"Jane? Are you asleep?" Elizabeth peered into her sister's chamber.
Jane stirred and momentarily sat up in her bed. She yawned and said, "Not anymore."
Elizabeth grinned sheepishly as she sat down on her Jane's bed. "I cannot sleep."
"Why, Lizzy?" asked Jane.
"I am too nervous. And excited," said Elizabeth with a sigh. "Do you not realize, Jane? Tonight is the last night that you and I will bear the Bennet name. Tomorrow..." She paused, her eyes shining with excitement. "Tomorrow, we will be married women. Just think of it, Jane. How can I sleep when I know what the morrow has to bring? I cannot comprehend how you can even think of sleeping."
Jane smiled. "If you don't sleep, Lizzy, you shall fall asleep at the altar."
"I shall not," claimed Elizabeth.
"So what is the alternative, then?" Jane asked. "Stay awake and will the sun to rise? I am sorry to inform you, dear Lizzy, that you cannot make the sun rise any sooner. The hours till dawn shall drag if you stay awake, counting the minutes. Will it not be infinitely better if you sleep and wake up on your wedding day?"
Elizabeth did not seem convinced. She changed the topic. "Can I ask you a personal question?"
"Of course," said Jane.
"Have you kissed Mr. Bingley?" A smile crept on Elizabeth's face.
"Lizzy!" Jane seemed appalled. "That is not appropriate."
"So have you?" pressed Elizabeth. Jane rewarded her with a blush. Elizabeth grinned. "Oh Jane, how wonderful! Is it not the most marvelous feeling in the world? To hold your beloved in your embrace, look into his dark eyes and marvel at your luck. It is pure bliss. Jane, I have never known true happiness before I met him."
Jane sighed. "Speak softer, Lizzy. Someone might hear you."
Elizabeth laughed. "Dear mama would be scandalized."
Jane smiled. "Yes, she would and we must protect her poor nerves."
Elizabeth looked at her sister in surprise. "What is this I hear? A sarcastic remark from Jane?" She looked at her sister's face searchingly. "Who are you and where have you hidden my sister?"
Jane rolled her eyes. "I love mama, but Lizzy, these past few days she has been a little..."
"Overwrought, infuriating, maddening?" Elizabeth suggested.
Jane did not reply. "I shall miss her though."
Elizabeth nodded. "As shall I. Although when she spoke to us today about the wedding night, I thought I would die of embarrassment." Jane shuddered as she recalled the conversation. "I am glad Kitty and Mary did not hear that. Can you imagine, Jane? Mary might even believe mama and heed her advice."
"We should speak with her before she is married," Jane said with conviction.
"Indeed," said Elizabeth. She paused, then sighed. "I want to see Fitzwilliam."
"Now?" Jane raised her eyebrows. Elizabeth nodded. "But you saw him this morning."
"That was this morning," said Elizabeth. "More than 10 hours ago."
"You are counting hours now?" Jane shook her head.
Elizabeth looked sheepish. "Am I insane, Jane?"
"Yes." Jane laughed. "Insanely in love."
Elizabeth sighed, a dreamy look in her eyes. "Yes..."
Jane looked at her and smiled. "Careful, or you will float away. Lizzy, this time tomorrow, you will be married to your Mr. Darcy. Be patient."
"Patience? She preaches patience?" Elizabeth said with a wave of her hand. "Jane, you have lived with me for one and twenty years and have you ever found me to be patient?" Jane said nothing. "I thought not."
Jane smiled slightly. "Well, Lizzy, patient or not, you have no choice but to wait. So I suggest you retire now and let me sleep as well. We have a long day ahead of us and we need our rest. I dare say you shall dream of Mr. Darcy."
Elizabeth smiled. "Ah, such pleasant dreams they would be, too."
"Then go and dream your pleasant dreams," Jane laughed.
Elizabeth sighed and got up from the bed. "Goodnight, Jane."
Elizabeth left Jane's chamber, but did not return to her own. Instead she slowly crept down the stairs and went outside, tiptoeing so as not to awake anyone in the house. Once she was outside, she inhaled deeply. The scented night breeze was therapeutic to her tense, excited nerves. Under the blanket of the dark, velvety sky, she walked to the wilderness outside Longbourn. There was a slight chill in the breeze, but she hardly noticed it. She was too entirely engrossed in her thoughts to be aware of her surroundings. After walking for a few moments, Elizabeth stopped in front of a bench. She stood there, motionless. This was the exact spot where she had first kissed him. She closed her eyes imagining herself transported to the past, when he had gathered her in his arms and kissed her. She could almost feel his presence, she fancied. She could smell his familiar scent. She could feel her heart beat faster just as it did when he was near her. Elizabeth would have dismissed such feelings as a figment of her imagination had not a deep voice interrupted her thoughts.
Elizabeth instantly opened her eyes at hearing his voice, if only to assure herself that she was not dreaming. Indeed, she was not, for the man who haunted her dreams stood in front of her, his eyes shining with mischief, a handsome smile spread over his features. As he spoke her name, Elizabeth flew into his embrace. He put his arms around her waist and held her close. Elizabeth closed her eyes tightly, wishing and praying that if she was dreaming, as Jane had promised, she would not awake anytime soon.
"Just the reaction I had hoped for," said Darcy with playfulness.
Elizabeth stepped back and looked at him. "It is you."
"Who were you expecting?" asked Darcy with a smile.
"My true love," replied Elizabeth.
Darcy pretended to frown. "Do you greet your true love as enthusiastically as you greeted me?"
"Even more so," said Elizabeth, archly.
"Who is the foul fiend?" said Darcy. "I shall seek him out and challenge him to a duel."
"He would win in a second," said Elizabeth.
"We shall see," smiled Darcy.
Elizabeth was silent for a moment. "What are you doing here, Fitzwilliam?"
"I am uncommonly attached to this garden," replied Darcy with a smile.
Elizabeth laughed. "Indeed?"
"I could not bear to stay away from it," said Darcy.
"And what about me?" Elizabeth pretended to be hurt.
Darcy smiled. "Do you know why I am attached to this garden?"
"No," Elizabeth shook her head.
"Because it is yours," said Darcy.
Elizabeth colored. "How did you know I would be here?"
"I did not," said Darcy.
"Then what did you propose to do if I was not here? Stand here all alone?"
"You were standing here, were you not?" Darcy said.
Elizabeth smiled sheepishly. "Yes, but I was about to leave."
"I would have spent the night here," Darcy said.
Elizabeth looked at him in disbelief. "You are insane. You would be frightfully cold."
Darcy looked at her. "But I would be close to you."
Elizabeth's heart skipped a beat. "I couldn't sleep."
Darcy smiled. "The thoughts of your true love keeping you awake?"
Elizabeth grinned. "Of course. I thought the fresh air would do me good."
"And is it?"
"Is it what?" said Elizabeth.
"Doing any good?" said Darcy.
"Now it is," said Elizabeth with a grin.
Darcy smiled, then held out his hand. "Come."
Elizabeth took his hand in surprise. "Where are we going, Fitzwilliam?"
"You shall see."
He led her away from the garden, walking in slow steps, with Elizabeth by his side. She said nothing, asking no questions, trusting him completely, rejoicing in his closeness, in his company. She realized that they were heading for her favorite pastures, the ones she frequented in quest for freedom and relaxation. After a few minutes, they were upon Oakham Mount and Darcy led her to the summit. Elizabeth gasped softly. They had a clear view of the sky. It was nearly a full moon, tinges of yellow scattered in its aspect. The sky was astoundingly clear except for the occasional cloud, the gleam of any tiara rivaled by the glitter of the gemlike stars. It seemed like a different world up there; a beautiful world, a peaceful world. It was still and quiet. Absolutely quiet. So quiet that Elizabeth felt the need to whisper so as not to disturb the peace.
"Beautiful," she said softly.
Darcy looked at her, his eyes intense. "Very."
Elizabeth colored. "Somehow I doubt that we are speaking of the same thing."
Darcy smiled. "Because we are not."
Elizabeth blushed again. "Then what are you speaking of?"
"Didn't you know?" Darcy's eyes twinkled. "I have a true love as well."
"Indeed?" Elizabeth said.
"She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes." *
"She sounds lovely," Elizabeth commented, reminding the jealous tug in her heart that he was referring to her.
"Believe me, she is," Darcy assured her with a small grin.
Elizabeth felt the heat of his gaze and walked away, surveying the dark meadows. "It is so peaceful up here. When I come here I never want to leave. It is my sanctuary." She glanced back at her fiance. "Did you know, Fitzwilliam, when I was a little girl and wanted to be alone, I would run away from home and come up here. No one would be able to find me for hours." She smiled. "I was a naughty girl."
"Why am I not surprised?" grinned Darcy.
Elizabeth pretended to be hurt. "You have little faith in me, sir."
"On the contrary," said Darcy. "I have great faith in you, and in your...resourcefulness."
Elizabeth laughed. "Well said, sir. You have spared yourself?"
Darcy raised his eyebrows. "From what?"
"My wrath," Elizabeth informed him impishly.
"Who says I want to be spared?" Darcy said, moving closer to her.
Elizabeth's pulse quickened. "I assumed as much. You seem like a sensible man."
"Haven't you heard? Appearances are often deceptive." Darcy was yet closer.
"So you are not a sensible man?" asked Elizabeth.
"If I were, would I be subjecting myself to this torture?" Darcy was standing a few feet away from her.
Elizabeth smiled, "So you think my company is torture?"
Darcy grinned, "The supreme torture. But I was always a masochist."
"I could end the torture and return home," said Elizabeth.
"Was I not clear the first time?" Darcy was dangerously close to her now. "Torture is good. I like torture."
Elizabeth had to remind herself to breathe. "So do I."
Darcy was inches away from her now. He looked into her eyes, searching, probing, seeking any hesitation. He found none. He leaned forward tentatively and kissed her lips softly. Then, the kiss deepened and Elizabeth closed her eyes. She wrapped her arms around his neck to prevent herself from fainting as she was certain she would. After a few maddening moments that seemed to last an eternity, Darcy stepped back. Elizabeth opened her eyes questioningly.
"We are playing with fire, Elizabeth," he warned.
"I thought you liked to play with fire," teased Elizabeth. "A masochist, remember?"
"I remember," said Darcy. "But I fear that we might go too far."
Elizabeth lamented his scruples, then scolded herself for her unladylike thoughts.
"I have angered you?" Darcy said with alarm at her silence.
"No, indeed," Elizabeth said hurriedly. "I fear I have been too forward."
Darcy smiled. "Tomorrow, this shall all be over, my dearest, loveliest Elizabeth. We shall wed tomorrow and shall never have to resort to such clandestine meetings."
"Never?" Elizabeth said. "I rather enjoy it, though."
"Your wish is my command," Darcy bowed. "Always."
Elizabeth's eyes gleamed. "Always?"
"Always," Darcy repeated firmly.
Elizabeth looked up at the sky and sighed, "I wish the sun would rise."
Darcy looked up as well. "Ah...one wish I cannot fulfill." He was silent for a moment, then he looked at his beautiful bride-to-be and knew he was the happiest man who ever lived. "I have no idea why I decided to come to Longbourn tonight."
"Perhaps you knew instinctively that I would be there?" suggested Elizabeth.
Darcy nodded. "Perhaps." He looked at her and sighed. "We should return, Elizabeth. You need your sleep. I cannot have my bride falling asleep at the altar."
Elizabeth grinned. "Jane said the same thing."
Darcy smiled as well, and they walked back to Longbourn, arm in arm, in comfortable silence. Elizabeth felt safe and content; there was not a worry in her heart. His arms were strong and powerful and would always protect her. Elizabeth never wanted to leave his side. Darcy was intoxicated by her closeness, which was why it was incumbent upon him to leave her vicinity for he feared for his sanity. It was torture to be near her and to know that she would be his forever in a matter of hours and not be able to demonstrate the truth of his love. All in good time, he had told himself again and again, but since the time was almost upon them, he felt his will power tested. They reached the garden and Darcy escorted Elizabeth to the door. She turned to face him.
"Well, here we are."
"Indeed," said Darcy.
"Must you leave, Fitzwilliam?" She looked at him with pleading eyes.
Darcy felt his resolve melt. "Yes," he said firmly.
"Shall I get a parting kiss?" asked Elizabeth with a smile.
In response, Darcy brought her hand to his lips and kissed it softly. "Until tomorrow, Miss Bennet."
Elizabeth watched his retreating figure and sighed. "Until tomorrow, Mr. Darcy."
* excerpt from "She walks in beauty" by Lord Byron
© 2001 Copyright held by author