Anyone watching the endearing little girl would never imagine that anything was wrong with her. She ran in the garden with her elder sister, she played on the swing with her friends, she climbed trees with the boys. She appeared normal and healthy in every respect.
But she wasn't. Elizabeth Bennet was born with a heart defect, a heart murmur. At age five, she was like any other little girl, only she tired easier. Her parents never told her she could not play like the others; her mother was occupied with her younger sisters, and her father wished her to grow up as normal as possible. The doctor had assured her father that she would grow out of it in time, but Mr Bennet had still insisted on taking special care of Elizabeth. And so in time, through the many hours spent together in more passive activities like reading, Elizabeth came to be his favourite daughter.
When Elizabeth developed a great fondness for walking in her teenage years with no apparent ill effects, her father, and the doctor, assumed she had outgrown her heart murmur.
But they were wrong. Oh, it was no longer a physical defect; in fact, it could be considered an asset. For while the hole in Elizabeth's heart repaired itself, her heart had really begun to murmur.
Elizabeth assumed this was what everyone felt when they said their heart beat faster at the sight of a beautiful sunset, or at the sound of a magnificent piece of music. While it is true that people's hearts react to their surroundings, Elizabeth's reacted differently, almost telling her what was to come.
Elizabeth first realised that she was different when the Bennet girls were to take a picnic with the Lucas girls in her 18th year. As they were ascending the carriages, her heart began pumping strangely. Boom, swish, plop. She understood that this was a warning, and stopped dead.
'Why don't we move on to the next bench, Charlotte?' she suggested.
'Why ever would you want to do that, Lizzie? It is so much prettier here.'
Since she couldn't give a reason, Elizabeth did not argue any longer, and they sat down to lunch. Just as they started, three horsemen galloped into the clearing, crashing into Maria Lucas and grabbing their baskets.
That night in her bed, Elizabeth recalled similar incidents where she had been warned by the beating of her heart. The time her and Jane had been stranded on the far side of the river, the time Lydia had fallen off the horse, the time her grandmother had passed away. And she realised she had been given a gift in understanding.
But her heart had also provided many good messages. Elizabeth clearly remembered the way her heart had beat the day her Aunt Gardiner had given birth to her youngest cousin Samuel. She had only found out officially the next day, but she knew. Swish, plop, bump. Her joy had known no bounds.
But once she had recognised that she had a gift, she still could not decipher it. Often she mistook warning signs for anticipation. And just as often she had jumped gaily into a situation, head first and following her heart, only to find that her heart had been trying to warn her. And so she spent much time walking and wondering, trying to sort herself out.
It was on one such walk that she was muddling over that morning's murmurings. Swish, plop, plip. Was it a warning, or a sign of something good and joyful? She walked all the way past Oakham Mount before she remembered that there was to be an assembly that evening, and her mother would be in a fit of nerves if she was not home on time, for there were new gentlemen in the neighbourhood. Imagining what kind of gentlemen they were, Elizabeth quickly decided that this was a warning not to allow her heart to become involved.
If only she had heeded that warning.
As she approached the assembly rooms that evening, Elizabeth could feel hear heart beating again. Swish, plop, plip. The same as the morning, only louder and stronger. If only she knew what it meant! She resolved to make no conclusions, and simply wait for the events of the evening to unfold.
And unfold they did. She met the newcomers; a gentleman, Mr Bingley, and his sisters, Mrs Hurst and Miss Bingley. There were also his brother-in-law, Mr Hurst, and his friend, Mr Darcy. Mr Darcy intrigued Elizabeth. He appeared to be proud and arrogant, but when she glanced at him in an unguarded moment, she could definitely detect some shyness, and a lack of ease in society. Somehow she knew that her murmurings were for this man, but she still knew not what to make of it.
When Jane stood up with Mr Bingley, Elizabeth retired to the side of the room. Her heart was beating faster, and more distinctly, than ever before. Unfortunately, she was privy to a private conversation, in which she heard Jane called an angel by Mr Bingley, and herself called 'tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me' by Mr Darcy.
Without any further thought, she resolved the mystery of her heart. It was a warning to her to steer clear of Mr Darcy, and a hint to encourage a match between Mr Bingley and Jane.
Jane had been invited to spend the day with the Bingley sisters, while the men dined with the officers. Mrs Bennet insisted on sending Jane on horseback, certain that it would rain, and that Jane would be forced to stay the night.
Elizabeth had a very bed feeling about this arrangement of events. Swish, plop, boom. As she crawled into her own bed that night, with the raid pounding at her windows, she prayed that no harm had befallen Jane, and that the message of her heart was one of anticipation, not anxiety.
However, the next morning at breakfast Elizabeth's worst fears were confirmed. Jane had taken ill, and was confined to bed at Netherfield. Directly after breakfast, after having convinced her mother that it was appropriate to visit her sick sister, she set off for Netherfield.
The entire three miles, her heart kept changing. First it was boom, plop, plip. Then it was swish, plip, boom. Elizabeth did not know what to make of it.
As she approached Netherfield, her heart resolved itself into a steady, firm swish, plip, boom. She glanced up and caught sight of Mr Darcy, at which the volume and pace of her heartbeat increased significantly. Again she thought this was a warning, and resolved to avoid the man.
However, avoiding Mr Darcy turned out to be easier said than done. Jane had wished for Elizabeth to stay, so she had. And it was rather difficult to avoid a man living in the same house as yourself.
Every time Elizabeth encountered Mr Darcy, at dinner or in the drawing room afterwards, Elizabeth's heart would beat so strongly she could feel it right down to her toes. It was always the same beat when she was in the presence of Mr Darcy. Swish, plip, boom. She could not honestly say she did not enjoy their verbal sparring, for her was intelligent and witty, with a similar sense of humour to herself.
Again, she decided that it was essential that she decipher her heart.
But the weeks passed again, and still she had no luck. That evening was to be the Netherfield ball, which Elizabeth had high hopes for. Not for herself, but for Jane.
Her heart had settled into the now familiar swish, plip, boom pattern. She had finally recognised that this was the pattern associated with Mr Darcy, and Mr Darcy alone. But being the stubborn creature she was, she refused to consider that it might be anything other than a warning, a caution.
The ball was a disaster for the Bennets. The entire family, excepting Jane and Elizabeth, behaved in the most coarse, vulgar way imaginable. For Elizabeth, it was worse. Every time her sisters or mother had behaved inappropriately, her heart had beat in a boom, plop, boom pattern so loudly she was sure it would be heard. And what her heart had done when she danced with Mr Darcy? Let it rather not be mentioned, but it is sufficient to say that Elizabeth was rather embarrassed.
The some time later Elizabeth was taking another of her protracted walks. The past weeks had been a disaster. She had been proposed to by Mr Collins, Mr Bingley had left, Jane was in London with her broken heart, and Charlotte was now married to her odious cousin. And Elizabeth had promised to visit Charlotte at Hunsford in the spring.
But the worst was that The Mr Darcy Heartbeat, as Elizabeth had come to call it, had not subsided with the gentleman's removal from the area. For a time it had remained steady, but recently it had increased.
And so it was with great trepidation that Elizabeth prepared for her trip to Hunsford, uncertain of what she would find there but certain that if she were to survive it, she would have to decode her own heart.
Elizabeth had thought that, unpleasant as the trip would be, Hunsford would al least afford her the opportunity to come to terms with her feelings, whatever they happened to be.
And it was. For the first part of her stay, she was able to walk and read at her leisure. She was also able to talk to Charlotte. Not that she was able to confide in anyone, but Charlotte was an extremely objective observer, and tended to notice things that went right past Elizabeth.
And then there were the obligatory visits to Rosings, of course. To Elizabeth's great relief, these visits brought no new beatings, although, strangely enough, her 'Mr Darcy Heartbeat' did seem to become a little more forceful when she visited. She supposed this was to reinforce the warning; after all, Lady Catherine was his aunt, and if she should avoid him, perhaps he should avoid her too.
One morning, while she was out walking and reading a letter from Jane, Elizabeth came upon a tree stump. Not that this was an unusual occurrence, but this one was different, and something compelled Elizabeth to stop. As soon as she sat down, her heart started beating gently, yet firmly, swish, plip, boom. For once, she was able to correctly interpret her heartbeat, although here it was fairly obvious what it could mean.
Elizabeth surmised that this crude bench was carved by Mr Darcy. She immediately stood up and began searching for some confirmation. And found it on the back, hidden from sight. It was small, the letters 'FD' scratched into the bark in a simple square. 'So his given name begins with a F,' she thought, wondering why this should matter to her. She sat back down and instantly felt a certain peace envelop her, a sense of security. She was asleep before she even had time to wonder where it came from.
The sun was already high and hot by the time she woke. She immediately set of for the cottage for she was sure Charlotte would be worrying.
She arrived just in time for luncheon, and hastily made her excuses as she sat down. At lunch was to come another surprise.
'My dear, on my regular visit to Lady Catherine this morning, I was told the most wonderful news. Besides for that her Ladyship is in excellent health, and that the crops are developing wonderfully this year, I found that Rosings is expecting visitors. Do you, by any chance, remember a Mr Darcy from Hertfordshire? I recall telling you that he was her Ladyship's nephew. Well, she is expecting a visit from him and another nephew, one Colonel Fitzwilliam. This visit comes at a most fortunate time because...'
At the word 'visitors,' Elizabeth felt her heart begin to pound again. She did not even need to her his name to react. Swish, plip, boom, swish plip, boom, swish, plip, boom, SWISH, PLIP, BOOM.
'Lizzy, are you well? You look a little pale.'
'I am well, Charlotte, I was just out in the sun for too long. I think I will excuse myself to rest a little.'
The confusion Elizabeth had not had time to feel earlier came back in full measure. What did it all mean? She had felt so at peace in his bench, as if she were in his arms. Why? And now he was coming. How was she to react? What would she say? Was her heartbeat a warning, or an encouragement?
With these thoughts floating around her head, Elizabeth finally dozed off. At dinner she was able to act perfectly in keeping with her usual behaviour, but chose to have an early night as a precaution.
The next morning Elizabeth chose to walk well away from the gates of Rosings. She was not ready to even see him yet. Instead, she found herself ambling along the river path again, and again she found herself in his bench. And she had the same confused thoughts running through her head as she made her way back.
The next few days passed in much the same was for Elizabeth, with the same walk and the same thoughts. Then they were invited to Rosings.
Without any indication of her own motives, Elizabeth took much time and care in her preparations, trying to ignore her heart sounding like an army band.
She was able to meet and greet Mr Darcy with little embarrassment, considering. She found his cousin charming and friendly, and immediately developed a rapport with him.
Dinner passed off with little excitement, and before long they were returning to the cottage.
Elizabeth now had a new heartbeat to add to her repertoire. Plop, swish, plip. This pattern was associated with the Colonel, and Elizabeth had no trouble interpreting it as friendship.
The next few weeks passed in much the same manner. On occasion, Elizabeth would meet Mr Darcy on her walks, and was almost unable to hear him over her heart. When the cottage party attended Rosings, Elizabeth would speak to the Colonel, and occasionally Mr Darcy.
Towards the end of the gentlemen's stay, Elizabeth met Colonel Fitzwilliam in the grounds, and had a very interesting conversation with him. We all know the content of that conversation, so I will not try our patience by repeating it. It is enough to say that Elizabeth returned with a furiously pounding heart.
She missed dinner at Rosings that evening. Instead, she sat at home pondering her heart. There was no mistaking her heart, it was an angry BOOM, BOOM, BOOM. How could he do that to Jane? How could he do that to his friend, Bingley? She was just beginning to warm to him. How could he!
'Mr Darcy to see you, ma'am.'
That night sleep took a very long time to come indeed. Besides for trying to comprehend that a man such as that could love her, Elizabeth had her heart to contend with as well. It was puzzling her more than ever.
Exactly as she had expected, all she could hear was swish, plip, boom, her Mr Darcy Heartbeat. But what surprised her was that it was a disappointed sort of rhythm. Not angry, or resentful, or relieved, but disappointed. Why should she be disappointed when she had just turned down a man who she hated, who had insulted her, who had destroyed her sister's happiness?
The answer came the next morning on her customary walk.
'I have been walking in the grove dome time in the hope of meeting you. Will you do me the honour of reading that letter?'
If she had been confused before, Elizabeth was properly bewildered after reading the letter. She was able to ignore, to some degree, the incessant beating of her heart, and think about the letter's contents.
Charlotte had made a similar comment before, in Hertfordshire, that Jane did not show any signs of encouragement. And she believed Mr Darcy on the account of his other dealings. But her was still abominably rude to her in his proposal.
All in all, she was exceptionally glad she missed the gentlemen's parting visit. She most certainly was not ready to face Darcy, and she did not think she could handle the Colonel either.
Before long she was reunited with her beloved Jane, and returned home. Elizabeth decided she could not keep this secret any longer, and confided all to Jane (well, everything except the part about Mr Bingley). Jane was sympathetic and understanding, as always, and it was a great relief to her sister to finally unburden herself.
Elizabeth's Mr Darcy Heartbeat did not lessen. In fact, she was tempted to think that it was her usual, permanent heartbeat. Her heart simply did not have space for anything else.
Amid her confusion, the only things sustaining Elizabeth were her now frequent discourses with Jane, and the promise of a trip with her aunt and uncle in the summer.
Little did she know that with that much anticipated trip, her feelings would move from a state of agitated confusion, to complete chaos.
Much as Elizabeth would have like to simply be able to look forward to her trip, she couldn't. In the weeks preceding her trip, she managed to calm her feelings enough to take stock of them, and everything around her.
Once she began to reflect on her feelings for Mr Darcy, she realised that, contrary to every other opinion on the subject she had ever had, they existed. And that disturbed her even further. How could she now like the man?
Elizabeth's logic told her that the answer might just be somewhere in the beating of her heart. After all, her heart did have a very distinctive rhythm associated with Mr Darcy, a rhythm that did not want to leave. And to be fair, she did not understand the signals of her heart, so her 'warning' could just have been a 'hint,' that this was meant to be. But she could not seriously say that she loved him, and anything less than that would not be acceptable, regardless of what her heart had to say on the subject.
And then there was Jane. Once she pulled her head out of her own reverie, she could quite easily see that Jane was pining. Not that she was depressive, or that she was complaining, or any of the other usual tell-tale signs, but to Elizabeth is was obvious that she was still very much in love with Mr Bingley. When Elizabeth confronted her with this fact, she would shake her head and say that, although he would always be remembered as the most amiable man of her acquaintance, and every other man would inevitably be compared to him, Mr Bingley himself had been forgotten.
Elizabeth may have been in her own world, but she had not yet lost all her powers of perception, and she knew that Jane had indeed not forgotten Mr Bingley, and it was doubtful that she ever would. And Mr Bingley had loved her. Mr Darcy had implied it in his letter.
Unfortunately, or possibly fortunately, at even the slightest thought of Mr Darcy, Elizabeth's thoughts went off on a tangent and her heart beat out of control, leaving Elizabeth very confused about how she could help Jane, and even more confused as to how she was to ever help herself.
Elizabeth was anticipating the trip to the Lakes as a chance to begin to sort through her feelings. Come to think of it, she spent a lot of time saying when she would sort through her feelings, but she never really managed to do it. In fact, any time allotted to deciphering her feelings usually brought even more confusion. And so with this thought in mind, it was less of a surprise that their trip would be shortened, and they were to travel to Derbyshire, home of Mr F Darcy.
And so it was that Mr and Mrs Gardiner called at Longbourne for the night. The next morning they departed with Elizabeth, leaving their four young children in Jane's expert care.
Their trip began with little particularly remarkable. They viewed many fine houses, large expanses of beautiful landscape, and the magnificent peaks of Derbyshire. The Gardiners noticed Elizabeth was a little withdrawn, but wisely chose not to comment on it.
Elizabeth, for her part, thought that this trip might just give her time to resolve her feelings. Aside for the usual swish, plip, boom of her heart, she did not particularly dwell on Mr Darcy. Or rather, she only thought of him every second of the other than those where she was forced to divert her attention, like when she was speaking to her aunt. It was a good theory, for the first week. Then they visited Matlock Manor.
At first the name of the estate brought no bolt of recognition to Elizabeth. She had heard the name somewhere, but it held no significance to her. But as they began to ascend the steps of the house, her heart began to beat faster and stronger. Swish, plip, boom. Swish, plip boom.
She knew it was not because this was the home of Mr Darcy. He lived at Pemberly. But then why was her heart beating so strongly? The answer came when her aunt said 'I believe you know the Earl's sister. Lady Catherine, your cousin's patroness.'
Of course! Colonel Fitzwilliam came from Matlock Manor. And he was Mr Darcy's cousin and close friend. Mr Darcy would have spent much of his childhood there.
Once that mystery was solved she was able, to some degree or other, enjoy the visit.
The only problem was that after the visit to Matlock, Elizabeth could seriously not deflect her thoughts from Mr Darcy. He was even invading her dreams. One recurring dream was that she was sitting in the bench he had carved at Rosings, sleeping. When she woke up, there he was, standing before her with a smile on his face. And of course, before she could apologise for being so short sighted, she would wake up.
So when her uncle suggested that they visit Pemberly, Elizabeth did not know whether she more wished to see his home, or was more afraid of the potential consequences.
But visit Pemberly they did, for Elizabeth could find no plausible way of telling her aunt and uncle why she did not want to go. And her reactions were very strange indeed.
On viewing the music room, Elizabeth could easily imagine herself playing on the piano, while Mr Darcy watched appreciatively from that armchair. On viewing the dining parlour, Elizabeth, in her mind's eye, saw Mr Darcy sitting at the head of the table. With her right next to him. On viewing Mr Darcy's portrait and the space beside it, in the gallery, Elizabeth could quite easily imagine her portrait in that place. What surprised her the most was that, as she was having these thoughts of her at Pemberly, as Mrs Darcy and Mistress of Pemberly, her heart slowed to a contented pace, what could almost be described as a purr.
As their party entered the grounds, Elizabeth was confronted by the sight of a wet Mr Darcy approaching. The contented purr immediately escalated to a sound akin to a bass drum. The civilities were brief, and Elizabeth was left to try calm her heart as they entered the woods.
She had just begun to do that, completely aside from dealing with this new barrage of emotions, when the cause of those emotions appeared at a turn. He was extremely pleasant, and asked to be introduced to her aunt and uncle. He was friendly and amiable, and completely free of false pride of any description. Fortunately these thoughts helped keep Elizabeth's heartbeat under control. It was still strong, but firm rather than frantic, and almost reassuring.
When they began to walk back together, outstripping her relatives, they had a chance to talk a little. He mentioned that Bingley was coming, with his sisters and Miss Darcy, the next day. He asked if she would meet Miss Darcy. She apologised for intruding on his privacy. He claimed it was no intrusion at all, and that she was always welcome. And she knew with absolute certainty that she belonged at Pemberly.
Mr and Miss Darcy did come to call, the very next day, with Mr Bingley. Elizabeth was very pleased to meet Georgiana. By the time she even had time to think of the meeting, Miss Darcy was Georgiana in her mind, for they had become fast friends. For the first time since she had left Hertfordshire, a heartbeat other than her 'Mr Darcy Heartbeat' made an appearance. She immediately associated it with Miss Darcy. And strangely enough, it was very similar to the heartbeat she associated with Jane.
It was clear, from the way that he asked after her, that Mr Bingley was still very much in love with Jane. Equally obvious was that there was nothing, other than some siblingly affection, between him and Georgiana. Elizabeth noted that she should try to ask Mr Darcy about this when they went to Pemberly, although she had no idea how she would do it.
The next day the ladies visited Georgiana and Bingley's sisters. Before long Elizabeth and Georgiana were entirely involved in their own conversation, which progressed smoothly for several minutes. Then Elizabeth's heart suddenly speeded up, with her 'Mr Darcy Heartbeat' overtaking the more gentle sound associated with Georgiana, and so she was not surprised to see Mr Darcy in the doorway.
Before long Elizabeth and her aunt were obliged to leave, but not before accepting and invitation to dine at Pemberly the next day.
The next morning arrived, with the post bringing two letters for Elizabeth, both from Jane. Her relatives thoughtfully left her to read them in peace.
The first one contained evidence of Jane's continued low spirits. Jane was beginning to truly sound despondent, and that worried Elizabeth. The second letter was even more worrying. Henry, the Gardiners' eldest son, had taken a fall and had been hurt. Inside the letter was a short note that Elizabeth was to give to her aunt, and they were to return as soon as possible.
Just as Elizabeth was standing to take the letter to her aunt, Mr Darcy, and Mr Darcy only, was announced. She quickly explained that she needed to find her aunt. When he offered to walk with her, she readily accepted, both because she was unfamiliar with Lambton and because she wanted his company.
Elizabeth felt as if her heart were beating in a very demanding manner, pushing her to do something. So, without really thinking of the potential consequences, she did.
'The news of little Henry's fall came in a letter from Jane. She is supervising the children while we are on this trip. She was quite worried, the poor dear. But then, she was not in very good spirits from before, so any sort of shock would disturb her. Quite unlike Jane.'
'No, indeed. Miss Bennet seemed to me like the kind of person who would be disturbed by very little.'
And the subject was dropped. They spoke of more pleasant things while they searched for Mr and Mrs Gardiner, and when they found them, Mr Darcy immediately escorted them back to the inn, and then took his leave, saying he had some very important business to attend to.
The carriage ride back to Hertfordshire was uneventful, if you do not count Mrs Gardiner's constant anxious exclamations. Elizabeth's heart told her the problem with Henry was not serious, and she was free to meditate on other things, like the way her heart had begun to beat in a very hopeful, yet sure all the same, way at the thought of Mr Darcy, and Pemberly. And while she could not yet definitively say that she loved Mr Darcy, she could very confidently say that she was well on her way. This realisation could have made her miserable, for she had refused the man once already, but for the beating of her heart. It reassured her that her developing love was not in vain at all.
On their return to Longbourne, Elizabeth and the Gardiners found the house in complete chaos. Mrs Bennet was screaming hysterically that this could not have happened 'to my dearest little nephew Henry.' Mr Bennet was in the nursery with the doctor. Mary, Kitty and Lydia were in the drawing room, all obviously worried but making a valiant effort to go about their normal activities. And poor Jane was hovering around the nursery door, pale and anxious, waiting for some news.
On entering the house, the first thing Elizabeth did was to seat Jane and the Gardiners in a small sitting room within view of the nursery door. Then she sent Mrs Hill to attend to her mother. Finally, she joined the younger girls to try and find out what had happened.
'It was terrible, Lizzy. We were sitting in the garden watching the children playing. I was arguing with Kitty over a bonnet of hers that would suit me better, but no, she would hear nothing of it. I must show you the bonnet, Lizzy. I'm sure you will agree with me that-'
'Kitty, what actually happened, without reference to the bonnet.'
Kitty smiled and happily obliged her elder sister, while Lydia put on a very sour look on the side. 'We were siting in the garden with Jane. The children were playing across the lawn. I think the boys were trying to climb the old apple tree. Well, we were just talking when we heard a thump and a scream. Jane ran over to see what had happened. He must have fallen out of the tree.'
'I see. You girls stay here. I will bring you any news but I do not think we need any more noise or tumult in this house right now.'
Leaving the girls to themselves, Elizabeth once again wondered how Lydia could possibly be so self-absorbed and shallow. But she didn't have time for such thought.
Entering the sitting room occupied by Jane and the Gardiners, Elizabeth found only Jane there.
'Oh, Lizzy, thank goodness. It was just a light fall. No broken bones or deep cuts. He does have quite a bump, but the doctor says it is not serious. Poor Henry has to remain in bed for today and tomorrow, but by the end of the week he will be fit to travel to London.'
That is a great relief, Jane. But now that we know Henry is well, how are you. Did you sleep at all last night? And have you eaten?'
'No, I did not sleep last night, I was sitting with Henry. And I could not even think of eating before now.'
'Well then, come, we must feed you. I must tell you of who I saw in Derbyshire...'
The two sisters descended the stairs to find some well-deserved nourishment, and to catch up on their news.
The next few days were quiet at Longbourne. On seeing that his son was in no danger, Mr Gardiner confessed to Elizabeth that they would not have been able to stay in Derbyshire much longer in any case, because he ad pressing business in London. And accordingly he left immediately.
By the end of the week Mrs Gardiner and the children also left, as Mrs Gardiner greatly desired her own home.
After Mrs Gardiner's departure, Elizabeth finally had time to talk fully and freely with Jane, and with herself too. In the excitement, Elizabeth had not had time to consider the rhythms of her heart. Not that her 'Mr Darcy Heartbeat' ever left her, it didn't. She just did not have time to reflect on it.
But before she had much time to reflect on what the swish, plip, boom meant, or rather, what she wished it to mean, the man himself arrived.
Mr Darcy and Mr Bingley came to call on a bright, clear morning. On seeing them approach the house, Jane and Elizabeth both stiffened, each for herself and in sympathy with her sister's plight. If the future happiness of each were not dependent on this, it might have been rather amusing to the sisters.
However, it soon became clear that Jane's situation was better than Elizabeth's. The moment Mr Bingley entered the room, and gave Jane a warm and heart-felt smile, she relaxed and began to enjoy his company.
Poor Elizabeth was not so lucky. Her beau's disposition was not as easy as his friend's, and so they had to settle for an awkward silence, side by side. Well, Elizabeth was not certain it was a silence, for her heart was beating so strongly that she was sure he could hear it.
'Is your sister still at Pemberly?' she ventured, trying to strike up some conversation.
'No, she returned to Netherfield with us, but was fatigued from yesterday's journey and so remained at home to rest. But she gave me strict instructions to send you her best regards. In the tone of voice in which she said it, I could not refuse.'
Elizabeth laughed, and immediately the tension melted and they were returned to the state of ease they had enjoyed in Derbyshire. Elizabeth was also pleased to find that her heart once again quieted to an encouraging rumble. Emboldened by that encouragement, and the newfound ease between her and Darcy, Elizabeth hazarded a comment.
'Did you bring him back?' she asked, nodding her head in the direction of Jane and Mr Bingley.
'Yes. I told him it was wrong of his sisters and I to try and separate them, and confessed that she had been in town and had called on his sisters. I did not tell him that I knew of her continued regard; rather I said that I had mistaken her quiet, decorous disposition for lack of regard, and brought him back here to see for himself.'
Elizabeth understood how difficult it must have been for him to confront Mr Bingley. She did not say anything, but her expression contained all her heartfelt thanks.
The gentlemen did not stay long after that, because, as Mr Darcy said, they had left Georgiana to her own devices for far too long already.
The next morning brought a return of the Netherfield party to Longbourne, although with the addition of Miss Darcy. Mrs Bennet, eager to give Mr Bingley and Jane a chance to be alone, suggested they all walk out. Lydia was in bed with a headache, and Mary said she would rather stay home and read, but the others all set out together.
Elizabeth could feel her heart pounding again; not very loudly, but not quietly; not firmly, but not gently. It was as if it were whispering excitedly, telling her that something greatly anticipated was about to come into reality. Looking ahead at Jane and Mr Bingley, she suspected it was for them, but wished it for herself.
'Lizzy, Mr Darcy, I would like to introduce Georgiana to Maria Lucas. May we run down the lane and call on her?'
Elizabeth glanced at Mr Darcy and said 'I have no objections, if Mr Darcy agrees.'
'You may go, but be careful, please,' replied the gentleman.
Elizabeth's heart did not forget to increase its pace in response to being left alone, but they continued to walk in silence. Once again, Elizabeth tried to break the ice.
'I believe my father will be receiving a gentleman requesting his daughter's hand in marriage this evening,' she said, gesturing to the couple ahead of them.
'Or maybe more than one. Miss Bennet, Elizabeth, you are too generous to trifle with me. I have treated you abominably in the past, for which I am truly sorry, but the wishes and affections which I expressed in April are the same, if not more fervent. If you do not wish it, I will bother you no more, but please, consent to be my wife.'
For a moment Elizabeth's incessant heartbeat overtook every sense and logical faculty. Then she turned to see the uncertainty, and humility, in Darcy's eyes. Quietly, sincerely, she gave him her answer. She witnessed the look of absolute joy on his face, and felt privileged that she was, and would always be, the one to bring that expression to his features.
As soon as she gave her answer, Elizabeth's heart slipped into the contented purr she had felt at Pemberly.
That evening Mr Bennet did indeed receive two gentlemen requesting his two eldest daughters' hands in marriage. He, of course, consented, although not without a bit of a fight in Elizabeth's case.
That night the two girls broke the joyous news to their mother. The combined effect of the two engagements was to send Mrs Bennet into such transports of delight that she did not require her daughters' attention. The two girls slipped off to Jane's bedroom for a night of conversation and revelation.
The two eldest Bennet girls were married on the same day at Longbourne church.
This event did wonders for Mrs Bennet's nerves, which had been severely tormented by Lydia's illness. However, Lydia proved that she could not have been so very ill by running off with one of the officers, and returning as Mrs Flanders, the wife of Lieutenant Flanders, for her elder sisters' wedding. Truth be told, many speculated that she had done this simply because she also wanted some of the attention being lavished on the brides, Jane and Elizabeth. However, to the great surprise of her sisters, she did have a happy, prosperous marriage.
Before their first anniversary, Mr and Mrs Bingley moved to a property but two hours journey from Pemberly, to the great delight of all. And in time, the Bingleys were blessed with two sons and three daughters, and the Darcys with two sons and two daughters.
The young Darcys' could never understand how their mother knew which of them was approaching. Father could not, and Aunt Jane and Uncle Charles could not, but Mama could!
Elizabeth discovered that her heartbeat could be even more specific than she thought. The learned to differentiate between the different sounds associated with her husband. The 'swish' was contentment, when they were just sitting together reading. The 'plip' was anticipation, when he surprised her with roses in January. And the 'boom' was passion, or anger. She kept confusing the two, but usually chose the first option, because it was so much less frustrating.
And so when her youngest daughter was born with a heart murmur, Elizabeth looked on it as a blessing, not a curse. After all, her own heart had reassured her that her child would live and learn, much the same way she had.