Till You Or Jane Return..........
As Kitty went ahead with the young Gardiners inside, Jane and Elizabeth stayed with their Aunt and Uncle. The conversation between them were of the delights of travelling that was to avail them all during the coming weeks. Both Jane and Lizzy had been looking forward to this trip since their father decided to refuse Lydia's request to go to Brighton. As a result of their persuasion, Lydia had been inconsolable since.
"I am afraid I have some bad news," their Uncle began as they neared the boundaries of the pebbled driveway. "My business cannot allow me to go away for as long as we planned. We can only travel as far Derbyshire."
That last word ran through both his nieces thoughts with the same level of disappointment, although Elizabeth's had an underlying if somewhat fleeting dread at the possibilities such a trip to the county of her Aunt's birth might bring. However, she attempted to reveal little of it, and the slight hesitation that her voice carried on her query of "but Derbyshire has many beauties, has it not?" That was only noticed by Jane.
"Indeed," Aunt Gardiner answered readily, her enthusiasm for the county showing, "to me, Derbyshire is the best of all counties. You will judge for yourself if Chatsworth is not the equal of Blenhiem. And surely the Southern counties have nothing to compare to the wild and untamed beauty of the peaks."
A discussion on this topic ensued, mostly contributed by Jane and the Gardiners with Elizabeth entering no more than a partial word or two into the conversation. Any utterance on her part was confined to dispersing suspicions that her disappointment on not going to the lakes was nothing worse than her sisters. The reality however was quite different.
No sooner than Derbyshire entered the conversation than had Elizabeth formed the thought that a visit to the part of the county which her Aunt hailed from would soon be brought to air, and the revelation of the impossibility that any reasonable excuse could prevent it on her part.
The event that they would soon be in that part of the neighbour where he might be was all that could concern her present thoughts and the worry that someone might guess either correctly or incorrectly the import of her silence kept her ever more anxious to delay such an occasion.
Jane was perhaps the only one whose previous knowledge of her sister enabled her to determine the reason for her sister's lack of lively conversation for the majority of that one evening they were to spend at Longbourn before parting on the morrow. She resolved on speaking to her sister upon the instant that they retired for the night.
"The news that we only travel to Derbyshire distresses you, does it not, Lizzy?" Jane began as soon as they were in the comfort and privacy of Elizabeth's bedroom.
"Distress is perhaps too strong a word," Elizabeth replied as she sat down upon the bed opposite her sister.
"But you do wonder if the trip will bring us into contact with him?"
"I confess that I do." Elizabeth sighed. "Why do I even think it? He will still be in town."
Jane looked at her sister carefully. "Has your opinion of him changed?"
"Who could doubt such an opinion, formed on impartial foundations in the first place, would alter upon hearing the truth? My hatred of him is gone, it went a long time ago. Yet I can still not think of him without wondering at why I thought myself a judge of character, when I so blind as to not see the goodness in him."
She paused and then added in less wistful tones, "now, when I look back over our acquaintance, I see the things I could not detect before, due to my prejudice. The moments when all I saw was arrogance, I now only see reserve. He said to me once that he never performs to strangers, I always wondered what he meant until now."
Jane sat amazed. She had rarely seen her sister in such a state of self-doubt. Hesitantly, she asked the question she had been pondering on due to this revelation. "If you had seen this before, would you have said yes when he proposed?"
Elizabeth shook her head. "Jane, rest easy on that score. I do not regret that I refused him then, I only regret some of my past behaviour towards him. His proposal to me was completely still what I thought it to be when I heard it and until I hear otherwise I will not be swayed in that opinion. I still wish to marry for love. I'm sure if we meet in Derbyshire it will be as nothing more than indifferent or common acquaintances."
Little did Elizabeth realise how soon those words were to be tested and discarded.
Darcy looked up from his book as a knock upon his study door disturbed his reading. It opened to admit his friend. "Bingley, what brings you here at this time of night?"
"I have some news," his friend replied, taking the offered chair near him. "The party of guests to Pemberley is going to be short of three."
"Three?" Darcy queried in puzzlement, his mind still partly on the book that had occupied his attention for the last hour. He looked at his friend to find a smile on his face. The smile, usually such a common expression of Bingley's face, had been absent ever since they left........ Hertfordshire. Darcy inwardly groaned. He had to tell him.
"Louisa has decided to visit some relatives of Hurst's in Bath and is dragging Caroline and her husband along with her."
Darcy produced the first smile that he had had in weeks. "Charles, may I be frank with you, regardless of the fact that they are related to you?"
His friend readily nodded.
"Thank god!" Darcy uttered as his friend also broke into another grin. Mr Bingley had always regretted introducing Caroline to his best friend. It had forced Darcy to retreat even more into his reserved persona because of her efforts to attract him. Not to mention the effect on Georgiana.
Georgiana. Charles Bingley had to admit that he had enjoyed her company these past weeks when Caroline had left the two of them alone. But, he was not attracted to her. In fact her features and manners had if anything only served to remind him of a certain lady that resided in Meryton........
But to resume. He was also aware that Miss Darcy was still very much a young girl, even if she behaved in a manner far above her sixteen years. He knew perfectly that the only reason Darcy let the two of them be in company together was because he knew that he could trust his friend not to fall for Miss Darcy. Both his friend and Col. Fitzwilliam wanted her to be at least three years older before they presented her before London's Society, even if Caroline Bingley wanted to imagine her fantasies.
Darcy inwardly thanked the convenient relatives that saw fit to invite Louisa Hurst and company to Bath. Georgiana he knew would likewise be relieved. He had seen quite plainly through Miss Bingley's attempts to match make her brother to Georgie and he had been thankful that her success was limited, due his friend's understanding of Georgiana's situation.
It had taken a lot for Darcy to realise that confidence in his friend was vital after the aftermath of Hunsford. So he had sat Bingley down one night and told him of Wickham. His friend took it well and from that night Darcy had yet another ally in his cause to help his most beloved sister to come through her troubles.
The only thing that stood between him and Bingley was the one thing that Darcy was now beginning to regret. That was the fact he had kept secret Miss Bennet's presence from Bingley whilst they were both in London. After seeing Elizabeth- she was still Elizabeth in his mind, despite her refusal -Darcy had become convinced that he had been wrong in his judgement of Miss Jane Bennet's feelings for his friend. If her sister was sure of the affection, then so must he be.
Yet Darcy feared to tell him. He knew that Charles would resent him for keeping him from Miss Bennet, whom he had grieved for ever since they left Netherfield. Yet Darcy knew also that the confession had to be made. He would never had a hope of happiness if he did not.
The party had an early breakfast and then set off leisurely for Derbyshire, passing through Oxford, Blenhiem, Kenilworth and Warwick on the way. Everyone was in lively spirits, Elizabeth having resolved the night before to dwell on her Derbyshire acquaintance no longer than a few moments of quiet reflection each night and to remember the likelihood of the improbability of encountering him in the county they were to visit.
After one night of travel Mrs Gardiner soon brought up the proposal of visiting the village of her birth; Lambton. None of the party had any objection and so it was in this village's Inn that they spent their next night.
The morning soon brought the event that until now Elizabeth had dreaded in coming. Her emotions however had created in her mind a slight curiosity to see the estate, so it was to Jane's surprise that she expressed no great reluctance to visit Pemberley that very day.
The subject was aired at breakfast and the maid who served them encouraged their desire to see the place by confirming Mrs Gardiner's memories of the fine woods and grounds and the fact that the family were not in residence as yet for the summer.
They called for the carriage and soon they were riding in those same woods and grounds of which there were many as the estate was a good ten miles all round. Mrs Gardiner filled her nieces in of the journeys of youth spent in Lambton and the prosperity which the village had gained due to the estate and the excellent character of the late owner. Elizabeth was privately grateful that her Aunt, who had been of a comfortable but not wealthy background, had not known the Darcys by anything other than reputation.
At this point their Aunt stopped talking and motioned to their Uncle to stop the coach. Elizabeth and Jane turned to look in the direction of the opening valley and there found the reason for the sudden silence. Both gasped in amazement at the same time.
"Well," Mrs Gardiner began after awhile. "I think one would be willing to put with a great deal to be mistress of Pemberley."
"The mistress of Pemberley will have to put up with a great deal," their Uncle rejoined. "From what I hear."
"She's certainly not likely to be anybody we know." Mrs Gardiner turned to her nieces. "How do you like the house, Jane?"
"Its beautiful," Jane replied, still amazed and with a slight glance at her sister's face who seemed to have drifted into a world of her own thoughts once more.
"And you, Lizzy?" Mrs Gardiner asked, noticing the look that Jane directed to her sister and the one that Elizabeth herself was displaying. Rapidly Mrs Gardiner began to wonder if there was something more to her niece's acquaintance with Mr Darcy than she was telling.
"I do not think I have ever seen a building more happily situated," Elizabeth finally replied, her tone becoming slightly wistful. "I like it very well indeed."
"Shall we apply to the housekeeper then?" Her Uncle asked and was met with no resistance. Elizabeth was now even more anxious to see the house.
As the carriage continued into the estate, Jane attempted to try and change her Uncle and Aunt's impression of the owner, which Lizzy had led them to form. "I think Mr Darcy is not so very bad you know. He was always courteous to me."
"Really?" Mrs Gardiner queried, her quick mind having begun to detect already the nature of the past history Mr Darcy shared with her niece.
"Yes, I even remember Lizzy saying once in company that Mr Darcy improved upon closer acquaintance. Looking back on it all, I am of the opinion that he may have been merely very reserved, possibly even shy."
"But this does nothing to his treatment of Mr Wickham," their Aunt remarked, hoping to force her second niece into conversation as it was becoming obvious now that Jane was plainly attempting to lessen their dislike of the owner of Pemberley for some deeper reason than just that they were visiting his house.
"I have since learnt, Aunt, that Mr Wickham's story may have some errors in essentials," Elizabeth finally said, in a vain attempt to deflect the conversation from where she feared it would eventually end up. Her Aunt however immediately asked for the identity of her source and Elizabeth was forced to refer to Darcy's cousin dropping some hints during an entirely fictitious conversation at Rosings Park.
The carriage meanwhile had arrived at its destination. The party put rest to the present conversation and departed from the vehicle as the housekeeper stepped out to greet them. Her name was Mrs Reynolds and she had obviously been with the family for a long time as her knowledge of the house was laced with references to both the present owner and the past.
After passing through Lady Anne Darcy's study the entered into the music room where a Boardwood Grand stood pride of place by the window in the room. The room itself was like what most of the house had been so far, light and airy, with overtures of elegance, taste and sophistication, but not to the degree of going too indulgent like Rosings.
In fact, so far it had appeared to Elizabeth to be perfect and entirely equal to her tastes. Rapidly she was beginning to realise how wrong some of ill-conceived notions about its owner were. There had not been one part of Pemberley that she disliked.
Her approval of it was so good that it had driven her to comment while admiring the prospect from the music room window, "of this place I might have been mistress." The comment however was quickly dashed away by the realisation that her relatives would not have been able to visit. It was a lucky recollection, it saved her from something like regret.
She turned away from the view just as her sister inquired after the piano. Mrs Reynolds was instantly all attentive.
"Oh it has just come down. Its a present from my master for Miss Georgiana."
Elizabeth came over at that point as Jane asked if Miss Darcy would be delighted at the gift. Mrs Reynolds immediately replied in the positive.
"Oh to be sure! Whatever is able to please or delight her is sure to be done by my master in an instant. There is nothing he would not do for her."
"Your master is from home we understand?" Mr Gardiner commented at that point as he and their Aunt neared the end of the room.
"He is indeed but we expect him here tomorrow, sir," Mrs Reynolds replied, causing Elizabeth to utter an inward sigh of relief. "He is coming with a large party of friends and Miss Georgiana." She paused and then continued just as they reached the last item in the room, a recent portrait of a young woman. "This portrait was painted last year for her sixteenth birthday."
"She is a handsome young lady," Mr Gardiner commented.
"Yes indeed, and so accomplished! She plays and sings all day long."
"Lizzy, Jane!" Mrs Gardiner called at that moment. "Come and look at this."
The two went out into the corridor followed by the housekeeper and their uncle to look at the small open cabinet which Mrs Gardiner had been interested in. Inside the glass top lay a number of portraits. "This picture reminds me very much of someone we know."
"This one ma'am?" Mrs Reynolds queried, as Elizabeth and Jane identified the man. "That gentleman is Mr Wickham. He's gone into the army now, but he's turned out very wild. And that's my master and very like him too."
"Well it is a handsome face but I've never seen the original. Is it like him Lizzy?" Mrs Gardiner asked as she noticed her niece gaze at the portrait thoughtfully.
"Does this young lady know the master?" Mrs Reynolds asked, pleased to receive a confirmation in reply. "And do you think him handsome, Miss?"
Elizabeth could not help but blush as she answered, "yes, very handsome."
"Yes he is handsome and so kind."
"Indeed." Mr Gardiner inferred as Mrs Reynolds wanted to continue.
"Yes. I've never had a cross word from him in my life and I've known him since he was four years old. But then I've always observed that they who are good natured as children, are good natured when they grow up."
"His father was an excellent man," Mrs Gardiner remarked next.
"Yes and his son will be just like him. An excellent master and landlord. Ask any of his tenants or his servants. Some people call him proud, but I daresay that is because he does not rattle away, like some men do. Now if you will follow me, there is a much larger finer portrait of him, in the gallery upstairs."
Darcy rose early the next morning after their arrival at a village not several miles from Lambton. He and his friend, his sister and her companion Mrs Annesley had travelled for two days from London to arrive ahead of schedule a few miles from Pemberley. Now, as he moved to look out the window at the landscape he suddenly became aware of his desire to be at his home estate.
However that desire also brought some pain. Before his disastrous proposal at Hunsford he had imagined travelling with his bride to his country home, thinking it to be a soon and real possibility. Fate instead had dealt him a bitter hand. Darcy sighed. It was one of resignation. He had to face his future. He might as well get it over with.
With this resolution in mind he turned from the window and walked back to the table. Scribbling a quick note to his friend and sister that business with his steward required him to travel a day earlier than planned, Darcy then made his departure.
Darcy would remark later his regret at this aforementioned decision, although his life prospered the better for it. Actually it was not his first decision that he regretted, it was the one that he had made afterwards as he found himself desiring a respite from a hot ride.
However as he had stood by that lake ready to dive in, the motion had felt completely right. It had been a desire for release from everything that he had become involved in since the day he had left Rosings. A desire to be his true self, free of all the trappings of society.
After, as he rose from the water refreshed, Darcy thanked the lord in his mind for his wisdom in sending Caroline and her sister away. He, Bingley and Georgiana would enjoy this stay at Pemberley.
Little did he realise the truth of that.
All through the tour Elizabeth's thoughts had been in a permanent state of wonder at the reports of Mr Darcy from his housekeeper. Assured as she had been by his letter, of her errors against part of Mr Darcy's character, her thoughts on his pride and arrogance had still yet to be disproved.
To hear then from Mrs Reynolds, who as his housekeeper and having an intimate acquaintance with him since his childhood, had an authority on him which could not be doubted, the aforementioned account of him, her reaction was no less than what was to be expected. She was shocked indeed.
At herself this emotion was at its majority. To be assured of being an excellent studier of character, only to be proved quite clearly wrong by this account of one gentleman was mortifying indeed. Compounded as it was by the letter, Elizabeth was found to be deep in thought as they walked to the gallery, concerning her behaviour regarding him and whether her conviction in treating him harshly was a safe one.
At last his likeness was arrested upon, this time a full length version and taken sometime after the miniature that was in the stairwell. Elizabeth soon beheld before her a portrait that bore startling resemblance to the Mr Darcy she knew. His expression held a smile, one which she remembered sometimes having been upon him when he looked at her.
She stood looking at the portrait for several minutes in earnest contemplation, taking care to return to it when they quitted the gallery. Mrs Reynolds informed them that it had been taken during his father's lifetime.
After this they were given to the gardener for a tour of the grounds. Elizabeth followed Jane and Mr and Mrs Gardiner at a distance, more preoccupied with thoughts on her justification of her opinion of Mr Darcy as the most proudest, arrogant, disagreeable gentleman of her acquaintance.
It was an opinion that she had long realised, was prejudiced by her fondness for Wickham. Now that she knew the truth she had begun to see that all her instances with Mr Darcy had only convinced her to feel justified in forming her dislike of him, was because his reluctance to perform in front of strangers which had made him appear proud and reserved.
Just as she was pondering on these thoughts she had happened to walk down to the lake that lay in front of Pemberley. There she was brought rushing back to reality by a rustle in the tall grass nearby. No sooner than she had raised her gaze to in the direction, than she was accosted by the appearance of a soaking wet Mr Darcy.
She is here. That was the first thought which ran through his mind. She is here!
"Mr Darcy!" She gasped.
And that was when he realised his appearance. "Miss Bennet!" Was all he could say in reply.
"I did not expect to see you, sir," she continued. "We understood all the family were from home and we never would have presumed......."
"I er arrived a day early," Darcy replied as she trailed off in embarrassment. We? With a great deal of effort he managed to withdraw his gaze from the vision in front of him to notice that Miss Bennet and another lady along with a gentleman who looked to be fashionable, standing a few yards away. Rapidly he enquired after her family, as another thought ran through his brain. I must invite all of them to return here, as soon as I have told Bingley everything.
"They are well, I thank you sir."
It is I who needs to do the thanking, Elizabeth. "How long have you been in this part of the country?"
"But two days , sir."
"And where are you staying?"
"At the Inn at Lambton."
"Yes, of course." Where else, idiot! Darcy found himself overwhelmed by nervousness. He had to get out of there, fast. He must encounter her again before she left. Preferably in dryer clothing. He inquired after her family once more and then excused himself.
After Elizabeth had got over her shock, her first thought was to get out of there as quickly as possible. Rapidly she returned to her sister, who was still marvelling at the sight she had just witnessed. "We must leave at once!" Elizabeth cried, startling her.
Jane looked at her sister in surprise. "Lizzy, we cannot leave without taking leave of the owner first. What was it he said to you?"
"Oh nothing of importance!" Elizabeth cried as she began to walk quickly to the carriage. Jane had to run slightly to catch up with her. Why was he so civil? After all I said to him at Hunsford! What must he think of me? He must hate me surely. Yet why was he just as embarrassed as myself? Looking so undeniably handsome in that soaking wet shirt...... Lizzy! Where in the name of all things holy did that come from?
point she had reached the carriage and would have stepped into it if not a voice
had suddenly accosted her so.
When Darcy had emerged from the house more decently attired, his first thought was to find the carriage that had conveyed Miss Elizabeth and her party for he felt sure that she would be wanting to leave. She probably never wanted to see you again Darcy, his thoughts added, after all that you have said to her.
Then he spotted the carriage. Racing down the stairs he walked rapidly through the archway and came to a halt in front of the woman that he had long realised he now loved more than ever. "Miss Elizabeth, please allow to apologise," for many things, "for not receiving you properly just now. You are not leaving?" Stay, stay, stay!
"Yes, sir, I fear we must."
No, no, no. "I hope you're not displeased with Pemberley?"
"Not at all." Elizabeth's voice well betrayed her approval but he had to confirm it.
"Then you approve of it?"
"Very much. But I think that there are few who would not."
"But your good opinion is so rarely bestowed and therefore more worth the earning." Dear god, that was the most direct response I have ever heard you speak, Fitzwilliam Darcy! If you do mean to make her like you, could you please refrain from being quite so obvious about it? "Miss Bennet," Darcy rapidly began, turning to her sibling whom he had only just noticed come to join them. "It is a pleasure to see you again. I hope you also approve of Pemberley."
"It is indeed a beautiful place."
"Thank you." Darcy paused. "Would you do me the honour of introducing me to your friends, Miss Elizabeth?"
What will he think when he realises? He must have mistaken them for people of society! "Of course. Mr and Mrs Edward Gardiner, Mr Darcy. Mrs Gardiner is our Aunt, sir, whom we recently spent some time with at their house in Cheapside."
Darcy flinched as he detected the emphasis on their living. Nevertheless, it did not, would not destroy his civility, nor his attempt to improve himself. Good God, she hates me still! "Delighted to make you acquaintance. I understand you are staying at Lambton."
"Yes. I grew up there as a girl." Mrs Gardiner answered.
"Delightful village," Darcy commented. "I remember running to Lambton almost everyday as a boy. There was one very fine tree there, I remember......"
Mrs Gardiner smiled as she recalled the specimen of which he was speaking. "On the green by the Smithy."
"The very one," Darcy acknowledged as he spied Miss Elizabeth looking at him in wonder. Yes, I am being civil. I hope you approve, my darling. "Mr Gardiner do you care for fishing?"
"Indeed I do, sir," the gentleman replied. "When I get the chance of it."
"Then you must come and fish in my trout stream," Darcy offered, a gratis he made to any of his tenants and visitors. "Or there's pike, carp and trench in the lake sir, if your bent runs to course fishing. I'm sure one of my men could show you the best spots. Let us walk down there now." He turned to the coachmen. "Follow us to the lake, my man will show you."
With this last to the carriage driver, Mr Darcy walked off with her Uncle, happily in conversation, leaving Elizabeth in complete and utter surprise. How could I have been so blind! Is this really the gentleman I refused? He is so different! Is this due to me?
Her Aunt's opinion meanwhile was only to comment, "is this the proud Darcy you spoke of? He is all ease and friendliness, no false dignity at all."
Elizabeth took a cautious look at her aunt. She well knew her quick mind and was already fearing the hazarding that Mrs Gardiner would be engaging upon concerning herself and Mr Darcy. Rapidly Elizabeth assumed calmness. "I am as astonished as you are. I cannot imagine what has affected this transformation."
Mrs Gardiner looked at her niece strangely. "Can you not?" She asked before turning her gaze to her husband and the gentleman in question who had by now reached the lake and were talking together about it, with various gestures by the latter as he attempted to point out the best spots to be had.
Elizabeth, fearing that last look from her Aunt, had been occupied with trying to think of something to deflect Mrs Gardiner's curiosity, when she suddenly found it had been taken away, by her removal to Mr Gardiner's arm for support. Elizabeth smiled grimly. She knew that her Aunt, despite all present appearances to the contrary, was not one to be fatigued so easily, and therefore her motives lay in another direction.
Whether Elizabeth herself welcomed this occurrence was yet to be determined in her own mind. She turned to look at her sister and then one more glance at the house itself, before her concentration was directed at something- or rather someone -else.
Darcy had began to draw away from Mr Gardiner almost upon the event of his wife's joining them. Turning slowly he saw Elizabeth gazing at the house. Idly he realised how much it gratified him that Elizabeth approved of Pemberley, even though he knew it was not the right time to be dwelling on such emotions. His mission to show her by every aspect of his command that he had changed, must remain paramount. He advanced towards her.
Elizabeth turned and saw Mr Darcy standing nearby. He gestured to the path ahead and after a little hesitation, she decided to join him. For awhile there was silence between the two as they started to head towards the first flight of steps, while Jane and the Gardiners followed them at a distance behind. When they did finally speak, it was simultaneously. Darcy however, asked Miss Elizabeth to continue first.
"I was going to say again sir, how very unexpected your arrival was. If we had know you were to be here, we would never have presumed.....Your housekeeper assured us that you were not expected until the morrow."
At this point Darcy felt it best to interfere. "Please, do not make yourself uneasy, Miss Elizabeth. I had planned it so myself. But I found upon arriving at ______ that business with my steward required me to." He dared not reveal what his real reason for travelling a day earlier than planned.
Indeed he was most thankful that he had, and not for his previous desires. All that had been done away, the instant he had encountered her. Slowly he removed his gaze from her to look ahead. "They will join me tomorrow, Charles and Georgiana."
Elizabeth gasped in surprise, followed shortly by her sister, whose distance behind them was not great enough to prevent them being inaudible to her. "Forgive me, sir, but we had understood from your housekeeper that it was to be a large party."
"It was to be so, but Mrs Hurst received a letter from a family friend at the last moment, while we were still in town. She, along with her husband and Miss Bingley were invited to visit and so were forced to decline my invitation to Pemberley. I thought it best not to inform Mrs Reynolds by letter, as we would undoubtedly arrive before it. I therefore decided to wait."
Darcy paused to think a moment upon his next wish. He had not missed the gasp of Miss Bennet and convinced as he already was by her sister's admission that Miss Bennet cared a great deal for his friend, he knew that to invite them to return was imperative. First though, he had to introduce a reason for it. Looking away from her, his request finally came out in a rush.
"Georgiana will be most pleased to learn of your visit here. Would you allow me to,..... or do I ask too much, for me to introduce my sister to you, during your stay at Lambton?"
Elizabeth was amazed. Such a wish from Miss Darcy must be due to the person who was walking beside at this moment. To know that she was still held in high regard by this man despite her refusal, was a surprise indeed. She could not help but reply, "I would be honoured to make her acquaintance."
"Thank you," Darcy rapidly returned, his voice displaying both affection and gratitude, although neither party realised it at the time. They walked on in silence, each far too occupied with their thoughts to even attempt conversation.
Darcy was gratified that Elizabeth wanted to meet his sister. He dared not hope yet that this was due to him or to his letter, not knowing yet whether she truly believed him over his childhood friend. He was also struck by their walking together, by her approval of Pemberley, her willingness to meet his sister, her anxiousness to assure him that they had never meant to impose.
Darcy was most grateful that he had formed the resolution of travelling a day earlier than planned and not seeking fit to warn his housekeeper of the change, for it would have prevented this wonderful meeting.
Elizabeth's thoughts were still of wonderment. She had not expected to see him again. Yet here he was. She had not expected for him to treat her with civility in light of their past, and yet he had. She had not expected any preference, yet here he was wanting her to meet his sister. It was all too surprising and Elizabeth could not help but fear of what was to come. Not because of any social event, but of the nature of her thoughts and feelings and, more importantly, of his.
Did he still care for her? Did she want him to? Elizabeth could not be sure. She no longer hated him, except possibly where it concerned her sister, but by his very mention of Mr Bingley to them could signal that this final barrier about to be done away. The question she had to concern herself with now was that if indeed he were to seek her hand again, would she welcome it?
Almost immediately she brushed the question away. A man who had been refused!?! Surely he would never want to ask her again. Yet another side of Lizzy's thoughts were insisting on that possibility. After all, he had overcome his objections enough to ask her in the first place, why should there be any reason to doubt that her objections could be overcome?
Just Elizabeth found herself unable to go on thinking, they had reached the carriage. Darcy offered her some refreshment inside, which she decided to refuse. She needed to get away, if only briefly, in order to better sort out her thoughts and emotions.
However, until then she must show him that at present she welcomed his company. Rapidly she searched for a suitable topic to air. Calmly, she recollected that they had been travelling. A discussion of Derbyshire, along with other counties soon arose thus, filling time until Mr and Mrs Gardiner and Jane arrived.
Darcy again offered all of them refreshment and again it was gently refused. The party chose instead to depart, so he had the previously unlooked for task of handing Elizabeth into the carriage. He felt all the emotion of the occasion that it afforded, and if he had held her hand for a little longer than was deemed proper, it was noticed not.
As for Elizabeth her only thoughts were that he had done it. That was his will and his hand alone that had placed her in the carriage. She felt his touch to be warm and instinctively bestowed upon him a word and look of gratitude. Needless to say the other persons in the carriage noticed this instantly.
The carriage then drove away and Darcy stayed watching it until it faded into nothingness.
It pleased him most of all to notice that Miss Elizabeth looked back.
It is a well established fact that there comes a time in one's life when one realises how great it would be if one had an Aunt like Madeline Gardiner. Such a woman, with her talent for discovering the inner feelings of the soul, should be cherished.
Mrs Gardiner had already established by the time the carriage had returned to Lambton, that Mr Darcy was quite clearly in love with her niece Elizabeth. But whether Elizabeth returned those feelings, she had yet to ascertain. She knew that her niece received his attentions with pleasure while they were at Pemberley, but it was a pleasure tingled with embarrassment, and nervousness, two character traits that Mrs Gardiner did not often find in her favourite niece.
It spoke of a much longer and more intimate acquaintance with Mr Darcy that Madeline had not any idea of existing until now. Already her mind was resolved to lengthen their stay in Lambton, for with herself and her husband as chaperones, the hoped for romance would get on much better than in Hertfordshire.
Elizabeth was not the only reason that Mrs Gardiner wished to lengthen her stay. She was also anxious to meet Mr Bingley and see if he was truly deserving of her eldest niece. If he was, that romance would be helped along as well, for Madeline had no desire to encounter the Jane who had stayed with them in London after Christmas. She wished her nieces to be happy, and that she was determined to find them so, by the end of this trip.
As for Jane, whose feelings have yet to be commented on, she was preparing herself to meet Mr Bingley, if indeed she did, with the best of her manners as a common and indifferent acquaintance. Her own emotions at this moment did not matter. Yes, she still loved Mr Bingley, yes she would long to hear that his own feelings were the same, but it was not to be dwelt upon at this time.
She was also anxious to talk to her sister, for the majority of conversation that had taken place between Elizabeth and Mr Darcy had not escaped her hearing and she had listened to it all with more and more increasing surprise. Due to her own reserved nature Jane had the ability to detect others and she could see Mr Darcy did still love her sister. She could also see what no one else had yet been able to. That Elizabeth was in love with Mr Darcy herself, but had yet to realise it.
Darcy would have remained standing in the same spot where he had bid her farewell until the dawn of the next day, if it had not been for his housekeeper's arrival.
Truth be known, Mrs Reynolds had been watching her master since his arrival via the servant's entrance, as he dashed to his apartments to change. She had noticed it with amusement, wondering if perhaps he had encountered the family that was visiting. Now as she came upon him outside, she had begun to determine that one person of the party meant something to her master, for he had never shown such attentiveness to visitors before.
"Are you well, sir?" She now enquired, breaking his reverie.
Darcy started and turned. "Yes, thank you Mrs Reynolds I am quite well."
Mrs Reynolds looked at her master, whose face seemed to be lit up with a smile. She had not seen such a smile upon his face since his parents, god rest their souls, had been alive. "The visitors I hope were not unwelcome, sir?"
Darcy looked carefully at his housekeeper. She seemed to be deliberately misunderstanding him. Well, he would need some help in this, and who better than the woman who knew him better than he knew himself? "No, Kate, quite the contrary."
Mrs Reynold's inwardly smiled. For her master to drop formalities was a sign that he wished for her support and advice. The woman must mean something very special.
"I wish for Miss Elizabeth Bennet to be treated with the utmost cordiality," Darcy announced after a pause and Mrs Reynolds noticed the softening of tone when he said Elizabeth. She had in fact seen that young woman's preoccupation with her master's portrait in the Long Gallery and at the time wondered the reason why. Now she could determine it beyond a doubt.
"Of course sir," She replied. "May I say, William, that Miss Elizabeth seemed most pleased with Pemberley. She admired the prospect from the Music room for quite some time."
Darcy smiled. "You may say that and more, Kate." He paused and then added quickly, "Mr Bingley's sisters and brother in law were required somewhere else and so shall not be coming. I do intend however to have guests for dinner tomorrow."
"The party that just left?"
"Yes. Would you inform Mr Laqocuin that I wish him to prepare something... special for tomorrow's meal. I wish for the guests to enjoy the full advantages that Pemberley has to offer."
"Of course sir."
As soon as Darcy could spy the carriage the next morning he was outside waiting for it to draw to a stop. He wanted to confess to Bingley as quickly as he could and get him and Georgiana over to Lambton before the Gardiner's and their nieces left the Inn.
Miss Darcy was indeed most surprised to see her brother brimming with happiness as he helped her down from the carriage. It not an emotion that he had displayed recently. Mr Bingley noticed it likewise.
"Bingley, can I speak to you for a moment?" Darcy asked when the carriage had been drive away. His friend nodded eagerly, making Darcy dread even more what he had to relay.
The three went into the house and while Georgiana went off to the left, Darcy and Bingley went of to the right, where the Library was located. Once inside Darcy began.
"Bingley, I have a confession to make. When we were in town earlier this year, I deliberately concealed from you a piece of information for reasons which I now realise were purely selfish and were based upon a failure to recognise your feelings." He paused and looked at his friend, who was waiting expectantly for the rest. Taking a deep breath, Darcy let out the next part. "Charles, Jane Bennet was in town."
Bingley had not been expecting this. He walked rapidly away from his friend. "You knew she was in town and you concealed it from me?"
Darcy flinched. He had never seen his friend so angry. "I am sorry to say that I did. I have no excuse for my actions. At the time I believed I was acting in your best interests. I realise now that my logic was flawed in the extreme."
"Who else knew?" Bingley asked grimly. "Tell me," he added, seeing Darcy hesitate.
"Your sisters, for Miss Bennet visited them and Miss Bingley returned the call."
Bingley began to pace. Darcy watched him in dread. He had expected his friend to be angry, indeed he had every right to be so. But this silence was beginning to unnerve him. Finally Bingley came to a stop. Looking at Darcy, he asked quietly. "You admit you were in the wrong?"
"Utterly and completely."
"Then why did you not tell of this before?"
Darcy visibly relaxed at this. "It is a long story, Charles. However, before I relay, that is if you wish to hear it, there is something else which made me tell you this today."
Bingley looked at him; waiting.
"When I arrived here yesterday, I encountered the two eldest Miss Bennets with their Aunt and Uncle, touring the place. They are staying in Lambton, Bingley. And I am sure Miss Bennet would welcome a visit from you."
His friend had a large smile upon his face. "Thank you Darcy." Pausing he sat down on the sofa he was near. "Now, tell me this story of yours. I may have been melancholy these past weeks, but your own silence has not escaped me. What is it that troubles you?"
Darcy sat down opposite his friend. "Charles," he began, using his friend's first name, to signify the importance of it, "when I left town for Kent I was under my own demons. I did not expect any enjoyment at Rosings. Imagine my surprise then when I found Miss Elizabeth Bennet to be staying at Hunsford.
"I do not suppose you noticed my strange behaviour, but if you did, it was because of that young lady. In Kent, I realised for the first time, that I had found the woman who I wanted to spend the rest of my life with."
Bingley looked at him with open mouth and wide eyes. "You are in love with Miss Elizabeth Bennet? I had not the slightest idea!"
"I did not intend you to. At the time I thought I had to fight the attraction. I arrogantly believed that she was my inferior and that her situation was beneath me. It had been those objections that I made to you concerning her sister, that I found myself throwing away and proposing to her."
"You proposed to her? After all that you....... Darce, this is too incredible."
"I know, believe me. She refused me, if you had not already gathered. She had every right to do so. I was so arrogant. I did not deserve her. Her response caused me to realise all of this. Since then I have tried to change my character for the better......."
"So that is why you were so different at Lord Rushton's ball," Bingley interrupted, everything suddenly becoming clear to him. "So, you met her and Miss Bennet- such an angel -yesterday?"
"I did. I tried to show her by every civility in my power that I had learnt from my errors. I wanted her opinion of me to be altered. I have little reason to hope it will be. But she has accepted my request to introduce her to Georgiana."
"Then, she must have changed her opinion, Darce! Have hope my friend!" Bingley, as always, optimistic in his thoughts when it concerned the well being of others and not himself.
"I planned to take Georgiana over today. Would you be willing to accompany us?"
"Certainly." Bingley grinned. His friend for once did not roll his eyes at the motion.
A few minutes later Darcy found his sister in the Music Room, marvelling in delight over the new Boardwood Grand which was residing there.
"William, it is beautiful, I do not deserve such a wonderful present!"
Darcy smiled and returned the hug that she had rushed to give him. "Georgiana, do not distress yourself. You have needed a new pianoforte for a long time now. Anything that gives you pleasure, I do not hesitate in trying to accomplish."
"In that case I thank you, William."
"Georgie, I have some news. Would you be willing to have a quick breakfast and join me on a little visit to Lambton? There is someone I wish for you to meet."
Elizabeth had settled it that Mr Darcy would bring his sister to visit her the day after Miss Darcy's arrival at Pemberley. She therefore was most surprised when the maid walked in announcing the three visitors the very morning after her visit to Pemberley.
This surprise had not a long power over her however. Last night she had resolved to be all kindness to Mr Darcy when she did inevitably encounter him again. If he could be civil to her, then she could be civil to him. She could no longer deny that she had forgiven him, that she no longer hated him, that she liked him, but how far that went was the one thing she was not entirely sure of, as yet.
The visitors were admitted. Mr Darcy was his usual self, at least from yesterday. Behind him was a tall young girl, a contrast to his looks, with blond hair. And behind her..... Elizabeth heard her sister draw a startled gasp. She herself had been more prepared for this. It was Mr Bingley, who just gazed adoringly at Jane, even if the lady herself could not raise her eyes to meet his.
Darcy stepped forward to greet Mr and Mrs Gardiner once more, apologising for if he had disturbed them by coming so early. They replied in kind, and he turned briefly, to beckon the young woman towards him. Turning to Elizabeth began, "Miss Elizabeth, this is my sister. Georgiana, this is Miss Elizabeth Bennet."
Elizabeth could not fail to see it this time. Miss Darcy's nervousness was plain from her gentle "How do you do?" She replied immediately. "I am delighted meet you Miss Darcy, I have heard so much about you."
"And I about you."
After the introductions were over, Elizabeth drew Miss Darcy a little away from everyone else, mainly so she would not feel so nervous. "I understand that you are fond of music and play very well."
Miss Darcy's eyes lit up. "Oh not very well. But I am fond of music. I should dearly like to hear you play and sing. My brother tells me that he has rarely heard anything which gave him more pleasure."
Elizabeth could not avoid a blush. Glancing at Mr Darcy, who was quite calmly talking to her Aunt and Uncle, she replied, "I shall, but I warn you your brother has grossly exaggerated my talents. No doubt for some mischievous reason of his own."
"Oh no, that could not be so," Miss Darcy replied earnestly. "My brother never exaggerates, he always tells the absolute truth. Although sometimes I think he is a little too kind to me."
"An ideal elder brother then?"
"Oh yes! I could not have a better or a more kinder one."
"You make me feel quite envious. I have no brothers at all, only four sisters."
"I would have liked to have a sister."
Elizabeth could not fail to notice the implication. Mr Darcy quite clearly had one ally in his quest, if it was still his quest. "I fear that mine are something of a mixed blessing. Jane however, is truly the ideal sister in every respect."
"That is the lady talking to Ch... I mean Mr Bingley?" Miss Darcy paused in embarrassment. "My brother introduced me to his friend a long time ago. I feel as if he is another brother."
Elizabeth smiled. A willing ally for both possible alliances. She wondered what Miss Bingley would have looked like upon hearing this. "Yes, that is Jane. Willing to see good in everyone."
There was a slight pause as Miss Darcy glanced at her brother, as if asking him for his advice in what to do next. Darcy caught her gaze and nodded, looking at her encouragingly. "Miss Bennet, my brother and I would be honoured if you, your sister and your Aunt and Uncle would join us for dinner this evening, if that is acceptable?"
Now it was Elizabeth's turn to glance at a relative and confirm their acceptance. "We should be delighted. I know I speak for all of us when I say that we have no fixed plans."
Miss Darcy smiled joyfully, as did her brother, who had overheard the last. "And will we hear you play?"
Elizabeth smiled. "If you insist upon it, yes you shall."
As Darcy surveyed the preparations by his household for the evening, he mulled over the morning's previous visitation. To his mind there had been little to regret, and much to derive hope from. The Gardiners, although from the part of town which until April he would have shunned with dignity, he had found to be just as pleasant and as amiable as any of his relatives.
Mrs Gardiner in particular reminded him much of his own Aunt. Darcy was sure already that the lady suspected something he had tried to hide as much as possible, his exact prior history with her niece.
The eldest Miss Bennet from what he had seen of her had proved to him beyond all doubt what a mistake he had made in separating her from his friend. Her countenance had lightened up upon his immediate entrance and Bingley's attentions had been only to her.
Finally, as Darcy came to the Music room, which he intended as the room to which they would retire after dinner this evening, he allowed his thoughts to surrender upon what he knew now, had known for quite some time in fact, the love of his life, Elizabeth Bennet.
She had been her usual self, as far as he was an authority to judge, although one blessing was that the humour that she previously upbraided him with was gone. They had seemed to reach an amicable understanding with each other, one which Darcy hoped would progress into the relationship that featured in his dreams.
At this revelation Darcy sank into the nearest chair. Already it seemed, his mind was contemplating whether or not to try his luck during her stay in Derbyshire, providing he had enough time to change her opinion of him. It was not that he did not wish to ask her, quite the contrary in fact, it was just that he was unsure if he was worthy to do so.
He no longer considered himself her superior, after all, he was a gentleman, she was a gentleman's daughter, as such they were equal. In terms of character however, she was in every way his. If he was ever going to be her equal in that sense, it would take time and he was sure, longer than he could hope to have of her stay in the shire that contained his home.
The double doors of the room opened at the moment and his sister walked in, sheets of music in her arms in preparation for the evening recital. Darcy smiled. How Miss Elizabeth had managed to persuade his sister to perform for them all that night was beyond him, although he had half suspected that her agreement to favour them with one herself had something to do with it.
Recovered almost as she was, Darcy knew that Georgiana still trembled at the thought of playing for any one but those of long standing acquaintance and it had been most gratifying to him, when he had heard her acceptance to Miss Elizabeth's request during that morning visit. It was one of the tools that she would need to accomplish preferably before her first Season, and Darcy hoped to see that fear finally won over. Miss Elizabeth seemed to be a good influence for both of them.
Their first meeting had gone even better than Darcy had dared hoped for. Georgiana had been so anxious to like Miss Elizabeth and to be liked back, that it could not have gone otherwise. He hoped to see their intimacy improve over the course of this stay.
Which reminds me, I must ascertain as casually as I can, how long they do intend to stay in Lambton. And if perhaps, I can persuade them to stay at Pemberley, if the fates preside on my fortune.
Georgiana turned at that moment to find that her brother was still in the room. "William?" She carefully asked.
Darcy looked up to find his sister observing him attentively. "Yes Georgie, what is it?"
"You like Miss Elizabeth a great deal, do you not?"
"I do." Darcy replied, solemnly.
His sister did not miss the implication of those words. "May I ask how long you have known her?"
Darcy smiled. Gesturing for her to sit down next to him, he began to tell her the story.
Not one who was usually nervous at the prospect of a social evening, it was with surprise that Elizabeth found herself to experiencing this very emotion from the moment she and Jane retired to dress just prior to leaving the Inn. She also found herself unconsciously taking her time as well as care in her attire, as if her mind desired to create an impression upon the hosts.
All right, Elizabeth sighed as she rejoined her Aunt outside, I can deny it to myself no longer. I am hoping to create a good impression.
Her view on the morning's visit was just as satisfactory as our hero's, although her satisfaction differed slightly in its origins. She was pleased to learn that Wickham's authority on the Darcy family was now false in every respect. Miss Darcy was a shy, but wonderful young woman and quite cunning when the occasion called for it, as was possibly shown today.
Her request for Elizabeth to play was one that Elizabeth could not, nor want to refuse and a glance at the brother afterwards, showed her that it must have been of Miss Darcy's own devising. Further surprise was shown on his face when she persuaded his sister to return the gesture by playing as well.
At this point, as the carriage drew away from the Inn and on to the path for Pemberley, Elizabeth's mind began to consider her feelings on the realisation that Mr Darcy had been at times, if not entirely, listening to her conversation with his sister. There were two ways in which she could take it.
That he was anxious as to how their meeting went, or that he listening just in case his sister needed help. Both reasons, incidentally, were indicative of the same emotion, although at this time Elizabeth could not accept the possibility that Mr Darcy still cared for her, nor even consider whether or not she wanted him to.
Her Aunt at that moment called her back to reality. Elizabeth looked at Mrs Gardiner, in wait for a continuation of the query.
"Has your acquaintance with Mr Darcy been of a longer nature that I am unaware of? You seem to be unusually preoccupied this evening."
Elizabeth looked carefully at Mrs Gardiner. "Aunt, please do not ask me yet. I do not think I am ready to tell."
Madeline Gardiner had already seen the confusion in her niece's eyes and so for the present silently accepted her request.
They arrived at Pemberley a few minutes later.
"I say Darcy,.... Darcy?"
Silence. Complete silence.
His friend finally looked up.
"You're beginning to wear out a hole in the drive."
With a great deal of effort, Darcy forced himself to stop the circuit that he had been doing for the past twenty minutes or so. He turned his eyes instead to the view ahead, which despite all his- and his friend's -hopes, had yet to show any sign of a carriage. Not that the guests were late, indeed if they showed now they would be early. However it seemed to Darcy that he had been waiting for an eternity.
At last, he could detect a carriage. Bingley smiled at his friend and went inside to alert Georgiana and partly to try and calm his own nerves. A lot of things could happen tonight and all would have the potential to change their lives forever.
For Elizabeth the night seemed to possess a magical quality to it. From the moment she arrived her nervousness disappeared, to be replaced by awe as she witnessed Mr Darcy's increasing kindness towards not only herself, but her family.
Nothing that was to be done to make their evening more pleasurable that he did not do himself. His attentiveness knew no limits and if Madeline Gardiner had had any doubts about the extent of his regard, they were all done away by the events of the evening.
After a sumptuous and magnificent dinner, they retired to the Music Room, where Miss Darcy timidly prevailed on Miss Elizabeth to fulfil her promise, to which Elizabeth did not hesitate in accepting. She stationed herself in front of the piano and began to select a piece, taking care to choose something that she could manage to play with a reasonable facade of artistry, for it had been a long while since she had practised.
In vain she tried not to notice that their host had taken a seat which commanded the best view of the piano.
Darcy sat through the entire recital entranced. For him it was as if the rest of the room's occupants did not exist and it was only him and Elizabeth Bennet present in the room. His applause was the last to finish, something which none of his guests missed.
"Can you not play again, you played that piece so beautifully," Miss Darcy said after the room had quieted down once more.
"Not very beautifully. Not faithfully at all," Elizabeth replied modestly. "You must have seen how I fudged and slurred my way through the difficult passages. But it truly is a beautiful instrument."
"My brother only gave me it this week. He is so good, I don't deserve it."
"I'm sure you do." Elizabeth took the courage to look in her brother's direction as she finished the rest of what she intended to say. "Your brother thinks you do and as you know he is never wrong."
Darcy caught the look in surprise. He had not meant to fix his gaze on Elizabeth and that brief distraction had only lasted because he had seen Georgiana was talking about him and he meant not to look conscious of it. Now he surrendered completely to the indulgence.
Elizabeth did not turn away. Her gaze remained upon him. "And now it is your turn," she began to Miss Darcy. On the young woman's hesitation, she added, "No, I absolutely insist."
"In front of all these people?" Georgiana paused. "I will play but please don't make me sing."
"If you like." With that Elizabeth gave up her seat, saw to it that Miss Darcy was settled, and then moved away.
Mrs Gardiner, who was seated on a sofa where near her Jane and Bingley were talking, watched her second niece with a discreet eye. She had seen that throughout the evening Elizabeth's eyes often looking to their host. The return of that gaze had not surprised her either, indeed she had rarely seen Mr Darcy's eyes not rest upon her niece.
He was quite visibly in love with Elizabeth, but as yet Mrs Gardiner could not determine if her niece was able to return those feelings. She was a little surprised then, when her niece seated herself on the sofa opposite her husband and their host.
Mrs Gardiner was not the only one surprised by the motion. Darcy was also not expecting it and was at first at a lost as to how act. Fortunately for him, she took the initiative.
"I thank you, sir, for introducing your sister to me. She is a wonderful young woman."
Darcy smiled. "You cannot praise her too highly for me, Miss Elizabeth. I am glad that you two have had the chance to meet. Thank you for persuading her to play, it is rare that anyone outside of her family has the chance to witness her performance."
Elizabeth found herself blushing yet again.
While her brother was trying not lapse into silent awe at his sudden fortune, Georgiana was helping him as much as she could indirectly, by choosing to play a particularly long piece of music, one that she could prolong playing as much as possible.
It was also one that she knew well, therefore could play without the aide of a score, enabling her to watch the proceedings. And already she was pleased at the present results.
When she and Mr Bingley had arrived at Pemberley only that morning, Georgiana had been glad to find her brother smiling, something she had not seen for a while. She was further surprised when after a long discussion with Charles, he had come out to tell her the reason why.
She had only heard of Elizabeth Bennet once before, when her brother mentioned, almost in passing, how he had found one 'interesting acquaintance' while staying in Hertfordshire in his first letter to her from there. How Miss Elizabeth had turned into more than simply an 'interesting acquaintance', Georgiana had only been able to found out in degrees, and only as a result of her correspondence with her cousin Richard during his stay at Rosings Park.
No one had been more surprised than her when she learnt of his proposal and Miss Elizabeth's refusal. That her brother was capable of injury was not something that she had ever supposed to exist. Tonight's meal however, had much improved her concerns.
Having been disposed to dislike Miss Elizabeth, to which any sister has a right to in the case of a much beloved brother, she had been pleased to find her the complete opposite of what she had supposed. She could also see how deeply her brother cared for her. Georgiana desperately hoped that he would be able to succeed this time in gaining Miss Elizabeth's affections. And Mr Bingley in gaining Miss Jane's.
Night. Two hours away from dawn. Guided by candlelight, two greyhounds run down the Long Gallery, their master following behind at a much more dignified pace. Obedient as ever, they stop at the stairs, waiting for his command. Surprised to be allowed, the greyhounds eagerly trail him down the main staircase and into the main hallway beyond. Curiosity piqued, the dogs hardly notice their master slipping away from them and into the Music Room.
Completely empty, but with parted curtains making the magic of the night before still imaginable, the master comes to a stop by the marble mantelpiece. Leaning on one bent arm, he directs his gaze to the far corner where the pianoforte stands. Briefly, the emptiness fades and an image appears before him, of a significant look from a woman with dark hair and fine eyes.
Smiling at the memory, relishing in that it is not a dream but reality for the first time, his gaze moves to the prospect ahead shown by the window. A few minutes later, resolution in hand, he returns to the corridor to the dogs that have been waiting patiently, ready for the day ahead.
Some hours later, as the greyhounds happily loll about on the bed, a valet quietly helps their master into his apparel, not reacting at all when hurriedly told "no, no' the green one," concerning choice of jackets and later when dismissed from brushing the back free of creases.
A knock on the door disturbs the peace and the dogs upon sighting the intruder, eagerly quit their past occupation in order to greet her.
Georgiana stood in the doorway with a smile of amusement upon her face. "Brother, Charles asks if you are likely to be any longer."
Barely even acknowledging her presence, Darcy replies somewhat anxiously to his sister's message. "Tell him I am almost done."
Still smiling, his sister runs a careful eye over his appearance. "You look very well, William."
"Only very well?" He repeats, concerned.
She chuckles. "I am hardly allowed to call you handsome, being your sister." Pausing she closes the door and steps closer, greyhounds prancing about either side. "However, I am certain that Miss Elizabeth will approve."
Darcy turned to face her. "You do not think I am being too eager, Georgiana?"
His sister shrugged. "You have more experience in matters such as these, William."
Darcy laughed half-heartedly. "I think not. Usually it is me who is being pursued, not the other way round."
"I think I would welcome such an attentive suitor," Georgiana replied, adding hurriedly "when I am old enough to have one," as her brother's features turned to concern. "Go, William, before your courage fades."
"What courage?" Her brother replied rhetorically, then following her out of the room.
Elizabeth rose early that morning, her mind consumed with reflections from the night before. Much of what she had done last night had been pure impulse and most of it surprised her even now. Her conversation with Mr Darcy in particular; such a thing she had not even contemplated occurring until she was actually sitting across from him, praising his sister.
Not that it was not genuine praise, indeed Elizabeth was still most pleased to find Miss Darcy the opposite to everything she had previously assumed and was not afraid of reproving herself on that subject. No, it was the feelings and emotions that she might have unconsciously placed in the brother's mind which concerned her more.
Not to mention her feelings and the confused state that they were very much in at this moment. That she was ashamed of her past dislike for Mr Darcy was now certain. However, whether she wished him to eventually renew his addresses to her, was another matter. She was pleased to see that her refusal had not made him bitter, but the altered state of his behaviour to her and her relatives drew up disturbing conclusions.
There were two ways in which she could judge his behaviour, neither of which at all pleasing at present. Firstly, that he had changed for her, which was flattering, but not entirely selfless; secondly, that he had always been like this and she had been too prejudiced to see through his reserve. Both conclusions were sound, yet for some inexplicable reason, her mind secretly hoped the latter was true. The self-reproach she could well cope with, although she also did not feel that she deserved to see his real nature, if indeed it was.
Her feelings were a confusing muddle right now, which was why Elizabeth had risen at this hour in what was proving to be a vain attempt to both understand and order them. She had not expected to meet Mr Darcy ever again after Hunsford, and as a result she had not contemplated what emotions and feelings if any would arise from such a meeting. Her emotions upon first seeing him had surprised her the most, in particular the fact that she had thought him to be handsome in a wet shirt.
When she had acquired this idea of his good looks was unfathomable. She could not remember ever thinking of him as handsome. The notion however was not unwelcome, as terrifying as it was. Elizabeth had begun to realise that at some moment in time between her refusal and their meeting two days ago, she had formed the opinion that Mr Darcy was a handsome man.
The sound of a footstep in the hall way from their rooms to parlour disturbed her then, although she would not notice until the origin was standing right in front of her.
Elizabeth blinked and found her Aunt standing in front of her.
"Are you okay?" Mrs Gardiner asked.
"I'm fine, Aunt," Elizabeth quickly replied. Too quickly, for her Aunt, instead of accepting the lie, looked at her quizzically. After a little hesitation, Elizabeth finally sighed and admitted to her Aunt that no, she was not fine.
"Is this uneasiness to do with Mr Darcy?"
Elizabeth nodded. "Yes. Aunt, I am not sure how to begin." She paused, briefly. "There are so many things that puzzle me right now concerning him, that I do not think I would be able to explain myself with any deal of sense."
Mrs Gardiner kissed her niece's cheek. "Do not worry, my dear. I am sure things will sort themselves out soon enough."
Four miles away on some patch of green, that was of a reasonable enough height to overlook both the grand house that lay behind it and the village that lay ahead, a horseman brought his horse to a stop as another finally joined him on the mount. "Darcy, at last!"
His friend looked at him. "Bingley, are you not nervous?"
Bingley grinned. "Are you joking? I have been up since five because of nerves! Come on, or we might miss them!"
One horseman started off at a gallop, rapidly disappearing over the crest. His friend hesitated briefly, then followed suit. The horses soon drew level and then the last to start took the lead, as the village of Lambton appeared overhead.