Part 1 – A New Understanding

Two days and one accepted proposal of marriage had managed to alter the entire course of her life, rendering sleep impossible for Elizabeth Bennet.   There was nothing material to dread now that her parents had consented to the match.  Dread. Such a peculiar feeling, she thought with a dazzled smile, for such a happy outcome.

She finally gave up her tossing and turning, threw off her bedclothes and tread softly to her bureau. Upon retrieving her hidden letter, she tugged at the fallen sleeve of her shift and walked to a nearby window. The moon was hardly bright enough for reading though she managed to locate her betrothed’s signature and traced its elegant lines with the tips of her index finger.

Though she could not clearly make out the words, she recalled them with almost perfect clarity. The letter itself would be burnt as he had asked, yet she wondered if he understood what it had meant to her, how he had changed her views of him, of her family, oh! — of everything and everyone, even herself.

She smiled a little, knowing her words had affected him, too.  It was not every man who would have endured such trouble to please a woman, especially considering their disparate situations in life.  Yet, in essentials, he remained much as he ever was and Elizabeth found him without equal, even to the point of awkwardness.

“Though I meant every word to my father.  I love Mr Darcy, and I will be more easy to-morrow,” she whispered into the quiet room.  Mindful of Jane’s sound slumber, she laughed quietly.  “What a change that should be from yesterday!”

She shivered a little in the cool air and blushed again at the memory of his passionate kisses and words. Such an attachment was very unlike the gentle devotion of an elder sister or the cavalier affection of her father. Her own deep, almost violent response could only be love; she had even said as much to her father, yet she was stunned by such feelings. Who would have thought love could change her into such a reticent, shy creature in Mr Darcy’s presence?

“My feelings,” Elizabeth had begun immediately, mindful of the uncertainty of Mr Darcy’s situation.  She blushed painfully in embarrassed confusion, fixing her eyes upon the ground.  “I cannot…I do not…Oh!  They – my wishes – are very different now. I am grateful…pleased to hear yours have not altered.”

“Altered?” came his quiet response, tinged with what she later understood as incredulous delight. “Never that; the only change is joy that you will have me! After so many months, I had nearly relinquished all hope until Lady Catherine repeated your words…My dearest, dearest Elizabeth!”

Elizabeth’s lowered eyes widened when Mr Darcy began to press fervent kisses upon her hand. His warm breath seemed to penetrate her glove and she bit her lip when his lips moved to the side of her wrist.

“Lady Catherine?” she asked weakly after a few more breathtaking moments.

From the corner of her eye, she saw Darcy straighten and offer his arm to her. “Ah yes! My aunt called upon me…”

She blushed again and sighed at the happy memory, retracing Darcy’s signature with a growing smile at her silliness.  He was her betrothed, her future husband, hers.  So many changes!  A new home, a new station, a new name.

Elizabeth glanced at her sleeping sister. A new bedmate as well. Her flushed cheeks began to burn and she shook her head in amused mortification.  “Oh no, Lizzy.  Do not think of that now.”

 – 
“Hill, oh Hill! The eggs!” cried Mrs Bennet early the next morning.

Mr Bennet shook his head from behind his newspaper. “Such a delightful manner to greet the day! I thank you, Mrs Bennet.”

Mrs Bennet sank into her chair. “Not even in the light of morning can I believe it! Lizzy to marry Mr Darcy!”

Mr Bennet rolled his eyes and cast his paper aside in defeat. “Perhaps you should ask for the truth of it from Darcy himself. It would be a shame to make plans only to discover that Lizzy and I have been entirely mistaken. A wedding breakfast is a singular affair without a bridegroom.”

Mrs Bennet waved her hand dismissively. “What nonsense, Mr Bennet! You speak as if I should not be surprised, as if Lizzy is engaged every day of the week.”

Mr Bennet refrained from voicing his wish that she had never become engaged at all. He groaned when Mrs Bennet bolted from her chair. “Now what?”

“Hill, check under the red hen. She lays last.”

“Now Mama disturbs the chickens from their roosts,” remarked Elizabeth with a rueful laugh. “I hope her nerves settle before the gentlemen arrive.”

“She is very nervous, but her motives are good. She wishes to welcome Mr Darcy into our family and anticipate his pleasure.”

Mr Bennet looked at Jane with a wry smile. “I can well imagine his pleasure at this scene.”

Kitty coughed. “How will you manage, Lizzy? I should faint from fear at the sight of him. Do you think he will kiss your hand?”

“Lizzy should be careful in encouraging him,” Mary retorted primly.

“Perhaps you should accompany them when they walk out and bring one of your sermons along by all means. I dare say that will serve as adequate discouragement.  Should you like that, Lizzy?”

“I thank you, no, sir,” replied Elizabeth to her father, torn between exasperation at the scene and giddy glances toward the window.

Mr Bennet, though feeling nothing akin to girlish giddiness, had his own unsettled feelings concerning Darcy’s arrival.  As much as he normally ridiculed the absurdity of lovers, Mr Bennet found himself wishing to have observed some sort of warmth from Mr Darcy toward his little Lizzy. He could not make out how Mr Darcy, of all men, could be the ‘kindest, most amiable and generous man’ she had ever known.

According to her, Mr Darcy’s attachment had survived ‘many months of suspense’, and he apparently undertook the effort to change Lizzy’s opinion of him.  Such actions, especially coupled with his benevolence toward Lydia, spoke highly of his character, and he was encouraged by his daughter’s high opinion of the man.  His Lizzy was not the sort of woman to bestow her approval lightly, yet he could not be content until he saw the young man’s attachment for himself.

The bell eventually sounded, and the eyes of every inhabitant were upon Darcy when he entered the drawing room. Much to Mr Bennet’s amusement, his wife executed a deep curtsey, saying, “You are very welcome here, Mr Darcy.”

Darcy quickly squelched his look of surprise and both men turned their attention to Elizabeth.  Her father thought she had never been in better looks, her countenance slightly flushed as she raised her beautiful eyes to Mr Darcy and extended her hand. Mr Bennet shifted, thinking the gentleman might kiss Lizzy’s hand, when he heard a distinct gasp from Mary and Kitty’s giggle.

“You must excuse my daughters, Mr Darcy,” he roused himself enough to say.  “Early morning visitors render them uncommonly silly.  If you will join me in my room, it might fortify you for the duration of your visit.”

Mr Bennet observed the gentleman’s lingering gaze on Lizzy as they departed, distantly recalling of the follies of courtship.  He could hardly imagine how such a serious young man must feel, twisted about by his feelings for a pretty young lady, without the solace of humour for the ridiculous.  After seating himself comfortable in his favourite chair, he said, “I have spoken to Lizzy, and Mrs Bennet is in agreement with the match, as she indicated so sensibly in her greeting of you.”

Darcy merely nodded, and the men looked at each other uneasily for a moment.  Mr Bennet cleared his throat first.  “We thank you for the honour you have bestowed on us.”

Darcy bowed. “I am honoured to have won her hand, sir.”

“Well, well, you have managed to surprised me, young man, a rare accomplishment indeed.  My Lizzy tells me that I owe you quite a debt, sir, in regard to my daughter Lydia. I cannot repay you for your trouble but I am prepared to reimburse your purse.”

He had managed to at least startle Darcy but the gentleman quickly recovered. “You should not consider yourself obliged to me, sir. I took the action necessary to rectify my own failure to reveal Mr Wickham’s character. I am only sorry that I could not persuade Mrs Wickham to return to her friends.”

Mr. Bennet regarded the earnest young man for a moment, then answered, “You did what you must and I thank you for the effort expended on such ungrateful recipients. Lydia is not the first silly girl to later repine her choice, nor will she be the last. Not all girls have Lizzy’s quickness or good sense.”

“Elizabeth is without equal,” came the gentleman’s firm response.

Not the most passionate declaration, but Mr Bennet did not reasonably expect more from his reserved companion.  After a little more stilted conversation, they rejoined the others.

*****

“Mr Darcy, I hope you were pleased with breakfast. Lizzy assured me of your favourites,” said Mrs Bennet as the party assembled around the breakfast table.

He darted a confused glance toward Elizabeth, answering, “The meal was excellent, madam.  I thank you.”

In truth, he found that breakfast had progressed in a surprisingly peaceful fashion.  Mrs Bennet, along with the younger girls, said little, and Elizabeth appeared in good spirits. She, together with Jane and Bingley, seemed eager to encourage his conversation with Mr Bennet.  Once Mr Bennet returned to his book-room, the family had settled into their own pursuits; Mary with a book, Kitty with a bonnet and Mrs. Bennet with her sewing. Jane and Bingley sat together on one of the sofas, speaking together in soft tones, and Darcy had taken the available seat next to Elizabeth.

Mrs Bennet turned her satisfied gaze back to her sewing, and Darcy’s brow creased as Elizabeth turned her flushed gaze back to her lap. He searched his thoughts for an easy topic of conversation until relieved by his lady herself. “Were my selections for breakfast very bad? I could only rely on my observations from many months ago.”

“Your memory is excellent.”

He observed Elizabeth’s lovely dark eyes flash with amusement as she replied, “I did consider Miss Bingley a likely expert on your preferences. She was very attentive.”

Darcy smiled, remarkably happy at this small sign of ease from her. His display prompted another shocked gasp from Kitty, which he scrupulously ignored as Elizabeth shifted a little closer to him. “Do you think Miss Darcy will be as interested in our news as my own sisters?”

His smile widened a little.  “Such news is of great interest to a younger sister, I suspect. I plan to write Georgiana today.”

“Oh my dears!” exclaimed Mrs Bennet. “I must visit my sister this morning. The day is so fine, perhaps you young people would rather walk into Meryton. I will go ahead with the carriage.”

“I must return to Netherfield,” Bingley said with a regretful glance at Jane.  The ladies went upstairs to dress, where Mrs Bennet took her daughters aside. “Make certain you walk ahead of Lizzy and Mr. Darcy and whatever you do, keep your eyes in front of you.”

“Mama,” objected Elizabeth with burning cheeks. “Such instructions are hardly necessary.”

Mrs Bennet shook her head at her stubborn daughter. “What do you know of courtship?”

Once alone in their room, Jane spoke to Lizzy with all of the experience afforded by an engagement of thirteen days. “I believe Mama is not far off the mark. Bingley enjoys a few moments of privacy as do I.”

Elizabeth was speechless. Jane looked at her in concern and cried, “Oh Lizzy, forgive me if I am impertinent. I shall not leave you with Mr Darcy if you are uncomfortable.”

The mere possibilities sent Elizabeth’s spirits into flutters. She responded truthfully, “You are too kind and good for impertinence, Jane. I am a little embarrassed by Mama’s remarks but I am not afraid of Mr Darcy.”

Jane smiled at the conviction in her sister’s voice and they set out.

*****
The day seemed a perfect one for lovers. The temperature was unseasonably warm for October, and the path was only wide enough to admit three, allowing Jane, Kitty and Mary to walk ahead without betraying their mother’s schemes. Elizabeth turned to her companion with an easy smile, remarking, “I hope your interview with my father was satisfactory.”

“It was.” Darcy regarded her for a moment. “Why did you tell him of my involvement in your sister’s marriage?”

Elizabeth bit her lip. “I thought he should know and I wish him to think well of you.”

Darcy turned his intense gaze on her, and Elizabeth thought he must have discerned more than she had wished to reveal. “I see,” he replied coolly. “I hope it was not too difficult to reconcile him to the thought of me as your husband.”

Elizabeth placed her hand upon his arm and smiled hesitantly at him, the warmth of her gesture reciprocated as his unease dissipated.  “My father would be pained to give me up to anyone, and you must admit he is not very well acquainted with you.  However, he does trust me to understand my own interests, and I am firmly resolved upon my choice of husband.  Have we not decided to be the happiest couple in the world?”

“Aye. Although I am somewhat amazed by your acceptance, especially when your father reminded me of my rudeness on the night we met.”

“He did not!” Elizabeth gasped with a little laugh. “Well, ‘love built on beauty, soon as beauty, dies’.”

“I would not say my love is built on beauty alone, but you are exceedingly handsome, my dear, and I am not too proud to admit it. You have read Donne?”

“Oh yes! My father never forbade me any book in his collection. Are you alarmed that your intended bride has read such poetry?”

Darcy’s eyes widened in alarm, then he seemed relaxed at to her teasing look.  They reached the fence, and climbing over the stile ahead of her, Darcy turned back to offer his assistance.  He closed his hand carefully around her small, soft fingers, biting his lip against the warm pleasure of her touch.  “I thank you, Mr Darcy.”

“Fitzwilliam, remember,” Darcy chided with a gentle squeeze to her hand.  When she reached the next to the last step, he suddenly placed his hands a little awkwardly at her waist, swinging her onto the ground and into his arms.  He blushed at her surprise, explaining, “There…there is a puddle.”

“Thank you, Fitzwilliam.” Catching his expression of delight, Elizabeth shook her head with a little laugh. “I never would have guessed you are so easily pleased.”

“If you think I wish for us to remain on formal terms, you very much mistake the matter,” Darcy murmured as he kept hold of her. She returned her eyes to his greatcoat and then to the livestock visible in the fields, wondering if she would ever stop blushing. She experienced a sudden, sharp awareness of his every movement to draw closer to her, his breath drifting across her forehead, his hands on her back. This acute consciousness startled her a little, but novelty was quickly supplanted by a sense of rightness, and she wondered how women could even consider a marriage without love. They have no idea of what they will miss. I did not know except from books, if they were to be believed. Poor Kitty would faint if she saw me now!

The thought of her sister brought forth a laugh, to Darcy’s distinct amusement. “What have I done now to provoke such mirth, dearest?”

Elizabeth shook her head and rested her hands on his upper arms. “You must not mind it, Fitzwilliam. I do not laugh at you.”

His gaze shifted to her, and Elizabeth’s eyes widened.  In her mind, she had determined his eyes were blue, but closer inspection revealed they were almost grey.  Her lips curved in anticipation of many such small observations as he answered, “I hardly care at the moment, if you are happy, dearest love.”

His long, slender finger brushed a stray lock of hair behind her ear.  “Have I embarrassed you, Elizabeth?  Tell me what you are thinking.”

“Only how pleased I am to marry for love,” she whispered then rested her cheek upon his coat.

He grew very still, saying nothing, and she wondered if she had behaved too boldly. Drawing back to meet his frozen expression, she quickly looked away in mortification until he said, “I knew you would not have accepted me if you did not like me or could not love me, but I had no idea…” He paused, a promising flicker in his eye as his lips nearly grazed her cheek, then whispered in an awe-struck tone, “You love me.”

“Yes, I do,” she managed to reply with a slight tremble to her tone.

When she thought he might kiss her, a gust of autumn wind blew over a large crop of nearby leaves, producing laughter from them both at the unexpected onslaught. Elizabeth stepped closer to Darcy as his grip upon her tightened to shield her from the wind.  He smiled brilliantly, plucking a leaf from the brim of her bonnet. “Your sisters may worry if we linger.”

Jane gave the pair a sweet smile when they were all reunited. If she later noticed Elizabeth alternately blushing, humming or staring off dreamily, she was too wise to say a word.

Go to Part 2

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