An Early Escape

By Valerie

A fortnight had passed since the engagement of Mr. Darcy and Miss Elizabeth Bennet. The happiness of both had risen tremendously on account of this event. Even though both immensely enjoyed the company of one another, they had something to wish for in the company of others. Lizzy's mother, Meryton relations, and some of her connections could not help being vulgar, stupid, and often obnoxious. Lizzy tried to guard her fiancé from their ridiculous exhibitions. Being surrounded in almost all directions she found this task almost impossible and very taxing on her present bliss. Therefor the suggestion of a trip to town was welcomed heartily.

The Bennet family was sitting around the breakfast table. Among them were two welcome guests, Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy. One of the pairs of lovers were in a quiet tête-à-tête. The other, though they communicated nothing verbally, spoke much through their eyes. This morning they were sharing in a private joke. None of the lovers were attending to the conversation of the others in the room.

"Well...Lizzy, Jane, I suppose you both have long been desiring a trip to London to procure your trousseaus. As Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley both plan on traveling there themselves to attend business matters, I find it most convenient, and think that maybe the party would like to leave together." This caught the attention of the whole table. "The Gardiners have already issued an invitation, and I believe that they would be very happy to have you, as I am sure neither Mr. Bingley nor Mr. Darcy are quite ready to have women intruding into their private homes, as yet."

"Mr. Bennet, I find that this is a most agreeable plan, and if our fair companions consent we may leave on the morrow, as planned," Bingley happily exclaimed.

"I am sure we will be ready in plenty of time, Bingley. Will we not, girls/? Oh, my dear Mr. Bennet I do thing you are the most agreeable husband in all of England to surprise us all with this marvelous trip."

Lizzy felt a little queasy inside. She had felt delighted at the idea of an early escape from some of her more irritating relations. And now the thought dawned on her that her mother meant to travel to London with them. Oh, it was too much!

"And yet I might not be so agreeable after all, dear." Mr. Bennet said, "Mary, do you wish to travel to London?"

"I would find no pleasure there, Papa. As you well know."

"I thought as much. Then the only members of this family who will be traveling are Jane, Lizzy, and Kitty." At least four members of the present party looked visibly relieved.

"Mr. Bennet, what can you mean?" exclaimed his wife.

Lizzy and Jane sensing one of their mother's infamous spectacles coming on quickly made the suggestion of a walk, and all four made their leave.

"Mr. Bennet, what can you meant intending to send my girls to London without me! How do you expect them to find the best wedding clothes, pray. Jane and Lizzy would not know what to do without me."

"My dear, I am sure that their Aunt Gardiner will help them in any way that they need."

"Their aunt! What is an aunt to their own mother, pray. Besides Mrs. Gardiner could not help my girls find the kind of clothing suited for their new positions. They are to be the mistresses of great estates and hold much distinction. She is only married to a tradesman! Just think of all that they will have. The carriages, the clothes, the jewels, the pin money. They will have the management of so many servants - so many responsibilities. But I have perfect confidence in them, both such capable girls. And you so mean as to not consent to let me go to London. For I know that they will greatly need my assistance. And you know - it may be many months before I see Lizzy again. She will have little time to spare from her duties at Pemberley, and you know that I don't have the nerves to travel to her. Oh, Mr. Bennet!"

"My dear wife. I am sure that our daughters, who are so prepared to be mistresses of such great estates as Pemberley and Netherfield, are quite capable of purchasing their own wedding cloths. I am quite resolved. You, Mary, and I will stay at Longbourn while Jane, Lizzy, and Kitty visit in town. You know, we wouldn't want to overburden the Gardiners with all of the Bennets."

"You are quite mistaken in the Gardiners capabilities, I am sure. They are well enough off, and very fashionable people. The whole of our family would be not be over taxing on their financial situation, I am sure. Their house is room enough for all of us."

"Yes, I am sure you are right. But I do believe that we will be overtaxing on nerves, my dear." With this Mr. Bennet retreated to his library.

Chapter 2

The Bennet family did not take the liberty of sleeping late the next morning. The house was in an uproar. Everyone had some task to do to get ready for the girls' journey.

Mrs. Bennet was now quite resolved to staying at Meryton. Jane had brought up the fact that there were many wedding details that needed settling in Meryton. The party was not expected home until a week before the wedding was to take place. Mrs. Bennet was again placed in a position of importance. She was to coordinate the invitations.

Kitty had been very excited about the trip to London. Nothing half so grand had ever happened to her. She had never been to town before. Best of all her greatest wish was coming true. She was to be a bridesmaid - and have a special dress from town. Mary had also been asked, but she declined the offer since it meant she would have to go into town for the dress fitting. What a bore she was! And just to think of Kitty's situation only two months before, Lydia missing, everyone blaming her, and her father threatening never to let her out in society again. Well at least he had not kept his word. Jane and Lizzy's engagements surly had revived his spirits.

Mr. Bennet called his two eldest daughters into his library after breakfast.

"Here, take this and purchase whatever you need for proper trousseaus," said he, as he handed over a wad of folded bills.

"Papa, I am sincerely thankful. But are you sure that you can give us so much?" exclaimed Jane.

"Yes, I did not expect half so much. Surely you can be persuaded to take some of this back."

"Girls, I thank-you for your intentions, but I know what I can afford. Surely you will not deny me the happiness to give my daughters a wedding gift as trifling as this." Tears were now welling in his eyes. Mr. Bennet could imagine life at Longhorn without his two eldest children. He knew that there would be little there to interest him. The other members of the family all being unvaryingly silly. He would truly miss their absence.

"Oh, papa! Of course we will not." They both kissed him on the cheek. The girls knew how much they would be missed, and realized how much they would also miss their father. At that moment they heard the sound of carriage approaching.

"Now, Jane, Lizzy you must soon be off. I will be in London in no more than ten days. I have business to attend to, and since Mr. Bingley, and Mr. Darcy are not coming directly back, I may escort you home."

"Papa do journey in soon. Some days in different society would do you good," Lizzy said.

"Maybe so, maybe so. But then again I might have an attack of nerves so as not to be able to travel. You never can tell girls."

"Bingley and Darcy soon appeared themselves. The family moved to the parlour, while the carriage was prepared for departure.

"Well I do hope that you all have a marvelous time, while in town. Though I cannot imagine why the girls insist on staying more than a week. There are so many wedding preparations here at to be taken care of. But do not fear gentlemen, I will take care of them all. I am sending out the invitations this week, and want to thank-you both profusely for your contributions to the guest list. I will make sure not to overlook one of them. And I am sure that you will be vastly happy with the flowers I am to choose. I was at first bent towards white roses, but since then my mind has swayed towards..."

"Mrs. Bennet I am sure these gentlemen would much rather be pleasantly surprised by your selection of posies," commented her husband.

"Yes perhaps you are right, my dear. I would not want to ruin the beauty of the day for them," replied she.

Darcy afraid of another rambling outburst of his future mother-in-law, forced himself to speak. "Kitty, I understand that this will be your first trip to London."

"Yes, Mr. Darcy. I am in happy anticipation of our stay there."

"Good. Yes, I think that you will enjoy it there very much. My sister, Georgiana, is already in town. She is about your age."

"I look forward to meeting her," Kitty replied.

"And I to seeing her again," Lizzy commented. "Does she know of our coming, Darcy?"

"No, she is expecting Bingley and myself today, but I did not have time to inform her of your trip. Forming the plan only yesterday, I thought it would be a waste to write her a letter that she wouldn't get until after our arrival."

"I am glad. I would love to surprise her. Please, do not inform her of our being in town until I see her myself, sir," said Lizzy.

"You may be assured of my secrecy, madam." Darcy and Lizzy were smiling at each other in the most intimate fashion.

Mr. Bennet was again happy to observe the true love between his daughter and this man. Mrs. Bennet, not being of the sensitive nature to notice things such as these, interrupted the peacefulness of the room. "Are your sisters and brother-in-law presently in town, Mr. Bingley?"

"No madam. Presently they are visiting friends in the south. I do believe that they plan to open up Mr. Hurst's house in town sometime this week though."

"Well I am glad to hear it. They are very fine company. And I am sure that Jane will be very glad to see them again. Will you not, Jane?"

Both Jane and Bingley were feeling uncomfortable. "Yes mama. Of course I am," fibbed the angelic girl.

"I am sure you will find very happy sisters in them," she continued.

Bingley grimaced as he remembered their treatment of Jane in the earlier months.

The conversation went on like this for some more minutes. The party was soon rescued by the announcement that the carriage was ready. The five took leave of the three remaining Bennets. No one on either side, besides Mr. Bennet, felt much sadness on the separation.

Lizzy, Jane, and Kitty were settled quite comfortable in Bingley's accommodations. The two gentlemen had decided to ride, on account of the number of their group. Lizzy smiled as she looked out the window towards Darcy. He was an excellent horseman.

Chapter 3

The journey was long and exhausting. At noon the party stopped in the town of -------shire for refreshment. Lizzy was glad to get out and stretch her legs. Of course, it was also nice to be in Mr. Darcy's company again.

Under no account had she an unpleasant morning. The conversations she had had with her sisters had been pleasant. They were all excited about the trip. Kitty most of all it seemed. In only the short time Kitty had been separated from Lydia's influence she had improved greatly. Lizzy and Jane hoped that Kitty, with further guidance, would become a well mannered, good tempered lady. Neither wanted her to turn into another Lydia or another Mrs. Bennet.

After a satisfying meal they started out on their journey again. By the time they reached the Gardiner's all were tired. Though both Darcy and Bingley were happy to see their soon-to-be aunt and uncle, they declined the invitation to stay. It was arranged that the next day they would all dine there.

As the gentlemen took their leave they were reminded of the promise of secrecy of their arrival. Lizzy did want to surprise Georgiana.

Jane, Lizzy, and Kitty spent a pleasant morning at their aunt and uncle's home. They had much to relate about their present situations. Mrs. Gardiner was especially curious about how Lizzy's engagement to Mr. Darcy come about. She did not want to force any confidence by asking, and so she waited until Lizzy opened the subject, before she said anything about it. She did not have to wait long. Lizzy was anxious to relate her aunt details she had not been able to before. She did not breech her confidence to Darcy by telling all of the circumstances that Wickham had with that family. Nor did she tell of his plot to separate Bingley and Jane. And only with the promise of discretion did Miss Bennet let her aunt know in full of her relations with Darcy while in Kent. Mrs. Gardiner was very much satisfied in their tête-à-tête.

Early in the afternoon the four ladies decided to call on Miss Georgiana Darcy. "Aunt Gardiner, did you find Miss Darcy a pleasant sort of girl? I remember Wickham saying something about her being rather proud," questioned her youngest niece.

"I found her to be a charming young lady. She is very accomplished and not a bit proud. Though perhaps she is a little shy. I think we can safely say that Mr. Wickham cannot be trusted. You must not be prejudiced by his ill opinion."

At this Lizzy slightly colored, but managed to say to her younger sister: "Kitty, promise me that you will say nothing of either Lydia or Mr. Wickham to Georgiana. He has tried to damage her family in many ways. His name would bring up many unpleasant memories. Do you promise?"

"Yes, of course, if you wish it Lizzy," replied she, somewhat surprised at her elder sister's tone of urgency.

After some minutes of quiet Lizzy said, "I do hope that you will make an effort to become acquainted with Miss Darcy, Kitty. You will probably be much thrown together in the future. I believe that a companion, near her age, would be ideal for her." By this time they had stopped before a magnificent house.

Chapter 4

Lizzy no longer thought of her sister. She was now fully interested in observing her soon-to-be home. She was surprised to find herself trembling. In little more than a fortnight she would be living here as mistress of this house, as sister to Georgiana, but most importantly as William's wife. Jane, always knowing when her sister needed her, moved over to her side, gently taking her arm. They walked up the great stone steps together.

Georgiana herd the bell. She had been expecting no one, having little acquaintance in London. Her only friend in town at present was her cousin Col. Fitzwilliam, and she knew that he had business to attend to that day. Georgiana did not want to sit with company by herself. How unlucky that Mrs. Annesley had chosen this morning to go shopping. She hated trying to converse with strangers. Oh, she wished her brother and Bingley had not gone out. (Darcy's townhouse already being open, and because of the short amount of time he was going to be staying in London, Bingley had elected on staying with his friends.) She heard people approaching. Georgiana calmed herself, or tried to. She stood poised ready to great her visitors. The door opened. "Mrs. Gardiner, Miss Bennet, Miss Elizabeth, and Miss Kitty," announced the servant.

Georgiana was truly surprised. She was so happy, and at the same time trying to keep her role as hostess. She could only smiled as she uttered. "Miss Bennet!"

Lizzy warmly kissed her on the cheek. "I am very glad to see you, sister."

"Oh Miss Bennet! I am so happy for you and my brother. I cannot express my happiness. Oh no! He is out at present. Does William know of your being in town? This is a great surprise!"

"Georgiana, of course he knows of our being here. Both he and Bingley escorted us to our aunt's house yesterday. We wanted to surprise you," replied Lizzy, smiling mischievously. She already loved Georgiana very much. "Now I must introduce my friends."

"Oh, yes." She turned to the others, having quite forgotten of their presence.

"You remember my aunt, Mrs. Gardiner."

"Of course. How do you do?"

"This is my elder sister Miss Jane Bennet, and one of my younger sisters Miss Kitty Bennet."

At the mention of each name Georgiana formally curtsied. She invited them to sit down, and remembered to ring for tea.

The ladies had a pleasant afternoon with their hostess. Georgiana was very eager to please Elizabeth, and become acquainted with her relations. Even though she was still shy, Georgiana managed not to be painfully so. Being in company so warm and friendly, some of her more awkward airs came down. When as she was in the company of Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst, she retreated into a shell.

"Miss Darcy, I have already engaged your brother and Mr. Bingley for dinner tonight. The invitation has always been open to you, but I would now like to make it know," said Mrs. Gardiner.

"My brother did mention that we were dining out this night, when he arrived yesterday, though he did not say where. I am delighted that the invitation is from yourself, and am happy to attend."

The ladies soon parted, so as they would have plenty of time to dress for dinner. On all sides was there satisfaction in the character of the others. Georgiana felt more and more grateful to be further connected with this family. What happy manners and sincerity they expressed. She hoped that she would be further connected with all of them.

Chapter 5

That evening dinner at the Gardiner's was truly the most pleasant meal Darcy and Lizzy had had together since their engagement. There was no awkwardness, or incivility in their company. Every member was pleasant, good-humored, and eager to please. The party consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, the Bennet sisters, Bingley, and the Darcys. Both Darcy and Lizzy enjoyed observing Georgiana open up and start to make conversation with various members of the table.

Darcy and Lizzy were sitting directly across from each other. Even though they could not participate in a private tête-à-tête, neither were dissatisfied. Darcy was much of the time talking to Mr. Gardiner of politics. Though the older gentlemen's conversation was intelligent and interesting, Darcy could not help being occasionally diverted by the perfect picture of beauty he beheld when looking at Elizabeth. The candle-light shown on her hair. Excitement had made her cheeks rosy, and her eyes bright. As Mr. Gardiner turned to ask Georgiana something, Darcy was able to turn and concentrate fully on his beloved. Lizzy instinctively felt his eyes upon her. She felt her heart beat faster and a blush rise to her face as she lifted her eyes to meet his gaze. Mr. Gardiner observed the look, as did others. No one admitted to the privilege of seeing it would think anything wanting in the mutual regard they had for each other.

After dinner the party gathered in the parlour. At this time the Gardiner's children joined the group. The two girls were of the ages of eight and four, while the boys were six and two. As soon as they entered the room they attached themselves to their mother. Jane was a great favorite of theirs and the eldest girl, Beth, soon made her way over to her cousin. Mr. Bingley was sitting next to Jane asked to be introduced.

"Mr. Bingley, this is my cousin, Miss Beth Gardiner. Miss Gardiner this is Mr. Bingley."

"How do you do, sir," replied the small damsel, as she curtsied.

"I am very happy to meet you. I am sure to see more of you, as we will soon be cousins." Beth was very flattered at being treated like such an adult. Jane smiled at Bingley over the girl's head. He was perfect with her.

The others, following their sister's lead soon broke away to explore the company. The older boy, Robert, quickly became fast friends with Bingley. Soon they were laughing and playing. Ben, the baby of the family was captured by Kitty and Georgiana. They delighted in tickling and playing with him. By the time they were through with the poor baby he was almost kissed to death.

Sarah decided to venture towards the other happy couple. Lizzy was very interested to see how Darcy would react to a child. She whispered into the little girl's ear, a mischievous twinkle shown from her eye, and Darcy knew that he was in trouble. The little girl shyly made her way up to Darcy's knee. "Do you have a story for me, sir?" she asked, while her big blue eyes gazed innocently up at him.

"What kind of story would you like?" Darcy was not sure how to entertain a child of this size, a girl at that.

"My favorite story is Cinderella. Can you tell me that one?"

"I am sure I could, but Lizzy might...." Before Darcy knew what had happened Sarah was sitting happily on his lap.

"Lizzy told me that it would be good for you to tell me a story, sir." Darcy looked up at her, but Lizzy's face was turned, to conceal her laughter.

It was evident enough that he had not much practice in handling children. Darcy learned quickly. Soon Sarah was leaning against him, her eyes drooping. He had relaxed and was now quite comfortable with the small girl cradled in his arms.

"...and they lived happily ever after." Darcy looked up at Lizzy, she was smiling, and a look of love lit up her eyes and face. The two were again locked in a gaze of endearment.

Lizzy noticed that her small cousin was fast asleep. "Shhhh," she whispered as she motioned for Darcy to hand over the sleeping child. He stood, gently lifting her. For one moment both of their arms were circled around the child. Lizzy looked up at Darcy. The future seemed very close, and it was easy to imagine that they were man and wife embracing their own child. Their eyes locked, enabling them to read each other's thoughts. Lizzy began to blush, and quickly broke away, remembering the others in the room. "I will just put her to bed." Darcy nodded. He watched as she walked away with the child in her arms. It took her breath away. Soon she would be his, and they would be starting a family of their own.

Jane and the governess joined Lizzy upstairs with the remaining three children. After kissing their cousins goodnight the sisters made their way downstairs.

By Mrs. Gardiner's request Georgiana was now performing on the pianoforte. She played very beautifully, and enjoyed her performance. Usually she was painfully nervous, but the present company required a certain ease that she had never before had with such a large group.

"You played magnificently, Georgiana," Elizabeth praised.

"Yes, even all of your brother's and Bingley's warm praise could not have prepared me for this. I am truly impressed," said Jane. "Will you not sing for us?"

"Oh no! I could not."

"We would not want to make you uncomfortable. We have another request to ask of you," continued Jane.

"Yes. Jane, and I would like you to be one of our bridesmaids."

"We would be honored." Jane smiled warmly at Georgiana. She hoped that she could become more acquainted with this sweet girl.

"Oh, what a day of happy surprises!" Georgiana exclaimed. "Of course I will be your bridesmaid. I would be honored."

Kitty moved over to the group. "You are also to be in the wedding party? I am very glad, indeed. For I would not like to be the only bridesmaid."

The two girls started in on a conversation. Lizzy was glad to see their attachment. She thought it would be beneficial to both. Kitty could learn from Georgiana's example of good breeding, as she taught her friend to open up, and shed some of her reserve.

The evening was very gratifying to all. For all members enjoyed the company of everyone present. In no way were either of pair of lovers so mean as to only engage their beloved. Everyone had quite a merry time.

As the guests took their leave everyone felt perfectly satisfied with each other, their own situations, and the world in general. The two ladies, who were left with many looks of love, and memories of passionate kisses (if only on the hand), were probably the most satisfied. Only the two gentlemen, who left with the knowledge that those fine women would soon be their wives could hold quite as much happiness in their hearts that night.

Chapter Six

The next evening Elizabeth sat in her room thinking over the day. She had gone out with her sisters, aunt, and Georgiana to shop for the wedding clothes, and other items for the trousseaus. They had had a delightful time, for, like most members of their sex, they enjoyed shopping, and good company. It had truly been a memorable day. The five women were truly kindred spirits. There had been no end to conversation, smiles, jokes, and laughter.

Yet with all of this Lizzy felt as if something was missing. Not once that day had she seen, or talked to Darcy. This had been the first day since their engagement that they had been totally absent of each other's presence. She felt surprised at how much she missed him. The smiles, the looks, the gentle banter, the thrill that shot up her spine, (sigh). Bingley had explained that Darcy had to meet a man on business. Lizzy was a little disappointed that William hadn't at least written a note to her. The whole evening she had felt a bit jealous as she had to look upon Bingley and Jane's intimate whispers. She finally escaped to her room for solitary reverie.

Elizabeth began to feel irritated at herself for missing Darcy so much. Here she was pining away for a man who didn't even think to inform her himself of his plans. He was probably so rapped up in his business affairs that he hadn't even thought twice about her.

Lizzy jumped at the sound of a knock at her door. What was wrong with her this evening, prewedding jitters?

"Excuse me, miss, but this just came for you," said the maid.

"Thank-you, Hannah." Lizzy was surprised to see a long white box, with a note attached. As soon as the girl had left Lizzy be herself she hurriedly broke the strings that bound her package. Inside were twenty-four roses. Lizzy could hardly believe it. She immediately felt heartily ashamed of her thoughts and feeling of only a few moments ago. Lizzy smiled as she opened her letter. A strange feeling of happiness surged through her body.

My Dearest, Loveliest Elizabeth,

I am sorry that I could not have dined with you this evening. You don't know how much I long to see you, be near you. In little more than a fortnight we will belong to each other forever. It seems like as eternity to me.

I must soon be off to a tedious business dinner. Though I imagine dinner with the royal family themselves would be tedious if you were not present.

Georgiana was delighted by today's events. She is so excited about gaining you as a sister. The change in her over the last couple of days is incredible. You are the cause of so much happiness. I am so glad to see the sisterly affection develop so rapidly between you and my Georgiana.

I hope you like these flowers. Their beauty reminded me of you, though they do not do you justice.

Until tomorrow you will be constantly in my thoughts, and heart. I love you.

Your devoted servant,

Fitzwilliam Darcy

Words could not express Lizzy's feeling on reading such a letter. She read it again and again, finally falling asleep with it under her pillow.

Chapter Seven

Not many days after this, the Bennet sisters received another letter, which did not bestow the same sentiments procured from the epistle lately discussed. The author was none other that Mrs. Hurst. She, along with her husband and sister, were now residing in their London home. The short of the contents, without going into all of the false sentiments expressed on the current events, was that they were all invited to tea the next day. No matter how much either Jane or Lizzy dreaded this appointment they knew that they must attend, having no previous engagements that could excuse them.

Miss Bingley, on hearing that the party had accepted the invitation, was quite delighted. Her feelings had not taken a turn so as she was actually happy for her friends, but she did find it a most convenient time to point out the faults of the Bennet girls again to both her brother and Mr. Darcy.

Darcy, Bingley, and Georgiana had been at the Gardiner's the entire morning on the day of the appointment. So the whole party traveled together to the Hurst's townhouse. Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, Jane, and Bingley traveled in the first carriage, while the remaining four traveled in the second. Georgiana ad Kitty had become quite good friends by this time. Though there were differences in character, the similarity of age attracted them.

The situation of their arrival upset Miss Bingley. She did not have the advantage of speaking to Darcy before the other guests arrived, as she had hoped. Both of the happy couples were engrossed in each other, and did not seem to plan on parting to mingle with the others. Miss Bingley was not even able to remind Darcy of her intimacy with Georgiana, as the two younger girls were in constant conversation. This did not stop her, nor did the fact that Darcy showed every sign of being as violently in love with Elizabeth as he could be. The two were constantly exchanging smiles, or looks of love. None of this came to Caroline's notice. She was determined to embarrass Eliza Bennet.

Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner were playing cards with Mr. and Mrs. Hurst. Georgiana and Kitty were talking quietly in a corner. Miss Bingley joined the remaining four.

"Jane, I have to say again how delighted I am that you are soon to become my sister. I was quite surprised at hearing the news. I confess that I never though such a thing possible, but I am delighted," exclaimed the conniving woman.

"Thank-you, Miss Bingley," replied Jane. She was quite at a loss for words. Although she wanted to be polite Jane didn't quite know how to address this lady.

"I was not half as surprised, though, as I was at hearing of your sister's engagement. Miss Eliza tell me, when did your opinion of our Mr. Darcy alter? I recall a time when you found faults with him. Do you not remember, Darcy? I suppose it wasn't until after your visit to Pemberley that you changed your mind on his worth."

"Darcy is in essentials as he ever was, but I do still find fault with him, Miss Bingley," said Lizzy as she and Darcy exchanged a smile bordering on laughter.

"So you still do not see Mr. Darcy as the picture of perfection. I am shocked, indeed, for I always thought that true love was blind to blemishes. And for myself I never found anything to complain about in Darcy," continued Miss Bingley.

"Complain about, certainly not! But there is plenty to tease and laugh at," Lizzy good humouredly continued. She was determined not to let the jealous bickering of this woman vex her. Darcy, on the other hand, was becoming annoyed at her comments.

"Do you really think, Miss Bennet that you are ready to take the position of Mistress of Pemberley? From what I have observed it seems that you have been confined to a very limited circle of society. Four and twenty families I believe is the exact number your family is privileged to dine with. What do you say to that, Eliza? Do you want us to believe that you think Longhorn is the equal to Pemberley?"

Lizzy did not know how to answer such an outright attack, and Darcy was now really quite angry, "Excuse me, I believe we must take our leave. I do not wish to remain any longer where the lady I love above everything in this world is so censured. Nor can I allow my sister, and young future sister in law, to be in company of such ill breeding. You have not only offended me and Elizabeth, but also Miss Jane Bennet, as she also had the honour of coming from Longhorn, and therefore you are damaging your brother also. Miss Bingley I must say that you leave much to be desired in your behavior." With this Fitzwilliam bowed, escorting his fiancée away. The whole party was soon roused, and quickly departed.

Mrs. Hurst tried to persuade her guests to stay, with no avail. After they had left, she was really very severe on her younger sister.

The return journey home was not at all like the one that had taken them there. Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, along with the two younger girls, were quite bewildered in their carriage. None of them really had any idea of what had taken place, only that an offense so great had been given as to justify departure. An embarrassed silence fell over them all.

The second carriage held four people no less uncomfortable. Jane was embarrassed not only at Miss Bingley's rudeness, but also at the discomfort it caused her husband. Lizzy, though proud of Darcy for standing up to the awful woman, also felt discomfort on Bingley's behalf. He felt embarrassed to the point of physical discomfort. His amiable nature did not know how to handle situations like this.

Darcy was sorry for the pain and discomfort he had caused his friends. Bingley must feel deeply mortified. How could he have acted so? But, no, he did not regret his actions. Even with all of the repercussions it was better than hearing Elizabeth slandered. He looked over at his beloved. How could anyone ridicule her. She was so beautiful, intelligent, witty. (Darcy had, it seemed, quite forgotten some of his past comments on her physical attractions.) But why did she not look at him? Was she angry at his actions? Lizzy turned, smiling sympathetically. Thank goodness, he could never have her angry with him.

"Darcy, I am ... I am truly sorry. My sister, I know, has sometimes bordered on being uncivil. But, but I never thought that she would act in this manner," stammered the ashamed brother.

"It is I who should apologize. I should not have acted so quickly. Please understand that I do not associate your sister's actions with you. Whatever my relations with your family you will always be my dearest friend. I hope that I have not offended you," replied Darcy.

"Of course not." The two men shook hands, as if to affirm their friendship. After another half a minute of silence Lizzy produced one of her best witty comments, lifting the stiff air off of her companions.

© 1997 Copyright held by the author.