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Till You Or Jane Return

Volume Four.

Part XXIV.

Mr Bennet walked the countryside aimlessly. Actually his aimlessness had a purpose. That was to appear that he was walking aimlessly, without any care for his destination. His observation of his distracted favourite daughter along with the almost constant hints concerning Mr Darcy from his sister in law since his arrival had given him a lot to think about, hence the reason for this deceptive walk.

He neared a fence, signalling the boundary of a certain estate, although Mr Bennet pretended to be ignorant of this fact, and proceeded to climb over the turnstile gate. His intentions were to accidentally cross the boundary of said certain estate and, quite by chance of course, meet its owner, whose return to the country he had had from the maid at the Inn when he had left earlier this morning.

Mr Bennet had many a question to ask this owner, the first of which about the nature of his intentions regarding his favourite daughter. Andrew had no desire to lose Elizabeth to a man he considered beneath her, in both intellect and manner, and until last night, he had thought said owner to be one of these men.

But reports from his brother in law, supported by his sister in law and the said owner's friend, had begun to convince Mr Bennet that this gentleman might be different. The subsequent night had been spent in revising his judgement of this gentleman and coming to a conclusion that needed only an encounter with the man concerned for confirmation.

The man concerned was also out walking aimlessly, -actually he was riding a horse which was walking aimlessly, but it is almost the same -and his aimlessness too, had a purpose. That was to just walk aimlessly, while his mind attempted to calm his emotions and prepare himself for the call that he intended to make this afternoon.

It was a call of great importance to him, for it would bring him into contact with a lady that had not been out of his thoughts from the last moment that he had spent in her company. A lady that he wished dearly to spend the rest of his life with.

It had both grieved and comforted him when his friend had informed him of that lady's distraction while he had been away. The former, because he hated to cause her any pain, no matter how slight, and the latter, because it showed that she did perhaps care for him a little. Days without her company had reduced him to clinging to such hope, no matter how small, in order to hide his suffering from his family.

It was at this moment that the two gentleman, one riding aimlessly, the other walking thus, came upon each other.

The first immediately halted his horse and dismounted, stretching out a hand and bowing in greeting to the last. "Mr Bennet," he greeted.

"Mr Darcy," Mr Bennet replied, bowing in reply and taking the hand in a shake. "Forgive me, I had no idea that I crossed into your estate."

"Think nothing of it, sir," Darcy replied, trying his best to be everything that was gentleman-like in front of a man he hoped soon to request consent from. "I always try to give free rein of my land to most of the people that reside in Lambton, for I am aware of how many walks there are upon it."

"Indeed," Mr Bennet returned, concealing behind a calm facade his amazement. The man before him differed completely from the Mr Darcy he had met last autumn. This man was genial, polite, considerate. A glance at the waiting horse also afforded Mr Bennet another insight. It was a thoroughbred and of great strength, his manner concealing a temper behind a seemingly patient mask.

It told Mr Bennet that Mr Darcy was very capable of handling strong creatures, allowing them to retain such strength and flourish, instead of the reverse. He respected them and they in turn respected him. And it was with this in mind that Mr Bennet decided to be honest with the man before him.

"I must confess to you, Mr Darcy, that I actually knew perfectly well what I was doing when I crossed on to your estate. I intended to meet you, and ask you a few questions. I hope you have no objection to my actions?"

"No, sir," Darcy replied, wondering what Mr Bennet was getting at. "You may ask whatever you wish."

"Firstly, what are your intentions regarding my daughter Elizabeth?"

Darcy was floored. He had not suspected for a moment that Mr Bennet knew anything of his feelings for Elizabeth. It took a few seconds for him to reclaim his faculties and answer the question, realising as he did so, that it was a perfect opportunity to ensure that should the occasion call for it, Mr Bennet's consent would not be refused.

"I care a great deal for your daughter, sir," he replied solemnly. "And I hope to declare my feelings to her as soon as may be. I wish nothing more than a desire to see her happy. I would feel most honoured if she sought such a state by my side." As he finished his reply, Darcy drew in a deep breath, praying that Mr Bennet would not object to him outright.

Good man, Mr Bennet silently replied. You have done well so far. Now for your next test. "And if she refused such an offer?"

"I would retreat, knowing that any objections would be sound," Darcy answered, knowing that he had already been refused once and had persisted. But that was an entirely different circumstance, his mind reassured himself. "Providing it was nothing that was beyond my power to alter," he added, such as arrogance and pride.

Mr Bennet was also pleased with this second answer, for it showed constancy in Mr Darcy's affections for his daughter, as well as a healthy respect for her feelings and character. "I have not much to offer my daughters in way of dowry," he remarked next, "would that be a consideration?"

"Where your daughter is a concern, none at all, sir," Darcy responded instantly. "I have such means as to make a dowry unimportant. I intend to provide her with whatever she may wish. I do not hold with the idea that a wife should be beholden to her husband for funds." Indeed, he intended to make a generous settlement on Elizabeth, which would include a substantial sum that his mother and father had left both himself and Georgiana for to settle upon their future partners in life.

Mr Bennet was impressed. Mr Darcy had not only met his expectations, he had surpassed them. "Well done, Mr Darcy," he commented, causing the gentleman to look at him with surprise. "You have answered well. I now only need one more reassurance. Elizabeth is very much a favourite of mine. If she accepts you, I hope you will not mind my visiting the both of you for sometimes no reason other than to see her?"

Mr Darcy smiled. "Not at all, sir," he replied gladly. "In fact if your daughter accepts me, you are free to visit us any time you choose."


Mr Bennet returned to Lambton in a better state of mind than when he had left it earlier in the day. He found his two daughters in, talking, and the Gardiners out with the promise to return for lunch.

Seating himself in a chair that commanded a view of both Jane and Elizabeth, he began, quite casually, but with an eye to their reactions, "I encountered Mr Darcy during my wanderings today. He and his family have returned to the neighbourhood."

Elizabeth felt her heart cease to beat, before it started to pound loudly. "Is Mr Darcy well?" she asked, trying to be calm and failing abysmally.

"He is, and sends his regards to all of us. He expressed an intention to call upon us all this afternoon."

Jane glanced at her sister with such a smile that it did not fail to be noticed by Mr Bennet who glanced at his favourite daughter patiently for a similar reply. Elizabeth found it difficult to do naught else.

"And what did you think of him, father?" Jane asked carefully, knowing her sister wished to know such a opinion.

"I thought him to be less reserved than when I met him last," Mr Bennet replied, glancing at Elizabeth. She seemed to be listening intently to him. "He and I found a great deal to talk about," he added, glancing at his daughter pointedly.

Elizabeth took the news with great joy. Her father liked him! Now, if only she could find a moment alone with him, everything would soon settled. Providing his feelings for her remained the same.


Part XXV.

 

After the hope that the morning had brought to Elizabeth and Darcy, the afternoon could not arrive soon enough. Indeed, the Gardiners and the trio of Bennets barely had time to recover from Luncheon before the maid announced the arrival of the gentlemen.

Bingley's place in the company had already been decided from the moment he walked into the room; a single glance at Jane and he was lost. His friend was similarly stricken; Mr Darcy came to a halt upon encountering Elizabeth. For moments he was capable of doing nothing more than standing, his eyes fixed firmly upon her own, meeting her intense gaze and returning one of his own that was just as powerful.

How they came to sit down neither knew, so lost as they were in each other's enchantment. Their seats were beside each other, and both felt all too deeply the emotion that such a placing produced. A further delay came when Mr Bennet addressed the gentleman with a question; Darcy would be heard to say afterwards that he had not even heard Mr Bennet speak, let alone the words of his query.

"Mr Darcy," Mr Bennet began, "is there a particular reason, other than that you have returned, for visiting us today?"

When the gentleman finally managed to realise what Mr Bennet was saying, he reached into his jacket pocket and drew out the card that was his sole reason for visiting this afternoon. "Thank you, sir," he replied. "I must confess that for a moment I forgot," he added, with a look at Elizabeth, who blushed and glanced back at her neglected needlework in an effort to hide herself.

Darcy meanwhile placed the invitation on the table. "I came to invite you all to a ball I am holding at Pemberley in a few days time. It is in recognition of my cousin's recent marriage." At the end of this Darcy held a breath, hoping that no one but the woman sitting beside him guessed his real reason for visiting.

Elizabeth was insensible to her father's and her uncle's acceptance, as she was insensible to everything that occurred around her, until she saw someone's hand cover her own that was lying on the table. After a discreet glance around the room to see if anyone had noticed the gesture and discovering to her relief that none had, she finally raised her eyes to glance at the owner, to find that he was looking back at her with the same intense stare that she had so often misinterpreted before, and could not do so now.

"Are you all right, Miss Elizabeth?" He asked gently.

"I am fine, thank you, Mr Darcy," she replied softly. "Did you enjoy your time in London?"

Unconsciously, he began tracing small circles upon her hand as he replied to her question. "Yes and no. The time spent with my family was agreeable enough, but the social engagements of the wedding were...... well, truth be known, I found them to be somewhat lacking in enjoyable company. There were many times when I wished myself back here," with you, he added silently.

Elizabeth had difficulty keeping herself focused on his words, the effects of his stroking were so strong. "And now you are here?" She found herself asking.

"I realise that I should have obeyed that wish the first time it came to me," Darcy could not help replying. His fingers would not obey his wish to keep proprieties, and he could see the world fading away before him if he surrendered to the effects that Elizabeth's company, nay even her mere presence, produced.

Reluctantly, he gained control of his wayward fingers and placed on the table, where they began their circles again, aching to repeat the gesture upon her hand. "Would you, or do I ask too much, do me the honour of dancing the first set with me?"

"I would be honoured, sir," Elizabeth replied, aware all too well of the expectation that opening a ball at his house with him could create. Not that she was adverse to creating such an effect, indeed quite the contrary. Oh, why could they not be alone right now? Where she could give him the hope that his dark eyes clearly cried out for. She glanced at the window behind him, determined to suggest a walk, but the weather decided that such an event was not to be, as a sudden rainstorm descended.

She turned her gaze to her companion once more. Darcy watched the movement, fearing to interpret it. Did she no longer wish for his company? No, he must learn to avoid jumping to the worse conclusion about a simple gesture from her. As if at that moment she could read his mind she uttered aloud a soothing balm. "Is it not a oft occurrence that when you desire a walk the weather poses an impediment?"

"Too true," he agreed. "There are times however when a walk in the rain is beneficial to ones' mind, is there not?"

"You have taken such a walk yourself, sir?" Elizabeth asked in surprise.

"Not purposely but yes, when I was in town a......... while ago," he amended, remembering that it had in fact been after his visit to Rosings. The walk had been beneficial though in every respect, it had caused him to gather the resolve to try again for her hand. "And have you, Miss Elizabeth?"

"On occasion," Elizabeth replied, suddenly remembering his rather soaked appearance when she met him at Pemberley. Was it really only a few weeks ago? How much had her feelings had changed since then!

Darcy meanwhile was desperately trying to keep his composure. An image of Elizabeth in the rain had come to him and was providing absolutely no help to his wish to observe proprieties, especially when his imagination had stepped in to assist the image. In a vain attempt to distract himself, Darcy glanced at her hand on the table. It did not help, for the hand was her left and the bare third finger called out to his heart and mind, begging him to place a ring upon it. Why had he hesitated? Why had he not waited for her answer?

Elizabeth saw his preoccupation. She could easily decipher why and rebuked herself for not answering him the moment he had stopped for breath. She dealt a quick glance around the room and then, seeing that all were occupied, seized her chance. "Have courage sir," she uttered softly, fearful of being heard by any one else.

Darcy could not trust himself to speak. He looked at her, his mind rapidly trying to think of something, anything that he could reply with, when another turned their attention to them and they were forced to talk of more neutral things.


The Earl of Matlock stared at the rain in frustration. He planned to spend his first day at his nephew's estate fishing, but the rain was causing him to sit- or rather stand, as he was doing so at this moment -with his family instead. While his nephew was away supposedly delivering invitations.

"How long has been gone now?" He asked the room at large. "What possible inducements can there be in Lambton in the rain?"

"Staying inside visiting the inn," Colonel Fitzwilliam replied casually, with a grin at his mother, who knew well who was at the Inn in question.

The Earl turned from the window to face them. "Why are both of you convinced he has lost himself to this woman? I saw no signs while we were in town."

Countess Sophia smiled. "That is because, Hugh, you were not looking hard enough. But surely you noticed his distraction?"

"That is not a sign," Hugh objected. "He was distracted when he saw us in January."

"Father, he had met Miss Elizabeth before then," Richard explained.

"Hrmph," Hugh uttered. "Why has he not caught her yet then?"

"He does not have your talents, my dear," Sophia replied archly, as her two sons chuckled, remembering well the tale that their parents had told of their's father's 'rapid' courtship of their mother. "Unlike you he does not believe in proposing after only five minutes of acquaintance."

"And why not?" The Earl asked rhetorically. "It worked with you."

"Only after you had asked another six times," the Countess corrected lively, as Lady Adelaide looked at her surprise. "Remind me to tell you the story at some point, Adelaide," Sophia remarked as she saw her interest.

"Why not now?" Richard asked as his father sat down at last.

"Because the sun has returned," Sophia pointed out, "and William will be home soon." And hopefully with some good news, she added silently.


When the sun had been in the sky for at least an hour, Darcy returned to his estate in the company of his friend. His mind was in a slightly more hopeful state than it had been upon his return to Derbyshire. Elizabeth's words had given him courage that his prayers were soon to be answered.

Now if only I can find a moment alone with her, was his final thought before he stepped into his house.


Part XXVI.

As soon as the next day dawned Elizabeth was up and out of the Inn. During the night she had come to an impulsive resolution and she was determined to act upon it before her mind thought the better of it. The resolution was a simple one, but it was also dependant upon certain factors occurring at the same time and she was none too hopeful that on the day she wanted such factors to occur, that they actually would.

But she had to try, her whole happiness depended upon it.

She was soon successful in her mission, encountering him seated upon a grassy ledge overlooking a lake. Not trusting herself to speak at first, Elizabeth stood observing him for some time, wishing that somehow she could interpret from his mien, what possessed his thoughts.

Did he still think of her, or had the absence and distance between them triggered a change? A part of her feared the latter was the case, yet her rationale could not help but remind her that such a circumstance had done nothing to alter his affections before meeting him here.

She realised that she would have to overcome her preoccupation and ask him. Return to her former boldness of nature. Elizabeth stepped forward. "Mr Darcy, I have been walking for some time in the hope of meeting you." Surprised at her own phrasing, it took some time for Elizabeth to recover herself enough to meet his eyes as he turned to face her.

Darcy could do no more than gasp at first. He had not imagined it. She was here. His hands moved over the pockets of his jacket, feeling for the box that they already knew was there. Carrying it had become a reflex almost, a prayer certainly. And it was a fervent one at that. Slowly, courage rising, he moved to close the distance between them. "Miss Bennet," he began in a tone that betrayed all his feelings, despite the formality of address, "I am most pleased to see you again."

Elizabeth desperately tried to contain her blush as she met his intense gaze. "I wanted to see you because...........," she paused as nerves overtook her. Breathing deeply, the moment passed and she continued. "Because I have an answer to your question. I have had it since you were so good as to voice it in the first place and, had not circumstances hindered us, I would have given it then. Would you like to hear my answer, sir?"

To say that Darcy was shocked by the suddenness of this situation, would be an understatement. For he had hoped, somehow, to have more time before such an event arose between them. Time enough to prepare himself for the rejection that his mind had convinced him was to be the outcome. Now he wished to delay.

"Please, Miss Elizabeth, if you wish to have more time to contemplate it," he began, somewhat flustered, "then you may. I have no wish for you to feel pressured indeed....." he trailed off briefly, convinced now he had ruined himself in her eyes forever by continuing to ramble thus. "I know that such a question requires one to take much time in considering how best to answer........."

Elizabeth could stand it no longer, even though a part of her was highly amused that she had managed to reduce one of the most illustrious personages in the land to rambling. She took another deep breath and began. "Mr Darcy," she uttered calmly. No effect. "Sir," she tried a second time. This form of address was also greeted with the same reaction as the first. "Fitzwilliam," she began a third time, feeling that nothing could stop him.

This however did. Darcy came to a halt instantly, looking at her in complete surprise. "Say that again," he commanded, convinced he had imagined it.

"Fitzwilliam," Elizabeth repeated, smilingly.

Darcy felt his courage and his hope, rise. He took her hands. Never before had he heard his given name uttered with such love. He realised now with joy how much wisdom had been in the wishes of his youth not to called by any other name but William. For only one person could speak his true name. "Miss Elizabeth, my love, tell me my ears have not deceived me."

"They have not, Fitzwilliam," she replied, her smile growing wider.

"Then I have your answer?" He softly asked, his voice heavy with emotion.

"Not quite." Elizabeth clasped his hands tightly. "Fitzwilliam, I love nothing in the world so well as you. Naught else will give me greater happiness than in becoming your wife."

For a moment he was silent, frozen to the spot by her words. Then his emotions took over, allowing him to lean forward and take her lips in his. He begun their first kiss tentatively, not wishing to alarm her, hoping to encourage a response.

Elizabeth was surprised at his answer to her own at first, but soon found her emotions taking over, and managed to respond to his movements. She was so caught up in the kiss that she felt quite disappointed when he drew back so soon.

Darcy smiled at her reaction. "There will be time for kisses soon enough, my dearest," he remarked softly, retracting one of his hands to reach into his pocket. "For now, I wish to give you something." He placed the box before her. With one hand to hold it, he used the other to open, so she could see the contents. "This has been in my family for generations. I am so pleased to finally give it to you." He took her left hand in his and gently slid the ring on to her finger.

Elizabeth gasped as she surveyed it, watching the sunlit sparkles. "It is beautiful." She looked up him with smile. "I confess that I cannot quite believe this is happening."

"Neither can I," Darcy agreed. With one hand he returned the box to his pocket and then put it back on hers, reluctant to let go, just in case she faded away in the dreamlike quality that this occasion had acquired. Unable to control himself, he leaned forward and kissed her again. His hands drifted to her face, fingering the dark locks that surrounded it.

He felt hers place themselves on his waistcoat, as she began to kiss him back. His heart leapt. This was real! It was finally real! She was his, now and forever. He felt his control slipping even further and strove to retrieve it, moving from her lips to her cheeks, and finally to her closed eyelids, which he had been longing to kiss since he had decided to try again.

Elizabeth received his intentions with pleasure and happiness that increased every moment. To have his hands upon her face, his fingers in her hair, his lips upon hers, was almost too wonderful to believe. Her lips began to ache as he moved from them to her cheeks then to eyelids, which she had closed long ago in order to lose herself in the paradise that was the present. She felt him stop and opened her eyes, to gaze at him in a daze.

For a while both simply stood there, revelling in the moment, marvelling over the bliss that it had evoked, that it was truly occurring. Then, clasping her left hand on which the engagement ring glowed with mystical light, Darcy began to escort her back to Lambton, taking care to go as slowly as possible, not wishing to lose one second more than necessary in her company. In hushed tones he began conversation, asking her when her feelings began to change. He was most surprised at her answer.

"Almost as soon as I had read your letter," Elizabeth replied. "Why are you so surprised?"

"Because I am now quite convinced that I wrote that letter in a dreadful bitterness of spirit," Darcy answered. "I was too angry with you and myself at the time to do anything less."

"My first reading of it, I confess, did not enamour its author to me very much," Elizabeth continued, "but the second perusal began to convince me that in most cases you were right."

"Still, I should not have told you so as I did thus," Darcy decided.

"True," Elizabeth agreed with a lively arched smile, looking at him in order to convince him that she did not mean it seriously. "And now I must ask you something. What made you decide to try again? We had not seen each other for four months."

"I cannot recall the words, or the look, or the moment which caused my mind to decide I had a chance," Darcy remarked. "But I do remember that on the day Richard told me we were to leave here, I made up mind to ask again instantly. I feared if I didn't, you would be lost to me forever. Despite Bingley's engagement to your sister, I knew that the chances of you and I meeting again were rare. I did not want to lose you again."

Darcy paused to smile at her. "The only thing I regret is not waiting for your answer that morning at the church. I had told myself to do so before I met you, but when the moment came I could not follow through. That day at Hunsford replayed itself in my head. It caused me to doubt why I had any right to think you would accept me."

"Fitzwilliam, you had every right to ask again. At Hunsford I was far too prejudiced to even listen to what you were trying to tell me. That you loved me."

"Loved, loves and in love with you, Elizabeth," Darcy gently corrected her. "Although the emotion is still quite a novelty to me, I must confess."

"It is to me as well," Elizabeth admitted. "I only realised when I spent the evening at the Watsons that I felt the same."

"Tell me, did you truly say to Mrs Reynolds that I was courting you?"

Elizabeth looked at him in surprise. "Where did you hear that from?"

"Richard told me that he had it from her one day. Is it not true, then?"

"She asked me if it had been a difficult courtship and I said yes," Elizabeth explained. "Do you mind me saying as much?"

"No, never," Darcy quickly reassured her. "Kate has always been very discreet. But she also has a soft spot for my cousin."

"And for you," Elizabeth added. Darcy looked at her with puzzlement. "She told me once that she has never had a cross word from you in her life. She did much to raise my opinion of you before you came to Pemberley."

"I must thank Kate when I return," Darcy mused. He came to a halt as they reached the edge of the fields signified by the fence that marked the boundary of his estate. Taking both of her hands in his, he paused a moment to marvel at the sight of the ring on her left. "Elizabeth," he began reverently, "I cannot tell you how much I relish the sight of that ring upon your hand. How grateful I am that you gave me a second chance."

"The same must be said for me," Elizabeth replied. "And I shall promise you that I will try to remain as constant in my love for you as you have done for me, Fitzwilliam."

Darcy smiled happily. "How well you say that," he mused, "I cannot tolerate hearing it said by anyone else." His hand left hers for a moment to finger a curl as she gazed deep into his eyes, meeting his joyful mood. His control slipped, his other hand copied the action of the first, and he leant forward to seize her lips again.

Elizabeth felt herself go weak and leant back against the sturdy fence for support. Instinctively she pressed herself closer to him, her hands rising from his waistcoat to wrap themselves around his neck and finger the ends of his hair.

Darcy was lost. He was completely and utterly powerless. Surrendering to his emotions he let his hands slip from her curls to caress her neck, then her shoulders, then briefly leaving her in order to wrap themselves around her waist. Only when they began to finger the last fastener of her dress, did he recollect his surroundings.

Reluctantly he withdrew his hands and then his mouth. When Elizabeth had recovered as well, he put his arm around her and they began their walk once more. "My love," he began in the same reverent tone, "tell me that you will not let us wait long for our wedding?"

Elizabeth could not help but smile at his address and how he had phrased 'our wedding'. "Well, sir," she began lively, "if you do not mind upsetting my mother, and you can procure the license, we could be married before my family leave for Hertfordshire."

Darcy, seeing the ploy in her eyes, followed suit. Slapping his pockets with his free hand, he exclaimed in a tone of the deepest puzzlement, "now I know put it some where, but where?" He smiled at her. "Seriously, would you mind a wedding in Derbyshire? The license could be procured within the week. Pemberley has its own chapel, and I am sure Reverend Dawson will not mind."

He paused and seeing her hesitate, added, "please do not feel that you have to because of me. As long as we are married, I shall not mind where."

Elizabeth took some time to marvel at the feelings his arm around her produced before replying to his question. "It seems preferable, in comparison to waiting at least three months for my mother to prepare everything. If my father were not here, perhaps I would feel differently, but everyone I could wish to see me married is residing in Lambton right now. It seems too good a opportunity to pass by."

Darcy turned to her with positively joyful eyes. "You do not know what happiness it is to my ears, what you have just said. And with regards to your family, we could always invite them up here. Their arrival would take as long as it probably would to procure a license."

"That is the only thing that bothers me," Elizabeth admitted suddenly. "That you and I shall be apart until you have one."

Darcy bestowed a kiss upon her hand in reply to this and pulled her into a tighter embrace. "Thank you, my love," he uttered tenderly, "it does my heart good to know that you care for me as much as I care for you. I know that letters are not a comfort compared to the person, but I offer them anyway."

"And I thank you for them," Elizabeth replied. "I think I might have need of them."

Darcy would have taken her in his arms and kissed her again after that, had they not reached the edge of the fields and the beginning of Lambton. Reluctantly he withdrew his arm from is resting place around her waist and took her left hand instead, holding it discreetly, so any who happened to pass them noticed not.


Part XXVII.

Elizabeth and Darcy entered the Inn to find that the Gardiners had gone out, Mr Bennet's nose in a book, and her sister happily in conversation with his friend. Reluctantly relinquishing each others hands, they calmly answered the enquiries of their whereabouts and then took up the remaining chairs at the table, Elizabeth taking care to hide her ring under the table, until her father's consent had been voiced.

Darcy saw the motion, and let his own hand follow suit, clasping hers with it. She smiled in reply and he could not fail to do the same as he gazed into her fine eyes. In lowered tones, he began a conversation. "I met with your father yesterday."

"Yes, he mentioned," Elizabeth replied softly. "What did he ask you?"

"My intentions concerning his daughter," Darcy answered, noticing her gasp of surprise. "Did he not reveal that?"

"No, he was very mysterious about it. Did he accept the news?"

"He did, much to my surprise," Darcy confessed. "I thought as you were his favourite he would not take kindly to me of all people taking you away. Especially given my disgraceful behaviour in Hertfordshire."

"I confess myself and Jane, along with my Aunt and Uncle did much to assure him that you had altered since your last encounters. I was so concerned that if this really happened, that he might not give consent and so I tried to make sure he saw a different you."

Darcy clasped her hand tightly as he felt her previous fears. "Did you truly think that I would forget you while in London? That I could never do. I tried, god knows how much I tried, before and after Hunsford, but it was useless. You were always in my thoughts. Knowing that I was so close to having my dreams answered, I could not forget you now."

Elizabeth blushed at this impassioned speech. Only his first line to her at Hunsford, along with his second proposal, had he uttered how deeply he felt. Other times it had been reduced to his trademark intense look. I will have to get used to his display of affection, she realised, now that we are engaged.

"Nor could I forget you sir," she replied, smiling as she saw his eyes light up at the words, shivering with pleasure when she felt his hand draw circles on hers beneath the table.

Mr Bennet casually looked up from his book, just in time to see his daughter and Mr Darcy exchange another smile. Met accidentally, did they? If that's true, then I am the King of England! He raised his book to cover his own smile. Judging by the looks they were frequently exchanging, he would soon have another gentleman coming to ask him for the hand of one his daughters.

And even though it would deprive him of Elizabeth's company, Mr Bennet knew he could not refuse him. If there was ever a man that deserved Elizabeth, it was Mr Darcy. His impromptu interview with him only a day ago had done enough to convince him of that fact.

Darcy and Elizabeth were insensible of Mr Bennet's observations. The former could do naught but gaze at his beloved, while the latter was similarly affected. Eventually however, they became aware that if they continued such an occupation, their engagement would be private no longer.

Darcy reluctantly ceased drawing circles upon her hand and began a conversation once again. "I hope you do not mind if, all being well with your father, that I announce our engagement at the ball?"

Elizabeth smiled. "I do not mind at all. Did you have that it mind when you decided to hold such an event?"

"I confess that it was part of my hopes, yes," Darcy replied. "But the original suggestion came from my new cousin, Lady Adelaide."

"I recollect that I have heard little of your cousins since your return," Elizabeth remarked. "Would you favour me with a description, so I may know what to expect?"

"Well, my other cousin, Henry, much resembles the character of Colonel Fitzwilliam. He met Lady Adelaide at her debutante ball, just before Bingley and I went to Hertfordshire. One of the few sensible ladies of the ton, Henry fell for her the moment he was introduced.

"When I spent the new year with them, he announced his intentions to marry her. The wedding had been set for March, as you know, but thankfully it was delayed, enabling me to travel to Rosings, though I regret a part of that now."

"You need not," Elizabeth assured him. "Your declaration made me realise your feelings for the first time. And soon gave me cause to see my own. I doubt our courtship would have proceeded as smoothly if either of us had not been at Hunsford."

"I do believe you are right," Darcy returned. "My Aunt reminds a little of you. She has the same liveliness, and already knows of you. She noticed my distracted countenance in London and persuaded me to confide in her. My Uncle is very much a blunt old man set in his ways, but with a wonderful sense of humour. Both did much to help me and Georgiana over the deaths of our parents."

"Mrs Reynolds spoke so highly of your parents while we were touring your home. I wish I could have known them," Elizabeth commented.

"So do I," Darcy agreed softly. "My mother was a little like you as well and my father was one of the best men that I have ever known. They would have liked you very much." He smiled, blinking away the tears that had come to his eyes at the mention of them.

Even though both had been dead for quite some time, the loss of them was something he would never entirely get over. Like if he had lost Elizabeth...... He shuddered inwardly at the thought. "How shall I ever repay you for being willing to look past my faults?"

Elizabeth blushed. "Think of our past only as your remembrance of it gives you pleasure. I do not want you to dwell too much on Hunsford."

"I shall try," Darcy promised.


Later, when he and Bingley were in the carriage on they way back to Pemberley, Darcy found himself following Elizabeth's advice with pleasure, remembering their reconciliation vividly, smiling as he came to each kiss, each avowal of affection from her.

He smiled again as he recalled Mr Bennet's words of consent when the gentleman had seen them both to the carriage on their departure, and lastly, catching Elizabeth's happy gaze from the window above as the carriage drove him away.

"You look extraordinarily happy, Darce," Bingley remarked, bringing him out of his revive. "Did you receive good news today?"

"The best news of all, Bingley. Elizabeth has consented to be my wife." Darcy paused as his friend offered his congratulations. "Would you keep this to yourself for awhile though? We have decided to announce it at the ball."

"Of course," Bingley promised and then turned the conversation to other things, as the carriage rattled through Pemberley's gravelled drive.


Elizabeth was waiting for her father as he came back in from bidding the gentlemen farewell. Noting her countenance he smiled and said, "come here my child. I do believe you shall be a very happy woman."

Elizabeth happily hugged her father as Jane gasped in surprise and happiness. "Please, papa," she began when he withdrew from her, "will you both keep this to yourselves for a while? We wish to announce it at the ball."

"Of course my dear," Mr Bennet remarked. "I shall have the greatest pleasure of amusing myself with the reaction of your mother, when you write asking her to travel up here for your wedding."

"Do you mind such an event happening so soon?"

"Do not worry, I firmly believe that Mr Darcy deserves you. My only concern is that I shall lose you so soon. But I shall cope, by frequently prevailing on your suitor's invitation that I may visit when ever I please," Mr Bennet replied.

"Thank you father," Elizabeth replied, then hurriedly rejoined Jane at the table as the voices of Mr and Mrs Gardiner became audible. Mr Bennet sighed at the sight of his two most sensible daughters. It was a sight he would not see for much longer, he knew, and despite the fact that he wished them every happiness, he could not help but feel the prospect of such a loss most keenly.


Part XXVIII.

When Darcy rose the next morning, a single glance at the now empty box upon his bedside table, was enough to bring a smile to his face. Elizabeth would soon be his wife! He could not remember another occasion when he had been more happy. Nor at this precise moment had he the words to describe his feelings, without degrading them in some part.

He soon dressed and made his way downstairs at his usual early hour, a time when only he and sometimes Mr Bingley would be up, their reasons both being eagerness to spend as much of the day in the company of the two women that held their hearts.

To his surprise however, just as he and Mr Bingley had sat down to their breakfast, they were joined by his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam. "Darce," he began immediately, as soon as he had entered the room in fact, "I demand to know why you are in such a confounded good mood, a state which you have been in since last night?"

Darcy merely smiled at his friend. "And why is it confounded, Fitzwilliam?" He asked demurely.

The Colonel produced a stare in reply. It was his trademark stare, invented by himself upon the moment he had first led men into battle, a stare meant to reduce its subject to a withering state, ready to obey his every word, for fear of punishment.

Unfortunately for the Colonel however, it had never succeeded once upon his cousin. After a third minute of silence had followed the other two, he finally conceded defeat. "Damnit, Darce, just tell me so I can offer my congratulations!"

"And collect up on the winnings of the bets among my household staff that you have no doubt immersed yourself in?" Darcy remarked in rejoinder.

The Colonel did his best to look innocent upon this accusation. "I know of no such betting," he answered calmly, even though the contrary was the case. "Come on, Darcy! I know something is up, I haven't seen you this happy in months."

Darcy merely smiled once more. "I would Rich, but I have promised to reveal nothing until the ball, and, as a military man, you how important one's honour is, eh?"

"Fitz!" The Colonel began again, but in vain, for Darcy and Bingley were upon that instance gone from the room, leaving him to suffer in peace.


Elizabeth as woke that morning with a smile upon her face. Availing herself of a thick shawl, she gathered herself upon the window seat to reflect over the events succeeding the departure of her fiancee.

Not more than a hour later had the Gardiners returned, causing her to hide the wonderful ring he had given her, lest it might be spotted by her relatives at dinner. Soon after that meal she and Jane had retired, and the remainder of the night had been spent in conversation, as Elizabeth described the circumstances of the happiest event of her life.

At this Elizabeth returned her mind to the present, as she gazed at the ring in her hands. It was truly beautiful. Not of the present fashion, but of the past, confirming that it had been in Mr Darcy's family for some generations. For the first time, she now noticed the inscription. Ever mine, ever thine, ever for each other.

No truer words had been spoken. She slipped it back upon her finger and leaned against the window pane in contentment. The events of the past day had been firmly imprinted on her mind. She remembered each, gesture, each touch, each kiss vividly. Her sleep had been haunted by dreams of the forthcoming ball, where, she hoped, her dance card would be almost filled by his signature.

Elizabeth remained in this pose until it was time for breakfast, whereupon she dressed and joined her family, slipping her ring into her pocket once more.

If the Gardiners detected any change in their niece's manner, it was not remarked upon by either of them. Not even when the gentlemen had arrived an hour later and the marked difference in manner between one of them and their second niece escaped their notice not.

As for this said couple, both remained as insensible of any observation as they had the day before, and for the same reason. Darcy, once seated by his future wife, could do nothing but smile and talk with her, and Elizabeth, the same.

The gentleman began the conversation, taking great joy in witnessing his lady's laughter as he recounted the tale of his cousin's unsuccessful attempt to prise the news of their engagement out of him. Elizabeth in turn, told him of the events after his departure, of her father's words and of her sisters.

"Georgiana was the same," Darcy commented when she had finished, going on to describe how he had managed to procure a moment alone with Miss Darcy in the evening and her reaction to his news. "She was overjoyed and sends such information to you by this rather thick letter," he paused to produce the item from his pocket. "As you can see, four pages was not enough to express her delight."

"And tell her I shall take great delight in reading it," Elizabeth replied as he pressed it into her hands, taking his time to remain there far longer than was necessary, withdrawing only upon her blush. "Is she excited at the prospect of the ball?"

"Very, even though only friends and family," here Darcy smiled significantly at Elizabeth, who blushed again, "have been invited. I do not plan to let the entirety of Derbyshire Society upon her until she is eighteen."

Elizabeth nodded in agreement, knowing Miss Darcy's disposition did not object to such a plan, and privately wishing such an age had been decided for her own younger sisters, Lydia in particular.

"How do you think your family will react to our news?" Mr Darcy then asked her.

Elizabeth smiled. "My mother will be in raptures, that I know for certain," she answered him lively. "She will spend quite some time marvelling over my new name; Elizabeth Darcy, how well that sounds! Mary will merely offer her salutations, perhaps with some 'Fordycian' wisdom, and Kitty and Lydia, will try and imagine you in regimentals, or attach themselves to Colonel Fitzwilliam."

Darcy laughed with her as she had intended, until a seriousness came over him. "Your mother would be right," he remarked quietly, but with intensity, "Elizabeth Darcy does sound well."

Elizabeth tried to contain her blush at the compliment. "And surely that is why you chose me, sir?"

"That and many other reasons," Darcy replied, gazing at her with emotion, until she blushed under the implication.

At that moment Mr Bingley proposed a walk, a move which was declined by both the Gardiners and Mr Bennet, leaving the couples to avail themselves of the rare opportunity of a moment alone in each other's company.

Once there were beyond the village and the in fields, Bingley took the chance to offer Elizabeth his congratulations, before they split into two and walked alone, promising to reunite for luncheon at the inn.

As soon as they were alone Darcy took his fiancee in his arms. "I do love so, Elizabeth," he uttered quietly, laying his lips upon hers.

Elizabeth responded happily, her desire for such a display in existence from the moment of his arrival.

It was in such a state that they spent the rest of the day.


Darcy reluctantly returned to his house along with his equally reluctant friend that evening, his good mood still in evidence. Again he held back on any explanation for it, much to the annoyance of his family, who all tried repeatedly to prise the information out of him, Mr Bingley and Georgiana for all their worth.

As for Darcy himself, he only let slip the news to one more person before he retired for the night. Calling Mrs Reynolds to his study with the excuse of desiring her consultation on the forthcoming ball, he announced his news to a very pleased housekeeper.

"Well, done William," Kate Reynolds remarked upon receiving the information. "I and most of the staff shall be very happy to welcome Miss Elizabeth as the new mistress."

"Thank you, Kate," Darcy replied. "For that, and for asking her about the courtship in the first place. Without your passage of her reply to my cousin, I might never had the courage to summon the hope for the union in the first place." He paused for moment. "By the by, what is the standing for the betting among the staff?"

"The Colonel has you for proposing two days ago, while my husband has you for having done so before you left for London," Kate answered with a smile.

Darcy chuckled. "You may tell Mark that he has won, although he is not to breathe a word to Richard."

Mrs Reynolds chuckled too at the thought of the Colonel's face, before leaving her master to muse over his happiness for the remainder of the night.


Part XXIX.

"Ladies and gentlemen, please find your partners, the first dance of the evening is about to begin."

Neither Elizabeth nor Darcy bothered to hide their smiles as he claimed her hand for what was to be the first of many dances that night. Both had risen that morning in the highest of spirits, and arrived in Pemberley's sumptuous ballroom without such feelings being dampened in the slightest. Both had dressed with the greatest of care and announced themselves ready unfashionably early, although thankfully for them this promptness had not been remarked upon by any of their relatives.

"Have I told you, Elizabeth," Darcy began quietly when the moves of dance gave them a moment to themselves, "how beautiful you look tonight?"

"I do not believe you have," she replied when the move was repeated again. "But I will not hold such neglect against you. Chances have been few."

"Indeed they have," Darcy agreed, reflecting over what little time they had had alone before the dancing. After greeting her when she arrived with her family, he had been pressed upon by duty to introduce her to his cousins and then his Aunt and Uncle, whose lively repartee had parted him from her, forcing him to be civil to other guests until the dancing had been announced. "But after this, I shall make sure there are thousands of them."

Elizabeth could no longer hold back her blush and released it until their move put them next to Mr Bingley and Jane, allowing for a change of conversation. "Does your friend plan to open Netherfield once more in the near future?"

"I confess I do not know," Darcy replied. "I have not heard him talk of anything except your sister. Within all probability he will do though when your family return to Hertfordshire. However, he does still talk of looking for somewhere not far from here." He paused briefly here until they were together again. "Will your sister wish to be married at Longbourn?"

"Jane will do all she can to please everybody," Elizabeth replied, as her mind reflected over his previous remarks. Even though she was glad to be married to this man so soon, the idea of not leaving with her family made her a little nervous.

Darcy noticed the conflict on her face and took care to deliberately move her away to one of the balconies after the first dance had finished. "Elizabeth, what is wrong?"

"It is nothing really," Elizabeth replied, touched that he was so well attuned to her feelings already. "I am just a little nervous. I am to be mistress of all this so very soon."

"My darling," Darcy began as soon as he felt able, her discomfort having troubled him very much, "you will not be alone. You will have mine, Georgiana's and Mrs Reynolds' help at any time, even though I do not think you will need it. And with regards to your family, they can stay for as long as you wish for them. If you like, we could travel with them and return when Jane and Bingley have married."

"You are too good to me," was all that Elizabeth could find to say in rejoinder. Darcy merely took her hand and raised to his lips in reply. She then took her hand to stroke his cheek, and he took the chance to lean forward and catch her lips, as the ball was forgot for a brief while.


Lady Sophia watched her nephew with a smile and a tear of happiness in her eye, as he escorted his- she hoped -bride to be back to the dance floor. Their absence had remained unnoticed by all save herself and Lady Matlock intended to keep it that way.

Her meeting with Miss Elizabeth Bennet had been all that she hoped for. Miss Elizabeth had not been overawed by her title, nor had she been over-friendly. Her lively manner had happily appealed to Lady Matlock's own disposition, as had her lack of orange apparel. All in all, Lady Sophia had approved of Miss Elizabeth very much, especially when she had spotted a loving glance from her that had been directed at Darcy. Her nephew had of course returned it with vigour.

Now Lady Matlock stood watching the couple dance, occasionally turning her gaze to the friends and family that were almost constantly staring at the rare sight of Mr Darcy dancing at a ball. She had no doubt that speculations were already high regarding their host's preference and the identity of the lady herself.

Normally her nephew would take care to bury such gossip, but that seemed not to be the case, as he and his partner entered the third dance of the evening. Lady Sophia hoped that his reason was because he intended to declare himself tonight.

"My dear, I concede defeat," the Earl announced at this moment, after coming to stand beside her. "William is smitten."

"And what do you think of the woman that has captured his heart then?"

"Entirely worthy of him. She will make a fine mistress of this place, if our nephew stops drooling long enough to ask."

"Perhaps he already has," Sophia mused, as she spotted Darcy making no attempt to relinquish Miss Elizabeth's hand at the end of the third set as they walked over to her father.

The Earl glanced at his wife. "A dance, Sophie?" He asked, offering his hand.

The Countess gladly took it.


Darcy did not relinquish Elizabeth's hand at all, only taking care to hold it so no one noticed the gesture. For quite some time did he involve himself in conversation with Mr Bennet and his future wife, until his sister came forward to claim him as promised for the seventh set of the evening. Reluctantly he parted.

Elizabeth returned her gaze to her father after watching Fitzwilliam go with his sister. She could not be blind to her father's smile. "You approve, papa?"

"I can do naught else," Mr Bennet replied. "He has proved himself very worthy of you, Lizzy, and his devotion is all that a father could wish for and more. He also displays an excellent sense of humour. He now has only to produce a good library and I shall require nothing more of him."

Elizabeth chuckled as Mr Bennet had intended. His own thoughts were a little distant from laughter at presence. He was soon to lose his favourite daughter, and even though he approved of the man that was to claim her, he could not help but feel the future loss he would soon endure.

Soon afterwards the seventh set ended, and Darcy came to claim Elizabeth's hand once more. Together they danced a further two dances until the last before supper was announced, whereupon they withdrew to a balcony to wait for a time to let their news loose upon his guests.

Once ensconced in this balcony Elizabeth took her ring out from her pocket. Gently Darcy took it from her and, taking her hand, placed it upon her finger once more. Slowly, his dark eyes gazing upon her face the entire time, he brought the hand up to his lips for another kiss. Again Elizabeth let her hand stray to stroke his cheek.

"Dearest Elizabeth," he huskily uttered in reply. "Words cannot do justice to what I am feeling right now. You have made me so very happy. From this moment on I intend to do everything that is within my power to make you feel the same way."

"I have, ever since the day I answered your proposal," Elizabeth replied, equally emotionally, her hand coming to rest upon his cheek. Darcy rejoiced in the feel of the cool metal against his skin. He brought his hand to rest against hers and leant to kiss her again.


"Ladies and gentleman, friends and family. It is with the greatest of pleasure that I bring you all here tonight. This ball has been held not just in honour of my cousin's marriage and my friend's engagement, but of another event that has also recently occurred.

"Three days ago, this wonderful lady standing beside me made me the happiest of men by accepting my hand in marriage. I now take pride in introducing all of you to Pemberley's next mistress. Please raise your glasses to my future wife, Miss Elizabeth Bennet!"

As the gentlemen sat after congratulating their host in a toast, only one was heard to remark in annoyance, and then only to his friend opposite. "Damn Darce. That means I lost my bet!"

Mr Bingley merely chuckled in reply.


Part XXX.

Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy married by special licence almost a fortnight after the ball, at Pemberley's Chapel. The event was attended by all their respective family, save one. This person was not however Mrs Bennet, much to some of my readers disappointments, but it is to be noted that the good lady did not arrive in time to change any of the arrangements made for the wedding, as the letter announcing the match was mysteriously delayed in arriving at its destination.

The absent person was Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Her feelings on the subject of her nephew's marriage to a woman that was not her daughter are not unknown, for they have been expressed many times, in general, by pen, and verbally by herself upon many an occasion.

Thus, any mention of said feelings here shall be as pointless as a broken pencil. There need only be said that she did not attend upon the Darcy family for quite some time, until sheer curiosity drove her to grace Pemberley with her presence. How matters proceeded from there, the author will leave you to determine.

The match of Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy was regarded by the rest of their family as an event of infinite happiness. Lord and Lady Matlock could not be more proud of their nephew's choice, Mrs Bennet could not be more enthusiastic in her joy at receiving such a son in law.

Of the latter, her reaction has been displayed almost as many times as Lady Catherine's and likewise, does not need to be mentioned here. As for the former, neither could not be more pleased and took delight in expressing such an opinion to Elizabeth and their nephew the minute after supper had finished at the ball.

Darcy spent no longer than it was necessary in London, coming back with the special licence for his wedding after a week had passed. As promised, many a love letter passed between him and his beloved bride to be, providing much comfort to either party. It must also be noted that upon his return Elizabeth did much to shield him from her mother's enthused joy of their marriage, as well as that of Mr Collins, when he and his wife arrived.

Regarding Mr Collins' presence at the wedding, the author can only put two reasons forward. Firstly, Lady Catherine had sent him to report on the event, and take Anne with him, as a reminder to her nephew to reconsider- a reminder to which he paid no mind to -and secondly, his dear wife Charlotte had insisted upon seeing her friend rise to the same happy state that she herself currently resided in. If Charlotte had a sarcastic tone attached to this opinion, it is for you to determine.

After the wedding the family of the couple departed- some willingly, some unwillingly -to their homes, leaving the newlyweds ample chance to enjoy all the time alone that they had been granted, before departing themselves to Hertfordshire to attend the marriage of Jane and Charles Bingley almost two months later.

When the above event was but a year old, the Bingley's quit Netherfield for an estate much closer to Derbyshire and Pemberley, which to their happiness was only thirty miles distant in a neighbouring county.

It is at this point that the author feels that perhaps she ought to include a small mention of a particular officer that, due to Mr Bennet's stubbornness did thankfully not intrude himself upon the family. His stay in Brighton was of short duration, as it was quickly discovered by his Colonel that he had debts and seductions running out of his control. Mr Wickham currently resides in a jail, and is not to be released for quite some time.

As invited the Gardiners did return to Pemberley, joining the Bingleys and Darcys for Christmas. With Edward and Madeline were the above families always on the best and most intimate of terms, knowing full well that their decision to bring Elizabeth and Jane to Derbyshire, was the means of uniting them all in what hoped to be most blissful unions.

The End.

© Danielle Harwood-Atkinson 2002-2012.


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