Posted on 2012-05-24
Elizabeth Bennet shut the library door behind her and leaned heavily against it, releasing a breath she had been unconsciously holding. Her father had just given his consent for her to marry the handsome Mr. Darcy of Pemberley, but the victory was hard won, and Elizabeth was the worse for wear. She wiped the remnants of tears from her face, glanced towards the drawing room, where Mr. Darcy awaited her - and took to the stairs, to the comfort and privacy of her room.
Agitated and confused, she rather knew that she was happy than felt herself to be so. A moment's reflection would set her to rights, she thought. But as often happens, one moment became two, and the young woman was pacing the length of the room, wringing her hands. That her father would be surprised by her choice was to be expected, but she had not been prepared for such vehement opposition. How she wished she had been more reasonable in her expressions of her former opinions! Elizabeth knew her pleas sufficiently convinced her father of the depth of her affection, and of her fiancé's inestimable worth, but Mr. Bennet's misgivings still weighed on her. It had pained her that he did not believe she held Mr. Darcy in high esteem, even if he eventually came to accept the match, and she needed some time to calm her wretched state of anxiety.
Taking three deep breaths, she ceased her pacing, and faced the door resolutely, feeling that she was ready to return. Just then, an unbidden, fresh round of tears unleashed itself, and she buried her face in her hands. Elizabeth was not often given to such extreme outbursts of feeling, so she worried momentarily that she had taken more of her mother's nervous disposition than she had ever realized - Heaven forbid! But, the mother's influence was not responsible for the current disturbance of her spirits - rather, it was an exposure to such a range of emotions in recent weeks as would cause any rational creature to be a bit emotive.
Beginning with the astonishment of learning that Mr. Darcy still cared for her good opinion when she happened upon him at Pemberley, on to the despair of Lydia's lost reputation, combined with the devastation of finally recognizing she was in love when all hope seemed to be gone, Elizabeth then experienced the relief of her youngest sister's restoration, the embarrassment of meeting with Mr. Darcy thereafter, and the rage inspired by Lady Catherine's vicious attack. Finally, she was rewarded for all this emotional upheaval with the elation of learning that not only did Mr. Darcy still love her; despite all obstacles, he still wished to marry her.
It was unfortunate for her that she had not been composed enough to meet his eye when she had happily, however inarticulately, agreed to be his wife - she could imagine how well the expression of heartfelt delight must have become him - but, though she could not look, she could listen, and he had told her of feelings, which, in proving of what importance she was to him, made her wonder anew at her fortune in having gained the affection of such a man.
She pressed her hand to the cheek on which he had placed a gentle kiss. It was sweet and tender, but held a promise of passion. She imagined she could still feel his warmth, and wondered what his lips might feel like against her own. Her face flushed at the thought, and she fanned her hands furiously to cool it down. The tactic was ineffectual, and she struggled to suppress a squeal.
Sighing dreamily, she unlaced her boots and flung herself back onto her bed, relishing in that happy feeling of loving, and being loved. She thought of her future life as Mrs. Darcy, imagining herself as the mistress of Mr. Darcy's estate, and, more importantly, of his heart. The absurdity of the notion, coupled with the weight of the responsibility, gave birth to a girlish giggle. Another one followed that, then another, and before long, she was holding her sides to relieve the ache which resulted from the uncontrollable laughter. More tears released, but as these were bred from joy, she did not bother to wipe them from her face.
She lay there - she knew not for how long - and in her exhaustion, she very nearly drifted to sleep, but she startled herself awake as it occurred to her that it was high time to return to the drawing room. Her fiancé was not, as of yet, very familiar with her family, and she knew he would most likely be uncomfortable. Elizabeth fervently hoped that her dearest sister Jane and her Mr. Bingley might have done their part to keep the reserved man entertained, but as general incivility is the very symptom of love, she highly doubted it. Groaning, she forced herself up and sat at the foot of her bed, tapping her stocking clad feet nervously on the ground.
In a single, fluid move, she launched herself off the bed and faced the mirror.
What she saw there nearly shocked her out of her senses. She clasped her hands tightly over her mouth to stifle a scream which threatened as she took in the ghastly image staring back at her. Her eyes were bloodshot, red-rimmed, and puffy. Her cheeks were mottled with discoloration and stained with tears of mirth. Her hair, simply put, was a mess.
Elizabeth's sense of vanity was far more maturely developed than she would have been willing to admit, and though Mr. Darcy had professed his love, 'for better or worse', she quite preferred to begin their season of courtship with 'better'. She quickly located a basin of water and a cloth, and applied a cool compress to the affected areas. After a few minutes of such ministrations, she started to see some improvement, and shifted her focus to her hair. She did not wish to draw attention to her predicament by calling the ladies' maid, so she took charge of the repair herself. Removing the few hairpins which remained in place, she allowed her curls to cascade down her back. Instead of putting it into an intricate bun, Elizabeth chose to save some time by tying her hair back with a favorite length of ribbon. Satisfied with the result, she judged herself ready to return; in form, if not in function.
She would never confess this to anyone, but before quitting her position in front of the mirror, Elizabeth practiced one or two of her most flirtatious looks. Once she realized what she was about, she laughed heartily at herself, and then moved to find her favorite slippers. Of course, this was not destined to be the simple task which one would expect; for while the first was located immediately, the other slipper mysteriously wound up beneath the bed, just beyond her arm's reach. On all fours, with her derrière poised perfectly in the air, Elizabeth grunted and prodded until she was finally able to reach the errant footwear. Pulling herself back from beneath the bed, she took little note of her surroundings, and slammed the back of her head against the wooden rail.
Now splayed flat on the ground, she nursed her aching head with her one free hand while the other held fast to its quarry. If she were a man, she might have espoused an oath or two, but Elizabeth Bennet was nothing if not a lady, so she restricted herself to a quiet whimper, and proceeded to slowly slide out from within her darkened dungeon.
More determined than ever to join the others, she hurriedly covered her feet in the feminine footwear. Drawing herself up to her full, unimpressive height, she took a final glance at the mirror, and patted her hair back in place, grumbling only a little when she accosted the lump growing as a result of the shoe debacle. She smoothed what she could of her wrinkled dress, and abandoned her post at the looking glass.
As she turned toward the door, her eyes darted to the small clock at the night table, revealing such shocking information as to cause her to gasp aloud. To her surprise, nearly thirty minutes had passed since she left her father in the library. Poor Mr. Darcy! In horror, she imagined all the manner of discomfort he must have been feeling, and wasted not another moment before lightly skipping down the stairs to meet him.
She felt, rather than saw the many eyes upon her as she peeked around the door, for she sought only one person with her own. She found him seated across from her father, and smiled in contented relief as she observed the two men dearest to her heart, joined in the common pastime of chess. She had rather expected Mr. Darcy to have nervously withdrawn from the company, but he seemed to be remarkably at ease. He, catching her eye, returned the smile in full, and she mused to herself that a lesser woman might have fallen into a swoon at the glorious sight, though, if she were being completely honest with herself, she would have admitted to feeling a little weak in the knees just then.
As soon as she was able, Elizabeth drew her Mr. Darcy into a private conversation; and, using her body to the shield the action from the view of others, she boldly took his hand before saying, "I am so sorry, Mr. Darcy, that I left you to wait for so long. Please believe that I had no notion of how quickly the time had passed! I hope the time you spent with my family was not too trying."
He hesitated ever so briefly, and then responded sincerely, "No, not at all."
There was a slight glint to his eye as he added, "Your hair is different."
Unsure where this declaration was headed, Elizabeth responded hesitantly, "It is, sir; does this displease you?"
"No!" he assured her. "I am quite pleased, in fact, with what you were able to accomplish in half an hour; I cannot help but wonder what you might be capable of if given a full hour to apply yourself to the task."
Embarrassed by an acute awareness of the manner in which she had spent the aforementioned period of time, as well as by her continued confusion regarding newly acknowledged feelings, Elizabeth found herself in an unusual position, and was at a complete loss for words.
For all the times that she had unwittingly, as well as purposefully, discomposed him, however, Mr. Darcy felt no great amount of pity for her present state; therefore, he continued his course. "Actually, I am gratified to learn that you would wish to present yourself to me in the best light. Had I known such delights awaited me, I might have proposed marriage to you months ago." The last was said with a subtle hint of humor - however severe the expression on his face.
"Oh; but I did do so, if I remember correctly," he concluded with a wry smile.
Though this recollection may have been most painful mere hours before, Mr. Darcy was now happily secure in the affections of a worthy woman, and if the last thirty or so minutes had taught him anything, it was that he would have to learn to laugh a bit more - even at himself. So he did just that, and Elizabeth's mouth hung open in stupefaction.
But before she was able to formulate a fitting reply, Mr. Darcy swiftly changed the subject by appealing to her for direction to the water closet; he had apparently imbibed an excessive amount of coffee in her lengthy absence. Elizabeth gladly led the way, rather feeling the need to absent herself from company as well, and as he went about his business, she dawdled in the hallway, taking calming breaths to ease her still roiling emotions.
Mr. Darcy returned quickly, and, not being one to waste an opportunity, he took full advantage of the stolen moment.
"Elizabeth," said he, "I must apologize to you." He drew rather close to her, shattering her newly achieved composure with his nearness.
"For what?" she asked shakily.
"Almost a year ago, when I was yet unknown to the neighborhood, it seems you caught me in a lie."
She bit her lip in consternation as she tried to figure to what he alluded, but as she thought they had addressed all outstanding disagreements during their volatile altercation at Hunsford, her mental search was for naught. She did not consider the obvious: that one comment which had begun the foundation for all her former dislike. Thoroughly perplexed, she asked for clarification in a whisper, "And what lie might that be?"
Unable to maintain his lighter demeanor, he focused his gaze upon a silky lock of curly hair which he held as he responded contritely, "I might have said something to the effect that you were not handsome enough to tempt me."
Her spirits returning somewhat to their natural playfulness, she responded coyly, "Am I to assume then, sir, you do find me tempting?" His eyes darted to hers, and she then made good use of her mirror practice, batting her eyelashes, just once, but it was one time too many for poor Mr. Darcy, who, unbeknownst to her, had spent the previous half hour in a frenetic worry. He quickly scanned the length of the hall - and wasted no words before responding to her impertinence by pulling her into a passionate embrace. The sensation of lips upon lips was, to her, more exquisite than she had imagined possible; but, properly inexperienced as she was, her eyes flew open in surprise when she felt his tongue meet her own. She quickly adapted, however, wound her arms around his neck, and happily relaxed into love's first kiss; which was followed by a second - and a third.
The contented couple slowly drifted apart as the door to the music room opened. Mr. Darcy's single backward step covered a great deal of ground, so when Mary Bennet rounded the corner, the scene she faced was a perfect picture of propriety - save the quickened breaths and flushed faces; but, the source of such anomalies was precisely the type of knowledge that pious Mary was without. Still, though the plainest of the Bennet sisters was occasionally foolish, she was not quite so easily fooled, and she knew something was amiss. She was not convinced the two were as innocent as they appeared to be; but, as she understood it, her sister Lizzy thoroughly disliked the tall, proud man from Derbyshire, so Mary merely peered at the pair through narrowed eyes and turned to leave. Much to that young lady's surprise, after casting a foolish grin at her elder sister, Mr. Darcy followed her and engaged her in conversation - on Fordyce's sermons, no less. The two solemnly discussed moralities for a quarter of an hour, with Elizabeth occasionally biting back a smile; but that is another story, for another time.
The two unacknowledged lovers, upon returning to the drawing room, engaged themselves in more silent and sedate activities, as the acknowledged lovers talked and smiled. The remainder of the evening passed quietly, unmarked by anything extraordinary.The End