Mr. Darcy slipped his arm from Elizabeth's and walked a little way ahead of her. "Was it here, Elizabeth?" he asked. Then he stepped a few more paces beyond. "Or here? Do you remember?"
Elizabeth smiled. "I think we were both rather too busy to notice our exact location," she said, with laughter in her voice.
Darcy smiled in return. "Yes, but I wish we could remember, in any case. I would put up a sort of monument, a plaque perhaps -- 'Here Fitzwilliam Darcy's happiness began, with his acceptance by Miss Elizabeth Bennet.' Perhaps a statue of you would be most appropriate."
Elizabeth's laugh broke free. "Or, since these paths will one day go to Mr. Collins, a statue of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. It could serve a double purpose: it would be your monument, and his shrine." She stepped closer to him, and her features sobered. "But, my dear Mr. Darcy, I think we need no plaques or monuments to remember our happiness. Shall I put up a statue of you at Pemberley, where you met my aunt and uncle and me on the grounds? No; because you are what pleases me, not the place. And soon enough I will always have you near." Her fine eyes twinkled. "Besides, those were some of the most uncomfortable minutes of my life. I may owe that location no little debt of gratitude, but I would be most thankful if I never saw the blasted spot again."
Darcy laughed and linked his arm with hers, and they walked on, without knowing in which direction.
"And then of course you will meet the Earl of Dunsbridge and his wife at the Chatterton ball, and oh! my dear Lizzy, you must have them to Pemberley. Sir William Lucas says they are the very rulers of Society, and you must entertain with the best! Now after that is the Osborne ball--"
"Mother, Mr. Darcy and I will manage quite well," Elizabeth said tightly. "Besides, I am not entirely certain we shall go to Town the first season we are married. I might discuss this with my fiancÚ first, before you plan everything for me."
"Not go to town! My dear Lizzy, whatever could you mean! Of course Mr. Darcy will take you to London --"
At this moment, the maid announced the arrival of the gentleman himself, and Elizabeth hastened to greet him.
"He will probably want to take you out on a walk," Mrs. Bennet called after her, "so ask him and see how wrong you are!"
Mr. Darcy caught the last part of this. "You wrong, my dear Miss Bennet?" he asked, bowing to kiss her outstretched hands. "Impossible!" He grinned up at her.
"Not entirely impossible," she said with a strained smile, and glanced back at the open drawing room door. "It is a lovely day for November -- would you care to walk in the grounds?"
"As you wish, madam." She procured her cloak and hat, and they left the house.
As was their custom, they waited until the third bend in the Longbourn path before exchanging a proper greeting.
"Now, Elizabeth, what are you so very wrong about?" Darcy inquired after he had regained his breath.
She took his arm and they continued along the path. "Whether I am wrong or not depends on you, sir. Do you intend to go to Town this winter?"
"No, I do not," he said slowly. "I had thought we would stay at Pemberley. Do you wish to go?"
Elizabeth shook her head. "I rather wished time to accustom myself to being the mistress of Pemberley -- and your wife -- before we faced anyone besides ourselves and Georgiana."
"Then you shall have it, for I need no other society," he replied, and tightened her arm in his.
They walked on in silence. It was indeed a lovely day for November: the bright sun polished the bare trees to silver, and the wind toyed playfully with the ribbons on Elizabeth's bonnet and Darcy's fine top hat. After several attempts, it finally tipped the hat off his head and some way down the path. Darcy was forced to release his betrothed and subject himself to the performance of several graceless maneuvers before executing a successful capture of the wayward topper.
He returned to her with an abashed twinkle in his eye, expecting a saucy smile or teasing comment about the highly undignified situations in which his hat had placed him. But Elizabeth hadn't even been watching him; she gazed unseeingly at the ground, lost in some reverie that, by her face, was neither agreeable nor amusing.
"Is everything all right?" he said gently.
She looked up, and her mouth immediately widened into a friendly smile. "Of course. Come, let's move on to--"
"Elizabeth." The gravity in his tone halted her sudden tide of words. "You did not look as if everything satisfied you."
"What isn't to satisfy me, Mr. Darcy? The loss of your hat bespeaks a worrisome inability to control your apparel, but I dare say you will conquer that in time -- perhaps with a wife's instruction." Her voice was bright, but the smile still did not reach her eyes.
"Elizabeth." He took her hands, preventing her further progress away from him. "Please, tell me what is the matter." She would not meet his look. "Please."
She sighed. "My mother was being particularly exasperating. That is all."
"And Jane is away to town, so I bear the burden of her excessive spirits alone..."
He heard her words fade away but did not speak.
"And then you came, and I am not in the proper mood for performance," Elizabeth finished desperately. She pulled her hands away. "I'm sorry, Mr. Darcy."
"Performance, Elizabeth?" he said surprisedly. "What are you talking about?"
She brushed an angry tear away. "An evening at Rosings, when I played the piano for you and Colonel Fitzwilliam -- you said that neither of us perform to strangers. By its converse, we both of us perform to friends; and I cannot keep my end of the performance today, but can only be depressing and dull, which makes neither you nor I happy, but it is all I can do... Forgive me."
He said nothing, but drew her into a long, close embrace, not kissing but comforting, granting absolution for any and all such sins. They stood together in the Longbourn path for some minutes before Darcy stepped back to look at her.
"You never need to perform for me," he said tenderly, "for I will love you whether you make me laugh or curse, cry or smile -- you've made me do all of that already, you know -- and I will love you just as well if you make me do nothing at all. By all means be quiet; God knows I've had my share of days when I could say nothing in your presence. And Elizabeth," he finished with a smile, "I think our relationship has undergone enough trials, that it will be able to stand a little dullness."
She smiled back and kissed him. "That's true enough."
"Then," Darcy proclaimed as he slipped her arm through his, "let us go forth into wedded life -- boring!"
But as they continued along the path, the laughter that followed them seemed a far more likely indication of their future state of matrimony.
Elizabeth waited quietly in her bedroom at Netherfield. She and Darcy--Darcy, her husband--would journey to Pemberley in the morning, but it was agreed that for the first night, the two sets of newlyweds would reside at Netherfield. The other members of the Darcy and Bingley families, including Georgiana, Miss Bingley, and the Hursts, had taken residence at Longbourn, in Jane and Elizabeth's newly vacated rooms. Elizabeth could envision Miss Bingley's indignation at receiving a room that looked back into the forest rather than out across the park, and normally she would have laughed at her mental picture. But right now, she was far too nervous to laugh--and for Elizabeth Bennet Darcy, that was a desperate state.
In a few moments, Mr. Darcy would join her. She felt, as always, anticipation at seeing him; but her feeling tonight was both spiced with energy and leavened with shyness. What would he expect of her? How should she greet him? She glanced down at her elegantly cut cream silk nightgown--it had seemed to cover much more skin at the dressmaker's. Jane had an identical one, in light blue. Was she experiencing this kind of turmoil? Probably not. She would simply trust Mr. Bingley with however he might care to spend their wedding night.
Elizabeth frowned. She did trust Mr. Darcy that way, she did! The person she no longer trusted was ... herself, she realized. Marriage--being a Darcy--was a brave new world, and she was not quite sure of her own navigation.
But she could still be sure of who she was, she thought: she was still Elizabeth Bennet. Her name and her status were changed, but she was not, and Mr. Darcy was not. And at no time since reaching their understanding on the Longbourn path had one ever failed to please the other. Tonight would surely be no different.
Still, her questions and nervousness remained. Would a smile be appropriate as a greeting? An embrace? A kiss? ...
She looked up from her reverie at the sound of a door closing. It was Mr. Darcy, in a robe and loose trousers. She smiled tensely and arose from the bed.
"Mr. Darcy," she said unsteadily.
"Mrs. Darcy," he said, returning the smile--without the tension. "Do you like your new name?"
"Yes, of course," she replied, surprised.
"Hmm," he said. "I was wondering earlier if you were not a believer in the 'Rose by any other name' theory, and if I had been named something less euphonious, I might have been rejected. Jeremiah Squimmdale, perhaps, or Carlton Hogshead." His brevity won a real smile from her, as had been his intent.
"Sir," she said mock-seriously, "I should have accepted you at any name--even William Collins."
He groaned. "My dear, if I were William Collins, I should be forced to do myself a harm." This time his sally earned a full-fledged laugh.
"You could be Fitzwilliam Fitzwilliam, then, like your poor cousin--"
"He'd never forgive me for telling you if he knew."
"--or Phillip Phillips, like mine."
"I decline on both counts, thank you."
"Or you could remain Fitzwilliam Darcy," Elizabeth said slowly, "who understands me well enough to make me laugh and forget my nervousness..."
He crossed the room to stand in front of her. "I think that's the best option, don't you agree?"
She nodded. "...And who I love, with all my heart."
"Definitely the best option, then." He drew a breath.
"Elizabeth, I wanted to tell you something..." He paced restlessly, a few steps away, a few steps back, before beginning to speak. She waited. "Whenever we're together like this--well, not quite like this--" he shot her a smile--"but whenever we're together, and you're being impertinent, and beautiful, and affectionate, and I'm learning to be all those things, or at least enjoying your being all those things..." He paused again. "At these times, I always remember upon how little it all hangs. If you had persuaded your aunt and uncle to take you to the Lakes rather than Pemberley. If I had decided I didn't need to come back to Derbyshire before the rest of my party. If I had taken a different route from the stables."
"If we stayed longer in the house with Mrs. Reynolds," Elizabeth said softly, remembering. "If we hadn't stopped outside, to look back at the view."
"Yes, exactly. If Aunt de Bourgh had behaved against type and decided it was none of her business who I married." He smiled again and took her hands. "We came so close to missing it, dearest Elizabeth, this miraculous happiness--for me it is a miracle, indeed."
He lifted her hand to his mouth and kissed the palm.
"Darcy," she said, immeasurably touched. She moved her hand to his cheek. "For me too, I promise you. And I thank you for your words." Her eyes gazed into his. "I was thinking earlier, too... Our feelings are not all that have changed from our first acquaintance; our characters have as well, for the better. Do you know, though I would not again repeat the pain in our courtship, I cannot regret its path."
Darcy grinned. "Of course not," he said. "You didn't have to propose twice." She slapped him lightly on the cheek. "But though I refuse to believe you less than perfection at any time, I would agree. Without your reproof, I would not be worthy to be here with you; I would still be the Darcy who proposed the first time, and I hope that man has disappeared forever, Elizabeth."
"Now, sir," she said teasingly, "we discussed this earlier. What's my proper name?"
"Oh yes, pardon me." He swept a bow. "Dearest, loveliest Elizabeth."
"And you are Darcy, my love." She smiled at how his eyes blazed up at the name, and stepped closer to him. "Darcy, my love," she repeated, as she linked her arms around his neck. "Darcy, my l--" she said, and then his lips descended upon hers.
© 1997 Copyright held by the author.