Any proper young lady knows that it is wrong to allow a gentleman to take certain liberties with her before the holy bond of matrimony has brought them together. Being a proper young lady, Elizabeth Bennet knew this rule very well. She was a virtuous and well-behaved person and had no intention to compromise her honor or risk soiling her good reputation in any way. However, almost as soon as she had become engaged, she had changed her views on improper behavior.
Elizabeth Bennet's fiancee was none other than the most illustrious personage in all of England, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. It seemed that he had everything in his favor: a noble birth, a respectful education, a large fortune, a beautiful estate, good manners, excessively good looks, not a small degree of intelligence, and now, a fiancee whom he was very much in love with.
Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam had become engaged just three days before. The happy moment had occurred in the countryside with the sun grinning down at the happy couple and the clouds parted so that heaven could smile upon the two lovers. Their relationship had been filled with trials and tribulations, but now, that was all over. All that was left was for Miss Bennet and Mr. Darcy to enjoy courtship and to look forward to their future as husband and wife.
The third day of their engagement dawned bright and cool. Jack Frost had worked his magic on the windows the night before, leaving an intricate, white pattern. Early that morning, the grass and the few leaves that still clung to the almost-bare branches were covered in frost. Everything was still and silent and magical.
Elizabeth awoke early. Having gained her father and mother's consent to her upcoming marriage last night, she no longer had to be secretive about her regard for Darcy, and this pleased her a great deal. Now, they could sit by each other at teatime and enjoy each others' company freely, as Jane and Bingley had been doing for the past fortnight. To be sure, Elizabeth was slightly apprehensive in regards to what her mother's behavior to Mr. Darcy would be like, but she tried not to think of this as she dressed.
As was Bingley's custom, he arrived shortly before breakfast had finished. Mr. Darcy, of course, was with him. He and Elizabeth exchanged warm smiles upon his entrance. Having both eaten at Netherfield, they politely declined Mrs. Bennet's civil invitation to eat. They both had tea, however, and sat down with the family. Elizabeth felt Mr. Darcy's eyes on her, and found it quite impossible to eat what remained on her plate. She absentmindedly pushed the eggs around with her fork and took a small sip of tea now and then.
At the end of the meal, the gentlemen rose and thanked the Bennets for their hospitality. Bingley spoke up,
"If you will excuse me, I have something I would like to speak to Jane about," and then glancing at Darcy, continued, "Since it is such a fine day, perhaps Lizzy and Mr. Darcy would like to join us?"
The couple answered in the affirmative, and the four were off.
It was, indeed, cold outside. Elizabeth was glad for her gloves and coat. Upon quitting the house, Darcy offered his arm, and Elizabeth took it gladly, smiling into his eyes.
"Thank you," she said. As her lips formed these words, small puffs of air could be seen coming from her mouth. Elizabeth noticed, and smiled delightedly. She childishly blew out more puffs of air and watched these clouds drift up into the sky. Darcy watched this display and was enchanted with Elizabeth's innocence. At the gates, Darcy turned to Elizabeth.
"Where shall we go, today?"
"We could go up to Oakham Mount, again, I suppose. Or..." Elizabeth's eyes lit up. She tugged at Darcy's sleeve, urging him on in a different direction.
"Where are you taking me, Elizabeth?" he asked with a gleam in his eyes.
"You will find out soon enough. Just come with me, and do not ask me any more questions." She smiled and led Darcy onto a path he had never seen.
"Did you sleep well, Elizabeth?"
"No...I was too preoccupied thinking of you to get much rest," she answered hastily. Almost as soon as these words had escaped her, she wished them unsaid. She blushed and looked at her shoes.
Darcy felt a warm, stirring sensation in the pit of his stomach when he heard these words. She was awake, just like he had been? It was almost too good to be true. He glanced down at Elizabeth and touched her blushing cheek, softly.
The sensation of his fingertips on her skin made her look up in surprise. The couple stopped walking to face each other. She marveled at his eyes. Had she ever really looked into them before? Well, she had at Pemberley, but never this close up. She felt that this was to be the moment of truth, and she felt herself getting very lightheaded...
"Elizabeth," the gentleman murmured, "you did not have much to eat, this morning..." his head was getting closer to hers, "...surely you must be hungry..."
Elizabeth felt her breathing become harder to control. She felt rather weak. To steady herself, she placed her hands on his arms, just above his elbows. She could feel the strength of his muscles underneath his great coat and clothing. Very slowly, she shuffled closer to him, and he to her. His arms wound around her waist as she stood on tiptoe. He bent his head and then...
A crashing sensation traveled throughout Elizabeth as her lips tentatively met Darcy's. She, at the same time, felt weak and wonderful and joyful as she received her first kiss. Darcy could barely contain his delight at this meeting. He wanted her to consume him with her sweetness as he felt her soft, shy lips against his. As the kiss continued in length, Elizabeth found time slipping away from her. She no longer was concerned with anything surrounding her. Nothing existed except for her and her Fitzwilliam. She relaxed against him as he slowly ended the kiss, leaning his forehead against hers. For some time, neither of them spoke. Indeed, no words had been necessary. Finally, Fitzwilliam broke the silence.
For some reason, this simple and common pairing of words left her speechless. She looked down at her hands as they toyed with a loose string on his sleeve. She then looked up, her playfulness returning, and said archly,
"Now, now. Weren't we going somewhere? I seem to have been most rudely interrupted."
Darcy, at first, took her seriously, and his eyes widened with sadness and surprise. Then, realising that it was a joke, laughed and took Elizabeth's arm in his as they continued down the road.
"Elizabeth, you must tell me where we are going," Darcy said, once more.
"Oh, then you are ordering me, sir," she playfully jested.
The gentleman smiled. "Not ordering -- strongly requesting. You simply have to tell me. I am becoming extremely curious as to..." His voice trailed off as Elizabeth pushed aside some branches and led Darcy into a clearing.
A low gasp escaped him as he looked around in wonder. For there, right before him, was one of the most spectacular sights he had ever beheld. A quickly-moving stream crashed over rocks and pebbles. The sunlight glinted off the water. All around the clearing, tall, majestic trees stood in a circle, providing a private, sun-dappled glade for the couple. A large, flat-topped rock sat near the water's edge.
"Elizabeth...however did you find this place?" Darcy wondered aloud.
"I used to come here as a girl. Jane and I would have picnics on that rock in the summertime. When the water level was particularly low, we would take our shoes off and walk across the stream. When the level was too high for us, we would cross that bridge, " she said as she pointed to a sturdy bridge to the right of where they stood, "and we would exit the glade through those trees..."
Darcy stared in delight as Elizabeth told him of days of yore happily spent here.
"What is beyond those trees?" he asked.
"There is a hill. We named it "Flower Mountain", because in the spring and summer, the grass is entirely covered by all sorts of flowers...bluebells, Queen Anne's Lace, violets, daisies, posies..."
"Some day, we shall picnic there," Darcy decided.
"I should like that very much," Elizabeth whispered.
The two of them walked out of the glade, hand-in-hand, as the sun rose high above Flower Mountain and the glade.
Courtship is a time that should be cherished and enjoyed while it lasts. Fitzwilliam Darcy was finding, these days, that he had little to trouble him. With his wedding day approaching and the time passing quickly while in company with Miss Bennet, he was as content as he had ever been. Soon after the engagement had been formed, he decided that he would be a bad person, indeed, if he did not share his happiness with Georgiana. And, consequently, that is how he found himself sitting in the Netherfield library composing a letter to his sister.
My dearest Georgiana,
I do not know how to adequately express my feelings on paper. I find myself in such a blissful state these days, that I think it amazing that I even have the wits about me to think properly. And yet, here I am, writing to you, and I am indeed happy. Can you imagine what has caused me to feel so? Oh, Georgiana, I smile as I write this, even. . .for, just last week, Miss Elizabeth Bennet, to my great delight, did me the honor of accepting my proposal of marriage. Is it not wonderful? Nothing and no one has made me this happy, and I know you will be happy, as well.
Thus began his letter, which, although not too long, was eloquent and descriptive. Almost as soon as his letter had reached Georgiana, she wrote back. Her letter was sweet and sincere. Her joy and eagerness to welcome Miss Elizabeth to the Darcy family could not be contained on just four sides of paper. In fact, the letter was so moving, that Mr. Darcy felt the immediate need to show it to his betrothed. The next day, during a turn in one of Longbourn's gardens, he pulled her aside and drew the letter from his coat pocket.
"Elizabeth, I have something I would like to show you, if you would permit me..."
"Why, yes, of course, Mr. Darcy! What is it?" the lady inquired.
"A letter. It is from Georgiana. I recently wrote to her, informing her of our engagement," here, he could not help but smile, "and she wrote back, promptly. She desires me to give you her warmest welcome into the family, etc., but I think it would be better if you read it for yourself."
"Why, yes. Yes, of course. It would be a pleasure!" Here, a dreamy smile came over her face. "Would you read it to me, sir?"
"Me? Well, yes, if it is your wish," he said hesitantly.
"It is," the lady stated simply.
"Well, then. There is nothing else to be done, is there? If you wish me to read it to you, I shall not dare turn you down," the gentleman said in a mock obsequious tone, slightly resembling Mr. Collins' manner of speaking to Lady Catherine.
Elizabeth giggled and sat down on a bench. Mr. Darcy sat next to her, clearing his throat. With a contented sigh, Elizabeth slipped her hand into the crook his arm and nestled her head on his shoulder. Straightening his back, the gentleman began to read.
The letter was, indeed, long. However, neither party minded. Mr. Darcy could be nothing but happy with Elizabeth in such close proximity, and Elizabeth, in turn, was soothed by his velvety, masculine voice. In addition, Miss Darcy's style of writing possessed such a womanly smoothness and gracefulness, that it was impossible not to enjoy listening to or reading her letters.
Elizabeth was touched by the letter. The high esteem in which Georgiana Darcy held her brother was obvious, and she also made no attempt to hide her regard and approval of Elizabeth, which the lady found relieving and gratifying. As the letter drew to a close, Elizabeth's desire to become re-acquainted with Miss Darcy was as strong as ever. She found herself thinking of her time spent at Pemberley as Darcy finished.
I do wish with all my heart that I might have the privilege to meet with Miss Bennet before the wedding. I have a great eagerness to make her better acquaintance. You are perfect for each other. My darling William, your happiness is quite catching, for I am giddy, as well. Now I know why you were so melancholy all those months. You needed her. I have become quite sly, you see. You may not have told me all, but that did not discourage me from learning the truth. I wish you every imaginable happiness. You must write me very soon. Perhaps you could bring Charles and the Miss Bennets to London, before the wedding? Mrs. Annesley and myself will be leaving for Town soon, as you know. Again, I cannot help but say that I am more delighted for you than words can express.
I am your loving sister, etc.
Elizabeth was more conscious of her appearance, now that she was engaged. She always made an effort to look nice, but she had gotten into the habit of primping and preparing more carefully than she used to, as of late. She was not a vain person, but she was conscious that she possessed more than her fair share of beauty. Mr. Darcy never failed to tell her that she was beautiful, something which was both flattering and a trifle disconcerting.
She could hardly have known to the extent that Mr. Darcy admired her. It was for this reason that she anxiously prepared for his arrival each morning, silently praying that she would measure up to his high standards; truth be told, Mr. Darcy could have cared less if Elizabeth did her hair in the new style or not, if she primped for three hours daily. When one is in love, the object of their affection's natural beauty is magnified to unbelievable heights, and such was the case with Fitzwilliam Darcy regarding Elizabeth Bennet. Mr. Darcy had noticed that Elizabeth made the effort to look special for him, and he appreciated this.
Elizabeth had awoke at the usual time, one Wednesday morning. She was delighted to see the sun rising over the fields. Her eyes rapturously beheld the flashes of lavender, cerulean, and peach spreading out like an angel's wings over the horizon. She opened her window and breathed in the fresh briskness of the cool air. It would be a delightful day. A tentative knock rang through the room.
"Come in," Elizabeth whispered.
"Good morning, Miss Elizabeth," Sarah quietly said as she curtsied.
"Good morning, Sarah," Elizabeth cheerfully replied with a smile.
"I heard that you were awake, Miss, so I came up to see if you would be needing assistance in dressing."
"Yes, thank you, Sarah."
"Would you like to wear your blue dress, Miss? It is much too cold out for your ivory one."
"The blue will be fine, Sarah."
Ten minutes later, Elizabeth, having washed and dressed, sat down in front of her mirror in preparation for her hair to be dressed.
"Oh, Sarah," Elizabeth said, glancing up shyly, "might I ask a favor of you?"
"You may indeed, Miss."
"When you put my hair up, would you be so kind as to leave a few strands down on my neck, please?"
Sarah hesitated, not exactly knowing how to respond to such an unusual request. "Why. . .of course, Miss. As you wish."
After Sarah finished with her hair, Elizabeth sat in front of her mirror, examining herself closely. She twisted her loose curls carefully around her fingers, defining them and freshening them up Before long, she heard horses approaching, and she snapped out of her trance. Quickly, she pinched her naturally pink cheeks making them turn scarlet, and bit her lips. She hurriedly put some rose water behind each ear and on each wrist before quickly walking downstairs and out the front door.
The cold air hit her like a wall and wrapped itself around her, but she was too excited to bother to go fetch her shawl.
She heard Mr. Bingley's cheerful voice saying,
"Thank you, Perkins. We shall be here 'till dusk, as usual. If you would be so good as to keep our horses in the stables until we leave, we will be much obliged to you."
And then, she caught her breath as she heard, in a much deeper voice say,
"Yes, thank you, Perkins."
As the gentlemen rounded the corner of the house, Elizabeth flashed a smile, and called out,
"Good morning, gentlemen!"
"Lizzy! You are looking lovelier than ever," Mr. Bingley piped up, grasping her hands with a brotherly affection that Elizabeth treasured.
"Good day, Charles! You will find Jane in the parlor, I believe," said Elizabeth, not really having the faintest idea of where her sister might be.
Charles' eyes lit up at this (possibly false) piece of information. He excused himself and entered the house with a bounce in his step.
"Is Jane really in the parlor, or did you just say that to get rid of him?" asked Mr. Darcy with a conspiratorial sparkle in his eyes.
"I cannot tell you where she is. For all I know, she might still be sleeping," Elizabeth laughed as she flew into his waiting arms.
Pulling back, she looked into his eyes. "How do you find yourself, today, sir?"
"Very well, indeed!" the gentleman sincerely answered, before securing Elizabeth's hand and kissing it.
She slipped her hand into the crook of his arm and accompanied him into the house. After quickly greeting the Bennets, Mr. Darcy led Elizabeth out of the house, as quickly as propriety allowed.
"You look different, today, Elizabeth."
"I do?," the lady asked, feigning ignorance.
"Let me look at you," Mr. Darcy gently requested, turning her face up to his by placing his finger under her chin.
Elizabeth widened her eyes and tried not to blush under his scrutinizing gaze. Suddenly, the expression in his eyes, somber with concentration, softened as he gazed at Elizabeth's face.
"God, you're lovely. You're an absolute goddess. You know that, don't you?"
Elizabeth sighed, averting her gaze to the ground.
"Fitzwilliam, I wanted to talk to you about that..."
"About what?" questioned the confused gentleman.
"Well, you always tell me how beautiful I am. It is lovely of you to say so, and I know you are being sincere when you compliment me, but, I...I...it is just that...I feel like I can not possibly live up to your expectations of me. I will not always be young and beautiful, you know. I usually am not so concerned with such things, but I so want to make you happy..."
"Elizabeth," said Mr. Darcy, very touched, "it is true that you are a very beautiful woman. But what I love most about you is your inner beauty and how you inner warmth radiates from your soul. No matter how old you are, you will always be beautiful to me. I...YOUR HAIR!!! That's what is different about your appearance!" Mr. Darcy exclaimed, breaking out of his tender, romantic haze. "Elizabeth, I could not think of what was different. It is your hair -- you have some strands down on your neck." Darcy smiled widely.
Elizabeth burst out laughing. Never had she seen a display of such quickly changing emotions, even from her mother. Mr. Darcy soon got the joke, too, and laughed along with his betrothed. Finally, the pair calmed down.
"Elizabeth, as I was saying, you will always be beautiful to me. The passing of years will never change that. I have noticed that you've been fussing over your appearance, lately. Although I'm flattered, you need not do this. You would still be splendid, even dressed in a potato sack."
"I thank you, sir, for that re-assuring little speech. I was never aware that you possessed so much eloquence. But it is not easy to be a woman, you know!" she exclaimed, grinning broadly. "You are probably not as worried about such frivolous concerns as the way you look."
"Need I be?" asked Darcy, pretending to be offended. "Am I that ugly?"
Elizabeth doubled over in mirth. "Not at all, sir. I may not always have been wise enough to love you, but I was not so blind and prejudiced to fail to notice that you were and still are easilly the handsomest man of my acquaintance!"
The couple laughed and laughed, passing their day together in a most agreeable fashion.
Miss Mary Bennet was basically indifferent to all the excitement swirling around her concerning the approaching nuptials of her eldest sisters. Lacking both the passion of Miss Elizabeth and the tender sweetness of the eldest Miss Bennet, she was not in a position to think much of love. It was not in her nature. God had not given Mary beauty, sweetness, or the high degree of intelligence that she believed she possessed, but He had given her determination. And, to a girl who possessed no genius or beauty, determination is a good thing. Mary was determined to "condition her mind," as she liked to put it. She had little patience for silliness. She had much patience for philosophy. Every day, she diligently practiced playing her pianoforte and singing. Without fail, she pored over solemn, philosophical books and her well-worn copy of Fordyce's Sermons. She lived in her own world of, as she liked to believe, "intellectually stimulating literature". In her own way, this was Mary's form of self-defense from the world. From all that she disapproved of. Mary disapproved of love. She had made the assumption that falling in love was a silly waste of time. Her books kept her company, and that was all that she needed, or so she thought.
"I am worried about Mary," Miss Bennet said to her sister one night during their tête-à-tête.
"Hmmmm...yes, Mary is in a sorry situation. I hate to say it, but I dare say she will become an old maid," Elizabeth said thoughtfully as she absentmindedly twirled her chestnut locks.
"I cannot help but agree with you...Kitty possesses a lively, but not un-tameable spirit. Without Lydia as an influence, I believe she will become more quiet and propriety-conscious. In time, she will find someone. But Mary..." Jane trailed off as she folded her hands in her lap and looked at the ceiling.
"Yes, what about Mary? I assume there are plenty of men willing to discuss philosophy and do good in the world. But she is so oblivious to her surroundings. She does not seem to realize that love will do her good. She has no money and will have no home after father's death," Elizabeth slightly winced at this thought, "Marriage will make her happy. And she is not so hard to please; after all, she liked Mr. Collins well enough! She was enraptured with him. That beastly toad..."
Jane giggled and said, "If only she could witness how happy we both are. Maybe, she would envy our contentment and begin to look for a husband." Jane watched intently as Elizabeth's eyes lit up. She smiled.
"Lizzy, what are you up to?"
"I have an idea. It's not naughty or cruel. It's a simple, direct way to make Mary realise that we are the luckiest girls in all of England! We have a talk with her. We set her to right. Then, we will have no more cause for worries."
"Lizzy, I think we must. As her sisters, we owe her our help. She deserves happiness as much as anyone. She's a good girl..."
"Yes. A very good girl. Just confused."
"Certainly," Jane agreed.
Elizabeth sighed. "Now, let us talk of more pleasant things -- our lords and masters." Here, she smiled. "It has been an age since we last gossiped"
"It has been an age, hasn't it, Lizzy?" Jane asked.
"Yes. I do not believe we have talked of them since the first day of my engagement. You know, Jane, you never told me about when Bingley proposed," Elizabeth stated with a wicked gleam in her eye.
"I did tell you. He asked me to marry him after telling me he loved me, and I accepted."
Elizabeth let an exasperated sigh explode from her lips. "Oh, Jane! I mean the particulars. I am sure he did not just say, 'Jane, I love you. I never knew you were in Town during the winter. Will you marry me?' What did he say? What did you say? Was he romantic?"
Jane blushed slightly, though still radiating composure, as always. "Lizzy, one hardly speaks of such things."
"We do. We are sisters. We shall have to spend our nights talking of our fiancees until the time comes when we can spend our nights talking to them, lying in their arms..." Elizabeth sighed and hazily smiled. With a dreamy look, she gathered a pillow in her arms and hugged it close to her, closing her eyes and pretending that it was Mr. Darcy. Dramatically, she fell back onto the bed, still clutching her fiancee...erm, pillow.
"Lizzy! You are so dramatic," said Jane, blushing and smiling. "But, if you can be romantic, so can I...Lizzy, what do you love the most about Mr. Darcy?"
Lizzy needed no time to think about her answer -- she had asked herself the same question in her mind, before, and had formulated a response. "I love how he only has to say one word to me or give me one look and I feel tingly and warm and special and delicious all over." Elizabeth blushed in response to her own words; they had seemed far less bold when she spoke them in her mind. However, she continued.
"He gives me goosebumps. He is so lovely and perfect and intelligent. He understands me. His soul is identical and complimentary to mine."
"Lizzy, I am so happy to hear you speak thus! Having you so happy only adds to my joy. It is late. We will talk tomorrow."
Jane blew a kiss to her sister and quietly slipped out of the room.
Elizabeth slowly let go of her pillow, letting it gently drop to the side. She recovered from her daydream (or nightdream, as the case may be), and looked around the room for Jane. Where was she? Elizabeth thought back to just a few minutes ago. Jane had been saying something, and she had not been listening very attentively. She had just been hugging her pillow in a trance. "Think, Elizabeth, think," she told herself. Oh, yes. Jane had gone to bed...gone to bed?! Without telling her curious sister anything about Mr. Bingley's proposal, she had left. Elizabeth sat up and determinedly tiptoed to Jane's room. After knocking tentatively, she entered.
Jane smiled knowingly at Elizabeth. "I knew I could not escape you, Lizzy," Jane said as she braided her long, golden hair.
"Good. Then tell me. What did Charles say? I interrupted his proposal, I fear, but he did have a good five minutes to pour his heart out to you."
"Well, he did not say anything, at first. I was rather shy and nervous and he was rather at a loss for words. I think I was staring at his boots during most of the conversation. They were nice boots -- brown with..."
"Ja-aaaaane," Elizabeth whined. "As much as I admire Charles' boots, I do not wish to hear a description of them." Elizabeth smiled, as did Jane.
"Very well. His words to me were, 'Jane, I have loved you ever since I met you in Meryton. I had every intention to propose to you last November; I was planning on returning from London in three days' time, but I was persuaded not to. You must think me a fool for not returning, just the same, but I (thought) I had my reasons. I heard a report that you did not return my affections. I was saddened by this news. However, I am not going to give up that easily; I must know if this news is false. If so, then I hope you will prove this report wrong by consenting to be my wife. Will you?' I believe he said it all without taking a breath. I could not comprehend his words, until I had heard them spoken and had thought of them for a while. Then, I consented."
"Oh, Jane," said Elizabeth, delighted, "you remember his exact words!!! How lovely!!!"
"Of course I remember, Lizzy. It was a very important and happy moment."
"Well, I am satisfied. In fact, I think I may retire, now. Goodnight, Jane!"
"Sweet dreams, Lizzy."
"Mary? Mary, are you in here?"
Elizabeth wandered into the drawing room. Mary was sitting at her instrument looking over some sheet music. She seemed oblivious to everything around her. Elizabeth, not wanting to frighten her sister, softly knocked on the wall, alerting Mary to her presence. Mary looked up.
"Hello, Mary. What is that? Any piece in particular?"
"It is a piece by Johann Sebastian Bach."
"Oh. Mary, may I have a word with you?"
"Mary, I...umm, may I?" Elizabeth asked as she gestured towards the nearest chair as if this was Mary's house.
Elizabeth gingerly sat down and took a deep breath.
"Mary, Jane and I were talking the other night. As is only natural, we have had matrimony much on our minds..." All of Elizabeth's eloquence seemed to fail her as she thought of a way to address this difficult situation.
"It is only natural that your thoughts should turn in that direction with your marriages so soon approaching."
"Yes. We were talking of you, Mary."
"Yes. We are concerned about you. Mary, Jane and I will soon be gone. Will you not be lonely?"
"The house will, indeed, be much quieter without you or Jane. However, I will have my books and my music to occupy me."
"Mary, I must be blunt. Have you no intention of ever marrying?"
Mary tried to keep her face calm, but a slight wince flickered across her usually stoic face.
"I do not think I am the type of girl men usually marry." There was a hint of self-pity in her voice.
Elizabeth felt sympathy for her sister, but also was hopeful that Mary may not be as indifferent to marriage as she and Jane had originally thought.
"Mary, that is nonsense! There is no type of girl men marry. Men marry the girl they fall in love with...take me, for example! I have no money and am not elegant, and yet I am engaged to a man who I am very much in love with."
"Lizzy, you are charming and so very pretty! You have much to offer."
Elizabeth felt awful. This was not going as she planned.
"Mary, you have much to offer, as well! You are intelligent and insightful and extremely accomplished. No one in Meryton plays as well as you," Elizabeth fibbed.
Mary looked doubtful. Elizabeth continued.
"Do you not think it would be wonderful to have someone? Someone to understand your interests and pursuits, someone to talk to, someone to...discuss philosophy with?"
"That would be pleasant..."
"It is pleasant. It is more than pleasant...it's wonderful. Having Mr. Darcy with me gives me such happiness! He is my friend and...and my love. I highly recommend it."
"I will be more aware from now on."
"I am so happy to hear that, Mary."
My darling Elizabeth,
I am not at all pleased at the prospect of not seeing you, today. However, this cannot be helped, I fear. Last night, Charles and myself went for a walk after dinner. Not anticipating the briskness of the late evening air, I foolishly left my gloves in the house. I seem to have caught a slight cold as a result. Do not worry, my angel. There is no cause for alarm; I merely have a slight headache and some minor chills. Had the weather been less inclement today, I easily could have traveled the short distance to call on you, but the rain has kept me indoors. This is only because I wish to recover completely. If I had come in this downpour, I may have gotten a true illness, forcing me to stay away from you for longer than one day. Rest assured, because I shall call tomorrow. Nothing and no one could keep me away.
Our separation would usually be a cause for sadness to me, but I have come up with an idea to make it less painful. Of course, I would much rather be with you than sitting here by myself in my lonely room, but since this must be endured, we might as well deal with it as best we can. Is this not the perfect time to practice writing love letters? I have no experience in this...art form, whatsoever, and if you ever have, I shall be insanely jealous.
When Elizabeth read this part, she grinned.
I have been making an effort to be cheerful, but I must admit that the gloomy weather perfectly matches my state of mind. Love letters are good and well, but what good is life to me at this moment if the person who makes my life worth living is not with me? You can not possibly comprehend how empty I feel without you, unless I flatter myself enough to think that you feel the same way. It is impossible for me to concentrate on anything else but you. I am very far gone, indeed. You occupy my every thought. Your face has been burned in my memory. If Charles does what I have asked of him, he will give you this letter as soon as possible. Elizabeth, I will be counting the minutes until I see you, again.
I remain your humble and lovesick servant, etc.
Elizabeth read the letter over and over until she had the words memorized. Sighing, she looked at the tiny droplets of rain that were furiously falling and splashing against the window. Pitter-patter-pitter-patter. The sounds echoed through Elizabeth's ears until she had gotten used to its steady rhythm. The soothing noise combined with the blessed silence of the room lulled the lady into a peaceful state where she seemed oblivious to the world. She sat completely still, the rain hypnotizing her into a silent sort of trance. Her eyes followed the drops falling from the gray world above, shooting down towards the earth. Each drop shattered as it hit the ground. Tiny droplets shot out from the splash doing a magnificent water ballet as water scattered everywhere.
Elizabeth slowly began to drift back to alertness. Suddenly feeling very alone and envious of sweet Jane for having the pleasure of her fiancé's company, she decided that she must answer Mr. Darcy's letter.
Oh, how to begin? I fear that my mouth is able to produce more eloquence that my pen, but I shall try for you. I wonder if you wrote your letter to me in hopes of me responding. No matter what your motives were, I felt the need to reply. Never since falling in love with you have I been so content in your absence. I would have been miserable without you, otherwise. Truth be told, I would still much rather be by your side, but your letter has softened the blow of you not being with me.
I hope you recover as quickly as is humanly possible. I confess, I have other, more selfish reasons for wanting you better other than my desire to have you feeling well. I miss you. Yes, it may only be only one day, but it feels longer. There, I have flattered you. I feel as much misery due to our separation as you, apart from one thing. I have your letter to keep me company, and you have nothing. That is why I am writing this. Prior to this, I have no experience writing love letters, and I am not sure about how I am faring. You must praise my eloquence and pretty hand all day tomorrow, so that my mind will be put at ease. May this wretched day pass quickly.
Elizabeth, the authoress
It was a beautiful day, outside. The sun was blocked by thick, white clouds, and fog swirled around the shrubs and trees. It was not what would typically be called a beautiful day, but Elizabeth Bennet had almost always managed to find beauty in everything. She admired the delicate curls of fog intricately twirling around the bare tree branches. She loved how the low, white clouds formed a blanket over the countryside, giving it a cozy, warm feel.
A letter had arrived early that morning. The ink blots and careless scrawls revealed that the letter had been written by Charles Bingley. It was addressed to the entire family, but Jane read it aloud.
Friday, the 19th of November, 18_
Mr. Darcy is recovering from a slight cold. He apologizes for not being able to call, yesterday. The cold air would in no way speed his recovery. Since Miss Bennet was already supposed to come to Netherfield, this morning, Mr. Darcy thought it a wonderful idea that Miss Elizabeth accompany her. The carriage will be sent for the ladies at half-past nine.
"Lizzy, does this suit your fancy?" Mr. Bennet asked his daughter.
"Oh, yes, papa. I have no objection, at all."
"Then you had better prepare to leave; it is quarter past, already."
Elizabeth immediately excused herself and walked up to her room.
One hour later, Jane and Elizabeth were safely ensconced in the carriage from Netherfield. Both were excited about spending the day with their fiancés in the privacy and comfort of Bingley's home.
"Finally!" Elizabeth exclaimed. "Finally, I will be able to enjoy Mr. Darcy's company without having to escape Longbourn's gates and be cold all day!"
"Yes. Today, Charles is giving me a tour of the house to see if there are any changes I would like to make. I am sure that everything would be fine."
Elizabeth smiled and looked out the window.
Before long, the familiar prospect of Netherfield became visible. Charles and Fitzwilliam were standing outside. Elizabeth noticed with a smile that Fitzwilliam was wearing his gloves.
"Good day, ladies!" Charles exclaimed as he helped Jane from the carriage.
Elizabeth could barely contain her joy as she felt the warm, firm grasp of her fiancé's hand. Instead of letting go of her hand, Darcy held it tenderly, interlacing his fingers with Elizabeth's.
Charles and Jane, the definite intruders in this tender reunion scene, quietly mounted the steps and went into the house.
"Oh, I missed you!" the lady quietly murmured, blushing and looking at the ground.
Completely disregarding propriety, Darcy swooped Elizabeth up in his arms, lifting her off the earth and spinning her around and around. The lady let out a cry of joy and surprise and wrapped her arms as tightly as she could around his neck. Mr. Darcy buried his face in the crook of her neck, smelling her scent of flowers and herbs.
He put her down slowly so as not to hurt her.
"My, my, you certainly are strong. You lifted me clear off the ground!"
"It was nothing at all; you are light as a feather!"
She smiled and held his hand securely.
"How are you feeling?"
"I feel marvelous!"
"Good! I enjoyed your letter."
"I enjoyed yours."
It was then that Darcy kissed her, lightly and slowly. He repeated the action several times, to Elizabeth's great enjoyment.
Then, the couple walked happily into the house.
Elizabeth walked into Netherfield holding her fiancee's hand tightly. She had not been here in a very long while, and it brought back memories of a less happy time. She tried not to think of it. The butler walked up to the couple in a stately fashion and said,
"Mr. Darcy, everything is ready for you."
"Thank you, Watson. In the library?"
Elizabeth turned her curious expression towards Mr. Darcy.
"Ready, sir? What have you planned, a party?"
"You will see, Elizabeth."
A footman opened the library door for the couple, and they walked inside the majestic room. Elizabeth looked around in wonder. A large fire was crackling in the fireplace. A table had been set up between two chairs. The drapes were opened, letting the splendors of Netherfield's park contrast with the comfortable, indoor atmosphere of the room.
Elizabeth now directed her gaze towards the table. She gasped as she saw the elaborate tea things. A pot filled with steaming-hot tea was the main centerpiece along with a thin vase filled with the finest late-fall flowers. Two teacups and saucers sat along opposite ends of the table. There was a silver tray stocked with delectable morsels. Elizabeth looked with wide eyes at the tasty-looking tea sandwiches, tarts, cakes, and delicate cookies. Two crisp linen napkins, freshly pressed, no doubt, were sitting next to the teapot. There were tiny place cards next to each table setting. Last, but not least, there was a delightful nosegay next to Elizabeth's place card.
She let out a quiet, joyful squeal. Had her Fitzwilliam prepared all of this, she wondered. She looked at him rapturously and immediately knew the answer. He was looking down at her nervously, waiting for her approval. She smiled at him like she had never smiled at him before, not because of what he had done, but because he had been thoughtful enough to do this for her.
Darcy felt the blood rush to his brain and his heart pounded madly.
"Thank you -- you may go, now," he said, dismissing the servants.
When they were all alone, Elizabeth leapt into his arms.
"Oh, Fitzwilliam, did you prepare this all for me?"
"You know I did. I wanted our little reunion to be special."
"It would have been special in any case, but this is charming. Thank you!"
"Anything for you, Elizabeth. Now, I believe our meal awaits. Allow me," he said, seating Elizabeth.
"Thank you, kind sir."
Mr. Darcy sat down and smiled apologetically.
"I know that it is early, still...not the proper time for tea, at all. But I had the feeling that you would be hungry."
"I am, in fact. I had not much time for breakfast, since Charles' letter arrived just as the meal commenced."
"That is what I had figured."
Elizabeth reached for the teapot to pour out, but Mr. Darcy's hand stilled her.
Mr. Darcy poured the two of them tea without spilling a single drop.
"Do you do this, often, Fitzwilliam?"
"No, never, but perhaps I should take it up professionally."
Elizabeth let a small, womanly giggle escape her lips as she sat back in the comfortable armchair.
"Do you take cream, sugar, or lemon in your tea, Elizabeth?"
"What do you like in your tea, sir?"
The lady's eyes met the gentlemen's across the table. Both sets were shining brightly.
"Elizabeth, I fear I know very little about you. We can not possibly get married with this predicament in our way."
Elizabeth arched her brows becomingly. "What do you suggest, sir?" she asked Mr. Darcy.
"I suggest that we take this time to learn as much about each other as is possible."
"Bravo, sir! An excellent idea."
"Well, Madam. Shall we begin?"
"Oh, by all means."
"What is your favorite color, Elizabeth?"
The lady in question laughed.
"An odd question, Fitzwilliam, but I shall answer. Blue is my favorite color. And yours?"
"It is blue, as well. Do you have a favorite fruit, my darling?"
Elizabeth cocked her head to one side as she thought, a charming gesture, in Fitzwilliam's opinion.
"I am excessively fond of grapes, actually."
Now, it was Darcy's turn to laugh.
"Well, I will make sure to have grapes in excess at Pemberley, from now on."
"And you, sir? What is your favorite fruit?"
"I would have to say cherries. They remind me of the color of your cheeks when you are embarrassed."
"There you go," Mr. Darcy said.
"What is your favorite time of day?"
"I confess, I have a strong partiality for sunsets. Summer sunsets, especially, with..."
"...with all the brilliant colors exploding from the horizon. I must agree with you," Elizabeth said.
"Do you have a favorite sonnet?"
"Of course. It has to be Shakespeare's eighteenth."
"'Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?' I know it well. But my favorite is his one-hundred and thirtieth."
"Oh, yes. But, is there any particular reason for this choice?"
"I think it is because I always hoped that when I fell in love, the woman of my choice, no matter how great her beauty, would be real – no superficial airs. Although the woman in the poem is not beautiful, I always interpreted Shakespeare's message as that he loves her because she possesses an inner beauty."
"And are you satisfied with your choice, sir?" Elizabeth inquired shyly.
"You know I am, Elizabeth, although you sometimes look more like a sculpture of a goddess than an actual person. That can be rather intimidating and certainly most distracting."
By now, the color of her cheeks had been intensified to a deep red, and they burned uncomfortably.
"More tea, Fitzwilliam?"
"No, thank you, my sweet rose," the gentleman answered in a quiet, timid voice.
"You are very gallant, today, Fitzwilliam. How long have you called me your 'sweet rose' in your mind?"
"Ever since...meeting you at Pemberley. Do you mind it?"
"Oh, no. Not at all," Elizabeth whispered.
A silence hung over the room. Neither occupant of the room minded much.
After a period of several minutes, the gentleman spoke.
"Would you take a walk with me, Elizabeth?"
"Oh, with pleasure, sir."
Their walk was very long, and they returned much later to find that there were fresh sandwiches on the tray and a new pot of tea in the center of the table. However, there were two additions to the room. Jane and Charles were sitting on the armchairs that Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam had formerly occupied. There were talking and smiling intimately at each other.
"Lizzy, did you enjoy your walk?"
"Very much so, Jane," she said, glancing shyly at her fiancée. "And how was your tour?"
"It was lovely."
"Won't you two join us?" Charles asked.
Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy sat very close together on the sofa. Jane and Charles sat opposite them in chairs.
"What shall we do until dinner? We still have much time."
"A play...we could read a play," said Mr. Darcy.
"An excellent idea! Ladies?"
Both ladies enthusiastically agreed.
Books were pored over, and "Much Ado About Nothing" was finally selected. Charles and Jane were cast as Claudio and Hero. Mr. Darcy was, of course, to play Benedick, and Elizabeth was playing Beatrice.
The late morning turned into afternoon as the two couples read the charming story. It really was a funny thing, because there were many parts and only four actors. The ladies sometimes read gentlemen's parts and vice-versa. As the play came to an end, it was decided that Jane and Charles would read all parts save Benedick and Beatrice.
Benedick/Darcy: Soft and fair, friar. Which is Beatrice?
Beatrice/Elizabeth: [Unmasking] I answer to that name. What is your will?
Benedick/Darcy: Do not you love me?
Beatrice/Elizabeth: Why, no; no more than reason.
Benedick/Darcy: Why then, your uncle and the prince and Claudio have been deceived; they swore you did.
Beatrice/Elizabeth: Do not you love me?
Benedick/Darcy: Troth no; no more than reason.
Beatrice/Elizabeth: Why then, my cousin, Margaret, and Ursula, are much deceived; for they did swear you did.
Benedick/Darcy: They swore that you were almost sick for me.
Beatrice/Elizabeth: They swore that you were well-nigh dead for me.
Benedick/Darcy: Tis' no such matter. Then you do not love me?
Beatrice/Elizabeth: No, truly, but in friendly recompense.
Leonato/Bingley: Come, cousin, I am sure you love the gentleman.
Claudio/Bingley: And I'll be sworn upon't that he loves her; for here's a paper written in his hand, a halting sonnet of his own pure brain, fashion'd to Beatrice.
Hero/Jane: And here's another, writ in my cousin's hand, stol'n from her pocket, containing her affection unto Benedick.
Benedick/Darcy: A miracle! Here's our own hands against our hearts. Come, I will have thee; but by this light, I take thee for pity.
Beatrice/Elizabeth: I would not deny you; but, by this good day, I yield upon great persuasion, and partly to save your life, for I was told you were in a consumption.
Benedick/Darcy: Peace! I will stop your mouth.
Here, everyone froze. The stage direction clearly called for a kiss; everyone had known it was coming but had momentarily forgotten it in the excitement of play-acting. But Darcy, swept up in the lightheartedness of Benedick, broke the silence:
"My dear friends, as improper as it may seem, I would not change Shakespeare's classic work for the world. I believe I owe my fair Beatrice a kiss."
Elizabeth colored, but no objection escaped her lips. Darcy's mouth inched closer to hers as he re-spoke his previous line.
"Peace! I will stop your mouth."
And then, their lips met, and they closed their eyes. Jane and Charles were completely forgotten, and they quietly slipped out of the room, unnoticed. Elizabeth and Darcy continued in their activity uninterrupted, except for the fond glances Charles and Jane sent them before closing the library door. They never did finish that play.
Author's Note: This section is dedicated to Marisa.