Elizabeth rose from her bed as soon as she awakened and ran towards the window. She had a peculiar feeling that she would see Mr. Darcy coming up to the house on his horse looking imposing, dignified and simply breathtaking. However, when she cast a look outside, she had to suppress a sigh of frustration.
She could see nothing at all, not even the tree that stood only a few yards away from her window, nor the path, nor the park—nothing at all. Thick fog covered everything in a white, impenetrable, merciless cloud. A romantic heart would have seen the dreamy quality of the hour, a desperate soul could not. Very unladylike thoughts regarding the English weather crossed Elizabeth’s mind, and she had not even the courage to be ashamed of herself. As for hopes of seeing Mr. Darcy before the sun sent the mist away, she had none. That kind of thing—a knight emerging from the mist in quest of the fairy lady could be met only in Mrs. Radcliff’s works. She suddenly felt the urge to tear A Sicilian Romance to pieces, but she remembered that she should be returning it to her sister, Mary, so she contented herself by casting angry looks at the book.
She paced absent-mindedly in her room. She did not want to ring for her maid, not just yet. Somehow, she was in no mood to dress and have her hair arranged if Mr. Darcy was not there to see her.
Elizabeth Bennet, what on earth has come over you?
She could not understand it. She never cared for the world’s opinion, especially regarding her appearance. She wanted to dress and behave in a way that would make her feel at ease and comfortable and not with the purpose of being appreciated by someone else. Yet, now all comfort and independence were ready to be sacrificed in order to gain one man’s good opinion.
So be it.
Elizabeth Bennet realized that she was fully in love, and there was nothing she could do about it. But this realization seemed to affect the whole of her, calming her body, spreading a smile on her face and illuminated her countenance in a glow that surpassed even Jane’s angelic radiance after the announcement of her engagement. Winking mischievously at her reflection at the mirror, she rang for her maid.
Mrs. Bennet was completely distraught at breakfast. She could not take her eyes from the window, nor could she stop lamenting over the unfortunate weather. Her eldest daughters, quite surprisingly, found her cause for distress quite sound. Kitty was annoyed by the necessary restriction at home, as well, and Mary could not find something witty to say about mist, for fear she would betray her preference for romantic fiction. In short, everyone was sullen at the table—everyone but Mr. Bennet.
“It seems that the young men will be detained today, does it not, girls?” he said as soon as his wife paused to regain breath.
“It would not be wise to travel on horseback in such thick mist,” Jane answered quietly.
“True, true. If they do come, fulfilling your heart’s desire, you will be forced to consider them irresponsible. It would not do.”
“My dear Mr. Bennet, how can you be talking like this?” his wife cried. “No one is more responsible or wise than Mr. Darcy. If he chooses to visit us, it would mean that it is the right thing to do.”
“Yet, he did not choose to visit us.”
Elizabeth thought that her father was an excellent man, but completely lacking insight into women’s feelings and decided to seclude herself in the drawing room. She needed to relax, and though the best way to achieve that was to pour her heart out to her diary, she decided against it. After all, she could not bear her father’s teasing if she disappeared for a while. He would, in all probability, point out how Missish she had become, and she was afraid that she would not be able to suppress her reply: “I do not wish to be Missish. I want to become Mrs. ”
She realized that she had come to expect Mr. Darcy’s proposal so much that she could not escape disappointment when it did take not place. She had dreamt about it so often, and had been ready to receive it the day before, especially after their formidable discussion. However, the day was filled with everything but an engagement. There had been intimacy—how wonderful her name had sounded in his lips! There had been momentary misunderstanding—quite a frequent occurrence, unfortunately. There had been allusion to precious feelings, quick beating hearts, wonderful contact, unavoidable blushes, but there had been no proposal. Elizabeth sighed and moved to sit by the fire, when she heard her mother’s scream.
She hurried to the breakfast room, where everyone was still assembled, to find her mother welcoming Mr. Darcy more profusely than ever. She thought she heard her father whispering to himself, “My, the man is determined,” but Jane’s anxious inquiry about how Mr. Bingley was faring barely registered in her mind. Her whole attention was directed to Mr. Darcy, her eyes silently asking him why he had come so suddenly, fearing and hoping at the same time.
“Mr. Bingley is well, Miss Bennet, do not worry. I am afraid his horse had a little more trouble finding the way. I was lucky that my horse seems to have an excellent sense of orientation.”
“You are such an excellent horseman, Mr. Darcy. I always told my daughters that…”
“Mr. Darcy, I hope you did not risk your well-being to come here,” Elizabeth told him in slightly shaking voice, as images of him thrown from his horse and lying on the ground while the rest of them were unable to locate him filled her mind and gave her cold shivers.
“I assure you, Miss Elizabeth, that I was thinking of my well-being when I mounted my horse to come here this morning.”
Mr. Bennet knew that his presence was unnecessary. He murmured an excuse and hurried to the study, while Mrs. Bennet practically grabbed Kitty and Mary and led them out of the room, insisting that they had all neglected their correspondence far too long. Jane, still anxious about Mr. Bingley’s arrival, ventured outside to await him. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy were left in the breakfast room all alone in the work of a moment. Elizabeth had time only to blink and to note the impropriety of the situation which resulted in a becoming blush.
“I was about to say that I wished a private talk with you, but your family seems to have understood my wishes before I voiced them.”
Elizabeth honestly wished that she died of mortification at that precise moment. Why was it that neither her family nor she could act in a normal way in the presence of Mr. Darcy? Why was it that each time she became assured of his affections, some disaster or other happened and agony returned? Maybe they were not meant to be?
“Miss Bennet, since we have a propensity to misunderstand each other, I feel compelled to make clear that my statement was meant as a compliment to your family and not as an insulting remark.”
Elizabeth looked at him in astonishment, unable to say something, especially when she realized that he was smiling which rendered him quite irresistible.
“I am afraid that my poor sense of humor does not recommend myself to you, Elizabeth,” he said softly, walking closer and stopping right before her, next to the window. “And if it does not, how am I ever to win your heart?”
Without knowing what she was doing, she reached for his hand. When it was safely enclosed in hers, she answered, “I am sure you have other virtues to recommend you, Mr. Darcy.”
“Yes. Such as vanity and pride.”
Elizabeth smiled at the remembrance of a conversation they had made so long ago. It seemed that two different people had spoken then, or at least two people with very different feelings.
“And let us not forget your implacable resentment.” She had no idea why she was teasing him, but she felt safe now. She felt that she could say anything she had in mind, whether it was a confession of her feelings or an impertinent remark. She knew he would hear and understand and accept.
“Very true, Miss Bennet. My feelings tend to last much longer than usual. Some of them, in fact, are bound to last forever.”
They were inches apart, and she could feel the air that was separating them. It was light, full of his scent, and yet it felt like a barrier.
“Steadfastness and commitment—these are virtues worthy of praise. It is a pity that Miss Bingley is not here to admire them as eloquently as possible.”
Darcy’s hands cupped her face and brought it so close to his that Elizabeth could see every perfect detail of his freshly-shaven face, every little variation in the color of his eyes. Unfortunately, she was unable to appreciate anything, since she was trying to save her heart from bursting.
“I do not care for Miss Bingley’s opinion. I do not care for anyone’s opinion. I care only for you, Elizabeth. I love you.”
He had said it! Elizabeth felt suddenly very light. She could fly, she was certain of that! She needed something strong, an anchor, and she found it in his arms which opened for her and closed tightly around her.
“I love you,” he repeated, “if only you knew how much I love you! I cannot find peace unless I know you are happy. I thought I would die if anything had happened to you the day you fainted. Neither name, nor family—nothing matters without you, Elizabeth.
“I made that mistake when I proposed in Kent. I had no idea how much I loved you then, had no idea how your refusal would make my existence seem pointless. I asked you to become a part of my life, to adjust and fit in it, when the truth is that you are my whole life. I give everything to you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth—virtues and vices, name, family and property. Everything is yours to judge, yours to take. Even if you refuse them, they can belong to no one else, because I am yours and will remain so forever.”
Elizabeth could not look at him while he spoke. She was buried in his embrace and was only aware of the warmth of his voice, his head that rested softly on top of hers and the gentle stroke of his hand on her back. She would not cry. She would not let the tears come out and blur her vision, depriving her of the chance to devour with her eyes the happiest scene of her whole life. She wanted smiling eyes to greet his as he pulled back to look into her face.
A slow smile spread on his face. Before he could say anything, Elizabeth spoke. “We must add your ability to make the most wonderful speeches to your list of virtues, Mr. Darcy. Speeches that can make a woman who is totally besotted with you love you even more—more than she had ever thought possible. How you can achieve that, sir, is quite beyond my comprehension.”
“My Elizabeth. My most precious love,” was all that he could say as she buried herself in his arms, so that she could take some of his strength and make certain that this dream was real.
A few minutes passed silently, as they tried to comprehend the bliss that had suddenly taken complete possession of their hearts. Finally, Darcy pulled away again.
“My love, I have to ask you the question,” he whispered, looking deeply into her eyes, as his hand stroked her hair. “I have hoped for this day for so long that now I cannot believe that my fondest wish has come true. I am afraid that at any moment I will open my eyes and find that you are not standing here before me, in my embrace, accepting my love.”
Elizabeth had never expected to find such a vulnerable aspect in him, but then she remembered the changes her feelings had brought to her and smiled understandingly. Her chest was full of the strongest emotion for the man, and she had every intention of showing him that, giving him all the assurance that he needed.
“I love you, Mr. Darcy. Open and close your eyes as many times as you like, you will still find me here, repeating it for as long as you wish to hear it.”
“Forever,” he answered and his voice was more animated, betraying more passion and confidence than ever before. “I wish you to stay by my side, loving me, forever. I want you to be my constant companion in life, my dearest friend, the mother of my sons and daughters, the keeper of my heart and soul, forever. Elizabeth Bennet, will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?”
This time, hard as she may have tried, Elizabeth could not stop her tears from running down her cheek as she gave her most heartfelt answer.
“Yes, Mr. Darcy. I will marry you. I will love you and take good care of you, forever. I will always be by your side.”
“Call me by my name, Elizabeth.” His tone seemed commanding, his face more serious than ever, a wild flame dancing in his eyes, but in truth, he was striving to keep from surrendering to the waves of emotions that invaded his heart.
“I will be your wife, Fitzwilliam.”
Hearing his name coming from her lips provoked almost a shock in him. His hands cupped her face, then ran down her neck. He lowered his head, until his lips reached her temple. He placed a soft kiss there, eliciting a deep sigh from his fiancée. His lips traveled down her cheek, kissing her soft skin again and again, as Elizabeth closed her eyes and moved her hands around his back. His mouth slowly reached the corner of her lips and stopped there for a moment. Elizabeth wanted his caresses never to stop, but she had no idea how to communicate her desire to him, so she only pressed her arms against his shoulders. It seemed to serve the purpose, since at the very next moment, his mouth brushed against hers. He softly kissed her upper lip and then the lower. She stilled, trying to comprehend from where the exquisite dizziness, the formidable stirring of her heart had come. Fearful of scaring her, his lips moved to her nose, and placed another series of kisses there, but he could not resist the temptation of her mouth for long. His lips were there again, nibbling at hers, until she, overwhelmed as she was, felt the desperate need to respond. She began kissing the corner of his mouth, his jaw, and then her lips united with his, caressing, teasing, worshipping each other, slowly, unhurriedly, prolonging and exploring the happiness, the desire, and the fulfillment that stemmed from their caresses, until he gently stepped back. Only then did she realize that she had just shared her first kiss, her first caress as a lover, as fiancée, as future wife. A joy she had not felt ever before filled her. They stood by the window, hands now tied up and fingers entwined, eyes locked, silently communicating what words could never possibly express. Promises and commitment were exchanged, without uttering a word. It sufficed to see their futures into the other’s eyes. A blinding glow radiated from both and filled the space between them, the whole room, the whole universe, as it seemed to them.
If they had looked just outside the window where they were standing, they would have seen that the mist had dissolved, giving way to a glorious day. However, the two lovers did not need the sun to tell them that this was the brightest day of their lives.
As Mr. Bennet watched his wife talking frantically to herself, while clearly not hearing his requests to have his study to himself, he thought that whatever Mr. Darcy’s failings might be, at least his daughter would never beg for silence and tranquility in her married life. After a quarter of an hour spent in such blissful meditations, his wife’s murmurings became even louder, though hardly any more comprehensible.
“What is it, my dear?” he asked a bit pointedly but not in hopes of intimidating Mrs. Bennet.
“Ten thousand a year. Mr. Darcy…proposing… Dear God, make her not say something wrong! Ten thousand a year. Mr. Darcy… Dear God, guide her away from any mistake. Ten thousand a year…”
“All right, Mrs. Bennet. We have no doubt of Mr. Darcy’s annual income.”
“How much more time do they need? She will say something, and he will withdraw and then, Mr. Bennet, what is it to become of us all?”
“My dear, calm yourself. Elizabeth is a very mature girl, and I am sure she will…”
“Elizabeth refused Mr. Collins!” Mrs. Bennet cut him short. “She has already said no to a man! What if she keeps on saying no to everyone?”
“Do you think she will refuse Mr. Darcy out of habit?”
“Dear God, why didn’t I think of this before? I would have never left her like this—unprepared. I should have talked with her. I should have told her what exactly she should say!”
“Then Mr. Darcy would certainly withdraw his proposals,” Mr. Bennet whispered but was not heard.
“You must go in this moment. You must go in and make her marry him!” The desperate mother almost grabbed her husband by the shoulders.
“Mrs. Bennet, I am quite certain Elizabeth will accept Mr. Darcy.” There, he had finally said it. Perhaps he was coming to terms with the fact.
“How can you be so certain? After the abominable way she treated Mr. Collins?”
“My dear, would it be preferable to you if Elizabeth were now married to Mr. Collins?”
Mrs. Bennet was about to cry a resound “Yes,” when she realized that if Elizabeth was now Mrs. Collins, she certainly would not stand a chance of becoming Mrs. Darcy in a few weeks. The thought was shattering.
“Oh, my darling, my dearest, cleverest child! My precious daughter! This is why she did not accept him. Oh, and I almost ruined everything that was so carefully designed. Do you think dearest Elizabeth will ever forgive me?”
Nothing is impossible, Mr. Bennet thought. After all, I forgave myself for my choice of wife.
In the meantime, Jane sat with her fiancé in the hall, gazing at the closed door before them and trying to figure out what was prolonging the private conversation between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. Much as Miss Bennet was convinced that the couple was making steps towards a better understanding, she could not but feel alarmed by the amount of time they needed to achieve it. She recalled Elizabeth’s recount of the first proposal of Mr. Darcy and the unfortunate way he had chosen to express himself on that occasion, and she began to fear that this new attempt would have no better outcome.
“Charles, do you think that we should…” She could not go any further.
“Do what, my love?” Charles was always distracted when he sat next to his fiancée.
“I am not sure. It’s just that… What is taking them so long? Perhaps we should go in and…”
“My dearest Jane, certainly you do not want to interrupt a proposal.”
“But is it a proposal? From my, I mean our, experience… When you…” she blushed and failed to continue.
“When I was granted your hand in marriage, I was rendered the happiest man alive,” he offered gallantly.
“Well, then we needed only a few minutes. But now, they have been in the drawing room for almost a quarter of an hour.”
“Longer than that,” Charles sighed.
“Exactly. And knowing them, and their past, I am afraid that they might be having an argument, and it would be better if we put an end to it.”
“Jane, my love, knowing them and their present state of feelings tells me that an argument might rise only if we go into that room. I promised my friend to grant him some privacy, and I am a man of my word.”
“But what can be possibly detaining them?”
“My love, I know this is highly improper, but since you will not be satisfied unless you know…” Bingley caught Jane’s lips in a most wonderful kiss.
Darcy and Elizabeth did not emerge from the breakfast room for another ten minutes, but Miss Bennet did not notice how the time had slipped by.
…It is so difficult to narrate such wonderful events! My heart is so full, I can barely think or write rationally. All I can think of is that I will spend the rest of my life by his side, and if this morning was any indication of how our marriage will be, I am quite certain we will be the happiest couple in the world.
I knew I loved him before this day, however, I had no idea of how much I loved him and what wonderful ways of expressing my feelings existed. I told him so, after the first time he kissed me, while my lips were still trembling from the experience, and he replied with the hoarsest voice I have ever had the pleasure to hear, “There are so many more ways, my love.” I am not a blushing person, but even my nails went red at that moment, and I realized I was having trouble breathing—but in that, I was not alone. His breath was labored, too, and only when he reluctantly withdrew a few inches, with his hands still cupping my face, did it return to normal. I wanted him to kiss me again, but something kept me from speaking. It is not that I needed courage or any inducement to candor. After all, I have to be sincere with my heart and confess that repletion of our intimate caresses was my fondest wish at that precise moment. However, I knew instinctively that if we began again, we would never be able to stop—not until my father would enter the room to shoot us both, that is.
What sweet torture love is! To be next to him, to have his heart and still want more, to know his feelings and still need his constant reassurance. I dread to think what he must have felt after my rejection. I cannot imagine what damage denied love can do to a heart—to his heart, the most tender and most forgiving of all. He said it was a useful lesson, when I pleaded with him to forget about it. I have no doubt he is wiser than I about it. He has not become the man he is by forgetting. Strong yet sensitive, he is eager to protect those he loves with all his being. I have no fear of facing the past now. I feel confident to dwell on whatever unpleasant retrospection I choose while I am encircled by his arms.
But I lost the thread of my narration, and I have to return to it. I have described his merits again and again—he has so many that I will never do justice to all of them, even if I talk of nothing else.
After those precious moments, I think we made an attempt at rational conversation, and we spent a few painful moments thinking of last Easter. His face darkened and the look in his eyes became heated. At first I thought it was anger, then I feared it was pain. He was silent for a few moments, and I thought my heart would break from the agony. Something was clearly wrong, but I could not say what it was. His hands had dropped to his sides, and he lifted them slightly. Smiling bitterly, he pointed at my garnet cross and said, “Let me hold you, Elizabeth. Let me love you.”
I was in his arms before he had time to blink, kissing his cheeks, though again timidly, avoiding his lips and asked him to pour out his heart to me. He explained that he had stared at my cross that day at Rosings Park, when he had given me the letter of explanation. It symbolized for him, he said, the forever wished and unattainable. The happiness forever lost to him.
Oh, then I could not help myself in my desperate need to comfort him, and finally my lips where upon his. The act seemed to mobilize him, and he pressed me tightly to himself. His mouth was gentle, showing so much love that I was almost in tears, until I became aware of a shocking new sensation.
I had not intended to speak of this, but since no one is going to read this, and I want it to be written, even though I am blushing while writing, this is the recount of what followed. His tongue (I am still feeling uncomfortable) was upon my lips, tasting them, caressing them. The sensation was so utterly bewitching that I opened my eyes, and my body must have betrayed my surprise. His hand moved up and down my spine and his mouth moved to my ear, placing a soft kiss there. My skin is still tingling, he whispered, “Ways of love. Let me show you.”
I sought his mouth this time, and moved my hands to the nape of his neck, bringing him even closer to me. His tongue played with my lips again, but I felt he was asking permission for something, and I strived to think what could make the moment more perfect than it had already been. And suddenly, I understood, and my lips parted.
I cannot compare this joining to any flavor, to any caress, to any previous experience I had ever had. It was wholly new, entirely astonishing and so very intimate, something that was born from the two of us. It was not only the pleasure of the flesh—the wantonness that suddenly took hold of me, and I fear will never leave me. It was the elation that it provoked that made it so precious and unique. It was the knowledge of being loved and protected and safe, the reassurance that I took and the reassurance I gave, the helplessness and the strength that I felt at the same moment. Oh, and I must not forget the complete indifference to breathing that possessed me.
I have no idea how much time we spent like this. I remember vividly, however, that his lips could not leave my face even after we broke our kiss. His fingers moved to my neck, and I expected his mouth to soon follow them, but he moved apart again, asking me where I had hidden all his powers of restraint that were my captives.
I was glad he could tease me because I was still so affected by the previous experience that I am sure I had the most ridiculous look on my face. Again, we moved to safer topics, but I must admit that when he mentioned our wedding day, I did think of the wedding night, and judging from the way his eyes traveled down my body, he did, too. We decided to ask Jane and Mr. Bingley to have a double wedding. I jested about my sister being five times prettier than I and mockingly complained that I was certain to suffer by comparison, even on my wedding day. His hands were immediately around my waist, I was pressed against his body and his lips were against my ear saying, “You are my Eve, Elizabeth. The most beautiful woman, destined to me since the dawn of mankind.” I came to think of the double wedding as a brilliant idea.
We joined the others too soon for my liking, but none too soon for Mama’s nerves, as I was made to understand. Fitzwilliam went to ask for my father’s consent and was granted it, with the condition that he stayed in the library for a half-hour, so they would not have to join the rest of us immediately. Of course, my fiancé is never prompt to refuse spending time in any library, though he said he missed me every single second, as he should. I would be put out with my father for separating us, but at dinner, he was redeemed when I noticed the amicable manner he conversed with Fitzwilliam, even teasing him about his ability to make me blush. (I happened to find his lips particularly inviting while he was sipping his wine)
I was so happy that I did not mind Mary’s remarks about marriage and proper wives. I even smiled sweetly and said I would be a devoted wife, like Mrs. Radcliff’s characters. After that, Mary’s witticisms stopped. My mother was not an embarrassment, since she was so pleased, that she lost the ability to speak—and she seemed so surprised when Fitzwilliam addressed her to compliment her on some dish, that she nearly choked. I was so proud of my fiancé! My father said that he had never had such a calm dinner in all his married years and that he was most indebted to Mr. Darcy for that.
The day passed quickly amidst conversations about wedding preparations. I could not believe how pleasant I found a subject that I have always despised, and I cannot describe my surprise when I discovered that my fiancé was an active participant. Our hands joined at some point and stayed like this, while we meditated upon our future together. It was beautiful. I was happy.
We did not have time on our own when we said goodbye, but Fitzwilliam took my hand into his and bestowed a loving, lingering kiss. His lips caressed the skin of my palm in the same way they touched my lips earlier in the day, and I felt shivers, both from the remembrance and from the actual pleasure.
His voice when he whispered, “Goodnight, my Eve,” was as if he were kissing me all over from the start.
I feel certain that this is going to be a sleepless night.
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