Regency Shorts



Just For This Night

 

November 1811, Hertfordshire

She had been haunting his dreams for what seemed like ages, and now here she was, standing in his room late at night, clad only in her nightclothes. How many times had he dreamt of her coming to him in such a manner? Too many for him to count, that was certain. What was she doing here? Could it be that she had felt the same attraction that he had? He knew he could never make her an offer of marriage. To do so was impossible and for her to have purposefully sought him out should have lowered his estimation of her, but he found that he did not care one whit about propriety at this moment. No, the only thing that he cared about was that she was truly here, with him, now.

The cool temperature in the grate went unnoticed because of the heat that was presently emanating from him at the thought that his greatest desire would be granted. He stood from the chaise where he’d been doing some late-night reading. She was silent, a look of awe on her face that she had been so bold to come to him so. She looked down at her feet, unable to meet his gaze. It was impossible for them to be together, this she knew well, but she could not see why she should not have this one night at least.

He drew nearer to her, speaking in a low voice in case someone should pass in the hall, “This is the happiest and most delightful of surprises. I did not expect to meet you here, like this. My dear lady, I am your humble servant, what may I do for you?”

No one had ever spoken so kindly nor so gently to her in all her life. This was something that was greatly missing in her life. Her family did not understand her at all, often discounting what she said as not being serious in purpose, but this was not the case with him. He always, even from the first, had listened to her. To him, what she said, her opinions had weight and value. It was true enough that she had an affectionate elder sister to whom she was close and shared everything, but even her dearest sister did not seem to understand her as he did. Yes, this was wrong; yes, this was a great and terrible sin; but she cared not. She would know, for once in her lifetime, what it was to be truly loved and valued for herself and herself alone.

Knowing her own mind, she resolved to meet his gaze at last. When she did, she found his steely blue eyes fixed on her in such a way that made her heart beat so hard that she was sure it would wake the house. In his eyes she found a look of pure love and desire, not the shame and censure she had expected from such a proper man. Taking his look as encouragement, she stepped closer to him until she was close enough to inhale his scent and feel the tingle in her spine that always occurred when she was in his presence. She knew she was expected to say something, but her wits had momentarily abandoned her.

“Dearest,” he said soothingly as he clasped her hands into his own, “what is your wish? Please tell me, so that I can make your smallest whim a reality.”

In a voice so small she wondered if it could even be her own, she made her simple, heartfelt plea, “Love me, please, just for this night.”

He barely nodded before he enveloped her into his strong arms and kissed her with abandon. The weeks that he had spent in such close company had been torture. The dam that had held back all his pent-up longing and desire was broken and she was caught up in the flood of his passion. His strength took her somewhat by surprise, for he swept her off her feet as though she were nothing at all. She giggled as he nuzzled her neck while he carried her to his bed. He was supremely happy that he had been able to elicit from her that enchanting sound that he loved almost as much as he loved her. Her laughter had been a beacon calling out to him in his dull existence. How would he live the life that was destined for him, the one that his parents had planned out and that Lady Catherine expected without ever hearing that melodic sound again? He quickly pushed such thoughts aside. Now, in this moment, he would love her and make the memories that would have to be enough to console him in his lonely future without her.

They made love several times that cold November night. Each time was more tender and reverent than the last. Hours were spent professing the most tender of affections and memorizing every aspect of each other. Long before the servants were due to rise in the early morning, they said their tearful and solemn good-byes knowing that the realities of the world made such separation necessary. He had made no promises to her, nor had she expected any. Heart full, she quietly made her way back to her chamber. She was ever thankful that she had this one night of bliss with the man who held her heart, who understood and respected her like no other.

April 1827, Hertfordshire

Standing on the drive, wearing her widow’s weeds, Mrs. Bennet awaited the arrival of the heir to Longbourn. The Reverend William Collins had written that he would arrive one day after her year of deep mourning and, through the years, they had found he was nothing else if not precisely prompt.   

They had not met face to face since he had officiated the wedding of his cousin Kitty, some ten years before. There was a great deal to catch up on. “Mr. Collins, I am sorry for your loss. Charlotte was a lovely girl. I am sure you must miss her a great deal, as do your children.”

He felt shame that he had never loved his wife like he ought. “My Charlotte made for an excellent companion, and I pray that she found me the same. The boys miss her something fierce and her good sense has been long missed in Hunsford parish these five years. I must take this opportunity to say that I am also sorry for your loss, my dear lady, and I would ask that you remember that I am once again your humble servant.”

Mrs. Bennet’s cheeks blushed bright red, which was noticeably in sharp contrast to the jet she wore. “I thank you sir, for your kind reminder. All is in readiness for the estate to be turned over to your good care. I shall leave for my Sister Phillip’s once my half-mourning clothes are ready. I expect them within a fortnight.”

This was the last thing Mr. Collins wanted to hear. “My dear lady, surely you cannot believe that I would let you leave me, I mean your home, in such haste! You make it sound as though I am come to send you to starve in the hedgerows. Surely, you must know that I, who has loved you all these years, could never do such a thing. Stay, my dear lady. Stay with me.”

These were the words she had dreamed of hearing for so many years, but there were still the dictates of society to uphold. Mrs. Bennet found herself feebly protesting, “It is highly improper!”

“What is improper in allowing you to continue to live in the home that has always been yours? You are my cousin’s widow. No one would think twice if I allowed you to continue on here at Longbourn. Say you’ll stay. Say you’ll stay with me. Stay with me, not just for this night, but for every night.”

Mrs. Bennet agreed to stay on with Mr. Collins. He had been correct. No one looked askance at the goings on at Longbourn. Her daughters had all breathed a sigh of relief that none of them would be required to take on their mother and did not think too long on why she would wish to live by the good graces of someone she had once called “that odious man”. Sir William was well-pleased that when his grandsons were home from school, Mrs. Bennet was there to help guide them with a mother’s love in his own Charlotte’s stead.

It was because no one was the wiser about the relationship of Mr. Collins and Mrs. Bennet that the shock was so much the greater when their betrothal was announced three years after Mr. Bennet’s death. Much was speculated and gossip abounded, but none had it right. Mr. Collins married Mrs. Bennet for the best of all possible reasons: they married for love.

 The End

 

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Just For This Night by michchick aka Jennifer Hickling is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


A drabble with Darcy’s thoughts, fueled by fine eyes, running amok at Rosings during his Easter visit. For Jamie, because she bribed me with Ghirardelli and asked for it!

Darcy’s Easter Musings

What is she doing here?

I have spent months attempting to vanquish her from my thoughts. I have hoped, prayed that absenting myself from her bewitching presence would quell the ache I feel, knowing that I can never offer for her. Instead, I have spent these months in misery; loathe to be in any company that wasn’t hers. Why have I damned myself so?

I think she would laugh if only she knew what torture I endured. What was it I read recently? Oh yes, “Absence diminishes little passions and increases great ones, as wind extinguishes candles and fans a fire.†” There is your poetry Elizabeth. If I had any doubt before that my passion was great, I doubt no more.

Aunt Catherine will not be silent and it grows ever more difficult finding ways to ignore her. I wonder if I might speak to the gardener about improving the view from this window. I suppose not, I imagine my aunt would mistake my interest in the grounds for interests in the management of Rosings. That, I could not allow. There is no need to hasten my aunt’s disappointment just yet. She will be disabused of her queer notions soon enough.

That fool is speaking again. I had thought that Miss Lucas had been a sensible sort of girl, perhaps I was mistaken. Then again, her own father was so obsequious that I suppose Mr. Collins’ brand of simpering is nothing new to the poor woman. At least Elizabeth is here for her now. There must be comfort in the visit of her dear friend. As vexing as her presence here is, at least I am comforted to know she is well.

What am I going to do?

I cannot very well offer for her. Could I? No. It would be laughable. My family is ancient and noble, hers is ridiculous and vulgar. I suppose I will just have to endure catching glimpses of her around the park and be satisfied with that alone.

What is Fitzwilliam saying to her? They are speaking of me. She is looking at me again. Please look elsewhere Elizabeth! Whenever your fine eyes are upon me, I feel my blood begin to boil and I feel sure my cause to forget you becomes even more hopeless.

Thank heavens that Fitzwilliam has to be cautious about where he weds! I know my Elizabeth must marry, but I could not bear to call her cousin when I long to call her mine. That blasted cad had better not play on her good graces or… Or what? What could I do? I have no rights here. Maybe it would be better if she were to marry Richard. Then at least I would know she was well-cared for.

How blessed will be the man who does win her hand? To be loved by Elizabeth, to have her be mistress of both heart and hearth, would be worth everything.

I will follow my heart.

I want to be that man. Oh, what sweet relief to know that soon my suffering will be over and she will be my wife!

 † François de La Rochefoucauld quote from Reflections; or Sentences and Moral Maxims.  François VI, duc de La Rochefoucauld, le Prince de Marcillac (1613-09-15 – 1680-03-17) was a noted French author of maxims and memoirs, as well as an example of the accomplished 17th-century nobleman.

~Home~


A Very Different Assembly

(Special thanks to Amy R for the idea of Regency Col F & Charlotte…I got carried away! Enjoy Amy!)

Mr. Darcy was sitting in Bingley’s library with his leg elevated to keep the swelling down. He heard someone about to enter, and fearing it was Miss Bingley, he was about to hide behind the sofa when a voice called out, “Darce? Are you in there?”

Relieved that he wouldn’t expose himself to further injury by jumping over the furniture, Darcy beckoned his cousin to come in. “Yes Richard, come in!  What the devil are you doing here in Hertfordshire of all places?”

Colonel Fitzwilliam laughed. “Bingley wrote and told me you were felled while riding Artemis and during a hunt no less!”

Darcy shook his head at the irony. “Yes Richard, it seems that horse was very poorly named. God of the hunt, indeed. Damn animal was spooked by the very fox it was meant to hunt!”

Fitzwilliam agreed. “Shall I petition Bingley to rename the beast Hermes?”

It took Darcy a moment, but then he smiled. “A very good choice, I’m sure- the god of mischief! Yes, I think that will do nicely.”

The Colonel slapped both of his knees, closing the subjects of both the errant horse and Darcy’s injury. “So Darce, now that I am come, is there anything I can do to aid in your convalescence?”

Darcy thought for a moment and then said, “Actually….”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Many of Meryton’s foremost residents had turned out that evening to the Assembly Ball to see if they could catch a glance of the newest and, from what all reports said, most eligible young man in the person of Charles Bingley. It had been reputed that he would bring seven gentleman and twelve ladies to the gathering, but in the end it was only himself, his two sisters, his brother-in-law and an army Colonel of whom no one was certain how he was related.

Charles Bingley, it was rumoured, had an income in excess of 5000 pounds a year and was declared by and large to be the handsomest and most amiable of men. Miss Bingley, so very tall and elegant in the latest Bond Street fashions, was thought of as everything charming. Mr. and Mrs. Hurst were such a fashionable young couple and graced everyone by showing such superior dancing as was rarely seen in Meryton.

Then there was the Colonel.

It began to circulate around the room that Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam was of the Heavy Dragoons, or was it the Foot? Perhaps it was the Cavalry after all. One thing that was known for certain was he walked with a wooden leg, or was it that he had a glass eye? Whatever it was, he had been highly decorated in the Peninsular War and it was a great honor to have such a brave man in their midst.

All the gentlemen found his company congenial. The Colonel was an excellent storyteller and had a very wry sense of humor that left his listeners wondering just how much truth his tales held. The women found him to be distinguished if not handsome. Miss Bingley had been heard saying that the Colonel was only a second son and all the mamas thought it a great pity indeed.

The Colonel knew what was being said and had no desire to correct any mistakes or confirm any truth to the rumours circulating about him. He was greatly relieved that no one knew he was the son of an Earl and that, besides his pay, he had quite a sizeable income and a minor estate he would someday take over. Richard began to understand why Darcy dreaded these types of events. If in a matter of moments everyone in a room had determined what you were like based on your material wealth, how could any intercourse between people be genuine?

Bingley had introduced Richard to one of the more prominent families in town. The Bennets had five daughters and several of them were uncommonly pretty. Bingley danced with the eldest and he left Richard to ask the second which he did dutifully.

Dancing with Miss Elizabeth was a pleasant enough experience. She made light conversation and had a good humour which pleased him while reminding him of someone. As she began discussing some freak of Greek mythology which he didn’t understand, it occurred to him where the resemblance was. Miss Elizabeth would be the perfect foil for Darcy!

The Colonel hoped that someday Darcy would thank him for this. “Miss Elizabeth, I hope that you will not think me too forward, but there is someone I would love to introduce to you. My cousin, a Mr. Darcy from Derbyshire, is also staying with Mr. Bingley but was unable to attend tonight because of an injury.”

With concern, Elizabeth asked, “Oh my, I hope that your cousin is alright and that the injury isn’t serious!”

“Not too serious, no. At least not the fall from the horse. You see, my cousin Darcy is the most fastidious…”

Colonel Fitzwilliam went on to explain the heavy sense of duty that Darcy felt for all things and how though they were both responsible for the care of Darcy’s sister, the actual burden fell squarely upon her brother. He painted a very sympathetic picture of his very shy cousin and made it quite clear that it was shyness and not being aloof or displeased that often caused him to withdraw from society.

“I am very sorry for him and should very much like to meet him. It sounds like he’s in need of a friend.”

Their half-hour was now over and the Colonel thanked Miss Elizabeth, “Yes, he is very much in need of a friend, even if he does not know it.”

Elizabeth blushed and quipped, “I understand. Some people think they can hide away and do everything themselves. I have such a friend as well. If you are not otherwise engaged, I should like to introduce you to her.”

“With pleasure, Miss Elizabeth. After you,” the Colonel bowed and then followed Elizabeth’s lead.

Elizabeth made her introductions. “Colonel Fitzwilliam, this is my good friend, Charlotte Lucas. Charlotte, this is Colonel Fitzwilliam. The Colonel came to Hertfordshire to look after his cousin who was unable to attend tonight. I think that’s a very admirable quality, what think you Charlotte?”

Charlotte wished she knew what Elizabeth was about. “I think that is very admirable indeed! That you should be able to take time from your duties for the care of a family member must speak very highly of your good character, I’m sure.”

The Colonel smiled at Charlotte. “Miss Lucas, I thank you for your compliment, but I can assure you that I am doing no less than my cousin would do for me. If you are free, would you care to dance the next Miss Lucas?”

Elizabeth watched her friend blush prettily before Charlotte answered. “I am not engaged and would be delighted Colonel Fitzwilliam.”

Richard Fitzwilliam found he was actually anticipating a dance with a country miss. He offered his arm to Charlotte. “Excellent! Shall we?”

They found their way into the set and began their dance.

Charlotte Lucas, eldest child of Sir William Lucas, was seven and twenty and was reputed to be very plain. She was not a great beauty when compared with the Bennet girls, nor did she have the grace or poise of Mrs. Long’s nieces. She did not have the youth or verve of her younger sisters either. Saying that Charlotte Lucas was plain was accepted as an undisputable fact- the same as saying that Sir William was effusive or Mrs. Bennet was loud- it was true and all the denizens of Meryton knew it to be so.

Until tonight. On this evening, Charlotte Lucas was not plain, not an old maid and definitely not on the shelf. She blushed, she smiled, her stomach was all aflutter and she looked more like a girl in her first bloom of seventeen rather than the twenty-seven which she now was. Charlotte was beginning to feel foolish. She had never been of a romantic nature and had often boasted that very thing to Elizabeth. Yet, when she had danced with the Colonel, Charlotte began to understand that a marriage of affection might just be superior to one of convenience after all.

After supper, the Colonel sought out Charlotte’s hand once more. Being new in town and with not enough partners for all the girls, he had done his duty and danced with many of the town’s lovely maidens that night. Aside from his dance with Miss Elizabeth, who truly reminded him of his cousin, the only intelligent conversation he had had was with Miss Lucas and so he sought more. Charlotte had not expected such a compliment and her sincere thanks warmed his heart. He had overheard some of the men speak of Miss Lucas in unflattering, harsh tones, but he saw no evidence of truth in their words. Before him stood a very pretty and intelligent lady with whom he would share a simple dance and that was all.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The next day found the Lucas family calling on the Bennets at Longbourn as they did after every ball. Charlotte and Elizabeth began their very serious work teasing Jane about her excellent match with the most amiable Mr. Bingley. It was decided that Jane had leave to like him for she had liked many a stupider man. Jane fought back with some teasing of her own. It had not gone unnoticed that Elizabeth played matchmaker and so together the Bennet sisters quizzed Charlotte of the subject of the Colonel.

Charlotte refused to take the bait. “Yes, Colonel Fitzwilliam is very nice and a very gallant gentleman, but he is a soldier and I’m sure he felt it was his duty to stand up with the town’s token old maid and that is all.”

Elizabeth laughed and corrected her friend’s perception. “You make it sound as though you are a town institution and you know that is a gross exaggeration! And if the Colonel was only doing his duty, as you call it, why did he dance with you twice, escort you to supper and whenever he was free, he hovered about you like a shepherd attending his favorite lamb? I think the Colonel has a decided interest in you and you- Miss ‘A home and a comfortable life is all I ask’- may find that you can ask for more after all.”

Charlotte wouldn’t hear of it. “Oh Lizzy! You tease me so. The Colonel was only being polite I’m sure.”

 Jane piped in, “Very polite!”

Elizabeth laughed, “Very good Jane!”

Jane smiled. “I wasn’t with Mr. Bingley the entire night. I do have eyes you know. Charlotte, you must believe us, it should not be so impossible for you to think that a man such as he could wish to pay his addresses to you. Admit that you may have a bit of romantic nature in you after all and we will let the matter rest.”

Charlotte, knowing that she could not defeat both Jane and Elizabeth, admitted it freely. “Very well, you win. He is the first man who has ever made me question my ideals and I find that I could like him very much. There, are the two of you satisfied now?”

Jane and Elizabeth looked at each other, smiled and said in unison, “Very.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Colonel Fitzwilliam found that whenever he wasn’t on active duty it did not take him long at all to adjust to country hours. Because he had slept much later than was his usual wont, he was the last one to make it into the breakfast room. The Colonel found it amusing that everyone was doing their best to give an account of the dance to Darcy who obviously didn’t really care to hear any of it.

Miss Bingley went on about the lack of fashion, lack of decorum and lack of society so much that Richard began to wonder if Miss Bingley had attended the same Assembly as the rest of the party.

Deciding he’d had enough, the Colonel spoke. “Miss Bingley, I found the company to be well enough for a town of this size. You mustn’t try to compare last night to a function in Town for there is nothing like London. Indeed, I found last night to be very similar to the balls near my father’s estate. In all, I thought it a very pleasant evening with very pleasant people. Wouldn’t you agree Bingley?”

“Absolutely! It was a capital evening. I found I liked the company very well and look forward to spending the winter here very much as I get to know my neighbors better.”

Richard had watched Charles pay great attention to the eldest Miss Bennet and had himself found her to be a very good sort of girl and thought she’d do very well for Bingley and said so. “You were dancing with the handsomest girl all night. I think she’s quite a charming lady Bingley. Well done.”

Darcy groaned. Instead of one overly-chipper, moonstruck idiot, it appeared he needed to deal with two overly-chipper, moonstruck idiots. “So who is this new ‘angel’ of yours Charles?”

Bingley beamed. “Miss Jane Bennet. The Bennets are our nearest neighbors and, having met them all, I believe our houses will be quite close.”

Darcy could see it all now. Bingley would make a fool of himself over some country miss and raise expectations and break hearts once again without ever realizing the damage he’d wrought. At least with his leg as it was, he wouldn’t have to bear close witness to the carnage this time.

Bingley had been mesmerized by Jane Bennet alright, but he had still noticed that Richard had danced plenty himself. “I am not the only one who had a good evening Darcy. Your cousin cut quite a figure and I’m sure with his fine red coat broke many more hearts than I did. He even danced twice with the daughter of the local squire.”

Darcy groaned again, stood and leaning heavily on his cane, excused himself and made for the library where he would hide away from the attentions of Miss Bingley all day.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Over the course of the next few weeks, Darcy continued to convalesce and his knee began to heal even while his ankle still remained swollen. Bingley and Colonel Fitzwilliam attended many dinners and functions throughout the area. Mr. Bingley continued to pay his attentions to Jane Bennet  and Darcy continued to find new places to hide at Netherfield while Colonel Fitzwilliam had found a kindred spirit in Charlotte Lucas.

One evening found the Netherfield party, minus Darcy of course, at the home of Mrs. Long. The Bennets, the Gouldings and the Phillips were all there but the Lucas’s had sent word that they would be late. Colonel Fitzwilliam, looking for someone to talk to, sought out Elizabeth as a substitute for his Charlotte. The Colonel was sharing some amusing anecdotes about his grumpy cousin’s recovery while Elizabeth related that she herself made for a most miserable patient as well. Richard dearly hoped Darcy would get well soon so he could finally meet the woman who Richard was sure could be the next Mistress of Pemberley. The two friends were laughing about childhood mishaps when the Lucas party arrived. Charlotte had fought against her long held beliefs and only just come to understand that she was falling in love with Colonel Fitzwilliam. She had trusted her friend’s opinions that he might even hold her in some regard as well and grew excited at the thought. Maybe she wouldn’t always be a burden to her family after all. Perhaps she wouldn’t end an old maid or wed to a man she couldn’t respect or love. Just maybe she, Charlotte Lucas, could have a marriage of love and affection.

Charlotte spied the Colonel’s red coat and made her way towards him when she saw he was not alone. He was in close conference with Elizabeth and they were laughing together- at her no doubt! For a moment, Charlotte couldn’t catch her breath and when she did, it made an audible gasp that caught the Colonel and Elizabeth’s attention. They both stood and rushed to the aid of a clearly distressed Charlotte.

Elizabeth had no idea what could be wrong with her friend. She was never over emotional or given to histrionics and therefore could not account for the reason her friend was now breathing heavily and had tears running down her cheeks. “Charlotte, dearest what is wrong? The Colonel and I only wish to help you. Tell us what troubles you so that we might help make it right.”

That was the last straw for Charlotte. “Oh yes! Patronize poor Charlotte! I’m so glad I could of use as a game to you. Thank you for your concern, but Elizabeth, I think you and your Colonel have done enough.”

Elizabeth was shocked. Charlotte Lucas was jealous! “My Colonel? I think not Charlotte. I was doing a very poor job of keeping this poor man company until your arrival.”

Colonel Fitzwilliam was astonished. He knew that he very much liked Miss Lucas, he found her pretty in her own way and there was no one else’s company he sought as much as hers. Until this moment when it was obvious he had hurt her, he hadn’t realized he was completely in love with her. Her good sense, her capable judgment, her gentle humor and the way she carried herself with an assuredness that none of the younger women possessed were all things he loved about her. One thing mattered even more than all of these. She loved him! She had not said it, could not say it because to do so would go against every constraint of society but it was so clearly written on her face for all to see. How wonderful!

Colonel Fitzwilliam bowed over Charlotte’s hand. “Miss Lucas, you must allow me to apologize. I would beg your forgiveness and ask permission to have a word with you if I may?”

Charlotte felt tired and confused. The emotions she’s been feeling for the last month were so new and she hardly understood herself anymore. Charlotte looked to Elizabeth who gave a small smile and nodded for her friend to go with the Colonel. She allowed him to lead her away to a quiet corner where they were still in full view but were afforded a modicum of privacy.

  “My dear Charlotte, I hope that you will not mind if I call you that?” She quietly said no and he continued, “My dear Charlotte, I must tell you that this last month has been the most wonderful month I have ever spent for I have been blessed to spend it getting to know you. You must allow me to tell you that I have come to feel the highest regard and admiration… oh, this is nonsense! I cannot speak thusly.”

Charlotte colored and quickly withdrew her hand. She felt there had never been another used as cruelly as she. Charlotte began to stammer some excuse and, as she turned to flee, the Colonel grabbed her arm in order to prevent her from leaving.

His face was serious and his eyes were pleading as he begged her to stay. “Please Charlotte, bear me out and listen to what I have to say. If you never wish to see me after, I will accept your decision.”

Charlotte had never ached before like she did now and just wished it to be over. “I will hear you Colonel but I refuse to be played a fool any longer. Say what you will and have done with it.”

“My dear, dear Charlotte, when I said this was nonsense, I only meant my ability to speak with eloquence. I am a soldier and as such am used to speaking plainly- to the point and purpose- so I won’t ramble on any longer. I love you Charlotte Lucas and beg you to consider being my wife.”

Charlotte smiled through her tears. “That was most definitely to the point and purpose Colonel.”

Unsure of what her answer would be, he questioned her, “I have not offended you, my sweet Charlotte?”

Clasping his hand, she happily replied, “Not at all Richard. I have considered little else these last few weeks as I have grown to love you so dearly and I would be honored to be your wife.”

Richard had never spoken of his situation to her and thought this would be a good time to do so. “Shall you like being the wife of a soldier?”

“While I am sure I do not care for the idea of you going into battle, I am confident that I can keep our home with enough economy to live quite comfortably. Are you certain in your choice? There are many women of much larger portion out there who I’m sure would have you, excellent man that you are. I would not want you to regret making me your choice.”

Richard kissed her hand and then held it between his own. “Trying to get rid of me so soon, are we? You are my first and only choice and I would not have you think otherwise. Now as for me going off to battle and you needing to economize, I have a few things to say on the matter…”

He proceeded to confess that he was at liberty to resign his commission at any time and he further explained the details of his investments and his estate. Charlotte was heard it all but the thing that pleased her most was that her beloved Richard would be a Colonel no more. He would be safe and sound and she could not ask for anything better in the whole world than that.

The Colonel cornered Sir William and asked for, and was granted, the honour of Charlotte’s hand. Seeing that there was no time like the present, the announcement was made and congratulations flowed in for the happy couple. Word began to circulate that he was not just a second son, but the second son of an Earl and that in addition to his Army pay, he had many investments, was immensely wealthy, had a great estate that took up half of Kent and must be addled in the head from an injury for choosing Charlotte over the other girls of Meryton. Once again, Richard understood how silly the business of the marriage market was and he was glad he need not be a part of it anymore.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Darcy was needing to lean on his cane a little less each day and was taking a turn about the grounds to stretch his legs in the great outdoors before the weather turned too cold to do so. It was tiresome being cooped up in the manor with the newly affianced Fitzwilliam and Bingley, who was undoubtedly soon to follow suit. Perhaps more than anything, Darcy was curious about what could be in the air in Hertfordshire that turned somewhat rational men into love-struck whelps. Could such a thing happen to him? Perhaps, but he would not stake anything of value on it. He had lived in the world too long and seen enough match-making mamas and their dutiful daughters to make him wary of being drawn in by anyone.

He was about to turn back towards the house when Bingley, in his carriage, stopped and asked if he would come along and pay some calls to the neighbors. When Darcy began to decline, both Bingley and the Colonel reminded him that he had resided nearly six weeks in the area and had yet to meet anyone. Resigned that he must go, Darcy grumbled to himself as he climbed in the carriage.

There would only be one call today and that would be the Bennets. They arrived in due course and Darcy thought the place was much better kept than Miss Bingley had said. They were received into the parlour and Darcy paid particular attention to his surroundings. This was the first time he would meet this Charlotte Lucas of Richard’s or Charles’ angelic Jane Bennet and he wanted to ensure his friends hadn’t been duped.

The introductions were made and Darcy found himself struck dumb by Elizabeth Bennet. He was no different than he ever was in company and she was not afraid of him. It was odd. She asked after his leg and was pleased to hear that it didn’t trouble him too greatly anymore. In a matter of minutes, Elizabeth had put him completely at ease and he was more talkative than his friends had ever recalled seeing. They had a lively discussion on the merits of Blake over Byron, their favorite tales from Greek mythology, why climbing trees in spring is superior to doing so in fall and several other topics. Darcy had never had a conversation, an actual conversation about something other than the weather or the meal being served, with a woman as bright and beautiful as Miss Elizabeth.

At some point, Charles and Miss Bennet had slipped out into the garden where he asked her to make him the happiest of men and she, of course, agreed. Mr. Bennet was applied to immediately and for once that man chose not to sport with his wife and told her directly the happy news. Mrs. Bennet declared that it was all exactly as she knew it would be, but everyone was so engrossed in their own business and conversations that they paid her little or no attention.

As the three gentlemen took their leave, Darcy was surprised to find he was unwilling to leave Miss Elizabeth’s company. Her fine eyes would surely haunt his dreams that evening and he was beginning to think he wouldn’t mind that at all.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The next week saw the preparations begin in earnest for the engagement ball ay Netherfield and the arrival of Mr. Bennet’s cousin at Longbourn. As all three gentlemen were now daily callers at Longbourn, Mr. Bennet shared the news that his cousin should be arriving shortly and shared the effusive letter from Mr. Collins. The Colonel and Darcy shared with Mr. Bennet how inaccurate the parson’s description of their aunt was and from what their cousin Anne had written them, they prepared Mr. Bennet to receive a sycophant of the very worst kind.

The day Mr. Collins arrived, he was surprised to find so many men already in the house. He had been given to understand there were five daughters and assumed that he would be given his pick from amongst them. Jane was by far the most beautiful of the girls, but she was newly engaged. Elizabeth was quite pretty too, but that tall fellow glared at him whenever he looked her way. Lydia was the next prettiest but was too young and silly. Kitty was insipid and then there was Mary. Mary was reverent and knew Fordyce by heart. She held the clergy to be among the most noble of professions and though plain, she seemed to be a sturdy enough woman and would make a right, proper mistress for his parish.

The day before the ball, the gentlemen of Netherfield were on their way to call on Longbourn when they unexpectedly met the ladies along with Mr. Collins in Meryton. The Colonel took Charlotte’s arm, Bingley walked with Jane, Darcy took what was now his place next to Elizabeth and taking his cue from the others, Collins asked for Mary’s hand and was pleased when she smiled brightly at him. Cousin Collins wondered if perhaps Miss Mary was not so plain after all.

In the high street, Lydia and Kitty ran into some of the officers they knew from the militia who had recently set up camp nearby. Captains Carter and Denny introduced their new friend who was come to join the ranks, a George Wickham. Lydia and Kitty led the small group towards the larger party and set forth to make the introductions but were cut short.

Wickham turned white while both Darcy and Fitzwilliam turned red. None of this went unnoticed by the party and before anyone could say anything, the Colonel stated, “Wickham, if you have not yet signed your papers, you will leave this place and have the good sense to understand this is a one-time allowance.”

Darcy was about to protest, but the Colonel held up his hand. “Darcy, you are too good and patient. This man is a scoundrel of the worst kind. Had you not stopped me last summer, we’d not need to have this conversation now.”

Wickham quietly stated that he had not signed his papers and that it might be in the best interest of everyone if he was on his way.

The younger girls were deeply offended that such a handsome young man should be treated so abominably in public. Darcy looked to his cousin who shrugged his consent. With a deep sigh Darcy began a tale that would be told for the good of the younger girls, so they might not be taken in by a handsome face that belonged to a man of questionable character. “George Wickham was the son of my father’s steward…”

When Darcy was finished with his tale, he had omitted the part about his sister being the rogue’s object, Lydia and Kitty were weeping while imagining themselves ruined and shunned by their family and polite society. Elizabeth squeezed his arm and smiled at him, for she had already been told this story by the Colonel before and knew how hard this must have been for Darcy to share.

Colonel Fitzwilliam had been right about his cousin. Elizabeth would have, had not for her prior intelligence, found him aloof and unwelcoming but she looked beneath the façade he presented to the world and saws the good man he was underneath and found she liked him very much. The more time she spent with the handsome and witty man, the more she knew she would find no other who’s ideas and tastes so closely matched her own. If Elizabeth had to, she would admit she was quite smitten with Mr. Darcy but she knew rationally there was a much greater divide between them than stood between her sister and Bingley or Charlotte and the Colonel. As much as he might admire her, and she was fairly sure he did, she knew he could never make her an offer and so decided to just enjoy the time they could spend together before he would eventually leave.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Netherfield Park had never before looked as splendid as it did the evening of the engagement ball. Caroline, resigned to having lost her chance with both Mr. Darcy and the Colonel, had thrown all of her efforts into making the ball something that Charles and Jane would appreciate. Miss Bingley had overheard the Colonel asking Charles what he would do with her once he was married to Jane. Charles had remarked that unless his sister’s behavior changed for the better, he would pack her away to his aunt in Scarborough.

Bingley then began a tirade about just how angry her antics had made him and how he would no longer tolerate any abuse of his Jane, her sisters, his future family or his friends. Caroline spoke at length with her sister Mrs. Hurst who concurred with Charles. Louisa had tried to warn Caroline many times that Mr. Darcy would never offer for her and reminded her how over the years she had made herself quite ridiculous over that man. Resigned to do better, Caroline put on her best smile and sought to be a gracious hostess while she still could. Hopefully, Charles would see she was sincere and allow her to stay either at Netherfield or in London.

The guests began to arrive and very quickly Netherfield began to grow crowded. Charles and Richard alongside Jane and Charlotte flitted around the room sharing their joy and accepting glad tidings. Darcy watched with envy the familiarity that was allowed between the couples now that they were engaged and wished he could share the same with his Elizabeth. That thought caused him to pause for a moment while he wondered when exactly she had become his Elizabeth. His thoughts were interrupted as he watched her cross the room and whisper something to Jane. Jane excused herself and walked back the way Elizabeth had come leaving the younger Bennet girl standing alongside Charles, Richard and Charlotte. Darcy took this opportunity to seek her out and secure his dances with her.

Offering her his arm, they stepped away from the group for a moment of privacy. Bowing over her hand, he looked into those eyes that so enchanted him and asked, “Miss Elizabeth, I hope you’ll forgive me for not asking earlier, but if you’re not otherwise engaged, might I ask if you are free for the first?”

His eyes were so warm and melted her heart as they always did. “No sir, I am not engaged and would be happy to dance the first with you.”

Still holding her hand, he smiled and the rare appearance of her dimples made her knees grow weak. “Might I enquire after the supper dance Miss Elizabeth?”

She could deny him nothing. “It’s yours if you wish it, sir.”

Knowing he wished for nothing more than to claim the right to every dance and all of her time, he asked, “The last dance as well then?”

As much as she wished to say yes, she knew it would be improper. “Mr. Darcy! You very well know that to be impossible! Think of the scandal!”

Darcy smiled. “Impossible? I know no such thing. Bingley will dance at least three with your sister, same as your friend and my cousin. Why should we not?”

She was becoming frustrated by his glib manner. “But sir, surely you must see the difference? They are engaged and certain allowances are therefore made…”

Darcy held both her hands, causing her to give him her complete attention. “Elizabeth, I do not only want your hand for this dance. I want your hand in life and I want your hand for always. Please say that you’ll grant me this wish and I promise I will spend the rest of my days telling you how much I love you and making certain that you never regret it.”

Elizabeth was overcome with joy. It was so much more than she had ever expected and now, knowing that she was marrying for the deepest love, gave voice to what her heart had long known.  “Yes, Fitzwilliam, you may have your three dances and any others that you choose and yes, I love you too and would be happy to give you my hand if only you promise to give me yours.”

Darcy was ecstatic but only those who knew him really well would ever be able to detect any change in that great man. “I would never deny my wife anything her heart desires.”

Blushing prettily at her fiancé, Elizabeth teased, “Well then Fitzwilliam, it’s probably a very good thing that all I desire is you.”

Elizabeth’s saucy tease made him realize that it was a very good thing they were in a crowded ballroom rather than alone. At that moment, Darcy thought it best not to delay and asked, “May we go to your father now?”

She nodded her agreement, “I think it might be for the best!”

As Darcy and Elizabeth passed their friends and family, it was patently obvious to all that they had come at last to an understanding.

Richard boasted aloud, “I made the match myself!”

Bingley and Jane laughed when Charlotte teased, “You sound like a proud match-making mama!”

“I am!” Richard made like he was wiping a tear from his eye as he tried not to laugh, “You raise them, you teach them right from wrong, you give them the best years of your life, all the while knowing someday they have to leave the nest. I am so proud of my little Darce!”

They chuckled as they speculated about what the future might hold for the future Darcys and for themselves.

Darcy found he needed to wait his turn to apply to Mr. Bennet for Collins was there ahead of him, seeking Mary’s hand. After his consent was given to both Collins and Darcy, Mr. Bennet told Mrs. Bennet to never mention being thrown into the hedgerows again for God had smiled on them by sending three very sensible men of good taste to their daughters.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The autumn of 1811 was never matched again for number of engagements in Meryton. It seemed that Darcy had been correct and something must have been in the air. When word made it back to London that Fitzwilliam, Darcy and Bingley had all found suitable brides in the same small market town, others came out of curiosity. In all, there were seventeen marriages made by New Year’s.

At the wedding breakfast for Richard and Charlotte, the groom held up a glass and asked the company to toast his cousin Darcy. “To Darcy, here’s to you for having the decency to injure yourself here in Meryton so that I could meet my dearest Charlotte. I will be forever grateful for your lackadaisical horsemanship. And to the future Mrs. Darcy, Elizabeth Bennet, for the introduction and knowing when to order an old soldier into battle.” 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The marriages made in Hertfordshire that fall were all very special. Darcy and his Elizabeth were very happy together, Bingley had found his angel at last in Jane and Collins had found the one woman in the world who loved him for who he was and never found him ridiculous.  The happiest of them all, however, were Charlotte and Richard. Each and every day they were thankful for the love they shared and knew they were blessed beyond measure to have found their other half.

~*~*~*~And everyone (yes, even Caroline) lived happilyever after….~*~*~*~

 

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A Very Different Assembly by michchick aka Jennifer Hickling is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.


Special thanks to Lisa for de-lurking and sending me email! Here’s a short little piece of Regency fluff…

Nine Lives

Fitzwilliam Darcy was in very grave danger.

Now, one may very well wonder what could have been so terrible that it could cause a man of sense and education, who has lived in the world, a man who also possessed the means and resources to achieve most anything he could wish to live in fear.

This terrible thing in actuality wasn’t very terrible at all.

It was simply a pair of very fine eyes found in the face of a pretty woman named Elizabeth Bennet.

He told himself that it would never do, as fine as her eyes were, as much as she had captured his interest, it could never be.

Or could it?

Walking along the pathway that ran through the wood of Bingley’s leased estate, he had sought to put as much distance between himself and Miss Elizabeth as he could. Originally he had hoped to spend some time in quiet solitude, but Miss Bingley was about and just the idea of being on the defense all day made him weary.

Had it only been yesterday that the Bennet sisters were still here? It seemed to Darcy that he had been bereft of his Elizabeth’s company much longer. Today he was safe. He was on the far side of the Netherfield property and, by his estimation, that would put at least five miles between them. It was really for the best.

Elizabeth Bennet was having a very trying morning.

Since arriving home from Netherfield, Mrs. Bennet had not stopped chastising Jane for her inability to secure Mr. Bingley. Lizzy felt the full shame of having such a designing, mercenary mother. She knew Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley already believed the Bennets to be fortune hunters and it hurt that her mother’s actions just seemed to confirm that in everyone’s eyes.

Lizzy had desperately needed to escape Longbourn for a few hours. Cousin Collins had surprised everyone by arriving much earlier than he had warned in his letter. The good parson had arrived just as breakfast was being laid out and he began by expressing his wish to complete the mission his noble patroness had sent him on. Mrs. Bennet, being silly but not a fool, had found a way to at last be rid of her most troublesome daughter and directed Mr. Collins to pay his attentions to Elizabeth.

While one of Elizabeth’s favorite pastimes was making sport of other’s vices and follies, she had no wish to be partnered for life to such a never-ending font of ridiculousness. So, with a word to her father that she was leaving, she escaped out the back door through the kitchen. Not wishing to encounter the ladies of the Netherfield party in Meryton, she decided to take the paths that wound along the back of the property towards the mount. At least there she could be alone.

As Elizabeth walked, her mind betrayed her wishes by recalling her conversations with that most infuriating of all men- Mr. Darcy. She could not make him out at all and it was driving her to distraction. There were moments when he seemed he might be somewhat amiable. She reasoned that he must be at least somewhat so in order for him to be friends with such a congenial fellow as Mr. Bingley. Just when Lizzy would begin to feel Mr. Darcy might truly be a gentleman, he would say something that confirmed again the low opinion she had formed of him at the assembly in Meryton. His character was not easy to make out at all and it was greatly vexing.

Lizzy was nearing the top of the mount where she hoped to sit on her favorite outcropping and bask in the warm autumn sunshine before returning to the chaos she was certain Longbourn was in. She was lost in thought- in truth she was thinking about what a tragedy it was that such a handsome man as Mr. Darcy should be so taciturn, proud and disagreeable to everyone he meets- when she noticed on her approach that her favorite rock was already occupied.

That the man who was plaguing her free moments should have the audacity to also occupy her favorite spot on Oakham Mount was simply too much! Why must he be everywhere? If he found Hertfordshire and everyone in it so undesirable, why would he not simply leave?

Elizabeth Bennet, known well for freely giving her opinion without regard for consequence, was about to let the rich, young man of 10,000 a year know that all the money in the world was not enough to put up with his company when it came to her attention that Mr. Darcy was not alone. Lying next to him was a gray tabby cat who gave every appearance of enjoying having its belly scratched. Lizzy could not have been more shocked than if Miss Bingley took to milking cows!

Lizzy silently moved closer so she could further investigate the scene. Mr. Darcy was not only petting the cat, he was having a decidedly one-way conversation with it! Elizabeth knew she should leave, that it would be unconscionable to eavesdrop, but could not help herself.

“You have no idea what a lucky Tom you are Mr. Cat. It must be so easy for you. Is there a hierarchy amongst you? Do you need to worry about social position? Do you fret over raising your littermates to grow up with proper cat-manners? No, I suppose you need not worry about such things. I imagine your biggest concern is where the next mouse is.”

The Tom mewed and batted Darcy’s hand when for a moment the chatty gentleman had stopped petting him.

Darcy began scratching the cat’s ears. “Yes, yes, there is that better? I tell you Tom, I am in such a muddle. Had I any idea what awaited me here in Hertfordshire, I am not sure whether I’d have come sooner or not at all! What good is it when the woman who would answer all your hopes and dreams is out of your reach? Surely I cannot ask her to relieve my suffering and ask her to be my wife, could I Tom? Oh Tom, you should see her! My Elizabeth is beyond a doubt the most exquisite creature I have ever beheld. Why her eyes alone haunt me every waking hour of the day and it would be ungentlemanly of me to describe what they do to me at night! I tell you Tom; you have no idea what I would give to live knowing that I could have nine lives.”

Elizabeth was dumbfounded and speechless. She knew she should not be watching the scene before her but she had not the wherewithal to leave or look away.

The cat answered by rubbing its head against Darcy’s hand in a demand for more attention. “If I was fortunate enough to be granted nine lives that would be nine lives in which I could live a happy man with Elizabeth Bennet to love. You know what Tom? I believe I may be mistaken for I don’t think that nine would be enough. My lovely Lizzy, oh how I would love to have the right to call her that! Yes, my Lizzy is beyond compare. She is lively, witty, intelligent, caring, kind and beautiful, but not just in looks but in her soul as well. Alas, I shall never be a happy man and the fortune of having her as a bride will undoubtedly fall to some other undeserving bloke.”

The Tom cat batted at Darcy’s hand and nibbled his fingertips. “Why must I suffer under the regulations of duty and family? Do you have such things that weigh on your shoulders Tom? No, of course not! Oh, would that I could be more like you Tom. I’d say it’s a safe wager that you’ve never tasted shoe leather such as I have done!  You’ll leave my company when you hear what I’ve done, of that I’m certain.”

Elizabeth had already been greatly shocked by his confessions and was anxious to hear what he would say next. What could he have done?

“When I first came to Meryton, I was in the most foul of moods. My sister Georgiana, who is still but a child and not even yet sixteen, escaped the very worst of fates by the skin of her teeth and my timely interference. Had I not shown up when I did, she would have been ruined by that rogue, that libertine, that villain who used my father’s good name and memory to worm himself into dearest Georgiana’s graces. I still feel the failure even now. I was in such low spirits, so wishing to be left alone that when Charles dragged me along to the assembly that fateful night, I spoke in haste and unwittingly insulted the woman who holds my heart. Bingley was trying to get me to dance and I foolishly remarked that my Lizzy was not handsome enough to tempt me. I cannot ever recall uttering such a bald-faced lie before. What have you to say to that Tom?”

The cat said nothing in reply and Elizabeth also kept her silence as well.

“You are more forgiving than I, Tom. I cannot forgive myself for my thoughtless comments. How untrue they were. Tempt me? Each minute of every hour of the entire day she tempts me and has the grace to not abuse her power over me.  What if she’d heard me? What would she think of me? It would cut me to the core if she thought ill of me. I have done my best to try not to show particular attentions to her, lest I raise her hopes and find that I cannot fulfill them. However, the more I think on the matter, the less important family obligations become. Damn Lady Catherine and her queer notion of me marrying Anne. I cannot imagine my mother ever agreeing to such a preposterous proposition! Why am I not to be happy? Must I settle for a marriage of convenience when I might marry for so much more? Now Tom, you might not believe this, but she is truly wonderful and with Elizabeth, my dearest Lizzy, I believe I have found my equal.”

Considering that for the entirety of her acquaintance with Mr. Darcy, she was certain he had never looked at her but to find a blemish , had never spoken to her but in condescension, to say that she was astonished by these revelations of his feelings for her would be a gross understatement.

“When we converse, I can be myself and I can say to you, Tom, that is a luxury that I am not often afforded. Lizzy has such a way about her that I find I speak more at ease and honestly than I can even do with Charles or Georgiana. She has a wry sense of humor that I find matches my own and she reads and, more importantly than that, she is intelligent. My Lizzy would make a most exceptional Mistress of Pemberley and, I must confess, I cannot picture anyone else in that role.”

“I can hear now what my family would say.” Darcy affected a high-pitch voice in obvious imitation of one of his offending family members. “Fitzwilliam George Darcy! Of what are you thinking? She has no dowry, she’s a country miss with no connections to speak of and a family in trade!”

The cat stood and mewed loudly in protest. Mistaking the stretch for solidarity, Darcy went on. “Exactly! What care I about these trivial matters? I am a gentleman; she is a gentleman’s daughter. So far we are equal… does it matter who her mother was? I should think not! My own position in society would more than make up for any lack the much-loathed Ton might find in hers. I love Elizabeth Bennet and to the devil with anyone that would disparage our match!”

“The problem you see Tom, is that I am uncertain if my suit would be welcomed. I know that with any other woman in England, I could be sure of my outcome. My Lizzy is a different breed. She is not impressed with my wealth or what material things I could give her. She is no fortune hunter, that is sure! When she looks at me with those very fine eyes of hers, she just sees me, the man. Is it enough? Would she leave her family and Hertfordshire to go into the north with me? If only I knew… What think you Tom? Should I ask for permission to call on my Lizzy? Sometimes I think she must know how I feel, yet there are others when I cannot quite make her out. If only there were a clear sign…”

 Elizabeth had already reviewed all her interactions with Mr. Darcy earlier that morning. However, his admission of love and admiration altered her earlier perception and she began to see everything in another light altogether. When she had thought they fought in the drawing room, she now understood he believed it was a friendly debate. Before when he asked for her opinions she believed it to be for the sake of ridicule, but now she knew he had held genuine interest. And the constant staring that she’d perceived was to find her many defects, well, that was something altogether different as well. Had she been so prejudiced by her perceived slight that she was unable to see him for the man that he was? When she had first spied him at the assembly, she had thought him to be the most handsome man she’d ever seen. If she was honest with herself, he still was. He truly saw her as an equal, as someone he could love and cherish. With Mr. Darcy, she would never be an ornament to simply adorn his arm or keep his home.

Mr. Darcy was highly educated but never sought to make others feel low for not having the same advantages, his liberality as a master had been spoken of nearly as much as his reputed income and he was obviously a good friend and a caring brother. These were all things highly in his favor and the more she considered the idea, the more she reflected on her time spent with him, she came to realize that he was nowhere near as severe as she had originally thought. Would she, could she, give him a chance should he ask for one? As she watched him continue to pour his heart out to a cat of all things, Elizabeth knew the answer was yes.

Knowing that she was in a precarious situation, Lizzy weighed carefully her options. She could leave quietly or she could make her presence known. Not feeling up to meeting with him just yet, she opted to leave the way she came so as to give her some time to understand the new emotions she was feeling. As is so often the case when stealth is required, she could not escape without detection. Elizabeth had not payed enough attention to the pathway before her and stepped on a dried branch that cracked loudly underfoot. Quickly she spun back towards the mount, giving the appearance of just having arrived.

Upon hearing the twig snap, Darcy’s attention turned towards the noise and he smiled broadly at the vision presented before him. Elizabeth stood there, cheeks flushed from her exercise, her hair blowsy from the warm autumn breeze and in particular he was pleased to see her petticoats six inches deep in dust. This was the sign he had been waiting for! It must be so, for it would be too cruel a coincidence to be otherwise.

Unwilling to let this opportunity pass, Darcy began by saying, “Miss Bennet! I had not expected to encounter you this morning.”

Fully embarrassed at having been discovered, she apologized, “Nor I you, Mr. Darcy. Please forgive me for intruding upon your privacy. I will just be on my way home now, sir.”

Frustrated with himself, he tried again in earnest. “You misunderstand me. Miss Elizabeth, please do not think your company is unwelcome. It is, in fact, quite the opposite.”

Elizabeth blushed. “Oh.”

With hope, he asked, “Would you allow me to escort you home to Longbourn, Miss Elizabeth? I have a matter of great import that I would canvas with you.”

The longing in his eyes, the tone of his voice and the look of love upon his face made her decision for her. Elizabeth believed she would enjoy getting to know this enigmatic man and looked forward to a courtship with him, should he ask.

Ask, he did. They spoke of many things in the hour and a half it took to meander back towards Elizabeth’s home. She was as pleased as he to discover they shared many of the same tastes in books and music. They discussed their families; both the good and bad parts and each realized that no family could be completely exempt from an element of the ridiculousness. With only a quarter mile left in their journey, Darcy gathered up what courage he could and pressed his suit and was happy to find that Elizabeth bade him to seek permission from her father.

Over the next month, Elizabeth Bennet was fervently courted by Fitzwilliam Darcy. The notion had taken Mr. Bennet completely by surprise. Never in his wildest imaginations did he think that the outwardly dour man from Derbyshire would seek his favorite daughter’s favor any more than he believed she would wish for such attentions. If anyone from Netherfield had been expected, it was Bingley to seek Jane. That Darcy came first was definitely a surprise.

Bingley overcame the objections of his sisters and eventually sought his own audience with Mr. Bennet. The more the gentleman from the neighboring estate came, the fonder Mr. Bennet grew of his would-be son-in-laws. Bingley was a very cheerful fellow and would do very well for Jane. Darcy was another matter entirely. His character was not so easily revealed but the longer Bennet was acquainted with Darcy, the more he grew to appreciate the man who was so obviously in love with his daughter. If nothing else, Mr. Bennet would need to credit the young man with exceedingly good taste.

Mr. Collins eventually found that Charlotte Lucas both welcomed and accepted his addresses. His company had grown tiresome and the inhabitants of Longbourn were not sorry to see the future master of the estate go on his way. All talk of being stranded in the hedgerows was forgotten in light of the eldest Bennet sister’s wealthy suitors.

When the militia came to Meryton, it was discovered that residing amongst them was the very villain who had caused so much trouble for Darcy. George Wickham’s accusations of mistreatment went unheard as by the time he arrived in town; Mr. Darcy’s character was known to be of good moral fiber and as such, was trusted implicitly. Darcy even was able to influence Mrs. Bennet to keep her younger girls in check by not sending them off to flirt with all the officers. Instead, he slyly suggested that their attentions should be focused on becoming more accomplished so they stood a better chance of making a great match. Normally, disguise of every sort was his abhorrence but in this matter, he found it perfectly acceptable to prevaricate. He explained that when the girls would visit their sisters in London, they might just happen to come into the path of other rich men. To Mrs. Bennet a rich man beat a red coat any day and so there was no more talk of soldiers at Longbourn.

On November the 27th, the day after the Netherfield Ball, Darcy showed up very early at Longbourn. Again to Mr. Bennet’s surprise and delight did Darcy surprise him. Darcy told Mr. Bennet that Elizabeth had consented to marriage at the Ball and now was standing in the Bennet library asking for the elder man’s blessing. Mr. Bennet had come to see that though he would enjoy Bingley well enough, he would always respect and admire Lizzy’s husband best.

Several weeks after their engagement was announced, fate found the happy couple alone, whether by design or accident is unknown, atop Oakham Mount. Since that fateful day many weeks ago, Elizabeth had taken to teasing Fitzwilliam just to see if she could coax his dimples out of hiding. Today was no different. She was on a quest for information.

Darcy laid his greatcoat down on the outcropping so that Elizabeth could be seated. She smiled her appreciation for his gallantry and spoke, “Dearest Fitzwilliam, might I ask you a question?”

 Taking a seat beside her, he took up her hand and teasingly replied, “Yes my loveliest Elizabeth, you might.”

She laughed and Darcy was enchanted all over again that he had somehow earned this marvelous woman’s love and affection.

Lizzy giggled, “So, this theoretical question that I might ask, would you be inclined to answer such a query?”

Trying not to smile, he answered solemnly, “Possibly.”

 In an eerily good imitation of her mother, Elizabeth responded, “Oh Mr. Darcy, you take delight in vexing me! Have you no compassion upon my poor nerves?”

Rising to the occasion, he spoke with a wry humor very much like her father. “Yes my dearest, I have the highest regard for your nerves, I look forward to them being my companion for many years to come.”

They each took a moment to release the laughter that had been building during this exchange of affectionate teasing.

When he felt recovered, Darcy asked, “What was your question Sweetling?”

With that arch look she had come to learn he adored, she asked, “I was just wondering when was it that you first fell in love with me? I understand that you had initially withstood my beauty, but what was it that set you off in the first place?”

Stroking the back of her hand with his thumb, he answered, “Good heavens, you did hear me that evening! What must you have thought of me? I behaved abominably and though I wish I could blame Bingley for my mood that evening, the fault was mine and so must the remedy be.”

“Remedy? Sir, I have not the pleasure of understanding you. What can you mean by remedy?”

“Simply this.” Darcy reached over and with his eyes he asked for, and by her eyes, was granted permission for a kiss. He had kissed her hand before many times; he had kissed her forehead and cheek as well. This kiss was different. This was a kiss of apology, of love, of promise and of hope. With his lips pressed tenderly against hers, it was understood between them both that he never would find anything in her less than tolerable and, indeed, never had.

When Elizabeth recovered from the warm haze of love’s first kiss, she smiled lovingly at her fiancé and expressed her wish that in the future he should always apologize in such a manner. Darcy, gentleman that he was, of course acquiesced to such an easily fulfilled request.

“Now, to answer your original question- I cannot fix on the hour or the look that begun it, I must admit I was in the middle before I knew it had begun. You enthralled me from the first and I must own that I fought the pull you have on me for as long as I could. I felt like a drowning man swimming upstream, such was the strength of my feelings for you. But that was only the beginning, now that you are my Lizzy, I do not know how I could exist in the world without you. I love you Elizabeth Bennet, with all my heart and all my soul.”

Elizabeth leaned into his shoulder and sighed. “Such a poetic answer! It’s a very good thing that ours is a stout love or else you might drive it away with such sentiments! Really Fitzwilliam, that was beautiful and you are truly the best of men. I do so love you; I find I don’t have enough words to express all that you mean to me.”

Darcy gave her a squeeze and kissed the top of her head. “Now my Lizzy, will you indulge me by answering a question of my own?”

Cheekily, she answered, “If I can.”

Lizzy listened closely and was surprised to hear uncertainty Darcy’s voice as he spoke. “Very good. My question happens to be the same as yours. When did you first know that you loved me?”

Elizabeth Bennet blushed from the tips of her toes to the top of her head. She had known all along that someday she would confess her having been privy to his conversation with the tabby. Now came the moment she had dreaded. What reason could she give for having eavesdropped and, more importantly, would he be able to forgive her?  

“I believe I can answer that. First, I must tell you how ardently I admire and love you. I am so grateful that you swept into Hertfordshire and into my life and am so thankful that you love me. It is really more than I deserve.”

With concern evident in his tone, Darcy said, “You are beginning to frighten me Elizabeth. You deserve so much that I worry sometimes that I am not sure I am worthy enough for the task of loving you.”

Upon hearing his tender, loving words, she began to cry. Darcy held her close and whispered, “What is wrong dearest?”

With a choked voice, she answered, “I am afraid, Fitzwilliam. You will surely hate me when you know all.”

Keeping her within his arms, he turned slightly so he could look into those very fine eyes of hers. “My love, I could never hate you. I love you and am just still overwhelmed by the fact that you love me in return. It matters not when or how. I was just indulging my curiosity.”

Seeing the look of hurt in his face that she knew she had caused, Elizabeth drew in a sharp breath and began her confession. “Please understand that this is not my normal habit by any means, but that day when I came upon you here, I overheard your conversation.”

For a moment, Darcy had forgotten all that had gone before he met her on the mount. “I was here alone, what conversation could you have… oh.”

Turning away from him, she covered her face with her hands in sheer mortification. She began to sob that he would never trust her, never respect her and worst of all, love her no more.

Darcy tried to stifle his mirth as he sought to calm Elizabeth down. “Shh, my dearest Lizzy, it’s alright. I am glad you found me that day- for what might have happened had you not? I had just prayed for a sign and there you were! To me, it was perfectly providential.”

Through her sniffling, she spoke her peace. “I can tell you what would most likely have happened. I would have gone on willfully misunderstanding you because I believed you to despise me. I thought you opposed all my ideas and opinions and that whenever you looked at me, it was only because there was something inherently wrong with me. I did not understand at all. You confused me greatly Fitzwilliam!”

He chuckled at her admission, he did not mean to, but found that he could not help it. “Oh my Lizzy, you are such a goose! It seems that my tete-a-tete with Tom the tabby was definitely providential if it brought you a greater understanding of what I was about. I am grateful you did not think me a madman for having such a talk with a cat!”

“Oh Fitzwilliam! I thought you were adorable. That may not be the moment I fell in love with you, but it was the exact moment that I knew I could. To see you unburden yourself so, to a cat no less, and seem so vulnerable was something I had never expected to witness. I truly had no idea that I had affected you so, and when I thought on the matter, I realized that I was never indifferent to you. It was then that I began to see you for the wonderful man that you truly are. I love you so dearly now. Are you certain you’re not angry with me?”

“Angry? No my Lizzy, definitely not angry. I thank you for being honest and would always have you be so with me. If only we could find that old grey Tom, I would see to it he lived out his days in the lap of luxury!”

“Do you still wish for nine lives Fitzwilliam?”

He chuckled and pulled her closer. “No Elizabeth. I would need at least a hundred to spend with you.”

“I feel the same way. Tis such a pity that we only have one live to live, is it not?”

“As long as my one life is lived alongside your one life, I will have no complaints.”

They continued discussing the future and making the sorts of plans that only young people in love can. It was only a few weeks later that Elizabeth exchanged the name of Bennet for Darcy. They used that afternoon at Oakham Mount as a pattern for dealing with whatever problems arose with honesty, love and understanding.

The love that Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy shared indeed proved to be more than enough for one lifetime.

~*~*~And they lived happily ever after….~*~*~

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Nine Lives by michchick aka Jennifer H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.