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Daniellas Bureau; A Fanfic & Desktop Site

Till You Or Jane Return

Volume II

Part IX.

When the two horsemen arrived the entire party had long been assembled in the parlour of the Inn, finished breakfast and were discussing what part of the village to visit that morning when a servant announced that a Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy had come to see them.

The gentlemen were shown in and greeted cordially by all the party. Darcy started the conversation. "I hope I am not being too presumptuous if I ask for you all to join us once again this evening."

Mrs Gardiner saved her nieces from any feelings of guilt by answering. "As much we would be delighted to accept your offer, Mr Darcy, I am afraid that we already have a prior engagement with the Watsons."

"Oh," Darcy began, rapidly trying to conceal his disappointment.

Mrs Gardiner stepped in once more. "However, I do believe that our plans are not fixed for the rest of today."

Thank you. "In that case may I invite you to spend the day at Pemberley? Mrs Reynolds tends to leave some of the principal rooms out and I would be delighted to show you the rest, as well as the parts of the grounds that you may have missed. I'd be happy to provide luncheon for you all, a picnic, perhaps?"

If Mrs Gardiner had planned for Mr Darcy to ask this she did not show it. But her acceptance was without a glimmer of hesitation.

"Charles," his friend began, causing Bingley to blink as all this while he had been staring at Jane. "Would you mind staying here while I went to seek arrangements for the carriage?"

His friend barely answered him as Darcy bowed before exiting. He was back within ten minutes, having managed to secure a carriage and two horses for the journey. He and Bingley would ride beside it, he determined.

During the journey back to Pemberley Darcy found himself to be glad of this decision. From the first moment that he had begun to realise his attraction to Miss Elizabeth Bennet he had found that the self control which he had disciplined for much of his adulthood to exercise was taken from him whenever he was in her presence.

At first he had resented her for this, for being able to render him senseless and incapable of masking his feelings and thoughts. This latter ability had been another thing that previously he had prided himself on acquiring, for it had been a piece of advice from his father. It was advice he now realised, that had been tingled with bitterness, due to the recent death of his mother. At first it had been a harsh lesson, but Darcy had indeed learnt.

Since April however, he had begun to question it, along with the self control which he still found himself at times incapable of showing whenever she was near. Before he had not believed it prudent to display his true feelings to the world, to remain behind a mask which gave both nothing away and yet allowed him to know others.

Now he realised that this mask prevented him from presenting himself well to people, especially those he would like to know better. His experiences with Wickham had made him reluctant to trust any new acquaintance for fear of being deceived once more. Bingley had been right when he said he was always determined to disprove of everyone that he met. It always was due to the ulterior motives that he saw so many times in people who knew of his wealth and of his bachelor status.

Too late he had realised Elizabeth was different. Too late he had seen that she judged character before status. His character had indeed been at fault. Hopefully, he was not too late to change her opinion of him, to repair the damage. He had always thought that Wickham had no power over him when indeed the opposite was the case.

His deception had prevented him from trusting any one outside of his family too far. Now that would change. He still needed to exercise self control when Miss Elizabeth was near, for fear of frightening her or destroying himself even more in her eyes. It was not however to control him wholeheartedly.

As for Elizabeth her thoughts during this journey were of resolutions and decisions. She had resolved upon the gentlemen's arrival not to let her judgement be clouded by feelings of guilt at her past actions. On their quitting the Inn she had further resolved to be herself with Mr Darcy and to not let her mind jump to any hasty conclusions about any of his behaviour.

During the journey to Pemberley she had resolved to do whatever she could in furthering Jane's happiness even at the cost of her own. If her sister and Mr Bingley needed time alone, she would make sure it happened, even if that meant paying Mr Darcy particular regard. She had further resolved to not let her inner emotions cloud her judgement or behaviour until she was absolutely sure of what she felt.

Once these resolutions had been established in her mind, Elizabeth turned to these emotions to see if she could learn anything further. Was she surprised by his change of character? Yes. Was she pleased to receive kindness from him? Yes, indeed she was flattered by his attentions. Did she wish for his regard to be the same it had been in April? Elizabeth sighed. She could not answer this question with a definite yes or no.

She put it to the back of her head and tried to find another to which she could. Had her own feelings changed towards him? Almost as soon as this came into her mind, Elizabeth wished she had never thought of it, for her feelings in that respect were just as confused. Resolutely she pushed both to the back of her mind and turned herself to the present as the carriage just began to pass the house.

Mrs Gardiner commanded the coach to stop briefly, making the gentlemen on horseback slow down also. Mr Darcy drew nearer the coach and kindly inquired if there was anything the matter.

"Not at all, sir, I just wanted to observe this view once again."

Darcy smiled. He should do that more often, Elizabeth thought as he replied to her Aunt. "Indeed it is a favourite view of mine as well. I still remember the first time I witnessed it after returning from Matlock. I must have been only three, but I remember it vividly, each time," he concluded blushing, as he revealed more than he felt he ought.

Despite this it procured the right effect. It induced Elizabeth to speak. "It is a most beautiful prospect, sir," She remarked truthfully.

"Most certainly," Darcy returned, although his eyes were no longer on the building. It was now Elizabeth's turn to blush as the implication of his gaze was understood. She looked to her Aunt and saw the quick concealment of a smile in her gaze. Inwardly, she sighed. As yet she was unsure as to whether to let her Aunt help Mr Darcy in what was still his quest, if that compliment was anything to judge him by.

Now it seemed, she had no choice at all, for Mrs Gardiner had decided to take matters into her own hand. And after only two days of acquaintance with him. It disconcerted Elizabeth to learn that her Aunt, whose opinion she had always valued, would spot the goodness in Mr Darcy long before she had realised it herself in the same amount of time.

The drivers put the horses back to starting once more on the path, as Elizabeth took the opportunity to consider her feelings upon receiving a direct- well, direct for him -compliment from Mr Darcy. Had she welcomed it? Most certainly. Elizabeth blushed at her repetition, before considering the next.

Was she pleased that he had? Again, she could not answer in the negative. Sighing aloud, she resolved to repeat her actions of yesterday; to act only on her impulse, to not think for awhile, for fear she might doubt herself.

With a resolve to match her sister's Jane turned once more from the presence of Mr Bingley, whom she had been gazing at for the best part of the journey.

Unlike like her sister, Jane had no doubts about the state of her affections for her beau. Her doubts were directed instead at the feelings of Mr Bingley. She had expected little of what had occurred upon her arrival in Derbyshire. Until the visit to Pemberley in fact, she had little idea that she would ever see Mr Bingley again. The opinion of everyone had settled on him giving up Netherfield in due course and never setting foot in Meryton again.

Yet here he was, and he had barely talked to any one else but her. When he had talked, that is. Last night he had kept in constant conversation with her, as though he was afraid that if he slipped into silence it would be permanent. Today, or more properly, this morning, he had done nothing but stare at her. Jane could not make him out. His behaviour in Hertfordshire had been a complete contrast.

She had always wondered about his journey to London which he had maintained was to be only of a short time, when in fact it turned out to be much longer. His motives for the journey had never been clear to her. His sister's letters had been the only source of information about him and Jane had begun to realise only yesterday that those letters, along with her visit to Gracechurch street, had all been a guise to fool her into thinking that he was enamoured with Miss Darcy.

Their behaviour since their acquaintance with the latter had proved to Jane the deception of Miss Bingley. Miss Darcy, as she herself had stated quite calmly, looked on Mr Bingley as nothing more than her brother's friend. That was quite certain.

However what was puzzling Jane the most was whether Mr Bingley felt the same about his friend's sister. She could not presume to hope that he ever had any feeling for her, even if she had welcomed his attentions in Hertfordshire. She was not content to mourn him as a loss, even if that was what she had resolved upon the moment she left London.

A great deal of her still hoped that he cared about her. And it was this part that Jane was determined not to try and show until she was sure of Mr Bingley's feelings.

Part X.

Georgiana was waiting outside to greet them when the carriage and horses arrived at Pemberley. With a smile that lit up her face, she watched her brother dismount and turn instantly to help Miss Elizabeth down from the carriage. The two stayed close for awhile, as he forgot there were others there and lost himself in the privilege of earning a smile from her.

Elizabeth was flattered that he stayed by her the minute she had drawn level with him, for it showed her that his action had not been just common courtesy. She would remember forever the expression in his eyes when she had thanked him for the gesture.

"No, Miss Elizabeth, thank you," he had returned, and with a such an intensity in his eyes, that she felt herself to be drowning in them. Quickly she looked to the floor, almost wishing he was gone, but when she had recovered her composure he was still there, waiting for her.

"I.....er....." Stumbling in his words, Darcy paused to take a deep breath, hoping to calm them. It was enough. "Is there any particular room with which you would like to start?"

Elizabeth found herself reddening once more as her thoughts for brief minute contemplated the possible reaction to a certain answer which she could make to him. Quickly however, she realised the impropriety of it- not to mention the presumptuousness -and composed a more sensible response, while mentally telling her mind to rid itself of such scandalous thoughts.

If this is what my impulses think of him, she thought to herself, why do I still hesitate in admitting this to my mind as whole? Shying away from this silent question she finally replied to him. "I do not believe we were shown the Library, if that is........."

"Of course, Miss Elizabeth, I should be happy to start with that." Still standing next to her, Mr Darcy turned to her Aunt and Uncle and acquired their acceptance. He then looked about for his friend and Miss Bennet, only to find the two together, some distance away. "Bingley," Darcy called out, "do you intend to join us?"

Mr Bingley turned embarrassed. "I'm afraid I did not hear... that is....."

Darcy chuckled, as the two came back to the rest of the party. His friend looked at him in mock annoyance. "Really, Darce, you are hardly innocent of the same inattention!"

Now it was Darcy's turn to look embarrassed, causing the Gardiners to smile at each other, foreseeing the future they hoped for. Miss Darcy smiled even more and then her wish to be confident kicked in, causing her to save her brother. "I believe, Mr Bingley, that my brother was going to ask if Miss Bennet would like to see the Library, which was missed during yesterday's tour."

Darcy smiled at his sister in praise, and offered his arm to both her and Miss Elizabeth. At first the latter hesitated in her acceptance, not wanting to further the gentleman's wishes by the gesture. Emotion however won over and she submitted to the motion.

Darcy saw the hesitancy and was dismayed at first that he had been unable to gain her approval. Were all my hopes in vain, he began to ask himself, whereupon he saw, no rather felt, Elizabeth's acceptance as his arm adjusted to her light pressure. He rejoiced behind his calm face, revelling in all the pleasure that the occasion afforded. To be this near his love, to feel her breath when she turned to speak to him, to feel her arm touching his, covered by clothing as it was, was something he had never dreamed probable until now.

As for Elizabeth, she was also aware of feelings accompanying her acceptance, and these feelings were in no way negative. However she had also recognised some cautiousness that needed to be adhered to. His attentiveness to her so far had been everything that was favourable, but apart from a few comments, Elizabeth realised that she could not really take them in any other way but than the normal accepted attentions of a considerate host.

Even his last word to her in expressive tones, could have been misconstrued by her due to the conflict of her mind and emotions. What a great time for my mind to finally become objective, she silently thought, realising that she wanted his attentions for the first time.

Silently behind this couple meanwhile Mr Bingley and Miss Jane were still walking together. Both were also concerned in their thoughts, as, like the couple before them, they were engaged in the process of fighting self doubt. Mr Bingley, assured as he had been the night before by Miss Jane's attention to him that she could still care for him, now wondered if perhaps he was being far too hopeful in his mind.

After all, he had left her alone and wondering for well over eight months what had happened to him. True he was insensible of where she was at the time and deceived by his sisters, but that was beside the point. What was the point was that he was quite unworthy of Miss Jane's continuing regard, indeed of any regard, for if he had cared for her as much as he thought he had, he would have ignored all attempts at delay of his return to Netherfield made by his sisters and his friend.

The only thing that had stopped him, Charles realised now, was Darcy's assurance that Miss Jane did not return his affections. And now, Darcy had admitted that was a mistake, and while Bingley could forgive his friend for mistaking Miss Bennet's regard, he could not forgive himself for the extreme error in judgement. Sheer cowardliness had been, in truth, all that had stopped him from presenting his case to Miss Bennet eight months ago.

Reflecting upon it, Charles could not see what he could have lost by going against his friend and sisters and presenting his addresses then. At least he would have known Miss Bennet's true feelings straight away, rather than languishing for eight months in doubt and regrets. He could not ignore that his actions, his hesitancy when put in this light, reflected badly on his character.

It was this revelation that was the cause of his present doubt as to the state of his worth to Miss Bennet in offering himself as her husband. If he was unable to remain constant when confronted by friends and relatives differing opinions, then how would he be able to remain true to Miss Bennet in the future, if she was so good as to accept his addresses? If she had cared for him all those months ago, would she really be able to accept him now, after his retreat to town? Bingley doubted strongly that she would.

Jane herself was equally tormented by self doubt. Mr Bingley's attentions to her this morning had been exactly the same as in Hertfordshire, yet she could not ignore the end result of these attentions. What was to prevent him from returning to town and forgetting about her once more? What right had she to hope that he really cared for her at all?

Her own feelings she had long been certain about. She loved Mr Bingley. Indeed, whatever his past actions, whatever his present course, she would always remember him as the most amiable man of her acquaintance, and in all probability, the only man she could ever really love. She was worried because of this. Concerned that she might unconsciously be giving herself hope by misconstruing his attentions as particular, rather than those of simple politeness. She could not presume that he cared for her at all, until she received definitive proof of it.

Her sister's assurances that he did were all very well, but they did not carry an confirmation from the man himself. Jane knew that ultimately she could not trust anyone's judgement but her own, and even that could prove to be unreliable. Silently, she resolved to contain herself, to keep her feelings in check, until she could be sure that his were the same, if indeed they ever came to be.

Mr Darcy proved to be a most considerate guide by describing a brief history of the Library's construction when the party entered the room and the additions that several previous owners had made. He then joined his sister and Miss Elizabeth- who had separated from him to look around -who were talking quietly by a shelf nearby.

"Do you approve of the Library?" Darcy asked gently, trying not to sound nervous.

Elizabeth heard the anxiousness in his voice and replied in genuine praise of the room, adding, "my father would love this room."

"It is from your father then that you have inherited your fondness from reading?" Darcy queried as he watched Elizabeth run her fine eyes over the books.

"It is. At Longbourn the library is my father's sanctuary and I am the only one who is allowed in there without permission. The amount of books are not as large, but cover the same broad subject areas I believe." She paused as she ran a hand over one of the titles. "He would really enjoy seeing this many."

Darcy privately made a mental note to try and come up with something that could bring Mr Bennet over to Pemberley within the next available days. If his plan to have Elizabeth become mistress of the estate was to work, he would need to cultivate a good relationship with the man that mattered the most in her life, her father.

Darcy almost lost his composure at this point as he realised he had contemplated Elizabeth becoming his wife without so much a second thought. His mind really needed to learn patience when it came to concern love. This second attempt was not something he was going to rush. It needed to be slow. Very slow.

But that was the future. For now he calmly managed to involve Elizabeth and his sister in a discussion over tastes in reading. It was a discussion which remained quite friendly on all sides, even though eight months ago upon a certain evening one of the party had been quite assured in the view that they would never have the same taste in books.

All conversation soon came to an end at the striking of a clock in the room, signalling that the afternoon had begun, as well as a desire to for luncheon in everybody's stomachs. Darcy happily offered Elizabeth his arm and led the party out of the Library and through the rest of the house to the grounds at the back which provided a suitably well sun lit area for the planned picnic.

Thanks to Darcy's hopeful foresight, the servants had already anticipated their wants and the party found several blankets along with baskets of sandwiches, fresh fruit and other sweet titbits in carefully preserved containers. All exclaimed at the astuteness, the sweetness and the wonderfulness of it.

As it was in the Library, they found it quite natural to separate into groups, although there was a slight change in the number of persons. It was initiated by Georgiana, who could already see that her brother wanted to spend time alone with Miss Elizabeth, and wanted to give him the opportunity without making it look too obvious. She joined the Gardiners instead, who welcomed her view of her brother and kept the conversation flowing to prevent any suspicion of a set up in the couple's minds.

Elizabeth was not sure of her emotions about Miss Darcy leaving her with the brother, but he seemed not to mind it and soon had her engaged in a discussion on Blenhiem, -which she had mentioned as having visited two days ago, during their discussion after their first meeting at Pemberley, and he had known the family and house for quite some time -leaving her to forget her preoccupation and begin to enjoy his company.

In fact Elizabeth had found herself enjoying most things concerning Mr Darcy this day, most of all his conversation. It was pleasing, engaging and he seemed not only interested in her opinions, but honestly wanting her to express them. She also found that while they did disagree on some things, they did have the same taste in a lot of others and in those that they did not, his opinions and views were not only flexible, but were also well informed and at times most astute.

Overall, Elizabeth was enjoying Mr Darcy company and she was at a loss as to how the desire of it never ending had formed in her mind, as quickly as it did.

The plan to view the rest of the house was forgot by everyone, indeed if there were anyone who remembered it, she or he quickly abandoned the idea due to the clear unspoken desire of the host, who remained locked in conversation with Miss Elizabeth Bennet for the rest of their stay.

After the topic of Blenhiem was worn out, Elizabeth asked Darcy for a history of his family and the house, of which Darcy was happy indulge her with. He was proud of his family history, for it had been a very eventful one. There had been Darcys who had died in the Wars of the Roses, Darcys who were executed for their part in the Pilgrimage of Grace,1 Darcys who had fought for the King in the Civil War, and Darcys who had seen to their tenants' rights over their livings and work. Elizabeth was impressed and intrigued by all the tales. She was also pleased by the way Darcy told them, not immodestly, and not with an hint of arrogance.

All too soon the day came to an end, and the Gardiners had to reluctantly announce their departure to Elizabeth and Jane, who both did not notice that it was time. Darcy helped Elizabeth up from the floor and this time his hand took the risk and stayed its hold on hers until they were by the carriage at the front of the house.

He then helped her in before reluctantly withdrawing the grip. As he did so the most unexpected motion occurred. Elizabeth looked into his eyes and squeezed his hand in a gesture that did not just signify friendship, or gratitude, or politeness or indeed anything that could be construed as any other emotion. It was quite clearly a gesture of affection.

"Thank you," Elizabeth then uttered as she let go, her eyes still not faltering under Darcy's gaze. Her look that accompanied the simple words also conveyed an entirely different significance attached to them. They went deeper than gratitude. This, together with the hand gesture, was a clear sign of Elizabeth's feelings for the first time and Darcy could not have felt more happy with the display of it.

He stayed to watch the carriage depart, noticing Elizabeth's gaze as she looked back at him once again until the view faded into the distance.

1. This is really true; there were three Darcys around that time in history and Thomas Darcy got executed for his part in the Pilgrimage. There was also a Arthur Darcy and a George Darcy, who were his sons. Their possible ancestry with our Darcy though is just a little poetic license on my part.

Part XI.

Throughout the evening at the Watsons, Elizabeth could not keep her mind from drifting back to Pemberley, and the gentleman there who had the means to take her heart. The day spent there could not have been more perfect in her mind. Mr Darcy had been everything that was considerate, worthy and gentleman-like, his sister was everything agreeable, and his friend had never left Jane's side.

Elizabeth blushed momentarily at this point, as she realised that Mr Darcy had also never left her side the entire day. Every moment he could, he had spent with her. Any special attention, he had made sure was due to her. If she had doubted his affection for her before, as indeed she had, the day had wiped that doubt away. He still cared for her, he still loved her.

He loved her! As Elizabeth let this thought sink into her, she realised for the first time that she no longer disliked that love, in fact she welcomed it wholeheartedly. Not only that, but she had some to give in return. She could deny it to herself no more, she was in love with Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy.


The voice, originated from somewhere in the room, Lizzy realised. She came back to earth with a rush. Unable to determine who had spoken to her, she apologised. "I am sorry. I am afraid my mind wondered for a second. Would it be terribly rude if I ask for you to repeat your query?"

Mrs Watson smiled, brushing Lizzy's apology aside. "Not at all, my dear girl. I understand your slip completely. Why, I remember the time I had met my dear Edmund. I was so remiss over dinner. My parents quite despaired of me."

Elizabeth found herself blushing again. "Is it that obvious? I had not realised. Apparently, everyone has already seen what I have only just worked out for myself."

"Everyone is different my dear. I may have realised straight away with Edmund, but he took a year to work it out."

Mr Watson protested at this assertion from his wife and the conversation moved its focus away, leaving Elizabeth to return her sister's look of surprise and relief with a smile that displayed her return to a calm state of mind.

The next day, Elizabeth confided in her Aunt Gardiner everything that had occurred since she had made the acquaintance of Mr Darcy. And she was infinitely pleased with her reaction. It felt good to have not only understanding, approval and acceptance, but also her Aunt's opinions tended to be more objective than Jane's, who always tried to find the good in everybody.

As for Mrs Gardiner she was pleased and relieved that Elizabeth had felt able to confide in her, as she had been hoping for such a conference. She was also relieved that Elizabeth no longer hated Mr Darcy, quite the opposite in fact, and pleased to offer any help she could, along with any advice that her niece felt she might need.

After the discussion had ended, Jane joined them in the parlour and the three women launched into a conversation of their views of the day they had spent with the Darcys. Jane expressed her approval of Lizzy's beau- to which her sister blushed with a smile -and confessed her own hoped for wish that Mr Bingley was just as enamoured with her.

"My dear Jane," Elizabeth exclaimed in joyful exasperation, "how can you notice Mr Darcy's admiration when you cannot see his friend's which is as just, if not more visible? He never left you alone for a second the entire time we were over there."

Jane protested violently and modestly at this, to which her Aunt stepped in with, "Jane, Elizabeth is right. Mr Bingley loves you, I am quite convinced of it."

Jane looked pale for a moment. "I was sure of it eight months ago and he never came back to declare it so. What if he does the same now?"

Elizabeth sighed and looked at her Aunt. "Jane dearest, Mr Bingley's only reason for not coming back was I think due to the interference of his sisters, I am convinced of that. He would have returned, if they had not interfered, believe me."

Jane was about to protest, but then she remembered Caroline's behaviour during her one and only visit to Gracechurch street. "Perhaps you are right there, Lizzy. I am still concerned though about laying myself open to the emotions again, only to have them washed away."

"Jane, the only possible solution I can suggest is then to follow a piece of Charlotte's advice, although it might require you to open that emotion of yours," Elizabeth remarked, looking anxiously at her sister. "I know you hide your emotions unlike me, and Charlotte suggested to me once that if you wish to secure Mr Bingley, you ought to show more affection not less."

Jane thought silently upon Elizabeth's piece of advice, and then replied to it. "It seems very risky to me."

Mrs Gardiner smiled and patted Jane's hand in support. "I agree with your sister in this case, Jane. Show your affection for Mr Bingley. I do not think you will find disappointment."

Darcy rose early that morning after having passed a relatively quiet and uneventful night in the company of his sister and his best friend. They had all been subdued for the best part of it, both gentlemen very much preoccupied with the two women that held their hearts and who were in Lambton at another dinner and probably not realising.

When he arrived in the breakfast room, Darcy noticed to his great surprise that his friend was already up. A rare occurrence, for Bingley was not known to be an early riser. He also could not fail to notice the quick movement of something that Bingley was holding to his pockets as he acknowledged Darcy's presence.

"Good morning, Darce. You're up rather late."

"Quite the contrary. You're up rather early, Charles," Darcy replied as he walked over to help himself to a coffee which the servants had prepared, knowing their master's habits well. "What's on your mind? Does it have anything to do with that object you rapidly hid the minute I made you aware of my entrance?"

Bingley managed to look suitably ashamed. "You never miss anything, do you Darce? I was contemplating something as it happens." At this point he took the object back out and showed it to his friend.

"That's an engagement ring," Darcy noted as understanding dawned.

"Yes, I brought it back in December....."

"Charles, I am so sorry. I should have let you ask her long ago. If it hadn't been for my stupid pride and............"

"No," his friend interjected, "it wasn't just you Darce. It was Caroline and Louisa as well. And you were sound in your reasoning anyway. Miss Bennet never really showed me a sign of affection. I only perhaps wished that she did."

Darcy had never felt so ashamed. He heartily wished that he had never spoken to Charles all those months ago, for he had never seen his friend so uncertain in his motives. Placing a hand on Bingley's arm in a supportive gesture he quietly replied, "god knows, Charles, I would wish those words I said to you in December gone in an instance if I could. All I can say now is that her sister assured me at Hunsford that Miss Bennet loved you most dearly."

"She may have well done then...." Bingley began, but was cut off.

"I still believe she does now, my friend. She may not show it, but I am sure of it."

"That's beside the point, Darce. The question is; do I still deserve her affection after having abandoned her all those months ago?"

"Deserve her affection?" Darcy repeated incredulously.

"Yes. Imagine what she must have thought when I left her in Hertfordshire and never saw her in town."

"But you never knew she was in town, Charles!"

"That is irrelevant. If I had cared enough about her Darce, I should never have let your words, or those of my sisters to discourage me from returning."

"Charles, listen to me. If I remember correctly the only reason that stopped you from returning was my misguided assurance that Miss Bennet did not return your affection."

Bingley looked at his friend in part disbelief.

Darcy continued. "Until then, you were resolute in returning. So, if you want my advice, and believe me, this time I am thinking solely of you and her happiness, propose to her. As soon as you possibly can. The moment you have her answer you will be assured of your motives. You have nothing to lose in comparison to what you have to gain by doing so."

Bingley looked at his friend and then at the ring in his hands. Then his friend again. He had kept Darcy as friend not only because he liked him, but because he was sound in his reasoning and judgement. Only once had he swayed from that and he had admitted his mistake in doing so.

But was he right? Could Miss Bennet really love him as much as he did her? He turned his gaze back to the ring. Darcy was right about two things. One, the gains compared to the losses were worth the risk. Two, if he did ask her for her hand, he would at last know for certain where her affection lay. Silently he decided.

Part XII.


This time the sound of a carriage could be quite clearly heard in the parlour while the Gardiners and their nieces were still having breakfast. Rapidly removing things, they had little time to prepare as the servant knocked on the door and let the gentlemen in, who instantly apologised for their early hour.

Mrs Gardiner replied instantly. "No, apologies Mr Darcy, I quite understand your enthusiasm." Madeline paused here, and not without design, for both gentlemen became conscious of the implication and produced some consciousness of it in their appearance, the effect she had desired to achieve. "The weather has been so very fine lately."

Darcy replied with agreement before tentatively coming to the point of his visit. "I was hoping that you might be persuaded to spend another day at Pemberley."

Mr Gardiner cast his eyes around the table, noting each expression, even though he was perfectly agreeable to doing so and already knew the answer. "Well, we have no plans, so I am pleased to accept your kind invitation."

Darcy inclined his head in acknowledgement. "Then we shall disturb your breakfast no longer. Bingley and I will wait for you all downstairs."

Mrs Gardiner brushed away the intention, replying, "we had almost finished anyway. Please stay."

The gentlemen cautiously accepted and with a slight hesitation, took the remaining seats at the table. This hesitation was not by design or desire, for it so happened that the seats were by the Miss Bennets. No, it was down to nervousness, pure and simple. And this emotion was one both gentlemen dearly wished to keep from displaying, yet both feared it to be impossible.

Nor were the ladies in question devoid from feeling the same emotion aswell. Elizabeth, who had finished her meal, was desperately searching about in her mind for a subject with which to converse with, while Jane was trying to deploy herself in finishing the rest of her breakfast without showing the slightest concern that Mr Bingley was sitting next to her and observing her every move.

It must be noted that Mr Darcy was not entirely innocent of this gesture either, although his gaze was directed at someone else.

Fortunately for all concerned breakfast was soon finished and preparations were made to depart. The ladies retired to change, leaving the gentlemen to make conversation with Mr Gardiner. Mr Bingley happily did, but his friend for the first time in this company was silent and thoughtful. Darcy could not help this state. His friend's doubts this morning had remained in his mind, despite all Charles' attempts to dislodge them.

Knowing that he had done wrong in separating Miss Bennet from friend had been something that Darcy had been aware of ever since April. However this was the first time that he had realised how much of a mistake he had indeed made. His friend would have been married by if he had not been so arrogant as to presume their feelings. He had caused both Miss Bennet and his friend months of self doubt.

It was all very well that his sisters had also been partly responsible but Darcy could no longer deny to himself that Bingley would not have been persuaded to stay in London by Caroline and Louisa alone, not if he had truly been certain. It had been his opinion that Bingley nearly always deferred to, above those of his family.

He was perfectly sensible of his sisters often selfish and snobbish notions, which was why Darcy had always been his friend, for Charles had relied on his usually unbiased view. Darcy himself however was rapidly coming to realise that there had been times when his judgements were just as selfish and as snobbish as those of Caroline and Louisa.

Having begun this plane of thought it was not something that Darcy could usually pull himself out of without great difficulty. Bingley had become aware of this over the years and it was why his conversation with Mr Gardiner began to slowly come to a halt. Politely excusing himself, Bingley turned to his friend and without any regard to ceremony, pulled him to the window where they could escape any one overhearing them.

"Darce," Bingley began as soon as they were there and he had got his friend's attention, "please for my sake and for Miss Elizabeth's, refrain from falling too deep into reflection on what I said this morning. You are not to blame yourself."

"How did you know I had?" Darcy asked.

"I know you, Fitzwilliam," Bingley returned, causing his friend to take note. No one called him by his first name, mainly by his own wishes, but Bingley was determined to keep Darcy's attention. And he was serious. "If you think on this too much you will not be much of a host today and Miss Elizabeth will begin to wonder if your changed manner was just a phase. Now, let us return to Mr Gardiner and if you do not contribute to the conversation I shall be very displeased."

Darcy acknowledged his friend's well timed rebuke. Bingley was right. If he did not hold it against him then what was the point in himself doing so? He followed his friend back to the table and while they waited for the ladies, he made himself push the reflection to the back of his mind.

Mr Gardiner paid no notice to the conversation, nor did he remark on Darcy's sudden change of manner. He had his own conclusions to draw. He had been quite surprised when meeting with Mr Darcy in witnessing the complete contrast in character from what his niece had assured him that this gentleman would be like. Elizabeth's astonishment was not something he had missed and it had made Edward Gardiner reluctant at first to get to know Mr Darcy.

But now, he felt certain that what they had been witness to during the past few days was the gentleman's true character, contrary to his display in Hertfordshire. All in all, Mr Gardiner was impressed with Mr Darcy. The man showed not only good taste, but for someone so young, a self control that was remarkable.

He clearly had had the responsibility of running Pemberley from a early age, yet far from shying away from it, he had embraced it with enthusiasm. His reserved nature seemed to stem from his place in society rather than shyness alone. A man of ten thousand per annum was a valuable catch for any woman of the ton, love mattered not. For Mr Darcy however, it obviously did.

His behaviour to Elizabeth had so far been everything that was gentleman like. Yet you had to be blind to not see that he loved her with every breath of his soul. His eyes would soften the minute her name mentioned, or as soon as she walked into the room. His gaze would always drift to her and once fixed on her, it would rarely move. His attention to would be to her above all others, her opinion always sought.

At Pemberley, Mr Gardiner had seen him carefully take note of anything Elizabeth particularly liked, in order to repeat it in other rooms on future occasions. He had even gone as far as to make sure that Mrs Reynolds was in every agreeable to her, as might benefit a mistress of the estate. Mr Gardiner approval of Mr Darcy rose with each new discovery on the gentleman's devotion to his niece.

He could only hope that Elizabeth was not blind to these attentions.

This time upon arriving at Pemberley a more in depth tour of the unseen rooms was taken by all of the party. As before, Mr Darcy proved a most excellent guide. One could tell just by his knowledge and his tone of awe that he knew the house's history well and loved to live in it. There was not one question raised by his guests that would remain unanswered. The house itself was in immaculate condition, furthering this perception.

And throughout the tour, Elizabeth found herself falling more in love.

Part XIII.


After establishing this revelation firmly in her mind, Elizabeth realised that it was time to follow some of her own advice. She resolved to abandon her caution and show Mr Darcy that she no longer hated him, that her feelings were in fact quite the opposite. She was ready to show him that she had forgiven his mistakes and in turn beg forgiveness for some of her own.

Unfortunately, as she soon found out, today was not the day when this was to begin. True, it was an excellent one for it, as the Gardiners quitted the Inn early that morning for some purchasing and had assured their nieces to not expect them back until luncheon and even beyond. This left both Lizzy and Jane anxious for their gentlemen callers to actually live up to their title and call.

Only one however lived up to that reputation. Mr Bingley stepped into the Parlour of Lambton Inn about an hour after the Gardiners had departed, causing Jane to blush and her sister to smile. That smile soon changed to confusion as his friend did not appear behind him. Where was he? Her mind instantly asked.

Mr Bingley was prompt in his apologies for the absence of his friend. "Darcy sends his regrets, Miss Elizabeth. He wished to come today, but his steward has pointed out to him some estate problems which required his urgent attention. He has been quite neglectful of late, has he not?"

This last, though said with a teasing smile, did nothing to lessen Elizabeth's now desolate mood. She was happy for her sister, felt guilty for being selfish, but she could not help but dwell on why Mr Darcy was not here. His friend's message from him seemed reasonable enough, but Elizabeth was far too concerned to be rational for the moment.

Her own feelings for him had just begun to materialise, what if now his were to decline? Was this excuse merely a disguise in order to let her down gently? These fears and many more served to occupy her mind for the rest of Mr Bingley's visit and beyond.

Jane meanwhile was having a far more agreeable day. Mr Bingley had come to call. He was sitting by her. His attention was no one else but her. She was flattered beyond measure. In fact she was so caught up in realising this revelation, that she failed to notice them spending the first ten minutes of this event in absolute silence, their eyes fixed upon each other. He was gazing at her!

Mr Bingley was equally aware of the significance. Speak man, say something! His mind kept reminding him in vain. Her eyes, her face, she is an angel! She is perfect in every way. And she is looking at me! Me! Speak man, say something!

"I er.... that is to say.... I hope you are well, Miss Bennet," he began. What on earth was that? Is that all you can think of?

"I am very well, thank you sir," Jane replied with a remarkable calmness of which her inner turmoil had not thought her capable.

Bingley searched for something else to say. He could not propose to her now, for they were not alone. He dearly wished and feared to do so, the former because he wanted her by his side forever, the latter because she might say no. As his mind recognised this, it also realised that yet again he had been silent for more than two minutes.

How on earth am I going to survive this? Have I really reached the stage where the only thing I can ask is for her hand? Hurriedly his mind resolved not to dwell on that last thought before his fears increased and rapidly returned to the present matter. Something to talk about.

Luckily for Mr Bingley, Jane decided on the next subject. "Have you heard from your sisters recently, Mr Bingley?" As much as I am now certain of their contempt for me, I cannot avoid asking after them any longer.

Mr Bingley is capable of being a perfectly sensible gentleman, except when he is confronted by the lady who has, however unknowingly, captured his heart. Thus, although he had recently heard from those sisters in question, at this moment, in the company of this particular lady, he cannot not remember at all the names that these sisters went by, nor that he even had any, let alone what they had been up to recently.

Think man, he commanded himself. Ah, yes of course; Laroline and Couisa. No, Caroline and Lousia! Now, have I heard from them recently? "Er,..... that is to say.... yes I have heard from them, Miss Bennet, not more than two days ago in fact." Right, now that you have confirmed this, lets try to remember what they told you in that letter.

"Caroline is very much enjoying her stay with Lousia and Hurst. Bath is most refreshing at this time of year." Well done, not only did you remember their names, but you also remembered where in the country they were staying, aside from it not being here. Now, what else did Caroline say in that letter? That is, what you can relay which is fit for social consumption.

"They recently visited the Upper Rooms. Caroline was ........ quite pleased with the company that she found," he added, refraining from mentioning that his sister had in fact been relieved that no one of ill breeding was to be found during her short visit there.

Jane seemed not to notice his hesitation and focused on instead the place. She had never been to Bath, a matter which was a great comfort to Bingley for it was something that he could describe with familiarity, as it was where Louisa had met Mr Hurst.

Thus it was a topic that he could occupy their conversation with for awhile, giving him time to contemplate how he could introduce a wish to speak to her alone on the morrow, without seeming either presumptuous or revealing his intention to the other person in the room.

He need not have been so concerned. Elizabeth's physical self may have resided in the room at present but as for her mind, that resided in a different place entirely. She was still caught up in the fear that Mr Darcy was no longer constant in his affections. True, his attentions to her yesterday were eminently capable of disputing this, but the fear once implanted, could not be driven away.

In April she would have welcomed such a reaction but now the opposite was the case. She knew that her fear seemed wholly unreasonable, considering his behaviour to her, and that his excuse for not paying call upon her was believable in its entirety.

Of course such an estate as Pemberley needed its master's attention, particularly if the master in question had been absent for a while. To her knowledge Mr Darcy had not been to Derbyshire since December. He would not be the man that she cared for if he left it alone for long.

Cared for. Elizabeth considered that statement for a while. It had not taken her long to love him, considering that before his proposal she had been unaware that he cared for her at all. Was it wise now to believe her feelings when before she had been convinced that he disliked her as much as she did him? Did she really love him?

Doubtless if Darcy could read minds that last thought of his beloved would have sent him to his horse in an instant. However, it this precise moment his mind was still insensible of the possibility that Miss Elizabeth could actually care for him at all. It was also trying to deploy a rigorous control over his wandering thoughts in order to finish the task at hand with his usual finesse.

A task which was taking him three hours instead of the usual two that proved necessary.

The torture was almost unbearable. He would give anything for it to be done by itself but he had spent far too long away to leave it in the care of his steward, Mr Reynolds. Capable as the man was, Darcy had seen many a gentleman bankrupt by refusing to take a personal hand in their estates.

Once again he found himself glancing at the clock on the mantle across from him, willing the minute hand to move with far more speed than it was displaying at present. How could only a minute have passed since his last look? Darcy did not want to wonder but nonetheless could not help himself.

With a sigh he returned to the paper before him, resolutely willing his thoughts away from Lambton. Georgianna's music notes drifted briefly into his study from the open door, and the tune -it happened to Beethoven's Andante Favouri, which he had come to love recently -served to form a new purpose that stood a better chance of success.

He knew that his love did not care for substance, her refusal had showed him that much, but it mattered to Darcy that he had something more than his affection for her to offer if he ever did ask for her hand again. He picked up his pen and resumed his work. The sooner it was done, the more likely it was that he could visit Miss Bennet on the morrow.

Part XIV.

The next dawned with brighter prospects for both our hero and heroine. Mr and Mrs Gardiner walked out soon after breakfast, leaving their nieces to fulfil their time in writing to Longbourn. Jane's task was the obligatory letter to Mrs Bennet, who would take it greatly amiss not to learn of her two eldest's exploits while in Derbyshire and if any handsome, rich gentlemen had paid call.

This letter the sisters had agreed the night before, was not to contain any mention of Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy's frequent calls upon them, for fear that such information might cause within Mrs Bennet a sudden desire to visit the North. Instead they would cite the reason for their continued stay in Lambton was due to Mrs Gardiner's desire to visit her friends and old acquaintances, nothing more.

By contrast Elizabeth's task was far easier. A letter to Mr Bennet could contain this information without any fear that it might be revealed to his wife. Elizabeth was infinitely glad of this. So much of their time had been taken up by visits of the aforementioned gentlemen that nothing else of interest had occurred which could occupy more than one side of writing paper.

In addition she was rather anxious to improve her father's opinion of Mr Darcy, in the hope that if he asked her again, Mr Bennet would not be surprised nor opposed to granting consent to the match.

As a result her letter took far longer than Jane's who upon finishing hers quitted the Inn to post it, leaving Elizabeth alone and too preoccupied to wonder why her sister had not waited for her to finish so they could walk out together. Not five minutes later Elizabeth found herself folding her own away as the door opened to reveal none other than....... Mr Darcy.

He was profuse in his apologies for his absence the day before. "I would have come but the accounts could not be ignored any longer. Are Mr and Mrs Gardiner out?"

"Yes and Jane left some minutes ago to post a letter. You find me all alone Mr Darcy," Elizabeth replied, inwardly smiling at the difference in her last situation as to when she had previously used that reply.

"I hope I am not disturbing you," Darcy remarked anxiously as she gestured a chair for him before returning to her seat.

"No, I am only writing a letter to my father. Although not fond of writing himself, he enjoys hearing from me. For once however it is a task that I welcome putting aside, for I am at a loss as to what I should relay. One can only extol a person's virtues for so long."

"Surely not," Darcy replied quietly, with a serious look at her, causing Elizabeth to blush at her decision to reveal in some way what she had been writing about. At the same time however his comment and his look at her caused the candle of hope in her mind to shine more brightly.

As for the gentleman himself, much occupied his mind, in particular that his situation right now was ideal for asking a certain question. Indeed, ask he would, if his courage felt equal to doing so. For now he contented himself with simply gazing at her, admiring her fine eyes, her beautiful dark hair. And hoping that she really was glad to see him.

"Mr Darcy? Are you well, sir?"

Hurriedly he collected himself, realising that he had been silent for some time. "I am perfectly well thank you." In your company I could never be ill. He saw Miss Elizabeth was waiting for him to say something else. Had she been speaking? "I apologise, what was it you were saying?"

"I believe I had inquired after your sister," Elizabeth remarked with a smile, relishing that he had been gazing at her the entire time and it had not been because he wished to find fault.

"Georgie is very well. When I left she was amusing herself at the pianoforte. Her playing yesterday proved a considerable help to make my time with business less torturous. I was most relieved to finish it by the afternoon. And your own sister, is she well?"

"Jane is much happier lately. I believe I must thank you for it, sir."

Darcy smiled. "If you mean Bingley, I cannot claim any credit. All I did was confess something to him that I should have done a long time ago. Something which I am now convinced that I never had the right to put forth in the first place."

"I disagree, Mr Darcy."

"You do?" He looked up at her in surprise.

"Although in the beginning I was much angered by your assumptions, I have since come to realise that you right concerning some of them. Jane is reserved. Only those who truly know her can descry her feelings. For strangers it is a matter of guess work."

"It was still something I should never have done."

"You were partly justified. No one should have an unhappy marriage." Elizabeth blushed as this came out and immediately tried to retract it.

Darcy brushed it aside. "No, Miss Elizabeth, do not concern yourself. My friend does intend to propose, he has informed me of that much himself." He may even be doing so as I speak, he added to himself, remembering his friend's early departure that morning, with only a nervous smile to give any hint of his intended destination.

Elizabeth smiled at this. "If Jane had heard you just now, sir, no one would be blind to her emotions." Indeed I would not be surprised if she were to cry out aloud her joy, she added to herself, idly wondering for a moment where her sister was, although part of her did not want to find out.

All that concerned that part of herself was the fact that she was alone with Mr Darcy, whose gaze had yet to drift from her. Elizabeth feared to interpret that gaze. So often had she misunderstood it before.

Darcy had tried to keep his mind from wandering, but still his eyes remained on hers, fully intending never to leave them until he had to return to Pemberley. He did not wish to remind himself of that. Even with the company of his sister and friend, and a household of over a hundred, he still felt the house to be too empty.

More than ever, he desired for it to be filled and he could only imagined it filled with her. While he was alone with her here, it was easy to imagine that they were engaged, perhaps far too easy. He had too ask her soon, before her stay in Lambton ended. All he needed was courage. And the resolve not to contemplate that she might refuse him once again.

If Elizabeth had persisted in her pondering of the whereabouts of her sister, it would not have been long before the conclusion presented itself. Indeed, it did not require any great presence of mind, all it needed was to put two things together.

Jane had gone out to post her letter. This could not be disputed. And post it she did. If by chance she encountered an acquaintance there she could not be held responsible for the delay it might incur.

"Mr Bingley," she began, for it was he, "I did not expect to see you here."

The gentleman was puzzled for a moment. When he had asked her yesterday as she saw him to the door if she would be alone tomorrow, she had given the post as her answer. Then he realised that unlike yesterday, they were not alone. They had the people of Lambton to consider. "Miss Bennet," he began eagerly, "this is a most agreeable surprise. I was just on my way to pay call on you at the Inn."

"I was just about to return there."

"May I have the honour to walk back with you?" He asked, his eyes never leaving hers.

Jane nodded her consent and together they turned round and walked up the path, although whether it actually led to the Inn or not was not a concern.

Bingley anxiously waited for the people of Lambton to disappear, only glancing at Miss Bennet every now and again. He was nervous. Even though he had been preparing himself all last night to do what he was about to do, he feared now to put it into action.

Jane was also nervous. She had thought, no hoped, when he had asked the evening before if she would be alone the next day, that it was because of a particular question he wished to air. It was a hope that had haunted her all night, controlling her dreams and fears, preventing her from saying anything to anyone just in case she was proved wrong.

Soon they reached the very fine tree that signalled the outskirts of the village green, a quieter part of Lambton on this pleasant day. Both stopped, Jane, due to Bingley, and he, because he wanted to. Slowly he turned to face her. "Miss Bennet," he began in a voice which was striving to be calm, "for some time now I have been wanting to ask you something. And to confess this. I love you. I have loved you since I know not when, perhaps as far back as the night we first met.

"It is not like how I thought love would be. I hoped it would make me bold, but it has only made me more nervous, fearing that you would not return my regard. It even made me begin to doubt my own. But these past few days have wiped that doubt away and in its place is this desire." He paused and reached into his pocket. His eyes remained fixed on hers as he kneeled down before her, a ring clasped in his hands. "Miss Bennet, Jane, will you do me the great honour of becoming my wife?"

"Only if you will do me the great honour of becoming my husband," Jane replied, scarcely believing her courage to say so, let alone that this was real.

This is a dream, Bingley thought, as with shaking hands he slid the ring on to her finger. As he kissed her hands another passed through his mind. If it is I hope never to wake up.

And what can be said of Jane through all of this? When Bingley had turned to face her, she had only just begun to dare herself to hope. Then when he had spoke, her hope was replaced by surprise and disbelief that it was actually happening. He loved her! He had always loved her! It no longer mattered what had happened in London, nothing did, except for this. He loved her!

Bingley was overjoyed. He could have stayed like this forever. But his mind would not let him. Instead it was commanding him to stand up and return with his fiancee- his fiancee! -to the Inn, so he could spread the news to everyone in the world. He obliged it, taking Jane's hand and clasping it in his own.

For some time nothing was said between them. Then their emotions took control and many things were voiced. Jane found to her relief that he had not known that she was in London last winter and if he had he would have abandoned everything to see her. In turn, she confessed something to him just as they reached the Inn.

"Charles," she began timidly, using his name for the first time. "You have made me so happy. I love you too. I have loved you I believe since the first time I dared myself to hope that you felt the same, the night of the Netherfield ball."

"I shall remember that day forever," Bingley declared. "Shall I call on you tomorrow?"

Jane nodded eagerly. He kissed hand once, then departed. Her last words stayed in his mind through the rest of the day.

Part XV.

It was no surprise for Jane to find that Mr Darcy had paid call on her sister when she returned from the happiest afternoon of her life to the parlour. For awhile she felt content enough to watch the scene before her; Elizabeth smiling at Mr Darcy, her eyes upon him and not the door, and Mr Darcy's obvious attentiveness- difficult as it was to determine from his back -in return. Even an unbiased observer, Jane felt, would have been quite able to note that a favourable conclusion was soon to come by this hopeful scene.

Unfortunately, the scene could not remain for long. Elizabeth happened to glance up, and noticed her return. "Jane, how long have you been back?"

"Only a moment," Jane lied, as Mr Darcy rose to face her, bowing in greeting. She could not avoid hiding her smile as she acknowledged it.

Likewise Darcy noticed the expression. He took a careful observation of her, idly wondering if his suspicions concerning his friend were correct. Judging by the happiness that emanated from her, this seemed to be the case. "I shall take my leave now, Miss Elizabeth," he began, facing Elizabeth at first, then reverting back to Jane. "As I believe your sister has some news to relay."

He seemed to hesitate at this, reluctant to actually part from Elizabeth's company. Gathering his courage, he turned back to her and, fully conscious that they were not alone, took her hand in his and raised it to his lips. He felt a shudder radiate through her, and then, not trusting himself to remain in control, went to take his leave of Miss Bennet. He took Jane's outstretched hand in his. "I hope I am not being too presumptuous in offering my congratulations, Miss Bennet."

Thus, it was with this phrase and a final glance at Elizabeth, that Mr Darcy quitted the Inn, leaving Jane to turn to her sister. All Elizabeth needed to say was "well?" before she rushed to embrace her, crying aloud, "oh, Lizzy!"

"I am so happy," Jane continued in the same joyful tone. "It is too much, it is too much. Oh, why can't everybody be as happy as I am? He loves me, Lizzy. He loves me!"

"Of course he does," Elizabeth agreed, overjoyed to see her sister thus.

"He told me he had always loved me, all the time. He never even knew I was in town. Oh Lizzy, I cannot believe this is happening!"

Elizabeth found herself unable to stop smiling. Leading Jane to the chairs, she begged her to recount the events of the afternoon.

Jane was only too happy to oblige. She relayed the entire afternoon in every detail, from the first moment to her parting confession and his last words. "At times, Lizzy, I could not believe I was awake. It felt all too like a dream. Charles- I can call him, Charles, Lizzy! -confessed to him he felt the same.

"Oh, I had hoped when he asked to meet me yesterday that he intended to ask, but not with any certainty. I am so glad he did. And now," she began anew, looking at her sister with a inquiring smile, "what has happened in your afternoon?"

Elizabeth reflected upon it. After the discussion about her sister the conversation had moved to general things, perhaps in an effort to avoid discussing feelings, something which Elizabeth felt reluctant to do so at present. Darcy had remained constant in his attentions towards her, his eyes never leaving her face all afternoon. His manner had been the pinnacle of goodness.

Yet at the same time, his meaning had been undeniable to her. He was certainly still in love with her, as much as she had been so unsure of it a few days ago. His attentions today had gone a long way to convince her of that, as she now realised was his intention. At the time she had been puzzled as to why, but now it occurred to her that he had wanted to ascertain her feelings, to see if she still hated him.

I hope I gave him enough in return for all of his. Lastly, she thought upon his parting gift. She had seen his hesitation to leave, but had no expectation of what it would lead to. The touch of his lips upon her hand had stirred such feelings within her. Had he felt her shudder, partly from surprise, partly due to her wish for it to be repeated?

Elizabeth came out of her reflection at this point, realising Jane deserved an answer. "Nothing of great significance," she began, observing her sister rapidly hiding her disappointment. "Jane, my situation and yours are entirely different. You and Mr Bingley both felt the same way in the beginning, I did not."

She paused to collect her thoughts again. "As far as I can hope to determine, what happened here today was merely a test on his part to find out if I feel anything for him." She then launched fully into the events.

Jane was disappointed her sister's suitor had not pledged himself, she had wanted Elizabeth to be as happy as she was. However, she was determined to remain hopeful that it would be a future event and sought to give her sister the same feeling. "I'm sure your actions satisfied him, Lizzy. Do not lose hope. He knows you too well by now to mistake your feelings any more. His friend I am sure will encourage him to do what he has done."

Elizabeth remained doubtful. "But a man who has been refused......."

"That does not matter. It has only made him cautious that is all. Depend upon it, Lizzy, he will ask you before this holiday is out."

Darcy experiencing the same kind of uncertainty when his friend returned to Pemberley that late afternoon. Charles Bingley found him in the Music room, silently listening to Miss Darcy's playing, his thoughts seemingly in another place. If it were not for his enthusiastic greeting, Bingley doubted his friend would have noticed his presence.

"Darce, I have the most excellent news," he began after greeting Georgiana.

"You and Miss Bennet are engaged," replied his friend.

Bingley seemed astonished at his friend's determination. "How on earth did you...."

"It required no great deduction," Darcy replied as Georgiana pledged her congratulations. "You departed early this morning without explanation and upon her return Miss Bennet was practically glowing."

"Was she?" Bingley uttered dreamily before continuing. "Yes I have the honour of her hand. She loves me, Darce! She is an angel!" He trailed off and sat down with a satisfied sigh. Then he realised his friend's unconscious slip.

"Wait a minute, how did you know she was glowing?" Bingley did not wait for his friend to answer, he was way ahead of him. "You visited Miss Elizabeth did you not?" He queried with a knowing smile.

Darcy reluctantly confessed that he did. "Well?" His friend inquired.

"No, I did not propose," Darcy replied to Bingley's hopeful tone and his sister's wishful glance. "It is too soon for me to do so."

"But she loves you, William!" Georgiana eagerly declared.

"Does she?" Darcy asked. "I'm not so sure. Not two months ago she hated me."

"I'm sure that has changed," his sister rejoined. "After all, you have adhered to her criticisms, and she has not once declined to seek you out for conversation. Did anything occur today to make you doubt this much?"

Darcy did not need to think over it for he had replayed the visit repeatedly in his mind since its conclusion. In particular his parting gift, to which she had shuddered to. Whether it was out of surprise, disgust, or because she had been pleased by it, he could not tell. "Nothing. It is just a feeling," he was forced to concur.

"Then why rely on it? End your worry and ask her. I'm her answer will be favourable."

"I'll see," Darcy replied, his tone displaying a wish to end the conversation. He could not help but think about the events that had happened the last time he had determined such a course of action.

The next day dawned with what first looked to be disappointment at the Inn. Mr Edward Gardiner had a few days ago, wrote to his business partners to request a further leave of several days in order to allow both his nieces' hands to be claimed. As the days passed and no reply came, all had begun to worry that he was to be refused and so the arrival of a letter caused much trepidation.

Mr Gardiner however, quickly relieved their doubts. "They have allowed my request," he announced just as steps emanating from the hallway became audible. Rapidly they readied themselves for the expected guests.

The guests, Mr Darcy, Miss Darcy, and Mr Bingley, were most profuse in their apologies for interrupting their breakfast.

Mrs Gardiner brushed them aside. "We would have been earlier, but we had a lot to talk about. We have decided to extend our time here in Lambton, as we had planned to leave at the end of the week." Madeline paused here, seeing both gentlemen briefly lose composure at her words and then regain it as they caught up with the end. "We had not expected to find much to see in Lambton, but I realised that very little has changed here and I begged my husband to postpone our departure."

"And her husband," Mr Gardiner replied with a teasing smile to his nieces, "seeing that he was outvoted, could hardly refuse."

"Well, may I say that I am glad you did not," Darcy replied, his expression betraying that 'glad' was a complete understatement. Rapidly he conveyed his request before his fears took over. "We came with the hope that you might join us at Pemberley today."

"We would be delighted to," Mrs Gardiner replied, noting Mr Bingley's almost idiotic gaze at her eldest niece who was also nearly grinning inanely. She could without any great deal of thought determine easily what had happened yesterday afternoon. Her other niece was less open with her feelings. She only directed slight glances while her suitor's eyes had not left her form since his arrival. "Give us just a few minutes and we will depart immediately."

The few minutes were given and soon the whole party had gathered outside. Two open carriages and four, both bearing the Darcy family crest, stood waiting in front of them. Mr Bingley helped Jane into the first, Mr Gardiner entering with them. In the second, Darcy handed in Mrs Gardiner, Georgiana, and finally Elizabeth before seating himself and directing the drivers to be on their way.

Mrs Gardiner delighted herself in observing the actions of her niece and their host during the short journey to Pemberley. Both seemed concerned on their silence, yet each were hesitant to end it. Miss Darcy was engaged in the same task as herself, Madeline noticed, pleased to see her assistance.

The conclusions she drew puzzled her greatly. The depth of affection for each other seemed obvious in both, yet neither seemed to notice it. She knew the full story of their past and could understand why both were reluctant to hope, but she dearly wished that they were not blind to what the other felt. All it needed was for one of them to take the plunge and since it was not in her niece's nature, Mrs Gardiner prayed it was in Mr Darcy's.

Mrs Reynolds looked up from her work just in time to witness a rare sight. Standing a few metres away, in perfect view of her private parlour window was her master. It was not this that was the rare sight, indeed the master was fond of long walks in the grounds. Only in this case it was daylight and he was not alone.

A lady that had toured the estate some days ago with her sister and Aunt and Uncle was standing with him. But this was not the rare sight either, even though it had been called as such a few days earlier. No, the rare sight was her master laughing.

Laughing. Mrs Reynolds watched the event with great interest and happiness. She had not seen her master with so much as a smile ever since responsibility was thrust upon on him five years ago. He had thrown himself into the running of the estate as though nothing else was worth living for.

Kate Reynolds had watched in concern as her master turned from the happy young gentleman he had once been into the silent and reserved master of Pemberley. Last April in particular had been a trial as the mask he had kept up began to slip. He had been silent and withdrawn, refusing to give any explanation as to why.

And now he seemed happier than ever before. The company had only been here for a few hours and already her master had blossomed because of it. The household had also improved as a result, perhaps in an effort to make themselves unnoticeable in order to aide their master in what was undeniably a courtship.

And Mrs Reynolds could not help but rejoice in her hopefully future mistress. Miss Elizabeth Bennet seemed to bring out the best in him. She did not idolise him as some ladies tended to do, instead she saw him as just a man. She would even tease him, a feat which no one had been able to do for a long time.

She was not a fortune seeker for her master knew their type all too well and have quickly forgotten her if that had been the case. She was beautiful, intelligent, talented, and not disposed to the colour orange, as some women that Mrs Reynolds knew. I wonder what they are talking about to make him laugh so, was her last thought as she returned to work.

The Gardiners and their nieces had only been at Pemberley for scarcely an hour when the party split into smaller, more intimate groups. Jane and her happy suitor sat quietly together, their discussion of only one topic, the Gardiners stayed with Georgiana, and Elizabeth and Darcy were walking to the house with the intent to arrange a luncheon outdoors.

The walk took longer however, than either of them had anticipated. Talk naturally began, the recent engagement was foremost as a topic.

"Were you surprised?" Elizabeth asked her host upon his beginning the subject.

"No, I felt it would soon happen."

"That is to say you have given your blessing."

"No, not because of that," Darcy replied, looking at her earnestly, hoping that she was teasing. Hoping against hope it was not what she really thought. "I had apologised to Bingley the very day he arrived at Pemberley. I expected him to be very angry with me.

"But if anything, he was more angry with his sisters. He approved that I, unlike them, had the thought to apologise and admit my mistakes. I hope they will both be very happy."

Elizabeth was not surprised by his conclusion. Her growing realisation at her affection for him, had led her to guess that he would just as pleased as she was for his friend's happiness. She smiled at him, a gesture which, after a moment's hesitation, he returned.

I had always hoped for this, was the thought that ran through Darcy's mind as he returned that smile. To have her smiling at him, eliminated one of his fears from his parting move last night, disgust. It also led to another delightful conclusion. She no longer hated him.

This thought almost overwhelmed him and it was with difficulty that he turned his mind back to the bewitching company that was with him, just in time to hear the conclusion of the story that Elizabeth was telling him. He sensed the underlying humour in her voice, and although he had no idea was she had just said, he laughed with her, just in time for Mrs Reynolds to notice them.

Elizabeth noticed his introspection after her impulsive gesture and was pleased it had been too long for him not to laugh at her story, as she had no wish for him to become too thoughtful. She was fast becoming to see that there were similarities in their characters and as her own thoughts lately had given her many fears, she did not wish him the same.

All too soon they came to the servants entrance. Darcy quietly led her through a maze of passage ways before coming to a halt outside a white panelled door. He knocked, and then opened, letting Elizabeth in first before himself. "I hope we have not interrupted you, Mrs Reynolds."

Kate turned round in surprise to see the couple that she had been watching happily in her parlour. "Of course not, sir. How may I help you?"

"I was hoping that you would keep Miss Elizabeth company, while I went to arrange some luncheon outside."

Kate Reynolds was only too glad to oblige. She watched with a fond smile as her master departed from them with hushed tones and a kiss upon the hand directed at Miss Bennet.

Elizabeth was slightly nervous at being left alone with a woman that her suitor depended a great deal upon and who was something of an influence upon him. She had a great desire not to disappoint Mrs Reynolds and to be liked.

Fortunately, Kate was perfectly agreeable to liking Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Her previous introduction to her, when she had thought her nothing more than a tourist, had already given her a positive impression, and the subsequent visits by her and her family had led her to find everything pleasing and nothing to dislike.

Smiling, she began the conversation, "I see, Miss Elizabeth, that you know my master more than a little."

"I do now, Mrs Reynolds, although when I replied to you before, I was speaking the complete truth. I did not know him well at all then."

"So it has not been a smooth courtship then?" Mrs Reynolds inquired.

Elizabeth blushed. She had not known what had possessed her to reply with honesty to Mrs Reynolds and she had not been expecting the next question. Is it really that obvious? "No it has not."

Kate had difficulty keeping her happiness in check when she heard this reply. So, she will be the new mistress. Well I could not wish for a better one.

Volume III.

© Danielle Harwood-Atkinson 20212002-2020. All rights reserved.