Thursday’s 300: To Save Elizabeth Re-edit, Chapter 12: Marry Me?

Welcome back to Thursday’s 300!

Today’s post is brought to you by To Save Elizabeth! (This is an affiliate link. It’s free to click on and no purchase is required. However, I may earn a tiny commission from your click.)

There’s only one more chapter after this one; it’s scheduled to go live next week. Today, though, Darcy’s going to propose marriage. <3

If you missed the first chapter, you can find it here. The second chapter is here.

Chapter 3 is here. Chapter 4 is here. Chapter 5 is here. Chapter 6 is here.

Chapter 7 is here. Chapter 8 is here. Chapter 9 is here. Chapter 10 is here.

Chapter 11 is here.

Enjoy!

Marry Me?

Darcy and Elizabeth shared a laugh at her joke. Once their merriment had diminished, Darcy found himself, as had often happened, entranced by Elizabeth’s fine eyes and sparkling countenance. His heart seized, and he remembered his absolute terror at realizing she had been taken. The memory alone made his mouth dry with fear. The thought of never seeing the light in her eyes again left a hollow feeling in Darcy’s chest. Though he was normally a steady individual, he made an impulsive decision and asked to speak privately to her.

After gaining both Elizabeth’s permission and that of her uncle, Darcy got down on one knee in front of the woman who had stolen his heart, grasping one of her small, delicate hands in his larger one. Brutus, though he normally would not allow himself to be moved from wherever he had placed himself near his mistress, stood and stepped to her side, where he sat and allowed Darcy room.

“I can no longer remain silent. My feelings will not be repressed. I must tell you—I am incapable of not doing so—that I ardently admire and love you.

“I do not know when it happened. I only know that I was in the middle of it before I knew it began, though I suspect you captured me from our first meeting. I know that I was fascinated by you to a degree that I had never felt before.

“You bring light and laughter into my life, and I find that I crave it. You inspire me to improve myself. When Collins got away with you today, I grieved. I could not go on without you. I love you. Will you marry me?”

Tears ran in a stream down Elizabeth’s cheeks. Her free hand covered her mouth.

“I will! I will marry you!” her acceptance was given with force. “I was terrified today, not only of the carriage, but of being killed and never seeing you again. I did not realize until I was home and left in silence to bathe that I had those feelings because I love you. I love you, Mr. Darcy. You have made me the happiest woman in the world. Thank you for the honor of your proposal.”

Darcy’s smile began with Elizabeth’s first words, and by her last, his face radiated joy. He stood, tugging her hand to bring her up with him.

“Elizabeth,” he whispered. He pulled her gently closer, holding her to him with one hand while the other tipped her face up, mindful of her bruises. “I love you.” With those words, Darcy touched his lips to hers in a gentle caress.

The couple continued to share kisses for the next few minutes, until the Gardiners entered the room once more.

Though they separated their lips, Darcy and Elizabeth remained in each other’s arms. Darcy spoke first. “You must wish us joy. Elizabeth has accepted my proposal. We are to be married.”

“How wonderful!” Maddie clapped her hands as she rushed to the couple to dispense hugs. “I knew it would happen, did I not, Edward?”

Gardiner chuckled as he shook Darcy’s hand and waited his turn to hug his niece. “Indeed, you did, Wife. Uncanny ability you have there, to determine who is best suited to whom in marriage.”

“Oh, you.” Maddie lightly slapped her husband’s arm. “You know it is not like that.” She turned to Darcy and Elizabeth, tucking her hand under Gardiner’s elbow. He squeezed it to his side and kissed her ear. “I could see how well you suited, is all, and how much you liked each other. I am so happy for you.”

“Thank you, Aunt.” Elizabeth looked up at her betrothed, her face wreathed in both a smile and a besotted look. “I am happy, as well.”

“Come, let us celebrate with a drink.” Gardiner moved to the bell to call for a servant. The four of them spent considerable time that evening making wedding plans.

Near the end of the evening, Elizabeth brought up the terror of the morning. “I do not wish to dampen our celebration, but what will happen to Mr. Collins?” Though Darcy sat beside her on the settee, it was Brutus who she touched to relieve her anxiety, running her hand over his head and down his back.

Darcy wished with all his heart that he could hold Elizabeth’s hand, but they were not yet married, and if they were, it was not proper to do so in public, though in a family setting as they were, it might be more acceptable. It is ridiculous to be envious of a dog, Darcy thought. Stop this now! Though he was struggling with his feelings, he was glad that Elizabeth had Brutus. Turning his attention back to her question, Darcy did his best to ease her worries.

“He has been transported to Newgate. Mr. Litwin has likely, by now, interrogated both Collins and his driver. He has enough evidence to proceed to a trial, so Collins will remain in the prison until he appears before the jury. He is being charged with murder; he will not be allowed bail, if he even has the ready funds available.”

“He will be tried quickly,” Gardiner added. “They will need his space for someone else. They do not want murderers out on the street.”

Elizabeth bit her lip and looked at her uncle.

“Will he hang?” “Most likely.” Gardiner traded looks with Darcy then focused his gaze on his niece once more. “How do you feel about that?”

Elizabeth’s eyes turned toward Brutus, who had begun to lean on her leg as she stroked his fur. She thought for a few moments and then whispered, “It is wrong of me to feel this way, but … he had my family killed and wanted me dead.” She looked up, pain, anger, and a desire for revenge at war with compassion and kindness twisting her face. “Part of me wants him to be just as dead as my parents and sisters. I know what the Bible says, that we should not kill, and I want to obey the commandments, but …” She looked back at Brutus. “I do not know how I feel, to be honest. I am confused. I want revenge at the same time that I know it is not right for me to do so.”

“Elizabeth.” Darcy grasped her free hand, ignoring the rule of propriety he had previously refused to break. “It is natural and just for you to feel this way. I can only imagine your pain at losing all of your family at once and then discovering that another family member was the cause. I am going to make a suggestion; will you hear me?” He ducked his head down so he could see her expression as she gazed unseeingly at Brutus. When she nodded and squeezed his hand, Darcy continued.

“I propose that you accept your current feelings for what they are, and at the same time, make the choice to forgive Collins and his hirelings. If you are persistent, you will soon feel forgiveness toward them, even if you do not at this moment.” Darcy waited quietly while she digested his words, his thumb constantly caressing the back of her hand.

The others conversed quietly on other subjects, but Darcy remained attuned to Elizabeth. She sat quietly, apparently considering his words.

Finally, she squeezed his hand and whispered, “That is very good advice. I will do just that. Thank you, my love.”

Darcy smiled a little at her, squeezing her hand once more and retaining his possession of it until he was forced to give it up when he left the Gardiners to go home.

~~~***~~~

Darcy went the next day to Matlock House to tell his relations of his engagement. To his surprise, Lady Catherine was there. Knowing what her likely reaction to his engagement to anyone but Anne would be, and knowing that none of his family would know about his betrothal to Elizabeth until he told them, Darcy decided to first inform Lady Catherine about her rector’s actions.

Lady Catherine expressed her horror that a man of the cloth, one that she had hired, would treat a gentlewoman in so base a manner. She was even more so to understand that he had hired one of her former tenants to kill an entire family.

Darcy had never seen his aunt so devastated by anything. The normally imperious Catherine de Bourgh was near to tears. She vowed to have any reminders of his term removed from Hunsford as soon as possible, and a new rector hired. “I could perhaps promote the curate,” she added. “He gives adequate sermons, and the people seem to like him.”

Once Lady Catherine had begun to settle from her upset, Darcy took a deep breath and said, “I have more news. Personal news, if you will.”

The heads of everyone in the room turned towards Darcy, surprise written on their faces.

“I am engaged to be married.” Hearing gasps, Darcy hurried to finish speaking before anyone else could begin. “As most of you know, I met Miss Elizabeth Bennet months ago on a trip to Hatchards and began courting her a few weeks ago. She is everything my parents wished for me to have: she is graceful, well-mannered, highly accomplished, and intelligent, and I love her. I proposed last night and was accepted. I have already spoken to my solicitor and begun the marriage settlement.” Having spoken his piece, Darcy waited for the reactions he knew were coming.

“Bennet?” Viscount Tansley tilted his head the tiniest bit, a crease between his brows. “Is that not the name of the young lady who came to dine here with you?”

“It is. Elizabeth is the only survivor of the carriage accident that Collins’s man arranged. She lives with her aunt and uncle here in town.”

Darcy noticed Lady Catherine’s sudden pallor, but he ignored her, not wishing to engage her in what was likely to be an ugly confrontation. Instead, he turned to his uncle, who had asked him a question.

“You say you love her. Are you certain? She is not just a passing fancy or someone you need to rescue?”

“No, Uncle,” Darcy patiently explained. “She has my heart.” He allowed his gaze to wander the room as he searched for words to express his feelings. Looking back at Lord Matlock, he finally said, “She takes my breath away. I am a better man with her in my life, and I cannot imagine living the rest of my life without her.”

Silence greeted Darcy’s impassioned statement. Finally, Lord Matlock replied, “Well, then, it is well that we liked her, is it not, Audra?”

Lady Matlock smiled at her husband. “Indeed it is. Congratulations, Nephew, Miss Bennet is delightful, and I am sure you will be happy together.”

Darcy accepted a tight hug from Lady Matlock, a firm handshake from both his uncle and cousin, and a kiss on the cheek from the viscountess. He turned to Lady Catherine.

“Will you wish me well, Aunt?”

Lady Catherine sat, still pale. Darcy expected an argument from her, and for a moment it looked as though one was forthcoming. Instead, she scrutinized his face. Then, with a heavy sigh, she stood.

“I wish you very happy, Darcy. I can see that this lady has already made you happier than I have ever witnessed.” Lady Catherine took his hands. “I am sorry that Collins …” She choked back a sob. “Tell her this, your Miss Bennet. Tell her that I apologize for the pain my employee caused her.”

Darcy squeezed her fingers. “I will. She is a forgiving person, and I know she will not want you to feel guilt over it. You could not have stopped him.”

Lady Catherine simply nodded, and, giving Darcy a kiss on the cheek, turned and left the room with her family watching after her.

“Will she be well?” Viscountess Tansley threw a worried glance at her husband’s mother.

“She will, I am sure,” Lady Matlock assured her. “I do not know that she has ever been dealt a blow such as this.”

Lord Matlock shook his head. “Not since Lewis passed on so unexpectedly, and even that was met with a far more serene countenance than what she is displaying right now.”

“I will check on her later.” Lady Matlock turned back to Darcy. “Have you set a date for your wedding?”

“We have. The nineteenth of December.”

“That is what?” Lady Matlock counted in her head. “Six weeks away?”

“Almost.” Darcy smiled. He could see that his aunt was planning something.

“We will hold a ball the following week to introduce your bride to our friends. How exciting! A wedding! They are always such fun!” Lady Matlock rushed away, across the room to the writing desk, where she pulled out ink, paper, and a quill, sat herself down, and began making a list.

~~~***~~~

The following week, Collins and his henchmen went on trial. Though all of Elizabeth’s family and soon-to-be-family disliked it, she was required to testify, which meant facing her distant cousin face-to-face. She held up well throughout, and it was clear that the jury was sympathetic to her. She removed to the hallway after the judge dismissed her to wait with her aunt and uncle as the jury deliberated. After a short time, they were admitted into the courtroom once more, sitting on the prosecution’s side of the room.

“Has the jury come to a decision?”

The jury foreman stood. “Yes, your honor, we have.”

“How do you find?”

“We find all three guilty of murder.”

The judge banged his gavel. “The guilty will rise.” When the three and their lawyer were standing, the judge continued. “All three of you will be hanged by the neck until dead, Wednesday next. Case dismissed.” He banged the gavel once more, and the three convicted men were led out of the courtroom and back to their prison cells.

In their seats, the Gardiners and Elizabeth slumped down. Elizabeth cried, tears streaming down her face. Her aunt and uncle helped her rise, and Darcy was standing behind her to offer his handkerchief and his arm.

When Elizabeth tucked her small hand under his elbow, he pressed it to his side, leaning down to whisper, “You were magnificent, my love. I am proud of you. You were steady and strong in the face of his anger and accusation.”

Elizabeth’s only response was to lean against his arm and allow him to lead her out of the courthouse and into the sunshine that had suddenly bathed the city.

“You see, Lizzy,” exclaimed Maddie. “Even the weather is happy for the outcome of that trial.”

Elizabeth’s teary smile was all she could manage. She allowed Darcy to hand her into his carriage, where Brutus waited with Sarah. She hugged the dog tightly while Darcy, Maddie, and Gardiner all entered and arranged themselves. Her face was still buried in her dog’s neck when the coach began to move. After several minutes, she sat back, though she kept her hand, as it usually was, on Brutus’ neck.

“I apologize; I did not intend to become so emotional. I am sorry for embarrassing you.”

“No, Lizzy, there is nothing to apologize for.” Maddie rushed to reassure her niece. “You did not embarrass us. You have been through some very trying experiences in the past year. We would be poor guardians if we did not allow you this relief.” Maddie leaned forward, placing her hand on Elizabeth’s knee, her expression earnest.

“I agree with your aunt,” Gardiner added. “I would be concerned if you did not display some extreme emotion after the trial. I know how worried you were about facing those men after all they had done. You should feel free to cry as much as you choose after that.”

“Thank you both.” Elizabeth sniffed once more, dabbing her nose with Darcy’s handkerchief, which had not left her hand since he gave it to her. Now sodden and almost useless, she nevertheless clung to it.

“We are almost to Gracechurch Street, Elizabeth. You have done very well with the carriage ride. One more reason we have to be proud of you.” Darcy was pleased to see that her terror was not renewed after her recent experience.

Surprised, Elizabeth looked around. “Oh! I guess I have. My mind was so full of the trial and memories of my family that I did not pay attention to my surroundings.”

“How do you feel now that it has been pointed out to you?” Darcy sincerely hoped she was not afraid. Though he had absolutely no objection to holding her for the three days it would take to reach Pemberley after their wedding, he did not want her to live in fear any more than her aunt and uncle did.

Elizabeth was silent as she examined her feelings. A smile began to spread over her face, the first genuine smile she had worn in days. “I feel … a little uneasy but not terrified. Am I cured, do you think?”

“It seems that you may be. One more reason to celebrate. What do you say, Darcy?” Smiling, Gardiner turned to Elizabeth’s betrothed, smothering a laugh as he caught the younger man staring at Elizabeth once more, a besotted look covering his face.

“Hm? Oh! Oh, yes. A celebration is definitely in order.” Darcy could not help the blush that turned his countenance bright red. Nor could he stop looking at his betrothed.

The coach pulled to a smooth stop outside the Gardiners’ home, and in just a few short minutes, the five humans and one Great Dane were once again ensconced in the drawing room, enjoying a bracing cup of tea.

To be continued …

 

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