In Ten Days Time
Day Seven- The Calm Before the Storm
Darcy was pleased the next day to receive a letter from Georgiana.
I was touched by your letter. The portrait you mention is one of my favorites. It means more than I can express to hear of Mother and to think that I might be anything like her. I do so wish I had not missed the opportunity of knowing her myself. Regardless, I know that from her place in Heaven she looks after us both and is proud of you in all that you have done for me. I hope some day to make her as proud of me.
Mrs. Annesley and I are quietly content here together at Pemberley. Mrs. Annesley says that I make good progress in my studies. My French pronunciation is improving. My understanding of Latin is not yet what it ought to be, but also increases under her tutelage. As you know, she is a woman of most sincere praise. I value her instruction and her praise very much.
I have nearly perfected playing of the Mozart selection "Voi Che Sapete" that so enchanted you this summer. I look forward to sharing it with you when you return to Pemberley. Though I shall never be able to perform it with the unaffectedly joyous spirit of some, I shall endeavor my best. I hope that it will bring you even a portion of the pleasure it brought to you when you last heard it performed here.
I am overjoyed to hear of Mr. Bingleyís good fortune. He has not seemed himself since departing Hertfordshire last autumn. I have often wished that I were able to urge him to return to that country and find the pieces of his heart he so obviously lost there. I simply have not had the words or the courage to give to him. He is a kind man. I do join you in wishing him every happiness and eagerly await confirmation of his great joy.
I was surprised to read in your letter that you visit town. While I appreciate your visiting my music masters and the bookseller on my behalf, I wonder what business could have taken you there now. Isnít Mr. Bingleyís Hertfordshire estate where you first made the acquaintance of Miss Elizabeth Bennet? I do think that the country air would be far more beneficial to you than that of town.
I must to my lessons now, but eagerly await good tidings from you.
Darcy was amazed by Georgianaís letter. He thought back to that night at Pemberley when Elizabeth had sung so beautifully and so captivated him. The song, "Voi Che Sapete," was the one she had been performing. He had been entirely unmindful of the others noting his admiration. Georgianaís letter indicated to him that at least one of the party had seen into his heart. He only hoped that Elizabeth had seen it too. She had smiled from deep inside her eyes at him that night. It had been the first time heíd made himself so completely open and vulnerable to anyone.
Georgiana was obviously quite taken with Elizabeth and aware of his feelings too. He only hoped that their wishes would not be disappointed.
Fitzwilliam strode into the room in his usual cheerful way. "How was your evening?"
Darcy smiled, "Quite enjoyable. The Gardiners are very genteel and charming people. They have a comfortable home filled with youngsters. Their youngest daughter, a little lady of age six, provided much entertainment. I was reminded of Georgiana as a child, onlyÖnoisier."
Fitzwilliam laughed, "Most children are noisier than Georgiana was, Cousin. You were blessed that she was born with such a compliant and gentle nature. Not at all like yourself." This last was offered teasingly.
Darcy replied, "She is like me in her shyness among unfamiliar company."
Fitzwilliam replied, "I think not. Georgiana is more fearful than you. You only need to persuade yourself to take the trouble to practice, remember?"
Darcy looked at Fitzwilliamís merry expression and smiled tightly, "I not only remember, but am persuaded."
"Having seen your inducement in all her loveliness, I can understand your reasons well," said Fitzwilliam. Had Darcy any inclination to look at his cousin at this moment he would have seen that Fitzwilliam was leading the conversation quite purposefully in a particular direction. Fitzwilliam took a seat opposite Darcy.
Darcyís expression darkened slightly. He shifted in his seat and reached for his coffee. He did not look at his cousin.
Fitzwilliam studied Darcyís expression and asked, "You said that Miss Bennet found me and my company pleasant. Did that bother you?"
Darcyís gaze flashed at his cousin. He replied shortly, "Of course."
Fitzwilliam sighed and said, "I have a confession to make to you, Darcy."
Darcy looked at his cousin in questioning surprise.
Fitzwilliam sighed again, "I enjoyed your jealousy." Darcy blinked in confusion.
Fitzwilliam continued, "From our first visit to the Hunsford parsonage I could see that you were mad for Miss Bennet and fighting a losing battle against your attraction to her. You practically devoured the sight of her each time we met. And she is such a delightful companionÖ I did take a fancy to her, but I also saw how you envied me my ease in conversing with her. It is not often that I find myself at such an advantage over you. I confess that I enjoyed your discomfort very much. However, it was not until your return to Rosings that last night that I first suspected the depth of your feelings."
Darcy looked down, unsure of how to respond.
Fitzwilliam said, "So, allow me now to tell you why I did not come to you and apologize for my conduct that very night."
Darcy looked up at Fitzwilliam, curious.
Fitzwilliam continued, "Our aunt had followed me into the hallway. I made your excuses and led her back to the parlor. That clergyman soon drew her into conversation, asking for advice on some item or other. I know not what. I was going to excuse myself, when Cousin Anne motioned for me to sit beside her. She asked if I knew how your errand had gone and I responded with confusion, not knowing what she could mean. She told me that she believed that you had gone to propose to Miss Bennet. I responded that if that were the case, it had apparently not gone well at all. She nodded and told me that she thought that you had willfully misunderstood Miss Bennet and convinced yourself that she awaited your attentions."
"Anne is more perceptive than I realized," Darcy smiled self consciously. The irony of his having ëwillfully misunderstoodí Elizabeth was not lost upon him.
Fitzwilliam nodded in agreement and said, "Anne said that she had been struck by the attraction between you and Miss Bennet, but was worried by your arrogance. She felt that Miss Bennet was too honest to accept you without love and respect and that if your love overcame your pride, you would become a much better man for it and end far happier than otherwise. She encouraged me to let you learn to know yourself and that in time you would recover, one way or another. Then, most astoundingly of all to me, she playfully smacked my hand and told me to get out of the way and stop playing with fire. I laughed. Of course, this drew Lady Catherineís attention and our conversation was interrupted."
Darcy asked thoughtfully, "And Anne did not seem in any way disturbed by my attraction for Miss Bennet?"
Fitzwilliam considered the question and shook his head, "Not in the least." Darcy looked relieved. Fitzwilliam continued, "Now, may I ask your forgiveness for so enjoying her company and your jealous discomfort?"
Darcy nodded that all was forgiven. Then he smiled mischievously and said, "Play with such fire again, dear cousin, and Iíll thrash you to within an inch of your life." His eyes glowed with playfulness tinged with a hint of truth.
Fitzwilliam laughed softly, "I have no doubt that you would try." The two men laughed, once again in accord with one another.
Day Eight- Lady Catherine Takes up Fencing
Fitzwilliam had plans to dine with fellow officers this day. He agreed to meet Darcy at the club for a fencing match immediately afterwards. After taking his midday meal, Darcy was set to prepare to leave the house and meet Fitzwilliam when, to his great surprise, he heard Mrs. Davisí announcement, "Lady Catherine DeBourgh."
He stood up from his seat at the table and bowed as his aunt entered the room. It unusual to find her in town, especially unannounced, but it was her demeanor that put him en garde. Lady Catherine looked at him with a cautious, quiet, and determined glare as she swept down on him. Her look was one that would have sent him running behind his motherís skirts as a boy. Even now that he was a man he was impressed by her deliberately intimidating manner. She walked to a seat by the window and lowered herself carefully into it, her cane tightly gripped in her left hand. Silently she gave an imperious wave to the chair nearest her, indicating for him to join her.
As he silently moved to obey, he watched her survey the room carefully. Her glare increased in intensity and she took in a deep breath which she released with a soft, derisive noise. He was put in mind of an opponent taking position across the piste for a fencing bout.
He politely began, "This is an unexpected honor, Lady Catherine." In his mind he saw this as a polite thrust of the foil. He waited with bated breath for her parry.
His breath caught as her gaze came to rest on the portrait of him and his mother. He found himself dreading the attack to come.
Lady Catherineís question still surprised him.
"Did you love your mother, Darcy?" she asked, her tone as sharp as any blade.
He blinked in confusion, "Yes, Aunt. What makes you ask such a question?"
She ignored his question and pressed on with her attack. "Do you honor her memory?"
He struggled to control his rising anger at this strange offensive. He could clearly see that his aunt was trying to use his emotions against him. Though he had no idea where the discussion could be headed, he felt instinctively that it must be a matter of import. He replied, "I do."
Lady Catherine pressed on again, "It was very important to her that you grow up in understanding and principle. She hoped very much that you would become a man of whom she could be proud. Duty, family, honor, decorum and prudence were of the greatest import to her." Here she paused in her attack. She did not pause to give Darcy relief, but to give her next words greater impact. "Your mother hoped that you would recognize these values and honor her belief in them."
She waited for his response. "I have tried my best to honor all that my mother held dear," he said in a carefully measured tone.
Lady Catherine rose from her chair in a lunging manner, looked down at him in her most menacing way, and intoned, "Then do not fail her now, Nephew!"
Darcy rose from his chair to his full height and looked down at Lady Catherine. His powerful voice rang out, "Please be seated, Aunt. I know not of what you speak, but I shall be glad to hear youÖ though without receiving your views in the form of a decree."
Then, more quietly, he suggested, "Let us talk together." He firmly but gently took her arm and assisted her back to her seat, then took his own and leaned back. He then crossed his legs in a manner he hoped would appear casual and non-combative.
Lady Catherine pressed her lips together and looked at him suspiciously.
Darcy began again, "What concerns you, Aunt? What brings you here today?"
Lady Catherine began again carefully, "I understand the means by which young ladies can lure even men as intelligent as yourself into ruin. I am concerned for you. I am here today because I have been made aware of a report of a most alarming nature. I am here to protect you, perhaps from yourself." Her voice rose with each word.
Darcy replied quietly, "I still do not know what you mean."
Lady Catherine continued, "Your mother and I planned a great union for you, Darcy. Even as Anne lay in her cradle, we agreed that the best course for you, for Anne, for our entire family, would be a union in marriage between the two of you. It is almost time for that union to take place. It is insupportable that our plans should be thwarted by an unsuitable fancy on your part now." Lady Catherine glared at him and continued, "I have come from Hertfordshire where I spoke with Miss Elizabeth Bennet this morning." She practically spat the name, consumed as she now was by her anger.
Darcy gripped the arms of the chair and struggled to keep all reaction from his face. His heart began to pound in fear and dread at what might have passed between his aunt and Elizabeth. Noncommittally, he replied, "Oh?" Inside his mind he screamed his questions and concerns. To an astute observer, the brightness of his eyes would reveal his turmoil. Lady Catherine, regardless of her own opinion of her abilities, was not an astute observer.
Lady Catherine continued, "Yes. After hearing a report of an engagement between the two of you which she must have fabricated, I met with her. I explained to her why a union with you can never take place. I told her of the engagement between you and Anne. I appealed to her sense of decorum. I represented the evils of her dishonorable schemes. I appealed to her sense of gratitude and decencyÖ and I found her quite lacking."
Darcyís practiced sense of apparent outer calm served him well now. Only a grimace of distaste showed fleetingly in his expression. Unbeknownst to him, this served to comfort Lady Catherine.
On the inside, Darcy did not do so well. He felt his stomach practically move into his throat. His heart thudded heavily. He could not even begin to picture the scene his aunt described. It defied imagination. He felt intense humiliation. He struggled to prevent color from overspreading his face. He could only hope that others had not been party to his auntís diatribe. How could he ever gain Elizabethís forgiveness? His thoughts jumped from idea to idea in the panic of horror.
Lady Catherine pressed on, "She would not hear me, no matter what I said to her. I realized that I would have to come and talk to you, instead. You have always lived as an honorable man. Do not let her take that from you. She revealed to me that you are not engaged. I appeal to you to forget all thoughts of her and to remember your duty, your family, your honor. Do not so pollute the shades of Pemberley, Nephew. Remember who you are."
Darcyís stomach lurched back to its proper place as his aunt talked of Elizabethís statement of there being no engagement between them. He fought horror and nausea as he asked, "You asked her if we wereÖ engaged?" His tone was loud and indignant despite his best efforts. He mentally chastised himself for this lapse in his guard.
Lady Catherine replied, "I asked her whether or not you had made her an offer of marriage. She seemed determined not to answer me directly, but finally did own that you were NOT engaged. From her evasiveness on that question, I believe she may have deceived you there. I warned her that she would not be recognized by your family were she to continue in her headstrong pursuit of you. Her impudent reply is evidence of her mercenary nature. Her exact words were Ö ëthe wife of Mr. Darcy would have such extraordinary sources of happiness necessarily attached to her situation, that she could, upon the whole, have no cause to repine.í" Lady Catherine thumped her cane on the floor to emphasize these words.
The color drained from Darcyís face. He could do nothing but stare at his aunt in amazement as her words echoed throughout his heart and soul.
"Do you not see her perverseness clearly for what it is?" Lady Catherine rasped. "She is an adventuress determined to have your fortune. She absolutely refused to promise not to enter into an engagement with you. She is resolved only to her own happiness, without reference to your nearest relations or anyone but herself." Lady Catherine nodded emphatically with this last.
Darcyís throat was dry from disbelief. He leapt up from the chair and took his cup of tea from the table. Though it had long since grown cold, he swallowed it quickly. Her happiness? Extraordinary sources of happiness? The wife of Mr. Darcy? Then his auntís last statement broke through the cacophony in his mind. He turned back to Lady Catherine and asked in a tone of disbelief, "She refused to promise you that she would not enter into an engagement with me?"
Lady Catherine began to relax. Darcyís evident shock convinced her that she had revealed Miss Bennet for the cunning creature Lady Catherine knew her to be. He looked at her with great intensity and, to her mind, disbelieving outrage (to his, disbelieving joy). She replied, "Yes. She absolutely refused. She said that she was determined to act for her ëown happiness without regard to the concerns of anyone unconnected with herself.í" Lady Catherineís manner of saying this last indicated it was another quote of Elizabethís words in their conversation. Lady Catherine smiled tightly at Darcy. "I am sorry to have to relate such distasteful information to you, Darcy, but it had to be done. I knew that I must make my feelings known. I urge you nowÖ act as your mother would have you actÖ"
Darcy looked up at the painting of his mother, a woman who had always sought the happiness of those dear to her, and smiled, "Indeed I will. I would not disappoint her."
Lady Catherineís smile broadened. She took Darcyís words as the assurance she had sought since first hearing of his involvement with Miss Bennet. "I am glad to find you so reasonable. I am sorry that your friend is caught in her sisterís net. I hope that you can help him free himself, but if not, it would probably be for the best if you sever all ties with him and his new family. One cannot be too careful in cases such as these."
Though Darcy had not heard any of this last, he nodded his head. His head was spinning with all that his aunt had revealed. Lady Catherine chose to believe that he was agreeing with her. All he wanted was for this visit to end so that he could ponder all that he had learned from it. He walked over to his aunt and took her hand and placed a kiss on it. Lady Catherine smiled at him again. She was quite adept at believing she heard and saw whatever she wished to hear and see. Thus it was that Darcy and Lady Catherine finished their visit with each of them feeling that the information provided by the other was a source of happiness.
She held to his hand and let him help her up from her seat. "I do not have to tell you that this has been a most vexing and unpleasant day. I have been quite put out. Really, I cannot express to you how difficult my discussion with Miss Bennet was. I am relieved to find you so rationalÖ and grateful. Now, I will go to my own house here in town. I am far too tired to return to Rosings this night."
Darcy walked her from the room. As they neared the front door he bowed again and managed to say, "Thank you for your trouble, Aunt."
Lady Catherine nodded with great condescension and intoned, "We look forward to seeing you at Rosings very soon, Darcy." With this, she took her leave.
Darcy walked back into the dining room and looked at the painting. His mother had always wanted for people to be happyÖ Now it seemed possible that her wish might come true for him. The revelations of the past few moments nearly overwhelmed him.
As he stood looking at the painting, Mrs. Davis came into the room. "Sir?" she inquired tentatively. He turned to look at her. She smiled tenderly at the look of bewilderment on his face and asked, "Will you still be going to meet the Colonel?"
Darcy started as he realized that he was indeed late for his appointment. Mrs. Davis held his hat and gloves out to him. He took them gratefully, thanking her as he did so. He ran to the door to find that she had had his horse brought around for him. Suddenly he felt euphoric. As he was about to cross the threshold of the house, Mrs. Davis came to the door and prepared to close it behind him. Darcy turned back and planted a kiss on her cheek, then turned and ran down the stairs to his waiting mount. Mrs. Davis laughed in surprise and put her hand to her cheek, watching him leap to his horse and depart.
A few moments later, Darcy dashed into the club. He prepared himself for activity, doffing his coats and vest. When he entered the main fencing area, he found Baines and Fitzwilliam locked in a splendid match. Not surprisingly the two men, the fencing master and the experienced military man, were quite well-matched. Darcy watched their foils fly as they maneuvered back and forth about the room. He was amazed at their speed and technique. They both used mastery of the sport far more than physical strength in their battle with one another. Fitzwilliam scored a hit and the two men paused. Baines noticed Darcy.
"I believe that your cousin has finally arrived, Sir," he said to Fitzwilliam. Baines and Fitzwilliam bowed to each other respectfully.
Fitzwilliam turned to Darcy. "Darcy, I was set to summon the constable. You are never late. What kept you?" Fitzwilliam noticed that Darcyís color was high and that his eyes contained the most remarkable sparkle.
Darcy accepted a foil and glove from one of the attendants and took his place opposite Fitzwilliam. He started to speak, but instead began to laugh softly. Fitzwilliam regarded him with mock annoyance. "Perhaps I should call back Mr. Baines. You do not look as though you will be any good to me now."
Darcyís face was covered with a silly grin. "I am certain that you are correct. Though in a way I feel as though I might be almost as warmed to fencing today as you. I too have been practicing, you see." Darcy waved his foil at Fitzwilliam in a light-hearted feint, fairly dancing with glee. The more he attempted to quell his amusement, the more he laughed.
Fitzwilliam looked at Darcy as though he had gone mad. "Cousin, stop that! Have you been drinking? I have not the pleasure of understanding you." He looked around as though concerned that others present would notice Darcyís mania.
Darcy continued to grin, but stopped waving the foil. "I have not been drinking. I have been talking with Lady Catherine."
Fitzwilliam now looked seriously concerned for his cousinís state of mind. He peered around the piste and whispered, "Do you see her here?"
Darcy laughed out loud, "I see. You think Iím daft! I can well believe it. No. I do not see visions. My visions do not involve our Aunt Catherine, anyway. She did come to the house-- and caused my delay."
"But Darcy, Lady Catherine does not come to call on people in town. Lady Catherine holds her court at Rosings and waits for people to attend her there," Fitzwilliam pointed out.
Darcy laughed again, "She has altered her habits in a most unusual way this once. She came from Hertfordshire this morning. A report had reached her that I am to marry ElÖ Miss Bennet. She set off at once to talk her out of it. She attempted to secure a promise fromÖ Miss Bennet that she would never enter into an engagement with me. Miss Bennet refused to give her any such assurance!"
Fitzwilliam was aghast, "Aunt went to Hertfordshire? What must Miss Bennet think, Darcy? First I insulted her sister and now Lady CatherineÖ"
Darcy laughed, "I shall have to restrain Georgiana. By the pattern you suggest she should have at Miss Bennet at any moment."
Fitzwilliam said, "You say she refused to promise NOT to marry you?"
Darcy replied jubilantly, "Miss Bennet said she was determined to act for her own happiness and that my wife would have ëextraordinary sources of happiness.í Aunt Catherine, of course, thought this a reference to my fortune. But, Fitzwilliam, I know that her head cannot be turned merely by such as thatÖ Dare I hope?" His eyes shone with joy.
Fitzwilliam had noted something odd in the conversation, something in Darcyís choice of words. Teasingly he raised his foil to Darcyís chest as he said, "Say her name, you lovelorn fool."
Darcy grinned broadly and said carefully, "Miss Bennet."
Fitzwilliam lightly pressed the tip of the foil to Darcyís heart. Darcyís grin widened and he spoke the name in a low, resonant, and rapture-filled voice, "Elizabeth." As Fitzwilliam had anticipated, Darcy fairly sighed the name and looked far away just from saying it.
Fitzwilliam laughed and shook his head, shouting "Useless wretch! I see how it is to be. You would be a danger to us both were I to allow you to fence with me now!"
Darcy laughed as Fitzwilliam asked a member of the staff to have Mr. Baines return to continue their match. Darcy watched their match with great enjoyment. Their blades flew almost as quickly as his thoughts and emotions.
Throughout the rest of the day and evening, Darcy pondered the information Lady Catherine had revealed. With many repetitions, Elizabethís words burned their way into his mind, his heart, and his soul. He began to hope as he never had allowed himself to hope before.
Day Nine- Hoping as Never Before
As the sun rose over London, Darcy lay abed, warmly tucked in sleep. Throughout the night he'd had dream after dream, but the one that would stay with him throughout the day was the one that came to him just before he awoke.
...He was running into the rose garden at Pemberley. Elizabeth stood there ahead of him. She was dressed in the same outfit she had worn the day he'd proposed so badly at Hunsford, but there was no recrimination in the look she bestowed upon him. She smiled broadly when she saw him and ran into his arms. Her eyes sparkled. She said, "I have been waiting for you." He pulled her tightly against him, savoring the feel of their bodies next to one another. She pulled his head down and kissed him fervently. He was dizzied by her passion. She wanted him as he wanted her. She ran her hands up his arms and around to his back. He kissed her again and again, savoring her touch and the sensations it created throughout his being.
She laughed and ran away through the garden, crying "Catch me and I'll marry you!" He gave chase. They passed Georgiana playing pianoforte in the garden. His cousin, Anne, sat next to Georgiana on the bench, smiling. His mother walked past and blew him a kiss before taking his father's arm and walking out of the garden.
He was near to catching Elizabeth. He leapt... and they fell together to his bed. She kissed him and caressed him and whispered feverishly, "Oh, my love. I love you." He was lost in the sensation of her passion for him...
Darcy suddenly awoke. He saw the empty space on the bed next to him and groaned softly. He pulled the pillow there close to his chest and gripped it tightly, curling about it for some moments. He closed his eyes, attempting to recall the shards of the dream. He did remember its passion vividly. He also remembered her words. He put his hand against his chest, feeling the pounding of his bemused heart. He sat up and looked around the room. He reached for his robe, pulled it on, and walked to the window. It looked as though it would be a beautiful day.
When he entered the breakfast room he found Fitzwilliam already there, eating a large breakfast. "Good morning, Darcy. Did you sleep well?"
Darcy nodded to indicate that he had and pulled up a chair. "I hope you did, too. Do you still depart for Newcastle today?" he asked. He filled his plate. On this morning his appetite was good. He attacked the food with great enthusiasm.
Fitzwilliam nodded and said, "Yes. I must leave after breaking fast. My schedule is fixed you see. I confess that I do dread meeting Colonel Nicholas. Wickham must have had opportunity to call down disapprobation of some form or another by now..." Fitzwilliam laughed ruefully.
Darcy frowned and paused eating long enough to say, "I rather hope that he might take advantage of this new beginning." His look was one of plaintive optimism.
Fitzwilliam shook his head and laughed again, "You always hope that! I tell you, he is not worth your concern. Let us talk of other matters. What are your plans?"
Darcy took a bite of food and considered the question before replying, "I will leave for Hertfordshire this afternoon." The Colonel nodded approvingly. "Though I told Bingley I would arrive tomorrow, he wrote that he leaves early each day for Longbourn and often does not return until late. If I arrive there this evening, I will not have long to wait before he returns. Then tomorrow I will be able to accompany him and will not be a disruption to his schedule."
Fitzwilliam chuckled and replied dryly, "How very kind of you not to keep him from Longbourn... But what are your plans then?" He sipped his coffee and looked at Darcy with amused curiosity.
Darcy sat back and considered Fitzwilliam's question. Carefully, he replied, "I hesitate to plan. Lady Catherine's information has given me hope that Miss" Darcy stopped and smiled slightly as Fitzwilliam raised a brow. "...that Elizabeth... might care for me, but I dare not presume too much. I believe that my actions must be determined by her demeanor."
Fitzwilliam looked disappointed and exclaimed, "After your euphoria of yesterday I would expect you to propose to her immediately!"
Darcy smiled, "I wish to. But I refuse to repeat my mistakes of before. Unfortunately that does not leave me very much to say. I confess that I am at a loss as to how to proceed."
Fitzwilliam offered, "Tell her how much you admire her."
Darcy answered, "Last time I told her that I ardently admired and loved her. How should I say it differently?"
Fitzwilliam shook his head, "Maybe you could tell her how you've suffered..."
Darcy answered, "Last time I begged her to relieve my suffering."
Fitzwilliam said, "That doesn't sound farcical. What did you say that was so wrong?"
Darcy colored deeply, "I talked of the degradation of our connection and the ridicule it would bring upon me and my family."
Fitzwilliam raised his eyebrows in surprise and looked at Darcy sardonically, "Perhaps you should avoid mentioning that this time."
Darcy looked annoyed. "Thank you, Fitzwilliam. I shall endeavor to remember your advice."
Fitzwilliam chuckled, "Darcy, just tell her that you love her. Tell her that your feelings and wishes are the same as they have always been. Then pray that she will accept you. She is too generous to trifle with you."
Thinking of it, Darcy felt as though he stood at the edge of a precipice. He closed his eyes at the thought of proposing again. He opened them and looked down at his hands. Again, he was twisting the ring on his pinkie. He then tried to imagine looking into her eyes and not professing his feelings. He was entirely unable to do so. It was decided.
He looked at Fitzwilliam and said, "I can't imagine... She is constantly in my thoughts. I love her. I cannot imagine telling her less than that. From what she told our aunt I think it very possible that she feels... as I do. The possibility of that is too wonderful to permit delay." His look was now one of determination.
Fitzwilliam pushed back from the table and said, "Again, Cousin, I wish you success." Darcy stood up from the table and shook Fitzwilliam's outstretched hand. Fitzwilliam smiled encouragingly at Darcy. Darcy replied with emotion, "Thank you for everything, Cousin." His eyes spoke the depths of gratitude he felt for his cousin's encouragement and friendship.
As Fitzwilliam prepared to leave, Darcy wished him good journey. Fitzwilliam turned back to him and smiled, "Good journey to you, as well. I eagerly await good tidings."
Later that day Darcy departed London for Netherfield. Again, the rode seemed long. He meditated on the possibility before him and on what he should tell her. Over and over he attempted to decide what he might say to her. He imagined the many different ways she might react to his presence. It was very likely that his aunt's visit had angered and embarrassed her. He would have to apologize for his aunt's behavior. Beyond that, he was uncertain of exactly what he should say.
Riding into the Hertfordshire countryside he looked across the landscape, half hoping he might even see her walking there this afternoon. He noticed that he did not feel fear at the prospect. He simply felt anticipation and love. His main concern was that of finding a way to express himself to her appropriately.
As he had predicted, he arrived to find Bingley away. The doorman, Fosset, informed Darcy that Mr. Bingley would return after dinner with the Bennet family. Darcy took a light dinner and walked through the halls of Netherfield in search of diversion. He thought to while away the time in reading, but was unable to find a volume which interested him that he had not read before. Bingley's library was in need of serious attention, Darcy decided.
He gave up his search of the library and moved to the billiard room. Along the way, servants greeted him nervously, unsure of the meaning of the intensity in his gaze. He set up the table for quick game. His aim was sharp and true, but he found the activity unsatisfying and hollow.
Driven by his restless energy, Darcy left the billiard room. Crossing the threshold, he started in surprise at the sight of Fosset, standing at attention in the hallway just beyond. He said, "Please do not wait on me so closely, Fosset. I will call for you if I need anything. There is no need to trouble yourself so."
Fosset cleared his throat and replied, "I did not intend to alarm you, sir. My instructions from Miss Bingley are to attend your every need and make your time at Netherfield as easy and comfortable as possible."
Darcy shook his head, "I cannot be made comfortable by witnessing your discomfort. Please put yourself at ease. As I said, I will call for you if your assistance is needed."
Fosset looked relieved but still tentative, "Before I leave you then, sir, is there any way in which I may serve you?"
Darcy started to reply negatively, but changed his mind and asked, "Would you bring me my coat? I should like to take a walk in the gardens."
Fosset nodded and asked, "Shall I have torches lit, sir?"
Darcy shook his head. "No. I should like to view the stars. Torchlight would not assist me in that. Do not trouble yourself. I know my way."
Fosset brought Darcy his coat, hat, and gloves and assisted him with the coat. Darcy thanked him and walked out to the gardens. The moon was quite full, so he was able to find his way around easily. Unfortunately this did not allow him the view of the stars he would have liked. He remembered an evening just two weeks prior when he'd been out for a ride in this same countryside. That night the moon had been barely a sliver in the sky and there had been a veritable shower of falling stars.
On this evening, however, it was only after more than an hour of walking and looking at the sky that Darcy finally spied a falling star. Pleased, he cried out, "Star light, star bright, first falling star I've seen this night, I wish I may, I wish I might, that you might grant my wish tonight."
Darcy was startled then to hear the voice of his friend. "And what is your wish, Darcy?" called Bingley as he crossed the lawn between them.
Darcy smiled faintly. "If I told you it would not come true."
Bingley looked at him oddly, then smiled. "I am glad that you have returned. Very glad, indeed."
Darcy offered a handshake, "Congratulations, Bingley. I am happy for you and Miss Bennet."
Bingley smiled broadly, "It is all I could ever have wished for, Darcy. She is the most wonderful creature! I cannot believe how happy I am. I am fortunate indeed."
Darcy nodded and replied in a serious tone, "You are."
Bingley continued smiling in delight. "Let us return to the house. It has grown too cold for such exercise." He motioned for Darcy to precede him. As they walked together to the house Bingley regarded his friend's guarded expression.
"You do not seem at ease, Darcy. You do not think I am still angry with you, do you? I thought I made it clear in my letter that all is forgiven. Though I was surprised at your deception, I appreciate your confessing your error very much. Truly, all is forgiven, my friend." Bingley looked anxious for Darcy to know this. Darcy smiled slightly and shook his head in amazement.
The gentlemen entered the house. Fosset greeted them and took their coats, hats, and gloves. Darcy thanked him. Bingley noted this and did the same.
Entering the drawing room, Darcy walked over to the fire and held out his hands before it to warm them. Bingley took a seat and looked at his friend with concern. When they were alone, Darcy turned and smiled at him. "You are far too generous, Bingley. I think that you should still be angry. However, knowing your kind nature as I do, I cannot say that I am surprised that you forgive me so readily. I find it difficult to imagine your being angry with anyone for long."
Bingley raised his eyebrows and placed his fingertips together. He cleared his throat and pursed his lips as he said, "You will be disappointed, then, to hear that I am still angry with my sisters. From conversations with Jane I have learned that your deception was nothing compared to theirs. They hurt her, Darcy. And neither of them has had the decency to confess their part to me. I received letters from both of them today that were filled with insincere sentiments and not one word of truth!"
Darcy looked at Bingley with sympathy.
Bingley asked, "Did you happen to see them while you were in town?"
Darcy quickly replied "No." Then with a shamefaced look he added, "Not exactly."
Bingley looked perplexed.
Darcy cleared his throat and continued, "I will never again deceive you, Charles. I almost did just now. I did not actually 'see' them. I did, however, overhear a conversation between them. I also confess that I did not see them because I did not wish to." He colored some at this admission and looked down into the fire.
Bingley smiled ruefully, "If anyone can appreciate that sentiment right now it would be me. Where were you that you were able to overhear a conversation between them without being noticed?"
Darcy replied, "They attended a performance of 'Richard III.' I had arrived late, just as the play was beginning. At the intermission I was preparing to step from my box when I overheard them speaking together in the hallway beyond. I decided to remain hidden. They left after the intermission, so my presence went undetected by them."
Charles laughed, "So I suppose when you next see them I shall have to listen while you convince Caroline that Richard decided to give up his tyranny and become a peaceful horse farmer, uttering 'My kingdom for a horse!'"
Darcy grinned impishly and admitted, "Something like that."
Bingley chuckled and asked, "When was this?"
Darcy answered, "Last Friday."
Bingley said, "That was the day Hurst returned to town. I would imagine that he told them of my engagement when he arrived."
Darcy slowly said, "I believe that was the case."
Bingley looked sad, "From your reluctance I can guess what they had to say on the matter."
Darcy sighed and said assuringly, "I am sure that they will pay Miss Bennet every respect, Charles."
Bingley looked Darcy in the eye and said with determination, "Yes, Darcy, they will."
Darcy nodded at his friend's attitude approvingly.
The two men sat together looking at the flames of the fire, each lost in his own thoughts. Darcy was glad to see his friend looking so confident and happy. Even his concerns about his sisters and their attitude did not appear to weigh heavily on him. Bingley was taking great strides in becoming more his own man.
Darcy found himself remembering what Elizabeth had written to her aunt about how forty men such as Bingley would not do for her. She had claimed that she lacked her sister's goodness and sweetness. Darcy thought that while it was certainly true that Elizabeth was not good and sweet in the same way as her sister she was good and sweet in ways that appealed deeply to him. Of course, he was not a man such as Bingley. He only hoped that he was the man for her. Soon he would know for certain.
Bingley felt Darcy's gaze and looked up at him. He smiled at Darcy and asked, "You will stand up with me as groomsman?"
Darcy replied. "I would be honored."
Bingley thanked Darcy. Then, Bingley looked suddenly awkward and cleared his throat. He said hesitantly, "There is something of which I should apprise you. Darcy, did you know that your aunt, Lady Catherine visited Longbourn yesterday?"
Darcy looked sharply at Bingley, "Yes. Did you see her?"
Bingley replied, "No. Apparently she came to see Miss Elizabeth. Jane and I were out walking when she arrived. Lady Catherine and Elizabeth took a turn about the property together and then Lady Catherine departed. It was assumed by most of the family that Lady Catherine called to bring compliments and perhaps even a letter from Mrs. Collins. Elizabeth was quite taciturn about it. I noticed, however, that last night she reacted rather sharply when her father teased her about the matter."
Darcy sighed. "What was said?"
Bingley replied, "After dinner Mr. Bennet and I adjourned to his library. He told me that he'd received a letter from his cousin, Mr. Collins, indicating that a report exists... that you and Miss Elizabeth are engaged... and that Lady Catherine does not look upon the match with a friendly eye. Mr. Bennet told me that he'd shared the letter with Elizabeth and joked about Lady Catherine's visit."
Darcy interrupted, "Did he say anything about Elizabeth's reactions to the report and her visit with Lady Catherine?" He looked concerned and anxious.
Bingley smiled slightly, "Patience, man! When we returned to the drawing room, Mr. Bennet teased Elizabeth for not seeming to find humor in the matter. He loves a good joke, you see. He also said something to her about what an impossibility it was that you would be interested in her. I could not help but notice that she did not bear this idea well. She was quite unable to meet my gaze. Soon after that Elizabeth retired for the evening. Today she was not fully herself, but seemed quiet and preoccupied. I'm no expert, but I think that there may be hope for your suit after all! I hope so very much, indeed."
Darcy smiled gratefully at his friend. Bingley then suggested that they turn in for the night so as to be prepared to call at Longbourn the next day. The short time that Darcy spent in sleep was filled with dreams of the day to come.
NOTE: As mentioned at the beginning of this story, it follows "For Three Days He Has Shunned Us" wherein Darcy revealed his affections for Elizabeth to Bingley and many wishes were made on falling stars.
One more day to go!
Day Ten- Wishes Come True
It was approximately half past four when Darcy gave up on getting any more sleep for the night. Apologizing to his valet for the early hour, he dressed hurriedly and went out to the stable. Darcy quietly prepared his horse.
Some time later Darcy was tearing across fields and enjoying himself thoroughly. The landscape was brightly lit by the moonlight. His horse, Leicester, was surprisingly energetic considering their recent journey from London. Galloping like this made Darcy feel as free as a bird in flight. The chill of the air was invigorating. The sky was just turning from deepest black to a lovely shade of pre-dawn azure. Signs were that the coming day would be a lovely one.
He knew that he was riding in the direction of Longbourn estate. He did not wish to be observed, but could not seem to resist riding in that direction. Though he could not hasten the passage of time so that he could call there, he could at least see the place. As he neared the estate he drew in close to the trees on the edge of the lawn behind the house. With great effort he slowed Leicester so he could look at it. Later this morning he would enter that house and come face to face with the woman he loved. He was still trying to decide what he would say when he did so.
Suddenly he stopped. Leicester almost threw him, so sudden was Darcy's pull on the reins. Through an upstairs window he could see her. There was a candle next to her feet on what seemed to be a window seat. He hoped she would not see him. She was curled up in the window apparently reading a letter. Her hair was down about her shoulders, long and wavy. She was wearing a night dress and a shawl about her shoulders. Her feet were bare. He had never seen a more beautiful sight.
Darcy dismounted hurriedly and stood at the edge of the trees, enraptured. He wondered what disturbed her sleep. She clutched the letter to her chest with both hands. Her expression seemed sad in the candlelight. Darcy was filled with emotion at the sight of her.
As he watched, she folded the letter closed and stared at the outside of it. A small smile flitted across her lovely face as she pressed the seal on the letter to the frosted pane of glass just above her head. It made a small, circular mark there.
The sky was becoming lighter. Soon the dawn would arrive. Reluctantly, Darcy tore himself away, passed the trees and remounted his horse. He turned Leicester and galloped quickly across the fields to Netherfield, his heart overflowing from the sight he had beheld.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth looked at the imprint of the seal of Darcy's letter on the window pane. Below the seal she wrote some letters in the frost. With her first finger she carefully marked an E and then a B. She hesitated a moment and followed this with a D. She sat back and admired her work with a rueful smile. Then with a shake of her head she reached up and wiped the initials from the window pane. She took the candle and walked away from the window.
On his way back to Netherfield, Darcy saw the sun rise over a beautiful day. He became aware of an intensity of sensation. Everything felt more vivid to him on this day. The bath water seemed more refreshing, the touch of cloth against his skin more comforting, the taste of the breakfast more satisfying. It was as though all of his senses had been somehow veiled up until now. He was both nervous and excited in extreme measure.
He could feel his heart pounding so hard that he thought it might justify the hackneyed phrase "leap from his chest." He knew that he was at the great fork of the road that was his life. Down one path lay happiness, down the other despair. Regardless of the outcome, today he would take the ultimate chance with his heart. Silently, he prayed for courage, grace and happiness.
He had dressed with special care, donning the ensemble that Mr. Nichols had created for him the previous week. He agreed that it gave him a look of warmth and also saw that the coat did indeed compliment his dark eyes. His eyes flashed with nervous excitement. His hope was so great that if he were disappointed today his disappointment would be staggering. However, if she said yes...
With nervous fingers he brushed back the lock of hair from his forehead. Darcy's mouth was dry. His hands were shaking. He licked his lips nervously and paced up and down before the fireplace, waiting for Bingley. Bingley was also eager to reach Longbourn, so Darcy's wait was not a long one. He was pleased to see that Leicester had also been groomed, had eaten breakfast, and was ready to go again. The horse pulled against Darcy's restraining hand, seemingly longing for the freedom he'd been allowed earlier. Darcy was equally as wild to speed across the countryside, but held himself in check just as he did Leicester.
Darcy stared straight ahead, concentrating on what would happen when he arrived at Longbourn. As they made their way down the road Bingley noticed Darcy's preoccupation, but kindly refrained from commenting. Finally they arrived. The groom took their horses. The two gentlemen turned to walk to the house. Darcy looked up at the window he had determined to be Elizabeth's bed chamber before following Bingley. The housekeeper admitted them with a friendly smile.
Following Bingley into the drawing room, Darcy immediately turned to Elizabeth and bowed deeply. It seemed to him that she was nervous, but not unfriendly. He held her eyes with his own intent gaze.
Bingley suggested that they all go for a walk. Elizabeth, Jane, and one younger sister agreed to the proposal. As they set off from Longbourn, Darcy realized that Elizabeth was dressed the same as she'd been when he proposed to her at Hunsford and also in the intoxicating dream he so remembered from the day before. With determination, he chose to take this as a good omen.
Bingley and Jane soon separated from the rest of the group, lost in conversation with one another. Darcy found it difficult to think of anything to say to Elizabeth in the presence of her sister. The things he most wanted to express to her ran over and over through his mind, along with echoes of the things she'd said to Lady Catherine two days prior. He looked at her longingly as he heard the words "extraordinary sources of happiness" echo through his mind.
When she stumbled he instinctively reached out and caught her by the arm. He steadied her gently. She gasped, looked up at him, blushed deeply and quietly said, "Thank you, Mr. Darcy." He reluctantly released her. After this neither of them spoke for some time. He stared straight ahead, unable to look at her without allowing emotion to show. Though Darcy was unaware of it, Elizabeth's behavior was much the same.
When her sister broke the silence and asked to leave them to visit her friend, Miss Lucas, he nearly shouted with joy. The moment had finally come. He took several deep breaths and resolved desperately to speak as soon as they were past the hearing of the farmer who was by the side of the road.
He was surprised when Elizabeth spoke first, saying, "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."
He turned away from her gaze, sorry that she had learned of his actions where Lydia was concerned. He wondered how she had discovered his part in the matter. He considered the possibility that Mrs. Gardiner had revealed it, but dismissed this as he recollected the careless manner of Lydia Bennet Wickham.
Darcy turned back to Elizabeth as she continued, "You must not blame my aunt for telling me. Lydia betrayed it first and then I could not rest until I knew everything. I know what trouble and mortification it must have cost you. 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."
His thoughts flashed past his interactions with Mrs. Younge and Mr. Wickham to the emotions and concerns that had driven him throughout the entire ordeal. He spoke. "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." He felt panic, hoping that she would not misunderstand his words in any way. He hoped that she understood that he only meant to express his affection for her.
Elizabeth sighed in a manner that convinced Darcy that she'd heard the words in the spirit he'd intended them. Her sigh also convinced him that the moment had come at last. He stopped and turned to her, his heart in his eyes, his soul at her mercy. He blurted out, "You are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged. But one word from you will silence me on this subject forever."
In the pause that followed he endeavored not to think of how cold, lonely, and hollow forever would be without her.
She replied breathlessly, "Oh, my feelings! My feelings are...I am ashamed to remember what I said then... my feelings are so different. In fact, they are quite the opposite." She bestowed on him a look that coursed through his entire being. The look was simultaneously filled with love, passion, and a shyness he'd never seen in her before. He was filled with joy as he realized that she was agreeing to become his wife. His emotions were beyond anything he'd ever experienced previously. He looked heavenward and offered a heartfelt prayer of thanks.
His thoughts were so tangled that he could not think of what to say to her next. He remembered his resolve to apologize for his aunt's behavior. "Lady Catherine told me of her meeting with you. You may say that her disclosure had quite the opposite affect of the one she intended. It taught me to hope as I'd scarcely ever allowed myself to hope before. I knew that had you absolutely decided against me that you would have acknowledged it openly."
Laughingly, she said, "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 was startled at the dismay betrayed by her words. He still felt that she had been entirely justified. He said, "And what did you say of me that I did not deserve? My behavior 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 have no idea how those words have tortured me."
She protested that she'd had no idea of her words being felt in such a way, looking quite amazed.
He recalled to her the impression he'd given her of himself in the beginning of their acquaintance and then that he had been a selfish being all his life, given proper principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit. His love, gratitude, and adoration spilled over as he said, "And so I might still be if it were not for you, dearest, loveliest, Elizabeth."
He was rewarded again with that mixture of admiration and bashfulness from her. The look they exchanged was as passionate and ardent as any embrace of which he'd ever dreamt.
They continued to walk along together for some time in silence, each enjoying the pleasurable turmoil of their thoughts and feelings.
Once he had recovered sufficiently, Darcy asked her about the letter he had written her after Hunsford. This led them to talk of a great many things. Darcy apologized for his aunt's behavior. They talked of his proposal at Hunsford, Elizabeth's visit to Pemberley, Georgiana and her delight with Elizabeth, the marriage of Lydia and George Wickham, the engagement of Jane and Bingley, and many other events that had led them to this point in their relationship. Darcy was amazed at how quickly time flew as they talked together. He had never known it could pass so quickly. The past year, and even the last ten days, had passed in an interminably slow fashion for him.
But now, looking at his timepiece, he reluctantly agreed as Elizabeth said, "I suppose we should be getting back. The others will wonder where we have gotten to!" with a smile of regret. He nodded agreement and offered her his arm. At that moment he thought of one thing to regret in their conversations of the afternoon. He then saw a log nearby. To Elizabeth's surprise, instead of taking the path back to Longbourn, Darcy led her to the log and directed her to be seated.
Quizzically, Elizabeth asked, "Mr. Darcy?" Her question turned to an intake of breath as he fell to one knee before her.
Gently, Darcy took Elizabeth's gloved hand in his own. He studied it for a moment before looking up into her face. There he was met with such a look of tenderness as to take his breath away. Huskily he began to speak, "Miss Bennet, my dearest Elizabeth, I love you with all of my being. More than anything in the world I long for you to be my bride and to become my partner in life. I have not the words to express what that means to me. But, there are words that I must speak to you now lest I regret this day forever... marry me?" He looked into her eyes as he said this and was surprised to see tears come to them.
She replied in a voice shaken with emotion, "Yes, Mr. Darcy. I will marry you." She blinked back tears. One escaped. He reached up gently to wipe the tear from her cheek. He noticed how her lips trembled and breathlessly willed himself to stay still at her feet. She moved her cheek against his hand and sighed, eyes closed. He was awestruck that she should react so to him. Her adoration cut through his resolve. He leaned in towards her. Her eyes opened and her lips moved to form a radiant smile, a smile that filled her eyes. He stopped his approach and smiled broadly in return. He leaned down to kiss her hand.
Gingerly, Darcy returned to his feet. He met Elizabeth's gaze again. She held her hands out so that he could help her to her feet. She looked suddenly solemn as she stood close before him. She was so near that he could feel the heat from her as she tilted her head back to look up at him. He stared down into her eyes, breathless. Their hands were intertwined between them. He thought of how easy it would be to pull her to him, how right it would feel. Pent up longing was reflected in his eyes.
She leaned closer, smiled sweetly, and whispered, "You made my wish come true, Mr. Darcy. I longed for such a proposal from you." She pulled away from him and gave another of those bashfully passionate looks that so worked on him. He followed her, utterly entranced.
He took her arm in his and measured his steps to match to hers, thoroughly enjoying walking together with her in this manner. Their legs brushed against each other slightly. He caught her sideways glance with a glance of his own and said, "To make such a proposal to you and be accepted was my wish." Her smile broadened at this. They slowly began to walk back toward Longbourn. She laid her free hand against his supporting arm, gently rubbing her fingers across the cloth of his coat from time to time. Her touch both soothed him and distracted him thoroughly.
Darcy looked down in a very contented fashion when Elizabeth laughingly said, "Now I shall have a row with Jane as we each declare ourselves to be the happiest woman in the world."
Darcy replied, "I understand. That is one argument I can even imagine creating stubbornness in Bingley! Well, I suppose I could count his inability to remain angry with me as a form of stubbornnessóup until now the only form he's ever exhibited."
Elizabeth seemed to repress a chuckle at this. He felt that she was holding back some amusing observation for his sake. He stopped and said, "Elizabeth, I adore you. Not only for your beauty, but for your intelligence and humor as well. I would not have you change in any way. I long for a time when you will trust me enough to share your thoughts with me, even those thoughts that might amuse you at my expense."
She looked a bit startled at the last part of his statement and laughed self-consciously. He continued, "Perhaps you were thinking how very fortunate I am in my choice of friends. Though my actions kept Bingley apart from your sister for an entire year, he now wishes for me to stand up with him as groomsman! I do not deserve such forgiveness." Though he was attempting to convince her that he could be teased he found that he had not completely forgiven himself for his past actions. He reflected that perhaps she was correct in her forbearance. Confusion showed in his gaze.
She smiled again and turned toward him. She reached up and caressed his cheek. Her touch soothed his pain. She quietly said, "Please do not reassure me at your own expense, my love. I understand what you are trying to say and I am grateful."
His heart ached at the sound of the words 'my love' being spoken by her to him. He sighed raggedly and leaned down, placing a tender kiss on her forehead, his free hand holding to the back of her neck. They stood in this semi-embrace for some time. He inhaled the scent of her, intoxicated by the reality of her nearness. Again he kissed her forehead. Recollecting himself he started to pull back. Suddenly Elizabeth leaned up and placed a kiss on his cheek. His eyes widened. She smiled and resumed walking. All too soon they reached the house. As they crossed the lawn they regretfully separated to a proper distance. To Darcy it felt too far. He looked longingly at Elizabeth as they reached the door to the house. She blushed and then turned away in an attempt to restore serenity to her expression, her palms against her cheeks. They parted in the hall. Darcy remained there for a moment to collect his own thoughts and countenance.
As Elizabeth walked into an upstairs room, he heard Jane ask, "My dear Lizzy, where can you have been walking to?"
When Darcy entered the drawing room he wore his customary expression of restraint, but for a brightness to his eyes. His expression was not what caught Bingley's notice, however. Bingley noticed something else rather remarkable in Darcy's appearance.
That his impeccably dressed friend had somehow allowed grass to stain one knee of his trousers was cause for curiosity and mirth to Bingley. As Darcy walked over to him, Bingley looked pointedly at the suspicious grass stain. Darcy glanced down at his knee and then back at Bingley's amused expression. Darcy allowed a slight smile to cross his features. Bingley's smile widened.
The question Darcy had heard Jane ask of Elizabeth was repeated by her mother at dinner some moments later. Elizabeth colored some as she professed to have lost her way. Almost all eyes were on her in confusion at this strange explanation. No further comment was made and there seemed to be no suspicion on the part of any of her family.
Throughout dinner and time in company following it, Darcy surreptitiously enjoyed the sight of his beloved. His joy was boundless at the thought that he could finally regard her as his beloved. For the most part Elizabeth was unable to meet his eye, for when she did the expression therein caused her the greatest agitation of feeling. Though he did his best to focus his attention on anything but her, he was unsuccessful for the most part. At one point she turned to some letters she said she needed to write. Darcy longed to sit close by her and find ways to make her encounter his gaze again. She only looked up from her writing to his ardent gaze a few times, for fear of their being noticed. It was an evening of exquisite torture to the unacknowledged lovers.
When it was time for the gentlemen to depart, Darcy made a special effort with Mrs. Bennet, complimenting her on the fine dinner (though he'd hardly tasted it) and thanking her for her hospitality. Though accustomed to such behavior from Bingley, Mrs. Bennet was rendered almost speechless by Darcy's civility.
Mrs. Bennet's state of distraction had an unforeseen benefit for Darcy. As he passed by Elizabeth and moved toward the door, she slipped a note into his hand. He hid it in his sleeve. Elizabeth's smile stayed in Darcy's mind long after he left the house. He reflected with great satisfaction that his feelings were quite different from the last time he had departed Longbourn, only ten days before.
As they reached the lane leading away from Longbourn, Bingley asked, "Well?"
Darcy turned and looked at him, his expression melting to one of joy. He smiled broadly in the moonlight. "We are to be brothers, my friend. She has accepted me at long last."
Bingley looked at Darcy happily and slapped him on the back, startling his horse. "I am glad to hear it. I hoped that things would end like this. Jane and I had talked of it and hoped for it, but did not think it possible. Now we shall have to have a double wedding! Then we can stand up for each other. What say you?"
Darcy laughed, "If the ladies agree, then I am all for it."
The two friends rode the rest of the way to Netherfield in contented silence. On reaching the privacy of his room, Darcy impatiently changed his clothes and prepared for bed, eager for the valet's departure so he could read the letter. When he was at last alone he sat down on the edge of the bed and eagerly unfolded the missive.
Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy,
I find the silence that is forced upon us unbearable, especially when I see love for me shining in your eyes. I do not know that my eyes express as many words as yours, so I shall put my words to paper.
Today you have not only made my wishes come true, but my dreams as well!
Ever since the day you left me at the Inn at Lambton I despaired of ever meeting you again. Truly, until the moment you appeared in my home this morning I expected that Mr. Bingley would tell us that he had received a letter with some excuse as to why you would not again join him here in Hertfordshire. I am ashamed that I so doubted the strength of your affections in facing the arguments that I knew your aunt would present to you after her meeting here with me.
Your strength in resisting arguments based upon consequence should have been above suspicion given what I already knew of your goodness. When we met in Derbyshire, you revealed your generous nature in receiving me kindly when my companions and I had invaded your home and your privacy. You then further amazed me when you asked to introduce me to your sisteróas charming and delightful a creature as I have ever been so fortunate to meet. (How could she be otherwise with you to guide her?) Furthermore, the civility you showed my aunt and uncle and your kindness to us all quite amazed me.
If I take this opportunity of also noting how attractive I found you-- fresh from exercise in your pond-- when we first came upon one another, will you find me abominably impertinent? I blush as I read over that last line and hope you will excuse my wildness as the result of the joy of this day. You have encouraged me to be free in expressing my thoughts to you, sir. Therefore you have brought this punishment upon yourself! Indeed the fault is yours!
My happiness runs away with me. Please excuse me.
When first Lydia betrayed your presence at her wedding, my curiosity quite overwhelmed me. I immediately wrote to my aunt to beg her to share details that would help me to understand why you would be present at such an occasion. Fortunately Aunt Gardiner was kind enough to comply without my having to resort to underhanded methods. Her information regarding your role in that situation moved me exceedingly. I was so proud of you. And I was overjoyed to realize the love for me that your actions betrayed. By this time I had come to realize that you are indeed the only man whom I could be prevailed upon to marry. You are the best man I have ever known! To think that you would allow the folly of my sister to separate us seems silly in retrospect.
Your aunt's visit and the news of our reported engagement did astonish me. How such a report came into existence, I do not know. I must own, however, that I am grateful for its existence. I am even more grateful that we shall now confirm this report and announce to the world that we are to be husband and wife.
I looked up from my writing and encountered your eyes again just now. You touch me with that gaze. I look forward to being your wife, sir. Your words today, 'my partner in life,' are words I will treasure always.
Not long ago I wished upon a falling star that you would return to me and that you would propose to me in the manner that you did this afternoon. I am glad that I was steadfast in keeping my wish secret so that it would come to pass. My wish contained everything that fills my dreams as well.
The love in your eyes is my dream come true. I love you, Fitzwilliam Darcy.
With both hands, Darcy held the letter his chest. His expression was one of the utmost joy. He reread her letter, hardly able to believe his good fortune. He stood and walked over to the window. He thought he saw a shooting star, but watched it fall without wishing upon it. As he climbed into his bed he reflected that he now had everything he could wish for -- or, with a glance at the empty pillow next to himó that at least he would soon. Joy-filled thoughts lulled him to sleep.
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