Elizabeth was returning to the parsonage after having walked for a little over an hour. Unfortunately, she had planned a pleasant walk that had become an unpleasant experience. Once again, she has met with the disagreeable surprise that Mr. Darcy appeared out of nowhere to join her and said practically nothing except a few incoherent sentences.
But what surprised her the most was that she had taken the trouble to inform him which was her favorite route some days ago to prevent and avoid those unpleasant encounters. After that day, she was more convinced than ever that he did it on purpose to annoy her. Indeed when he was bored, he found nothing better than entertaining himself at her expense.
Elizabeth saw her friend Charlotte strolling in the garden waiting for her, and she hurried so she could converse with her and forget about the horrible encounter with Mr. Darcy.
For his part, Mr. Darcy was heading back to Rosings with his head even more full of doubts. The last few days had been exciting. On the one hand, there was the happiness that being close to Elizabeth provided him, but on the other hand the fear he felt of making a foolish decision that could harm his family's future and prestige.
He could no longer deny that he was utterly in love with that lovely woman and knew very well that he must decide what to do. He had only two alternatives, to forget everything about duties and responsibilities and to think just about his happiness and propose to Elizabeth, or to get away from her for good and be completely unhappy for the rest of his life.
He had never done anything inappropriate in his entire life. He had assumed all the responsibilities of his properties and his family legacy with aplomb at a very young age and had managed to do everything successfully. Perhaps, the time had come when he thought a bit about his future life and allowed himself to be happy with the only woman he had loved. With this new resolution in mind, he entered Rosings smiling and went directly to his room to better think about everything he had to do, but above all, to avoid his aunt and her impetuous insinuations and questions.
Mrs. Bennet was locked in her room crying, unable to get out of bed. The previous afternoon had been perhaps the worst day of her entire life. Her world had fallen apart when Mr. Hill told her that Mr. Bennet had been found unconscious a few feet from the house. Apparently, the new horse he had bought a month ago had thrown him when he wanted to gallop, and he had fallen violently to the ground hitting his head hard.
The apothecary had come to see Mr. Bennet, but all he said was that they should wait and pray for his recovery. Mrs. Bennet was deeply distressed by her husband's health, but at the same time, she could not avoid thinking about the future. If Mr. Bennet died, her family would all be suddenly poor and homeless.
Mary was relieved when she heard Kitty say that her uncle Gardiner's carriage was approaching. The day before, when they found her father's body almost lifeless, her mother and her entire house were in complete chaos. She was the only one who kept a cool head and decided to send an express to her uncle to beg him to come as soon as possible with Jane to help her family.
When Mr. Gardiner received the message from Mary, he immediately arranged everything necessary to leave the next day for Longbourn. He knew very well that his sister would not be of use in a situation like this. He also contacted his good friend Arthur Miller, a reputed doctor, and asked him to accompany them to Longbourn to check the actual condition of his brother-in-law.
The moment he broke the news to Jane, she was sorrowful and started crying inconsolably. As the eldest of her sisters, Jane knew very well that her father's death would cause not only suffering but also the potential ruin of the family.
The day before, some tradesmen friends of her uncle and their families had visited them, and one more time Mr. Clark had shown much interest in her. In fact, he had been visiting the Gardiner family often, but just the previous day, he had decided to talk to Jane. He was not a handsome man like Mr. Bingley, but his aunt had told her that he had a lucrative import business, that he was a wealthy man, and that he was known to be kind and honorable.
Jane knew that if something happened to her father, she should put aside all her youthful dreams of marrying for love and seek financial stability and protection for herself and her family. So, before going to sleep, and trying to control the pain she felt at the horrible news she had received, she told her aunt Gardiner that if Mr. Clark was interested in her, she should let him know that she would gladly accept a courtship.
Mrs. Gardiner felt very sorry, she knew what Jane was trying to do, but at the same time, she could not tell her anything because she knew very well the fate that awaited her nieces without the protection of their father. Sadly, she knew that Jane was making the right decision in seeking security in a good and honorable man like Lawrence Clark.
As soon as everyone entered the house, Mary greeted them and recounted the day's latest events to Jane and her aunt. At the same time, Mr. Gardiner and his friend Dr. Miller went directly to Mr. Bennet's room to examine him and better understand his condition.
"Dear Mary, thank you so much for reacting quickly and letting us know what was happening to our father," Jane said to her sister as she hugged her. In front of her were Lydia and Kitty crying as her aunt tried to comfort them. Jane was stunned to see how her two younger sisters, usually so cheerful and effusive, were so subdued, evidently suffering without knowing what to do.
Hearing her mother's screams calling for her, Jane quickly went to her room to comfort Mrs. Bennet. She knew she couldn't do much, but at least she would tell her that her uncle had brought a doctor from London to help Mr. Bennet to recover.
Elizabeth was drinking tea and chatting with her friend Charlotte in her private sitting room, ignorant of the catastrophe occurring in Longbourn.
"How was your walk around the park, Eliza?" Charlotte asked her friend.
"Same as yesterday and the day before, Charlotte. I was walking on my favorite path when I ran into the obnoxious Mr. Darcy. The worst part was that he asked my permission to accompany me, and after that, he hardly pronounced a word except for a few strange questions that made me feel uncomfortable. I am convinced that he really enjoys giving me a hard time," Elizabeth laughed.
"I think he admires you, but he doesn't know how to express his feelings for you," Charlotte said in the same humorous tone but thinking that probably she was right. "Eliza, if a man like Mr. Darcy, handsome and rich, would want to propose to you, what would you say?" asked Charlotte, curious.
Elizabeth responded without thinking, "I would tell him no, I could never unite my life to a man as cold and implacable as Mr. Darcy. But I don't know why I answer a question as ridiculous as that. If you could see the contemptuous face with which he always looks at me, you wouldn't have those silly ideas in your head," concluded Elizabeth.
When Maria entered the room, they both changed the topic of the conversation. Charlotte reminded them that the next day they were invited to Rosings, which made Maria feel a bit anxious, wondering what clothes she should wear so that Lady Catherine would not look at her reprovingly.
Jane had managed to calm her mother and after giving her herbal tea, finally, she made her fall asleep, so she went to the drawing room to talk with her aunt.
Madeline Gardiner was still accompanying her three younger nieces and was heartbroken seeing them still visibly affected by everything happening at their home.
Just when Jane, Mr. Gardiner, and Dr. Miller entered the room with faces that revealed they were not bringing good news. After Mr. Gardiner explained to everyone how he saw Mr. Bennet, Dr. Miller began to explain his diagnosis.
"I'm sorry I cannot give you good news, but your father's situation is critical. I can't rule out that he will recover, but it is improbable that that will happen. He may pass away in a few hours or days."
All the Bennet women and Mrs. Gardiner couldn't help crying. But Jane reacted and said to Mr. Gardiner, "Uncle, we have to let Lizzy know as soon as possible about our father's situation."
"Don't worry, Jane, I'll take care of that right now," replied Mr. Gardiner, overwhelmed by the sad situation.
The next day Elizabeth again went for a walk, but this time, earlier than usual. That morning she was luckier and could avoid encountering unwanted people. Fortunately, she only ran into Colonel Fitzwilliam, with whom she conversed pleasantly until he unwittingly revealed something she had suspected for a long time. He had just confirmed that Mr. Darcy had been involved in separating her sister Jane from Mr. Bingley. After that, she could not continue talking in the same friendly manner with the colonel and explained to him that she was feeling a bit fatigued and desired to return to the parsonage.
Hours later, when Charlotte and Mr. Collins told her they should go to Rosings, she informed them that she had a severe headache and preferred to stay to rest.
Mr. Collins did not take it very well that Elizabeth did not accompany them to Rosings, but he did not want to insist either because he knew that Lady Catherine did not like sick people around her daughter. After all, she was a sickly person.
Immediately after Mr. and Mrs. Collins and Maria left, Elizabeth was sitting in the main room staring absently out the window when she received an express. As expected, she was surprised and wanted to know the content of the missive. She opened it with great curiosity and read it immediately. By the time she had finished reading it, she could not help crying and wished more than ever to be by her father's side.
Mr. Darcy was impatiently waiting to see Elizabeth. The previous night, he finally decided to declare his love and ask her to be his wife. He knew that by doing that, he would go against everything his family expected of him. But he was determined; he needed to marry and have an heir and did not want to do it with anyone else; only Elizabeth could fill the emptiness and loneliness that had always been present in his life since he was very young.
So, when the Hunsford party arrived without Elizabeth, he felt disappointed. But when Mrs. Collins reported that Elizabeth couldn't come because she was sick, his disappointment turned into concern.
His cousin, colonel Fitzwilliam, with his good humor and interesting conversation along with his aunt and her impertinent comments, kept the guests busy, so no one noticed when he left the room, or at the least, he believed that.
Once outside the mansion, he hurried toward the parsonage, full of concern but at the same time joyful to know that he could soon finally be with his Elizabeth and after what he intended to tell her, they would be together forever.
Elizabeth was still doubtful; she just wanted to wake up and discover that everything happening was nothing more than a nightmare. When she heard someone entering the house, thinking they could be her friend and cousin, she decided to wipe away her tears and hide her current state of mind as much as possible. Although she wanted to explain the situation to Charlotte and ask her to keep everything a secret for at least a few days because she did not want to alert Mr. Collins and have him start making plans as the future Master of Longbourn. But her surprise was great when she saw that the one who entered the room was Mr. Darcy.
Mr. Darcy looked at Elizabeth, and he realized that she was ill. She was pale and haggard but at the same time as pretty as ever. He hesitated a bit, but finally, after pacing nervously for a few seconds, he started talking without being able to stop.
Elizabeth was more and more confused, Mr. Darcy was intensely looking at her, and at the same time, he was pacing like a caged animal. A few seconds passed that seemed eternal until he finally began to declare his admiration and love for her.
Elizabeth couldn't believe what she was hearing; everything she had been through this day was like something out of a horror novel. But as if that were not enough, after declaring his love, he made her a detailed report of all the reasons why a man like him should never have noticed a woman like her, and that he was making a great sacrifice by offering her marriage. He said all of this without the slightest consideration of her feelings.
She was hurt and emotionally exhausted without knowing how her father and her family were. The only thing she wanted was to be with them, and now this man came to insult her in that dreadful manner. But she didn't have enough strength to tell him everything she thought of him, so she didn't say anything. Instead, she just stood before him, unable to control the tears that flowed from her eyes.
Mr. Darcy was a bit puzzled by Elizabeth's reaction and thought his sacrifice greatly touched her; maybe she had lost hope that he could propose to her. "My dear Miss Bennet, please don't cry. I know you are a bit ill, so let me order some tea, and then you must rest. Tomorrow, we will discuss the details of our engagement."
Without knowing why or saying anything, Elizabeth gave him the message that her uncle had sent her. He took it a bit skeptical but read it immediately.
When he finished reading it, he looked at Elizabeth compassionately and hugged her tightly, and she took refuge in his arms and cried with more intensity than before. It was good to feel that someone was comforting her, even if it was Mr. Darcy.
"Don't cry, my sweet Elizabeth, everything will be alright," explained Mr. Darcy to a heartbroken Elizabeth, who continued crying in his arms as he stroked her hair and kissed her forehead.
Both were so absorbed in their own thoughts that they did not realize that a maid had observed the intimate scene.