Mr. Charles Bingley proudly walked down the main thoroughfare of Meryton, his hat cocked slightly upon his head, his walking stick performing a tilt and twirl now and then within his gloved hand, and the tails of his greatcoat dancing behind his stride. Mr. Bingley had been made a happy man, of late. He was to be wed to a woman whom he considered to be an angel.
"Good morning, Mr. Bingley!" the town folk called out with curtsies and tips of their hats as they passed his fashionable figure.
"A fine morning to you!" would always be his jolly reply, for as everyone knew, Mr. Bingley was indeed the most agreeable young man in the neighborhood.
Bingley rounded the corner and happened to look in a book shop window. He spied the proud figure of his friend inside. When he tapped on the window, the noise caused Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy to look up and raise a careless brow.
"Darcy!" Bingley expressed in his usual mirthful manner upon entering the shop. "What do you do in here?"
Not indicative to his character, Darcy flashed a prodigious grin. "I am intending to purchase something...a token of my esteem to a most lovely lady."
"In a book shop?" Bingley recoiled. "Depend upon it, Darcy. In as much as Miss Elizabeth Bennet is a well-read woman, I believe she would be far more flattered to receive a token of a much more personal nature. Especially from the man to whom she has declared her love."
A mingled look of concern and quandary diffused over Darcy's face, and he grumbled when he realized that his friend perhaps had a conceivable point. "Well, what then would you suggest?"
"Come, Darcy." Bingley shook his head and pushed his friend out of the door. The two men walked down the street towards a shop where goods made of fine china and silver were sold. "I do believe at sometime during your formal education, Darcy, there should have been a required text on the art of flattering a woman."
Darcy remained silent, for in a way his friend was correct. Fitzwilliam Darcy had been rather remiss in this part of the education of a gentleman. When other young men made time to discover the charms of the gentler sex, Darcy had bent towards the pressures of being a learned man of unlike consequence. Darcy's father had taken it for granted that the wooing of a wife was a natural development in the course of manhood, and had advised his son as such. With this young man however, it was not the case.
Besides, Darcy was far too happy these days to give argument to his friend. Despite his lack of education in the fancies of females, he had somehow been successful in winning the good opinion of a lovely young woman. His offer of marriage had been accepted by the woman he had fallen so helplessly in love with. It was neither here nor there that Darcy's first proposal to Miss Elizabeth Bennet had been rejected. Mr. Darcy was a changed man, and happiness has a inclination to erase those sorts of dreary memories.
Bingley and Darcy had been friends for a long time, since they had been very young men, in fact. One man had the qualities of the capable herder, the other the stuff of the flock. Thusly their friendship flourished, for it was impossible for two hard-headed men to maintain a fraternal bond. Darcy had always borne the interests of his good friend onto himself. He felt it his duty to add his own discernment to Bingley's irresolute character. These days however, Darcy was disposed to oddly follow the guidance of Bingley, to ensure his continuing education in the ways of behaving as a proper beau.
"A woman," began Bingley prophetically, revolving his walking stick between his fingers again, "a woman needs to be flattered, her charms inspired. I think a young lady would rather receive a gift which embellishes her talents and beauty. A token to satisfy her interests, I imagine. Do you not think so, Darcy?"
"If the woman's interests lie in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading, then why not present her with a book?" Darcy frowned.
Bingley halted his pace to demonstrate his criticism to this friend. "You are completely missing the point, Darcy" he sighed. "Do you not remember a conversation to this effect last year? Miss Bennet proclaimed she takes delight in a great many things, not solely in reading. Take it as a clue, Darcy!"
"How is it, Bingley, that you have become the foremost authority on the wishes of women?" Darcy inquired wryly before they entered the shop.
"I asked my sisters, of course!"
"Good god." Darcy held the door to the shop open for his friend.
"Good day, Gentlemen! Good day!" exclaimed the proprietor as he witnessed the patronage of Meryton's most recognizable young men. Word had spread far and wide, high and low of the betrothals of the two eldest Bennet daughters to these fine gentlemen. In fact, it was a complete and frenzied buzz about the county. Events such as this did not happen every day, and the merchants in town were banking on sharing in the Bennet daughters extreme fortune.
"A fine morning to you!" Bingley exuded his typical reply, while Darcy gave a restive nod. "We are looking for a gift to suit a young lady."
"Of course, of course," the man motioned, "Perhaps something like this, sir?"
Bingley smiled as he pointed inside the glass case. "There Darcy, you cannot go wrong with something such as this."
Mr. Bennet sat at his table, about to partake of a somewhat peaceful luncheon with his daughters and wife. "It is very quiet here this day," he proclaimed and took a look about the room. "I see no young men at this table. That is very curious, for I thought neither one of your lovers could bare the strain to be away from you girls for more than a period of time in which it takes to catch a few winks and take an occasional bath."
There was not a woman seated at the table who did not giggle at the claims of Mr. Bennet. "We would not have it any other way, Papa!" replied Elizabeth.
"You may not perhaps," laughed Mr. Bennet. "I do believe Mr. Bingley has been here every day since your engagement, Jane. According to your mother he has almost exhausted Longbourn's entire population of birds! If it were not for an occasional business engagement, I imagine your Mr. Darcy would have the same relentless reputation, Lizzy."
Both girls smiled with insurmountable pride, for they did appear to be truly esteemed by their beaus. In the Bennet household quiet reveries were fleeting and the reflections of Mr. Bennet's eldest daughters were cut short by a matronly voice.
"Oh, Mr. Bennet...if things were left to your care we would have no daughters engaged at all!" Mrs. Bennet chastised her husband with a wave of her hand which orchestrated the high pitched tone of her utterance.
"It is the great misfortune of men to lack knowledge and education in matters of amour," Mr. Bennet went on dourly. "We do not possess the wiles of a woman, nor do we particularly understand them. We only impersonate a liking for such things to save our own sanity."
"Oh, you are impossible!" Mrs. Bennet waved her cloth again.
Elizabeth could not help but laugh at her father's proclamation. He was merciless when it came to vexing her mother, although her mother always appeared a willing participant in their conversational sparring.
Elizabeth relished in these last few weeks spent in the fellowship of her family. Although she desired nothing more than to be in the excellent company of her Mr. Darcy every breathing moment, she knew there would come a time when she would think sentimentally on what she had known from her maidenhood.
Hill stepped into the dining room, "Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy, sir."
Everyone at the table arose to greet their estimable guests, and Mrs. Bennet greeted them with a giggle. "Ah, Mr. Bingley, Mr. Darcy. We were just speaking of you, and here you are!"
Mr. Bennet rolled his eyes and seated himself again as the men were directed to their chairs. Darcy glanced to his side and smiled discreetly at his fianc»e. Elizabeth returned his greeting with a beguiling smile meant for him alone. Bingley and Jane gave each other their usual demure smiles and sighs of contentment, and the gentlemen settled in at the table.
For lack of something sensible to say, Mr. Bennet kept to a simple subject. "Well gentlemen, tell me...how is the weather holding? It looks as if it threatens the first snow of the season."
Darcy placed his napkin in his lap as he was served his meal and a glass of wine. "Indeed, sir. The air is heavy and a bit warmer than what it has been. I would think it highly likely there be several inches of snow by morning and perhaps more."
Mrs. Bennet gasped at Darcy's prediction, which made him startle and look up from his meal, in concern. She then giggled, "Oh, what a fine thing girls! We shall have snow!"
Darcy swallowed the bite of food in his mouth while pondering Mrs. Bennet's eagerness for the prospect of snow. Bingley laughed, somewhat caught up in her apparent enthusiasm for inclement weather. "A fine thing? How so, ma'am?"
"Why it will be possible to hold the Snow Ball, of course!" she nodded her head in authority.
"Mama, I do not think Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy are familiar with the Ball," Elizabeth offered gently.
"Oh yes of course," Mrs. Bennet pinched her lips in some sort of disapprobation. "You both had quite left for Town last year before the event."
Darcy heaved a noticeable sigh, remembering how he had persuaded Bingley into leaving Hertfordshire so suddenly last year. Elizabeth placed a hand upon his arm, and gave it a reassuring squeeze. "Snow Ball, madam?" he asked finally, wondering if he should find some sort of amusement in the name.
"Anyone who is anyone in the county attends the Snow Ball, sir," she said with a glance down her nose at him. "There is a wonderful dance at the Assembly Hall followed by a delightful Winter supper, and then the young folk take out sleighs for a night time ride. It is very romantic for young lovers, is it not Mr. Bennet?" she cooed in a change of disposition.
"Yes, indeed my dear. I believe it was at just such an event that I completely lost my head and proposed to you," Mr. Bennet proclaimed with a heavy sigh of his own. "It must have been the effects of the full moon and that bottle of Madeira hidden inside my coat, that carried away my senses."
A laugh threatened to escape Darcy's otherwise stoic exterior at the revelation of his future father-in-law. He glanced at his friend and the two gentlemen shared a silent but meaningful look of query. Darcy composed himself again, thinking how he really did not favor such mirthful assemblages and revelry, but Elizabeth appeared to have some enthusiasm for them. He would put aside his own aversions for such events for the sake of her happiness. Even to the proper and reserved Mr. Darcy, the prospect of being out at night in the middle of nowhere with the woman he loved was a redeeming innovation.
"You forgot the most important part, Mama!" Kitty spoke up.
Mrs. Bennet gave her daughter a blank stare then remembered what Kitty was trying to remind her of. "Oh my! Of course, dear child! Before the dance everyone gathers at Mirror pond for ice skating!"
"Ice skating!" Bingley spoke up. "I have not been ice skating in some time! Marvelous!"
No one noticed as Darcy's composure immediately turned icy. He placed his knife and fork down onto his plate at once and took a hasty drink of wine.
Mrs. Bennet clasped her hands together. "Jane and Lizzy are excellent skaters! I must say, they take after myself in that respect."
Elizabeth's eyes rolled at her mother's display of self-importance. "It really is a very pleasant time, and the sleigh ride could be very romantic, when in the right company," she said as she cast a fluttering glance at Darcy.
Darcy momentarily lost himself in Elizabeth's flirtation. Once he regained his senses however, he whispered loud enough for Elizabeth's ears alone, "Provided you survive the rest of the festivities intact."
The best part of a day at Longbourn was the late afternoon. Mrs. Bennet retired to her rooms to rest herself for the strenuous ordeal of orchestrating supper, and Mr. Bennet hid himself away in his study for a little peace, and a nip or two of that Madeira. Mary and Kitty often went about their own pursuits, thus leaving Elizabeth and Jane to entertain their beaus. Jane and Bingley would seek out the solitude of the front parlor, and Darcy would follow Elizabeth to the morning room, where it was cheerful, bright, and most agreeably secluded.
There were many who might have frowned upon the lack of chaperones in the Bennet household. It may not have appeared proper to some, for a gentlemen to be left alone with his intended young lady. Truthfully, the only one within the house who might have great concern over this was Darcy himself. But then again, who was Mr. Darcy to argue about the indifferent supervision of his fianc»e's parents, when the alternative was so pleasing?
Often times Darcy would read to Elizabeth while they sat together on the divan. Elizabeth would pick up her needlework and calmly perform her exact stitches onto a cloth while listening to Darcy's soothing voice. He would lift his eyes from the book and gaze at her every so often, noticing the quiet deeds of her hands, and the inviting upturn of her lips as she worked. His heart would fill with contented attachment, prompting him to lean over and steal a kiss, and Elizabeth would willingly bestow it. Then out of concern for prying eyes, and their own sense of propriety, she would turn her attentions back to her needlework, he back to the book.
On this day however, Darcy appeared to be exhibiting some agitation in Elizabeth's presence. He was not at all as serene as he usually was to finally be alone in her company. Elizabeth thought it curious and after seating herself next to him on the divan she ventured an inquiry.
"Fitzwilliam, are you unwell?"
"No!" he looked up from the book with nervous eyes. He reached out and took her hand in his, in a change of disposition. "No, Elizabeth. There is no need for concern."
"If you do not wish to attend the ball, I shall understand. I should be just as content to remain here in your good company."
"It is pleasing to know that you would make such sacrifices on my behalf, but if it is romantic sleigh rides you desire, then we shall have to take in everything that goes along with it." His smile was so engaging that Elizabeth quite forgot his previous distress. "Here," he said, reaching into the pocket of his dress coat. "I found this in Meryton, and I felt it should be yours."
Darcy pulled out a small box wrapped in golden paper, a thin golden cord securing it. He placed it in Elizabeth's hand, and she gazed at it, then lifted her face to his. "Thank you, Fitzwilliam," she smiled her perfect approval. "It is much too small to be a book, however," she teased him, and he did his best to hide his momentary discomfort.
Her fingers deftly unfastened the cord and opened the tissues of the paper to reveal a small paper box. She lifted the lid and pulled out a delicate case of painted porcelain. Small blue flowers named cupid's darts were painted at random, and wispy green leaves entwined about the flowers. The whole thing was trimmed in gold, and it had a curved, hinged lid, and a small hole at one end.
Elizabeth opened the lid and looked inside, discovering a spool of gold thread resting within. The trinket felt fragile and fine in the palm of her hand, and she looked up at Darcy's face, amazed that he had chosen such a elegantly feminine gift, as a thread holder.
"I was hoping you would favor me by stitching a cloth that I may carry in my pocket."
Elizabeth took in a breath, her heart easily touched. "With the greatest pleasure, my dearest love."
Elizabeth placed her hand on Darcy's shoulder and leaned over to him to bestow a kiss. Their lips met, and Darcy dared to allow his hand to rest upon the small of her back as they embraced. How comfortably happy were those afternoons made for lovers.
Elizabeth parted from their embrace and looked back down at the keepsake in her palm. "I shall cherish it, forever. You are the most thoughtful man who was ever made, Fitzwilliam Darcy."
Darcy shrugged in embarrassed modesty, inwardly reminding himself to thank Bingley for the most beneficial advice that he had received in some time. Elizabeth could not help herself, and she invited another kiss from her lover, with a slant of her lips and a retiring sweep of her eyelashes. Darcy had no sooner obliged her, when something forced his eyes to open and he was astounded to witness the grinning figure of a man, peering in the window at them.
Darcy pulled away clearing his throat as Bingley rapped on the window. "It is snowing!" Bingley yelled from outside, and Elizabeth and Darcy went to the window to look out. Indeed it was snowing, and the world around began to resemble a winter wonderland.
Early that evening the gentlemen thought it best to return to Netherfield as the fall of snow showed no signs of lessening. Elizabeth stood on the stoop, a warm shawl around her shoulders, and bid Darcy a pleasant night.
"As much as it is delightful to see the first snow of the year, I would rather spend more time with you," she told him in all honesty. "But, this will allow me an opportunity to work on your cloth."
Darcy smiled in delight, "I cannot wait to see it. Shall I see you here tomorrow morning?"
"Perhaps not, my love. If it snows through the night, tomorrow we shall all be very busy decorating for the Snow Ball the next day. It may only be a country tradition, Fitzwilliam, but I promise you will enjoy it."
"I will enjoy it as an opportunity to be close to you," he declared. "I must admit there is an immense pleasure, having you displayed on my arm." Darcy brought her hand to his lips and lingered a kiss, "Tell me what you wear to this ball? I shall have my man endeavor to select something for me, befitting your lovely appearance."
Elizabeth smiled brightly, for Mr. Darcy was indeed being attentive to every detail. "I shall wear gold, sir."
Darcy's eyes betrayed his satisfaction, "Good night, my beautiful Elizabeth." The prospect of parting from Elizabeth for the whole of a day was bittersweet, indeed, but Darcy managed to let go of her hand, and turn away.
"Ice skating," Darcy sighed his annoyance as he paced before his friend, in the drawing room of Netherfield.
"What is the matter with ice skating, Darcy?" Bingley asked.
Darcy ceased pacing and spun around with a scowl, "Not a blasted thing...for those who know how to do it!"
Bingley was astonished, "You do not know how to skate, Darcy?" His friend frowned and shook his head with vigor. "How is it that you never learned?"
"That must have been the lesson just prior to the one on flattering women!" Darcy let loose his sarcasm with an abrupt laugh. "Oh well, I shall not have to worry about dancing, since I no doubt will be flat on my back from the previous events of the day!"
"Darcy, stop spouting off!" Bingley huffed. "It quite wears me out!" Bingley stood up and approached his friend. "Tomorrow, while the ladies are busy, I shall take you out to the pond behind the house and teach you how to skate."
"NO! Absolutely not!" Darcy shook his head again. "I prefer to keep my feet on terra firma, thank you. I shall simply tell Elizabeth the truth. She may skate...and I shall be content to watch."
Bingley snorted, "Watch while another fellow skates with your fianc»e!"
Darcy had not previously considered that fact. Bingley thought he saw flames flicker in Darcy's widened eyes. It was galling to say the least, thinking of Elizabeth gliding across the ice in the capable grasp of a more dexterous and courageous soul.
"Do you think it is something I can learn in one day, Bingley?"
Bingley shrugged his shoulders, "I should say you will not be spinning about demonstrating your prowess at it, but at least Elizabeth may be able to hold you upright."
Darcy sat down hard upon a chair and brought his hand to his forehead. "This is appalling. I never thought one would have to go through such contortions.." he glared at his friend "...simply to become a married man."
Before Elizabeth retired to her bed chamber, she had gone to the sewing room to secure a piece of cloth. She waded through the basket of new linens until she found a crisp white cloth. She opened the box which contained the spool holder her love had given her that day, and matched the thread to the material.
"Very good," she told herself with a smile. "I do believe this will look very well in your coat pocket, Mr. Darcy."
She hastily bid her family good night and went to her room to work on the token of her esteem. After sliding the hoop around the fabric, she thread a needle with a length from the spool. She changed into her nightgown, and fastened her hair into a braid to keep it out of the way, then placed a few candles next to her bed and crawled under the warmth of the covers.
She had no sooner picked up the cloth when Jane knocked softly on the door. "Are you in bed, Lizzy?"
"No Jane, not as yet. I am only keeping my feet warm as I work."
Jane crawled into the bed next to her sister, "What are you doing?"
"I am stitching a cloth for Mr. Darcy. Jane..." Elizabeth smiled from ear to ear, and held out her hand containing the small masterpiece "... he presented this to me today."
"It is lovely, Lizzy!" Jane reached out to hold it. "What a thoughtful man."
Elizabeth continued to beam in delight, "He is very attentive, Jane. I find I love him more with the passing of each day, and that I know him better as well." The smile on Elizabeth's face faded a moment. "Did you happen to notice his temper when Mama was speaking of the ball?"
Jane furrowed her brows at her sister's inquiry, attempting to recall Mr. Darcy's countenance. "No Lizzy. Did our mother upset him?"
"I am not sure. He appeared distressed somehow. I asked him if he would rather not attend the ball, but he assured me that was not the case. I know he dislikes such occasions." Elizabeth sighed, "It shall take me some time to know him better, I suppose." The smile returned to Elizabeth's face as she realized she now would have all the time in the world to know Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy.
Darcy and Bingley set out early the next morning. The groundskeeper swept the fresh snow away from a shallow portion of the pond and made sure the ice was fit to receive weight.
Bingley bent down and fastened the skates to his feet. "Here, Darcy. Let me show you."
Darcy followed the instructions of his friend and strapped a skate onto his short-topped boot. He planted the foot with the skate into the soft snow and fastened the other. He stood upright, and with a bit of a bobble, stood about three or four inches taller than normal.
"This is not so bad," he declared with an audacious tone to his voice.
Bingley grinned, "It is much more thrilling when you finally make it onto the ice, Darcy."
Bingley made his way to the edge of the ice and gingerly placed a skate bearing foot upon it. Darcy followed, although his ankles bowed with each step and he tried his best to remain dignified in appearance.
"Very well, Darcy. Skating is much like walking, only you do not lift your feet as high...you lift and slide...lift and slide."
Darcy heaved a sigh as he watched his friend give demonstration. He began to lose all sense of why he was even considering this foolishness. "Bingley, I do not know about this at all. I do not think that a respectable gentleman should be lifting and sliding, and whirling about like a dervish."
"It is perfectly acceptable, not to mention quite enjoyable, Darcy! Come on..." Bingley coaxed him "...give it a try!" Bingley skated over to the pond's edge and turned around. "Put your arm on my shoulder and simply stand on the ice for a moment. Get the feel of it."
Darcy grasped Bingley's shoulder and placed a foot upon the ice. He moved it back and forth until he felt he could steady it. With a hold of his breath he brought the other foot out and stomped it down next to the first. He wobbled about, one hand tightly grasping Bingley, the other flapping about like a one-winged goose. Bingley tried his best not to laugh, but the sight of Fitzwilliam Darcy in such a precarious position was all too rare.
"Bingley!" Darcy bellowed to silence his friend's mirth at his predicament.
Once poor Darcy had his ice legs, he looked at Bingley with a panicky expression. "Now what?"
"Lift and slide, Darcy...and give a little push with the planted foot. Then put that foot in front of the other and do the same."
Darcy took in another breath and gave a timid push off. Bingley slid along with him and Darcy actually managed to go nearly five or six feet before his courage melted way. His ankle buckled and his other foot flew out from underneath him. His natural reaction was to take Bingley with him, and so he did.
Both men stared at each other as they sat sprawled out upon the ice, their cheeks flushed in embarrassment. "That was good Darcy," Bingley tried to be encouraging. "Except perhaps you could let go of me next time?"
"Bingley, depend upon it! We are going to break our necks!"
Bingley mumbled then stood up and brushed himself off. He bent down and assisted Darcy to his feet, but not without some difficulty. When Darcy felt secure on his feet, they tried it again. After a few slips and wobbles Darcy found he was not so intimidated and could actually stay upright and move a bit.
Darcy could lift and slide, then put his feet together and coast for a time, slowly coming to a halt, with outstretched arms and a trace of a wobble at the end. He would regain his balance and do it all over again. After a half hour, Bingley left Darcy's side and began to skate a little faster in a circle around the pond. Darcy made no effort to keep up, but was much too occupied watching his feet and contemplating his sore ankles to notice what his friend was doing.
"All right, Darcy. Now it is time to look forward, or Miss Bennet will wonder what is wrong with your skates!"
"Very well!" Darcy called out and lifted his eyes ahead.
Bingley skated up to Darcy's side and the two friends grinned as they skated around the pond. Bingley began to speed up and before Darcy was aware, he was going faster than he deemed sensible for his novice stature. The power of the mind is a masterful tool, and terror set into Darcy's as he began to drift to the edge of the pond.
"Bingley!" he called out. "You forgot to tell me how to..."
Bingley finally realized his friend was not keeping pace. He came to a stop and spun around gracefully, in time to see Darcy reach the barrier between ice and land. Darcy's figure resembled a fleeing spider as his lanky appendages scrambled about, until he came to rest within a bank of fresh snow.
Bingley reached his entrenched friend within seconds. He blushed and extended a helping hand out to poor Darcy. "Lift, slide...turn your foot to the side...stop."
Darcy hobbled to his dressing room where his man had mercifully drawn him a steaming hot bath. With much effort on his part, Darcy lowered his bruised and scraped body into the tub and rolled his eyes in an expression of unequivocal relief. An unending groan escaped his lips and he tilted his head back and slid down into the water as far as he could go.
"Did you have an enjoyable morning, sir?" Mr. Stevens inquired.
Darcy opened one eye at the servants question, "I should rather have gone fifty paces with some blackguard, pistols at the ready. At least I would have had a better chance at coming out unscathed."
"Would you like a brandy sir?"
Darcy closed his eyes and groaned again, "Mr. Stevens that is the most sensible idea I have heard this whole day." The servant hurried out of the room to fetch his master a glass.
Darcy alternated from feeling chilled to feeling warmed. His body ached in places he did not even know existed till then. He prided himself on being fit, but this was a serious setback to his whole prideful self. He was destined to make a fool out of himself, for the sake of the love of a woman. He did believe that if he was to allow himself to behave in such a manner, the fact that it was for Elizabeth's sake would most likely be the only judicious reason to be had.
After his bath and brandy, Darcy was rational enough to stumble to his bed. He had told Bingley not to expect to see the whites of his eyes nor any other part of his abused body, much before supper. He was grateful at least that Elizabeth was busy this day, even if she were busy making ready for his further torture. He slowly crawled underneath the covers of his bed, for just this once he could be forgiven the luxury of a mid-day rest. He slumped his pain-racked body down onto the softness of the ticking and pillow, and slowly closed his eyes. Although it hurt excessively simply to do that much, he drifted off to sleep.
"Lizzy! Hurry yourself or we shall be late!" Mrs. Bennet called out in a panic.
"Coming Mama!" Elizabeth replied, taking a last look at her stitchery. The cloth she was making for Darcy was coming along nicely. All it would take was an hour or two that evening to finish the monogram and a little more time to hem it. She placed it lovingly on top of her pillow and ran down the stairs.
The house was all in uproar. Mrs. Bennet was waving about, barking orders to servant and daughter alike. The necessary materials were being gathered and placed into the carriages for the trip to the Meryton Assembly Hall. The servants would remain behind to prepare sweetmeats, candies, and pastries, and to begin the Bennets portion of the supper which would be served the next evening. It was the responsibility of each family to prepare the fare for the supper and refreshment table, and also to decorate the hall. Everyone knew their tasks, for it had been this way for many a year past.
Elizabeth had decided this was one event she would greatly miss after her departure to Derbyshire. She loved the friendliness of gathering with their neighbors to prepare for the ball. The families could have had their servants prepare the hall, but it had always been a good excuse to come together, young and old, to gossip and laugh and catch up on the joys and sorrows of everyone's lives.
Once they arrived at the Assembly Hall, they brought in baskets piled high with every kind of adornment. The Lucas family had already arrived, along with the Longs and the Keatings, with more people arriving every minute. Elizabeth could smell the sweet fragrance of spices and cider simmering for the enjoyment of everyone as they worked, and the room was filled with gaiety.
"Elizabeth!" cried Lady Lucas. "Oh dear Elizabeth, are you not so very happy! Of course you are, for it is written all about you!"
Maria Lucas was also anxious to see Elizabeth, "Oh Lizzy! I am so glad that you are here for the ball this year. I do miss Charlotte so at these events. Now you shall be gone away to Derbyshire."
"Yes, Maria, I miss Charlotte as well," Elizabeth said in genuine warmth of her friend.
"It is not all that far from Hunsford, and perhaps she might have been able to come, if it were not for the baby."
Elizabeth's smile was touched with sadness thinking of her friend alone at the parsonage without another young woman of her situation to commiserate with during her pregnancy. Lady Catherine was surely extending every known pearl of wisdom to poor Charlotte as to how to bear it, and Elizabeth knew that Mr. Collins was no doubt very little assistance when it came to the soothing of a woman's feelings.
"This shall be such a Snow Ball to remember, Lizzy! You and Jane are much to be admired, and everyone wants a chance to see you with your fianc»s. It will be such a sight to be seen! What shall you wear? Shall you arrive with Mr. Darcy?" Maria was so excited at all the speculation that it quite overwhelmed Elizabeth.
Most of the other young women gathered around Elizabeth and Maria to hear the details of Elizabeth's gown, and how she would do her hair, whether or not Mr. Darcy would escort her in his own vehicle or a hired one. "Girls, Girls! There is much to be done!" Mrs. Bennet exclaimed and everyone set about their tasks.
Elizabeth and Jane began to fashion boughs made of cedar branches to the doorways. The tables were set with centerpieces of the same, with pomanders of hothouse oranges and cloves, and those made of rosemary and dried lavender. Baskets of fruits and winter berries were placed about and there were even pomegranates which Sir William Lucas had imported from Spain.
Sprays of spruce were bound and hung on each of the windows, and tied with gold and deep red ribbons. Punch bowls from every household bedecked a table, some were silver and some glass, and more sprays of greens were strewn around them, with holly and berries placed throughout for contrast.
When they were finished, Elizabeth accepted a cup of cider from Mrs. Long. "Elizabeth, my dear, there is not a soul in the county who is not happy for you! What a life you shall live with Mr. Darcy."
"Thank you, Mrs. Long. I know we shall be very happy."
"Is he a good man, my dear?" Mrs. Long asked as she placed a motherly hand upon Elizabeth's arm.
"Yes, he is the very best of men," Elizabeth's eyes lit up as she spoke. "It only took a little time to realize it."
Both women, the younger and the elder, giggled and continued to speak of the happiness which would befall Elizabeth in a few short weeks. "Take every opportunity to enjoy yourself, my dear. These are the very best times of a woman's life. Never again will such attentions be bestowed on you by your man, nor by your friends."
Elizabeth watched old Mrs. Long return to the fray. She thought about what the woman had said, that the time of a woman's engagement was indeed the very best. It was true that Elizabeth was fawned over wherever she went, and declared to be the luckiest bride ever to be seen. She had felt of late as if she were a princess on display for all to admire, and she had to admit to herself that she found great enjoyment in it.
Elizabeth was sorry when she realized what her friend Charlotte had forfeited by engaging herself to Mr. Collins and marrying that man so abruptly. Perhaps Charlotte's character was as she had said, not romantic in any way, and that she had only sought a comfortable situation. Elizabeth could not help but think that Charlotte had only expressed it as an excuse, and that it really was not true.
For most women, courtship was indeed a time when their intended exhibited attentions beyond compare. Elizabeth hoped Darcy's passions for her would never wane, but if the truth be told, she knew that the newness of matrimony would one day be replaced by a comfortable situation as the wife of a gentleman. She wondered what could be done to keep a man's interest in your person, when your beauty and charms became commonplace. Fortunately, Elizabeth had an impish spirit, and she vowed to herself that if it were in her power, Mr. Darcy's attraction for her would never be forsaken.
Darcy had felt better after his rest that afternoon, but still he was not convinced that it was a sane idea to pretend to be proficient at something he was not. He wondered why he felt compelled to be such a perfect being in Elizabeth's eyes. All he had ever wanted was for her to love him as he was, and he never intended to require more of her.
"Ah, good evening, Darcy!" Bingley grinned upon seeing his friend come downstairs for supper. "Are you quite recovered?"
"Bingley, I believe that is the last time I shall ever allow you free reign on my life." Darcy laughed, but let out another groan as he gingerly placed his body down onto the chair.
"What is the verdict? Are you to skate with Miss Bennet tomorrow, or are you to play spectator?"
Both friends could not help but find some humor in Darcy's dilemma. "If you were I, what would you do, Bingley?"
"If I were you," Bingley again announced with a prophetic aire, "I would feign illness and remain at home."
"Pearls of wisdom," Darcy proclaimed as his grin faded. "What if I were to drink to excess? Then I simply would not care, nor would I necessarily be able to remember any of it."
"Yes, but we would."
"I do not know, Bingley," Darcy sat back in his chair in frustration. "All I want is to marry, raise a few children, and spend the rest of my life peacefully in Derbyshire with Elizabeth."
"Hurst says only fools and clergymen believe they will have serenity with a wife and children," Bingley explained soberly.
Poor Darcy sighed, "Lord, help us." Both friends began to laugh at the folly of it all.
After supper, Darcy made his apologies to Bingley, and retired again to his room. Mr. Stevens was in the dressing room, gathering and pressing Darcy's clothes for the next day. "Sir, have you decided what you prefer to wear tomorrow afternoon, to the skating engagement?"
"I suppose armor would be too much to ask for, Mr. Stevens?"
"Sir..." the servant stammered "...I..."
"It was a rhetorical question," Darcy sighed. "Have you ever wondered why armor went out of fashion, Mr. Stevens? In a way, men still joust over women, go on quests for women...nearly ruin themselves on a patch of ice, all for the love of a woman."
The servant look at his employer with the utmost seriousness. "I believe it was just too cumbersome to carry around, sir."
Darcy leaned against the wall, his arms folded, the grin on his face becoming broader in the wake of the servant's sobriety. "Indeed, that must have been the reason. You can finish that in the morning, Mr. Stevens. I think I should like to change out of my clothes and go back to bed."
Darcy looked out of the window before falling back into bed. He wondered what Elizabeth were doing, that perhaps she might be stitching his cloth. A token of his lady's affection to place next to his heart as he went into battle. Of course the only battle Darcy would be waging was the one between his decaying courage and a formidable sheet of ice. Somehow though, he was enjoying this time in his life. He was ever so proud to know that such a fine woman had accepted his hand in marriage. His every thought revolved around Elizabeth, and it was a relief to himself to finally know that he was capable of placing someone else's wishes above his own.
When Elizabeth finished her supper that evening, she again retired to her room to work on Darcy's cloth. She gazed over to the closet door where her gown for the ball was hanging.
When she had assured her father of her love for Darcy, and he had given his parental consent to their marriage, Mr. Bennet had called Elizabeth into his study. "Lizzy my dear, now that you are betrothed you must have some new clothes to wear to parties and the like."
"I am perfectly fine with the clothes that I have, Papa. I do not have to change to keep Mr. Darcy's love."
"Perhaps not, my dear," Mr. Bennet chuckled. "But, I have put down a deposit in your name and in Jane's at the dress shop in Meryton. Go and spend it all on gowns and whatever trappings you choose. Your young man is always a stately sight in his fine togs. No daughters of mine shall be seen in old rags if I have anything to say about it."
The gown that Elizabeth now gazed at had caught her eye immediately in the shop. It flattered her figure perfectly, and she thought it would look comely when next to the handsome dark clothing Darcy preferred to wear. She hoped he would find her appealing in it, and frankly when he had given her the gold thread she had been encouraged.
The gown was golden in color with mid-sleeves and a classic neck line. It was fashioned in the softness of satin, but the petticoats were the starkest white, adorned with a hem of lace which resembled icicles flowing to the floor. She had purchased slippers to match the golden color of the dress and her gloves complimented the whiteness of the lace.
She turned her attentions back to the cloth and finished the last stitches of Darcy's monogram. She took it out of the hoop and turned under a hem, stitching the tiniest of finishing loops. In the morning she would have Hill iron it and fold it neatly, and she would wrap it in paper.
Before she laid it aside, she traced Darcy's monogram with the tips of her fingers. Her mother never stitched cloths for her father anymore, and Elizabeth wondered if that was all there was to any romance. She questioned why the fascination her parents once shared for each other at a Snow Ball long ago had melted away.
What seemed to be the happiest time in Elizabeth's life, also was to be the most reluctant and frightening. She understood what Charlotte must have felt to be taken away from her home, away from her family and friends, and everything she had always known, to become the partner of a man she barely knew. How could a marriage be enjoyable when one preferred to remain in a different room from your husband for most of a day, as Charlotte had confessed to her.
Elizabeth went to her window and scratched off a patch of frost with her fingertips to peer out at the snow. She told herself that her life was not to be the same as Charlotte's. It could not be, for Charlotte had married to secure her position in society and nothing more. Elizabeth knew the feelings she had for Darcy were true, but in the last few days, as everyone in the neighborhood complimented her good fortune in securing such a match, she began to wonder if deep down in her heart there was not a little more to why she had finally excepted Mr. Darcy's proposal.
Darcy stood impatiently awaiting Elizabeth's arrival at Mirror pond. He had time to observe the other skaters, and what he saw made him believe less in his own meager abilities and left him with a queasiness in the pit of his stomach. Had he known what would come out of his reluctance to let loose in his youth, he would have endeavored to join in the revelry more often.
Sir William Lucas and his clan had arrived at the pond. The aforementioned gentleman walked over to where Darcy stood and spoke in his amiable manner. "Such amusement this is for young people, this ice skating. I was known to cut a fine figure eight a time or two in my youth," he proclaimed with a ridiculous grin and a jolly upheaval of his prodigious girth.
For once Darcy had no confutation, but simply eyed the ice and shuddered. He heard Elizabeth laugh, and turned around to see her walking through the snow, carrying her skates. She looked lovely wrapped in her warm clothing, a blush to her complexion caused by the chill in the air and the exercise of walking. Darcy excused himself from Sir William, and hurried to her side. They greeted each other with the expectations of true lovers when they meet again after a separation.
"Fitzwilliam, is it not the most perfect day for a skating party?"
Darcy did not hesitate before giving his answer, "It is a perfect day to see you. How I missed you yesterday, Elizabeth."
The smile on her face was ethereal, and Darcy reached out and took her by the hand, and she wrapped her arm through his, moving as close to his side as she could. "I longed for you also, my love," she admitted to him. "I suppose absence does make the heart grow fonder."
"I suppose it does, but there is much to be said for constant companionship when with the one you love."
They reached the edge of the pond, and stood closely next to one another while they watched the other couples skate. Mr. Bingley had found Jane, and was helping her secure her skates to her boots. Elizabeth directed a glance at Darcy's face, and what she saw made her wonder. He was intently watching the other skaters, and every few moments would extend a small subliminal grimace.
With a swiftness unbecoming of his gentility, he turned towards Elizabeth and grasped her mitten-bound hands within his own. He looked childlike as he hurriedly spoke, "Elizabeth, I have a confession to make."
"Not another one of your infamous confessions, Mr. Darcy?" she teased.
"This is not so serious as any of my previous doings, trust me. It is just that..." his voice trailed off and he took another mortified look at the skaters on the frozen pond.
Somehow Elizabeth knew what Darcy was about. She could see doubt in his eyes, and hear hesitation in his voice which she had never known him to exhibit before. She wriggled her hands from his and briskly walked over to Bingley's sleigh, took her skates and deposited them into the vehicle.
"Somehow Mr. Darcy, I am not inclined to skate today. Besides I seem to have misplaced my skates. Silly me!" She raised her hands to show him they were free of the burden of the skates.
"Miss Bennet," he sighed in grateful relief. "Since it does not appear convenient for either of us to participate in the skating, might I take you for a walk around the pond?"
"You may do at least that, sir," she grinned and Darcy approached her, and dared to place a kiss upon her cheek.
"Thank you," he breathed.
"You are welcome," she giggled and placed a tender kiss on his ear.
They walked around the pond, occasionally stopping to watch the skaters and wave to Jane and Bingley. Darcy was enchanted by his love's grace in handling his awkward situation. If it were possible, he admired her more with the passing of each day. He saw everything when he looked at Elizabeth. Everything which was honest, everything he desired from a lifelong companion, all in one bundled up package with rosy cheeks and a velveteen bonnet.
"You will be amused to know that Bingley tried to teach me how to skate yesterday," he finally divulged to her when they were away from the crowd. "I was terribly clumsy, and I paid quite a toll in scraped knees and an extremely bruised...spirit."
"I do believe, sir, that is the first thing I have ever heard you admit to not being able to do."
"It most likely will be the last, if I can help it!" They both laughed at the declaration of his stubborn pride and determination. How grateful they were for his determination, however. It was that resolve which had succeeded in making him a wiser man, and allowed her to see his goodness.
"I have something for you," Elizabeth stopped and took a small package out of her cloak.
Darcy's eyes brightened as she placed the package into his hands. He pulled away the paper and held the cloth, lovingly stitched with scrolls and his monogram, in the golden thread. He smiled, and brought Elizabeth's mitten-bound hand to his cheek, the cloth between them. "I shall carry it always, my love."
As the lovers stood in the snow, face to face, they each silently pondered what it was which they shared between them. Whatever doubts Elizabeth had the previous night as to her reasons for accepting Darcy's offer of marriage were now gone. There was no doubt in her heart that she loved this man, or that she wanted to be in the same room with him forever. Darcy also felt it, the tug of love on his heart. He had no reservations, no regrets as to his choice of a wife. Elizabeth was meant for him, and he was sure of it. They could see the devotion they held for each other, in each other's eyes, in the manner in which they spoke, and in the longing which passed between them when they touched.
After a time they sat in the sleigh which Bingley had driven to the pond. Darcy covered Elizabeth with the woolen blankets, and Elizabeth acquainted Darcy of the people who were skating. There was quite a gathering of young men and women. Most of the eligible persons of the county were there, enjoying a perfect excuse to hold hands and be close to one another.
Darcy could not see Bingley in the crowd, but after a few moments he did manage to catch a glimpse of Jane. She was skating with another man, her countenance not much different than when she were in her fianc»'s company. Jane was quiet and demure with every person of her acquaintance, including Bingley. Darcy searched the crowd and finally located his friend.
Bingley stood at the edge of the pond in a shallow patch of snow. His cheeks were reddened, which was not an uncommon appearance for him. However, Darcy could see Bingley's discontent by the frown on his face and in the tenseness of his usually placid features as he held his arms folded about his chest and stared at Jane and the other man.
"Elizabeth, who is that man skating with your sister?"
Elizabeth turned her attention from her lover to look for her sister's figure on the pond. "His name is Richard Grant. My sister once thought him appealing, and he had called on her a time or two, before Mr. Bingley moved to the neighborhood. He has been living in another county for the past year."
Elizabeth searched the crowd and finally spotted Bingley. She looked back at Darcy, who bore the mark of concern on his features. "Do you think Mr. Bingley finds Mr. Grant's presence intrusive?"
"I do, Elizabeth," Darcy stated matter-of-factly. "Do not misunderstand me, but I believe there is not a man alive who would not be tormented to witness his intended bride so engaged by another man."
Elizabeth looked at Darcy quizzically, trying her best to understand his meaning. There were times when she still found his comments to be difficult. "Are you saying that Mr. Bingley is upset to see Jane accept attentions from Mr. Grant? Or that perhaps Jane appears to..." she stopped to control her growing anger "...be wanting another man's regard?"
"Elizabeth," Darcy said with a slight tone of reprimand. "I begged you not to take my words as insolent."
With reddened cheeks of her own, Elizabeth looked away from Darcy to gather her sensibilities. She knew she was always quick to judge his words as offensive, and she was heartily sorry for it. She also knew that Jane's choice in accepting Mr. Grant's attentions was perhaps unwise, given her attachment to Mr. Bingley.
"I only mean to caution that Bingley is not as confident as perhaps another man in his situation. He was unsure of himself enough in the beginning to doubt your sister's affections, and your sister can display a detachment of her regard at times."
Elizabeth knew Darcy's words to be true. She glanced back at her sister and her partner. Mr. Grant's countenance looked to be one of a man enjoying himself immensely. Jane looked pleased, but not in an uncommon way. Elizabeth did have to admit that Mr. Bingley looked less agreeable than usual, however.
"Fitzwilliam, my sister would not have accepted Mr. Bingley's hand if she did not love him. I know her well enough to assure you of that."
Darcy gave a pensive nod, "I accept your good word on it, my love. It is only that I cannot help but see the beginnings of trouble before my eyes." Darcy climbed out of the sleigh. "Wait here, dearest. I shall go and see for certain that all is well."
Darcy made his way over to his friend. Darcy spoke to Bingley and at one point during their conversation, Bingley looked down and kicked at the snow with the point of his skate, then bent over to unfasten them from his boots. After pacing back and forth near the edge of the ice, Bingley stormed back to the sleigh.
"Miss Bennet," he nodded stiffly at Elizabeth.
Elizabeth quietly smiled and shifted her glance to Darcy who stood behind his friend. She could tell by the rigid composure of her own fianc», that Jane's was not as easy as he was known to be. She wisely took Darcy's silence as an example to keep her own. After a few tense moments, Jane appeared, escorted by Mr. Grant.
Jane introduced Bingley to the gentleman in question, and the two men suspiciously bowed a somewhat less than amiable greeting. "Miss Bennet tells me you are to be congratulated, sir. She has informed me you are engaged to me married."
"That is correct, sir," Bingley replied in a conclusive manner.
Mr. Grant gave apology, "I hope you have taken no offense to Miss Bennet favoring me with a turn about the ice. I was unaware that she was betrothed."
"I understand, sir. I have often found it difficult to know the status of a woman's consequence, while she is on the arm of a gentleman who is not her relation."
Elizabeth bit her lip to dissuade a smirk as she saw Darcy raise a brow at Bingley's vim in discrediting the gentlemen's attempt at an apology. Jane, however, looked very disturbed by the clash of understanding between these two men on her behalf. Although Elizabeth found Mr. Bingley severely critical of the incident, she secretly thought it would be daring to be the object of desire between two men.
"Yes, well..." Mr. Grant stammered as he bowed to take his leave "...if you will excuse me. Good day, Miss Bennet."
Jane would not look directly at Bingley. It was as if Mr. Bingley were angry with Jane, and Jane were upset with Mr. Bingley. This was impossible, for they both had such amiable temperaments and never thought ill of anyone. Although it concerned Elizabeth to see her sister and her fianc» at odds, for once she was relieved to know that she and Darcy had no part in bringing it about.
The couples rode back to Longbourn in silence, Jane and Bingley in apparent vexation with each other, Elizabeth and Darcy in astonishment at the whole scene. Mrs. Bennet was eagerly awaiting their return, hoping for some tidbits of gossip of the event. Jane seated herself in the corner of the room and picked up some needlework. Bingley sought out the opposite end of the room, sat in a chair and perused a book.
"Well, tell me all about your outing. Did you all skate amazingly well?" Mrs. Bennet hounded the dejected lovers.
"Remarkably, ma'am," Bingley mumbled then went back to his book.
"Mama," Elizabeth interrupted. "Perhaps Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy may want to have some refreshment. I know Mr. Darcy appreciates the care you take in selecting just the right compliments for tea."
Darcy felt his upper lip twitch at the amusement of Elizabeth's interference, but he stood behind her and nodded to corroborate her statement. Mrs. Bennet was indeed overwhelmed to receive such a confirmation from her future son-in-law and hurried out of the room to select such delectable delights as were seldom seen.
Darcy felt a tug on his coat sleeve as Elizabeth prodded him to leave the room with her. "Fitzwilliam, this is dreadful!" she exclaimed in a hush when they were out of ear shot.
Darcy could not help the grin which appeared on his face. "I have not seen Bingley so cross since he made a last place wager at Ascot the year before."
"I hardly think it is the same thing, dear," she replied. "What are we to do?"
Darcy abandoned his mirth, "There is nothing to be done, Elizabeth. At least not by us. Have we not learned our lesson in meddling in the affairs of lovers?"
"Fitzwilliam, please!" she implored him. "I cannot bear to see them unhappy again."
Darcy knew better than to involve himself in a lover's spat, especially one which was not his own. Elizabeth, however, had a way of making herself persuasive to him that as yet Darcy had not realized. All she need do was to look at him in such a way, with her eyes worried, a tiny pout upon her lips, and that brief sniffle of distress she could perform while clutching a handkerchief. All this produced the desired effect within Darcy's heart, and he would do anything to comfort Elizabeth.
"Very well," he sighed. "I shall suggest we go back to Netherfield, and I will try to talk some sense into Bingley."
"And I shall speak with Jane. This shall all be resolved by the time you arrive to escort us to the ball...I hope."
Bingley had remained unusually reserved the rest of the day. Darcy was unsure as to how to bring up the subject of Bingley's troubles. He had really rather wished Bingley would make a comment to begin it, but although Darcy gave him every opportunity to do so, it never came about.
It was getting late, and Darcy finally went to his room to dress for the evening. He wore his black evening suit, the only festive color to the outfit being his gold and maroon brocade waistcoat, against the stark whiteness of his collar and tie.
"Darcy," Bingley knocked upon the door. "Might I have a word with you?"
Mr. Stevens allowed Bingley into the room and when Darcy looked at his friend's face, he could tell the man could keep his silence no longer. "That will be all, Mr. Stevens," Darcy instructed the servant.
Darcy silently watched Bingley pace about the room uncomfortably, looking much like himself when vexed. Bingley finally came to a halt and blurted out, "Darcy, how do you know you love Miss Elizabeth Bennet?"
"That...uh, that is not an easy question to answer," Darcy replied, feeling like a stuttering fool. "Bingley, are you telling me you do not know if you love Jane Bennet?"
Bingley stared at his friend, looking a bit as if he would bawl. "No, Darcy, I do love Jane," he began. "But there are times when I wonder of her feelings for me."
"Has she never disclosed her feelings?"
"Not in so many words, Darcy," Bingley spoke rashly with a shake of his head.
Darcy made a bold inquiry, "And you? Do you tell her often?"
"Not precisely," Bingley said in a much quieter tone.
"What is the obstacle, man?" Darcy began to lose his patience. "Why should it be so difficult for you to say the words 'I love you'? Why is it so difficult to look the part of a lover when one is suppose to be in love?"
"I do not know," was Bingley's resolute reply.
"Bingley," Darcy tried to find an answer for the situation. "I have it on very good authority that Jane is in love with you and you alone. That man today was only an acquaintance from before you ever met. You and Miss Bennet appear contented with each other, you look happy."
"Happy, yes, but we do not look like..." Bingley faltered.
Darcy waited for his friend to finish, but Bingley showed no signs of continuing. "Like what?" Darcy prompted him.
"Like you," Bingley whispered with a frown. "Like you and Elizabeth!"
Both friends stared at each other a moment, until Bingley could no longer match Darcy's glare. Darcy was completely astounded at the revelation of his friend.
Bingley heaved a tormented sigh, "We do not look at each other like you and Elizabeth do, there is not the same fire as I see in your eyes when you look at Elizabeth, and there is not the same need in Jane's eyes that I see in her sister's when she is in your company." Bingley sat down upon a chair, "I was not so much upset with that man at the ice pond today, as I was struck by the fact that Jane appears to look at me no differently than she does towards any other man."
Darcy sighed in frustration for his friend. "Bingley, I think you are making more of this than you ought. What is good for one person is not necessarily so for another. You and Jane may not be comfortable with a union such as mine and Elizabeth's. We are two different men with two different dispositions. Trust what your heart tells you, not what your eyes see."
"Perhaps you are right, Darcy," Bingley nodded solemnly. He stood up to leave the room, and as he met with the doorway, he turned around. "Still...I would wish for the passion that you two possess. You shall be a very happy man, Darcy."
"I could not think of anyone else," Darcy blurted out suddenly. "That is how I knew I loved Elizabeth." He smiled at his friend, "I seem to recall another man who did not act much like himself all those months we stayed away from Hertfordshire, and I have heard tell of a lady who was much in the same state when she thought Mr. Bingley would never return to Netherfield."
"Jane?" Elizabeth whispered as she entered her sister's room. The maid was assisting Jane into her ball gown, and Elizabeth moved to take her place. "I shall help Miss Bennet with the buttons."
When the maid had gone, Jane turned to her sister and smiled although Elizabeth could tell that her dear sister was not happy at all. "Why are you not dressing, Lizzy?"
"Jane, is there some trouble between you and Mr. Bingley?"
"Oh, Lizzy," Jane sighed and moved to the window. "Sometimes I think Charles cannot see my affections for him."
"Jane," Elizabeth grasped her sister's arm. "Surely he must believe your assurances?"
"I have never told him in so many words that I love him, Lizzy."
Elizabeth was astonished at Jane's confession, "Jane, can you blame him for behaving insecurely?"
"No, Lizzy...I cannot."
"Whatever your temperament, you must tell him straight away!"
"Lizzy!" Jane began to lose her ever present composure. "I am not like you! I do not know how to begin, I do not know what to say or do."
"Oh, Jane," Elizabeth sighed in frustration. "Does Mr. Bingley never look into your eyes? Does he never stand close to you and reach his hands to your face, and hold you spellbound in his gaze?"
"Yes, he has done those things," Jane blushed and looked shyly down at her hands.
Elizabeth grasped her sister's hands causing Jane to look up. "Then that is when you say it. Tell him on the ball room floor, tell him in the sleigh, reach over and whisper it in his ear at dinner. But, Jane..." Elizabeth smiled her encouragement "...If you are to have the marriage you desire, you must always tell him of your love."
Darcy did indeed hire a sleigh for the evening. After some little consideration, he decided it prudent to locate a vehicle which could only accommodate two, thus lessening the chances of Mrs. Bennet suggesting that one of Elizabeth's sisters accompany them. Darcy chuckled to himself as he took a last glance at his attire in the glass. He may be inclined to take a wife and raise a few children, but when it came to the prospect of a night alone with his beloved lady, Fitzwilliam Darcy was not to be anyone's fool.
"Mr. Stevens," Darcy said, as his man assisted him with his hat, coat, and gloves. "I intend to return quite late tonight." Darcy headed out the door, then turned to the servant with a devilish beam. "No need to wait up. I am sure I can handle things on my own."
"Indeed, sir," Mr. Stevens replied, amused by his employer's blithe spirit.
There was no better deliverance of the soul than to be in the drivers seat of a sleigh. The night was quiet as Darcy drove on to Longbourn. He could hear nothing but the jingling of the bells on the harness of the horse, and the laughter of people in other rigs as they passed by him. The moon was full, and the sky somewhat cloudy, which lent a blue illumination over the wintry landscape. As far as Darcy was concerned, everything was right with the world. It was truly the only time he had ever felt completely without care, and he could almost imagine that Mr. Bennet's story of his proposal to his wife and the Madeira could have some truth to it.
"Oh, girls! They are here, they are here!" Mrs. Bennet exclaimed from her watch post by the front windows. "Let me look at you both!" Jane and Elizabeth stood in front of the inspecting eye of their mother. "Jane, you are a picture of loveliness! And you too, Lizzy."
Mr. Bennet approached his favorite daughter, "You made an excellent choice of a gown, Lizzy. I believe your man will think so as well." He kissed his daughter on the cheek, "We shall join you later at the Assembly Hall. Do not allow your Mr. Darcy to go the roundabout way."
"Papa," Elizabeth chastised him with a careful smile. "Mr. Darcy is always a gentlemen, and you shall have no worries this night. Besides, we are to be married soon!"
"Shall I remind him before you go that you have not yet said your vows?"
"Father!" Elizabeth could not help but blush at her father's wary protection.
When Darcy stepped into the room, he was indeed enraptured by Elizabeth's appearance. His eyes could not be prevented from travelling the length of her figure, and he found her more exciting and fashionable than any woman he had ever witnessed at a London ball. The fashions of the country were not quite as embellished with every unnecessary trapping as were those of London society, but thankfully for a man's benefit, the cuts were the same. He went to Elizabeth and took her by the hand. "You are beautiful," was all he said in an exhale of endorsement.
"I take it you know the most expeditious route from Longbourn to Meryton, son?" Mr. Bennet's voice rang out, much to the young couple's mortification.
Darcy nodded mindfully, "Yes, sir."
Elizabeth bundled into a warm cape and secured her hood, and the lovers escaped from the house. Darcy lifted her into the sleigh and made sure she was satisfactorily tucked under the woolen blankets, with her feet perched on a warming brick. He seated himself next to her, and he did his best to avert the grin which threatened to overtake his entire face at the only sight of Elizabeth's person, being rosy cheeks and a joyful pair of eyes, beneath all that winter clothing.
Elizabeth grasped Darcy's arm as the sleigh began to move. There was something about the lack of noise and wheels which made the sleigh seem as though it were floating on air. Elizabeth's heart raced with excitement as she realized this was the first time she had ever been out at night, alone with a man. It was all so thrilling, and every bit as romantic as her mother had said. Had she not already been in love, she could see how the situation could carry a person away.
Darcy and Bingley drove their rigs side by side for a ways, until Darcy finally allowed Bingley and Jane to overtake and pass them. He slowed the horse down to a comfortable pace. Not wanting to take his eyes from the road, he pulled on the reins, and the horse and sleigh came to a halt.
Elizabeth's eyes widened at his daring maneuver. "Are we to take an alternate route, Mr. Darcy?" she inquired, though the racing of her heart made it difficult to speak.
"Simply a momentary pause, Miss Bennet," a hint of a smile on his face at his own declaration. "Before we continue, I wish to make my sentiments known to you...so there is no room for question."
Their bodies inched closer together and Elizabeth could not help but gently quake underneath the blankets as she was held prisoner in his intense gaze. Darcy moved closer still, and tilted his head to one side, his breath warm against her quivering cheek. He kissed her lips ever so tenderly, but with a yearning she was never to forget. When they parted, she thrilled as the ruggedness of his chin nuzzled the softness of her cheek, and he whispered near her ear, "Know that I love you, Elizabeth."
For a very fleeting moment, Elizabeth's mind strangely pictured her sister, and with a small sigh, she wished Jane the same good fortune to have the opportunity to tell Mr. Bingley what she herself was to disclose to her own lover. "I love you, Fitzwilliam. Wholly and honestly, I do love you."
Darcy's face radiated a proud smile which originated from no other part of him, but his heart. Before he pulled away from her, he whispered again, "Let us hope the dining and dancing go swiftly."
Elizabeth was sure at that moment she knew what it was to swoon. She could have discarded the woolen blankets, for the fire she felt emanating from her body. The devilish side of her conscience longed to inform him that she was willing to forego the dining and dancing altogether. However, her modesty prevented any such confession.
Darcy reluctantly turned his attentions back to the road and slapped the reins over the horse, signaling it to continue on their journey. "I fear if we do not make haste to this ball, your father will send out the huntsman," Darcy dared to laugh. Elizabeth took a firm hold of Darcy's arm again, and she placed her head onto his shoulder, her mind absorbed in the love she had always hoped to find, and knowing she must have done something right to have deserved it in tenfold.
There was a buzz to the Assembly Hall when Darcy and Elizabeth finally arrived. The sights of the room and the scents of all their handiwork in decorating, flooded Elizabeth's mind. She was indeed having the time of her life, as the lady of the excellent Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy.
A hush fell over the room as the attendants took their wraps. To all present, the couple appeared as though they had been designed for each other. Never before had anyone realized how much this man and woman paralleled each other in coloring and aire. Although they could be of opposite disposition and were of somewhat different breeding, they flattered each other sincerely.
"You are sporting the cloth, I see," Elizabeth proclaimed in joy upon noticing her token neatly placed within Darcy's coat pocket.
"I am a man of my word, my love," he smiled and placed a hand over the token. "Depend upon it, this shall never be replaced until you favor me with another."
Never before had Elizabeth been watched so by her neighbors. Darcy however, appeared to be growing accustomed to suffering the stares of the neighborhood, for never did he walk into a place where the inhabitants did not stop to gawk. He led Elizabeth to the center of the room, and women came up to Elizabeth to look at her gown, and to have a better look at her man.
On the times in which Darcy was inclined to speak, it was to inform the men who asked Elizabeth for the favor of a dance, that she was to be occupied by himself alone for the entire evening. He, however, gave his consent when her father made his application. The only time Darcy took his eyes from Elizabeth, was to glance over at his friend and Elizabeth's sister, to comfort himself that all was well between them.
The dancing had begun with 'The Ashgrove'. It was a slow and elegant dance, and one in which the steps were particularly intimate with your partner. Elizabeth took every opportunity for playful flirtation with her beau, each time their hands touched and they closely passed one another. Her coquettish mien had always enchanted Darcy, making a simple dance more of a amusement of pursuit, and therefore more to his liking.
Elizabeth smiled impishly, "I do believe this is the first time we have ever danced while under the persuasion of love, Mr. Darcy."
"Indeed," he replied as she passed him again. "I must admit I prefer to dance under this sort of influence. It holds my interest quite commendably." His eyes followed her womanly form and an unconscious blush fell to his cheeks, contrived from thoughts he could never disclose.
"Does it?" she laughed at his game.
"Most definitely," was his response. "You are an exquisite sight. Although I do believe I was mistaken once."
"Only once?" her teasing eyes fixated him as she passed again.
"Shall I tell you when that was, or would you prefer I change the subject...books perhaps, or the weather?"
"I must know it, sir," Elizabeth grasped Darcy's hand as the dance brought her to a turn in front of him. As she passed him again, she stepped up and whispered in his ear, "You have aroused my feminine curiosity."
Darcy practically lost all knowledge of his disclosure at Elizabeth's appealing choice of words. When he realized his awkward silence he forced himself to speak, "I do believe I was mistaken when I proclaimed your figure to be at its best advantage while walking."
"Do you not like to see a woman's figure when walking, sir?"
"Indeed, I do like to see you when walking. But I believe you are at your most..." Darcy's mind raced to find a word suitable for public whisperings "...accomplished, while dancing."
"Oh, Mr. Darcy," she weakened. "How I have longed for you to notice me in such a way."
"I had always noticed, Elizabeth," he sighed. "I simply have never had the perfect opportunity to express it. I do have high hopes for this evening, however."
When their dance ended, Elizabeth's father came to claim his daughter. Darcy took a glass of wine from a passing tray and stood off to the side, his vigilant eye still upon Elizabeth, a satisfied smile on his face. He glanced to his side, to see Bingley standing in much the same manner as he had been at Mirror pond earlier that day. Much to Bingley's undoing, Jane Bennet was dancing with yet another man.
Darcy was in no humor to be cross this evening, and he approached his friend with a compensated smirk and quipped, "Come Bingley, I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner."
"Very comical, Darcy," Bingley huffed, as Darcy continued to chuckle. "As you can see, I have no partner at present."
"Bingley," Darcy gibed. "I have no wish to be cruel, but can you not find it within yourself to tell these blokes no? I know you can do it. Repeat after me...'No, I am sorry but Miss Bennet shall be with me the rest of the evening.'"
"Darcy, please," Bingley pleaded for a little mercy from his friend.
"Very well, then. If you are bound to think ill of my advice, why do you not dance with someone else, or join me in having a glass of wine until you can reclaim your partner?"
Darcy walked to the refreshment table to procure a glass of wine for his friend. When he returned, Bingley was not standing where Darcy had left him, but had obtained the favor of a pretty young townswoman for a dance. Darcy's eyes widened in disbelief, and he took a quick look over in the direction of Elizabeth and her father. Both were not much impressed with Bingley and his new partner, and for that matter, it was evident that neither was Miss Jane Bennet.
Elizabeth looked to Darcy as she came around in the line, her eyes betraying her shock at Bingley's lack of consideration towards her sister. For the first time that evening, Darcy had some trouble meeting Elizabeth's gaze. When the set was finished Mr. Bennet returned Elizabeth to Darcy's side and took his leave.
"Fitzwilliam," Elizabeth pursed her lips in forceful a whisper. "Do you think it prudent for Mr. Bingley to be on every eligible lady's dance card this night?"
"No more so than your sister filling hers with the name of every gentleman she happens to meet."
Both Elizabeth and Darcy glowered at each other, carried away in momentary distress. "I am sorry," Elizabeth declared quickly before the incident was swept out of hand.
"As am I," Darcy whispered. "Elizabeth, I do not see why this should turn into an argument between ourselves. I do not wish to see you or your sister distressed, but this is really none of our concern."
Out of the corner of his eye Darcy could see Bingley approaching them. Darcy was determined that his friend's behavior should not effect his own happiness this evening. He decided it wise to clarify his previous statement with Bingley, and instruct his friend in Elizabeth's concept of civility. "Elizabeth, why not dance with your father again?"
"My father does not mean to dance anymore," she said curtly.
"Miss Bennet," Bingley bowed courteously to Elizabeth, then stood back upright, his notable grin once again upon his face. "I am very glad I took your advice, Darcy."
"What advice was that, Mr. Bingley?" Elizabeth inquired swiftly before Darcy could direct a subliminal glare at his friend.
Sir William Lucas happened to pass by, and Darcy stepped in his path and spoke up. "Sir, will you not do my fianc»e the honor of the next dance?"
"Why certainly! I would be delighted to dance with such a worthy partner as Miss Eliza!" he exclaimed and took Elizabeth by the hand. Elizabeth colored at Darcy's attempts to be rid of her. As Sir William led her to the dance floor, Elizabeth overheard Bingley proclaim to his friend.
"I feel much better Darcy. Your advice was well founded again. Dancing with someone else did improve my spirits, immensely!"
Elizabeth took another look at her fianc», and she caught Darcy's distraught eyes with her own. Darcy found it hard to swallow, as Elizabeth's gaze was consumed with a fire. However, it was not the sort of fire Darcy had wished from her that evening. It was a fire of a kind which Mr. Darcy had witnessed at times long ago, the kind he hoped would never burn between them ever again.
"Bingley!" Darcy hissed low. "I would have a word with you outside." Darcy grasped his friend's elbow and hurriedly directed him towards the door.
Once they were outside, away from prying ears and eyes, Darcy let go of Bingley's arm and Bingley tugged on the hem of his coat to straighten it. "I say, Darcy! Your attitude has sure taken a turn."
"Good god, Bingley! Do you not know what is afoot?"
"Bingley, why must you take my advice so literally at times? When I told you to dance with someone else, I meant with Elizabeth, or Kitty..." Darcy's eyes widened in mortification and he began to fume "...or Mrs. Bennet, for heaven's sake! Not every maiden daughter from here to the continent!"
"Darcy, I am perfectly willing to take consequence for my actions. Jane will not reproach me."
"Perhaps not...but Elizabeth surely will! Except that I shall suffer as well!" Darcy began to pace, a hand running through his hair as he contemplated an effectual escape to this mess. "Bingley, I shall make one last suggestion to you. Go back inside and dance with no one else but your fianc»e."
Bingley shook his head in wonder of his friends distress, and went back into the Assembly Hall, leaving poor Darcy standing out on the stoop, kicking at the snow. Perhaps Elizabeth would realize that his interference was all a misunderstanding. He had only tried to be helpful for Elizabeth's sake, but it seemed as if his best intentions at times went amiss.
He began to feel a chill, and he turned around and entered the hall. The last dance of the evening had ended with a call for supper. Darcy sought out Elizabeth, who was standing with her sister and Bingley. He was relieved to see Jane take Bingley's arm as they left for the dining room. Darcy could not make out Elizabeth's countenance, although he realized the playful features of the woman he had danced with earlier that evening, were no longer present. Darcy took to his usual defense and said nothing as he held out his arm for Elizabeth. She obliged him, took his arm and they silently went to find their seats.
Darcy's hopes for an idyllic evening were quickly becoming dashed, as Elizabeth did her best to avoid conversation with him at the dining table. Once again Darcy's interference into the lives of others had only caused grief between he and this woman he loved. Once again Elizabeth's willingness to think Darcy's interference officious only lent to the perpetuation of the strife.
They both put up a good front as partygoers around them spoke of the couple's happiness, and the bliss of their impending union. Every so often Elizabeth would turn to Darcy, and their eyes would meet. For the moment it seemed as if peace would be restored, then one or the other would remember their flitting vexation and turn away. There was nothing more down heartening than being in love and being snowballed into a silly argument. After a while Darcy felt frustrated and Elizabeth felt ashamed, and neither of them could remember exactly what they had eaten, or if it had any taste to it at all.
Two by two, young lovers began to leave the Assembly Hall and make haste for their sleighs, while the elder folk remained behind to continue their conversations. Bingley approached his friend. "Well, we are on our way. Shall we meet up later?" he inquired of Darcy.
"I think not, Bingley. There are things Elizabeth and I should discuss. Do have an enjoyable time," Darcy replied trying to give the impression of a smile, then allowing it to disappear from his features when Elizabeth turned to cast a penitent eye in his direction.
Elizabeth's heart ached as she turned back away. She felt culpable for harboring ill feelings towards her fianc», and that perhaps again she had accused him falsely. She had been angry thinking that Darcy would interfere so heartlessly in her sister's life more than once. However, here were Jane and Mr. Bingley, their feelings for each other apparently restored or at least momentarily mended.
Elizabeth asked herself why she and Darcy could not be more like Jane and Bingley. Willing to forgive and forget any vexation they suffered, for the sake of harmony and peace. All the same, there was something she loved about her obstinate young man, and there was something Darcy loved about his hard-headed young woman.
"Would you care to go, Miss Bennet?" Darcy inquired a few minutes later.
"Yes, Mr. Darcy. I would," Elizabeth replied.
They said their good byes around the room and moved off into the foyer where their winter coats awaited. Silently Elizabeth reached out to assist Darcy with the buttons of his coat. She lifted her eyes to his, and they gazed at each other with every appearance of wishing to make amends, but somehow neither could make themselves speak. Darcy reached out and lifted the hood of Elizabeth's cloak upon her head, and as he lowered his hand, he tentatively allowed his fingertips to brush against her cheek.
It seemed an eternity as they waited for the attendant to bring around the sleigh. Elizabeth simply could not allow herself to be angry any longer, "Fitzwilliam, we must not argue."
"I do not wish to argue, Elizabeth...but we do appear to be very good at it," Darcy voiced his exasperated view.
"Has it not occurred to you that we only argue when other's feelings are at stake?"
"It has," he admitted, then turned towards her. "Elizabeth, are we be angry with each other every time our friends have troubles of their own?"
"No, of course not," she answered him. "I was only angry with your propensity to give unsound advice."
"My propensity to...?" Darcy's face reddened in indignation. "Elizabeth, I did not instruct Bingley to dance with every lurking mother's daughter who happens to attend these country assemblies of yours."
Elizabeth's eyes widened, "You are beginning to sound much like your contemptuous self! Very much like the first time I ever laid eyes on you...at one of my country assemblies, Mr. Darcy! Are you to always turn down your nose in this society?"
Darcy let out a growl at his lack of sense, and Elizabeth's quick censure, "Elizabeth."
"I can just hear your refined conversations with the superior Bingley sisters after that evening. I am sure you all proclaimed me some sort of gold digger!"
"No, I do not believe that anyone called you that!" Darcy was at the end of his patience.
The sleigh arrived and Darcy grasped Elizabeth's arm and assisted her into her seat. He bolted around to the other side and jumped in, only to see that Elizabeth had gotten back out and had obstinately begun to walk down the lane, slipping and sliding on the ice in her dainty slippers.
Darcy whistled for the horse to move forward and he tried to hold the sleigh parallel to Elizabeth's figure as she determinedly walked on. "Elizabeth, come into the sleigh," he insisted.
Elizabeth's arms flapped about in the air as she tried to maintain her balance on the icy terrain. "I prefer to walk, thank you."
"Elizabeth!" Darcy attempted to keep his temper in check. "Get into this sleigh at once!"
"No, I certainly shall not!"
Darcy could feel his blood boil right down to the tips of his fingers as he kept the sleigh beside her. "Elizabeth, if you do not get your little..." he took in an angered breath "...headstrong pout into this sleigh, I shall get out and PUT you in it."
Elizabeth stopped abruptly and turned towards him. "I should like to see you TRY it, Mr. Darcy!"
Darcy stopped the sleigh as abruptly as Elizabeth had stopped walking. "I AM a man of my word, Miss Bennet." Neither of them moved, each as determined, waiting to see what the other would do.
Elizabeth's face creased into a furious pout as Darcy made his move to secure her back into the sleigh. Before he got to her, a small patch of snow from the roof of the Assembly hall slid onto Elizabeth's head, causing her to lose her footing on the ice and sit down hard upon it. She huffed in annoyance and brushed the snow from her cloak as Darcy scrambled out of the sleigh and lifted her off the ground, holding her securely in his arms. She wrapped her arms around his neck and in shock asked, "Are you not to inquire if I am injured?"
"Are you injured?" he knitted his brows.
"No!" she declared, her pout becoming more pronounced, and a sob threatening to escape her lips.
A low chortle built up in Darcy's chest as he looked at her darling face. He began to laugh out loud, thinking of the humor of Elizabeth's bruised spirit, serving to match his own. Darcy's laughter was infectious and Elizabeth could not help but giggle, although she managed to keep the pout as well. As soon as he could catch his breath, he placed her gently into the sleigh, and she moved to his side as he got in. He scooped up the reins, and the sleigh began to move as their merry laughter rang out into the night.
A mile down the road Elizabeth turned to Darcy, "I would not blame you if you were to take me straight home, and never speak to me again. What a nonsensical girl!"
Darcy nodded his agreement, then pulled the reins to the right, causing the horse and sleigh to turn off the main road. They traveled up a hill which overlooked Meryton, and when Darcy caught a good view of the lights below, he stopped the sleigh.
"You do realize," Darcy turned towards her, "that I will not be able to return you once we are married. I will be stuck with you forever!" Elizabeth's eyes widened in disbelief, but Darcy placed his hand softly against her cheek and shook his head slowly with a jesting grin. "What shall I do with you? Are you to break my heart at every turn?"
Darcy turned his face away from her, and looked down at the little village. He sighed, and Elizabeth wondered at his pert comments. "Have you had many broken hearts, Mr. Darcy?" she inquired impishly, although deep down in her own heart she truly desired to know. "If I did break your heart, I am sure I must not have been the first."
Elizabeth awaited Darcy's answer, however there was nothing but odious silence. She cast her eyes down, as she feared she would soon discover that he had loved another before herself.
"You were the first, the last...and every broken heart in between," he whispered, although he dared not look at her. "There is more room in a broken heart, I think. I dared not let anyone into mine, before there was you. I never really believed in love before, but it appears with you I have no choice in the matter. I cannot keep a coherent thought long enough to question it."
A smile lit up Elizabeth's face, although she tried to hide any resemblance of triumph at his disclosure. "Well, I shall not break your heart any more, Fitzwilliam."
"I know you will not...although if you do I shall surely return you to your father," he grinned.
Elizabeth's playful smile turned back to a frown as she realized that there were things she would miss about the only home she had ever known. As much as she wanted to be Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy, and live at Pemberley, she felt at times as if Derbyshire were another country. "I do think I shall miss him," she sighed.
"I know it must seem difficult to leave, Elizabeth." Darcy reached inside his winter coat and found the cloth she had stitched for him. He pulled it out and placed it in her hand, and she used it to dab at her eyes. "Your family and friends are correct though. What a life we shall have together. There are times I wish I could see how it will all turn out. Then there are times in which I am glad I will not know until it happens...such as the times we argue."
Elizabeth smiled again as she folded the cloth and gave it back to him. The night air was growing colder, and she pulled the woolen blanket over her shoulders. "I should not want to know any of it, until it happens. Although I wonder at Jane and Mr. Bingley."
Darcy playfully shook his head at his fianc»e's insistence to be informed of the hearts of others. "I must get you back home. I would not want a sniffling bride."
Bingley entered the drawing room at Netherfield, scooping the hat off of his head and tugging on his gloves. "Darcy!" he exclaimed at seeing his friend sitting on a chair reading a book. "What are you doing here so early?"
"You must be in love, Bingley...or your time piece stopped hours ago." Darcy eyed his friend.
"I am in love, Darcy," Bingley grinned. "It appears also as if Miss Jane Bennet is in love with me, for she told me so on several occasions this night." Bingley sat down on a chair, his dreamlike gaze far in the distance. "A woman," he continued "a woman need to be told often of your love for her. She needs your assurances that she will be foremost in your heart forever."
"Indeed," commented Darcy. "Much the same as a man needs to know of a woman's heart."
"How have you become such an authority on the feelings of a man, Darcy? I thought you sought to avoid those weaknesses?"
"Not at all, Bingley," Darcy laughed. "I simply asked my own heart...and it answered me."
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