Beginning, Section II
Part VI Posted on Sunday, 16 December 2001
Darcy awoke the next morning hopeful that Bingley would return with Georgiana that day; he was not disappointed. Around noon the carriage arrived, and Darcy went out to meet it.
"Fitzwilliam!" cried Georgiana. She practically ran into his outstretched arms, a smiling Bingley following close behind her.
"It is so lovely to see you Georgiana. I do believe you've grown!" he teased. "Bingley," he turned to his friend to shake his hand. "I hope your business is concluded to your satisfaction."
"Yes, all of that is finished. Now I need only suffer through the interminable wait until the wedding!" Laughing, they all walked into the house. Caroline rushed to meet Miss Darcy.
"Oh, dear Georgiana! Oh how lovely you look! I believe you have grown since I saw you last! And I am eager to hear you play on the pianoforte again, for you play so well! Does she not Charles? I am sure I know none so accomplished." Darcy discreetly rolled his eyes, eager to get his sister out of Miss Bingley's company.
"Excuse us Miss Bingley, but I must show Georgiana to her room. I'm sure she must be tired from her journey." He bowed and led his sister down the corridor. Once alone, the girl breathed a sigh of relief.
"Thank you brother! I always feel so uncomfortable around Miss Bingley; she is so harsh." Darcy smiled.
"Not to worry my dear, if it is up to me, you shall spend very little time around Miss Bingley. In fact, as soon as you are rested from your trip, I would like to take you to the place where I prefer to spend my time of late. It is a small estate called Longbourn, and it is the residence of Bingley's betrothed, Jane. One of her sisters, Miss Elizabeth, is my particular friend," he added shyly, and Georgiana noticed the blush on his cheeks. Thinking perhaps that this Elizabeth was more to her brother than just a "particular friend", Georgiana pressed for more.
"What is Miss Elizabeth like? Is she pretty?" She blushed, thinking she had been impertinent. Rather than scolding her, however, her brother only laughed.
"I see that you are too smart for me Georgie. Yes, Miss Elizabeth is very pretty. She is one of the handsomest women of my acquaintance, as well as the wittiest and most pleasant. She is intelligent and accomplished, and there is nearly nothing that gives me more pleasure than to hear her on the pianoforte. She does not play as skillfully as you, but she is so carefree and sings with such passion for the music that her technical faults are easily overlooked. I think you shall like her very much... I hope you shall. I certainly do." A dreamy smile crept onto his face as he stared into nothing. Georgiana cleared her throat to get his attention.
"I am sure I will like her if you do. She must be a very special lady for you to think so highly of her."
"When did you get so clever little sister?" Darcy teased. "Again you are right. She is very special; very special indeed." Finally they reached Georgiana's door and he showed her in. A maid was called to help her unpack her trunks and Darcy turned to leave.
"Fitzwilliam, one moment. Em... once I am unpacked and refreshed, may we call on Miss Elizabeth this afternoon?" Georgiana asked meekly. Her brother was pleased with the suggestion; he had thought of proposing it himself, but thought he might appear too eager. However, if she was the one to suggest it ...
"Excellent idea! Have the maid show you to the library when you are ready, I will be there." She nodded her ascent, and he left her to get ready.
While Darcy waited for his sister, a letter arrived for him from Colonel Fitzwilliam.
First of all, please send along my congratulations to Bingley. I am happy to hear that he has found joy. Do I dare hope that you may find someone for yourself soon? Or, if not, perhaps you may find a young lady for me? I look forward to visiting you at Christmas as you suggested, so if you do find some such lady, save her for me this fortnight until I arrive!
As to you your request about Wickham, I cannot imagine why you would want me to do such a thing again, but I have put in a few queries and should hear back in a week or two. Would you care to enlighten me as to why you wish to find him yet another position?
By the time you are able to respond I shall be on leave, so write to me at Matlock.
Darcy pondered his reply for a moment, then penned a brief letter.
Disregard my previous note regarding Wickham. Circumstances have changed and the position will no longer be necessary. I will tell you more when you come to Netherfield. Georgiana is arrived this morning, and I daresay we shall be a most pleasant party. Send my regards to my aunt and uncle, and I look forward to seeing you in a fortnight.
As he was finishing his letter, a soft knock announced Georgiana's arrival. Realizing that he should probably inform her of the Wickham situation, he called her over.
"Georgie, there are a few things that have happened here in the past few weeks which I feel I must tell you about before you hear it from elsewhere." He paused. "It is about George Wickham." She gasped as her hand flew to her mouth, but she did not say a word. He continued, "Several weeks ago, Richard and I secured a commission for him in a militia, but were not terribly concerned which one nor its quartering locations. As it turned out, he was placed in the ---shire militia, and they are wintering here in Meryton." Georgiana's eyes grew wide. "As soon as he discovered that I was here as well he began to spread falsehoods about my dealings with him, mostly that I had not discharged our father's wish that he would get the living at Kimpton." Georgiana protested.
"But Fitzwilliam, that is not true!" He placed a hand on her shoulder.
"I know, dearest. But unfortunately Miss Elizabeth Bennet, his target, did not. And since I had made a very poor impression on her already, she was quite disposed to believe his tales of my knavery." Now Georgiana looked almost angry. How could she think ill of dear Fitzwilliam? He is the most gentle creature in the world! "Nay, I know what you are thinking sister. But do not judge Miss Bennet too harshly; my behavior towards her at the time was abominable. I cannot think upon it without abhorrence. Before I even met her, I insulted her almost to her face, and was very rude to her on many occasions. I thought myself above my company and was displeased with all I saw. She, however, showed me the error of my ways. Her heart went out to Wickham, not knowing that his stories were false, and she quite justly called me out on what she thought was my cruel behavior. We had a long talk at the Netherfield ball, where I told her the entirety of our family's connection to Wickham."
"Even last summer?" she asked fearfully.
"Yes, even last summer. Do not worry, Georgie. I trust Miss Bennet with my life; she could easily have gossiped the story all over Meryton, but not one word has been breathed of it. You may trust her secrecy; and I know she felt a deep concern for you when she heard of his abuse of you, for she has a most compassionate heart. She has expressed to me a great desire to make your acquaintance and hopes you shall be friends." His sister relaxed and smiled at this. "Now, where was I? Oh yes... we sorted our misunderstandings, and have been friends since then. The following day I visited Longbourn, and while we were speaking in the garden, Wickham himself showed up. Miss Elizabeth made it very clear that she knew what he was really about and wanted nothing more to do with him. He was visibly affected, and I knew he would wish to exact his revenge. Had he succeeded, his revenge would have been complete indeed, for he attempted a similar plot to the one he used last summer; he convinced one of Miss Elizabeth's younger sisters, who is but 15 years old, to elope with him." Poor Georgiana was nearly in tears at this, her heart going out to the other young lady deceived by the rogue. "Fortunately his plot was foiled by Miss Elizabeth's cleverness, and I was able to get Wickham out through a combination of his enormous debts and his elopement scheme, which became an accusation of a kidnapping plot. He was taken away last night to be tried in London. We will not be seeing him again." Georgiana now shed tears, but through her sobbing made it clear to her brother that her tears were not for Wickham, lest he should worry that she still fancied herself in love with him.
"Oh Fitzwilliam, what you must have endured! You are so good to have saved the young Miss Bennet from that horrible man! And I am so sorry that he stained your good name, you who have shown him nothing but fairness and kindness! Oh my dear brother!" He comforted her as she wept, finally calming her so she was able to speak.
"There, there. I am glad that I was the one to tell you. But it is all finished now, and we may enjoy more pleasant society henceforth." He smiled reassuringly and she followed his example.
"Oh dear! I must look a fright! I will go wash my face before we leave to visit Miss Bennet! You may call the carriage Fitzwilliam, I will be ready in just a moment." She hurried back to her room to freshen up as Darcy went to find Bingley, who was at that moment in the billiard room.
"Ah, there you are Bingley! Georgiana wishes to call on Longbourn today, if that is agreeable with you." Bingley eagerly assented.
"I was planning to go anyway. I shall call the carriage at once." He started to walk out of the room, then paused. "Uh, Darce ... do you think I should invite my sisters?" Darcy grimaced.
"If you think you must, then do. But since this will only be a brief call, and they do not care to go usually, perhaps it is not necessary?" Bingley agreed, saying they would not all fit in the carriage anyway. He had the carriage prepared and informed Mrs. Hurst of their plans. As expected, she had no wish to call on Longbourn; she was not sure of what Caroline wished to do, but assured her brother that they could amuse themselves at Netherfield for a few hours. This answer was satisfactory for him, and as soon as Georgiana was ready the three of them left for Longbourn. Georgiana was anxious to meet this young lady who seemed to have so captivated her brother, and the gentleman were as always anxious to see their lady loves.
Jane and Elizabeth were out in the garden picking flowers when they heard the wheels of a carriage. Wondering who it could be, they went to the front of the house to investigate; the sight made both of them smile. Mr. Bingley was helping Georgiana out of the carriage, and Darcy was stepping out of the other side. Upon seeing Jane, Bingley practically sprinted over to greet her. The Darcys walked more leisurely over to Elizabeth. Darcy bowed.
"Miss Bennet, may I present my sister, Georgiana. Georgiana, this is Miss Elizabeth Bennet." The ladies curtsied.
"How do you do?" inquired Georgiana softly. Elizabeth could instantly see that Miss Darcy shared her brother's shyness and wished to make her feel at ease. She smiled.
"I am very happy to make your acquaintance Miss Darcy. I have heard so much about you."
"And I about you," she replied.
"I hope we shall become friends; I feel as if I know you already. Your brother tells me that you are fond of music, and play very well." Georgiana blushed modestly.
"Oh no, not play very well ... I mean, but I am very fond of music. I should dearly love to hear you play and sing. My brother says he has rarely heard anything that gives him more pleasure." Elizabeth gave her a confused look.
"So you shall ... but I warn you, your brother has grossly exaggerated my talents, no doubt for some mischievous reason of his own," she teased, looking more at Darcy than at Georgiana, who seemed shocked.
"Oh no, that could not be true! My brother never exaggerates; he always tells the absolute truth. Though I think that sometimes he is a bit too kind to me." Elizabeth smiled.
"An ideal elder brother then."
"Oh yes, I could not imagine a better or a kinder one." Both ladies looked at Darcy affectionately, giving him an excuse to join in their conversation.
"Miss Bennet, I would never lie to my sister! In truth, your performance on the pianoforte is always a great pleasure for me."
"I understand sir; I am a great lover of comedies as well, and love to laugh as well as anyone."
"No, no, I am in earnest. Your playing does not amuse me; it delights me, truly. Your voice is so exquisite, and you play with such spirit. Indeed, you do everything with great spirit, I believe." He smiled at her again, completely forgetting himself for a moment. His sister's stifled giggle broke his reverie, but she straightened her face before he could do anything about it. Elizabeth was blushing at his compliments, but still protested that Miss Darcy should not expect great things, as she truly did play very ill. To change the subject, she suggested introducing Miss Darcy to Jane.
"Jane, Mr. Bingley, please excuse the interruption, but I would like to introduce you to Mr. Darcy's sister, Miss Georgiana Darcy. Miss Darcy, this is my sister Jane." They curtsied and Jane made several inquiries about her trip from London and how she liked Hertfordshire. Their matching sweet dispositions caused them to like each other immediately, and Georgiana felt at ease in new company for the first time in her life. Jane invited everyone inside for refreshments, still chatting with Georgiana. Elizabeth and Darcy strayed behind.
"Mr. Darcy, your sister is a very sweet girl. I am anxious to become better acquainted with her."
"I am glad to hear it Miss Bennet. I told her today of what happened here with Wickham, and she was afraid that you would think ill of her for it."
"The poor dear! I hope I eased her fears." Darcy smiled.
"I am sure you did." Stop staring you blubbering fool! Clearing his throat, he asked, "How fares Miss Lydia? Has she gotten over her disappointment yet?" Elizabeth sighed with frustration
"Lydia is still Lydia, I am afraid, although I think the experience has sobered her a bit. When she learned of his disgrace, she at first denied it and called it all a plot against her dear Wickham; but when she heard more of the truth, and that he never intended to marry her, it hit her hard. I do believe she even cried a bit! She is getting over it tolerably well, though, for her disposition, and will be chasing other officers again soon enough I suppose." She rolled her eyes. "I shall never understand their fascination for redcoats!" Darcy laughed. Excellent; then my handsome red-coated cousin will be no challenge for me!
"I hope you do not have too great an aversion for them, though. My cousin, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, second son of the Earl of Matlock, is to join us in a fortnight. However, if this would be too inconvenient for you, I will retract the invitation immediately." It was now Elizabeth's turn to laugh.
"Mr. Darcy, I am quite proud of you! You are learning to tease and laugh nearly as well as I! No, I am sure your cousin's presence will be acceptable, especially if he is young and handsome." Darcy's brow furrowed slightly; Elizabeth blushed. "That is, I am sure that my younger sisters will pay him every courtesy if he is young and handsome. I only require my friends to be able to have good conversation with me," she corrected, unconsciously putting a slight emphasis on the word "friend". His face brightened again and they continued their conversation lightheartedly. He offered his arm to escort her into the house, and he felt the delightful thrill of her touch when she slipped her delicate hand into the crook of his elbow. The pair entered the drawing room as the sandwiches were being served. Mrs. Bennet had gone to Meryton to visit with her sister Mrs. Phillips and Lydia kept to her room, so the house was unusually quiet. This made for a much more comfortable atmosphere, and the afternoon passed happily.
One week later
Darcy stared out of his chamber window at Netherfield, a pensive smile on his face. Elizabeth and Georgiana were playing with one of the dogs, and it reminded of the time he had seen Elizabeth doing the same thing when she thought herself unobserved. Had I already begun to love her then? Yes, I was completely enamored by her playfulness and innocence. She is so unlike any woman I have ever known. And she has helped Georgiana so much. In truth, Georgiana had uncommonly improved in the last week. She had grown much more comfortable speaking amongst company, and had certainly been smiling more. She particularly enjoyed joining Elizabeth on her morning walks; Elizabeth, being the more accomplished walker, would go to Netherfield and they would tour the park for half an hour. They were always laughing, and Georgiana's cheeks had taken on a permanent glow. Caroline Bingley was horrified at this change, but Darcy was very much relieved. The two women he loved most in his life had become friends. Georgiana had even gone so far as to tell him that she approved of "Lizzy" very much, and that she had always wished for a sister. Who would have imagined it? Georgie actually teasing me! He chuckled at the thought. Dear Elizabeth, you are a God-send to both Darcys! He looked again out the window, but this time with a frown as he saw the storm clouds gathering in the sky above. It had been gray for most of the morning, but now the sky was blackening quickly. I shall call the ladies in before they get stuck in the rain, he resolved. Fleeting images of a soaking wet Elizabeth went through his mind, but he reminded himself again of the trousers he was wearing. How about a soaking wet Caroline Bingley, Darcy? He shuddered involuntarily at the thought and had control over himself again. Poor Caroline ... if only she knew how successful she truly was in dampening my passions towards Elizabeth ... The roll of thunder interrupted his thoughts, hurrying him out the door to call the ladies in. He stepped outside as the clouds burst open. His concern growing, Darcy ran around to the side of the house, knocking down Elizabeth, who was running in the opposite direction with Georgiana.
"Elizabeth!" he cried. "Are you hurt?" His answer was her laughter.
"No, Mr. Darcy, I fear that only my pride has been bruised!" Oh, is it Elizabeth now, sir? Darcy helped her up and ushered them into the house. He called for a maid to take them upstairs and draw up hot baths for them. The ladies thanked him and left. He withdrew quickly to his own chamber before anyone saw him; he had gotten a bit wet himself, and seeing Elizabeth soaked to the skin had had the effect he expected, and it was quite embarrassing. After changing his clothes and regaining his composure he descended and ordered tea made. Jane, Bingley, his sisters, and Mr. Hurst were waiting for him in the drawing room.
"Mr. Darcy, did your sister and Lizzy come in the house before the rain started?" Jane asked with concern.
"No, I'm afraid they were on their way when it began. I brought them in myself; a maid is attending to them now." As he spoke, the maid came down timidly.
"Mr. Darcy, sir ... I just finished helping your sister, and I believe she is feeling a bit ill. She asked for you."
"Yes, of course. Please excuse me." He bowed to the company and followed the girl to Georgiana's room, leaving Miss Bingley to comment on how unladylike it was to run around in the rain. Upstairs, Georgiana sat on the edge of her bed in a nightgown.
"Fitzwilliam, I believe I have caught a bit of a chill. Do you think everyone would mind terribly if I did not come down today?"
"No, Georgie, not at all. Please rest, I would not want you to make yourself worse by exerting yourself," he replied, and tucked her into her sheets. She giggled.
"This reminds me of when I was a little girl and you used to put me bed with a story. You are such a good brother," she paused, unsure if she should say what was on her mind. Turning to the maid, she said, "Thank you Maria, you may go." Maria curtseyed and went to check on Elizabeth. Georgiana turned back to her brother. "You are a wonderful brother ... and I am sure you will make an even better husband," she said timidly. Darcy looked at her curiously.
"What would make you say that my dear?"
"Dear Fitzwilliam, I know you see me as a child, but I am not so young that I do not recognize the change in you when Lizzy is around. You love her, do you not?"
"You amaze me Georgiana. Have you always been so observant?" he teased. "I am very much in love with her dear sister. She is so different from anyone I have ever met, especially the ladies of society."
"Like Miss Bingley?" she added.
"Yes, particularly Miss Bingley!" he laughed, then grew serious again. "Do you like Miss Bennet?"
"Oh yes!" she said enthusiastically. "She is so delightful! She is always laughing and being playful. She is the best friend I have ever had, except for you of course. When are you going to propose?" He laughed.
"Calm yourself Georgie! I do not even know if she feels the same for me, and besides there are other considerations. Do you think our family would approve?" She frowned.
"Does it matter?" He looked at her acutely.
"No, I suppose it does not, does it? No matter how proper or well connected she could be, Lady Catherine would never approve if my wife is not Anne, and the Fitzwilliams would like her very well despite her family's situation, I am sure. So no, it is really of no import," he said, more to himself than to her. She interrupted his thoughts.
"Then what are you waiting for?" she asked impertinently.
"I see Miss Elizabeth's manner of speaking has rubbed off on you!" he teased with an arched eyebrow. "I am waiting for the right time Georgiana. Have patience."
"Very well," she pouted. "Just don't wait too long!" He ruffled her hair, then took his leave to rejoin the party. He met Elizabeth on the stairs. She smiled.
"Mr. Darcy! I am glad to see that you are walking a bit more slowly now." He bowed.
"Miss Bennet, please forgive me for earlier. I was concerned and not watching where I was walking. I hope there were no ill effects."
"Not at all, I assure you. I am quite sturdy, and have incurred no injuries or illnesses from my little jaunt in the rain."
"I am glad to hear it. Georgiana, unfortunately seems to have caught a bit of a chill and sends her excuses."
"Oh, the poor dear! May I go see her?"
"I will ask her." He walked back to his sister's room and obtained permission. Go ahead Miss Bennet. Shall I wait for you here and escort you downstairs?"
"That would be lovely, thank you. I will just be a moment." Darcy waited in the hallway for a few minutes, listening to the laughter from his sister's room and ruminating on Elizabeth's many virtues. At last she rejoined him and they went down to the drawing room as tea was being served. Jane and Elizabeth stayed until evening, then Mr. Bingley's carriage took them back to Longbourn. As soon as they were gone, Miss Bingley began her usual habit of abusing Elizabeth.
"I cannot believe Miss Elizabeth Bennet ... just when I thought she could not get any more vulgar, she surprises me again. Imagine, convincing dear Georgiana to run about outside in that weather! And now poor Georgiana is ill, and she has the audacity to sit here with us as if she has done nothing wrong! I simply cannot stand her presence!" Darcy tried to control himself, but the anger was rising. Louisa spoke.
"Fortunately you will not have to sister. You and Mr. Hurst and I are to go to town." Caroline stared at her.
"I'm sorry, Louisa, I must have misheard you. Did you say we are going to town?"
"Yes, I did. Do you not recall? Last week just before Charles returned you asked if we could not go to London. I asked Mr. Hurst, and he is to reopen the house; we have already been invited to three Christmas balls, including the Crenshaw's and the Westfall's." Caroline's eyes widened at these prestigious invitations, but she was torn; she had hoped to spend Christmas with Mr. Darcy, and she had only wanted to go to London to keep Charles from proposing to Jane. Now that it was too late for that, she wanted to stay by Mr. Darcy's side. But still, the Crenshaws and the Westfalls?
"But Louisa, we cannot just leave Charles!"
"It is quite alright Caroline," Bingley jumped in. "Louisa has already spoken to me, and I think it would be a fine idea for you to spend Christmas in town with your friends. I know you have been somewhat bored here in the country. By all means, do not concern yourselves about me." She protested, but after much insistence, she agreed to leave with Louisa on Friday.
Unhappily for all parties involved, Georgiana's chill turned into a rather nasty cold and the rain continued to fall heavy and icy for the entire week. Bingley still made his daily visit to Longbourn, but Darcy only joined him late in the week when Georgiana was feeling a bit better and he felt more comfortable leaving her alone. Elizabeth wished to see her friend, so he took her back to Netherfield for a visit. Georgiana was most pleased and said she felt in much better spirits. Darcy, of course, was more than happy to oblige his sister, especially since he had not seen Elizabeth in several days. After about an hour, Georgiana felt fatigued, so Elizabeth and Darcy left her to rest.
"Thank you for bringing me here Mr. Darcy. I have missed your sister's company, particularly our walks."
"I believe she has missed you as well. She has been begging me to bring you to her, but I did not want to leave her until she felt stronger. The doctor said she is improving now, though, so hopefully she will be fully recovered when our cousin arrives."
"When will he be here?"
"He wrote to me on Monday saying he would arrive at week's end. I expect his arrival in two days, on Saturday night. May I introduce you when he arrives?"
"Oh yes, I would be happy to meet him. Georgiana ... excuse me, Miss Darcy, has told me much about him." Do not excuse yourself Miss Bennet ... I am so glad to hear you refer to her so informally ... like a sister ...
"Thank you. I believe he will arrive quite late in the evening, but I hope you and your sister will join us for tea on Sunday."
"We would be delighted." She smiled at him so warmly that it was all he could do to keep from proposing at that moment. Instead he only gazed at her with an intensity that made her bring down her eyes and blush. He took her hand and kissed it gently.
"I will look forward to it." He led her to the waiting carriage, never letting go of her hand until she was in the carriage. She did not seem to mind that I held her hand, that is a good sign!
"Thank you Mr. Darcy. I hope we shall meet again very soon. Good day." He bowed, and the carriage rolled away. I hope he was not too shocked by my improper behavior, but I did so enjoy holding his hand ... Elizabeth sighed as she remembered the feel of his large, strong hand enclosing her own delicate fingers. A dreamy smile remained on her face until she returned to Longbourn.
As expected, an invitation for the elder Miss Bennets to have tea at Netherfield on Saturday arrived with Mr. Bingley the following day; not as expected was the letter from Caroline taking her leave of Jane. He explained that his sisters had received several very prestigious invitations for London and he had encouraged them to fulfill their social obligations. They had left that very morning. Jane was surprised that her "dear" friend had not called personally, but she attributed it to a desire to reach London before sunset. As the sun had finally returned and they were to meet the son of an earl the next day, Mrs. Bennet made Elizabeth go to Meryton with her younger sisters for new hair ribbons and lace. Although she would rather have spent the afternoon at Netherfield, it was better than being home and offered her the opportunity to walk, so she agreed. Colonel Fitzwilliam arrived near nine o'clock; before he retired to his chamber, Darcy filled him in on the Wickham situation. Fitzwilliam was more than pleased that the scoundrel had finally received his due As Darcy left him, he promised his cousin an opportunity of excellent society the next day.
The following day ...
"Well, Darcy," said Colonel Fitzwilliam, making himself comfortable in one of the library chairs, "tell me what you think of Hertfordshire society." Darcy smiled.
"Cousin, it is far more pleasant than I ever imagined." Fitzwilliam raised an eyebrow.
"Really? How so?"
"For one thing, the ladies ..." Meanwhile, Elizabeth and Jane arrived at Netherfield, where Mr. Bingley graciously welcomed them. He and Jane were immediately in their own world, leaving Elizabeth to fend for herself somewhat. She asked about the other occupant of the house, and Bingley mentioned something about the library. She excused herself and went to look for her favorite companion. As she approached the door of the library, she heard men's voices coming from inside. She leaned in to discern who it was, and was surprised by the conversation she heard.
"... And as for the lively conversation you are so fond of, you will certainly find it in Miss Elizabeth Bennet. She is one of the liveliest young ladies I have ever encountered, while still being perfectly proper, and witty to boot. I daresay you will like her very much." Reflecting on his own comment, Darcy's face suddenly darkened. Fitzwilliam didn't take much notice, and decided to learn more about this Elizabeth Bennet.
"She is the sister of Bingley's lady, you say? Well, perhaps there might be someone for me in Hertfordshire after all, eh Darce?" Darcy and Elizabeth both frowned on different sides of the door.
"I'm afraid she isn't exactly what you need in a wife Fitz. She has very little dowry to speak of, stands to inherit little, her father's estate is entailed away, and her connections are low." Elizabeth was growing angry at these comments, but still listened.
"These are important considerations indeed, but they are not everything Darcy." Darcy smiled.
"Yes, I know. But I have another reason for warning you away from her." Fitzwilliam's and Elizabeth's curiosities were now piqued. "And that is, if I have anything to do with the matter, she will very soon be spoken for!" Elizabeth's eyes widened. Mr. Darcy intends to ask for my hand? Oh my! She leaned against the wall, eyes closed, hand to her heart. How happy I will be if he loves me in return! Then she realized that the gentlemen were still talking, and resolved to hear the rest of their conversation.
"Well, well! Fitzwilliam Darcy, the married man! I never thought I'd see the day when a woman would touch that stony heart of yours!"
"Do not tease me Richard. You know very well that my heart is far from stony... but yes, she has touched it, very deeply. I cannot imagine a life without her in it. It pains me to see her leave for Longbourn after each visit here; I wish to keep her by my side always." Elizabeth smiled, her eyes misting with tears at these words.
"Then I wish you joy cousin. If anyone deserves it, you do." Darcy smiled.
"Thank you Fitz." Fitzwilliam patted Darcy on the back, then smiled mischievously.
"There is just one thing Darcy ... does she love you as well?" He immediately regretted his words upon seeing the pained expression on his cousin's face.
"This I do not know. We are close friends, I know that. She likes me I think. She respects me, I know. But love ... I will not know for sure until I ask."
"There, there, Darce," consoled his cousin. "I'm sure you are just being modest. When I meet her I will observe her and tell you what I see. When you are more certain of her feelings, you will get up the courage to propose." Darcy's smile returned.
"Thank you Fitzwilliam. You always know how to cheer me up." After a slight pause, "Shall we adjourn to the drawing room? The ladies should be arriving soon." Suddenly, Elizabeth realized her compromising position. She ran from the library door and turned the corner, making it look as though she was on her way to the library from the drawing room. She met with the gentleman in the corridor.
"Mr. Darcy!" she said with a smile. "I was just gone to look for you. Jane and I have just arrived, and Mr. Bingley said you may be in the library. Pray tell me, how fares your sister? I hope her health has improved since I last saw her." Fitzwilliam noticed the change in his cousin's countenance as he set eyes on his beloved.
"Miss Bennet, as always it is a pleasure to see you. I hope that you have not been waiting long." She confirmed that she had not, and he went on. "Georgiana is doing much better, I thank you, but not yet feeling strong enough to come downstairs for so long a time. Perhaps in a day or two she can join us again." Turning to his cousin, he added, "Please allow me to introduce you to my cousin, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, who is just arrived himself late last night. Fitzwilliam, this is Miss Elizabeth Bennet." The colonel smiled broadly and bowed to Elizabeth. What a beauty! Good thing you warned me before Darcy, or I would have been quite prone to falling in love with this young lady!
"Miss Bennet, it is a pleasure to meet you. I have heard much about you, and look forward to what I hear is lively conversation and an exquisite performance on the pianoforte." Elizabeth blushed, but managed to laugh it off.
"Your sources must be greatly deceived sir. My conversation I cannot vouch for, but I can tell you that my skill on the pianoforte is mediocre at best. In truth, I play very ill indeed; please do not expect much, or you shall be grossly disappointed." He smiled.
"I doubt my sources are deceived, Miss Bennet. Biased, perhaps, but not deceived." Darcy colored at this hint, and hastened to change the subject.
"I hope your family is doing well Miss Bennet."
"They are, I thank you."
"I am glad to hear it." There was a brief silence as Darcy and Elizabeth looked at each other affectionately, broken only by the colonel clearing his throat.
"I believe we are expected for tea?" He noticed with satisfaction the blush on each of their faces at being caught. You do not know if she loves you? Darcy, you must be the blindest man on this earth! They walked to the drawing room together, where Bingley and Jane were waiting.
"There you all are! We were wondering where you had gone off to. Tea is served."
"Yes, Mr. Bingley, it is obvious that you were quite preoccupied with our whereabouts; if you had not come looking for us I'm sure we would never have turned up," Elizabeth teased. Bingley chuckled.
"I never said I was wondering terribly hard!" The party sat down to tea after Jane was introduced to Colonel Fitzwilliam, and pleasant conversation ensued. After too brief a time for anyone's satisfaction, the ladies announced that they should be on their way home for dinner. Bingley was about to issue the expected invitation to stay when Darcy spoke.
"Ladies, please do stay here for dinner." All eyes turned to him in surprise. "I believe I speak for all of us," he stammered.
"Indeed, I was about to make the same suggestion myself," said Bingley. "We are all quite desolate without your delightful company I'm sure." He spoke to Jane, staring at her dreamily, but Darcy's smile included Elizabeth in the compliment. Jane replied.
"We would love to stay, if it wouldn't be an imposition." Strong assurances to the contrary convinced the sisters; Bingley informed his butler that the ladies would be joining them, and everyone settled back in to their earlier conversations. After a short while, Bingley and Jane separated themselves as usual, and Lizzy was left to talk with two very handsome young men named Fitzwilliam. What a punishment! she thought with a grin. As a consequence of Darcy's natural inclination to be silent and Fitzwilliam's natural inclination to be garrulous, Elizabeth found her conversation to be mostly directed at the latter, a fact she did not mind but which she did not prefer. She resolved to get Mr. Darcy involved in the conversation the best way she knew how- by teasing him
"Colonel Fitzwilliam, I must tell you how shocked I am by your cousin's bad manners; I have not seen him this silent since before the ball in November. In fact, I am quite put out," she pouted, though her eyes belied her. "If he does not join the conversation soon, I shall have to embarrass him by telling you of his behavior during our early acquaintance." She crossed her arms and arched an eyebrow at Darcy, who groaned.
"Please no! Don't tell him that, I will never hear the end of it!" Fitzwilliam laughed.
"Please do tell me Miss Bennet, I am eager to hear how he behaves amongst strangers!"
"Very well. The first time I ever met Mr. Darcy was at a ball where he danced only four dances, though gentleman were scarce and more than one lady was in want of a partner." She looked at Mr. Darcy piercingly. "And his behavior did not improve after that. Oh, he was most disagreeable, never talking or laughing. I could not figure him out. But then, I believe, he grew accustomed to our savage country ways, and has become quite a pleasant companion when my sister and Mr. Bingley go off to their own world as they are so wont to do." Fitzwilliam laughed as Darcy dramatically put his head in his hands.
"Yes, yes, I confess, it was so. I was a terrible man. Now you have heard all, Fitzwilliam, I am sure you will want to disown me as a relation and never mention my name again." The three continued in this merry vein until they were called for dinner. Elizabeth reflected on how much pleasanter a place Netherfield had become since the departure of the "superior sisters"; Darcy reflected on how much pleasanter a place Netherfield was, nay, any place was when Elizabeth was in it.
Part VII Posted on Tuesday, 18 December 2001
"Miss Bennet ... Elizabeth ..." She blushed at his use of her Christian name. "Elizabeth, I have been walking the grove for some time in the hope of meeting you alone. I have something very particular to speak to you about." She looked up and met his intense gaze.
"Yes Mr. Darcy?" He took her hand.
"Please call me Fitzwilliam."
"Yes ... Fitzwilliam ..." she breathed as he took her into his arms.
"Dearest, loveliest Elizabeth. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you. From almost the earliest moments of our acquaintance I have come to feel for you a passionate admiration and regard which I can no longer control. I need you Elizabeth ... I beg you to relieve my suffering and consent to be my wife." He pressed her close to him, her head leaning against his broad chest. His fingers sought her curls, and he pulled the pins out of her hair to let them flow loose. She looked up at him, passion burning in her eyes.
"Oh Fitzwilliam! I adore you as well. You are the only man in the world who I could ever be prevailed on to marry! I ..." He stopped her speech with an ardent kiss. She kissed him back with equal force, heightening his desire even further. He ran his fingers through her long hair, pulling away from her as she tilted her head back to expose her throat. He leaned in and planted soft kisses down her neck. She sighed with pleasure, increasing his ardor. His lips found hers again, exploring her mouth with growing passion, his hands pressing her closer while caressing her back. He found the clasps of her dress and began to undo them. She whispered to him.
"My love, would we not do better to go to your chamber?" Much as he hated to break his embrace, he acknowledged her point, and picked her up in his arms and carried her into the house. Fortunately it was very early and no one had risen yet, so they escaped to his room without detection. Once there he threw off his jacket and began undoing his cravat as Lizzy sat timidly on the bed. Successfully having loosened his shirt, he reached for her, pulling her close again and going back to work on those clasps. She threw her arms around his neck and gave him a passionate kiss, running her fingers through his dark hair. "Oh Fitzwilliam! I long to be yours! Please take me!" He did not need to be told twice. He finally loosened the dress and pushed it down her shoulders, eyeing her hungrily yet lovingly. She shivered as she observed the passionate look in his face. He approached her again, kissing her shoulder, feeling her breath against his neck and she held him.
"Oh Elizabeth ... oh my love, how long I have desired this moment!"
"And I too, my dear Fitzwilliam ... I long for you so!" He picked her up and gently placed her on the bed. He smiled; at last she would be his! At last ... THUD.
Darcy groaned as he realized that he had rolled onto the floor. He rubbed his head and sighed; again he had been dreaming of Elizabeth; he smiled at the memory of their passionate caresses. How long until I can make this dream a reality? Oh Elizabeth, to waken every morning with you by my side! With another sigh, he stood up and picked his disheveled bedding up from the floor. How unfortunate that I did this to my sheets all alone, he thought with a little, mischievous grin. As it was already past dawn, Darcy decided he would dress and take an early morning walk to clear his mind.
Elizabeth also rose early at Longbourn that day, as she had told Georgiana that she would join her for breakfast. She primped with slightly more care, for it is not everyday that a lady meets so many handsome gentlemen in the same house! she laughed to herself. Actually... I suppose it has been everyday! In truth, she and Jane had met with Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley, and Colonel Fitzwilliam everyday since Colonel Fitzwilliam's arrival eight days before. In only a few days it would be Christmas, and the entire Bennet family had been invited to spend it at Netherfield. Elizabeth anticipated it greatly, for many reasons. Mr. Darcy's attentions towards her had been growing daily, and she could not deny that she hoped he might approach her very soon. He had taken to kissing her hand each time they parted, helping to ease the ache in her heart temporarily. She smiled as she thought of the feel of her hand in his, of lips on her fingers...sighing, she tied up her bonnet, informed Jane of her departure, and was on her merry way.
Darcy was not terribly surprised to see Elizabeth coming up the path from Longbourn so early in the morning. He knew that she often rose early to enjoy the outdoors before people cluttered it up, and he had overheard Georgiana asking her to breakfast the day before. Thinking that a nice stroll with Miss Bennet would be a perfect way to start the day, he called out to her.
"Miss Bennet! How delightful to see you this morning. I hope you slept well."
"Thank you Mr. Darcy, I did. And yourself?" He blushed in remembrance of his dreams.
"I was ... awoken early by an ... interesting dream, but otherwise I rested very well, thank you."
"That must have been a very interesting dream to cause you to wake. Will you tell me about it? I enjoy trying to interpret dreams," she said with an innocent smile. Darcy was now blushing quite furiously, trying to think of a way to avoid telling Elizabeth that he had in fact dreamed about her in a rather improper position.
"Em ... well, I don't really remember it anymore. I only recall that it woke me."
"That is unfortunate, but I am sure we can find another topic of conversation." She smiled at him warmly. He gave her a look of adoration that she could not mistake.
"Miss Bennet, I hope I am not being too forward when I say that you look exceptionally well this morning. You are always beautiful, but today you are simply ... stunning." It was now her turn to blush furiously.
"Mr. Darcy," she replied with a nervous laugh, "you are all politeness, I am sure. There is nothing different about me today than any other day."
"I beg to differ Miss Bennet. Each day you are different from the last, for you grow more beautiful with each passing one." By this time they had reached the house, and, as was his habit, Darcy did not have the courage to follow his compliments. Instead, he kissed her hand tenderly, escorted her into the breakfast room where Georgiana was waiting, and excused himself. Needless to say, this left Elizabeth thoroughly confused. She had heard him profess to Colonel Fitzwilliam his intention of making her "spoken for", but since then he had made no serious advances besides the small hints such as this morning. Trying to forget the pangs in her heart, she turned her thoughts to her conversation with Georgiana.
Darcy, meanwhile, was busy banging his head against the library wall. I cannot BELIEVE I did not take that opportunity to propose. The timing would have been perfect! The weather is beautiful, I made the perfect entrance to it with my compliments on her beauty ... what an idiot I am! Why did God not grant me the easy manners of Richard or Charles? He ran a hand through his hair in frustration as Fitzwilliam entered the room.
"Good morning Darcy! Was that Miss Elizabeth Bennet's delightful laughter I just heard?"
"Yes it is Fitzwilliam. Georgiana invited her to breakfast. She just walked here from Longbourn."
"Oh?" asked Fitzwilliam with a raised eyebrow. "Have you seen her yet?"
"Yes, I met with her on the path and escorted her in. She looks especially lovely today." He slammed his fist against the wall. "Dammit Richard, I had a golden opportunity to tell her my feelings and I failed miserably!" He related the conversation that took place during their walk, and Fitzwilliam had to grimace when Darcy told him of the outcome. "How could I have let it pass me by? It was perfect, absolutely perfect!" The colonel patted his shoulder.
"There, there Darce. I am quite sure that Miss Bennet will forgive you and still accept you when you find another perfect time to propose." Darcy looked up with a pained expression.
"Actually Fitz, I believe that was part of the reason for my cowardice. I am so unsure of what she feels for me. I do not know if my suit will be looked upon with favor. I ... sometimes I think she even fancies you, and the thought is more than I can bear! What if I was to ask, and then she said to me, 'No thank you, but if your cousin wishes to ask the same thing, I am quite at his leisure!'? I do believe I would die!" He threw himself into a chair and buried his head in his hands. Colonel Fitzwilliam could not keep from laughing heartily.
"Darcy, I believe you must be one of the stupidest men who have ever lived. Miss Bennet feels no more than friendship for me. Yes, she is quite friendly to me; but all the while she is looking over my shoulder at my silent and handsome cousin, who is too busy brooding over the jealousy he feels over my easy manners to notice that Miss Bennet is in fact so deeply in love with him that I might as well be one of her sisters for as much as she feels about me." Darcy looked as his cousin with a look of pure hope on his face.
"Do you really think so Richard? Do you really believe that she loves me?"
"Darcy, I think you are the only one who does not believe it. When both of you are out of the room, the rest of us place wagers on how long it will take for each of you to realize that the one is, in fact, passionately in love with the other. It's becoming rather maddening, really!"
"Do not tease me cousin, I beg you. Elizabeth is everything to me, I cannot bear to hear jokes."
"Cousin, I am in earnest. She loves you; I observed it within moments of meeting her. You are made for each other. Please, just propose and get it over with. Then you may stare at each other all you like without trying, unsuccessfully I might add, to hide your feelings." Darcy jumped to his feet and embraced his cousin.
"Thank you Richard! You have made me a very happy man. I will not lose another instant! I shall propose to her this very moment!" Fitzwilliam grabbed his arm.
"Uh, Darce, you may want to wait until a slightly more appropriate time than breakfast with your sister. Perhaps later this morning you can invite her to take a turn or something. I am all for you hurrying, but this is a bit much."
"Right, right, you are perfectly right. I shall contain myself a bit longer. Thank you Fitzwilliam, you have been a great help!" With that, Darcy ran up to his room to make sure he looked as dashingly handsome as he possibly could when he proposed to his beloved. Fitzwilliam, meanwhile, decided that he would take a nice ride around the park. He was about half a mile away from the house when he heard a loud crash coming from the road below him. Urging his horse to go faster, he went to investigate. When he arrived at the scene, he found a large carriage on its side. The horses were trying desperately to free themselves, the driver was lying on the ground, apparently unconscious, and a young lady with fiery red hair and a green cloak was struggling to get out of the passenger compartment. Fitzwilliam dismounted and ran over to help her.
"Oof! Thank you sir, I am most obliged. I thought I would have been stuck there. How is my driver?"
"He appears to be unconscious madam," he replied, trying to keep his composure in the face of the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. "May I be of assistance?" She rushed over to where the driver was standing.
"Oh dear, I think he will need a doctor. Do you know where we can get one?"
"Madam, I am staying not a mile up this road at a place called Netherfield Park. We can take him there and you will both be well attended to, I am sure." He went to cut the horses free. "Um... do you ride?"
"Yes, of course."
"Astride?" She laughed.
"Much to my mother's chagrin, I try to avoid riding any other way as often as possible!" He smiled and handed her the reins.
"There you are. You ride this one and I'll take mine. Now let us find someway to carry your driver." The young lady took off her cloak and handed it to him.
"Why do we not tie this to each horse and lay him in it between us?"
"But madam, you will be cold, and I'm sure this is very expensive. Certainly we can find something else ..."
"Oh pish posh," she interrupted. "There is no time for that. I will not freeze to death in under a mile's ride. Now come along, help me with this." Together they managed to tie the cloak between the horses and place the driver in it. They rode up to Netherfield as quickly as they could considering their cargo. As they got nearer, the colonel called out for help.
"Darcy! Bingley! Come here quickly!" The gentlemen, Jane, and Elizabeth ran out to see what the commotion was about. Darcy saw the young lady and immediately cried out.
"Katty? Is that you?"
"Fitzie!" she replied with a smile. "What a surprise!"
"Can we save the chatting for later? Right now we have an injured man and a cold lady in need of attention," interrupted Fitzwilliam.
"Yes, of course, at once!" cried Bingley, summoning his servants to help carry the man upstairs and get a blanket for "Katty". As soon as the doctor had been sent for and everyone settled again, the colonel spoke.
"Now, Darcy, I believe is the time for introductions."
"Oh yes," said Darcy, slightly embarrassed. "This is Miss Kathleen Sinclair. Miss Sinclair's family lives on the estate neighboring Pemberley, and we have been friends since childhood. Miss Sinclair, this is my cousin, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam; my friend and proprietor of this house, Mr. Charles Bingley; his fiancée, Miss Jane Bennet; and Miss Elizabeth Bennet, my ... very dear friend." His hesitation did not go unnoticed by Miss Sinclair, who also saw the look of extreme discomfort on Miss Elizabeth's face from the moment Mr. Darcy had called her by her childhood nickname. "Tell me Miss Sinclair, what are you doing in this part of the country by yourself?"
"Well, I had been in London, but I decided to surprise my family by returning to Derbyshire for Christmas. It seemed a brilliant idea at the time, but I suppose it has not turned out so well!"
"Miss Sinclair, may I inquire about what exactly you called my friend when you arrived?" asked Bingley curiously. She laughed.
"I do believe I called him Fitzie... you see, when we were very young, both our names were far too complicated to say. So he called me Katty and I called him Fitzie." Darcy coughed.
"Yes... we have long since progressed to more formal appellations, but I fear that in my surprise at seeing her, I said the first thing that popped into my mind." The poor man looked terribly embarrassed, sneaking glances at Elizabeth every few seconds. She was uncharacteristically silent and also looked very uncomfortable. She forced a smile.
"Well, you must be very intimate friends, having known each other so long." Miss Sinclair smiled sympathetically. Don't worry Miss Elizabeth, I am not after your Mr. Darcy ... about his adorable cousin, however, I cannot make the same assertion ...
"Yes, I suppose we are. He is like a brother to me." Darcy and Elizabeth visibly relaxed at this declaration, and Miss Sinclair was quite happy to put aside any doubt as to her intentions towards her old friend. Colonel Fitzwilliam's face seemed to brighten considerably as well. Bingley immediately invited her to stay with them for the night, and if she insisted on going to Derbyshire or London, Darcy offered his own coach to take her. She agreed to spend the night, but decided to postpone making any further decisions until she had been able to recover her things and speak to her driver. Servants were sent to get her trunks from the fallen carriage. Just as they were arriving, Georgiana came downstairs. Her eyes widened at the sight of their new visitor.
"Katty, is that you?!" she asked excitedly.
"Yes Georgie, it certainly is! Come here young lady!" Georgiana embraced her tightly.
"What are you doing in Hertfordshire? I thought you were spending Christmas in town." Miss Sinclair recounted her story, but brushed off Georgiana's concern over her well-being.
"Oh, you know me Georgiana. I'm far too sturdy to let a few scratches put me out of commission. I could use a bit of freshening up, however, and perhaps a nap before dinner. Would you all mind terribly?" They all assured her it was no trouble at all, and a maid was called to draw her bath. She excused herself, and was the topic of conversation until she returned.
"I say, Darcy, why have I never met this neighbor of yours?" asked Fitzwilliam. "I have been to Pemberley many times and have never seen her."
"She studied in France for a good deal of her youth, and so was always abroad at the times of year when your family would come into Derbyshire. You've met her father, I'm sure."
"Yes, I do recall meeting a Sinclair ... Thomas is it?"
"Right. She has an elder brother as well, Edmund. Very nice family, quite well off also. I would say that I'm surprised that they are both unmarried, but their personalities explain it. He is a very practical sort of chap, economical and not fond of displays of wealth. He detests the season for those reasons, and is rarely in town. Katty ... er, Miss Sinclair is a very fiery, independent sort, not about to allow a man to tame her. She was engaged to a Mr. Willoughby at one point, but when she discovered that his character was not what she thought it was, she promptly kicked him out of her home and never spoke to him again. That was about a year ago, I believe." Colonel Fitzwilliam was very grateful for this tidbit of information. Beautiful, independent, wealthy, AND unengaged? It is too good to be true!
Now that she knew that Miss Sinclair was not a threat for Mr. Darcy's affections, Elizabeth felt quite disposed to liking her. They seemed to have matching personalities and spirits, and she was eager to speak to her more. Darcy had relaxed since Miss Sinclair had said exactly what he had hoped she would say. They had always been good friends, but the friendship had never been tainted by stronger feelings on either side, and he was glad for it. He noticed that Elizabeth had been tense before, but now seemed much happier. He found himself hoping that she had been jealous of Miss Sinclair.
At length Miss Sinclair rejoined them, looking stunning in a silk green gown that contrasted her bright red hair and complimented her bright green eyes. Although the fabric was fine, the dress was very simple in design, and though flattering, was unpretentious. Elizabeth decided she liked her better by the minute, as did Colonel Fitzwilliam.
"Mr. Bingley, I have a favor to ask of you. I have spoken to the doctor, and he said my driver will not be able to leave his bed for several days. I have written to my brother in London asking him to come and get me, but I fear that by the time he gets this and can prepare and travel here, it will be Christmas Eve. May I impose on your hospitality until then?"
"Miss Sinclair, I would not hear of your brother traveling here only to leave again! Please, I must insist that both of you join us for Christmas. Then you may travel as you wish." She protested, but after much insistence she agreed to change the letter to an invitation, and it was sent as an express to London that very afternoon. Dinner was a pleasant affair, and afterwards the ladies went to the drawing room as the gentleman adjourned to the library for brandy.
"Darcy, your friend is an absolute angel. In spirit she reminds me very much of your lady, and she is so beautiful! I am very angry with you for not introducing us before." Darcy laughed.
"Well Fitzwilliam, you are now introduced, and if I know Katty ... er, Miss Sinclair, I believe she has taken a fancy to you as well. Bingley, what do you say to arranging the seating tomorrow night to place Fitzwilliam a bit nearer Miss Sinclair?" he winked.
"Capital idea Darcy! Would you rather be across from her or next to her Colonel?" teased Bingley. Fitzwilliam calmly sipped his brandy.
"Across please, so I may admire her fine eyes more," he replied with a pointed look at Darcy. Upon rejoining the ladies, Bingley and Darcy quickly entered and took their seats so that Fitzwilliam had to sit next to Miss Sinclair on a sofa. She blushed becomingly as she greeted him.
"Colonel Fitzwilliam! Miss Elizabeth was just telling me that you are son of the Earl of Matlock." He shot Lizzy a grateful look that she acknowledged with a wink. "I believe I have met your brother and his wife in town. Edward, is it not? They were very amiable."
"Yes, my family is a friendly sort. My brother was very fortunate in his choice of wife. She is a wonderful lady." They continued chatting and laughing well into the evening, until Elizabeth stood and said regretfully that she and Jane should get home. Everyone expressed their disappointment, but the carriage was sent for. Miss Sinclair chose to stay inside, and Colonel Fitzwilliam stayed with her, as did Georgiana. Mr. Bingley offered Jane his arm and they walked to the carriage together. Darcy did the same for Elizabeth, then placed his other hand over the one linked to his arm. She looked up at him, blushing, then cast down her eyes again. He merely gazed at her, breathing in her scent and engraving her face in his memory. Before helping her into the carriage, and when Jane and Bingley were not paying attention, Darcy took both her hands in his own and kissed them.
"Goodnight Miss Bennet. I look forward to seeing you tomorrow." She smiled demurely.
"And I you Mr. Darcy, as always." She bit her lip, fearing she had been too forward; he beamed.
"I hope you shall always be happy to see me," he replied, his eyes aglow.
"Obviously I cannot promise anything, Mr. Darcy," she teased, "but I can say that it has been some time since I have not been happy to see you." She blushed again at how forward she felt.
"It makes me very happy to hear you say so, Miss Bennet. I treasure your good opinion." If she could have met his eyes at that moment, she would have seen the look of utter and complete adoration in them. However, she could not, and, feeling too nervous to continue, he wished her a good night and helped her into the carriage. She looked back at him for as long as she could, until finally he was out of sight. Sitting back, she sighed.
"Lizzy, is there something you would like to tell me?" Jane teased.
"Oh Jane! Do you think Mr. Darcy cares for me? Sometimes I do, and just when I think he will say something of substance, he stops talking altogether. I don't understand him at all!"
"Dear Lizzy, be patient. Charles... Mr. Bingley, I mean, said to me that he knows Mr. Darcy is very much in love with you, and he is sure that he will make an offer of his hand very soon." Lizzy smiled, but only looked out the carriage window into the darkness.
As Darcy and Bingley returned, Miss Sinclair and Georgiana were declaring their intention to retire for the evening. The gentlemen bowed, and the ladies curtseyed and hurried upstairs, whispering conspiratorially. Colonel Fitzwilliam leaned back on the sofa and sighed.
"Darcy, do you think it too soon for me to say that I am in love?" Darcy patted his cousin's shoulder sympathetically.
"There, there Fitzwilliam. She will be here for several more days; you will have plenty of time to test your assertion." He ran out of the room, barely missing being hit by the cushion propelling through the air in his direction.
Meanwhile, upstairs ...
"Dear Georgie, do tell me ... is your cousin engaged?"
"No, he is not. And in fact, I think he is quite enamored with you."
"I certainly hope so, or I would be at an unfair disadvantage!" They giggled.
"Do be serious Katty! Do you like my cousin?" Miss Sinclair shrugged.
"So far, I find him to be quite amiable, and certainly very handsome. I like him very well indeed." She blushed. "But do not even think of playing matchmaker Georgie! We are adults, and can sort out our love lives ourselves, if in fact it comes to that." Georgiana gave her best angelic look.
"Not to worry Katty. I will leave you to your own devices." Fortunately, Miss Sinclair did not notice that Georgiana's fingers crossed behind her back. They retired, Georgiana scheming of how to get her good friend and her cousin together.
The next day...
The sound of a carriage interrupted breakfast at Netherfield the next morning. A servant entered, announcing the arrival of Mr. Edmund Sinclair. Miss Sinclair rose to greet her brother.
"Edmund! I did not expect to see you so soon!" They embraced.
"When I read your letter I had to hurry here to see my old friends! Darcy, Miss Georgiana, how do you do?" The greeted him happily and introduced him to Bingley and Fitzwilliam. Bingley immediately invited him to join them for breakfast, and was accepted.
"Thank you, sir for your offer of hospitality. In truth, when I learned that Kathleen had left for Derbyshire I was very put out, for she was to spend Christmas with me!" he laughed. "It will be nice to spend it with many friends instead." They all enjoyed the company of their new guest very much, though Miss Sinclair and Colonel Fitzwilliam were perhaps a bit less attentive to the proceedings than the others. Bingley explained that he and Darcy usually called on his fiancée's home in the mornings, but that they were all welcome to join them. The others declined, so the two gentlemen mounted their horses and began riding to Longbourn.
"Well Darcy, when do you plan to propose to Miss Elizabeth?" Bingley asked suddenly. Darcy was startled by his friend's directness.
"Whatever made you say that Bingley?" he stammered.
"Darce ... you may think that Jane and I observe nothing, but in fact we notice quite a bit. And we certainly noticed your attentions to her last night. I say, hurry up and go to it, for you do not know just how happy you will be until she accepts. Then the whole world seems to be smiling on you, and you feel that you must smile back!"
"You mean I will become like you, a grinning fool?" Darcy teased. "In that case I shall strive never to be so happy, if only to prevent being so ridiculous!" Bingley tried to hit him, but only managed to punch into the air as Darcy laughed at him. Growing serious again, however, he added, "Do not worry my friend, I will do it when the moment is right. It will happen. My attorney has already written up the settlement, and the jewels are in London awaiting my orders. I am only waiting to be sure."
"Sure of what Darcy? Miss Elizabeth loves you more than anything in the world, you can be certain of that!" Darcy did not reply, but only smiled pensively. The reached Longbourn and had their usual pleasant visit. After Wickham's disgrace, most of Meryton had become acquainted with at least a partial rendition of what had actually occurred between Wickham and Darcy, excepting the Ramsgate incident, and eyes had turned kindly on Mr. Darcy for the first time. He, in turn, had become much more pleasant in society, and was now becoming quite a favorite. He was pleased that mothers had not been forcing their daughters on him as he had expected, but he did not realize that it was because most people thought that he and Elizabeth would soon have an understanding. The Bennets had especially changed their behavior towards him, and Mr. Bennet thought him to be a most amusing sort of gentleman, and was glad for his intelligent conversation at brandy.
Today the gentlemen's visit included an invitation for the entire family to dine at Netherfield with their new guests. Mrs. Bennet declined on behalf of her poor nerves, and Mary claimed that such diversions held no interest for her, but Kitty and Mr. Bennet elected to join Elizabeth and Jane. As they were on their way out, the met with Charlotte Lucas, who had come to visit Elizabeth. Mr. Bingley immediately invited her as well, for he knew she was a young lady of sense and gentility and well-liked by his beloved Jane and her sister. Charlotte at first demurred, not wanting to impose, but Mr. Bingley insisted that she get in the carriage, and he sent a servant to Lucas Lodge to inform them. Charlotte was most impressed by this hospitality.
"Jane, this is too much. Mr. Bingley does not owe me any such kindness." Jane smiled.
"I believe he greatly enjoys having company at Christmas. He has already invited two guests whom he does not even know to stay at Netherfield, and my entire family!" She explained about the unexpected arrivals, and at last they arrived at Netherfield. Bingley dismounted and helped the ladies out of carriage with the aid of Darcy. With a sudden huge smile, Bingley turned to Jane.
"My dear, what would you think if I gave a ball for New Year?" he said with enthusiasm. "We could invite all of Meryton again, and of course the Sinclairs could stay, and..." He rattled on and on, and by the time they arrived in the drawing room he was quite set on the plan. After making all the proper introductions, he rushed off to speak to his housekeeper about preparations. As expected, Colonel Fitzwilliam, Miss Sinclair, and Georgiana were engrossed in conversation, and Mr. Sinclair sat near them, adding to the discussion from time to time. Kitty sat near Georgiana, as she enjoyed the company of young ladies near her own age. Soon she was an enthusiastic participant in their new discussion about the clothes they could all wear to the ball. Darcy and Elizabeth immediately sat together, and were joined by Mr. Bennet and Charlotte. The latter found the only available seat to be next to Mr. Sinclair, and so in between two conversations. She grew tired of hearing about books, and he grew tired of hearing about ball gowns, so he initiated his own conversation with Charlotte. Much to his surprise, he found they had quite matching dispositions and tempers, and she found herself enjoying their chat just as much. Bingley returned and took his place next to Jane, announcing that the ball would be on New Year's Day, and all were invited to stay through then. The Sinclairs were especially encouraged, and accepted the invitation, much to everyone's satisfaction.
Several days later...
At last it was Christmas, and the Bennets were to arrive at Netherfield at any moment. Darcy paced nervously in his room, the newly arrived jewels sitting on his bed. He had decided that today he would propose to Elizabeth, speak to her father, and make the announcement. It was perfect. There was fresh snow on the ground, creating a perfect atmosphere. He would take her out to the garden and hand her his gift. She would open it and find the jewels inside. He would drop to his knees and express all of the feelings that had long been in his heart. He would beg her to be his wife. And then ... well, he did not let himself linger on what her response would be. He was too fearful that if he let himself imagine it, she might say no and he would lose his nerve. No, it must be done, and today! he resolved. At the sound of the carriage wheels that announced the arrival of the Bennets, he ran down the stairs, determined to be there to greet Elizabeth as she entered the house. Bingley was already there welcoming his guests and showing them into the drawing room. Before Elizabeth could even enter the house, Darcy claimed her attention. He held one arm behind his back and offered her the other.
"Miss Bennet, before we go in, may I claim a turn in the garden with you?"
Part VIII Posted on Thursday, 20 December 2001
"Miss Bennet, before we go in, may I claim a turn in the garden with you?" Darcy asked nervously.
"Of course Mr. Darcy. I love the snow." Her smile was so bright that he nearly lost his composure. He offered her his arm and, placing his hand on hers, led her around to the garden. At last he stopped underneath an archway in the garden and turned to her. Clearing his throat, he spoke.
"Miss Bennet, we have known each other for some months now." He paused, as if to ask her confirmation.
"Yes we have sir," she replied with confusion.
"Em, yes, well ... and in that time we have become good friends I think."
"I hope so, yes." She appeared slightly disappointed at this comment, which confused him slightly. He hoped that she was disappointed at being called only a friend.
"I am glad." Pause. "However, I no longer wish us to be friends." Now she was really confused. Wonderful Darcy, make her think that you want nothing more to do with her. Excellent way with words you have. He pulled the package from behind his back. "This is for you." She took the package timidly, and unwrapped it slowly. She looked at him strangely when she realized that it was a jewelry box. "Open it," he urged. She lifted the lid of the box and gasped at its contents. Inside were a bracelet, necklace, earrings, and a ring, all gold and diamonds. She looked up at him with wide eyes.
"What is this?" she asked. He took one of her hands and kissed it tenderly.
"Miss Bennet ... Elizabeth, these jewels were left to me by my mother to be given to my future wife." She gasped. "I was hoping that you would do me the honor of wearing them." She looked back and forth from the jewels, to him, back at the jewels, back at him. Her silence made him nervous, so he spoke more. "Elizabeth, I can barely remember a time when I have not loved you. My life was an empty shell before meeting you, and it is only in your company that I feel truly whole. I beg you to relieve my suffering and consent to be my wife," he cried with such emotion that he startled himself. His eyes were shining with tears, and when she met his gaze she saw that he truly was suffering; suffering from fear that she would not accept him. She smiled lovingly at him.
"Mr. Darcy, the honor of wearing these is all mine. I accept your proposal gratefully and wholeheartedly. I ..."she paused, blushing, "I love you too, so very much." His happiness at this reply was such as he had never felt before, and he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do. He very improperly pulled her to him, embracing her as if he expected her to disappear as so many of his dream Elizabeth's had. This one, however, was real; and she returned his embrace as tightly. At last pulling away slightly, he gazed down at her and put his fingers under her chin, forcing her to look at him. Rather than being "missish" and demurely looking away, she met his stare equally. He leaned down and softly kissed her lips. Unfortunately for him, he had not realized that, instead of satisfying the urgent need he had felt for her lips, his action had only increased that need. As she did not pull back, but rather, returned his first kiss, he leaned down again with increased ardor. She held him tightly and again kissed him with equal passion. At last he realized that if he did not stop it would become more difficult, and his trousers would betray their actions quite embarrassingly. With a few tender pecks, he ended their passionate embrace with her face in his hands.
"Dearest, loveliest Elizabeth, how long I have waited for that moment. I adore you, love you more than life itself!" He dropped to his knees and clutched her skirt. She leaned down, kissing and stroking his hair. Finally, she stepped slightly away and extended her hand to help him up.
"Come Mr. Darcy, we should probably go in the house before we are missed."
"Elizabeth ... please call me Fitzwilliam."
"Alright," she smiled. "Come Fitzwilliam, let us go in the house." Again he misjudged his ability to control himself; the very sound of her voice saying his name drove him into another frenzy, and he pulled her into a second long, passionate kiss. If she had intended to resist, the intention was completely forgotten as soon as their lips touched. After several moments they again parted. He gave her one more loving look, then took her hand and walked beside her into the house. Georgiana saw them first, having decided to go out and find them. She took one look at them and broke into joyous hysterics.
"Oh Fitzwilliam, Elizabeth! I am so happy!" she cried, and ran to embrace them. Darcy looked at her in amazement.
"How did you know?" he asked curiously.
"I could just tell by the looks on your faces... and the fact that you are holding hands and Lizzy is holding mother's jewelry box," replied the sly Georgiana. Elizabeth laughed.
"I believe your sister is cleverer than you give her credit for, Mr. Darcy," she teased.
"Fitzwilliam," he corrected.
"Fitzwilliam," she repeated softly, a rosy blush coloring her cheeks. Her hand shifted to his arm before they entered the drawing room, and Darcy immediately sought out Mr. Bennet for a private audience. After a few moments closeted together in the library, the gentlemen returned.
"May I have everyone's attention please?" Mr. Bennet addressed the company. All eyes turned to him. "I am very pleased to announce the engagement of my daughter Elizabeth to Mr. Darcy." Exclamations of joy and congratulations broke from the group, with the most delight coming from Bingley and Jane.
"Oh Lizzy," Jane said softly as she hugged her sister tightly, "you shall be as happy as I, I am sure." Elizabeth acknowledged that she would, although in her mind she was certain that she would be even happier. Darcy could not help smiling widely the entire evening, confirming Bingley's prediction, and his own that he would become a "grinning fool". The theory was put forth that his teeth had never been bared for so long a time in his life.
One week later, Netherfield, New Year Ball...
Darcy could not believe his good fortune. For several days he feared that all had been a dream from which he would soon awaken. It took several more passionate kisses from Elizabeth to convince him that their engagement was indeed a reality. It had been decided that they were to have a double wedding with Jane and Bingley in February, but to the couple it seemed an eternity away. They were, however, determined to enjoy their courtship as much as they could in the presence of her vulgar relations and their effusions of joy. Tonight was to be their first opportunity to dance together as a couple, and he wanted to claim her hand for every dance; knowing this to be improper, however, he arranged for Colonel Fitzwilliam, Mr. Bennet, and Bingley to stand up with her for the ones he could not have. She was amused but flattered by his jealousy, and in return insisted that he only stand up with herself, her sisters, and Georgiana; he, of course, readily consented.
At last the evening arrived for the ball, and Darcy made an effort to be as handsome as he could for Elizabeth, who was planning on doing the same for him. He was not truly prepared for the sight he saw when he helped her out of her carriage. She wore a silk gown of deep burgundy, covered with a cloak of the same shade. Rosebuds and ribbons were intertwined in her hair. She was absolutely breathtaking, and it was all he could do not to carry her away to Gretna Green at that moment. She smiled dazzlingly at him, weakening his composure even further, but he somehow managed to pull himself together and escort her into the ballroom. Netherfield looked wonderful for the occasion, even better than in November. In Darcy's mind, everything was perfect; in fact, everything had seemed perfect since Elizabeth had accepted his proposal.
Much as they felt like it, however, Darcy and Elizabeth were not the only couple in the world. In fact, Colonel Fitzwilliam and Miss Sinclair had been paying a great deal of attention to each other. Miss Sinclair was the heiress of a large fortune comparable to Georgiana's, and so did not need to worry about marrying for wealth. Being the younger son of an earl and related to the families of DeBourgh and Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam had excellent connections. Speculation had already begun about their domestic bliss, as Meryton had become wedding-crazed in the past few weeks. Kathleen was not the only Sinclair who seemed to be enjoying the company of a particular friend. To the surprise of many, Edmund Sinclair had been spending a good deal of time in the company of Charlotte Lucas, and had even been to call on her at Lucas Lodge.
The evening was a magical one. Charlotte Lucas had never been romantic, but she felt that she had finally met someone she could admire and respect, and perhaps even love. Edmund claimed her hand for several dances, and she happily accepted him. Colonel Fitzwilliam gave an equal amount of attention to Miss Sinclair; overall, both Sinclairs were by now quite happy that their carriage had turned over, for their driver was recovered and they were able to spend the holiday season with old and new friends. Even Georgiana seemed to come out of her shell, and Mary danced two dances. Bingley's second ball at Netherfield was declared a tremendous success.
February 23rd, Longbourn
Elizabeth and Jane could not sleep the night before their wedding. Their mother had given them an idea of what to expect on their wedding night, but fortunately their aunt talked to them afterwards to give them much better hopes of what they were to discover. Jane was nervous, as she and Bingley had only shared the briefest, chastest of kisses. Elizabeth was also slightly nervous, but more excited at the prospect of what would happen when Darcy did not have to stop himself at passionate kisses. For as long as they could not sleep, the sisters talked of everything they could think of; they spoke of their hopes and dreams of marriage, of their family, their future homes, in short, of everything but that which was most on their minds. At last sleep found them, in enough time to allow them to be wide awake when it was time to prepare for the wedding.
The ladies were acknowledged by all to look more beautiful than ever, and when they reached the church their future husbands' jaws dropped in awe of their brides. Darcy tried thousands of distractions to keep from imagining what the night would have in store, and often found himself looking at Caroline Bingley repeatedly to cool his passions. At last he calmed himself and turned his attention to the ceremony. In what seemed like an amazingly short time, Elizabeth was declared to be his wife. He slowly turned to look at her tenderly, scarcely believing that she was his at last. The wedding breakfast passed at an insanely slow pace for Darcy's liking, but finally they were able to get in their carriage and go to London, where they were to spend the wedding night. After a few tearful goodbyes, Elizabeth settled back and looked at her new husband with delight. He kissed her hand.
"Well Mrs. Darcy? Are you happy?" She laughed.
"Mrs. Darcy ... I fear I am not yet used to that appellation. Mmm ... Mrs. Darcy." She smiled warmly at him. "Yes, I am unimaginably happy."
"Actually my dear, I think I can quite imagine how happy you are." He touched her cheek and kissed her. She did not allow him to pull back, but ran her fingers through his curls and pulled him close again. His other arm went around her back as he pressed himself against her. Only the carriage running over a bump interrupted them. "Mrs. Darcy," he said laughingly, "I do not think the carriage is the appropriate place for this!"
"Why, Mr. Darcy, I am shocked. I wanted merely to kiss my darling husband."
"Yes my love, but your darling husband is having a very difficult time merely kissing you." His eyes burned with desire, and he wished most fervently that the carriage would hurry up and reach London. At last they arrived at his- no, their- townhouse. He realized that he would have to introduce her to the staff and show her around the house, then have dinner, adding another few hours to their day. He sighed his dismay as they exited the carriage, but bore it as cheerfully as he could.
The housekeeper managed to get everything done surprising quickly, and finally hurrying Darcy upstairs, she said to him with a wink, "Now you have a lovely night Mr. Darcy. Your wife is a wonderful lady." He thanked her and showed Elizabeth to her chamber.
"Shall I come to you in half an hour?" he asked nervously. She nodded her ascent and pushed him out to his own chamber. At the appointed time he softly rapped on her door. Elizabeth softly called to him to come in; she was brushing her hair. Darcy merely took in the sight at first, then moved towards her. He took the brush from her hand and took over the job of brushing her hair. She closed her eyes as a small grin appeared on her lips. Her husband eventually put the brush down and sat beside her on the settee. He took both her hands in his and kissed them over and over. "My dear, dear Elizabeth. Oh my love!" He kissed her lips, her face, her neck. She held him close, kissing him back whenever she could. Not able to hold back anymore, he took Elizabeth in his arms and carried her to their bed ...
Epilogue Posted on Thursday, 20 December 2001
After several taxing months at Netherfield, the Bingleys moved to an estate not twenty miles from Pemberley, allowing Jane and Elizabeth to be near each other always. Mary had become Mrs. Collins and gone into Kent just after the ball, but was forced to return to Hertfordshire for a time with her husband after Lady Catherine learned of her nephew's engagement to Mary's sister. After their solemn promises to Lady Catherine that they looked on the match as she did, she allowed them to return. Soon after his cousin's wedding, Colonel Fitzwilliam proposed to and was accepted by Kathleen Sinclair. Her brother continued his acquaintance with Charlotte Lucas for several months before asking her to be his wife. Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy agreed that while all of these couples were very well suited for each other, they alone could claim the title of happiest couple in all the world.