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In a Prudential Light, Part 2, Chapter 5

September 01, 2018 07:24PM
Chapter Five

Miss Darcy and the Bingleys arrived as predicted the following week. They all decried how hot the weather had turned in town and how happy they were to be once more in the country, away from the dust and close quarters of the city, safely removed to Derbyshire, which was reliably cooler in summer.

Elizabeth experienced a number of mixed emotions upon their arrival. Seeing Mr. Bingley again, under such new and different circumstances, was difficult. However, the young man (who was clearly sensible of this fact) was so kind and good-natured that he immediately went about doing his best to set her at ease. He made solicitous enquires after all her family, expressed his deep sorrow on the loss of her good father, and wished her every happiness in her new life at Hunsford. His sincerity was, as ever, so completely disinterested and endearing that Elizabeth’s anxiety was soon put to rest. While she still lamented the end of his addresses to Jane, she now felt she was well on her way to forgiving him for it.

It also became almost immediately clear upon the London party’s arrival that Lady’s Catherine’s proclaimed dislike of Caroline Bingley was entirely mutual. The two women greeted each other with the minimum pleasantries that civility would allow, then proceeded to either ignore each other or regard the other with thinly vailed suspicion. Elizabeth, though undeniably amused by this little drama, could not help but feel sorry for them, for the object of their cold war—claiming the coveted title of “Mrs. Darcy” either for herself or for her daughter—seemed equally out of reach for both combatants.

The real and delightful surprise among the party was Miss Darcy, who was both everything Elizabeth had imagined she would be and somehow very different too. She was quite tall (evidently a Darcy family trait) and had both a freshness and a studied carefulness about her manner, a premature serious of temperament which may well have come from losing both her parents so young. Like her brother, she was not keen to speak without something of real substance to say, but she was eloquent and enthusiastic when prompted to discuss subjects dear to her, chiefly music, her family, and Pemberley. She was entirely free from artifice or airs. Elizabeth heartily regretted her unquestioning belief in the first, disparaging account she had heard of Miss Darcy from Mr. Wickham. His description had suited Miss Bingley far better than this kind-hearted, gentle, and introspective young woman.

“I should dearly love to hear you play and sing,” Miss Darcy remarked to Elizabeth, as they were all sitting down to take some refreshment together after the party from London had arrived and gotten settled. “My brother has told me he has rarely heard anything that gave him more pleasure.”

Elizabeth laughed self-consciously, hoping Miss Darcy could not perceive how warm her cheeks grew at this reference to Mr. Darcy’s approval. She replied good-humoredly “well you shall – although I must warn you your brother has grossly exaggerated my talents. No doubt for some mischievous reason of his own.”

“Oh no!” cried Miss Darcy, with a most earnest expression. “My brother never exaggerates. He always tells the absolute truth.” She paused, reconsidering this statement, and in doing so her features softened into a little smile. “Except that sometimes I think he is a little too kind to me.”

Elizabeth smiled back at her. “An ideal elder brother then.”

“Oh yes. I could not imagine a better or a kinder one.”

Unconsciously, Elizabeth looked across the room to where Darcy stood conversing with Bingley. As if sensible of her gaze, Darcy turned to look back toward her as Bingley spoke. His face registered his gratification at seeing the two young women engaged in genial conversation.

“You make me feel quite envious,” she said, turning back to her companion on the settee. “I have no brothers at all, only five sisters.”

“I should have liked to have a sister.”

Before Elizabeth could reply, Miss Bingley’s voice rang out over the company. “Georgiana, dear, you must make good on your promise to show us the new rose garden on the west side of the house. I am sure Mr. Darcy would be quite happy lead us all down a little later this afternoon.”

Georgiana had opened her mouth to make a reply, but her aunt cut her to the quick.

“I am sure my nephew must return to the many important matters that demand his attention as master of Pemberley, and has no time for such distractions.”

“Thank you, your ladyship,” said Darcy, stepping toward the center of the company, “for your concern, but I am happy to report that the dispute which brought me back to Pemberley in advance of you all has in fact been settled quite satisfactorily as of just yesterday.” He directed a grateful look toward Elizabeth, whose idea, once communicated to Darcy’s solicitor and the other parties, had provided the solution to the whole matter.

“Having said as much,” he continued, “I should hate to deprive my sister of the pleasure of showing you the rose garden herself, Miss Bingley. It was, after all, Georgiana’s project.”

“Oh yes I see,” said Miss Bingley, her face falling slightly, disappointed to be deprived of her matrimonial object, but anxious not to appear reluctant to spend time with his sister. “Then of course Georgiana must lead the way.”

Elizabeth could not help but notice how humorous the faces of both Caroline Bingley and Lady Catherine were just then—one sour and dejected, the other bizarrely triumphant and self-righteous. Elizabeth shot a look at Darcy, wondering if he had observed the same. She caught his glance, and it was clear to her from the ever so slight humorous turn of his mouth that he had seen exactly what she had.

“It’s a lovely afternoon,” said Elizabeth, turning to the rest of the gathering. “Miss Darcy, why do not we go down now? Miss Bingley, I hope you don’t mind if I join you? Miss de Bourgh, would you care to see the rose garden?”

Evening fell and the entire party duly gathered to sit down to dinner together. It was a great deal noisier to be at table with nine instead of four, but the company was in good spirits and the conversation was lively and energetic.

Elizabeth continued to enjoy the little dramas that played out across the table – Lady Catherine and Miss Bingley continually snubbing and contradicting each other, Mrs. Hurst glaring at Mr. Hurst’s belching, yawning, and guffawing, Miss Bingley vying for as much of Mr. Darcy’s attention as possible while Lady Catherine countered by thrusting a very uncomfortable Anne to the center of his notice whenever possible. Darcy seemed determined to ignore both his aunt and Miss Bingley as best he could, but could not hide from Elizabeth’s notice a look of genuine relief when the ladies rose after dinner.

Much to everyone’s delight when the ladies had removed to the music room, Georgiana sat down at her beloved pianoforte. She played several pieces extremely well, then invited Elizabeth to join her in a little duet. The two ladies had just finished, laughing happily at their efforts, when the gentleman entered. Elizabeth excused herself from the bench to retrieve a cup of coffee, and Georgiana continued at the piano alone. As Elizabeth crossed the room, Miss Bingley caught her attention.

“Pray, Mrs. Collins, are the militia still quartered at Meryton?”

“No, they are encamped at Brighton for the summer.”

“That must be a great loss for your family.”

Elizabeth knew this was a thinly vailed barb, but was determined not to give Miss Bingley the satisfaction of her ire. “They are enduring as best they can, Miss Bingley.”

This response was evidentially unsatisfactory to the lady, for she continued, “I should have thought one gentleman’s absence might have caused particular pangs.”

“I can’t image who you mean,” replied Elizabeth, suspicious already she would not like the answer.

“I understood that certain ladies found the society of Mr. Wickham particularly agreeable.”

Georgiana faltered at the keyboard, and for a brief moment the room was silent. The young girl’s face briefly crumpled, as if surprised and wounded at the same time. It was certain that everyone had heard this remark of Miss Bingley’s, and Darcy’s face went very white, then very cross, as he made a motion to rise to his sister’s aid.

“I’m so sorry!” cried Elizabeth to Georgiana, turning away from Miss Bingley, “I’m neglecting you. How can you play with no one to turn your pages?”

At this remark, Georgiana seemed to recover enough from the unpleasant surprise to begin to play again. Elizabeth stood at her side, shifting the pages about in order to affect a more convincing performance as page-turner. Georgiana shot her new friend a brief, grateful look when she reached the next cadence. The company returned to their coffee and conversation. All was as it should be.

Relieved the little episode seemed to have concluded without incident, Elizabeth breathed a little sigh to herself. When she raised her eyes from the music next, there were Darcy’s to meet hers. She smiled at him a little, attempting to reassure him that all was once again well. He returned her smile with a warm and grateful look before his attention was claimed once more by his aunt.

Tired from the long journey north, one by one the party dispersed for the evening. Elizabeth, who continued to enjoy sitting with Georgiana at the pianoforte, either turning her pages or engaged in the warm and animated conversation typical of two new female friends, was among the last of the party to remain downstairs. She had just wished Miss Darcy goodnight and was making her way down the darkened, empty corridor toward the stairs, when she felt someone catch her hand from behind. She knew before turning who it was.

“Thank you,” said Darcy in a low voice, his expression touchingly sincere. “Thank you for sparing her what might have been a truly dreadful moment. Miss Bingley is a thoughtless gossip and a preening sycophant.”

Elizabeth could not help but quietly laugh a little at this stern review of Miss Bingley’s character, but pressed his hand in reassurance. “I was glad to,” she replied, in the same hushed tones. “Miss Darcy is a thoroughly lovely and thoughtful girl. Caroline Bingley is a fool if she does not realize your sister’s friendship cannot be won with fashionable chit-chat and mean-spirited barbs at anyone she fancies a rival.”

Darcy smiled warmly at her. “I am pleased you like Georgiana. She needs women of strength and judgment to befriend and guide her. And probably also to teach her to laugh at herself every so often.” He chuckled a little, “and at me.”

Elizabeth returned his smile in response to this little self-deprecating remark, reflecting for a moment how strange and wonderful it was to hear the serious and self-possessed master of Pemberley make a little quip at his own expense. They stood silently together a moment, hands still joined, reluctant to let the moment pass. Both realized they ought to release the other, but in the quietness and dim evening light of the corridor, neither seemed inclined.

As the moment drew longer, Elizabeth’s pulse quickened, and suddenly her throat was dry. She looked up into his face, sure her expression would give her away, and was just on the point of stepping closer to him when he said softly, “I’m sorry, I’ve detained you on your way up. Goodnight, madam.” But he did not drop her hand.

“Goodnight, sir.” She did not drop his either. A strong desire had seized her to reach up with her free hand and caress his face.

Then, a voice—Georgiana’s—called down the corridor from where she had remained in the music room behind the others, halting Elizabeth’s inclination before she acted on it. “Brother? Is that you in the hall?”

He smiled at Elizabeth, pressed her hand one final time, and turned down the hall to attend to his sister. Elizabeth, her face warm and her breath shallow, watched him for several moments as he retreated down the hall, then turned reluctantly to climb the stairs to her room.

The day following the London party’s arrival was very fine indeed, and Elizabeth could not resist a long, solitary walk in the afternoon before dinner. She wandered as far as she’d ever gone in her brief time at Pemberley, purposefully setting out to see the northern fields which had been the subject of the dispute between Pemberley’s neighbors. She lingered on the hillside surveying the land, feeling proud of the help she had been able to offer and enjoying the beauty of the surroundings. When the impulse to run down the slope and across the open field possessed her, and once she was reasonably certain no one was near enough to observe, she indulged her natural inclination for rigorous exercise, speeding down the slope as fast as she dared, hands raised over her head, laughing as she tumbled toward the bottom.

She returned to the house feeling at once refreshed and pleasantly fatigued by the exertion, and in contemplative but agreeable spirits. As she neared, she caught a glimpse of Bingley, approaching from the stables. He caught sight of her at almost the same moment, and smiling, approached her.

“You’ve been for a long walk, I image.”

“Yes, indeed,” she replied genially. “Pemberley has no shortage of beauties.”

“No, it does not. I have been on a ride this afternoon and seen several of them myself. These days I spend at least a week at Pemberley every year, but somehow I always manage to forget just how very beautiful it is. Makes it all the more pleasant to be reminded, I suppose.”

“Indeed, you must be right.”

“You are very fond of fresh air and exercise, I remember.”

“Yes, I am. I could never bear to spend an entire day indoors, even when the weather is not so obliging as it is now.”

“Might I accompany you back to the house?”

“Of course.”

They walked along in silence at first, but she noticed out of the corner of her eye his posture becoming a little uncharacteristically stiff, as if he was preparing to broach a difficult subject. Presently he said, “In fact, now the opportunity presents itself— Mrs. Collins, there is a matter of great importance which I should very much like to discuss with you. Might I beg a few moments of your indulgence?”

“Oh?” This was an intriguing beginning. What could he mean?

“Yes— it regards, as a matter of fact, it regards your eldest sister,” Bingley’s fair complexion flooded with color, “Miss Jane Bennet.”

Elizabeth’s heart skipped a beat at this pronouncement, and for half a moment she was too surprised and bewildered to respond. But she recovered quickly and replied, “of course, Mr. Bingley. I am always happy to discuss Jane. Come, shall we sit in the rose garden?”

Elizabeth gestured toward a little nearby bench situated in the garden, and Mr. Bingley nodded gratefully. Elizabeth was bewildered—what could Bingley have to say to her now about Jane?

He was clearly anxious to begin, for he said as soon as they were seated, “I think you may be surprised to learn that I called upon Miss Bennet not two days ago in town.”

“Did you?” replied Elizabeth, unable to disguise the astonishment in her voice. This was indeed surprising. A letter from Jane on the subject of this visit was no doubt in the post on its way to Elizabeth at that very moment.

“Yes— I have been in hopes of renewing our acquaintance for some time, but had been under the impression that she may not wish for the same.”

“Ah,” Elizabeth shifted her posture slightly. “Yes, I had a feeling you might have been under that impression.”

“But I came to learn recently, through, uh… through a knowledgeable source, a mutual friend, that I had in fact been mistaken.”

“A mutual friend?” asked Elizabeth.

“Yes, exactly.” His expression took on a great solemnity. “I now believe, ma’am, that I owe you, and the rest of your good family, most especially Miss Bennet, an apology. What a cad you must have all thought me, to pay particular attentions to Miss Bennet the whole of the autumn and then return to London without a word to any of you after our wonderful ball at Netherfield.”

“You needn’t distress yourself on our account, Mr. Bingley. We never ceased to think anything but the best of you.”

“No, no, I truly wish to explain myself. In November, I had it on what I thought was good authority that your sister did not truly return my regard. Disappointed, but unwilling to be a burden to her, I resolved to return to London. But since then I heard to the contrary (from this mutual friend, you understand, who had been in company with Miss Bennet more recently than I) that my assumption had been in error, and this friend encouraged me to seek her out and put things right.”

“Of course,” said Elizabeth, trying not to betray her excitement, “that is very sensible.”

“In fact, this mutual friend was under the impression that Miss Bennet does in fact. . . return my regard?”

The look of modest hope on his face was too much to bear with equanimity. After her sister’s long months of heartache, this happy, sudden turn of events left Elizabeth feeling a little incapable at that moment of offering him an intelligible response, much as she wished to.

He must have observed as much, for he hastily added, “I know it is rather unorthodox of me, indelicate even, to inquire as to what is inevitably the subject of sisterly confidences, but I beg you would assist me, Mrs. Collins. I have no desire to torture either Miss Bennet or myself with continued misunderstandings. For my own part, I wish nothing more than to renew my addresses to her, indeed, to ask her to marry me – but only if such overtures would be welcome to her.”

Elizabeth could not help herself—a wide smile broke over her features, even before she was aware of it. But his sincerity and good intentions made her anxious to reassure him. “Of course, sir, your feelings do you credit, as does your devotion to my sister. I have no qualms in reporting to you that Jane did, and does continue to regard you with great affection. Indeed, I am happy to say that you are the very man to suit all her wishes.”

His immediate expressions of joy were as enthusiastic and fervent as any young lady would have wished in a suitor. Elizabeth laughed happily as he kissed her hand in gratitude and professed his devotion to Jane and delight at Elizabeth’s reassurances of her sister’s regard.

“I wish to see her again this very moment—when does she depart from London?”

“In a fortnight, I believe, and thence to Longbourn. When do you depart Derbyshire?”

“We had intended to stay the month, but now . . . I will ride back to London in a few a days. My sisters and Mr. Hurst can take the carriage back to London as planned, but I must see Miss Bennet before she returns to Hertfordshire. Perhaps the plan is hasty, but I already feel as if we have both waited too long. Do you think I am right? She will not think it too hasty?”

“No,” said Elizabeth, eager for her sister’s happiness to commence as soon as possible. “No not at all.”

They returned to the house, talking happily amongst themselves of Jane’s fine qualities, and how lovely it would be to soon call themselves brother and sister. They were parting in the front hall, he on the point of turning to go, when she stopped him. “Mr. Bingley?”


“Was it Mr. Darcy?”

“Darcy? Was what Darcy?”

“The— the mutual friend who told you that you’d mistaken the true nature of Jane’s regard in the autumn?”

“Oh! Why yes. He came to see me directly after his return from Kent. I believe you and Miss Bennet saw much of him there.”

“Yes,” said Elizabeth, her heart beginning to hammer in her ears. “Yes, we did.”

Sleep was impossible.

She lay in bed awake for what felt like endless hours, the same thoughts rotating ceaselessly round and round her head: Darcy had spoken to Bingley—had encouraged him to seek Jane out—Bingley had seen Jane already in London—Bingley hoped to marry her.

It was too wonderful to be true, and yet she’d had it all from Bingley himself. He was shortening his time in Derbyshire to return to London before the rest of the party, most likely to propose to Jane before she returned to Meryton. Jane would marry the man she loved and have the security of a good husband and a fine household for the rest of her life. There would be a kind, understanding brother after all to help the Bennet daughters provide and care for their mother. There would be protection from the worst if Mr. Collins overlooked his duty to his relations at Longbourn. There would be reason to hope again.

And Darcy had achieved it all. He had righted a wrong, not because he stood anything to gain by it, but because it had been just to do so. He had attempted to reunite a young couple who loved each other and had suffered from a misunderstanding he had helped to create. He had admitted his error and placed the happiness of his friend above his own pride. And he had done it, she suspected, for her.

This conclusion brought with it feelings so strong and overwhelming she could hardly give them adequate names. She had spent the months since April trying never to think of how she felt when he was near, how it had been to be in his arms, how the sight of his now beloved features at once set her at ease and filled her with a strange restlessness. How he made her wish ever more fervently that she had possessed the strength in November never to have relented to Collins’ renewed proposals. It was as if all her efforts to forget Darcy were undone in a moment, and she could no longer contain or stifle her feelings for him—if indeed, she ever really could.

He had clearly seen the distraction on her face that evening at dinner. The party had gathered and was about to go into the dining room when he stepped near her, and bending toward her ear asked in a low voice too soft for anyone else to hear, “is everything— are you well?”

She did not dare look at him — the nearly imperceptible feeling of his breath on the nape of her neck sent new color into her cheeks. “Yes,” she managed, “truly.”

He regarded her skeptically but saw the futility of pressing her further then. He stayed at her elbow until he was obliged a few moments later to take his aunt into dinner. His departure was both a pang and a relief.

When 1:00 o’clock in the morning arrived and sleep still evaded her, Elizabeth knew there would be no true rest in her current state of fatigue, excitement, and agitation. As she had done as a girl at Longbourn on the rare occasion of a sleepless night, she would seek refuge and tranquility in the library. Hastily throwing a light summer robe over her nightgown, she departed her rooms and slipped silently downstairs.

Finding himself too alert and his mind too active for sleep, Darcy had returned downstairs in his shirtsleeves to take up his favorite place in the library. He sought out a beloved volume, a book on fishing he had first discovered as a young man, and sat down by the fire to read until he felt drowsy.

But he found himself instead staring absently into the fire, unable, as usual when he allowed himself a moment to let his mind wander, to think of anything but Elizabeth. It was becoming harder by the day to pretend he had nothing but friendly regard for her. The longer she remained at Pemberley, the more she seemed to belong there, as if the place itself had longingly awaited her arrival. She had forged an easy friendship with Georgiana in the space of twenty-four hours, despite his sister’s natural shyness and reserve. And something about the Derbyshire scene had brightened Elizabeth’s fine eyes, once so sad in the spring, and returned the healthy glow to her cheeks.

He had of course also seen the hints that her feelings for him were no more merely friendly in nature than his were for her. They found themselves so often near each other, clasping hands, exchanging long looks. The expression about her eyes when she looked at him had also changed: where once it was guarded and almost apprehensive, afraid to let him too near, it had now softened and opened into warmth, humor, trust, and perhaps (dare he hope?) love.

He was no fool—he had not forgotten the essential fact that she remained someone else’s wife—but every warm look and gentle touch gave him the hope that somehow, despite great obstacles, they would someday come together. For now, then, all he must do was somehow bear the waiting.

The unexpected sound of the library door admitting an entrant and closing behind her pulled Darcy from his thoughts, and he looked up to see who it was.


She had not seen him when she entered, and the startling signal that she was not alone as anticipated seemed to surprise her more than his use of her given name.

“Oh,” she exhaled, leaning slightly against the door. “I— I did not expect to find anyone here.”

“No, of course not,” he replied, with the hint of a smile. “I found I was not tired when I went to bed, so I came back down.”

“I couldn’t sleep either.” She seemed then to realize she was standing before him in nothing but her night things. “I’ve disturbed you— I ought to go back upstairs.”

She said the words, but did not move from her place against the door. Their eyes met across the fire-lit room, and after a long moment, Darcy said quietly, “stay and sit with me.”

Without another word, she crossed the room and took the seat opposite him at the fire. Up close, he could see her eyes were bright and alert.

“You looked flushed and preoccupied at dinner, and now you can’t sleep. Have you had bad news from Hunsford? Is everything well with your sister Lydia in Brighton?”

“Lydia? Oh, yes. I wrote to my uncle, and he will go to see her next week. Everything is well, truly.”

“I am glad to hear it.”

They fell into silence, both staring into the fire. Then she continued, “if anything, I have had very good news this evening.”

“Have you?”

“Yes. I had a very— enlightening conversation with Mr. Bingley.”

“What did Bingley say?”

“He told me that he had discovered my sister Jane was staying in London and had paid a call on her not two days before setting out for Pemberley. He intends to renew his addresses to her, and asked me if I thought she returned his affections. He was so pleased when I told him yes, that he resolved to return to London in a few days time.”

Darcy smiled. “Then I am very happy for them.”

She looked down at her hands in her lap, then met his gaze again. “This is your doing, is it not?”

“My doing? No— you said yourself that Bingley sought your sister out on his own.”

“But you told him you’d been mistaken before about the nature of her regard.”

“Well, yes. I had made a harmful error, which was only right to correct.”

Elizabeth regarded him silently, reflecting on this answer. Presently, she began again, “You said I looked flushed and preoccupied at dinner— I was. I was trying to work out how I was ever going to continue displaying only friendly regard toward you when you insist upon quietly demonstrating yourself to be the very best of men.”

He went a little pale but continued to regard her openly without speaking, waiting for her to continue. Feeling agitated, Elizabeth rose from her place at the fire and crossed the room to the window. It was easier to think when he wasn’t quite so near.

“I know you hoped we might be able to maintain a friendship of sorts. I had hoped it too. It seemed such a promising alternative, a chance to see you and be near you without really putting myself in danger. But of course it was naïve to think I could be in your home, see you everyday, learn to know you better, learn from our friends how you advocate for me in secret, without feeling more.”

He remained silent, frozen in his seat at the fire. But she refused to look away, as if challenging him to answer.

“What are you saying? Are you telling me all connection between us must cease? Do you wish me leave you alone?”

“No— but— I— I don’t know.” She turned away, confused, weary, afraid of the strength of her own emotions.

He sighed heavily. “I did speak to Bingley about your sister because I believed it was right to do so. Not only because of what you told me in April, but because of what I observed of her in Kent for myself. It was clear my advice to Bingley in November had been misplaced, and as such, it was my duty to my friend, and to Miss Bennet, to correct my error. But. . . I cannot deny that the knowledge my actions would bring great happiness to you was a significant inducement in the performance of that duty.”

She remained at the window, looking out into the darkness, but clearly intent upon his every word. When he had finished this little confession, she took in a great, slow breath, which caught a little in her throat, as if trying to steady herself.

“You are right, you know,” he continued, standing. “It was entirely naïve of me to suggest we could continue as merely friends even whilst thrown together in a situation which, if anything, would tend to bring us together rather than pull us apart. I suppose I ought to regret putting us both in this position, but I have no scruple in telling you I long ago lost all sense and decorum when it comes to you.” There was nothing for it, he must tell her. “In vain I have struggled—it will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

She turned from the window then to meet his eyes, hers glimmering with unshed tears. She was quiet and still for a long moment, then said in a voice barely above a whisper, “I know I ought to forbid you from saying such things, but I cannot. I return your love. Unreservedly.”

Darcy crossed the remaining steps between them and seized her hands in his own. They were trembling a little, but warm, and she pressed his hands in return. Resting his forehead gently against hers, he marveled for a moment at how calm he felt, and then bent to place reverent kisses inside both her wrists.

“I know what it costs you to tell me this. Speaking to you this way likely makes me a blackguard and a reprobate by any reasonable measure, but the depth and steadfastness of my regard must be my excuse. I will make no demand on your conscience—forbid me to speak another word and I will obey. But I am powerless to stem my love for you, or to counsel myself to pursue a more prudent course. You consume me.”

Elizabeth studied his dear, earnest face. Her expression was calm, but her face was very flushed and her eyes bright. “By any reasonable measure I should be ashamed of myself, professing love to a man who is not my husband. But you have been my one true friend since my father’s death. How can I be anything but proud to love the best man I have ever known?”

“Dearest, loveliest Elizabeth.” Greatly moved by emotion, but unsure how much she would allow, Darcy raised a hand to caress her jawline, moving his thumb tenderly across her cheek. She pressed her face into his caress, then turned her head to place a gentle kiss in his palm.

This simple, heartfelt exchange was enough to break the dam on the self-control of both. Darcy leaned down to catch her lips with his, and found her face already turned up to meet him. The kiss was gentle at first, sweet. After months of uncertainty and heartache, followed by their delicate attempts at friendship, this honest, tender expression of their mutual regard was heady for them both. Soon, more passionate feelings prevailed, deepening their kisses and lending increasing urgency to their embrace.

Darcy raised his hands to cradle her beloved face between them as he kissed her, and discovered dampness on her cheeks beneath his fingers. He pulled back a moment to ensure she was alright. Tears had pooled in her fine eyes, but she looked up at him with a face aglow and a smile about her parted lips.

“You’re crying.”

“I am happy,” she said, reaching up and, with her thumb, brushing away the dampness from under his own eyes. “You’re happy too.”

He laughed, and rested his forehead against hers again. “God, I love you.”

“I love you.”

Lowering his smile over hers, the kisses continued. Elizabeth seemed to discard all her wariness and reluctance in the space of a single afternoon. She was only too happy to lose herself, body and soul, in the deep delight of expressing her love for the man who had so swiftly made himself a fixture in her heart. Any guilt or shame she might have felt before slipped from her as if it had been as easily shed as an unwanted garment. She thought nothing more of running her hands over his chest and kissing him with an open mouth beyond her own desire to do so, and the low, encouraging groan in his throat when she did. She felt trust, love, honesty, and mutual esteem in their embrace, and it was intoxicating.

For Darcy’s part, kissing her felt somehow different than before — still passionate, exhilarating, and enthralling, but at Hunsford, their encounter had been unexpected, furtive, and had ended abruptly. These embraces now were the warm, familiar, unhurried caresses of acknowledged lovers, an easy intimacy as well as an ardent one. Touching and holding her this way was like coming home to a safe and welcoming place. Hearing her sigh against his ear as he kissed her cheeks and jawline was as reassuring as it was provoking.

Love for her consumed him. Emboldened by pure joy, he slipped his hands between her robe and her nightgown and drew her body closer, even as she pressed herself unreservedly against him. She ran her hands over his arms and let them come to rest along either side of his face, gently pulling his head down closer to hers as she kissed him.

They had both lost nearly all sense of time and place when a scuffling noise on the other side of the library door interrupted them. Closer listening revealed it to be only one of Darcy’s dogs, come to look for his master, away from his bed so unusually late at night. Kissing Elizabeth’s forehead, Darcy broke their embrace a moment to cross the room and let the dog into the library, making sure to firmly shut it behind the animal. Returning to Elizabeth, he gathered her in his arms once more. As she laid her head against his heart, he rested a cheek atop her head.

“We cannot spend all night in the library — what if we are discovered?”

“I have no wish to be parted from you, not now.”

“Nor I you, but where can we go?”

Straightening, their eyes met and held. The sound of the fire crackling in the gate was the only sound in the room. A single thought between them, hearts pounding and breath coming fast and shallow, both waited for the other to be first to give it voice.

“Do you trust me?” Darcy asked at last, in a voice barely above a whisper, caressing her cheek and earnestly searching her eyes. They were clear and bright.

“Yes, my love. I trust you as I trust no one else.”

This response earned her another fiercely adoring kiss, distracting them a moment from their primary purpose.

At last he broke the kiss, and grasping both her hands in his, murmured against her ear, “then come with me— we’ll go to my rooms. No one will disturb us there.”

There was no doubt or hesitation in her eyes — she nodded decisively and pressed his hands. At once relieved, stirred, and terrified, Darcy brought her fingers to his lips and kissed them reverently.


Hand in hand, they slipped silently from the library and up the stairs, unimpeded by the rest of the sleeping household.

In a Prudential Light, Part 2, Chapter 5

RoslynSeptember 01, 2018 07:24PM

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RoslynJanuary 06, 2019 06:11PM

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