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Failing and Fainting

Prologue
24th September
Netherfield had remarkable ceilings. Mr. Darcy was quite positive on the subject, since he had spent two days watching them. The gentleman had no obsession with ceilings in general, nor was he usually disposed to such idle occupations. However, since he had entered Netherfield again, his mind and body refused to do anything other than stare at the voidand think of Elizabeth Bennet. So much so, that even Mr. Bingley, who usually was much idler than he, began to wonder and complain. Should we not go for hunting, my friend? Charles asked a little impatiently on the second day. Mr. Darcys stare only slightly moved from the ceiling of the dining room. Do you feel like hunting? No, Charles answered promptly, but that is why we came here, is it not? We should, you know, just go and do it. Should we do something we are not inclined to only because

we used it as an excuse to come here? An excuse? Darcy, I have no idea what you are talking about. You were so enthusiastic about the hunting season. You praised the woods of Hertfordshire so much I was talking to your sister, Charles! I was trying to be convincing. You were trying to deceive her? Bingley was dumbfounded. I thought you abhorred disguise and deceit. I did I do But I am still very good at it. Bingley gave up trying to decipher his friends enigmatic responses. So, if we did not come for hunting, why did we come here? Darcy finally looked him directly in the eye and smiled. Do you really not know, Bingley? To you, are Hertfordshires woods the most delightful sight in the area? Well, hmm, I.er I supposeYes. I said I am good at deceit, not you. You are quite despairing at it. All right, then, I admit that I am not averse at the prospect of seeing Miss Bennet again. I know what you said about her feelings, Darce, but What was it that I said about her feelings? That she is not in love with me, as I am with her. Upon realizing what he said, he quickly added, while he blushed furiously, I meant, I was. Were you or are you?

Oh, Darcy, what does it matter? Miss Bennet is not likely to have fallen in love with me during my absence. Quite true. But I may have been wrong, you know. Darcy was not in the mood to make a full confession. That would take quite a long time and would jeopardize his stay at Netherfield. He could not leave Hertfordshire before he had seen Elizabeth, loyalty to his friend be damned! Wrong? But you Bingleys face suddenly turned pale. I am human. I make mistakes, my friend. Quite dreadful at times, too. However, even if I was not wrong, and you are in love with Miss Bennet, why not try to win her heart? I beg your pardon? But, last winter you said Forget what I said last winter. My judgment was not at its best then. Thinking a little more, he added, Bear that in mind, for future reference. So, what are we going to do? Bingley said, genuinely excited. What do you want to do? Visit the Bennets. Do you see now why I have spent so much time looking at your ceilings? What have the ceilings to do with the Bennets? Let us go, now! We only arrived in the area yesterday, Charles. We cannot slight everyone else and visit them today. Our intentionsyour intentions, I mean, he corrected hastily, may be entirely honorable, but arising rumors is always unpleasant, both for us and the ladies.

Ladies? Lady, Charles, lady. May we go tomorrow then? Bingley, propriety demands that Darcy began, but then Elizabeths image came before his eyes. He recalled their last meeting when she was teary, so sad and vulnerable. He remembered the moment he touched her hand, back at the Inn of Lambton and what irrational joy he felt, despite the overall distress. Hang propriety! Yes, Charles, tomorrow will be a fine day to go. Just as he said those words, the skies opened and a fierce rain started.

~)~)~)~(~(~(~ Wednesday, 24th September 1812 It has been a bad day! According to my Aunt Phillips reports, Mr. Bingley returned at Netherfield yesterday. Mama and Papa are arguing whenever they happen upon each other in the house. Fortunately, thanks to my fathers conniving, they meet only at dinner, and we all try to eat as quickly as possible! Poor Jane! This is hard for her. Though, to be honest, I think that she had a rather hopeful look on her face when Mother pleaded to Father for the upteempth time to visit Mr. Bingley now that he has returned. Yes, Jane still loves him, she cant fool me. It is sad, though, to watch my sister trying to hide her true feelings from me. We used to share everything that was in our

hearts, but I cannot be so presumptuous as to complain, since for a very long time, I have been hiding my desires from dearest Jane. And I am proud to saywith much more success! No one in the house would ever suspect that my disturbingly frequent dreamy looks stem from my imagining myself being at Pemberley as Mr. Darcys wife. I was in the middle of such a rewarding reverie today when my mother stormed into the drawing room, announcing that she had it on the best authority that Sir William Lucas had every intention of visiting Mr. Bingley. Unable to bear another recital of the reasons why my father should call upon Mr. Bingley which only served to make me think of Mr. Darcy even more, I ran out of the house, hoping that I would find peace in the serenity of our park. To own the truth, I did not find it because recollections of my time at Pemberley intruded, followed, unfortunately, by the memory of the last time I saw him at the Inn in Lambton. His eyes were so serious, so cold, and foolishly, only then did I realize that I wanted his eyes on me with warmth and tenderness for the rest of my life. Dearest diary, I am afraid my condition is serious. I am trying to narrate what happened to me this morning, and all I do is talk about Mr. Darcy. How do I manage to associate everything that happens in relation to him? If I thought that the situation was bad when we returned from Lambton, what am I to say now? After receiving my aunts letter of explanationwhich, quite by chance, is right here on the tablehardly an hour passes without my thinking of him. But no more delays. I will say only what happened, without any more references to Mr. Darcy. I will try to eliminate them, at least. I shall conquer this! I walked in the park, rather more absent-mindedly than usual, and I did not notice that I had made quite a distance until I felt the first drops of the rain. I should have tried to find refuge somewhere in the park. That is what my normal, practical self

would have done. However, I am afraid that Ann Radcliffs influences on me chose to make their presence known. I vow I have not touched any novel of hers since I was fourteen; still, I felt an incomprehensible urgency to walk my way back home in the rain, thus washing my sins and liberating my soul. I still can not explain what possessed me, but I remember that at the moment, it seemed very poetic, the kind of thing any heroine would do. As you can see, I behaved worse than a little girl. When I reached the house, completely soaked, water dripping from every part of my clothing, I had changed my mind about what was romantic, but it was too late by then. The storm was getting worse and worse outside, and I prayed with all my heart that my absence had passed unnoticed. As I stood at the base of the stairs, uncertain of what to do, Hill appeared and saved me. She informed me that my mother had suddenly felt indisposed after a private conversation with my father (at least I was spared that!) and that Jane had been attending her, while my father had retired to his study. Even though my mother had asked for me, she had not insisted, so all I had to do was formulate a good excuse. I was too numb to invent a good excuse, but I was able to devise a believable one. After Sarah helped me to change clothes, I ran like a thief into Marys room, grabbed the first book I found and ran to my mother to apologize profusely that I was so absorbed in my reading that I misunderstood Hill when she came to summon me. My mother scolded me only for a few minutes, and I thought I had a narrow escape, but I am afraid that is not the case. Right now I have a headache, and I feel very cold, although everyone declares it to be a warm evening. My throat feels as if hundreds of pins are attacking it, and my body is not really under my command. I hate being sick. I will not fall sick.

I will retire to my bed now, as my shivers are worsening. I will sleep, and everything will be well in the morning. I might even not dream of Mr. Darcy. I might even not think of Mr. Darcy. Yes, tomorrow I will have a day free from thoughts of Mr. Darcy. (Oh dear, how many times have I mentioned his name?) I just looked at the book I took from Marys roomthe one that supposedly had me so absorbed this morning. It is Ann Radcliffs A Sicilian Romance. It serves me right.

~)~)~)~(~(~(~

Failing and Fainting

Part 1
25th September
Elizabeth shifted in her chair uneasily, blinking in yet another desperate attempt to make something of the needlework that was

lying in her lap. She couldnt believe the irony of her situation. Just before going to sleep the previous night, she had promised herself not to think of Mr. Darcy today yet Mr. Darcy was now sitting not ten feet from her. She might have been overjoyed and more amenable to him if her mind had been working properly, but the truth was that a good nights sleep had done nothing to erase the symptoms that had rendered her worried the previous evening. Her headache was worse than ever, and she could do nothing to warm herself. She did not want to be ill. That was the reason she had not stayed in bed and pretended to ignore Sarahs doubtful looks when the maid inquired if she felt quite all right. The truth was that Elizabeth felt ill, very ill. She could hardly walk, and a paralyzing pain soon spread over her every joint. Her hands were frozen, while her face felt ever so hot. She decided to accept the fact and retire to her room where she could indulge in self-pity, but then Mrs. Bennet spotted Mr. Bingley from the window. Elizabeth sat up, still determined to leave, although her concern for Jane was already giving her pangs of guilt, but as she moved close to her mother to inform her of her intentions and bear her wrath, she saw Mr. Darcy riding next to Mr. Bingley. She returned to her seat without uttering another word. When she witnessed her mothers civility towards Mr. Bingley and rudeness towards Mr. Darcy, she started questioning the wisdom of her decision. By the time Mrs. Bennet started talking about Lydias wedding, Elizabeth had grown completely miserable. She tried not to listen to her mothers words when she lamented Wickhams lack of fortune, but her traitorous ears caught the bitter remarks. Thank heaven! He has some friends, though perhaps not so many as he deserves. Change the subject, change the subject! Elizabeths mind was

screaming, but she could not summon the strength to do it. Cold sweat ran down her cheeks, and she felt her limbs growing weaker and weaker. She could not concentrate on her work. The mere sight of needles rather deteriorated her dizziness. Another effort to resume her needlework only succeeded in wounding her thumb. The pain was trifling, but it added to her discomfort. Was it possible that the room was getting darker and darker? She lifted her eyes, scarcely allowing herself to steal a quick glimpse of Mr. Darcy, whose face was still solemn and expressionless. How long do youdo you Every pair of eyes in the room turned towards her, and even Mr. Darcy seemed surprised by her stammering and faint voice. Good, make yourself even more ridiculous in his eyes, Elizabeth Bennet! How long do you plan to stay at Netherfield, Mr. Bingley? Elizabeth finally asked, with a steady voice. At least no one is paying attention to me any longer, she sighed with relief, as everyone focused on Bingley and awaited his answer. A few weeks, I believe. Elizabeth wanted to see his friends reaction to the statement, but suddenly her head felt too heavy for her to move in any direction. The room grew even darker. She prayed that she could manage to remain in company until the end of the visit. When you have killed all your own birds, Mr. Bingley, I beg you will come here, and shoot as many as you please on Mr. Bennets manor. I am sure he will be vastly happy to oblige you and will save all the best of the covies for you. Stop her, someone stop her! But no one could stop her mother, and Elizabeth had long

reconciled herself to the fact. Still, she did not want this torture to continue any longer. She reminded herself that as a gentlemans daughter, she should cling to propriety and patiently wait for the gentlemen to take their leave. Oh, but she wanted her bedher soft, wonderful bed to lie in and sleep and get rest Her head was ready to burst. Hang propriety! I beg you to excuse me, she said, rising abruptly, and before taking notice of the shocked expressions on every face as she attempted to leave the room, everything went black.

~)~)~)~(~(~(~ Darcy ran instinctively to her, even before Jane, who needed a moment to recover from the shock. Mrs. Bennet instantly went into hysterics, because this event went against her plans of inviting Mr. Bingley for dinner rather than from any real concern for her daughtergirls constantly faint, after all! Kitty attended her mother while Mary went near to her fainted sister and watched with curiosity as Mr. Darcy and Jane tried to bring her back to consciousness. Mr. Bingley had retracted to the wall at the opposite side of the room, wearing a rather horrified expression on his suddenly pale face. Miss Elizabeth, open your eyes. Please open your eyes, Elizabeth, Mr. Darcy was heard pleading, but the use of Elizabeths Christian name went unnoticed by anyone but Jane. She was too preoccupied to give it a second thought. She is feverish, Jane declared, becoming more and more worried. Elizabeth, please open your eyes. Please. She is doing it on purpose. She is doing it on purpose, Mrs.

Bennet said, to ruin everything! Mrs. Bennet, are you serious? Darcys tone would have intimidated an intelligent person, but had no effect at all on Elizabeths mother. Have you no heart at all? Your daughter lies unconscious! And why should you care, Mr. Darcy? You were the one who said she was only tolerable. Why should you care if she dies or not? Darcy was ready to form an answer that would do nothing to improve his relationships with the awful mother when Elizabeths meek voice was heard. Mama Immediately Darcys eyes locked with hers, showing nothing but the utmost tenderness. He wanted to speak, but he didnt trust himself to use his voice. His relief was so great, and the fear of losing her had made him so much more aware of his feelings for her that he doubted he would not propose there and then, if he were to open his mouth. We should move her to sit on the couch, Mary said with a look that showed how well-read she was on the subject. She will recover more quickly that way. Elizabeth wanted to tell them that she felt just fine lying on the floor with Mr. Darcy hovering over her, but she decided against it, as he lifted her in his arms and carried her to the couch. Unfortunately, as soon as she sat, she felt all the blood draining from her head again, and she soon surrendered to the blackness. Darcy cried, A doctor! No one moved. He examined the room, and upon observing Bingley and his horrified expression, he shouted, What the devil are you doing against the wall, Bingley?

Bingley answered something, but it was unintelligible. Bingley, come here and repeat that again. Louder, please! His tone was so commanding that even Mrs. Bennet was impressed. His friend finally obeyed him, and getting closer, he stammered almost inaudibly, Shshe is blbleeding. Darcys eyes were instantly upon Elizabeth form, mad with worry, but he could detect no blood. There, on the right thumb. Blood makes me dizzy. I want to leave. Darcy would have said something very offensive to his friend, after realizing that he was making all that fuss over a mere scratch, but he decided against it, as he saw Jane standing a few yards away. Although she seemed very absorbed with concern for Elizabeth, he was certain she was trying to listen to them, but judging from her expression, she had not heard anything. Bingley, please go and bring a doctor. You would help a great deal if you did. Mr. Bingley is not going anywhere! Mrs. Bennet shouted, irritated that Mr. Darcy was taking his friend away from them. No, no, he goes, Bingley said hastily. I mean, I go. I would be pleased to go, to be of service. And before Mrs. Bennet could ask one of the servants to go instead of him, he was out of the door, heaving a huge sigh of relief. Staying behind, Jane decided to attribute his sudden departure to gallantry and be pleasedagainst her better judgment. In the meantime, Elizabeth had opened her eyes again, and Darcy was paying her his undivided attention. Jane left her side and was trying to calm her mother, as Kitty could not handle her on her own.

Miss Elizabeth, do you feel any better? I feel a little dizzy, Mr. Darcy. What happened? You seem to have fainted. Twice. And you are feverish. And I waswe were, he corrected, very concerned. Mr. Bingley has gone to fetch the doctor. There is no need. I am quite well, Elizabeth answered, although she thought the whole room was swirling around her, and she was very tempted to close her eyes again. Miss Elizabeth, look at me! I mean, please keep your eyes open. Do not give in She simply nodded, wishing she could get back her ability to think clearly and decide if he actually was as concerned as he seemed to her. Miss Elizabeth, clearly, you are not well, he continued. What may I do to help you? Please, tell me to do somethinganything to be the means of assisting you. Please, he whispered into her ear. Despite everything, he could not help relishing the intimacy of their closeness, and for one moment, he was grateful to Mrs. Bennet who created a great deal of fuss at the other corner of the room, allowing him some moments of privacy with Elizabeth. If Elizabeth were well, she would not have said what she did. But she was not wellnot well at all. I I felt better when I was lying down. Darcy was not certain if he had heard well. On the floor? Yes, she whispered.

You want me to put you back to the floor? He was not sure he wanted to witness Mrs. Bennets reaction if he did something of the kind. No I would like to lieanywhere. Darcy swallowed hard and reminded himself that Elizabeths words were innocent. Innocent. Innocent. Unfortunately, his thoughts were far from innocent at the moment. Think, Darcy, think! Then I will take you to your room, Miss Elizabeth. No, sir My maid could help me You cannot walk at all. Your maid cannot carry you, he said very decidedly. A servant could No servant will take you to his arms as long as I live, Elizabeth. Miss Elizabeth, I insist. With that, he lifted her in his arms and walked towards the stairs. It was at that moment that Mrs. Bennet decided to turn around. Where do you think you are going with my daughter in your arms, sir? Not her again! I was offensive at Hunsford, Elizabeth, and arrogant and conceited, but regarding your mother, I was right! To her room. She needs rest Away from you. He took a few more steps. No, sir, you cannot! You have no right to put your hands upon her! Mama, please. Janes voice was pleading, although she was as

astonished at Mr. Darcys impropriety as her mother. However, she believed his concern for Elizabeths welfare was genuine, and since Elizabeth was not opposed to the idea, she could see no reason to deprive him of the pleasure of being of help. No, Jane, do not try to stop me. You, sir, may not compromise my girl just because you are tall and handsome and have ten thousand a year. These liberties are acceptable only between husband and Mr. Darcy turned and cast Mrs. Bennet a venomous look and then disappeared upstairs carrying Elizabeth, but that was not why Mrs. Bennet suddenly gasped and covered her mouth with her hand. She had simply recalled two of the words she had used: compromise and husband. Hill! she cried, ignoring Janes pleas to calm down. Tell Mr. Bennet to come here at once. He must make Mr. Darcy marry Lizzy immediately! She clapped her hands and then embraced Jane, who had turned white and Kitty, who was giggling. A ladys honor Mary began. With a special license, of course! Mrs. Bennet cut her short.

~)~)~)~(~(~(~ The faces of the four occupants of the drawing room later that day betrayed very different moods. Mr. Bingley wondered how much he had managed to humiliate himself in the eyes of Jane Bennet with his ridiculous fears that morning. Mr. Bennet was simply worried about what the apothecary would find wrong with his favorite child. Mrs. Bennet had an expression that could have easily been called sullen, but actually, it was conniving, for though her husband refused to even consider her ranting until he was certain that their daughter was out of danger, she was by no means discouraged. Mr. Darcy appeared to be staring at the

carpet very intensely, but in truth, he was meditating of the very great pleasure Elizabeths imagine lying on her bed could bestow. His mind took another path, transferring her breathtaking form to his own bed at Pemberley. These were not gentlemanlike thoughts at all, and he was acutely aware of the fact. Still, after touching her so intimately, after pressing her whole body against his as he carried her to her room, he was rendered incapable of having gentlemanlike thoughts. The more he thought about it, the more he realized that he had indeed compromised Elizabeth. At the time, he thought he was doing nothing more than what was necessary for his beloveds safety. Still, if he could judge by the desires awakened in him, he had not done the right thing. Mrs. Bennet had been correct much more so than he had been. He shuddered at the thought and heard Mrs. Bennet ask a servant to add a log to the fire Had she been watching him? Not that the prospect of marrying Elizabeth was a displeasing one. In fact, it would be the fulfillment of dreams, hopes and wishes that had haunted him for the past year. Still, to be forced to marry her would simply not do No, that was not the worst. The worst would be to have her accept him simply because she was compelled to do so. In all his fantasies, she forgave him, and she fell as madly in love with him as he was with her. His pride would not bear a marriage based on obligation. It was true that loving Elizabeth had taught him to forsake his pride, but he was not willing to go so far. He had to talk to Mr. Bennet that very day, and he had to stop showing such an open interest in Elizabeth, at least for the time being. He let out an inaudible sigh, but Mrs. Bennets watchful eyes caught it, and she was about to ask him about it, but he was spared as Mr. Jones entered the room, followed by Miss Bennet. Mr. Darcy stood up before everyone else, and forgetting his resolutions of a moment ago, he started his inquiries before anyone else had the chance to speak.

Is she out of danger? Mr. Jones smiled encouragingly. My dear sir, Miss Elizabeth never was in danger. She is one of the healthiest girls I know. This is one of the very few times she has needed my services. But then, why did she collapse so suddenly? Surely, this cannot be considered a sign of good health! Mr. Darcy was already contemplating sending for his own physician in London and missed Mr. Bennets annoyed grunt. Mr. Jones, however, did not lose his good humor. It was not an alarmingly sudden incident, sir. Miss Elizabeth caught a cold yesterday, and she admitted to having overexerted herself. If she had kept to her bed this morning, she would have been considerably better now. Do you think that her recovery will take long? Mr. Bennet finally managed to speak before Darcy. She is feverish right now, but that is not alarming. I think that she will improve considerably within the next two days. In any case, I will return tomorrow morning. You may call upon me if you witness anything of an alarming nature during the night. I will stay with her, Mrs. Bennet said. Darcy gritted his teeth, but fortunately, Jane intervened. I will spend the night with her, Mama. I will be repaying the services she bestowed on me, she said with a small smile and a glimpse in Mr. Bingleys direction that considerably improved his mood and self-esteem. How is Miss Elizabeth now? Darcy was again the one to speak first. She has fallen asleep. I am sure rest will benefit her. Mr. Darcy did not seem satisfied, but Mr. Bennet extended his

hand to the apothecary. Thank you, John. Will you stay for dinner, Mr. Jones? Mrs. Bennet inquired politely but half-heartedly. Bingley and Darcy had agreed to dine with them, and she didnt want a stranger in her table. Luckily for her, Mr. Jones expressed his wish to return to his wife as soon as possible. Mrs. Bennet sent Kitty and Mary to escort him. She then declared that Mr. Bingley was pale and would be extremely benefited from a walk in the garden. Jane was subsequently encouraged to join him, and perhaps to take him as far as the Oakham Mount. She, as a conscious mother, replaced her daughter in Elizabeths room. Thus, her cunning bore fruit. Mr. Bennet and Mr. Darcy were left all alone.

~)~)~)~(~(~(~ Mr. Bennet had no intention of promoting a marriage between his daughter and Mr. Darcy, no matter how persistent his wife was about Elizabeths having been compromised. However, the young mans behavior had puzzled him exceedingly, and he meant to have a serious talk with him. Mr. Darcy, he began, clearing his throat, I heard that you were most attentive to my daughter this morning. Although he expected nothing more than a contemptuous look from his companion, he witnessed him stiffen, while a look of selfconsciousness appeared briefly on his face. Mr. Bennet, I am not sure what you have been told Merely that you carried my daughter in the presence of her mother, her sisters, your friend and two members of the staff and that you entered her bedroom, as her maid kindly informed

me. In that light, my behavior seems unforgivable indeed, Mr. Bennet, Darcy replied coldly. However, Miss Elizabeth was in evident distress and appearances were not my utmost concern at that moment. You admit, then, that you surpassed the limits of propriety? Mr. Bennet was somewhat alarmed. I only spoke of appearances. My behavior towards your daughter was entirely honorable, as are my intentions. I beg your pardon? Mr. Bennet was certain that Darcy could not mean what he thought that he meant. Mr. Bennet, although my actions were motivated purely by my concern for your daughters situation, I understand that I have conducted myself in a way that might lead to scandal. Since you think that marriage is the most appropriate solution Indeed, Mr. Darcy, I said no such thing! he exclaimed and gained a genuinely surprised look from Darcy, who did not expect to be interrupted. But you do think that I have compromised Miss Elizabeth. In truth, all that Mr. Bennet wanted to do was to punish the arrogant man for his superior airs by telling him that he was not allowed to do whatever he pleased in his house. He had not expected the conversation to take this turn. No, Mr. Darcy I again he cleared his throat, I simply wanted to know your opinion about the whole affair. Are you asking me if I think that I have compromised your daughter? In a way, yes.

Darcy was taken aback. He had expected a scene with Mr. Bennet ranting and storming and threatening that he would kill him if he did not agree to take Elizabeth as his wife, but the gentleman in question would not come to the point. What was he up to? Why did he not ask what he meant to ask directly? When I acted this morning, I thought that I was doing nothing that an honorable man would not do. However, on second thought Second thought? Yes, on second thought, Mr. Darcy confirmed, even more puzzled, I think that my conduct could be misinterpreted. I esteem Miss Elizabeth too much to have her subjected to But you had justification. Mr. Bennets voice betrayed anguish. Hardly, sir. Elizabeth could not move by herself. But I had not her mothers consent Her mother was too upset to give consent. A servant could have carried her Darcy tried to be neutral as he said the last phrase, although the thought still made him shiver. No male servant was in the room, Mr. Bennet said quickly. And as you said, two servants witnessed Mrs. Hill and Sarah are very discreet. Darcy did not wish to argue any longer. Mr. Bennet, are you trying to make excuses for me?

The older man cast his eyes down and replied in a low voice. I am trying to be reasonable. Do you Is it possible that you do not wish a marriage between myself and your daughter? I would rather not place you both in a disagreeable situation. Disagreeable situation? Darcy cried with agitation, and suddenly Mr. Bennet remembered that he was speaking with a man to whom he would never dare deny anything that he condescended to ask. Do not take offense at my words, Mr. Darcy. I merely meant that that I am assured that your conduct this morning has been beyond reproach and that a marriage is not necessary. Would you oppose to such a marriage? I implore you, do not take this as an affront. I would not wish a marriage of dutyof conveniencefor Elizabeth. She deserves She is too special to be happy or to make her husband happy in a union forced upon her. Mr. Darcys features relaxed a little at the evident tenderness with which Mr. Bennet referred to his daughter. A small smile curved his lips as he asked the next question. But, suppose it was not a forced marriage out of duty? Mr. Bennet was certain he had not heard well. Not a marriage out of duty? What kind of marriage could it be? A marriage of love, Mr. Darcy said with such firmness and determination that however shocked Elizabeths father might have been, at least he was certain that he had not misunderstood him. Do you love my daughter?

Darcy breathed deeply. I had hoped to inform you under different circumstances, Mr. Bennet, but yes, I do. This cannot be. You had proclaimed her to be only tolerable! Mr. Darcy wondered if there was anyone in Hertfordshire who had not heard about the stupidest remark he had made in his whole life. Mr. Bennet, you know your daughter well enough to understand why, upon further acquaintance, I came to regret my foolish and ill-judged remark most acutely. Surely you cannot doubt that Miss Elizabeth can inspire the tenderest of feelings? The older man thought that he was constantly losing ground. But you despised her! She despised you! Darcy nodded sadly. I am only too aware of her former feelings, Mr. Bennet. I have done everything in my power these past few months to change to become worthy of her affection. Mr. Bennet was absolutely certain that he had been propelled into a different universe and was talking with a different Mr. Darcy, because the Mr. Darcy that he knew would never have such a look of contrition on his face nor would he make such humble confessions. He would not have fallen in love with his Elizabeth in the first place! All that he could think to say was, And have you? I am afraid I dont understand your question. Have you become worthy of my daughters affection? I cannot answer that, sir. Has my daughter bestowed her affection on you? Mr. Bennet demanded in a raised voice.

No. No, she hasnt. Mr. Bennet was not certain if he was relieved. He was at a loss to know how he should proceed. Mr. Bennet, to resume our talk There is nothing to talk about. There is no need for a marriage. But sir, there is a wish for a marriage. On your part. Not on yours? Mr. Bennet stood up and paced to the window in frustration. For a few minutes, unbearable silence dominated the room. Mr. Bennet fixed his gaze outside, but he felt the younger mans eyes watching him intensely. Finally, he turned and faced him again. I only wish my daughter to be happy. I will do anything to make your daughter happy, sir, Darcy stated and continued formally. I ask for your permission to court your daughter, Elizabeth, Mr. Bennet. He was not used to begging, he was not used to trying to make a good impression on others, especially on such an eccentric individual as Elizabeths father, but something reflected on the countenance of his companion stirred a sensitive chord deep within him. Mr. Bennet seemed suddenly old, tired and vulnerable, and his eyes, big and black, that suddenly struck him as much like Elizabeths, were now full of sorrow. So, he stood up, paced towards Mr. Bennet and offered him his hand. And while I court your daughter, we can be further acquainted, sir. I fear we hardly ever talked, and I am sure we share many interests.

Share interests? Books, for example. Mr. Bennet took the offered hand and shook it.

~)~)~)~(~(~(~ In short, I have no idea what to make of the whole day. My traitorous head, which will not stop pounding, will not make my efforts easier. Jane is watching me as I write, and I struggle to keep from gesturing in pain, because she will insist that I should go to bed. However, I am not sure if sleep is the sage thing to do, since whenever I close my eyes, his image comes before me, and his hands tighten around my waist, and his eyes bestow that that burning look on my face. Rest, under these circumstances, is naturally out of the question. As for reading a book until I feel tired and fall asleep, it is out of the question as well. I feel an unreasonable amount of hatred towards A Sicilian Romance, which I consider, quite irrationally, as the cause of all my misfortunes. As for alternative reading, I have to say that my father left me speechless by sending me this evening The Taming of the Shrew. He knows that of all Shakespeares works it is my least favorite, yet he chose it for such a moment. I think that everything conspires against me. Maybe I will close my eyes and find that nothing of this day has actually transpired. Disturbingly, I realize that I do not want some parts of the day to be just a dreamalthough they were like a dream. I am not certain if I should be overjoyed, or hopeful, or patient. Somehow I feel light-hearted, but I know that I should not trust my judgment today. I wish I could have seen what transpired

during the rest of the gentlemens visit at Longbourn. Jane tells me they stayed until supper and that they kept asking after my progress, but she does not dwell on details or their exact words, as I would wish. I am not sure if I am relieved or disappointed by her discretion, but it is an aspect of her character that I have always admired. I can only have faith in tomorrow and listen to my sweet sister who implores me to go to sleep.

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Failing and Fainting

Part 2
26th September
Mrs. Bennet was delighted to see Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley visiting them very early the next dayeven before Mr. Jones came to see how Elizabeth was faring. Her enthusiasm grew even greater as she noticed the anguished manner in which Mr. Darcy inquired after her second daughter, and she was anxious

to reassure him that there was no cause to worryfor certainly, such an important man would like a healthy woman for a wife, not someone who made a fuss over a trifling cold. Absorbed in her marriage plans for Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth, Mrs. Bennet failed to notice what struck Mr. Bennet as soon as he joined them a few minutes later: The two friends were not speaking to each other. Moreover, Bingley seemed to be trying to make his anger felt by everyone. He looked positively sullen and in Mr. Bennets opinion, childishly stubborn. The elder man wondered what could possibly cause such a display and resolved to find out as soon as possible. Mr. Jones came before the mystery could be fully explained, but at least he contributed in making the atmosphere lighter. He said that Elizabeths fever was gone, and she appeared rested and strong enough to leave her room in the afternoon, if she felt inclined. The last was said with a sly smile directed to Darcy. Mr. Bennet saw the younger man startle, and he could hardly suppress a smile and marvel at his wifes talent for spreading news. However, he had no opportunity to make sports of the lover of his favorite daughter. Mr. Bingley seemed to be demanding everyones attention by his behavior. Yes, yes, excellent news indeed, he cried, though his countenance did not reveal someone pleased with what he had just heard. Miss Elizabeth is fortunate that her own nature betrayed her, and she became illone can recover of these things, however, when ones closest friend fails him, he can cost him much more than a day or two in bed. For heavens sake, Bingley! Darcy exclaimed. He could bear his friends ill humor as long as he was the only one to suffer the remarks, but he had no patience whenever Elizabeths name was mentioned. If you want to make everyone acquainted with my act of treachery as a friend, tell the story directly. Mrs. Bennet was speechless, for she had finally realized that

something was amiss between the gentlemen, and she wondered how this would interfere with her well-laid plans. Her husband was more than intrigued, but he did not want to ask for particulars, lest he offend one of the two men. Mr. Bingley, however, was in no mood for subtlety on that particular day. Do not provoke me, Darcy! Since you are the cause that these good people must have formed a very poor opinion of me, I will not hesitate to expose you! Mr. Bingley, I assure you, we have the highest opinion of you and your Mrs. Bennets voice was full of anguish, but no one was paying attention to her. I am not afraid of you, Bingley, Darcy said in a very intimidating tone, but Bingley was not affected in the least by it. You should be afraid of the truth, if it is revealed! Darcy was ready to form a reply, when footsteps were heard, and Jane appeared, short of breath and with flushed cheeks. Gentlemen, I am so sorry to interrupt, but please, would you lower your voices? I do not mean any offence, but my sister heard you andshe will not rest. She insists on coming down to find out what is the matter I beg of you She should not overexert herself. Gentlemen, in my study. Now, Mr. Bennet instructed sharply and soon no voice could reach the drawing room or the bedrooms upstairs, much to Janes relief and to Mrs. Bennets despair.

~)~)~)~(~(~(~ Can you tell me what they can possibly be talking about in there? They have been in the study for over an hour! Mrs.

Bennet did not expect Kitty to give her any answer, but she had to make someone acquainted with the frustration she felt. Mary was in the room as well, but she was too absorbed in the book she was reading to offer one of her sermon-like replies. Kitty only shrugged, but Jane appeared at the door, peering in the drawing room questioningly. Her mother cast her an its-allyour-fault-look and ignored her, but Jane could not return to her sisters bedroom without news again. She was afraid of Elizabeths reaction if she told her once more, They are still with Papa in the study. So, she remained there, leaning on the doorframe, pale and apprehensive. Fortunately, five minutes later, the door of Mr. Bennets sanctuary opened and revealed a positively astonished Mr. Bennet, a drained Mr. Darcy and an embarrassed Mr. Bingley. I believe I only now fully realize the merits of secrecy. Truth can be dangerous for ones constitution, Mr. Bennet exclaimed. Before his wife could start questioning him, he declared that he needed some air and left the rest to entertain themselves. Jane was the first to recover and made an attempt to flee the room. I am sorry, but I must return to my sisterShe must be wondering what has become of me. Miss Bennet, I Bingley cleared his throat. Mrs. Bennet, my behavior today was inexcusable. I can only claim deep feeling as my excuse. Since I reached an understanding with my true friend here, he pointed gratefully at Darcy, and Mr. Bennet does not think the worse of me for my outburst, may I request may I have a private talk with Miss Bennet, please? Mrs. Bennet, who had risen to her feet while Bingley was speaking, almost pushed Jane to his direction. Of course, of course! she cried and recommended the park as the best place to have their conversation undisturbed. She then sent a reluctant Mary to take care of Elizabeth, while she

wondered what she could do to show Mr. Darcy her deference for his opinions while they were alone with Kitty. She neednt have been troubled about it, though, for hardly had Jane and Bingley gotten out of the house than Elizabeth descended the stairs with a very determined look on her face.

~)~)~)~(~(~(~ Lizzy? What are you doing here? Mrs. Bennet could hide neither her astonishment nor her displeasure at her daughters sudden presence. Miss Bennet, are you well? Mr. Darcy was as alarmed as he had been on the previous day. I am fine, thank you. I must apologize for my sudden, and hideous, she thought, appearance, but I feel much improved, she added with evident impatience that did not help her words look believable. But, Lizzy, you are anobedient daughter, Mrs. Bennet said desperately. Obedient? Elizabeth would have never considered herself as such. Yes, a very obedient daughter who will make someone, one day, an extremely obedient wife. Mr. Darcy realized what this exchange was about and, despite himself, was amused. He decided to speak though, for Elizabeths sake. I am very glad to see you, Miss Bennet. It is a relief to find that you have recovered so soon. Elizabeth blushed very properly and becomingly, but before she

could make any response, her mother spoke again. Yes, yes, healthy as they come, my Lizzy. No chance that she will die in childbirth Mother! Elizabeths cheeks grew hot, and she thought that healthy though she was, she would die of mortification at any moment. Miss Bennet, Darcy said hurriedly, now that you are so much better, would you like to take a stroll in the garden? You must have missed being outdoors. Elizabeth nodded and took his offered hand, while Mrs. Bennet almost clapped her hands in enthusiasm. What a wonderful idea, Mr. Darcy. Indeed, you always have the best ideas, dear sir. I always thought that They exited the house before they could hear more.

~)~)~)~(~(~(~ As soon as they were out, Mr. Darcy looked anxiously for a bench and guided Elizabeth there immediately. I am so sorry, Miss Bennet, for proposing this. I know it is too soon for you to overexert yourself, but He stopped short and wondered how he could continue without insulting Mrs. Bennet and offending Elizabeth. An idea came to him, and he continued, but you looked as if you were ready to faint again, and I thought that some fresh air, perhaps, would You were right, Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth said quietly with a hint of sadness. You were about to faint? Maybe we should return to the house. I apologize, Miss Bennet, it was very poor judgment on my part.

I only wanted to take you away from, he stammered again, from that room where you seem to have developed a propensity for fainting, he added with a smile. Away from my embarrassing mother, Elizabeth said with a sigh. No! I would never say such a thing. Please believe that I You would be right if you said it, though. Darcy, in the utmost frustration, paced back and forth for a few seconds then knelt before Elizabeth and took her hands into his. She had not worn her gloves, as she had left her room so hastily, and the contact of skin against skin reminded them of the wonderful sensations of the day before. The agony of those hours was gone, yet their hearts were now pounding even faster than they had the first time he embraced her. She felt protected and safe, as if he could keep all the worlds malice away from her. He was so full of hope and love that he did not care to check his mirth. His palms were warm while her hands were cold, and they bonded so well together, giving and taking. Lightly he caressed her fingers, as though they were a rare, fragile treasure. He lifted his head to find her eyes intense on him. Their gazes locked, and they forgot everything but each other. It was a few minutes before either was able to speak. Miss Bennet, tell me, please, what I can do I can not bear to see you so distressed, so sad. Please tell me what I may offer for your relief. I will do anything you ask of me. You have already done too much, Mr. Darcy. You have overlooked my despicable behavior and unjust accusations at Hunsford, you Please, do not No, please allow me to finish. I might never find the courage to

speak about this again. Her eyes, which never left his face, and her hands, always entwined with his, persuaded him to relent. You were so kind to us at Pemberley and amiable and discreet and I can hardly praise you enough, Mr. Darcy. Now I understand the difficulties my aunt had in her letter. And then, regarding my sisters elopement... Darcy suddenly averted his eyes and withdrew his hand, while his face took a pained expression. Do not speak of this, I beg you, he whispered. Now it was her hand that caressed hislovingly, reassuringly. He was so surprised by the gesture that his eyes returned to her face immediately, and his expression was a mixture of surprise and longing. But I must. I am a very selfish creature, Mr. Darcy, and for the sake of giving relief to my own feelings, I care not how much I may be wounding yours. I can no longer refrain from thanking you for your unexampled kindness to my poor sister. Ever since I have known it You have known it? Mr. Darcy whispered with a tenderness that brought tears to Elizabeth eyes. Words came out of her mouth, quick, confused, but their meaning was clearer than ever. Yes! Lydia mentioned you were at her wedding and I wondered how you happened to be there. I wrote to my aunt, and she answered me, and she thought that you and I were By that time, Elizabeth was sobbing. And you came here and everyone has been so ungracious to you and I could not talk to you. You were as before angry. How you must have despised us all! My mother was so unfair to you yesterday I tried to stop her, Mr. Darcy, I truly did, but then I fainted, and I could do nothing at all. I only gave you more trouble. Today, I heard voices and knew that you were surely having an argument with someone. I knew I had to stop it, to tell you that we are not all that bad. I am so sorry, Mr. Darcy, for everything. So very

sorry. Elizabeth was so absorbed in her weeping that she did not realize that Darcy had moved to sit next to her on the bench, nor that he had taken her into his arms and was now embracing her tightly. Her head rested on his comforting chest, and he spoke soothing. Shhhhhh, Elizabeth, do not cry. All will be well, please do not cry. The sound of her name coming from his lips was sufficient shock for her to startle. She pulled back gently, and although she felt a sense of loss as their embrace broke, she tried to compose herself. With the pretense of dignity but with a voice that was shaking very much after her sobbing, she said, I wanted to thank you on behalf of all my family. Had they known They do know, Elizabeth. I beg your pardon? Darcy stood up and started pacing again, then resuming a more formal address, he spoke. Miss Bennet, you have asked for my forgiveness, but I am afraid it is I who must beg for your forgiveness once you know everything that has passed between your father and me. I am afraid I do not understand you at all. You have called me an arrogant man, and you were right. No, no, please, there is no point in arguing that. I have always looked down on the world, judging even those who were close to my heart as unworthy to know my thoughts, my feelings, and my private actions. I was content and very proud of myself for following my familys tradition of secretiveness. However, after what transpired in Kent

He looked at her so intensely that she felt her limbs tremble, and she could only mutter, Please, Mr. Darcy After my disastrous proposal in Kent, I found that my feelings were so strong that I feared I would bend under their force. Your hatred? Elizabeth asked in a stony voice. He smiled sadly. Perhaps it was in some part hatred, Elizabeth heard him say and she felt that her sobs would start again. But he continued immediately, Hatred for what my behavior to you had been. But mostly, his eyes were ever locked with hers, it was love. Love? Yes, Elizabeth. The use of her Christian name once again did not go unnoticed by her. It warmed a heart that was still afraid to begin to hope, despite the softness of his voice, the tenderness of his tone and the look of promise in his eyes. Rejected, doubted, desperate, but eternal and stronger than ever love. She was certain she had lost her capacity to talk, so she let him continue. At first, of course, I thought it was only anger and wounded pride. Yes, perhaps I had hopes that I would come to hate you in the end. He saw her shiver and added quickly, What a fool I was! And then I wrote you the letter. She simply nodded. It was the epitome of bitterness, Elizabeth. I was rude and abrupt in what I wrote. I knew it would give you pain. Still, it was the first time I shared any thoughts, the first time I tried to justify my thoughts, to justify my actions. I did not know it then, but it was something I had never done before. Please forgive me, I had no idea.

Still, it hurt. I did not know what to do with the ache that burned my chest. I did not know how to fight the despair. I refused to talk to anyone. I am afraid I caused my dearest sister great distress, and I got deeper and deeper into a vicious circle of misery and loneliness. He noticed the tears that now freely ran on her cheeks and allowed his hand sweep them away. His fingers lingered on her cheek, bestowing the gentlest of caresses, as he said, No tears for me, I beg you. I deserved thatI was benefited by that. It taught me humility. Mr. Darcy Her voice was clearly shaking. Please, let me finish. It was thanks to you that I managed to extricate myself from that state. You appeared at Pemberley, so delightfully unexpected that you made me believe in miracles. I saw that you were not disgusted by my presence anymore, and my faith in my ability to change was built. You introduced me to your uncle and auntand I could talk. He had sat on the bench again, so close to her that their bodies touched with the smallest movement they would make. Elizabeth was still crying. She felt that every tear she had proudly suppressed in all her life chose that exact moment to take revenge. Darcy understood and made no attempt to stop her, but he took her hands into his again. More confidently this time, his fingers entwined with hers as he resumed his speech. Yesterday, your father and I had a talk regarding what happened after you fainted, and I carried you to your room. She waited with trepidation to see a look of disapproval on his face, but instead, he gave her the brightest smile she had ever witnessed on him. It appears as if I compromised you yesterday, Miss Bennet. Elizabeth almost jumped away from him and tried to keep a safe distance from the bench on which he now sat alone. My father did not ask you to you are not forced to she could not find the proper word.

To her dismay, he looked almost amused at the recollection of his talk with Mr. Bennet. Your father is an excellent man who is determined to make certain you are always happy. And he, as well as I, know that nothing forcedcould ever make you happy. But then what? Yesterday, while talking to your father, I voiced my feelings. I hardly know him, and at that point, he was not looking at me favorably, yet I told him what was in my heart. It was as if I were free all at once. Free of your feelings? He smiled genuinely again. I would never wish to be free from my feelings, even if that were possible. I was free of the fear, of the doubt, of the last remnants of my deplorable pride and conceit. Suddenly, the smile died on his face, and he averted his eyes. But I am afraid that today I took advantage of this freedom. I dread what you will think of me She had walked towards him as he spoke. Her eyes were red and her lips swollen. Her voice came hoarse after all this crying, but her cheeks were dry and her eyes determined. Darcy thought she had never looked more beautiful as she sat on the bench and took his face in her hands boldly. You need not be afraid of me, she whispered softly. But I am, he answered as quietly. Yesterday I made my longoverdue confession to Bingley. I kept procrastinating until the talk with your father gave me all the courage I needed to admit my blunders and deceit. Unfortunately, Darcy sighed, Bingley did not take it very well. It cannot be so very bad The voices you heard today that caused you such concern were

mine and Bingleys. I deserve his anger, and the right thing for me to do would be to depart immediately for London, but I could not bear to leave. Elizabeth had to remind herself to breathe. Naturally, your father called us into his study and demanded an explanation for our conduct. And then He looked away, but felt her hand take his. He looked at her, expecting at least a look of disapproval, but saw only warmth and encouragement in her eyes. Then, I told your father everything. What happened after the Netherfield Ball, how I kept Bingley away from your sister, how we met at Kent He hesitated and finally she knew the reason for his distress. You told him about your proposal at Kent? I did. And about what you did for Lydia? He nodded. And about your history with Mr. Wickham? Everything. Even the most confidential parts? Yes. And Mr. Bingley was present? He was. Elizabeth looked at her hands and spoke more to herself than to him. My poor father. He must have been shocked. He seemed very surprised.

He had no idea. I never told him I I am sorry, Miss Bennet. Darcys formality did not escape her nor did it please her in the least. He stood up and Elizabeth noticed that his form seemed tense and rigid. His voice had lost every trace of softness and seemed despairingly neutral. I have exposed interactions that you wished to remain unknownand rightly so. I did not consider your feelings when I did. I fear that my selfish disdain of the others has prevailed once again. I do not think so, Elizabeth said quietly. Miss Bennet, I wish to know your honest opinion on the subjectno civilities are required. His voice sounded desperate. You risked my fathers good opinion and your friends, as well. You talked about events it pained me even to think of, yet you did what was right and just. Perhaps you were indiscrete, she admitted, smiling and blushing, but a man who is arrogant and conceited would have just turned his back to the problems and accused someone else. You are not like that, she sighed. You never were. I was wrong, Elizabeth. Utterly and completely. You are not responsible for everyones actions, Mr. Darcy. But my conduct was unpardonable. I am the cause that Bingley suffered. I am sorry for Mr. Bingley, and the deceit on your part was unfortunate, but then, Mr. Darcy, he did not return to Hertfordshire. He did not make any attempts to win his hearts desire. And he is responsible for his happiness and his misfortunes. Despite himself, Darcy smiled. You and your father are more

alike than I had realized. Indeed, sir? Yes. He told my friend exactly the same opinion. Elizabeth did not try to hide her satisfaction. And what did my father tell you, sir? That I am good man, albeit incapable of reading peoples feelings. That rare and very becoming bright smile of his returned to his face. I think my father likes you. He must have appreciated that you opened your heart to him, she said a bit pointedly. Yes, and I consider myself most fortunate. But my agony is not over, since my greatest wish is that his daughter appreciates it when I open my heart to her. Elizabeths heart was beating very fast, and she was glad that she was sitting on the bench, as she was not certain her limbs would have supported her. She wanted to be free of every restraint, to give him all the encouragement he needed, and to tell him that she loved him. Despite the fact that they had passed the limits of propriety many times during the last two days, she could not find the courage to be more open at that moment. Dreading yet another misunderstanding, she forced herself to speak, although her eyes, which had been locked with his so often, could not now leave the ground. I I would be honored to listen to everything you would like to tell me. He did not reply immediately and, unable to bear the suspense, she lifted her eyes to his face to find him watching her as if he were trying to see inside her, into her thoughts. Her cheeks grew hot, but it was as if he had cast a spell on her. She could not stop

looking at him, nor could she suppress a sigh as he leaned closer to take her hands into his. Elizabeth! Mr. Darcy! How wonderful to find you here! Darcy and Elizabeth instantly moved apart and each one tried to hide their hands from the view of Jane and Mr. Bingley, as if they bore marks from their recent contact. The other couple, however, seemed too absorbed in their bliss to notice anything peculiar about the situation. In fact, Jane and Bingley were holding hands and their faces were almost as flushed as theirs. Darcy and Elizabeth concealed their frustration as well as they could and listened to the announcement their friends wished to make.

~)~)~)~(~(~(~ Much later that evening, Mrs. Bennet bid goodbye to her guests with a most cordial smile, but as the door shut behind them, she shot an angry look at Elizabeth. Are you sure that you are not engaged? she asked with the subtlety that only she possessed. Yes, Mother, I am positively certain. But why did Mr. Darcy not propose? He had all the time and all the privacy to do it. And he should do it, because he has compromised you forever, Lizzy, and if he does not marry you, who My dear Mrs. Bennet, her husband interjected, I think you are doing our eldest daughter a great injustice. She has fulfilled the sweetest dream of yours, by accepting Mr. Bingley today. I think we should feel compelled to speak only of Jane tonight. But Mr. Darcy Mrs. Bennet, though softened, was still

unwilling to drop the subject. Jane darling, will you buy your wedding clothes at Meryton? Mr. Bennet asked in a last desperate attempt, winking at his daughter. Eh. She seemed lost for a moment, but when she noticed her fathers nod, she comprehended his meaning. I believe so, Father. Mrs. Fowler is an excellent dressmaker, she could very well WHAT? Mrs. Bennet yelled, her attention now fully turned to her eldest daughter, as if she had suddenly forgotten that Elizabeth existed. Meryton? Mrs. Fowler? Jane dear, have you lost your senses? You must go to London! We will write to your aunt tomorrow. No, better yet, tonight! She will let us know all about the new fashions. As Mrs. Bennet continued talking, Jane gently led her to the drawing room, leaving Mr. Bennet and Elizabeth alone in the hall. And when they have run out of talk of wedding clothes, they can always have a conversation about the specific amount of Mr. Bingleys income, he observed. I do not believe Mama will ever run out of conversation about fashion, Father, Elizabeth said wearily and then she added, Thank you. Her father looked at her thoughtfully. Are you happy, Lizzy? She gazed at him and saw his concern and all the love with which he had enwrapped her since she was a child. She saw the tenderness in his eyes, and she remembered the happiness she had felt at Longbourn. She recalled the time they spent together reading, talking, laughing, and sharing an understanding. He had been the man she loved the most. But now, a very different kind

of love towards another man prevailed in her heart, lit it and filled it with a joy she had never experienced before. As she watched her father, she became more confident of her feelings, of Mr. Darcys feelings, of their future togetherand that confidence made her happy. Elizabeth saw the fear of the unknown, of abrupt change in her fathers eyes, and it touched her to the core, but she was not afraid of anything anymore. I am, Father.

~)~)~)~(~(~(~ You seem very deep in thought, Darcy, Bingley commented after a few minutes of riding in complete silence. Yes, I am. A full day, was it not? It was. Bingley could not refrain from grinning, before adding, The happiest of my life. Though it certainly did not begin so. We had a stormy morning, did we not, Darcy? Upon receiving no answer, he said seriously, I was unreasonable and my behavior, before Mr. Bennet put some sense into my mind, was unpardonable. My behavior during the entire past winter was unpardonable, Bingley, but we decided to leave it behind us. You have forgiven me too easily; you cannot expect me to be angry for a justified outburst of yours. Yes, I whole-heartedly forgave you, my friend. Although I must say, that I do not feel as bad as I ought for my revenge on you today. Your anger was not something you could control, Bingley. I could hardly call that revenge.

I do not mean my offending you. Then what is your meaning? I mean the fact that we interrupted your private talk with Miss Elizabeth. I am ashamed to admit that I had noticed you from afar. Had I but gently directed Jane to another path, you would have concluded your conversation which, judging by your countenance, you most certainly did not! Bingley! Darcy was astonished, but he could not be angry at his friendnot when he was looking so happy. Yes, it was a treachery on my part, but to make amends for it, I will offer to chaperone you when you are engaged. And I promise I will lose you each and every time we go on a walk!

~)~)~)~(~(~(~ Consequently, I spent the whole afternoon meditating on what would have happened if Jane and Mr. Bingley had not interrupted us. I so wish that Mr. Bingley had made a longer speech when proposing! Should he not have talked about his ardent love in more detail? Certainly, I am no expert in such things, but I am quite positive that Mr. Darcy would have been more eloquent on the subject if the rest of my family but gave us time! Quite unnervingly, my only relative who seems to understand my agony is my mother. When we returned to the house and my father demanded that I should go to my room and rest until dinner, only she defended me in my request to be allowed downstairs. Naturally, my alliance with my mother was not a successful one, so I only saw Mr. Darcy several hours later and in full company. There was no chance for a private talk whatsoever. At least, my beloved mother placed us next to each other, and we could spend our time exchanging civilities and

admiring my excellent constitution that had allowed me to recover so quickly, to the utter relief of the people who care for me, as he said, and I blushed so much that he must have thought I had a fever again. Oh, I so wish everyone could disappear and leave us together so I could bury my head in his chest and feel once more the exquisite safety and strength I did this very morning! I want to feel his presence when I know he is away at Netherfield, I want to talk to him whenever we are at the same room, I want his eyes never to leave mine. What happened to the simple girl I used to be? Have I become so selfish? But is it really selfishness when my entire happiness seems to depend on a simple look of his? My mother tried to help me find some time with Mr. Darcy alone after dinner, but then the men went away and when they returned, Mr. Bingley declared that they had taken advantage of our hospitality for far too long. My mother, looking only at Mr. Darcy, declared that she would be most happy to see them at Longbourn any time they wished to call. It was fortunate that Mr. Bingley prolonged his goodbyes to his fianc if only he had prolonged his proposal too! because my parents and other sisters saw it fitting to disappear, leaving us at last alone with Mr. Darcy. Indeed, Jane and Mr. Bingley were looking and whispering at each other so adoringly that even if we threw ourselves in a passionate embrace, they would have not noticed. These are no proper thoughts for a lady, but I have been in love for some time, and now I am given hope. I find that I cannot but be sincere with myself and admit how much I long to unite my life with Mr. Darcy. As we were parting, he smiled that small, private, wonderful smile of his, and I vow that he looked even more handsome than I remembered and anticipated. He took my hand in his. His lips barely touched my fingers, and instantly my lips felt envious of my hands, wanting to taste his kiss as well. There was hardly a part of my body and soul that did not feel affected by his light caress.

Never breaking eye-contact with me, he asked in a formal voice but with hidden amusement, Miss Bennet, would you be so kind to satisfy my curiosity? Very surprised, I told him I would be very pleased to answer any question he wished to make. Smiling even more openly, he continued, I have been wondering how you managed to escape your sisters, who were ordered to keep you safe in your room this morning. It shows great resourcefulness and an admirable degree of determination. Hardly any resourcefulness at all, sir, I answered, smiling as well. It was very easy to bribe my sister, Mary. And upon his wishing to know how I had achieved that, I continued, I recently discovered, to my cost, that she takes delight in romantic novels. I volunteered to give her, as a present, the entire works of Mrs. Radcliff. I should not dwell so much on the appearance of such an excellent man with so many other gifts, but the truth is that he has the most adorable incredulous look. Not to mention how wonderful he is when he laughs.

~)~)~)~(~(~(~

Failing and Fainting

Part 3
27th September
Elizabeth rose from her bed as soon as she awakened and ran towards the window. She had a peculiar feeling that she would see Mr. Darcy coming up to the house on his horse looking imposing, dignified and simply breathtaking. However, when she cast a look outside, she had to suppress a sigh of frustration. She could see nothing at all, not even the tree that stood only a few yards away from her window, nor the path, nor the park nothing at all. Thick fog covered everything in a white, impenetrable, merciless cloud. A romantic heart would have seen the dreamy quality of the hour, a desperate soul could not. Very unladylike thoughts regarding the English weather crossed Elizabeths mind, and she had not even the courage to be ashamed of herself. As for hopes of seeing Mr. Darcy before the sun sent the mist away, she had none. That kind of thinga knight emerging from the mist in quest of the fairy lady could be met only in Mrs. Radcliffs works. She suddenly felt the urge to tear A Sicilian Romance to pieces, but she remembered that she should be returning it to her sister, Mary, so she contented herself by casting angry looks at the book. She paced absent-mindedly in her room. She did not want to ring for her maid, not just yet. Somehow, she was in no mood to dress and have her hair arranged if Mr. Darcy was not there to see her. Elizabeth Bennet, what on earth has come over you? She could not understand it. She never cared for the worlds opinion, especially regarding her appearance. She wanted to dress and behave in a way that would make her feel at ease and

comfortable and not with the purpose of being appreciated by someone else. Yet, now all comfort and independence were ready to be sacrificed in order to gain one mans good opinion. So be it. Elizabeth Bennet realized that she was fully in love, and there was nothing she could do about it. But this realization seemed to affect the whole of her, calming her body, spreading a smile on her face and illuminated her countenance in a glow that surpassed even Janes angelic radiance after the announcement of her engagement. Winking mischievously at her reflection at the mirror, she rang for her maid.

~)~)~)~(~(~(~ Mrs. Bennet was completely distraught at breakfast. She could not take her eyes from the window, nor could she stop lamenting over the unfortunate weather. Her eldest daughters, quite surprisingly, found her cause for distress quite sound. Kitty was annoyed by the necessary restriction at home, as well, and Mary could not find something witty to say about mist, for fear she would betray her preference for romantic fiction. In short, everyone was sullen at the tableeveryone but Mr. Bennet. It seems that the young men will be detained today, does it not, girls? he said as soon as his wife paused to regain breath. It would not be wise to travel on horseback in such thick mist, Jane answered quietly. True, true. If they do come, fulfilling your hearts desire, you will be forced to consider them irresponsible. It would not do. My dear Mr. Bennet, how can you be talking like this? his wife cried. No one is more responsible or wise than Mr. Darcy.

If he chooses to visit us, it would mean that it is the right thing to do. Yet, he did not choose to visit us. Elizabeth thought that her father was an excellent man, but completely lacking insight into womens feelings and decided to seclude herself in the drawing room. She needed to relax, and though the best way to achieve that was to pour her heart out to her diary, she decided against it. After all, she could not bear her fathers teasing if she disappeared for a while. He would, in all probability, point out how Missish she had become, and she was afraid that she would not be able to suppress her reply: I do not wish to be Missish. I want to become Mrs. She realized that she had come to expect Mr. Darcys proposal so much that she could not escape disappointment when it did take not place. She had dreamt about it so often, and had been ready to receive it the day before, especially after their formidable discussion. However, the day was filled with everything but an engagement. There had been intimacyhow wonderful her name had sounded in his lips! There had been momentary misunderstandingquite a frequent occurrence, unfortunately. There had been allusion to precious feelings, quick beating hearts, wonderful contact, unavoidable blushes, but there had been no proposal. Elizabeth sighed and moved to sit by the fire, when she heard her mothers scream. MR. DARCY! She hurried to the breakfast room, where everyone was still assembled, to find her mother welcoming Mr. Darcy more profusely than ever. She thought she heard her father whispering to himself, My, the man is determined, but Janes anxious inquiry about how Mr. Bingley was faring barely registered in her mind. Her whole attention was directed to Mr. Darcy, her eyes silently asking him why he had come so suddenly, fearing and hoping at the same time.

Mr. Bingley is well, Miss Bennet, do not worry. I am afraid his horse had a little more trouble finding the way. I was lucky that my horse seems to have an excellent sense of orientation. You are such an excellent horseman, Mr. Darcy. I always told my daughters that Mr. Darcy, I hope you did not risk your well-being to come here, Elizabeth told him in slightly shaking voice, as images of him thrown from his horse and lying on the ground while the rest of them were unable to locate him filled her mind and gave her cold shivers. I assure you, Miss Elizabeth, that I was thinking of my wellbeing when I mounted my horse to come here this morning. Mr. Bennet knew that his presence was unnecessary. He murmured an excuse and hurried to the study, while Mrs. Bennet practically grabbed Kitty and Mary and led them out of the room, insisting that they had all neglected their correspondence far too long. Jane, still anxious about Mr. Bingleys arrival, ventured outside to await him. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy were left in the breakfast room all alone in the work of a moment. Elizabeth had time only to blink and to note the impropriety of the situation which resulted in a becoming blush. I was about to say that I wished a private talk with you, but your family seems to have understood my wishes before I voiced them. Elizabeth honestly wished that she died of mortification at that precise moment. Why was it that neither her family nor she could act in a normal way in the presence of Mr. Darcy? Why was it that each time she became assured of his affections, some disaster or other happened and agony returned? Maybe they were not meant to be? Miss Bennet, since we have a propensity to misunderstand each

other, I feel compelled to make clear that my statement was meant as a compliment to your family and not as an insulting remark. Elizabeth looked at him in astonishment, unable to say something, especially when she realized that he was smiling which rendered him quite irresistible. I am afraid that my poor sense of humor does not recommend myself to you, Elizabeth, he said softly, walking closer and stopping right before her, next to the window. And if it does not, how am I ever to win your heart? Without knowing what she was doing, she reached for his hand. When it was safely enclosed in hers, she answered, I am sure you have other virtues to recommend you, Mr. Darcy. Yes. Such as vanity and pride. Elizabeth smiled at the remembrance of a conversation they had made so long ago. It seemed that two different people had spoken then, or at least two people with very different feelings. And let us not forget your implacable resentment. She had no idea why she was teasing him, but she felt safe now. She felt that she could say anything she had in mind, whether it was a confession of her feelings or an impertinent remark. She knew he would hear and understand and accept. Very true, Miss Bennet. My feelings tend to last much longer than usual. Some of them, in fact, are bound to last forever. They were inches apart, and she could feel the air that was separating them. It was light, full of his scent, and yet it felt like a barrier. Steadfastness and commitmentthese are virtues worthy of praise. It is a pity that Miss Bingley is not here to admire them

as eloquently as possible. Darcys hands cupped her face and brought it so close to his that Elizabeth could see every perfect detail of his freshly-shaven face, every little variation in the color of his eyes. Unfortunately, she was unable to appreciate anything, since she was trying to save her heart from bursting. I do not care for Miss Bingleys opinion. I do not care for anyones opinion. I care only for you, Elizabeth. I love you. He had said it! Elizabeth felt suddenly very light. She could fly, she was certain of that! She needed something strong, an anchor, and she found it in his arms which opened for her and closed tightly around her. I love you, he repeated, if only you knew how much I love you! I cannot find peace unless I know you are happy. I thought I would die if anything had happened to you the day you fainted. Neither name, nor familynothing matters without you, Elizabeth. I made that mistake when I proposed in Kent. I had no idea how much I loved you then, had no idea how your refusal would make my existence seem pointless. I asked you to become a part of my life, to adjust and fit in it, when the truth is that you are my whole life. I give everything to you, dearest, loveliest Elizabethvirtues and vices, name, family and property. Everything is yours to judge, yours to take. Even if you refuse them, they can belong to no one else, because I am yours and will remain so forever. Elizabeth could not look at him while he spoke. She was buried in his embrace and was only aware of the warmth of his voice, his head that rested softly on top of hers and the gentle stroke of his hand on her back. She would not cry. She would not let the tears come out and blur her vision, depriving her of the chance to devour with her eyes the happiest scene of her whole life. She

wanted smiling eyes to greet his as he pulled back to look into her face. A slow smile spread on his face. Before he could say anything, Elizabeth spoke. We must add your ability to make the most wonderful speeches to your list of virtues, Mr. Darcy. Speeches that can make a woman who is totally besotted with you love you even moremore than she had ever thought possible. How you can achieve that, sir, is quite beyond my comprehension. My Elizabeth. My most precious love, was all that he could say as she buried herself in his arms, so that she could take some of his strength and make certain that this dream was real. A few minutes passed silently, as they tried to comprehend the bliss that had suddenly taken complete possession of their hearts. Finally, Darcy pulled away again. My love, I have to ask you the question, he whispered, looking deeply into her eyes, as his hand stroked her hair. I have hoped for this day for so long that now I cannot believe that my fondest wish has come true. I am afraid that at any moment I will open my eyes and find that you are not standing here before me, in my embrace, accepting my love. Elizabeth had never expected to find such a vulnerable aspect in him, but then she remembered the changes her feelings had brought to her and smiled understandingly. Her chest was full of the strongest emotion for the man, and she had every intention of showing him that, giving him all the assurance that he needed. I love you, Mr. Darcy. Open and close your eyes as many times as you like, you will still find me here, repeating it for as long as you wish to hear it. Forever, he answered and his voice was more animated, betraying more passion and confidence than ever before. I wish

you to stay by my side, loving me, forever. I want you to be my constant companion in life, my dearest friend, the mother of my sons and daughters, the keeper of my heart and soul, forever. Elizabeth Bennet, will you do me the honor of becoming my wife? This time, hard as she may have tried, Elizabeth could not stop her tears from running down her cheek as she gave her most heartfelt answer. Yes, Mr. Darcy. I will marry you. I will love you and take good care of you, forever. I will always be by your side. Call me by my name, Elizabeth. His tone seemed commanding, his face more serious than ever, a wild flame dancing in his eyes, but in truth, he was striving to keep from surrendering to the waves of emotions that invaded his heart. I will be your wife, Fitzwilliam. Hearing his name coming from her lips provoked almost a shock in him. His hands cupped her face, then ran down her neck. He lowered his head, until his lips reached her temple. He placed a soft kiss there, eliciting a deep sigh from his fiance. His lips traveled down her cheek, kissing her soft skin again and again, as Elizabeth closed her eyes and moved her hands around his back. His mouth slowly reached the corner of her lips and stopped there for a moment. Elizabeth wanted his caresses never to stop, but she had no idea how to communicate her desire to him, so she only pressed her arms against his shoulders. It seemed to serve the purpose, since at the very next moment, his mouth brushed against hers. He softly kissed her upper lip and then the lower. She stilled, trying to comprehend from where the exquisite dizziness, the formidable stirring of her heart had come. Fearful of scaring her, his lips moved to her nose, and placed another series of kisses there, but he could not resist the temptation of her mouth for long. His lips were there again, nibbling at hers, until she, overwhelmed as she was, felt the

desperate need to respond. She began kissing the corner of his mouth, his jaw, and then her lips united with his, caressing, teasing, worshipping each other, slowly, unhurriedly, prolonging and exploring the happiness, the desire, and the fulfillment that stemmed from their caresses, until he gently stepped back. Only then did she realize that she had just shared her first kiss, her first caress as a lover, as fiance, as future wife. A joy she had not felt ever before filled her. They stood by the window, hands now tied up and fingers entwined, eyes locked, silently communicating what words could never possibly express. Promises and commitment were exchanged, without uttering a word. It sufficed to see their futures into the others eyes. A blinding glow radiated from both and filled the space between them, the whole room, the whole universe, as it seemed to them. If they had looked just outside the window where they were standing, they would have seen that the mist had dissolved, giving way to a glorious day. However, the two lovers did not need the sun to tell them that this was the brightest day of their lives.

~)~)~)~(~(~(~ As Mr. Bennet watched his wife talking frantically to herself, while clearly not hearing his requests to have his study to himself, he thought that whatever Mr. Darcys failings might be, at least his daughter would never beg for silence and tranquility in her married life. After a quarter of an hour spent in such blissful meditations, his wifes murmurings became even louder, though hardly any more comprehensible. What is it, my dear? he asked a bit pointedly but not in hopes of intimidating Mrs. Bennet. Ten thousand a year. Mr. Darcyproposing Dear God, make her not say something wrong! Ten thousand a year. Mr.

Darcy Dear God, guide her away from any mistake. Ten thousand a year All right, Mrs. Bennet. We have no doubt of Mr. Darcys annual income. How much more time do they need? She will say something, and he will withdraw and then, Mr. Bennet, what is it to become of us all? My dear, calm yourself. Elizabeth is a very mature girl, and I am sure she will Elizabeth refused Mr. Collins! Mrs. Bennet cut him short. She has already said no to a man! What if she keeps on saying no to everyone? Do you think she will refuse Mr. Darcy out of habit? Dear God, why didnt I think of this before? I would have never left her like thisunprepared. I should have talked with her. I should have told her what exactly she should say! Then Mr. Darcy would certainly withdraw his proposals, Mr. Bennet whispered but was not heard. You must go in this moment. You must go in and make her marry him! The desperate mother almost grabbed her husband by the shoulders. Mrs. Bennet, I am quite certain Elizabeth will accept Mr. Darcy. There, he had finally said it. Perhaps he was coming to terms with the fact. How can you be so certain? After the abominable way she treated Mr. Collins? My dear, would it be preferable to you if Elizabeth were now married to Mr. Collins?

Mrs. Bennet was about to cry a resound Yes, when she realized that if Elizabeth was now Mrs. Collins, she certainly would not stand a chance of becoming Mrs. Darcy in a few weeks. The thought was shattering. Oh, my darling, my dearest, cleverest child! My precious daughter! This is why she did not accept him. Oh, and I almost ruined everything that was so carefully designed. Do you think dearest Elizabeth will ever forgive me? Nothing is impossible, Mr. Bennet thought. After all, I forgave myself for my choice of wife.

~)~)~)~(~(~(~ In the meantime, Jane sat with her fianc in the hall, gazing at the closed door before them and trying to figure out what was prolonging the private conversation between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. Much as Miss Bennet was convinced that the couple was making steps towards a better understanding, she could not but feel alarmed by the amount of time they needed to achieve it. She recalled Elizabeths recount of the first proposal of Mr. Darcy and the unfortunate way he had chosen to express himself on that occasion, and she began to fear that this new attempt would have no better outcome. Charles, do you think that we should She could not go any further. Do what, my love? Charles was always distracted when he sat next to his fiance. I am not sure. Its just that What is taking them so long? Perhaps we should go in and My dearest Jane, certainly you do not want to interrupt a proposal.

But is it a proposal? From my, I mean our, experience When you she blushed and failed to continue. When I was granted your hand in marriage, I was rendered the happiest man alive, he offered gallantly. Well, then we needed only a few minutes. But now, they have been in the drawing room for almost a quarter of an hour. Longer than that, Charles sighed. Exactly. And knowing them, and their past, I am afraid that they might be having an argument, and it would be better if we put an end to it. Jane, my love, knowing them and their present state of feelings tells me that an argument might rise only if we go into that room. I promised my friend to grant him some privacy, and I am a man of my word. But what can be possibly detaining them? My love, I know this is highly improper, but since you will not be satisfied unless you know Bingley caught Janes lips in a most wonderful kiss. Darcy and Elizabeth did not emerge from the breakfast room for another ten minutes, but Miss Bennet did not notice how the time had slipped by.

~)~)~)~(~(~(~ It is so difficult to narrate such wonderful events! My heart is so full, I can barely think or write rationally. All I can think of is that I will spend the rest of my life by his side, and if this morning was any indication of how our marriage will be, I am quite certain we will be the happiest couple in the world.

I knew I loved him before this day, however, I had no idea of how much I loved him and what wonderful ways of expressing my feelings existed. I told him so, after the first time he kissed me, while my lips were still trembling from the experience, and he replied with the hoarsest voice I have ever had the pleasure to hear, There are so many more ways, my love. I am not a blushing person, but even my nails went red at that moment, and I realized I was having trouble breathingbut in that, I was not alone. His breath was labored, too, and only when he reluctantly withdrew a few inches, with his hands still cupping my face, did it return to normal. I wanted him to kiss me again, but something kept me from speaking. It is not that I needed courage or any inducement to candor. After all, I have to be sincere with my heart and confess that repletion of our intimate caresses was my fondest wish at that precise moment. However, I knew instinctively that if we began again, we would never be able to stopnot until my father would enter the room to shoot us both, that is. What sweet torture love is! To be next to him, to have his heart and still want more, to know his feelings and still need his constant reassurance. I dread to think what he must have felt after my rejection. I cannot imagine what damage denied love can do to a heartto his heart, the most tender and most forgiving of all. He said it was a useful lesson, when I pleaded with him to forget about it. I have no doubt he is wiser than I about it. He has not become the man he is by forgetting. Strong yet sensitive, he is eager to protect those he loves with all his being. I have no fear of facing the past now. I feel confident to dwell on whatever unpleasant retrospection I choose while I am encircled by his arms. But I lost the thread of my narration, and I have to return to it. I have described his merits again and againhe has so many that I will never do justice to all of them, even if I talk of nothing else. After those precious moments, I think we made an attempt at

rational conversation, and we spent a few painful moments thinking of last Easter. His face darkened and the look in his eyes became heated. At first I thought it was anger, then I feared it was pain. He was silent for a few moments, and I thought my heart would break from the agony. Something was clearly wrong, but I could not say what it was. His hands had dropped to his sides, and he lifted them slightly. Smiling bitterly, he pointed at my garnet cross and said, Let me hold you, Elizabeth. Let me love you. I was in his arms before he had time to blink, kissing his cheeks, though again timidly, avoiding his lips and asked him to pour out his heart to me. He explained that he had stared at my cross that day at Rosings Park, when he had given me the letter of explanation. It symbolized for him, he said, the forever wished and unattainable. The happiness forever lost to him. Oh, then I could not help myself in my desperate need to comfort him, and finally my lips where upon his. The act seemed to mobilize him, and he pressed me tightly to himself. His mouth was gentle, showing so much love that I was almost in tears, until I became aware of a shocking new sensation. I had not intended to speak of this, but since no one is going to read this, and I want it to be written, even though I am blushing while writing, this is the recount of what followed. His tongue (I am still feeling uncomfortable) was upon my lips, tasting them, caressing them. The sensation was so utterly bewitching that I opened my eyes, and my body must have betrayed my surprise. His hand moved up and down my spine and his mouth moved to my ear, placing a soft kiss there. My skin is still tingling, he whispered, Ways of love. Let me show you. I sought his mouth this time, and moved my hands to the nape of his neck, bringing him even closer to me. His tongue played with my lips again, but I felt he was asking permission for something, and I strived to think what could make the moment more perfect than it had already been. And suddenly, I understood, and my

lips parted. I cannot compare this joining to any flavor, to any caress, to any previous experience I had ever had. It was wholly new, entirely astonishing and so very intimate, something that was born from the two of us. It was not only the pleasure of the fleshthe wantonness that suddenly took hold of me, and I fear will never leave me. It was the elation that it provoked that made it so precious and unique. It was the knowledge of being loved and protected and safe, the reassurance that I took and the reassurance I gave, the helplessness and the strength that I felt at the same moment. Oh, and I must not forget the complete indifference to breathing that possessed me. I have no idea how much time we spent like this. I remember vividly, however, that his lips could not leave my face even after we broke our kiss. His fingers moved to my neck, and I expected his mouth to soon follow them, but he moved apart again, asking me where I had hidden all his powers of restraint that were my captives. I was glad he could tease me because I was still so affected by the previous experience that I am sure I had the most ridiculous look on my face. Again, we moved to safer topics, but I must admit that when he mentioned our wedding day, I did think of the wedding night, and judging from the way his eyes traveled down my body, he did, too. We decided to ask Jane and Mr. Bingley to have a double wedding. I jested about my sister being five times prettier than I and mockingly complained that I was certain to suffer by comparison, even on my wedding day. His hands were immediately around my waist, I was pressed against his body and his lips were against my ear saying, You are my Eve, Elizabeth. The most beautiful woman, destined to me since the dawn of mankind. I came to think of the double wedding as a brilliant idea. We joined the others too soon for my liking, but none too soon for Mamas nerves, as I was made to understand. Fitzwilliam

went to ask for my fathers consent and was granted it, with the condition that he stayed in the library for a half-hour, so they would not have to join the rest of us immediately. Of course, my fianc is never prompt to refuse spending time in any library, though he said he missed me every single second, as he should. I would be put out with my father for separating us, but at dinner, he was redeemed when I noticed the amicable manner he conversed with Fitzwilliam, even teasing him about his ability to make me blush. (I happened to find his lips particularly inviting while he was sipping his wine) I was so happy that I did not mind Marys remarks about marriage and proper wives. I even smiled sweetly and said I would be a devoted wife, like Mrs. Radcliffs characters. After that, Marys witticisms stopped. My mother was not an embarrassment, since she was so pleased, that she lost the ability to speakand she seemed so surprised when Fitzwilliam addressed her to compliment her on some dish, that she nearly choked. I was so proud of my fianc! My father said that he had never had such a calm dinner in all his married years and that he was most indebted to Mr. Darcy for that. The day passed quickly amidst conversations about wedding preparations. I could not believe how pleasant I found a subject that I have always despised, and I cannot describe my surprise when I discovered that my fianc was an active participant. Our hands joined at some point and stayed like this, while we meditated upon our future together. It was beautiful. I was happy. We did not have time on our own when we said goodbye, but Fitzwilliam took my hand into his and bestowed a loving, lingering kiss. His lips caressed the skin of my palm in the same way they touched my lips earlier in the day, and I felt shivers, both from the remembrance and from the actual pleasure. His voice when he whispered, Goodnight, my Eve, was as if he were kissing me all over from the start.

I feel certain that this is going to be a sleepless night.

~)~)~)~(~(~(~

Failing and Fainting

Part 4
1st October
London? Yes, my love. I wish I did not have to part with you so soon after our engagement, but my presence there is necessary for business. I He paused, troubled by Elizabeths evident displeasure at the news. Her eyes were wide open and looking at him with an incredulous expression. Before he began talking, he had assumed that Elizabeth would understand and trust his priorities unquestionably, but there she was, not saying anything but looking at him in a way that was making him feel disturbingly guilty about the whole thing.

Besides, by being in London, I will have the chance to talk to Mrs. Lawrence, to make sure that our house in London will be ready for you and will meet with your approval. Elizabeth blushed a little at the use of the word our, but Mr. Darcy continued feeling guilty. This would not do. They had finally managed to escape Longbourn, reaching Oakham Mount long before Bingley and Jane and instead of enjoying their moments of privacy, he could barely look at his fiances beautiful face because she made him feel guilty. No, it would not do at all. Elizabeth, he resumed, you do understand the need for this journey, do you not? Sometimes, my love, we will have to be separated, however much I loathe to be parted from you. She nodded, somewhat reluctantly for his liking. Will you not say something, Elizabeth? When will you be back? she asked promptly. Somehow, this was not what he had wished to hear. In about, he cleared his throat, about fifteen days. At most. I must repeat, Elizabeth, that if I could, I would Mr. Darcy, she interrupted him, and he did not like the use of his surname, I am a logical creature, and I fully understand the necessity of your departure. Do not assume that I have forgotten the honor you have bestowed on me by choosing me to become the future Mrs. Darcy. Rest assured that I am fully aware of the duties, responsibilities and expectations you have of me. That was a fine speech, exactly what Mr. Darcy had wished to hear, exactly the words he would expect from his future wife and Mistress of Pemberley. Nevertheless, Mr. Darcy hated hearing it.

I know we have duties and responsibilities. I know that I cannot postpone my journey, but I also know that it is a most unnerving thing to do, leaving you after only six days of shared happiness. Even though I thought I wanted an understanding and mature reaction from you about my absence, I realize that I desperately need you to complain about this decision of mine. She laughedthat genuine, heartfelt laugh of hers that always succeeded in leaving him disarmed, and she was instantly in his arms, kissing him. He was so surprised that he almost did not respond. Though she had always been a very willing participant in their amorous activities, she had never before taken such an initiative. But soon, the wonderful feeling of her lips upon his and her hands tightly closed around his waist pushed all other thoughts away. It was as if his impending departure made propriety somewhat less demanding. He found himself pressing her against his body so that he could feel every inch of her, so that her figure melted into one with his, and still he could not have enough of her. His hands cradled her head until some pins fell down and a few rich curls were released. She let out a small gasp that he barely noticed as he continued kissing herbreaths mingled, mouths united, tongues caressing, eyes closed, minds traveling at a furious pace towards a land of colors, warmth, intoxicating scents and sweet melodies. Fitzwilliam, she whispered against his mouth, only to increase his passion, to bring his palms to her cheeks and set his fingers on a mad dance, trying to not neglect the tiniest part of her skin. His lips slowly traveled to her cheeks, her brow and her hair, as her head came to rest against his shoulder, their bodies still pressed against each other. He exhaled a deep breath of contentment into her curls. I love you, Elizabeth. She pulled back a little to meet his smiling eyes with sparkling ones. So, Mr. Darcy, is this my punishment for being childishly

stubborn and disapproving of your decisions? I do not remember any disapproval, my dear. If I recall correctly, you only said that you understand your duties. Was I so convincing? Almost, my love, almost, he said, chuckling. For one terrible moment, I thought you had transformed into one of the formidable, proper ladies of the Ton. Elizabeths hands moved to the locks of hair that were falling freely on her shoulders and back. I would hardly call this proper, sir. Thankfully, neither would I. Truly, I understand why you have to go to London. Even though I will miss you, I am eager to see you go. Eager? Why, yes, sir. In fact, I thought I would ask you to procure something for me when you are in Town. He smiled at her teasing tone. And what would that be? I hope you will not have me purchasing gloves or other trimmings ladies so appreciate. I am afraid I do not possess taste in the matter. As for jewels, Sir William tells me that I have excellent judgment, since I am going to wed the brightest one in Hertfordshire. Elizabeth burst out in laughter. Very amusing, sir, but I am astonished at your lack of insight into my wishes. I simply want you to bring a special license from Town. Darcys smiling face instantly turned grave, and his eyes acquired an intensity that made Elizabeths face, already blushed from her bold suggestion, practically burn. The back of

his hand moved to her cheeks and then her chin in a feather-like caress, discrete and yet with such tenderness, that the gesture almost brought tears to her eyes. You are most precious to me. Bright, kind, generous, full of surprises and oh so beautiful. I cannot wait to start my life with you, my beloved. Does this mean that you will bring the license? she asked, deeply moved and trying not to show it. It does, he answered hoarsely, as he leaned in for another kiss. Elizabeths sparkling eyes had lit the fire of passion in him again, and his hands started to move down her body almost of their own volition. After bestowing light caresses on her neck, his touch was more fervent as he reached her back, and then he surrendered to the madness of the moment as they moved lower and lower. He became aware of their knees and then their thighs pressed together, and his need only became stronger in its fight against reason. Elizabeth gasped, but she remained close to him, and after a moment of surprised passiveness, she continued kissing him with equal fervor. His hands moved lower to grasp her bottom, and he lifted her a little, until her feet did not touch the ground anymore. It was an unparalleled sensation, to have Elizabeth holding so tightly to him, the whole weight of her body against him, and her beautiful face, now at a higher level than his, bending over to kiss him. He felt her breasts pressing hard against his torso, and he thought he never was so close to losing his sanity. When she pulled back to breathe, he put her down as tenderly as his desire allowed him, and he ran his hand down her neck until he reached the limits of her dcolletage. He heard her gasp, and he felt the frantic little movements of her own hands through his hair, that grew in passion as his own caresses continued. Many minutes later he heard her voice, as if in a dream, coming from a distance.

Fitzwilliam? It was so soft and tender, but husky enough to acknowledge that the wonderful intimacies they had been sharing were not a dream. It seemed like a plea, and it touched the very essence of him, the deepest chord of his soul, and instantly his maddening desire transformed into a wish to protect her from every harm and menace, himself included. My most beloved Elizabeth forgive me. I should not have imposed on you so. I hope I have not shocked you. Please I she stammered, but continued with confidence, I trust you, Mr. Darcy. I am only confused, but only because of my own feelings. Pray tell me, Elizabeth, what are your feelings? he asked, his breath uneven. Sir, I could not possibly she blushed. His smile was almost unperceivable as he softly, reassuringly began caressing her shoulders. I am Fitzwilliam to you, not siryour fianc, your lover, and I dearly hope that I am your friend, as well. I do not want secrets or embarrassment to shadow our felicity. Talk to me about your feelings, my love. Elizabeth cast her eyes down at first, but then realized she needed to see the warmth of his expression to speak. I was delighted to receive and to respond your attentions, Fitzwilliam. I have never felt anything similar to what I am now experiencing, nor have I heard anyone talking about it. I It is overwhelming, and I was totally unprepared for it. When you talked about ways to love, is that what you meant? She regarded him eagerly, waiting for his reply, and she was more than astonished to see that his eyes were moist. He did not answer immediately. Instead, he came closer and brushed his

lips against hers, ever so lightly. Then he stepped back again. Indeed it was, he whispered. In that case, you should know, Fitzwilliam, that I love you, too. In every way possible.

~)~)~)~(~(~(~ Mrs. Bennet had watched the couples go with a contented sigh and then she sat down with the intention of doing absolutely nothing. She deserved a moment of respite after managing to find such excellent men for three of her daughters. No, two, she reminded herself; Mr. Bennet had hinted that Mr. Darcy held Mr. Wickham in contempt. Since ten thousand pounds a year were far better than a commission somewhere in Newcastle, she concluded that Mr. Darcy was right, and she had to dismiss any regard she felt towards her first son-in-law. Now that she thought of it, she had never particularly liked him. She had endured his tiring attentions during his last stay at Longbourn only for dearest Lydias sake. The fact remained that two of her daughters were to marry fine and rich gentlemen, and one had married an abominable man, but had married, nonetheless. Life had been good, had it not? Unfortunately, the sounds of an approaching carriage brought her out of her most pleasant reverie. Mrs. Bennet thought she was not obliged to have a look at the carriage, since three of her daughters were secured, but then she reminded herself that she had two more that needed good husbands so that her triumph against Lady Lucas would be complete. With such an inducement, she moved to the window to see a carriage of grandeur coming towards her home. Mrs. Bennet was not used to such sights every day, but her quick mind easily assumed that it was one of Mr. Darcys friends visiting him, and upon not finding him at Netherfield, he had come to her humble abode. Overexcited at the prospect, she hurried to find Mary and Kitty and instructed them to go upstairs and change into the dresses

that flattered them the most. Hardly had she returned to the drawing room, when Hill entered, almost running and flushed with a large woman on her heels. Lady Catherine de Bourgh, maam, Hill said hastily before the other woman walked in and the loyal servant was obliged to step aside. Mrs. Bennet was a little disappointed that her hopes for a rich, eligible friend of Mr. Darcys were for naught, but she was also exceedingly honored that her future son-in-laws esteemed aunt had come to visit them. She wore her best smile, the one she used for Mr. Darcy, and she was most effusive in her welcome. Lady Catherine spoke very coolly, but Mrs. Bennet knew better than to take offense at such a behavior. After all, had not Mr. Darcy seemed to be slighting Lizzy in the beginning? And now they were engaged to be married. Mrs. Bennets smile broadened at the thought, and she kept conversing with delight. Your nephew was here not long ago. Mr. Darcy has gone on a walk with Mr. Bingley and my two eldest daughters, but I trust they will be back soon. I am sure he will be very pleased to see you, your Ladyship. Oh, he was here, was he not? Lady Catherine suddenly began to lose her appearance of serenity and indifference, and her tone betrayed a hint of hostility, of which Mrs. Bennet remained blissfully unaware. I am certain that you and your daughter did everything in your power to keep him here. I am sure that you offer him whatever it takes to please him. Indeed, your Ladyship, we do our best to keep Mr. Darcy happy. Keep my nephew happy! The presumption of she cried, but immediately checked herself to ask in a lower tone again, Am I to understand that your daughter, Elizabeth, is not in the house?

No, but she will I want to speak to your husband, then. Immediately. The authoritative tone alarmed Mrs. Bennet a little, but she reminded herself that all those rich and important people had to use it so they could inspire awe. I am afraid he is not at home at the moment. He went shooting, your Ladyship, but if it pleases you, I can send a servant to fetch him, and I am sure he Is there no one else in the house? Lady Catherine demanded impatiently. There are my daughters, Mary and Catherine. Very sweet girls. No, no, they would never do. We have servants, too, your Ladyship, Mrs. Bennet was striving very hard to understand what Lady Catherine wished and to grant it. It seems as though I will have to talk to you, then. Lady Catherine seemed most unhappy at the prospect. I would be exceedingly happy to oblige you. Mrs. Bennet, I came here because a report of the most alarming nature reached me two days ago. Indeed? I am very sorry to hear it. Not nearly as much as was I, Mrs. Bennet. And dearest Anne, too. She was so shocked that she collapsed in the parlor, and Mrs. Jeckinson had toThat is no concern of yours, but we were all terribly upset. I am grieved that you and your family have suffered, Lady

Catherine. Yes, yes. My nephew sent us a letter, no doubt in an inebriated state. He never drinks, madam, nor is he disposed to all those undignified habits in which young men nowadays indulge. But I suppose it was a moment of weakness and of course, of great temptation. In that letter, Mrs. Bennet, he announced his engagement to your daughter. My lady, I am certain Mr. Darcy would not drink before addressing his dignified aunt. Ah, so you knew he would write to me. Perhaps you were the one who made him drink, as well. I assure you not, your Ladyship. There is always wine at dinner, but Mr. Darcy never drank more than two glasses. Mr. Darcy was invited to dine here? Yes, maam. Several times. Did he write that letter while he was here? I am afraid I do not know, Lady Catherine. But if I may be so bold as to ask, what has his letter to do with your familys distress? Mrs. Bennet was certain that such a fine gentleman as Mr. Darcy could never write anything offensive in his missives, especially those directed to his aunt. It has everything to do with my familys shock, Mrs. Bennet! That is why I came here. To have this piece of news universally contradicted. Mrs. Bennet felt the first tinge of alarm. Why should we contradict it, your Ladyship? It is very true; your nephew proposed to my second eldest daughter four days ago, Mrs. Bennet stated a bit more firmly, as her apprehensions regarding Lady Catherines intentions grew.

This is not to be borne! I have come here to put an end to thisthisparody of engagement! Lady Catherines voice was now quite loud, and Mrs. Bennet feared the servants could hear her. At other times, she would not mind, but this was a sensitive subject. I beg your pardon, your Ladyship, but it is a very fine, proper engagement. We do not approve of parodies at Longbourn. My nephew cannot have proposed to a simple country girl! He very well can! He proposed to my daughter, Elizabeth, four days ago, Mrs. Bennet repeated, unintentionally raising her voice to match Lady Catherines. He was not in his right mind then! He was in a perfectly rational, your Ladyship! He admires my daughter exceedingly, he told me so himself. I assure you that he was most earnest in his request of her hand. Oh, I was certain that you would support this hideous union! I am sure that you taught your daughter all the arts she needed so that my poor nephew fell into the trap! To what trap are you referring? I am referring to the marriage proposal that you claim Mr. Darcy has made to Miss Elizabeth. I am certain you have been aspiring to such a union since my nephew was first introduced to you. Not quite, Mrs. Bennet admitted, a little ashamed of her lack of insight back then. And I am certain you advised her to use all her allurements to her best advantage so that she could snare an honorable man. Of course, I did!

Are you not mortified to confess it? Why should I be mortified? Every mother wants what is best for her children. Do you not agree that Mr. Darcy is the best man that Lizzy could attract? I am exceedingly proud of her, your Ladyship! Mrs. Bennet, Lady Catherine tried to speak in a calmer voice, though she was evidently angry, let us be rational, shall we? Your daughter can not marry Mr. Darcy. His family will shut him out. The world will shut him out. No one will associate them, no one will even speak his name. They will lead a disgraced life. Do you want your daughter to be miserable? My daughter miserable? Mr. Darcy owns an estate in Derbyshire, a house in London and he earns ten thousand pounds a year! She will have all the jewels and carriages and pin money she could wish for! How can she fail to be happy with such blessings around her? You do not understand! They will be obliged to lead an unhappy life, away from the approval of the Ton and good society. Their life will be unvaried, their past forever haunted by this disgrace. No one will go to their gatherings and balls! Mr. Darcy is not fond of dancing, as it happens. As for Lizzy, I am sure she has danced enough for the rest of her life, and she will not miss the activity. As for their social life, I am certain Mr. Darcy has many friends in Town. He had told us himself that society is very varied there. That is the point, Mrs. Bennet! His friends will cease to be his friends once his marriage to your daughter is announced. Mr. Bingley approves of the match, and he is Mr. Darcys closest friend. I daresay they are all like Mr. Bingley and will follow his excellent example.

Mr. Bingley is under the spell of your other daughter! Otherwise he would have done everything in his power to dissuade my nephew! Every other acquaintance will renounce him, I am certain of it. But your Ladyship, everyone tries to please rich men and hardly anyone pays attention to their wives. As long as Mr. Darcy has such a good fortune, he and my daughter will never be in need of company. You do not understand the rules of the circles he moves in. Your family and my nephews status in society are totally dissimilar. This is unheard of! But is it not true that men and women should not be equal in marriage? Men should be superior in everything, and women should respect and obey them. My family was titled, and my husbands was not. The same was true of Lady Anne, Mr. Darcys mother, Lady Catherine cried indignantly. And you expect my daughter to break her engagement with a man of such importance and good connections? My Lizzy is clever, and that would be madness! I am not done yet. This marriage you have evidently conspired to bring about will never take place. Do you hear me? Never! Prepare yourself for a very unpleasant piece of news, madam, Lady Catherine said spitefully with a glint in her eyes. Mr. Darcy is engaged to my daughter! For the first time in her life, Frances Bennet was in real need of her smelling salts, and yet, she did not ask for them. Instead, she turned pale as a ghost and whispered, Engaged to your daughter? Engaged to two women simultaneously? My Lizzy Mr. Darcy Compromise She took a deep breath to recover and then she cried, with much more asserting voice, No, that

would be entirely dishonorable on his part! It is not. He is engaged to my dearest Anne. When did this happen? Mrs. Bennet thought that engagements were not so important after all, especially old and almost forgotten ones. What mattered was which of the two fiances would get Mr. Darcy in the church. She wondered how she could send Elizabeth a note without Lady Catherine noticing it. Since his birth! My sister and I planned this union while in their cradles. And now, when the fondest wish of his entire family is finally going to take place, who is going to prevent it? A young woman without name, connections or money and with such an outspoken mother? It is not to be borne! So, he has not proposed to your daughter! Fanny exclaimed, feeling more relieved than ever. There was no need to dispatch a note. No, but in principle He is honor-bound to my daughter, Lady Catherine. He chose her, he proposed to her. He had twenty-eight years to propose your daughter, and if he wished to marry her, he would have done it by now. There is nothing you can do. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy will get married. As soon as possible! Not so hasty, if you please, madam. Do you think I am not aware of your youngest daughters infamous elopement? Do you think Mr. Collins did not tell me the details? I know it all. I know that the marriage was a patched-up business at the expense of your husband and your brother. Do you think I will allow such a girl to be my nephews sister? Her husband is the son of late Mr. Darcys steward! Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted? Oh, do not worry on that account, Lady Catherine. I am fully

aware that Mr. Wickham is a horrible man, and you can be assured that I dislike him very much, as Mr. Darcy wants us to. I am sure he will never be admitted to Pemberley. I had no wish to invite him at Longbourn after the marriage, but I had to, for dearest Lydias sake. This is not to be Lady Catherine started shouting, but stopped immediately as she noticed the couple that stood by the door. Lady Catherine was content to see that the young girl seemed appalled, evidently by her mothers behavior. Her Ladyship was so absorbed in looking at the girls colorless face that she did not notice that her nephews arm supported Elizabeth while his other hand caressed her clenched fists. Darcy! You are here, thank God. I trust you have heard a part of our argument with Mrs. Bennet. Mrs. Bennet wore such a terrified expression at that moment that Mr. Darcy felt genuine pity for her. I have heard quite enough, madam, he replied gravely, his gaze inscrutable. Turning to Elizabeth, he whispered something in her ear, but she replied aloud, even though her voice was trembling. No, Mr. Darcy, I would rather stay. The color began to return to her face, her form became more rigid and she removed her fists from her fiancs touch, though she still remained in his embrace. Do you not see, Darcy? That impertinent, disobliging Lady Catherine shouted triumphantly. No, Aunt, Darcy said with a voice that was cold, loud and firm and that did not allow interruption, you are not going to insult my fiance anymore. You spoke ill of her family, and you insulted her mother. You have insulted my choice and, therefore, me. You are not going to offend us anymore. The

people you spoke so ill of will be my family soon. Nonsense, Darcy. We are your family and You are my family, and I am not sure if Miss Bennet will still want me after realizing how cruel and uncivil you can be. Other than that, you cannot influence my decision to marry where I love. Mrs. Bennet looked as if she was about to faint after this speech. Unwilling to draw attention, she moved as quietly as she could to a chair near a vase, and tried to inhale the flowers scent. Lady Catherine continued talking; she was very far from giving up. How dare you speak to me this way, Darcy? The family will reject you. You will be a stranger to us if you marry her. The world will despise you. You will be estranged from anyone you esteem. Are you willing to sacrifice your happiness for a whim? Do you wish to sadden your entire family and your friends for an infatuation that you will come to repent in a few months time? My dear nephew, I understand you. I know that you think that you like this girl, but listen to the words of an older, wiser woman. Forget this. Marrying her will only lead to your destruction. Come away with me. Marry Anne. Respect your fathers name. Respect your mothers wishesher dying words, Darcy. Remember your dearest sister, Georgiana, who needs a proper model and companion, and do not make this mistake. For the sake of everything, come home with me. Tears appeared on Elizabeths cheek. Darcy saw them, and he was enraged. Had he not vowed to protect her from harm not an hour ago? And now, his own aunt was hurting her with abominably cruel words. Lady Catherine, your efforts to rule my feelings using my dear parents memory are disgusting, to say the least. My parents taught me to be an independent man and to judge for myself

where my duty lies. I have learned to act on my own will, however much I respect my familys advice, when it is well meant. I am not advising you, Darcy! I am telling you that you are supposed to marry Anne! Lady Catherine had lost every appearance of composure. Let me clarify this once and forever. I will not marry your daughter. I never made any promises. In fact, I did everything within my power to discourage such a notion. You have always been most attentive to Anne! I have been civil, as a cousin ought. I have tried for years to suggest that a union between us will never occur. Perhaps it is my fault that I chose to do it subtly! It seems you wished a blatant statement from me, but my dear parents taught me to deal with my problems with discretion. In your case, however, they have been wrong! As for your predictions regarding the misfortunes that my marriage will bring, rest assured that the world will have much more sense than to censure me. I am not afraid of those who will shut me out of their circle because of my union with Elizabeth. My true friends know who I am. My choices define who I am, and I choose Elizabeth. I choose Elizabeth because I love her, because she makes me a better man, because I feel happy when I am close to her, because I simply cannot live without her by my side. Now, if you are not willing to give us our blessing, I am sure Hill will gladly escort you to your carriage. Mrs. Bennets mouth was agape. She had never imagined that a man could speak in such a manner. She had never heard words describing such ardent love, and now, of all people, the proud, silent Mr. Darcy was making such a formidable declaration. Elizabeth was looking at him steadily, gravely. No smile grazed her lips or eyes, yet she had the aura of serenity and deep satisfaction. Her cheeks were now rosy, and a few locks of her

hair had fallen on her face. She had not managed to find all the pins she had lost while she was enjoying Mr. Darcys caresses during their walk. She stood upright, her right fist still tightly clenched, while her left hand was now safely held by her fianc. Darcy felt Elizabeths hand relax into his, and he barely hid his sigh of relief. He instantly knew his intended, though shocked and upset, would not let this overwhelm her or come between them. Then he heard her voice, barely above a whisper, meant only for him, I could not love you more or be prouder of you than I am now. He smiled, ignoring Lady Catherines outraged face. He could not ignore her yelling for long, unfortunately. I am not giving up! Have you thought of your sister? Her reputation This union will never take place! Never! Do not dare to bring Georgiana into this! Darcy shouted. Do not make me lose my patience, Lady Catherine, because you know only too well who will be damaged if I lose it. If you are not willing to give us your blessing, you are not welcome here! Give you my blessing? You are not serious! I never will. I will go and tell everyone that you have lost your senses. Not welcome here? In thiscottage? That is a good joke, Darcy. And I do not need anyone to escort me! she said as she pushed Hill and disappeared. As soon as his aunt was out of sight, Darcy led Elizabeth to sit next to her mother, whispering comforting words of her love in her ear. Upon noticing his future mothers-in-law pale face, he asked very politely, almost tenderly, Mrs. Bennet, are you ill? Is there anything I can bring you? Your smelling salts, perhaps? No, no, Mr. Darcy. I am quite well. Thank you. She still regarded him with awe. Mrs. Bennet, you were very strong today. You defended your

family and me quite admirably. Standing up to my aunt is not an easy task, I assure you, but you handed it very well. Thank you. Frances Bennet was certain that she would remember that moment as one of the most rewarding ones of her life. She told herself that it was worth suffering from nerves for twenty years if she were destined to listen to such a speech at the end of them. Her future son-in-laws kind, generous words echoed in her ears, as she very carefully stood up, cast a last look at the couple and walked carefully out of the room. Then, and only then, did she faint.

~)~)~)~(~(~(~ As soon as Lady Catherine was gone and my mother disappeared into another room, I realized that Fitzwilliam and I had to talk very seriously, and the idea did not please me in the least. He was very attentive, tender and kind, a true knight, but I did not wish to be the fair but invariably nave princess of fairy tales. Had I proposed a walk and talked of nothing else but my wedding gown, I am sure he would have happily obliged me. But I knew he would leave for London, and I felt that I could not see him go without telling him what was truly in my heart. Thus, I gathered my courage, and I mentioned his first proposal. As soon as the words last Easter escaped my lips, his smile disappeared, and he resumed an expression that reminded me very much of the Mr. Darcy I met one year agothe tall, austere and difficult to please man that could make no friends. But this time I knew that was only a faade. I was saddened that he still used that with me, but I went on talking of his first proposal, where he had most eloquently dwelled on the family obstacles which his judgment had always opposed to his wish to unite his life with mine. For heavens sake, Elizabeth! he interrupted me with a voice

that was far from calm, if you have changed your mind about our engagement, say it so directly. Do not torment me by using my own words against me. I motioned him to sit next to me, and I let my palm touch his cheek. It was then that I noticed that he had pressed his lips so hard that they had lost their color. I told him that I was disappointed that he believed me so fickle as to change so easily my opinion regarding the most important decision of my life. He relaxed only slightly, and I felt sorry for the pain I was causing him. I boldly sat closer to him, embraced him tightly and let my head rest on his shoulder. As I heard him heave a sigh, I whispered, I love you, Fitzwilliam, and my love grows deeper and stronger. That will never change, even if the entire world came here to offend me. As long as you want me, I am yours. He murmured my name, and I felt his head lean on top of mine, as his hand lightly stroked my back. All I wanted to tell you, I continued, is that I now understand your meaning when you first proposed. You were right to worry about your familys reactions. I fear how your other relations will react to the news, and I am concerned about you. I can bear their accusations and listen to their reasoning with perfect indifference, but it is not the same for you. They are your family, they are dear to you. I do not wish I wish that our marriage would not have such unpleasant consequences, I concluded, pulling back so I could look into his eyes. Fitzwilliam smiled, and the wrinkles of worry that I had caused were dulled. I wish I could promise that no unpleasant situations will arise in the future. However, my love, as we know only too well, the road too happiness is everything but easy. I cast my eyes down, but he lifted my chin gently until I was looking at him again. There is malice in the world, Elizabeth. There are too many people that are not as happy as we are. There are many ladies in the Ton who suffer in miserable marriages and have been hoping that I would follow their example and pursue an advantageous and equally miserable

match. They cannot understand love and happiness, therefore, they cannot understand my choice. I do not care for disapproval based on personal bitterness, but I will demand that every civility is paid towards my future wife. I wanted to tell him that I felt certain he would protect me, and I was only concerned about his reaction to his familys scorn, but he went on. My relationsThey are not going to insult you. They are not like Lady Catherine, and they care too much for appearances to insult you. But I want you to understand, Elizabeth, that my family now is you and Georgiana. You are closer to me, above everyone else. I had tears in my eyes. In fact, I was silently weeping. I felt as if he was unvaryingly wonderful, and I was only creating problems, until he kissed me on the cheek. It was a chaste caress, and it proved to be exactly what I needed. It does not follow that we will lead the isolated life that Lady Catherine expects us to, however much I would like to seclude you at Pemberley forever, he said, and I chuckled between my tears. How can you always say the right thing? I asked, as I embraced him tightly. I wonder myself where my talent in communication stems from. I made you understand exactly how I felt since the moment we met, and my first proposal was exceedingly well articulated, and at the Inn of Lambton I burst out laughing and implored him to stop, but I was happy that he could speak of the past in such a light tone. It seemed that on the day when hardships overwhelmed me, Fitzwilliam learned to laugh at past mistakes. I could not indulge in such ponderings for long, however, because I felt his lips upon mine for a kiss that started gently but grew more and more passionate. I am not certain if it was his need or mine that

almost led us to an unforgivably inappropriate situation. Our hands, as if of their own will, began to move along our bodies, and I did not stop when I heard him whispering my name, pleadingly. I felt his fingers traveling down my neck. It seemed as if their journey lasted forever, and I wished for more, even though I hardly knew what it was that I wanted. Then, they were there, at my dcolletage, pushing the fabric lower and lower, and his other hand was on the fabric, touching my breast, and it feltOh, I can hardly describe it! It was as if I broke into thousands of pieces and all of them were in his hands. I felt vulnerable and beautiful and and his. Completely, irrevocably tied with him, forever. His caresses persisted and so did mine. Our bodies pressed against each other, demanding something more, something that I knew we could not give them. And yet, I thought I could not live if our contact broke, if I pulled back even an inch. Minutes passed by in passion and agony, in the utmost love and the sweetest torture, until our kiss broke. We breathed rapidly and deeply, and he muttered, Oh God, I almost but I touched his hand and said, not you almost, we almost He did not return my smile, he only replied, Do not make me suffer, Elizabeth. Have you any idea how breathtakingly beautiful, how alluring, how tempting you are at this very moment? Have mercy on me, and let us go and find your family. I nodded, suppressing my need to tell him that I loved him, because I knew only too well where this would lead. After a few minutes, we joined my mother, and I heard my fianc saying, Mrs. Bennet, I believe that Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth would be greatly benefited by the London air. They should purchase their wedding clothes as soon as possible. Do you think Mrs. Gardiner could be induced to invite your eldest daughters? Mama would not hear of the cost or of the extravagance of the

action. She did not listen to my pleas when I begged her not to alarm my aunt in vain. She sent an express to her brother this very afternoon. I think I will start packing very soon.

~)~)~)~(~(~(~

Failing and Fainting

Part 5
Friday, 6th November 1812 The night has come that I must bid goodbye to the life I have known as Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn. It is past midnight, and everything is quiet in the house. It is strange that a house so full of people in daytime, with so many guests, with so many noises and faces and movements seems almost deserted now. Even Jane, the other bride, is fast asleep. I hear her breathing, I see her peaceful face smiling a little, as if enjoying the pleasantest, sunniest dream. And it is only I who cannot surrender to Morpheus, who is so restless that I cannot even

pretend to lie on my bed. It is a price I am willing to pay for my happiness. My mood is so strange tonight. I long for tomorrow with a yearning that is completely unreasonable. Only few hours are separating me from joining the man I love at the altar, and yet I am afraid that time will play a trick on me and stop, and I will stay a prisoner in this night forever. And yet, the clock says that the minutes are passing. I can breathe in relief, I suppose. How silly I must appear! However, this trepidation, this longing is mixed with a feeling of homesickness. How can I be homesick when I have not even left my home? The fearless Lizzy, who is never intimidated and whose courage rises with every challenge, will shed some tears tomorrow when she leaves her home to go to the north. Mistress of Pemberley indeed! I remember how I felt when I first beheld its sight. It took my breath away. I stood in complete awe! And now, I will become familiar with it. It will be my home, replacing Longbourn in my heart. I will find favorite little places, favorite paths, favorite flowers, rooms, furniture, smells. This is indeed beginning my life anew! Every woman in the ton envies me, and yet I believe I would be terrified at the prospect of all these changesif it were not for him. Fitzwilliam approached me tonight after dinner. We hardly shared any words together all dayand I am afraid we scarcely had any time together at all since we returned from London, but I always felt his presenceloving, reassuringas if he were my ally in all this chaos, ready to save me and escape with me, if needed. Today, in particular, he was so discreet. He was here since early in the morning, along with his set of guests. I believe Mama has never prepared a dinner for so many, but even the Earl was impressed by our hospitality, if not our meals in the end. But it was not until after dinner that he sought me out. Then, I hardly know how he did it, we found ourselves alone in front of the staircase. He smiled conspiratorially, and I laughed,

yet it was such a nervous, spiritless laugh, and so unlike me, that he turned immediately serious. You are very quiet today, Elizabeth, he observed. I am trying to be, sir. In a house so full, are we not grateful for those who speak less. He laughed. No, madam, you are inconstant. The Meryton Assembly was full of people and there was music that added to the general noise, and yet you disliked me exceedingly for doing my duty and standing as quietly as I could. That at least produced a heartfelt laugh on my part. You are quite right, Fitzwilliam. I was young and nave. Had I experienced all these preparations before that fateful night, I would have been more favorably disposed towards you. I believe I am quite glad you knew nothing of the bustle of the wedding preparations, even if that resulted in your prejudices against me. The mere idea that you could have been engaged to someone else before I knew you he turned very serious and averted his eyes, but I saw the look of anxiety in them and almost shivered. I came closer to him and put my arms on his shoulders. His eyes still refused to meet mine, and his arms made no movement to embrace me. My love, I wasMy teasing was silly and insensitive. But, do you not see? My heart is yours, as if it were destined to be so before either of us was even born. It is true, I did not know it a year ago, but now I do. I could never, ever love anyone as much as I love you. I would have waited patiently had you not come to me. My heart would have waited. Had a smart lady of the ton trapped you into a marriage of convenience, I would have ended a very peculiar and unsatisfied old maid. His eyes looked deep into mine, and his lips were ever so

slightly parted. He wore an expression of mild wonderindeed, he always was the most eloquent in our professions of love, and I felt a little shy for having been so bold, so I dropped my eyes. His hand was on my cheek, his fingers caressing me almost hesitatingly. My heart, he whispered, my life. I could not but lift my face after such endearments, and his expression made me press my body against his and bury my head on his chest and lose myself in his embrace, for his arms were finally around my waist, encircling me in the way that made me feel safe, as if I were at home. Forgive me, he murmured against my head. I love you so much, and I have feared of losing you for so long. I never doubted you, never, Elizabeth. Then he bent to kiss me. His lips assaulted mine so passionately that I left my bodys weight in his hands. His grip tightened as he went on, tasting me and letting me taste his flavor, languidly and yet with some fervent urgency, as if trying to reassure some secret fear. I understood him, for as soon as our kiss ended, before I even recovered my breath, I hurried to speak to him in a small voice. I love you. We are both in strange moods today, Fitzwilliam. It is because of tomorrow. All that will be new and I stopped as I recalled that nothing was new for him. His status has always been grand. Pemberley was his childhood home. I hoped he would not notice my concern. I did not wish to burden him with my uneasiness, when he seemed tormented enough himself. And? My dearest Fitzwilliam, it appears that I cannot utter two sound words together this evening. Your company is too distracting, I am afraid, I said in a light tone, but his face

remained somber. I sighed, because I knew from the beginning that it would be impossible to tell him anything but the exact truth. He could read my soul even better than I. How was I to conceal anything from him? Very well, Fitzwilliam. I have been thinking of my new home and my new position in society, and all the new things in general. I do love variation, and I cannot wait to be your wife, but it is only natural to be overwhelmed, is it not? The moment I had said your wife all his features relaxed, and he was smiling when I ended my speech. Of course it is, my darling. I am overwhelmed myself. I had such a look of puzzlement on my face that he burst out laughing. His laughter was the best medicine for all the gloominess around us. Every tension was gone, and I could not remember ever feeling uneasy about anything. But Fitzwilliam, I said playfully, you have always been Mr. Darcy of Pemberley. But I have never been your husband before, Elizabeth. That is my most important role now, the core around which I am building my life. I will see Pemberley so differentlynot as the estate I inherited as a son, but as the home we will share and where we will raise our children. I will care for my duties there not for my personal pride or to honor my fathers memory, but as the means of bringing you prosperity. I will strive to guess your wishes, to make you comfortable, to keep you safe and protected and happy for a lifetime. That is all new to me, Elizabeth, and I will do it with all my heart. But, he added with mock terror, it does not appear very easy, does it? I am not sure about duties, but as for keeping me happy, it must come very naturally to you, sir. Unless you tell me that you rehearse such wonderful speeches.

You are my muse, Elizabeth. As we both know, usually I am pathetically tongue-tied. It is a privilege, then, that I am the only one privy to the eloquent aspect of your character. I would not want to share such discourse with anyone. He kissed my browit was a kiss and a sigh of relief combined. I missed you today, I told him, still safely in his embrace. I thought we would never find ourselves alone. It was torment for me as well, my love, but it is better this way. Your father asked you to be with him at every opportunity today. Did you not see it? He misses you before you are gone. I, who am going to take his joy from his house, and keep her with me forever, how can I be selfish and deny him this last day? If all his previous words had not succeeded in making me cry, those did. He allowed me, sweeping away the tears silently when they blurred my vision. You are the best man I know, Fitzwilliam. The most generousthe most kind-hearted For you, my darling. Everything I am and will ever be, it is because of you and for you. You are the making of me. I love you, I said quietly, and we silently held each other until my father came out and asked me to join him. He did not seem annoyed or surprised to find us in each others arms, Fitzwilliams hands caressing up and down my back. He only cleared his throat, and said, Elizabeth, I cannot remember the title of that book we were discussing yesterday. The Earl seems impressed by my description, but I can neither locate it nor recall the name. Will you please help me? I think that Fitzwilliam winked at me when he released me. I wonder what he is doing now. I am sure that he cannot sleep

any more than I can. Is he gazing out of the window? Pacing up and down the room? Drinking some port with Mr. Bingley? No, I prefer the idea of him being alone and thinking of me, as I do of him. If I close my eyes, I see him, I see tomorrow, I see our future. Is he yearning for me as I am for him? I have been imprudent enough, staying up so late. It will not do to look ugly because of lack of sleep on my wedding day. Mama will never have it, and I could never bear to disappoint my fianc. So I will lie on my bed and close my eyes tightly and try to think of nothing until I surrender to the sweet numbness. Before that, I will sign, for the last time, Elizabeth Viola Bennet

~)~)~)~(~(~(~ Darcy sat by the window of the library, his port in hand, and gazed into the heavy darkness outside. It was a moonless night, and the stars appeared very clearly in the sky. His eyes sought Polaris, so strangely detached from the rest, a unit that stood alone in the chaos of universe. He always felt a kind of sympathy for it, as he considered that it reflected his life very well. He was always surrounded by so many people, but deep in his heart, he was painfully aware of his loneliness, ever since his childhood. But now, Elizabeth had come into his life, and the feeling of dissatisfaction, of being incomplete, had been replaced by the utter joy of his soul as it sought out hers. His mind, his heart, everything in him had found in her its mate, its equal, and he was no longer alone. I say, Darcy, you seem very calm. Astonishingly calm, considering that tomorrow is such a day. Do you not feel the slightest nervousness? You sit over there and look at God knows what in that darkness, and you do not need to talk about

anything at all. Just like every other night. How do you do that? I want to know! Bingley said, taking large sips of his third glass of port. Darcy would have infinitely preferred to be left alone with his thoughts, but he could not find it in his heart to abandon his friend, who was in such evident need of some company. He suspected that if Charles had to spend the night on his own, he would drink so much that he would not be able to stand at the altar in the morning, and he did not cherish the idea of being accused again of separating Bingley and Miss Bennet. My friend, this is not a usual night for me, either. If it were, I would be sound asleep at such an hour. Bingley conceded the point. But then, as another idea forced itself on his mind, he said, But you do not appear nervous or frightened. I am not frightened. Why should I be? Surely you are not, either. There was no answer. Bingley? Charles averted his eyes. Bingley, look at me. What can possibly intimidate you? Surely not Miss Bennet. Suddenly, he wondered if Elizabeths sister hid a very different personality under her calm exterior and unvarying sweetness. No, no, Mr. Bingley denied passionately. Jane is angelic as ever. So pure, so innocent. Oh God, what am I going to do tomorrow night? Mr. Darcy wanted to be very sympathetic to his friend, but he could barely hide his smile. I am very certain, old friend, that

you know exactly what to do tomorrow night. If we compare our past, I am by far the one who would need moral support. Exactly! Bingleys eyes were sparkling, and Darcy moved decidedly towards him and took his glass away from him. Why do you not need it? Charles continued, unperturbed. This is ridiculous. I did not tolerate this kind of talk, not even back at Cambridge, and I certainly will not do so now. Oh, there is no need to be angry now, Darcy. You understand what I mean. My past experiences were so different, the women were Jane is a daughter of a gentleman. She is so, so innocent and How will she trust me? How can I do this to the woman I love? Ideally, Bingley, this act is supposed to take place between a man and a woman who love each other. As for the past women, he blushed a little, I am well aware that what you felt is nothing compared what you now experience, but I trust you always treated women with respect and kindness. As an idea occurred to him, he added hastily, If that was not the case Bingley interrupted him. Good God! What do you take me for, a brute? Good. Good. Darcy coughed a little and continued. I really wish your father and mine were alive tonight, Bingley. But I am sure that if they were here with us, they would say this very thing: Love her and show her your love, and all will be well. As Bingley absorbed the idea, a smile started to spread across his face, not an inebriated one that would displease his friend, but one that bespoke of his genuine relief and happiness. Very true. Very nice thought, Darcy. I thank you. I, too, wish our fathers were with us tonight. How proud they would be of our choices, eh?

Darcy felt a lump on his throat and could not answer immediately. Indeed, how happy he would have been to receive the blessing of his father and mother on this day of his life! How he wished he could introduce them to Elizabeth, to tell them of her excellence, of her worth! How he yearned to make them happy by showing them his happiness! But he could only have faith that they were watching and approving and loving him and his future wife from the heavens. Bingleys ramblings brought him out of his thoughts. My father always had an eye for beautiful women. He would have appreciated our fiances like none other. I am sure that he would Bingley, I really think it is time to go to bed. Of course. Turning to the door without ceremony, he was ready to say goodnight, when a final question came to his mind. If you have no fear of tomorrow, why could you not sleep? Because I am impatient to see the day coming.

~)~)~)~(~(~(~ Jane only smiled and kissed his cheek tenderly, while Elizabeth laughed openly. I am afraid that it is too late now, Papa. I have read The Taming of the Shrew again, at your recommendation, I should add, and I am transformed into the obedient Catherine now, ready to oblige my husbands every wish. Oh Lizzy, I would not call reading what you didsighing and exclaiming and scolding the poor characters at every page, Jane betrayed. No, our Elizabeth Viola Bennet will always remain a Twelfth Night girlsacrificing herself for her family, if needed be, but

always having a mind of her own, Mr. Bennet said fondly. And always having the oddest ideas! Jane added, while Elizabeth protested that this was not the case, and that they had mistaken her character entirely, before she surrendered to laughter. Come now. You must not keep your Duke Orsino waiting. Mr. Bennets voice was much lower than usual, and his daughters could see how deeply touched he was. Nor Jane Heros Claudio, Elizabeth added lightly, and she kissed her father. I believe your middle names served you well, my girls. You surpassed the plays characters in good fortune in marriage. I believe that by choosing them, I was an active benefactor in your welfare. Oh Papa, you have done much more for us than choosing our middle names! Yes, but if I explain to your mother how Viola and Hero helped you, she might come to understand my appreciation of Shakespeare and understand why I chose those incomprehensible names. I am afraid it will take much more for Mama to appreciate the Bard, Elizabeth sighed. It would help if your fianc mentioned his admiration for Shakespeare to his mother-in-law. Then she would be certain to become a profound scholar. Elizabeth let out a laugh, as she and Jane hugged their father one last time before walking down to the altar.

~)~)~)~(~(~(~ Mr. Darcy made his first steps with his new wife barely registering what was happening around him. As he walked outside the church, people came forward to shake his hand and girls embraced and kissed Elizabeth, but the only thing that of which he was aware were Elizabeths words, uttered but a few minutes before. I, Elizabeth Viola, take thee, Fitzwilliam Andrew, to be my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part, according to Gods holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my troth. She had accepted him, and she had vowed to love him for as long as they both lived. Elizabeth had bestowed on him the gift of her love some time ago, and she was most generous in her reassurance, but only when he heard those words, did he allow himself to understand how utterly committed she was to him. His heart beat hard in his chest, rejoicing in that moment of total bliss, when the final tiny fear and doubt chose to leave it. He wanted to embrace, to kiss his beloved at that very momentto explain to her what wonderful events took place in his soul, that was hers more now than ever before. But he checked himself, knowing they had an eternity to love and cherish each other. And he was determined he would not allow a moment of their time together to be wasted. He felt her hand squeeze his as they came out of the church and turned to look at her lovely, flushed face. For a brief moment, he wished they could forego the wedding breakfast and all the festivities so that he would be able have his wife all for himself, but he forsook the thought soon enough. He was so deliriously happy that he wanted the rest of the world to share his joy and celebrate with him. This was nothing like the state of quiet contentment he was used toit was deeper and much more powerful, shaking him to his very core. Caring very little for propriety, he leaned down and

kissed Elizabeth, if only for a second. Some relative of Elizabeths cheered, and the little children who had been watching with awe the tall groom during the entire ceremony applauded. When the moment was over, Darcys eyes located his aunt, Lady Matlock, in the crowd and noticed her awestruck face. He shot her a devastating smile that only made her more surprised, and she needed some time to recover herself and smile back at him. The sun was shining brighter than ever, and it was an unusually warm day for November. Darcy heard Elizabeth saying, very amused, Happy is the bride that the sun shines on. So, are you happy, my love? She looked at him very fondly, but he could discern the unmistakable glimmer of teasing in her eyes, even before she replied, With such an amount of sunlight, how could I ever be miserable? It appears that even in the elements of nature are in our favor, he commented, slightly caressing her hand that was still in his. However, I do wish to be a more active participant in your happiness. You are my sun, she whispered so that only he could hear. His look changed from momentary surprise to utter tenderness, as he brought her hand to his face, pressed it against his cheeks and then gently grazed it with his lips. Elizabeth was deeply touched by his gestures that bespoke in such a wonderfully simple way of his love, and she shivered as she felt the stirrings of passion behind their exchange. I love you, Elizabeth Viola Darcy. If I am certain of anything related to the future, it is this: I will love you forever. She leaned towards him, and Mr. Darcys hands encircled her waist, bringing them closer and closer until their lips were

almost united. Colonel Fitzwilliam had been watching them closely, and experienced as he was in tender and passionate interludes, he could guess where this kiss would lead. He could also guess how little his parents would be pleased by witnessing such open displays of affection, therefore, he approached Darcy, patted him on the back and spoke in a light tone. Darcy, selfish, lucky man! You have to share your lovely wife with a few people this morning. It will not do to be late for your wedding breakfast. Bingley is well on his way, and you have not gotten into the carriage! However little pleased Darcy was by the interruption, he did understand his cousins good intentions and thus helped Elizabeth into the carriage. Before getting in himself, he heard his cousin whispering to him, You are a lucky man, Darcy.

~)~)~)~(~(~(~ Darcy appreciated the quietness of the carriage after the bustle of the wedding breakfast more than he could express. There were no other sounds than the horses hooves and the wheels, and even those seemed comforting. Elizabeth had fallen into a peaceful slumber, her head lying on his chest, so that he could feel her breath against his throat. His hand had slipped behind her back and now was holding her hand, caressing it very lightly so as to not disturb her rest. She seemed to enjoy it though, even in her sleep, for a tiny smile of unconscious satisfaction played on her lips. He let out a sigh of deep contentment. This was how he had always imagined genuine happiness to bereturning home with the woman he loved. There was no sense of loneliness, no feeling that he had left half his heart elsewhere, as was the case each time he went back alone either to the townhouse or Pemberley in the past year. The day had been long and full, but as he inhaled the soft fragrance of the roses that adorned his

wifes hair, he felt positive that he was not fatigued in the least. They were approaching the townhouse when Elizabeth opened her eyes and was greeted with a soft, gentle kiss from her husband, who was looking at her adoringly. I am sorry, she whispered. Whatever for? For falling asleep. I wanted to be alone with you all day long, and when we finally were, my fatigue overwhelmed me. I should not have stayed up so late last night. There is no need to worry, my love. We will have all the time we want to ourselves, and I will never feel alone when I have you in my arms, asleep or awake. But tell me, what kept you up late yesterday? Were you nervous for today? His hand moved to stroke her cheek, again and again, and it brought such comfort and love that Elizabeth instinctively kissed his fingers, an action that was rewarded by an imperceptible moan from Darcy, who closed his eyes only for a moment. I am not sure how I felt, Elizabeth replied snuggling closer to him, but I believe that the longing for our wedding was prominent in my heart. Even though he knew they were almost outside their home, he could not resist the temptation to kiss the lips that spoke words so sweet to his soul. The carriage halted and they pressed against each other, still kissing. The realization of their arrival at the townhouse intruded, however, and they drew apart, Elizabeth desperately trying to regain her composure, while she was very worried about her appearance. Do I look disheveled? she asked her husband, patting her hair to know if the small blossoms that had adorned it in the morning were still there.

You look devastatingly beautiful and alluring, as always. Be serious, Fitzwilliam! I wish to make a good impression on the servants, or I will find myself very ill at ease with your household. Our household, Elizabeth, he reminded her gently. Do not concern yourself, my love. Everyone will admire you. You should not underestimate your natural gift for charming people, he told her smiling, but upon noticing that she did not relax at all, he continued. I promise you that they will respect and love you. I will do everything in my power to keep you happy in our house. Thank you, she whispered as the footman opened the carriage door. You always know how to comfort me. I only try to read your feelings. And I happen to know that my Elizabeth is often worried about first impressions, quite needlessly, I might add. Needlessly indeed, she replied, openly smiling as she stepped out of the carriage. For as I have found, in the most pleasant way, that when peoples good opinion is once lost, it is not lost forever. Mr. Darcy had to suppress a chuckle, as he offered his arm to his wife to walk to the door. I will reward you for that fine speech later, he told her, and she shivered as she discerned the chords of passion in his deep voice. The skin of her cheeks was flushed, as she felt his lips coming ever so close, but never quite touching it. Elizabeth felt something stir inside her, something that made the prospect of introductions and formalities almost unbearable. It seemed to affect both her mind and body, preventing her from thinking clearly or controlling her weight as she clung closer to her husband. Later that night, she would learn that what she felt was

yearning.

~)~)~)~(~(~(~ If someone had asked Elizabeth what she ate that evening, she would not have been able to answer. She knew that it was her first supper as the mistress of the house, and her feelings were very different than all the times she had dined there during her previous stay in London as Mr. Darcys guest. The servants who addressed her as Mrs. Darcy startled her, and she had to try to smile politely at them and not let her nervousness be interpreted as conceit. But most of all, her thoughts and senses were drawn to the man who sat opposite herher husband. He had been very animated when they reached the house, but as the time passed, he grew quieter and quieter. Elizabeth realized that she preferred their camaraderie of few words to pointless conversation that would certainly fail to assuage her embarrassment. Even though her husband talked little, his eyes did not leave hers for a momentand she did not fail to feel warmer and grow a bit more confident under his steady, loving gaze. Only when they had finished supper and he offered his arm to her, did he look elsewhere, as he asked, Shall we spend some time in the music room before we retire? When he finished his sentence, his eyes returned to her face, intense, scrutinizing. Elizabeth felt his gaze slowly giving birth to a fire deep inside her, a fire she was certain would consume her with its growing intensity. But she was drawn to it more and more with every moment that passed, and nothing could lessen the instinct, the primitive power that was destined to unite them. Flushed, but feeling bolder than ever, she replied, I am ready to retire, Fitzwilliam. She heard him inhale deeply, but he made no other sign to show he was affected. He spoke in a voice that could have appeared

very calm, had not Elizabeth discerned, at the last moment, its slight trembling. You must need time to prepare. Certainly Would an hour suffice? Elizabeth had initially thought of asking for such an amount of time, but suddenly the thought of parting from her husband became insupportable. She had taken a bath before supper. Surely her maid could undress her in a few minutes, could she not? Her hair could stay as it wasFitzwilliam liked it and had told her so more than once that morning. No, she replied and immediately she saw the surprise diffused on her husbands face. A quarter-hour is enough. That is, unless you have something important to do. In that case I can wait an hour, or more than an hour. You can take all the time you need. She felt all her previous boldness cracking under his dark, searching gaze. Finally, leaning towards her and cupping her face into his hands, totally ignoring any servants that might be passing by at the moment, he whispered, You are what is most important to me, tonight and every other day and night, for the rest of our lives. I can vow that you will never find me unwilling to come to you when you wish for my presence. They stood thus for a few moments, his palms on her cheeks, his fingers slowly moving on her temples, their eyes locked. Their breaths came out quicklyin unison. Each could feel the others heart, beating in tandem with his own. I am very happy to hear that. For I doubt I shall ever wish to be parted from you, from this day forward. They climbed the stairs without any more words, relishing the impact of their last declarations in their souls. They parted in front of her bedchamber.

Wait for a quarter-hour, my love, she whispered, and suddenly, she felt like the princess of the fairytales, who sent her knight on an adventure, begging him to come back as soon as he could. She was grateful she did not have to wait for longshe missed him already, and he was not even gone! And then I shall come to you, he completed her meaning and brought her hand to his mouth, barely touching it with his lips. As he turned to leave, he heard her soft sigh. That sweet sound accompanied him for the long minutes that followed.

~)~)~)~(~(~(~ Mr. Darcy stood in front of the door that adjoined his bedchamber with his wifes, his body a few inches away from the heavy wood, his hand almost touching the doorknob. The time had finally come that he would love Elizabeth without inhibition or restraint. His longing mixed with concern for his wife. What did she hope, and what did she fear about this night? Suddenly, he wished he knew exactly what mothers and aunts told young brides on such occasions. He would dearly appreciate an insight into womens minds. Earlier that night, Elizabeth had seemed welcoming, almost taking initiatives to encourage a greater amount of intimacy between them. But was it because she yearned for him in the same way he did for her, or was she innocently acting, induced by her purity and love, as she always had before? No, Darcy was not a fool, and he would not permit groundless doubts to obscure his happiness. He knew his wife was passionate. He had seen it during their engagement, in all those interludes away from their world and its rules, when her response to him had exceeded every dream he had ever had in life. She had not pushed him away when his hands explored her body, time and againand the fabric of her dress was always inadequate to stop the fire that his touch lit in both their bodies. On every occasion when they would steal a few moments, they

sought those wonderful sensations together, even if they both knew that they pushed their limits and their sanity further and further. Darcy shivered as he remembered their kisses, the caresses, Elizabeths soft moans against his lips, the way she closed her eyes and pulled her head back as he tasted her cheeks, her chin, the sweet skin of her throat, every little precious spot that was not covered by her dress. He recalled the look in her eyes every time those passionate exchanges ended. Even if she were unaware of it, her eyes promised more every time they looked into his. Darcy was not afraid of the night that was to come. If he did not trust himself, he trusted what he shared with Elizabeth. As he knocked on the door, he felt certain that their love would make that night, as well as each and every one that was to follow, greater than he could predict.

~)~)~)~(~(~(~ Elizabeth bid her husband enter, and he walked in to find her sitting with her back to the mirror and her eyes focused on the floor. He came closer and sat on the rug before her, allowing his arms to rest on her knees. His movements were completely unhurried, and he did not speak a word, giving Elizabeth as much time as she needed to become comfortable with his presence. If his heart beat wildly at their closeness, he did not betray the slightest sign of it. Finally his wife spoke, and as she did so, her fingers reached up and began to play with one of his curls. I am so sorry. I have had time only to change into my my nightdress. I had thought that my hair was acceptable, but now I look positively ridiculous with all these wilted flowers. I should Do you think Are you displeased? She stumbled over her words in the end, and her expression showed that she was genuinely troubled by her appearance. Darcy stroked her calf reassuringly, while his smiling eyes looked deeply into her worrying ones.

You seem to have developed a propensity to apologize without there being a reason, Elizabeth, for I happen to find you more beautiful than ever this evening. You are enchanting. Irresistible. His words filled the space between them, enclosing them in their warmth, while he made no other movement than the light caress of her calf, and she persisted in passing her fingers in and out of his lock of hair. Thank you, Fitzwilliam, she said at length. I know I have been acting strangely today, and you have not dismissed or laughed at my childish ways. I am blessed to have you as my husband. Not half as fortunate as I, he replied, touched. Would you feel more at ease if your hair was free? I feel quite comfortable now. And I would not trade your company for my maids skills tonight. I do not claim to be as skilful as your maid, but I could help you remove the blossoms and pins. I have often dreamed of it, he said in a low voice, but tentatively, as he was afraid of telling her things that she was not ready to hear. Her small smile and the blushing of her cheeks shook his uncertainties away. He stood up and gently turned his wife so that he could see her face through the mirror while he worked. A few minutes passed quietly, Elizabeth acutely aware of her husbands tender movements and Darcy utterly charmed by the simple task he had undertaken. His voice broke the silence, while his hands continued their seductive combing through her hair. Elizabeth, I know that the prospect of this night may be overwhelming to you. We have never talked of it before, so let me know if I am asking too much from you. I wish, though, I

dearly wish that we will be able to talk openly tonight. You can tell me anything you desire, anything you fear, anything that makes you uncomfortable. Upon seeing the hesitation on her face, he continued, Share your thoughts with me, my love and I promise I will cherish your feelings and will do anything in my power to make every wish of yours come true. Elizabeth hid her face in her hands, but only briefly, as she felt his touch on her shoulder and his voice against her ear, whispering, Do not push me away, Elizabeth. I want us to be one, but in much more ways than in flesh. She smiled nervously, and even if her voice shook a little, she matched his gaze in the mirror steadily. I promise I will try. Will you do the same? She discerned the unmistakable signs of his fighting for his composureone palm passed across his brow, his lips tightened, and his breath grew a little heavier. Fitzwilliam? she insisted. I will. Will you start then? I am very good at opening conversations and teasing you at balls, but I find myself particularly tonguetied tonight. And why is that? I am not sure I know. Do you not feel as much at ease in my presence as you have in the past? No, she replied truthfully, but upon noticing his furrowed brow, she added hastily, Do not think that I am not grateful for this day and this night. But Fitzwilliam, I fear I will do or say something that is totally and unforgivably improper or silly.

Mr. Darcy pulled out the last pin and watched the final curl fall to her shoulders with royal grace. Then he moved in front of her seat and knelt down, touching her knees with his hands and looking straight into her eyes. There is no silliness or impropriety between us, Elizabeth. We are husband and wife, in the privacy of our rooms. Have no fear or restraintwe are free from the eyes and notions of society. We can be happy, just the two of us, here. She leaned and met his half-parted lips into a kiss that began quite passionately and grew more and more demanding. Soon the contact of their mouths became insufficient. Elizabeth held his neck tightly, bringing him closer to her, as if guided by a desperate need. His hands were on her waist, and her skin burned from the intensity of his touch. When they parted, their breaths labored, Mr. Darcys searching eyes were met with a smile in Elizabeths. Emboldened, he spoke. You are so beautiful. Watching you as you are is a gift I can hardly believe has been bestowed on me. He turned his face in the mirror. See yourself through my eyes, Elizabeth. See your soft skin that illuminates the whole room. See you hair, enchanting waterfalls crowning your head. Watch your lips, red like the finest wine. The remnants of our kiss are still there. Look at your eyes that have enchanted me from the beginning. Their expression can change in a split second. I know that your soul can be read in themI strive to find your beautiful heart, your soul in them, every time I look at you. See my love, Elizabeth, and fear nothing. She managed to check the tears that welled up in her eyes, but not the trembling in her voice. I can see only you, gallant, gentle, wonderful as you are. I can see your tenderness, your patience, your love. I am not afraid of anything when you are near me. I love you, Fitzwilliam, more than anyone else in the world.

She felt his hands on her back, lifting her as he stood up himself, while his lips seized hers. She was thirsty to taste him, to explore his mouth, and she let her tongue dance with his more and more daringly. Her body was pressed against his, and she was aware of a new need. Her breasts were begging to feel his body, to be crushed against his torso, to know his own bare skin. She pulled even closer, and without quite knowing what she was doing, she moved her hands behind his neck and then under his shirt, feeling the skin of his back. His response was a loud moan, as his hands proceeded to unbutton her nightdress, caressing fervently every little part of the surface he exposed with his intimate touch. When this kiss ended, Elizabeth was not certain if she was capable of coherent thought or speech anymore. Darcy appeared equally affected, for his gaze never wavered from hers, but no words came out of his mouth. As the time passed, the relative coolness of the room after the heat of the contact of their bodies restored Elizabeth to a degree of composure, and she extended her hand to her husband. I believe we should lie down. I am not sure how much longer my legs will support me, if we continue thus, she told him boldly, and she watched him swallowing hard and even taking a step backwards. Did I say anything wrong, Fitzwilliam? No, no. But, my darling Elizabeth, you have no idea what your words do to me. I have to check myself or soon, I will not know what I am doing. In that moment, Elizabeth saw vulnerability in his face and read behind it to understand him and his feelings. He was not the great Mr. Darcy, the master of Pemberley, but a young man of nine-and-twenty, who wanted to make love to his wife and was filled with concern regarding her response. She was so moved by that, that she took his face her hand and brought it closer to

hers. I do not wish you to check yourself, my love. I am not afraid of you. Did I not promise not to hide from you and extorted an equal promise from you? Please, show me everything you feel, exactly as you feel it. I will not step back. Elizabeth. His mouth sought hers and did not leave it until the need for air was completely vital. After the briefest of breaths, it was back, washing her eyes, her brow and neck in kisses that spread on her skin like liquid fire. Take me to our bed, he heard her repeat, and upon his first impulse, he lifted her in his arms and walked the few steps to the bed, eliciting a delighted moan from her. He sat by the edge of it, motionless, admiring almost with awe how right, how perfect she looked there. My heart, he told her softly, lightly caressing her mouth and cheeks with his fingers. She sat up to meet his lips for another kiss, and his hands moved decidedly to unbutton the rest of her nightdress, while hers contented themselves with running up and down his back. As he changed his position from sitting to kneeling on the bed, Elizabeth mimicked him, giving access to his hands to roam lower and lower. She gasped when he touched her bottom and lingered there, pressing it tightly, but she whispered against his mouth, Do not stop. Please do not stop. He proceeded, reaching the back of her thighs and then her knees, until he reached her calves that her nightgown exposed. He began pulling her attire then, lifting it upwards with slow, almost ceremonious movements, till he passed it over her head and gently discarded it on the floor. She shivered as she knelt nude before him, and he instantly enveloped her in his arms, his hands comfortingly resting in her back. I am a little embarrassed. Her voice came muffled, because she pressed her cheek against his shoulder.

I know, my love, and it is natural, though you should know that never have you looked more alluring and pure than you now do. With every gaze and every touch, I love you more. My heart, my mind and my body are all yours. She pressed her lips on his shoulder as an indication of how much his words were appreciated. Will you not She paused, swallowed hard and averted her eyes, unable to continue. What, Elizabeth? Will you not remove your clothing as well? Would that make you uncomfortable? No! she cried with candor, on the contrary, I would feel more at ease As though we are equal tonight. He smiled as he pulled back and proceeded to do as his wife asked. His eyes searched hers and captured them in a long gaze, so as to not intimidate her at her first sight of his naked body. But the mere expression on his face was enough to make her shiver more and wish for the protection of his arms around hers. She remained still, however, and slowly her eyes moved a little lower, to his neck, his shoulders, his torso, seeing them for the first time. The planes of his body, so very different from hers, attracted her in a way she could not quite explain. She was drawn to them, to the power, the masculinity they revealed, and she caught herself wishing to touch them, stroke them, kiss them, inch by inch. We are equal, Elizabeth, he said, moving a little closer to her. Tonight and every other night. I am afraid I am much your inferior in the gentle art of seduction.

I think you have no idea of your affect on me, my beautiful girl. I am in your power, utterly and completely. And he went on to show her how seduced he was, pushing her lightly back, until she lay on the mattress. His hands touched her belly, and he silenced her nervous giggle, claiming her mouth again. The shaking of her body when his fingers reached her breasts was almost violent, and his lips left hers so he could look into her eyes. Her closed eyelids prevented him from witnessing her expression, but an incoherent whisper that he understood nonetheless induced him to continue. He returned his attention to her breasts, stroking them with adoring hands, as his mouth began a maddening journey from her mouth to her chin and then lower. It explored the base of her neck, nipping and then tasting every little bit of it with his tongue, extorting soft moans from her. His lips continued, until they replaced his hands in their worship of the silkiness of her chest and his thirsty palms moved to her thighs. He sensed Elizabeths eyes opening, and he lifted his head to match her gaze, unable to hide the wild passion in his eyes anymore, but his wifes fervor equalled his, as she spoke in short, labored sentences. My body, Fitzwilliam, it is yours. He smiled adoringly, understandingly, and after an almost imperceptible nod of her head, his mouth returned to her breasts, intensifying, nipping, almost biting softly. I feel I feel pleasure. She gasped as Darcys hands touched her sex tentatively. I feel pleasureand passion and fire He continued more boldly, exploring her, his hands the carriers of his love, teaching, adoring, guiding her to sensations she never knew existed. She responded, moving her hips and pressing her body against his hand out of instinct, as a screaming voice in her mind demanded more and more of this heat. She gave out a cry, as a shock overtook her body, a shock that she had never experienced before but that she had unconsciously been craving forever. Millions of powerful, stormy waves conveyed and magnified her husbands touch

until there was not a part of her body that was not aware of the unique satisfaction he gave her. Darcy was mesmerized by his wifes reaction, and watched her closely with hungry eyes, wishing to mentally note every little detail of her expression, every small sound she made. He was in a struggle with his body, his mind, his sanity, wishing to prolong that moment forever, until he heard Elizabeths whisper again. I also feel the need. I need more. I feel What do I feel, Fitzwilliam? You feel yearning, my own, passionate Elizabeth, he replied and spread a feather caress from her thighs to her toes, before he parted her legs with one small but burning touch. I love you, now and forever, Elizabeth. Beyond any comparison, beyond life and death, beyond time and mortality. Marry me, my love, with your body, as you married me with your soul. Elizabeth inhaled deeply, and Darcy noticed she had tears in her eyes, as she replied, My body is yours, as is my soul. She nodded and smiled into his eyes that held a shadow of concern. Elizabeth Darcy was not afraid of pain, let alone of this one, the mere prospect of which was exquisite. She felt him enter her and the contact was so new, so different than anything she had ever experienced, that she gasped. He leaned to kiss her passionately, their tongues united as their bodies moved towards their own union, his hands sensually traveling from breast to breast, to the line between them and to her belly. Then he pushed an inch furtherand the pain was there. It grew and grew and filled her mind, the pain of maturity, the pain of sharing of the union, of love and commitment, the pain of the promise of the future. The feeling of aching gave its

place to the awareness of its meaning. She belonged to him, and he to her. This was above their sweet interludes, above the stolen kisses and the forbidden caresses of their engagement, even above the pleasure he had offered her moments ago. This was their marriage, their vows realized, their being one, their living into the others body and mind, their sharing, their union and commitment. Elizabeth could not stop the tears in her eyes that ran freely down her cheeks, as her husbands words of love and comfort flowed around them. My beautiful, my enchanting, my wonderful wife, my source of happiness. Tell me. Does it hurt? Does it hurt too much? Yes, but it is not bad, she replied. There was a trace of wild joy, of triumph in her voice, The pain It means so much. I have never felt safer or happier in my entire life. I love you more nowI do. Make me yourscompletely yours, Fitzwilliam. Her words took the last remnants of self-control away from him, and he surrendered to the unparalleled delight, satisfaction and happiness that deep emotion and unprecedented passion brought. And all the time, his hands and mouth kept contact with her skin, as though it were his guide for heaven. As his mind raced madly, it was able to discern, to treasure her voice, her whispers, her moans, the way his name sounded from her lips, the grip on his back that grew tighter and tighter, her cries. And as he collapsed on top of her after the most breathtaking experience of his life, he knew that every little detail would remain vivid in his mind forever, as a precious token irrevocably bound with the memory of the first time he knew Eden. Some time later, they lay still entangled, their bodies pressed as closely as possible, laughing and crying. Elizabeths tears had not stopped, and now Darcy felt his own eyes moist as well. He was not afraid of tears anymore, for he knew how much they meant, how they expressed what language could not possibly do.

I cannot say anything now, my love, Elizabeth told him. My heart is so full, and there is no way that thought can follow it. I know I promised I would share everything with you, but this His voice came deep and low. You are sharing everything, Elizabeth. I never dreamed you would allow me into your heart so completely. Now I understand you, Elizabeth. Rest close to me, and I will hold you all night. I will hold you forever. Dream of happinessand I will protect your dreams and your waking hours. Love me, love me always as you loved me tonight. Cry and laugh with me. I understand you my dearest, loveliest Elizabeth. Completely. And despite my failings, I promise I shall never fail you.

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Failing and Fainting

Epilogue

April 27th 1813


It was a warm afternoon, and the ride back to Pemberley, protected by the shades of the trees and the cool breeze that played on their leaves, was very pleasant. Mr. Darcys pace was as lively as always when he returned to his wife, independent of how tiring the day had been. He was planning the building of a new mill, and he had long meetings with a wide range of people. Mr. Darcy was a perfectionist and that had cost him a great deal of time during the past few weeks. He barely saw his beloved Elizabeth in the mornings, for after their delicious awakings in each others arms, he had to leave her to prepare for the day before they barely had time to talk at all. Consequently, Mr. Darcy had to content himself with enjoying his wifes company only in the evenings and at night. He appreciated especially their leisure spent after they both retired, when he had his wife all for his own, with no one to share her smiles and her words of kindness and love. They would always talk at night, before their bodies joined. Their minds sought comfort by confiding to each other whatever burdened them. Elizabeth had the ability to soothe him, to make the fatigue of the day vanish and the prospect of tomorrow appear brighter than he could have ever dreamt. When he adoringly thanked her for making his world such a wonderful place, she replied that he made her life complete simply by his presence next to her. Those times were beautiful indeed, but they were not only spent in declaration of the depth of their feelings. The couple would also mention anecdotes, or talk about their past, citing precious memories of the years before they were introduced. They would speak of literature, music and their neighbors. Whatever they chose to dwell upon, it was certain that Darcy would find the conversation meaningful and treasure it, as it gave him the means of understanding his wife even better. He learned her

whims and her bad moods, and he loved her the more for them. He discovered her likes and dislikes. He believed that the ability to give Elizabeth happiness that he now possessed was the greatest gift that had ever been bestowed upon him. He knew her secrets. She had opened her heart to him, she had trusted him and she had talked to him about her fears and embarrassments, about the sorrows of her life, small or great. He had responded by talking of despair and loss, and then of light and hope. He had let her rest in his arms and had found his haven in her embrace. He had made love to her slowly and adoringly, again and again. And every time that she surrendered completely to the intensity of their union, when she danced with him into that swirl of colors and fragrances and winds, every time that she cried as he released his seed into her, the invisible thread that bound their bodies and souls gained in strength. A little more than five months had passed since the blessed day that they had become man and wife. He could not remember a time in his life when he did not know her and need her and love her. She had completed his life, packing away the restlessness that had tormented him for years. She was his wife, friend and lovera lover who had learned from him the secrets of pleasure, but who had also taught him the meaning of giving, of trusting, and of sharing a passion he had never dreamt possible. She was his equal. Such pleasant musings kept his mind occupied and made the distance until he reached the house seem much shorter. He was so absorbed in his thoughts that he did not perceive anything unusual in the frequency with which the servants went up and down the stairs. Elizabeth was nowhere to be seen, and he was about to ask a footman about her whereabouts, when Mrs. Reynolds appeared. Her presence was quite welcome, as she was certain to know the whereabouts of her mistress. It was very unlike Elizabeth not to be present when he arrived. She always waited for him in the drawing room or in the music

room. Sometimes, she would even pleasantly surprise him by standing at the door of the house to give him his welcoming kiss as he entered. Her absence alarmed him. Mrs. Reynolds, I am looking for Mrs. Darcy. Do you happen to know where she is? She is upstairs, sir. Upstairs? What is she doing upstairs? Well, sir, Mrs. Darcy was not feeling very well and Fear crept into Mr. Darcys heart. While it was true that Mrs. Reynolds did not appear overly distressed, he wondered if she were trying to break some awful news to him, and in her calm demeanor, she was showing consideration. There is no need to be worried, Mr. Darcy. Mrs. Reynolds was as comforting as she had been when he was a child, but now he found her attitude rather patronizing, and he was not pleased. It is very natural that a young, newly-wedded woman feels weak and Weak? The word kept echoing in his ears, and he did not notice what else his housekeeper had said. Yes, Mr. Darcy. Weakness light-headedness These things are not unheard of. Mrs. Darcy was perfectly fine this morning when I left her! What exactly has happened since then, Mrs. Reynolds? I want the entire truth! The housekeeper sighed, resigned. She had known from the beginning that her master would overreact over the whole affair, and by the looks of it, she could do nothing about it. Mrs. Darcy felt a bit unwell just after breakfast. She thought

that some morning air would do her good, but as she was preparing to leave for a walk, she felt very dizzy and And? Darcy had forgotten to breathe. She fainted, Mrs. Reynolds said very quietly. Elizabeth fainted? Mr. Darcy had started climbing up the stairs to his wifes room and now his pace turned even quicker, his housekeeper at his heels. Well, she lost her consciousness, but only for a matter of seconds, sir. Good lord! Why was I not informed? He turned on the stairs and gave the loyal servant one of the stares that were notorious among his staff and that would have hurt the feelings of someone who knew and loved her master less than Mrs. Reynolds. The mistress became alert only moments later, and she was fine. She accentuated her last word, hoping to reassure the panicked man before her. Mrs. Reynolds seized his arm to slow his progress up the stairs. Mrs. Darcy instructed us not to disturb you, as the whole incidence was no more than a trifle. A trifle? You ought to know better, Mrs. Reynolds! I know that you do not wish to disobey your mistress, but surely you understand that she was only unwilling to interrupt my business. However, you should know that no business is more important than my wife. If I may, sir, I think she was right about not wishing to alarm you. Besides, we called for the doctor. Dr. Andrews came? Darcy sounded a bit more relieved. Is he here? No, he left quite a while ago. He had to attend poor Mrs.

Corbel in Lambton. What did he say? Darcy was of a mind to go to Lambton to search for him and ask him in person, but he was anxious to see his wife. You had better talk to your wife, Mr. Darcy. They had reached Elizabeths door. Thank you, Mrs. Reynolds. That I will. Darcy entered his wifes bedchamber very quietly and walked to the bed to find her resting, her eyes closed. She looked as beautiful as ever, her curls falling richly around her arms, while a few disobedient locks preferred her face. He noticed that her skin had the rosy color of good health, and he exhaled gratefully. She may have been fatigued, but she did not look ill. He sat on the bed with the utmost care. Elizabeths eyes were still closed, but a smile graced her face. I am not asleep, Fitzwilliam. I know you are there, looking very worried and concerned. Perhaps a little angry, too, that you were not told sooner. She slowly opened her eyes to see that her teasing had not made her husband relax in the slightest. Her smile did not falter, however. You know only too well that I am not angry with you, but I am concerned. He paused as he recalled the agony he had experienced earlier and the fear that still possessed his heart. You fainted, he finished simply. I did, Elizabeth answered as seriously, but then her smile returned. Though not quite as dramatically as last autumn, for the man I love was not in the room. I regained consciousness, listening to poor Maggies shrieks instead of your loving entreaties. You mentioned last September, and surely, Elizabeth, you

know what anguish I felt then, as I do now. She took his hand into hers. I am sorry that I did not let anyone tell you, but Mrs. Reynolds agreed it was the right thing to do. We were afraid you would try to hasten your return, riding recklessly and exposing yourself to danger. There is nothing at all wrong with me, rest assured. Mr. Andrews is positive that all is as it should be. How can that be? In what way is it natural to faint? Indeed, you must be ill. No. You take such good care of me that you never let so much as a cold breeze reach me. Do not prolong my agony, dearest. What exactly did the doctor say? She smiled again. We should be grateful to my fainting propensity, my love. The previous time I fainted, I began to think that you might love me after all, and now, there is good reason to suppose that That? Unconsciously, his hand clasped hers, but she only smiled even more widely than before and continued. That we are going to be parents, Fitzwilliam. She watched for a reaction from him, but there was none. We cannot be certain until the baby quickens, but all the signs point to it being so. I had my suspicions for a few weeks, and now I feel this fatigue and sleepiness, and my appetite changes all the time. Even my body has altered a little, have you not noticed? The fainting is only normal. We are going to have a baby. Are you pleased, my His lips interrupted her words, tenderly as if she were a fragile fairy, but persistent in their devoted attention to her. She fell into his arms, relishing his kiss and his embrace. Minutes passed

by, and the glorious colors of sunset invaded the room, bathing all the details of the scene in their golden light, but the couple took no notice of it. Mr. Darcy was able to talk only after a considerable amount of time had passed. I am afraid words cannot begin to describe my happiness right now. It is quite all right, Elizabeth whispered against his neck. Your every look and touch and movement says everything I have always wished to hear. He inhaled the fragrance of her hair, grateful for having her so close. Do I give you even a portion of happiness that you have given me, Elizabeth? You give me all the happiness that exists in the world. I wonder that there is any left for other couples! Happiness and love only multiply. That is what I have believed since we were married. I believe it, too, Fitzwilliam, Elizabeth replied, patting her belly with her hand. I do, too.

~)~)~)~(~(~(~ Fitzwilliam has loved me in many ways since our first night together, and I believe that what we share is so strong and unique that we will always find new forms of expressing it, both in language and with our bodies. This evening after I shared my news with my darling husband, passion was born from our happiness and nurtured by his ineffable tenderness. I do not know how his adoring, soothing caresses brought about such a slow, consuming flame and need within me. When he was inside me, making me his once again

with devotion and gentle insistence, he led me to the pleasure he has taught me to give and receive. It was as if the entire world did not exist any longer, and there was only the two of us and our unborn child. I let my body talk to him about my feelings, and he recognized, understood and treasured them without speaking. We lay embracing for a long time after our pulses returned to normalnaked, our bodies touching, our hands caressing each other and our eyes locked. Then we slowly dressed each other. I did not wish to call for my maid, and Fitzwilliam assured me that my efforts pleased him infinitely more than those of his valet. His hands lingered as he smoothed my dress, stroking my belly, as if speaking to our child, calming both the baby and me with his caresses. I kissed him and tried to convey all my love in that kiss. He must have understood because his eyes were glistening when I looked back at his beloved face. Soon we left the room to set out for the walk that I had wished for so much. Even though Mrs. Reynolds assured me that my condition should not change my daily routine, I am certain she was not exactly overwhelmed with joy when she saw us preparing for a walk at dusk. However, she only inquired if Mr. Darcy felt less worried now, and she did not appear surprised when he hugged her, kissed her cheek and told her that he had never felt better in his life. After we had gone outside, I was in an exceedingly happy mood, and I allowed myself to laugh and kiss his cheek. This night was special for me, and so it was for Fitzwilliam. Soon his hand moved to hold me about the waist, claiming that I needed that kind of support, while in truth, he did it only to tease me with his caresses. We talked of everything and nothing, but most topics led us to my condition. We should inform your parents and sisters as soon as possible, he said pensively.

I chuckled. Yes, and we are very fortunate that I will do so by letter, and you will not be there to witness my mothers reaction. My dear, I believe you are jealous of your mothers affection for me. In truth, I regret that I will not be able to receive her congratulations and praise in person. Fitzwilliam! I tried to feign being angry, but failed miserably. Do you not know that you should not tease a woman in my condition? His deep, genuine laughter followed an irresistible look in his eyes and the appearance of his dimples. My husband is the best looking man I know, and when he smiles or laughs, he has the ability to steal my breath away even now. Is that so? Then I am certain that women in your condition should not tease their poor husbands, either, or take them for long walks in the evenings, or disobey any wish of theirs... Quite the contrary. My condition demands that all my wishes are fulfilled, I said and then realized that his face was too close to mine, and his touch was too delicious, and that if I had only one wish, it was to be kissed. As my husband had brilliant insight into my thoughts, he granted my desire with such fervor that left me breathless, dizzy and wanting more. We changed direction, walking back to the house. You know, Fitzwilliam, my condition does not forbid such exquisite arguments as we just had. Nor the reconciliation that is bound to follow, I suspect? After more than five months of marriage, he still had the ability to make me blush. No, it is very welcome, indeed.

We were very close to the house. It is fortunate then that we will have ample cause for arguments in the next months, he said with that teasing smile of his that always made me want to kiss him. For example, I have no doubt that we will have great trouble choosing the childs name. The thought of arguing about anything related to our offspring made me aware of a new wave of happiness that had found its way into my very heart. At least we are in agreement about this: We will never let any of our children anywhere near Ann Radcliffs novels, I said with mock gravity. We had already entered the house and stood in front of the staircase. Fitzwilliam took both my hands in his and kissed them tenderly. He continued holding them and caressing them with his thumbs as he spoke. But my love, I am very grateful to Mrs. Radcliffs heroines for having set the example. Despite all their failings, their and your faintings have made us very happy.

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The End
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