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Volume Three.

Part XVI.

The slight rustling that might have betrayed the presence of a stranger was scarcely noticed by the party that it encountered. Indeed, upon first sight of them, the stranger put a great deal of effort into silencing that rustling.

The stranger noticed many things. A fair haired couple chatting happily together, with looks directed only at each other and blissful smiles upon their countenances. Not far from them lay another couple, dark in contrast and far less confident in displaying their affection.

Perhaps it was undeclared, the stranger concluded, turning a look at the other members of the party. Yet another couple, although quite obviously married, chaperones it seemed, to the couples that were soon to follow into their state. The last was a young, beautiful woman, looking with hopeful eyes at the dark haired couple not far from her. The stranger was surprised at just how much she had grown in the short absence. Slowly he stepped forward and revealed himself.

Georgiana was the first to notice him. She leapt up to greet him, breaking the spell that had seemed to bewitch them. "Richard!"

Richard Fitzwilliam was more than happy to close his arms around his youngest cousin. "Good afternoon Georgie. Well, well," he added as she drew back from him, "I do believe you have grown even more beautiful than when I saw you last." He took her hand and walked into the confines of the group which had all risen upon his arrival. "Darce, I am most displeased," he continued in his best imitation of a certain Aunt.

Darcy looked perplexed at his cousin, much to his amusement. "Displeased?"

"Yes, unreservedly so." Richard paused waiting. "What have you forgotten?"

"Oh," Darcy replied and rapidly began the introductions. "Mr and Mrs Edward Gardiner, Miss Bennet, this is my cousin, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam. You remember, Miss Elizabeth and Bingley, Fitzwilliam?"

Richard acknowledged the greeting and returned it readily. "Thank you, Darce, but it was not that which displeased me."

Darcy rapidly searched his mind for something else. "This is a surprise to see you?" He finally queried.

"No," Richard replied, knowing full well the reason for his cousin's loss of memory. "In ten days time, the greatest Society event of the Season is to occur." He paused, waiting for his cousins to realise, but in vain. Finally he took pity upon them. "Henry's wedding, Darce."

Realisation dawned, quickly followed by embarrassment at forgetting something his family had been planning before he had even considered asking to marry the woman that was standing beside him. Had he really become so involved in this courtship to forget everything that happened in the outside world?

This revelation made up his mind with astonishing speed. He would ask her, and pray to have a favourable answer before he left to see his cousin acquire the happy state he had been wishing for since that cold dismal day in April.

"Henry is my eldest cousin," he explained to the company at large, "in March he asked Lady Adelaide Fairchilde, the eldest daughter of Lord Wildemere, to marry him. The wedding was planned for March, but put off due to unforeseen difficulties. I must confess with all that has happened, I forgot that a new date had been announced."

"More than announced, Darcy, but I daresay my mother will forgive you when you explain what has bewitched you," the Colonel remarked, looking significantly at Miss Elizabeth Bennet who blushed and lowed her gaze at the implication in his eyes. He met his cousin's and received a silent threat in reply to finish his sentence in the planned theme.

"Anyhow, I am here at her request to escort you and Georgie to town before its too late. And the order of the Countess of Matlock is not something one can refuse without having a Will prepared beforehand. We do not have to leave now, but we must arrive at least two days before the event. The Wildemeres have set a pre-wedding gathering for then."

"So, you are requesting a room for a while?" Darcy questioned, his smile the only betraying sign that he was not serious in his frustration.

"Ignore my cousin, Miss Elizabeth, he is usually overjoyed to see me," Richard replied in good faith as he smiled at her, and then went to greet his cousin's friend, whom he had known almost as long as Darcy himself. "Bingley my dear fellow, good to see you again. I am too presumptuous to suppose that congratulations are in order?"

"I say, is it really that obvious?" Bingley asked in his classic gaiety as Jane smiled prettily at her intended.

Elizabeth watched the greeting with conflicting thoughts that she was having great difficulty in preventing to surface. She was happy to see Colonel Fitzwilliam once more; they had been great friends during her time spent at Rosings, but she was not happy that his arrival meant the future departure of the man that she had come to regard as someone she wanted to spend the rest of her life with.

She felt her power sinking as every thing must sink under the requirements of family duty and obligation. Did she really have any right to hope that her wish would be granted before they departed? Was even the contemplation of such in vain? And what about the continued leave her uncle had been granted only this morning? Was that too to be abandoned, in favour of returning home to announce her sister's happiness?

At this moment, Elizabeth realised her selfishness. Jane's intended wedding must take precedence over any speculation- in its purest sense -of her own. However, another fear overtook; Jane's marriage to Mr Bingley meant that she would be in the company of them and his friend very often. If all her hopes were in vain the continuance of an acquaintance would be too much to bare, even for her sister's sake. What was she to do?

Darcy had been watching his cousin congratulate his friend when, with sudden acuteness, he noticed Elizabeth's introspection. The conflicting emotions were visible not upon her face, but in her fine eyes, which he had turned to for his hope and acceptance throughout her visits to Pemberley.

He gazed into their depths, trying to fathom why she felt grief when not five minutes before she had glowed in pleasure at his company. A thought came into his mind, and impulsively he acted upon it, shutting out the world, gazing deeply at her, willing her to see the love in his eyes, the affection, and his intentions that he would voice before he had to leave.

Madeline Gardiner watched the movements of her host with a smile and fervent prayer that her niece would notice the silent but completely obvious declaration of love that she was receiving, regardless of the party at large. That she would not be blind due to the news they had just heard and would keep her wish alive for it was to be granted soon.


Richard Fitzwilliam observed the rest of his first day at Pemberley with bemused happiness. He quietly laughed over the besotted glances of Charles Bingley which were constantly directed at his fiancee, whose reply was a contented but subdued version of the same. He struggled to stop his amusement from breaking forth over his cousin's attempts to try and be alone with Miss Elizabeth Bennet but in vain until the company left late evening after dinner.

Now, as he sat down in the Library, a drink in his hand, waiting for his cousin to return from walking his greyhounds in the early darkness of the night, he reflected over his obedience to leave two days ago. He could have left much later and not cause the distress that had occurred. But his mother had been adamant for him to go.

Indeed at the time, he had been glad to depart a household overwrought with stress, worry and preparations. His father had achieved the best solution by far; retreating to his club as soon as the fortnight deadline had passed. Likewise his brother had been too involved with the upcoming event to even notice the worry he was causing.

The constant flow of replies to invites, requests for visits, either to someone's place or for someone to pay call on them, had therefore all gone to his mother, setting the Countess a great deal of stress, an emotion not helped by the non-arrival of her nephew and niece, with no word sent as by way of explanation. His leave had only lasted a week before Richard had wished to escape the chaos that was a Society Wedding. His mother's requests had therefore seemed a blessing by comparison.

If only he had any idea of what was awaiting him in Derbyshire. Darcy was quite clearly in early stages of a courtship that could not be rushed and the lady this time was of a mood to receive his intentions willingly. After the disastrous proposal of April, Richard had not thought for a moment that his cousin would be able to come this far so quickly. Yet he had and the chances of a resolution seemed to be certain.

At this point Darcy came into join him, interrupting his reflections. Richard looked at his friend and voiced his first thought. "I should not have come."

"Why on earth do you think that?" Darcy asked, sitting down opposite the Colonel, a glass in his hand. Despite his unsuccessful attempts to speak to Miss Elizabeth alone today, he was still relatively contented with the present situation. His departure was not for many days, he still had time.

"Because my arrival has quite clearly put a stop to your courtship."

"No, if anything it has done the opposite, Rich," Darcy assured him, leaning forward to explain. "Before your arrival I feared to ask Miss Elizabeth. Now I know I have to soon, or I might lose whatever chance I had in the first place. She and her Aunt and Uncle have been here for many days now. I know her better now, than I ever did in April. She no longer avoids me, indeed I have hope that she even looks forward to my daily visits."

"Indeed, that much was clear to me," Richard agreed, as his cousin smiled in hope at his words. "That is why I doubted my right to come. I should have delayed until you were needed in town."

"No, Rich, I needed that reminder. I had completely forgotten Henry's wedding. The only reason I came up Pemberley in the first place was that I needed an escape from town. And thank god I had the thought to bring Bingley with me."

"Yes, he certainly looks the better for it." Richard finished his drink and stood. "Well, after two days of hard travelling I think I deserve an early night. I'll see you in the morning."

"Goodnight Richard," Darcy returned and waited for the door to close before settling into a reverie over the evening events.

After his cousin had joined them for Luncheon the weather had taken a sudden turn for the worse, requiring all to retire to the house. He invited the Gardiners and their nieces to stay for dinner and listened in joy to Elizabeth playing a song afterwards.

He had never left her side throughout the rest of day, rejoicing that she often sought his conversation rather than his cousin's when only months before the opposite had been the case. They had talked of many things; books, music, their mutual love of country walks and county sites, all but the wedding that was to require his departure in a few days time.

Lastly, his thoughts came to rest on the decision that he had made upon the arrival of his cousin and announcement of this event. That he would ask Elizabeth Bennet to become his wife and receive an answer before they had to leave. He had been perfectly convinced it was the right thing to do the moment he made it, but now; fears were intruding.

Foremost was the fear that she would refuse him once again, and all of this had been vain. Also that if he hesitated and waited until after the wedding, it would be too late. Both fears would serve to occupy his night as he tried to keep himself decided in his decision.


Elizabeth also had a troubled night. Her fears that Mr Darcy would never ask had stayed with her from the moment of their existence that afternoon. It had taken her a great deal of effort to seem unaffected by it throughout the evening spent in his company, which she had been pleased to have to herself. However she surrendered to them fully upon their quitting Pemberley late evening.

That had been almost an hour ago and she had yet to rise from the window seat of her room at the Inn, to ready herself for bed. The events of the day however encouraging had done nothing to lessen the fear. He had been attentive, talkative, seemingly immersed in only her company, but whether this thought had been influenced by her wishes rather than rationale, she could not determine, even if she had the courage to do so. She knew that soon her wish had to be put aside before her emotions became incapable of recovery.

I have five days, was Elizabeth's last thought before she slipped into bed. Just five days.


Part XVII.

A departure date for Matlock House in London was reluctantly set at breakfast the next morning. It was determined that three days more in Derbyshire would suffice, giving time for Darcy to prepare gifts, horses, carriages and Pemberley to be shut up again until their return in a fortnight. As far as that gentleman was concerned, three days was not enough, for it only left two with which to propose to Miss Elizabeth.

His preference had been for five, which would have given him time to select the right place and words and hopefully, have an answer before he left and still fulfil his Aunt's requirements to arrive two days before the wedding, allowing for a smooth journey down. But Richard would not be persuaded. Although he sympathised with his cousin's predicament, he was also well aware of his mother's wish to have them down as soon as possible.

"Besides," he remarked lastly to Darcy upon the subject, "I am sure Miss Elizabeth will accept you now, providing the question is asked."

Privately Darcy was inclined to be sceptical of this. The past few days had at first seemed like a dream, then an idyllic paradise when he realised it was really occurring before him. But now as his time came to leave, images of events from April at Rosings began to intrude more frequently, causing many fears, besides the dread that she might refuse him again, thus turning the dream into a nightmare and the paradise into a mirage.

Did he dare ask her again? Had enough time passed to assure a different answer? Did she approve of him, or was her opinion still as it had been in April? These were the fears which threatened to consume him until he resolved to resolve them, by the only course that could.

Asking her.


Elizabeth met the new day with the same dread as her counterpart, although she attempted to put a more vigorous restraint on it. She knew full well that the Darcys departure also meant theirs by default. The Gardiners had exhausted all their acquaintance in the Lambton area and with her sister's engagement, the need to return to Longbourn to ask consent of her father was somewhat urgent. They no longer had a reason to stay.

This phrase seemed to torment her as she struggled through breakfast and the short carriage ride to Pemberley, where they had been invited once more. Its torment increased as Georgiana and Mr Bingley were the only ones there to greet them, the host and his cousin busy in putting the finishing touches to the preparations for their departure.

Miss Darcy for her part was sympathetic to Miss Elizabeth's situation. She adored her brother and was quite prepared to care similarly for the woman that had captured his heart. Even if Miss Elizabeth had not done this, Georgiana had no doubt that she would still be disposed to like her.

Her affability along with her sense of humour, intelligence and taste was a strong comparison to Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst, both of whom Georgiana greatly disliked. She therefore took charge, shepherding all to the drawing room that her brother had recently made up for her and engaging Miss Elizabeth in what she hoped was distracting conversation.

Fortunately for Miss Darcy, Elizabeth was of a mind to make an anxious effort to be distracted from her thoughts as much as possible before they threatened to overwhelm her. She happily- well as happily as a person can do so with such a state of emotions -joined in on the subject of music, resolving not to glance in the direction of the door throughout the discussion.

Her efforts were rewarded for soon Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr Darcy came walking into the room, in the middle of a conversation, which came to a halt as soon as the latter gentleman set eyes on her. He was in front of her as soon as she had rose, oblivious to the rest of the room. "Miss Bennet, I apologise for my lateness," he began, wishing the room was not so crowded so he could take her hand and kiss it. "I hope my sister has been a sufficient consolation as hostess?"

"She has been delightful, Mr Darcy," Elizabeth replied, wishing they were alone so she could add that his sister would never be a complete consolation for him. She blushed at the onlookers and resumed her seat, trying not to notice that he had taken one opposite her.

"I also offer my apologies on another subject," Darcy began, still glancing at Miss Elizabeth. "I regret that my cousin's wedding requires Georgiana and myself to depart in three days. My Aunt is anxious for our arrival to be before the ceremony." He finished abruptly as Miss Elizabeth's fine eyes darkened in what he hoped was disappointment.

"However I would like to ask if it would be possible for you to postpone your own departure until we return. I plan to stay no more than a day or two after the wedding." He knew he was taking the liberty asking such a favour, but he also knew that it was the only recourse, if Miss Elizabeth refused him before they left.

"We will happily wait," Mr Gardiner replied, noting his anxious niece and smiling at who he hoped was a future nephew. "We have only Mr Bennet's consent for Jane to call us to Hertfordshire, but I am sure that can be arranged by post."

"I have offered Bingley the task of looking after Pemberley for my absence," Darcy added, glancing at his friend, who still remained in a trance caused by his fiancee. "He accepted almost instantly." He glanced at Miss Elizabeth once more, wishing he could interpret the meaning in her fine eyes.

Elizabeth herself scarcely heard much of the conversation after Mr Darcy's first words. Three days? He was leaving in three days. The phrase ran through her mind repeating itself over and over. She had lost her chance. Almost as soon as she had thought the last, she realised she was being ridiculous. There was still hope. After all, her future brother in law was Mr Darcy's best friend. She sighed almost audibly as this revelation did nothing to the despair that was rising in her heart.

"Miss Elizabeth?" A voice suddenly brought Elizabeth out of her trance. She looked up to find her host gazing at her with some concern. Was her mask of good humour really so transparent? She took a glance at the other members of the room. Unlike the last occasion Mr Darcy had spoken to her they were all involved in other conversations; the Gardiners with Georgiana and the Colonel, Jane with Mr Bingley. "I must apologise, Mr Darcy. My thoughts distracted me."

Darcy waved the apology away. Gathering his courage he moved to take the empty seat beside her, making sure no one noticed. "I was hoping I might ask a favour of you?"

"You may," Elizabeth acquiesced, trying to sound her usual self, while her mind speculated wildly on what he could want and revelled in his closeness.

"Would you do me the honour," he dropped his voice lower so only she could hear him, "of granting me a private interview tomorrow? There is something particular that I wish to ask you."

Elizabeth had difficulty keeping her composure in check at the implication of his words. His ardent look at her did nothing to help in this task. Unable to avoid a blush she nodded her assent, looking at him through lowered eyelashes to see his response.

She was not disappointed. Darcy could barely contain his joy. He smiled at her, wishing tomorrow was already with them, so he could do what he had been longing to do to those eyelashes. Rapidly remembering they were not alone he resumed a more appropriate distance from her and attempted to think of something else to talk about.

Thankfully the a signal that luncheon was ready saved him from the vain attempt. Her acceptance had made him forget everything else. Later he would be surprised that he had ever had the courage to ask her in the first place but at present that mattered not.

He found himself listening to his cousin's and sister's discussion which took hold of the rest of the party but himself and- he was please to note -Miss Elizabeth Bennet through the entirety of the lunch. None of the salient points however failed to capture him for his thoughts and gaze continually reverted to Miss Elizabeth whenever they were not needed for the meal that was in front of him.

This was to be an action that he kept repeating the entire evening.


"And so it has been like that ever since you arrived? Incredible."

"Why do you say so? Was there nothing in his behaviour in April?"

The sun had gone down on Pemberley a long time ago and its guests had departed only an hour after its sinking. Colonel Fitzwilliam was indulging along with his youngest cousin in the old tradition of using the Long Gallery as a substitute to the outside. Their conversation had been of nothing else but the courtship of her brother, relating events to each other both had seen alone and their impressions of the events of the evening.

The evening in question had gone well. After the luncheon all had remained in the drawing room, prevented of going anywhere else due the rain which had began that afternoon. The Gardiners and their nieces had stayed for an early dinner before departing when the weather lightened up briefly. Entertainment in the evening had been executed by Georgiana and Miss Elizabeth Bennet, at the pianoforte.

"Darce hid almost all of his feelings while we were at Rosings. As for Miss Elizabeth...... I presume he has told you what happened?"

"Yes. Only when I had already made her acquaintance though."

"Well apart from his frequent absences, I saw nothing to make me suspicious. I never imagine I would see this when I left London."

"Tell me," Georgiana paused, coming to a halt. "Is he going to propose?"

"I have no idea," Confessed Richard honestly. "That is to say he has told me of his intention to do so before we leave, but I do not see why not. They are easy in each others company and he did complain when I told him of our forthcoming departure." He vacillated, looking at her. "Georgie, what's wrong?"

"I want him to be happy, Richard. So much has happened........ he should be happy. He deserves to be happy."

"Oh, Georgie," he began, taking her hands. "I thought you had stopped thinking of him."

"I try to," she replied, her voice becoming shaky. "But I cannot always avoid it. He deserves it Richard. William has been so good to me."

"He's your brother, Georgie. You might as well ask for time to stop. And to reassure you. I have no mind to predict the future, but I think that it will happen. And I also think that you deserve it as well. There will be someone, Georgie. There always is for everyone."


Part XVIII.

 

Fitzwilliam Darcy rose from his bed early the next morning, his nerves overtaking any need for further sleep. Putting on a dressing gown he advanced to the window, looking out at the coming dawn, as if the weather could predict the outcome of the day.

The day. Was he allowed to hope? Privately he still wondered. He knew that it was perhaps only his imminent departure that had spurred his mind to resolve and ask a second time. If Henry was not getting married, Darcy doubted that he would be asking her so soon. He had known all too well the day he had decided to try again that it would have to be taken slowly and with caution. Was this being cautious? He knew all too well it was anything but.

Yet a part of him had to ask, had to know, before he left for town if he stood a second chance for her hand. He knew that if he held off, he would get another chance, as Bingley had already asked him to stand up at his future wedding to Miss Bennet, which would undoubtedly take place at Longbourn.

But the part of him that needed to know, that longed to ask, was presently overruling any sense of rationale, if indeed he had any concerning her in the first place. It was this that had prompted him to sit next to her yesterday, and request a private interview today. The time and place of that interview, he realised only after they had left, had not been arranged, but he hoped such matters would arrange themselves.

With this in mind he left the window and rang the bell for his valet. He went to return to his bed, but came to a halt by the bureau. Slowly he bent down and pressed one of the flowers that adorned it as decoration, revealing a secret compartment. Carefully he took out the blue velvet box that was its only occupant. With a suddenly shaking hand, he opened it. Inside lay two large gemstones, a ruby and a sapphire, combined together in the shape of a heart, finished off with a gold band.

The ring had been in the family for generations, part of the Darcy jewels that had accumulated over the years. This was the first time it was to see the light of day, since the death of his mother. He had left it behind when he had asked at Hunsford, a proposal done purely on impulse, brought on by a desire to relieve his suffering. Perhaps that had been a sign, dooming it from the beginning. Perhaps carrying it today would bring him luck and turn the day to his favour. He laughed at this sudden turn of mind, knowing that it was not just the neglect of a ring that had doomed that day.

Other factors had contributed to its failure, namely his arrogance, conceit and selfishness. All those he hoped, had been eliminated now, although her words occasionally still haunted his nights and days. He glanced at the ring once more, noticing the words he had requested to be inscribed inside the ring after taking it from the family vault in April.

Despite his initial anger at being refused, his feelings had overridden any directed at her, causing him have the added words, resolving that if he ever did have a second chance, they were words he intended to live by from that day. Silently, he mouthed them. Ever mine, ever thine, ever for each other. The mantra had come to him one night in a dream, and seemed fitting words to describe the depth of his feelings for her. He hoped she now felt the same.

The coming steps of his valet brought back to reality. Closing the box with a snap, Darcy placed it on the surface of his bureau, closing the compartment it had been contained in. He turned back to the door, his face forming a mask of control over his nerves. "Good morning James. I think the green riding suit will do for today."

"Yes sir," James replied, closing the door behind him. Subtly glancing over the room as he took out the required garments, the velvet box did not escape his notice. Gossip had been rife in the servants quarters ever since the master's arrival. Now he had something to confirm the speculation. Silently he wished his master luck.


Elizabeth greeted the day with the same amount of nerves and inability to sleep as our hero. She too rose in the early morning, walked to the window in her chamber and gazed out at the coming dawn.

Ever since she had nodded her assent to his request she had been unable to think of anything else. His words had haunted her mind throughout the rest of the evening, along with his silent refusal to leave her company. He had remained seated by her until dinner, whereupon he had escorted her into the dining room and arranged her seat on the left of his at the head of the table. The seat beside her was resumed again after dinner and when they had parted his lips had managed to briefly kiss her hand.

The only thing he had neglected was to ask where and when he might solicit this interview, but she hoped that circumstances would be in their favour. She knew her Aunt and Uncle had planned for them to visit the church in the morning, leaving the afternoon free for her own devices until their dinner at Pemberley. She hoped to break away even before then, as her mind was becoming impatient to find out if her hopes were right about the purpose of his interview.

Did she have a right to hope? To wish for, desire for, a second attempt? Privately a part of her wondered. She had long come to realise that he was not only someone who complimented her but was also her equal in both intellect and character, providing she taught him the ability to laugh at oneself once in a while. His wealth, even though it mattered not to her as far as love was concerned, was secure enough that they had never need to worry about where they lived. She laughed at herself for thinking of this, before he even asked her again.

Yet a part of her could not help but speculate on his attributes. Blushing, she remembered his appearance when she had first encountered him at Pemberley, in soaking wet breeches and shirt. There was no denying that he was by far the handsomest man of her acquaintance, even without the fantasies that image of him had led to.

She knew it was scandalous to think of him in that way, but her imagination seemed to have taken a mind of its own recently. His closeness to her last night when he had asked that favour of her had brought the image back, making her ability to keep her composure extremely difficult. She still wondered what he thought of that encounter, whether he had been embarrassed.

The sound of footsteps approaching her door brought her back to reality. Sighing, she turned away from the window and walked back to the bed, masking her turmoil with composure and smiling at the maid who had come to help her dress.

The maid herself was not oblivious to the gossip that surrounded her present mistress and the master of Pemberley. She had it from her brother who was a groundsmen who had it from general witness, having happened to be working the many times his master was with Miss Elizabeth. Speculation was as rife among the populous of Lambton as it was at Pemberley.

The more confident had laid a private betting on when the engagement would be announced, while others had just observed when they could, wishing wistfully that such a man or such a woman would solicit their heart the way they had. The master of Pemberley was well respected and liked, as good and as benevolent as his late father had been. They could wish nothing more on him than happiness for he deserved nothing less. And with rumours of his immediate departure to London, they hoped he achieved it soon.


As the day progressed the morning weather of light breeze and sun remained, deciding the plan by the Gardiners to visit the church that day. Elizabeth tried to act as if she was looking forward to it, but felt her attempt was in vain. She began to despair of his arrival missing their departure entirely, as Mrs Gardiner looked for her to utter a degree of joy to the visit. Fortunately the arrival of someone at the Inn saved her from having to put a great deal of effort into replying with enthusiasm.

It was Mr Darcy. The maid announced him and he greeted the four occupants of the Parlour with every appearance of geniality. If he were nervous, it could not be determined by his manner or his mien. Acquiring the seat offered- which just happened to be near Miss Elizabeth, much to both their pleasures -he answered faithfully to the well-being of his guests and sister, adding that when he had quitted his home the gentlemen were at Billiards and Georgiana at music, and all were looking forward to the Gardiner's dinner visit this evening.

Mrs Gardiner soon brought up the plan of visiting the church into general conversation- after the usual prerequisite talk of the weather and the enquiry of the general well-being of them all -and, without any appearance of design, invited Mr Darcy to partake of its pleasure with them.

The gentleman happily accepted the offer, putting his services as an appropriate guide to its history forward. Listening to this, Elizabeth could not be more pleased, could do naught but triumph. Both emotions were difficult to prevent from being displayed on her face, causing a significant look from Jane, whose good nature could not be anything else but overjoyed for her.

The excursion thus decided was set out upon by the five, whose mutual fondness for a brisk pace soon brought the destination into view, not more than half an hour after leaving the Inn. Mr Darcy obeyed propriety for a while, describing the general history of the building, its parishioners and clergy, before quietly drifting to the back of the group.

So it happened that he was able to be the first to join Elizabeth outside on the church's surrounding countryside. For a few moments he did not bother to announce his presence, preferring just to watch her in all her glory as she gazed at the beauty summer was producing on the greenery. Trying to summon the courage to proceed with his desire.

Elizabeth did not notice his arrival at first, too engrossed with observing the delightful setting around the church. Her back had been his only view and so it was with bashful surprise that she faced him upon turning round. "Mr Darcy," she uttered nervously in greeting.

Its time, a voice inside his head commanded. Darcy stepped forward until they were standing together. His gaze came to rest upon her face, observing her fine eyes, hoping he could somehow see a message from her heart within them. His hands were suddenly shaking again.

Slowly he stilled them and brought them up to take one of Miss Elizabeth's. He heard her just audible gasp of surprise, making him hesitate to return his eyes to hers. He looked at their hands together, marvelling at the novelty of it, hoping for its continuance. Courage found at last, he looked up, to find her gazing back at him. I wish I could interpret that glance, he thought.

"Miss Bennet," he began, suddenly aware of the silence that surrounded them, broken only by the occasional bird call. "Elizabeth," he uttered next, his voice savouring the syllables, his emotions revelling that she had made no objection. "I asked to talk with you today, because there is something very particular that I have long wished to ask you again."

He paused to gather his breath, the spell of her already having its effect. "There was a time when I could not dare to think I deserved to try again, indeed I still believe I do not, but I can no longer wait in silence. Would you do me the great honour........."


Part XIX.

"There was a time when I could not dare to think I deserved to try again, indeed I still believe I do not, but I can no longer wait in silence. Would you do me the great honour of becoming my wife?" There, it was out, no going back. Now comes the agony of the waiting for an answer. Oh, please say yes.

Elizabeth stood for some time in silence. Every emotion inside her was overflowing with joy at the fulfilment of her dreams. He had asked again! Her harsh words had been adhered to and despite them he still cared enough, loved her enough, to ask once more.

She began to try think how to phrase her willingness, her own love for him, without giving the impression that it was out of duty or gratitude. She gazed at their joined hands, thinking how appropriate that it was that they were near a church. So caught up in the almost overwhelming emotions, she failed to notice the effect it was having on her intended.

Darcy's nerves increased as Miss Elizabeth seemed to hesitate in answering him. Have I done the right thing, he wondered, or is it still too soon? Hurriedly, forgetting to be patient, he spoke, startling her. "Please do not feel that you have to answer now. If you would prefer to think upon it, you may be assured of my understanding. I have no desire to make you feel uneasy, or cause you any distress."

What on earth was happening? "No, indeed sir, I am quite ready to answer you," Elizabeth began, but before she could continue, Darcy spoke again.

"No, no it can wait. You can tell me your answer when I return from London." It is just as I feared. She is to refuse me once again!

"Indeed Mr Darcy, if you will but listen, I am quite content to give you an answer now. I need no time to think upon it." Elizabeth paused and then something else occurred, preventing her from voicing her acceptance completely.

It came in the form of her Aunt, who had now quitted the church and was walking towards them. Darcy immediately withdrew his hands and stepped back, clasping them behind him in an attempt to conceal their shaking. Madeline saw the move and regretted her interruption instantly.

It however too late to do anything about it now, for both were looking at her, waiting for her to speak. She hated to, but it was out of her hands. "It is approaching luncheon and Mr Gardiner believes we should all return to the Inn. Would you care to join us, Mr Darcy? I assure you that your presence will be welcome."

"I would be happy to join you all, Mrs Gardiner, but I promised my sister I would lunch with her today," Darcy replied, too nervous still to gaze at Miss Elizabeth, thus missing the evident disappointment displayed on her face. The excuse was genuine, but his state of emotions seemed reluctant to do anything other than keep it.

Even though she had yet to answer, it already felt like she had refused him again. Her words from the last time came back to haunt him and he found himself wishing to be alone, to try and compose his mind for the ordeal that was now tonight's dinner.


Only when they had returned to the Inn and she was able to seek the sanctuary of her chamber did Elizabeth manage to vent her frustration at having been unable to reply to Mr Darcy's proposal. He had quitted their presence the moment propriety allowed,- wanting to avoid her no doubt, for fear of refusal, -leaving her disheartened and upset. Most of all she was angry at herself for not being, for not acting on, her usual impulsiveness, for not jumping forward to voice her positive answer as he said farewell of them.

Why had she hesitated? Why had she not abandoned the attempt of finding the right words and just said yes? Her mind shouted at her nerves, displaying examples for when she could have spoken to him, even if it had only been briefly, and the right words she could have said that would have convinced him that not only was she serious, but to also stay for the rest of the day by her side. Now it was too late. Too late. She felt her anger turn to despair at this frightening revelation, and tears began to cloud her vision.

A hand knocked on her door, followed too quickly by the appearance of its owner for her to summon the energy to send them away or ask them to leave her alone. Jane gazed at her sister in concern. "Lizzy, are you feeling all right?"

"I'm fine, Jane." Elizabeth tried to brighten her tone. "Honestly its nothing." She added as her sister's continued wont to look sceptical.

Jane stepped inside and closed the door behind her. "I know you too well, Lizzy. Aunt Gardiner interrupted his proposal did she not?"

Elizabeth sighed and abandoned the disguise. "No, she interrupted my answer."

Jane blinked in amazement and joy. "He did ask then? Oh, Lizzy!" Her face became solemn as she realised what her sister had just said. "So he still doesn't know?"

"No. What I am to do, Jane? He said he didn't need to know until he returns. But I don't want him to wait for it. He deserves to know before he leaves for London. When can I tell him?"

Jane stepped close and pulled her sister into her arms. "Don't despair Lizzy. You still have this evening. I have no doubt that you will be to talk to him then."

Elizabeth could only nod as her sister embraced her again. I hope you turn out to be right, Jane. Oh why is everything concerning love always so complicated for me?


Richard Fitzwilliam found himself on a similar mission to Jane when he encountered his cousin in the Library, a unread book in one hand, a glass of single malt in the other. It only took one look at his face to see that it was not his first drink.

"Whiskey in the afternoon? Fitz, I'm surprised at you! Mama would be seriously displeased."

Darcy grimaced and finished the drink. "Do not call me Fitz, Richard. I am not of a mood for teasing today."

"Yes I can see that. Dare I ask what was the cause?"

"My stupidity."

Richard shook his head and took the whiskey. Pouring a drink for himself, he then returned it to its place on the sideboard. This is going to take longer than I thought. "Did you not ask her today then?"

Darcy sighed and closed his book. "I asked. My nerves however decided to give her time to think about her answer. Until we return from London."

"There's nothing wrong in that."

"What happened next is. She began to answer me."

Richard leaned forward in interest. "And?"

"We were interrupted. Mrs Gardiner came out of the church. Not that it mattered anyway."

"Of course it mattered! Darce, she wasn't going to refuse you!"

Darcy shook his head, gazing at his cousin's glass wistfully.

"No, you're not getting another drink today." Richard took a sip of his. Even though his cousin could handle drink just as well as him, Rich was not inclined to push it tonight. "Will, I have it on good authority that while the majority of your servants, and most of Lambton come to think of it, have laid bets on you and Miss Elizabeth, that the lady herself admitted you were courting her."

That brought him back to reality with a rush. Darcy looked in surprise at his cousin. "Who did you get that from?"

"Mrs Reynolds. She told me that she asked Miss Elizabeth herself and she agreed."

"When was this?"

"Before my arrival I believe. When you walked with her to arrange an outdoor picnic? You left her in Kate's charge then." Richard hid his smile behind his glass as he saw his cousin's demeanour lighten considerably.

"I wish had known this before today." Darcy sighed and leant back in the armchair. "Why did I leave her to think about it Richard? She could have answered before her Aunt arrived."

"Now I'm inclined to agree with your previous self-estimation. You were stupid."

"Thanks Richard," Darcy acknowledged sarcastically. "Care to offer any other pearls of wisdom?"

"Yes. Try to secure a moment alone with her this evening. I'm sure she will answer your question then. Oh and one more thing. Call it an order. Sober up."

Darcy smiled and saluted. "Yes, Colonel."

"Good. I'll go find Mrs Reynolds and request some of her famous black coffee."

"Thank you Richard."

"Any time."


Unfortunately the final evening in each others company did not go as hoped for by either of our hero and heroine. Despite managing to secure seats beside each other both before, after and during dinner, they never had a chance to talk without being observed.

Even the efforts of Jane, Richard and Georgiana who although having no idea what had occurred, was anxious for the event nonetheless, to procure an occasion for them to talk were unsuccessful due the ignorance of the other guests. Each new scheme was attempted and abandoned, leaving not just two members of the company dissatisfied at the end of the evening.

The guest left soon after dinner, leaving Elizabeth saddened and Darcy the same. He stayed watching the disappearing coach for a long, long time. Sighing regretfully, he then turned to go inside.

Next morning he, Georgiana and Fitzwilliam departed for London.


Part XX.

Darcy greeted the first morning in his room at his Uncle's house with a mood of distracted sufferance. Part of him was determined to prove that nothing was wrong, but the other part of him seemed not to care.

They had arrived late evening and had only the chance to say hello before all retiring to their rooms for a well needed sleep. His however had proved to be turbulent it was consumed by dreams of his last time with Elizabeth, only in these cases she had either refused him, rebuked him or both.

The last, the one which had woken him up, had somehow mixed her reply to his first proposal within the scene, causing a frantic search of his memory to assure himself that none of that had happened.

Due to this and to his nature of disliking social occasions, Darcy also found himself dreading the next few days he was to spend in London. Most of all he was dreading making excuses to his Aunt as to why he had seemed to have forgotten his cousin's wedding, especially if Richard was present when he did so, for the lie had no chance of surviving for long then.

Again he found himself rebuking his impatience for delaying her answer, as he might be engaged by now, thus easing his time during the endless events that were to preclude and follow his cousin's wedding.

He arrived moderately on time for morning repast, managing a relatively pleasant 'good morning' to all who had already arrived. Unfortunately, Richard was among them, forcing Darcy to immediately abandoned expressing his excuse, especially when his Aunt began to ask his cousin if he had enjoyed his brief time in Derbyshire.

"Oh, absolutely," Richard replied, glancing at Darcy with a wicked glint in his eye that immediately caused his cousin to leave the table for another cup of coffee. "By chance Darce had some old acquaintances staying, who were extremely pleasant."

"Really," his mother replied, glancing at her nephew who steadfastly refused to turn round and comment, preferring to move to the nearest window in an attempt to survey the view. "Who were these acquaintances?"

"Well, Charles Bingley naturally, I daresay you recollect Bingley, mother, Darcy met him at Cambridge," Richard deliberately paused dramatically here, giving his cousin further dread, for he knew what was coming next and hoped desperately that Richard did not put it in the way he was liable to do.

"And a family which he made the acquaintance of in Hertfordshire, a Mr and Mrs Edward Gardiner and their two eldest nieces. Mrs Gardiner happened to have lived in Lambton during her youth, and wanted to introduce her nieces to her old friends."

Darcy did not breathe a sigh of relief here for he knew that he had only temporary respite from the inquisition. Instead, like a man awaiting execution, he tried to pretend he had heard none of the conversation.

"Did you find these acquaintances to be agreeable?"

"Very much so," Richard replied as Georgiana came in, causing Darcy even more panic for he knew that there was to be no escape now. "I happened to meet one of the Miss Bennets at Rosings in April, when she was visiting her cousin and friend who had recently married Aunt's new vicar Mr Collins."

He turned here to Georgiana, who had no idea what was coming, much to her brother's annoyance. "Georgie, you found Miss Elizabeth Bennet in particular to be very agreeable did you not?"

"Oh yes, she was exactly as William......." Georgiana trailed off as she realised what her cousin was doing. "Richard, do not tease him."

"I am not, my dear cousin. I am only attempting to tell Mama about the acquaintances I made while staying with you."

"No that is not what you are doing at all," Georgie replied, looking at him with pleading eyes to drop the conversation.

But it was in vain for it had spiked Lady Sophia's interest. "Why you would be teasing William with this?" She asked, glancing at her nephew who still had his back to her.

"Oh, no significant reason," Richard again paused dramatically, just as his father, the last to arrive, came in, causing Darcy to wish that the ground beneath him would suddenly open up and transport him back to Derbyshire and the company of Elizabeth.

Needless to say it never did. "Only that Miss Elizabeth Bennet happens to be the keeper of my cousin's heart, but other than that, just for the sheer joui de vie."

Great, Darcy thought. Thanks a lot Richard!

"Really," Lady Sophia mused, glancing once more at her nephew and deciding she had had enough of him trying to avoid them. "William, turn round and confirm this."

She waited for him to turn around- which he did reluctantly, sending a threatening look to Richard before seeking the support of a chair -then went back to her son. "So who is this Miss Elizabeth Bennet?"

"I have already told you, Mama," Richard replied, pretending to be ignorant of what his mother wanted to know.

"Richard," the Countess began mildly rebuking him.

"Well, I'm sure Darce can describe her better than I," Richard returned, whereupon Darcy glanced at his Uncle in the vain hope he would provide a distraction.

And for once fate was on side. "Richard, please stop teasing your cousin and tell us about her. Preferably before he comes up with an excuse to exit." Or perhaps not.

"Miss Elizabeth Bennet is the second of five daughters. She lives at the second largest estate near Meryton in Hertfordshire, which I believe is entailed on her cousin, Mr Collins, who if you recollect, is Aunt Catherine's latest vicar for the Hunsford parish. Her elder sister has recently become engaged to Bingley, although he has yet to ask her father's consent so I suppose that point doesn't really matter."

Richard glanced at his cousin, remaining unperturbed by the look in reply, which had been designed with the plan to try and kill with a single glance. "The rest Darce must describe, otherwise he's liable to get very jealous for no good reason."

The Countess of Matlock took pity on her nephew at last and smiled at him. "Really, William," she began tenderly, "why have you not told us about her before?"

Richard began to chuckle, causing another look of the same design as the last to be directed at him by Darcy. This time he heeded it, retreating into silence as Georgiana added her own disapproval.

Darcy reluctantly realised at this point that his Aunt deserved an answer. "I did not know her well enough before," he replied, hoping that this would succeed as a viable excuse and that everyone would ignore his cousin's laughter.

Only one achieved its purpose. "Yet you met her after Michaelmas, did you not?"

"Yes," Darcy acknowledged as his mind rapidly tried to come up with a logical reason. "But we did not form a proper acquaintance then and when we did it was during social events."

His Aunt seemed to be satisfied with this. "And is she pretty? Intelligent, rich?"

"She is beautiful," Darcy replied, glad to receive a question that he could answer truthfully. "And very intelligent. She plays the pianoforte wonderfully."

"She does," Georgiana added, in an effort to help her brother who was very grateful for it. "Elizabeth was very kind to me when we met. She has become a dear friend." And hopefully soon a sister. "Her sister Jane was equally kind. They made me laugh."

She must be something, Sophia decided as she took in this point, to charm both of them so. "So, is she the reason you forgot the need to travel to town?"

"I confess that she is," Darcy replied, deciding to be honest on that point. Elizabeth could make me forget everything but her if she wished. Lord, I am bewitched! But such a wonderful enchantment.

"And have you proposed?" His Uncle asked him. All eyes but Richard's looked eagerly at Darcy, who hesitated for quite a while before answering.

"I hope to do so soon," he eventually replied, hoping that this would be the last question he would have to answer for a while.

This time fate was on his side. A set of servants entered, carrying more hot edibles to place on the sideboard. Anxious not to create gossip, the Earl began a discussion on the weather.


Somehow, either by pure luck or pure chance, Darcy managed to avoid a repetition of those questions for the rest of the day. After breakfast he escaped to his club, returning late in the afternoon, whereupon he sought the sanctuary of the library. There however, he was unable to remain alone for long.

Sophia Fitzwilliam, Countess of Matlock, observed her only nephew for quite some time before making her presence known. It had been no surprise to her when he had admitted that he was in love. During his brief visit in January she had seen the symptoms then. He had been quiet, distracted, almost to the point of irritability. Being a completely different person to her older sister in law, Sophia had not asked him about it, choosing to let him tell her when he was ready.

In April, when he had stayed to pick up Georgiana after returning to town from Kent, his mood had been even worse. He revealed nothing of the trip, mentioning only in passing that the parson had had some relatives staying who had visited while they were there.

Her son had likewise mentioned little of the visit, an event which, at the time, Sophia had put down to little happening there, rather than what she believed it to be now; a mutual agreement of silence about what had passed at Rosings Park. Although William had said nothing new about his stay there, Sophia was convinced that this Miss Elizabeth Bennet had been one of the 'visiting relatives'. She stepped forward.

Darcy, hearing the rustle of her dress, turned round. "Aunt," he began carefully, "I had thought you would be preparing for arrival of the Wildemeres this evening."

"I wanted to talk with you first," Sophia replied, seating herself next to him. "All teasing aside, William, I would like to know more about this young woman that has captured your heart. I promise that no word of this will go beyond these four walls. Now, did you meet her in Hertfordshire?"

Darcy looked at his Aunt. Ever since the death of his mother, she had become his closest female confidante. Lately, she had begun to remind him so much of the lady that, hopefully, would soon replace her in that role and more. Her hair, although showing a faint grey, was the same dark tone, her eyes the same shade, although they did not have the quality that Elizabeth's had which had drawn him to her all those months ago.

"I met her at the first assembly that Bingley dragged me to shortly after our arrival." He paused, remembering the grave mistake he had made that evening. "It was only a formal introduction there." Slowly, he relayed the rest of the story, withholding the misunderstandings and the disastrous proposal at Hunsford, along with the one he had left her to think about in Derbyshire.

Sophia knew instantly that she was not being told the whole story, but chose to let it slide. She knew only too well that there were some things in a courtship which should never be revealed to relatives. What was also clear however, was just how much William loved this woman.

The way his eyes lit up when he mentioned her name, the tone that was heavy with reverence when he talked about her. Sophia hoped dearly that Miss Elizabeth Bennet felt the same way. If she did not, the Countess doubted that her nephew would ever recover.

"So you will see her again after the wedding?" She asked when he had finished.

"Yes, I hope to return to Pemberley soon afterwards, if you don't mind Aunt," Darcy confirmed.

"Of course not," Sophia replied. "But I absolutely insist that you let me know at once if she accepts you."

"I will," Darcy promised, hoping that she would.

His Aunt smiled. "And, on an entirely different note, I want you to promise something else. That tonight you will be as easy as you are when you are surrounded only by your family."

"I promise Aunt Sophia," Darcy replied as a knock sounded upon the door. "Come in," he commanded.

"Forgive for disturbing you, ma'am, but it is now two hours."

"Ah, thank you, Mary." Sophia rose from her seat. "I shall see you soon William. Have faith, all will turn out, I'm sure."


Those two hours passed quickly and Darcy soon found himself with his family again, as they waited for the Wildemeres to arrive. Tonight would be the first night in almost six months since he had met the family his eldest cousin was about to marry into. Unlike most of the titled ton he had found them to be intelligent and well-mannered, accepting the match between their eldest daughter and the next Earl of Matlock as simply a love match, and not due to money or political alliance.

Lady Adelaide herself was considered to be the first among society's belles of last years' Season. Darcy had been present when Henry Fitzwilliam had set eyes on her for the first time, just before he had left to join Bingley in Hertfordshire. His cousin had fallen from day one. Now he could only remember her appearance being nothing more remarkable than most of the considered beauties. Of course he had not met Elizabeth then.

"Lord Wildemere, Lady Wildemere, Viscount Christopher Fairchilde, Lady Adelaide Fairchilde, Lady Eloisa Fairchilde and Lady Sara Fairchilde," the Butler now announced.

Darcy silently groaned as he heard of the younger sisters, whom he had not met. He suddenly had a horrible feeling about tonight.

"Adelaide," Henry uttered, standing in front of her, raising her hand for a kiss. Four years Darcy's senior, he had been considered the most eligible bachelor of the Fitzwilliam family until his engagement had been announced in March. "You recollect my cousin Darcy."

"I am delighted to meet you again, Lady Adelaide," Darcy remarked in greeting. He brought Georgiana forward. "And may I present my sister, Georgiana."

"The feeling is mutual for both of you," Adelaide began in reply. "Henry has told me so much about you."

Dinner soon came upon them and Darcy made a mental note to thank his Aunt for seeing fit to place his seat between Georgiana and his uncle and opposite Richard. During the conversation before Lady Wildemere had made every effort to drag him into discussion with her remaining unmarried daughters, neither of whom came close to being Elizabeth's equal. The call for dinner could not have come at a more welcome time.

Talk during the meal was mostly of the wedding arrangements, until Lord Wildemere asked Darcy where his estate resided as the deserts were brought in.

"Not too far from my uncle's country home in Derbyshire," Darcy replied. "Pemberley lies on the borderline with Cheshire."

"Is it a large estate?" Lady Wildemere asked.

"About ten miles round," Darcy replied, striving to be social despite the increasing uneasiness he was beginning to experience. He knew only too well the schemes of ton with regard to matching making.

"It must be hard to run such an estate single-handed," Lady Wildemere mused.

Darcy silently groaned. He knew what was coming next. "Not entirely single-handed, Milady. I have a most capable steward and Georgiana is an excellent hostess," he finished, looking at his sister with a smile. Georgiana blushed under the compliment.

"But surely there are some days when you realise that something is missing," the Countess continued to muse, with an eye at her daughters.

Darcy hesitated before answering. He did not want to reveal the presence of Elizabeth, but nor did he wish to indicate that he was unattached either. "There are some days yes, but I hope that to be soon remedied," he finally replied, making sure not to look at Lady Eloisa or Lady Sara as he finished the statement.

Lady Wildemere seemed at loss at first as to how to turn this disappointing reply to her advantage. Mr Darcy had been everything that was courteous and gentlemanly, but had avoided all too well her hints about her two remaining daughters. Her host however was there before her, changing the subject with the greatest of ease.

Darcy made another mental note to thank his uncle as he turned the discussion to events in France. He turned all his attention to the subject, silently listening to his uncle and cousin, whose authority as a Colonel leant itself well to the topic. He let himself think of Elizabeth, wondering if she was thinking of him and of the question he asked her. He hoped that her answer was different this time.


Part XXI.

Elizabeth greeted the second day without Darcy's company with the same emotions that she had greeted the first; a mixture of sadness, regret and loneliness. She knew now how he must have felt during those months after she had refused him. For she had no doubt that she was experiencing the same.

He had never spoke of it, rarely referred to it in her presence, but she knew through his sister, his cousin, and at times himself, through his actions and his behaviour, that he had suffered deeply. How grateful she was that his suffering had not dissuaded him from his resolve, from his feelings for her. They could not tell her all of it, for she had told naught herself, but their references to that time had always had him as silent, withdrawn, upset, distracted to the point of anger.

Her own anger over her hesitancy to reply to him had been dealt with yesterday, despite it continuing to haunt her dreams. Even now she dwelt upon it, knowing now all too well what she could have said, finding the perfect reply all too late. Added to this her mind picked out the perfect moments during the following evening in his company that she could have answered him, even if only by a word. If only she had! What happiness now she might be experiencing!

She knew it was pointless to dwell upon it, but for once her mind would not desist. Like the months before when she had refused him and he had given her the letter concerning Wickham and Mr Bingley, when her mind had refused to drift from rethinking her opinion of him, now it refused to cease thinking of her hesitation, of his request for her to think on it.

There had been perfect truth in her reply; she had no need to think, she had known her answer from the moment she had allowed herself to hope that he might ever ask her again. She did not blame him for speaking thus, nor did she blame her Aunt for interrupting, it was her fault alone for choosing to marvel over the moment, instead of accepting him instantly.

Her distraction was noticeable to everyone during breakfast, as she sat quietly by, letting her sister and her Aunt's conversation wash over her, trying to ignore the glances she received from both of them, wishing that Mr Darcy was coming to call upon them, instead of the reality that was becoming harder to bear by the second. For once she did not care about appearances, she was too upset to care.

Her relatives could do naught between themselves to help her. Jane respected too much her sister's right to privacy to tell any one else of the confidence she alone had been trusted with, and her Aunt only had suspicions, not certainties of the truth, her impressions gathered from the moment of her interruption two days before. Both also knew that their help would eventually fail, for only one cure could suffice.

When the door to the Parlour did open, not two hours later, after the Gardiners had departed for the Milliners, its only admittance was Mr Bingley, whose attention rarely strayed from his intended for the entirety of his visit. Elizabeth ridiculed herself then, for moping as she observed her sister's happiness.

After so much heartache Jane deserved every moment of bliss, and it was her duty to her sister to revel over it, not mourn over something that might not be lost just yet. But worry she did, knowing the temptations of London, the scheming mothers of society. Worst of all was the fear that Mr Darcy might be persuaded to think she was to refuse him again and withdraw his proposal, upon his return.

Fortunately for Elizabeth, Jane saw this fear appear on her face almost instantly. She had been anxious over her sister since she had confessed the night before what had happened between her and Mr Darcy during the afternoon at the church. Happy as she was for herself, Jane could not be fully joyful until her sister was also.

It was not in her nature. She pitied that the only solution was Mr Darcy's return and prayed until then that she had the wisdom and the resources to provide respite, however temporary such respite turned out to be.

"Lizzy," she began, as Charles' conversation drew to a close, "You know our father best. How do you think Charles should phrase his letter to get consent?"

The well meant distraction served a part of its purpose. Elizabeth withdrew from the window seat, and joined her sister at the table. "Well," she began, knowing all too well that her tone needed vast improvement if it was ever to convince people that she was fine, "I think for starters he should refrain from writing at all, and instead request a visit, for our father is most remiss when it comes to letter writing."

Jane laughed lightly at her sister's reply, trying to help her in the mask of good mood as much as she was able to. "That I agree on, but should not Charles at least give a reason for the visit?"

"I think papa will determine the reason of his own accord," Elizabeth replied. "But you might make a hint or so as to your intentions, so as to prevent him from professing any ignorance."

"Forgive me, Elizabeth, but your father sounds rather fearsome," Mr Bingley interjected in his usual jovial manner.

"Oh no, you mistake my meaning," Elizabeth explained. "Our father delights in studying character. Anything that is peculiar or particular amuses him, and regarding anyone that is of like mind he enjoys their company immensely. Have no fear, he will consent. He knows you and Jane will suit each other well."

As soon as these words had left her mouth, Elizabeth could not help but wonder of her father's possible reaction to her own suitor. Surprise no doubt would be his chief emotion, for he knew nothing of her altered feelings. She had mentioned little of Mr Darcy's presence at Rosings during her visit there, nor had she told all of him during this excursion.

The letter that she had written to him, on the day of Mr Bingley's proposal, the same one that had been interrupted due to Mr Darcy's arrival, had been first put aside, then rewritten again and again, for fear of her mother witnessing it, and due to her own fear that she might be supposing too much.

Finally she had abandoned the attempt altogether, knowing that her chances for a reply were unlikely. Such a lack of letter writing on her side was unusual, for while at Hunsford she had written to him not once but twice, and had the good luck to procure a reply, even if it was only to beg for her return.

If Mr Darcy did apply for her hand still, Elizabeth knew her father would have difficulty in accepting him. His impressions of Mr Darcy had been influenced by her own initial opinions, and if he had any to the contrary, he had kept them silent. Her change in sentiment would come as an equal surprise. His consent would require a great deal of persuasion, from her and from her suitor.

She knew her father would display some resentment at first, for the second of his most sensible daughters been taken away so soon after the first, but she also knew that this resentment would not be permanent. Given time, her father would grow to like Mr Darcy, his sense of humour appealing to his own.

All this was of course a matter of hopes, as nothing was certain yet. How much she wish it was! She had come so close! Elizabeth sighed and pulled herself together, returning to the conversation between her sister and her future brother, resolving that should her father indeed visit, she would commit herself to improving his opinion of her hopeful suitor, trying to avoid any thought that Mr Darcy might no longer wish to be cast in that role.


Part XXII.

Darcy sipped his glass of wine and wished for the thousandth time that he was back at Pemberley. With Elizabeth. She had been a constant presence in his thoughts from the moment the celebrations had begun.

Truthfully his thoughts had been occupied with her from the dawning of the day. All through the ceremony images of her had slipped into his mind. Picturing himself and Miss Elizabeth in place of his cousin and Lady Adelaide, taking the vows before God and church, swearing to spend the rest of their lives together.

Adjusting to the reality had been difficult, harder still when he remembered that he had very little hope of that image ever coming true. Again he ridiculed himself over his cowardice, for if it had not spoken up, he would know for certain now whether he had any right to picture them in a church.

After the church had come the wedding breakfast, where he had learned something that made him want to return to Derbyshire all the more. His new cousins were close relatives of the Mirmaxwells. This alone seemed innocent enough, had not Darcy met them before.

A quiet dread had stolen into him the minute they were announced, along with their eldest's greatest friend. Miss Caroline Bingley. As soon as the master of ceremonies had announced her arrival, Darcy almost ran from the receiving line. Now he was hiding amongst the surge of guests already in the main room, praying desperately that Miss Bingley would not spot him.

How she had managed to hear about this in Bath was incredible and Darcy did not want to find out. He knew well her reason for coming. He had discovered Miss Bingley's wish to become the next Mrs Darcy almost as soon as Charles had had introduced them both during one summer after they had finished at Cambridge.

Before Elizabeth, there had been a time when he was responsive to her wish. Now he wished to avoid her as much as possible. He finished his wine and picked up another glass from a passing footman, just as a swish of orange caught his eye. Darcy looked around for someone he knew. Spying his bachelor cousin, he slipped into the crowd.

Richard was happily in conversation with Georgiana when Darcy joined them a few minutes later. "Darce," he began upon arrival, "you look positively terrified. Don't worry, they won't bite!"

"Some of them might, Fitz," Darcy replied. "The Mirmaxwells are here."

"Yes, I heard them from across the room," Richard commented, causing Georgiana to laugh. "Have they brought their 'delightful' daughter Maria? Or as most refer to her, 'society's mad marriage hunter?'"

"And her 'delightful' friend, Miss Bingley," Darcy answered. "Why do you think I look terrified? If some force took me back to Derbyshire now, I would be very grateful."

"Surely she's not that bad?" Georgiana queried, still laughing at her cousin's words.

"You haven't met her,' Ana," Richard replied. "One of the most eligible women in the ton, but also the one you avoid on pain of death. She makes priesthood look attractive to any man."

"And her friends are worse," Darcy added, sipping his wine. "Where's Henry and Adelaide?"

"I think they're swamped somewhere over there," Colonel Fitzwilliam replied, pointing to the east side of the room where the hosts were. "Oh, lord," he added suddenly, "I knew I should have avoided wearing my dress uniform to this."

"Who is it?" Darcy asked.

"Miss Mirmaxwell. And Miss Bingley. Quick you two, save yourselves."

The Darcys obeyed, diving into the crowd just as the two women came upon Richard.

"Dear Colonel Fitzwilliam," Maria gushed, as her friend looked around the room. "Is not this wonderful?"

"Yes, very wonderful, Miss Mirmaxwell," Richard agreed, trying not to sound as bored as he was.

"I was just saying to my dear friend Caroline how one marriage always brings about another," Maria remarked anything but casually.

"Really," Richard answered in affected astonishment. "Miss Bingley," he added as the woman began to look around the room again. "Looking for someone?"

"Yes, Colonel. I was hoping to inquire after my brother via your cousin, Mr Darcy. Perchance you have seen him?"

"No, I am afraid not," Richard replied, hiding his smile. "My cousin decided to not attend this function as he must keep company for his sister, who as you know, is not yet out." He pretended to glance away from her. "Ah, there's the Major General. If you will excuse me ladies."

Caroline and Maria turned to see no other officer in the entire room and then back to find Colonel Fitzwilliam gone.


Some minutes later Richard resumed his place by his cousins, who had joined his parents after disappearing from Miss Bingley's sight.

"Richard," the Countess began as her son breathed a noticeable sigh of relief and knocked back a brandy in one, "what on earth is the matter? And, as your father will say, that's a waste of good brandy."

"Mama, is possible for me to disappear and change?" Richard appealed. "I swear I'm the only military man in this crowd."

"We only have an hour more of this to deal with," Lady Sophia answered comfortingly.

"I gather you met the Mirmaxwells," commented the Earl himself.

"Yes he did," Darcy answered for his cousin. "Richard offered himself as a diversion for our escape."

"And a valiant one I was as well, I daresay," Colonel Fitzwilliam added. "Valiant enough to earn some shore leave in the Billiard room. Care for a game, Darce? 'Ana?"

"No you don't," Lord Hugh commanded. "If I have to endure this, so should you. And that goes for you two as well, nephew."

"Yes Uncle," Darcy uttered in resignation. He had been sociable all day, adhering to Elizabeth's words from Hunsford, but avoiding Miss Bingley was enough to tire anyone. He glanced up to find his aunt smiling sympathetically at him.

"Wishing you were in Derbyshire, William?" Lady Sophia asked.

"Derbyshire is certainly an attractive prospect right now," the Earl interjected as his nephew nodded.

"So is the guillotine," Richard muttered under his breath, much to his cousins' amusement.


Promptly one hour later the room was devoid of occupants, as the family migrated into the east drawing room for a calming cup of tea.

"Well," Richard began with a smile at his brother. "That is why I choose to stay a bachelor."

"It wasn't that bad," the Viscount reproved.

"Yes it was," Darcy remarked. "The, forgive me, Lady Adelaide, Mirmaxwells in particular."

"Oh, have no fear, sir, you are safe," Adelaide replied. "They are only distant relatives and I try to avoid them as much as possible. I do wish we could have had a ball though."

"Well, why don't we?" Suggested her husband. "Just family only, no guests?"

"You see, Darcy?" Richard queried, gesturing at the two before him. "Only been married for three hours and he's already the obedient husband."

A state I would never mind with Elizabeth, Darcy could not help but think. "A ball sounds a lovely idea," he remarked as several of his family members looked at him in shock. "But may I suggest a change of scenery, thereby avoiding certain personages? Pemberley?"

"Yes Pemberley would be an excellent location," Henry answered. "Wanting to ask a certain lady, Darce?"

"I don't know who you mean," Darcy calmly replied, his thoughts already imagining such a scene. Silently he hoped that there would come another reason to hold the ball.

"Its settled then," Richard decided, noticing his cousin and friend had drifted into his thoughts. "And let me be the first to arrange partners. 'Ana, would you dance the first set with me?"

As his sister happily accepted Richard, Darcy slipped his hand into his pocket and felt out the velvet box. Let it be answered soon, he silently prayed.


Part XXIII.

Mr Edmund Bennet chuckled. Not five minutes later he was heard to chuckle again. And again. And then a fourth time.

Upon his sixth, his wife decided she had tired of them. "And what reason can you have for such humour?"

"You claim to be out of humour?" Her husband inquired calmly and with his habitual tone of disinterestedness.

"Oh, how can you be so tiresome!" Mrs Bennet exclaimed. "You know very well why I am out of it. But I shall not comment."

"Good," murmured Mr Bennet, much to the vexation of his wife. Knowing it would annoy her, he laughed again.

"Are you ever going to tell me what it is about that letter that makes you thus?"

Mr Bennet looked at his wife and decided for once to satisfy her curiosity. "It is a letter from Jane."

"From Jane!" Mrs Bennet almost bellowed, rising from her seat almost at once in an attempt to take the letter from him. "Why did you not tell me before? Oh I must learn of her news from Derbyshire!"

Her husband deftly prevented the snatch of the letter, rising from his seat. "I am afraid not, m'dear, for it requests my presence in Derbyshire at once." And with that he quitted the room, leaving his wife to frustrate herself alone.

That was three days ago. Now Mr Bennet was seated calmly in a post and chaise, one eye on said letter and the other on the passing Derbyshire countryside. He was inordinately grateful for his eldest's letter,- things at Longbourn had been getting restless ever since his refusal to allow Lydia to go to Brighton, and had long been threatening to turn into a thunderstorm of immense proportions -though in truth it was almost devoid of her penmanship.

Only the direction had been hers, a notion he suspected to have originated in her travelling sibling, while the rest consisted of a entirely unfamiliar hand. Its author was easily ascertained, as he had the astuteness to leave his signature at the end, the only fully legible paragraph in the one paged post.

The letter did not contain much of significance, yet Mr Bennet could quite easily determine that such a disguise had been its point. After all, it was not every day that he received a letter from a gentleman he had not seen since the twenty-sixth of November last year. Particularly such a gentleman who he had thought his daughter had not seen for the same amount of time either. But according to Mr Bingley- for this gentleman it was -the contrary was the case.

At least this much Mr Bennet had been able to deduce from the mostly blotted letter. The reason for it needed no letter at all, for Mr Bennet had known the gentleman's intentions from the moment he had first witnessed the two of them- Mr Bingley and his daughter -together. Indeed the only thing that did bother him was the delay which he had took to coming to declare said intention.

Still, it was done now and with extraordinary little inconvenience to himself, and he could not be more pleased in granting the match, although the loss of one daughter with sense would have been reason enough to decline, had he not another for consolation.

At this point the carriage came to a halt outside the Lambton Inn, forcing him to fold away the letter and dismount. Once outside he gazed up at the windows of the first floor, wondering if anyone would be in to witness his unexpected arrival.

He soon had an answer to this question; everyone.

"Papa," Elizabeth cried, rising to greet him. "What brings you here?"

"As if you do not know," Mr Bennet replied affectionately, embracing her. "Your letters, Mr Bingley, do no good for an old man's eyesight."

The gentleman reddened in embarrassment. "It is beyond my control I am afraid sir," he replied jovially. "Even though my friends always complain at my tendency to leave half my words out and blot the rest. My mind thinks too fast for my hand."

"Well, I shall forgive you for it," Mr Bennet returned as he released his daughter and stepped further into the room. "As you gave me an excellent reason to escape the clutches of Mrs Bennet for some time. I can never write to grant my consent."

Mr Bingley's smile seemed to grow even larger. "You do give consent then, sir?" He asked eagerly.

Mr Bennet smiled too. "Yes I do. You will both be very happy together. You are each of you so complying, that nothing shall ever be resolved on, so easy, that every servant will cheat you and so generous that you will always exceed your income."

"Oh, Papa," Jane exclaimed in mild admonishment, knowing well her father's wit. "You can hardly suspect me of such a event."

"Quite right," Mr Bennet replied, embracing her. He then greeted the Gardiners, before seating himself with them all. "I hope you do not mind if I intrude upon you for as long as you intend to stay in this county?"

"Not at all," Mrs Gardiner replied. "You are always welcome, Andrew."

"Thank you Madeline. Now, has anything else of note happened while you resided here?" He inquired, Lizzy's quickly hidden blush not escaping his notice.

Mr Gardiner supplied a summary of events, causing many a raised eyebrow to result in his brother in law, even though Edward had refrained from expressing his and his wife's speculation to the reason of a certain gentleman's frequent visits.

Mr Bennet however, was not blind to such speculation, especially as Elizabeth paid such a degree of attention to her needlework as he had rarely seen. Astonishment was his chief emotion when the summary came to an end. Mr Darcy was interested in Elizabeth? Was this the same man who not more than six months ago had been declared by her as the most disagreeable gentleman she had ever cared to meet?

Mr Bennet could not help but glance at Elizabeth for the rest of the day. Did she return the attentions? The answer to that question puzzled him the most. Evidence certainly seemed to waver on the affirmative. But why would she suddenly care for a man she had previously hated? Something must have happened to change her opinion, he soon concluded, although the nature and the timing of this event was anybody's guess.

Elizabeth tried not to notice her father's introspection. Being his favourite daughter, she had come to know him better than most of his immediate family. Thus she was all too well aware of what occupied his mind at this moment. I wonder what effect it has upon him, she uttered silently.

His opinion mattered a great deal to her. Particularly of the man that, hopefully would ask for his consent soon. She knew that her father's view of Mr Darcy was influenced partly by her own. I pray that like me he soon learns to disregard that previous impression.


Another carriage was also making its way through Lambton, followed closely by a third, although both were of far superior mettle than a post and chaise. The personages contained therein were likewise illustrious.

Fitzwilliam Darcy gazed out of one its windows as the carriage passed the Inn, his mind invariably drifting to one of the occupants, wondering if she was thinking of him in return. Again his thoughts silently ridiculed him for his hesitancy, as well as for his recent gamble.

He could not deny to himself that his main reason for a ball at Pemberley was to hopefully announce his engagement to Elizabeth. If she refused him now....... he dared not let his mind finish that thought. Instead he slipped a hand into his pocket and felt the outlines of the velvet box that it now carried daily, letting its presence calm his mind and re-establish his rationale.

Countess Sophia noticed her nephew's distraction, from her place opposite him and Richard, beside Georgiana. She was also hopeful that the object of his thoughts had a happy conclusion. She had always thought her nephew too reserved for his own good. His wealth was both an advantage and a menace, more often attracting the wrong woman rather than the right one.

Protective instincts had at first led her to distrust this Miss Elizabeth Bennet, but after hearing both her nephew and niece's descriptions, she was inclined to like her very much. She hoped that her feelings for William were just as powerful as his, for Sophia feared any chance of recovery if not. Her nephew had fallen deeper than he let on, as much as he tried to conceal such emotion.

She had had difficulty from refraining to raise an eyebrow when she saw William's hand moved to his pocket. It was a pocket that he had been in daily, and due to his physique, the outline of a small box could be seen quite clearly by any who looked. Sophia could not help but wonder if her nephew planned to offer himself soon, and this box seemed a definite indication.

A further sign was displayed when the carriages arrived at Pemberley.

"Darcy," his friend cried as soon as he had descended from the carriage. "I have the most wonderful news."

Darcy casually looked at his friend and determined the nature of the news immediately. "You have been given consent?" He offered dryly.

Bingley was too happy to be surprised. "Yes, in fact Mr Bennet delivered it in person."

"Mr Bennet?" Darcy queried, as his sister offered her warmest salutations.

"Yes, he arrived this morning." Bingley stepped closer. "He might have another one to deliver soon, hey? Miss Elizabeth has been very distracted ever since your departure."

"Let us hope," Darcy quietly acknowledged as his relatives came to a halt beside him. "Aunt, Uncle, you remember Charles Bingley?"

"Delighted to meet you all again," Mr Bingley cheerfully greeted, bowing profusely. "My congratulations, Fitzwilliam."

"Thank you, Bingley," Henry replied after introducing his wife.

The Countess quietly fell into step behind her nephew and his friend as they walked into the house. Her position behind him a few moments before had enabled her to overhear Mr Bingley's comment, causing Sophia much wonderment. Had William already asked Miss Elizabeth Bennet? Had he given her leave to think upon her answer, hence his distraction and refusal to reveal her to them when he arrived in London? She prayed she would have an answer soon.


Volume IV