The Final Encounter

Geological Background
For those who like to spend their time exploring under the ground, the Peak District has the very ingredients to meet with your demands, Carboniferous Limestone. Over millions of years, rain water has percolated down through the weaknesses in the limestone to create wide fissures, passageways and caverns. This action is going on all the time, and will continue for as long as there is rain to carry out this task. A number of mines have intersected caverns that would otherwise have remained undiscovered. The early miners in their quest for galena (lead ore) would occasionally find natural openings and caverns as they cut their way through the rock.
--Excerpt from

Excerpt from Pride and Prejudice

The time fixed for the beginning of their Northern tour was now fast approaching; and a fortnight only was wanting of it, when a letter arrived from Mrs. Gardiner, which at once delayed its commencement and curtailed its extent. Mr. Gardiner would be prevented by business from setting out till a fortnight later in July, and must be in London again within a month; and as that left too short a period for them to go so far, and see so much as they had proposed, or at least to see it with the leisure and comfort they had built on, they were obliged to give up the Lakes, and substitute a more contracted tour; and, according to the present plan, were to go no farther northward than Derbyshire. In that county, there was enough to be seen to occupy the chief of their three weeks; and to Mrs. Gardiner it had a peculiarly strong attraction. The town where she had formerly passed some years of her life, and where they were now to spend a few days, was probably as great an object of her curiosity, as all the celebrated beauties of Matlock, Chatsworth, Dovedale, or the Peak.

The sun had set hours ago, leaving the cavern in darkness. Elizabeth hugged her arms against her body to stay warm. Other than a slightly sore shoulder, she showed no outward sign of having plummeted through a fissure in the earth and landing in a limestone cavern more than 20 feet beneath the ground's surface.

She could no longer see the man with whom she was trapped but she could hear his slightly uneven breathing. Elizabeth wondered if he was still standing or had swallowed his pride and finally deigned to recline against the cavern's wall. They had called for help until they were hoarse, but no one appeared to rescue them from the cavern.

Elizabeth shook her head in disbelief. One moment she was touring Matlock with her aunt and uncle, taking in the grandeur of the estate as she had others in Derbyshire during her long-anticipated northern trip. The next she was viewing a collection of miniature portraits in a hallway when a door suddenly opened and Mr. Darcy strode out. He blinked as if he had just come into the bright sun, taking in Elizabeth's appearance and allowing himself to be introduced to her Cheapside relatives. Then—to Elizabeth’s surprise—he offered to accompany her on a walk while her aunt and uncle rested with refreshments.

She had half-considered apologizing to Darcy for her misperceptions following his proposal, but after one look at his stern countenance, she decided to postpone any apology until she was better able to ascertain his demeanor. He said nothing at all except for the obligatory enquiries after one’s family. Angry with his haughty attitude, Elizabeth veered from the manicured park at a brisk pace and headed toward the rocky outcroppings that had entranced her on their drive in to Matlock. Mr. Darcy had taken her arm as they walked up a grade. She was placing her booted feet easily on the limestone outcroppings when the earth suddenly melted away beneath their feet, sending them crashing down into semi-darkness.

Elizabeth barely suppressed a Lydia-like snort as she thought back to the afternoon, for if seeing a foul-tempered Mr. Darcy in the hallway of his uncle's estate was bad, it was not half so bad when compared to being trapped with him beneath the earth.

In the months following his disastrous proposal at Hunsford, Elizabeth often wondered if Darcy had recovered from his emotional declaration, for she herself felt that their parting left much unresolved. She had read his letter many times and it only engendered feelings of ennui within herself. It was not so much that she regretted her decision to refuse his offer of marriage, but that, since returning home to life at Longbourn, she came to the realization that she was at a crossroads in her young life, for how many other offers of marriage were likely to come her way? Elizabeth was no longer content to needlepoint or decorate bonnets and her father's library, with its volumes of Shakespeare and its collections of poetry, ceased to engage her mind. She couldn't verbalize what gnawed at her insides; only that restless boredom permeated her soul, making sleep difficult and often, she was unable to find relief even during her ambles through the countryside. Slowly, her benign weariness turned to anger at the hypocrisy of her situation, for she found herself being labeled an on-the-shelf spinster at age 21, when, she knew quite well, she had not been courted properly by anyone.

If she felt that Longbourn was a metaphorical prison, Elizabeth now had the opportunity to experience how it felt to actually be confined. She thoroughly walked each side, finding it roughly eight paces wide and about three times again as long before narrowing to a small crevice. The entire cavern was titled slightly, with the floor pitching downward toward the narrow end, which was home to a small fresh water spring that pooled into a depression, creating a small pond. She wondered how deep the water was and looked about for a small stone to toss into the depths. The sides of the cavern were smooth and curved. While no water dripped from the walls or floor, dampness permeated the cavern, creating a dank odor. Elizabeth marveled that she and Darcy were possibly the first two humans to view this place, but with a stealthy glance at her companion, she could tell her did not share her curiosity. Since they had landed rather unseemingly on their backsides, he had joined her in calling for help, but then retreated as far from Elizabeth as possible and made little effort at conversation.

Elizabeth let her gaze drift up in the blackness, hoping to see a small expanse of the heavens. None was visible. She laid her head down on the stone floor and turned on her side, using her folded arms as a pillow. She closed her eyes, wishing she had worn a Spencer over her light summer dress.

"Do you desire my coat, Miss Bennet?"

Darcy's deep voice came from only a few feet away. He was far closer to her than he had been at twilight, when she could still make out his form along the opposite wall. She wondered when he had moved closer and how he had managed to do so without making a sound. Perhaps she was so caught in her own thoughts she was not aware of him moving closer to her. Nevertheless, his closeness brought her a small sense of reassurance.

"This is not how I intended to end my day, Miss Bennet."

"That is certainly an understatement, Mr. Darcy," Elizabeth said. "Or do you have a deeper meaning which escapes me?"

"My meaning is on several levels. I was not happy with the topic of my uncle's discussion today. I have several pressing issues waiting for me back home at Pemberley and, I am sure Georgiana will be beside herself with worry as to what may have befallen me.”

“Befallen is truly the correct word, Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth said, wishing she was trapped with someone more appreciative of her word play, for Mr. Darcy gave no sign that that he had understood her slight humor. "What business did your Uncle have with you that did not meet with your approval?"

"It is none of your concern."

“Very well then. Good night, Mr. Darcy.”

She felt Darcy's overcoat being draped over her body. She reached up to tug it over her shoulders and accidentally grazed Darcy's hand. She exclaimed and Darcy recoiled as if burnt by a hot coal.

“I did not mean to...I...I didn’t mean to startle you.”

"Sleep well, Miss Bennet."


Elizabeth awoke to a shaft of light filling a portion of the cavern. She sat up and rubbed the sleep from her eyes, marveling that she managed to slumber at all. She turned to glance about the cavern and took in Darcy’s resting form about four feet away. His back was to her and he was clad in only a white shirt and breeches. She had used his coat as a blanket and he had discarded his vest, most likely for comfort’s sake, before he retired. She stood up, stretched and walked to the end of the cavern, moving carefully as not to wake Darcy. She sat down next to the spring and removed her boots and stockings. She leaned in and splashed the cold water on her face and let it run down the back of her neck. She longed to remove her dress and wash the grime from her arms and torso but didn’t dare lest Darcy awake. Her hair, she could tell by feeling with her hands, was a tangled mess. Rather than attempt to repin it, she let it down and shook it free, combing the snarls with her fingers as she waded into the water. She walked to and fro, marveling at the smoothness of the rock beneath her feet as she tidied her hair. When she was done, she quickly plaited it into one braid and wound it up in a simple bun at the back of her head.

Unknown to Elizabeth, Darcy was awake before her, despite having sat next to her most the night as she slept. Only as the small patch of sky visible above his head began to slowly lighten did he allow his eyes to close. When he finally did so, he reluctantly turned his back to Elizabeth. He told himself it was for Elizabeth’s sake, but he couldn’t bring himself to lie down with her in full sight. He looked from beneath his dark lashes as she sat down next to the spring and as she unpinned her hair, he felt his blood rush first to his temples and then, not totally unexpectedly, to his groin. He silently cursed his response and hoped Elizabeth would not choose to look up for the next few moments. Surely, she could hear his heart beating in the cave, for it was so readily apparent to him. He relaxed his breathing as his fencing instructor taught him, trying to gain control over his wayward body until finally he was able to sit upright without embarrassing himself.

He pulled off his boots and socks and sat down a few feet from Elizabeth. He unwound his cravat and—to her amazement—ripped it cleanly in half before offering one portion to her. “Please dry your face, Miss Bennet.”

Elizabeth did as he bade and then walked barefoot back where her reticule lay. She opened it and found what she was hoping for: a small bun from yesterday’s breakfast. Elizabeth was in the habit of taking a bit of food with her on her rambles at home and she found it hard to break the habit while on a trip with her relatives. She walked back to Darcy and sat down and offered it to him without saying a word.

“I cannot accept that, Miss Bennet.”

“I took your cravat, Mr. Darcy.”

“No, you eat it. I will be fine, for I am sure that a new search party was dispatched today at first light. I have considered our scenario here and believe that by the time we were both noticed missing, it was too late in the day to organize a full search. No doubt we will be found by noon.”

Elizabeth took a small nibble and then broke the bun in half, handing Darcy the slightly larger portion. “I insist.”

“Let me wash first.” To Elizabeth’s amazement, he plunged his entire head into the cold spring, tossing his wet curls much like a spaniel when he surfaced. He took the torn cravat and wiped the droplets from his forehead and cheeks. Elizabeth watched as rivulets ran down inside his shirt, causing it to stick to his chest.

“Wasn’t that quite cold?”

“Yes, but I found that it was also quite necessary this morning.”

Elizabeth didn’t comprehend his meaning but realized that he was unaccustomed to being without his valet and a hot bath, while she, in contrast, usually rose before her shared maid could help her with her hair or her dress.

“I suggest we take turns calling for help today, Miss Bennet. We are within two miles of Matlock and the tenants will be helping search. It is only a matter of hours before we are rescued.”

Much later, when it became apparent to both that they would be spending another night in the cavern, Elizabeth felt the first bit of fear grip her. “I admit I have a strong headache from not eating much the past day and that is no doubt clouding my judgment but I am worried we will not…” Elizabeth’s voice hitched in her throat. “Are you so certain there is no escape? I miss my family so much. I wish Jane were here to comfort me.”

Darcy’s heart was torn by Elizabeth’s longing for her sister. Oh, how he wished that he were her source of comfort. Then he recalled her response to his proposal three months prior: "You could not have made me the offer of your hand in any possible way that would have tempted me to accept it." Summoning every ounce of willpower to keep his agony in check, he replied.

“Miss Bennet. The walls are smooth, not doubt, because this cavern was formed by rushing water eons ago. There is neither a foothold nor a branch to grab onto. I trust you were—or still are—a consummate tree climber as was I, but we are trapped. And the height of the walls prevents me from boosting you up as well.”

Unwilling to accept Darcy’s seemingly calm acceptance of their fate, Elizabeth rose and, using the wall to guide her, walked to the spring where she wet the torn cravat and fashioned a cold poultice to lie across her aching forehead. She felt her way back to where she had laid the night before and slept fitfully and when she awoke, she could see stars above through the small opening.

“I am scared that we will not be found, Fitzwilliam.” Her use of his Christian name came as a surprise to her, but she was too lightheaded from hunger and fatigue to attach any deeper meaning to its utterance.

She heard rustling near her but could not make out his form in the dark.

“Miss Bennet….Elizabeth.” Darcy savored the opportunity to say her name aloud. “We will be rescued and we will both be fine. You may sleep with no worries.”

Elizabeth lay down once more but tossed about, unable to sleep. She was lying on her back, staring up at the inky nothingness, when Darcy spoke.

“This is much overdue, considering our circumstances, but my behavior to you at Easter merited the severest reproof. It was unpardonable. I cannot think of it without abhorrence.”

“We will not quarrel for the greater share of blame annexed to that evening,” said Elizabeth. “The conduct of neither, if strictly examined, will be irreproachable; but since then, we have both, I hope, improved in civility.” She thought back to the accusations she put before him and realized that he had made amends, even in the matter of separating Bingley from her sister.

“Mr. Bingley has returned to Netherfield and Jane and he seem soon to reach an understanding,” Elizabeth said. “I assume you had a hand in that matter?”

“It was his own idea to return to Hertfordshire; I simply wished him well in his endeavors.”

“They seem very happy together,” Elizabeth said. “I think they will have a very felicitous marriage.” Elizabeth blushed despite her headache at the thought of Jane and Charles engaging in marital intimacies. Elizabeth longed to know what specifically awaited her sister—and herself, should she ever marry. The darkness of the cave provided Elizabeth with a sense of boldness and she felt herself forming a question she would never otherwise dare voice.

“I must beg your forgiveness on another matter,” Elizabeth said.

“I cannot imagine to what you refer.”

Her voice was small and low. “Tell me what it is like to spend the night with someone.”

She waited, and when she received no answer, she tried again.

“Fitzwilliam, if we are to perish here and I am to leave this world intact, so to speak, can you at least not tell me through words what it is like to be with someone?”

Darcy cleared his throat but did not speak. Elizabeth’s eyes grew heavy and she was almost dozing when he finally spoke.

“I assume that you are already acquainted with the mechanics of the act and are seeking my perspective on the…” Darcy paused, his voice trailing off. “I believe it is quite different emotionally for women,” he said. He stood up, despite the darkness. “I cannot do this; I am exceedingly uncomfortable discussing this with you and I do not know what it is you are seeking from me.”

Elizabeth rolled over and whispered her next through her hand, for such was her embarrassment, even in the dark. “Is it different for men because they receive more pleasure from the act than women?”

“No. Men and women each find it enjoyable.”

“Then why have I received such differing accounts of the marital bed from my mother and my aunt?”

“Elizabeth. I can assure you that what a mother may choose to impart to her daughter and what she actually experiences may be two vastly different things.”

Elizabeth’s nose wrinkled. “All the talk of bed coverings and lying still and men finding their fulfillment is merely concealment? Do they think that by telling us the true nature of marriage we will be tempted to explore it prematurely? Why are men told the reality and not women?”

“Men are not told the reality as much as they are allowed the opportunity to experience it before marriage, within certain limitations, of course.”

“And women are fed the myth of true love. I however, am able to separate the myth from the reality and would be unable to give myself fully to someone I could not respect.”

“Is that why you declined Mr. Collins’ offer of marriage?” Darcy asked. “I know the man is an obsequious fool but considering the entail and his career, it would have been considered a good match for you or any one of your sisters.” Darcy’s chest tightened as he recalled Elizabeth’s refusal of him. You call Collins a fool but you are the larger fool, he chastised himself, for if you had made the effort to court this woman, she might have accepted you.

“Nonetheless, I know that Mr. Collins and I would not have been compatible. I have firsthand experience from growing up in such a household, that a lack of felicity and respect turns women into shrews and sends men toward drink and mistresses. I have always wondered what made my father choose the first and not the second. Not that he is an excessive drinker, but somehow I have come to realize that he must find the” – Elizabeth struggled for the appropriate phrasing—“emotional release he needs through his books and his port, rather than from his wife.”

Darcy coughed. “Your parents had five daughters. That alone must count for some level of marital felicity.”

Elizabeth felt her cheeks blush. “I cannot recall my parents every sharing a bedroom.”

“My parents shared a bed for their entire marriage. I thought nothing of it as a child but later, I learned what that meant. I came to know how great their affection was toward each other. It had to be far more than a physical attraction to each other. Yesterday, when you asked me what my business was with my uncle, it was the very subject of my marrying. I flatly refused to marry my cousin and then was reminded of my obligation to produce an heir. It was as thought I was contemplating purchasing a new hound or a thoroughbred.”

Neither spoke and the only sound within the cavern was the gurgle of water. When Elizabeth did resume talking, it was scarcely a whisper. “What is it like to lie with someone the entire night?”

“I do not know.”

“Surely, Fitzwilliam, you have…”

“Yes, of course. I am 28 years old but I have never spent the night. I always depart afterward…”

“And why is that?” Elizabeth asked softly.

“I do not know. It began, I daresay, during my youth when I was nervous and fumbling. Over time, I came to realize that while the physical release was quite pleasurable, I had no desire prolong any false intimacy.”

“It sounds as though you are afraid to remain.”

“I am not afraid, Elizabeth. After all, I am here, am I not?”

“That is hardly an apt comparison, Fitzwilliam, for we have not shared such intimacies and you are unable to leave, even if you wished!”

“Go to sleep, Elizabeth. This conversation is concluded. I hope you have the answers you seek.”


William was awakened to the sound of soft crying. It took him a moment to get his bearings and realize he was still trapped in the cavern with Elizabeth and not slumbering in his massive oak bed at Pemberley. He reached out in the darkness for her form, unable to see in the total blackness. He crawled forward on his knees, feeling in front of him with his right hand. He found Elizabeth curled in a ball, her knees drawn under her chin, lying on her side facing the far wall. He stroked her back and she did not awaken, but grew calmer and her tears ceased.

He lay beside her, his torso pressed against her cold back. Her sleep was fitful and he wondered if she was growing ill from the dampness and the lack of food. Darcy savored her smell and kissed the back of neck, wishing it was within his right when she was not asleep. After praying never to again encounter Elizabeth, he rued the God that placed him here. He stopped his hand from reaching out and shaking her awake, demanding she accept his suit.

Wisely, Darcy had chosen not to mention the fact that they would be forced to marry, provided they were rescued. Darcy exhaled, wondering how it was that he had spent 48 hours alone with the only woman he ever loved and was no closer to ascertaining her feelings toward him. Leave it to Elizabeth Bennet to ask him questions that men dared not discuss.

He thought back to yesterday and the juxtaposition of his uncle demanding he marry and then storming from the room, only to find Elizabeth standing in the hall. The irony of the situation was lost on all present. Darcy wanted to drag her by the arm inside his uncle’s study and say, “This is the one. I asked her and she refused. Make her accept me.”

Darcy had stopped himself dozens of times during the past two days from kissing her senseless, then renewing his proposal. But he was wary, especially in light of Elizabeth’s calm acceptance of her single state. Surely, if she wanted his offer renewed, she would have offered some type of clue to her state of mind? He thought back to his atrocious proposal three months earlier and his mistaken assumption that Elizabeth would automatically accept him. Hah! He had learned the answer to that question. In all fairness, he reasoned, being trapped in a cave with a man you have previously refused was not the most conducive setting to entertaining a second offer of marriage.

Elizabeth shifted in her sleep and her hair tickled his nose. He closed his eyes and breathed in her smell, imprinting it on his brain. If we do perish here and they find us months or years from now, he thought, let there be no doubt that I love this woman.

Part II

He awoke the next morning to someone tugging at his sleeve. He opened his eyes and found Elizabeth staring down at him. “Wake up, I have an idea.”

He laced his fingers together and stretched his arms overhead, listening for the soft pop as his spine and back aligned. He sat up too quickly, and the blood rushed to his head. “Christ, I am hungry.”

“Fitzwilliam, please. Do you have a knife?”

“A small one, yes. What do you have in mind?”

“Cut my hair. We will braid it into strips and tie it into lengths. Perhaps then we can toss the rope up and have it catch on something and climb free of here.”

“How did this idea come to you, Elizabeth?”

“I was dreaming that someone…it must have been Jane…was brushing my hair as I slept. And then I was in my father’s study, sitting on his lap, and he was reading me a tale of ogres and princesses. I thought if I cut my hair, we could be free.”

“Elizabeth. Are you sure you want to do this? How long would it take for it to grow back?”

“Fitzwilliam, that is beside the point, if we die in here. It is only hair. Let me get it wet so it will be easier to cut.”

Elizabeth leaped to her feet and ran to the end of the cavern. She untwisted her braid and leaned forward, flipping her hair down into the water. Her dress was soaked from her actions and, after weighing the merits of sitting in a damp cave in a wet gown, she quickly discarded it, keeping her corset and chemise. Her hair when wet extended midway down her back, her curls pulled tight from the weight of the water. In her excitement, she didn’t notice the flood of emotions – outright appreciation being the foremost but not the only–that crossed Darcy’s face as she made her way back.

She returned to Darcy, who sat unmoving where he had slept. “I am ready, sir. Could you find your knife before I lose my courage?”

Darcy reached into the pocket of his breeches and pulled out a pen knife. He opened the blade and grasped a hank of Elizabeth’s soft hair between his fingers, holding it near her shoulder blade.

“No, higher. It will grow back, I beg you.”

He slid his fingers upward, marveling as they moved along the silky locks. Clenching his jaw, Darcy placed the knife beneath the lock of hair. He jerked the blade and the lock fell into his lap. He threw down his knife, his chest heaving.

Elizabeth reached behind her head, sensing the loss of her hair. “I feel as though I am a woman from a Biblical passage who has been shorn to account for her sins.”

She looked at Darcy as he spoke. “You are pure of heart and soul. It is I who should suffer for my sins.”

“What manner of sin could you have to confess, Fitzwilliam? You are the best of men.”

“I entertained fantasies about you—about us—last fall at Netherfield even though, at that point, I had no intention of courting you. I must admit that in my fantasies you played the role of mistress rather than wife.”

“Are they so different?”

Darcy did not answer, allowing Elizabeth to continue.

“Is not that the point of a fantasy: to engage in that very behavior that polite society dictates against?”

“I clearly misspoke a moment ago. I realize now that I am being held accountable for my sins but the place of reckoning is neither heaven nor hell but here with you. The Devil must be walking amidst me or he would not present you to me as a tantalizing mixture of beauty and wit. Your very lack of artifice, your genuine care and concern for others, the very essence of your personality so outstrips any other woman of my acquaintance that I was instantly smitten.”

“Luckily, I no longer need to worry about garnering your attention.”

“Elizabeth, for a smart woman you can be remarkably stupid at times.” Darcy placed his hands on her shoulders and held her as he spoke.

“Elizabeth, I had told myself that I could not renew my addresses because I could not bear the thought of you rejecting me again.” Darcy tightened his grip on her shoulders. “I no longer fear rejection, Elizabeth. You are too generous to trifle with me. My affections and wishes are unchanged, but one word from you will silence me on this subject forever.”

“Yes, I will marry you, provided we are rescued.”

Darcy let his hands slide upward to stroke Elizabeth’s face. He gingerly brushed her lips with his own. He pulled back, smiling. He reached out and stroked her scalp where he cut the lock of hair, despising himself for marring Elizabeth’s beauty.

Elizabeth stood on her toes and placed her hands behind Darcy’s neck, pulling his face to hers. The kiss began tentatively but soon grew deeper and more demanding as both realized their commitment to each other.

Elizabeth broke away, needing to speak. “Fitzwilliam, I need you as I have never needed another person. Since your proposal at Rosings, I have come to realize that you are indeed, the best man for me.”

Elizabeth leaned her head against his chest. “You must do one thing for me.”

“Anything, Elizabeth. You are my heart.”

“Make love to me.”

Darcy turned away. “Don’t ask me that, Elizabeth. To compromise you goes against every tenet of my being. And after you reproached me for my ungentlemanly conduct? You don’t know how that tore at my heart.”

Elizabeth didn’t answer but slowly began unlacing her corset. She let it drop to the ground and slowly removed her chemise. She turned and walked into the spring, wading out until the water covered her chest. The water was cold, but she remained standing in place. She heard a groan and then felt Darcy’s hand on her shoulder. He turned her to face him and crushed her body against his, all the while planting kisses along her neck and face. His shirt was gone and Elizabeth didn’t dare look down but knew that his breeches too had been discarded. He picked her up in his arms and carried her back to where his jacket lay on the ground. Depositing her gently, he looked down at her body offered before him.

“Don’t look at my hair, Fitzwilliam. It must be a fright.”

“That’s not difficult, Elizabeth, when I have so many pleasant choices before me. His eyes swept down her body, lingering on her breasts, before sweeping lower. He leaned across her body and spoke directly into her ear, whispering similes and metaphors about her figure that made her blush.

Elizabeth turned her head away, suddenly uncomfortable. Darcy sensed her tension and eased himself over her so that he was enveloping her body with his large frame. Despite being in the water, his skin was warm to the touch and Elizabeth felt his body heat seep into hers. Relaxed and no longer cold, she laced one hand into his damp curls and pulled his head down to hers, kissing him soundly on the lips. Darcy responded, tentatively at first, and then increased the pressure on her mouth. His right hand roamed her curves, from her back to her front and then found a home at her full breast. Elizabeth sighed and he increased his attentions, all the while keeping her warm beneath his body.

“Women find this very pleasurable, Elizabeth. Let me show you.” He kissed her neck and her stomach and finally, took her breast in his mouth. Elizabeth moaned softly and he let his hand drift across the curve of her stomach and then lower, seeking her warm folds. He watched Elizabeth’s face as she shut her eyes, either from embarrassment or pleasure; he knew not which. He changed his movements and Elizabeth’s eyes flew open in amazement.

“Is that better?”

She nodded and he continued, altering his movements just barely but each time bringing a new wave of enjoyment to Elizabeth. Modesty forgotten, she arched her back and reveled in his touch. She felt him withdraw and was unsure of what was transpiring. He parted her thighs with his hands and positioned his body over hers.

“You are mine, Elizabeth, for now and always. I love you.”

She nodded and he reached up and entwined his fingers in her hand and then held it above her head. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

Elizabeth nodded as he slid in, reveling in the feeling. He stopped abruptly and mumbled something too soft for her to hear. “Please,” she begged.

With a final thrust, Darcy entered her, curtailing his movements as she adjusted to his presence. He reluctantly began to move, knowing that after spending two days in her presence, his self-control was virtually exhausted. Soon, too soon for Elizabeth, he reached the pinnacle and soared over it, wishing he had been able to bring Elizabeth there with him. He withdrew and gathered her against his chest, stroking her hair.

“I am so very sorry, Elizabeth. In all my dreams, this is not how I wanted you. I wanted you in my bed at Pemberley or London, with candles and bedding …” He pushed her off his chest and rolled away from her. “I have disappointed both of us; please leave me be.”

Elizabeth was unsure of the proper response but she knew that allowing Darcy to wallow in his self-pity was a dangerous precedent. She pressed against his shoulder until he lie flat on his back and was startled to see tears staining his cheeks.

“Oh, Lizzy. I love you with all my heart. You don’t understand, but in my mind, I have been making love to you every night since I encountered you at Netherfield and it was always glorious. I am sorry it was disappointing for you, especially in light of your questions.”

“Since I have no marker for comparison, please tell me where it was lacking, in your opinion.”

“You…you didn’t…you didn’t find the release that we spoke of…I…I have never encountered that before.”

Elizabeth rested her ear against Darcy’s chest, allowing his steady heartbeat to soothe her soul. Slowly, comprehension dawned.

“Fitzwilliam…Am I…was I…the first innocent you have been with?”

“Yes, of course.”

“And the other women with whom you have had experiences, are, shall we say, well versed in these matters?” Elizabeth cradled Darcy’s face in her hands and held his gaze to hers. “I am a very fast learner, Fitzwilliam. Before you are so eager to accept defeat, perhaps you should reassemble your troops and plan a second attack.”

Darcy did as he was bid, thankful that he was learned not only in the ways of lovemaking but also in war strategy and could thank his cousin, Richard Fitzwilliam, for increasing his knowledge in both areas.

Later, having retrieved their rather sad looking garments, Elizabeth sat between Darcy’s legs, resting her back against his chest. Darcy was leaning against the wall, as close to the opening as possible. Both dozed, overwhelmed from hunger and the emotional release they had found together. It was in that very position that his uncle, the Earl of Matlock, found them, when torches were thrust into the limestone opening.

“Darcy. Are you well?” a familiar voice cried. Hearing no response, he called for a strong rope and man to be lowered down the opening.

Groggy, Darcy realized he was being addressed. He shook Elizabeth gently and placed a quick kiss on her lips before removing her from his lap.

“Summoning reserves he didn’t know he possessed, he stood, shouting out that they were well. He pulled Elizabeth to her feet, and she slumped against him, fainter than he from hunger. Darcy tied the rope about her wrists and let her be passed upward first, watching as she was pulled free from their prison. He glanced around the stone walls one last time before wrapping the rope about his wrists and joining his bride to be above ground.

“Uncle,” Darcy said, embracing the Earl in an unusually demonstrative embrace. “Allow me to introduce my intended, Elizabeth Bennet.”

The Earl’s eyebrows reacted but his voice remained calm. “Is this the same Elizabeth Bennet that my Richard said added much to your visit at Rosings?”

Darcy nodded and the Earl turned to speak to Elizabeth.

“Miss Bennet. Your aunt and uncle will be most pleased to hear that you have been recovered safely. Let me take you to them immediately.”

The Earl’s eyes again roamed over Darcy and Elizabeth’s forms, taking in their soiled clothing and Elizabeth’s bedraggled hair. Knowing it was within his power to convey the proper message in front of the tenants, he chose humor.

“Darcy, dare I say I have not seen you looking quite this in need of a bath and fresh clothing since you and Richard played as boys. And I trust you are a bit hungry too?”

Elizabeth let herself be placed on a horse and was only slightly shocked when Darcy put his foot in the stirrup and swung up behind her.

“What will people think?”

“Miss Bennet. You just spent three days with me in a cave and you are worried about a ten-minute horseback ride in the presence of twenty-some people? He leaned close and whispered into her ear. “As soon as you cross the threshold into Matlock, you will be taken from me. Let me cling to you for a few more minutes, my love.”

Darcy kicked his heels into the horse’s side and they moved forward, the route being lit by men carrying torches. Elizabeth let herself relax against Darcy’s chest. Closing her eyes, she sighed with happiness. “Take me home, Fitzwilliam.”

The End

Copyright Stacy K. 2005