"You need not distress yourself. The moral will be perfectly fair. Lady Catherine's unjustifiable endeavours to separate us were the means of removing all my doubts. I am not indebted for my present happiness to your eager desire of expressing your gratitude. I was not in a humour to wait for any opening of yours. My aunt's intelligence had given me hope, and I was determined at once to know everything." ~ Jane Austen, Pride & Prejudice, Chapter 60
Instead of receiving any such letter of excuse from his friend, as Elizabeth half expected Mr. Bingley to do, he was able to bring Darcy with him to Longbourn before many days had passed after Lady Catherine's visit. The gentlemen arrived early; and, before Mrs. Bennet had time to tell him of their having seen his aunt, of which her daughter sat in momentary dread, Bingley, who wanted to be alone with Jane, proposed their all walking out. It was agreed to. Mrs. Bennet was not in the habit of walking. Mary could never spare time, but the remaining five set off together. Bingley and Jane, however, soon allowed the others to outstrip them. They lagged behind, while Elizabeth, Kitty, and Darcy were to entertain each other. Very little was said by either: Kitty was too much afraid of him to talk; Elizabeth was secretly forming a desperate resolution; and, perhaps, he might be doing the same.
They walked towards the Lucases, because Kitty wished to call upon Maria; and as Elizabeth saw no occasion for making it a general concern, when Kitty left them she went boldly on with him alone. She was endeavouring to formulate the proper way to thank him for his generosity to her sister when he surprised her by being the first to speak.
"Miss Bennet, might I inquire as to whether you passed your time pleasantly since my departure?"
"I thank you, yes. We have all been in very high spirits since the occurrence of a certain event last week," she said, nodding towards Bingley and Jane with delight in her eyes as she alluded to her sister's engagement.
"I imagined you might be," he responded smilingly. Adopting a more serious tone he added, "I myself was quite delighted to hear of Bingley's engagement. I had it in a letter from him the day following, though I confess I had some difficulty in deciphering the content of the missive. In general, his letters are barely legible at best and his evident euphoria on this occasion did nothing to improve his penmanship. Were I not already expecting to receive such intelligence, I'm not certain whether I could have made it out."
She was rendered intrigued and somewhat surprised by his response. That he could be pleased that Bingley was engaged to her sister, in spite of their family's recent disgrace, was gratifying and astonishing enough; to find that he had considered the event as certain was even more revealing. The suspicions which she had lately come to entertain of Bingley's being supported or even guided by his friend regarding his intention to return to Hertfordshire and consequently, to renew his attentions to Jane, were heightened by this confession. Not daring to hope too much, she wondered if Darcy had influenced (or at least been privy to) his friend's intentions. Her curiosity got the better of her and she entreated him at once to account for his complete certainty on the occasion.
"I do recall once having discussed the merits of that gentleman's skill with a pen, but tell me," she urged, "were you truly expecting such news?"
"Indeed I was. When I went away, I felt that it would soon happen."
"Might I be correct, then, in speculating that you had given your permission to the match?"
"Permission? I assure you, Miss Bennet," Darcy replied with a smile, "Bingley is his own master, and hardly needs my permission to solicit the hand of whichever lady he chooses. On the evening before my going to London, I made a confession to him which I believe I ought to have made long ago. I told him of all that had occurred to make my former interference in his affairs absurd and impertinent. His surprise was great. He had never had the slightest suspicion. I told him, moreover, that I believed myself mistaken in supposing, as I had done, that your sister was indifferent to him; and as I could easily perceive that his attachment to her was unabated, I felt no doubt of their happiness together."
"I too most heartily wish them every happiness. I am confident they will do well together. It gives me great joy to see it, for Jane deserves the love of a man who respects and admires her as Mr. Bingley does. I must ask though, did you speak from your own observation when you told him that my sister loved him, or merely from my information last spring?"
"From the former. I had narrowly observed her during the two visits which I had lately made her here, and I was convinced of her affection. Her temperament is similar to mine, in that she feels more than she outwardly expresses. Knowing what I now do about her, and furthermore, considering my own recent experience in a similar situation, I easily perceived her true regard and am ashamed that I did not notice it until now."
"And your assurance of her affection, I suppose, carried immediate conviction to him."
"It did. Bingley is most unaffectedly modest. His diffidence had prevented his depending on his own judgment in so anxious a case, but his reliance on mine made everything easy. I was obliged to confess one thing which for a time, and not unjustly, offended him. I could not allow myself to conceal that your sister had been in town three months last winter---that I had known it, and purposely kept it from him. He was angry. But his anger, I am persuaded, lasted no longer than he remained in any doubt of your sister's sentiments. He has heartily forgiven me now."
"I am so overjoyed for them. Anyone can see that they are both exceedingly in love." As she said this, she cast a reflective glance at the couple, her face betraying an almost wistful expression. "But however sorely I will miss her, I delight in her evident joy. It gives me indescribable pleasure and comfort to know that she will have such a blissful marriage," she continued.
Having observed her momentary wistful expression while observing her sister, Darcy felt his hopes rise; his optimism was increased still further as Elizabeth turned to him with a bewitching smile saying, "I am so grateful to you, sir, for allowing them a second chance at happiness!"
Darcy now saw the perfect opportunity to accomplish his own purpose, and bolstering his courage, he ventured, "Do you now then, advocate the value of second chances? I thought I once remembered hearing you say that you always believed in first impressions?"
"I might have, but that was many months ago. I have since come to re-evaluate my old ideas, and I find I am now a strong believer in second chances."
His hopes soared and he prayed he was not misunderstanding her double entendre. He turned to face her, his eyes beseeching hers for reassurance.
"Are you?" he asked, catching her underlying meaning and equalling it with his own.
She coloured but met his gaze unflinchingly. "I am."
"Miss Bennet, I can bear this no longer. I must speak frankly with you on a subject of utmost importance. You are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged; but one word from you will silence me on this subject for ever."
Elizabeth, feeling all the more than common awkwardness and anxiety of his situation, now forced herself to speak; and immediately, though not very fluently, gave him to understand that her sentiments had undergone so material a change since the period to which he alluded, as to make her receive with gratitude and pleasure his present assurances. The words came haltingly, but their effect on her companion was profound.
"Mr. Darcy," said she, "My opinion of you and my feelings towards you have been experiencing extreme fluctuation over the past months. I acknowledge that the change has come about very gradually and at times I hardly knew myself what I felt. However, I am now acquainted with my feelings on the subject and must first tell you how overjoyed I am to learn that your feelings are the same as they had been." Shyly, she added, "I am now quite certain that my own feelings are exactly opposite of what I formerly professed them to be. I thank you, sir, most heartily for your continuing assurances of regard."
His eyes, which had been fixed on her in fearful anticipation, now glowed with delight and his countenance, which had borne a nervous expression, softened with joy. He would not let himself be overconfident however, knowing what it had before cost him.
"Miss Bennet," he continued in a hurried, almost excited manner, "there has been between us already an overabundance of misunderstandings and hasty conclusions. Forgive me if I feel the need for reassurance, but my mind refuses to believe what my ears are telling me, and on this point I must be absolutely certain. You would not be disinclined to accept me? You would accept me?"
"I would, indeed sir."
"Then, pray allow me the opportunity to correct my former imprudence and offer myself to you properly, in a manner more befitting a gentleman?"
"Such a request is somewhat superfluous, given my professions just a moment ago, do not you think?"
"Perhaps, but please indulge me just the same. I want us both to look back on this moment with satisfaction and profound pleasure."
"I would by no means deny any pleasure of yours," she said smilingly.
Then, lowering himself to one knee he looked up at her with eyes full of love and, tenderly caressing her hand, he asked, "Miss Bennet, I love you more than I ever believed it possible for a man to love a woman. I thought in April that I knew what it was to love, but what I felt then cannot even compare to what I feel now. Because of you I have discovered that love is not proud, rude, or selfish, as I was. I knew not then what it was to love, but you, my dearest, have taught me! I now fully understand the overpowering magnitude of true love and would spend my life endeavoring to show it to you. Elizabeth Bennet, will you do me the greatest honour I could ever hope for by accepting my hand in marriage?"
After such a speech, Elizabeth could no more control the tears of joy that formed in her eyes than she could control the rising of the sun. "Mr. Darcy," she replied, looking lovingly at him, "I would be most honoured and delighted to be your wife. I thank you for your kind proposal, and accept it most joyfully."
The happiness which this reply produced was such as he had probably never felt before, and he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do. He rose from the ground, his features betraying the depth of his contentment, and after gently kissing her fingers he offered her his arm, and they proceeded down the lane together. His mind was busily engaged in meditating on the great and overpowering happiness the last few minutes had wrought and as he could not trust himself to speak coherently, they wandered on in silence, both occupied with their own thoughts. It was some distance before he had recovered enough composure to speak, but when he did he told her of feelings which, in proving of what importance she was to him, made his affection every moment more valuable. Had Elizabeth been able to encounter his eye, she might have seen how well the expression of heartfelt delight diffused over his face became him; but, though she could not look, she could listen, and he poured out his feelings for her with enthusiasm.
"My most beloved Elizabeth," he began, "it is I who should thank you for making me the happiest man in the world. You cannot comprehend how happy you have made me. Until this moment I have never known such overpowering joy. I can scarce believe I am not dreaming. I have loved you almost since the first night of our acquaintance, and I believe that love has strengthened upon each successive encounter; though at first, I confess, I felt confused and somewhat frightened by this sentiment previously so foreign to me, but now I am absolutely overjoyed. It is for some time now I have come to realize that I shall love you and only you forever. I spent months trying to forget you, and found it to be impossible. I knew that if I could not have you, I would not have anyone."
"How obstinate you are, sir!" she teased. "I have often heard people describe you as such, and on this point I have full proof! I cannot think why you consider me deserving of such tenacious pursuit, although I must say I admire you the more for it. Oh, how I feared when you left that you would not return, and how rejoiced was I when I saw you again this morning! And now, I can proudly claim the distinction of being the happiest woman in the world! I do think we will make a very well-matched couple, for our minds and values are similar, and our temperaments, though different, are complementary. Even when we argue," she continued laughingly, "there is a mutual respect for the other's opinion. Your resolution of marrying for affection rather than for material considerations exactly matches my own views. Had you not returned, I would have become a sore trial to my mother, for I knew I would not accept any man but you and I would soon have found my only solace in being a most devoted aunt! I thank you again and again for your constancy and for your patience. You are truly the best man I have ever known. Oh, I do so hope to prove worthy of the courage and humility that the effort of this second proposal must have required."
On hearing such effusive praise coming from the one person he loved above all others, the gentleman's spirits were lifted to a degree he had not thought possible. "My Elizabeth," he replied, his voice thick with emotion, "I assure you the reward is well worth the effort. You must believe me when I say there is nothing I would not do for you. Your health and happiness shall always be my first concern and for your comfort I would make any manner of sacrifice. "
During the course of their conversation, she had continued to wish to thank him for his kindness to her sister, and even though she did not relish the idea of introducing such an unpleasant topic, this opening appeared to be the opportunity for which she had been waiting. Now was the moment for her resolution to be executed; and, while her courage was high, she immediately said---
"Mr. Darcy, I am only too aware of the extent of the truth of that remark. I must now ask for your indulgence of a request of mine. I must confess that I am a very selfish creature; and for the sake of giving relief to my own feelings, I fear I may be wounding yours, but my conscience requires it of me. I can no longer help thanking you for your unexampled kindness to my poor sister Lydia. Ever since I have known it, I have been most anxious to acknowledge to you how gratefully I feel it. Were it known to the rest of my family, I should not have merely my own gratitude to express."
The light-hearted expression he had worn was instantly replaced with concern and he replied in a tone of surprise and emotion, "I am sorry, exceedingly sorry that you have ever been informed of what may, in a mistaken light, have given you uneasiness. I did not think Mrs. Gardiner was so little to be trusted."
"You must not blame my aunt. Lydia's thoughtlessness first betrayed to me that you had been concerned in the matter; and, of course, I could not rest till I knew the particulars. Let me thank you again and again, in the name of all my family, for that generous compassion which induced you to take so much trouble, and bear so many mortifications, for the sake of discovering them."
"If you will thank me," he replied, "let it be for yourself alone. That the wish of giving happiness to you might add force to the other inducements which led me on, I shall not attempt to deny. But your family owe me nothing. Much as I respect them, I believe I thought only of you." He continued in a wistful manner, "Miss Bennet, I am sure you must know it was my wish that you never be informed of my involvement in this matter. What I did then was simply to remedy a wrong I believed myself to have made, in the hope that doing so would ease your pain. I wish---I should so much hope---although I shall endeavour to be contented with the outcome in either event---that your knowledge on this account had but small influence in your acceptance of my proposals."
Elizabeth turned to face him, looking directly into his eyes which were turned upon her with longing, anxiously seeking her reassurance, and gently placed her hand on his. "I assure you," she said earnestly, "it had none. Your actions on behalf of my sister merely raised the already immense esteem and regard I have for you. My affections had long been yours, though I failed to realize it for some time. I believe I first discovered my true feelings the instant you left the inn, for I knew I should never see you again and I was truly miserable. The distress I felt on that account, I am ashamed to admit, even surpassed the anxiety I felt over Lydia's situation."
"You will have little difficulty, then, in comprehending my reasons for my actions. I was grieved to see you so distressed, knowing my own fault in the matter for having concealed the nature of his character. You know not how it pained me to see you suffer, how I ached to console you, and I vowed at that moment that whatever was in my power to do to relieve your suffering should be done at once. I resolved then and there to go in search of them, to amend what I could, in order to alleviate your distress."
"Sir, you are too good, too kind. I am sure that I do not deserve it."
Gazing into her eyes, he said in a tone of utter sincerity, "On this point, madam, we shall never agree, for it is I who am the undeserving."
They walked on, without knowing in what direction. There was too much to be thought, and felt, and said, for attention to any other objects. The gentleman first resumed the conversation, eager to account for the event which had given him the needed courage to return.
"I desperately wanted to think that you could change your mind about me," said he, "but would not allow myself to hope too much; that is, until the day before yesterday."
"Whatever happened then to encourage you?"
"I had a surprise visit from my aunt. She called on me two days ago to inform me of a conversation she had with you."
"Oh, she did call on you then? I feared as much."
"Yes she did. Knowing my aunt as I do, Miss Bennet," he continued, "I can only imagine that it was most uncomfortable and awkward for you to have been accosted in this way. I would apologize on behalf of my aunt for any improprieties in her behavior towards you. I know not exactly all that was said, but I can be certain her manner was most likely offensive and condescending, as such is often the case."
"I suppose we each can claim our share of relatives then, with whom we occasionally find faults. You can no more have prevented or controlled your aunt's behaviour than I can control some of my relations' behaviour and I can see no need to apologize for what you cannot help."
"That is true," he agreed. "Thank you for understanding. I was greatly surprised, then appalled," said he, "as she told me that she had come to your home and spoken to you of an ill-founded rumour she had heard about our supposed engagement. She told me that you denied having heard of any such rumour and declared it as groundless. I was completely mortified by her interference at first, but when she at last confessed that you would not give her a promise not to enter into an engagement with me, I was incredulous. It allowed me to hope as I had scarcely ever allowed myself to hope before. I knew enough of your disposition to be certain, that had you been absolutely, irrevocably decided against me, you would have acknowledged it to Lady Catherine, frankly and openly."
Elizabeth coloured and laughed as she replied, "Yes, you know enough of my frankness to believe me capable of that. After abusing you so abominably to your face, I could have no scruple in abusing you to all your relations."
"What did you say of me that I did not deserve? For, though your accusations were ill-founded, formed on mistaken premises, my behaviour to you at the time had 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."
"I cannot be so easily reconciled to myself. The recollection of what I then said---of my conduct, my manners, my expressions during the whole of it---is now, and has been many months, inexpressibly painful to me. Your reproof, so well applied, I shall never forget: ‘Had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner.' Those were your words. You know not, you can scarcely conceive, how they have tortured me; though it was some time, I confess, before I was reasonable enough to allow their justice."
"I was certainly very far from expecting them to make so strong an impression. I had not the smallest idea of their being ever felt in such a way."
"I can easily believe it. You thought me then devoid of every proper feeling; I am sure you did. The turn of your countenance I shall never forget, as you said that I could not have addressed you in any possible way that would induce you to accept me."
"Oh! do not repeat what I then said. These recollections will not do at all. I assure you, that I have long been most heartily ashamed of it. In fact, I have often wished for the opportunity to apologize to you for my undeserved accusations and for my unkind words. Please forgive me for those horrible things I said."
"You are most heartily forgiven, if you think it necessary to apologize to me, on the sole condition that you allow me also to apologize for having offended and insulted you."
"Then let us forgive each other and have done with the matter and dwell on pleasanter things."
"It shall be as you wish, if you will but satisfy my curiosity on one other point, and that is to tell me what effect my letter had on you. Did it...did it soon make you think better of me? Did you, on reading it, give any credit to its contents?"
"Your letter quite astonished and humbled me, although at first, I was inclined to discredit your assertions, but upon much deliberation, I was forced to conclude that your explanations were reasonable and that I had been very wrong to judge you without knowing your side of the story. I had, before perusing its contents, believed myself to possess a keen sense of discernment and a talent for accurately assessing the character of my fellow creatures. I was ashamed to be forced to completely alter the opinions I then held. I knew enough of your character as to feel no doubt as to the truth of everything related and chastised myself for having been so blind."
"I knew," said he, "that what I wrote must give you pain; but it was necessary. I hope you have destroyed the letter. There was one part, especially the opening of it, which I should dread your having the power of reading again. I can remember some expressions which might justly make you hate me."
"The letter shall certainly be burnt, if you believe it essential to the preservation of my regard; but, though we have both reason to think my opinions not entirely unalterable, they are not, I hope, quite so easily changed as that implies."
"When I wrote that letter," replied Darcy, "I believed myself perfectly calm and cool; but I am since convinced that it was written in a dreadful bitterness of spirit."
"The letter, perhaps, began in bitterness; but it did not end so. The adieu is charity itself. But think no more of the letter. The feelings of the person who wrote and the person who received it are now so widely different from what they were then, that every unpleasant circumstance attending it, ought to be forgotten. You must learn some of my philosophy. Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure."
"I cannot give you credit for any philosophy of the kind. Your retrospections must be so totally void of reproach, that the contentment arising from them is not of philosophy, but, what is much better, of ignorance. But with me it is not so. Painful recollections will intrude, which cannot, which ought not, to be repelled. I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle. As a child, I was taught what was right; but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit. Unfortunately, an only son (for many years an only child), I was spoilt by my parents, who, though good themselves (my father particularly, all that was benevolent and amiable), allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing---to care for none beyond my own family circle, to think meanly of all the rest of the world, to wish at least to think meanly of their sense and worth compared with my own. Such I was, from eight to eight-and-twenty; and such I might still have been but for you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth! What do I not owe you! You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. By you I was properly humbled. I came to you without a doubt of my reception. You shewed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased."
"Had you then persuaded yourself that I should?"
"Indeed I had. What will you think of my vanity? I believed you to be wishing, expecting my addresses."
"My manners must have been in fault, but not intentionally, I assure you. I never meant to deceive you, but my spirits might often lead me wrong. How you must have hated me after that evening!"
"Hate you! I was angry, perhaps, at first, but my anger soon began to take a proper direction."
"I am almost afraid of asking what you thought of me when we met at Pemberley. You blamed me for coming?"
"No, indeed, I felt nothing but surprise."
"Your surprise could not be greater than mine in being noticed by you. My conscience told me that I deserved no extraordinary politeness, and I confess that I did not expect to receive more than my due."
"My object then," replied Darcy, "was to shew you, by every civility in my power, that I was not so mean as to resent the past; and I hoped to obtain your forgiveness, to lessen your ill opinion, by letting you see that your reproofs had been attended to. How soon any other wishes introduced themselves, I can hardly tell, but I believe in about half an hour after I had seen you."
He then told her of Georgiana's delight in her acquaintance, and of her eager desire to further that acquaintance; anticipating the joy she would soon feel upon receiving his most welcome news.
"When you write to her, please convey my warmest regards. She is a lovely young lady, and I very much looking forward to gaining such a sister."
"She will sincerely return the sentiment, I assure you. She thinks very highly of you as well."
"It does seem quite unfair, does it not, that I should have the good fortune to gain a most delightful sister and a charming brother, while the sisters you stand to gain...well, as much as I love them, my younger sisters can be quite silly!"
"Ah, but you forget, I also stand to gain a brother who has long been a dear friend, and his most sweet-tempered wife---also a sister of yours---in the bargain."
"I suppose the joy in gaining such a brother is compensated by the vexation of the necessary addition of his sisters."
"And I assert that there is no vexation that could possibly detract from the joy of gaining such a wife," he said, with an earnestness that fully communicated his implied meaning.
"Nor from gaining such a husband," she replied with equal sincerity.
The sincerity of his last remark was punctuated by an earnest gaze, which she returned with equal intensity. She had understood his unspoken implication and admired him the more for it. In the knowledge that his affection for her was so strong that he could not even be dissuaded from seeking to obtain her affections by the knowledge that he would be, by the extension of her younger sister's husband, connecting himself with his greatest enemy---a man he so justifiably abhorred---she had indisputable proof of the steadfastness and tenacity of his love for her.
The newfound joy and comfort which each found in their new understanding was profound; and, losing themselves in each other's eyes, they were content to simply bask in the warmth of the other's affection. Time seemed suspended, and it was not for several minutes that the new lovers were recalled to their surroundings and continued on their way.
The conversation was resumed a few minutes later by the gentleman, who, recalling a promise he had recently made, addressed his beloved saying, "My dear, I almost forgot to mention to you, amongst other communications, that I had the good fortune to dine with your aunt and uncle when I was lately in London. I must say, they are charming and I admire them exceedingly. I am looking forward to furthering my acquaintance with them. I also met your cousins and they are delightful children. They all told me to send you their love when I saw you next."
She smiled. "I do love Aunt and Uncle Gardiner very much, and my dear cousins, of course. Outside of Jane and my father, they are my favourite relations. I respect them both so very much, and I have always considered their relationship as the ideal example of matrimony."
"I could not agree more. Those were my sentiments exactly whenever I saw them together. I do hope ours will be as strong."
She smiled at him and pressed his arm affectionately. "I am sure it will, dear sir. We already have much knowledge of each other's character---we are intimately acquainted with each other's virtues as well as faults and love each other in spite of them."
Mr. Darcy beamed and tried unsuccessfully to suppress a chuckle.
"What is so funny, may I ask? Did I say something amiss?"
"No my dearest Elizabeth. You said nothing amiss, quite the contrary. You just unconsciously let it slip that you love me, and I simply cannot repress the joy I feel on the occasion, after desiring for so long to hear you utter those words."
"I should have thought that fact was quite obvious by now."
"True, but there is nothing that can compare to the joy of actually hearing those words come from your lips."
"If saying those words always elicits such a smile on your face as I now see, I shall never tire of saying them. "Mr. Darcy, I love you."
"Elizabeth Bennet, I love you too."
After walking several miles in a leisurely manner, and too busy to know anything about it, they found at last, on examining their watches, that it was time to be at home.
"Where could Bingley and Jane have got themselves to?" wondered the gentleman.
"I know not," she responded, then with a smile added, "but I suspect they are not bemoaning the loss of our company!"
"I believe you are right. Would you think it ungenerous of me to admit that I am also not sorry at the moment, for the separation?"
"My, the hour is quite late. How do you think we shall explain our delay to your family without detection?"
"Do not worry on that account. As to explaining our tardiness, it is well-known that I ramble about the country and often lose track of the time in so doing. It will be no hardship, nor will it be a complete fabrication to explain that we were wandering about until we were beyond knowledge of our whereabouts, for I'm sure neither of us particularly noticed the direction of our ramble. And as for detection, I am afraid nothing could be farther from anyone's suspicion than the true reason for our delay."
"I confess I am somewhat anxious about dining with your family this evening."
"I understand. My mother and sisters can be trying to one's nerves."
"No, you misunderstand me. It is not that which concerns me; your family is dear to you and as such, it is dear to me also; and the more so because it is your family. Anything that is a part of you is dear to me by association. What concerns me is the guise of affecting indifference, given the events of the afternoon. I rather fear for my own equanimity in the presence of your family---I do not know how I will be able to sustain the appearance of normalcy when my heart is well-nigh bursting with pleasure."
"I know that disguise of every sort is your abhorrence, but I should think your mask of reserve would do much in placating this fear."
"Under ordinary circumstances, it might. But the revelations of this afternoon encompass the fulfilment of a long-cherished dream which I despaired of ever realizing; the knowledge of such a felicitous resolution to my greatest hopes may prove more than my efforts can disguise. I truly fear my composure will be sorely tested."
"Well, I pity you, then; but not too much, as I too shall be experiencing something similar. I hope you can speak to my father soon. I would like not to spend many evenings in such a state."
"As eager as I am to declare it to the world, I would like to keep our understanding secret for this one evening to privately relish the joy."
"As you like, then. It will be our secret. Would you mind if I told my sister once you have gone?"
"I can have no objection to that."
"That is a good thing, seeing as how I don't know how long I could possibly keep it from the one person who knows me so well and in whom I confide everything. Will you tell Mr. Bingley?"
"I think it is only fair, as you will be telling your sister. I doubt if I could keep it from him either."
They continued their stroll in the direction of Longbourn. After pausing for a few moments he asked playfully, "Well, Miss Bennet, what shall we discuss now? Are you at leisure to discuss your tastes in reading, or shall you impose a ban on discussing books during the course of solitary walks as well as during dancing?"
She smiled. "I will talk about whatever you wish me to."
"That reply will do for the present" he replied, thrilled to once again have the privilege of engaging once more in her lively banter. His delight, moreover, was inexpressibly increased by the knowledge that it should continue so forever.
In this pleasant manner they continued their leisurely stroll back to Longbourn, dwelling at length on their hopes and wishes for a promising future. Upon coming within sight of the house, they reluctantly separated to a distance more befitting that of common acquaintances, but not before he had raised her hand to his lips once more and kissed it. In the hall they parted, each thinking of the other and both dwelling with delight on a future time in which no separation would be necessary.