Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | (Part IX)
There had been a duel—between the somewhat disgraced George Wickham and Miss King’s uncle, Mr. Frederick King, Esq. Both survived, barely, but George Wickham was expelled from the Militia for ungentlemanly conduct and arrested. Mr. King died of his injuries not three days later.
Still, everyone counted the Netherfield Ball as a trimph for having a duel fought in its shadows with the successful engagement of one Miss Jane Bennet to her cousin, the Reverend Mr. William Collins, just the next morning.
Mr. Collins told anyone who would listen how happy he was.
Elizabeth told everyone how unhappy Jane should be at the arrangement.
Jane said little or nothing, but tended to her roses, a contemplative look on her face.
Kitty attended Bella who felt disappointed that Darcy had not gone to the terrace with her as had been arranged, but instead had helped with the wounded men, and had been in London since that fateful night. He had sent word to Mr. Bennet that he would like an interview upon his return, but he had not given a definite date.
As such, Bella just sat and waited and realized she had become just like those dreadful women in Byron’s poems who waited for adventure and love to happen to them. But still, she waited. She read poetry, she scribbled some verse, and she dutifully visited the modiste with her eldest sister to discuss wedding dresses, wedding ribbons, and wedding bonnets.
“Cream,” Bella stated firmly. “Yellow would not suit our Jane’s complexion. Cream, I believe, would be a more suitable colour for a cleric’s bride in Advent.” They would, after all, be married the Tuesday after the first Sunday in Advent. Jane would not be spending Christmas with them, but be spending this Christmas in Kent.
“Green trim?” Mama suggested. “Or red, for Christmastide?”
Bella could only smile at her fondly.
Mr. Darcy did come before the wedding, but only by a day. He was locked in the study with Mr. Bennet for a full hour and Bella did not know what they would speak of. For all she knew, Papa was giving a treatise on one of the flowers he was growing in the privacy of his study. He had been known for such eccentricities.
Only the ladies were in the parlor when the two gentlemen emerged. The Lucases had kindly offered to host Mr. Collins the day before the wedding so that he could observe the tradition of not seeing the bride, and he had arrived their just that morning (or so a note had told them, that had been penned by Charlotte Lucas at her mother’s behest).
“Isabelle Mary,” Papa called. “Mr. Darcy has something particular he should like to ask you, and I have given permission for him to use my study.”
Her eyes widened as only Mama and occasionally Elizabeth were permitted in there—and never more than twice in a calendar year.
She blinked from where she was reading a tame book of Shakespeare’s sonnets, marked her place, and then collected herself before she stood. Her mother came up to her and primped her sleeves slightly, pulled at the left side of her hem, and then smiled. “You know your answer,” she reminded her comfortingly. “Nothing to get flustered about.”
“Thank you,” Bella breathed, before embracing her mother and holding her to her tightly. “You must promise to visit me often.”
“I shall spend half the year with you and half with Jane, if Mr. Bennet allows,” Mama whispered into her ear, and then Bella was permitted to go to her father, who nodded to her once, and then into the inner sanctum.
Darcy had his back to her and was staring out the window, but even she could tell that he was in mourning from the band around his arm.
“Whatever happened?” she murmured, and he turned to look at her, his face softened in affection.
“Wickham,” he told her. “He was my father’s godson, did I mention?” When she shook her head, he shrugged. “He trifled with Miss King for her ten thousand pounds. Mr. King is dead—and now so, too, is Wickham. I must observe simple mourning for two months although I hated the very sight of the man. I paid off his few debts here.” He sighed. “He’s buried, and it’s done with. My sister was upset, but she’s sixteen, she’ll get over him.”
The words were telling, but Bella forced a smile onto her face and when he reached out his hand for hers, she gladly gave it, knowing what would come next.
“I meant,” he told her quietly as they stood there at the window, hand in hand, “to ask you to marry me at the Netherfield Ball.”
“My answer is unchanged,” she promised, her brown eyes looking up at him. “I suppose we need only wait until mourning is satisfied.”
He shook his head. “Wickham was my father’s godson and one with whom I had little connection. The wedding must merely be tasteful. We might even marry before Christmas if your mother might be prevailed upon to plan a small event.”
She took a deep breath and the smile on her face was blinding.
He seemed stunned. “Then you will marry me, Isabelle Mary?” he asked in wonder.
“I will marry you,” she promised him, tears of joy coming to her eyes. “I would walk to the church with you now, but tomorrow is Jane’s day, and I do not wish to be a cruel sister.”
“No,” Darcy agreed, pulling her close so that she rested in his arms, his smooth chin brushing against her forehead as he held her close. “No, I don’t believe you could be cruel. You are gentleness and compromise. It is quite astounding to me.”
She laughed a little. “Perhaps you might have to compromise in the future. You will have not only a younger sister but a wife, who likes her poetry.”
He sighed. “And you shall be a married lady and able to read whatever you wish,” he realized.
Bella knew he was thinking of that conversation on Byron. “I will be a good wife,” she promised, “and guard what your sister reads.”
He nodded, his chin still resting against her forehead. There was a pause and then he murmured, “We must speak of Georgiana later and her attempts to disregard her reputation. She is—not willful—but easily led.”
Blinking, Bella realized, “Wickham.”
She hadn’t realized she had been holding her breath. “A conversation for another day.” Bella pulled away and looked up at fiancé. She wondered if this was what love felt like. It was undoubtedly contentment and attraction.
When they finally pulled away from their chaste embrace, he took out a small ring box from his breast pocket and opened it to show a small faceted ruby ring.
Her breath caught in her throat. “Who can find a virtuous woman?” she quoted. “For her price is far above rubies.”
Darcy placed it on her left hand, where it fit on her middle finger, and she smiled up at him.
“Do I have your leave to break tradition and not wear yellow?” she teased.
“I cannot imagine you in such an insipid color,” he agreed, leaning forward to kiss her temple gently. “Now, Mrs. Bennet has been kind enough to wait so long for us. We must tell her and your sisters our good news.”
However, when they emerged, Elizabeth was not there, and she only appeared a quarter hour before she had to be ready for Jane’s wedding on the morrow. Elizabeth didn’t even notice that Bella was wearing a ruby on her left hand until during the vows when they were sitting in the front pews, Bella attentively watching her sister Jane speak her vows.
Elizabeth, however, grabbed Bella and beneath the rim of the pew, pulled off her green glove to show what had created the lump beneath it. Normally Bella would not have worn such loose gloves, as they made her fingers look like sausages despite the pleasant colour, but they were necessary with her engagement ring. Unfortunately, Elizabeth knew her opinion of the gloves—and knew something was afoot.
Gasping in the near silent church, Elizabeth’s blue eyes looked down at the ring and then up to Bella, who was pointedly ignoring her.
Elizabeth took the hint and shoved the glove back at her sister and at least pretended to pay attention to the ceremony.
Of course, after they congratulated bride and groom before going back to Longbourn, Elizabeth tried to drag her off the path and stage whisper to her, but then Darcy appeared, answering all her questions with his very presence.
Bella’s next eldest sister’s blue eyes flashed between them and then she breathed out of her nose. “First Jane, now you?” Then she just walked away in the general direction of Longbourn.
Darcy took a moment to consider. “If I may say, Isabelle Mary, you resemble none of your other four sisters.”
Ah, someone had noticed then. “I do not,” she agreed, and let her tone close the conversation for her.
“I find you much more beautiful,” he murmured as he leaned toward her so that no one would overhear her. The onlookers who noticed their usual closer did, however, notice her uncharacteristic bright smile.