The Walk to Oakham Mount
Elizabeth woke slowly. The sun was just clearing the tree outside her bedroom window and creeping to the sill. She stretched luxuriously, feeling the sleep roll from her body. She felt extremely well this morning. She pulled the covers up to her neck and murmured to herself, her thoughts, half dreams, searching back for the source of her feeling of well being. "Mr. Darcy!" The words, audible, escaped Elizabeth's lips before she could stop them. Yesterday, yesterday… he had asked her, again, to be his wife. The moment crystallized before her with startling clarity and a physical thrill ran through her. Her heart beat faster and she rolled onto her side, bringing her knees up to her chest and hugging herself. She lay in bed, eyes closed, reliving each moment of yesterday.
It hardly seemed real. She had hoped for so long. She had despaired for so long. And today he would come to her as the man she would marry. Elizabeth brought her hand to her face and touched her cheek. He had touched it so before they parted and he had kissed her hands. Her fingers moved to her lips. He had not kissed her. She had been grateful. Yesterday, her confusion had been almost as great as her joy. Today, she wondered what his lips would feel like against hers. She blushed warmly against the coolness of her sheets. To be having such thoughts and on the first day of her engagement.
The church bell rang in the distance and Elizabeth sat bolt upright. So late. He would be here soon with Jane's future husband. Elizabeth closed her eyes briefly and sighed. They would be so happy. She was so happy. She could barely contain herself.
Elizabeth heard her mother's querulous voice calling outside her door and slid from her bed.
Not three miles away, Fitzwilliam Darcy dressed. He had slept little. Every time he had closed his eyes, Elizabeth Bennet's face appeared before him; each time a different aspect. He saw her eyes downcast as she heard his declaration and then shyly meeting his to declare herself. He saw her eyes shine as he named her dearest and called her Elizabeth for the first time. He could not slow his heartbeat as the knowledge that she had accepted him ran through his mind again and again.
He had been bursting with news on the ride back to Netherfield with Charles Bingley, but had not told his friend. For some reason he did not quite understand, he wanted to cherish the knowledge in his heart for a day before sharing it with anyone. He wanted one day when Elizabeth was his alone for, as soon as their engagement was known, all of Meryton would be privy to it.
Charles was already at breakfast when he arrived and looked up at him with his usually jovial grin, these days made broader by his engagement to Jane Bennet. "I am riding over to Longbourn this morning, Darcy, but you need not come if you would rather not."
Darcy gazed at his friend, hardly crediting that Charles Bingley, indeed the footman serving breakfast, could not hear the sound of Elizabeth's name singing in his veins. He cleared his throat. "Bingley, I ...." Charles Bingley looked up from his breakfast and Darcy walked to the window and looked out. He spoke with his back to the room. "Charles, I have asked Elizabeth Bennet to be my wife and . . . she has agreed." He turned around to see his friend staring at him, stunned. "Bingley?"
Charles Bingley shook his head and leapt from his chair. He advanced on his friend, took his hand and shook it warmly. "Well done, Darcy. Jane and I have spoken of this but she was convinced that it was impossible. I have long suspected a partiality on your side, but this is so sudden. How, pray, could this have happened under our very noses?"
Darcy smiled at his friend's exuberance and accepted his congratulations, but declined to discuss the progress of his courtship. "It is a long story, Bingley. One day soon, you will have the whole of it. Let me just say that it was the work of many months to undo Miss Elizabeth Bennet's first impression of me and to win her good opinion. My love for her bloomed much more quickly.
"But, Bingley. I have not yet asked her father and we have told no one. I would ask that you not share this information with anyone just yet."
"Of course, Darcy. Just as you wish. But I may speak to Jane, may I not?"
"Good gracious!" cried Mrs. Bennet, as she stood at a window, "if that disagreeable Mr. Darcy is not coming here again with our dear Bingley! What shall we do with him? Lizzy, you must walk out with him again, that he may not be in Bingley's way.
Lizzy looked speakingly at Jane, sharing with her dearest sister, the delight and the nervousness she felt at Darcy's arrival. Jane squeezed her sister's hand and held it as the gentlemen entered the room.
As soon as they entered, Bingley looked at Elizabeth so expressively, and shook hands with such warmth as left no doubt of his good information; and he soon afterwards said aloud, "Mrs. Bennet, have you no more lanes hereabouts in which Lizzy may lose her way again to-day?"
Elizabeth heard very little of this. The moment Darcy entered the drawing room, her eyes were drawn to his. She was ridiculously fearful that he might have changed his mind; that a night's contemplation had convinced him he did not love her. He met her gaze and his look told her that nothing had changed since he had left her the previous evening. She smiled in relief and her eyes danced with the happiness that welled up in her.
Barely heeding Kitty's request to stay at home and her mother's apologies that she should be forced into the company of this disagreeable man, Elizabeth gathered her shawl and bonnet and joined Jane, Bingley, and Darcy at the front door. Soon they were on their way toward Oakham Mount.
As had happened on the previous day, Jane and Bingley lagged behind, preferring to stop and talk at intervals. Elizabeth could hear Jane's laughter grow more and more distant as she and Darcy walked on toward their destination. For the moment they were alone together. Elizabeth found herself unaccountably tongue-tied. She had imagined, as she lay in bed this morning, that she and Mr. Darcy would suddenly be at ease in each other's company. This was not the fact. She wondered that she had ever thought it possible. And yet, she was happy to be with him, even in silence. Impulsively, she took his arm.
Darcy slowed his step and covered her hand with his. "Elizabeth."
Her heart beat faster at the sound of his voice and she looked up at him.
"Tonight, I will speak to your father." It was almost a question.
"Oh! My father…" Until this moment, it had not occurred to Elizabeth that her father had no idea how she felt about Mr. Darcy.
Darcy stopped and turned to her. "Do you wish me not to speak to him, Elizabeth?" His eyes looked piercingly into hers and his forehead creased.
"Oh, no. I do. I do wish you to speak to him. It is just… I have never… Oh!" She shook her head in frustration and her bonnet fell back, dangling by its ribbons. "He does not know how I feel. He will be very surprised. You must not be upset at his reaction."
"But he will consent?" Darcy's agitated countenance bespoke a growing apprehension.
Elizabeth took his hand boldly in hers and traced the outline of his glove, keeping her eyes on his hand. "He will consent."
Darcy's hand grasped hers reflexively and she looked up into his face. His expression had relaxed. His brow had smoothed and he was gazing at her as she had seen him yesterday and, again, last night, in her dream. He looked as if he would speak and she longed to reach up and touch his cheek, but instead she turned to take his arm and continue their walk.
"I will speak to my mother, Mr. Darcy." She heard him chuckle, a sound very unfamiliar to her ear.
"Yes, perhaps that will be best…" He stopped again and then drew her off the path to a fallen log. He motioned for her to sit and then sat beside here, removing his hat and gloves. "It is a strenuous walk. Let us rest for a moment."
She smiled at him and untied the ribbon holding her bonnet around her neck. She looked down at her hands, determining to remove her gloves when she heard him clear his throat.
"Elizabeth, can you not call me something beside 'Mr. Darcy'? It is so formal."
"What shall I call you sir?"
"My name is Fitzwilliam."
Elizabeth blushed as the knowledge that this was the most intimate moment they had yet spent swept through her; as she realized that one day, one day soon, Fitzwilliam Darcy would be her husband. She looked directly into his eyes and whispered his name, "Fitzwilliam."
Darcy caught his breath. The absolute trust in her dark eyes, the intimacy of the whispered name, the very fact that she was there beside him, threw him into a state of profound longing. She was so close to him, he could smell the soapy fragrance of her skin. He yearned to reach out and touch that velvety spot right along her cheekbone, to run his fingers to her neck and feel its softness. He gave a slight shudder as he recalled himself and would have stood to continue their walk.
Elizabeth's hand was on his arm. She repeated his name, "Fitzwilliam?"
"Yes, Elizabeth." His voice was a hoarse whisper.
She leaned toward him and raised her hand to his face. He caught it in his own and held her palm against his cheek. Then he brought it to his lips and, tenderly, kissed it. She gave a tiny gasp and, when he released her hand, lowered it to his lapel and let it rest against his chest. He feared that she would discover the mad beating of his heart.
She held him in her gaze. Refusing to look down, to look away, to release him from her thrall. Tentatively, he reached out toward the cheekbone that so attracted him and, gently, stroked it with his thumb.
She leaned into his caress and there was nothing for it but to continue until his thumb had traveled to her splendid jaw line and his fingers settled lightly the back of her neck.
Elizabeth held very still so as not to give away her own wildly beating heart. But her eyes invited him to continue and she pressed her lips together, wondering how it would feel to be kissed, anxious for the touch of his lips against hers.
Darcy was lost. He had not intended this. He had intended this, but was not prepared for it. He had been contemplating the very great pleasure of kissing Miss Elizabeth Bennet for many months now. Indeed, there had been vast expanses of waking and sleeping time given over to the exercise. Now she was here, so close, her eyes locked on his, her lips just a movement away, and he was afraid.
Darcy was certain that Elizabeth Bennet had never been kissed or at least never been kissed by a man who loved her. He was afraid she would not know what to expect and would be frightened by the contact. He wished to approach her slowly, to woo her until the moment was right, to make their first kiss one she would cherish and wish to repeat often. And he was afraid that the kiss might invoke the passion he had been holding in check for many months. It was vitally important that Elizabeth feel safe with him. As much as he wanted to take her in his arms, he wanted to protect her, even from himself.
Elizabeth whispered his name again and there was nothing he could do. Slowly and gently he brought his mouth to hers and kissed her. The kiss was tentative and tender. His hand on her neck applied no pressure, but lightly stroked the tendrils of hair escaping the pins. His lips barely brushed hers before he pulled back.
He looked long into her eyes. There was no fear, no revulsion. He saw only joy; joy and the dawning of desire. Her cheeks were flushed and a vein throbbed softly at her temple. She lifted her face to him with obvious intent and he kissed her again.
The second kiss was longer and less tentative although the tenderness remained. He realized that, this time, Elizabeth was not the passive receptor of his kiss. He felt her lips against his like silk sliding over his skin. He cradled the back of her head with his hand and lost himself in the sensation of her mouth on his. Her hands, until now resting gently on his chest, grasped his lapels and urged him toward her. Darcy felt passion flare within in him and broke away.
"Elizabeth…" He stopped and studied her face, wondering if she understood.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath and then, slowly, opened them. She was bewildered. "What is it? " She stopped, unable to ask him if she had done something wrong, but the question was in her eyes.
Darcy answered it. "Elizabeth… My love… I do not wish to frighten you."
"Oh!" Elizabeth's eyes widened, as she suddenly comprehended what he was trying to tell her. "Oh." She blushed but did not look away, an act that curiously pleased her fiancé. "I beg of you, do not make yourself uneasy."
She moved toward him and leaned trustingly against him. His arms went around her instinctively and he drew her closer until her head rested on his chest and his lips were against her hair.
"I will never let anything hurt you, Elizabeth."
She snuggled against him and heaved a contented sigh. "I know." They embraced for many minutes, each heart returning to its normal rhythm and, somewhere in that time, both hearts began to beat together.
A little breeze blew up and Elizabeth shivered in Darcy's embrace. He held her tightly for a moment and then spoke. "Perhaps we should continue our walk. I think you will get chilled sitting outdoors in this weather."
She gave a small grimace at the necessity of moving from such a comfortable position, but graciously took his extended hand and allowed him to help her to her feet.
Once they had gained the path, Darcy offered her his arm. She took it with much more ease than she had a half-hour before. She felt as though she belonged at his side, and tucked her hand comfortably in the crook of his arm, staying close enough to him so that he could feel her skirt brush against his boots as they walked. Darcy gazed into the distance with a small smile.
At once it seemed as if they were talking easily. Elizabeth did not yet feel comfortable enough to tease Darcy, but was able to talk about her family and his. Together, they planned how he would apply to her father and laughed lightly at Elizabeth's anticipation of her mother's response. They spoke of Darcy's sister and Darcy told her how much he hoped that she would love Georgiana as he did. Elizabeth was able to assure him that she had made a good beginning.
It seemed as though they had hardly resumed their walk when then found themselves at the top of Oakham mount. Meryton spread out before them. Darcy admired the view and commented on the closeness of the little town.
Elizabeth was silent and when Darcy glanced at her, he found her brows knitted together in a frown.
"Elizabeth? Is something troubling you?"
"As soon as I tell mama, all of Meryton will know of our engagement. Oh. How I wish we could keep it to ourselves for just a while longer."
When she looked up at Darcy, she saw he was smiling. "Does something amuse you Mr. Darcy?"
"Yes it does, Miss Bennet." He looked directly at her and smiled into her eyes. "I did not tell Bingley of our engagement until breakfast this morning because I did not want to share it with anyone else. Are we not a pair?"
Her eyes shone with appreciation that he felt as she did and she slipped her hand into his. "I suppose," she grinned, "that a secret engagement would not be practical."
"No." Darcy stopped to stroke away a stray strand of hair blown across her face by the breeze. "Not if we intend it to lead to marriage."
"I most certainly do desire that, Mr. Darcy."
"Indeed, Miss Bennet? As do I."
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