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Cunning and Compromise Chapters 7-8 (Post 5)

September 21, 2017 03:34PM

Chapter 7



Out in the Open

After Mr. Bingley and Jane had departed for their private conversation, Mr. Bennet stood silently with Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy for a moment. The couple had been so wrapped up in their confession to Jane that they had not seen his approach. Curbing Mr. Bingley's eagerness to propose for a moment with a hand on his arm, Mr. Bennet watched as Elizabeth proudly declared her engagement and looked warmly into Mr. Darcy's eyes as she stated that she was happy. The brief interaction had been telling. The soulful gaze shared between the two indicated that Lizzy had some softer feelings for the man even if she did not yet love him. When Mr. Bennet was meeting with Mr. Darcy, the man had maintained the aloof demeanor that had been ever present throughout his visit in the country. He had spoken of tender feelings with a disconnected coldness which belied their sincerity. But now, seeing the proud man gaze at Lizzy with a besotted grin even as she teased him, his worries began to melt away.

"I couldn't fail to notice, papa, that your interview with Mr. Bingley was far briefer than your interview with Mr. Darcy." Lizzy said, as she focused that impertinent eyebrow in his direction.

"Yes, well, Mr. Bingley met Jane at an assembly, danced with her, enjoyed her smiles, courted her openly for weeks, then approached me to request my consent. A far smoother form of courtship than insulting a lady, ignoring her, glaring at her, then locking her in a library. You can understand my reluctance." Mr. Darcy had the decency to color at this assessment of his own conduct.

"Ah yes, but you see, as it was largely my impertinence that attracted Mr. Darcy, perhaps a smooth courtship would not have suited."

"Well, your liveliness of spirit at least, I should be sadly disappointed should you transform into a meek obliging girl." Mr. Darcy teasing himself, well well well, who would have guessed. Mr. Bennet's mood improved as the three enjoyed a lively conversation, largely at Mr. Darcy's expense. He saw Mr. Collins approaching with a determined gait and mused to himself that there was at least one immediate benefit to Elizabeth's engagement.

~~~


"Cousin Elizabeth!" Elizabeth tensed and felt Mr. Darcy's hand grip more tightly as Mr. Collins approached.

"Cousin Elizabeth, I have been searching for you, but you have eluded me like an enchanting nymph." The compliments from Mr. Collins sent a chill down her spine. "Would you allow me to escort you into supper?" Could he not see the man beside her holding her hand and glaring at him? Glancing at Mr. Darcy she wondered how she had mistaken his looks for a glare before, he had certainly never cast such a menacing look in her direction.

Before she had the opportunity to respond, her father intervened and made the introduction. "Mr. Collins, allow me to introduce Mr. Darcy of Derbyshire. Mr. Darcy, my cousin Mr. Collins of Kent."

"Mr. Darcy! How astonishing, are you not the nephew of my patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh?" The toady parson preened.

"Indeed, Lady Catherine is my aunt." Mr. Darcy's social mask had firmly reappeared accompanying that unwavering glare.

"I have the pleasure of being able to assure you that her ladyship was quite well yesterday se’nnight."

"I'm pleased to hear it." Mr. Darcy replied, his curt tone and angry glare contrasted greatly with his pleasant words.

The stilted conversation was interrupted by the announcement that supper was ready. Mr. Collins immediately resumed his original purpose. "Cousin Elizabeth?" He said as he held out his arm for her.

"Excuse me Mr. Collins, but I already have a dinner partner, Mr. Darcy will escort me."

"But..." Mr. Collins sputtered, looked between the three, and resumed his assault, "Mr. Darcy, under normal circumstances I would defer to you, but in this instance, I believe I have the superior claim." Were it not for the tension radiating from Mr. Darcy and her own discomfort at the situation, Elizabeth would have been tempted to laugh at the way Mr. Collins somehow combined obsequious deference with a hint of proprietary hostility into this speech.

"Allow me to clarify, Mr. Collins. I will be escorting my fiancée, Miss Elizabeth, to supper." Mr. Darcy gently placed her hand on his arm and placed his other hand over hers.

"What!" Mr. Collins looked at Elizabeth, who placed her other hand over their joined hands. "But..." He looked at Mr. Bennet, who nodded. "But what about your engagement to your cousin, Anne de Bourgh!?"

Mr. Bennet coughed. Mr. Darcy's eyes snapped to Mr. Bennet's, "I am not now, nor have I ever been engaged to my cousin. My aunt's wishes do not dictate my actions nor do they reflect my own feelings or those of my cousin." His eyes pleaded with Mr. Bennet to believe him. Mr. Bennet responded with an appraising glance and a nod of his head.

"But..." Mr. Collins looked directly at Elizabeth. "Your mother..."

Elizabeth knew exactly what her mother's wishes were and anger flared within her "Perhaps we should take this conversation as evidence that a mother's wishes or word do not a marriage make, especially if the parties involved do not wish for the match. A lady does prefer to be asked before the engagement is formed or announced to the world! If you'll excuse us." With that she turned and all but dragged a stunned Mr. Darcy in to supper. He seated her at the main table near Jane and left to assemble their plates.

"Well..." she prodded her sister.

"'Tis too much! By far too much. I do not deserve it. I am certainly the most fortunate creature that ever existed!" cried Jane.

"Congratulations! I knew Mr. Bingley would have the good sense to fall in love with you."

"Oh! Lizzy, if I could but see you as happy! Are you as happy as I am?"

"Oh Jane, Till I have your disposition, your goodness, I never can have your happiness. No, no, let me shift for myself; and, perhaps, if I have very good luck, I may grow to love my Mr. Darcy as much as you love your Mr. Bingley."

Jane replied in a soft voice full of concern. "Oh Lizzy, do you not love him then?"

"It is all too new, twelve hours ago I hated the thought of the man, and now..." she paused in reflection, "my emotions are
in too much flux to say. However, I may say with certainty, that over the past several hours, my regard for him has been steadily increasing. I am in a fair way of loving him very soon."

~~~


Darcy could scarce believe his ears. Either his love addled mind was telling him what he wanted to hear, or Elizabeth had just admitted to her sister that she was on her way to loving him! His heart swelled and he was filled with a renewed determination to do whatever it would take to influence her heart in his favor. He savored the moment long enough that their conversation had shifted back to Jane's engagement before clearing his throat and placing Elizabeth's plate before her. "Here you are, my dear."

She turned toward him with the most becoming blush, her fine eyes reflecting the sentiments she had just shared with her sister. "Thank you, Mr. Darcy." It occurred to him that breaking from formality may help his case.

"Elizabeth," he said as he sat down, "would you ... do I ask too much ... could you call me by my given name?"

Elizabeth blushed again and looked down, "I'm afraid I don't even know what it is."

"My given name is Fitzwilliam."

"Fitzwilliam then." He savored the sound of his name on her lips for the first time for a moment before he realized she was still talking. "Shall I trouble myself to officially give my permission for you to call me Elizabeth? Since you've already been doing so all evening."

"I suppose that is one benefit of your being a younger sister, I've known you as Miss Elizabeth from our first acquaintance and you've been simply Elizabeth in my mind for quite some time. Once we had an agreement, I could not resist."

Dinner continued in companionable conversation between Darcy and Elizabeth. Occasionally, the loud voice of Mrs. Bennet carried to him from another table spouting vulgar gossip. She cycled between Jane's marriage prospects and the benefits they would bring to the other girls, the scandal of Miss Bingley and Mr. Wickham, and the prospect of Elizabeth's marriage to Mr. Collins. All of these topics were offensive to Darcy but none more so than sullying Elizabeth's name with a connection to Mr. Collins. The possibility that his Elizabeth could have been pressured to marry Mr. Collins had she not been engaged to himself chilled him. He knew her temperament well enough to realize that she would have refused the slimy parson, but her mother would no doubt have punished her for it. Mrs. Bennet's intrusions on his happiness, however, were softened by Elizabeth's increased solicitude when they occurred.

At the end of the meal, Mr. Bingley stood and gestured for Mr. Bennet to join him. "Friends, I would like to thank you all for your attendance this evening and for your warm welcome into the neighborhood. I find I have several announcements to make before we have some music. First, it is my great pleasure to announce the engagement of my dear sister, Miss Caroline Bingley, to Lieutenant George Wickham." This announcement was met by the customary well wishes accompanied by knowing glances and suggestive nods. Mrs. Bennet was heard stating in a stage whisper that this cleared up which gentleman compromised her. "I will now turn the floor over to Mr. Bennet." The room erupted with murmurs and nods to Jane. Mrs. Bennet, for once, was silent with her rapt attention focused on her husband.

"I have two announcements to make this evening. My wife has gone to great pains to ensure that nobody is surprised by the first, Mr. Bingley has asked for and received the hand of my oldest daughter, Jane." As Jane Bennet was a well-loved fixture of the neighborhood and Mr. Bingley endeared himself to everyone he met, the excitement and congratulations aroused by this announcement far surpassed those elicited by Miss Bingley’s and Mr. Wickham's engagement.

Mrs. Bennet's cry of "Oh Mr. Bennet! Why did you not tell me! Oh Jane, I always said it must be so, at last. I was sure you could not be so beautiful for nothing!" Echoed above the din.

"Yes, my dear, but I believe my second announcement will come as a surprise to even your keen matchmaking abilities. My second daughter, Elizabeth has become engaged to..." Mrs. Bennet looked expectantly at Mr. Collins. Mr. Collins looked dejectedly down at his plate "...Mr. Darcy." For a second, the room was silent. Then Mr. Bingley began clapping and loudly congratulating his friend. The room erupted and the congratulations were drowned out by the din of hushed conjectures spoken all at once.

"Our Lizzy! To be married to that disagreeable man!"

"He would dance with only her"

"Well, he did dance with me as well, but I knew it was all for Lizzy's benefit."

"Of course, the wittiest girl in the neighborhood would attract the richest man to ever travel through it"

"Ten thousand pounds!"

"Lord, how boring! He doesn't even have a red coat!"

"But she hates him!" That one kept bouncing around in his head.

Darcy was beginning to panic under the scrutiny and the mixed response to his engagement – could they not just be happy for him – when he felt Elizabeth take his hand beneath the table. He looked at her and his world was righted. The opinions of the neighborhood did not matter, her opinion mattered and she looked happy. Without thinking, he raised her hand to his lips and kissed it. He was unaware of the sudden increase in congratulations, and murmurs of "It must be a love match," because for the moment he was lost in the depths of her eyes and his world had narrowed to only Elizabeth.

"Now," continued Mr. Bingley when the room quieted, "in light of these announcements, I believe it is only proper for our beautiful brides," he paused to smile fondly at Jane, "to entertain us. Caroline, would you like to begin?"

Miss Bingley proceeded to play and sing a complex Italian song. Her performance was technically flawless, though Darcy found it lacking in emotion. Elizabeth's song enchanted him. It was a simple love song in English, but it was performed with such liveliness and emotion that it could not but please her audience. He had heard her sing and play before, but now, the full force of her gaze was on him as she performed, she was singing a love song to him and he'd never heard anything that gave him greater pleasure. Miss Bennet, with her tender heart, noticed Miss Mary's disappointment at being sidelined in favor of the brides, and so suggested that Miss Mary accompany her on the pianoforte as she sang. Darcy could not help but see this as a boon to the performance. Miss Bennet's voice was light and pleasant, but not strong and would not stand well unaccompanied. Miss Mary played well, though he knew from past experiences that it was a blessing she did not sing.

~~~


Caroline was milling about the ballroom with her betrothed. Supper had been, for the most part, pleasant. Although she was constantly vexed by the sight of the apparently very happy Mr. Darcy and Eliza Bennet – She had seen more smiles from him at this dinner than she had in all the years of their acquaintance! – George always managed to distract her into laughter when her thoughts started to wander. He really was quite charming. The engagement announcements were an embarrassment. She was coming to look forward to marriage with her handsome rogue, but having her engagement announced in quick succession with those Bennets was mortifying. Not only were they the great local beauties, but they were universally liked amongst the guests. They both received far more attention than herself. A bride deserves to be the focus of attention when her engagement is announced, she should not be required to share the limelight. Furthermore, her engagement was already marred in scandal.

As they circulated the ballroom, however, George had begun to spin the tale of their whirlwind romance in a far more pleasant light. "You see, Lady Lucas, it was a case of love at first sight! I took one look at this elegant creature and knew she was the one lady for me. We conversed, we danced, and I was overcome. I stepped into the hallway to attempt to control my riotous emotions and when Miss Bingley happened upon me I could not prevent myself from declaring my feelings and asking her to marry me on the spot. She had just accepted when we were discovered by her sister."

"Oh Mr. Wickham, how romantic!" Cooed Lady Lucas warmly, "Miss Bingley, congratulations!" Her tone when expressing this latter sentiment revealed just a hint of spiteful jealousy that her daughters had not inspired such ardor. Caroline appreciated that jealousy far more than the insipid congratulations.

"Splendid, Splendid! A bit of privacy is required for a marriage proposal, eh Wickham? bad luck you were interrupted, I say!" Sir. William Lucas added his sincere, if uncouth, congratulations.

As they ambled away from the conversation George said, "Poor Lady Lucas, it is I suppose unfortunate that one of her daughters lacks any beauty and the other lacks any sense. Neither of them are likely to inspire much emotion in anyone."

"Now my dear George, Charlotte Lucas is a rather active, useful sort of girl, she would make an excellent wife to an aging widower with a brood of children he wishes to neglect" Caroline replied with a sneer.

"My dearest Caroline, a man could become used to being addressed as 'my dear George'" he said as he placed his hand over hers.

For a moment Caroline could almost believe the fairytale he had now repeated to most of the town gossips. "You do perform well, my dear George, even I am beginning to believe your stories."

"Well, my account may be embellished, but who is to say it's not mostly true? I did, indeed decide you were the perfect woman for me on first sight. I saw so much of myself in you that I was intrigued."

"You made this decision from across a crowded ballroom while arguing with Mr. Darcy?"

"No." The fleeting hope in Caroline's heart began to shrivel as he paused. "I must confess that I've seen you before this evening."

"When?"

"Two days ago. I was discretely positioned behind a display of fabric in the general store in Meryton, when a vision of beauty and poise arose before me … outlining her wicked plot to entrap a man into marriage."

Caroline gasped and blushed. "You knew!" The statement was equal parts accusation and astonishment with a dash of shame.

"I knew you were a beautiful, cunning woman with flexible scruples and determined ambition. As close a mirror of my own character as I ever did see. I also knew Darcy. He's been avoiding such schemes for years and his resentment is implacable, if you had succeeded in your scheme he would have married you, but never forgiven you. You would both be miserable."

Caroline was having trouble reconciling these revelations onto her understanding of their relationship. She was, of course, outraged that he had intentionally spoiled her scheme. The door closing behind Miss Elizabeth, his presence outside of the library, his quick understanding of the situation, they had all been by design. "You planned this!" She said through gritted teeth.

George gave a resigned sigh. "No, my dear, you planned this. I merely altered your plans to the benefit of all. Neither of our actions were entirely above board. However, I do care for you. I could easily grow to love you with the slightest provocation," he paused here to deliver one of his devastating rakish smiles. "I want you to be happy. I want us to be happy, does it matter how it came about?"

"Do not expect to escape this revelation without serving your penance!" She said petulantly, but the contrite look in his eyes softened her. "I do suppose that in the end, happiness and love are preferable to stubborn pride." She gave him a saucy smile that promised future forgiveness.

~~~


Darcy was accompanying his fiancée back to the ballroom when she turned her impertinent gaze on him. "Are you ready for your first lesson?"

"Lesson?"

"On social etiquette. I believe we had an understanding that I should be your tutor," Elizabeth laughed. Darcy grimaced and momentarily looked away in discomfort, a creditable imitation of a schoolboy indeed. Elizabeth in turn affected her closest approximation of a governess tone. "I promise it shall not be so very bad. When we return to the ballroom, we shall be expected to mingle and accept congratulations on our recent engagement. I will be beside you and help draw you into the conversation, but you must make an effort. When I am asked to dance," Darcy felt his heart squeeze a bit at the prospect and perhaps his hand squeezed on hers as well because she softened her voice as she continued, "as we both know I shall be, you will not stand on the sidelines and glare at my partner as you have been wont to do in the past."

"You know I dislike dancing with women I do not know," Darcy was not looking forward to the prospect.

"Ah, but take heart, as an engaged man they can have no greater claims on you than a dance. And remember, I do have four sisters whom you have promised to get to know better. I give you leave to neglect Lydia and Kitty for the evening, their dance cards are likely already full and they can be rather exuberant at a ball. However, you know Jane well enough, and there's always Mary. She rarely has a partner and she, I assure you, will be pleased to speak of books in a ballroom. If you dance with Mary and Jane and perhaps Mrs. Hurst, that will bring you up to five partners for the evening, a creditable number for a gentleman who dislikes the activity."

"I suppose I will if I must. But I refuse to dance with Miss Bingley tonight after she came so close to ruining my every hope of happiness."

"I would not ask it of you," she said with an affectionate smile. "Now, shall we get the worst of the mingling out of the way?" Elizabeth said as she nodded toward a gaggle of ladies including her mother, Mrs. Phillips, Mrs. Long, and Mary. With a resigned sigh, he allowed Elizabeth to drag him into the den of tabbies.

Mrs. Bennet was effusive in her praise, even going so far as to apologize for her previous dislike of him. While Mr. Darcy's consequence had sedated her initially, it could not entirely curb her habitual manner. Eventually, she hit on the dreaded topic of Mr. Darcy's wealth and how it, "must throw her younger girls in the way of other rich men." In response to this flagrant display of vulgarity, Darcy stood there fuming, Mary stuttered, Mrs. Long excused herself, and Mrs. Phillips agreed wholeheartedly.

Elizabeth, however, challenged her mother "Mama! I can assure you that Mr. Darcy's wealth had little bearing on my decision to marry him. While a lady should never reveal her private reasons for marrying, I assure you mine had more to do with the strength of his character than the size of his pocketbook." She was magnificent, a vengeful goddess defending him and their relationship against the mercenary insinuations of her mother. "Furthermore, while Jane and I will have opportunities of introducing our sisters to broader society, I sincerely hope that they have the presence of mind to value gentlemen based on their merits and compatibility as we have."

Mrs. Bennet excused herself, dragging Mrs. Phillips along muttering about impertinent ungrateful children. Darcy could only stare in awe at Elizabeth. When she finally met his eye she said softly, "I apologize for my mother's rudeness as well as my own outburst. You should not take that as part of your instruction for the evening."

"Any insult caused by your mother's statement was more than compensated in your response. I could bear a great deal worse as long as it resulted in you publicly extolling my virtues."

"Well, I couldn't have you believing my intentions were mercenary, now could I?"

"I could never believe that of you," he lightly brushed a curl off of her cheek.

"I pay little mind to worldly considerations. When I wed I intend to focus more on integrity and moral fiber." Mary's statement startled him, he had nearly forgotten that they were in a crowded ballroom, much less that Elizabeth's sister was still standing with them. "Of course, a home far away from Longbourn may be another asset to consider in light of Mama's behavior," Mary added thoughtfully.

"Take heart Miss Mary, you shall be welcome at Pemberley as often as you wish." He replied, in an attempt to smooth over his neglect.

"Thank you, sir. I've heard you have a splendid library."

"Indeed, it has been the work of many generations and I own that books are one of the few extravagances that I often indulge in." A pleasant, if subdued conversation on books and collections followed. After a short while a young gentleman approached, whom Elizabeth introduced as John Lucas.

"Mr. Darcy, congratulations on acquiring one of the brightest gems of the country, Hertfordshire will be poorer without her presence." Between Charlotte's childhood stories of his misconduct and his flowery praise of Elizabeth, Darcy was ill inclined to be civil to the man. However, Elizabeth squeezed his arm and looked up at him with a raised eyebrow.

"Thank you, Mr. Lucas, I assure you that I feel my good fortune keenly." He was rewarded for his troubles with a brilliant smile from Elizabeth.

"Elizabeth, if you are not otherwise engaged," he paused and gave Darcy an amused smile that made him want to knock a few of those teeth out, "Would you dance the next with me?" Darcy instinctively pulled Elizabeth's arm closer to his side.

"I would be delighted John, if you will give me but a moment." She turned to her betrothed and whispered in an intimate tone, "remember, he has engaged me for the dance, but you have engaged me for life." She gave him a loving glance, then continued: "now, remember your lessons," and glanced significantly at Mary.

"Will you save the last for me?" He asked sheepishly.

She tenderly grasped his hand and replied, "I will always save the last for you, Fitzwilliam." His hand lingered in hers for a moment as she turned to walk off with Mr. Lucas. He indulged himself in a momentary glower at their retreating forms, but Elizabeth's assurances had taken away the sting. He turned to her sister, determined to follow her instructions.

"Miss Mary, would you dance with me?" She looked up from her book – where the devil had that come from – in surprise and blushed.

"I ... I'd be happy to, Mr. Darcy," she replied sheepishly as she tucked the small volume into her reticule.

Darcy awkwardly led his future sister-in-law to the dance floor. Silence reigned for several minutes while they danced stiffly. Talk. Elizabeth insists I talk! "Um, do you always carry a book to a ball Miss Mary?"

Apparently startled to be addressed, Miss Mary's steps faltered slightly before she responded. "I find it's a tedious amount of sitting alone otherwise."

"I can relate, I've never been comfortable at such gatherings. I've never thought of bringing a book, but then I don't have the benefit of a reticule." Mr. Darcy was not used to being more gregarious than his dance partner, but he knew that laughter was often the best way to ease Georgiana's shyness. "I fear that a book in my pocket might spoil the lines of my evening wear."

Mary laughed – the first laugh he had heard from the serious girl – and he wondered at her neglect by the other gentlemen present. To be sure no one was as beautiful as his Elizabeth, and Miss Mary was by far the plainest of the Bennet sisters, but that metric was as futile as identifying the plainest rose in a hothouse bouquet. Perhaps they ought to invite her to town next season without her younger sisters so that she might not suffer the comparison. After all, she was soon to be the eldest Miss Bennet, and he did not trust Mrs. Bennet to prioritize her prospects. Their dance progressed with an awkward but earnest conversation about the discomfort of being shy in a ballroom and the efficacy of books in reticules to fend off both boredom and fiends.

The night continued on in a succession of socializing facilitated by Elizabeth and dancing. He could still not be entirely easy seeing Elizabeth dance with another man, but she always returned to his side afterwards with a smile and her eyes bright with exercise. He danced once with Jane while Elizabeth danced with Mr. Bingley. He found her to be sweet and obliging, a perfect complement to his friend's open, easy temperament. Mrs. Hurst surprised him in their dance by sincerely apologizing for her sister's unconscionable behavior.

At length, the final dance arrived. It had not required much prodding to convince Mr. Bingley to close the ball with a waltz and all three newly engaged couples took the floor. As Darcy took Elizabeth into his arms, he closed his eyes and sighed contentedly. Any tension built over gossiping ladies and insipid conversation melted away to relief at this quiet moment with Elizabeth.

~~~


"Are you quite alright, Fitzwilliam?" When he closed his eyes and sighed, Elizabeth feared that she had pushed him too far on his first evening of instruction. She wished him to improve his manners, but she did not want him unhappy.

He opened his eyes slowly and gazed at her as they started dancing. "Never better, my love. I was just savoring the feeling of holding you in my arms for the first time." Elizabeth blushed furiously. If she were honest with herself, she was rather savoring the moment as well. She had waltzed before, of course, but this was different. She had never been quite so aware of her partner in the past: his hand on her back, his direct gaze, their breath mingling. It was safe to say that her emotions were still rioting, but a clear winner was emerging. Doubt and fear were still holding down a barricade, but their defenses were weakening under his tender assault.

"You've done very well tonight, you've managed polite conversation with most of the prominent members of Meryton society." She teased him in order to return the conversation to safer ground. "That wasn't so hard, was it?"

"Yes," he responded frankly, "Yes, it was very difficult. I don't think I'll ever have your ease in company, but you made it far easier by introducing topics I could converse on."

She frowned, her previous worry returning. "Did I push you too much tonight? I don't want you to be uncomfortable."

"Don't worry my dear, I can honestly say that I've never enjoyed a ball half as much as I have tonight. If the cost of moments like this," his hand rubbed in a small circle on her back to punctuate the sentiment, "is a few uncomfortable conversations then it's a price I'm willing to pay." Even Elizabeth found it hard to converse at that moment, so she simply enjoyed the rest of the dance in silence gazing into his intense brown eyes.

The Longbourn. party were the last of all the company to depart, and, by a manoeuvre of Mrs. Bennet, had to wait for their carriage a quarter of an hour after everybody else was gone. For once, Elizabeth could not resent her mother's machinations as she found herself reluctant to part from Fitzwilliam.

Chapter 8



Ockham Mount, November 27th 1811

Elizabeth was standing atop a rock looking out over the peaceful morning landscape contemplating her current contentment. Despite the late hour at which they entered their bedroom the previous night, Elizabeth knew she owed Jane an explanation for her engagement. She would not dream of telling another soul the full story, but she had always been open with Jane about everything and this was too important to keep from her counsel. She had told her the whole affair: Wickham's confession, the dance with Mr. Darcy, her unintended revelation that she would never marry without love, Caroline's plot, their confinement alone in the library, and their embarrassing pose in which they were found. After recounting the whole of the tale, as Elizabeth prepared for bed, she told herself she would surely not sleep a wink that night because of her inner tumult. She was therefore rather surprised to awake at her usual hour the next morning feeling well rested. She had fallen asleep almost as soon as her head hit the pillow and slept peacefully. Trying to reconcile this with her rioting feelings toward Mr. Darcy, she realized that they were no longer rioting. A clear victor had emerged. She somehow had fallen in love with Fitzwilliam Darcy over the course of one evening.

As the day was fine, she had decided to take a walk to Ockham Mount and revel in this new discovery. She would see Fitzwilliam tonight, but it would be hard to get a peaceful moment alone. This was hardly the kind of news you shared in a crowded drawing room or across the dinner table. It would have to wait.

"Elizabeth!" As she was jarred from her reverie, she started slightly and lost her footing. Strong arms wrapped around her and swung her off of the rock and she found herself exactly where she wanted to be, in Fitzwilliam's arms.

"Good morning Fitzwilliam!"

"You nearly plummeted to your death and all you say is good morning?" She saw the fear in his eyes and noted his trembling arms, but she could not help the laughter that bubbled out of her mouth. "Are you well? Shall I send for the doctor? You haven't fallen into hysterics, have you?" He inquired solicitously.

His touching concern only made her laugh again, but the panic in his eyes made her sober enough to assure him. "I was in no danger, my dear."

"You nearly fell off a cliff! I don't know what I would do if I lost you!" Lord, she loved this man, but he was rather reactionary this morning.

"I am well," she again assured him, but her spirits soon rose to playfulness. "Do you trust me?"

"Of course!"

"Then allow me to show you something." She disengaged herself from his arms, returned to the rock, and hopped off.

~~~


Somehow his heart both stopped and pumped faster simultaneously. He heard his own strangled cry mingled with Elizabeth's musical laughter. He looked over the edge to see her sitting four feet below him in an outcropping of wildflowers laughing. There were several feet between her and the edge of the cliff. "You nearly gave me a heart attack!"

"There seemed to be no other way of convincing you I was in no danger," she laughed.

"Other than simply allowing the moment to pass!" He reasoned.

"I suppose, but this was far more fun." She held her hand out to him, "Won't you join me?"

"I rather like the view from up here" he replied, able to meet her playfulness now that his heartbeat was returning to normal. Well, almost. The sight of her ethereal beauty awash in the pale morning glow amidst the flowers was sure to keep his pulse up a bit. She was like some rare mythical creature who led him astray from rational thought.

"Am I to shout to you all morning with this distance between us? For I have something important to discuss with you."

"Odysseus taught me to be leery of beautiful women beckoning me from a cliff."

"But the cliff is behind me and we're nowhere near the seaside, I cannot shipwreck you."

"I will not bend to your siren's call."

"Perhaps I ought to sing then …" she began to sing the same song she had sung him the evening before and her fine eyes shone with something that had not been there before. He simply could not resist. He hopped down to sit beside her.

"I'm afraid I have no beeswax nor any sensible men to lash me to a tree. I am enchanted, do with me what you will." He placed a lingering kiss on her palm, "I'm also terribly uncomfortable with the fact that Caroline Bingley was the sorceress who tried to keep me as her own and warn me from succumbing to your siren song."

Elizabeth shuddered, "Let us be thankful that Miss Bingley was not as powerful as Circe. In fact, let us not talk of Miss Bingley at all."

"Agreed. How are you this morning my dear?" He asked with some trepidation. "Has the cold light of day caused you to see the folly of last night?"

"In a sense it has," his blood ran cold at the possibility of losing her before she continued, "or rather the hazy glow of morning has cast a new light."

"How so?"

"Fitzwilliam, I would like to set a date for our wedding." For a moment, he thought she was a siren, beckoning him with the words he most wanted to hear.

"Elizabeth, we discussed this, we will wait until you fall in love with me."

"I know."

"I don't understand, has your mother been pressuring you to set a date already? I did think that might be a problem."

"Fitzwilliam," she turned his face towards her, "I'm telling you that I am ready to set a date for our wedding." She looked into his eyes with such sincerity that he could not fail to see the love in her eyes.

"How …"

"I know it seems sudden, but last night I went to bed expecting a long sleepless night of conflicted emotions. This morning I woke up fully rested and realized that my emotions were, in fact not conflicted." She looked up at him again, "I love you."

The happiness which this reply produced, was such as he had probably never felt before; and he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do. He drew her near and placed a chaste kiss on her lips. Sensitive to the fact that this was likely her first kiss, he retreated to see her reaction. She immediately drew him back and kissed him again with more ardor and he deepened the kiss. Of course, his siren would not meekly be satisfied with a chaste kiss, or with allowing him all of the control. Not his Elizabeth. And he wouldn't want her any other way.

Some time later, when they finally separated, Elizabeth declared, "I feel as if I've gone through a year's worth of emotions over the past four and twenty hours!"

"As do I. You changed me last night, Elizabeth. I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle. As a child I was taught what was right, but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit. Unfortunately an only son, (for many years an only child) I was spoilt by my parents, who, though good themselves (my father, particularly, all that was benevolent and amiable), allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing; to care for none beyond my own family circle; to think meanly of all the rest of the world; to wish at least to think meanly of their sense and worth compared with my own. Such I was, from eight to eight and twenty; and such I might still have been but for you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth! What do I not owe you! You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. By you, I was properly humbled. … You showed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased."

"All that from an overheard diatribe and two hours in a library?" she teased.

"Well, I certainly couldn't allow you to continue despising me. In other circumstances, I may have resented your criticisms but since your assessment was so unflinchingly accurate and overheard without pretense or the intent to injure or infuriate me, I had no choice but to respond accordingly."

"Yes, you know enough of my frankness now to know that I will always happily point out your flaws," she leaned in and kissed him again before breathlessly continuing, "so you best endeavor to always heed your lessons."

Darcy decided to shift the conversation to safer topics lest he forget he was a gentleman. He chose a topic sure to cool his ardor. "I am also in the somewhat unfortunate position of having two of my least favorite people to thank for my present happiness. Without Miss Bingley's trap, and Wickham's underhanded prodding, I might have convinced myself to walk away from you." The thought made him feel physically ill for his potential loss.

"Luckily, fate has already given them their reward." When he quirked his eyebrow, she continued. "They've been rewarded with each other."

"And may they be happy together, they will cheat every tradesman, always overstay their welcome, and possibly claw each other's eyes out at regular intervals."

"And yet they are rather equally matched, with her strong will and shrewd management, she may be able to rein in his excesses – I hear she's to have full control of her fortune! – and with his charm and easy manners, he'll be able to smooth over her social errors and tantrums. Had he ended up with a weak-willed wife, or she with a resentful man they would have ended unhappily indeed."

"Let us talk of happier subjects," he suggested as he positioned his back against the rock and pulled her to his chest, "when will you marry me?"

"Well, there is Christmas to be got through, then twelfth night. Perhaps mid January? Not a very pleasant month for a wedding."

"Fear not, my dear, I shall keep you warm," he punctuated his statement with a kiss on her nape before he continued, "and I will not wait until spring."

"Last night you were willing to wait any range of time from six months to five years to marry!"
"I was willing to wait that long until you loved me. Now that you do love me, there is no need for delay." He lightly caressed her forearms as he spoke.

"I can't imagine the fuss and expense my mother would make if given six months to plan a wedding anyway. She would be insufferable." Elizabeth laughed in her enchanting way. "Six weeks sounds a much better time frame."

Privately, he thought six weeks far too long, especially when he had the temptation of her in his arms at the present moment. However, he knew he must make some concession to propriety so he simply answered, "I agree."

"Jane posed an idea last night that I would like you to consider. As we both became engaged on the same night, what would you think of a double wedding?"

"That sounds efficient, I would have asked Bingley to stand up for me anyway, and you would have asked Jane, this way we can all share the day," he readily assented. "I do however, refuse to share the day with George Wickham."

"And I would rather not share the day with Caroline Bingley, she may forget which groom is hers as she walks up the aisle."

Author's Note: We're so close, only one chapter and the epilogue left. But, if you still 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 and am uploading them in chunks because it's too long to do in one post.
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Cunning and Compromise Chapters 7-8 (Post 5)

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Re: Cunning and Compromise Chapters 7-8 (Post 5)

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Re: Cunning and Compromise Chapters 7-8 (Post 5)

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