Elizabeth peered out the carriage window, her heart still pounding from being discovered in such a mortifying position by Caroline Bingley and her brother. No doubt rumors were flying all over Meryton and would be across the entire county by morning. And with none other than Mr. Darcy.
The ride home from the ball dragged on an eternity, though it was just two miles. It was too quiet in the carriage, unlike how it usually was. Elizabeth willed her cheeks to stay pale and not flush with embarrassment at how *Mister Darcy*, had touched her. She squirmed on the bench, resolutely refusing to look at anyone.
Elizabeth wished for someone to say something, but it was an awkward silence. Nothing but the creaking of the carriage and the monotonous thump of the horse’s hooves. They could not guess that she had just had an intimate moment with a man, could they?
“I am astounded at you, Lizzy,” said Lydia into the interminable silence. “I never thought you’d do something so desperate to get a wealthy husband. I could never do something so scandalous!”
Elizabeth turned away from the window and glared at her youngest and most ill-mannered sister.
Mrs. Bennet huffed, “I don’t comprehend how you could do such a thing. I have never been so humiliated! We had to leave the ball early, with everyone gawking at us. You destroyed this family’s reputation! And now Mr. Collins will not marry any of you!”
Mr. Collins, seated across from Mrs. Bennet and staring out the other carriage window, frowned. He pointedly refused to look at anyone in the coach.
Lydia immediately spun away from staring at him to face her sisters, “I suppose that means we’re all getting an extra helping of pudding tonight.”
Thankfully the carriage slowed to a stop at Longbourn. Once the door was opened, Elizabeth spilled out and dashed down the steps, eager to escape everyone. But it was not to be.
“Mr. Bennet!” Mrs. Bennet yelled as soon as she entered the house. “Do you know what your daughter did? She was seen in a compromising position with none other than Mr. Darcy! You must do something about this!”
Jane pleaded with their mother, “Please, Mama, keep your voice down. We don’t want the servants hearing us.”
Her mother scoffed, her voice rising, “Let them talk. I am sure it is already all over Meryton. Oh, my poor girls! What shall we do now?”
At Mrs. Bennet’s wailing, Mr. Bennet emerged from his study. “What is this? What did Lydia do now?”
Elizabeth turned to go upstairs, but Mrs. Bennet spotted her. “Do not leave, Lizzy! You will go into your father’s study right now and give him an explanation of what you did to ruin the family’s reputation!”
She blushed and faced her parents, Mr. Bennet’s stunned look crushing her heart. Elizabeth stumbled into her father’s study due to Mrs. Bennet dragging her arm.
Mr. Bennet stared at her in disbelief, his brows furrowed with vexation, “Lizzy?”
Mrs. Bennet spoke up before Elizabeth could say anything, “She was found in a compromising position with Mr. Darcy at the ball! I do not understand what possessed her to do such a thing.”
Elizabeth felt her cheeks ignite as she averted her father’s concerned and shocked stare. “I absolutely must have the full truth, Lizzy.”
After entering the study, Elizabeth recounted the evening’s events. She explained how Mary had something important to tell her in private and locked her in the room.
Mrs. Bennet interrupted, “But why were you alone with Mr. Darcy? I thought of all men that he would behave better than that!”
Elizabeth shook her head, “Mary locked me in the room. She must have known Mr. Darcy was in there already. She was not surprised when she opened the door on us with Caroline Bingley!”
“That is not possible,” Mrs. Bennet retorted. “Mary would never conduct herself in that manner! She is forever reading Fordyce’s Sermons and quoting Bible verses.”
Elizabeth turned to her mother, mouth agape.
“It does not seem likely, but,” Mr. Bennet stated. “We shall hear what Mary has to say.” He opened the door calling for Mary to enter.
Elizabeth had never expected her parents not to believe her. Especially her father, who had always regarded her as his favorite. It was not a pleasant feeling.
Mary stepped into the room with a sense of ease and was unencumbered by any concerns of misbehavior.
“Now Mary, Elizabeth has given us an account of events.” At Elizabeth’s frown, he quickly amended. “She insists that she speaks only the truth. But I would like to hear your version of what happened.”
“Mr. Bingley had been walking around the room looking for his friend Mr. Darcy. You remember Mama, you commented on how worried he looked.”
“I did indeed!” Mrs. Bennet exclaimed. “It isn’t good for the host to be skulking around in a state of anxiety*.”
Elizabeth scoffed. A sharp look from Mr. Bennet admonished her.
“I remember seeing Mr. Darcy walk down that hallway when I left to use the necessary,” Mary continued. “I hunted for Mr. Bingley immediately to tell him I had located his friend.”
“That makes no sense,” interjected Elizabeth. “Why was Caroline Bingley with you then if it was Mr. Bingley searching for his friend? And why did you lock me in the room?”
Mary glowered at Elizabeth while Mrs. Bennet tsked in disapproval. Mr. Bennet held up his hand, silencing her. “Please, continue, Mary.”
“Thank you, Papa. Caroline reached the door first and opened it, then I saw … well. I should not say.”
Elizabeth clasped her hands behind her and tried her hardest to appear unfazed while worrying about what exactly Mary had noticed.
“We must know, Mary. It has surely reached all of Meryton by now, and we, at the very least, need to know what the rumors will say.” Mr. Bennet said.
Mary cleared her throat and recounted finding Elizabeth sitting on the window ledge, at waist height to Mr. Darcy, with her dress pulled up to her knees and her legs open. Mrs. Bennet gasped and fell into an armchair.
Elizabeth could not breathe. It was just as bad as she had feared. But she had to do something, or she would be forced to marry the most arrogant man in the entire county. “I told you we were locked in and trying to climb out the window! He had just helped me up on the ledge and was going to lower me down so I could get help.”
Mr. Bennet looked so severely and devastated that Elizabeth’s heart ached. “Lizzy, a gentleman, especially a man such as Mr. Darcy, would not have let a woman do such a thing.”
“But it is the truth, sir! Mary led me down that hall and then locked the door after I —”
“That is enough!” Mr. Bennet’s raised voice, at her no less, rendered her completely speechless.
“You will go up to your room and stay there.”
Tears formed in her eyes as she stared at her father. She had not lied. Indeed what she had said was the truth, just not the entire truth. And she felt guilt swirling inside her for doing exactly what she was accused of and, in the process, ruining her and her family’s reputation.
Elizabeth rushed out of the study and down the hall. Mr. Bennet had never yelled at her. And all because had locked her in the room with Mr. Darcy! She averted her face to not look at her sisters, who were all lined up in the hall and now watched her dart past with curious and shocked faces.
She closed the door to the room she shared with Jane and lay face down on the bed. How had this happened? What was she going to do? She had not even had time to think about what he had done to her, the feelings he had stirred.
Her bedroom door creaked open, letting in the hubbub of Mrs. Bennet’s wailing and loud voices before the door closed again, and quiet footsteps approached the bed.
“Lizzy?” Jane said softly as she placed a hand on Elizabeth’s back. “What is it that has happened? I have heard some of the story, but not all of it.” The bed dipped as she sat on the edge. “I can not believe what I have heard. Will you tell me what happened?”
Elizabeth rolled onto her back and looked up at her sister. She had never felt so ashamed in all her life and hesitated to tell Jane what had occurred. She wanted to tell her but knew that she could not. That was one secret no one except her, and Mr. Darcy would know.
So Elizabeth began recounting the events that transpired in the room where Mary locked her in, leaving out the intimate moment until Mary opened the door. “I admit, it must have looked bad. But I do not know why Mary would do such a thing?”
She wiped her wet eyes, still surprised by the turn of events as anyone hearing of them. She had departed Longbourn that evening to enjoy dancing with Mr. Wickham. She was now home, her reputation ruined by Mr. Darcy through the machinations of her sister, Mary.
Jane sighed and looked away, sadness tugging at her heart. “Oh, Lizzy, what have you done?”
Elizabeth bit her lip, knowing that Jane understood the gravity of the situation. She felt tears prickling her eyes again, and she reached out to take Jane’s hand. “Tell me,” Elizabeth said quietly. “What happened after I left the ballroom?”
Jane looked down. “Do not worry about what people are saying. Everyone knows your character and will not believe a word of it.”
Elizabeth groaned and buried her face in her hands. She could not believe this was happening.
“I do not understand why Mary did such a thing,” Elizabeth murmured.
Jane shook her head. “I do not either. But one thing is certain: no matter how hard we try, we cannot undo what has been done. All we can do now is move forward and hope that the gossip eventually fades.”
Elizabeth closed her eyes, hoping that this night would be forgotten like some horrible nightmare as soon as morning came. Unbidden thoughts started flooding her mind as she lay there– about Mr. Darcy and how he held her so closely, his soft touches on her leg. His firm sure touches led her to the greatest pleasure she had ever experienced.
Elizabeth and Jane heard an uproar in the hallway and exchanged a worried glance. The two sisters got up from the bed and opened the door to find Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Collins, with her other sisters looking on.
“Please, sir, stay in our home,” Mrs. Bennet begged. “Lizzy has assured us it is all just a misunderstanding. I assure you that my daughter is an honest woman!”
Mr. Collins shook his head in disgust. “No, ma’am, I’m afraid I cannot stay here anymore. There has been a severe impropriety here, and I can not be associated with it.”
With that, he bowed and left the house to stay with the Lucas family next door.
Mrs. Bennet’s eyes filled with tears. Elizabeth was horrified. And she was not the only one, as a movement caught her eye. That of Mary paling, covering her mouth also in horror at the unexpected development.
“You! You are the one to blame!” Mrs. Bennet sobbed. “Your behavior has caused this entire scandal, and now Mr. Collins will have nothing to do with us!”
Elizabeth’s face was hot with anger with shame. “Why would you do this to me, Mary? I don’t understand. By locking me in that room with Mr. Darcy it has affected all of us!”
Mary replied, her eyes watering. “I only wanted Mr. Collins to pay attention to me,” she said. “He should have been looking at me and not you. I am more suited for him than any of you! All the men like you! It’s not fair!”
Elizabeth was shocked and glanced at her sisters, who all wore similar expressions of disbelief.
Mrs. Bennet dabbed at her eyes and looked at Mary with an intensity that could melt ice. “You wicked girl! How could you do such a thing? Now thanks to your selfishness, our reputation is in tatters and there is no hope of Mr. Collins proposing to any of you!”
Mr. Bennet cleared his throat, his expression hardening at Mary’s words. “That is enough. We all know what has happened, and it is clear that Elizabeth was telling the truth. Mary, you orchestrated this entire thing.”
Mrs. Bennet shook her head in disbelief. “This is an outrage! Your sister should never have found herself in such a situation!”
Elizabeth opened her mouth to protest, but Mary stepped forward and pointed a finger at Elizabeth. “You were not the only one behaving inappropriately, Sister. Do not forget that Mr. Darcy was in that room as well. It takes two to create a scandal.”
Elizabeth felt her cheeks burn with embarrassment and anger. “That is not true, Mary. You are the one who locked me in that room with Mr. Darcy. You are the one who caused this entire scandal. It is not my fault or Mr. Darcy’s fault. It is yours.”
Mary’s eyes widened at Elizabeth’s words. She looked around to her family standing in the hall, staring at her in various degrees of shock and worry. She lowered her head, “I am so sorry, Elizabeth,” Mary said quietly. “I never meant for any of this to happen. I just wanted Mr. Collins to notice me, and I thought that if you were out of the way, he would pay more attention to me.”
Elizabeth’s heart wanted to soften at Mary’s words, but mere words could not undue the damage her sister had caused. Besides, she felt she could not trust her sister’s words. Not after her bold faced lies.
Things look baaaaad for our dear couple when Elizabeth and the Gardiners visit Pemberley…
As Mr. Darcy courts Elizabeth, old foes try to keep them apart and the sheep have more to say as well. But no matter how hard they try, nothing can stop Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth from falling in love. The culprit behind the constant interference is revealed and with a happily ever after, all’s wool that ends wool!