Elizabeth blanched and looked back down at her bleeding palms. She was completely mortified and humiliated. Not just for being sprawled on the ground with her dress up and chemise exposed, but for being found by the man whose proposal she had just turned down. She struggled even more to push herself up with her wrists.
“Miss Elizabeth, you are injured. Let me help you up.”
There was no way she was going to allow Mr. Darcy to help her in any way. Elizabeth did not want the man who had maligned her entire family and ruined the happiness of her dear sister Jane, to touch her. “No, thank you. I find I can take care of myself.”
Elizabeth pushed up with her palms and gasped in pain. Her hands were more cut up than she had thought. Mr. Darcy held her arms and pushed her up so that she was kneeling. Her dress, unfortunately, was still up and now stuck under her arms. She tried to tug her dress and untwist it so that it would fall back down. She was having trouble considering she could not use her hands as she did not want blood to get on her dress.
Which was why Mr. Darcy was crouching down, tugging at her dress when they heard the exclamations of several people. If Elizabeth was not so mortified, she would have enjoyed the comical scene of Mr. Collins’ mouth agape with his hand on his hat, and the two horrified village women covering their mouths.
“Cousin Elizabeth! What is going on here? My word, your chemise is completely exposed! And Mr. Darcy!”
At that Mr. Collins thankfully went quiet. Though Elizabeth could hear the two women talking amongst themselves. The story of her chemise exposed to all and sundry would surely be circulated around Hunsford within the hour. Which was why she lifted her arms up and let Mr. Darcy untangle her dress and pull it down. She also let him help her stand.
Though there was another problem now. Her dress seemed to be stuck above her knees. Her entire lower legs were exposed. She would not cry though. The awkwardness of this situation could never be topped. Elizabeth tugged at her dress but it would not move. “It is stuck on something. I do not know why it will not go down!”
Mr. Darcy crouched again to determine why the chemise and dress were stuck above her knees.
“What the devil?” Another person had just come across their predicament.
Mr. Darcy looked up and blanched. Elizabeth did not want to see who was behind her, but she did want to know who else had seen her exposed. She turned her head to see Col. Fitzwilliam. At least he had not seen her minutes earlier trying to push herself off the ground. Elizabeth would have covered her face in mortification if her palms had not been bloody.
Col. Fitzwilliam walked closer. “Miss Elizabeth, you are hurt? Did you fall?”
Elizabeth held her hands out, palms up. “I tripped over a tree root and tumbled.”
“There was a twig stuck between the two which is why your dress would not fall off. I mean drop to the ground.” Mr. Darcy cleared his throat as he stood. “It is no longer stuck.”
Mr. Collins approached the group. “I must apologize for my cousin, Mr. Darcy. Surely, having turned down my proposal has made her desirous to apply any advantage to secure herself a husband. This shocking display and lack of decorum, I had no idea my cousin would stoop to such—”
Elizabeth turned to Mr. Collins. “How dare you? I have done no such thing! Do you not see my palms bleeding? I tripped over a root and fell. Mr. Darcy was being charitable and helped me unlike you, a parson who just stood and stared at me!”
Mr. Collins face turned quite red. Col. Fitzwilliam stepped around to block Elizabeth from Mr. Collins. “Come now, you can see that this was not done on purpose. Did you not see Mr. Darcy help her when she could not use her injured hands? I am surprised that you would think she would stoop to something such as that.”
Mr. Collins would not be cowed though. “Her dress was almost completely off! Her chemise and her lower legs were exposed in their entirety! How can you deny that was anything but an attempt to trap Mr. Darcy into marriage?”
Elizabeth had a horrible feeling. This could not be happening. “Thank you for your help, Mr. Darcy. I am going to return to the Parsonage now.”
Elizabeth turned, but her left knee was hurt more than she realized and she fell. Mr. Darcy caught her with an arm around her waist and helped her stand. The village women gasped. Whether they gasped at Elizabeth falling or that Mr. Darcy had his arm wrapped around her, she did not know.
“Your leg must be injured as well. Lean on me and I will help you back.” Mr. Darcy continued to defy Elizabeth’s wishes.
That was the last thing Elizabeth wanted Mr. Darcy to do. She did not want him helping her anymore. She wanted to be angry at him, to have nothing to do with him, not rely on him to get back to the house. But it was not to be. Elizabeth took a step and fell again but was caught again by Mr. Darcy. She could not deny that the warmth of his body, his strong muscles and his help was nice. However she was still quite angry at him for what he said earlier.
“I cannot let you leave yet.” Mr. Collins unexpected statement stopped them.
“And why is that?” If Mr. Darcy’s voice had been a whip, it would have drawn blood.
“As my cousin Elizabeth’s only male relation here, I must insist that you do right by my cousin. She has been compromised.”
Elizabeth closed her eyes and groaned. That odious Mr. Collins. If he could just keep quiet, she could get back to the Parsonage and nothing would be forced to happen. “I am completely fine, Mr. Collins. I tripped on a tree root. I just want to go back to the house to clean my scrapes.”
Elizabeth stepped forward again which pulled Mr. Darcy with her as his arm was still around her waist.
“My cousin has been compromised, you must offer for her hand! I will not let her taint our association. I am a parson and can not have a cousin compromised and ruined! Lady Catherine de Bourgh would be most displeased!”
Elizabeth heard agreements muttered by the village women. Mr. Collins was lucky he was not near Elizabeth. She was furious with him, his assignation that she exposed herself on purpose and his thinking only of himself. Elizabeth hobbled faster. She did not want to be married to Mr. Darcy. She most assuredly did not want to be forced into marriage to Mr. Darcy.
Elizabeth thoughts of silencing Mr. Collins and getting away unscathed were short-lived. Mr. Darcy and Col. Fitzwilliam slowed and then stopped walking altogether.
“Why have we stopped? I need to get to the Parsonage.” Elizabeth’s heart beat rapidly. She trembled and knew she was on the verge of losing it. She had to get to the Parsonage as soon as possible before she broke down crying at how unfair it was. She was sure if it had just been Col. Fitzwilliam she could have convinced them that everything was fine and Mr. Darcy did not need to offer for her hand. But not with Mr. Collins and two village women as witnesses.
Mr. Darcy had considered ignoring Mr. Collins, helping Elizabeth to the parsonage and leaving her. His pride and his vanity was still hurt from her rude denial of his marriage proposal. That she had believed George Wickham’s lies that angered him fiercely. But he knew he could not do that to Elizabeth. For he still cared and yearned for her even though he was so very angry. And even though he knew she detested him, he was still thrilled at the physical contact he had with his arm around her waist. He would not let himself think about what he had seen when he had first come upon her.
“Yes Mr. Collins, you can be assured that I will do the right thing. I do not however, want an audience for it.”
Mr. Darcy walked again towards the Parsonage with Col. Fitzwilliam also helping while Elizabeth hobbled. They entered the Parsonage and sat her down on the sofa.
“Thank you. I am grateful for your assistance but I will go upstairs now and take care of my injuries.”
Col. Fitzwilliam stepped forward. “Your leg is hurt as well though, is it not? I believe you need a physician.”
“I do not think I need a physician. It is just a fall and I will be fine resting it.”
Mr. Darcy removed his beaver hat and stepped forward throwing a look at Col. Fitzwilliam. Col. Fitzwilliam raised his eyebrows, bowed and then exited the parsonage.
Elizabeth closed her eyes. Not again, and in the very same room.
“I am sorry to bring up this business that you found so distasteful before. However, I am bound by propriety to offer for your hand in marriage as we have been assuredly compromised.”
Elizabeth continued to look down at her walking boots. She clenched her teeth so fiercely that she was sure Mr. Darcy could hear her teeth grinding. Elizabeth realized then that she had been waiting for Mr. Darcy’s actual asking of her to marry him, as he had only stated he needed to make a marriage proposal. Was he not even going to ask her? “I fear I do not have an answer for you as I have not been asked a question.”
She knew she was being rude especially after Mr. Darcy helped her even though he certainly did not need to. He could have spotted her trying to get up and then walked off. But he was a better man than that and had helped her with her dress and walking to the Parsonage. Unfortunately his helping her caused them both to be seen by Mr. Collins and the village women which caused them to be compromised.
“Elizabeth Bennet, would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?”
That had come out more of a statement than a question but at this point Elizabeth wanted him gone. She knew she was having trouble holding herself together, and she did not want Mr. Darcy there to see her cry. She was infuriated that she was forced to marry this man who ruined Jane’s happiness, that had disparaged her family, and had also ruined the future of George Wickham. There was absolutely nothing she could do though if she did not want to ruin forever her sister’s chances at marrying.
“I accept your offer.”
Mr. Darcy bowed and immediately left. It was the most unromantic marriage proposal ever. It was even worse than the proposal Mr. Collins had made. And it was far worse than proposal Mr. Darcy had made not even an hour earlier.
Elizabeth finally broke down and cried and that was how the servant found her.