “I believe I will take my children back to their nanny now. It will soon be time for supper, and they must be made ready.” She took her children, one by the hand and one in her arms, and led them upstairs while the older gentlemen left for Gardiner’s study.
When they were alone, Elizabeth sat down, folding her hands in her lap. She was suddenly overcome with shyness, an unusual occurrence. Fitzwilliam paced the parlour for a few minutes before stopping in front of her and gently clearing his throat.
“Miss Elizabeth …” Here he paused. Was this how a young lady would wish to receive a proposal? He wished he had thought to bring her flowers, but neither he nor his father had contemplated it and it was too late now. He would have to do without. Suddenly, it occurred to him to get down on one knee. Accordingly, he knelt in front of Elizabeth and took one of her hands in his own.
“Miss Elizabeth, my father explained your circumstances to me, and that he and your uncle have engaged us to be married. I know I do not need to, but I would like for us to proceed as though our attachment was not arranged, and I know ladies appreciate romance. I also know we do not love each other at this time. I have faith, though, that we will grow to love each other. We are alike in many ways, and I believe we are compatible. You are an intelligent woman, Miss Elizabeth, and I foresee you someday becoming the greatest mistress that Pemberley has ever had.
“In addition, I know you are in danger from Lord Regis. Our betrothal and marriage will protect you from him; I will make sure of that.” As Fitzwilliam spoke, that sense of peace he had felt deep inside as he had spoken with his father about his marriage returned and intensified. Somehow, he knew this was the correct path for them to be taking. It was as though they had always been meant for each other. He could imagine asking no other to share his life.
“Miss Elizabeth, would you do me the great honour of becoming my wife?”
As Fitzwilliam spoke, Elizabeth was feeling the same sense of tranquility, despite her misgivings. She knew he had reservations about the marriage, as well, but he had agreed to both keep her safe and honour his father’s wishes.
“Yes, Fitzwilliam, I will marry you.” No words had ever sounded sweeter to either of them.
“Thank you, Elizabeth.” Fitzwilliam dug into his waistcoat pocket. “I brought this for you. It was my mother’s, and I know she would want me to give it to my betrothed.”
He slid the ring, a beautiful gold band studded with diamonds and emeralds, onto her finger, then kissed it.
“I promise to be the best husband I can be for you. I will always respect and honour you.”
“Thank you, Fitzwilliam. I make a promise to you, as well, that I will be the best wife and mistress of your future homes that I can be, and I will always show you the same honour and respect.”