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.
When the two horsemen arrived the entire party had long been assembled in the parlour of the Inn, finished breakfast and were discussing what part of the village to visit that morning when a servant announced that a Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy had come to see them.
The gentlemen were shown in and greeted cordially by all the party. Darcy started the conversation. "I hope I am not being too presumptuous if I ask for you all to join us once again this evening."
Mrs Gardiner saved her nieces from any feelings of guilt by answering. "As much we would be delighted to accept your offer, Mr Darcy, I am afraid that we already have a prior engagement with the Watsons."
"Oh," Darcy began, rapidly trying to conceal his disappointment.
Mrs Gardiner stepped in once more. "However, I do believe that our plans are not fixed for the rest of today."
Thank you. "In that case may I invite you to spend the day at Pemberley? Mrs Reynolds tends to leave some of the principal rooms out and I would be delighted to show you the rest, as well as the parts of the grounds that you may have missed. I'd be happy to provide luncheon for you all, a picnic, perhaps?"
If Mrs Gardiner had planned for Mr Darcy to ask this she did not show it. But her acceptance was without a glimmer of hesitation.
"Charles," his friend began, causing Bingley to blink as all this while he had been staring at Jane. "Would you mind staying here while I went to seek arrangements for the carriage?"
His friend barely answered him as Darcy bowed before exiting. He was back within ten minutes, having managed to secure a carriage and two horses for the journey. He and Bingley would ride beside it, he determined.
During the journey back to Pemberley Darcy found himself to be glad of this decision. From the first moment that he had begun to realise his attraction to Miss Elizabeth Bennet he had found that the self control which he had disciplined for much of his adulthood to exercise was taken from him whenever he was in her presence.
At first he had resented her for this, for being able to render him senseless and incapable of masking his feelings and thoughts. This latter ability had been another thing that previously he had prided himself on acquiring, for it had been a piece of advice from his father. It was advice he now realised, that had been tingled with bitterness, due to the recent death of his mother. At first it had been a harsh lesson, but Darcy had indeed learnt.
Since April however, he had begun to question it, along with the self control which he still found himself at times incapable of showing whenever she was near. Before he had not believed it prudent to display his true feelings to the world, to remain behind a mask which gave both nothing away and yet allowed him to know others.
Now he realised that this mask prevented him from presenting himself well to people, especially those he would like to know better. His experiences with Wickham had made him reluctant to trust any new acquaintance for fear of being deceived once more. Bingley had been right when he said he was always determined to disprove of everyone that he met. It always was due to the ulterior motives that he saw so many times in people who knew of his wealth and of his bachelor status.
Too late he had realised Elizabeth was different. Too late he had seen that she judged character before status. His character had indeed been at fault. Hopefully, he was not too late to change her opinion of him, to repair the damage. He had always thought that Wickham had no power over him when indeed the opposite was the case.
His deception had prevented him from trusting any one outside of his family too far. Now that would change. He still needed to exercise self control when Miss Elizabeth was near, for fear of frightening her or destroying himself even more in her eyes. It was not however to control him wholeheartedly.
As for Elizabeth her thoughts during this journey were of resolutions and decisions. She had resolved upon the gentlemen's arrival not to let her judgement be clouded by feelings of guilt at her past actions. On their quitting the Inn she had further resolved to be herself with Mr Darcy and to not let her mind jump to any hasty conclusions about any of his behaviour.
During the journey to Pemberley she had resolved to do whatever she could in furthering Jane's happiness even at the cost of her own. If her sister and Mr Bingley needed time alone, she would make sure it happened, even if that meant paying Mr Darcy particular regard. She had further resolved to not let her inner emotions cloud her judgement or behaviour until she was absolutely sure of what she felt.
Once these resolutions had been established in her mind, Elizabeth turned to these emotions to see if she could learn anything further. Was she surprised by his change of character? Yes. Was she pleased to receive kindness from him? Yes, indeed she was flattered by his attentions. Did she wish for his regard to be the same it had been in April? Elizabeth sighed. She could not answer this question with a definite yes or no.
She put it to the back of her head and tried to find another to which she could. Had her own feelings changed towards him? Almost as soon as this came into her mind, Elizabeth wished she had never thought of it, for her feelings in that respect were just as confused. Resolutely she pushed both to the back of her mind and turned herself to the present as the carriage just began to pass the house.
Mrs Gardiner commanded the coach to stop briefly, making the gentlemen on horseback slow down also. Mr Darcy drew nearer the coach and kindly inquired if there was anything the matter.
"Not at all, sir, I just wanted to observe this view once again."
Darcy smiled. He should do that more often, Elizabeth thought as he replied to her Aunt. "Indeed it is a favourite view of mine as well. I still remember the first time I witnessed it after returning from Matlock. I must have been only three, but I remember it vividly, each time," he concluded blushing, as he revealed more than he felt he ought.
Despite this it procured the right effect. It induced Elizabeth to speak. "It is a most beautiful prospect, sir," She remarked truthfully.
"Most certainly," Darcy returned, although his eyes were no longer on the building. It was now Elizabeth's turn to blush as the implication of his gaze was understood. She looked to her Aunt and saw the quick concealment of a smile in her gaze. Inwardly, she sighed. As yet she was unsure as to whether to let her Aunt help Mr Darcy in what was still his quest, if that compliment was anything to judge him by.
Now it seemed, she had no choice at all, for Mrs Gardiner had decided to take matters into her own hand. And after only two days of acquaintance with him. It disconcerted Elizabeth to learn that her Aunt, whose opinion she had always valued, would spot the goodness in Mr Darcy long before she had realised it herself in the same amount of time.
The drivers put the horses back to starting once more on the path, as Elizabeth took the opportunity to consider her feelings upon receiving a direct- well, direct for him -compliment from Mr Darcy. Had she welcomed it? Most certainly. Elizabeth blushed at her repetition, before considering the next.
Was she pleased that he had? Again, she could not answer in the negative. Sighing aloud, she resolved to repeat her actions of yesterday; to act only on her impulse, to not think for awhile, for fear she might doubt herself.
With a resolve to match her sister's Jane turned once more from the presence of Mr Bingley, whom she had been gazing at for the best part of the journey.
Unlike like her sister, Jane had no doubts about the state of her affections for her beau. Her doubts were directed instead at the feelings of Mr Bingley. She had expected little of what had occurred upon her arrival in Derbyshire. Until the visit to Pemberley in fact, she had little idea that she would ever see Mr Bingley again. The opinion of everyone had settled on him giving up Netherfield in due course and never setting foot in Meryton again.
Yet here he was, and he had barely talked to any one else but her. When he had talked, that is. Last night he had kept in constant conversation with her, as though he was afraid that if he slipped into silence it would be permanent. Today, or more properly, this morning, he had done nothing but stare at her. Jane could not make him out. His behaviour in Hertfordshire had been a complete contrast.
She had always wondered about his journey to London which he had maintained was to be only of a short time, when in fact it turned out to be much longer. His motives for the journey had never been clear to her. His sister's letters had been the only source of information about him and Jane had begun to realise only yesterday that those letters, along with her visit to Gracechurch street, had all been a guise to fool her into thinking that he was enamoured with Miss Darcy.
Their behaviour since their acquaintance with the latter had proved to Jane the deception of Miss Bingley. Miss Darcy, as she herself had stated quite calmly, looked on Mr Bingley as nothing more than her brother's friend. That was quite certain.
However what was puzzling Jane the most was whether Mr Bingley felt the same about his friend's sister. She could not presume to hope that he ever had any feeling for her, even if she had welcomed his attentions in Hertfordshire. She was not content to mourn him as a loss, even if that was what she had resolved upon the moment she left London.
A great deal of her still hoped that he cared about her. And it was this part that Jane was determined not to try and show until she was sure of Mr Bingley's feelings.
Georgiana was waiting outside to greet them when the carriage and horses arrived at Pemberley. With a smile that lit up her face, she watched her brother dismount and turn instantly to help Miss Elizabeth down from the carriage. The two stayed close for awhile, as he forgot there were others there and lost himself in the privilege of earning a smile from her.
Elizabeth was flattered that he stayed by her the minute she had drawn level with him, for it showed her that his action had not been just common courtesy. She would remember forever the expression in his eyes when she had thanked him for the gesture.
"No, Miss Elizabeth, thank you," he had returned, and with a such an intensity in his eyes, that she felt herself to be drowning in them. Quickly she looked to the floor, almost wishing he was gone, but when she had recovered her composure he was still there, waiting for her.
"I.....er....." Stumbling in his words, Darcy paused to take a deep breath, hoping to calm them. It was enough. "Is there any particular room with which you would like to start?"
Elizabeth found herself reddening once more as her thoughts for brief minute contemplated the possible reaction to a certain answer which she could make to him. Quickly however, she realised the impropriety of it- not to mention the presumptuousness -and composed a more sensible response, while mentally telling her mind to rid itself of such scandalous thoughts.
If this is what my impulses think of him, she thought to herself, why do I still hesitate in admitting this to my mind as whole? Shying away from this silent question she finally replied to him. "I do not believe we were shown the Library, if that is........."
"Of course, Miss Elizabeth, I should be happy to start with that." Still standing next to her, Mr Darcy turned to her Aunt and Uncle and acquired their acceptance. He then looked about for his friend and Miss Bennet, only to find the two together, some distance away. "Bingley," Darcy called out, "do you intend to join us?"
Mr Bingley turned embarrassed. "I'm afraid I did not hear... that is....."
Darcy chuckled, as the two came back to the rest of the party. His friend looked at him in mock annoyance. "Really, Darce, you are hardly innocent of the same inattention!"
Now it was Darcy's turn to look embarrassed, causing the Gardiners to smile at each other, foreseeing the future they hoped for. Miss Darcy smiled even more and then her wish to be confident kicked in, causing her to save her brother. "I believe, Mr Bingley, that my brother was going to ask if Miss Bennet would like to see the Library, which was missed during yesterday's tour."
Darcy smiled at his sister in praise, and offered his arm to both her and Miss Elizabeth. At first the latter hesitated in her acceptance, not wanting to further the gentleman's wishes by the gesture. Emotion however won over and she submitted to the motion.
Darcy saw the hesitancy and was dismayed at first that he had been unable to gain her approval. Were all my hopes in vain, he began to ask himself, whereupon he saw, no rather felt, Elizabeth's acceptance as his arm adjusted to her light pressure. He rejoiced behind his calm face, revelling in all the pleasure that the occasion afforded. To be this near his love, to feel her breath when she turned to speak to him, to feel her arm touching his, covered by clothing as it was, was something he had never dreamed probable until now.
As for Elizabeth, she was also aware of feelings accompanying her acceptance, and these feelings were in no way negative. However she had also recognised some cautiousness that needed to be adhered to. His attentiveness to her so far had been everything that was favourable, but apart from a few comments, Elizabeth realised that she could not really take them in any other way but than the normal accepted attentions of a considerate host.
Even his last word to her in expressive tones, could have been misconstrued by her due to the conflict of her mind and emotions. What a great time for my mind to finally become objective, she silently thought, realising that she wanted his attentions for the first time.
Silently behind this couple meanwhile Mr Bingley and Miss Jane were still walking together. Both were also concerned in their thoughts, as, like the couple before them, they were engaged in the process of fighting self doubt. Mr Bingley, assured as he had been the night before by Miss Jane's attention to him that she could still care for him, now wondered if perhaps he was being far too hopeful in his mind.
After all, he had left her alone and wondering for well over eight months what had happened to him. True he was insensible of where she was at the time and deceived by his sisters, but that was beside the point. What was the point was that he was quite unworthy of Miss Jane's continuing regard, indeed of any regard, for if he had cared for her as much as he thought he had, he would have ignored all attempts at delay of his return to Netherfield made by his sisters and his friend.
The only thing that had stopped him, Charles realised now, was Darcy's assurance that Miss Jane did not return his affections. And now, Darcy had admitted that was a mistake, and while Bingley could forgive his friend for mistaking Miss Bennet's regard, he could not forgive himself for the extreme error in judgement. Sheer cowardliness had been, in truth, all that had stopped him from presenting his case to Miss Bennet eight months ago.
Reflecting upon it, Charles could not see what he could have lost by going against his friend and sisters and presenting his addresses then. At least he would have known Miss Bennet's true feelings straight away, rather than languishing for eight months in doubt and regrets. He could not ignore that his actions, his hesitancy when put in this light, reflected badly on his character.
It was this revelation that was the cause of his present doubt as to the state of his worth to Miss Bennet in offering himself as her husband. If he was unable to remain constant when confronted by friends and relatives differing opinions, then how would he be able to remain true to Miss Bennet in the future, if she was so good as to accept his addresses? If she had cared for him all those months ago, would she really be able to accept him now, after his retreat to town? Bingley doubted strongly that she would.
Jane herself was equally tormented by self doubt. Mr Bingley's attentions to her this morning had been exactly the same as in Hertfordshire, yet she could not ignore the end result of these attentions. What was to prevent him from returning to town and forgetting about her once more? What right had she to hope that he really cared for her at all?
Her own feelings she had long been certain about. She loved Mr Bingley. Indeed, whatever his past actions, whatever his present course, she would always remember him as the most amiable man of her acquaintance, and in all probability, the only man she could ever really love. She was worried because of this. Concerned that she might unconsciously be giving herself hope by misconstruing his attentions as particular, rather than those of simple politeness. She could not presume that he cared for her at all, until she received definitive proof of it.
Her sister's assurances that he did were all very well, but they did not carry an confirmation from the man himself. Jane knew that ultimately she could not trust anyone's judgement but her own, and even that could prove to be unreliable. Silently, she resolved to contain herself, to keep her feelings in check, until she could be sure that his were the same, if indeed they ever came to be.
Mr Darcy proved to be a most considerate guide by describing a brief history of the Library's construction when the party entered the room and the additions that several previous owners had made. He then joined his sister and Miss Elizabeth- who had separated from him to look around -who were talking quietly by a shelf nearby.
"Do you approve of the Library?" Darcy asked gently, trying not to sound nervous.
Elizabeth heard the anxiousness in his voice and replied in genuine praise of the room, adding, "my father would love this room."
"It is from your father then that you have inherited your fondness from reading?" Darcy queried as he watched Elizabeth run her fine eyes over the books.
"It is. At Longbourn the library is my father's sanctuary and I am the only one who is allowed in there without permission. The amount of books are not as large, but cover the same broad subject areas I believe." She paused as she ran a hand over one of the titles. "He would really enjoy seeing this many."
Darcy privately made a mental note to try and come up with something that could bring Mr Bennet over to Pemberley within the next available days. If his plan to have Elizabeth become mistress of the estate was to work, he would need to cultivate a good relationship with the man that mattered the most in her life, her father.
Darcy almost lost his composure at this point as he realised he had contemplated Elizabeth becoming his wife without so much a second thought. His mind really needed to learn patience when it came to concern love. This second attempt was not something he was going to rush. It needed to be slow. Very slow.
But that was the future. For now he calmly managed to involve
Elizabeth and his sister in a discussion over tastes in reading. It was a discussion
which remained quite friendly on all sides, even though eight months ago upon
a certain evening one of the party had been quite assured in the view that they
would never have the same taste in books.
All conversation soon came to an end at the striking of a clock in the room, signalling that the afternoon had begun, as well as a desire to for luncheon in everybody's stomachs. Darcy happily offered Elizabeth his arm and led the party out of the Library and through the rest of the house to the grounds at the back which provided a suitably well sun lit area for the planned picnic.
Thanks to Darcy's hopeful foresight, the servants had already anticipated their wants and the party found several blankets along with baskets of sandwiches, fresh fruit and other sweet titbits in carefully preserved containers. All exclaimed at the astuteness, the sweetness and the wonderfulness of it.
As it was in the Library, they found it quite natural to separate into groups, although there was a slight change in the number of persons. It was initiated by Georgiana, who could already see that her brother wanted to spend time alone with Miss Elizabeth, and wanted to give him the opportunity without making it look too obvious. She joined the Gardiners instead, who welcomed her view of her brother and kept the conversation flowing to prevent any suspicion of a set up in the couple's minds.
Elizabeth was not sure of her emotions about Miss Darcy leaving her with the brother, but he seemed not to mind it and soon had her engaged in a discussion on Blenhiem, -which she had mentioned as having visited two days ago, during their discussion after their first meeting at Pemberley, and he had known the family and house for quite some time -leaving her to forget her preoccupation and begin to enjoy his company.
In fact Elizabeth had found herself enjoying most things concerning Mr Darcy this day, most of all his conversation. It was pleasing, engaging and he seemed not only interested in her opinions, but honestly wanting her to express them. She also found that while they did disagree on some things, they did have the same taste in a lot of others and in those that they did not, his opinions and views were not only flexible, but were also well informed and at times most astute.
Overall, Elizabeth was enjoying Mr Darcy company and she was at a loss as to how the desire of it never ending had formed in her mind, as quickly as it did.
The plan to view the rest of the house was forgot by everyone, indeed if there were anyone who remembered it, she or he quickly abandoned the idea due to the clear unspoken desire of the host, who remained locked in conversation with Miss Elizabeth Bennet for the rest of their stay.
After the topic of Blenhiem was worn out, Elizabeth asked Darcy for a history of his family and the house, of which Darcy was happy indulge her with. He was proud of his family history, for it had been a very eventful one. There had been Darcys who had died in the Wars of the Roses, Darcys who were executed for their part in the Pilgrimage of Grace,1 Darcys who had fought for the King in the Civil War, and Darcys who had seen to their tenants' rights over their livings and work. Elizabeth was impressed and intrigued by all the tales. She was also pleased by the way Darcy told them, not immodestly, and not with an hint of arrogance.
All too soon the day came to an end, and the Gardiners had to reluctantly announce their departure to Elizabeth and Jane, who both did not notice that it was time. Darcy helped Elizabeth up from the floor and this time his hand took the risk and stayed its hold on hers until they were by the carriage at the front of the house.
He then helped her in before reluctantly withdrawing the grip. As he did so the most unexpected motion occurred. Elizabeth looked into his eyes and squeezed his hand in a gesture that did not just signify friendship, or gratitude, or politeness or indeed anything that could be construed as any other emotion. It was quite clearly a gesture of affection.
"Thank you," Elizabeth then uttered as she let go, her eyes still not faltering under Darcy's gaze. Her look that accompanied the simple words also conveyed an entirely different significance attached to them. They went deeper than gratitude. This, together with the hand gesture, was a clear sign of Elizabeth's feelings for the first time and Darcy could not have felt more happy with the display of it.
He stayed to watch the carriage depart, noticing Elizabeth's gaze as she looked back at him once again until the view faded into the distance.
1. This is really true; there were three Darcys around that time in history and Thomas Darcy got executed for his part in the Pilgrimage. There was also a Arthur Darcy and a George Darcy, who were his sons. Their possible ancestry with our Darcy though is just a little poetic license on my part.
Throughout the evening at the Watsons, Elizabeth could not keep her mind from drifting back to Pemberley, and the gentleman there who had the means to take her heart. The day spent there could not have been more perfect in her mind. Mr Darcy had been everything that was considerate, worthy and gentleman-like, his sister was everything agreeable, and his friend had never left Jane's side.
Elizabeth blushed momentarily at this point, as she realised that Mr Darcy had also never left her side the entire day. Every moment he could, he had spent with her. Any special attention, he had made sure was due to her. If she had doubted his affection for her before, as indeed she had, the day had wiped that doubt away. He still cared for her, he still loved her.
He loved her! As Elizabeth let this thought sink into her, she realised for the first time that she no longer disliked that love, in fact she welcomed it wholeheartedly. Not only that, but she had some to give in return. She could deny it to herself no more, she was in love with Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy.
The voice, originated from somewhere in the room, Lizzy realised. She came back to earth with a rush. Unable to determine who had spoken to her, she apologised. "I am sorry. I am afraid my mind wondered for a second. Would it be terribly rude if I ask for you to repeat your query?"
Mrs Watson smiled, brushing Lizzy's apology aside. "Not at all, my dear girl. I understand your slip completely. Why, I remember the time I had met my dear Edmund. I was so remiss over dinner. My parents quite despaired of me."
Elizabeth found herself blushing again. "Is it that obvious? I had not realised. Apparently, everyone has already seen what I have only just worked out for myself."
"Everyone is different my dear. I may have realised straight away with Edmund, but he took a year to work it out."
Mr Watson protested at this assertion from his wife and the conversation moved its focus away, leaving Elizabeth to return her sister's look of surprise and relief with a smile that displayed her return to a calm state of mind.
The next day, Elizabeth confided in her Aunt Gardiner everything that had occurred since she had made the acquaintance of Mr Darcy. And she was infinitely pleased with her reaction. It felt good to have not only understanding, approval and acceptance, but also her Aunt's opinions tended to be more objective than Jane's, who always tried to find the good in everybody.
As for Mrs Gardiner she was pleased and relieved that Elizabeth had felt able to confide in her, as she had been hoping for such a conference. She was also relieved that Elizabeth no longer hated Mr Darcy, quite the opposite in fact, and pleased to offer any help she could, along with any advice that her niece felt she might need.
After the discussion had ended, Jane joined them in the parlour and the three women launched into a conversation of their views of the day they had spent with the Darcys. Jane expressed her approval of Lizzy's beau- to which her sister blushed with a smile -and confessed her own hoped for wish that Mr Bingley was just as enamoured with her.
"My dear Jane," Elizabeth exclaimed in joyful exasperation, "how can you notice Mr Darcy's admiration when you cannot see his friend's which is as just, if not more visible? He never left you alone for a second the entire time we were over there."
Jane protested violently and modestly at this, to which her Aunt stepped in with, "Jane, Elizabeth is right. Mr Bingley loves you, I am quite convinced of it."
Jane looked pale for a moment. "I was sure of it eight months ago and he never came back to declare it so. What if he does the same now?"
Elizabeth sighed and looked at her Aunt. "Jane dearest, Mr Bingley's only reason for not coming back was I think due to the interference of his sisters, I am convinced of that. He would have returned, if they had not interfered, believe me."
Jane was about to protest, but then she remembered Caroline's behaviour during her one and only visit to Gracechurch street. "Perhaps you are right there, Lizzy. I am still concerned though about laying myself open to the emotions again, only to have them washed away."
"Jane, the only possible solution I can suggest is then to follow a piece of Charlotte's advice, although it might require you to open that emotion of yours," Elizabeth remarked, looking anxiously at her sister. "I know you hide your emotions unlike me, and Charlotte suggested to me once that if you wish to secure Mr Bingley, you ought to show more affection not less."
Jane thought silently upon Elizabeth's piece of advice, and then replied to it. "It seems very risky to me."
Mrs Gardiner smiled and patted Jane's hand in support. "I agree with your sister in this case, Jane. Show your affection for Mr Bingley. I do not think you will find disappointment."
Darcy rose early that morning after having passed a relatively quiet and uneventful night in the company of his sister and his best friend. They had all been subdued for the best part of it, both gentlemen very much preoccupied with the two women that held their hearts and who were in Lambton at another dinner and probably not realising.
When he arrived in the breakfast room, Darcy noticed to his great surprise that his friend was already up. A rare occurrence, for Bingley was not known to be an early riser. He also could not fail to notice the quick movement of something that Bingley was holding to his pockets as he acknowledged Darcy's presence.
"Good morning, Darce. You're up rather late."
"Quite the contrary. You're up rather early, Charles," Darcy replied as he walked over to help himself to a coffee which the servants had prepared, knowing their master's habits well. "What's on your mind? Does it have anything to do with that object you rapidly hid the minute I made you aware of my entrance?"
Bingley managed to look suitably ashamed. "You never miss anything, do you Darce? I was contemplating something as it happens." At this point he took the object back out and showed it to his friend.
"That's an engagement ring," Darcy noted as understanding dawned.
"Yes, I brought it back in December....."
"Charles, I am so sorry. I should have let you ask her long ago. If it hadn't been for my stupid pride and............"
"No," his friend interjected, "it wasn't just you Darce. It was Caroline and Louisa as well. And you were sound in your reasoning anyway. Miss Bennet never really showed me a sign of affection. I only perhaps wished that she did."
Darcy had never felt so ashamed. He heartily wished that he had never spoken to Charles all those months ago, for he had never seen his friend so uncertain in his motives. Placing a hand on Bingley's arm in a supportive gesture he quietly replied, "god knows, Charles, I would wish those words I said to you in December gone in an instance if I could. All I can say now is that her sister assured me at Hunsford that Miss Bennet loved you most dearly."
"She may have well done then...." Bingley began, but was cut off.
"I still believe she does now, my friend. She may not show it, but I am sure of it."
"That's beside the point, Darce. The question is; do I still deserve her affection after having abandoned her all those months ago?"
"Deserve her affection?" Darcy repeated incredulously.
"Yes. Imagine what she must have thought when I left her in Hertfordshire and never saw her in town."
"But you never knew she was in town, Charles!"
"That is irrelevant. If I had cared enough about her Darce, I should never have let your words, or those of my sisters to discourage me from returning."
"Charles, listen to me. If I remember correctly the only reason that stopped you from returning was my misguided assurance that Miss Bennet did not return your affection."
Bingley looked at his friend in part disbelief.
Darcy continued. "Until then, you were resolute in returning. So, if you want my advice, and believe me, this time I am thinking solely of you and her happiness, propose to her. As soon as you possibly can. The moment you have her answer you will be assured of your motives. You have nothing to lose in comparison to what you have to gain by doing so."
Bingley looked at his friend and then at the ring in his hands. Then his friend again. He had kept Darcy as friend not only because he liked him, but because he was sound in his reasoning and judgement. Only once had he swayed from that and he had admitted his mistake in doing so.
But was he right? Could Miss Bennet really love him as much as he did her? He turned his gaze back to the ring. Darcy was right about two things. One, the gains compared to the losses were worth the risk. Two, if he did ask her for her hand, he would at last know for certain where her affection lay. Silently he decided.
This time the sound of a carriage could be quite clearly heard in the parlour while the Gardiners and their nieces were still having breakfast. Rapidly removing things, they had little time to prepare as the servant knocked on the door and let the gentlemen in, who instantly apologised for their early hour.
Mrs Gardiner replied instantly. "No, apologies Mr Darcy, I quite understand your enthusiasm." Madeline paused here, and not without design, for both gentlemen became conscious of the implication and produced some consciousness of it in their appearance, the effect she had desired to achieve. "The weather has been so very fine lately."
Darcy replied with agreement before tentatively coming to the point of his visit. "I was hoping that you might be persuaded to spend another day at Pemberley."
Mr Gardiner cast his eyes around the table, noting each expression, even though he was perfectly agreeable to doing so and already knew the answer. "Well, we have no plans, so I am pleased to accept your kind invitation."
Darcy inclined his head in acknowledgement. "Then we shall disturb your breakfast no longer. Bingley and I will wait for you all downstairs."
Mrs Gardiner brushed away the intention, replying, "we had almost finished anyway. Please stay."
The gentlemen cautiously accepted and with a slight hesitation, took the remaining seats at the table. This hesitation was not by design or desire, for it so happened that the seats were by the Miss Bennets. No, it was down to nervousness, pure and simple. And this emotion was one both gentlemen dearly wished to keep from displaying, yet both feared it to be impossible.
Nor were the ladies in question devoid from feeling the same emotion aswell. Elizabeth, who had finished her meal, was desperately searching about in her mind for a subject with which to converse with, while Jane was trying to deploy herself in finishing the rest of her breakfast without showing the slightest concern that Mr Bingley was sitting next to her and observing her every move.
It must be noted that Mr Darcy was not entirely innocent of this gesture either, although his gaze was directed at someone else.
Fortunately for all concerned breakfast was soon finished and preparations were made to depart. The ladies retired to change, leaving the gentlemen to make conversation with Mr Gardiner. Mr Bingley happily did, but his friend for the first time in this company was silent and thoughtful. Darcy could not help this state. His friend's doubts this morning had remained in his mind, despite all Charles' attempts to dislodge them.
Knowing that he had done wrong in separating Miss Bennet from friend had been something that Darcy had been aware of ever since April. However this was the first time that he had realised how much of a mistake he had indeed made. His friend would have been married by if he had not been so arrogant as to presume their feelings. He had caused both Miss Bennet and his friend months of self doubt.
It was all very well that his sisters had also been partly responsible but Darcy could no longer deny to himself that Bingley would not have been persuaded to stay in London by Caroline and Louisa alone, not if he had truly been certain. It had been his opinion that Bingley nearly always deferred to, above those of his family.
He was perfectly sensible of his sisters often selfish and snobbish notions, which was why Darcy had always been his friend, for Charles had relied on his usually unbiased view. Darcy himself however was rapidly coming to realise that there had been times when his judgements were just as selfish and as snobbish as those of Caroline and Louisa.
Having begun this plane of thought it was not something that Darcy could usually pull himself out of without great difficulty. Bingley had become aware of this over the years and it was why his conversation with Mr Gardiner began to slowly come to a halt. Politely excusing himself, Bingley turned to his friend and without any regard to ceremony, pulled him to the window where they could escape any one overhearing them.
"Darce," Bingley began as soon as they were there and he had got his friend's attention, "please for my sake and for Miss Elizabeth's, refrain from falling too deep into reflection on what I said this morning. You are not to blame yourself."
"How did you know I had?" Darcy asked.
"I know you, Fitzwilliam," Bingley returned, causing his friend to take note. No one called him by his first name, mainly by his own wishes, but Bingley was determined to keep Darcy's attention. And he was serious. "If you think on this too much you will not be much of a host today and Miss Elizabeth will begin to wonder if your changed manner was just a phase. Now, let us return to Mr Gardiner and if you do not contribute to the conversation I shall be very displeased."
Darcy acknowledged his friend's well timed rebuke. Bingley was right. If he did not hold it against him then what was the point in himself doing so? He followed his friend back to the table and while they waited for the ladies, he made himself push the reflection to the back of his mind.
Mr Gardiner paid no notice to the conversation, nor did he remark on Darcy's sudden change of manner. He had his own conclusions to draw. He had been quite surprised when meeting with Mr Darcy in witnessing the complete contrast in character from what his niece had assured him that this gentleman would be like. Elizabeth's astonishment was not something he had missed and it had made Edward Gardiner reluctant at first to get to know Mr Darcy.
But now, he felt certain that what they had been witness to during the past few days was the gentleman's true character, contrary to his display in Hertfordshire. All in all, Mr Gardiner was impressed with Mr Darcy. The man showed not only good taste, but for someone so young, a self control that was remarkable.
He clearly had had the responsibility of running Pemberley from a early age, yet far from shying away from it, he had embraced it with enthusiasm. His reserved nature seemed to stem from his place in society rather than shyness alone. A man of ten thousand per annum was a valuable catch for any woman of the ton, love mattered not. For Mr Darcy however, it obviously did.
His behaviour to Elizabeth had so far been everything that was gentleman like. Yet you had to be blind to not see that he loved her with every breath of his soul. His eyes would soften the minute her name mentioned, or as soon as she walked into the room. His gaze would always drift to her and once fixed on her, it would rarely move. His attention to would be to her above all others, her opinion always sought.
At Pemberley, Mr Gardiner had seen him carefully take note of anything Elizabeth particularly liked, in order to repeat it in other rooms on future occasions. He had even gone as far as to make sure that Mrs Reynolds was in every agreeable to her, as might benefit a mistress of the estate. Mr Gardiner approval of Mr Darcy rose with each new discovery on the gentleman's devotion to his niece.
He could only hope that Elizabeth was not blind to these attentions.
This time upon arriving at Pemberley a more in depth tour of the unseen rooms was taken by all of the party. As before, Mr Darcy proved a most excellent guide. One could tell just by his knowledge and his tone of awe that he knew the house's history well and loved to live in it. There was not one question raised by his guests that would remain unanswered. The house itself was in immaculate condition, furthering this perception.
And throughout the tour, Elizabeth found herself falling more in love.
After establishing this revelation firmly in her mind, Elizabeth realised that it was time to follow some of her own advice. She resolved to abandon her caution and show Mr Darcy that she no longer hated him, that her feelings were in fact quite the opposite. She was ready to show him that she had forgiven his mistakes and in turn beg forgiveness for some of her own.
Unfortunately, as she soon found out, today was not the day when this was to begin. True, it was an excellent one for it, as the Gardiners quitted the Inn early that morning for some purchasing and had assured their nieces to not expect them back until luncheon and even beyond. This left both Lizzy and Jane anxious for their gentlemen callers to actually live up to their title and call.
Only one however lived up to that reputation. Mr Bingley stepped into the Parlour of Lambton Inn about an hour after the Gardiners had departed, causing Jane to blush and her sister to smile. That smile soon changed to confusion as his friend did not appear behind him. Where was he? Her mind instantly asked.
Mr Bingley was prompt in his apologies for the absence of his friend. "Darcy sends his regrets, Miss Elizabeth. He wished to come today, but his steward has pointed out to him some estate problems which required his urgent attention. He has been quite neglectful of late, has he not?"
This last, though said with a teasing smile, did nothing to lessen Elizabeth's now desolate mood. She was happy for her sister, felt guilty for being selfish, but she could not help but dwell on why Mr Darcy was not here. His friend's message from him seemed reasonable enough, but Elizabeth was far too concerned to be rational for the moment.
Her own feelings for him had just begun to materialise, what if now his were to decline? Was this excuse merely a disguise in order to let her down gently? These fears and many more served to occupy her mind for the rest of Mr Bingley's visit and beyond.
Jane meanwhile was having a far more agreeable day. Mr Bingley had come to call. He was sitting by her. His attention was no one else but her. She was flattered beyond measure. In fact she was so caught up in realising this revelation, that she failed to notice them spending the first ten minutes of this event in absolute silence, their eyes fixed upon each other. He was gazing at her!
Mr Bingley was equally aware of the significance. Speak man, say something! His mind kept reminding him in vain. Her eyes, her face, she is an angel! She is perfect in every way. And she is looking at me! Me! Speak man, say something!
"I er.... that is to say.... I hope you are well, Miss Bennet," he began. What on earth was that? Is that all you can think of?
"I am very well, thank you sir," Jane replied with a remarkable calmness of which her inner turmoil had not thought her capable.
Bingley searched for something else to say. He could not propose to her now, for they were not alone. He dearly wished and feared to do so, the former because he wanted her by his side forever, the latter because she might say no. As his mind recognised this, it also realised that yet again he had been silent for more than two minutes.
How on earth am I going to survive this? Have I really reached the stage where the only thing I can ask is for her hand? Hurriedly his mind resolved not to dwell on that last thought before his fears increased and rapidly returned to the present matter. Something to talk about.
Luckily for Mr Bingley, Jane decided on the next subject. "Have you heard from your sisters recently, Mr Bingley?" As much as I am now certain of their contempt for me, I cannot avoid asking after them any longer.
Mr Bingley is capable of being a perfectly sensible gentleman, except when he is confronted by the lady who has, however unknowingly, captured his heart. Thus, although he had recently heard from those sisters in question, at this moment, in the company of this particular lady, he cannot not remember at all the names that these sisters went by, nor that he even had any, let alone what they had been up to recently.
Think man, he commanded himself. Ah, yes of course; Laroline and Couisa. No, Caroline and Lousia! Now, have I heard from them recently? "Er,..... that is to say.... yes I have heard from them, Miss Bennet, not more than two days ago in fact." Right, now that you have confirmed this, lets try to remember what they told you in that letter.
"Caroline is very much enjoying her stay with Lousia and Hurst. Bath is most refreshing at this time of year." Well done, not only did you remember their names, but you also remembered where in the country they were staying, aside from it not being here. Now, what else did Caroline say in that letter? That is, what you can relay which is fit for social consumption.
"They recently visited the Upper Rooms. Caroline was ........ quite pleased with the company that she found," he added, refraining from mentioning that his sister had in fact been relieved that no one of ill breeding was to be found during her short visit there.
Jane seemed not to notice his hesitation and focused on instead the place. She had never been to Bath, a matter which was a great comfort to Bingley for it was something that he could describe with familiarity, as it was where Louisa had met Mr Hurst.
Thus it was a topic that he could occupy their conversation with for awhile, giving him time to contemplate how he could introduce a wish to speak to her alone on the morrow, without seeming either presumptuous or revealing his intention to the other person in the room.
He need not have been so concerned. Elizabeth's physical self may have resided in the room at present but as for her mind, that resided in a different place entirely. She was still caught up in the fear that Mr Darcy was no longer constant in his affections. True, his attentions to her yesterday were eminently capable of disputing this, but the fear once implanted, could not be driven away.
In April she would have welcomed such a reaction but now the opposite was the case. She knew that her fear seemed wholly unreasonable, considering his behaviour to her, and that his excuse for not paying call upon her was believable in its entirety.
Of course such an estate as Pemberley needed its master's attention, particularly if the master in question had been absent for a while. To her knowledge Mr Darcy had not been to Derbyshire since December. He would not be the man that she cared for if he left it alone for long.
Cared for. Elizabeth considered that statement for a while. It had not taken her long to love him, considering that before his proposal she had been unaware that he cared for her at all. Was it wise now to believe her feelings when before she had been convinced that he disliked her as much as she did him? Did she really love him?
Doubtless if Darcy could read minds that last thought of his beloved would have sent him to his horse in an instant. However, it this precise moment his mind was still insensible of the possibility that Miss Elizabeth could actually care for him at all. It was also trying to deploy a rigorous control over his wandering thoughts in order to finish the task at hand with his usual finesse.
A task which was taking him three hours instead of the usual two that proved necessary.
The torture was almost unbearable. He would give anything for it to be done by itself but he had spent far too long away to leave it in the care of his steward, Mr Reynolds. Capable as the man was, Darcy had seen many a gentleman bankrupt by refusing to take a personal hand in their estates.
Once again he found himself glancing at the clock on the mantle across from him, willing the minute hand to move with far more speed than it was displaying at present. How could only a minute have passed since his last look? Darcy did not want to wonder but nonetheless could not help himself.
With a sigh he returned to the paper before him, resolutely willing his thoughts away from Lambton. Georgianna's music notes drifted briefly into his study from the open door, and the tune -it happened to Beethoven's Andante Favouri, which he had come to love recently -served to form a new purpose that stood a better chance of success.
He knew that his love did not care for substance, her refusal had showed him that
much, but it mattered to Darcy that he had something more than his affection for
her to offer if he ever did ask for her hand again. He picked up his pen and resumed
his work. The sooner it was done, the more likely it was that he could visit Miss
Bennet on the morrow.
The next dawned with brighter prospects for both our hero and heroine. Mr and Mrs Gardiner walked out soon after breakfast, leaving their nieces to fulfil their time in writing to Longbourn. Jane's task was the obligatory letter to Mrs Bennet, who would take it greatly amiss not to learn of her two eldest's exploits while in Derbyshire and if any handsome, rich gentlemen had paid call.
This letter the sisters had agreed the night before, was not to contain any mention of Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy's frequent calls upon them, for fear that such information might cause within Mrs Bennet a sudden desire to visit the North. Instead they would cite the reason for their continued stay in Lambton was due to Mrs Gardiner's desire to visit her friends and old acquaintances, nothing more.
By contrast Elizabeth's task was far easier. A letter to Mr Bennet could contain this information without any fear that it might be revealed to his wife. Elizabeth was infinitely glad of this. So much of their time had been taken up by visits of the aforementioned gentlemen that nothing else of interest had occurred which could occupy more than one side of writing paper.
In addition she was rather anxious to improve her father's opinion of Mr Darcy, in the hope that if he asked her again, Mr Bennet would not be surprised nor opposed to granting consent to the match.
As a result her letter took far longer than Jane's who upon finishing hers quitted the Inn to post it, leaving Elizabeth alone and too preoccupied to wonder why her sister had not waited for her to finish so they could walk out together. Not five minutes later Elizabeth found herself folding her own away as the door opened to reveal none other than....... Mr Darcy.
He was profuse in his apologies for his absence the day before. "I would have come but the accounts could not be ignored any longer. Are Mr and Mrs Gardiner out?"
"Yes and Jane left some minutes ago to post a letter. You find me all alone Mr Darcy," Elizabeth replied, inwardly smiling at the difference in her last situation as to when she had previously used that reply.
"I hope I am not disturbing you," Darcy remarked anxiously as she gestured a chair for him before returning to her seat.
"No, I am only writing a letter to my father. Although not fond of writing himself, he enjoys hearing from me. For once however it is a task that I welcome putting aside, for I am at a loss as to what I should relay. One can only extol a person's virtues for so long."
"Surely not," Darcy replied quietly, with a serious look at her, causing Elizabeth to blush at her decision to reveal in some way what she had been writing about. At the same time however his comment and his look at her caused the candle of hope in her mind to shine more brightly.
As for the gentleman himself, much occupied his mind, in particular that his situation right now was ideal for asking a certain question. Indeed, ask he would, if his courage felt equal to doing so. For now he contented himself with simply gazing at her, admiring her fine eyes, her beautiful dark hair. And hoping that she really was glad to see him.
"Mr Darcy? Are you well, sir?"
Hurriedly he collected himself, realising that he had been silent for some time. "I am perfectly well thank you." In your company I could never be ill. He saw Miss Elizabeth was waiting for him to say something else. Had she been speaking? "I apologise, what was it you were saying?"
"I believe I had inquired after your sister," Elizabeth remarked with a smile, relishing that he had been gazing at her the entire time and it had not been because he wished to find fault.
"Georgie is very well. When I left she was amusing herself at the pianoforte. Her playing yesterday proved a considerable help to make my time with business less torturous. I was most relieved to finish it by the afternoon. And your own sister, is she well?"
"Jane is much happier lately. I believe I must thank you for it, sir."
Darcy smiled. "If you mean Bingley, I cannot claim any credit. All I did was confess something to him that I should have done a long time ago. Something which I am now convinced that I never had the right to put forth in the first place."
"I disagree, Mr Darcy."
"You do?" He looked up at her in surprise.
"Although in the beginning I was much angered by your assumptions, I have since come to realise that you right concerning some of them. Jane is reserved. Only those who truly know her can descry her feelings. For strangers it is a matter of guess work."
"It was still something I should never have done."
"You were partly justified. No one should have an unhappy marriage." Elizabeth blushed as this came out and immediately tried to retract it.
Darcy brushed it aside. "No, Miss Elizabeth, do not concern yourself. My friend does intend to propose, he has informed me of that much himself." He may even be doing so as I speak, he added to himself, remembering his friend's early departure that morning, with only a nervous smile to give any hint of his intended destination.
Elizabeth smiled at this. "If Jane had heard you just now, sir, no one would be blind to her emotions." Indeed I would not be surprised if she were to cry out aloud her joy, she added to herself, idly wondering for a moment where her sister was, although part of her did not want to find out.
All that concerned that part of herself was the fact that she was alone with Mr Darcy, whose gaze had yet to drift from her. Elizabeth feared to interpret that gaze. So often had she misunderstood it before.
Darcy had tried to keep his mind from wandering, but still his eyes remained on hers, fully intending never to leave them until he had to return to Pemberley. He did not wish to remind himself of that. Even with the company of his sister and friend, and a household of over a hundred, he still felt the house to be too empty.
More than ever, he desired for it to be filled and he could only imagined it filled with her. While he was alone with her here, it was easy to imagine that they were engaged, perhaps far too easy. He had too ask her soon, before her stay in Lambton ended. All he needed was courage. And the resolve not to contemplate that she might refuse him once again.
If Elizabeth had persisted in her pondering of the whereabouts of her sister, it would not have been long before the conclusion presented itself. Indeed, it did not require any great presence of mind, all it needed was to put two things together.
Jane had gone out to post her letter. This could not be disputed. And post it she did. If by chance she encountered an acquaintance there she could not be held responsible for the delay it might incur.
"Mr Bingley," she began, for it was he, "I did not expect to see you here."
The gentleman was puzzled for a moment. When he had asked her yesterday as she saw him to the door if she would be alone tomorrow, she had given the post as her answer. Then he realised that unlike yesterday, they were not alone. They had the people of Lambton to consider. "Miss Bennet," he began eagerly, "this is a most agreeable surprise. I was just on my way to pay call on you at the Inn."
"I was just about to return there."
"May I have the honour to walk back with you?" He asked, his eyes never leaving hers.
Jane nodded her consent and together they turned round and walked up the path, although whether it actually led to the Inn or not was not a concern.
Bingley anxiously waited for the people of Lambton to disappear, only glancing at Miss Bennet every now and again. He was nervous. Even though he had been preparing himself all last night to do what he was about to do, he feared now to put it into action.
Jane was also nervous. She had thought, no hoped, when he had asked the evening before if she would be alone the next day, that it was because of a particular question he wished to air. It was a hope that had haunted her all night, controlling her dreams and fears, preventing her from saying anything to anyone just in case she was proved wrong.
Soon they reached the very fine tree that signalled the outskirts of the village green, a quieter part of Lambton on this pleasant day. Both stopped, Jane, due to Bingley, and he, because he wanted to. Slowly he turned to face her. "Miss Bennet," he began in a voice which was striving to be calm, "for some time now I have been wanting to ask you something. And to confess this. I love you. I have loved you since I know not when, perhaps as far back as the night we first met.
"It is not like how I thought love would be. I hoped it would make me bold, but it has only made me more nervous, fearing that you would not return my regard. It even made me begin to doubt my own. But these past few days have wiped that doubt away and in its place is this desire." He paused and reached into his pocket. His eyes remained fixed on hers as he kneeled down before her, a ring clasped in his hands. "Miss Bennet, Jane, will you do me the great honour of becoming my wife?"
"Only if you will do me the great honour of becoming my husband," Jane replied, scarcely believing her courage to say so, let alone that this was real.
This is a dream, Bingley thought, as with shaking hands he slid the ring on to her finger. As he kissed her hands another passed through his mind. If it is I hope never to wake up.
And what can be said of Jane through all of this? When Bingley had turned to face her, she had only just begun to dare herself to hope. Then when he had spoke, her hope was replaced by surprise and disbelief that it was actually happening. He loved her! He had always loved her! It no longer mattered what had happened in London, nothing did, except for this. He loved her!
Bingley was overjoyed. He could have stayed like this forever. But his mind would not let him. Instead it was commanding him to stand up and return with his fiancee- his fiancee! -to the Inn, so he could spread the news to everyone in the world. He obliged it, taking Jane's hand and clasping it in his own.
For some time nothing was said between them. Then their emotions took control and many things were voiced. Jane found to her relief that he had not known that she was in London last winter and if he had he would have abandoned everything to see her. In turn, she confessed something to him just as they reached the Inn.
"Charles," she began timidly, using his name for the first time. "You have made me so happy. I love you too. I have loved you I believe since the first time I dared myself to hope that you felt the same, the night of the Netherfield ball."
"I shall remember that day forever," Bingley declared. "Shall I call on you tomorrow?"
Jane nodded eagerly. He kissed hand once, then departed. Her last words stayed in his mind through the rest of the day.
It was no surprise for Jane to find that Mr Darcy had paid call on her sister when she returned from the happiest afternoon of her life to the parlour. For awhile she felt content enough to watch the scene before her; Elizabeth smiling at Mr Darcy, her eyes upon him and not the door, and Mr Darcy's obvious attentiveness- difficult as it was to determine from his back -in return. Even an unbiased observer, Jane felt, would have been quite able to note that a favourable conclusion was soon to come by this hopeful scene.
Unfortunately, the scene could not remain for long. Elizabeth happened to glance up, and noticed her return. "Jane, how long have you been back?"
"Only a moment," Jane lied, as Mr Darcy rose to face her, bowing in greeting. She could not avoid hiding her smile as she acknowledged it.
Likewise Darcy noticed the expression. He took a careful observation of her, idly wondering if his suspicions concerning his friend were correct. Judging by the happiness that emanated from her, this seemed to be the case. "I shall take my leave now, Miss Elizabeth," he began, facing Elizabeth at first, then reverting back to Jane. "As I believe your sister has some news to relay."
He seemed to hesitate at this, reluctant to actually part from Elizabeth's company. Gathering his courage, he turned back to her and, fully conscious that they were not alone, took her hand in his and raised it to his lips. He felt a shudder radiate through her, and then, not trusting himself to remain in control, went to take his leave of Miss Bennet. He took Jane's outstretched hand in his. "I hope I am not being too presumptuous in offering my congratulations, Miss Bennet."
Thus, it was with this phrase and a final glance at Elizabeth, that Mr Darcy quitted the Inn, leaving Jane to turn to her sister. All Elizabeth needed to say was "well?" before she rushed to embrace her, crying aloud, "oh, Lizzy!"
"I am so happy," Jane continued in the same joyful tone. "It is too much, it is too much. Oh, why can't everybody be as happy as I am? He loves me, Lizzy. He loves me!"
"Of course he does," Elizabeth agreed, overjoyed to see her sister thus.
"He told me he had always loved me, all the time. He never even knew I was in town. Oh Lizzy, I cannot believe this is happening!"
Elizabeth found herself unable to stop smiling. Leading Jane to the chairs, she begged her to recount the events of the afternoon.
Jane was only too happy to oblige. She relayed the entire afternoon in every detail, from the first moment to her parting confession and his last words. "At times, Lizzy, I could not believe I was awake. It felt all too like a dream. Charles- I can call him, Charles, Lizzy! -confessed to him he felt the same.
"Oh, I had hoped when he asked to meet me yesterday that he intended to ask, but not with any certainty. I am so glad he did. And now," she began anew, looking at her sister with a inquiring smile, "what has happened in your afternoon?"
Elizabeth reflected upon it. After the discussion about her sister the conversation had moved to general things, perhaps in an effort to avoid discussing feelings, something which Elizabeth felt reluctant to do so at present. Darcy had remained constant in his attentions towards her, his eyes never leaving her face all afternoon. His manner had been the pinnacle of goodness.
Yet at the same time, his meaning had been undeniable to her. He was certainly still in love with her, as much as she had been so unsure of it a few days ago. His attentions today had gone a long way to convince her of that, as she now realised was his intention. At the time she had been puzzled as to why, but now it occurred to her that he had wanted to ascertain her feelings, to see if she still hated him.
I hope I gave him enough in return for all of his. Lastly, she thought upon his parting gift. She had seen his hesitation to leave, but had no expectation of what it would lead to. The touch of his lips upon her hand had stirred such feelings within her. Had he felt her shudder, partly from surprise, partly due to her wish for it to be repeated?
Elizabeth came out of her reflection at this point, realising Jane deserved an answer. "Nothing of great significance," she began, observing her sister rapidly hiding her disappointment. "Jane, my situation and yours are entirely different. You and Mr Bingley both felt the same way in the beginning, I did not."
She paused to collect her thoughts again. "As far as I can hope to determine, what happened here today was merely a test on his part to find out if I feel anything for him." She then launched fully into the events.
Jane was disappointed her sister's suitor had not pledged himself, she had wanted Elizabeth to be as happy as she was. However, she was determined to remain hopeful that it would be a future event and sought to give her sister the same feeling. "I'm sure your actions satisfied him, Lizzy. Do not lose hope. He knows you too well by now to mistake your feelings any more. His friend I am sure will encourage him to do what he has done."
Elizabeth remained doubtful. "But a man who has been refused......."
"That does not matter. It has only made him cautious that is all. Depend upon it, Lizzy, he will ask you before this holiday is out."
Darcy experiencing the same kind of uncertainty when his friend returned to Pemberley that late afternoon. Charles Bingley found him in the Music room, silently listening to Miss Darcy's playing, his thoughts seemingly in another place. If it were not for his enthusiastic greeting, Bingley doubted his friend would have noticed his presence.
"Darce, I have the most excellent news," he began after greeting Georgiana.
"You and Miss Bennet are engaged," replied his friend.
Bingley seemed astonished at his friend's determination. "How on earth did you...."
"It required no great deduction," Darcy replied as Georgiana pledged her congratulations. "You departed early this morning without explanation and upon her return Miss Bennet was practically glowing."
"Was she?" Bingley uttered dreamily before continuing. "Yes I have the honour of her hand. She loves me, Darce! She is an angel!" He trailed off and sat down with a satisfied sigh. Then he realised his friend's unconscious slip.
"Wait a minute, how did you know she was glowing?" Bingley did not wait for his friend to answer, he was way ahead of him. "You visited Miss Elizabeth did you not?" He queried with a knowing smile.
Darcy reluctantly confessed that he did. "Well?" His friend inquired.
"No, I did not propose," Darcy replied to Bingley's hopeful tone and his sister's wishful glance. "It is too soon for me to do so."
"But she loves you, William!" Georgiana eagerly declared.
"Does she?" Darcy asked. "I'm not so sure. Not two months ago she hated me."
"I'm sure that has changed," his sister rejoined. "After all, you have adhered to her criticisms, and she has not once declined to seek you out for conversation. Did anything occur today to make you doubt this much?"
Darcy did not need to think over it for he had replayed the visit repeatedly in his mind since its conclusion. In particular his parting gift, to which she had shuddered to. Whether it was out of surprise, disgust, or because she had been pleased by it, he could not tell. "Nothing. It is just a feeling," he was forced to concur.
"Then why rely on it? End your worry and ask her. I'm her answer will be favourable."
"I'll see," Darcy replied, his tone displaying a wish to end the conversation. He could not help but think about the events that had happened the last time he had determined such a course of action.
The next day dawned with what first looked to be disappointment at the Inn. Mr Edward Gardiner had a few days ago, wrote to his business partners to request a further leave of several days in order to allow both his nieces' hands to be claimed. As the days passed and no reply came, all had begun to worry that he was to be refused and so the arrival of a letter caused much trepidation.
Mr Gardiner however, quickly relieved their doubts. "They have allowed my request," he announced just as steps emanating from the hallway became audible. Rapidly they readied themselves for the expected guests.
The guests, Mr Darcy, Miss Darcy, and Mr Bingley, were most profuse in their apologies for interrupting their breakfast.
Mrs Gardiner brushed them aside. "We would have been earlier, but we had a lot to talk about. We have decided to extend our time here in Lambton, as we had planned to leave at the end of the week." Madeline paused here, seeing both gentlemen briefly lose composure at her words and then regain it as they caught up with the end. "We had not expected to find much to see in Lambton, but I realised that very little has changed here and I begged my husband to postpone our departure."
"And her husband," Mr Gardiner replied with a teasing smile to his nieces, "seeing that he was outvoted, could hardly refuse."
"Well, may I say that I am glad you did not," Darcy replied, his expression betraying that 'glad' was a complete understatement. Rapidly he conveyed his request before his fears took over. "We came with the hope that you might join us at Pemberley today."
"We would be delighted to," Mrs Gardiner replied, noting Mr Bingley's almost idiotic gaze at her eldest niece who was also nearly grinning inanely. She could without any great deal of thought determine easily what had happened yesterday afternoon. Her other niece was less open with her feelings. She only directed slight glances while her suitor's eyes had not left her form since his arrival. "Give us just a few minutes and we will depart immediately."
The few minutes were given and soon the whole party had gathered outside. Two open carriages and four, both bearing the Darcy family crest, stood waiting in front of them. Mr Bingley helped Jane into the first, Mr Gardiner entering with them. In the second, Darcy handed in Mrs Gardiner, Georgiana, and finally Elizabeth before seating himself and directing the drivers to be on their way.
Mrs Gardiner delighted herself in observing the actions of her niece and their host during the short journey to Pemberley. Both seemed concerned on their silence, yet each were hesitant to end it. Miss Darcy was engaged in the same task as herself, Madeline noticed, pleased to see her assistance.
The conclusions she drew puzzled her greatly. The depth of affection for each other seemed obvious in both, yet neither seemed to notice it. She knew the full story of their past and could understand why both were reluctant to hope, but she dearly wished that they were not blind to what the other felt. All it needed was for one of them to take the plunge and since it was not in her niece's nature, Mrs Gardiner prayed it was in Mr Darcy's.
Mrs Reynolds looked up from her work just in time to witness a rare sight. Standing a few metres away, in perfect view of her private parlour window was her master. It was not this that was the rare sight, indeed the master was fond of long walks in the grounds. Only in this case it was daylight and he was not alone.
A lady that had toured the estate some days ago with her sister and Aunt and Uncle was standing with him. But this was not the rare sight either, even though it had been called as such a few days earlier. No, the rare sight was her master laughing.
Laughing. Mrs Reynolds watched the event with great interest and happiness. She had not seen her master with so much as a smile ever since responsibility was thrust upon on him five years ago. He had thrown himself into the running of the estate as though nothing else was worth living for.
Kate Reynolds had watched in concern as her master turned from the happy young gentleman he had once been into the silent and reserved master of Pemberley. Last April in particular had been a trial as the mask he had kept up began to slip. He had been silent and withdrawn, refusing to give any explanation as to why.
And now he seemed happier than ever before. The company had only been here for a few hours and already her master had blossomed because of it. The household had also improved as a result, perhaps in an effort to make themselves unnoticeable in order to aide their master in what was undeniably a courtship.
And Mrs Reynolds could not help but rejoice in her hopefully future mistress. Miss Elizabeth Bennet seemed to bring out the best in him. She did not idolise him as some ladies tended to do, instead she saw him as just a man. She would even tease him, a feat which no one had been able to do for a long time.
She was not a fortune seeker for her master knew their type all too well and have quickly forgotten her if that had been the case. She was beautiful, intelligent, talented, and not disposed to the colour orange, as some women that Mrs Reynolds knew. I wonder what they are talking about to make him laugh so, was her last thought as she returned to work.
The Gardiners and their nieces had only been at Pemberley for scarcely an hour when the party split into smaller, more intimate groups. Jane and her happy suitor sat quietly together, their discussion of only one topic, the Gardiners stayed with Georgiana, and Elizabeth and Darcy were walking to the house with the intent to arrange a luncheon outdoors.
The walk took longer however, than either of them had anticipated. Talk naturally began, the recent engagement was foremost as a topic.
"Were you surprised?" Elizabeth asked her host upon his beginning the subject.
"No, I felt it would soon happen."
"That is to say you have given your blessing."
"No, not because of that," Darcy replied, looking at her earnestly, hoping that she was teasing. Hoping against hope it was not what she really thought. "I had apologised to Bingley the very day he arrived at Pemberley. I expected him to be very angry with me.
"But if anything, he was more angry with his sisters. He approved that I, unlike them, had the thought to apologise and admit my mistakes. I hope they will both be very happy."
Elizabeth was not surprised by his conclusion. Her growing realisation at her affection for him, had led her to guess that he would just as pleased as she was for his friend's happiness. She smiled at him, a gesture which, after a moment's hesitation, he returned.
I had always hoped for this, was the thought that ran through Darcy's mind as he returned that smile. To have her smiling at him, eliminated one of his fears from his parting move last night, disgust. It also led to another delightful conclusion. She no longer hated him.
This thought almost overwhelmed him and it was with difficulty that he turned his mind back to the bewitching company that was with him, just in time to hear the conclusion of the story that Elizabeth was telling him. He sensed the underlying humour in her voice, and although he had no idea was she had just said, he laughed with her, just in time for Mrs Reynolds to notice them.
Elizabeth noticed his introspection after her impulsive gesture and was pleased it had been too long for him not to laugh at her story, as she had no wish for him to become too thoughtful. She was fast becoming to see that there were similarities in their characters and as her own thoughts lately had given her many fears, she did not wish him the same.
All too soon they came to the servants entrance. Darcy quietly led her through a maze of passage ways before coming to a halt outside a white panelled door. He knocked, and then opened, letting Elizabeth in first before himself. "I hope we have not interrupted you, Mrs Reynolds."
Kate turned round in surprise to see the couple that she had been watching happily in her parlour. "Of course not, sir. How may I help you?"
"I was hoping that you would keep Miss Elizabeth company, while I went to arrange some luncheon outside."
Kate Reynolds was only too glad to oblige. She watched with a fond smile as her master departed from them with hushed tones and a kiss upon the hand directed at Miss Bennet.
Elizabeth was slightly nervous at being left alone with a woman that her suitor depended a great deal upon and who was something of an influence upon him. She had a great desire not to disappoint Mrs Reynolds and to be liked.
Fortunately, Kate was perfectly agreeable to liking Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Her previous introduction to her, when she had thought her nothing more than a tourist, had already given her a positive impression, and the subsequent visits by her and her family had led her to find everything pleasing and nothing to dislike.
Smiling, she began the conversation, "I see, Miss Elizabeth, that you know my master more than a little."
"I do now, Mrs Reynolds, although when I replied to you before, I was speaking the complete truth. I did not know him well at all then."
"So it has not been a smooth courtship then?" Mrs Reynolds inquired.
Elizabeth blushed. She had not known what had possessed her to reply with honesty to Mrs Reynolds and she had not been expecting the next question. Is it really that obvious? "No it has not."
Kate had difficulty keeping her happiness in check when she heard this reply. So, she will be the new mistress. Well I could not wish for a better one.
The slight rustling that might have betrayed the presence of a stranger was scarcely noticed by the party that it encountered. Indeed, upon first sight of them, the stranger put a great deal of effort into silencing that rustling.
The stranger noticed many things. A fair haired couple chatting happily together, with looks directed only at each other and blissful smiles upon their countenances. Not far from them lay another couple, dark in contrast and far less confident in displaying their affection.
Perhaps it was undeclared, the stranger concluded, turning a look at the other members of the party. Yet another couple, although quite obviously married, chaperones it seemed, to the couples that were soon to follow into their state. The last was a young, beautiful woman, looking with hopeful eyes at the dark haired couple not far from her. The stranger was surprised at just how much she had grown in the short absence. Slowly he stepped forward and revealed himself.
Georgiana was the first to notice him. She leapt up to greet him, breaking the spell that had seemed to bewitch them. "Richard!"
Richard Fitzwilliam was more than happy to close his arms around his youngest cousin. "Good afternoon Georgie. Well, well," he added as she drew back from him, "I do believe you have grown even more beautiful than when I saw you last." He took her hand and walked into the confines of the group which had all risen upon his arrival. "Darce, I am most displeased," he continued in his best imitation of a certain Aunt.
Darcy looked perplexed at his cousin, much to his amusement. "Displeased?"
"Yes, unreservedly so." Richard paused waiting. "What have you forgotten?"
"Oh," Darcy replied and rapidly began the introductions. "Mr and Mrs Edward Gardiner, Miss Bennet, this is my cousin, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam. You remember, Miss Elizabeth and Bingley, Fitzwilliam?"
Richard acknowledged the greeting and returned it readily. "Thank you, Darce, but it was not that which displeased me."
Darcy rapidly searched his mind for something else. "This is a surprise to see you?" He finally queried.
"No," Richard replied, knowing full well the reason for his cousin's loss of memory. "In ten days time, the greatest Society event of the Season is to occur." He paused, waiting for his cousins to realise, but in vain. Finally he took pity upon them. "Henry's wedding, Darce."
Realisation dawned, quickly followed by embarrassment at forgetting something his family had been planning before he had even considered asking to marry the woman that was standing beside him. Had he really become so involved in this courtship to forget everything that happened in the outside world?
This revelation made up his mind with astonishing speed. He would ask her, and pray to have a favourable answer before he left to see his cousin acquire the happy state he had been wishing for since that cold dismal day in April.
"Henry is my eldest cousin," he explained to the company at large, "in March he asked Lady Adelaide Fairchilde, the eldest daughter of Lord Wildemere, to marry him. The wedding was planned for March, but put off due to unforeseen difficulties. I must confess with all that has happened, I forgot that a new date had been announced."
"More than announced, Darcy, but I daresay my mother will forgive you when you explain what has bewitched you," the Colonel remarked, looking significantly at Miss Elizabeth Bennet who blushed and lowed her gaze at the implication in his eyes. He met his cousin's and received a silent threat in reply to finish his sentence in the planned theme.
"Anyhow, I am here at her request to escort you and Georgie to town before its too late. And the order of the Countess of Matlock is not something one can refuse without having a Will prepared beforehand. We do not have to leave now, but we must arrive at least two days before the event. The Wildemeres have set a pre-wedding gathering for then."
"So, you are requesting a room for a while?" Darcy questioned, his smile the only betraying sign that he was not serious in his frustration.
"Ignore my cousin, Miss Elizabeth, he is usually overjoyed to see me," Richard replied in good faith as he smiled at her, and then went to greet his cousin's friend, whom he had known almost as long as Darcy himself. "Bingley my dear fellow, good to see you again. I am too presumptuous to suppose that congratulations are in order?"
"I say, is it really that obvious?" Bingley asked in his classic gaiety as Jane smiled prettily at her intended.
Elizabeth watched the greeting with conflicting thoughts that she was having great difficulty in preventing to surface. She was happy to see Colonel Fitzwilliam once more; they had been great friends during her time spent at Rosings, but she was not happy that his arrival meant the future departure of the man that she had come to regard as someone she wanted to spend the rest of her life with.
She felt her power sinking as every thing must sink under the requirements of family duty and obligation. Did she really have any right to hope that her wish would be granted before they departed? Was even the contemplation of such in vain? And what about the continued leave her uncle had been granted only this morning? Was that too to be abandoned, in favour of returning home to announce her sister's happiness?
At this moment, Elizabeth realised her selfishness. Jane's intended wedding must take precedence over any speculation- in its purest sense -of her own. However, another fear overtook; Jane's marriage to Mr Bingley meant that she would be in the company of them and his friend very often. If all her hopes were in vain the continuance of an acquaintance would be too much to bare, even for her sister's sake. What was she to do?
Darcy had been watching his cousin congratulate his friend when, with sudden acuteness, he noticed Elizabeth's introspection. The conflicting emotions were visible not upon her face, but in her fine eyes, which he had turned to for his hope and acceptance throughout her visits to Pemberley.
He gazed into their depths, trying to fathom why she felt grief when not five minutes before she had glowed in pleasure at his company. A thought came into his mind, and impulsively he acted upon it, shutting out the world, gazing deeply at her, willing her to see the love in his eyes, the affection, and his intentions that he would voice before he had to leave.
Madeline Gardiner watched the movements of her host with a smile and fervent prayer that her niece would notice the silent but completely obvious declaration of love that she was receiving, regardless of the party at large. That she would not be blind due to the news they had just heard and would keep her wish alive for it was to be granted soon.
Richard Fitzwilliam observed the rest of his first day at Pemberley with bemused happiness. He quietly laughed over the besotted glances of Charles Bingley which were constantly directed at his fiancee, whose reply was a contented but subdued version of the same. He struggled to stop his amusement from breaking forth over his cousin's attempts to try and be alone with Miss Elizabeth Bennet but in vain until the company left late evening after dinner.
Now, as he sat down in the Library, a drink in his hand, waiting for his cousin to return from walking his greyhounds in the early darkness of the night, he reflected over his obedience to leave two days ago. He could have left much later and not cause the distress that had occurred. But his mother had been adamant for him to go.
Indeed at the time, he had been glad to depart a household overwrought with stress, worry and preparations. His father had achieved the best solution by far; retreating to his club as soon as the fortnight deadline had passed. Likewise his brother had been too involved with the upcoming event to even notice the worry he was causing.
The constant flow of replies to invites, requests for visits, either to someone's place or for someone to pay call on them, had therefore all gone to his mother, setting the Countess a great deal of stress, an emotion not helped by the non-arrival of her nephew and niece, with no word sent as by way of explanation. His leave had only lasted a week before Richard had wished to escape the chaos that was a Society Wedding. His mother's requests had therefore seemed a blessing by comparison.
If only he had any idea of what was awaiting him in Derbyshire. Darcy was quite clearly in early stages of a courtship that could not be rushed and the lady this time was of a mood to receive his intentions willingly. After the disastrous proposal of April, Richard had not thought for a moment that his cousin would be able to come this far so quickly. Yet he had and the chances of a resolution seemed to be certain.
At this point Darcy came into join him, interrupting his reflections. Richard looked at his friend and voiced his first thought. "I should not have come."
"Why on earth do you think that?" Darcy asked, sitting down opposite the Colonel, a glass in his hand. Despite his unsuccessful attempts to speak to Miss Elizabeth alone today, he was still relatively contented with the present situation. His departure was not for many days, he still had time.
"Because my arrival has quite clearly put a stop to your courtship."
"No, if anything it has done the opposite, Rich," Darcy assured him, leaning forward to explain. "Before your arrival I feared to ask Miss Elizabeth. Now I know I have to soon, or I might lose whatever chance I had in the first place. She and her Aunt and Uncle have been here for many days now. I know her better now, than I ever did in April. She no longer avoids me, indeed I have hope that she even looks forward to my daily visits."
"Indeed, that much was clear to me," Richard agreed, as his cousin smiled in hope at his words. "That is why I doubted my right to come. I should have delayed until you were needed in town."
"No, Rich, I needed that reminder. I had completely forgotten Henry's wedding. The only reason I came up Pemberley in the first place was that I needed an escape from town. And thank god I had the thought to bring Bingley with me."
"Yes, he certainly looks the better for it." Richard finished his drink and stood. "Well, after two days of hard travelling I think I deserve an early night. I'll see you in the morning."
"Goodnight Richard," Darcy returned and waited for the door to close before settling into a reverie over the evening events.
After his cousin had joined them for Luncheon the weather had taken a sudden turn for the worse, requiring all to retire to the house. He invited the Gardiners and their nieces to stay for dinner and listened in joy to Elizabeth playing a song afterwards.
He had never left her side throughout the rest of day, rejoicing that she often sought his conversation rather than his cousin's when only months before the opposite had been the case. They had talked of many things; books, music, their mutual love of country walks and county sites, all but the wedding that was to require his departure in a few days time.
Lastly, his thoughts came to rest on the decision that he had made upon the arrival of his cousin and announcement of this event. That he would ask Elizabeth Bennet to become his wife and receive an answer before they had to leave. He had been perfectly convinced it was the right thing to do the moment he made it, but now; fears were intruding.
Foremost was the fear that she would refuse him once again, and all of this had been vain. Also that if he hesitated and waited until after the wedding, it would be too late. Both fears would serve to occupy his night as he tried to keep himself decided in his decision.
Elizabeth also had a troubled night. Her fears that Mr Darcy would never ask had stayed with her from the moment of their existence that afternoon. It had taken her a great deal of effort to seem unaffected by it throughout the evening spent in his company, which she had been pleased to have to herself. However she surrendered to them fully upon their quitting Pemberley late evening.
That had been almost an hour ago and she had yet to rise from the window seat of her room at the Inn, to ready herself for bed. The events of the day however encouraging had done nothing to lessen the fear. He had been attentive, talkative, seemingly immersed in only her company, but whether this thought had been influenced by her wishes rather than rationale, she could not determine, even if she had the courage to do so. She knew that soon her wish had to be put aside before her emotions became incapable of recovery.
I have five days, was Elizabeth's last thought before she slipped into bed. Just five days.
A departure date for Matlock House in London was reluctantly set at breakfast the next morning. It was determined that three days more in Derbyshire would suffice, giving time for Darcy to prepare gifts, horses, carriages and Pemberley to be shut up again until their return in a fortnight. As far as that gentleman was concerned, three days was not enough, for it only left two with which to propose to Miss Elizabeth.
His preference had been for five, which would have given him time to select the right place and words and hopefully, have an answer before he left and still fulfil his Aunt's requirements to arrive two days before the wedding, allowing for a smooth journey down. But Richard would not be persuaded. Although he sympathised with his cousin's predicament, he was also well aware of his mother's wish to have them down as soon as possible.
"Besides," he remarked lastly to Darcy upon the subject, "I am sure Miss Elizabeth will accept you now, providing the question is asked."
Privately Darcy was inclined to be sceptical of this. The past few days had at first seemed like a dream, then an idyllic paradise when he realised it was really occurring before him. But now as his time came to leave, images of events from April at Rosings began to intrude more frequently, causing many fears, besides the dread that she might refuse him again, thus turning the dream into a nightmare and the paradise into a mirage.
Did he dare ask her again? Had enough time passed to assure a different answer? Did she approve of him, or was her opinion still as it had been in April? These were the fears which threatened to consume him until he resolved to resolve them, by the only course that could.
Elizabeth met the new day with the same dread as her counterpart, although she attempted to put a more vigorous restraint on it. She knew full well that the Darcys departure also meant theirs by default. The Gardiners had exhausted all their acquaintance in the Lambton area and with her sister's engagement, the need to return to Longbourn to ask consent of her father was somewhat urgent. They no longer had a reason to stay.
This phrase seemed to torment her as she struggled through breakfast and the short carriage ride to Pemberley, where they had been invited once more. Its torment increased as Georgiana and Mr Bingley were the only ones there to greet them, the host and his cousin busy in putting the finishing touches to the preparations for their departure.
Miss Darcy for her part was sympathetic to Miss Elizabeth's situation. She adored her brother and was quite prepared to care similarly for the woman that had captured his heart. Even if Miss Elizabeth had not done this, Georgiana had no doubt that she would still be disposed to like her.
Her affability along with her sense of humour, intelligence and taste was a strong comparison to Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst, both of whom Georgiana greatly disliked. She therefore took charge, shepherding all to the drawing room that her brother had recently made up for her and engaging Miss Elizabeth in what she hoped was distracting conversation.
Fortunately for Miss Darcy, Elizabeth was of a mind to make an anxious effort to be distracted from her thoughts as much as possible before they threatened to overwhelm her. She happily- well as happily as a person can do so with such a state of emotions -joined in on the subject of music, resolving not to glance in the direction of the door throughout the discussion.
Her efforts were rewarded for soon Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr Darcy came walking into the room, in the middle of a conversation, which came to a halt as soon as the latter gentleman set eyes on her. He was in front of her as soon as she had rose, oblivious to the rest of the room. "Miss Bennet, I apologise for my lateness," he began, wishing the room was not so crowded so he could take her hand and kiss it. "I hope my sister has been a sufficient consolation as hostess?"
"She has been delightful, Mr Darcy," Elizabeth replied, wishing they were alone so she could add that his sister would never be a complete consolation for him. She blushed at the onlookers and resumed her seat, trying not to notice that he had taken one opposite her.
"I also offer my apologies on another subject," Darcy began, still glancing at Miss Elizabeth. "I regret that my cousin's wedding requires Georgiana and myself to depart in three days. My Aunt is anxious for our arrival to be before the ceremony." He finished abruptly as Miss Elizabeth's fine eyes darkened in what he hoped was disappointment.
"However I would like to ask if it would be possible for you to postpone your own departure until we return. I plan to stay no more than a day or two after the wedding." He knew he was taking the liberty asking such a favour, but he also knew that it was the only recourse, if Miss Elizabeth refused him before they left.
"We will happily wait," Mr Gardiner replied, noting his anxious niece and smiling at who he hoped was a future nephew. "We have only Mr Bennet's consent for Jane to call us to Hertfordshire, but I am sure that can be arranged by post."
"I have offered Bingley the task of looking after Pemberley for my absence," Darcy added, glancing at his friend, who still remained in a trance caused by his fiancee. "He accepted almost instantly." He glanced at Miss Elizabeth once more, wishing he could interpret the meaning in her fine eyes.
Elizabeth herself scarcely heard much of the conversation after Mr Darcy's first words. Three days? He was leaving in three days. The phrase ran through her mind repeating itself over and over. She had lost her chance. Almost as soon as she had thought the last, she realised she was being ridiculous. There was still hope. After all, her future brother in law was Mr Darcy's best friend. She sighed almost audibly as this revelation did nothing to the despair that was rising in her heart.
"Miss Elizabeth?" A voice suddenly brought Elizabeth out of her trance. She looked up to find her host gazing at her with some concern. Was her mask of good humour really so transparent? She took a glance at the other members of the room. Unlike the last occasion Mr Darcy had spoken to her they were all involved in other conversations; the Gardiners with Georgiana and the Colonel, Jane with Mr Bingley. "I must apologise, Mr Darcy. My thoughts distracted me."
Darcy waved the apology away. Gathering his courage he moved to take the empty seat beside her, making sure no one noticed. "I was hoping I might ask a favour of you?"
"You may," Elizabeth acquiesced, trying to sound her usual self, while her mind speculated wildly on what he could want and revelled in his closeness.
"Would you do me the honour," he dropped his voice lower so only she could hear him, "of granting me a private interview tomorrow? There is something particular that I wish to ask you."
Elizabeth had difficulty keeping her composure in check at the implication of his words. His ardent look at her did nothing to help in this task. Unable to avoid a blush she nodded her assent, looking at him through lowered eyelashes to see his response.
She was not disappointed. Darcy could barely contain his joy. He smiled at her, wishing tomorrow was already with them, so he could do what he had been longing to do to those eyelashes. Rapidly remembering they were not alone he resumed a more appropriate distance from her and attempted to think of something else to talk about.
Thankfully the a signal that luncheon was ready saved him from the vain attempt. Her acceptance had made him forget everything else. Later he would be surprised that he had ever had the courage to ask her in the first place but at present that mattered not.
He found himself listening to his cousin's and sister's discussion which took hold of the rest of the party but himself and- he was please to note -Miss Elizabeth Bennet through the entirety of the lunch. None of the salient points however failed to capture him for his thoughts and gaze continually reverted to Miss Elizabeth whenever they were not needed for the meal that was in front of him.
This was to be an action that he kept repeating the entire evening.
"And so it has been like that ever since you arrived? Incredible."
"Why do you say so? Was there nothing in his behaviour in April?"
The sun had gone down on Pemberley a long time ago and its guests had departed only an hour after its sinking. Colonel Fitzwilliam was indulging along with his youngest cousin in the old tradition of using the Long Gallery as a substitute to the outside. Their conversation had been of nothing else but the courtship of her brother, relating events to each other both had seen alone and their impressions of the events of the evening.
The evening in question had gone well. After the luncheon all had remained in the drawing room, prevented of going anywhere else due the rain which had began that afternoon. The Gardiners and their nieces had stayed for an early dinner before departing when the weather lightened up briefly. Entertainment in the evening had been executed by Georgiana and Miss Elizabeth Bennet, at the pianoforte.
"Darce hid almost all of his feelings while we were at Rosings. As for Miss Elizabeth...... I presume he has told you what happened?"
"Yes. Only when I had already made her acquaintance though."
"Well apart from his frequent absences, I saw nothing to make me suspicious. I never imagine I would see this when I left London."
"Tell me," Georgiana paused, coming to a halt. "Is he going to propose?"
"I have no idea," Confessed Richard honestly. "That is to say he has told me of his intention to do so before we leave, but I do not see why not. They are easy in each others company and he did complain when I told him of our forthcoming departure." He vacillated, looking at her. "Georgie, what's wrong?"
"I want him to be happy, Richard. So much has happened........ he should be happy. He deserves to be happy."
"Oh, Georgie," he began, taking her hands. "I thought you had stopped thinking of him."
"I try to," she replied, her voice becoming shaky. "But I cannot always avoid it. He deserves it Richard. William has been so good to me."
"He's your brother, Georgie. You might as well ask for time to stop. And to reassure you. I have no mind to predict the future, but I think that it will happen. And I also think that you deserve it as well. There will be someone, Georgie. There always is for everyone."
Fitzwilliam Darcy rose from his bed early the next morning, his nerves overtaking any need for further sleep. Putting on a dressing gown he advanced to the window, looking out at the coming dawn, as if the weather could predict the outcome of the day.
The day. Was he allowed to hope? Privately he still wondered. He knew that it was perhaps only his imminent departure that had spurred his mind to resolve and ask a second time. If Henry was not getting married, Darcy doubted that he would be asking her so soon. He had known all too well the day he had decided to try again that it would have to be taken slowly and with caution. Was this being cautious? He knew all too well it was anything but.
Yet a part of him had to ask, had to know, before he left for town if he stood a second chance for her hand. He knew that if he held off, he would get another chance, as Bingley had already asked him to stand up at his future wedding to Miss Bennet, which would undoubtedly take place at Longbourn.
But the part of him that needed to know, that longed to ask, was presently overruling any sense of rationale, if indeed he had any concerning her in the first place. It was this that had prompted him to sit next to her yesterday, and request a private interview today. The time and place of that interview, he realised only after they had left, had not been arranged, but he hoped such matters would arrange themselves.
With this in mind he left the window and rang the bell for his valet. He went to return to his bed, but came to a halt by the bureau. Slowly he bent down and pressed one of the flowers that adorned it as decoration, revealing a secret compartment. Carefully he took out the blue velvet box that was its only occupant. With a suddenly shaking hand, he opened it. Inside lay two large gemstones, a ruby and a sapphire, combined together in the shape of a heart, finished off with a gold band.
The ring had been in the family for generations, part of the Darcy jewels that had accumulated over the years. This was the first time it was to see the light of day, since the death of his mother. He had left it behind when he had asked at Hunsford, a proposal done purely on impulse, brought on by a desire to relieve his suffering. Perhaps that had been a sign, dooming it from the beginning. Perhaps carrying it today would bring him luck and turn the day to his favour. He laughed at this sudden turn of mind, knowing that it was not just the neglect of a ring that had doomed that day.
Other factors had contributed to its failure, namely his arrogance, conceit and selfishness. All those he hoped, had been eliminated now, although her words occasionally still haunted his nights and days. He glanced at the ring once more, noticing the words he had requested to be inscribed inside the ring after taking it from the family vault in April.
Despite his initial anger at being refused, his feelings had overridden any directed at her, causing him have the added words, resolving that if he ever did have a second chance, they were words he intended to live by from that day. Silently, he mouthed them. Ever mine, ever thine, ever for each other. The mantra had come to him one night in a dream, and seemed fitting words to describe the depth of his feelings for her. He hoped she now felt the same.
The coming steps of his valet brought back to reality. Closing the box with a snap, Darcy placed it on the surface of his bureau, closing the compartment it had been contained in. He turned back to the door, his face forming a mask of control over his nerves. "Good morning James. I think the green riding suit will do for today."
"Yes sir," James replied, closing the door behind him. Subtly glancing over the room as he took out the required garments, the velvet box did not escape his notice. Gossip had been rife in the servants quarters ever since the master's arrival. Now he had something to confirm the speculation. Silently he wished his master luck.
Elizabeth greeted the day with the same amount of nerves and inability to sleep as our hero. She too rose in the early morning, walked to the window in her chamber and gazed out at the coming dawn.
Ever since she had nodded her assent to his request she had been unable to think of anything else. His words had haunted her mind throughout the rest of the evening, along with his silent refusal to leave her company. He had remained seated by her until dinner, whereupon he had escorted her into the dining room and arranged her seat on the left of his at the head of the table. The seat beside her was resumed again after dinner and when they had parted his lips had managed to briefly kiss her hand.
The only thing he had neglected was to ask where and when he might solicit this interview, but she hoped that circumstances would be in their favour. She knew her Aunt and Uncle had planned for them to visit the church in the morning, leaving the afternoon free for her own devices until their dinner at Pemberley. She hoped to break away even before then, as her mind was becoming impatient to find out if her hopes were right about the purpose of his interview.
Did she have a right to hope? To wish for, desire for, a second attempt? Privately a part of her wondered. She had long come to realise that he was not only someone who complimented her but was also her equal in both intellect and character, providing she taught him the ability to laugh at oneself once in a while. His wealth, even though it mattered not to her as far as love was concerned, was secure enough that they had never need to worry about where they lived. She laughed at herself for thinking of this, before he even asked her again.
Yet a part of her could not help but speculate on his attributes. Blushing, she remembered his appearance when she had first encountered him at Pemberley, in soaking wet breeches and shirt. There was no denying that he was by far the handsomest man of her acquaintance, even without the fantasies that image of him had led to.
She knew it was scandalous to think of him in that way, but her imagination seemed to have taken a mind of its own recently. His closeness to her last night when he had asked that favour of her had brought the image back, making her ability to keep her composure extremely difficult. She still wondered what he thought of that encounter, whether he had been embarrassed.
The sound of footsteps approaching her door brought her back to reality. Sighing, she turned away from the window and walked back to the bed, masking her turmoil with composure and smiling at the maid who had come to help her dress.
The maid herself was not oblivious to the gossip that surrounded her present mistress and the master of Pemberley. She had it from her brother who was a groundsmen who had it from general witness, having happened to be working the many times his master was with Miss Elizabeth. Speculation was as rife among the populous of Lambton as it was at Pemberley.
The more confident had laid a private betting on when the engagement would be announced, while others had just observed when they could, wishing wistfully that such a man or such a woman would solicit their heart the way they had. The master of Pemberley was well respected and liked, as good and as benevolent as his late father had been. They could wish nothing more on him than happiness for he deserved nothing less. And with rumours of his immediate departure to London, they hoped he achieved it soon.
As the day progressed the morning weather of light breeze and sun remained, deciding the plan by the Gardiners to visit the church that day. Elizabeth tried to act as if she was looking forward to it, but felt her attempt was in vain. She began to despair of his arrival missing their departure entirely, as Mrs Gardiner looked for her to utter a degree of joy to the visit. Fortunately the arrival of someone at the Inn saved her from having to put a great deal of effort into replying with enthusiasm.
It was Mr Darcy. The maid announced him and he greeted the four occupants of the Parlour with every appearance of geniality. If he were nervous, it could not be determined by his manner or his mien. Acquiring the seat offered- which just happened to be near Miss Elizabeth, much to both their pleasures -he answered faithfully to the well-being of his guests and sister, adding that when he had quitted his home the gentlemen were at Billiards and Georgiana at music, and all were looking forward to the Gardiner's dinner visit this evening.
Mrs Gardiner soon brought up the plan of visiting the church into general conversation- after the usual prerequisite talk of the weather and the enquiry of the general well-being of them all -and, without any appearance of design, invited Mr Darcy to partake of its pleasure with them.
The gentleman happily accepted the offer, putting his services as an appropriate guide to its history forward. Listening to this, Elizabeth could not be more pleased, could do naught but triumph. Both emotions were difficult to prevent from being displayed on her face, causing a significant look from Jane, whose good nature could not be anything else but overjoyed for her.
The excursion thus decided was set out upon by the five, whose mutual fondness for a brisk pace soon brought the destination into view, not more than half an hour after leaving the Inn. Mr Darcy obeyed propriety for a while, describing the general history of the building, its parishioners and clergy, before quietly drifting to the back of the group.
So it happened that he was able to be the first to join Elizabeth outside on the church's surrounding countryside. For a few moments he did not bother to announce his presence, preferring just to watch her in all her glory as she gazed at the beauty summer was producing on the greenery. Trying to summon the courage to proceed with his desire.
Elizabeth did not notice his arrival at first, too engrossed with observing the delightful setting around the church. Her back had been his only view and so it was with bashful surprise that she faced him upon turning round. "Mr Darcy," she uttered nervously in greeting.
Its time, a voice inside his head commanded. Darcy stepped forward until they were standing together. His gaze came to rest upon her face, observing her fine eyes, hoping he could somehow see a message from her heart within them. His hands were suddenly shaking again.
Slowly he stilled them and brought them up to take one of Miss Elizabeth's. He heard her just audible gasp of surprise, making him hesitate to return his eyes to hers. He looked at their hands together, marvelling at the novelty of it, hoping for its continuance. Courage found at last, he looked up, to find her gazing back at him. I wish I could interpret that glance, he thought.
"Miss Bennet," he began, suddenly aware of the silence that surrounded them, broken only by the occasional bird call. "Elizabeth," he uttered next, his voice savouring the syllables, his emotions revelling that she had made no objection. "I asked to talk with you today, because there is something very particular that I have long wished to ask you again."
He paused to gather his breath,
the spell of her already having its effect. "There was a time when I could
not dare to think I deserved to try again, indeed I still believe I do not, but
I can no longer wait in silence. Would you do me the great honour........."
"There was a time when I could not dare to think I deserved to try again, indeed I still believe I do not, but I can no longer wait in silence. Would you do me the great honour of becoming my wife?" There, it was out, no going back. Now comes the agony of the waiting for an answer. Oh, please say yes.
Elizabeth stood for some time in silence. Every emotion inside her was overflowing with joy at the fulfilment of her dreams. He had asked again! Her harsh words had been adhered to and despite them he still cared enough, loved her enough, to ask once more.
She began to try think how to phrase her willingness, her own love for him, without giving the impression that it was out of duty or gratitude. She gazed at their joined hands, thinking how appropriate that it was that they were near a church. So caught up in the almost overwhelming emotions, she failed to notice the effect it was having on her intended.
Darcy's nerves increased as Miss Elizabeth seemed to hesitate in answering him. Have I done the right thing, he wondered, or is it still too soon? Hurriedly, forgetting to be patient, he spoke, startling her. "Please do not feel that you have to answer now. If you would prefer to think upon it, you may be assured of my understanding. I have no desire to make you feel uneasy, or cause you any distress."
What on earth was happening? "No, indeed sir, I am quite ready to answer you," Elizabeth began, but before she could continue, Darcy spoke again.
"No, no it can wait. You can tell me your answer when I return from London." It is just as I feared. She is to refuse me once again!
"Indeed Mr Darcy, if you will but listen, I am quite content to give you an answer now. I need no time to think upon it." Elizabeth paused and then something else occurred, preventing her from voicing her acceptance completely.
It came in the form of her Aunt, who had now quitted the church and was walking towards them. Darcy immediately withdrew his hands and stepped back, clasping them behind him in an attempt to conceal their shaking. Madeline saw the move and regretted her interruption instantly.
It however too late to do anything about it now, for both were looking at her, waiting for her to speak. She hated to, but it was out of her hands. "It is approaching luncheon and Mr Gardiner believes we should all return to the Inn. Would you care to join us, Mr Darcy? I assure you that your presence will be welcome."
"I would be happy to join you all, Mrs Gardiner, but I promised my sister I would lunch with her today," Darcy replied, too nervous still to gaze at Miss Elizabeth, thus missing the evident disappointment displayed on her face. The excuse was genuine, but his state of emotions seemed reluctant to do anything other than keep it.
Even though she had yet to answer, it already felt like she had refused him again. Her words from the last time came back to haunt him and he found himself wishing to be alone, to try and compose his mind for the ordeal that was now tonight's dinner.
Only when they had returned to the Inn and she was able to seek the sanctuary of her chamber did Elizabeth manage to vent her frustration at having been unable to reply to Mr Darcy's proposal. He had quitted their presence the moment propriety allowed,- wanting to avoid her no doubt, for fear of refusal, -leaving her disheartened and upset. Most of all she was angry at herself for not being, for not acting on, her usual impulsiveness, for not jumping forward to voice her positive answer as he said farewell of them.
Why had she hesitated? Why had she not abandoned the attempt of finding the right words and just said yes? Her mind shouted at her nerves, displaying examples for when she could have spoken to him, even if it had only been briefly, and the right words she could have said that would have convinced him that not only was she serious, but to also stay for the rest of the day by her side. Now it was too late. Too late. She felt her anger turn to despair at this frightening revelation, and tears began to cloud her vision.
A hand knocked on her door, followed too quickly by the appearance of its owner for her to summon the energy to send them away or ask them to leave her alone. Jane gazed at her sister in concern. "Lizzy, are you feeling all right?"
"I'm fine, Jane." Elizabeth tried to brighten her tone. "Honestly its nothing." She added as her sister's continued wont to look sceptical.
Jane stepped inside and closed the door behind her. "I know you too well, Lizzy. Aunt Gardiner interrupted his proposal did she not?"
Elizabeth sighed and abandoned the disguise. "No, she interrupted my answer."
Jane blinked in amazement and joy. "He did ask then? Oh, Lizzy!" Her face became solemn as she realised what her sister had just said. "So he still doesn't know?"
"No. What I am to do, Jane? He said he didn't need to know until he returns. But I don't want him to wait for it. He deserves to know before he leaves for London. When can I tell him?"
Jane stepped close and pulled her sister into her arms. "Don't despair Lizzy. You still have this evening. I have no doubt that you will be to talk to him then."
Elizabeth could only nod as her sister embraced her again. I hope you turn out to be right, Jane. Oh why is everything concerning love always so complicated for me?
Richard Fitzwilliam found himself on a similar mission to Jane when he encountered his cousin in the Library, a unread book in one hand, a glass of single malt in the other. It only took one look at his face to see that it was not his first drink.
"Whiskey in the afternoon? Fitz, I'm surprised at you! Mama would be seriously displeased."
Darcy grimaced and finished the drink. "Do not call me Fitz, Richard. I am not of a mood for teasing today."
"Yes I can see that. Dare I ask what was the cause?"
Richard shook his head and took the whiskey. Pouring a drink for himself, he then returned it to its place on the sideboard. This is going to take longer than I thought. "Did you not ask her today then?"
Darcy sighed and closed his book. "I asked. My nerves however decided to give her time to think about her answer. Until we return from London."
"There's nothing wrong in that."
"What happened next is. She began to answer me."
Richard leaned forward in interest. "And?"
"We were interrupted. Mrs Gardiner came out of the church. Not that it mattered anyway."
"Of course it mattered! Darce, she wasn't going to refuse you!"
Darcy shook his head, gazing at his cousin's glass wistfully.
"No, you're not getting another drink today." Richard took a sip of his. Even though his cousin could handle drink just as well as him, Rich was not inclined to push it tonight. "Will, I have it on good authority that while the majority of your servants, and most of Lambton come to think of it, have laid bets on you and Miss Elizabeth, that the lady herself admitted you were courting her."
That brought him back to reality with a rush. Darcy looked in surprise at his cousin. "Who did you get that from?"
"Mrs Reynolds. She told me that she asked Miss Elizabeth herself and she agreed."
"When was this?"
"Before my arrival I believe. When you walked with her to arrange an outdoor picnic? You left her in Kate's charge then." Richard hid his smile behind his glass as he saw his cousin's demeanour lighten considerably.
"I wish had known this before today." Darcy sighed and leant back in the armchair. "Why did I leave her to think about it Richard? She could have answered before her Aunt arrived."
"Now I'm inclined to agree with your previous self-estimation. You were stupid."
"Thanks Richard," Darcy acknowledged sarcastically. "Care to offer any other pearls of wisdom?"
"Yes. Try to secure a moment alone with her this evening. I'm sure she will answer your question then. Oh and one more thing. Call it an order. Sober up."
Darcy smiled and saluted. "Yes, Colonel."
"Good. I'll go find Mrs Reynolds and request some of her famous black coffee."
"Thank you Richard."
Unfortunately the final evening in each others company did not go as hoped for by either of our hero and heroine. Despite managing to secure seats beside each other both before, after and during dinner, they never had a chance to talk without being observed.
Even the efforts of Jane, Richard and Georgiana who although having no idea what had occurred, was anxious for the event nonetheless, to procure an occasion for them to talk were unsuccessful due the ignorance of the other guests. Each new scheme was attempted and abandoned, leaving not just two members of the company dissatisfied at the end of the evening.
The guest left soon after dinner, leaving Elizabeth saddened and Darcy the same. He stayed watching the disappearing coach for a long, long time. Sighing regretfully, he then turned to go inside.
Next morning he, Georgiana and Fitzwilliam departed for London.
Darcy greeted the first morning in his room at his Uncle's house with a mood of distracted sufferance. Part of him was determined to prove that nothing was wrong, but the other part of him seemed not to care.
They had arrived late evening and had only the chance to say hello before all retiring to their rooms for a well needed sleep. His however had proved to be turbulent it was consumed by dreams of his last time with Elizabeth, only in these cases she had either refused him, rebuked him or both.
The last, the one which had woken him up, had somehow mixed her reply to his first proposal within the scene, causing a frantic search of his memory to assure himself that none of that had happened.
Due to this and to his nature of disliking social occasions, Darcy also found himself dreading the next few days he was to spend in London. Most of all he was dreading making excuses to his Aunt as to why he had seemed to have forgotten his cousin's wedding, especially if Richard was present when he did so, for the lie had no chance of surviving for long then.
Again he found himself rebuking his impatience for delaying her answer, as he might be engaged by now, thus easing his time during the endless events that were to preclude and follow his cousin's wedding.
He arrived moderately on time for morning repast, managing a relatively pleasant 'good morning' to all who had already arrived. Unfortunately, Richard was among them, forcing Darcy to immediately abandoned expressing his excuse, especially when his Aunt began to ask his cousin if he had enjoyed his brief time in Derbyshire.
"Oh, absolutely," Richard replied, glancing at Darcy with a wicked glint in his eye that immediately caused his cousin to leave the table for another cup of coffee. "By chance Darce had some old acquaintances staying, who were extremely pleasant."
"Really," his mother replied, glancing at her nephew who steadfastly refused to turn round and comment, preferring to move to the nearest window in an attempt to survey the view. "Who were these acquaintances?"
"Well, Charles Bingley naturally, I daresay you recollect Bingley, mother, Darcy met him at Cambridge," Richard deliberately paused dramatically here, giving his cousin further dread, for he knew what was coming next and hoped desperately that Richard did not put it in the way he was liable to do.
"And a family which he made the acquaintance of in Hertfordshire, a Mr and Mrs Edward Gardiner and their two eldest nieces. Mrs Gardiner happened to have lived in Lambton during her youth, and wanted to introduce her nieces to her old friends."
Darcy did not breathe a sigh of relief here for he knew that he had only temporary respite from the inquisition. Instead, like a man awaiting execution, he tried to pretend he had heard none of the conversation.
"Did you find these acquaintances to be agreeable?"
"Very much so," Richard replied as Georgiana came in, causing Darcy even more panic for he knew that there was to be no escape now. "I happened to meet one of the Miss Bennets at Rosings in April, when she was visiting her cousin and friend who had recently married Aunt's new vicar Mr Collins."
He turned here to Georgiana, who had no idea what was coming, much to her brother's annoyance. "Georgie, you found Miss Elizabeth Bennet in particular to be very agreeable did you not?"
"Oh yes, she was exactly as William......." Georgiana trailed off as she realised what her cousin was doing. "Richard, do not tease him."
"I am not, my dear cousin. I am only attempting to tell Mama about the acquaintances I made while staying with you."
"No that is not what you are doing at all," Georgie replied, looking at him with pleading eyes to drop the conversation.
But it was in vain for it had spiked Lady Sophia's interest. "Why you would be teasing William with this?" She asked, glancing at her nephew who still had his back to her.
"Oh, no significant reason," Richard again paused dramatically, just as his father, the last to arrive, came in, causing Darcy to wish that the ground beneath him would suddenly open up and transport him back to Derbyshire and the company of Elizabeth.
Needless to say it never did. "Only that Miss Elizabeth Bennet happens to be the keeper of my cousin's heart, but other than that, just for the sheer joui de vie."
Great, Darcy thought. Thanks a lot Richard!
"Really," Lady Sophia mused, glancing once more at her nephew and deciding she had had enough of him trying to avoid them. "William, turn round and confirm this."
She waited for him to turn around- which he did reluctantly, sending a threatening look to Richard before seeking the support of a chair -then went back to her son. "So who is this Miss Elizabeth Bennet?"
"I have already told you, Mama," Richard replied, pretending to be ignorant of what his mother wanted to know.
"Richard," the Countess began mildly rebuking him.
"Well, I'm sure Darce can describe her better than I," Richard returned, whereupon Darcy glanced at his Uncle in the vain hope he would provide a distraction.
And for once fate was on side. "Richard, please stop teasing your cousin and tell us about her. Preferably before he comes up with an excuse to exit." Or perhaps not.
"Miss Elizabeth Bennet is the second of five daughters. She lives at the second largest estate near Meryton in Hertfordshire, which I believe is entailed on her cousin, Mr Collins, who if you recollect, is Aunt Catherine's latest vicar for the Hunsford parish. Her elder sister has recently become engaged to Bingley, although he has yet to ask her father's consent so I suppose that point doesn't really matter."
Richard glanced at his cousin, remaining unperturbed by the look in reply, which had been designed with the plan to try and kill with a single glance. "The rest Darce must describe, otherwise he's liable to get very jealous for no good reason."
The Countess of Matlock took pity on her nephew at last and smiled at him. "Really, William," she began tenderly, "why have you not told us about her before?"
Richard began to chuckle, causing another look of the same design as the last to be directed at him by Darcy. This time he heeded it, retreating into silence as Georgiana added her own disapproval.
Darcy reluctantly realised at this point that his Aunt deserved an answer. "I did not know her well enough before," he replied, hoping that this would succeed as a viable excuse and that everyone would ignore his cousin's laughter.
Only one achieved its purpose. "Yet you met her after Michaelmas, did you not?"
"Yes," Darcy acknowledged as his mind rapidly tried to come up with a logical reason. "But we did not form a proper acquaintance then and when we did it was during social events."
His Aunt seemed to be satisfied with this. "And is she pretty? Intelligent, rich?"
"She is beautiful," Darcy replied, glad to receive a question that he could answer truthfully. "And very intelligent. She plays the pianoforte wonderfully."
"She does," Georgiana added, in an effort to help her brother who was very grateful for it. "Elizabeth was very kind to me when we met. She has become a dear friend." And hopefully soon a sister. "Her sister Jane was equally kind. They made me laugh."
She must be something, Sophia decided as she took in this point, to charm both of them so. "So, is she the reason you forgot the need to travel to town?"
"I confess that she is," Darcy replied, deciding to be honest on that point. Elizabeth could make me forget everything but her if she wished. Lord, I am bewitched! But such a wonderful enchantment.
"And have you proposed?" His Uncle asked him. All eyes but Richard's looked eagerly at Darcy, who hesitated for quite a while before answering.
"I hope to do so soon," he eventually replied, hoping that this would be the last question he would have to answer for a while.
This time fate was on his side. A set of servants entered, carrying more hot edibles to place on the sideboard. Anxious not to create gossip, the Earl began a discussion on the weather.
Somehow, either by pure luck or pure chance, Darcy managed to avoid a repetition of those questions for the rest of the day. After breakfast he escaped to his club, returning late in the afternoon, whereupon he sought the sanctuary of the library. There however, he was unable to remain alone for long.
Sophia Fitzwilliam, Countess of Matlock, observed her only nephew for quite some time before making her presence known. It had been no surprise to her when he had admitted that he was in love. During his brief visit in January she had seen the symptoms then. He had been quiet, distracted, almost to the point of irritability. Being a completely different person to her older sister in law, Sophia had not asked him about it, choosing to let him tell her when he was ready.
In April, when he had stayed to pick up Georgiana after returning to town from Kent, his mood had been even worse. He revealed nothing of the trip, mentioning only in passing that the parson had had some relatives staying who had visited while they were there.
Her son had likewise mentioned little of the visit, an event which, at the time, Sophia had put down to little happening there, rather than what she believed it to be now; a mutual agreement of silence about what had passed at Rosings Park. Although William had said nothing new about his stay there, Sophia was convinced that this Miss Elizabeth Bennet had been one of the 'visiting relatives'. She stepped forward.
Darcy, hearing the rustle of her dress, turned round. "Aunt," he began carefully, "I had thought you would be preparing for arrival of the Wildemeres this evening."
"I wanted to talk with you first," Sophia replied, seating herself next to him. "All teasing aside, William, I would like to know more about this young woman that has captured your heart. I promise that no word of this will go beyond these four walls. Now, did you meet her in Hertfordshire?"
Darcy looked at his Aunt. Ever since the death of his mother, she had become his closest female confidante. Lately, she had begun to remind him so much of the lady that, hopefully, would soon replace her in that role and more. Her hair, although showing a faint grey, was the same dark tone, her eyes the same shade, although they did not have the quality that Elizabeth's had which had drawn him to her all those months ago.
"I met her at the first assembly that Bingley dragged me to shortly after our arrival." He paused, remembering the grave mistake he had made that evening. "It was only a formal introduction there." Slowly, he relayed the rest of the story, withholding the misunderstandings and the disastrous proposal at Hunsford, along with the one he had left her to think about in Derbyshire.
Sophia knew instantly that she was not being told the whole story, but chose to let it slide. She knew only too well that there were some things in a courtship which should never be revealed to relatives. What was also clear however, was just how much William loved this woman.
The way his eyes lit up when he mentioned her name, the tone that was heavy with reverence when he talked about her. Sophia hoped dearly that Miss Elizabeth Bennet felt the same way. If she did not, the Countess doubted that her nephew would ever recover.
"So you will see her again after the wedding?" She asked when he had finished.
"Yes, I hope to return to Pemberley soon afterwards, if you don't mind Aunt," Darcy confirmed.
"Of course not," Sophia replied. "But I absolutely insist that you let me know at once if she accepts you."
"I will," Darcy promised, hoping that she would.
His Aunt smiled. "And, on an entirely different note, I want you to promise something else. That tonight you will be as easy as you are when you are surrounded only by your family."
"I promise Aunt Sophia," Darcy replied as a knock sounded upon the door. "Come in," he commanded.
"Forgive for disturbing you, ma'am, but it is now two hours."
"Ah, thank you, Mary." Sophia rose from her seat. "I shall see you soon William. Have faith, all will turn out, I'm sure."
Those two hours passed quickly and Darcy soon found himself with his family again, as they waited for the Wildemeres to arrive. Tonight would be the first night in almost six months since he had met the family his eldest cousin was about to marry into. Unlike most of the titled ton he had found them to be intelligent and well-mannered, accepting the match between their eldest daughter and the next Earl of Matlock as simply a love match, and not due to money or political alliance.
Lady Adelaide herself was considered to be the first among society's belles of last years' Season. Darcy had been present when Henry Fitzwilliam had set eyes on her for the first time, just before he had left to join Bingley in Hertfordshire. His cousin had fallen from day one. Now he could only remember her appearance being nothing more remarkable than most of the considered beauties. Of course he had not met Elizabeth then.
"Lord Wildemere, Lady Wildemere, Viscount Christopher Fairchilde, Lady Adelaide Fairchilde, Lady Eloisa Fairchilde and Lady Sara Fairchilde," the Butler now announced.
Darcy silently groaned as he heard of the younger sisters, whom he had not met. He suddenly had a horrible feeling about tonight.
"Adelaide," Henry uttered, standing in front of her, raising her hand for a kiss. Four years Darcy's senior, he had been considered the most eligible bachelor of the Fitzwilliam family until his engagement had been announced in March. "You recollect my cousin Darcy."
"I am delighted to meet you again, Lady Adelaide," Darcy remarked in greeting. He brought Georgiana forward. "And may I present my sister, Georgiana."
"The feeling is mutual for both of you," Adelaide began in reply. "Henry has told me so much about you."
Dinner soon came upon them and Darcy made a mental note to thank his Aunt for seeing fit to place his seat between Georgiana and his uncle and opposite Richard. During the conversation before Lady Wildemere had made every effort to drag him into discussion with her remaining unmarried daughters, neither of whom came close to being Elizabeth's equal. The call for dinner could not have come at a more welcome time.
Talk during the meal was mostly of the wedding arrangements, until Lord Wildemere asked Darcy where his estate resided as the deserts were brought in.
"Not too far from my uncle's country home in Derbyshire," Darcy replied. "Pemberley lies on the borderline with Cheshire."
"Is it a large estate?" Lady Wildemere asked.
"About ten miles round," Darcy replied, striving to be social despite the increasing uneasiness he was beginning to experience. He knew only too well the schemes of ton with regard to matching making.
"It must be hard to run such an estate single-handed," Lady Wildemere mused.
Darcy silently groaned. He knew what was coming next. "Not entirely single-handed, Milady. I have a most capable steward and Georgiana is an excellent hostess," he finished, looking at his sister with a smile. Georgiana blushed under the compliment.
"But surely there are some days when you realise that something is missing," the Countess continued to muse, with an eye at her daughters.
Darcy hesitated before answering. He did not want to reveal the presence of Elizabeth, but nor did he wish to indicate that he was unattached either. "There are some days yes, but I hope that to be soon remedied," he finally replied, making sure not to look at Lady Eloisa or Lady Sara as he finished the statement.
Lady Wildemere seemed at loss at first as to how to turn this disappointing reply to her advantage. Mr Darcy had been everything that was courteous and gentlemanly, but had avoided all too well her hints about her two remaining daughters. Her host however was there before her, changing the subject with the greatest of ease.
Darcy made another mental note to thank his uncle as he turned the discussion to events in France. He turned all his attention to the subject, silently listening to his uncle and cousin, whose authority as a Colonel leant itself well to the topic. He let himself think of Elizabeth, wondering if she was thinking of him and of the question he asked her. He hoped that her answer was different this time.
Elizabeth greeted the second day without Darcy's company with the same emotions that she had greeted the first; a mixture of sadness, regret and loneliness. She knew now how he must have felt during those months after she had refused him. For she had no doubt that she was experiencing the same.
He had never spoke of it, rarely referred to it in her presence, but she knew through his sister, his cousin, and at times himself, through his actions and his behaviour, that he had suffered deeply. How grateful she was that his suffering had not dissuaded him from his resolve, from his feelings for her. They could not tell her all of it, for she had told naught herself, but their references to that time had always had him as silent, withdrawn, upset, distracted to the point of anger.
Her own anger over her hesitancy to reply to him had been dealt with yesterday, despite it continuing to haunt her dreams. Even now she dwelt upon it, knowing now all too well what she could have said, finding the perfect reply all too late. Added to this her mind picked out the perfect moments during the following evening in his company that she could have answered him, even if only by a word. If only she had! What happiness now she might be experiencing!
She knew it was pointless to dwell upon it, but for once her mind would not desist. Like the months before when she had refused him and he had given her the letter concerning Wickham and Mr Bingley, when her mind had refused to drift from rethinking her opinion of him, now it refused to cease thinking of her hesitation, of his request for her to think on it.
There had been perfect truth in her reply; she had no need to think, she had known her answer from the moment she had allowed herself to hope that he might ever ask her again. She did not blame him for speaking thus, nor did she blame her Aunt for interrupting, it was her fault alone for choosing to marvel over the moment, instead of accepting him instantly.
Her distraction was noticeable to everyone during breakfast, as she sat quietly by, letting her sister and her Aunt's conversation wash over her, trying to ignore the glances she received from both of them, wishing that Mr Darcy was coming to call upon them, instead of the reality that was becoming harder to bear by the second. For once she did not care about appearances, she was too upset to care.
Her relatives could do naught between themselves to help her. Jane respected too much her sister's right to privacy to tell any one else of the confidence she alone had been trusted with, and her Aunt only had suspicions, not certainties of the truth, her impressions gathered from the moment of her interruption two days before. Both also knew that their help would eventually fail, for only one cure could suffice.
When the door to the Parlour did open, not two hours later, after the Gardiners had departed for the Milliners, its only admittance was Mr Bingley, whose attention rarely strayed from his intended for the entirety of his visit. Elizabeth ridiculed herself then, for moping as she observed her sister's happiness.
After so much heartache Jane deserved every moment of bliss, and it was her duty to her sister to revel over it, not mourn over something that might not be lost just yet. But worry she did, knowing the temptations of London, the scheming mothers of society. Worst of all was the fear that Mr Darcy might be persuaded to think she was to refuse him again and withdraw his proposal, upon his return.
Fortunately for Elizabeth, Jane saw this fear appear on her face almost instantly. She had been anxious over her sister since she had confessed the night before what had happened between her and Mr Darcy during the afternoon at the church. Happy as she was for herself, Jane could not be fully joyful until her sister was also.
It was not in her nature. She pitied that the only solution was Mr Darcy's return and prayed until then that she had the wisdom and the resources to provide respite, however temporary such respite turned out to be.
"Lizzy," she began, as Charles' conversation drew to a close, "You know our father best. How do you think Charles should phrase his letter to get consent?"
The well meant distraction served a part of its purpose. Elizabeth withdrew from the window seat, and joined her sister at the table. "Well," she began, knowing all too well that her tone needed vast improvement if it was ever to convince people that she was fine, "I think for starters he should refrain from writing at all, and instead request a visit, for our father is most remiss when it comes to letter writing."
Jane laughed lightly at her sister's reply, trying to help her in the mask of good mood as much as she was able to. "That I agree on, but should not Charles at least give a reason for the visit?"
"I think papa will determine the reason of his own accord," Elizabeth replied. "But you might make a hint or so as to your intentions, so as to prevent him from professing any ignorance."
"Forgive me, Elizabeth, but your father sounds rather fearsome," Mr Bingley interjected in his usual jovial manner.
"Oh no, you mistake my meaning," Elizabeth explained. "Our father delights in studying character. Anything that is peculiar or particular amuses him, and regarding anyone that is of like mind he enjoys their company immensely. Have no fear, he will consent. He knows you and Jane will suit each other well."
As soon as these words had left her mouth, Elizabeth could not help but wonder of her father's possible reaction to her own suitor. Surprise no doubt would be his chief emotion, for he knew nothing of her altered feelings. She had mentioned little of Mr Darcy's presence at Rosings during her visit there, nor had she told all of him during this excursion.
The letter that she had written to him, on the day of Mr Bingley's proposal, the same one that had been interrupted due to Mr Darcy's arrival, had been first put aside, then rewritten again and again, for fear of her mother witnessing it, and due to her own fear that she might be supposing too much.
Finally she had abandoned the attempt altogether, knowing that her chances for a reply were unlikely. Such a lack of letter writing on her side was unusual, for while at Hunsford she had written to him not once but twice, and had the good luck to procure a reply, even if it was only to beg for her return.
If Mr Darcy did apply for her hand still, Elizabeth knew her father would have difficulty in accepting him. His impressions of Mr Darcy had been influenced by her own initial opinions, and if he had any to the contrary, he had kept them silent. Her change in sentiment would come as an equal surprise. His consent would require a great deal of persuasion, from her and from her suitor.
She knew her father would display some resentment at first, for the second of his most sensible daughters been taken away so soon after the first, but she also knew that this resentment would not be permanent. Given time, her father would grow to like Mr Darcy, his sense of humour appealing to his own.
All this was of course a matter of hopes, as nothing was certain yet. How much she wish it was! She had come so close! Elizabeth sighed and pulled herself together, returning to the conversation between her sister and her future brother, resolving that should her father indeed visit, she would commit herself to improving his opinion of her hopeful suitor, trying to avoid any thought that Mr Darcy might no longer wish to be cast in that role.
Darcy sipped his glass of wine and wished for the thousandth time that he was back at Pemberley. With Elizabeth. She had been a constant presence in his thoughts from the moment the celebrations had begun.
Truthfully his thoughts had been occupied with her from the dawning of the day. All through the ceremony images of her had slipped into his mind. Picturing himself and Miss Elizabeth in place of his cousin and Lady Adelaide, taking the vows before God and church, swearing to spend the rest of their lives together.
Adjusting to the reality had been difficult, harder still when he remembered that he had very little hope of that image ever coming true. Again he ridiculed himself over his cowardice, for if it had not spoken up, he would know for certain now whether he had any right to picture them in a church.
After the church had come the wedding breakfast, where he had learned something that made him want to return to Derbyshire all the more. His new cousins were close relatives of the Mirmaxwells. This alone seemed innocent enough, had not Darcy met them before.
A quiet dread had stolen into him the minute they were announced, along with their eldest's greatest friend. Miss Caroline Bingley. As soon as the master of ceremonies had announced her arrival, Darcy almost ran from the receiving line. Now he was hiding amongst the surge of guests already in the main room, praying desperately that Miss Bingley would not spot him.
How she had managed to hear about this in Bath was incredible and Darcy did not want to find out. He knew well her reason for coming. He had discovered Miss Bingley's wish to become the next Mrs Darcy almost as soon as Charles had had introduced them both during one summer after they had finished at Cambridge.
Before Elizabeth, there had been a time when he was responsive to her wish. Now he wished to avoid her as much as possible. He finished his wine and picked up another glass from a passing footman, just as a swish of orange caught his eye. Darcy looked around for someone he knew. Spying his bachelor cousin, he slipped into the crowd.
Richard was happily in conversation with Georgiana when Darcy joined them a few minutes later. "Darce," he began upon arrival, "you look positively terrified. Don't worry, they won't bite!"
"Some of them might, Fitz," Darcy replied. "The Mirmaxwells are here."
"Yes, I heard them from across the room," Richard commented, causing Georgiana to laugh. "Have they brought their 'delightful' daughter Maria? Or as most refer to her, 'society's mad marriage hunter?'"
"And her 'delightful' friend, Miss Bingley," Darcy answered. "Why do you think I look terrified? If some force took me back to Derbyshire now, I would be very grateful."
"Surely she's not that bad?" Georgiana queried, still laughing at her cousin's words.
"You haven't met her,' Ana," Richard replied. "One of the most eligible women in the ton, but also the one you avoid on pain of death. She makes priesthood look attractive to any man."
"And her friends are worse," Darcy added, sipping his wine. "Where's Henry and Adelaide?"
"I think they're swamped somewhere over there," Colonel Fitzwilliam replied, pointing to the east side of the room where the hosts were. "Oh, lord," he added suddenly, "I knew I should have avoided wearing my dress uniform to this."
"Who is it?" Darcy asked.
"Miss Mirmaxwell. And Miss Bingley. Quick you two, save yourselves."
The Darcys obeyed, diving into the crowd just as the two women came upon Richard.
"Dear Colonel Fitzwilliam," Maria gushed, as her friend looked around the room. "Is not this wonderful?"
"Yes, very wonderful, Miss Mirmaxwell," Richard agreed, trying not to sound as bored as he was.
"I was just saying to my dear friend Caroline how one marriage always brings about another," Maria remarked anything but casually.
"Really," Richard answered in affected astonishment. "Miss Bingley," he added as the woman began to look around the room again. "Looking for someone?"
"Yes, Colonel. I was hoping to inquire after my brother via your cousin, Mr Darcy. Perchance you have seen him?"
"No, I am afraid not," Richard replied, hiding his smile. "My cousin decided to not attend this function as he must keep company for his sister, who as you know, is not yet out." He pretended to glance away from her. "Ah, there's the Major General. If you will excuse me ladies."
Caroline and Maria turned to see no other officer in the entire room and then back to find Colonel Fitzwilliam gone.
Some minutes later Richard resumed his place by his cousins, who had joined his parents after disappearing from Miss Bingley's sight.
"Richard," the Countess began as her son breathed a noticeable sigh of relief and knocked back a brandy in one, "what on earth is the matter? And, as your father will say, that's a waste of good brandy."
"Mama, is possible for me to disappear and change?" Richard appealed. "I swear I'm the only military man in this crowd."
"We only have an hour more of this to deal with," Lady Sophia answered comfortingly.
"I gather you met the Mirmaxwells," commented the Earl himself.
"Yes he did," Darcy answered for his cousin. "Richard offered himself as a diversion for our escape."
"And a valiant one I was as well, I daresay," Colonel Fitzwilliam added. "Valiant enough to earn some shore leave in the Billiard room. Care for a game, Darce? 'Ana?"
"No you don't," Lord Hugh commanded. "If I have to endure this, so should you. And that goes for you two as well, nephew."
"Yes Uncle," Darcy uttered in resignation. He had been sociable all day, adhering to Elizabeth's words from Hunsford, but avoiding Miss Bingley was enough to tire anyone. He glanced up to find his aunt smiling sympathetically at him.
"Wishing you were in Derbyshire, William?" Lady Sophia asked.
"Derbyshire is certainly an attractive prospect right now," the Earl interjected as his nephew nodded.
"So is the guillotine," Richard muttered under his breath, much to his cousins' amusement.
Promptly one hour later the room was devoid of occupants, as the family migrated into the east drawing room for a calming cup of tea.
"Well," Richard began with a smile at his brother. "That is why I choose to stay a bachelor."
"It wasn't that bad," the Viscount reproved.
"Yes it was," Darcy remarked. "The, forgive me, Lady Adelaide, Mirmaxwells in particular."
"Oh, have no fear, sir, you are safe," Adelaide replied. "They are only distant relatives and I try to avoid them as much as possible. I do wish we could have had a ball though."
"Well, why don't we?" Suggested her husband. "Just family only, no guests?"
"You see, Darcy?" Richard queried, gesturing at the two before him. "Only been married for three hours and he's already the obedient husband."
A state I would never mind with Elizabeth, Darcy could not help but think. "A ball sounds a lovely idea," he remarked as several of his family members looked at him in shock. "But may I suggest a change of scenery, thereby avoiding certain personages? Pemberley?"
"Yes Pemberley would be an excellent location," Henry answered. "Wanting to ask a certain lady, Darce?"
"I don't know who you mean," Darcy calmly replied, his thoughts already imagining such a scene. Silently he hoped that there would come another reason to hold the ball.
"Its settled then," Richard decided, noticing his cousin and friend had drifted into his thoughts. "And let me be the first to arrange partners. 'Ana, would you dance the first set with me?"
As his sister happily accepted Richard, Darcy slipped his hand into his pocket and felt out the velvet box. Let it be answered soon, he silently prayed.
Mr Edmund Bennet chuckled. Not five minutes later he was heard to chuckle again. And again. And then a fourth time.
Upon his sixth, his wife decided she had tired of them. "And what reason can you have for such humour?"
"You claim to be out of humour?" Her husband inquired calmly and with his habitual tone of disinterestedness.
"Oh, how can you be so tiresome!" Mrs Bennet exclaimed. "You know very well why I am out of it. But I shall not comment."
"Good," murmured Mr Bennet, much to the vexation of his wife. Knowing it would annoy her, he laughed again.
"Are you ever going to tell me what it is about that letter that makes you thus?"
Mr Bennet looked at his wife and decided for once to satisfy her curiosity. "It is a letter from Jane."
"From Jane!" Mrs Bennet almost bellowed, rising from her seat almost at once in an attempt to take the letter from him. "Why did you not tell me before? Oh I must learn of her news from Derbyshire!"
Her husband deftly prevented the snatch of the letter, rising from his seat. "I am afraid not, m'dear, for it requests my presence in Derbyshire at once." And with that he quitted the room, leaving his wife to frustrate herself alone.
That was three days ago. Now Mr Bennet was seated calmly in a post and chaise, one eye on said letter and the other on the passing Derbyshire countryside. He was inordinately grateful for his eldest's letter,- things at Longbourn had been getting restless ever since his refusal to allow Lydia to go to Brighton, and had long been threatening to turn into a thunderstorm of immense proportions -though in truth it was almost devoid of her penmanship.
Only the direction had been hers, a notion he suspected to have originated in her travelling sibling, while the rest consisted of a entirely unfamiliar hand. Its author was easily ascertained, as he had the astuteness to leave his signature at the end, the only fully legible paragraph in the one paged post.
The letter did not contain much of significance, yet Mr Bennet could quite easily determine that such a disguise had been its point. After all, it was not every day that he received a letter from a gentleman he had not seen since the twenty-sixth of November last year. Particularly such a gentleman who he had thought his daughter had not seen for the same amount of time either. But according to Mr Bingley- for this gentleman it was -the contrary was the case.
At least this much Mr Bennet had been able to deduce from the mostly blotted letter. The reason for it needed no letter at all, for Mr Bennet had known the gentleman's intentions from the moment he had first witnessed the two of them- Mr Bingley and his daughter -together. Indeed the only thing that did bother him was the delay which he had took to coming to declare said intention.
Still, it was done now and with extraordinary little inconvenience to himself, and he could not be more pleased in granting the match, although the loss of one daughter with sense would have been reason enough to decline, had he not another for consolation.
At this point the carriage came to a halt outside the Lambton Inn, forcing him to fold away the letter and dismount. Once outside he gazed up at the windows of the first floor, wondering if anyone would be in to witness his unexpected arrival.
He soon had an answer to this question; everyone.
"Papa," Elizabeth cried, rising to greet him. "What brings you here?"
"As if you do not know," Mr Bennet replied affectionately, embracing her. "Your letters, Mr Bingley, do no good for an old man's eyesight."
The gentleman reddened in embarrassment. "It is beyond my control I am afraid sir," he replied jovially. "Even though my friends always complain at my tendency to leave half my words out and blot the rest. My mind thinks too fast for my hand."
"Well, I shall forgive you for it," Mr Bennet returned as he released his daughter and stepped further into the room. "As you gave me an excellent reason to escape the clutches of Mrs Bennet for some time. I can never write to grant my consent."
Mr Bingley's smile seemed to grow even larger. "You do give consent then, sir?" He asked eagerly.
Mr Bennet smiled too. "Yes I do. You will both be very happy together. You are each of you so complying, that nothing shall ever be resolved on, so easy, that every servant will cheat you and so generous that you will always exceed your income."
"Oh, Papa," Jane exclaimed in mild admonishment, knowing well her father's wit. "You can hardly suspect me of such a event."
"Quite right," Mr Bennet replied, embracing her. He then greeted the Gardiners, before seating himself with them all. "I hope you do not mind if I intrude upon you for as long as you intend to stay in this county?"
"Not at all," Mrs Gardiner replied. "You are always welcome, Andrew."
"Thank you Madeline. Now, has anything else of note happened while you resided here?" He inquired, Lizzy's quickly hidden blush not escaping his notice.
Mr Gardiner supplied a summary of events, causing many a raised eyebrow to result in his brother in law, even though Edward had refrained from expressing his and his wife's speculation to the reason of a certain gentleman's frequent visits.
Mr Bennet however, was not blind to such speculation, especially as Elizabeth paid such a degree of attention to her needlework as he had rarely seen. Astonishment was his chief emotion when the summary came to an end. Mr Darcy was interested in Elizabeth? Was this the same man who not more than six months ago had been declared by her as the most disagreeable gentleman she had ever cared to meet?
Mr Bennet could not help but glance at Elizabeth for the rest of the day. Did she return the attentions? The answer to that question puzzled him the most. Evidence certainly seemed to waver on the affirmative. But why would she suddenly care for a man she had previously hated? Something must have happened to change her opinion, he soon concluded, although the nature and the timing of this event was anybody's guess.
Elizabeth tried not to notice her father's introspection. Being his favourite daughter, she had come to know him better than most of his immediate family. Thus she was all too well aware of what occupied his mind at this moment. I wonder what effect it has upon him, she uttered silently.
His opinion mattered a great deal to her. Particularly of the man that, hopefully would ask for his consent soon. She knew that her father's view of Mr Darcy was influenced partly by her own. I pray that like me he soon learns to disregard that previous impression.
Another carriage was also making its way through Lambton, followed closely by a third, although both were of far superior mettle than a post and chaise. The personages contained therein were likewise illustrious.
Fitzwilliam Darcy gazed out of one its windows as the carriage passed the Inn, his mind invariably drifting to one of the occupants, wondering if she was thinking of him in return. Again his thoughts silently ridiculed him for his hesitancy, as well as for his recent gamble.
He could not deny to himself that his main reason for a ball at Pemberley was to hopefully announce his engagement to Elizabeth. If she refused him now....... he dared not let his mind finish that thought. Instead he slipped a hand into his pocket and felt the outlines of the velvet box that it now carried daily, letting its presence calm his mind and re-establish his rationale.
Countess Sophia noticed her nephew's distraction, from her place opposite him and Richard, beside Georgiana. She was also hopeful that the object of his thoughts had a happy conclusion. She had always thought her nephew too reserved for his own good. His wealth was both an advantage and a menace, more often attracting the wrong woman rather than the right one.
Protective instincts had at first led her to distrust this Miss Elizabeth Bennet, but after hearing both her nephew and niece's descriptions, she was inclined to like her very much. She hoped that her feelings for William were just as powerful as his, for Sophia feared any chance of recovery if not. Her nephew had fallen deeper than he let on, as much as he tried to conceal such emotion.
She had had difficulty from refraining to raise an eyebrow when she saw William's hand moved to his pocket. It was a pocket that he had been in daily, and due to his physique, the outline of a small box could be seen quite clearly by any who looked. Sophia could not help but wonder if her nephew planned to offer himself soon, and this box seemed a definite indication.
A further sign was displayed when the carriages arrived at Pemberley.
"Darcy," his friend cried as soon as he had descended from the carriage. "I have the most wonderful news."
Darcy casually looked at his friend and determined the nature of the news immediately. "You have been given consent?" He offered dryly.
Bingley was too happy to be surprised. "Yes, in fact Mr Bennet delivered it in person."
"Mr Bennet?" Darcy queried, as his sister offered her warmest salutations.
"Yes, he arrived this morning." Bingley stepped closer. "He might have another one to deliver soon, hey? Miss Elizabeth has been very distracted ever since your departure."
"Let us hope," Darcy quietly acknowledged as his relatives came to a halt beside him. "Aunt, Uncle, you remember Charles Bingley?"
"Delighted to meet you all again," Mr Bingley cheerfully greeted, bowing profusely. "My congratulations, Fitzwilliam."
"Thank you, Bingley," Henry replied after introducing his wife.
The Countess quietly fell into step behind her nephew and his friend as they walked into the house. Her position behind him a few moments before had enabled her to overhear Mr Bingley's comment, causing Sophia much wonderment. Had William already asked Miss Elizabeth Bennet? Had he given her leave to think upon her answer, hence his distraction and refusal to reveal her to them when he arrived in London? She prayed she would have an answer soon.
Mr Bennet walked the countryside aimlessly. Actually his aimlessness had a purpose. That was to appear that he was walking aimlessly, without any care for his destination. His observation of his distracted favourite daughter along with the almost constant hints concerning Mr Darcy from his sister in law since his arrival had given him a lot to think about, hence the reason for this deceptive walk.
He neared a fence, signalling the boundary of a certain estate, although Mr Bennet pretended to be ignorant of this fact, and proceeded to climb over the turnstile gate. His intentions were to accidentally cross the boundary of said certain estate and, quite by chance of course, meet its owner, whose return to the country he had had from the maid at the Inn when he had left earlier this morning.
Mr Bennet had many a question to ask this owner, the first of which about the nature of his intentions regarding his favourite daughter. Andrew had no desire to lose Elizabeth to a man he considered beneath her, in both intellect and manner, and until last night, he had thought said owner to be one of these men.
But reports from his brother in law, supported by his sister in law and the said owner's friend, had begun to convince Mr Bennet that this gentleman might be different. The subsequent night had been spent in revising his judgement of this gentleman and coming to a conclusion that needed only an encounter with the man concerned for confirmation.
The man concerned was also out walking aimlessly, -actually he was riding a horse which was walking aimlessly, but it is almost the same -and his aimlessness too, had a purpose. That was to just walk aimlessly, while his mind attempted to calm his emotions and prepare himself for the call that he intended to make this afternoon.
It was a call of great importance to him, for it would bring him into contact with a lady that had not been out of his thoughts from the last moment that he had spent in her company. A lady that he wished dearly to spend the rest of his life with.
It had both grieved and comforted him when his friend had informed him of that lady's distraction while he had been away. The former, because he hated to cause her any pain, no matter how slight, and the latter, because it showed that she did perhaps care for him a little. Days without her company had reduced him to clinging to such hope, no matter how small, in order to hide his suffering from his family.
It was at this moment that the two gentleman, one riding aimlessly, the other walking thus, came upon each other.
The first immediately halted his horse and dismounted, stretching out a hand and bowing in greeting to the last. "Mr Bennet," he greeted.
"Mr Darcy," Mr Bennet replied, bowing in reply and taking the hand in a shake. "Forgive me, I had no idea that I crossed into your estate."
"Think nothing of it, sir," Darcy replied, trying his best to be everything that was gentleman-like in front of a man he hoped soon to request consent from. "I always try to give free rein of my land to most of the people that reside in Lambton, for I am aware of how many walks there are upon it."
"Indeed," Mr Bennet returned, concealing behind a calm facade his amazement. The man before him differed completely from the Mr Darcy he had met last autumn. This man was genial, polite, considerate. A glance at the waiting horse also afforded Mr Bennet another insight. It was a thoroughbred and of great strength, his manner concealing a temper behind a seemingly patient mask.
It told Mr Bennet that Mr Darcy was very capable of handling strong creatures, allowing them to retain such strength and flourish, instead of the reverse. He respected them and they in turn respected him. And it was with this in mind that Mr Bennet decided to be honest with the man before him.
"I must confess to you, Mr Darcy, that I actually knew perfectly well what I was doing when I crossed on to your estate. I intended to meet you, and ask you a few questions. I hope you have no objection to my actions?"
"No, sir," Darcy replied, wondering what Mr Bennet was getting at. "You may ask whatever you wish."
"Firstly, what are your intentions regarding my daughter Elizabeth?"
Darcy was floored. He had not suspected for a moment that Mr Bennet knew anything of his feelings for Elizabeth. It took a few seconds for him to reclaim his faculties and answer the question, realising as he did so, that it was a perfect opportunity to ensure that should the occasion call for it, Mr Bennet's consent would not be refused.
"I care a great deal for your daughter, sir," he replied solemnly. "And I hope to declare my feelings to her as soon as may be. I wish nothing more than a desire to see her happy. I would feel most honoured if she sought such a state by my side." As he finished his reply, Darcy drew in a deep breath, praying that Mr Bennet would not object to him outright.
Good man, Mr Bennet silently replied. You have done well so far. Now for your next test. "And if she refused such an offer?"
"I would retreat, knowing that any objections would be sound," Darcy answered, knowing that he had already been refused once and had persisted. But that was an entirely different circumstance, his mind reassured himself. "Providing it was nothing that was beyond my power to alter," he added, such as arrogance and pride.
Mr Bennet was also pleased with this second answer, for it showed constancy in Mr Darcy's affections for his daughter, as well as a healthy respect for her feelings and character. "I have not much to offer my daughters in way of dowry," he remarked next, "would that be a consideration?"
"Where your daughter is a concern, none at all, sir," Darcy responded instantly. "I have such means as to make a dowry unimportant. I intend to provide her with whatever she may wish. I do not hold with the idea that a wife should be beholden to her husband for funds." Indeed, he intended to make a generous settlement on Elizabeth, which would include a substantial sum that his mother and father had left both himself and Georgiana for to settle upon their future partners in life.
Mr Bennet was impressed. Mr Darcy had not only met his expectations, he had surpassed them. "Well done, Mr Darcy," he commented, causing the gentleman to look at him with surprise. "You have answered well. I now only need one more reassurance. Elizabeth is very much a favourite of mine. If she accepts you, I hope you will not mind my visiting the both of you for sometimes no reason other than to see her?"
Mr Darcy smiled. "Not at all, sir," he replied gladly. "In fact if your daughter accepts me, you are free to visit us any time you choose."
Mr Bennet returned to Lambton in a better state of mind than when he had left it earlier in the day. He found his two daughters in, talking, and the Gardiners out with the promise to return for lunch.
Seating himself in a chair that commanded a view of both Jane and Elizabeth, he began, quite casually, but with an eye to their reactions, "I encountered Mr Darcy during my wanderings today. He and his family have returned to the neighbourhood."
Elizabeth felt her heart cease to beat, before it started to pound loudly. "Is Mr Darcy well?" she asked, trying to be calm and failing abysmally.
"He is, and sends his regards to all of us. He expressed an intention to call upon us all this afternoon."
Jane glanced at her sister with such a smile that it did not fail to be noticed by Mr Bennet who glanced at his favourite daughter patiently for a similar reply. Elizabeth found it difficult to do naught else.
"And what did you think of him, father?" Jane asked carefully, knowing her sister wished to know such a opinion.
"I thought him to be less reserved than when I met him last," Mr Bennet replied, glancing at Elizabeth. She seemed to be listening intently to him. "He and I found a great deal to talk about," he added, glancing at his daughter pointedly.
Elizabeth took the news with great joy. Her father liked him! Now, if only she could find a moment alone with him, everything would soon settled. Providing his feelings for her remained the same.
After the hope that the morning had brought to Elizabeth and Darcy, the afternoon could not arrive soon enough. Indeed, the Gardiners and the trio of Bennets barely had time to recover from Luncheon before the maid announced the arrival of the gentlemen.
Bingley's place in the company had already been decided from the moment he walked into the room; a single glance at Jane and he was lost. His friend was similarly stricken; Mr Darcy came to a halt upon encountering Elizabeth. For moments he was capable of doing nothing more than standing, his eyes fixed firmly upon her own, meeting her intense gaze and returning one of his own that was just as powerful.
How they came to sit down neither knew, so lost as they were in each other's enchantment. Their seats were beside each other, and both felt all too deeply the emotion that such a placing produced. A further delay came when Mr Bennet addressed the gentleman with a question; Darcy would be heard to say afterwards that he had not even heard Mr Bennet speak, let alone the words of his query.
"Mr Darcy," Mr Bennet began, "is there a particular reason, other than that you have returned, for visiting us today?"
When the gentleman finally managed to realise what Mr Bennet was saying, he reached into his jacket pocket and drew out the card that was his sole reason for visiting this afternoon. "Thank you, sir," he replied. "I must confess that for a moment I forgot," he added, with a look at Elizabeth, who blushed and glanced back at her neglected needlework in an effort to hide herself.
Darcy meanwhile placed the invitation on the table. "I came to invite you all to a ball I am holding at Pemberley in a few days time. It is in recognition of my cousin's recent marriage." At the end of this Darcy held a breath, hoping that no one but the woman sitting beside him guessed his real reason for visiting.
Elizabeth was insensible to her father's and her uncle's acceptance, as she was insensible to everything that occurred around her, until she saw someone's hand cover her own that was lying on the table. After a discreet glance around the room to see if anyone had noticed the gesture and discovering to her relief that none had, she finally raised her eyes to glance at the owner, to find that he was looking back at her with the same intense stare that she had so often misinterpreted before, and could not do so now.
"Are you all right, Miss Elizabeth?" He asked gently.
"I am fine, thank you, Mr Darcy," she replied softly. "Did you enjoy your time in London?"
Unconsciously, he began tracing small circles upon her hand as he replied to her question. "Yes and no. The time spent with my family was agreeable enough, but the social engagements of the wedding were...... well, truth be known, I found them to be somewhat lacking in enjoyable company. There were many times when I wished myself back here," with you, he added silently.
Elizabeth had difficulty keeping herself focused on his words, the effects of his stroking were so strong. "And now you are here?" She found herself asking.
"I realise that I should have obeyed that wish the first time it came to me," Darcy could not help replying. His fingers would not obey his wish to keep proprieties, and he could see the world fading away before him if he surrendered to the effects that Elizabeth's company, nay even her mere presence, produced.
Reluctantly, he gained control of his wayward fingers and placed on the table, where they began their circles again, aching to repeat the gesture upon her hand. "Would you, or do I ask too much, do me the honour of dancing the first set with me?"
"I would be honoured, sir," Elizabeth replied, aware all too well of the expectation that opening a ball at his house with him could create. Not that she was adverse to creating such an effect, indeed quite the contrary. Oh, why could they not be alone right now? Where she could give him the hope that his dark eyes clearly cried out for. She glanced at the window behind him, determined to suggest a walk, but the weather decided that such an event was not to be, as a sudden rainstorm descended.
She turned her gaze to her companion once more. Darcy watched the movement, fearing to interpret it. Did she no longer wish for his company? No, he must learn to avoid jumping to the worse conclusion about a simple gesture from her. As if at that moment she could read his mind she uttered aloud a soothing balm. "Is it not a oft occurrence that when you desire a walk the weather poses an impediment?"
"Too true," he agreed. "There are times however when a walk in the rain is beneficial to ones' mind, is there not?"
"You have taken such a walk yourself, sir?" Elizabeth asked in surprise.
"Not purposely but yes, when I was in town a......... while ago," he amended, remembering that it had in fact been after his visit to Rosings. The walk had been beneficial though in every respect, it had caused him to gather the resolve to try again for her hand. "And have you, Miss Elizabeth?"
"On occasion," Elizabeth replied, suddenly remembering his rather soaked appearance when she met him at Pemberley. Was it really only a few weeks ago? How much had her feelings had changed since then!
Darcy meanwhile was desperately trying to keep his composure. An image of Elizabeth in the rain had come to him and was providing absolutely no help to his wish to observe proprieties, especially when his imagination had stepped in to assist the image. In a vain attempt to distract himself, Darcy glanced at her hand on the table. It did not help, for the hand was her left and the bare third finger called out to his heart and mind, begging him to place a ring upon it. Why had he hesitated? Why had he not waited for her answer?
Elizabeth saw his preoccupation. She could easily decipher why and rebuked herself for not answering him the moment he had stopped for breath. She dealt a quick glance around the room and then, seeing that all were occupied, seized her chance. "Have courage sir," she uttered softly, fearful of being heard by any one else.
Darcy could not trust himself to speak. He looked at her, his mind rapidly trying to think of something, anything that he could reply with, when another turned their attention to them and they were forced to talk of more neutral things.
The Earl of Matlock stared at the rain in frustration. He planned to spend his first day at his nephew's estate fishing, but the rain was causing him to sit- or rather stand, as he was doing so at this moment -with his family instead. While his nephew was away supposedly delivering invitations.
"How long has been gone now?" He asked the room at large. "What possible inducements can there be in Lambton in the rain?"
"Staying inside visiting the inn," Colonel Fitzwilliam replied casually, with a grin at his mother, who knew well who was at the Inn in question.
The Earl turned from the window to face them. "Why are both of you convinced he has lost himself to this woman? I saw no signs while we were in town."
Countess Sophia smiled. "That is because, Hugh, you were not looking hard enough. But surely you noticed his distraction?"
"That is not a sign," Hugh objected. "He was distracted when he saw us in January."
"Father, he had met Miss Elizabeth before then," Richard explained.
"Hrmph," Hugh uttered. "Why has he not caught her yet then?"
"He does not have your talents, my dear," Sophia replied archly, as her two sons chuckled, remembering well the tale that their parents had told of their's father's 'rapid' courtship of their mother. "Unlike you he does not believe in proposing after only five minutes of acquaintance."
"And why not?" The Earl asked rhetorically. "It worked with you."
"Only after you had asked another six times," the Countess corrected lively, as Lady Adelaide looked at her surprise. "Remind me to tell you the story at some point, Adelaide," Sophia remarked as she saw her interest.
"Why not now?" Richard asked as his father sat down at last.
"Because the sun has returned," Sophia pointed out, "and William will be home soon." And hopefully with some good news, she added silently.
When the sun had been in the sky for at least an hour, Darcy returned to his estate in the company of his friend. His mind was in a slightly more hopeful state than it had been upon his return to Derbyshire. Elizabeth's words had given him courage that his prayers were soon to be answered.
Now if only I can find a moment alone with her, was his final thought before he stepped into his house.
As soon as the next day dawned Elizabeth was up and out of the Inn. During the night she had come to an impulsive resolution and she was determined to act upon it before her mind thought the better of it. The resolution was a simple one, but it was also dependant upon certain factors occurring at the same time and she was none too hopeful that on the day she wanted such factors to occur, that they actually would.
But she had to try, her whole happiness depended upon it.
She was soon successful in her mission, encountering him seated upon a grassy ledge overlooking a lake. Not trusting herself to speak at first, Elizabeth stood observing him for some time, wishing that somehow she could interpret from his mien, what possessed his thoughts.
Did he still think of her, or had the absence and distance between them triggered a change? A part of her feared the latter was the case, yet her rationale could not help but remind her that such a circumstance had done nothing to alter his affections before meeting him here.
She realised that she would have to overcome her preoccupation and ask him. Return to her former boldness of nature. Elizabeth stepped forward. "Mr Darcy, I have been walking for some time in the hope of meeting you." Surprised at her own phrasing, it took some time for Elizabeth to recover herself enough to meet his eyes as he turned to face her.
Darcy could do no more than gasp at first. He had not imagined it. She was here. His hands moved over the pockets of his jacket, feeling for the box that they already knew was there. Carrying it had become a reflex almost, a prayer certainly. And it was a fervent one at that. Slowly, courage rising, he moved to close the distance between them. "Miss Bennet," he began in a tone that betrayed all his feelings, despite the formality of address, "I am most pleased to see you again."
Elizabeth desperately tried to contain her blush as she met his intense gaze. "I wanted to see you because...........," she paused as nerves overtook her. Breathing deeply, the moment passed and she continued. "Because I have an answer to your question. I have had it since you were so good as to voice it in the first place and, had not circumstances hindered us, I would have given it then. Would you like to hear my answer, sir?"
To say that Darcy was shocked by the suddenness of this situation, would be an understatement. For he had hoped, somehow, to have more time before such an event arose between them. Time enough to prepare himself for the rejection that his mind had convinced him was to be the outcome. Now he wished to delay.
"Please, Miss Elizabeth, if you wish to have more time to contemplate it," he began, somewhat flustered, "then you may. I have no wish for you to feel pressured indeed....." he trailed off briefly, convinced now he had ruined himself in her eyes forever by continuing to ramble thus. "I know that such a question requires one to take much time in considering how best to answer........."
Elizabeth could stand it no longer, even though a part of her was highly amused that she had managed to reduce one of the most illustrious personages in the land to rambling. She took another deep breath and began. "Mr Darcy," she uttered calmly. No effect. "Sir," she tried a second time. This form of address was also greeted with the same reaction as the first. "Fitzwilliam," she began a third time, feeling that nothing could stop him.
This however did. Darcy came to a halt instantly, looking at her in complete surprise. "Say that again," he commanded, convinced he had imagined it.
"Fitzwilliam," Elizabeth repeated, smilingly.
Darcy felt his courage and his hope, rise. He took her hands. Never before had he heard his given name uttered with such love. He realised now with joy how much wisdom had been in the wishes of his youth not to called by any other name but William. For only one person could speak his true name. "Miss Elizabeth, my love, tell me my ears have not deceived me."
"They have not, Fitzwilliam," she replied, her smile growing wider.
"Then I have your answer?" He softly asked, his voice heavy with emotion.
"Not quite." Elizabeth clasped his hands tightly. "Fitzwilliam, I love nothing in the world so well as you. Naught else will give me greater happiness than in becoming your wife."
For a moment he was silent, frozen to the spot by her words. Then his emotions took over, allowing him to lean forward and take her lips in his. He begun their first kiss tentatively, not wishing to alarm her, hoping to encourage a response.
Elizabeth was surprised at his answer to her own at first, but soon found her emotions taking over, and managed to respond to his movements. She was so caught up in the kiss that she felt quite disappointed when he drew back so soon.
Darcy smiled at her reaction. "There will be time for kisses soon enough, my dearest," he remarked softly, retracting one of his hands to reach into his pocket. "For now, I wish to give you something." He placed the box before her. With one hand to hold it, he used the other to open, so she could see the contents. "This has been in my family for generations. I am so pleased to finally give it to you." He took her left hand in his and gently slid the ring on to her finger.
Elizabeth gasped as she surveyed it, watching the sunlit sparkles. "It is beautiful." She looked up him with smile. "I confess that I cannot quite believe this is happening."
"Neither can I," Darcy agreed. With one hand he returned the box to his pocket and then put it back on hers, reluctant to let go, just in case she faded away in the dreamlike quality that this occasion had acquired. Unable to control himself, he leaned forward and kissed her again. His hands drifted to her face, fingering the dark locks that surrounded it.
He felt hers place themselves on his waistcoat, as she began to kiss him back. His heart leapt. This was real! It was finally real! She was his, now and forever. He felt his control slipping even further and strove to retrieve it, moving from her lips to her cheeks, and finally to her closed eyelids, which he had been longing to kiss since he had decided to try again.
Elizabeth received his intentions with pleasure and happiness that increased every moment. To have his hands upon her face, his fingers in her hair, his lips upon hers, was almost too wonderful to believe. Her lips began to ache as he moved from them to her cheeks then to eyelids, which she had closed long ago in order to lose herself in the paradise that was the present. She felt him stop and opened her eyes, to gaze at him in a daze.
For a while both simply stood there, revelling in the moment, marvelling over the bliss that it had evoked, that it was truly occurring. Then, clasping her left hand on which the engagement ring glowed with mystical light, Darcy began to escort her back to Lambton, taking care to go as slowly as possible, not wishing to lose one second more than necessary in her company. In hushed tones he began conversation, asking her when her feelings began to change. He was most surprised at her answer.
"Almost as soon as I had read your letter," Elizabeth replied. "Why are you so surprised?"
"Because I am now quite convinced that I wrote that letter in a dreadful bitterness of spirit," Darcy answered. "I was too angry with you and myself at the time to do anything less."
"My first reading of it, I confess, did not enamour its author to me very much," Elizabeth continued, "but the second perusal began to convince me that in most cases you were right."
"Still, I should not have told you so as I did thus," Darcy decided.
"True," Elizabeth agreed with a lively arched smile, looking at him in order to convince him that she did not mean it seriously. "And now I must ask you something. What made you decide to try again? We had not seen each other for four months."
"I cannot recall the words, or the look, or the moment which caused my mind to decide I had a chance," Darcy remarked. "But I do remember that on the day Richard told me we were to leave here, I made up mind to ask again instantly. I feared if I didn't, you would be lost to me forever. Despite Bingley's engagement to your sister, I knew that the chances of you and I meeting again were rare. I did not want to lose you again."
Darcy paused to smile at her. "The only thing I regret is not waiting for your answer that morning at the church. I had told myself to do so before I met you, but when the moment came I could not follow through. That day at Hunsford replayed itself in my head. It caused me to doubt why I had any right to think you would accept me."
"Fitzwilliam, you had every right to ask again. At Hunsford I was far too prejudiced to even listen to what you were trying to tell me. That you loved me."
"Loved, loves and in love with you, Elizabeth," Darcy gently corrected her. "Although the emotion is still quite a novelty to me, I must confess."
"It is to me as well," Elizabeth admitted. "I only realised when I spent the evening at the Watsons that I felt the same."
"Tell me, did you truly say to Mrs Reynolds that I was courting you?"
Elizabeth looked at him in surprise. "Where did you hear that from?"
"Richard told me that he had it from her one day. Is it not true, then?"
"She asked me if it had been a difficult courtship and I said yes," Elizabeth explained. "Do you mind me saying as much?"
"No, never," Darcy quickly reassured her. "Kate has always been very discreet. But she also has a soft spot for my cousin."
"And for you," Elizabeth added. Darcy looked at her with puzzlement. "She told me once that she has never had a cross word from you in her life. She did much to raise my opinion of you before you came to Pemberley."
"I must thank Kate when I return," Darcy mused. He came to a halt as they reached the edge of the fields signified by the fence that marked the boundary of his estate. Taking both of her hands in his, he paused a moment to marvel at the sight of the ring on her left. "Elizabeth," he began reverently, "I cannot tell you how much I relish the sight of that ring upon your hand. How grateful I am that you gave me a second chance."
"The same must be said for me," Elizabeth replied. "And I shall promise you that I will try to remain as constant in my love for you as you have done for me, Fitzwilliam."
Darcy smiled happily. "How well you say that," he mused, "I cannot tolerate hearing it said by anyone else." His hand left hers for a moment to finger a curl as she gazed deep into his eyes, meeting his joyful mood. His control slipped, his other hand copied the action of the first, and he leant forward to seize her lips again.
Elizabeth felt herself go weak and leant back against the sturdy fence for support. Instinctively she pressed herself closer to him, her hands rising from his waistcoat to wrap themselves around his neck and finger the ends of his hair.
Darcy was lost. He was completely and utterly powerless. Surrendering to his emotions he let his hands slip from her curls to caress her neck, then her shoulders, then briefly leaving her in order to wrap themselves around her waist. Only when they began to finger the last fastener of her dress, did he recollect his surroundings.
Reluctantly he withdrew his hands and then his mouth. When Elizabeth had recovered as well, he put his arm around her and they began their walk once more. "My love," he began in the same reverent tone, "tell me that you will not let us wait long for our wedding?"
Elizabeth could not help but smile at his address and how he had phrased 'our wedding'. "Well, sir," she began lively, "if you do not mind upsetting my mother, and you can procure the license, we could be married before my family leave for Hertfordshire."
Darcy, seeing the ploy in her eyes, followed suit. Slapping his pockets with his free hand, he exclaimed in a tone of the deepest puzzlement, "now I know put it some where, but where?" He smiled at her. "Seriously, would you mind a wedding in Derbyshire? The license could be procured within the week. Pemberley has its own chapel, and I am sure Reverend Dawson will not mind."
He paused and seeing her hesitate, added, "please do not feel that you have to because of me. As long as we are married, I shall not mind where."
Elizabeth took some time to marvel at the feelings his arm around her produced before replying to his question. "It seems preferable, in comparison to waiting at least three months for my mother to prepare everything. If my father were not here, perhaps I would feel differently, but everyone I could wish to see me married is residing in Lambton right now. It seems too good a opportunity to pass by."
Darcy turned to her with positively joyful eyes. "You do not know what happiness it is to my ears, what you have just said. And with regards to your family, we could always invite them up here. Their arrival would take as long as it probably would to procure a license."
"That is the only thing that bothers me," Elizabeth admitted suddenly. "That you and I shall be apart until you have one."
Darcy bestowed a kiss upon her hand in reply to this and pulled her into a tighter embrace. "Thank you, my love," he uttered tenderly, "it does my heart good to know that you care for me as much as I care for you. I know that letters are not a comfort compared to the person, but I offer them anyway."
"And I thank you for them," Elizabeth replied. "I think I might have need of them."
Darcy would have taken her in his arms and kissed her again after that, had they not reached the edge of the fields and the beginning of Lambton. Reluctantly he withdrew his arm from is resting place around her waist and took her left hand instead, holding it discreetly, so any who happened to pass them noticed not.
Elizabeth and Darcy entered the Inn to find that the Gardiners had gone out, Mr Bennet's nose in a book, and her sister happily in conversation with his friend. Reluctantly relinquishing each others hands, they calmly answered the enquiries of their whereabouts and then took up the remaining chairs at the table, Elizabeth taking care to hide her ring under the table, until her father's consent had been voiced.
Darcy saw the motion, and let his own hand follow suit, clasping hers with it. She smiled in reply and he could not fail to do the same as he gazed into her fine eyes. In lowered tones, he began a conversation. "I met with your father yesterday."
"Yes, he mentioned," Elizabeth replied softly. "What did he ask you?"
"My intentions concerning his daughter," Darcy answered, noticing her gasp of surprise. "Did he not reveal that?"
"No, he was very mysterious about it. Did he accept the news?"
"He did, much to my surprise," Darcy confessed. "I thought as you were his favourite he would not take kindly to me of all people taking you away. Especially given my disgraceful behaviour in Hertfordshire."
"I confess myself and Jane, along with my Aunt and Uncle did much to assure him that you had altered since your last encounters. I was so concerned that if this really happened, that he might not give consent and so I tried to make sure he saw a different you."
Darcy clasped her hand tightly as he felt her previous fears. "Did you truly think that I would forget you while in London? That I could never do. I tried, god knows how much I tried, before and after Hunsford, but it was useless. You were always in my thoughts. Knowing that I was so close to having my dreams answered, I could not forget you now."
Elizabeth blushed at this impassioned speech. Only his first line to her at Hunsford, along with his second proposal, had he uttered how deeply he felt. Other times it had been reduced to his trademark intense look. I will have to get used to his display of affection, she realised, now that we are engaged.
"Nor could I forget you sir," she replied, smiling as she saw his eyes light up at the words, shivering with pleasure when she felt his hand draw circles on hers beneath the table.
Mr Bennet casually looked up from his book, just in time to see his daughter and Mr Darcy exchange another smile. Met accidentally, did they? If that's true, then I am the King of England! He raised his book to cover his own smile. Judging by the looks they were frequently exchanging, he would soon have another gentleman coming to ask him for the hand of one his daughters.
And even though it would deprive him of Elizabeth's company, Mr Bennet knew he could not refuse him. If there was ever a man that deserved Elizabeth, it was Mr Darcy. His impromptu interview with him only a day ago had done enough to convince him of that fact.
Darcy and Elizabeth were insensible of Mr Bennet's observations. The former could do naught but gaze at his beloved, while the latter was similarly affected. Eventually however, they became aware that if they continued such an occupation, their engagement would be private no longer.
Darcy reluctantly ceased drawing circles upon her hand and began a conversation once again. "I hope you do not mind if, all being well with your father, that I announce our engagement at the ball?"
Elizabeth smiled. "I do not mind at all. Did you have that it mind when you decided to hold such an event?"
"I confess that it was part of my hopes, yes," Darcy replied. "But the original suggestion came from my new cousin, Lady Adelaide."
"I recollect that I have heard little of your cousins since your return," Elizabeth remarked. "Would you favour me with a description, so I may know what to expect?"
"Well, my other cousin, Henry, much resembles the character of Colonel Fitzwilliam. He met Lady Adelaide at her debutante ball, just before Bingley and I went to Hertfordshire. One of the few sensible ladies of the ton, Henry fell for her the moment he was introduced.
"When I spent the new year with them, he announced his intentions to marry her. The wedding had been set for March, as you know, but thankfully it was delayed, enabling me to travel to Rosings, though I regret a part of that now."
"You need not," Elizabeth assured him. "Your declaration made me realise your feelings for the first time. And soon gave me cause to see my own. I doubt our courtship would have proceeded as smoothly if either of us had not been at Hunsford."
"I do believe you are right," Darcy returned. "My Aunt reminds a little of you. She has the same liveliness, and already knows of you. She noticed my distracted countenance in London and persuaded me to confide in her. My Uncle is very much a blunt old man set in his ways, but with a wonderful sense of humour. Both did much to help me and Georgiana over the deaths of our parents."
"Mrs Reynolds spoke so highly of your parents while we were touring your home. I wish I could have known them," Elizabeth commented.
"So do I," Darcy agreed softly. "My mother was a little like you as well and my father was one of the best men that I have ever known. They would have liked you very much." He smiled, blinking away the tears that had come to his eyes at the mention of them.
Even though both had been dead for quite some time, the loss of them was something he would never entirely get over. Like if he had lost Elizabeth...... He shuddered inwardly at the thought. "How shall I ever repay you for being willing to look past my faults?"
Elizabeth blushed. "Think of our past only as your remembrance of it gives you pleasure. I do not want you to dwell too much on Hunsford."
"I shall try," Darcy promised.
Later, when he and Bingley were in the carriage on they way back to Pemberley, Darcy found himself following Elizabeth's advice with pleasure, remembering their reconciliation vividly, smiling as he came to each kiss, each avowal of affection from her.
He smiled again as he recalled Mr Bennet's words of consent when the gentleman had seen them both to the carriage on their departure, and lastly, catching Elizabeth's happy gaze from the window above as the carriage drove him away.
"You look extraordinarily happy, Darce," Bingley remarked, bringing him out of his revive. "Did you receive good news today?"
"The best news of all, Bingley. Elizabeth has consented to be my wife." Darcy paused as his friend offered his congratulations. "Would you keep this to yourself for awhile though? We have decided to announce it at the ball."
"Of course," Bingley promised and then turned the conversation to other things, as the carriage rattled through Pemberley's gravelled drive.
Elizabeth was waiting for her father as he came back in from bidding the gentlemen farewell. Noting her countenance he smiled and said, "come here my child. I do believe you shall be a very happy woman."
Elizabeth happily hugged her father as Jane gasped in surprise and happiness. "Please, papa," she began when he withdrew from her, "will you both keep this to yourselves for a while? We wish to announce it at the ball."
"Of course my dear," Mr Bennet remarked. "I shall have the greatest pleasure of amusing myself with the reaction of your mother, when you write asking her to travel up here for your wedding."
"Do you mind such an event happening so soon?"
"Do not worry, I firmly believe that Mr Darcy deserves you. My only concern is that I shall lose you so soon. But I shall cope, by frequently prevailing on your suitor's invitation that I may visit when ever I please," Mr Bennet replied.
"Thank you father," Elizabeth replied, then hurriedly rejoined Jane at the table as the voices of Mr and Mrs Gardiner became audible. Mr Bennet sighed at the sight of his two most sensible daughters. It was a sight he would not see for much longer, he knew, and despite the fact that he wished them every happiness, he could not help but feel the prospect of such a loss most keenly.
When Darcy rose the next morning, a single glance at the now empty box upon his bedside table, was enough to bring a smile to his face. Elizabeth would soon be his wife! He could not remember another occasion when he had been more happy. Nor at this precise moment had he the words to describe his feelings, without degrading them in some part.
He soon dressed and made his way downstairs at his usual early hour, a time when only he and sometimes Mr Bingley would be up, their reasons both being eagerness to spend as much of the day in the company of the two women that held their hearts.
To his surprise however, just as he and Mr Bingley had sat down to their breakfast, they were joined by his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam. "Darce," he began immediately, as soon as he had entered the room in fact, "I demand to know why you are in such a confounded good mood, a state which you have been in since last night?"
Darcy merely smiled at his friend. "And why is it confounded, Fitzwilliam?" He asked demurely.
The Colonel produced a stare in reply. It was his trademark stare, invented by himself upon the moment he had first led men into battle, a stare meant to reduce its subject to a withering state, ready to obey his every word, for fear of punishment.
Unfortunately for the Colonel however, it had never succeeded once upon his cousin. After a third minute of silence had followed the other two, he finally conceded defeat. "Damnit, Darce, just tell me so I can offer my congratulations!"
"And collect up on the winnings of the bets among my household staff that you have no doubt immersed yourself in?" Darcy remarked in rejoinder.
The Colonel did his best to look innocent upon this accusation. "I know of no such betting," he answered calmly, even though the contrary was the case. "Come on, Darcy! I know something is up, I haven't seen you this happy in months."
Darcy merely smiled once more. "I would Rich, but I have promised to reveal nothing until the ball, and, as a military man, you how important one's honour is, eh?"
"Fitz!" The Colonel began again, but in vain, for Darcy and Bingley were upon that instance gone from the room, leaving him to suffer in peace.
Elizabeth as woke that morning with a smile upon her face. Availing herself of a thick shawl, she gathered herself upon the window seat to reflect over the events succeeding the departure of her fiancee.
Not more than a hour later had the Gardiners returned, causing her to hide the wonderful ring he had given her, lest it might be spotted by her relatives at dinner. Soon after that meal she and Jane had retired, and the remainder of the night had been spent in conversation, as Elizabeth described the circumstances of the happiest event of her life.
At this Elizabeth returned her mind to the present, as she gazed at the ring in her hands. It was truly beautiful. Not of the present fashion, but of the past, confirming that it had been in Mr Darcy's family for some generations. For the first time, she now noticed the inscription. Ever mine, ever thine, ever for each other.
No truer words had been spoken. She slipped it back upon her finger and leaned against the window pane in contentment. The events of the past day had been firmly imprinted on her mind. She remembered each, gesture, each touch, each kiss vividly. Her sleep had been haunted by dreams of the forthcoming ball, where, she hoped, her dance card would be almost filled by his signature.
Elizabeth remained in this pose until it was time for breakfast, whereupon she dressed and joined her family, slipping her ring into her pocket once more.
If the Gardiners detected any change in their niece's manner, it was not remarked upon by either of them. Not even when the gentlemen had arrived an hour later and the marked difference in manner between one of them and their second niece escaped their notice not.
As for this said couple, both remained as insensible of any observation as they had the day before, and for the same reason. Darcy, once seated by his future wife, could do nothing but smile and talk with her, and Elizabeth, the same.
The gentleman began the conversation, taking great joy in witnessing his lady's laughter as he recounted the tale of his cousin's unsuccessful attempt to prise the news of their engagement out of him. Elizabeth in turn, told him of the events after his departure, of her father's words and of her sisters.
"Georgiana was the same," Darcy commented when she had finished, going on to describe how he had managed to procure a moment alone with Miss Darcy in the evening and her reaction to his news. "She was overjoyed and sends such information to you by this rather thick letter," he paused to produce the item from his pocket. "As you can see, four pages was not enough to express her delight."
"And tell her I shall take great delight in reading it," Elizabeth replied as he pressed it into her hands, taking his time to remain there far longer than was necessary, withdrawing only upon her blush. "Is she excited at the prospect of the ball?"
"Very, even though only friends and family," here Darcy smiled significantly at Elizabeth, who blushed again, "have been invited. I do not plan to let the entirety of Derbyshire Society upon her until she is eighteen."
Elizabeth nodded in agreement, knowing Miss Darcy's disposition did not object to such a plan, and privately wishing such an age had been decided for her own younger sisters, Lydia in particular.
"How do you think your family will react to our news?" Mr Darcy then asked her.
Elizabeth smiled. "My mother will be in raptures, that I know for certain," she answered him lively. "She will spend quite some time marvelling over my new name; Elizabeth Darcy, how well that sounds! Mary will merely offer her salutations, perhaps with some 'Fordycian' wisdom, and Kitty and Lydia, will try and imagine you in regimentals, or attach themselves to Colonel Fitzwilliam."
Darcy laughed with her as she had intended, until a seriousness came over him. "Your mother would be right," he remarked quietly, but with intensity, "Elizabeth Darcy does sound well."
Elizabeth tried to contain her blush at the compliment. "And surely that is why you chose me, sir?"
"That and many other reasons," Darcy replied, gazing at her with emotion, until she blushed under the implication.
At that moment Mr Bingley proposed a walk, a move which was declined by both the Gardiners and Mr Bennet, leaving the couples to avail themselves of the rare opportunity of a moment alone in each other's company.
Once there were beyond the village and the in fields, Bingley took the chance to offer Elizabeth his congratulations, before they split into two and walked alone, promising to reunite for luncheon at the inn.
As soon as they were alone Darcy took his fiancee in his arms. "I do love so, Elizabeth," he uttered quietly, laying his lips upon hers.
Elizabeth responded happily, her desire for such a display in existence from the moment of his arrival.
It was in such a state that they spent the rest of the day.
Darcy reluctantly returned to his house along with his equally reluctant friend that evening, his good mood still in evidence. Again he held back on any explanation for it, much to the annoyance of his family, who all tried repeatedly to prise the information out of him, Mr Bingley and Georgiana for all their worth.
As for Darcy himself, he only let slip the news to one more person before he retired for the night. Calling Mrs Reynolds to his study with the excuse of desiring her consultation on the forthcoming ball, he announced his news to a very pleased housekeeper.
"Well, done William," Kate Reynolds remarked upon receiving the information. "I and most of the staff shall be very happy to welcome Miss Elizabeth as the new mistress."
"Thank you, Kate," Darcy replied. "For that, and for asking her about the courtship in the first place. Without your passage of her reply to my cousin, I might never had the courage to summon the hope for the union in the first place." He paused for moment. "By the by, what is the standing for the betting among the staff?"
"The Colonel has you for proposing two days ago, while my husband has you for having done so before you left for London," Kate answered with a smile.
Darcy chuckled. "You may tell Mark that he has won, although he is not to breathe a word to Richard."
Mrs Reynolds chuckled too at the thought of the Colonel's face, before leaving her master to muse over his happiness for the remainder of the night.
Neither Elizabeth nor Darcy bothered to hide their smiles as he claimed her hand for what was to be the first of many dances that night. Both had risen that morning in the highest of spirits, and arrived in Pemberley's sumptuous ballroom without such feelings being dampened in the slightest. Both had dressed with the greatest of care and announced themselves ready unfashionably early, although thankfully for them this promptness had not been remarked upon by any of their relatives.
"Have I told you, Elizabeth," Darcy began quietly when the moves of dance gave them a moment to themselves, "how beautiful you look tonight?"
"I do not believe you have," she replied when the move was repeated again. "But I will not hold such neglect against you. Chances have been few."
"Indeed they have," Darcy agreed, reflecting over what little time they had had alone before the dancing. After greeting her when she arrived with her family, he had been pressed upon by duty to introduce her to his cousins and then his Aunt and Uncle, whose lively repartee had parted him from her, forcing him to be civil to other guests until the dancing had been announced. "But after this, I shall make sure there are thousands of them."
Elizabeth could no longer hold back her blush and released it until their move put them next to Mr Bingley and Jane, allowing for a change of conversation. "Does your friend plan to open Netherfield once more in the near future?"
"I confess I do not know," Darcy replied. "I have not heard him talk of anything except your sister. Within all probability he will do though when your family return to Hertfordshire. However, he does still talk of looking for somewhere not far from here." He paused briefly here until they were together again. "Will your sister wish to be married at Longbourn?"
"Jane will do all she can to please everybody," Elizabeth replied, as her mind reflected over his previous remarks. Even though she was glad to be married to this man so soon, the idea of not leaving with her family made her a little nervous.
Darcy noticed the conflict on her face and took care to deliberately move her away to one of the balconies after the first dance had finished. "Elizabeth, what is wrong?"
"It is nothing really," Elizabeth replied, touched that he was so well attuned to her feelings already. "I am just a little nervous. I am to be mistress of all this so very soon."
"My darling," Darcy began as soon as he felt able, her discomfort having troubled him very much, "you will not be alone. You will have mine, Georgiana's and Mrs Reynolds' help at any time, even though I do not think you will need it. And with regards to your family, they can stay for as long as you wish for them. If you like, we could travel with them and return when Jane and Bingley have married."
"You are too good to me," was all that Elizabeth could find to say in rejoinder. Darcy merely took her hand and raised to his lips in reply. She then took her hand to stroke his cheek, and he took the chance to lean forward and catch her lips, as the ball was forgot for a brief while.
Lady Sophia watched her nephew with a smile and a tear of happiness in her eye, as he escorted his- she hoped -bride to be back to the dance floor. Their absence had remained unnoticed by all save herself and Lady Matlock intended to keep it that way.
Her meeting with Miss Elizabeth Bennet had been all that she hoped for. Miss Elizabeth had not been overawed by her title, nor had she been over-friendly. Her lively manner had happily appealed to Lady Matlock's own disposition, as had her lack of orange apparel. All in all, Lady Sophia had approved of Miss Elizabeth very much, especially when she had spotted a loving glance from her that had been directed at Darcy. Her nephew had of course returned it with vigour.
Now Lady Matlock stood watching the couple dance, occasionally turning her gaze to the friends and family that were almost constantly staring at the rare sight of Mr Darcy dancing at a ball. She had no doubt that speculations were already high regarding their host's preference and the identity of the lady herself.
Normally her nephew would take care to bury such gossip, but that seemed not to be the case, as he and his partner entered the third dance of the evening. Lady Sophia hoped that his reason was because he intended to declare himself tonight.
"My dear, I concede defeat," the Earl announced at this moment, after coming to stand beside her. "William is smitten."
"And what do you think of the woman that has captured his heart then?"
"Entirely worthy of him. She will make a fine mistress of this place, if our nephew stops drooling long enough to ask."
"Perhaps he already has," Sophia mused, as she spotted Darcy making no attempt to relinquish Miss Elizabeth's hand at the end of the third set as they walked over to her father.
The Earl glanced at his wife. "A dance, Sophie?" He asked, offering his hand.
The Countess gladly took it.
Darcy did not relinquish Elizabeth's hand at all, only taking care to hold it so no one noticed the gesture. For quite some time did he involve himself in conversation with Mr Bennet and his future wife, until his sister came forward to claim him as promised for the seventh set of the evening. Reluctantly he parted.
Elizabeth returned her gaze to her father after watching Fitzwilliam go with his sister. She could not be blind to her father's smile. "You approve, papa?"
"I can do naught else," Mr Bennet replied. "He has proved himself very worthy of you, Lizzy, and his devotion is all that a father could wish for and more. He also displays an excellent sense of humour. He now has only to produce a good library and I shall require nothing more of him."
Elizabeth chuckled as Mr Bennet had intended. His own thoughts were a little distant from laughter at presence. He was soon to lose his favourite daughter, and even though he approved of the man that was to claim her, he could not help but feel the future loss he would soon endure.
Soon afterwards the seventh set ended, and Darcy came to claim Elizabeth's hand once more. Together they danced a further two dances until the last before supper was announced, whereupon they withdrew to a balcony to wait for a time to let their news loose upon his guests.
Once ensconced in this balcony Elizabeth took her ring out from her pocket. Gently Darcy took it from her and, taking her hand, placed it upon her finger once more. Slowly, his dark eyes gazing upon her face the entire time, he brought the hand up to his lips for another kiss. Again Elizabeth let her hand stray to stroke his cheek.
"Dearest Elizabeth," he huskily uttered in reply. "Words cannot do justice to what I am feeling right now. You have made me so very happy. From this moment on I intend to do everything that is within my power to make you feel the same way."
"I have, ever since the day I answered your proposal," Elizabeth replied, equally emotionally, her hand coming to rest upon his cheek. Darcy rejoiced in the feel of the cool metal against his skin. He brought his hand to rest against hers and leant to kiss her again.
"Ladies and gentleman, friends and family. It is with the greatest of pleasure that I bring you all here tonight. This ball has been held not just in honour of my cousin's marriage and my friend's engagement, but of another event that has also recently occurred.
"Three days ago, this wonderful lady standing beside me made me the happiest of men by accepting my hand in marriage. I now take pride in introducing all of you to Pemberley's next mistress. Please raise your glasses to my future wife, Miss Elizabeth Bennet!"
As the gentlemen sat after congratulating their host in a toast, only one was heard to remark in annoyance, and then only to his friend opposite. "Damn Darce. That means I lost my bet!"
Mr Bingley merely chuckled in reply.
Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy married by special licence almost a fortnight after the ball, at Pemberley's Chapel. The event was attended by all their respective family, save one. This person was not however Mrs Bennet, much to some of my readers disappointments, but it is to be noted that the good lady did not arrive in time to change any of the arrangements made for the wedding, as the letter announcing the match was mysteriously delayed in arriving at its destination.
The absent person was Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Her feelings on the subject of her nephew's marriage to a woman that was not her daughter are not unknown, for they have been expressed many times, in general, by pen, and verbally by herself upon many an occasion.
Thus, any mention of said feelings here shall be as pointless as a broken pencil. There need only be said that she did not attend upon the Darcy family for quite some time, until sheer curiosity drove her to grace Pemberley with her presence. How matters proceeded from there, the author will leave you to determine.
The match of Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy was regarded by the rest of their family as an event of infinite happiness. Lord and Lady Matlock could not be more proud of their nephew's choice, Mrs Bennet could not be more enthusiastic in her joy at receiving such a son in law.
Of the latter, her reaction has been displayed almost as many times as Lady Catherine's and likewise, does not need to be mentioned here. As for the former, neither could not be more pleased and took delight in expressing such an opinion to Elizabeth and their nephew the minute after supper had finished at the ball.
Darcy spent no longer than it was necessary in London, coming back with the special licence for his wedding after a week had passed. As promised, many a love letter passed between him and his beloved bride to be, providing much comfort to either party. It must also be noted that upon his return Elizabeth did much to shield him from her mother's enthused joy of their marriage, as well as that of Mr Collins, when he and his wife arrived.
Regarding Mr Collins' presence at the wedding, the author can only put two reasons forward. Firstly, Lady Catherine had sent him to report on the event, and take Anne with him, as a reminder to her nephew to reconsider- a reminder to which he paid no mind to -and secondly, his dear wife Charlotte had insisted upon seeing her friend rise to the same happy state that she herself currently resided in. If Charlotte had a sarcastic tone attached to this opinion, it is for you to determine.
After the wedding the family of the couple departed- some willingly, some unwillingly -to their homes, leaving the newlyweds ample chance to enjoy all the time alone that they had been granted, before departing themselves to Hertfordshire to attend the marriage of Jane and Charles Bingley almost two months later.
When the above event was but a year old, the Bingley's quit Netherfield for an estate much closer to Derbyshire and Pemberley, which to their happiness was only thirty miles distant in a neighbouring county.
It is at this point that the author feels that perhaps she ought to include a small mention of a particular officer that, due to Mr Bennet's stubbornness did thankfully not intrude himself upon the family. His stay in Brighton was of short duration, as it was quickly discovered by his Colonel that he had debts and seductions running out of his control. Mr Wickham currently resides in a jail, and is not to be released for quite some time.
As invited the Gardiners did return to Pemberley, joining the Bingleys and Darcys for Christmas. With Edward and Madeline were the above families always on the best and most intimate of terms, knowing full well that their decision to bring Elizabeth and Jane to Derbyshire, was the means of uniting them all in what hoped to be most blissful unions.