Part 1, Section A
"Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy Ma'am!"
Hill's voice had barely time to announce them, before the gentlemen were already entering the parlour at Longbourn. Elizabeth was totally unprepared, indeed she had not dared expect his coming so soon, if at all. She drew a deep breath to calm herself and placing the book she had been reading on the table, instantly got up to greet the visitors.
Darcy gave very little attention to anyone else. His main object was Elizabeth Bennet. His eyes sought her out at once. She was his sole concern, his reason for visiting and he did not care if it was too obvious. He must speak with her, ...get to be alone with her, ...he must know, if his indulging in expectations of her affection was at all reasonable.
Elizabeth's heart slowly filled with hope...he would not have come again if the objections of his aunt had been of any consequence to him, if she had succeeded in her discouraging him. Would he? She looked hesitantly towards him and after an impeccable bow, his gaze was upon her and her alone, so serious and with a penetrating force to render her knees unstable. She tried to look back straight into his face, but something in his eyes caused a strange, hardly perceptible, pain inside her, she had to lower hers momentarily, before she lifted them up to him again. He was still waiting for her eyes to meet his. Oh, how he looks at me.
Bingley's voice was heard through the deafening throbbing of her heart ....
"It is a fine day. Shall we perhaps all walk towards Meryton?"
It was agreed that Jane of course, but also Kitty and Elizabeth would accompany the gentlemen. Mrs. Bennet, who was not a great walker herself, reflected that Kitty might help divert the tiresome Mr. Darcy, so Elizabeth would not have to take it all upon her ....
It was a matter of course that Mr. Bingley and Jane must have an opportunity to get better acquainted. And since dear Mr. Bingley had been so thoughtless as to bring his stern friend with him when he came courting, it fell upon her to arrange everything to the best possible solution.
Happily involved in low-keyed small talk Jane and Bingley walked ahead. Partly in order to allow them some privacy and partly because neither of them had their mind on the exercise. Darcy and Elizabeth, side by side, were slowly following the newly engaged couple at an ever increasing distance. They were, in point of fact, both busy conjecturing the best use of this opportunity for conversing in some privacy.
Kitty followed, sometimes on one side of Elizabeth and sometimes a few paces behind them, since she stood in awe of Mr. Darcy and knew not how to address a man of such severe and critical disposition.
She tittered to herself, recollecting how Lydia had been imitating his stiff manners and then, scared that he might have heard and disapproved, she glanced at his tall figure. There was, however, not the slightest indication that he even remembered her existence. His head was sometimes furtively turned towards Lizzy, but they were not speaking.
Kitty was glad to have something interesting to occupy her. Funny, why does he look at Lizzy like that, like he wants to know what she is thinking, but ...does not wish for her to notice? It is almost as if he ...were in love with her! Kitty stared at the two people before her. Can this be true? He will certainly be disappointed then, for I know Lizzy dislikes him. Well I guess it is all in my head, like papa says, romantic fiddlesticks! Mr. Darcy is far too rich and important to care for Lizzy, he might sooner marry a duke's daughter or ...some foreign princess. If only Lydia were here, I could talk to her about it. I must ask Maria what she thinks. I would not like to marry such a man, he rarely dances and does not seem to enjoy the company of girls at all! Not the way Denny and Sanderson did. Oh, how I miss the fun we had!
Her mother's opinion of Mr. Darcy she had frequently overheard and she could still remember how rude his comment on Lizzy had been a year ago in the Assembly Rooms. He never flirted and was indeed very different from the attentive and pleasant officers, whom she had been used to talk to.
Therefore she would prefer to be somewhere else and, as she believed Elizabeth capable of handling the most awkward people, why, she had even managed to put Mr. Collins in place, ...she did not feel too guilty about leaving her to deal with Mr. Darcy on her own, but stopped to cry towards the wind.
"Lizzy! Do you mind if I just run down the lane here, to call on Maria Lucas?"
Elizabeth, very much preoccupied, paused to cast a vacant glance back at her sister, secretly welcoming her request.
"No ..., by all means ...'
Even Darcy had stopped to turn and listen, leaning on his walking stick. A heedful observer would have noticed the signs of suspense on his grave face, but he remained silent.
After Kitty, greatly relieved, had left them to trot along the cross-road leading to Lucas Lodge, they resumed their striving against the wind. They walked in silence, Elizabeth glanced at her companion, but he seemed extremely reserved and she lost her nerve. She had been forming a desperate design and was collecting her courage to bring the subject up.
Darcy was, attempting to find a suitable opening to what he was about to say, but the circumstances were not in his favour. From the moment he caught sight of her person on entering the drawing room, where her eyes had been exercising their influence on him, through his waiting with Bingley in the hall while the ladies were preparing for the walk, to her reappearing on top of the stairs, so absolutely adorable in her bonnet, a silk ribbon of a most becoming shade framing her face and ending in a bow under her chin, he had been out of words. To see her again with the revelations of Lady Catherine echoing in his head was more than he could master with composure.
I will give no such promise ... Are there perhaps other promises that you would be willing to give? ... The wife of Mr. Darcy will have ample sources of happiness ... Do you really think so, my love? ... resolved to act in a manner that will constitute my own happiness. Pray, what manner might that be ...?
The result of those ramblings of his mind and her bewitching presence, was a tongue-tie, probably intensified by the strength of his emotions and made even worse by the suspense of the moment. It was certainly an annoying hindrance to his firm resolve.
Elizabeth finally managed to speak. She slowed down her walk and he paused as she addressed him in a voice slightly short of breath and tinged with her anguish.
"Mr. Darcy! I can go no longer without thanking you for your kindness to my poor sister. Ever since I have known of it I have been most anxious to tell you how grateful I am for my family and for myself."
As soon as she pronounced his name, he reacted by turning his head to observe and hear her express exactly the gratitude, he had tried to avoid. His face was stern, almost immobile until he gave vent to his regret that she had been informed and also some disappointment concerning the discretion of Mrs. Gardiner.
"No, you must not blame my aunt! Lydia betrayed it first and then I could not rest till I knew everything .... I know what trouble and ...mortification it must have cost you.'
It was painful but necessary to bring the matter about. She must let him understand that she realised his generosity towards them ...her. She was in doubt as to his reaction. His countenance was almost sad.
"Please let me say this ...please allow me to thank you on behalf of all my family, since they know not, to whom they are indebted ...."
Her voice conveyed the sincerity of her gratitude as well as her embarrassment, and her eyes would not look him in the face, but were dropped to stare at the buttons of his waistcoat. Darcy's gaze was initially aimed somewhere far away, although he was all attention and soon turned to watch her in amazement and regret. He had not wanted for her to feel any obligation towards him, but on hearing that she was fully aware of his interference, he boldly clarified while scrutinizing the ground.
"If you will thank me, let it be for yourself alone; your family owes me nothing. Much as I respect them, I believe I thought only of you."
A faint but discernible gasp from Elizabeth made him cast one glance at her. His candid statement gave rise to an irrefutable hope in her, there was something in his eyes and the way he had uttered that last word.
Perceiving that his words had put her to a faint blush and that her face was averted in the most enticing confusion, Darcy was overpowered by his feelings, he could restrain himself no longer. He ceased walking and, determined to dare his luck, with a sudden movement turned round to appeal to her.
"You are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are still what they were last April ...tell me so at once! ...My affections and wishes are unchanged ..."
She fought her embarrassment and lifted her eyes to his on hearing him address her thus. His face, so unprotected before her, as well as the tone of his voice, betrayed the agitated suspense he suffered, by changing from fear to hope and back again. His vulnerability was visible in his eyes as he finished the sentence.
"...but one word from you will silence me on this subject for ever."
Her heart was deeply touched by his words and the humble manner they reflected his love. She knew she must not let him suffer the agony of further doubt and so forced herself to answer him, though her heart was beating so hard, that it almost made her loose her breath.
"My feelings are ...oh, I am ashamed to remember what I said then. My feelings are ...so different.' She glanced at him, before adding bashfully.
"In fact, they are quite the opposite ...."
Darcy watched her in wretched suspense. Behind her were the golden leaves on a tree shivering in the breeze, her dark locks of hair and the soft ribbons of her bonnet were fluttering and ...she was facing him!
In bewilderment she smiled and dared another glance at him before the mere sight of him inhaling, his firm chin lifted, his eyes intently gazing at her face rendered her unexpectedly weak and she could look no more.
Had she done that, she would have seen how well the expression of heartfelt delight diffused over his face became him. He tried to recover his breath. He had never experienced such happiness, a hot rain of joy swept him as the full meaning of her words became clear to him. He was at first unable to compose himself enough to look at her or speak or even think clearly. A frantic activity of thoughts commenced. She no longer objects to me, she allows my addresses to her ...
"Miss Bennet, ...Elizabeth, I am ...I have been most eager to talk to you, to assure you, ...but I am certain you can be in no doubt ...To let you know how I have been ...indissolubly bound to you for many months, ...appreciating your person almost from the first weeks of our acquaintance. My words are inapt .... But you can not imagine the effect your words have on me. For me to know that you ...permit my attentions. That you honour me .... The assurance of your affections is utterly delightful, I simply can not express the profound admiration in which I hold you. Let me tell you how ardently I love you ..."
He looked at her with such fervour in his eyes that the sight of it provoked a happy smile on her lips. Though she had never imagined him being able to express himself with such lack of consistency, the fact that it was because of her, that his doing so was in itself a proof of an emotional excitement caused her smile to grow deeper. The contents of his violent declaration of love was all that she could wish for.
Part 1, Section B
They continued their walk. Obviously there was this tendency to unconsciously shrink the distance between them, for he was delighted to feel the gentle touch of her shoulder against the side of his chest ...indeed, they were repeatedly bumping into one another, and Elizabeth was secretly enjoying his grey coat fluttering against her skirt and his arm lightly touching hers while he mentioned that his aunt had been most helpful.
"Lady Catherine told me of her meeting with you. I may say her disclosure had quite the opposite effect on me from the one she intended. It taught me to hope, as I had scarcely allowed myself to hope before. I knew that had you absolutely decided against me, you would have acknowledged it openly."
Elizabeth, agitated by the memory of Lady Catherine's insolence in addressing her and somewhat uneasy to think of the obvious reason for his assumptions, could not hold back a short nervy laughter.
"Yes, you know enough of my frankness to believe me capable of that. After abusing you so abominably to your face, I could have no scruple in abusing you to all your relations."
He listened to her, his mind every minute more relaxed, more thoroughly permeated with the certainty that she would be near him from now on, so although he mentioned some of the most awkward moments of his life, there was an underlying joy about to break forth.
"What did you say of me that I did not deserve? My behaviour to you at the time was unpardonable. I can hardly think of it without abhorrence. Your reproof, I shall never forget! ... "Had you behaved in a more gentleman-like manner... ." You know not, how those words have tortured me."
She was amazed to realise that he had attached such importance to her resentful outbursts.
"I had not the smallest idea of their ever being taken in such a way ....
"I can easily believe it. You thought me devoid of every proper feeling. I am sure you did. The turn of your countenance I shall never forget, as you said that I could not have addressed you in any possible way that would induce you to accept me."
He sneaked a glance at her and saw her lovely face flushed with embarrassment as she solicited.
"Please do not repeat what I then said. I assure you, that I have long been most heartily ashamed of it."
He smiled and, at her request, abandoned the subject, but they had not walked much further before he mentioned another item of interest.
"What was your reaction to my letter of explanation? Did you give any credit to its contents? Did it make you think better of me? Did you, on reading it, believe it to be the truth?"
"I was very upset at the time. I had to read it over and over again before I was able to comprehend it in its entirety. Some parts of it, I realised at once to be completely true. I was so ashamed to understand the defaults of my discernment. That I had allowed Mr. Wickham to impose upon me, to make me think ill of you .... It took some time, however, before all of my prejudices were removed."
She blushed and fell silent. Darcy observed her tenderly, he dwelt on different features of hers that were especially dear to him, the swift curves of her eyebrows, the glimpse in her eye, that bothering tiny birthmark close to her upper lip .... His mind was agreeably drifting, then he came to think of something.
"I hope you have destroyed the letter. There was one part, especially the opening of it, which I should dread your having the power of reading again. I can remember some expressions that might justly make you hate me."
"The letter shall be burnt then, if you believe it essential to the preservation of my regard. But my opinions are not, I hope, quite so easily changed as that implies."
The arch smile accompanying her words and the thought of her recently confessed opinions, led to an immediate increase in his pulse rate. With some difficulty he managed to continue.
"When I wrote the letter I believed myself perfectly calm and cool; but I am since convinced that it was written in a dreadful bitterness of spirit."
"The beginning of it, perhaps, but it did not end so. The adieu is charity itself."
Vaguely blushing she thought of the numerous occasions when his words had been her only comfort and though she was not brave enough to let him know it now, she decided to tell him later. Instead she advised him to forget about the letter and to learn some of her philosophy.
"Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure."
But he insisted that he had deserved all her censure and that though his parents had given him good principles when they were still there to guide him, he had been left to follow them in pride and conceit.
"I was spoiled by my parents, who allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing - to care for none beyond my own family circle, to think meanly of all the rest of the world, to wish at least to think meanly of their sense and worth compared with my own.
Such I was, from eight to eight-and-twenty; and such I might still have been but for you, dearest ...loveliest Elizabeth ...."
His voice grew tender, devoted, ready to choke with the intensity of his emotions. While he spoke, it seemed to be almost slipping out of his control as he was permitted to word them openly.
He had turned his face towards her and when she did likewise, mesmerized by his voice, their eyes were locked in each other, the love in his making her feel all soft inside, happy, bewildered ...she knew not what to do nor how she would bear to have him look so deep into her eyes.
He was highly affected too from the pleasant novelty of allowing his eyes to rest in hers, slowly drowning in their dark alluring glitter and taking some delight in the signs of her sweet confusion. Her power over him was indeed as fatal as his aunt had warned him. But with some difficulty he tore himself from the enticing temptation. More things needed to be discussed and elucidated before the past was settled.
"What do I not owe you? You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. By you I was properly humbled. I came to you without a doubt of my reception. You showed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased."
"Had you then persuaded yourself that I should?"
He blushed to confess to her the extent of his conceit.
"Indeed I had. What will you think of my vanity? I believed you to be wishing, expecting my addresses."
Elizabeth was thoughtful.
"My manners must have been in fault. But not intentionally, I assure you. My spirits might often lead me wrong. How you must have hated me after that evening!"
He shook his head in denial of a feeling so alien to his mind.
"Hate you! I was angry, perhaps, at first, but my anger soon began to take a proper direction. I could not stand to have you think so ill of me. I never stopped loving you, though God knows I tried to. To know that you believed me capable of such injustice and against my father's will. To realise that you were concerned about George Wickham, while you held me in such low esteem. That did hurt! My suspicions about the nature of the sentiments he had created was another motive for unfolding his true character in my letter."
"You must remember that I knew nothing of his dishonesty! I had been so blind, partial and prejudiced in judging his worth as well as yours. But he never hurt me, it was just a passing folly."
A short smile of relief passed on his face at her disclosure.
"There was no way you could possibly realise the vicious character of Mr. Wickham. You have certainly not the inclination to suspect such baseness!"
Elizabeth then, with some trepidation brought up their meeting in Derbyshire.
"What thought you of me when we met at Pemberley? You blamed me for coming?"
"No, indeed, I felt nothing but surprise."
"It is the most amazing coincidence that we should meet at all. Had I known of your presence I would never have consented to the visit."
"Do not think for a moment, that I am unaware! It made me highly grateful to providence, that I decided to go ahead of my friends. There is also the coincidence of our being on the same lawn at the same time! Pemberley is, after all, big enough to hold your party without my knowledge!"
"Oh yes ..."
They remained silent for a moment, allowing the imaginary, terrible possibility to enhance the happiness of their present situation. Elizabeth commented on his altered behaviour.
"I was surprised that you should treat me with such politeness, though my conscience told me I did not deserve it."
"My object then, was to show you that your reproofs had been attended to. I hoped to obtain your forgiveness, to lessen your ill-opinion. How soon any other wishes introduced themselves, I can hardly tell, but I believe in about half-an-hour after I had seen you ....'
He throw her an admiring smile which inveigled her into speaking from her heart without considering the consequences.
"I must say your efforts were highly successful. My aunt and uncle could not believe you were the same Darcy I had told them about ...."
His teasing gaze brought another blush to her cheeks as he commented on her revelation.
"I take it, you had not depicted me in any favourable light then?"
She stammered and stared at her shoes as she replied.
"No, I confess I was ...in confusion myself, it was very ...difficult to answer them properly. I knew not ...my own mind ..."
"No? When was this?"
He looked searchingly into her face, highly gratified to hear of her feelings for him.
"Oh, I know not, several awkward conversations with my aunt Gardiner in particular. She has a most perceptive mind and though she is very discreet, her way of putting on an inquiring air can be embarrassing. After that first meeting with you of course and after you had introduced Miss Darcy to us."
"She will be Georgiana to you now, Elizabeth."
His delight in this thought was not to be mistaken. Elizabeth assured him, that she was looking forward to getting to know her future sister better. He told her of Georgiana's disappointment at the sudden interruption of their acquaintance.
Which led them to dwell for some time on the cause for that interruption. She learnt that he had decided to interfere almost as soon as she told him of the unfortunate event. That he had been shocked to hear of it and began to plan his actions immediately.
"Oh, and I thought you were turning so grave and brooding because I had suddenly become utterly unthinkable as .. as a ..."
She could not finish the sentence. Somehow It felt too forward, but he seized the opportunity and raised one eyebrow to tenderly mock her.
"Unthinkable as what, Elizabeth? Pray tell me!"
She refused to oblige him, the colour on her cheeks slightly heightened and all of a sudden he turned serious and in his mind reflected on the fact that she had finally accepted him, his most beloved had agreed to ...or had she ? He cleared his throat to hear her remove his last doubt.
"No you are so far from unthinkable, that you are the only woman I have ever asked to share my life ...will you consent to be my wife, Elizabeth?"
Genuine happiness filled him while she uttered only a few words, but such words! The very words that would make his heart momentarily cease beating and then, after a jump, run wild in his chest. Her wonderful dark eyes were still looking into his, betraying her affection, as she spoke with unmistakable joy: 'Yes, I will."
To hear her say it was utterly delightful. He took hold of one gloved hand and raised it to his lips, without loosing contact with her eyes. He then held it in a firm grip while he told her how precious she was to him.
"Elizabeth, I have been so desperately lost without you, ...always thinking of you and wishing you were near me. This day you have made me a very happy man."
He placed her hand on his arm, but as they started to walk once more, kept his own on top of hers in a manner both protective and affectionate. She found it highly agreeable.
Part 1, Section C
The sky seemed to be immensely high. The fields around them were a ripe golden shade, and though the wind was a reminder of winter's arrival before long, the sun was assuring all living beings that there was warmth to be had.
Elizabeth did not feel the sting of the wind. Within her was a growing gratitude to fate, a marvelous awareness of being the bride of his choice as she listened to Darcy. Assuring her that in his heart there was a constant source of love, a glow of passion. He told her of his yearning for her, from time to time causing her to redden and give a lot of attention to stones and leaves, cones and sticks along their path.
"I have been dreaming of you, Elizabeth ...your words of reproach ...your enchanting laughter.
"There was a time when my love was a torment, because no matter how I tried to get you off my mind, something would always remind me of you and renew the pain. Since I did not think there was any chance that you would ever reconsider ...I must say that from the day I left Rosings and until the happy day when I encountered you at Pemberley, my life was a constant struggle to try to forget you. But alas, without any success.'
While she was listening to the deep intense timbre of his voice, she felt an unfamiliar but not unpleasant heat developing inside and was thrilled to realise that she had been fervently loved for so long. That this man, whom she had been seriously admiring for the last couple of months and hopelessly attached to for the last weeks, should return her love was indeed a wonderful thing.
They proceeded in silence for a while. Drinking the clear brightness of the air, sensing the pleasant warmth of the sun. There was a marvelous peaceful calm around them.
She became aware of his hand on hers. She rather wished he would ...kiss it again, but instead he gave it a tiny squeeze and removed his hand. A bit further ahead of them a farmer was busy loading beets and Elizabeth guessed -- and hoped -- that perhaps his presence was the reason for Mr. Darcy's paying regard to propriety. She still had the support of his arm to delight her.
They now found that they had been walking for several miles busy talking and without paying any attention to where, and on examining their watches, that it was time to return home.
"What became of Jane and Bingley? They were ahead of us when we started this walk ...."
To this question of hers, Darcy produced a reasonable enough answer, that made them both smile in mutual understanding.
"Perhaps they were no more interested in company than we are?"
Elizabeth could not refrain from inquiring into the conditions that had led to the happy union, the engagement of his friend and her sister.
"Where you surprised?"
"No I felt it would soon happen."
This was pretty much what she had expected him to answer, and she let him know how she looked upon it by a slight mockery.
"That is to say, you had given your permission."
"Permission, indeed! I did no such thing! Well, ...I had been discussing it with Bingley. I made a confession to him before I left for London. Admitting that my former interference in his affairs was absurd. I told him of my conviction that I had been wrong about Miss Bennet's feelings for him."
"Did you speak from your own observation or merely from my information last spring?"
"From the former. I had narrowly observed her during the two visits which I had lately made her here, and I was convinced of her affection."
She could not prevent a little smile as she continued her interrogation.
"And your assurance of it carried immediate conviction to him?"
"It did. Bingley is most unaffectedly modest. He would not depend on his own judgment in so anxious a case, but his reliance on mine made everything easy.
"I was obliged to confess that I had concealed from him your sister's stay in town for three months last winter. He was angry, not unjustly, I must say. When I imagine myself in his place ...To think that someone would have purposely kept your presence from me .... What I would have felt to hear of it afterwards ..."
He pressed her arm a little tighter to him.
"But his anger lasted no longer than he remained in any doubt of your sister's sentiments. He has heartily forgiven me now."
Elizabeth longed to observe on Mr. Bingley's advantages as a friend. So easily guided ..., but she checked herself. She remembered that he had yet to learn to be laughed at and it was rather to early to begin.
So she just gave him a smile to show him that she shared his joy and gave her opinion.
"I have rarely seen a couple better suited for one another. It is my sincere belief that theirs shall be a very happy alliance."
"I agree wholeheartedly. But I think there might be one couple whose happiness can not be surpassed. I am at least convinced that Bingley can not possibly be as much in love with his fiancÚ, as I am with you, Elizabeth. It is perfectly reasonable, since you are the most clever, sensible, upright and admirable woman on earth. Apart from having the most beautiful eyes and ..."
He checked himself as he was about to comment on her mouth and realised that it would be too soon and might easily lead him astray. His eyes however had already spoken and she could sense his ardour through that unfinished sentence. She blushed and placed her free hand for a moment on that arm of his that was supporting her so pleasantly.
"I concur on that opinion Mr. Darcy. No woman can be more attached to her ... to a gentleman than I myself am to you.'
Her voice was merely a whisper in the end, but he heard her and got all warm from the sound of that bashful voice and the touch of her hand. He could not resist the urge to respond somehow and though they were on the lane from Meryton to Longbourn, where no privacy was guaranteed, he seized both her hands and raised them to place one devoted kiss on each.
"Elizabeth, my beloved, I am truly out of words. This is still not really within my comprehension. The rapid change from the predominating uncertainty of my life even this morning, to the fortunate circumstances in which I now find myself, ... I never thought this kind of happiness would be bestowed upon me. Whenever I look into your eyes, I am captivated by that tiny dancing sparkle."
He pulled her hands to the chest of his grey coat and held them there while his let his eyes irresistibly sink into hers. Half in jest he exclaimed.
"This heart is all yours to command, Madam!'
She was thoroughly attracted by his touch and although her sober mind would tell her, the manner of his address was too highly strung, too romantic, she could not find it in her heart too laugh at it. Her face softened and she smiled lovingly back into his eyes.
"I have no objections whatsoever to its behaviour so far. I only wish for it to continue as gracefully as now and there will never be a need for contraorders."
"No order can possibly have been more willingly obeyed. Nor so easily carried out. Are there no special requirements, madam? No hardships to be endured under your sovereignty?"
"I sincerely hope not. But perhaps in time you will learn that I am not all mildness and complaisance. My sister is an angel, which I am not.'
Darcy gave her hands a quick squeeze and his face turned serious.
"Can it not safely be said, that I have met with your anger? And though I intend to avoid any repetition of such behaviour that once induced it, I would not have you otherwise. Almost the first thing, that drew me to you, was your ability to state your opinion and adhere to it. I love you exactly the way you are, Elizabeth ...most ardently ....
He looked as if he would say or do something more, but then his lips were pressed together and he linked his arm once again through hers, informing her that they would be rather late and ought to proceed on their way back to her home.
On entering the hall at Longbourn Darcy reluctantly let go of her arm, since they could hear the approaching steps of a servant. Elizabeth went upstairs to compose herself and put away her outdoor clothing.
Part II A : What Can He Mean By Being So Tiresome?
When Elizabeth joined the party in the drawing room Jane teased her in a friendly manner on loosing the way so totally.
"My dear Lizzy, where can you have been walking to?"
She tried to appear calm on answering her and all the others who repeated the question when they sat down to table.
"I can not imagine what made me take the wrong turn. The weather being so agreeable, we wandered about without paying any attention to the road until we were too far off for me to know the surroundings. It was quite extraordinary, to find I was beyond my own knowledge!"
She did colour slightly as she spoke, but it did not attract any notice. A hasty sidelong glance towards Darcy showed her the trace of a smile on his lips. It was most upsetting and made her decide that no such looks were to be ventured during the rest of the evening.
Mr. Bennet commented shaking his head in amazement.
"Yes I dare say, it must have been Lizzy, for if anyone should be familiar with every road within four or five miles it is you!"
There was no need for her to worry, because neither this circumstance, nor the occasional stumbling over words that happened to her when Bingley asked if they had noticed the stray horse on a field near the Mill, nor the fact that she nearly forgot to serve coffee to her father after she had filled Darcy's cup, and was distracted by his eyes as he thanked her, awakened any suspicion of the truth.
The evening passed quietly, unmarked by anything extraordinary. There was a pleasant amount of conversation going on without any painful outburst from Mrs. Bennet and even Mary kept to her book and never once threatened to attack the pianoforte. Jane and Bingley were apparently well at ease and could be seen talking and laughing.
Elizabeth and Darcy were mostly silent. It was not in his disposition to let his happiness overflow in mirth, though he took great pleasure in the secret knowledge of his heart. He sent her cautious glances now and then, and the fact that she dared but seldom return them did not matter to him. The mere possibility to stay in the same room with her, to let his eyes rest on her, while he allowed his thoughts to indulge in the memories of their extended walk was enough for him to be perfectly content with the present state of things.
Elizabeth, knew she was happy but she did not yet feel it. She was looking ahead and was agitated to anticipate what would be the reaction in her family, when her situation was known. Aware that no one liked him, save Jane, that they probably even disapproved of him, and confused because she knew it was to some extent her doing. She had been maliciously slandering him from his first appearance in Meryton and now most heartily wished, she had been less eloquent on the subject of his proud and disagreeable manners. She wondered whether even all his wealth and consequence would be enough to do away with this dislike.
The time came for the gentlemen to take their leave and there was no opportunity for a private farewell, but she sensed his gaze on her in the evening dusk as the whole family were accompanying the guests out on the porch. She noticed that Bingley placed a kiss on Jane's hand and this made her experience a slight envy. She glanced towards Darcy and he bowed to her, almost indiscernibly. She got the most peculiar feeling that he knew her thoughts ...and perhaps shared them. Smiling inwardly she indicated a small curtsey.
When they were retiring for the night, Elizabeth went over to Jane's room to open her heart. Her sister at first refused to believe her. It was not consistent with the unsuspicious nature of Jane's heart, but she was initially absolutely incredulous here.
"You are joking Lizzy. This cannot be! Engaged to Mr. Darcy! No no, you shall not deceive me. I know it to be impossible."
Elizabeth, seated at the dressing table, looked into the mirror and smiled at her sister's agitated disbelief.
"This is a wretched beginning! I am sure nobody else will believe me if you do not. Yet, indeed, I am in earnest. He still loves me and we are to be married."
Jane looked at her doubtingly.
"Oh Lizzy! It cannot be true for I know how much you dislike him."
"That is all in the past. Perhaps I did not always love him as I do today. But in such cases a good memory is unpardonable. This is the last time I shall ever mention it myself."
She had got up and moved over to sit near her sister on the bed. Jane still looked all amazement. But she began slowly to realise that this exceptional revelation might be all true, when Elizabeth again assured her of the sincerity of her confession. She could no longer refuse to acknowledge the affirmative asseverations of deep love, that were spoken by her sister, but exclaimed.
"Good Heaven! can it really be so? Yet now I must believe you. My dear, dear Lizzy, I would ...I do congratulate you ...but are you quite certain that you can be happy with him?"
"There can be no doubt of that. It is settled between us already that we are to be the happiest couple in the world. But are you pleased, Jane? Shall you like to have such a brother?"
"Nothing could give either Bingley or myself more delight. But we considered it, we talked of it as impossible. Do you really love him well enough? Oh Lizzy, do anything rather than marry without affection! Are you quite sure that you feel what you ought to do?"
The faintest blush swept her face as Elizabeth reflected on her newly awakened feelings; the pleasant warmth that diffused all over her body, when his eyes were upon her, when he spoke to her or touched her. It made her feel blessed by fate, and she tried to put a damper on her serenity by a smiling answer.
"Oh yes! You will only think I feel more than I ought to, when I tell you all."
"What do you mean?"
"Why I must confess that I love him better than I do Bingley."
"Oh Lizzy! Do be serious! How long have you loved him?"
"It has been coming on so gradually, I hardly know when it began .... But I do believe it was after I first saw his beautiful grounds at Pemberley!"
They both laughed at her remark and its implication of a despicably calculating mind. But when Jane insisted that she be serious, the desired effect was produced and Elizabeth's solemn assurances soon satisfied Miss Bennet.
"Now I am quite happy! I always had a value for him. Were it for nothing but his love of you, I must always have esteemed him. And now being Bingley's friend and soon your husband ...there can be only Bingley and yourself more dear to me. But Lizzy, you have been very sly, very reserved with me."
"I had no wish to mention Bingley's name to you, from fear that it would only give you pain. It would have been hard to speak of our disagreeable interactions without mentioning Darcy's interference in his friend's affairs and the vexation his actions had aroused in me on that account. I did tell you of his dealings with Mr. Wickham."
Elizabeth looked appealingly at her sister. She was anxious to have Miss Bennet understand the cause of her former reserve.
"You were suffering enough as it was Jane. I wished to avoid the cruelty of an unnecessary addition to your torment."
"But how little did you tell me of what passed at Pemberley and Lambton. I owe all that I know of it to another!"
"The motive of my secrecy was the unsettled state of my own feelings. I wished to avoid the mentioning of his name."
Since there were no longer any awkward feelings in her loving heart, Elizabeth was only too happy to speak of their meetings in Derbyshire at great length and with such detailed information to put both Jane and herself in a most pleasant state of blushing and laughter. There were some moments of serene silence and several unconstrained reflections on almost every aspect of the looks, attires and personalities of the two gentlemen in question. It was agreed upon that the great happiness of their present situation was well-nigh inconceivable.
"Oh Lizzy, I declare that when he addresses me or even enters the room I feel so ..."
"I know Jane, it is the most inexplicable mixture of feelings, pleasure and pain at the same time. When his eyes are upon me I can hardly draw breath ..."
They sat in silence for a while, each of them in her heart contemplating some of the secret thoughts, that were her own most private, never to be spoken out loud, but perhaps some day in a tender moment to be whispered in her lover's ear.
An exchange of happy smiles and then Elizabeth told her sister of Mr. Darcy's part in bringing Lydia's marriage about. Miss Bennet was amazed!
"That he would go through all this trouble and such awkward encounters. It speaks very highly of his noble heart Lizzy; and certainly of his love for you!"
Half the night was spent in this happy way.
Part II B : What Can He Mean By Being So Tiresome?
"Good gracious if that disagreeable Mr. Darcy is not coming here again with Mr. Bingley! What can he mean by being so tiresome as to be always coming here? I had no notion but he would go a-shooting or something or other, and not disturb us with his company. What shall we do with him? Lizzy, you must walk out with him again, that he may not be in Bingley's way."
Mrs. Bennet was standing at her window as the sight of the two gentlemen from Netherfield caught her eye. One to please her immensely, the other to annoy her unspeakably. She was not happy on Lizzy's behalf that she must ask her to accompany their horrid and proud visitor, thereby unselfishly sacrificing a great deal to prevent him from destroying the pleasures of Mr. Bingley.
Elizabeth could not help laughing at so convenient a suggestion, yet was really vexed that her mother should be always giving him such an epithet.
As soon as they entered, Bingley looked at her so expressively, and shook hands with such warmth, as left no doubt of his good information. She was amused to hear him shortly afterwards address her mother.
"Mrs. Bennet, have you no more lanes hereabouts in which Lizzy may lose her way again to-day?"
I advise Mr. Darcy, and Lizzy, and Kitty to walk to Oakham Mount this morning. It is a nice long walk and Mr. Darcy has never seen the view."
Mr. Bingley seemed to be very cheerful and greatly enjoying the assistance he was able to give his friend. The latter was rather silent. He had of course on arriving bid a good morning to all the occupants at Longbourn, but then he concentrated his attention on an endeavour to avoid concentrating it on one particular person. Bingley was happy to be of further assistance.
"It may do very well for the others, but I am sure it will be too much for Kitty. Won't it Kitty?"
"Yes I think I would not ..., that is, rather stay at home."
Darcy was suddenly alerted by a highly agreeable glance in his direction from Elizabeth.
"I would be most interested in that suggestion, Mrs. Bennet. I have indeed never been anywhere near Oakham Mount or the view from it and I confess a certain curiosity to see it. That is if Miss Bennet could find the time to ...."
The lady in question just lowered her eyes to the floor and, at the same time, gave her consent by silently inclining her head.
Consequently, Jane and Elizabeth went upstairs to dress and before they parted outside Elizabeth's door she complimented her sister on a most proficient and cunning schemer of a fiancÚ. Jane smiled at her and merely answered.
"It is too good to be true, is it not, Lizzy?"
Seriously looking into the eyes of her reflection, when she was putting on her bonnet in front of the mirror, Elizabeth had to admit that her sister was right. He is waiting for me down below and we are going for a long walk together ...on our own. Bingley can be counted on to arrange a convenient distance. She was excited to think of it.
There was a knock at the door and Mrs. Bennet entered, looking sincere enough, to express again her regret. She would have been amazed to know of her daughter's reactions to it.
"I am quite sorry, Lizzy, that you should be forced to have that disagreeable man all to yourself. He is not disagreeable and I am so happy to have him to myself! But I hope you will not mind it: it is all for Jane's sake you know; Not really, mama ...and there is no occasion for talking to him, except just now and then. Oh yes, there is every reason to talk to him, but maybe now and then, we shall be silent .... So do not put yourself to inconvenience."
Elizabeth assured her mother, that she considered it an endurable trial and that there was no need to worry.
When she descended to the hall, Bingley and Darcy were just leaving the parlour. She met his eyes and was overcome by a feeling of giddiness. The fact that his friend was present made her quickly move her gaze to him and Bingley's face beaming with content draw out a smile on her lips at his obvious happiness. Her sister had indeed been fortunate. That very moment Jane was visible on top of the stairs and her fiancÚ's attention was clearly moving from Elizabeth to her sister.
Darcy approached to offer her his arm with a small bow.
"Miss Bennet! I hope to find you well this morning? Shall we be off to Oakham Mount then?"
She placed her hand on his arm and gave him a little smile.
"So it appears and I hope you will like it. It is an enjoyable walk. I am in the best of health, thank you and how are you, Mr. Darcy?"
"Never better, Miss Bennet. I can assure you, that I am in no doubt about the pleasures of this walk. Which way are we to turn?"
He had lowered his voice when he commented on his expectations. She was amazed at his gallantry ...and pleased. She dared to answer him in the same easy manner.
"To the left and through the gate in the wall. I might add to complete my former reply, that I am somewhat tired, perhaps due to a lack of sleep."
He cast a hasty glance at her, surprised by her sincerity and knew not what to say.
"It is really the most peculiar thing Mr. Darcy. My sister and I were not able to cease talking until well after midnight. I can not imagine how that came about."
She turned her head to smile into his eyes. He took a deep breath. She had an overwhelming effect on his composure. He wondered what exactly she had confided to her sister, though he could guess the general subject of their conversation. How he longed to be in her confidence.
She would not leave him in peace.
"What is your opinion Mr. Darcy?"
He was at a loss. He knit his brows and looked inquiringly at her. On her sweet face was an expression of amusement ...mocking him?
"Hrm, ...my opinion on what, Miss Bennet? I am afraid I do not quite follow ...'
I want to call you Elizabeth, as I did yesterday, but I am not sure ... He felt there was still a distance between them.
"Can you imagine a reason for this unlimited loquacity? I told my sister we were to become twice brothers and sisters and as a consequence there seemed to emerge an abundance of topics, none of which could be postponed."
He pulled her arm a little closer to him and just looked at her. If she would just keep talking to him in such teasing manner, he would be happy, since from now on he was permitted to watch her face openly. To enjoy the smallest changes in her expression without the reserve he had hitherto been forced to impose upon himself. She did not disappoint him.
"Am I all wrong supposing that you yourself and Mr. Bingley were similarly occupied yesterday evening?"
"It is not within my power to imagine the exact degree of your intimacy with your sister, but I would think it gives rise to a greater amount of words than my exchange with Bingley. For though it is very true, that I did not allow much time to pass until I told him of my happiness, there are still many thoughts and feelings, that I hesitate to share with anyone but perhaps one person. One lady that is, so very dear to me ...."
Elizabeth turned her head to look at him and his eyes drew her into their spell again. She could not stop looking into their bottomless darkness while the warmth in his gaze enfolded her so enticingly.
They had been walking some distance from the nearness of Longbourn but the surrounding fields provided no privacy. He was aware of this and so managed to tear his eyes from her lovely face and clear his throat before mentioning, that he had been writing a letter to his sister, but had refrained from finishing it since he wished very much to be able to add some happy news to it.
"As for your family ...I had intended to ask your father's consent today, ...If you permit me to do so, ...Elizabeth?"
"Have you any reason to doubt my permission? Of course I permit it! Not only do I permit it, I am looking forward to it. I have no wish to spend several evenings in the suspense and secrecy of yesterday. And if you allow me to speak to my mother, then the trial will be over."
"The trial? You anticipate some hardship then. Do you think your parents will object to our union?"
"No no, I should think that to be highly unlikely. But I fear they will experience some astonishment to hear of it. I have never given them reason to think... I did ...I had an ...I was at all ..."
"...favourably inclined towards me? ..."
Darcy suggestingly filled in the line for her. She felt terrible and stared at her gloved hands before she could face him.
"I am so sorry for the injustice I have done you. The immaturity of my behaviour is despicable. I do wish I had never spoken of you to my parents. Why must I always talk more than I ought to? They believe I have no regard for you at all."
"...And have you?"
He could not resist the delightful opportunity to hear her say some words of estimation. Elizabeth fought her embarrassment and stopped to answer him.
"Oh yes, you know I have. I hold you in the highest esteem, I consider you to be very well informed and of superior understanding. I find you perfectly amiable and honourable. ..."
He was pleased but not contented. Frowning he searched her face.
"This is all very well but ...that could be said of an elder brother, do you ...have other feelings?"
Elizabeth was somewhat startled by his persistence. She knew not how to express her attachment to his person. She got hold of a hanging bunch of twigs to tug at it in confusion and Darcy paused to watch her. Somehow they were no longer arm-in-arm. Elizabeth took a few steps to support herself, placing one hand against the tree trunk and gathering her inner strength to tell him.
"I do not think any sister would have feelings even remotely similar to my affection for you. The first sensation when I meet you has little to do with your superior mind, your general knowledge or your pleasant manners ..."
He had approached to stand opposite her, occasionally poking at the bark while moving his hand closer to hers. He was observing her and when he finally touched her it was to stroke the back of her hand with his fingers. She looked up at him attempting to breath calmly, when he gently interlaced his fingers with hers, affecting her by being so near, his loving gaze upon her face. She made an even greater effort to continue.
"I feel happy to know you live in the same world with me and that you wish for me to become your wife. I am ...so completely in love with you that ...."
He had lifted his free hand to touch her hanging arm by the wrist and she was surprised to notice, that it was as if she had no will of her own, when he slowly ran his hand up to her shoulder. Holding her thus, he bent forward to gently touch her cheek with his lips.
Darcy handled her like she was about to break any minute. His intuition was indeed admirable for the mixture of unfamiliar sensations inside her made her feel very feeble .... His lips lingered for a while on the soft rosy skin as he fought the temptation to explore with his mouth all the dents and curves of her beloved face. Then he pulled his head back to look at her most tenderly. His voice was muffled.
"I love you so, Elizabeth. To stand here with you is ...."
She stepped near to lean her head against him and softly whisper.
"...and I love you, Fitzwilliam."
The confident and tender nature of her approach made him squeeze her hand and place his arm around her back to pull her closer. She gave a contented sigh and let her body rest against him.
His love filled him with an inexplicable urge to protect her. For a while he felt nothing but a pure tenderness towards the woman in his arms.
When the warmth of her body next to his was beginning to bother him, he reminded her of their intention and slowly released her.
"We have not yet arrived at the Mount, my dear. Perhaps we had better continue."
She looked almost as if she had been startled out of her sleep, but soon smiled at him and placed her arm under his in a most endearing way. A happy smile played on his lips as they proceeded towards their destination. She is even more lovely than I imagined her.
Continued in Part 2
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