October 7, 1812
Darcy paced the Netherfield library. The fool room was far too short and the threadbare carpet muffled what should have been a satisfying thud from his boots.
He had faced many intimidating men in his life. Men more educated them himself; men wealthier; men more powerful. None ever caused him a moment’s anxiety.
So why should an insignificant country gentlemen turn his insides into a wobbling mass of jelly?
None of those men ever had any power to deny him what he most desired.
How was such a man to be worked on? Intractable and capricious, reason could not be trusted. But in order to survive life with his wife and silly younger daughters, he could hardly be susceptible to sensibility either. What was left to him?
Appeals to status, perhaps?
Elizabeth insisted Bennet would present no obstacles. His nature was to seek his ease and what could be easier than consigning his daughter to a life as Mistress of Pemberley?
While that might be true, Elizabeth was Mr. Bennet’s favorite child. Men could become unpredictable when their favorites were concerned.
Enough! This exercise was pointless and a waste of time. Time he could spend much better.
He stomped out.
A gentleman should probably be seen to arrive on his horse, particularly it if were as fine an animal as his. But Netherfield’s grooms were slow on the best of days and further delay would not bode well for anyone. He would walk.
Besides the journey might soothe his haggard spirit.
It did not.
The sun was too hot and somehow a burr had worked its way into his boot and lodged itself against his calf, just out of reach.
Longbourn rose in the distance. It was not a pretty vista. Apparently aesthetics were not something Bennet cared about either. But then, little was attractive this time of year.
In the shadow of the house, he lifted his hat and wiped the sweat from his brow. Father should really have prepared him for this sort of conversation as he had so many others. Then again, even if he tried, could he have ever foreseen a man such as Bennet. Or, a woman like his Elizabeth?
That is why he was here. She was the only thing that could inspire such an errand or make it worthwhile. For her and her alone he would see this through. Whatever it would take.
He rapped on the door and Hill admitted him with a satisfyingly alarmed expression.
“I need to speak to Mr. Bennet.”
“Mr. Bennet, sir?”
“Did I not make myself clear?” He leveled a glare generally reserved for the impertinent of his own rank.
“Perfectly clear, sir.” She dropped a nervous curtsey and beckoned him to follow.
Rarely had that glare been so effective as to cause a servant to forget to see if the master was home to a visitor. He could not complain.
Hill peeked into the open study door. Bennet sat at his desk, open ledgers before him, a quill in his hand.
“Mr. Darcy to see you, sir.” Her voice quavered.
Bennet jumped and glowered. “Hill, I have told you…Mr. Darcy?” He removed his glassed and pushed to his feet.
Darcy stepped around Hill and took three steps into the room. “As you see, sir. I would speak with you.”
“Close the door, Hill.” Bennet came around the desk. “What business have you with Longbourn, sir?”
“Not with Longbourn, with you.”
Bennet leaned back and cocked his head. “With me? Now I am intrigued.”
“You have no idea why I have come?”
Surely he could not be so thick.
“None at all.”
And yet he was.
“I come on a matter of some urgency, a personal matter.”
“An urgent and personal matter. You have me most intrigued, sir. What urgent, personal business could bring you to my doorstep?” Bennet folded his arms over his chest.
Darcy ground his teeth. Bennet might find this bating amusing, but at the best it was ungentlemanly. And his attempts to be dominant must stop.
“I come to discuss your daughter, Miss Elizabeth.”
The color faded from Bennet’s face, and he sagged against the edge of his desk.
Darcy schooled his features into neutrality. Now was not the time to gloat.
“My Lizzy? What has she to do with you?’
“I have made her an offer of marriage, and she has accepted.”
Bennet blinked and blinked again. “Surely that cannot be. My Lizzy? She accepted you? Impossible. That rumor was all an addlepated notion from my cousin Collins.”
“I rarely jest, sir, and never over matters so serious.”
“My Lizzy? Who you have not looked at but to find blemish?”
“I have long considered her the handsomest woman of my acquaintance.”
Bennet barked a harsh laugh. “I find that difficult to believe.”
“Disguise is my abhorrence, sir. You may ask Bingley if you wish corroboration.”
“Bingley? He is aware of your scheme?”
“I resent your implication, sir, but yes, he is aware, and perhaps your eldest daughter as well.”
Bennet raked his hair. “You are serious then?”
Bennet paced to his window and stared through the spotty glass. “My Lizzy?”
“I have a settlement in mind that I believe you and she will find quite acceptable.”
Generous in fact, but there was no need to bruise Bennet’s pride just yet.
“And she has accepted?”
Bennet slowly turned. “Why?”
What kind of question was that? No, it would not pay to take offense now. Elizabeth would want him to control his temper.
“My Lizzy is a sensible girl. Why would she accept your offer?”
Because no sensible woman would refuse?
No, that was not true. She refused him once. But then, no sensible woman should have accepted that offer.
“I have not seen the need to question my good fortune, sir. You shall have to ask her that yourself.”
“I shall. You can be sure of it.” Bennet’s nostrils flared and his eyes widened.
“Have you any objections apart from the assurance of her approval?”
“I have no doubt you can provide for her adequately.”
“Have you any objections?”
“Your reputation and your connections are excellent.”
And so was his pedigree, but he was not a hound. He clenched his left hand into a tight fist.
“I insist on an answer, sir, will you refuse her permission to marry me?”
“She will be one and twenty soon enough. You could just wait—”
“She—and I—would prefer your blessing.”
That seemed to cut off Bennet’s next retort.
His shoulders slumped. “If she accepts you—truly accepts you—and I shall not force her to do that no matter what you claim—then I shall not offer any impediments.”
Not offer an impediment? That was his response? Any other man would be congratulating himself on his good fortune.
But not this quixotic gentleman.
Still it was enough.
“Thank you sir. Shall I inform Miss Elizabeth, or do you prefer to do so?
“Tell Hill to send her to me. I might have a very long discussion with her.”
Darcy bowed and pushed the door open, nearly knocking Hill to the ground. Her spying would disturb him far more had he not won his point.
“Send Miss Elizabeth to her father.”
“I—I yes, sir.” She curtsied and scurried away, nearly tripping in her haste.
Tension flowed away from him as the housekeeper disappeared.
Elizabeth would tell Bennet everything he needed to know and they would have his blessing soon enough.
In the meantime he could see himself out.
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