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Cunning and Compromise Chapter 5 (Post 3)

September 15, 2017 08:20PM

Chapter 5

The Entrapment

To maintain the pretense, Elizabeth did stop by the retiring room first, stopping only long enough to ascertain that there was nobody within or in the corridor. She then proceeded in haste towards the library. Fueled as she was by righteous indignation at Miss Bingley's scheme, she hadn't paused until she neared the open library door to consider that she was risking her own reputation by slipping away to intercept one gentleman in the library while another followed behind. She knew now, however, that Mr. Darcy was an honorable man and would not harm her. She wouldn't allow him to be mired in scandal and trapped into a loveless marriage by a grasping harridan. She started when she heard footsteps in the hallway. Turning, she saw Mr. Wickham fast approaching and knew that Caroline Bingley couldn't be far behind. It would not do for Miss Bingley to see her enter the library so she took a breath to steel her nerves and quickly charged on.


In general, Darcy was a composed man who kept his feelings under tight regulation. This night, however, he had been assaulted with extreme emotions the likes of which he'd never experienced. Granted, he loved his family and had been grief stricken at the deaths of his parents, he had known extreme rage when Wickham had nearly eloped with Georgiana and ruined her life, and he'd experienced growing affection for Miss Elizabeth Bennet over the last weeks. Each of these emotions, however had come in turns. Tonight he had faced an unceasing onslaught. Though he was never fully comfortable at balls, he had looked forward to this night in anticipation of dancing with Miss Elizabeth. Before the dancing had even begun his equilibrium had been unbalanced by the unexpected appearance of Wickham, speaking with Miss Elizabeth of all people! Astonishment at his presence, rage at his past transgressions, jealousy over their flirtatious demeanor, fear that he would hurt her as he had Georgiana, and an overwhelming urge to protect her – these emotions had all flooded him instantly and simmered as the pair conversed. His conversation with Wickham had done little to calm this riot of emotion. For the first time in his adult life he had seriously doubted his own judgment. Had he misjudged the situation in Ramsgate – Wickham's intentions, Georgiana's feelings? Had Miss Elizabeth hated him this whole time? If he were honest with himself, he also felt a sense of loss for his former friendship with Wickham. Overhearing Miss Elizabeth's critique of his character removed some doubt, replaced immediately with despair and mortification. While he was bewitched by her wit and vivacity, she had examined him and found him lacking. The conversation with Miss Elizabeth was fraught with anxiety but also some hope.

Hope and anxiety had followed him into his dance with Miss Elizabeth but the former began to prevail as she began to understand that his behavior stemmed more from shyness rather than pride. Sir. William's interruption brought annoyance and suspicion. This was quickly dispelled by Miss Elizabeth's outburst that she and Jane would only marry for love. Despair. Fear. He knew now that she did not love him, possibly never could love him and therefore would never marry him. The dance ended with hope and joy as they teased each other and she asked about Pemberley. Jealousy, rage and fear reared up again at the sight of Wickham with Miss Elizabeth. Miss Lucas' calm voice offering stories of Miss Elizabeth's childhood warmed his heart, but could only numb the anguish he felt watching his Elizabeth dance with Wickham. After their dance ended he excused himself for some solitary reflection in the library. He wasn't sure what more could happen in one ball to torment him, but he was sure he couldn't take any more at the moment.

He was keenly aware that amongst all of these emotions, it was love that was governing his actions. Rationally, he knew that he could not marry Miss Elizabeth Bennet. He knew that her fortune, family, and connections were completely unacceptable for a man in his position. Nevertheless, he could not prevent his eyes from following her graceful movements. When faced with her ill opinion of him he could not help but address her reproofs. When faced with her discomfort he could not help but raise her spirits. Darcy would not typically label himself a romantic, but he was aware that his head was battling his heart and feared that his sensibility was defeating his sense.

"Mr. Darcy, I fear you are in danger!" Her voice penetrated his thoughts as if the cosmos had conjured her to confirm his musings. He turned to see her rush into the library after him.

"Alone in a room with you, I fear you are correct," he replied with a warm look.

She stopped short at this unexpected reply, "I am here to guard your honor sir, not attack it!"

"You mistake me Miss Bennet, I know that the last thing you would wish to do is compromise me."

"Indeed, I do not wish to see anyone forced into a marriage not of their choosing, that is why I'm here. Miss Bingley has plans to compromise you tonight." As she was making this horrifying pronouncement, he heard the distinct creak of a door closing, followed by the clicking of the latch.


After parting from Miss Elizabeth, Wickham tried to tease out how to salvage the shambles of his plan. He had hoped to usher Darcy out the hidden door and allow Miss Bingley to lock herself in the room with him. Miss Elizabeth's presence, and knowledge of the trap now made that impossible. He could follow her to the library, wait patiently with her and Darcy, and watch Miss Bingley's face as she realized her plan would fail, but that wouldn't serve antibody's purposes. Miss Bingley would continue in her dogged pursuit of Darcy. As he slipped into the hallway, he saw Miss Elizabeth glance back at him then hurry resolutely into the library. Then inspiration struck. If Darcy were off of the market, he was confident that he could find a way to console Miss Bingley and convince her to consider his suit. Darcy was already in love with Miss Elizabeth, and her questions of the last half hour proved that she was not indifferent to him. Darcy would marry the woman he loved, leaving a distraught Miss Bingley to his own tender ministrations. As Wickham reached the doorway, he glanced back to assure himself that Miss Bingley was not yet in sight, then swiftly closed the door and with a satisfying clink sealed all of their fates.

From inside, he heard Miss Elizabeth's cry of dismay and a muffled discussion followed by footsteps to the door. The handle rattled yet the door stayed firmly closed. "Hello There!" Came Darcy's voice, "Is anybody out there!"

"Well Darcy, it seems you find yourself in quite a cozy situation!" He replied through the door, unable to repress the glee in his voice.

"Wickham! What have you done!"

"I have given you the opportunity to offer for the woman of your choice. I know you Fitzwilliam, you never allow yourself to act on impulse or consider what you want. You love that girl, but given enough time for contemplation you would talk yourself out of it and miss your opportunity. Now you can both do the honorable thing and be happy."

"Once again you charge head first into a situation without thinking of the consequences." Darcy growled through the door. "What of Miss Elizabeth? You have just ruined her reputation. I will of course offer for her and she will have no choice but to agree, but you have just taken away her ability to make that choice."

"Well, then, I suggest you do everything in your power to convince her to love you back."

"Can you take nothing seriously!"

"Can you take nothing lightly? It's not a crime to indulge yourself sometimes. Live in the moment, show some passion, be a human being!" Getting to business before they were interrupted by the lovely Miss Bingley, he continued, "now, it appears that a key has been broken in the lock, which means you've got until we can locate a locksmith to convince your lady you're more than just a proud disagreeable, stick in the mud." He heard a muffled oath followed by retreating footsteps. He smiled as he heard the ballroom door open and music briefly flooded out. He had is own task ahead of him.


Caroline finally managed to rid herself of the wearisome presence of Miss Charlotte Lucas and made her way towards the ballroom doors. Good heavens, you'd think the poor country chit had never been been to a ball before based on her inane questions about the decorations, how to organize caterers, which suppliers were local and which were brought in from London. If Caroline had any doubts before about the wilds of Hertfordshire she now had confirmation. She simply must get back to civilization. Tonight she would become engaged to Mr. Darcy. Tomorrow, they would follow Charles to town and never look back on this godforsaken place.

Pushing through the doors of the ballroom, she saw him standing alone at the end of the hallway, tall and regal with a head of curly dark hair. Odd that he'd still be in the hallway considering her delay in following him, yet she could usher him into the library easily enough. On second inspection, she saw that it was indeed not Mr. Darcy but Mr. Wickham! Oh dear. How was she to steer him away without giving away her plans or alerting Mr. Darcy to their presence. As she approached he turned to her and bowed.

"My dear Miss Bingley, I fear we may have a problem."

She noticed with rising alarm that the library door was already closed. "No!" She said forcefully. It took all of her control to modulate her voice so as not to be heard from the ballroom. "This can't be!"

"I've taken the liberty of examining the lock. It would appear that a key has been broken inside. As the door appears quite sturdy, they will unfortunately be stuck until a locksmith may be located."

"They?" She repeated faintly as she tried to maintain her equilibrium.

"Yes, the door closed after Miss Bennet and we were unable to open it again." He watched her face intently as he broke the news. "The young lady and Mr. Darcy will have to wait it out together."

"Miss Bennet? Miss Eliza Bennet?!" She began to feel faint. All of her planning, scheming, and dreaming, all of it backfired against her. It was now Miss Elizabeth Bennet's honor that Mr. Darcy would protect, and she had no doubt that he would do the honorable thing. Through her own machinations she had forced the very event she had dreaded. The room swayed, she heard laughter and it took a moment to realize that the strangled noise was coming from herself. The laughter soon turned into gasping sobs. And suddenly he was there, supporting her, soothing her, holding her, grounding her. His strong arms wrapped around her, one hand gently rubbing circles on her back while the other cradled her head. Her initial panic began to subside and she leaned into his embrace, drained of energy and emotion.

"There now, Miss Bingley, all will be well," he murmured gently into her ear.

"It has all gone terribly wrong!"

"Perhaps it is for the best."

"Mr. Darcy was meant for me. He was to marry me!"

"And was he to have any say in that? Do you truly wish to be married to a man who at best tolerates you, at worst openly resents you?"

"I believe Mrs. Darcy of Pemberly would have little reason to repine."

"What of love? Passion? Mutual regard?"

"Those may grow with time."

"And you've had time with Darcy, I understand you've been in Hertfordshire for weeks and have been a guest at Pemberley on multiple occasions, have they grown in that time?"

"Perhaps not," she frowned at the reminder of her failure.

"Even if you'd had a chance before, now that his heart is engaged elsewhere..."

His words stung, but he soothed away the hurt with the gentle strokes to her back. "Were it not for that chit Eliza Benet, I would not have had to resort to stratagems in the first place" she replied sullenly.

"I know better than anybody of Mr. Darcy's implacable resentment, his good opinion once lost is lost forever," he said in a creditable impersonation of Mr. Darcy. "I can't see that compromising the man would encourage his trust, or any more delicate feelings."

She remained silent for some time. She knew his embrace was improper, but after the blow she'd received, she could not muster the strength to push him away. After loosing all other hope, she had nothing to cling to but this comfort. "Whatever is to become of me now?" She sighed.

"Tonight? You may send for a locksmith, return to the ball, smile brightly, and dance with dashing young men in red coats," he replied with a roguish smile. "I do not despair of your finding eligible partners. In the long run, I suppose you will return to London, go to balls, the theater, routs, etc. You will make merry, shine brightly, and find another boring stodgy 'suitable' man to be your husband."

Her only response was a weary sigh and to burrow her face closer into his cravat. Suddenly that option seemed less appealing to her than it had. She felt the full weight of her twenty-two years, her unfortunate chin, and her family history of trade. Darcy had been her last hope at a decent man of standing. For years she had thrown all of her efforts into securing him. She knew what was waiting for her in the London ballrooms. The 'suitable husbands' who would be interested in her were old, portly, and in need of cash. They would not be tall handsome and suave. They would not hold her in their arms for heaven knows how long merely to comfort her. They would not treat her as an equal or look at her as if she were the only woman in the room.

"Or..." he began.


"Or?" She repeated, looking up at his face. Her habitual social masks of either disdain or solicitude had fallen away. Her face was streaked with tears and her eyes were reddened, clear signs of the distress of the past few minutes; however, her face also displayed hope and longing. His plan was going perfectly, Darcy and Miss Elizabeth were out of the way, hopefully getting to know each other better, and he was here, consoling a distraught Miss Bingley in his arms. A little more charm, a caress, a stolen kiss and he knew she could be his. But the look of vulnerable entreaty in her eyes gave him pause. He had just enumerated the flaws in entrapping a spouse to her. Would he fare any better? Once the shock and disappointment of her loss wore off, would she be able to trust him? Love him? Did he deserve her? Did she deserve to be saddled with a husband such as himself? These questions had never seemed important before but now, looking into her beseeching eyes, he felt they were imperative. It was a dashed inconvenient time for him to develop a conscience.

"Caroline..." he began again, allowing her given name to slip from his tongue as if he'd said it a thousand times, allowing her upturned face to draw him closer "I..."


A half hour. Caroline had given her a directive and as loathe as Louisa was to be part of this plot, she found herself heading to the doors of the ballroom a half hour after she had seen Darcy exit. As she stepped out of the ballroom she was surprised to find them standing in the hallway in full view embracing. This would at least make her job easier. Still holding the door open she exclaimed loudly "Mr. Darcy, how shocking! I see that your passions precede your announcement, but as a gentleman I shall assume that you have honorable intentions toward my sister."

The spectators in the ballroom turned agape, she saw two matrons pushing their way through the crowd to get a better view. She turned triumphantly back to her sister and her jaw dropped. The gentleman hastily stepping in front of her sister to shield her from prying eyes was not Mr. Darcy, but an officer in a glaring red coat. The same Mr. Wickham Caroline had danced with earlier. Well. Perhaps Caroline would find passion and romance in her marriage after all.

She nervously glanced behind her to see the guests crowding the door and heard loud disjointed whispers of "Mr. Darcy" … "Mr. Wickham" … "Miss Bingley" … "embrace" … "scandalous!" While she had created confusion as to the identity of the gentleman, enough people now saw and recognized him that it would soon be cleared up. Caroline was as compromised as she had hoped, just by the wrong man. Charles and Colonel Forster fought their way through the crowd and into the hallway. Louisa felt a slight pang that her own husband didn't see fit to join them, though she hadn't really expected it. The Colonel had the forethought to close the door against the prying eyes of the crowd. The small party gravely made their way down the hallway to the embarrassed pair. Mr. Wickham standing erect with a protective yet passably contrite look on his face, Caroline barely visible save for her hands that clutched Mr. Wickham's arms and the feathers from her hair bobbing behind his shoulder.

"Explain yourself at once Lieutenant Wickham!" ordered Colonel Forster.

"Well sir, allow me to begin by stating that I intend do the honorable thing, should Miss Bingley be inclined to accept my offer of marriage." Louisa noticed Caroline's white knuckled grip loosen slightly at this assertion. "I was walking down the hallway when I heard the door to the library close and discovered Mr. Darcy and Miss Elizabeth Bennet had been trapped inside." This account visibly startled Charles as he tested the door himself. "It appears as if a key has been broken off in the lock. Miss Bingley happened upon me as I was investigating and became agitated when I broke the news to her, so I was comforting her." This was met with suspicious glances all around.

"There are ways to comfort a lady in distress without compromising her Wickham! This sort of behavior is what gives His Majesty's Militia a bad name sir!" The Colonel fired back angrily.

"Indeed, sir!" Replied Caroline, shyly stepping to Mr. Wickham's side. Louisa smiled at the one hand which lingered possessively on his arm, "I became faint in my distress and would have fallen were it not for Mr. Wickham's support."


Charles Bingley had never been a good man in a crisis, but this was his house, his sister, and his responsibility. Thus far he'd allowed the colonel to lead the interrogation, he was sure the man had far more experience in these matters than him. His sister's emergence and her statement finally urged him into some action. "Caroline, please sit," he said as he led her to a chair. He could not force her to remain standing if she was unwell.

How he wished Darcy could take this all in hand, after all, he was far more adept at managing these situations – but as he was currently indisposed – well, I suppose that's another crisis I must deal with. He then went to the library door and knocked, "Darcy, are you okay in there?"

There was a brief shuffling followed by Darcy's assurance. "We are well, merely trapped at the moment." The man seemed remarkably calm, he had expected him to be outraged at this turn of events.

"I have checked the windows, but as we are on the second floor and there is no terrace, there appears to be no other way out." Came Miss Elizabeth's sensible addition.

"Miss Elizabeth, is there a locksmith in Meryton?" Asked Charles.

"No sir, we unfortunately are not a large enough town for such an enterprise to survive, would a blacksmith do?"

Charles inspected the door, "it appears that the hinges are on the interior, short of a breaking down the door – which I would prefer to avoid in a leased house – I fear we must wait until a locksmith is located."

Well. What to do. He must, of course sort out affairs between Wickham and Caroline. It would be best to announce the engagement tonight now that the gossip had already begun. He turned to the assembled parties, "Louisa, would you please accompany Caroline and Mr. Wickham to my study and wait with them. Now that the whole of the ball has undoubtedly been informed of their indiscretion, we must discuss the license and settlements."

Caroline was not the only woman compromised tonight. Thankfully, as of yet nobody else knew of Miss Elizabeth and Darcy's plight. Her family must be notified. Jane would know what to do, but then that was hardly proper. He thought of the thinly veiled insinuations that Mrs. Bennet had made concerning marriage prospects. It would be best not to involve their mother. Their father could at least be reasonable. "Colonel, would you be so kind as to discretely fetch Mr. Bennet to my study as well? Luckily you'll find him in the card room which can be reached via a left turn at the end of the hallway near the retiring rooms. That way at least you can avoid the gossip of the ballroom."

"At your service sir," the Colonel replied and swiftly turned.

Thankfully, his butler must have heard of the situation and was standing unobtrusively nearby. He tasked the man with finding a locksmith with the greatest speed possible, even if it meant sending a rider to London.

He was loathe to perform his next task, but knew he must. "Darcy, may I speak with you privately?" He considered a moment then amended, "or as privately as may be while shouting through a door." He heard one set of muffled footsteps retreat.

"Yes, Bingley"

"I can't apologize enough that this should happen in my home, I know it has put you in a tight spot."

"I know where the fault lies, Bingley, and it is not with you. It would seem that your sister tampered with the lock hoping to compromise me and force a proposal. Wickham, for unfathomable reasons, decided to free me from her clutches by offering up Miss Elizabeth instead."

"Yes, well. The party as a whole is too distracted with the news of Caroline's fall from grace to have noticed your and Miss Elizabeth's absence as of yet. I believe we can count on the discretion of those who already know. Caroline is the loose cannon of the batch, but as she was the instigator of this farce, I will convince her that it is in her best interest to hold her tongue. I will endeavor to keep the news quiet as long as I can, particularly from the lady's mother; however, her father must be notified." He paused, anxious to ask the important question. "What ought I tell him … regarding your intentions?"

"You may tell him that my intentions are honorable, given the situation but I will not force Miss Elizabeth into a marriage that is not of her choosing. And please direct him to me if he needs further clarification."

Bingley noted the cheery demeanor of his friend's voice at this proclamation. Far cheerier than he was in most social situations, even when he wasn't being forced to marry a woman below his station. "You sound rather well adjusted to the idea."

"Shockingly, I believe I am. Now, you have other pressing matters to attend to not to mention a ballroom full of guests. I have only one guest I must charm."

Bingley walked away bemused. He had, of course, noticed Darcy's propensity to stare at the second Miss Bennet, but had never thought he'd act on any such inclination. He couldn't suppress some mild giddiness at the thought that if Darcy found Miss Elizabeth a suitable match for himself, he could not disapprove of a match between his friend and her sister. He proceeded to his study with a jaunty step, anxious to return to his angel before supper.


That closing door had sealed Darcy's fate and he could not muster enough self importance or pride to be sorry for it. If fate and circumstance could collaborate to force him to do the one thing he most wished to do who was he to disregard it? Of course, the situation was primarily engineered by people and not cosmic forces. Elizabeth had hastily informed him of Miss Bingley's intentions, and Wickham had of course explained his motivations. He could hardly muster rage at Wickham – though he found his decision presumptuous, impulsive, and reckless – however, the blighter had been right. He was in love with Elizabeth and he had been trying to talk himself out of love for weeks.

With Miss Bingley, however, he was irate. Had she succeeded, he would have been doomed to a lifetime of misery. Their marriage would incite even worse censure and social difficulties than a marriage with Elizabeth – Miss Bingley's parents made their fortune in trade and no level of finishing school or town bronze could cover that. His home life would be even worse than being snubbed by the ton. He had nearly been trapped in marriage with a woman he could not trust, respect, or ever love.

Marriage to Elizabeth, in contrast, would be blissfully happy. What would he care about the censure of his family or society as long as he could return home to the woman of his dreams. If he could but convince her to love him. He could imagine no greater torture to his fragile heart than to be completely in love with a wife who was indifferent to him. He would not consign either himself or Elizabeth to that fate. Unless she outright refused him, they would leave this room betrothed to save her from scandal, but he would give her time. They would remain engaged until either she loved him, or she broke it off. He was not convinced that he was up to the challenge, but by god he would try.

When he returned from his brief interview with Wickham, he was confronted by the sight of Elizabeth bent at the waist, poised on one foot leaning out of the window. The pleasure stirred at the sight of her derrière was swiftly replaced by dread as he realized how precariously she was balanced.

"The windows will never do, we're far to high and there is no.. Oh!" He had rushed to her aid, but she had righted herself before he reached her. She therefore turned around to find him very close, very concerned, and out of breath. She blushed and averted her eyes. He saw her discomfort, cleared his throat, and took a step back.

"I should hope that the prospect of being trapped in the library with me is not quite so terrible that it would lead you to throw yourself out a window. I must admit you had me frightened for a moment."

She leveled him with a brilliant smile and a raised eyebrow, "I was merely looking for alternate exits, but as I said, the windows will not suit, particularly as I am wearing a ball gown and dancing slippers."

"Indeed, they would provide far too little purchase on the stones. Did your search turn up anything else useful?"

"I suppose we should consider ourselves fortunate that Miss Bingley had planned on trapping herself in here with you, she would never have provided so well for me. In the corner there is a table set with supper for two. There are two decanters of wine."

"How thoughtful of her."

"She's ever been solicitous of your needs Mr. Darcy." Despite her playful tone his mood went dark. This was no accident, Miss Bingley had not intended to let him out of this room a bachelor.

"In the event that we shall not be rescued tonight, she has provided pillows and blankets." She blushed furiously at the implications of that amenity, "there is an extra store of coal by the fire, and curiously I found a man's great coat shoved behind a chair. At the very least, I doubt there is any other room in Netherfield either of us would rather be confined to for any great length of time. Meager as Mr. Bingley's collection may be, at the very least we'll have some books to entertain us. All in all, it shall be a rather comfortable confinement."

"I am sorry that you were dragged into this mess, Miss Elizabeth."

"I was a fool. Mr. Wickham told me of Miss Bingley's plan, and her actions seemed to confirm it I rushed in to help. I thought my presence would prevent a scandal by providing a chaperone. I never even considered that my reputation would be compromised. She likely would never even have closed the door had Mr. Wickham behaved as he ought."

"In my considerable experience, Mr. Wickham never behaves as he ought."

"Did that scamp give you a reason behind his actions?" She asked as she gracefully lowered herself into a chair. Darcy sat in the chair next to her.

"He was saving me. Both from Miss Bingley and from myself."

"Intriguing, how so?

"Before I explain, you must..." he paused, awkward and unsure of himself, then mustered up the courage to continue "...allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you." There. He'd made a beginning at least. He paused briefly to admire the rosy hue of her cheeks. Then, flustered, he continued. "While Wickham was somehow able to ascertain this within the space of a half hour in a crowded ballroom, he informed me that you were not only unaware of my regard but even thought I disliked you. I assure you that is not the case."

"He had intimated something of that effect to me as well, but I assure you that my own observations over the past hours have amended my estimation of you."


"I suppose that I must meet your candor with equal frankness, while I cannot claim to love you as you do me, I can truly say from the heart that I no longer hate you." He would have been crushed by the weight of her words, but she had said it in that arch tone of hers, one eyebrow up, challenging him to be offended. He smiled. He hadn't smiled this much in ages. Possibly ever.

He sobered and said, "Miss Elizabeth, you do understand what the consequences of this night will be?"

She sighed, loosing some of her composure and replied. "I am compromised. If we do not marry, there will be little chance of me ever marrying. This would likely drastically ruin my sisters' chances of marrying as well. I am aware of the precarious precipice we stand on." History had shown that he was incapable of reading her emotions, however, while she appeared resigned, she did not seem angry or distraught.

"I am bound to you in honor, but also by love. I can conceive of nothing in the world that would bring me greater joy or fulfillment than marrying you. However, I will not rush you. I propose that we become engaged to quell the scandal, but do not set a date. I can then take the time to court you and hopefully win your heart." She reached her hand out to him and he could not resist kissing it before taking it in his own. It felt right to hold her hand in his, both new and exciting and yet familiar and comforting.

Though her tone was more sombre than her typical lively banter, she smiled slightly and responded. "That sounds like a reasonable plan Mr. Darcy. I accept your conditions and I appreciate your concern for my feelings." He smiled again in spite of himself.

"But you still haven't explained how he has saved you from yourself," she quirked her eyebrow as her tone once again turned playful.

"Though we have not had much contact in recent years, and what we have had was ... unpleasant ... Wickham and I were raised together at Pemberley."

"Yes, he amused me with tales of Young Master Fitzwilliam while we danced. Whatever your unpleasant memories, you should know that he loves you as a brother."

"That is hardly the declaration of love I'd like to hear tonight," he said trying to match her teasing demeanor, yet fearing his voice held more truth than mirth. "As I was saying, he was raised in my household, and therefore is well acquainted with both my family's and my own faults. He foresaw that although I loved you, certain … concerns … may have prevented me from acting on my feelings. When you preceded him into the library, he thought to force my hand as it were."

"Given the circumstances, sir, I would like to know what these concerns are."

"I hardly think that will be conducive to our future happiness. They do not do me much credit."

"How are we to overcome obstacles if we do not discuss them? Shall I begin then? I'm afraid that you are rather proud and make little attempt to mingle with those you deem beneath you. I know now that you are ill at ease in new company and that is a hindrance. But if we were to spend six months of the year at Pemberley and you do not choose to mix with the local population, I am afraid of becoming too isolated. I will be separated from my family and friends and, as you may have noticed, I greatly enjoy company."

"I confess I heard your comments to Miss Lucas earlier and perceived that this might be a problem. However, I did attempt to correct my behavior this evening. Speaking with Miss Lucas was far easier with you by my side. Perhaps you may serve as my ambassador."

"Ambassador implies that I would be there in your stead, do you wish to spend our married life separate? Perhaps you merely need practice at social engagement."

"Ah yes, but one does not learn an instrument or a language by practice alone, perhaps what I require is a tutor."

"Point granted, I will serve as your tutor as long as you do not isolate us from company." She smiled and it nearly took his breath away. "Now, I believe I may have hit upon one of your concerns with the other portion of my concern. Social inequality."

He blushed and averted his gaze. "I want you to know that I view you as an equal in intellect and wit, and you far surpass me in social etiquette and beauty. Within our home we would be equals."

"But..." she coaxed, anticipating his response.

"But in the eyes of the ton, in the eyes of my family, your consequence and family connections will not be overlooked. Your father is a gentleman, yes, but your mother's family is in trade."


Even anticipation of his response did little to lessen her offense. "I see. I bring little to the marriage apart from my wit and beauty."

"Elizabeth, all you need bring to the marriage is yourself and I will be perfectly happy. For myself, that is all I require. I apologize for causing you pain. You asked me to elaborate on my concerns. It is regrettable, but this is the measure by which you will be judged by society." He did look sincerely contrite about causing her pain. He cleared his throat uneasily, apparently unfinished. "The situation of your mother's family, though objectionable, was nothing in comparison to the total want of propriety so frequently, so almost uniformly betrayed by herself, by your three younger sisters, and occasionally even by your father. Pardon me. It pains me to offend you.

"As your tutor in social etiquette, may I inform you that disparaging a lady's family is not the way to endear yourself to her." She tried for her typical playful tone, but even she could hear the bitterness in her voice. He tightened his grip on her hand slightly. She was surprised to find him still holding her hand. She had offered her hand in friendship and understanding to seal their bargain, and had not realized that he had not relinquished it.

He looked into her eyes, his face full of concern. "Please, Elizabeth," even in her pique she was not unmoved by the emotional plea and his use of her first name. "You must know that I do not include you or your eldest sister in this censure."

"You do realize that the only members of my family you exclude from this judgment are the two you have spent any time conversing with, don't you? Perhaps you may be hasty in your judgment."

"Perhaps I am. If it would please you, I will be certain to remedy that once our confinement has ended."

"What want of propriety could you possibly find in my father? He is sedate, well read, and intelligent! I believe you would find much in common with him if you were to make the attempt."

"Yes, you are probably correct. Yet he takes such great joy in watching the foibles of others that he has neglected the proper care of his daughters. When your younger sisters behave poorly, he is more likely to make sport of them than correct them."

"If you take offense at those who make sport of human folly, I suspect we may have a problem," she challenged, "for I too dearly love to laugh."

"I would by no means suspend any pleasure of yours" he replied with a rueful grin. "You may laugh privately at their folly, but I have also witnessed your mortification at their behavior in public and both you and Miss Bennet make subtle attempts to correct your sister's improprieties without calling further attention to them. Indeed, you seem to take more care of their behavior than your parents." His eyes bore into hers, pleading for her understanding and she was unable to break the connection.

The spell was broken by Mr. Bingley knocking at the door. As if he could not bear to break their contact, Mr. Darcy stood, helped her up, and escorted her to the door all without releasing her hand. She was surprised by her own warm reaction to an action that was so comfortably domestic. They answered Mr. Bingley's questions and listened to his muffled orders through the door. Mr. Bingley confirmed their earlier suspicions, they were indeed trapped for the moment. She could not quite tell what had happened in the hallway, but it seemed to involve Miss Bingley and Mr. Wickham drawing a crowd.

"Darcy, may I speak with you privately … or as privately as may be while shouting through a door." Her eyes met Mr. Darcy's and his hand pressed hers in assurance and lingered as she walked back to her chair.

As she sat down she reflected on their present circumstances. A petty voice in her head rejoiced in Caroline's discomfort, after all, she had orchestrated this whole mess, who better to suffer its consequences. Yet she could not reconcile her rational mind to the fact that anyone should endure a forced marriage. Mr. Wickham was less honorable than Mr. Darcy. While she could all too easily envision him making pretty speeches and professing his undying love, his charm and ease of flattery seemed to undermine the sincerity of the emotions. In this instance, Mr. Darcy's social ineptitude seemed to be in her favor. She no longer had any doubt of his true affection for her. His blundering confessions, truthful revelations of his concerns about her family, and insecurity about her reception of his advances spoke to more truth of feeling than Wickham's honeyed speeches could ever do.

Although still incensed at his low opinion of her family, she could see the justice in some of his observations. She felt the honor that he exempted herself and Jane from this censure, and felt that if he were to get to know her family better, understand their motivations behind their faults, he would not judge them as harshly as he did now.

"As of yet, the only parties aware of our predicament are Mr. Bingley and his sisters, Wickham, Col. Forster, and the butler." Mr. Darcy explained on his return. "The gossip of the ball is currently centered on Miss Bingley and Wickham. Bingley has sent for your father to apprise him of the situation but will attempt to shield your mother from the information."

"That is, indeed for the best," she favored him with a conspiratorial smile. "Were she aware of our situation, there would be no means of quelling the gossip."

He shifted uncomfortably and replied "Yes, well, should we find a way out of this room before the close of the ball, we may announce our engagement without the lingering stigma of scandal. However, if we are not able to free ourselves before your party depart, we shall scarcely be able to avoid detection."

"Yes, my mother would notice even her least favorite daughter's absence in the confines of a carriage." She had said it lightheartedly, but she noticed the look of incredulity cross his face when she mentioned her mother's opinion of herself. "In any event, I assure you my mother will contrive to be the last carriage to leave Netherfield this evening, so hopefully the damage may yet be contained."

"Yes, your mother does seem rather determined," he said gravely.

"Oh dear." Her comment had merely re-opened a difficult subject. "My mother's unfortunate determination in finding us husbands, you see, is a result of the natural fears of a woman with five daughters and an estate entailed away from the female line. Not only does she live in fear of being turned out of the house upon my father's death to starve in the hedgerows, but she takes the blame upon herself. She failed in her duty to produce a son, so now she strives to produce sons-in-law. Although why she should take that blame solely upon herself I do not know. Each of us may similarly blame ourselves for not being born male for as much agency as any of us had in the matter."

"I, for one, am grateful you were not born a man."

Ignoring his teasing statement and the heat in his gaze, she continued "Yes, but were I a man, I would have been better able to protect my sisters. Besides, I do think I would have made a good sort of man. I chafe at the rules of propriety that condemn my independence and spirit, I prefer books to embroidery, I manage the household ledgers, I know more of crop rotation than my father, and I know my Latin despite having no access to tutors or university. I am my father's child. Though to be fair, I far prefer the Elegists to the philosophers and historians, so perhaps my feminine sensibility does intercede over serious study. Give me Ovid or Catullus over Lucretius or Pliny any day."

Mr. Darcy blushed at the implications of this. "If you find an interest in Catullus evidence in favor of your feminine sensibility, you are sorely mistaken. His scandalous poems of adulterous love are hardly appropriate for ladies."

"And we've come full circle, with me chafing at the confines of propriety. And yet," she said with a saucy smile, as she rose and walked to a shelf of classical texts, "I find Catullus 85 to be highly appropriate for our current predicament."

"While I'm gratified that you'd apply love poetry to our relationship, I'm afraid that my knowledge of Catullus is not as complete as yours, which is 85?"

"Fortunately, we are in a library," she said as she pulled a thin book of Catullus's poems off of the shelf and handed it to him. He eagerly scanned through and upon finding the poem in question, his face dropped. He read aloud:

"Odi et amo...

I hate and I love. You may ask why I do this.

I know not, but I feel it happening and am tortured."

"Quite fitting, is it not?" She said with a smirk as she reclaimed her seat.

"I never thought you cruel," he responded quietly with a wounded look on his face.

"That, sir, is because you were not paying attention. Or rather you saw only what you wished to see. For I have been cruel to you, I've intentionally baited you, started arguments, and abused you to any who would listen. Until this evening I truly disliked you, secure in the knowledge that you disliked me as well. Now that I find my dislike was largely unwarranted and I am finally getting to know you and your intentions, my emotions are in a state of upheaval. Furthermore, if you were honest with yourself, the poem applies to your feelings as well. You've stated that you love me, followed by a list of reasons that I am unsuitable."

"I will concede that I have been tortured by my emotions, but I could never hate you Elizabeth."

"Perhaps not, but you may grow to resent me and the events of this night."

"You know, I begin to feel that I would resent myself more if I had given in to societal pressure. If I'd continued to repress my feelings." Elizabeth smiled, but fell silent for several moments as Mr. Darcy looked at her anxiously. Such claims were a balm to her nerves at the moment, but would they stand up against resistance?

"While I appreciate that you feel that way now, this new understanding has yet to be tested. In our isolation, our worlds have been drastically reduced to just ourselves. While we are well provided for at the moment, we will eventually leave this room. Although the gossips of Meryton will, undoubtedly rejoice over your large fortune, they will also comment on my previous dislike of you. You will have to confront your relations. We will have to face the ton.

"I feel better able to confront the gossips of Meryton and the teeth of the ton with you by my side than I ever have alone." He reached out his hand toward her. At first she stared skeptically at it, knowing that he wanted her comfort, her reassurance. When she took his offered hand she was surprised to find she herself was comforted and reassured. "As for my family, you are not the woman they would have chosen for me, but I am my own master, I can make my own decisions. In any event, I am sure that once you bewitch them with your wit and charm the negative repercussions will be of short duration."

"And what of the great Lady Catherine de Bourgh?" She asked playfully, recalling her cousin's soliloquies on the grand dame. She had expected more assurances that his family would come around, she was unprepared for him to pale and break eye contact.

"There is something you must know about Lady Catherine. It has long been her wish that I marry my cousin Anne." At this ominous pronouncement Elizabeth tried to retract her hand, but he held fast. "Please know that I have repeatedly told her that this will never come to pass, yet she clings to the idea. While my other relations will eventually come to accept you, Lady Catherine is the most stubborn woman of my acquaintance and will be difficult. However, she rarely leaves Kent and her reach is not as far as she'd like to believe."

"And are you willing to brave all of her wrath for me?" Although she had never sought his good opinion, she found herself awaiting his answer with baited breath.

"I would endure far worse to gain your good opinion, my dear." For the first time in their acquaintance, Elizabeth suddenly found herself shy. She averted her eyes from his steady gaze and found herself unequal to progressing the conversation.

After several minutes of silence, apparently sensing her unease, Mr. Darcy took it upon himself to lighten the mood. "Catullus aside, as we are now in a library rather than a ballroom, would now be an appropriate time to discuss books?" Grateful that he had opened a line of conversation that would at the least provide a distraction, they happily took up a conversation about their favorite authors.


Caroline numbly followed her sister into the study, her arm resting on Mr. Wickham's. Louisa sat herself on the far side of the room while Mr. Wickham seated her in one of the chairs before her brother's desk. She could scarcely believe how rapidly her carefully laid plans had dissolved.

"Caroline..." Mr. Wickham's voice came from closer than she had expected and drew her from her shock. He was kneeling before her, she glanced over at Louisa, but she had angled away from them and was apparently raptly playing with her bracelets. She focused again on the man before her.

"Caroline, would you do me the honor of accepting my hand in marriage?" She knew that she was expected to respond. Indeed she knew that she must respond yes or risk her reputation. If she were honest with herself, she wanted to accept. And yet, as she saw the vision of her managing Pemberley, becoming a society hostess, rich and wealthy and admired fading from her future, she was having trouble gazing past those images at what life could be.

"I know this was not part of your plan, I know I am but a lowly officer with no fine estate or independent fortune, nothing but my own dubious merits to recommend me," he floundered, his confidence wavering. "But I think we will do well together. I think I can make you happy. It would be an insult to claim that I love you after so brief an acquaintance and yet you effect me as no other woman has."

"I suppose," Caroline murmured sadly, "that I have little choice in the matter." She would not be entertaining earls or countesses. She would inherit
no family jewels.

"Well, you do have a choice. If marriage to me is so disagreeable to you, with your brother's fortune and connections, I assume you would be able to live comfortably in a quiet cottage somewhere. I think we both know that such an isolated life would not suit you. While I cannot afford you the instant social standing that Darcy would, between your polish and my charm I'm confident we will find our way."

"How fortunate for you that my polish is accompanied by a sizable dowry," she said bitterly. She had been so confident this morning that her plan would work. And now, to be taken in by a fortune hunter!


He was wondering how long it would take to get around to that. He could not deny that her fortune was his initial motivation for pursuing her. "I will not argue, my dear, that your fortune means nothing to me, for it does. But if that is your concern, perhaps we could make a provision in the contract that allows you autonomy to control your fortune, or use it to purchase a small estate in your name?" Did I really just say that!? He had been in this situation before. In the past, when discovered in transgressions with willing women, he had always walked away when their fortune was off of the table. They had known from the start that their actions had consequences and had made their decisions. With Caroline, he had not only done the honorable thing and offered for her, but when she hesitated and gave him an opening to walk away, he had been gripped by the overwhelming need to convince her. Despite his better judgment and his history, he would not walk away. Damn this pesky new conscience.

"How generous of you to allow me my own fortune." Damn the woman, it is generous! Did she not see that this would put him entirely in her control. Without such a provision, her assets would immediately become his own
upon marriage.

"Caroline," sighed Wickham, growing frustrated, "you may consider me a fortune hunter if you must, if you require a villain to blame for the loss of Pemberley. I just ask that you give me a chance, we are not so different, you and I." He reached for her hand and drew gentle circles on the back. At his touch, he could see her resolve begin to fade. "Kindred spirits even." Switching tactics, he drew her hand to his lips and looked into her eyes.

"I can offer you respect," he dropped a kiss on her palm, "passion," another on the bare skin just between her glove and her sleeve, "and if you let me in, perhaps in time even love." He placed another kiss to her collarbone and silently thanked Mrs. Hurst for being an inattentive chaperone. She had slowly leaned farther into him with each successive kiss and he now stared into her eyes. "Please, I'm begging you!" He'd said those words before, but never with true conviction. He didn't know what he'd do if she turned him down. "Please."

"Yes," she whispered, her breath fanning his face. He closed the gap and kissed her, slowly at first but with a rising passion.


"Good god Caroline!" Charles shouted from the doorway of his study. "Louisa, I'm glad to see you take your role as a chaperone seriously!" At his voice, the lovers started, and separated. He hadn't seen such a genuine smile on Caroline's face since before she went off to finishing school, where they had sanded and polished off most of her humanity along with her social defects inherited from her parents in trade.

"Really Charles, the damage to her reputation has already been done, what more can one kiss do?" Replied Louisa calmly. "Besides, Caroline required some soothing and I find I prefer Mr. Wickham's methods to her usual tantrums."

He knew he ought to be angry walking in on his unmarried sister kissing an obscure officer whom he know little about, but Charles Bingley was not made for ill temper. "Well then, I suppose Caroline's happiness is all we can ask in this situation. Caroline, is this what you want?"

"Yes, I believe it is," her reply was to Charles, but her gaze and smile were still fixed on Mr. Wickham.

"Aha, and Mr. Wickham, have you a question for me?"

Wickham rose from his position at Caroline's feet to shake Charles's hand. "Mr. Bingley, I humbly request your permission to marry your sister."

A jovial man like Charles Bingley had so few opportunities to exert intimidation and rather thought it his duty to do so in vetting his sister's intended, so he took the opportunity to look him over. Of course, he knew he had to say yes, otherwise his sister would be ruined. But he must make the man squirm just a bit, it was the done thing. Wickham was a tall handsome figure and filled out his red coat with distinction. Charles foresaw loosing many arguments to him in the future. He knew that there had been some unfortunate business between Wickham and Darcy, but what's done is done and he must make the most of this match. How long should one intimidate a suitor? He was having a hard time maintaining a Darcy-like scowl. He took another moment to ponder the extravagance of gold buttons on the officer's uniform and how poorly that reflected on the budgeting prowess of the nation's army before he decided he had probably left a long enough pause to daunt the man. "Well, sir, welcome to the family," he stated, returning to his habitual grin and extending his hand.

"Thank you, sir!" Exclaimed Wickham as he shook the offered hand.

"Excellent! We shall make the announcement this evening before the close of the ball to ensure the gossips of Meryton will be satisfied."

The group spent some time discussing the marriage settlements in which Caroline insisted on having full legal control over her own fortune. After a while, Bingley announced: "I believe it would be more prudent to discuss the settlement tomorrow when we may consult my solicitor." The legalities of dowries and trusts were beyond his own humble abilities. The delay had the added benefit of consulting with Mr. Darcy on how best to conduct such business – so long as they could retrieve him from the library before the solicitor arrived.

"I shall be happy to attend you at your convenience."

Charles turned as two more gentlemen entered his study. "Ah, Mr. Bennet, Colonel Forster, excellent timing!"


Mr. Bennet was having a tolerable evening. While he hated the pomp and flash of balls in general, this one had afforded a few distinct pleasures. First, Mr. Bingley supplied a superb wine for his guests, procured in London and no doubt smuggled from France – served to a room full of officers no less! Second, the layout of Netherfield required that the card room was separated from the ballroom by a hallway. This meant that he could enjoy a game of whist with his neighbors without the presence of his wife, or an over abundance of lace. As usual, he was entertained by the level of folly his neighbors rarely failed to supply him. All in all, he was as well situated for a night as he might hope for at a ball.

Word had just circulated to the room of Miss Bingley's misalliance with a gentleman in the hallway when Colonel Forster entered the room and stood gravely to the side. The card tables were abuzz with discussion as to which gentleman had been caught embracing the elegantly cold Miss Bingley in the hallway. Those who had glimpsed the couple spoke of Mr. Wickham, while others asserted that it was in fact Mr. Darcy. Mr. Darcy! The gentleman who never looked at a woman but to find fault. To think he would be so carried away with passion as to embrace Miss Bingley in the hallway was indeed an interesting twist. If he had to guess, he would venture that the young lady was the architect of the scheme. Living with his own silly wife and five daughters, he was unfortunately familiar with the designs women made to ensnare wealthy gentlemen.

The lewd comments, guffaws, and speculation around the table in regards to the new gossip distracted the players and it was some time before play was resumed and the speculation slowed the progress of the game. When his game finally finished, Colonel Forster – who had been waiting near the door for a break – approached and discretely informed him that Mr. Bingley required his presence in his study. As his wife had been in constant raptures for weeks about the prospect of Mr. Bingley marrying his eldest daughter he was not terribly surprised to be summoned to the man's study. However, this havey-cavey business of sending Colonel Forster in the middle of a ball was not what he had expected. His surprise was even greater when he walked into the study to find an assembly consisting of Mr. Bingley, his two sisters, and Mr. Wickham. What could the man be about?

"Ah, Mr. Bennet, Colonel Forster, excellent timing!" Mr. Bingley addressed him, with an anxious glint in his eyes, "has Colonel Forster filled you in?"

"No sir, I do not see what the business has to do with me" he replied, assuming now that the meeting regarded the assignation he had been happily speculating about only minutes ago.

Colonel Forster, understanding the sensitivity of the subject, closed the study door against prying ears. Bingley's face dropped and he stuttered "Ah... Uhm... Uh... Mr. Bennet, we seem to have a rather delicate situation on our hands regarding one of your daughters." This caught Mr. Bennet's attention and he prepared himself to hear of Lydia's latest folly. "Your second daughter, Miss Elizabeth has unfortunately found herself trapped in the library..." Mr. Bennet's head began to spin at the mention of Lizzy. "Uh... with ah, Mr. Darcy," Bingley finished sheepishly.

"My Lizzy? And Mr. Darcy? Will someone please explain to me what is going on!" He tried unsuccessfully to tamp down his rising anxiety. The assembled party all looked toward Miss Bingley and Mr. Wickham.

"Caroline, I've spoken to Mr. Darcy and I know your part in this scheme," Mr. Bingley admonished his sister. "None of us wish this story spread abroad, but Mr. Bennet deserves an explanation."

"How was I to know that Miss Eliza would be so foolish as to follow a gentleman into a room alone?" Hedged Miss Bingley with an artificial smile. Mr. Bennet seethed at her.

"Caroline! Let us not forget that we have yet to finalize your settlement, the meeting with my solicitor will be dependent on your honesty and discretion regarding this business! I will not have you further interfering with Mr. Darcy or Miss Bennet's lives!" Mr. Bingley's tone held a hard edge he had never heard from the jovial man. At the threat Miss Bingley's face went pale and Mr. Wickham started in horror.

"Very well. Knowing how Mr. Darcy detests crowded ballrooms, I anticipated that he would escape to the library over the course of the evening. Knowing that a key had been broken in the lock earlier in the week, I planned to join him and keep him company." Mr. Bingley glared at her for this edited version of the plot. "When I arrived outside the hallway Mr. Wickham informed me that Miss Bennet had followed him into the library and the door had closed, trapping Miss Eliza and Mr. Darcy within. I grew distraught and Mr. Wickham was required to support me." Over the course of her story, Miss Bingley's face transformed from the ashen white of her horror at loosing her dowry to a bright red at having to recount the story to so many people.

Mr. Bennet, however, was not satisfied. "What induced Lizzy to follow Mr. Darcy of all people!" The angry gazes now turned toward Mr. Wickham.

"Ah, yes, well. After my dance with Miss Elizabeth, we became aware of Mr. Darcy's exit and Miss Bingley's pursuit," at this statement, Miss Bingley glared at her fiancée. "Miss Elizabeth insisted on saving Mr. Darcy from an inconvenient encounter and thought that if she were present, she could serve as a chaperone for Miss Bingley."

"Well, My Lizzy has always had a tendency towards rash actions to protect others. Though I never would have expected it to extend to someone she disliked as much as Mr. Darcy! Well, how did the door mysteriously close?"

Mr. Wickham glanced at the angry face of his fiancée, winced, and continued. "I became aware this evening that Mr. Darcy had feelings for your daughter, and I thought that some time alone would allow them to resolve their

Mr. Bennet advanced angrily toward Mr. Wickham shouting "Had you no thought, sir, of the feelings of my daughter? Did you not think of the damage you might cause her? You have doomed her to a terrible fate, she will be stuck for life with a man she cannot respect or love! How dare you!"


Tactician that he was, and seeing the mounting ire in Mr. Bennet, Colonel Forster thought it best to intervene. The last thing his regiment needed was a duel over the actions of one of his officers. "Mr. Bennet, calm yourself!" he commanded as he placed himself between the irate father and his newest and most useless Lieutenant, "do you not think it best to consult your daughter before foolishly rushing to defend her honor?" At that moment, a loud feminine laugh could be heard through the wall. He looked to the source and saw a tapestry, beneath which was a sliver of light. "What the devil?"

He began to move toward the anomaly when Mr. Bennet, apparently oblivious to the laugh, challenged him "I know my daughter's mind on Mr. Darcy Colonel Forster. She has despised the proud, disagreeable man from the moment she met him, now this fool has sentenced her to a miserable marriage! Your regiment has caused nothing but trouble and unrest in my family since your arrival and now one of your officers has effectively ruined my dearest daughter!"

"I understand your anger sir, I merely ask that you do not make any hasty statements. I am sure that cooler heads will prevail once we solve this situation."

"And how, sir, do you propose we do that. It seems a hopeless business."

"I believe I saw something of interest..." All eyes in the room followed him as he marched over to the tapestry and investigated. There was a curtain pull to one side, nearly covered by a bookshelf. He drew the tapestry back and secured it, revealing a door. A convent escape route for the unfortunate couple inside. He tested the handle and breathed a sigh of relief as the door opened inward. Another tapestry covered the opening of the opposite door frame. Offering up a silent prayer that the couple were indeed decent, he swept back the tapestry and stood to the side. Nobody was prepared for the tableau that awaited them and some mayhem ensued.

All at once:

Miss Bingley cried and again clung to Mr. Wickham for support.

Mr. Bennet shouted, "Lizzy! Are you out of your senses!"

Mr. Bingley laughed and responded, "At the very least it seems Darcy has taken leave of his senses!"

Mr. Wickham smiled over the shoulder of his intended and said, "Well, Fitzwilliam, it would appear you did learn something from all of those years I spent trying to corrupt you!"

Mrs. Hurst merely smiled and turned away, still playing with her bracelets, presumably to hide her amusement from her distraught sister, whose wails were echoing through the room.

Mr. Darcy reeled around to face the crowd, turned a bright shade of red, and again looked to Miss Bennet.

Miss Bennet turned to the company and calmly said, "Well, Colonel Forster, it would appear that your services may be required to subdue the discontented populace after all!" He rather admired that lady's spunk, she certainly displayed more courage in a crisis than many of his own officers.

Author's Note: I'm so sorry to leave you guys hanging here but Ch. 5 and 6 were too long to upload at the same time. If you can't stand the suspense, email me at cynicallycharged@gmail.com and I'll e-mail you a pdf of the whole story. I couldn't wrap my head around writing only a few chapters at a time, so I've written the whole story (10 chapters) and am uploading them in chunks because it's too long to do in one post.

Cunning and Compromise Chapter 5 (Post 3)

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