Posted on 2012-05-24
The two gentlemen mounted their horses and cast identical longing glances in the direction of Longbourn, though for slightly different reasons. Bingley, happily engaged to the one woman who had held his affection for more than a few weeks, was innocently hopeful of expressing his love for her in a more ardent manner than a simple kiss on the hand. Darcy, having just tasted such passionate delight hours before, was anxious for more. The still secret state of his newly formed understanding with Elizabeth had prevented even such a chaste expression as Bingley had enjoyed with his fiancé when the lovers parted. In point of fact, the two had spent most of the evening in a studied avoidance of one another, not wishing to raise suspicions before the time was right.
Looking up at the night sky, Darcy drank deeply of the cool air, and in a rather audible exhalation, gained the attention of his companion. Bingley was not so involved in his own euphoria to have been oblivious his friend's distracted state. He had been restless and brooding throughout the visit. Bingley was at a loss to understand the strange behavior, and though he wished to lend what support he could, he was also wary of upsetting his private and serious friend. Therefore, he was uncertain of how to proceed. He eventually decided to throw caution to the wind and broach the subject plainly.
"I say Darcy, you seem rather withdrawn this evening; is there something the matter? You are not unhappy, are you?"
Although Darcy had apologetically revealed his part in separating his friend from Jane Bennet more than a fortnight before, and had subsequently encouraged him to seek his happiness with her, in truth, Bingley worried that he still did not approve of Jane's situation, and wondered if this might have had some bearing on his mood.
His conjecture could not have been further from the truth.
With a very grave expression, the man responded, "No; my mind was far more agreeably engaged than you think. I have been meditating on the very great pleasure which an offer of marriage to a beautiful woman can bestow."
Bingley's grin nearly escaped the confines of his face, "Why, you sly dog!" he exclaimed, "You never even hinted your affections were engaged! Tell me; who is the lucky woman? When are you to return to London to seek her hand? Or, have you done so already?"
"So many questions, my friend!" Darcy laughed, "Very well; I shall answer them all. First, it is not for me to say whether the lady is lucky or not, though I certainly believe I am. Second, I have no need to return to London, for I have proposed marriage to Miss Elizabeth Bennet this very day." Darcy's joy was complete in being able to express this aloud. His smile was broader than any his younger friend had seen from him.
Bingley, however, was incredulous. "Miss Elizabeth Bennet! I thought I suspected some admiration on your part at Pemberley, but - forgive me - I thought she quite disliked you!"
"And yet, you asked for her hand?"
"And, she accepted you?" The hesitancy in the affable man's voice clearly communicated his doubt. But Darcy immediately availed him of all unnecessary concern.
"Yes; but, only the second time," he admitted with a rueful smile.
"Upon my word! You proposed to her twice?" Bingley's disbelief knew no bounds.
"Come, man! You must tell me more than that. How did this all come about? When did you begin to love her?"
Darcy chuckled as he relented to his friend's pressing curiosity. "Almost from the moment I declared her to be just tolerably handsome," he confessed, "What a fool I had been! It was not many days later before I could not keep my mind off of her. Tolerable, indeed!"
"But you purposely avoided her, and when you did speak to her, it was only to argue. I must admit, Darcy, I am absolutely astonished! I should say delighted and astonished!" Bingley cried.
"As was she, when I asked her the first time," Darcy laughed, "But she taught me a most valuable lesson when she refused me and left me in no doubt of her poor opinion of me. I am most indebted to her, for that, and for finally earning her affection. Believe me, my friend, it was no easy task."
"I must commend your taste; but, this is incredible! Elizabeth refused you, the man who could have had any woman!"
"Any woman, perhaps - except one. She did once refuse me after all," Darcy reminded him.
"And yet, you can speak so lightly of it now. You must have suffered," Bingley insisted, "If you felt half for her what I do for Jane, I know you did."
"I did, my friend. I felt my failings most acutely, but it was not long before I felt the justice of her words, and allowed them to push me in a proper direction. It was sheer providence that our paths crossed one again."
"Indeed it was," Bingley mused in wonder. Still amazed, he continued, "My word! I know not what to say! I feel as though I should be angry at you for attempting to separate me from Jane when you knew all too well what I suffered; and yet, I am so overjoyed to learn that we are to be brothers, I cannot find any malice within me!" Bingley pumped a fist in the air to punctuate his joy.
"And you are too good; but I am most grateful for your forgiveness."
An air of mischief crept into Bingley's voice as he declared, "Caroline will finally have her wish to be connected to your family."
Darcy could not refrain from snorting aloud. "Forgive me, Charles, for my impertinence, but I am fairly certain that this is not what she had hoped for."
"No, indeed," laughed his friend, "Though it pleases me immensely!" After another moment, Bingley proclaimed happily, "Well, I suppose I no longer need to ask if you might care to join me when I call on the family at Longbourn tomorrow."
"No, Bingley," Darcy agreed with a hint of a smile, "You most certainly do not."
The men soon arrived at Netherfield, where they parted straightaway to retire for the night, as both were a bit drained of emotion and energy.
That night, as they awaited sleep's sweet embrace in their own chambers, visions of a certain lady danced in each of the young men's minds. Bingley thought of Jane's serene smiles and the expectation of a life of peaceful happiness. Darcy reflected upon the passion of those kisses he had shared with Elizabeth and the promise of an exciting and unpredictable future with her. For the first time in many years, he fell asleep with a smile on his face.The End