Chapter 37 : The Choice

"Are you asking me to break off our engagement?"

The room was so silent that Elizabeth could hear her heartbeat ring in her ears.

"I am returning to you the choice that was robbed from you. In doing so, I hope I am giving back to you your chance at finding happiness."

Despite being overwhelmed by the completely unexpected turn of events, Elizabeth pulled herself together well enough to speak.

"You would do this, give me this opportunity to walk away? What about yourself? What is it that you want? What about your duty to your family, your grandmother? That was the very reason you proceeded with this engagement…"

"I cannot, in good conscience, do my duty to my family if in doing so I would be disregarding what I owe to my future wife."

Elizabeth nodded slowly. She had come into this engagement in resignation, with some sense of making the best of the situation. Having Longbourn handed to her in this manner, requiring no commitment from her or her family, and the chance to walk away from an engagement that had been foisted upon her had been something she had not even dreamt of.

"That's a noble sentiment, but…"

Darcy looked troubled, as he allowed for some emotion to show. "We need not carry on this conversation, I am sure you would much rather be alone, have some time to think matters through."

"I most definitely do not wish to be alone!" Elizabeth cried, and then, in a calmer voice, stated, "It is not time or solitude that I am in need of."

"What is it that you are in need of, then? If I could be of any assistance to you, all you must to do is say the words."

Elizabeth took a deep breath. "What I wish for the most at this moment is to know your heart, to know what it is that you desire, beyond fulfilling a duty to myself. However," she hastened to add, "I know that one should beware of what one wishes for lest we receive it, and perhaps to know your heart would be to make mine unhappy."

The surprise on Darcy's face was evident.

Elizabeth had spent many a day and night at Pemberley, thinking as hours passed that none of it was long enough to determine her feelings towards one in that mansion. She had told Jane some time ago about not quite understanding her own feelings towards him. As the matter regarding Elaine had come to light, she recalled telling Jane about how she had begun to feel differently, how she thought that they had become friends, how she had become fond of him, how she had come to understand that she could have been happy in a marriage with him, and how she had started to believe that he was exactly the man who, in disposition and talents, would have most suited herself.

Elizabeth was by this time tolerably well acquainted with her own feelings, she was able to understand her own wishes and never had she so honestly felt that she loved him as now, when all love must be a gamble.

She believed that theirs was a union that would have been to the advantage of both; by her ease and liveliness, his mind might have been softened, his manners improved; and from his judgement, information, and knowledge of the world, she must have received benefit of greater importance.

Elizabeth respected him, she esteemed him, she loved him. She felt a real interest in his welfare; but Elizabeth was wise enough to understand that knowing his heart could mean knowing how little that welfare could depend upon herself. She had vacillated in her thoughts, especially since Chatsworth, wondering how much power she had upon his happiness.

And now, as much as she wanted to know his feelings before sharing hers, Elizabeth also knew that, selfishly, it would be better not to know for her own peace of mind and restless heart.

"I can honestly state that I had never expected this. Once taken from me, I may have bitterly complained about the lack of choice or options afforded to me, but not once did the thought even cross my mind that you would create a situation to give that opportunity back to me. Words are insufficient to thank you for your unexampled kindness to me. This was something unasked for, and you would not have been any less a person if you had not found a way to give me the choice that others had taken away. And yet you did. I am so grateful."

He was full of emotion. "It is no less than my duty to you. That the wish of giving happiness to you might add force to that inducement which led me on, I shall not attempt to deny."

In the usual manner of engagements between men and women, the young man would lay bear his feelings and seek reciprocity. Elizabeth was well aware however, that between herself and Mr. Darcy, things had always been anything but usual. Accordingly, she would have to speak first, however haltingly, of her own feelings in response to the situation she found herself in.

"Nevertheless, I am grateful and I thank you. This is a choice I never dreamt of having. You spoke of this being my chance at finding happiness. Mr. Darcy, I am a very selfish creature; and, for the sake of giving relief to my own feelings and finding happiness, I understand that I may very likely be wounding your chance to do so."

Elizabeth, feeling all the more than common awkwardness and anxiety of her situation, forced herself to speak; and though not very fluently, gave him to understand that her sentiments had undergone so material a change since they had first become engaged, as to make her, in the pursuit of her own happiness, wish to honour their engagement and marriage as had been planned. "I do not wish to break our engagement. I have already found my happiness, and it is here."

The happiness which her speech produced, was such as Darcy had probably never felt before. "It has been many months since I have come to terms with my own feelings, which could not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."

He expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do. When Elizabeth was able to encounter his eye, she saw how well the expression of heartfelt delight, diffused over his face, became him. She listened, and he told her of feelings, which, in proving of what importance she was to him, made his affection every moment more valuable.

There was too much to be thought, and felt, and said, for attention to any other matters outside of the study.

"You make my heart happy," he told her, and Elizabeth looked at him, her feelings mirroring his, eyes shining with delight.



And, we are finally done!

This story took a life of its own - at least 10 or 15 chapters more than what I had originally planned, and definitely 9 - 10 months over schedule! :P

Thank you to everyone who expressed sympathy, empathy, love, support, and encouragement throughout this journey. Things were not always smooth, things were definitely not always timely, but all of your generosity and goodwill has been consistent and incredible. My sincere apologies regarding the massive delays, but, it has been a tough year and real life often intruded.

Endings are always bittersweet, and I know that it is hard to craft and write an ending that is satisfactory even to myself, let alone all the readers, and so this is the best that I have been able to manage.

I hope you have all enjoyed the journey, and once again, thank you!