Why would a gentleman ask a lady to conceal their betrothal?
Jane Austen writes of secret engagements in more than one of her novels, and in The Secret Betrothal, author Jan Hahn explores the question of what would happen if Austen’s most famous heroine from Pride and Prejudice reluctantly agrees to accept such a proposal.
When Fitzwilliam Darcy learns that Elizabeth Bennet has committed herself to such an arrangement, his hopes of winning her hand are shattered. After circumstances continue to bring the two together—from Hertfordshire to Rosings Park to the seaside town of Brighton―he finds he is unable to tame his desire for the woman who has stolen his heart.
Will Darcy’s efforts to win Elizabeth succeed, or will his sworn enemy lead her to the altar?
From the author: This excerpt from Chapter Seven takes place the morning after Darcy’s disastrous first proposal. Elizabeth is on her way to mail a letter to Mr. Wickham.
Observing that it would still be an hour or more before the postal office opened, Elizabeth decided to detour close to Rosings’s lush, green park. Her natural buoyant personality soon could not be contained in such beautiful surroundings, and she proceeded toward one of her favourite walks. Recollecting that Darcy sometimes went there, she stopped and instead of entering the park, she turned up the lane that led farther from the turnpike road. Soon, she passed one of the gates into the grounds. She was tempted by the pleasantness of the morning to stop and look into the park.
The five weeks she had passed in Kent had made a great difference in the country, and every day was adding to the verdure of the early trees. She longed to enter the park and ramble among the greenery, but she caught a glimpse of a gentleman within the grove that edged the park, and fearing that it might be Darcy, she began to retreat. The person who advanced, however, was now near enough to see her, and he stepped forth with eagerness.
“Miss Bennet,” he called out.
She stopped and reluctantly turned to face him.
“Mr. Darcy,” she murmured, returning his look without flinching.
“I have been walking in the grove some time in the hope of meeting you. Will you do me the honour of reading this letter?”
Elizabeth stepped back as he held out the folded, white pages with her name written across the outside. “I . . . I cannot,” she said.
“What do you mean?”
“I cannot accept a letter from you, Mr. Darcy. It . . . it would be improper.”
“Miss Bennet, do not be alarmed that this letter contains any repetition of those sentiments or renewal of those offers which were last night so disgusting to you.”
Elizabeth coloured, hearing not only the reproach in his voice but for the first time, the hint of pain her words may have caused him. “I have no such fears, sir, but . . . there is no attachment between us. It would not be right for me to accept any type of written correspondence from you.”
“I assure you there is nothing untoward in this letter, but I must insist that you read it.”
“I will not, sir.” Elizabeth turned and began to walk away, but Darcy would not have it. He stepped in front of her, blocking her way.
“Do you have so little regard for me that you will not even read my defence?”
“Of that which you accused me last night, Miss Bennet. I have addressed all of your accusations in this note. Will you not read it? That is all I ask. Read it and then burn it. No one will ever know that it passed between us.”
Elizabeth was suddenly conscious of the deep urgency not only in his voice but in his eyes. This man wanted her to understand him, and not discerning why, she felt herself drawn to respond to his need. She lifted her right hand halfway, almost ready to take the letter, when with her left hand she felt the outline of another letter inside the pocket of her dress and remembered her obligation to Wickham. She dropped her hand and lowered her head.
“Mr. Darcy, I . . . I cannot accept any letter from you or any other man. It would not be fitting and would constitute a lack of constancy on my part.”
“Constancy? I do not understand.” Darcy’s voice was incredulous at first, and then a certain knowing look descended over his face. “Are you saying you are attached to another, Miss Bennet?”
Elizabeth took a deep breath and nodded ever so slightly.
“But why have you not said so before? Why has no one spoken of it during our entire stay in Kent?”
“It is not common knowledge as of yet and may not be for some time. I would beg for your discretion.” Elizabeth looked extremely uncomfortable, unable to meet his gaze, and he seemed to sense her anguish.
“Of course,” he murmured, “you may be assured of my secrecy.” He looked away as though he would leave, but then anger flashed in his eyes. “I know not why your situation must be kept hidden, Miss Bennet, but any man who would ask you to do so is a fool, and he is not worthy of you.”
With that, he bowed, turned and walked away, leaving Elizabeth feeling surprisingly faint. She sank down upon a tree stump and found it quite hard to catch her breath.
What had she done? How could she have chosen Mr. Darcy, of all people, with whom to reveal her secret? A slip to Jane, her closest confidant, or even Charlotte, a life long friend, might have been excused, but to tell Mr. Darcy, a man whom she professed to dislike mightily? Of what could she have been thinking?
“Thinking had nothing to do with it,” she said aloud. “I saw the distress in his eyes, and I wanted to relieve it. I did not want him to suffer any more on my account.”
Jan Hahn is fascinated by Jane Austen, 19th Century England, and true love. Having spent years in the world of business, she is now content to leave it behind and concentrate on writing about Austen's characters finding true love in 19th Century England. A storyteller since childhood, she's written skits and plays for local organizations and owned a business recording, writing and publishing oral histories. Jan is a member of JASNA and began writing novels based on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice in 2002.Jan's first novel, An Arranged Marriage, won the award for Best Indie book of 2011 from Austen Prose. The Journey, published in 2012, was selected by Austen Prose as one of the Top Five Austen Inspired Historical Novels of 2012, and it won the Favorite Pride and Prejudice Variation/Alternate Path of 2012 award from Austenesque.
Jan has five children, seven grandchildren, and is a native Texan. In her dream world, she lives in England in a place called Pemberley.
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