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Cunning and Compromise Chapters 6 (Post 4)

September 18, 2017 03:16PM

Chapter 6



The Aftermath

While Fitzwilliam Darcy had undoubtedly fallen in love with Elizabeth Bennet's impertinence, he was utterly bewitched by her solicitude. Her teasing insults had charmed him for many weeks, but her coy playfulness dazzled him. He could hardly bear to think what his life would have been had he succeeded in suppressing his ardor. After spending an hour alone in a room with Elizabeth he could not image returning to the world without her by his side.

Their discussion of books proved enlightening. As it turned out, they did read many of the same books. While they did not always agree to their interpretations or appreciate the same aspects, they were both well read and debated lively. Elizabeth still teased him, yet where before there was archness, there was now a sweet playfulness. She still contradicted him, and sometimes herself, for the sake of debate, but all the while they held hands, or shared revealing looks, or merely sat in companionable silence while they considered the other's replies. He had never experienced this sort of sweet, playful interaction before. He knew that his parents had loved him, and he believed that they loved each other as well; however, they had always been reserved, proper, dignified. His sister was more than ten years his junior, and therefore he had not experienced the type of childhood easy camaraderie that Elizabeth and her siblings obviously had. Of course there was Wickham, he had tried to play with typical childhood abandon, but his schemes were always a bit too risky or against the rules. Darcy had known that it was his role as the heir to Pemberley to be good, dependable, dutiful, and therefore he had pushed back from Wickham's schemes as much as possible. If he were honest with himself, there was a level of pride that prevented an easy friendship as well. They were friends, yet Darcy was always secure in the knowledge that he was superior.

Any sense of superiority he had felt over Miss Elizabeth Bennet had evaporated over the course of the evening into an equal companionship. In their discussion of literature, they had occasioned to reference various books from the library. Now that they had fallen into a comfortable silence, Elizabeth was quietly sitting and reading. She had tucked her feet under her and leaned closer to the candle for light. He had never seen a more beautiful sight than his Elizabeth nestled with a book, candlelight highlighting the ornaments in her hair and a glint in her fine eyes. The felicity of sitting in a comfortable chair with a book and a beautiful lively woman had never occurred to him. She glanced up at him as he watched her and smiled.

"You are staring again, Mr. Darcy," she teased.

"I find I cannot help it, you are the loveliest woman I've ever seen, and perched as you are with a book in your hands you present a most alluring picture." Had he really said all of that out loud?

"You flatter me, sir!" She blushed prettily.

"I believe you are aware of my deficiencies in social discourse. I find idle flattery worthless and inane. I speak only as I find. I can envision you thus at Pemberley of an evening, a perfect scene of domestic bliss."

"If your libraries are half as spectacular as I have heard, I fear that may become all to common of a sight."

"And yet, I cannot imagine ever growing tired of it." She looked down again at her book in embarrassment. Darcy feared that if he did not steer the conversation to safer territory, he may be overcome. "What are you reading?"

"Shakespeare's sonnets."

Darcy recalled an earlier discussion about poetry and was seized with a sudden desire to prove her theory wrong. "And do you maintain that poetry drives away love?"

"I do not find that reading Shakespeare from the lifeless sheafs of this book either proves or alters my theory." She replied with a challenge in her eye and held out the book to him, "without evidence to the contrary my beliefs are unchanged."

As Darcy took the book from her hand his fingers lingered on hers slightly longer than necessary. Although he had always been a moderate man, in good regulation of his actions, he found her playful challenge to be too tempting to ignore. While such an exhibition would be abhorrent to him in any other company, he could deny his Elizabeth nothing. "Very well," he responded calmly as he sunk to his knees before her and struck a dramatic pose. "Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?.." Elizabeth's hearty laugh was infectious, but mirth was hardly the emotion he wished to stir in this moment. He could feel the ridiculousness of his position and decided a change of course was necessary.

"No. No, you are correct my love, Shakespeare is a bit too cliché for an impassioned recital. Please allow me to begin again." He tossed the book to the chair and took her hand in his. If ever there was a time for Byron this was it. He gazed into her eyes and recited by heart verses which had plagued him of late.

"Oh! did those eyes, instead of fire,
With bright, but mild affection shine:
Though they might kindle less desire,
Love, more than mortal, would be thine."

Her startled gasp and rapt attention urged him to continue. He noticed with triumph that mirth was no longer her dominant reaction. He poured his heart and soul and all of the pent up feelings he had heretofore labored to suppress into this recital.

"For thou art form'd so heavenly fair,
Howe'er those orbs may wildly beam,
We must admire, but still despair;
That fatal glance forbids esteem.

When Nature stamp'd thy beauteous birth,
So much perfection in thee shone,
She fear'd that, too divine for earth,
The skies might claim thee for their own..."


He made it no farther into Byron's poem before the distinctive noise of an opening door burst into their private haven and Colonel Forster emerged from behind a hideous tapestry. He briefly closed his eyes in mortification before he turned towards the door. Through the doorway he had a clear view of his enraged future father-in-law, a hysterical Caroline Bingley clinging to Mr. Wickham, who was mocking him for his gallantry, a flustered Mr. Bingley, and a disinterested Mrs. Hurst. If he could see all of them he knew that they could all see him on one knee holding Elizabeth's hand and reciting Byron! He felt his face grow warm at the thought.

He did not know how to manage this situation. It had seemed natural to let his guard down with Elizabeth, to share his feelings if he hoped to ever have them returned. But now! He had never been this vulnerable before an audience before. He could hardly resume his mask of haughty disdain from the floor of the library! He returned his gaze to Elizabeth, she would know what to do. In response she smiled and pressed his hand in assurance, then turned to the Colonel. "Well, Colonel Forster, it would appear that your services may be required to subdue the discontented populace after all!"

Darcy did not altogether like the appraising look that the Colonel swept over Elizabeth or his smooth response, "I am always glad to be of service to a lady in distress Miss Elizabeth."

~~~


Elizabeth sighed as their lighthearted responses eased some of the tension in the two rooms. In all honesty, she had been rather cozy with Mr. Darcy in their own private world. His transformation from the disagreeable taciturn man she had taken such pride in loathing into the gentle solicitous lover she now knew he could be in private was shocking, but not altogether unwelcome. She could never have imagined the proud Mr. Darcy of yesterday doing anything so degrading as kneeling at her feet reciting poetry. She was not prepared for her own reaction to the intensity of emotions he conveyed in his soulful gaze and ardent recital of the poem. "As you can see I am hardly in distress, my fiancé was merely demonstrating the efficacy of poetry as the food of love," Mr. Darcy still clung firmly to her hand and she felt at least half of the tension leave his body at this statement, "though I do thank you for discovering an alternate exit to the room."

Her efforts seemed to rouse Mr. Darcy from his stupor and he quickly rose then helped Elizabeth from her seat. "Indeed, while I always appreciate the bewitching company of my betrothed," she felt her cheeks redden at the doting look he gave her, "the library would hardly have been a suitable place to spend the evening in whole." Elizabeth noted with some satisfaction that Caroline Bingley's cries seemed to peek at the words fiancé and betrothed.

Mr. Bingley was gradually emerging from his shock and offered a bewildered, "Congratulations Darcy! Miss Elizabeth!" He looked uncomfortably around at his companions then continued. "Uh, while I cannot guarantee that nobody has noticed your absences in the ballroom, news of your … ah … situation has not spread beyond the present company and it WILL NOT be shared with anyone else." His voice had taken a hard tone that Elizabeth had never heard from her sister's amiable suitor and he looked each person in the eye for a response. They all readily assented with the exception of Miss Bingley who looked at Elizabeth with a vicious glare.

"Caroline! Must I remind you that your own reputation and financial future are on the line here as well?" He bellowed.

Elizabeth could see her determination falter, but not yet fall. Mr. Wickham gently rubbed his hands down her arms and entreated, "Come now my dear, let us all agree to put these events behind us and move forward, it shall be for the best." Caroline at last broke her glare to look at her own intended and her face softened. She looked toward her brother and gave a faint nod.

"Excellent, I believe it would be best if we made the announcements at supper tonight in order to appease gossiping tongues."

She stole a glance at Mr. Darcy, who had retreated once again behind his social mask. Missing their easy camaraderie, she pressed his hand and he immediately turned to her and smiled. All things considered, she had every reason to hope for a happy conclusion to this scenario. However, Elizabeth was still worried about her father's reaction. Since his initial outburst, Mr. Bennett had been fuming in silent anger, his eyes fixated on their clasped hands. "Papa?"

~~~


Mr. Bennet was, in general, an indolent sort. He kept quietly to himself in his book room whiling away the dull hours with philosophy and wine. He had therefore never been roused to this level of anger in his life. While he had never taken a particularly active interest in his daughters' lives overall, Lizzy was special. She was bright and witty and inquisitive and had taken an active interest in his own pursuits. So he had devoted hours to teaching her, debating with her, delighting in her company. If applied to a half hour ago, he would have sworn that he understood his Lizzy better than any other living creature. Now, staring at Mr. Darcy's possessive grasp on his favorite daughter's hand, he could scarcely contain his rage. Sure, she was putting on a brave face, forcing cheer in front of an audience to save her reputation, but he was certain she was suffering and he would not allow it.

Finally looking up into his daughter's eyes he said, "if nobody else is aware of the situation, I see no need to sacrifice Lizzy to propriety. This can be hushed up and her reputation preserved!" He had expected this speech to relieve her, to free her from this bleak future. Instead, her smile faltered and she looked towards Mr. Darcy. He took some perverse pleasure in the look of panic on that gentleman's face. But he would not let the man take his Lizzy away simply because he was rich and he wanted her.

"Um..." started Mr. Bingley uncomfortably, "ah, unaware as we were of this connecting door, I have sent a servant in search of a locksmith. While I would hope my servants are discrete, we uh... may be unable to stifle all gossip." Damn gossiping servants. One could hardly expect the servants on a leased estate to be as loyal as old family retainers.

"Mr. Bennet, perhaps I might speak with you privately?" Mr. Darcy said in his cold commanding tone.

"Yes, you require some privacy," interjected the Colonel. "It would not do for us all to return to the ballroom at once, it would only call attention. I would propose that we stagger our departures." Colonel Forster had posed it as a suggestion, but pronounced it with the firm tone of a commanding officer. "Wickham, shall we return to the card room?"

"Indeed sir, a solid plan," Wickham simpered to his superior. Mr. Bennet had initially found the young man charming and entertaining, but could no longer see him as anyone but the villain who had sealed his Lizzy's fate.

"Elizabeth, if you would be so kind as to wait for me in the study while I speak to this," his voice took a derisive tone, "gentleman." After his daughter left the library he stepped in and closed the door.

"I will be frank with you sir, I do not like you. More importantly, Elizabeth has never liked you. Compromised or not, I will not allow my daughter to suffer."

"I couldn't agree more, I love Elizabeth too much to ever do anything intentionally to hurt her in any way." Mr. Bennet opened his mouth for an acerbic retort, but Mr. Darcy continued on quickly before he culd respond, "I am aware of her previous ill opinion and I believe over the course of the evening we have come to a better understanding of each other's characters. Unfortunately, after nearly two hours alone in a locked room, you must see that her reputation will be ruined if we do not emerge engaged. Which is why I proposed that we become betrothed but wait to set a date until either Elizabeth falls in love with me or..." the young man swallowed and appeared to be in some distress "or she falls... she decides to break off our engagement. I love your daughter, but I won't force her to marry against her inclination."

Mr. Bennet balked at the pretense of his words. His assurances of love were spoken in cold, condescending tones. "Come Mr. Darcy, there is no need to do the pretty with me, no need to feign love for my daughter for I know better, we've all known your opinion of her from the first!"

"I should think not. It is true that I made an unfortunate and cruel comment about Elizabeth at the Meryton Assembly, but that comment was made at first glance without thought. It has been quite some time since I have considered her the handsomest woman of my acquaintance." True, the look on his face showed no sign of deception, but his look conveyed determination rather than love or admiration, as if defying Mr. Bennet to refute him.

~~~


Mr. Darcy of Pemberley was not used to justifying himself to any man. Although he had been prepared for Mr. Bennet's anger over the situation, once it was clear that he would do the honorable thing and take Elizabeth's feelings into account he assumed that her father would see the sense in his approach. He was not prepared for the level of animosity Mr. Bennet was exhibiting or to have his feelings and his words questioned.

"Even if the scales have fallen from your eyes and you have finally seen how beautiful my Lizzy is, attraction does not equate to love. Believe me when I say that marrying for beauty leads to a lifetime of unhappiness. Your temperaments are too different, you would not suit. You are used to having your commands obeyed and Lizzy has never responded kindly to orders. She would not make you happy and I am convinced that you would make her miserable."

Mr. Darcy could scarcely countenance such a misrepresentation of his own feelings and wishes. "Mr. Bennet, I have been hounded by beautiful, fashionable, obedient women for years. If you think this is my ideal of a wife you are sorely mistaken. Yes, Elizabeth is beautiful and has the most captivating eyes I have ever beheld, but this is not why I love her. She is intelligent, witty, and caring. She speaks her own mind rather than parroting opinions she believes would impress me. She is not afraid of contradicting me, debating me, teasing me. She challenges me in a way no women and few men ever have. I can assure you I have no wish to repress that spirit which is an essential part of her character and charm merely to gain a meek or docile wife!"

Mr. Bennet merely stared at him with an unreadable face. As the seconds ticked by, he felt himself growing desperate. What if Mr. Bennet refused his consent? What if Elizabeth never returned his feelings? How could he go back to his lonely, bleak life? Finally Mr. Bennet sighed and Darcy's attention snapped back to him. "There is a vast difference between enjoying Lizzy's impertinent remarks on occasion in society and living together day in and day out for the rest of your lives."

"I realize that nobody can peek into the future and know for certain how they will behave or feel for the rest of their lives. However, I love and respect your daughter and I want to spend the rest of my life with her." Darcy strove for his habitual calm, but feared that the desperation was seeping into his voice. "If Elizabeth and I spend the next six months, year, five years if it comes to it, in each other's company and our affection only grows, I believe we have as solid a chance of a successful marriage as anyone can boast."

Darcy watched in agitation as Mr. Bennet merely scoffed at his plea. "You fear that I will not respect Elizabeth and yet you have fixed your judgment of our situation without even consulting her. Elizabeth and I have spoken in depth on this matter and we've discussed our own fears and concerns, will you not show her the same courtesy?"

This observation hit the mark and Mr. Bennet paled and sighed. "Very well then," he strode to the door and opened it, "Lizzy, will you please join us for a moment?" All of the anxiety and desperation of the past minutes started to seep away as Elizabeth again entered the library. Her look of reassurance allowed him to breathe again.

~~~


Elizabeth was not readjusting well to life outside of the sanctuary of the library. With their newfound understanding of each other, her and Mr. Darcy had fallen into a pleasant companionship. He had allayed most of her fears about their prospective marriage and they had enjoyed either lively conversation or companionable silence for the majority of their time in isolation. Now, she sat in the palpable tension of the study with Mr. Bingley and his sisters.

Caroline Bingley had kept up a steady stream of insults and insinuations suggesting that Elizabeth had intentionally trapped Mr. Darcy and stolen him from herself. Mr. Bingley had tried to quell her speech but Elizabeth suspected that he had never had much success in that endeavor. Elizabeth's usual ability to rise at every attempt to intimidate her seemed to be failing under the present circumstances. It was not that Miss Bingley's rant was truly effecting her but she was rather too concerned about her own rioting emotions and the conversation happening in the library to fret over Miss Bingley's vitriol. Still, it did grate on the nerves. Relief came from the unlikely intervention of Mrs. Hurst. "Caroline please, you really must stop!" It was the first time she had heard Mrs. Hurst disagree with her sister and Elizabeth immediately liked her the better for it. "I allowed you to create this situation to keep the peace and because it was what you wanted. I was wrong to do so, but what is done is done. Now. You have two choices. You can continue to berate Miss Bennet and we will be cut from the circle of society to which we have grown accustomed, or you can make peace with the situation and make the most of life with your charming fiancé."

"Cut from society... that would never happen! Why the ton will surely take our side over this conniving..."

"Caroline!" Mr. Bingley and Mrs. Hurst yelled in chorus.

"My dear, you know as well as I that our current social standing is supported by two factors alone, my marriage with Mr. Hurst, and Charles's close friendship with Mr. Darcy and you can be sure that Mr. Hurst won't exert himself in your favor. What pray tell do you suppose would happen if you threw your force against the future Mrs. Darcy with the ton?" Elizabeth felt a trill of excitement at the last comment. She refused to consider whether it was Miss Bingley's defeat or hearing herself referred to for the first time as the future Mrs. Darcy.

In response, Miss Bingley screeched in frustration and threw Mr. Bingley's blotter across the room. "Caroline! I believe it best for you to return to the ball now, you are the hostess after all and you can do nothing here but vex us all," Mr. Bingley again interceded.

Caroline turned to leave but looked back at her sister incredulously, "Well, Louisa,
are you coming?"

"No, my dear," Mrs. Hurst said calmly, "Miss Bennet's reputation has been placed in enough peril at the hands of our family tonight, I shall stay as a chaperone until she is ready to return." Another shriek followed by a bauble flying across the room was Caroline's reply before she turned and huffed out of the room.

"I really must apologize to you Miss Bennet, I fear I've allowed Caroline's ill will to overpower my own civility. How are you holding up? You seem rather quieter than your usual self."

Elizabeth roused herself to respond. "Thank you Mrs. Hurst, Mr. Bingley. I am well, it has merely been an exceedingly eventful evening." Elizabeth's eyes remained focused on the connecting door to the library. Surely her father would not withhold his consent in the present circumstances. Yesterday she had happily detested Mr. Darcy, two hours ago she had reluctantly accepted his plan as the best course of action given the circumstances, now she found herself almost desperate for him to emerge from the library and confirm that they were in fact engaged.

Finally, the door to the library opened and her father beckoned her to enter. Mr. Darcy's forlorn face indicated that the conference had not gone smoothly.

~~~


Caroline stormed down the hallway, fuming at Louisa's betrayal. Of course the rational part of Caroline knew that as Mr. Darcy's wife – blast that upstart chit! – Eliza would have a higher standing than herself, but a girl could dream of revenge. She had expected Charles to take the diplomatic route, but she had always been able to count on Louisa's support and sympathy. She felt so alone, deserted to face censure on her own.

She re-entered the ballroom and gazed about her. Her preparations for the ball had indeed been perfect. The room was charmingly arranged, the musicians – brought in from London – were impeccable, the refreshments were superb. And yet the entire effect was spoiled by the gathered company. Good heavens, was that one of the Bennet girls literally chasing after a soldier! How unseemly. Of course even worse than the inelegant dancing of her country neighbors were the surreptitious glances and whispers behind fans that were directed her way. It was insupportable to be judged and gossiped about in such company as this!

The stress of the evening was closing in on her and her carefully constructed facade of calm elegance was beginning to crack when suddenly she spotted a now familiar charming smile beaming in her direction. He disengaged himself from a knot of soldiers and made his way to her side with a gallant bow.

"Miss Bingley, your presence once again brightens the ballroom" Mr. Wickham cooed as he offered her his arm. "Would you care for a turn about the room?"

She gratefully accepted his arm and replied. "Mr. Wickham, I must say the air in the ballroom is far more palatable than that of the study at the moment."

"My dear, as we are soon to be married," he said with a roguish twinkle in his eye,
"could you not call me George?"

"George, hm, yes I like that." His smile brightened at her use of his name, "and you
must call me Caroline."

"Caroline, I do believe we shall rub together splendidly." She blushed at the impropriety of that phrase combined with his direct stare and raised eyebrow. And yet, she could not help but agree. They ambled about the room discussing future plans, deriding country fashion, and braving the speculation of their neighbors together.

~~~


Darcy stood again by the mantle in the ballroom. He was strategically positioned along the wall near the door she would re-enter through while the mirror afforded him a clear view of the room. Through Elizabeth's avowal of her improving regard, Darcy's steadfast assurances of his intentions, and Mr. Bingley and Mrs. Hursts presence as a reminder that the situation may still be spread abroad, Mr. Bennet had finally given his begrudging consent to the engagement. He had then summarily dismissed Darcy to return to the ball while he had a private word with Elizabeth. Bingley had insisted that he wished for a private word with Mr. Bennet when he was through with Elizabeth and Mrs. Hurst quite properly insisted on remaining to escort Elizabeth back to the ballroom to lend an air of propriety. Therefore Darcy had solemnly paced back to the ballroom alone, uneasy in the knowledge that Mr. Bennet may still convince his daughter to break the engagement.

He was unaccustomed to having anyone possess such control over him. He could now acknowledge that Elizabeth controlled his heart and all prospects of happiness in his future rested in her. He found himself all too willing to cede this control to the woman he loved. The power that this gave Mr. Bennet however, rankled and he would not be easy until Elizabeth's return.

His dark contemplative mood was better suited to quiet reflection than a ballroom, but he had been banished from the library and study and if he were to seek out his private rooms he would loose the opportunity to see his Elizabeth. Mrs. Long stood next to him, occasionally trying to engage him in conversation, but he was too wrapped up in his own concerns to even notice.

The black cloud of his thoughts lifted when Elizabeth and Mrs. Hurst finally emerged through the doors. He broke into an irrepressible smile at her laughter and expressive eyes as she scanned the ballroom before her. He was at her side in a moment.

~~~


Elizabeth's private conversation with her father had been trying. Explaining her feelings to someone else when she hardly knew what they were herself yet was a daunting task. After much deliberation, her father had finally been satisfied with the knowledge that she would not marry the man until she was convinced of her own mind. He had wished to delay making any announcement to see if they escaped detection, but she was able to convince him that it would be far better to announce an engagement before any rumors began to fly than to wait lest it appear they were forced to wed. She was now contemplatively walking back down the hallway with Mrs. Hurst.

"Miss Bennet, I don't believe I have offered you my sincere congratulations on your
betrothal."

Somewhat surprised, and still leery of Mrs. Hurst's previous stinging criticisms,
Elizabeth was on her guard. "On my ability to entrap a wealthy man? Amongst ourselves, we know that this is not a storybook romance."

"As an old married lady who has caught an eligible match, let me assure you, that you are to be congratulated on securing the admiration of a truly worthy man. I've seen you two together, I would count myself lucky if Mr. Hurst ever looked at me with half the level of affection Mr. Darcy has for you."

"Thank you." Elizabeth was stunned at this unguarded speech and her surprise was
apparently evident in her face.

"I see it will be difficult to combat the previous impression I gave you. I again apologize for my former coldness. Caroline has always been petulant, strong willed, and needy. When she first came out I tried to correct her behavior, but over time I grew weary and realized that her tantrums were shorter and less destructive if I merely agreed with her."

Elizabeth laughingly responded as they entered the ballroom, "I believe that I can relate to the misfortune of having a headstrong, unruly younger sister who does not care to be corrected better than most." She searched the ballroom for her youngest sisters attempting to ascertain how much damage they could have done in her extended absence. Mrs. Hurst gave her a knowing smile and nodded to her left just before she felt a gentle hand at her elbow.

"Miss Bennet, Mrs. Hurst." Mr. Darcy bowed and greeted both ladies, but his eyes never left Elizabeth's. "I trust everything is well?" He was smiling, but she caught the tension of anxiety in his voice.

"All is well Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley merely wished to speak with my father," she
reassured him.

"Indeed, I fear we will have an unprecedented number of announcements to make at supper this evening" Mrs. Hurst tittered, and Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy shared a meaningful look. "Speaking of which, as Caroline and Charles are busy and the supper set has already begun, I should be checking on preparations." She curtsied and excused herself.

"How was your meeting with your father?"

"I suspect it was not as trying as yours."

"Yes, it rather resembled an inquisition, not an experience I'd like to repeat."

"We did at least extract his consent, and our engagement will be announced at supper." His smile widened at this statement and Elizabeth decided that she rather liked the look of contentment and adoration that suffused his face. Seized with an impish desire to further expand that charming smile, Elizabeth added, "it is a shame we were not able to conclude our experiment."

"What experiment was that my dear?"

"I believe you were in the process of proving that poetry was indeed the food of love when we were interrupted." Elizabeth was not disappointed, his smile broadened and his jaw dropped ever so slightly. Before Mr. Darcy could sufficiently recover Jane approached them.

~~~


Although one would never know from her serene exterior, Jane Bennet was growing increasingly alarmed. The ball had begun so well. Charles – Mr. Bingley! – had left the receiving line to escort her into the ball and they had opened the ball together. He had been by her side for an eternity – or was it only the span of a few dances? Despite the crowded ballroom, Jane felt like they were the only people in the room. But then there was a terrible commotion near the door, they could see a soldier in the hallway and Mrs. Hurst holding the door open. Murmurs about Miss Bingley being compromised reached them and Mr. Bingley had excused himself to sort things out.

Her evening had begun to slide downhill from there. Mr. Collins had come to claim his dance with her and dreadfully trod on her feet. His conversation worried her as he had implied at multiple times that in the future he would become more than just her cousin. His marked attentions to Lizzy had been troubling her for days, but it seemed as if he were coming to the point of proposing. Having newly experienced love herself, Jane could not help but recoil from the thought of her closest sister having to endure a marriage to Mr. Collins. Although she always managed to find the good in any person, Jane could find little to recommend marital felicity between the dull Mr. Collins and her spirited sister.

After the dance Mr. Collins stated his intention to seek out Lizzy. Shocked by Mr. Wickham's tale of Mr. Darcy's cruelty, she had tasked herself with discovering the veracity of it this evening. She had asked Mr. Bingley earlier, who stated that Mr. Wickham had done Mr. Darcy some great harm. He could not, however be specific as to what. As Mr. Darcy was Mr. Bingley's closest friend, Jane was convinced that he could not be terribly wicked. Since she had no other pressing concerns at the moment she decided to seek him out and further their acquaintance. After all, if her fondest dreams came true, she would no doubt be frequently in his company. Her anxiety heightened as a thorough search of the ballroom and card room turned up none of the principles in the matter. Mr. Bingley, both of his sisters, Lizzy, Mr. Darcy, and Mr. Wickham were all absent and on a second round of searching, she noticed that her father and Colonel Forster were likewise missing.

She milled about listening to the gossip. Most of it was directed at Miss Bingley's scandalous embrace, by this time it seemed mostly settled that it was with Mr. Wickham, though some clung to the initial report of Mr. Darcy. Jane hoped Miss Bingley would be very happy with whichever gentleman she had been embracing. Surely they were both honorable gentlemen and an announcement would be made this evening.

Mr. Collins again approached her asking after his, "fair cousin Elizabeth," with the insinuation that she was attempting to strengthen his affection through her absence. Mrs. Bennet's application to Jane attributed Lizzy's absence to her impertinence in hiding from Mr. Collins simply to vex her poor mother. Other than these two interested parties, nobody else seemed to notice Lizzy's absence.

At length, the missing parties began to filter in. Mr. Wickham and Colonel Forster entered first, fanning fresh wind into the gossip about the recent scandal. Shortly after, Miss Bingley returned alone and the fondness with which Mr. Wickham greeted her confirmed to Jane's tender heart that they would indeed make a splendid match. Mr. Darcy returned and took up a post near a mantle and brooded towards the door he had entered. She was dancing a little while later when she caught sight of him and saw his face suddenly transform from a brooding scowl into a brilliant smile. That smile, shockingly, was directed at Lizzy, who had just reappeared with Mrs. Hurst. Unfortunately, the moves of the dance prevented her from seeing the rest of the scene. As soon as Captain Denny deposited her at the side of the dance floor, she hastily joined her sister. Lizzy was beaming a coy smile at Mr. Darcy, who was slightly flushed with his mouth agape.

"Lizzy! What has happened to you! Mr. Collins has been searching for you this past hour at least and Mama has begun to worry that you have been avoiding …" Jane stopped short when she noticed the dark look that suddenly crossed Mr. Darcy's brow, and saw him reach for Lizzy's hand. Jane gaped as she watched Lizzy accept his grasp and squeeze his hand.

"Jane! I cannot explain it here, but I assure you I will give you a full account this evening. I am glad to speak to you before supper because I would not like you to find out with everyone else." Elizabeth paused.

"Find what out?"

"Mr. Darcy and I are engaged."

"But..." Jane began to protest that Lizzy disliked him, but her current expression was so open as she smiled affectionately at her fiancé and Mr. Darcy gazed back at Lizzy with such open admiration that she could not doubt the truth. She wouldn't believe it if the evidence wasn't before her eyes. Jane's own easy smile re-emerged. "Congratulations to you both. Only tell me you are happy and I will be content."

"I believe I am," Lizzy responded as she shot a coy smile towards Mr. Darcy with one
upturned eyebrow.

"Miss Bennet!" Jane startled and turned towards Mr. Bingley's voice. He stood behind
her with her father.

"Mr. Bingley!"

"Would you come with me for a moment?" He said as he gestured for her to exit the ballroom. Jane gasped, a moment alone with a gentleman at a ball following a private conference with her father could only mean one thing. She beamed at her father, silently asking his permission. He nodded for her to go ahead and she exited the ballroom with Mr. Bingley.

In his study, he seated her on a chair, then knelt before her. "Miss Bennet – Jane, from the moment I saw you at the Meryton assembly I was struck by your beauty. My admiration and love for you has only grown in the following weeks and I find I can no longer imagine my life without you. Will you make me the happiest of men and consent to be my wife?"

"Charles, you are already the happiest of men and I will gladly become your wife!"

After a few delirious moments of whispered declarations and sweet kisses, Jane followed her betrothed back to the ballroom, where they arrived just as the supper set was ending, and led the revelers in to supper.

~~~


Author's Note: Ch. 6 and 7 were again 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.
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Cunning and Compromise Chapters 6 (Post 4)

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