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With these little vignettes I've attempted to fill some gaps Jane Austen left open in  Pride and Prejudice... The first one takes place at Sir Lucas's, and in the last one Elizabeth and Darcy are celebrating their first  night as husband and wife...


When So Much Beauty Is Before You...

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Whilst Sir William Lucas, the host of the party, put himself out to impose Elizabeth upon Mr. Darcy, rambling on as he did so about her beauty and desirability as a dance partner, a seemingly bored Mr. Darcy observed the tableau in front of him in complete silence. He listened with only one ear, and his countenance expressed perfect indifference. However, this was but appearance. Mr. Darcy was not bored, not in the very least! One aspect of Miss Elizabeth Bennet's pleasing figure had drawn his full attention: the alluring sight of her low neckline. Her decolletage was a little too daring to be called proper in polite society, he imagined, but utterly tolerable to observe indeed. Mr. Darcy assumed that this was quite acceptable in the less polished society to which Meryton belonged. After all, in this small country town in Hertfordshire it was obvious that savagery had not yet fully developed into civilization.

Admittedly, he would not want his sister Georgiana to make such an exhibition of that particular aspect of her womanly form. But, though a man of principle, he was quite comfortable with the realization that as far as Miss Elizabeth's manner of dress was concerned, he most certainly did not loathe that on which his eyes did feast. Her half exposed, milky white bosom made his heart pound faster whilst a pleasant warmth rose from the lower parts of his body to end just beneath the lower jaw, resting on his impeccably white neck cloth. And thus, thanks to this skilfully tied cravat, his excitement was, to his great relief, not visible to Miss Elizabeth's fine eyes. From her neckline his eyes wandered towards her mouth and he focused on the movements of her lips from which the following words escaped: "Indeed, Sir, I have not the least intention to dancing. - I entreat you not to suppose that I moved this way in order to beg for a partner."

Awakened from this reverie as he became aware of Miss Bennet's pert voice, he thought this is all very vexing. Now I am obliged to ask her to dance! Such a compliment I would prefer not to pay to any place if I can help it, as I told Sir Lucas moments ago. But it would be exceedingly impolite if I did not. Even within the confinement of this society, I cannot be so offensive as to slight her, nor can I offend her by ignoring Sir Lucas's observation on the impossibility of objecting to a partner such as her. It is rather confusing though that she does not wish to dance, since she seemed to take so much pleasure in it at that appalling assembly. Well, after all, she is tolerable, perhaps even a little more than that and, although I am not really tempted, I can imagine worse things happening to me. At least it will save me from having to converse with Caroline Bingley for at least half an hour.

"Miss Bennet, I would be honoured if you accept to dance with me," he finally spoke with grave propriety when Sir Lucas had exhausted his profuse compliments to her.

"I thank you, no, Mr. Darcy I am not inclined to dance. I beg you excuse me," replied she and she turned away from the gentlemen to seek the company of the officers in a different corner of the room.

And whilst he thanked his good fortune that he was spared the humiliation of dancing amongst low rank officers and Miss Elizabeth's vulgar younger sisters, he noticed to his great surprise that Miss Bennet's unexpected refusal to dance with him amused, rather than insulted him. So she was not inclined to dance! Not even with him, Mr. Darcy of Pemberley, the most eligible bachelor in the country? Apparently that was not enough inducement to her. He could not help but chuckle, and whilst watching in admiration this frank young gentleman's daughter from Hertfordshire, he suddenly felt an unpleasant draught on his neck.

This current of air was occasioned by Miss Bingley's breath, for she had chosen to position herself without a sound behind him and commenced complaining about the tediousness of the party, presuming that he shared her considerations. Discreetly moving his head and the rest of his body away from the unpleasant sensation her breath provoked on his neck, he thought Have you any idea, Miss Caroline Bingley, how tedious and insupportable you are yourself? but instead he replied politely: "I should imagine not. My mind was more agreeably engaged."

Intently looking at the pretty woman who but moments ago had made it clear to him that she was not impressed by him at all, he continued: "I have been meditating on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow."

After learning whose eyes had inspired such reflections, Miss Bingley, astonished, disappointed and excessively jealous, began to make sport of his future felicity in marriage in a tone that betrayed a melange of sarcasm and grief. However, her brother's friend either did not care or entirely failed to notice. Slightly vexed or perhaps a little envious, he mused: Miss Bennet seems to prefer the company of officers to that of a gentleman. Singular! But what can one expect from a country upstart? I most definitely must put her fine eyes, her light and pleasing figure and her bosom (where a man's eye could feast on forever) out of my mind at once...

 

Here Mr. Darcy stopped in order to keep further indiscreet thoughts of Miss Bennet, as well as his wounded pride, under good regulation. With a tinge of regret in his voice he whispered to himself: "I dare say, if it were not for the inferiority of her relations, I would be very happy to have so much beauty before me for an indefinite period of time..."

On Welcome Intelligence and Conflicting Emotions

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Keep this in mind, old boy, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a handsome young woman, however great her wit, however intoxicating her smell, however seductive her mouth, however fine her eyes, and however light and pleasing her figure is now, will eventually alter into her mother.

Hoping, rather than believing that this thought should help him get over his attraction towards Miss Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Darcy retired to Netherfield's poorly equipped library in order to read and distract his uneasy mind. However, a quick glance over the shelves shewed him that he had read all the books present. And so, he left the collection for what it was and made himself comfortable in one of the armchairs after pouring a glass of brandy, of which he took a first eager sip. 
 
Admittedly, the fact that the object of his musings had departed for Longbourn left a feeling of emptiness in his heart, but the mere announcement of her departure had been welcome intelligence indeed, and enough reason for him to rejoice. Miss Elizabeth Bennet had drawn his attention in too far-reaching a manner and his immediate object was to conquer his infatuation for this highly unsuitable, though handsome and intelligent, young woman. It was time to concentrate on more important matters. 
 
Darcy had been both embarrassed and intrigued by the manner in which she had defied him. He was embarrassed by his pathetic ripostes to her provocations
during their late night sparring, and intrigued because he never before had a
discussion of that particular kind with a person of the opposite sex. She was an
accomplished master of debate, to be sure: a trait he had not previously
encountered in a woman. She was captivating, indeed. Another astonishing novelty
was the fact that her expressed opinions were hardly ever in accordance with his. Had she wilfully uttered opinions that were not her own in order to vex him? Or was she indeed of a completely different mind than he? The young ladies of his acquaintance always agreed with every word he said! He was not certain whether he liked the fact that Miss Elizabeth did not, and that she made no attempt to please him. Truth be told, he would have liked it if she had. This was rather confusing: why would he wish her to please him? Why would he want her to be impressed by him? Did he not despise the ostentatious exposure of approval the young ladies of the ton so often displayed towards his person? Miss Bennet was a country nobody; in fact, she was a country nobody who had bested him in a discussion: a fact that he was loathed to admit, least of all to himself. 
 
Pouring another glass, Mr. Darcy frowned, whispering softly: "Upon my word, old sport, you cannot defend yourself here. Indeed, you made a complete fool of yourself." 
 
He remembered his words: 'Where there is a real superiority of mind, pride will
always be under good regulation...' and felt utterly embarrassed by their
presumptuous connotation. Mr. Darcy wondered why she had made him feel so
ludicrous, so maladroit, so very inept. In his mind he was again confronted with
the arch look on her face, the barely suppressed smile on her lips... I truly wonder why I let myself fall so easily into her very obvious trap! He mused rancorously. Her sarcasm had cut him to the heart: 'I am perfectly convinced that Mr. Darcy has no defect. He owns it himself without disguise.' Indeed, Darcy, what a great superiority of mind upon which you can boast. I congratulate you! He reproached himself with scorn. 
 
Leaning backwards in his armchair and absentmindedly taking another substantial
draught, Mr. Darcy closed his eyes as if in pain. Loosening his cravat and unbuttoning his waistcoat, he stood up from his chair and commenced pacing the room in an agitated manner. Then he flopped into his chair again, ignoring the drops of brandy carelessly spilled on his shirt. Banishing his previous reproachful thoughts, he fumed This country upstart, a daughter of a poor gentleman with no connections, with relations so decidedly beneath my own, has dared ridicule me, Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley, landlord and master of one of the most prestigious estates in England, a man of sense and education! Teasing woman! Her pert manner of address and expression is most indecorous. I must endeavour to forget her entirely. 
 
Alas, it was not to be. The more Mr. Darcy attempted not to think of her, the more Miss Elizabeth Bennet intruded upon his thoughts. Whilst attempting to find fault in every aspect of her person, to his chagrin the opposite happened: he took pleasure in remembering her bell-like laughter, her clear voice as yet again a clever observation escaped her alluring rosy lips; her bright eyes, and her tastefully simple gowns that so beautifully hugged the curves of her seductive figure... 
 
You know not, dear reader, you cannot conceive what it signified for Mr. Darcy to admit that he did not have his own composure under good regulation. Mr. Darcy, whose study of life was to avoid those weaknesses which often exposed a strong understanding to ridicule, had never been so bewitched by a woman before, Poor Mr. Darcy, the agonies he suffered in Netherfield's pitiful library were well nigh unbearable, and the tumult of his mind was painfully great, resulting in conflicting emotions that made him tuck away one brandy too many. He finally managed to reach his chambers, albeit unsteadily, and falling on his bed fully dressed, he whispered: "Miss Bennet, you must allow me to tell you how ardently I..." 
 
Alas, esteemed reader, the sentence remained unfinished. An undignified snore
could lead to but one conclusion: Mr. Darcy had fallen asleep.

George Wickham's Sweet Revenge

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Good Lord, this cannot be true! Darcy of all men, in Hertfordshire? What business could he possibly have here? Surely, there must be an important reason for his presence in this tedious part of the country. I dare say this is not exactly the society he would seek voluntarily: far too little refined for his taste, if you ask me. Who is his companion? I do not recall ever meeting him before.

This jumble of thoughts and impressions filled the head of George Wickham, who had grown pale with trepidation when, shortly after making the acquaintance of the Longbourn party, had discovered whose form was gracing the back of the fine black stallion before him. Who but a man Wickham would much rather never have met again? Fate had obviously decided otherwise. Judging by the gentleman's countenance, which had turned red with indignation, it was quite clear to Wickham that Darcy felt very much the same. 
 
Quickly regaining his composure and producing a faint, though sly smile, Mr. Wickham lightly touched his hat in salutation. He found himself amused to see Darcy attempt in vain to avoid casting an admiring, though somewhat disappointed glance at Elizabeth Bennet. Darcy deigned not to look at him again before he silently continued on his way without his friend, who had dismounted to enquire after an angel's health. 
 
Painfully mindful that Darcy knew his true character, Wickham dreaded for but a moment that Meryton would learn through him that his own engaging manners and charming countenance were quite in contrast with a cunning and deceitful disposition. However, he almost immediately put this fear to rest, knowing as he did that Darcy would never disrupt the silence for fear of compromising a loved one. 
 
Since Wickham could not afford to be caught in his usual practice of telling lies and achieving his goals by applying many an art and allurement, he was used to being always on his guard. Through the years he had developed a particular perceptiveness for other people's emotions that were not necessarily expressed in words. So, Darcy's appreciative glance at Miss Elizabeth Bennet had not escaped his notice. As Wickham had a bone to pick with Darcy for having thwarted one of his most brilliant plans lately, one that could have solved all his pecuniary problems, he immediately commenced putting one and one together. 
 
Aha, the proud and pompous master of Pemberley seems to have taken a fancy to this country girl! This is intelligence I can turn to my advantage indeed. Ah Darcy, as you well know, old boy, I have but three ambitions in life: seduce as many women as I can, marry rich in order to lead a life of leisure, and revenge myself on you, and not necessarily in that order. So, I am exceedingly obliged to you for having provided me with the perfect opportunity to attain at least two of these goals. How very fortunate to have a mutual new acquaintance of the fair sex in whom you seem to be quite interested. Wickham chuckled inwardly, whilst his resentful heart almost skipped a beat with joy and his scheming mind commenced working out stratagems to discredit Darcy's reputation with the winsome Miss Elizabeth. 
 
Wickham's hatred for Darcy was most profound, and the unexpected confrontation almost made him physically ill. Being the son of the former estate's steward he and Darcy grew up together as boys. Wickham had never been able to accept the fact that his own station in life was so decidedly beneath his companion's. The indulgent attitude of his mother, who herself felt frustrated by her humble position in life, had aggravated his innate weakness of character, making him idle, deceitful and dissolute. However much he succeeded in hiding his real nature from the Darcys, it did not take many years before the young Darcy saw through him. The rightness of the latter's judgment would, alas, culminate in a most painful event of which he would undoubtedly prefer not to be reminded. 
 
As scruples were foreign to Wickham, a wicked scheme soon formed in his head that would, he imagined, strike Darcy at the very core of his being. Cheerfully conversing with the second eldest Miss Bennet, he pondered: If indeed Darcy has taken a fancy to this attractive girl, I must see to it that I have her first. Judging from her smiles, it will neither be difficult, nor a punishment for me. After all, what man of healthy appetites could object to having an alluring damsel such as Elizabeth Bennet in his arms? 
 
Looking down on Miss Elizabeth's spencer, he wondered what he would find underneath. He imagined assisting her in unlacing her corset and revealing the secrets of a body that had yet to be touched by the hands of man. Smiling deviously, Mr. Wickham revelled in the prospect of bedding a bucolic virgin, whilst breathing in her fragrance of wild flowers and freshly mowed hay. Indeed, he took malicious delight in this exquisite opportunity to turn the tables on the object of his hatred, and thought that this encounter was perhaps not so ill fated after all. 
 
After taking his leave from the Bennet sisters and their cousin, Mr. Wickham continued his rancorous musings: The girl is mine, Darcy, and this time there will be nothing that you or your ten thousand a year can do to prevent me from achieving my objective. I am confident that Providence -- previously so ill-disposed toward me as to save your family from scandal -- will now grant me sweet revenge. I assure you: this wild rose, who is longing to be plucked, soon will be, by me, while I make you, her admirer, the laughing stock of this community. 
 
Involuntarily a demonic, hollow laugh escaped his throat, resulting in many a puzzled look on the faces of those walking by on Meryton's main street. 

You do not know what I suffer

"Hill! Oh, Hill! Where are you, Hill? Why are you never there when I need you? Bring my tea now. Have you no compassion on my poor nerves?"

After ringing the bell a second time with the last strength she could muster, enforcing the sound of it with her piercing voice, a very low-spirited Mrs. Bennet fell back on the pillows of her bed, groaning and grumbling. 
 
Poor Mrs. Bennet. What agonies she suffered. Indeed, every single soul who witnessed the manner in which she amused herself the previous night did not need much imagination to comprehend how she felt. 
 
When she awoke the morning following the Netherfield Ball, Mrs. Bennet was quite ill. Her stomach was utterly upset and ached as if it had received a violent punch, her limbs felt numb and her hands were shaking. She could scarcely lift her arm to protect her excessively sensitive eyes against the rays of the autumn sun that were so bold as
to shine through the chink between the curtains. And her head! Oh, her poor, poor head: the headache she was suffering was well nigh unbearable. 
 
She attempted to moisten her lips, but her tongue was dry as parchment, and she noticed with disgust the foul taste in her mouth. With a glance at her chamber pot, her stomach clenched and she remembered briefly the delicate white soup, roasted chicken, cold ham
and exquisite red wine she had enjoyed abundantly at the ball. 
 
Pray, do not think of food or wine now, it will make things worse. Mrs. Bennet warned herself. My goodness. Considering the state I am in now, I would most happily assign Longbourn to Mr. Collins in exchange for a drop of laudanum, a strong hot cup of tea and some fresh air! 
 
"Hi..iill, where are you?" She uttered feebly a third time. 
 
Mrs. Bennet had never felt so awful in all her life and could not but admit for once that it was the result of her own doings: she knew very well that she, against her better judgement, had overindulged in the intoxicating beverages and tempting dishes offered by the elegant Netherfield hosts. 
 
Indeed, I had a drop or two too much. But is that reason enough for such a severe punishment? Good Lord, I would rather give birth to a child than be in the state I am in now! Upon my word, I will never touch a glass of wine again! 
 
Whilst revelling in her current agonies, the events of the previous evening slowly came back to her. In spite of her flutterings, palpitations, nausea and excrutiating headache, she managed a faint smile. It had been such an enjoyable, entertaining evening and she was so proud of her family, including Mr. Collins, who conversed with Mr. Darcy in a most civil manner. Indeed, they all made such a favourable impression on the Netherfield party. Jane was so admired by Mr. Bingley. He danced at least three dances with her and could not keep his eyes from her. Mrs. Bennet was confident that he indeed favoured
her above every other girl in the neighbourhood and was convinced that it would not be long before a certain desirable event took place. 
 
Another, quite astonishing occurrence of the evening, which caused the amazement of the entire room, was that Mr. Darcy stood up with her Lizzy. Initially she was quite vexed that Lizzy had not refused that proud, disagreeable man. However, the looks on the faces of Lady Lucas and Mrs. Long, in which one could read a mixture of envy and
admiration, had not escaped her notice. That had made her so happy. Last but not least, Lydia and Kitty danced every dance, and Mary sung beautifully. Mrs. Bennet unconsciously whispered the words: "Cometh breathe over thee?" 
 
Indeed the warm applause Mary received was very well deserved. It was most ungracious of Mr. Bennet to prevent her from singing another song. Ah well, I should have known: he always takes delight in vexing us. Teasing, teasing man. Mrs. Bennet mused resignedly. 
 
As far as Mrs. Bennet was concerned, the evening had not lasted long enough. Thus, it was hardly surprising that the Bennets left the premises long after all the other guests had done so. Whilst finally taking their leave of the Netherfield party -- whose faces spoke volumes -- Mrs. Bennet had been too far gone to notice the embarrassment of her husband and two eldest daughters. If she had, she probably would not have cared. Quite euphoric in her intoxicated condition, she shouted out loud with a thick tongue her high hopes for her daughters to marry rich men and exclaimed what an agreeable,
obliging man Mr. Bingley was, how charming his sisters were and how sensible a young man Mr. Collins was. 
 
Because of her unsteady walk, her husband and eldest daughter had to support her on their descent from the main entrance of Netherfield Park, which was, even in the case of Mrs. Bennet, whose want of propriety was notorious in the vicinity of Meryton, a most indecorous sight. Small wonder then that her husband heaved a sigh of relief when
he finally managed to literally push her into the carriage and close the door, rendering her unfortunate utterances out of earshot of the Netherfield party. 
 
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 
 
Wiping her forehead with a handkerchief drenched in lavender, Mrs. Bennet pondered contently: I wager that this ball will turn out as the most fortunate of events. Mr. Bingley and Jane will marry as will Mr. Collins and Lizzy, Lydia and Kitty will undoubtedly live happily ever after each with one of the officers and Mary will remain at home to
take care of her mother. My future is finally secure. 
 
Whilst Mrs. Bennet gave free reign to her musings, leaving Mr. Bennet entirely out of consideration, Hill entered her mistress's chamber to bring her her morning tea.  Regaining her usual histrionic self, she said: "Ah, Hill, there you are. You do not know what I suffer?"

Charles Bingley's dashed expectations

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Sprawled in one of the comfortable leather armchairs of his London club, Charles Bingley absentmindedly stared into the tumbler of brandy he was enjoying, ignoring the idle talk of the other gentlemen boasting of their latest amorous conquests and various other 'sports' in which they excelled. 
 
He loathed the disrespectful manner in which his friends discussed the young women of their acquaintance. Admittedly, he had not been very different from them in the not so distant past. He had been in love, or so he had thought himself to be, many times, but after umm... a 'dance' or two with the object of his passion in a private room well away from the ballroom, his admiration always decreased rapidly and the fluttering sensation in his stomach that he felt upon seeing or thinking of the lady in question simply ceased. Often enough the expression out of sight, out of mind appeared to be quite appropriate. Not this time though - not since he had met Miss Jane Bennet of Longbourn, Hertfordshire. From the very beginning of their acquaintance at the Assembly hall in Meryton, this angelic young woman had dominated his thoughts. 
 
Upon his word, she was the most beautiful creature he had ever beheld and whenever he thought of Miss Bennet -- which was almost constantly the case -- he forgot entirely the real world surrounding him. In his head he could still hear the soft sound of her voice coming from her sensitive mouth. He remembered the becoming blush that appeared on her cheeks and how modestly she had cast down her fine eyes when he smiled at her. He enjoyed the memory of her uncommonly pleasing figure. He so longed to unpin her golden hair; it had seemed soft as satin. Her natural scent mingled with the subtlest hint of lavender almost drove him wild with desire and had made him dislike even more the perfumes with which his sisters so abundantly sprinkled themselves. Inadvertently he sniffed the air, as if it would help him to recall the fragrance better. 
 
The time she had spent at Netherfield had been sheer torture: to have her under his roof for so many days had given rise to dreams from which he had awakened exceedingly aroused and bathed in sweat. When, on the other hand, he was unable to get to sleep he had tossed and turned and had been in some pain not to slip inside her bedchamber to seek sweet oblivion in the softness of her arms. Bingley chuckled at the thought As if she would ever have permitted me to enter her room at night! 
 
Bingley gradually became aware of the fact that he was not alone in his club, and noticing the puzzled glances cast at him by his friends, he sighed deeply and, slightly embarrassed, said: "Pardon me, old chaps, a private joke. Pray, pay no attention to me. Please go on, I am listening." 
 
She had given him the impression of being completely earnest, guileless and artless, so very refreshing in comparison with the ladies of the ton he knew. He was convinced that she had received his attentions with pleasure and had returned his affection with sincere, if not equal regard. At least, he had believed this to be true. 
 
Alas, that did not seem to be the case, at least according to his best friend, on whose judgement he relied. How could he have been so mistaken? Since Darcy had informed him a month ago of his own belief in Miss Bennet's indifference towards his person, he had had no choice but to face the cruel truth: she did not love him as he did her. 
 
It had seemed so crystal clear to him: she was the woman of his dreams. But a dream she will remain. I will not be given a chance to show her my deep devotion, nor will I ever know the joys of love she could give to me. My life might as well end here and now; I would not know of another way to forget her. He thought dramatically, taking
another sip from his brandy. 
 
Heartily endorsed by his sisters, Darcy had told him the pitiless intelligence regarding the lack of Miss Bennet's feelings for him.  


"Pray, Charles," he had said, "Miss Bennet is a kind, cheerful young woman, but you must forget her. She liked your society and most of her smiles were addressed to you, I grant you that. But upon my honour, as far as I could perceive, the serenity of her air and countenance were such as might have given the most acute observer a conviction that her heart was unlikely to be easily touched." 
 
Bingley was quite surprised that he remembered Darcy's well-turned phrase so accurately after the couple of brandies he had tossed down, but then again, these words had affected him deeply, nay, had shocked him. The message kept ringing in his ears. He had not expected this in the very least. He remembered the ball: the dances he had danced with her had felt divine, as if they presaged the perfect match that he and she would make. Her quiet elegance, her fluid movements, had enchanted him. Her soft humming whilst listening to the music had been so charming, as if she was in a world of her own. The feel of her hand in his had coaxed shivers of sheer delight down his spine. Whilst partaking of the white soup, she had given him so much opportunity to speak of his own concerns and interests. She was such a good listener. She did not rattle on like the other young ladies of his acquaintance. Indeed she did not talk much at all, but, upon his word, he had sensed that she held him in high regard. The manner in which she had looked him in the eye had been agonisingly sweet. 
 
"Darcy, are you certain, absolutely certain? The impression she made with me is so different. Did I truly see more in her countenance than there was, because I wished to do so?" He had asked, his voice broken with grief and regret. 
 
"Oh yes, I am certain, most definitely. I dare say your perspective is umm... a little muddled, Charles, which is understandable. I have seen you in love many times before, and as many times you were either disappointed or indifferent in the end. However understandable that you wish your regard for the said lady reciprocated, I most strongly urge you to not deceive yourself, my friend." 
 
"Darcy, I know you are never wrong, but did you, by any chance, take her poor and -- in your view undoubtedly objectionable -- relations into account? If that be the case, you must know that I do not care about them, not in the very least. And, if she would love me like I do her, we would be perfect for each other." 
 
"Admittedly, Charles, there are certain other evils for such a choice," Darcy had replied, "The family's want of propriety is appalling, except for the object of your affection and the second eldest Miss Bennet. Their behaviour is beyond any rebuke. But, you must trust me: all indications lead me to believe most strongly that her indifference towards your person is most definitely based on impartial conviction regarding her feelings alone. Apart from that, do you not agree that 'love' is too strong a term here? You have known the young lady but a few weeks! I most fervently advise you not to return to Hertfordshire." 
 
"You must be right, Darcy, you always are, are you not?" Bingley had replied most sadly, "I will do my best to forget her and will not return to Hertfordshire. What else is there for me to do? If I cannot rely on your judgement, on whose should I rely then?" 
 
"On your own, perhaps?" Suggested a little voice in his head, which unfortunately was too soft for him to hear over the raucous laughter of his friends enjoying another joke at a lady's expense.

Nocturnal Torments

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... I shall endeavour to find some opportunity of putting this letter in your hands in the course of morning. I will only add, God bless you.  Fitzwilliam Darcy 
 
When Mr. Darcy signed his letter to Elizabeth Bennet he was utterly and completely exhausted. His right hand felt numb, his body cold and his mind empty... but he did not care. It did not signify that he had not slept all night; In fact, he cared not for anything but the woman who seemed to be lost to him forever. Her lovely face haunted him; her
fine eyes, her rosy cheeks, her red lips, her sweet smile... Softly he let her name flow over his lips: Elizabeth, Lizzy, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth. 
 
This handsome, intelligent woman, who kept him awake night after night, the one who aroused feelings in him he never knew existed, hated him and refused quite decidedly the offer of his affections. The love, tenderness and admiration he felt for her were all for naught. He wanted to hold her, cherish her and... not least of all, love her passionately. He ached at the thought that he would never be allowed to kiss those beautiful lips, to touch the silky skin of her shoulders, to caress her soft full breasts and while casting a glance at the four-poster bed, he meditated on the very great pleasure a
vision of Elizabeth reaching out for him could bestow. His mind started wandering towards all the pleasurable activities he would love to share with her... No, he tried to drive such thoughts from his mind, I must check myself-she will never be mine. 
 
He realized that his initial feelings of anger and hurt pride had faded away during the course of the night and had been replaced by an emotional mixture of disappointment, nausea, yearning and desire. Desire, oh yes, even more ardent than before. But alas, his love for her would remain unrequited; how was he ever to conquer this? 
 
Tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me... he had said that about her when they had first met and he had haughtily refused to dance with her! In that despicable fashion, he had treated the woman he now desperately wanted by his side. He congratulated himself... Fitzwilliam Darcy, rich, powerful, handsome... one of England's most eligible bachelors had ruined his chances to marry the only woman he had ever loved or would love, apart from his mother and sister. 
 
Elizabeth, the most precious woman in the world to him, held him in contempt. He laughed bitterly at the irony of it all. During her stay at Netherfield, he thought it better not to give her too much attention as not to put ideas in her head, despite his growing
attraction. Leaning backwards in his chair, he moaned at the very idiocy of his state of mind at the time. He had been the only one who had ideas; she was not interested in him in the least! How could he have made such a miscalculation? Insufferable presumption that is what it was! Thinking of his appalling experiences in London society where
mothers almost literally threw their daughters into his arms, he realized that in general he did not hold women in high esteem. He was all too aware of how his marriage prospects were viewed by the ton. Thus, he did not have any doubts about the reception of his proposal. 
 
Why could he not have foreseen that he had proposed to a woman of utter integrity, a woman who would not marry but for mutual love and respect. She was not interested in his station in life; she did not care for his riches. She did not like him, which was for her the very reason to refuse him. No wonder he had fallen in love with her! From the very beginning of their acquaintance, he had known unconsciously that she was different from the young women he had known thus far. 
 
He cursed himself for having acted on impulse; so very unlike him! After this long night of reflection, he knew very well why he had. Jealousy had got the better of him. When he saw her again at Hunsford Parsonage, the passion - which he thought would lessen in time - almost immediately came back to him in all its force. He could not keep his eyes from her and his memory had not done her justice; she looked even lovelier than he remembered. 
 
While observing Elizabeth and his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam so comfortably conversing together, he desperately wanted to have his share in the conversation, but could not bring himself to it. He felt utterly maladroit and awkward. Later, at Rosings Park, they were playing music together, laughing - sometimes at his expense. The very idea that Fitzwilliam might become her suitor was well nigh unbearable. How could he have been so stupid, so short sighted? Honesty forced him to admit that he wanted to claim Elizabeth as his own before his cousin could have seized the opportunity to do so. 
 
The painful recollection of the proposal kept intruding. My feelings will not be repressed... he had said, but what about hers? Did he ever wonder what she felt? You were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry... Gradually, he came to the conclusion that he had behaved in an unbelievably naive, insensitive, arrogant, selfish and indeed, shamelessly ungentlemanlike manner. Ungentlemanlike behaviour... Could a gentleman be censured more severely than that? He closed his eyes as in pain at the recollection of her words. He dearly wished the letter would make her think better of him. Whether she could forgive his interference with the relationship between her sister and his friend remained to be seen. But he was convinced that, at least, she would believe his account on his dealings with that scoundrel, George Wickham. 
 
He groaned as he stood up and poured some water into the basin on the dresser. He splashed his face with cold water and extinguished the last burning candle with his thumb. As the morning sun threw its first rays through the windows, he decided to dress without the help of his valet and get some fresh air before breakfast. He put the letter in
his pocket in the event he would meet Elizabeth during this walk; an encounter he both feared and longed for...

Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr. Darcy take a stroll 

A little fatigued by his aunt's ostentatious share in the conversation and most anxious to ascertain the reason for his cousin's unusually withdrawn behaviour of late, Colonel Fitzwilliam suggested a stroll around the estate. The weather was fine and thus a perfect
circumstance to enjoy the outdoors in Kent for one last time. As excellent a walker as Mr. Darcy was, he hardly ever declined such an invitation and he consented readily to this one. He, for his part, needed to get away from the suffocating atmosphere of Rosings and longed for some fresh air. Apart from that, a stroll with his cousin might keep his mind away from Elizabeth for a while. Thus, both cousins went on their way, each of them for different motives. 
 
The exactingly organized Lenotre-style* gardens of Lady Catherine De Bourgh's vast estate with its geometrically trimmed hedges and labyrinths, neatly arranged flower beds, tidily raked straight gravel paths and severe formations of trees formed a fascinating contrast
with the picturesque, wild, hilly landscape surrounding it. On this afternoon in April, the blossoming orchards, strawberry fields and the soft rolling wood-covered hills alternated with hop farms, vineyards and pastures, bathed in the soft warmth of the spring sun, which disappeared from time to time behind some fleecy clouds drifting by in a mainly blue sky. It truly was a perfect day. 
 
Walking down the path leading to the main gate, the two cousins leisurely conversed about how interesting it was that the austere aspect of Rosings Park was not at all in discordance with its surrounding landscape, but that the two admirably complemented each other and thus formed a harmonious unity. 
 
"The straight-lined manner of thinking of our dear aunt, combined with her excessive condescension towards her tenants is perfectly reflected in her estate," Mr. Darcy remarked dryly, which was met by uproarious laughter from his cousin. 
 
The two men continued their walk in amiable silence, each one of them deep in thought. 
 
Whilst Mr. Darcy fantasized about a completely different proposal in which he would but declare his all consuming love for Elizabeth without ever mentioning her station, her poor relations or his better judgement, the colonel was lost in more mundane thoughts, trying to find a way to satisfy his curiosity about his cousin's conduct. At the exact moment that Mr. Darcy was envisioning a passionate kiss with which Elizabeth sealed her consent, the colonel chose to break the silence and come straight to the point: "Pray, Darcy, is there
something you wish to tell me? I hope you do not mind me saying so, but you do not, umm... seem yourself of late."  "I have no idea what you mean, Fitzwilliam, there is nothing the matter with me," Darcy replied coolly and not a little annoyed about being so rudely disturbed from his unrealistic, though utterly delightful dreaminess.  "Why is it
then that you seem so out of spirits since yesterday evening? Oh, and I might add that, since we are in Kent, you seem to be exceedingly absentminded in company, and more taciturn than ever," the colonel continued, expressing his observations in a seemingly nonchalant manner.  "Absentminded and taciturn?" Darcy asked sheepishly, furrowing his brows.  "Indeed you are, cousin! Did something happen during our stay at Aunt Catherine's that perchance escaped my notice? I dare say you give the impression of a man in love!" The Colonel declared slyly, barely hiding a chuckle. 
 
Upon hearing the colonel's last words, Darcy blushed to the roots of his hair. "In love? Me? Why... I mean, no," Darcy stammered, feeling very uncomfortable. 
 
"Oh come on, admit it man, these last two weeks you could hardly keep your eyes from a handsome young lady of our acquaintance every time we were in her company and I am most certainly not referring to cousin Anne, nor to Mrs. Collins' sister," cried Colonel Fitzwilliam. 
 
Noticing that Darcy grew more and more embarrassed and uneasy, the colonel became increasingly diverted and teased on: "You do understand to which young lady I am referring, do you not? The one with the fine eyes?" 
 
"Of course I know who you mean, cousin, and yes, Miss Bennet has beautiful eyes. I merely made an impartial observation. However, I shall not deny the pleasure a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow," replied he evasively.  "So, Darcy, you are not in love with her. Those continuous glances you cast at her can be explained as being but the result of an objective observation of a man who recognizes beauty as such," the colonel replied, not even attempting to hide his irony. "Forgive me for having misconstrued you so completely, old boy, even though this is a heavy misfortune
indeed!" he continued, feigning disappointment. "Miss Bennet is not only one of the handsomest women my eyes ever beheld, but one of the most spirited and intelligent as well. Above that, she does not play the pianoforte half as ill as she claims she does. I do not remember having heard anything that gave me more pleasure lately. As a matter
of fact, I would not hesitate one moment to fall on my knees for her and beg her to marry me. But, alas, a poor soldier and second son like myself is not in the position to afford the luxury of a wife with no money. Darcy, I know your disposition, you would not marry but for the deepest love and respect. What a shame you do not cherish tender feelings for her, you two seem such a perfect match and, wealthy as you are, you enjoy the advantage of not being in need of a woman's dowry." Once again Colonel Fitzwilliam looked at his cousin inquisitively, while doing his best to hide a grin. 
 
"You have said quite enough, Fitzwilliam, I perfectly comprehend your meaning. Very well, I confess," Darcy said huskily, "I like Miss Bennet. I like her very much indeed. In fact, I love her. I believe I fell in love with her from the very moment of our acquaintance. There, I have said it," Mr. Darcy replied, relieved on the one hand, but
somewhat vexed on the other since he did not like the idea that his cousin had noticed all those qualities Elizabeth possessed he admired himself so much. His remark on her outward beauty he found particularly exasperating.  "I knew it," Colonel Fitzwilliam cried out excitedly, "When will you propose to her?"  "I already did, yesterday evening," Darcy softly replied.  "Pray, when will you go to her father then?" His cousin asked with
enthusiasm.  "I will not be going," Darcy whispered. Turning his head away from his
cousin to hide his mortification, he added, "She refused me."  "She did what? You must be joking!" the Colonel cried incredulously, "No, I can see you are not. In heaven's name why?" 
 
"Very well, cousin, I will tell you the complete history of our acquaintance." Darcy said reluctantly, but at the same time, somewhat relieved that he had an opportunity to confide in somebody he trusted.  Thus, Darcy told his cousin everything: the way they had met, how she had aroused feelings in him he would not acknowledge at first and how
soon these feelings had intensified. He explained how he had struggled against them in vain and that their renewed acquaintance in Kent ultimately resulted in what was likely the most abominable proposal known to mankind. Utterly embarrassed he described the manner in which he had declared his love for her while feeling the absurd necessity to
point out the inferiority of her relations and the degradation it would entail for himself and his family. 
 
"I do not remember ever having acted so utterly without thought or respect towards anybody, let alone towards a woman worthy of the highest esteem and regard," Darcy continued, "I can only think back on it with abhorrence. Pray, do not say anything, cousin. I already have chastised myself since and will keep doing so until I have made
amends. Anyway, she refused quite decidedly and, as if I had not been presumptuous enough, I even had the audacity to ask her why she rejected me." 
 
Here, Darcy stopped and looked his cousin straight in the eye "She told me bluntly that I ruined the happiness of her eldest sister by separating her from Mr. Bingley and that I had denied the wishes of my late father with regards to Mr. Wickham. Apart from that, she made it perfectly clear to me how utterly disgusted she was by my superciliousness." 
 
Colonel Fitzwilliam was speechless; the look on his face was one of utter astonishment. He merely wanted to find out if he was right in his assumption that Darcy had formed an attachment to Miss Bennet and, if so, whether he had perchance made the decision to court her. That this would be the response to his teasing was the last thing he had
expected. He knew not what to say, in particular because he had played a part in Darcy's misfortune by telling Miss Bennet about his interference concerning Mr. Bingley and
her sister.  "Good God, Darcy," he uttered finally, "I did not know that she was acquainted with that scoundrel, Wickham. But what is worse, I must confess that it was I who informed Miss Bennet about your interference in the relationship of your friend. I had not the slightest idea that her sister was involved. I understand her sudden headache now," he said remorsefully. 
 
"It is of no consequence, Fitzwilliam, please do not make yourself uneasy, this is not yet the end of the story."  And Darcy went on. He told him that his honour drove him to defend himself against the offences laid at his charge in a letter, which he had handed her this morning, in the grove. 
 
"You wrote her a letter and you met her this morning?" Colonel Fitzwilliam asked unbelievingly. My, my, cousin Darcy, propriety incarnate, in the woods together with a beautiful, unchaperoned woman...! The colonel pondered amused.  "Indeed, cousin, I did. My need to defend myself was stronger than my sense of propriety."  The colonel looked at him compassionately and said: "Darcy, you acted, let me put it mildly, inelegantly; and if it would not be so painful, your account of the proposal would have made me laugh. I think that you will have to find a way to show Miss Bennet who you really are. Your letter could be one step in the right direction, I imagine. In the end, she will learn to have the same regard for you as you have for her, I am sure." 
 
Hoping rather than believing the reality of his cousin's words, they felt like balm to his wounded heart all the same and Mr. Darcy, in a mood of utter volubility and being so fortunate as to find himself a willing ear with the Colonel, enumerated all of Elizabeth's merits regarding her mind and form. In the end, Colonel Fitzwilliam could not be convinced of but one thing: there was not a young lady in England to be found who could possibly be more accomplished and handsomer than Miss Elizabeth Bennet. 

* Andre Le Notre (1613-1700), French landscape architect and inventor
of the geometrical, architectural-like style of gardening which received his name. His
masterpiece are the gardens of Versailles by order of the Sun King, Louis XIV.

Elizabeth Faces the Truth

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Elizabeth got up early after a sleepless night during which she had tried to compose her thoughts. She felt confused, angry, quite sad and, if she could be truly honest with herself, flattered: being proposed to by such a great man... being loved by him!  Thinking of the future prospects of her family, the idea that she had acted too
hastily, even selfishly, crossed her mind, but she dismissed it quickly. No, he had been cruel towards his father's protege, he was arrogant and, what was worst, he had ruined Jane's only probable chance for happiness. How could she ever esteem, let alone love, such a man? She reviewed the events of the previous day and could not but come to one conclusion: refusing him was the only right thing she could have done. Papa would surely understand, though she had no intention of telling him. The thought of her mother's probable reaction to her second refusal within a time span of half a year - this time, the rejection of a man of 10,000 a year! - made her shudder. All the smelling salts in the world could not be enough to soothe her hysteria. No, she decided to keep this to herself and perhaps she might confide in Jane, eventually. 
 
Suffering from a severe headache, she did not wish to join the family at the breakfast table. The distasteful manner in which her cousin consumed his food was too much to bear at this particular moment, as was the endless chitchat of Maria Lucas. She excused herself and went out for a walk. It was a beautiful sunny morning and she was badly in
need of some fresh air. 
 
After having walked for a while, Elizabeth seated herself on a fallen tree at the border of the forest overlooking the valley. She enjoyed watching the beautiful landscape warming itself in the morning sun and, while closing her eyes, she deeply inhaled the delicious
scent of the spring blossoms, still covered with dew. Melancholy overcame her when her mind unwillingly wandered back towards the events of the previous day. Restless as she was, she soon walked on and, as to clear her mind from her dark thoughts, she started to run until she noticed a man advancing. She turned away immediately, fearful she was of its being Mr. Darcy's, but on hearing herself called and recognizing Mr. Darcy's voice, she moved again in her initial direction and, holding out a letter, heard him say: "I have been walking in the grove some time in the hope of meeting you. Will you do me the honour of reading this letter?" - And then, with a slight bow, turned and walked away. 
 
Having no time to object, and, truth be told, far too curious to even wish to refuse it, Elizabeth accepted the letter and broke the seal as soon as Mr. Darcy was out of sight. 
 
"Be not alarmed, madam, on receiving this letter, by the apprehension of its containing any repetition of those sentiments, or renewal of those offers, which were last night so disgusting to you..." 
 
With a strong prejudice against everything he might say, she haughtily and with utter disdain read the first sentence out loud, while imitating Mr. Darcy's voice. Obviously she could not approve of his rather sarcastic phrasing and with even greater prejudice she read on. However, while perusing the letter, the expression on her face changed from anger to astonishment and from embarrassment to sadness, and when she finished his long letter for a second time, closely examining the meaning of every sentence, her chagrin was beyond description. As much as she loathed to admit it, she knew intuitively
that every word he had written on the subject of Mr. Wickham was the absolute truth. She had had the audacity to call a man she hardly knew conceited and proud, all the while boasting her ability of fathoming human character! She, who had believed a man like George Wickham; a flatterer, an impostor, an ungrateful liar and a ruthless seducer of
innocent young girls! In spite of certain improper actions on Wickham's part, which should have opened her eyes much sooner, she had cherished tender thoughts - however superficial they might have been - for this useless man! Feelings she might have even shewn to him! The realization made her feel almost physically ill. It struck her that she had not seen the impropriety of his communications to a stranger before. 
 
In this perturbed state of mind, with thoughts that could rest on nothing, and a heart pounding fast, Elizabeth kept on folding and unfolding the letter.  She recalled how she would not listen to Jane's reasonable analysis of the two men and how she had brushed all of her sister's arguments in favour of Mr. Darcy aside. She had been blinded by anger and hurt pride, for the mere reason that this man did not think her handsome enough to tempt him and would not dance with her. Admittedly, his observation had been utterly rude, but did that behaviour justify all her prejudices against him? Indeed it did not:
his letter proved the opposite. One evening at Netherfield, Mr. Darcy had called himself resentful, when she had challenged him. My good opinion once lost, is lost forever he had said and she pitied him. But the truth of the matter was that she, Elizabeth Bennet, was a most resentful creature herself! After their first acquaintance at the assembly, she kept holding rancour against him, regardless of the fact that he had never wronged her again at later gatherings and that he had never again behaved in a particularly arrogant manner... at least not before he proposed to her. On various occasions, Charlotte had
suggested that perhaps Mr. Darcy had a particular regard for her. Had she not told her that he looked a great deal at her? Had she not called her a simpleton for allowing her fancy for Wickham to make her appear unpleasant in the eyes of a man of ten times his consequence at the Netherfield ball? Why had she been so certain that Mr. Darcy had
no aim but to criticise her? How could she have misconstrued his intentions so? While meditating on all the misunderstandings and her mistaken interpretations, she was obliged to admit that, apart from the Meryton assembly and his abominable proposal, his behaviour had been impeccable throughout, whereas hers was often bordering on the uncivil. She blushed from mortification, as she thought back to her impertinent questioning at the ball. She had never even given herself a chance to form an impartial opinion about Mr. Darcy, for the simple reason that she did not wish it; she wished to dislike him, she had chosen to dislike him. She had liked herself too much! 
 
Poor Elizabeth, she truly was too severe upon herself, but she felt an extreme need for thorough introspection. She had never felt worse in her life. And there was nothing she could do; she knew very well that there was nothing she could do. She could not possibly write and apologize, however fervently she wished to! 
 
While perusing the passage with his observations on Jane and Mr. Bingley for a third time, she remembered Charlotte's opinion on shewing one's regard, not concealing it. Even on this subject, her indignation had altered into understanding; however wrong Mr.
Darcy had judged the depth of Jane's feelings for Mr. Bingley, Elizabeth knew that his comprehension of their attachment was based on the same observances that her friend had counselled against. She had to admit to herself, however, that his actions separating Jane from Mr. Bingley had nothing to do with the manner in which her former dislike of him took root. After all, she only learned about his interference shortly before his proposal. No, she must be completely honest with herself; initially, it was none but her own wounded pride that had formed her disapproving judgement of him; a judgement that had been confirmed later by Wickham's scandalous lies. The Colonel's disclosure on Mr. Darcy's actions regarding Jane and Mr. Bingley only added fuel to the fire that Elizabeth had already stoked. 
 
As she entered the house after an absence of at least two hours, she was immediately told that the gentlemen from Rosings had each called during her absence. Affecting concern in having missed them, Elizabeth excused herself and went upstairs to her room. She let herself unceremoniously fall on her bed, took the letter from her reticule, and started to read it once again. As she lay on her back, eyes closed to protect them against the bright daylight, one hand behind her head and the other pressing the letter against her chest, confusing feelings of guilt, remorse and regret overwhelmed her and while softly whispering "Fitzwilliam??" she rolled to her stomach, embraced her pillow and started to weep distressingly.

Mr. Darcy's resolve... 

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In essentials, Mr. Darcy was not of a disposition to act without reflection. Like a chess player he thoroughly considered and calculated the possible results of every single move he ever made. Impulsiveness simply was not part of his vocabulary: until he met Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn. Almost from the beginning of his acquaintance with
this attractive gentleman's daughter from Hertfordshire, who was so different from all the young women he knew, it seemed as if his world and everything he had ever believed in had been turned upside down. At first he was shocked to find himself acting on instinct rather than on rational, measured study. But after his abominable behaviour in
Hunsford, he had taken the time to reflect on a certain event he would rather not think about anymore. He had understood that Miss Bennet's free-spirit was best met by a similar sort of naturalness in order to gain her good opinion -- even though that did not exactly correspond with his character. And thus, after their chance meeting the other day
at Pemberley, he had first invited her uncle to come fishing for trout, subsequently he could not wait to call on them in Lambton the morning after, and finally he had actually invited Miss Elizabeth and her relations to dine at Pemberley!  
 
Impetuous behaviour to say the least, Darcy! Inviting a man who is in trade - the brother of Mrs. Bennet, of all people? Are you out of your senses? His inner voice representing his old self attempted to warn him initially. But he banned it immediately to the deepest dungeons of his mind and listened as of that moment to a new voice, that embodied his new state of mind. What is so ignominious about being in trade, old man? After all, Bingley's own good father was in trade. Is it not enough that Miss Bennet holds him in high esteem? Cannot you see for yourself that Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner are a perfectly amiable, well-mannered couple? Besides, it is the occasion par excellence to show Elizabeth the gentleman you really are. It looks as though fortune truly is smiling upon you and you should be but pleased that this occasion presents itself. 
 
Darcy was pleased indeed. The artless, genuine enthusiasm of the Gardiners and the gracious acceptance of Miss Elizabeth, made him realize that his newly obtained spontaneity was being rewarded, particularly by the object of his undivided attention, who smiled at him like she had never smiled at him before. Since their chance
encounter, and her clearly altered attitude towards his person, he could jump with joy. But however great the urge and however strong his desire to give in to every emotion that welled up in him, he took great care so as not to lose his dignity. He managed to keep his composure in front of the Pemberley party, even though his heart was overflowing. He felt like singing, laughing, dancing even. And when he was certain that
nobody could see him, he conjured up a broad smile when revelling at the good fortune of their renewed acquaintance: how lovely she had looked whilst strolling about Pemberley park and how becoming her flushed cheeks when she first saw him. Indeed, it did not take more than half an hour for his love, desire and admiration to return to him in all their force.
 
Perhaps it was a little premature, but Darcy found himself in a state of elation. It is miraculous, is it not, that feelings can change from utter despair into complete bliss in a mere moment? he pondered, while contemplating fondly the object of his admiration sitting across from him - as his guest, at his table in his saloon eating his food. He
savoured her smiles and he ached to kiss her agonisingly tempting red lips. He could not keep his eyes from them when she parted them to speak and revealed her pearly white teeth. The mere sound of her voice was music to his ears. The sight of Elizabeth tasting a peach made his desire for her grow to unbearable heights and he envisioned feeding her all sorts of exotic fruits that could so stir the imagination to dwell on certain activities for which the more private setting of a bedroom would be the perfect location. Dreamily he imagined a piece of fruit accidentally disappearing into her decolletage, whilst she gave him permission to retrieve it by following with his tongue the sweet trail
it had left on her skin. And her eyes, her fine eyes: the eyes that had followed him everywhere he went since he had first looked into them. Those eyes that had expressed but mockery or anger in the past, now looked at him with affection and... love? 
 
In spite of her encouraging smiles and his ardent wish to propose anew, he warned himself repeatedly to be cautious, to act patiently so as not to tempt fate. His good intentions notwithstanding, he had forgotten all about them when, the next morning he woke up, utterly aroused from restless dreams in which a highly seductive Elizabeth had played an essential part. Confident, in high spirits and full of anticipation, he
dressed with care, tucked a little box with a precious heirloom in his pocket and mounted his favourite horse to go to Lambton with the aim of renewing the offer of his hand or, if the occasion should not arise, at least to attempt to know whether he could cherish hope.  Upon entering the inn at Lambton, he checked the box in his pocket a last time and asked the servant to take him to Miss Bennet. But when he was shewn into the parlour and immediately noticed her pale face and impetuous manner, his heart sank into his boots. It was crystal clear that she was in a state of utter misery and now was not the time to discuss love. 
 
When he learned the reason for her distress he turned away in shock. Her intelligence caused nausea, anger, compassion, regret... All sorts of conflicting emotions took hold of his mind and body. He shivered, drops of perspiration appeared on his forehead, his legs felt weak. The feeling of guilt for not having exposed Wickham to the world as he
should have done overwhelmed him. He was not a superstitious man, but in this case he could not help but think that he had tempted fate by bringing an engagement ring with him. Indeed, it had seemed all too good to be true. 
 
He knew that for him all hope was lost now; a thought that almost brought tears of sorrow as well as fury to his eyes. How could she ever love him: A coward, a selfish man who had considered but the protection of his own family, who had not given a second thought to the eventual misfortunes others might suffer because of Wickham? And of all
families, that villain, that useless person, had harmed the one of his beloved. Could life be more ironic? Looking again at the woman of his dreams, the one whom he loved so dearly, with whom he most ardently wished to spend the rest of his life, he resolved there and then to make amends: he would travel to London the very next day and do
everything within his power to recover Wickham and make him marry Elizabeth's sister. This unfortunate turn of events, this utter and complete disillusionment due to his own negligence based on stupid, mistaken pride, would prevent him from ever carrying his true love over the threshold of Pemberley, but at least his conscience would be at
ease. A scant comfort indeed, he pondered bitterly. Gnashing his teeth, he whispered out of Elizabeth's hearing: "I congratulate you, Wickham, your revenge is complete after all."

No cause to repine: En route for Hertfordshire...

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But the wife of Mr. Darcy must have such extraordinary sources of happiness
necessarily attached to her situation, that she could upon the whole, have no
cause to repine...

No cause to repine... no cause to repine... no cause to repine... With a smile on his face, Elizabeth's words, as brought to him by his aunt, kept going through Mr. Darcy's head on the cadence of the wheels of his carriage that was bringing him back to Hertfordshire in the fastest possible manner . Faster he thought, the carriage must go faster... And, suiting the action to the word, he opened one of the windows of the carriage and instructed the coachman to drive up the horses.

How utterly astonished he was that Aunt Catherine had paid him an unexpected visit on her way back from Longbourn, of all places! And he was even more surprised at the matter she so ardently desired to warn him against. It was too farcical! She had expressed her contempt for Elizabeth in no uncertain terms. As indignant as she was, she had repeated what was in her view every insolent riposte Elizabeth had voiced about the impossibility of an alliance between the two of them. "As you well know, Darcy, honour, decorum, prudence and interest simply forbid it." She had said with a furious look in her eyes, all the while pacing up and down the room, dangerously swaying her cane to emphasize her words and barely leaving various precious objects on the mantle piece and tea tables in one piece; something Darcy had not observed without some trepidation.

 

"She is the most ungrateful, unfeeling and selfish girl I have ever met, nephew! Not to mention her conceit; she dared to compare an utterly insignificant gentleman like her father with you. Listen to me! She had the audacity to claim that she was your equal! Who is she to bluntly refuse to oblige me when I asked  for her word that she would never enter into an engagement with you? Is this to be borne? No, this is not to be borne. I trust you understand what to do: you must promise to keep away from this country upstart, so as to prevent her from drawing you in with her arts and allurements. Do I make myself clear?" And thus Lady Catherine pounded the floor with her cane in conclusion of her monologue describing the appallingly humiliating experience in the copse at Longbourn. "Yes, aunt, you do, I thank you." Replied Darcy, barely able to keep his countenance and not promising anything of the kind.

 

But, as bad a listener as she was, she did not take notice and said: "Very well then, I will leave you now, Darcy. Your cousin Anne and I hope to see you soon again in Rosings." When Darcy made a move to stand up, she said: "No, do not trouble yourself, I know my way out, I bid you good day." And without waiting for a reaction from her nephew, she left the room and quitted the house.  As soon as Lady Catherine left, Darcy set his suppressed emotions free. He paced up and down the room, putting some of the objects aunt Catherine had hit with her cane back in their place. He chuckled at the thought of aunt Catherine's mistaken triumph, while at the same time angry at the manner in which she had insulted his beloved.   But most of all he was touched, touched at the thought
that Elizabeth had defended herself, that she had had the courage to stand up against his formidable aunt and that she had not given in to her utterly unreasonable demands.  He was proud of her, and proud of himself to have fallen in love with a woman of her calibre. Leaning against the mantle piece, he closed his eyes for a moment and imagined Elizabeth smiling at him like she had done at Pemberley, whilst savouring a peach. Restlessly flopping back in his chair, he considered  that he could not remember one occasion since he had become aware of her existence when his aunt had made him feel so cheerful.

How fortunate that aunt Catherine was in haste, he mused, Otherwise I might have given in to the urge to take her face between my two hands and kiss her on both cheeks: an action I have up until now considered one of my worst nightmares!

He chuckled again. He truly was in a state of elation. Could it be possible that indeed Elizabeth cared for him? That she cared enough for him to become his wife after all?  He stood up again and out of sheer joy, he made a few dance steps imagining having Elizabeth in his arms as his partner. Neither quadrille nor reel would do, certainly not! Mr. Darcy imagined the next dance with her to be the deliciously, delightfully intoxicatingly scandalous waltz! His left hand would be in her right, and his right hand on her back, whilst her left hand rested lightly on his shoulder. The entire duration of the dance they would be in one another's arms and he imagined swirling together into their future as man and wife. Darcy took a deep breath and shivered with pleasure at the thought.

Absorbed in his current occupation in which he waltzed with her, executing the figures and humming from Vicente Martin's opera Una cosa rara, he did not notice his butler enter the room and quizzically observe his master. The first had coughed discreetly, hardly able to conceal a smile, asking: "You called for me, Sir?"  Embarrassed, Darcy immediately pitched himself into the nearest chair, attempting to rehabilitate his dignity and quickly replied: "Umm... yes, Cuthbert. See to it that the carriage is ready within the hour. I have to return to Hertfordshire." "Very well, Sir, right away, Sir. Is there
anything else you need?" "I am not certain how long I will be away, but prepare a trunk for at least a week or two. That will be all, now go to it." Darcy replied impatiently, most anxious to leave. If events were to take the turn as he imagined, he would ask her permission to pull her close and press a first soft kiss on her lips, provided she accepted his proposal, naturally. Violently in love as he was, Mr. Darcy was determined to express his love for her in every other manner and as thoroughly as she would allow him to do.

Whilst the carriage took him swiftly to the place where he hoped his beloved would be awaiting him, he speculated about her reaction to his return: would she be pleased to see him? Would she give him one of her seductive smiles?  Or would she be grave and silent again as she had been the last time they were in each other presence? Would she give him enough encouragement? Unconsciously his hand went to the pocket in which he kept the little box containing the ring; the very same ring he had taken to the inn in Lambton where, due to the unfortunate family matters he would rather not think about anymore, he had kept it where it was. Would she grant him the opportunity this time to open it for her, would she hold out her hand and would he put the ring on her finger? Whilst looking
through the window of his carriage and enjoying the charming landscape passing by, Mr. Darcy merrily meditated on the very great pleasure a 'yes' from Elizabeth's alluring red lips in reply to his proposal would bestow.

Leaning back against the soft velvet of his luxurious carriage seat, fatigue took him by
surprise and his eyelids grew heavy. With a smile on his handsome face, he slowly drifted away into a slumber..."Why is Elizabeth in my room? What is she doing here?" The object of his love and passion slowly walked towards him. He saw her lips moving but he could not hear what she was saying. "Come closer, Elizabeth, my love, I cannot hear you," he whispered. She was wearing a diaphanous gown revealing her luscious body in a most sensual manner. She sat beside him on the edge of the bed and whispered endearments in his ear. While stroking a lock of hair from his forehead, she called him her beloved husband and softly kissed his lips. "You cannot possibly feel comfortable with all these clothes on, my love. Allow me to remove them," she said and started to untie the knot of his neck cloth..." "By all means, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth, but let me free you of all that unnecessary silk that is covering your body, I want to see all of you. Whilst slowly untying the ribbon of her bodice and removing the garment from her shoulders downwards and thus baring her breasts, their eyes locked for a moment, before their lips
touched again, resulting in a kiss that seemed to express all the love and passion they felt for each other. At first it was cautious and agonizingly tender, discovering the taste and feel of each other's mouth. But soon the kiss became sultrier, more ardent and fiery as their tongues engaged in a fervent dance of lust and desire. Their hands began exploring their bodies and, at the precise moment that Darcy cupped her breast... he most cruelly awoke from this sweetest of dreams.

Bathed in sweat, breathing heavily and with his heart pounding wildly inside his chest, Darcy sat straight up and looked bewilderedly around him, barely noticing that he had fallen off his seat and that he was actually sitting on the floor of the carriage.  He had also apparently loosened his cravat as he dreamed of Elizabeth. He was bitterly disappointed to discover that he was alone. "Good God," he groaned. Why awake so soon? Too soon! It must have been a bump in the road. Damn, how real this dream was. I actually dreamt that we were husband and wife! Elizabeth called me her beloved husband! Netherfield is miles away still and Elizabeth had only just begun to undress me. 'We' would have had plenty of time and it is not difficult to imagine where my dream would have led! Darcy thought, not without regret, dreamily attempting to re-taste the delicious kiss he had shared with the love of his life by licking his lips.

Poor Darcy, he would have given a fortune for this dream to continue. But alas, it was not to be. As the coach continued its route, and Darcy took his seat again, he re-knotted his cravat and sat straight up, so as to not fall asleep again. He much rather preferred to arrive at Netherfield as a gentleman than as the aroused, unsettled and dishevelled person he was but moments ago. He felt terribly restless, if not nervous, and he dearly hoped that, after almost a year of agony, the woman of his dreams would soon release him from his sufferings and accept that which he so fervently wished for: the offer of his hand...

How very fortunate we are, are we not, dear readers? Unlike Mr. Darcy we already know the end. We are all one step ahead of our beloved hero and oh, how fervently we would wish to be there, with him, in his coach, to comfort him and tell him that once in a while dreams do come true.


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