Mrs. Bennet was delighted to see Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley visiting them very early the next day—even before Mr. Jones came to see how Elizabeth was faring. Her enthusiasm grew even greater as she noticed the anguished manner in which Mr. Darcy inquired after her second daughter, and she was anxious to reassure him that there was no cause to worry—for certainly, such an important man would like a healthy woman for a wife, not someone who made a fuss over a trifling cold.
Absorbed in her marriage plans for Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth, Mrs. Bennet failed to notice what struck Mr. Bennet as soon as he joined them a few minutes later: The two friends were not speaking to each other. Moreover, Bingley seemed to be trying to make his anger felt by everyone. He looked positively sullen and in Mr. Bennet’s opinion, childishly stubborn. The elder man wondered what could possibly cause such a display and resolved to find out as soon as possible.
Mr. Jones came before the mystery could be fully explained, but at least he contributed in making the atmosphere lighter. He said that Elizabeth’s fever was gone, and she appeared rested and strong enough to leave her room in the afternoon, if she felt inclined. The last was said with a sly smile directed to Darcy. Mr. Bennet saw the younger man startle, and he could hardly suppress a smile and marvel at his wife’s talent for spreading news. However, he had no opportunity to make sports of the lover of his favorite daughter. Mr. Bingley seemed to be demanding everyone’s attention by his behavior.
“Yes, yes, excellent news indeed,” he cried, though his countenance did not reveal someone pleased with what he had just heard. “Miss Elizabeth is fortunate that her own nature betrayed her, and she became ill—one can recover of these things, however, when one’s closest friend fails him, he can cost him much more than a day or two in bed.”
“For heaven’s sake, Bingley!” Darcy exclaimed. He could bear his friend’s ill humor as long as he was the only one to suffer the remarks, but he had no patience whenever Elizabeth’s name was mentioned. “If you want to make everyone acquainted with my act of treachery as a friend, tell the story directly.”
Mrs. Bennet was speechless, for she had finally realized that something was amiss between the gentlemen, and she wondered how this would interfere with her well-laid plans. Her husband was more than intrigued, but he did not want to ask for particulars, lest he offend one of the two men. Mr. Bingley, however, was in no mood for subtlety on that particular day.
“Do not provoke me, Darcy! Since you are the cause that these good people must have formed a very poor opinion of me, I will not hesitate to expose you!”
“Mr. Bingley, I assure you, we have the highest opinion of you and your…” Mrs. Bennet’s voice was full of anguish, but no one was paying attention to her.
“I am not afraid of you, Bingley,” Darcy said in a very intimidating tone, but Bingley was not affected in the least by it.
“You should be afraid of the truth, if it is revealed!”
Darcy was ready to form a reply, when footsteps were heard, and Jane appeared, short of breath and with flushed cheeks.
“Gentlemen, I am so sorry to interrupt, but please, would you lower your voices? I do not mean any offence, but my sister heard you and…she will not rest. She insists on coming down to find out what is the matter… I beg of you… She should not overexert herself.”
“Gentlemen, in my study. Now,” Mr. Bennet instructed sharply and soon no voice could reach the drawing room or the bedrooms upstairs, much to Jane’s relief and to Mrs. Bennet’s despair.
“Can you tell me what they can possibly be talking about in there? They have been in the study for over an hour!” Mrs. Bennet did not expect Kitty to give her any answer, but she had to make someone acquainted with the frustration she felt. Mary was in the room as well, but she was too absorbed in the book she was reading to offer one of her sermon-like replies.
Kitty only shrugged, but Jane appeared at the door, peering in the drawing room questioningly. Her mother cast her an it’s-all-your-fault-look and ignored her, but Jane could not return to her sister’s bedroom without news again. She was afraid of Elizabeth’s reaction if she told her once more, “They are still with Papa in the study.” So, she remained there, leaning on the doorframe, pale and apprehensive. Fortunately, five minutes later, the door of Mr. Bennet’s sanctuary opened and revealed a positively astonished Mr. Bennet, a drained Mr. Darcy and an embarrassed Mr. Bingley.
“I believe I only now fully realize the merits of secrecy. Truth can be dangerous for one’s constitution,” Mr. Bennet exclaimed. Before his wife could start questioning him, he declared that he needed some air and left the rest to entertain themselves.
Jane was the first to recover and made an attempt to flee the room. “I am sorry, but I must return to my sister…She must be wondering what has become of me.”
“Miss Bennet, I…” Bingley cleared his throat. “Mrs. Bennet, my behavior today was inexcusable. I can only claim deep feeling as my excuse. Since I reached an understanding with my true friend here,” he pointed gratefully at Darcy, “and Mr. Bennet does not think the worse of me for my outburst, may I request… may I have a private talk with Miss Bennet, please?”
Mrs. Bennet, who had risen to her feet while Bingley was speaking, almost pushed Jane to his direction.
“Of course, of course!” she cried and recommended the park as the best place to have their conversation undisturbed. She then sent a reluctant Mary to take care of Elizabeth, while she wondered what she could do to show Mr. Darcy her deference for his opinions while they were alone with Kitty.
She needn’t have been troubled about it, though, for hardly had Jane and Bingley gotten out of the house than Elizabeth descended the stairs with a very determined look on her face.
“Lizzy? What are you doing here?” Mrs. Bennet could hide neither her astonishment nor her displeasure at her daughter’s sudden presence.
“Miss Bennet, are you well?” Mr. Darcy was as alarmed as he had been on the previous day.
“I am fine, thank you. I must apologize for my sudden,” and hideous, she thought, “appearance, but I feel much improved,” she added with evident impatience that did not help her words look believable.
“But, Lizzy, you are anobedient daughter,” Mrs. Bennet said desperately.
“Obedient?” Elizabeth would have never considered herself as such.
“Yes, a very obedient daughter who will make someone, one day, an extremely obedient wife.”
Mr. Darcy realized what this exchange was about and, despite himself, was amused. He decided to speak though, for Elizabeth’s sake.
“I am very glad to see you, Miss Bennet. It is a relief to find that you have recovered so soon.”
Elizabeth blushed very properly and becomingly, but before she could make any response, her mother spoke again.
“Yes, yes, healthy as they come, my Lizzy. No chance that she will die in childbirth…”
“Mother!” Elizabeth’s cheeks grew hot, and she thought that healthy though she was, she would die of mortification at any moment.
“Miss Bennet,” Darcy said hurriedly, “now that you are so much better, would you like to take a stroll in the garden? You must have missed being outdoors.”
Elizabeth nodded and took his offered hand, while Mrs. Bennet almost clapped her hands in enthusiasm.
“What a wonderful idea, Mr. Darcy. Indeed, you always have the best ideas, dear sir. I always thought that…”
They exited the house before they could hear more.
As soon as they were out, Mr. Darcy looked anxiously for a bench and guided Elizabeth there immediately.
“I am so sorry, Miss Bennet, for proposing this. I know it is too soon for you to overexert yourself, but…” He stopped short and wondered how he could continue without insulting Mrs. Bennet and offending Elizabeth. An idea came to him, and he continued, “but you looked as if you were ready to faint again, and I thought that some fresh air, perhaps, would…”
“You were right, Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth said quietly with a hint of sadness.
“You were about to faint? Maybe we should return to the house. I apologize, Miss Bennet, it was very poor judgment on my part. I only wanted to take you away from,” he stammered again, “from that room where you seem to have developed a propensity for fainting,” he added with a smile.
“Away from my embarrassing mother,” Elizabeth said with a sigh.
“No! I would never say such a thing. Please believe that I…”
“You would be right if you said it, though.”
Darcy, in the utmost frustration, paced back and forth for a few seconds then knelt before Elizabeth and took her hands into his. She had not worn her gloves, as she had left her room so hastily, and the contact of skin against skin reminded them of the wonderful sensations of the day before. The agony of those hours was gone, yet their hearts were now pounding even faster than they had the first time he embraced her. She felt protected and safe, as if he could keep all the world’s malice away from her. He was so full of hope and love that he did not care to check his mirth. His palms were warm while her hands were cold, and they bonded so well together, giving and taking. Lightly he caressed her fingers, as though they were a rare, fragile treasure. He lifted his head to find her eyes intense on him. Their gazes locked, and they forgot everything but each other. It was a few minutes before either was able to speak.
“Miss Bennet, tell me, please, what I can do… I can not bear to see you so distressed, so sad. Please tell me what I may offer for your relief. I will do anything you ask of me.”
“You have already done too much, Mr. Darcy. You have overlooked my despicable behavior and unjust accusations at Hunsford, you…”
“Please, do not…”
“No, please allow me to finish. I might never find the courage to speak about this again.” Her eyes, which never left his face, and her hands, always entwined with his, persuaded him to relent. “You were so kind to us at Pemberley and amiable and discreet and… I can hardly praise you enough, Mr. Darcy. Now I understand the difficulties my aunt had in her letter. And then, regarding my sister’s elopement...”
Darcy suddenly averted his eyes and withdrew his hand, while his face took a pained expression. “Do not speak of this, I beg you,” he whispered.
Now it was her hand that caressed his—lovingly, reassuringly. He was so surprised by the gesture that his eyes returned to her face immediately, and his expression was a mixture of surprise and longing.
“But I must. I am a very selfish creature, Mr. Darcy, and for the sake of giving relief to my own feelings, I care not how much I may be wounding yours. I can no longer refrain from thanking you for your unexampled kindness to my poor sister. Ever since I have known it…”
“You have known it?” Mr. Darcy whispered with a tenderness that brought tears to Elizabeth eyes. Words came out of her mouth, quick, confused, but their meaning was clearer than ever.
“Yes! Lydia mentioned you were at her wedding… and I wondered how you happened to be there. I wrote to my aunt, and she answered me, and she thought that you and I were…” By that time, Elizabeth was sobbing. “And you came here and everyone has been so ungracious to you… and I could not talk to you. You were as before… angry. How you must have despised us all! My mother was so unfair to you yesterday… I tried to stop her, Mr. Darcy, I truly did, but then I fainted, and I could do nothing at all. I only gave you more trouble. Today, I heard voices and knew that you were surely having an argument with someone. I knew I had to stop it, to tell you that we are not all that bad. I am so sorry, Mr. Darcy, for everything. So very sorry.”
Elizabeth was so absorbed in her weeping that she did not realize that Darcy had moved to sit next to her on the bench, nor that he had taken her into his arms and was now embracing her tightly. Her head rested on his comforting chest, and he spoke soothing.
“Shhhhhh, Elizabeth, do not cry. All will be well, please do not cry.”
The sound of her name coming from his lips was sufficient shock for her to startle. She pulled back gently, and although she felt a sense of loss as their embrace broke, she tried to compose herself. With the pretense of dignity but with a voice that was shaking very much after her sobbing, she said, “I wanted to thank you on behalf of all my family. Had they known…”
“They do know, Elizabeth.”
“I beg your pardon?’
Darcy stood up and started pacing again, then resuming a more formal address, he spoke.
“Miss Bennet, you have asked for my forgiveness, but I am afraid it is I who must beg for your forgiveness once you know everything that has passed between your father and me.”
“I am afraid I do not understand you at all.”
“You have called me an arrogant man, and you were right. No, no, please, there is no point in arguing that. I have always looked down on the world, judging even those who were close to my heart as unworthy to know my thoughts, my feelings, and my private actions. I was content and very proud of myself for following my family’s tradition of secretiveness. However, after what transpired in Kent…”
He looked at her so intensely that she felt her limbs tremble, and she could only mutter, “Please, Mr. Darcy…”
“After my disastrous proposal in Kent, I found that my feelings were so strong that I feared I would bend under their force.”
“Your hatred?” Elizabeth asked in a stony voice.
He smiled sadly. “Perhaps it was in some part hatred,” Elizabeth heard him say and she felt that her sobs would start again. But he continued immediately, “Hatred for what my behavior to you had been. But mostly,” his eyes were ever locked with hers, “it was love.”
“Yes, Elizabeth.” The use of her Christian name once again did not go unnoticed by her. It warmed a heart that was still afraid to begin to hope, despite the softness of his voice, the tenderness of his tone and the look of promise in his eyes. “Rejected, doubted, desperate, but eternal and stronger than ever… love.”
She was certain she had lost her capacity to talk, so she let him continue.
“At first, of course, I thought it was only anger and wounded pride. Yes, perhaps I had hopes that I would come to hate you in the end.” He saw her shiver and added quickly, “What a fool I was! And then I wrote you the letter.”
She simply nodded.
“It was the epitome of bitterness, Elizabeth. I was rude and abrupt in what I wrote. I knew it would give you pain. Still, it was the first time I shared any thoughts, the first time I tried to justify my thoughts, to justify my actions. I did not know it then, but it was something I had never done before.”
“Please forgive me, I had no idea.”
“Still, it hurt. I did not know what to do with the ache that burned my chest. I did not know how to fight the despair. I refused to talk to anyone. I am afraid I caused my dearest sister great distress, and I got deeper and deeper into a vicious circle of misery and loneliness.” He noticed the tears that now freely ran on her cheeks and allowed his hand sweep them away. His fingers lingered on her cheek, bestowing the gentlest of caresses, as he said, “No tears for me, I beg you. I deserved that—I was benefited by that. It taught me humility.”
“Mr. Darcy…” Her voice was clearly shaking.
“Please, let me finish. It was thanks to you that I managed to extricate myself from that state. You appeared at Pemberley, so delightfully unexpected that you made me believe in miracles. I saw that you were not disgusted by my presence anymore, and my faith in my ability to change was built. You introduced me to your uncle and aunt—and I could talk.”
He had sat on the bench again, so close to her that their bodies touched with the smallest movement they would make. Elizabeth was still crying. She felt that every tear she had proudly suppressed in all her life chose that exact moment to take revenge. Darcy understood and made no attempt to stop her, but he took her hands into his again. More confidently this time, his fingers entwined with hers as he resumed his speech.
“Yesterday, your father and I had a talk regarding what happened after you fainted, and I carried you to your room.” She waited with trepidation to see a look of disapproval on his face, but instead, he gave her the brightest smile she had ever witnessed on him. “It appears as if I compromised you yesterday, Miss Bennet.”
Elizabeth almost jumped away from him and tried to keep a safe distance from the bench on which he now sat alone. “My father did not ask you to… you are not forced to…” she could not find the proper word.
To her dismay, he looked almost amused at the recollection of his talk with Mr. Bennet. “Your father is an excellent man who is determined to make certain you are always happy. And he, as well as I, know that nothing forcedcould ever make you happy.”
“But then what…?”
“Yesterday, while talking to your father, I voiced my feelings. I hardly know him, and at that point, he was not looking at me favorably, yet I told him what was in my heart. It was as if I were free all at once.”
“Free of your feelings?”
He smiled genuinely again. “I would never wish to be free from my feelings, even if that were possible. I was free of the fear, of the doubt, of the last remnants of my deplorable pride and conceit.” Suddenly, the smile died on his face, and he averted his eyes. “But I am afraid that today I took advantage of this freedom. I dread what you will think of me…”
She had walked towards him as he spoke. Her eyes were red and her lips swollen. Her voice came hoarse after all this crying, but her cheeks were dry and her eyes determined. Darcy thought she had never looked more beautiful as she sat on the bench and took his face in her hands boldly.
“You need not be afraid of me,” she whispered softly.
“But I am,” he answered as quietly. “Yesterday I made my long-overdue confession to Bingley. I kept procrastinating until the talk with your father gave me all the courage I needed to admit my blunders and deceit. Unfortunately,” Darcy sighed, “Bingley did not take it very well.”
“It cannot be so very bad…”
“The voices you heard today that caused you such concern were mine and Bingley’s. I deserve his anger, and the right thing for me to do would be to depart immediately for London, but I could not bear to leave.”
Elizabeth had to remind herself to breathe.
“Naturally, your father called us into his study and demanded an explanation for our conduct. And then…” He looked away, but felt her hand take his. He looked at her, expecting at least a look of disapproval, but saw only warmth and encouragement in her eyes. “Then, I told your father everything. What happened after the Netherfield Ball, how I kept Bingley away from your sister, how we met at Kent…” He hesitated and finally she knew the reason for his distress.
“You told him about your proposal at Kent?”
“And about what you did for Lydia?”
“And about your history with Mr. Wickham?”
“Even… the most confidential parts?”
“And Mr. Bingley was present?”
Elizabeth looked at her hands and spoke more to herself than to him. “My poor father. He must have been shocked.”
“He seemed very surprised.”
“He had no idea. I never told him… I…”
“I am sorry, Miss Bennet.” Darcy’s formality did not escape her nor did it please her in the least. He stood up and Elizabeth noticed that his form seemed tense and rigid. His voice had lost every trace of softness and seemed despairingly neutral. “I have exposed interactions that you wished to remain unknown—and rightly so. I did not consider your feelings when I did. I fear that my selfish disdain of the others has prevailed once again.”
“I do not think so,” Elizabeth said quietly.
“Miss Bennet, I wish to know your honest opinion on the subject—no civilities are required.” His voice sounded desperate.
“You risked my father’s good opinion and your friend’s, as well. You talked about events it pained me even to think of, yet you did what was right and just. Perhaps you were indiscrete,” she admitted, smiling and blushing, “but a man who is arrogant and conceited would have just turned his back to the problems and accused someone else. You are not like that,” she sighed. “You never were.”
“I was wrong, Elizabeth. Utterly and completely.”
“You are not responsible for everyone’s actions, Mr. Darcy.”
“But my conduct was unpardonable. I am the cause that Bingley suffered.”
“I am sorry for Mr. Bingley, and the deceit on your part was …unfortunate, but then, Mr. Darcy, he did not return to Hertfordshire. He did not make any attempts to win his heart’s desire. And he is responsible for his happiness and his misfortunes.”
Despite himself, Darcy smiled. “You and your father are more alike than I had realized.”
“Yes. He told my friend exactly the same opinion.”
Elizabeth did not try to hide her satisfaction. “And what did my father tell you, sir?”
“That I am good man, albeit incapable of reading people’s feelings.” That rare and very becoming bright smile of his returned to his face.
“I think my father likes you. He must have appreciated that you opened your heart to him,” she said a bit pointedly.
“Yes, and I consider myself most fortunate. But my agony is not over, since my greatest wish is that his daughter appreciates it when I open my heart to her.”
Elizabeth’s heart was beating very fast, and she was glad that she was sitting on the bench, as she was not certain her limbs would have supported her. She wanted to be free of every restraint, to give him all the encouragement he needed, and to tell him that she loved him. Despite the fact that they had passed the limits of propriety many times during the last two days, she could not find the courage to be more open at that moment. Dreading yet another misunderstanding, she forced herself to speak, although her eyes, which had been locked with his so often, could not now leave the ground.
“I… I would be… honored to listen to everything you would like to tell me.”
He did not reply immediately and, unable to bear the suspense, she lifted her eyes to his face to find him watching her as if he were trying to see inside her, into her thoughts. Her cheeks grew hot, but it was as if he had cast a spell on her. She could not stop looking at him, nor could she suppress a sigh as he leaned closer to take her hands into his.
“Elizabeth! Mr. Darcy! How wonderful to find you here!”
Darcy and Elizabeth instantly moved apart and each one tried to hide their hands from the view of Jane and Mr. Bingley, as if they bore marks from their recent contact. The other couple, however, seemed too absorbed in their bliss to notice anything peculiar about the situation. In fact, Jane and Bingley were holding hands and their faces were almost as flushed as theirs. Darcy and Elizabeth concealed their frustration as well as they could and listened to the announcement their friends wished to make.
Much later that evening, Mrs. Bennet bid goodbye to her guests with a most cordial smile, but as the door shut behind them, she shot an angry look at Elizabeth.
“Are you sure that you are not engaged?” she asked with the subtlety that only she possessed.
“Yes, Mother, I am positively certain.”
“But why did Mr. Darcy not propose? He had all the time and all the privacy to do it. And he should do it, because he has compromised you forever, Lizzy, and if he does not marry you, who…”
“My dear Mrs. Bennet,” her husband interjected, “I think you are doing our eldest daughter a great injustice. She has fulfilled the sweetest dream of yours, by accepting Mr. Bingley today. I think we should feel compelled to speak only of Jane tonight.”
“But Mr. Darcy…” Mrs. Bennet, though softened, was still unwilling to drop the subject.
“Jane darling, will you buy your wedding clothes at Meryton?” Mr. Bennet asked in a last desperate attempt, winking at his daughter.
“Eh….” She seemed lost for a moment, but when she noticed her father’s nod, she comprehended his meaning. “I believe so, Father. Mrs. Fowler is an excellent dressmaker, she could very well…”
“WHAT?” Mrs. Bennet yelled, her attention now fully turned to her eldest daughter, as if she had suddenly forgotten that Elizabeth existed. “Meryton? Mrs. Fowler? Jane dear, have you lost your senses? You must go to London! We will write to your aunt tomorrow. No, better yet, tonight! She will let us know all about the new fashions.”
As Mrs. Bennet continued talking, Jane gently led her to the drawing room, leaving Mr. Bennet and Elizabeth alone in the hall.
“And when they have run out of talk of wedding clothes, they can always have a conversation about the specific amount of Mr. Bingley’s income,” he observed.
“I do not believe Mama will ever run out of conversation about fashion, Father,” Elizabeth said wearily and then she added, “Thank you.”
Her father looked at her thoughtfully. “Are you happy, Lizzy?”
She gazed at him and saw his concern and all the love with which he had enwrapped her since she was a child. She saw the tenderness in his eyes, and she remembered the happiness she had felt at Longbourn. She recalled the time they spent together reading, talking, laughing, and sharing an understanding. He had been the man she loved the most. But now, a very different kind of love towards another man prevailed in her heart, lit it and filled it with a joy she had never experienced before. As she watched her father, she became more confident of her feelings, of Mr. Darcy’s feelings, of their future together—and that confidence made her happy. Elizabeth saw the fear of the unknown, of abrupt change in her father’s eyes, and it touched her to the core, but she was not afraid of anything anymore.
“I am, Father.”
“You seem very deep in thought, Darcy,” Bingley commented after a few minutes of riding in complete silence.
“Yes, I am. A full day, was it not?”
“It was.” Bingley could not refrain from grinning, before adding, “The happiest of my life.”
“Though it certainly did not begin so.”
“We had a stormy morning, did we not, Darcy?” Upon receiving no answer, he said seriously, “I was unreasonable and my behavior, before Mr. Bennet put some sense into my mind, was unpardonable.”
“My behavior during the entire past winter was unpardonable, Bingley, but we decided to leave it behind us. You have forgiven me too easily; you cannot expect me to be angry for a justified outburst of yours.”
“Yes, I whole-heartedly forgave you, my friend. Although I must say, that I do not feel as bad as I ought for my revenge on you today.”
“Your anger was not something you could control, Bingley. I could hardly call that revenge.”
“I do not mean my offending you.”
“Then what is your meaning?”
“I mean the fact that we interrupted your private talk with Miss Elizabeth. I am ashamed to admit that I had noticed you from afar. Had I but gently directed Jane to another path, you would have concluded your conversation – which, judging by your countenance, you most certainly did not!”
“Bingley!” Darcy was astonished, but he could not be angry at his friend—not when he was looking so happy.
“Yes, it was a treachery on my part, but to make amends for it, I will offer to chaperone you when you are engaged. And I promise I will lose you each and every time we go on a walk!”
…Consequently, I spent the whole afternoon meditating on what would have happened if Jane and Mr. Bingley had not interrupted us. I so wish that Mr. Bingley had made a longer speech when proposing! Should he not have talked about his ardent love in more detail? Certainly, I am no expert in such things, but I am quite positive that Mr. Darcy would have been more eloquent on the subject— if the rest of my family but gave us time!
Quite unnervingly, my only relative who seems to understand my agony is my mother. When we returned to the house and my father demanded that I should go to my room and rest until dinner, only she defended me in my request to be allowed downstairs. Naturally, my alliance with my mother was not a successful one, so I only saw Mr. Darcy several hours later—and in full company. There was no chance for a private talk whatsoever. At least, my beloved mother placed us next to each other, and we could spend our time exchanging civilities and admiring my excellent constitution that had allowed me to recover so quickly, “to the utter relief of the people who care for me,” as he said, and I blushed so much that he must have thought I had a fever again.
Oh, I so wish everyone could disappear and leave us together so I could bury my head in his chest and feel once more the exquisite safety and strength I did this very morning! I want to feel his presence when I know he is away at Netherfield, I want to talk to him whenever we are at the same room, I want his eyes never to leave mine. What happened to the simple girl I used to be? Have I become so selfish? But is it really selfishness when my entire happiness seems to depend on a simple look of his?
My mother tried to help me find some time with Mr. Darcy alone after dinner, but then the men went away and when they returned, Mr. Bingley declared that they had taken advantage of our hospitality for far too long. My mother, looking only at Mr. Darcy, declared that she would be most happy to see them at Longbourn any time they wished to call. It was fortunate that Mr. Bingley prolonged his goodbyes to his fiancÚ— if only he had prolonged his proposal too!— because my parents and other sisters saw it fitting to disappear, leaving us at last alone with Mr. Darcy. Indeed, Jane and Mr. Bingley were looking and whispering at each other so adoringly that even if we threw ourselves in a passionate embrace, they would have not noticed. These are no proper thoughts for a lady, but I have been in love for some time, and now I am given hope. I find that I cannot but be sincere with myself and admit how much I long to unite my life with Mr. Darcy.
As we were parting, he smiled that small, private, wonderful smile of his, and I vow that he looked even more handsome than I remembered and anticipated. He took my hand in his. His lips barely touched my fingers, and instantly my lips felt envious of my hands, wanting to taste his kiss as well. There was hardly a part of my body and soul that did not feel affected by his light caress.
Never breaking eye-contact with me, he asked in a formal voice but with hidden amusement, “Miss Bennet, would you be so kind to satisfy my curiosity?” Very surprised, I told him I would be very pleased to answer any question he wished to make. Smiling even more openly, he continued, “I have been wondering how you managed to escape your sisters, who were ordered to keep you safe in your room this morning. It shows great resourcefulness and an admirable degree of determination.”
“Hardly any resourcefulness at all, sir,” I answered, smiling as well. “It was very easy to bribe my sister, Mary.” And upon his wishing to know how I had achieved that, I continued, “I recently discovered, to my cost, that she takes delight in romantic novels. I volunteered to give her, as a present, the entire works of Mrs. Radcliff.”
I should not dwell so much on the appearance of such an excellent man with so many other gifts, but the truth is that he has the most adorable incredulous look. Not to mention how wonderful he is when he laughs.
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