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Marry In Haste, Repent At:

Version I; Volume VI.

Chapter XXIV.

As much as he was enjoying the company of his love, and the privilege of being within five miles of her home, Darcy soon found that he could no longer ignore the responsibilities that came with being master of a great estate such as Pemberley. Duty and the latter called him to Derbyshire, and he would not be the man that he was if he did not answer their call. Reluctantly, he informed his sister, his beloved, and her father of the forthcoming departure.

Elizabeth's reaction this time to their separation was not that of inwardly held relief. Unlike when he had left for town after Bingley and Jane's wedding some months ago, she did not find herself looking upon the departure as a welcome chance to sort out her conflicted feelings. For her feelings were no longer in such a state.

Instead, they had straightened themselves out, and had come to form one satisfying conclusion. Put simply, she was in love. She loved him. He had proved himself to be a kind and generous man, with the frequently declared- either in vocal solemn vows, or silent earnestness -intention of being devoted to her for the rest of his life. She had no reason to doubt his behaviour to her changing upon the moment they were married, save perhaps her own insecurity concerning herself, which was lessening with every day spent in his company.

He truly was the best man she had ever known. He had not once pushed his advances upon her, nor pressured her in any way. Instead, he had waited patiently, until she felt ready to declare her feelings for him of her own accord. Nor had he turned away once he was aware of her desire to delay the marriage for a while, or insisted that it be as soon as possible and announced to all who knew them, but he had proposed such a decision and stood by it. It was the first time Elizabeth had felt such a freedom like that, and its result had increased her trust of him, and raised her self-esteem even more.

On the penultimate day before his departure, Darcy met her walking the fields between Netherfield and Stoke Edith, by prearranged agreement. He had desired his last full day in Hertfordshire to be spent in her company alone, and she had willingly consented to desiring the same thing.

Taking her hand to his lips, he bestowed his usual greeting kiss upon its soft skin, before gently pulling her closer to him. Gazing tenderly into her fine eyes, he sought and received, permission to greet her more lovingly, and bent his head to let his lips catch her own.

Keeping the kissed hand captive, he let his other one come up to cup her face, caressing her cheek and the edge of her jawbone, tangling with the dark locks of her hair which were arranged around her face. He tried to keep it chaste, but her willing participation in it, along with his own knowledge that he would be leaving tomorrow, was putting up a formidable resistance. His hands got as far as caressing her shoulders, when he realised restraint was needed. Reluctantly, he gently pulled away.

Taking her hand in his own once more, Darcy gestured at the path with his other, and Elizabeth nodded in silent consent. They walked on, in the direction of Oakham Mount. He begun the conversation, allowing her time to gather her emotions from the kiss, deliberately refraining from referring to his departure on the morrow; partly out of a desire to control his own desires, and partly out of a wish for her to continue to feel safe in his company.

It was a general introduction to a discussion, featuring nothing more exciting than the events of a work he had recently read, recommended by her. As guessed by her, he had enjoyed it very much, suspecting that he would, knowing how well-matched their tastes were in that pastime.

As they discussed their views of the book, Elizabeth tried not to let her thoughts dwell on his upcoming departure. The kiss that they had just shared was nothing like she had ever experienced before. They had kissed prior to today, but he had always been careful to keep it tender but chaste, anxious not to pressure her by his passion for her, as he had once explained to her.

Today's had been the first time when he had let his control collapse for a while. And the difference was instantly noticeable. She had felt his passion first with surprise then with excitement, and then, an ability to return it with a passion of her own. Before, she had always felt threatened by any sort of affection like that, when the Earl was alive, his will bruising any love she might have had for him away, as he forced her to submit to his wants.

Yet with Darcy, her feelings were entirely different. She felt an attraction to him. A need to return the kiss with the same degree of emotion as he displayed to her. She even wanted to increase the emotion wrapped up in it, and perhaps see if more delights lay beyond the kiss. She was in love. There was no other explanation for it.

The walk to Oakham Mount was not long. When they had reached its summit, Darcy brought them both to a stop, and turned to face her. "I shall be leaving tomorrow," he stated sadly, "early in the morning. I will write to you every day, if you will allow me such a privilege."

"Very much," Elizabeth felt herself replying before she was fully aware of it, blushing as a result. "I might reply as well, if you wish me to."

"Indeed I do," he assured her, his tone almost resembling a wedding vow, though her promise to reply to him was more than he had hoped for, not wishing to pressure her.

"How long do you think you will be?" Elizabeth asked.

"All matters will be dealt with, I hope, by early to mid-August. I wish it could be shorter, but it cannot be so. I ought to observe the preparations for the start of the harvest, and there are accounts that I must catch up on with my steward, along with the settlements to arrange on you, my love."

He placed a finger on her lips, forestalling any objections. "And no word about whether you deserve or need a settlement. In my opinion, it is no less than you deserve. I wish us to be equal partners in this marriage, Elizabeth. In everything."

She could do naught but blush and smile at that sentiment. His fingers seemed in no hurry to leave her face, exploring it as one would a fine object of art; gently, tenderly, and with almost worshipful devotion. Unable to move, and not wanting to even if she could, Elizabeth watched him, seeing his expression gradually change, as he explored a new facet, and her willingness to let him continue.

She soon became locked in his eyes, as their dark brown tones gazed into hers, conveying all the love he felt for her. Willingly, she returned it, showing him all her feelings for him, knowing that he would need them during the separation they would soon have to bear.

Darcy received and understood her feelings, his eyes gazing into hers. He felt an overwhelming joy at having earned her trust and built up her confidence enough for him to receive this wonderful gift. She loved him, he could see that now, as much as he did her.

He had always hoped, had been content to have her close friendship, but had not been able to help rejoicing at every sign that she possessed a hint of the depth of love he felt for her. And now she returned his emotion just as deeply. He wanted to kiss her again, but knew already that it would cause him to lose his control and they would go further than he wished before their marriage.

So he settled instead, for stroking her face, fingering its smooth skin. Exploring her pink lips. Marvelling over how far they had come in such a short time. At how much she felt for him, and the confidence she now possessed to willingly display it to him.

Imagining what the future held for them, after they had tied the knot. Picturing their life at Pemberley, and how happy he felt it would be. Most of all, he carefully recorded every facet of her expression, so he would have a perfect memory of how he had last seen her, to keep him alive during the months to come.

Trying, above all else, to not think of when he would have to part from her company, and leave on a carriage bound for Derbyshire. It was the first time that he had not wanted to see Pemberley. Unless of course, he arrived with her in his arms.

Chapter XXV.

The first week of Darcy's absence was soon gone. The second began. It also held the dubious title of being the last week of the Regiment's stay, for Colonel Forster had received orders to take up camp in Brighton, a location which, once the news had reached the ears of Longbourn, Kitty, Lydia and Mrs Bennet had all expressed an almost violent enthusiasm to see. All its delights were aired, all its benefits as to health attested. Mrs Bennet even declared at one point that it would be just the thing to settle her nerves.

But Mr Bennet would not grant such an endeavour, causing his family to suffer along with the rest of the ladies who were similarly affected. The dejection was almost universal, and all the young ladies in the neighbourhood were drooping apace. Mary Bennet and Countess alone were still able to eat, drink, and sleep, and pursue the usual course of their employments. Very frequently were they reproached for this insensibility by Kitty and Lydia, whose own misery was extreme, and who could not comprehend such hard heartedness in any of the family.

"Good Heaven! What is to become of us! What are we to do!" would they often exclaim in the bitterness of woe. "How can you be smiling so, Lizzy?"

Their affectionate mother shared all their grief; she remembered what she had herself endured on a similar occasion, five and twenty years ago.

"I am sure," said she, "I cried for two days together when Colonel Millar's regiment went away. I thought I should have broke my heart."

"I am sure I shall break mine," said Lydia.

"If one could but go to Brighton!" observed Mrs Bennet.

"Oh yes! - if one could but go to Brighton! But papa is so disagreeable."

"A little sea bathing would set me up forever."

"And my aunt Philips is sure it would do me a great deal of good," added Kitty.

Such were the kind lamentations resounding perpetually through Longbourn House. But the gloom of Lydia's prospect was shortly cleared away; for she received an invitation from Mrs Forster, to accompany her to Brighton. This invaluable friend was a very young woman, and very lately married. A resemblance in good humour and good spirits had recommended her and Lydia to each other, and out of their three months' acquaintance they had been intimate two.

The rapture of Lydia on this occasion, her adoration of Mrs Forster, the delight of Mrs Bennet and the mortification of Kitty, are scarcely to be described. Wholly inattentive to her sister's feelings, Lydia flew about the house in restless ecstasy, calling for everyone's congratulations and laughing and talking with more violence than ever, whilst the luckless Kitty continued in the parlour, repining at her fate in terms as unreasonable as her accent was peevish.

"I cannot see why Mrs Forster should not ask me as well as Lydia," said she, "though I am not her particular friend. I have just as much right to be asked as she has, and more too, for I am two years older."

In vain did Elizabeth attempt to make her reasonable and resigned. For herself, this invitation was so far from exciting in her the same feelings as in her mother and Lydia, that she considered it as the death warrant of all possibility of common sense for the latter; and detestable as such a step must make her were it known, she could not help secretly advising her father not to let her go. She represented to him all the improprieties of Lydia's general behaviour, the little advantage she could derive from the friendship of such a woman as Mrs Forster, and the probability of her being yet more imprudent with such a companion at Brighton, where the temptations must be greater than at home.

He heard her attentively, and though expressing the opinion that Lydia would never be easy till she had exposed herself in some public place or other, and that they could never expect her to do it with so little expense or inconvenience to her family as under the present circumstances, he agreed with her desire to forbid his youngest daughter that privilege. One battalion of soldiers had been quite enough in his opinion, and he had no wishes to force an entire camp-full to endure any member of his family.

Lydia then promptly threw a fit when her father calmly announced that she had neither his blessing nor his permission to accept the invitation.

"I would not trust you as far as Eastbourne," he said. "Not for fifty pounds."

Lydia ranted and raved, Mrs Bennet ranted and raved, but he stood firm.

After the first fortnight or three weeks of the regiment's absence, health, good humour and cheerfulness began to reappear at Longbourn and everything wore a happier aspect. By the middle of June Kitty, was so much recovered to be able to enter Meryton without tears; an event of such happy promise as to make Elizabeth hope that by the following Christmas, she might be so tolerably reasonable as not to mention an officer above once a day, unless by some cruel and malicious arrangement at the War office, another regiment should be quartered at Meryton.

For Lydia however, there was little respite. In her imagination a visit to Brighton comprised every possibility of earthly happiness. She saw with the creative eye of fancy, the streets of that gay bathing place covered with officers. She saw herself the object of attention, to tens and to scores of them at present unknown. She saw all the glories of the camp; its tents stretched forth in beauteous uniformity of lines, crowded with the young and the gay, and dazzling with scarlet; and to complete the view, she saw herself seated beneath a tent, tenderly flirting with at least six officers at once.

To be denied such a privilege was a most grievous sorrow and her indignation could hardly find expression in her violent volubility. In her mother she might have found a similar melancholy conviction, but Mrs Bennet was no longer concerned with anything that might have to do with a scarlet coat. Bingley and Jane had sent news from Pearlcoombe of a forthcoming addition to their family, which had taken up all her interest.

As for Elizabeth, distraction came for her as well, for the time fixed for the beginning of her and the Gardiners' Northern tour was now fast approaching; and a fortnight only was wanting of it, when a letter arrived from Mrs Gardiner, which at once delayed its commencement and curtailed its extent.

Mr Gardiner would be prevented by business from setting out till a fortnight later in July, and must be in London again within a month; and as that left too short a period for them to go so far, and see so much as they had proposed, or at least to see it with the leisure and comfort they had built on, they were obliged to give up the Lakes, and substitute a more contracted tour; and, according to the present plan, were to go no farther northward than Derbyshire.

In that county, there was enough to be seen, to occupy the chief of their three weeks; and to Mrs Gardiner it had a peculiarly strong attraction. The town where she had formerly passed some years of her life, and where they were now to spend a few days, was probably as great an object of her curiosity, as all the celebrated beauties of Matlock, Chatsworth, Dovedale, or the Peaks.

This new destination was aired to their niece, and Elizabeth could not look upon it with more joy. Derbyshire. To Derbyshire they were to go. Even more propitious, they were to reside for a time in the town of Lambton, where her Aunt had passed some years of her life. And Lambton was but five miles from Pemberley.

It was with delight that Elizabeth informed Georgiana and her brother of this news, and their replies were filled with equal amounts of that same emotion. Darcy went even further, including an invitation to Pemberley for herself and the Gardiners, and a request that they stay there the entire time they had chosen to spend in Lambton. Elizabeth wrote to her Aunt, and the invitation was eagerly accepted.

She also wrote of another piece of significant news in her final letter to Darcy from Stoke Edith. Not only did she feel confident enough now to declare her feelings of love for him, but she also wished to inform her family of their courtship. Darcy heartily consented to the news, and voiced his wishes for the wedding to be at Pemberley, which Elizabeth promised to consider.

She spoke to her father as soon as she had his reply, and Mr Bennet announced the match the night of the Gardiner's arrival at Longbourn. Mrs Bennet was all a flutter. One daughter expecting, and now her second was to marry again, and to a gentleman of wealth almost equal to her last suitor, with only the title lacking. Lydia's misery was now wholly ignored by her, as Mrs Bennet continued to talk over her excitement concerning both future events, and commenting how well 'Elizabeth Darcy, Countess of Saffron Walden' sounded.

The Gardiners stayed but one night at Longbourn and then the trio departed the next day for Derbyshire. All the beauties along the way did they take time to view; Warwick, Kenilworth, Matlock, Dovedale, the Peaks and Chatsworth. To the little town of Kympton, a few miles from Lambton and from Pemberley, was to where they bent their steps, for it was as far as they could reach in order to ensure arriving at Pemberley early the next day. The part of the journey that was spent in the carriage, was much taken up by Elizabeth explaining to her Aunt and Uncle all that they had missed concerning herself and Darcy, since their last acquaintance with him, that evening at the theatre in town, the night before she had left for Hunsford.

Elizabeth was happy to relate to them almost every detail, her sensibilities in need of a distraction from the nervous anticipation presently inside her mind, as her heart counted the hours until it would be reunited with its other half, which had left when a certain person had quitted Netherfield almost three months ago. She could still not quite believe it had been that long since she had last seen her betrothed.

Elizabeth wondered how he was faring, if he was experiencing the same suffering as herself, and the same anticipation for her arrival. She was very grateful that he had invited, without any prompting, the Gardiners to stay with herself at his estate.

This was again a contrast to the Earl, who had forbidden Elizabeth permission to have any of her relatives to stay while they were married. Elizabeth could still remember the time she had tried with all her will to persuade him to let her visit Gracechurch street. She had submitted to every ghastly whim of his, every injury to her body, yet still achieved nothing in return, save for further misery and disappointment.

But that was the past, Elizabeth reminded herself as she went to bed in Kympton that night. The present was very different. She had the most excellent man, who loved her like no other. And whom she loved just as powerfully in return.

She fell asleep dreaming of their last meeting, and how his kiss had felt upon her lips.

Chapter XXVI.

"Sir? the Countess of Saffron Walden and Mr and Mrs Gardiner have arrived."

Darcy was out of his chair the moment he heard her name. Paying only a quick 'thank you' to his butler, he ran out of his Study, along the corridor, down the flight of stairs, and landed deftly on the floor of the Entrance Hall. Moving to one of the ornamental mirrors, he straightened his waistcoat and jacket, and adjusted his cravat. Running a hand through his hair, he resumed a more dignified pace to the doors, and opened them.

"Lady Saffron Walden," he began, taking her hand and raising it to his lips for a loving kiss, the only such gesture he could do in public. "Mr and Mrs Gardiner," he greeted the both of them by shaking their hands. "Welcome to Pemberley. If you will follow me, I have arranged for tea in the Drawing Room."

Leading the way, Darcy dropped back to his beloved's side once they had entered the room, taking the hand that he had previously kissed captive in his own. "Have you any idea how much I have missed you?" He whispered in her ear, the tone of his voice displaying quite clearly how glad he was to see her.

"If it is anything like how much I have missed you, then my absence must have been terrible," Elizabeth replied in the same lowered tone.

"Torturing," he assured her solemnly.

At that moment they were forced to separate a little, as Georgiana entered from the Music Room. Happily she greeted Elizabeth and the Gardiners, as conversation turned to the normal discussions one has whenever one arrives at a new place; such as was your journey dreadful or pleasant? Did you find the place without any difficulty? How have you enjoyed your time sightseeing and travelling so far? All these questions and more were aired, while the guests enjoyed the delights of a Pemberley tea.

When they had partaken of enough refreshment, Darcy offered to give them a tour of the house and grounds, a suggestion which was eagerly consented to. Indeed, Elizabeth was already pleased with what she had seen so far. In fact, she had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste.

Already she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something! All the estates she had inherited from the Earl seemed to pale in comparison. True, their grounds were extensive, their mansions ancient and well-established, but, save perhaps Blisstham and Stoke Edith, most were gaudy, uselessly fine, and with more splendour than elegance, resembling Rosings, rather than Pemberley.

They left the Drawing Room, and entered the Music Room next door. There Elizabeth saw how much musical talent was loved by the family. A large Broadwood Grand pianoforte stood in the corner by the window. A short distance away, set as if someone had just ceased playing it, stood a handsome harp. Large elegant sofas flanked the fireplace, to allow others to listen to the performance, while other instruments lay in display cases placed by the walls.

Georgiana took great delight in showing Elizabeth the pianoforte, informing her that it had just come down, a present from her generous brother, who was also proficient upon the instrument as well. Elizabeth looked up to see the truth of it in his blushing face. Lingering behind her Aunt and Uncle, who had wandered into the next room, Elizabeth held her place by the stool beside the instrument, until Darcy came up to her.

"I don't suppose you would care to furnish me with a demonstration?" she asked, gesturing at the sheets of music before them. "I'm sure the Gardiners will not mind if we rejoined the tour later. And your sister is a proficient guide, I am sure." She was concerned he would refuse her, but there was no hesitation as he sat down.

"If Georgie does require assistance, I know she will call for Mrs Reynolds," he replied by way of acceptance. Elizabeth reached around his shoulders to sort out a piece of music, but he forestalled her arms. "No, if you please, I have something in mind, that I know well enough to play without prompt." He gestured to the chair nearby.

Elizabeth sat down, and nodded to show that she was ready. Darcy began. After the first few notes, she recognised the piece, but then forgot whatever reference it might have to her, him, or their relationship, for she was entirely caught up in his playing. She had seen his sister perform with taste, love and artistry, but not with such genius or emotion as he.

It was almost as if he had been there when Beethoven was composing it. He seemed to have a connection with the piece, an almost intimate understanding of its notes and sound. Never had she been so completely caught up, so utterly bewitched by a performance, even from the best concerts she had heard in London. She did not want it to end.

When Darcy had played the final note, he looked up and across to his beloved, wonderment coming over his features, as he saw the expression on her face. It was as if all her love for him was written upon her, spelled out in her fine eyes, in a language that all could see, but at the moment only he was privy to. Since the death of his mother, he had rarely bestowed a demonstration of his proficiency at the pianoforte to anyone.

Before Elizabeth, only his sister had known that he still practised the talent. Playing to anyone else had, until now, felt like too much of an intimacy. Like displaying a part of himself that he would rather keep from the rest of the world. Yet it was easy playing to Elizabeth. He did not mind revealing the whole of his character to her. In fact, he revelled in the knowledge that he could, for the rest of his life.

"That was beautiful," Elizabeth finally remarked, before naming the piece.

"I am glad you were able to recognise it," Darcy replied. "I know my playing of it will never match the composer."

"I think I would be inclined to disagree," Elizabeth said, smiling, "for your performance was masterful. I had no idea you could play, until Georgiana informed me. Even then, I never thought you would be so accomplished in such artistry and genius as you have displayed."

"My mother taught me when I was young," he explained. "When a tutor was hired for Georgiana, she asked if I could take his instruction as well. I kept it up throughout my youth and education. Only Georgiana knows however, that I can play. I have never admitted so to anyone else."

Elizabeth understood immediately, from the emotions cascading across his face, that he had no wish to do so in the future either. "Will you play for me again sometime?"

"Whenever you wish," he vowed earnestly.

When Darcy and Elizabeth caught up with the Gardiners and his sister, the tour of the house was almost over, leaving only the ten mile round grounds to view. Darcy showed them the quickest way out of the house, then proceeded to give them a tour of the gardens, starting with the sunken Dutch quarter that stood next to the house.

He had been an excellent guide inside the house, now he proved to display just as thorough a knowledge outside as well. He laid out the history, naming which of his ancestors had made which additions, and where each plant that caught any of his listeners' interest had come from.

Elizabeth stayed by his side all the while, enjoying every moment of the tour. Since her arrival Pemberley had risen even higher in her admiration. Every step showed to her a more nobler fall of ground than the last, and the fine woods which surrounded the estate, ones which she had longed to explore the moment she had first set eyes on them, were not only coming within her grasp, but were also proving as much of a temptation to see as the rest of the estate.

They had reached those woods, bidding adieu to the river for awhile, ascending some of the higher grounds; when, in spots where the opening of the trees gave the eye power to wander, were many charming views of the valley, the opposite hills, with the long range of woods overspreading many, and occasionally part of the stream, when Mr Gardiner expressed a desire of going round the whole park.

Mrs Gardiner however, was not a great walker, and requested for a delay of such a venture. Their host voiced the suggestion of arranging a carriage to cater for such a trip on the morrow, which was happily consented to before all turned to walk back to the house.

Once there, Elizabeth was able to procure some time alone with the Darcys for a while, as she finished changing for dinner at a faster pace than her Aunt and Uncle. As they talked together in the Library, she began to get a feel as to how her married life would turn out, in this quiet and peaceful estate, with a wonderful sister in law, and an excellent husband.

Very rarely had she known such harmony. Even when she had been alone in the town house of her late husband, while he was away at his clubs, she had not once felt this sort of peaceful calm. It was almost as if Pemberley held an enchantment over people that other estates or houses could not.

That, by mere virtue of its location in a valley, it was hidden from the rest of the world. Nothing bad seemed to touch it, and Elizabeth doubted that anything could. It had a call as powerful as any siren's, yet with none of the deadly affects.

She felt herself slip into its allurement, and willingly consented to being swept away. Already, her heart wanted to stay forever.

Note: Moonlight Sonata otherwise known as Sonata No. 14 in C# minor (1801) is the piece which Darcy plays. Beethoven dedicated the piece to a Countess with whom he was in love, however, as I have recently discovered, it gained that name long after this story was set, around the 1830s.

Chapter XXVII.

It was perhaps fortunate that Mr and Mrs Gardiner belonged to those kind of people who were quite capable of amusing themselves when the occasion called for it, for an outsider could easily observe over the days they spent upon the estate of Pemberley, that they were rarely in the company of their niece or their host.

The house and grounds had a certain quality to them which made one instantly feel at home, and their owner minded not that his guests were not of the kind who wished for his daily company. He was quite content in being left to his own devices, and as those always included their niece, the Gardiners saw no reason to object at all.

Indeed, Darcy made sure that he was rarely without Elizabeth. He had missed her exceedingly these endless months- had it really been only just three, it had seemed like so much more -and now that she was here, he was determined to be with her as much as possible.

He also hoped that her evident love of Pemberley- something else that he was most pleased about -would encourage her consent to his dream of their marriage taking place in the chapel on the estate before the end of the month. While he would never rush her, and only wished for her happiness above his own, he wanted the rest of their lives together to begin as soon as possible.

But that would not happen until she granted permission, and so he made himself settle for spending what hours he could spend in her company without overstepping the boundaries of their courtship.

The settling was not too arduous a trial however. Its blessings were many. He could sit with her, near enough to be able to claim her hand in order to bestow a loving kiss whenever he felt the inclination, which was more than often. He was able to look upon her with open admiration as much as he wanted, he could kiss her, caress her face, linger with his fingers upon her bare arms as far as the confines of her dress would allow him, and there was where his pleasures ended. Compared to before though, when he had only been able to look and not touch, the pleasure this present luxury afforded him was beyond expression.

Even if the temptation to go further put a strain upon his usually formidable control. Added to this, they were at Pemberley, an estate he had known to call his own ever since his majority, where he had always dreamed her to be, as his wife, from the moment he had fallen in love with her.

A place he knew perhaps too intimately, and one that perhaps he had entirely too much free rein over; for he could be alone with her there, in any room or any part of the grounds, and no one would know where they were. Which was probably why his parents and tutors had seen fit to install within his character a strong reliance on morals, and a thorough knowledge of right and wrong.

If Elizabeth knew of the constant struggle for control over his emotions within her suitor's head, she showed nothing of it. To her ever constant ardent suitor, she always appeared content and beautiful. Darcy was also pleased to see what he had been told by her father, and what somehow he had intuitively known himself, which was the emergence of her true self from the mask which her first marriage had forced upon her.

While he knew that he also wore a mask, he also knew that it always came off around those whom he held most dear; a distinction which for a time his most dearly held had lacked, and one, which now, he was most glad to see slipping day by day.

During the idyllic days of their courtship upon his lands, he, if it were possible, became even more fascinated by her. Her laughter became more frequent and more bewitching to him, her talent for wit became more evident and more confidently displayed, helped by his truly displayed taste and appreciation for it.

As for Elizabeth herself, she too grew to wish the days spent in his company and on his estate would last forever. She soon established that all he was waiting for to make it so was her consent, which as her pleasure in the days spent thus continued, was appearing all the more easier and all the more tempting for her to give.

Her desire for a more perfect courtship than her last seemed now almost silly, as she found herself wishing at the end of her time with him, that it was not the end for another day. Her fear it seemed had gone, and in its place was the sometimes undeniable temptation to push beyond those boundaries that society and custom dictated to be in place for those not yet wed. Especially as she could, confidently, now surmise what would come when they were, her previous experience having at least given her that much. Each time he kissed her, she never wanted it to end.

One day they were outside, enjoying the glorious summer that the estate had seemed to have attracted. By themselves, situated in one of the many secret little nooks that Pemberley's ten mile round estate contained, and one which only he seemed to have knowledge of, for nothing disturbed them except the condition of the sunlight.

Beneath them was a blanket to protect their clothes from any telltale grassy marks, and beside a small picnic basket, which the kitchen staff kindly provided them with. The book they had brought as a prop for their excuse, had long been closed and laid aside, in favour of their present, and far more pleasing occupation.

Together they lay, side by side, their lips and tongues engaged in a loving duel. His hands were entangled in her hair, which had long since come part down from the simple style it had been in, while her own traced his face and his equally unruly curls. They remained thus until the need to breathe awoke within them, whereupon he would move to adorn the rest of her face or neck with tender kisses.

"I love you," he repeated, three words she could not seem to get enough of, nor did he seem to tire of saying, and they would be followed by the passing of an intense, passionate look, carried back and forth between their eyes. Such display of emotion would inevitably bring about another kiss to their lips, and the whole loving cycle would begin again, until their mouths were swollen from the emotion exchanged.

"Fitzwilliam," Elizabeth began, upon one of those occasions when he was engaged in kissing and drawing circles upon her bare arms.

"Mhm," was all she received in reply, as he found his present task too delightful to end for a moment.

"How long, do you think, it would take to prepare for a wedding?"

For minute he did not seem to catch her meaning, continuing to kiss and caress her. Then he abruptly stilled, staring down at the arm which he had just ceased worshipping, replaying her words in his mind, until he realised that it was not his imagination. Wordlessly at first did he look up, gazing at her in awe.

"As long," he said, "as it would take for me to travel down to Longbourn, procure the consent of your father, gain the license, and assemble our families here. The end of the month, perhaps sooner." He cupped her face and gazed earnestly into her eyes. "Do you truly desire it, my love?"

"I do," she answered him, "I feel now that it cannot come soon enough."

He kissed her adoringly, his quest for control slipping in view of the knowledge which he had just gained, and the happiness which it had brought. When, at last he had to withdraw, she was lying beneath him, and his stretched arms were all that separated them from the full contact of their clothed forms.

She did not mind the position it seemed, for her eyes had still not left his own, and were displaying a happiness that neither of them had probably ever felt before.

"If only," said he, "there were no need for licences, and our relatives could be here within the day. Then we could wed now. I am not looking forward to parting from your side for another week, even though it will bring us the rest of our lives together."

"If all our future days are too spent so wonderfully, I heartily agree," she replied.

"Oh, I am determined to make sure that they will be so," he assured her, lowering his arms to a half bend at his elbows so he could be nearer her fine eyes. "I want nothing of the sadness that you had before to ever become between us. Our lives will be idyllic. Of that I am certain. You shall have nothing to fear ever again."

"I know it," she replied solemnly, "somehow how I know it for sure."

He kissed her one final time in that position, and then they wisely reverted themselves to how they were lying before. Quietly they sketched out their future, planning the days after the ceremony which they would spend by themselves here, and the children they wanted to continue their lines.

Darcy carefully positioned himself so his body would not give away his presently vivid imagination, as he pictured their future. Their long honeymoon, and how they would spend it. How she would look when she told him she was quickening. How she would dazzle Society and himself arrayed in the family jewels which he planned to shower upon her from the moment they walked out of the chapel together, never to part again.

Not once had he thought of the fact that he would be gaining more wealth than he had publicly previously possessed- for he had always made sure to never let Society know that he actually earned considerably more than ten thousand pound per annum -or the title that, due to the peculiarity of the Earldom she held, he would gain along with it.

Such material things had long since become insignificant, in favour of the woman who held them. He would have married her if she had nothing, of that he was certain. Quite simply, she was the other half of his soul, and without her in the rest of his life, he would be incomplete.

But all of that was yet to come. Tomorrow he would need to part from her in order to arrange it all, so these last few hours of the daylight should not be wasted by such imagining that which reality would undoubtedly prove even better than what their creative eyes could supply. So he kissed her again, and let the world fade away.

Chapter XXVIII.

About eight days later, Fitzwilliam Darcy stood before one of the ornamental mirrors which adorned the corridor leading to Pemberley's Chapel, adjusting his cravat. The fingering was a nervous movement, brought on entirely by his constant desire to make sure that this day was actually occurring, and was not a part of the endless dreams which he had been having ever since he first laid eyes on the woman he was now to spend the rest of his life with.

Now he turned from the mirror to the window opposite, commanding his mind to recall the events of the previous days. After Elizabeth had given her consent to the wedding, he and his household had been much occupied in the preparations that such an event required.

He had not left Pemberley until the next morning, reluctant to part from his betrothed, and sensible of the pointlessness in departing from his home only hours before the night came upon the county. However, even that morning departure had brought with it considerable loathing, and only the reminder of what would result from it, made it worth enduring.

He had taken a great deal on good faith by travelling down to Longbourn via London, where he procured the license, and informed the Matlocks. Still did he hold his breath upon arriving in Hertfordshire, and sequestering himself in his future father in law's study, paced the floor repeatedly until Mr Bennet had entered.

Being an intelligent man, Mr Bennet determined immediately what had brought the taciturn suitor of his favourite down from Derbyshire and away from her side, and did not hesitate in delivering his consent to the ceremony being conducted at Pemberley. Seeing also his future son in law's evident desire to be on their way, he immediately informed his dear lady wife, and remaining children of the happy event. Remarkably, the entire party was able to depart from Longbourn within the hour.

The return journey was, to the great relief of all concerned, mercifully short. No mishaps of overturned carriages, or any other sudden unforeseen events of that kind occurred, enabling Darcy and the Bennets to arrive at Pemberley well before they had been expected by both daughters awaiting them.

The Bingleys had by now also arrived for the ceremony from Pearlcoombe, a circumstance which allowed the future bride and groom the opportunity to greet each other in private after their brief separation. The Matlocks arrived a day later, followed by the Collinses, who had left Kent in somewhat of a rush, as their patroness had reacted as would be expected to the blessed event.

All that had occurred over the course of eight days, and now Darcy was counting down the minutes to what would surely be the happiest moment of his life. In another part of the house, his bride was engaged with her sisters, Georgiana, Mrs Richard Fitzwilliam and Mrs Collins.

Thus it left Darcy with nothing to do but pace or stand nervously in wait, until his groomsmen came to inform him that all was ready for the ceremony to begin. He could not understand why he was so nervous. He had been waiting and imagining this moment from the day she had accepted his proposal. The only difference now was, that it was actually happening.

Perhaps his anxiousness was due to the nightmare he had in the early hours of this day. About the ceremony progressing perfectly until the Earl had walked into the chapel to claim back his wife. His sense of reality had been so disturbed by that dream that he had resorted to writing a short note to his intended the minute he woke up, requesting an instant reply.

Fortunately, Elizabeth had seen nothing but romance in the gesture, and he now had an example of her fine penmanship locked away in the bureau in his bedchamber. His memory of this comfort would have to console him for now, as there was no time to go and fetch it from its drawer before the ceremony started.

A click sounded, unnaturally loud in the silent corridor, and Darcy turned from the window to encounter the face of his cousin. Colonel Fitzwilliam smiled knowingly at the mask of control the master of Pemberley instantly produced for display. Having been in the same position as his friend only a few months ago, he knew exactly what Darcy was experiencing right now. "The moment has come, Darcy. It is time for you to greet your blushing bride."

His cousin allowed his mask to drop for a brief moment, as a smile graced his features. Then he stepped away from the window, and joined Fitzwilliam by the door. With a careful stride, Darcy followed the Colonel to the door which led to the Chapel, then down the short flight of stairs to the altar.

He acknowledged the priest of Lambton parish with a nod, then turned his head to the entrance as the music began. His eyes captured those which, since the evening at Lucas Lodge, had always fascinated him, holding them within his own until their owner had come to join him before the altar. Mr Bennet released his daughter to him, Darcy met her eyes one final time, then turned to face the reverend.

The hour was at last upon them.

Elizabeth lifted her face to meet his own, inwardly smiling as his lips entwined her own in mutual celebration of their union. Unlike her first time at the altar, the ceremony had seemed to last forever, making her notion of time entirely at odds when the end came. Since their lips had joined, the world had faded away for her, and she could hear nothing, feel nothing but the form of her husband next to her.

His hands drifted from their original position about her face to her hair, then reluctantly withdrew, as the priest politely coughed to remind them where they were. With a long look to each other, Darcy took her hand and led her out into the summer sunshine which was currently enhancing Pemberley's natural beauty.

Around them, guests threw flower petals, but Elizabeth only had eyes for her Fitzwilliam. His mask had been entirely done away with, in favour of the smile upon his face. He looked very pleased with himself, and she could not deny feeling the same way.

This time but a year ago, she had been despairing of ever finding happiness after the passing of the Earl. Little had she known that she was but a few months away from achieving that emotion, for the rest of her life. She let her free hand seek out his, blushing when she discovered that his own had been bent on the same notion.

The joining of their hands led to another look being exchanged between them, and once more did Elizabeth feel the power of their elation increasing. Her mind recalled the doubts she had once entertained, regarding their existence now with disbelief.

The man beside her now was a complete contrast to the one that had gone before him. She smiled as her thoughts recalled the latest example of his goodness; sending the dressmakers from town to the estate, who had made the wedding gown she was now attired in. That gesture had been followed by another: the arrival of a mysterious parcel to her room one morning, which turned out to be the jewels his mother had worn upon her wedding day; a beautiful sapphire necklace, and separate sapphires to adorn her hair.

Then had followed the arrival of himself, along with her family. Lastly, had been his note of this morning, sent to reassure his anxiousness. It had also done the same for herself. She had been pleased to discover that her night was not the only night to be plagued by doubts and fears. She had also dreamt of the Earl coming back to life and putting a end to all her hopes. The scene had been so real that she had awakened calling for Darcy, only to receive her sister Jane instead.

Mrs Bingley had still been present when the note had arrived and had the relief of seeing her sister's face light up as soon as she had read it. The note had been everything she had could have hoped for, calming her mind immediately with its loving terms. Like the letters he penned during their brief separation when he had been required at his estate, it had spoken to her heart, and answered with his own.

They entered the house, where they had to part briefly, in order for them to comb the petals from their clothes, for her to adjust the veil so it would not get in the way for the dancing that was to come. Elizabeth made her way to her new chambers, the rooms of the mistress of the house, where she took the opportunity to take out the note again, and peruse its contents once more.

My dearest, loveliest Elizabeth,

I write this in the hope that I have not dreamt the past year, and that you will join me in a few hours in Pemberley's chapel, and become my wife.

Last night my mind dreamt our ceremony already here, but overturned, as the late Earl came back from the dead to destroy you and our happiness.

I awoke calling your name, only to confront the emptiness of my chambers. Anxiously, I sat up and with my eyes sought, and found, the evidence of my wedding suit, waiting for me to don.

My mind however, would not be satisfied by such material considerations, causing me to rise and write you this note.

After such a nightmare, I could not risk the fates by visiting you in person, so the form of written words will have to suffice for the both of us.

Upon this day, I love more than words can say, it seems, a love which has grown with each passing minute, with every passing hour.

Your fine eyes begin my every dream. I long to caress your wondrous hair, your smooth skin. To cradle you in my arms forever.

I am counting hours down, my love. My heart, along with every breath in my body, hopes that you are doing the same.

Fitzwilliam Darcy.

Elizabeth found herself blushing again as she finished reading the note, just as Sarah announced that she was ready to return to the celebrations once more. She entered the corridor to find the author of the recently read note waiting for her. She smiled as he did, and took the hand that had reached out for hers.

"Have I told you how beautiful you look, Elizabeth?" he asked in a soft, husky tone, which somehow conveyed all the love he felt for her. Their intimacy was emphasised and lingered upon, and he seemed very glad to utter it, just as she was glad to hear it.

"For you look very, very, beautiful. So much so, that I could not wait for you to come down. I had to come to you." He stepped closer to her, leading her into his arms. "Right now, I wish all the guests were gone, and we could return to your room."

Elizabeth blushed, but for once, felt no fear accompanying that redness to her cheeks. He would be the husband she had always wished for, of that she could be certain.

The End.

© Danielle Harwood-Atkinson 20212003-2020. All rights reserved.