Pemberley Interludes: The Darcys and a Separation

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She untwisted her braid and leaned forward, flipping her hair down into the water. Her dress was soaked from her actions and, after weighing the merits of sitting in a damp cave in a wet gown, she quickly discarded it, keeping her corset and chemise. Her hair when wet extended midway down her back, her curls pulled tight from the weight of the water. She returned to Darcy, who sat unmoving where he had slept.

Could you find your knife before I lose my courage? Darcy reached into the pocket of his breeches and pulled out a pen knife. It will grow back, I beg you. He slid his fingers upward, marveling as they moved along the silky locks. Clenching his jaw, Darcy placed the knife beneath the lock of hair. He jerked the blade and the lock fell into his lap. He threw down his knife, his chest heaving.

Elizabeth reached behind her head, sensing the loss of her hair. She looked at Darcy as he spoke. It is I who should suffer for my sins. I must admit that in my fantasies you played the role of mistress rather than wife. I realize now that I am being held accountable for my sins but the place of reckoning is neither heaven nor hell but here with you. The Devil must be walking amidst me or he would not present you to me as a tantalizing mixture of beauty and wit.

Your very lack of artifice, your genuine care and concern for others, the very essence of your personality so outstrips any other woman of my acquaintance that I was instantly smitten. You are too generous to trifle with me. My affections and wishes are unchanged, but one word from you will silence me on this subject forever. He gingerly brushed her lips with his own.

He pulled back, smiling. The kiss began tentatively but soon grew deeper and more demanding as both realized their commitment to each other. Elizabeth broke away, needing to speak.

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Since your proposal at Rosings, I have come to realize that you are indeed, the best man for me. Darcy turned away. To compromise you goes against every tenet of my being. And after you reproached me for my ungentlemanly conduct? She let it drop to the ground and slowly removed her chemise. She turned and walked into the spring, wading out until the water covered her chest. The water was cold, but she remained standing in place. He turned her to face him and crushed her body against his, all the while planting kisses along her neck and face. He picked her up in his arms and carried her back to where his jacket lay on the ground.

Depositing her gently, he looked down at her body offered before him. His eyes swept down her body, lingering on her breasts, before sweeping lower. He leaned across her body and spoke directly into her ear, whispering similes and metaphors about her figure that made her blush. Elizabeth turned her head away, suddenly uncomfortable.

Darcy sensed her tension and eased himself over her so that he was enveloping her body with his large frame. Despite being in the water, his skin was warm to the touch and Elizabeth felt his body heat seep into hers. Relaxed and no longer cold, she laced one hand into his damp curls and pulled his head down to hers, kissing him soundly on the lips. Darcy responded, tentatively at first, and then increased the pressure on her mouth. His right hand roamed her curves, from her back to her front and then found a home at her full breast.

Elizabeth sighed and he increased his attentions, all the while keeping her warm beneath his body. Let me show you. Elizabeth moaned softly and he let his hand drift across the curve of her stomach and then lower, seeking her warm folds. She nodded and he continued, altering his movements just barely but each time bringing a new wave of enjoyment to Elizabeth. Modesty forgotten, she arched her back and reveled in his touch. She felt him withdraw and was unsure of what was transpiring. He parted her thighs with his hands and positioned his body over hers.

She nodded and he reached up and entwined his fingers in her hand and then held it above her head. Elizabeth nodded as he slid in, reveling in the feeling. He stopped abruptly and mumbled something too soft for her to hear. With a final thrust, Darcy entered her, curtailing his movements as she adjusted to his presence.

He reluctantly began to move, knowing that after spending two days in her presence, his self-control was virtually exhausted. Soon, too soon for Elizabeth, he reached the pinnacle and soared over it, wishing he had been able to bring Elizabeth there with him. He withdrew and gathered her against his chest, stroking her hair. In all my dreams, this is not how I wanted you.

Elizabeth was unsure of the proper response but she knew that allowing Darcy to wallow in his self-pity was a dangerous precedent. She pressed against his shoulder until he lie flat on his back and was startled to see tears staining his cheeks. I love you with all my heart. I am sorry it was disappointing for you, especially in light of your questions.

Slowly, comprehension dawned. Before you are so eager to accept defeat, perhaps you should reassemble your troops and plan a second attack. Darcy did as he was bid, thankful that he was learned not only in the ways of lovemaking but also in war strategy and could thank his cousin, Richard Fitzwilliam, for increasing his knowledge in both areas. Darcy was leaning against the wall, as close to the opening as possible. Both dozed, overwhelmed from hunger and the emotional release they had found together.

It was in that very position that his uncle, the Earl of Matlock, found them, when torches were thrust into the limestone opening. Are you well? Hearing no response, he called for a strong rope and man to be lowered down the opening. Groggy, Darcy realized he was being addressed. He shook Elizabeth gently and placed a quick kiss on her lips before removing her from his lap. He pulled Elizabeth to her feet, and she slumped against him, fainter than he from hunger. Darcy tied the rope about her wrists and let her be passed upward first, watching as she was pulled free from their prison.

He glanced around the stone walls one last time before wrapping the rope about his wrists and joining his bride to be above ground. Your aunt and uncle will be most pleased to hear that you have been recovered safely. Let me take you to them immediately. Knowing it was within his power to convey the proper message in front of the tenants, he chose humor. And I trust you are a bit hungry too? Elizabeth let herself be placed on a horse and was only slightly shocked when Darcy put his foot in the stirrup and swung up behind her.

You just spent three days with me in a cave and you are worried about a ten-minute horseback ride in the presence of twenty-some people? He leaned close and whispered into her ear. Let me cling to you for a few more minutes, my love. Upon learning that her brother had acquired it for her, Georgiana demonstrated no surprise and claimed that level of thoughtful attention was customary from her brother.

Elizabeth, however, remained astonished. The note Mr. Darcy had included with the parcel was quite complimentary to her and she was not accustomed to being the object of his consideration. She could not help but wonder if he meant to call her lovely - he had never before hinted that he viewed her in such a manner. She did not want to be overly disparaging, but she had no history with him suggesting he may find her attractive and so she reasoned her doubts were sound and thereby permissible.

Darcy arrived a few minutes later and was first greeted by his sister who proceeded to be as effusive as the shy girl could possibly be over how handsome a picture her brother made. No one shall compare! Elizabeth laughed gently. There will no doubt be several handsome characters at the party tonight. Not even the cleverest mask will hide their splendour. Are you not at least as handsome as the prettiest woman there? In my eyes, you are. What say you, William? Upon hearing his name, Mr. Darcy startled. Clearly, his mind had been elsewhere or he was unprepared to compliment her.

For a moment, Elizabeth sympathized with him having to abruptly devise what he must feel was insincere praise on her behalf due to his suddenly insistent sibling. She had never believed Mr. Darcy would be the sort of gentleman to easily flatter a woman of his acquaintance, but his kind words regarding her appearance and the gentle manner in which he said them caused her to rethink her initial impression of him.

Of course, he must be playing to his sister's expectations, but upon hearing his compliment she felt herself turn a deep red. In a low voice she barely recognized as her own, she thanked him, still shocked over having garnered his express approval. After being helped into their coats while offering Georgiana their farewells mixed with promises that they would relay even the smallest details of their evening to her tomorrow, Mr. Darcy led Elizabeth outside and assisted her into the carriage which awaited them. Once they set off, Elizabeth searched her mind for something to say to her husband.

Lately, she had been doing all she could not to speak to him so as to forestall her desire to challenge his prior knowledge of Mr. Bingley's return as well as his true reasons for welcoming it. Now, however, she felt something should be said - some thanks needed to be given - regarding his thoughtful purchase of the mask which she held delicately in her gloved fingers.

As he said this, he moved across the carriage and gathered the heavy woollen blanket beside Elizabeth. Before she could protest, he began unfolding it and placing it across her lap. As she watched him, she wondered at his attempts to be so solicitous. In fact, once she regained her senses, she almost stopped him, but by the time she gathered her courage to do so, he had finished his task. Thank you for thinking of me.

As he often did, Mr. Darcy regarded her carefully before responding. Under his direct gaze, she felt compelled to squirm in discomfort, though she resisted the impulse to do so. Had I not found it, we could have selected one from a collection of masks stored in the attic.

That room suffers from disuse, but the masks are well preserved. My own comes from that collection. I believe it was my father's. He showed her the mask he was holding in his hands. She noticed it was a jester's mask with small bells and that it was adorned with braids that looked to be hand woven. Given what she knew of his rather stern and serious nature, she found it quite ironic that he would choose to wear a harlequin's mask, but she chose not to voice her thoughts.

The handiwork alone is exquisite. A few over the years. They are not specifically my most preferred way to spend an evening, but, alas, I would hate to have people think us unsociable. I accepted the invitation tonight hoping you would enjoy it. At his last statement, Elizabeth looked at him abruptly and had no time to school the look of surprise from her face. She offered him a tentative smile which he responded to with a wry grimace.

Soon, he turned and peered out of the carriage window effectively breaking their locked gazes. Evidently, he meant to signal to her that he had had enough of their banter for the present time. She sighed her acceptance and opted to return to her silence until they reached their destination. How she wished she could greet their imminent arrival at this Twelfth Night ball with her customary excitement and anticipation. An evening such as this could offer her such endless possibilities!

The element of disguises and unexpected pleasures could be remarkable - if only the man next to her was someone agreeable and who wanted to be attending this celebration with her. Instead, she was attending with a character much like Shakespeare's Malvolio - full of arrogant conceit and self-pride - rather than the romantic and charming hero, Sebastian. And, unlike Shakespeare's play, she was quite certain that tonight would not bring her Feste's wisdom regarding people not being quite who they appear to be. Disguise notwithstanding, insofar as her husband was concerned at least, she imagined there was little more than she could learn about him that could in any way oppose the image she already held of him and his overbearance.

The sounds of murmuring laughter and the fact that the carriage had almost stopped, alerted Mr. Darcy that they were nearing the Whitby townhouse. Once again, she was lovely, breathtakingly so. When he had first entered the drawing room and saw her, he was happy that Georgiana was prompt in her exuberant welcome of him. It gave him an opportunity to draw a much-needed breath and a pretext not to look at her.

Soon after, while Georgiana and Elizabeth mused over the expectations of tonight's masquerade ball, he had risked a longer glance at her. Generally, he thought his wife was alluring; in fact, on the evening of the Christmas dinner they attended at his relations' home, he believed she could never be more beautiful than she was then. Yet tonight in her red ball gown trimmed with what looked to be black satin ribbon and embroidery, she was even more striking and, again, he was mesmerized by the sight of her. That is generally how it is at parties such as these.

While they awaited their approach to the front of the Whitby townhouse, he sank back against the cushions of the carriage. He could not help but feel somewhat apprehensive about the possible topsy-turvy events of the evening. His cousin Richard - who was attending another gathering this evening - had warned him that Laurence Whitby delighted in a rash approach to fun; thus, if the Whitbys had permitted their elder son to manage the planning of this party, there was no telling what manner of peculiar madness he would conjure up for his guests.

The carriage halted and the door swung open to reveal a servant who was prepared for their arrival. Upon setting his foot on the pavement, Darcy noted several torches expediently placed along the exterior of the townhouse calling attention to its focus on the busy street this evening. Once Elizabeth had descended, he observed the door to the house was open and, although the Whitby servants had handily attempted to reduce the flow of traffic in the foyer, a few of the guests remained in the entrance.

The noise emanating from the home's interior grew louder and more garish as they walked up the steps. Inside, after shedding their coats, Elizabeth and Darcy were both accosted by a boisterous young boy he assumed was in the Whitby employ. The young man was dressed entirely as a harlequin from head to foot and his ridiculous bow and oddly accented voice suggested the costume had imbued his character with a jester's absurdity.

Elizabeth was too stunned to speak. On the other hand, Darcy felt his patience slowly ebbing and could not remain silent. I believe we have the choice as to whether or not we wish to partake of this lottery. All madcap festivities this evening are optional, but nearly everyone else - apart from the more elderly guests - has decided to join in this light hearted adventure. Darcy felt his wife's hand clutch his sleeve tentatively. No doubt, we shall call more attention to ourselves if I do not.

What say you? He turned back to face the jester. What is the precise purpose of such a charade? The name of the gentleman Madam pulls will become her partner for the evening. You will have to look for him and he will look for you. Whitby instructed that nearly every gentleman's name be placed in the raffle. Are you prepared to draw a name now, Madam? Darcy felt Elizabeth look up to him askance. As much as he wanted to, he could not forbid her to join in this ridiculous game. Tricks of this sort were precisely why he had been wary of accepting tonight's invitation; now, he wished he had listened to the stirrings that had warned him against attending this undisciplined event.

Yet, before her questioning look, his response was a wry smile and a nonchalant shrug of his shoulders. He watched in dubious fascination as Elizabeth moved toward the young boy holding the ornately decorated box. He fancied she hesitated a moment before reaching her gloved fingers into the opening and drawing out a slip of paper.

The mask she wore prevented him from fully observing the expression in her eyes, but there was an air of amusement and scepticism about her. Graves," she pronounced finally before raising her eyes to meet his. We do not travel in the same circles, but I have met him once or twice. He struggled to keep the ring of disapproval from his voice. Graves was a man he had been introduced to briefly at his club a few years before. In fact, while fencing with Fitzwilliam last week, he had seen him, although they had not exchanged anything but a cursory nod on that morning. The young man was approximately the same age as he, but he lived a vastly different sort of life, preferring the reckless and supercilious pleasures afforded to a man of his wealth.

Darcy learned some time ago that his parents had an estate in Suffolk and that he was the third and final son who had been pampered mercilessly by his overindulgent parents. Everything he knew of Graves made the knowledge of his wife spending an evening with the man distasteful, yet he could not express his opinions without appearing small-minded and jealous. How very good it is to see you! Upon closer examination, he noticed that the woman with his friend was Miss David, the young lady his aunt had placed him next to at Christmas dinner.

Returned and ready for merriment, I see. I believe you have already met my wife, Mrs. Elizabeth and Miss David offered one another brief and polite greetings. Odd twist to be paired off with someone other than members of our own party, yet I feel I have done quite well. I hope my partner does not come to regret this evening later. Darcy listened as Miss David demurred politely, but his other senses were attuned to his wife who was regarding Bingley and the young woman closely.

He knew the picture of mutual delight they presented was not one which gave Elizabeth any comfort. No doubt she was thinking of her sister and regretting the severed connection between Jane and the amiable Bingley. However, Darcy felt no such loss on his friend's account. He prided himself on possessing a keen ability to see things both rationally and profoundly. Thus, there was too much he saw while in Hertfordshire to suggest that, while Bingley and Miss Bennet's union may have offered them a good measure of shared camaraderie initially, ultimately it would make neither of them truly happy.

He offered his friend and Miss David a consenting smile and, instantly, he sensed Elizabeth's sceptical gaze upon him. However, at that point, Elizabeth's reactions and suspicions seemed secondary. Foremost in Darcy's mind was Bingley and his desire to see his friend's previously jolly demeanour restored. Perhaps if Bingley was able to discover the pleasure another female's company could offer, he would feel the loss of Miss Bennet less severely.

Although he and Bingley had had no occasion to discuss his feelings over the separation in person, after reading his friend's letters, Darcy was aware of his regret and how Bingley hoped his relationship with Elizabeth's sister had led him to a happier end. Bingley," said Elizabeth, finally, "I must say I was surprised to learn only recently that you were leaving Hertfordshire.

Was your decision to do so a spontaneous one? Despite half his face being covered by the mask that he wore, the bright lights in the townhouse afforded Darcy a good view of Bingley's rising colour after he heard his wife's pointed question. You may recall we were preparing to leave prior to learning of the joy of your marriage. Bingley smiled at them weakly.

Darcy felt his own colour rise, but Elizabeth appeared impervious to the unintended implications of Bingley's words. In spite of his own private feelings, he could not help feeling proud of his wife's fortitude. Not even my recent letters from home mention your departure. Perhaps they were every bit as surprised as was I. Darcy," replied a cautious Bingley. They did not appear so surprised, although your mother did express some dismay and regret. I am certain she was just being kind.

It took every ounce of will for Darcy not to laugh out loud at his friend's naivete. He fancied he knew his mother-in-law well enough to know that she may have been "dismayed" to learn that his friend was leaving, but it was only because she was miserable to learn that such a fine match for her eldest daughter was escaping and thereby spoiling all her hopes. Their letters impart nothing but glad tidings, but written correspondence is often not very successful at revealing the truth.

Your father attended a shooting party at Netherfield last week, Miss Lydia has become very well acquainted with Colonel Forster's wife and the two of them are often seen in company together. Miss Catherine and Miss Mary appear to be in good health Bingley's demeanour changed as he relayed the information about Elizabeth's relations. Darcy noted his shoulders slumped a bit and his words were slower. His wife's gaze never shifted from his friend's visage; it was as if she wished she could look beneath the mask he was wearing and truly gauge Bingley's thoughts as he spoke of her family and, especially, when he mentioned her sister, Jane.

They turned to discover an elegantly dressed young man, wearing a mask made of a black and white satin checked pattern. I am Mr. Fredrick Graves. I have already had the pleasure of meeting your husband, but I have yet to make your acquaintance. Yes, I drew your name this evening, but how did you hear of it? We have spoken of it to no one outside of ourselves. It is but one of the reasons why I enjoy them as much as I do. With no faces, all the world finds its voice.

As he watched the interplay between Graves and his wife, Darcy was struck with a palpable tension. Once again, he wished he had forced his wife not to play a part in this mad Twelfth Night prank. He knew he would be unable to spend the evening far from his wife's side. Graves had the reputation of being rather a libertine and he was known to boast of his dalliances.

Of course, he knew Elizabeth would never fall prey to him, yet the mere thought that she was to remain with him throughout the evening was irksome. He seethed in barely suppressed frustration. The noise around them was intolerably loud. He saw Mr. Graves lean towards Elizabeth to whisper in her ear. Her first reaction was to raise her eyebrow and look toward her husband. Darcy was pleased to see she was deferring to him, although he could not know what specifically it was Graves said to his wife. Suddenly, his pleasure subsided after he heard what Elizabeth had to say when she approached him tentatively.

Graves would like me to accompany him and meet a few members of his party. You do not know who she is, but she is undoubtedly looking for you. The fact that she was willing to leave surprised him, yet he could not think badly of her - she was every bit as caught by this silly pretence as he himself would soon be as well. Nevertheless, Darcy wished she had shown more reticence even though she possibly had no real wish to remain with him either. It surprised him how often he overlooked the fact that theirs was by no means an ordinary marriage. I am perfectly content to remain here in the company of Bingley and Miss David.

This evening promises to hold many surprises for us all. She smiled tentatively and left on the arm of Mr. Darcy fumed as he saw Graves not even spare him the courtesy of a backward glance as he walked away with his wife. It was quite difficult for him to continue any light-hearted banter with Bingley and Miss David following Elizabeth's departure. Despite his friend innocently informing them that his sister had chosen not to attend tonight's festivities, which was information Darcy would have normally welcomed, he could not sustain an interest for very long.

Although he sought to control his urge to look for Elizabeth, he examined the sea of gowns repeatedly hoping to catch a glimpse of her red dress. After nearly a quarter of an hour had passed and he had not seen her, he excused himself politely. However, before he could venture far, his arm was grasped suddenly by none other than Laurence Whitby. Upon his arm was a young woman wearing an ornate silver coloured butterfly mask.

We have been looking for you for the better part of the evening. I knew that despite any kind of elaborate disguise you might wear, I should be able to spot you. Perhaps you know her parents? They live a few houses up from your townhouse here in Town. I believe your father and her father were acquainted. Is that right, Miss Harlow? My late father was well acquainted with your father and we have had a few occasions to meet as well. In fact, throughout the Season, we are often at the same gatherings.

Then my work is done. Enjoy your evening and do not forget to be more than a little mad tonight. We shall soon have dancing and my parents have booked an acting troupe to perform excerpts from one of Shakespeare's plays in the upstairs sitting room. It promises to be appropriate. Can you guess which one? Whitby," said Miss Harlow. After a brief farewell, Darcy found himself alone with the young lady who was to be his partner for the evening.

He remembered meeting Miss Harlow in the past. She came from a well-respected family and was rumoured to have a substantial dowry. Yet, even the prospect of fortune had not led to any viable marriage prospects as far as he knew and he failed to understand why. The young woman was certainly attractive and possessed a fine figure; moreover, she was perceived as being clever and in possession of an agreeable nature. Darcy knew several gentlemen considered her an exemplary candidate for the role of their future wife. Still, Miss Harlow remained definitively unattached for reasons that were unknown.

We have been married almost three weeks now. I do not expect it to be at the forefront of everyone's mind at this point. Your nuptials created quite a stir and I understand they are still a topic of interest. I hope to meet her this evening. Whitby informed me that she is partnered with Mr. If that is true, she need not worry about being bored, I think. The reminder that Elizabeth was currently somewhere in the townhouse in the company of Mr.

Graves only served to rouse Darcy's discomfort anew. Yet, he was unable to brood for long following the sudden arrival of some of Miss Harlow's merry friends, a Mr. Barry and his partner, Miss Leighton. Introductions were soon made and the group immediately engaged in the necessary small talk suitable to newly formed acquaintances. When the dinner bell sounded, Mr. Barry was in the midst of describing a property he was considering in Somerset. Around them, hilarity reigned supreme. With not a little distaste, Darcy watched as many presumably respectable personages lost their polished veneers and laughed louder than was necessary or they lost nearly all consideration of the rules of behaviour practised in polite society.

Whereby there was no single act that he could point to which would suggest they were acting outrageously, he knew their facial disguises allowed them a clear liberty that they would otherwise eschew. He certainly did not recognize everyone - their masks and the fact that this was a London crowd he normally did not associate with at this time of year made several of them unknown to him.

In any event, he thought they should know better than to fall so quickly to the puerile frivolity of the evening. When Mr. Barry finally finished his account, they proceeded to enter the dining room. Instantaneously, Darcy noticed Elizabeth was already there and seated next to the boisterous Mr.

She looked up to him and offered him a nod of acknowledgement. He led Miss Harlow to her seat, noticing he was placed beside her for the evening and stifled a sigh of disappointment. As delightful as his partner's company was, he longed to know how Elizabeth had spent her time since leaving him. Still, the fates seemed against him - she was seated a table's length away from him and on the opposite side. Evidently, there would be no opportunity for him to speak to her during the meal. Unable to resist, he excused himself and abruptly made his way over to where his wife was seated.

He felt Elizabeth's eyes upon him as he moved in her direction. When he got there, she offered him another shy smile, and for a moment, he felt rather preposterous standing behind her. Thankfully, she soon rose and turned to face him. In order to hear him better, she leaned closer to him. Her response was tentative. I have met a large number of Mr.

Graves' friends. Many of them have returned to Town simply to attend this ball tonight. I understand much of the evening's revelry will take place after dinner. And you, Sir? Are you enjoying the evening? As they talked, he felt the eyes of Mr. Graves upon them and was annoyed.

Surely he could have a conversation with his wife and not have it become a spectacle! He gave the man a pointed stare that would have made any other sensible man look away, but this young man appeared determined to face Darcy's wrath head on this evening. He continued to watch and meet Darcy's stare with a sardonic grin. Miss Harlow's company will be every bit as entertaining. That will lessen the problem of having to share your wife with the likes of me, I hope. Darcy tried to interpret the man's words as meaningless fodder, yet Graves' flippant remarks stung.

He wanted nothing more than to respond to his audacious compliments in a manner that would have left the idle blackguard with no question as to how he felt about them, but he refrained upon noticing several pairs of eyes upon him. Even his Uncle Matlock was looking at him cagily, as if willing him to remember the very public display such a heated reaction would cause.

Darcy was not sure if he was imagining it, but the room had seemed to grow considerably quieter as it waited for his response. He noticed Elizabeth crimson and avert her eyes. He hoped she was thankful that he had intervened on her behalf, but he could not be sure. No doubt she may consider his interference intrusive, but she had absolutely no idea what sort of man she was paired up with for the evening. Clearly, he could not inform her now, when so many eyes were turned to regard the scene they were creating, but he wanted her to know he did not look favourably upon arrogant boldness in the manner Graves had shown.

Turning quickly in the direction of his uncle, he saw Lord Matlock meet his eye and nod quickly before looking away. He sighed in relief; there at least he could be assured that he had done no wrong in his answer to Graves. I will see you after dinner, Elizabeth. Remember to reserve at least one set for your husband on your dance card. With that, he turned and walked over to his place near Miss Harlow. He had meant to sound nonchalant and hoped Mr. Graves had interpreted his words as being indicative of the notion that he was not in the least bit bothered by him.

After all, Darcy did not want to appear a jealous husband who did not possess the ability to curb his fury over another man's attentions to his wife. Upon being seated, he looked down the table to discover Elizabeth regarding him silently. The conversation around her had resumed its frenetic pace, yet she was not engaging in any of it. The ridiculous masks they continued to wear made it impossible for him to tell what she was thinking following their exchange and he was glad of it. He was anxious enough without the added worry of wondering if she was regarding him with censure.

At this point in the evening, he felt he was justified in his selfishness and would not be sorry for it. Dinner consisted of roast chicken, sweetmeats and a variety of winter vegetables. All around him, Darcy saw others enjoying the fare, but he could eat little of it at first. Each time he looked down the table he saw Graves leaning toward Elizabeth or her smiling at something he said. Undoubtedly, the gentleman was spewing any one of several of his ridiculous notions and his captive audience was evidently unable to give him the condemnation he so deserved.

Finally, he espied Elizabeth talking to Bingley who was seated across from her. The two of them appeared to be immersed in deep conversation and this relieved Darcy's spirits considerably. At least while she was talking to his friend, he could rest assured that Graves' insidious behaviour could not affect her. After that, Darcy was able to enjoy dinner and the company around him much more freely. Miss Harlow was indeed a witty dinner companion just as had been suggested and a few of the others offered him a pleasant respite from the loud merrymaking that was going on elsewhere in the room.

One gentleman, a Mr. Preston, was particularly interesting. He proved to be a theatre aficionado and spent a good deal of time reviewing the recent productions he had seen. Darcy, who had decided that he must take Elizabeth to at least one performance before they left London, was intrigued by this man's commentary as was Miss Harlow who had seen several of the same plays. Twenty minutes later, Darcy was surprised to discover that he had been so busy enjoying the company, he had not even thought of looking at Elizabeth.

This pleased him considerably since he expected to be constantly turned in her direction throughout dinner. When he looked down the table, he noticed Graves was still making every effort to speak to her, but she appeared disinterested and was not meeting his eye. As he continued to study her, he viewed her as she sat back against her chair and turned her head toward him, but rather than sustain her gaze, she looked away abruptly. She appeared resentful, but Darcy could not think why. Was she perhaps tiring of Graves' incessant chatter?

Did she begrudge him for leaving her so brusquely before dinner after throwing a sly comment in her direction for the benefit of Graves? Was she close to realizing why celebrations such as this were tiresome affairs? He had no true way of knowing. Suddenly, another thought entered his mind: could Elizabeth be piqued that he now appeared to be having a better time than she was? He recalled the quick glance she had levelled in Miss Harlow's direction after he first walked over to her.

Had that been a look of displeasure she had thrust at the lady? Anyone could see that, in spite of her mask, his partner was attractive and a woman of rank. Had Elizabeth noticed this as well?

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Darcy was careful not to allow himself the pleasure of thinking Elizabeth cared enough to be jealous, yet the idea would not leave him. As if to confirm his suspicions, when he next looked at her, she was not studying him at all, but was looking intently at Miss Harlow who was speaking to the gentleman across from her. Perhaps she was envious! Even if theirs was not the standard marriage, Elizabeth may not be wholly grateful upon seeing an attractive woman claiming her husband's attention. If this was the case, Darcy empathized with her; he no more enjoyed watching Graves ingratiate himself with Elizabeth than she did watching Miss Harlow interact pleasantly with him.

Once dinner was over, only a few men left to engage in more gentlemanly pursuits with Lord Whitby. Most others either remained seated or ventured off to the ballroom where dancing was to begin immediately. Darcy wanted nothing more than to dance the first set with his wife, but as he sipped the last of his coffee, he noticed that Mr. Graves was already leading her out of the dining room. Of course, there was his own obligation to Miss Harlow, his partner for the evening. After providing him with several occasions to not obsess over Elizabeth throughout dinner, he felt somehow beholden to her.

Given how much worse his situation could have turned out, in the end he was happy to be paired with her and not some fawning girl who would spend half the evening tittering unnervingly. As Darcy and Miss Harlow walked toward the ballroom, they noticed the musicians had finished tuning their instruments and were surely prepared to begin with the first dance. Upon entering, he noticed Elizabeth already stood opposite Mr. Graves, prepared to begin their first set. Lady and Lord Whitby were the leading couple for this piece and they had apparently determined that this was to be a country dance.

After garnering Miss Harlow's acceptance, they joined the formation and soon the music began. As he and his partner progressed up and down the line, he was careful to glance over at Elizabeth and her partner from time to time, while still maintaining brief snippets of conversation with Miss Harlow.

He noticed Elizabeth gaze fall upon them as they linked arms and turned. Once again, he wondered what she was thinking as she watched them. As the dance pattern became more intricate, Darcy was unable to follow Elizabeth's progress closely, but he did not fail to notice Graves took every opportunity to tightly grasp her gloved hands while proffering her a sly smile. Darcy ground his teeth at this audacious display from the man. To overtly flirt with his wife while he was in the same room was no doubt a measure of the man's folly as well as his arrogance.

Moreover, Darcy noticed several examples of the guests' far from respectable conduct. Already, several men were notably well into their cups and were garishly demanding the servants bring them more wine. Dancing three couples down from he and Miss Harlow, was a couple whose lewd behaviour astounded him. As they were dancing, the man made every effort to sidle up to his partner.

See a Problem?

Darcy even saw him move his hands suggestively up and down the lady's arm, instead of doing what the dance called for which was to grasp her hand delicately. All that he saw served to further disgust him and he knew that if it were not for the scene it would create, he would be tempted to escort his wife off the dance area and leave the festivities immediately. When the set ended, a mistrustful Darcy lost no time in leading Miss Harlow toward the punch bowl where Elizabeth and Mr.

Graves stood. The musicians are exemplary and the guests have managed to resume a less unruly demeanour during the dance," Darcy could not help replying. Why Darcy, that is the purpose of Twelfth Night celebrations! These masks help us to cast off our otherwise rigid devotion to correctness. I, for one, am all in favour of a bit of unruliness on a night such as this. Darcy felt himself bristle at the man's words. He was quite tempted to say that he knew that Graves' adherence to respectability was by and large tenuous at best, but he refrained and smiled wryly at him instead. While their conversation continued, Darcy risked a glance at Elizabeth.

She appeared to be wearing a smile, but her posture was somewhat stiff and she was often furtively looking about the room. Additionally, she was not wholly following the discussion which was odd given her usual penchant for banter. He now knew for certain that his theory about her not enjoying herself on that evening was correct: she looked as though she wanted to be anywhere but where she was presently.

He saw it then She felt her sister deserved fair warning of her previous suitor's presence and hoped that it would make her less anxious if she happened to find him there when she arrived. Now that Elizabeth knew for certain that he would be there, she was pleased that she had thought to tell her. Anything which would put her sister at ease was something she meant to do at all costs. Following a brief interval, Mr. Darcy suggested they return to the house. The wind was picking up and, in spite of her gloves, her hands felt quite chilled. As they quickened their pace, Elizabeth found herself struggling to keep up with her husband whose long legs afforded him the opportunity to take giant steps in comparison to her more diminutive ones.

When he realized he had been walking too fast, he slowed down and looked at her uncomfortably. I see now that I was walking far too quickly. I am afraid I was so preoccupied thinking of the warmth that awaits us inside the house, I overlooked the fact that you cannot be expected to keep up with my frenetic pace. They relaxed their pace slightly and suddenly Elizabeth felt her husband's anxious gaze upon her.

Perhaps our walk would have been better left for a warmer day. As much as it pains me to admit it, my younger sister is often more judicious than am I. As she raised her eyes to meet his, she detected a glint of humour radiating from them and noticed his lips were smiling as well. The effect of such an expression made her look away briefly in surprise.

So rarely had she seen him expressing any pleasure at all when he was with her. Yet, as he looked at her now, she was reminded of how handsome a man he was and how, when he smiled at her in such an open manner, he was far removed from the stern and sombre person she had married less than two months ago. Our walk has been quite He drew in a deep breath and stared directly ahead of him.

Once more, Elizabeth had no notion of what he could be thinking, but she hoped he had not found anything wanting in her reply. The Bingleys' arrival on Sunday afternoon met with all the pomp and circumstance Miss Bingley demanded whenever she traveled. After consulting with Mrs. Since her marriage, this was Elizabeth's first dinner as hostess. She had an idea that if she meant to demonstrate to Miss Bingley that she was not faltering in her role as mistress of such a fine estate, she had to leave her with an impression that belied her opinion of her competence and flair.

Upon arriving, Mrs. Hurst and her sister decided they would like to refresh themselves after such a long journey. Consequently, while her husband showed Mr. Bingley and Mr. Hurst to the sitting room, Elizabeth volunteered to immediately escort them to their rooms herself. Thankfully, Georgiana offered to accompany them as well and Elizabeth was instantly filled with an enormous sense of deliverance. She hoped - rather than knew for certain - that regardless of how tempted Miss Bingley was to disparage her, Georgiana's presence would compel her to demonstrate some restraint. If Elizabeth ever doubted it before, she now knew for certain that Miss Bingley regarded her with a steady jealousy that she made little attempt to hide.

As they traversed down the hallway leading to the guest chambers, Elizabeth tried to make conversation and questioned the sisters about their journey. Hurst replied sparingly, but Miss Bingley gave her no answer whatsoever. Yet, when Georgiana later asked her a similar question concerning her trip however, Miss Bingley appeared quite eager to lament the tedious journey and the uncomfortable surroundings they had been forced to submit to along the way. All of it was further proof that regardless of what Elizabeth did to please her, Miss Bingley was a lady who would remain deliberately unpleased with her.

After leaving the ladies in their prospective rooms - bedchambers which Elizabeth had ensured were meticulously arranged and prepared for her guests - she and Georgiana ventured downstairs to join the gentlemen. When they arrived in the sitting room, the men rose immediately to greet them and waited while Georgiana and Elizabeth claimed an empty loveseat. Were it not for the prospect of spending more time with you and Miss Darcy, I would not have even considered it.

Darcy's company alone would never have lured me to Pemberley otherwise - in spite of its comforts and beauty. They laughed companionably and Elizabeth turned in time to see her husband's almost sheepish reaction upon hearing his friend tease him. Again, she marvelled at the change in her husband's demeanour and attitude. At Netherfield, such a remark would have drawn a long, protracted and severe answer from Mr.

Darcy and, in the end Elizabeth would not have looked upon such a response with favour. Yet, here, in his own home and in the company of people he considered his dearest friends he was almost boyish and accepting of his friend's taunt. No surprise. No one likes to travel in winter," was the only response the gentleman felt the need to give her. Light talk between Elizabeth and Mr. Bingley followed. From time to time, Mr. Darcy gave an opinion regarding residence in London at this time of year and of his own journey.

Generally, he was typically reticent, yet he did not appear uncomfortable or withdrawn. In fact, when Mr. Bingley began relaying his enjoyment of Rossini's first opera La Cambiale di Matrimonio , a comedic piece he had viewed recently at The Haymarket Theatre, Mr.

Darcy laughed aloud and paid close attention. His smiling reaction to the aging, silly father's desire to sell his daughter to a rich suitor stunned Elizabeth and caused her again to wonder at how different he now appeared from the man she had believed him to be before. Yet, later, with the return of Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst downstairs, the room's ambience was noticeably altered. Elizabeth for one could not help but regret their presence. Immediately, the cheerful discussion that had been so enjoyable previously had ceased and was now replaced by the sisters' raptures over their perfectly glorious accommodations and the general magnificence of Pemberley.

Although Elizabeth was pleased to hear they were satisfied, she could not help but wonder if all of their praise was aimed at pleasing Mr. Darcy more than it was an honest reaction to his home. Once again, she was stunned at how Miss Bingley could ever have thought that such mindless, sycophantic displays offered to a man like her husband would have served her well.

Pemberley Interludes: The Darcys and a Separation

Surely, she could not have a very high opinion of him if she believed him to be senseless enough not to see through her ridiculous and overt machinations to garner his favour. Darcy," said Miss Bingley in a cloying tone, "How are you enjoying Pemberley? Is it not everything Louisa and I told you it would be Miss Bingley turned to her sister and offered her a knowing smirk which reeked of a shared secret between the two.

I thank you for your previous descriptions, but in fact Pemberley is indeed even more beautiful than I imagined after hearing you," Elizabeth's tone was casual, but her eyes betrayed her wariness. I feel one must actually live here to get a true sense of its beauty. Not for a moment did Elizabeth truly regret her trivial and taunting response.

But, to be sure she had not offended Georgiana or her husband, she turned quickly toward them to assess their responses. Her sister instantly assumed a quizzical look; clearly, she had detected the contempt in her reply and was uncertain as to Elizabeth's intentions. As a means of reassuring her, Elizabeth grasped her hand and gave it a light squeeze.

When Georgiana met her eyes, she winked at her furtively. Darcy's reaction, however, was rather different than what she expected it to be. Upon his face, she detected a hint of a smile and nothing about his look was at all censorious. Hurst, thereby assuming the critical stance of her sister, who at the moment seemed unable to reply. What a comfort it must be for you to have so many now to assist you. Elizabeth listened and made a conscious effort to avoid demonstrating her mounting frustration.

Undoubtedly, if Miss Bingley was attempting to instigate a verbal duel, Elizabeth would not disappoint her. In Hertfordshire, she had withstood the young lady's coy insults tolerably well - for Jane and Mr. Bingley's sake. Yet, the audacity Miss Bingley showed by coming into her own house and openly mocking her was insupportable! The fact that she suspected that Miss Bingley's behaviour stemmed from her envy over her marriage to Mr. Darcy did nothing to deter her from launching into a heady retort.

Thus, as she continued to hold Georgiana's hand, she smiled at her husband before returning her gaze to Miss Bingley. I daresay, that is not much, but we managed quite well in spite of our deficiency. I believe it was our appreciation for having any servants at all which sustained us. Many houses in our neighbourhood had considerably less, thus we were not so unfortunate.

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Well, then, Caroline is quite right. A significant change for you indeed, Mrs. Yet, our homes are far larger and, thus, more duties await our staff. You were not, I hope, suggesting we have such a large number of servants simply because we are in a position to afford them?

You misunderstand us. Louisa and I were merely suggesting that Mrs. Darcy now has the benefit of many servants to assist her as she assumes her place as mistress of your homes. Darcy said in a bored timbre. In fact, just this morning Mrs. Reynolds relayed to me how exceedingly pleased she was with Pemberley's new mistress. I believed she credited her with a natural instinct for the job, did she not, Georgiana? Elizabeth has proven herself We are quite in her debt.

So shocked were the Bingley sisters at this information that neither of them proffered any response at all. Meanwhile, Elizabeth herself was quite speechless as well.


If she had not been present to hear it, she would have never believed that Mr. Darcy would come to her aid as directly as he had. What stunned her even more was what happened after that. When her husband shifted his body in the direction of where she and Georgiana sat, she thought she detected a conspiratorial wink and had to prevent herself from looking at him in amazement.

Following this prickly exchange, the conversation and mood in the room was strained. For her part, Elizabeth attempted to engage the ever amiable Mr. Bingley in some casual talk, but it was to no avail. He remained unmoved and offered her only the briefest of polite replies despite her efforts. Evidently displeased by his sisters, he directed several piercing looks at them which they conveniently chose to ignore. Perhaps, however, they themselves were too mired in their own disgruntlement to truly notice anyone else's; they sat stiffly with noticeably pinched looks upon their faces.

Georgiana, the poor girl, clearly did not know what to think or say. After directing her surprised eyes between them, she then proceeded to sit with her hands folded on her lap and her eyes cast downward. Conversely, Mr. Darcy's reaction was harder to measure. He paced back and forth too often for Elizabeth to truly see his response. She could not help but feel liable for the current discomfort in the room. She knew that if it were not for her presence there and her marriage to Mr. Darcy, Miss Bingley would never have so industriously attempted to provoke an argument which left them all unsettled.

Thus, when the dinner bell finally sounded, Elizabeth breathed a heavy sigh of relief. As she stood to lead the way to the dining room, she felt her husband's presence beside her. His sombre expression revealed feelings similar to her own regarding the behaviour of some of their guests thus far. Feeling more brave than she had ever in the past, Elizabeth lightly grabbed hold of his arm and smiled at him tentatively. His returning smile did not come immediately, but when it did, Elizabeth was quite taken aback by the sense of solidarity that had suddenly sprung between her and her husband.

One thing she knew for certain: if Mr. Darcy was right and their latest guests intended to stay a month, it would be a very difficult month indeed. Three days later, Darcy sat in his study after having dismissed his land steward, Croyden. Already, his reliable employee had prepared a very solid plan regarding crop rotations for the approaching spring. Croyden explained in a methodical manner his reasons for dividing the vegetable gardens using a system which he believed would yield the best return.

Darcy was satisfied; the man's expertise had never before failed him and he could not imagine it doing so now. However, not much about his current guests left Darcy feeling even remotely satisfied. All, with the exception of Bingley, served to annoy him more than on any of their previous visits.

The lion's share of his frustration was directed toward none other than Miss Bingley. Her behaviour had proven to be close to intolerable. Toward Georgiana and himself - and to her own party, of course - she had been unremittingly attentive and cordial. Her conduct toward Elizabeth, however, could not have been any more lamentable. Last night, after he suggested they have a quiet evening of reading interspersed with brief periods of conversation, she had openly questioned Elizabeth's taste in poetry.

According to her, William Wordsworth's verse was deficient largely because it seldom made any effort at all to engage the reader. When his wife patiently asked her to consider The Solitary Reaper and note how Wordsworth attempted to ask his reader to remain observant to the beauty found in even the most mundane of tasks, Miss Bingley shunned this notion completely.

She could not be persuaded to consider anything else - until her brother had pointed out his admiration of Wordsworth's work and asked her to provide a solid example of when the poet had been anything other than brilliant. Shamefacedly, Miss Bingley claimed not to be able to recollect any specific instances, but vowed that she would consider the issue in the future. Perhaps they would be able to discuss it later, after she had done some further reading?

The Final Encounter

Moreover, there was her consistent disregard for others which he found quite ill-mannered. Truly, as their guest, he could not impose too many expectations upon her. He did, however, make it known that the sound of the bell signalled that a meal was being served and that he expected his guests to make their way to the dining room upon hearing it. Yet, time and again, Miss Bingley arrived infuriatingly late at mealtimes. Her disrespectful behaviour upset more than just Darcy.

Her brother, Mr. Hurst, was quite put out and, on one occasion, he insisted they begin their breakfast ahead of her. For his part, Darcy was tempted to agree with him. Yet, Elizabeth suggested they should make allowances for her and, thus, a good ten minutes later, Miss Bingley breezed into the room to find them all waiting. Boldly, she offered them a brilliant smile and no apology whatsoever. Darcy spared only slightly less frustration toward the Hursts. While he had certainly not ever considered the gentleman's company particularly entertaining, never did he imagine he would add so tediously little to a gathering.

The only time Mr. Hurst seemed remotely content was when he was surrounded by nothing other than a brandy decanter or some savoury morsels which he enjoyed in a secluded corner where no one would disturb him. His wife was no better. She was, of course, a much livelier companion, yet she did little to make herself congenial in Darcy's eyes.

If pressed, she would perform on the pianoforte, but Darcy found her playing far too affected and the sway of her body as she performed was bothersome and distracting. Thankfully, however, she had seen the wisdom of desisting in her criticism of Elizabeth. For that much at least, he was grateful.

Although she was considered the less clever sister of the two, Mrs. Hurst recognized Elizabeth's keen ability to withstand her mockery and had consequently opted to remain silent while her younger sister continued to question and discount his wife at least twice a day. Toward Bingley, he felt only sympathy. He could sense his friend's disappointment and the mortification he felt at his family's conduct, wishing he had never asked Darcy to extend them an invitation.

Yet, there was nothing that could be done to alter it now - they were here and here they would remain until the entire party decided to leave. However, Elizabeth's reaction to their guests was Darcy's first priority. Never had she even hinted at the anxiety Miss Bingley's snide remarks cost her, nor did she lament the nuisance of repeatedly being forced to join in a game of cards when she would have much preferred to sit out. Yet, Darcy fancied he knew her well enough to realize these factors caused her a great deal of tribulation and regret.

And, while Mr. Hurst never again ridiculed her tastes insofar as meals were concerned, he knew Elizabeth probably found the gentleman as much a colossal bore as he himself did. In fact, Darcy mused, Elizabeth's tolerance toward their guests was much greater than his own. Even at the most awkward of times, she tried to engage everyone in conversation and smile pleasantly regardless of where that conversation led to. He had watched her listen to Mr. Hurst's tedious accounts of game-hunting and how he managed to overcome the smoke and soot of firing by purchasing a new cylindrical barrelled rifle.

Moreover, she withstood the Bingley sister's fastidious demands with a degree of patience which caused Darcy to marvel at her grace and fortitude. Overall, her manner toward their guests and their foibles were far superior to his own. Still, there was another - more significant - reason as to why Darcy lamented the unrelenting presence of his guests.

The plethora of people in the house had made it nearly impossible for him and his wife to share any time alone. Yet, Darcy was almost desperate to be with her and far from the nuisance of the Bingley party. He longed to see if they could meet and extend their civility beyond a crowded drawing room or dinner table, but he knew not how to easily accomplish this. The truth was one or more of the Bingleys were always about somewhere. As vast as the confines of Pemberley were, someone was always lurking nearby and, thus, he could not speak to her privately. Her bedchamber remained a forbidden domain although he had escorted her there twice since the Bingleys' arrival.

Even then, they were afforded only a brief moment or two before someone else interrupted them. He could not very well request the pleasure of escorting Elizabeth alone to her room without appearing the most besotted and uncouth fool in all of England. As well, Elizabeth's own shocked reaction to such a request was bound to affect her even if he did manage to have some time with her following it. Nevertheless, his desire to be with her unaccompanied was too great for him to ignore.

He would need to devise a means to see her alone. How and when to do it he had yet to work out. A hardy rapping noise on the door caused him to look up. How easy it would be if it were Elizabeth coming to see him, yet he knew that her knock would be lighter and more tentative, than what he had just heard. The door opened to reveal none other than Bingley who proceeded to walk toward him hurriedly with a mixed expression of merriment and horror.

His friend took a seat in one of the chairs before his enormous desk. Although he was smiling, Darcy recognized there was something rather troubled in his demeanour. Do you have a moment or is the Master of Pemberley forever too occupied to speak to his dearest friend? Not at all. For you alone, I will gladly relinquish my worry over the smallest estate concerns.

What is it? I can see that this is a matter which is causing you some distress. Best to be out with it and then we can ponder it together. Darcy breathed in deeply. Knowing that the time would come when they would be forced to discuss this, he nevertheless found himself quite unprepared to do it at this moment.

However, Bingley was before him now and he deserved Darcy's full consideration regardless of however uncomfortable it made him feel to do it. I believe Elizabeth is particularly looking forward to reuniting with her sister. When we last parted She will not be happy to find me here at Pemberley.

That much I know. If Miss Bennet does know and she is coming in spite of your presence, I do not see how it would lead to any great discomfort. Perhaps the initial I beg of you not to be so obtuse in this instance! If she does know - and you do not know for certain that she does - she is coming to see her sister and not me.

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Surely, you can appreciate how trying it would be for the both of us! If she is unaware of my presence and finds me here I honestly do not know what to do. Clearly, I cannot write the Gardiners and ask them to delay their visit until after you have left. That would be beyond rude and I will not do it - even if you are my closest friend.

Of course, you cannot curtail their visit That would make the situation less distressing for everyone When he stopped to turn to his friend, the pained look on his face was evident. Why would you have me travel to Pemberley knowing Miss Bennet was due to arrive? Had you no sense of how this would affect me? Suddenly, Darcy knew that he could not prolong the conversation any further. His friend's hurt and vexation demanded that he immediately tell him the truth concerning Miss Bennet's true feelings and admit to how misguided he was in suggesting he should stop courting her.

I only discovered they would be here soon after Elizabeth arrived. I could have, I suppose, written and informed you of their imminent arrival and you could have chosen not to come. Perhaps that would have been wiser. But, by then, you were set to depart yourself; I believe I had the Gardiners arrival confirmed a day or two prior to your own removal. How then could I have prevented you? To this, Bingley offered no immediate reply. In the span of silence, Darcy thought perhaps a brandy would assist to relax them.

Although he did not as a rule turn to drink as a means of escape, he felt they both needed something to distract them at this moment. As he walked to the decanter, he felt his friend's penetrating stare following his progress. Frustrated, he poured the drink rapidly, spilling the golden liquid carelessly on the sofa table. I will arrange to leave in the next two days. My sisters will not be pleased by my decision, but I cannot worry about them when so many others stand to suffer if I do not make my exit. Yet, I have reason to believe that your presence here may not be unwelcome to Miss Bennet after all.

You, more than anyone, know that Miss Bennet does not return my affection! How can you expect me to stay here knowing the grief it will cause us both? Has Mrs. Darcy told you that her sister was partial to me while we were at Netherfield? At first, I doubted her and considered her far from unbiased, but I have since decided that she alone would know the heart of her sister - better than I Bingley drank down the remainder of his drink in one gulp and proceeded to refill his glass.

When he finished, he raised the decanter in question toward Darcy who shook his head in response. He had never known his friend to be so liberal with his drink; surely he must be overwrought if he was even considering a second glass. Darcy looked down at his own still-full glass.

In an act of companionship, he took a small sip of his own brandy. Rather than join him, Bingley chose to take a seat away from him. That was Darcy's first clue that his friend was not altogether willing to engage in any more talk. The next was his steadfast refusal to look or speak to him at all. At the time, you agreed that she was far from obvious concerning the nature of her feelings. Rather than risk further disappointment, you agreed to halt your attentions toward the lady And I supported you in this.

We were both wrong. For my part in this whole affair, I apologize. I am afraid I let my desire not to see you connected to a woman whom I mistakenly believed would only accept you because of your fortune rule me. I have since come to see that my perception is far from always accurate - and, as a result, I have met with my own disappointment and pain. Darcy assures you that Miss Bennet does have some regard for me. Is she absolutely sure? She has told me that her sister is not always best able to demonstrate the depth of her feelings, but she does possess those deep feelings regardless.

I see that now. Consequently, I have determined to never immerse myself in affairs of the heart again. As you see, I am quite bad at them. At least not in regard to your own. You and Mrs. Darcy have undergone a tremendous improvement in your relationship. His friend's words were warm, but his tone was rigid and resentful. Darcy did not know what reply to give him, so he offered none. It certainly would not help his friend to know how unsettled his relationship with Elizabeth truly was. Then, she was decidedly aloof and distant.

I continued to visit, but my hope was gone. I had no choice but to leave and try to forget her. She may have seen that as proof of your own lack of affection. Again, I may be wrong. However, if you still love her - and I believe you do - you ought to remain here and try once more to determine the level of her affection. Even if she does not love you now, she evidently did once. Do you truly not wish to try and win her regard again, if indeed you have lost it?

She may still love you, you know. I do know that if she arrives and demonstrates no regard for me, I will be even more disappointed after knowing that she did have some tenderness for me before and that I have now lost it. In my mind, that is a far more distressing fate for you to have to live with.

The gentlemen remained in contemplative silence for a long period. Neither of them knew quite what else to say. Darcy wondered if his friend would ever forgive him for causing him to doubt Miss Bennet's regard. Regardless of their many differences in terms of character and interests, Bingley's friendship was a comfort to him and Darcy was not prepared to lose it if he could avoid doing so.

I should never have caused you to doubt yourself or Miss Bennet. Rest assured, for no reason will I ever again meddle in your affairs. As my friend, I hope you will never stop advising me. I, for one, will never stop counselling you. I do wish you would have kept your opinions to yourself in this instance, but that does not mean I would always wish for you not to direct me if I am making a mistake. I am not entirely pleased with you now, but in time I hope to better understand your reasons.

Although Elizabeth and I do not snarl at one another quite so much as we once did, our marriage has not been an easy one. Yet, by marrying her, you did the right and honourable thing. I hope you are not regretting your choice. I am not regretting it. Truly, once I made the decision to marry her, I have not regretted it. She is, in every way, an excellent wife. I could not have asked for a better one. By all accounts, you should be happy to have found such a lively, attractive wife who will never bore you or have nothing to say to you or your guests.

Elizabeth does not particularly like me, you see. At least she did not before coming here to Pemberley. We are making an attempt to overcome our mutual suspicion of each other, but I have not been able to measure our success. We are, at the moment, at a definite impasse. In my eyes, the answer is clear, but you seem to need added assurance. That has been my greatest mistake for far too long. Long before we were married, I asked Elizabeth to never demonstrate our troubles in public.

Whenever you are present, it is a public forum, thus, she behaves in a manner that does not indicate her hesitation. To me, she is satisfied and does not regret your marriage I confess, I feared for the both of you before you left Hertfordshire. You were equally stubborn and apathetic. I seriously thought you would never discover the happiness you could give to each other while you were both so angry. At the very least, you have made some progress there. Neither of you appear unhappy. Darcy looked away almost ashamed. He had not meant to imply he regretted his friend's presence, but neither did he wish to negate the truth of Bingley's words now that he had uttered them.

It means that I shall have to see to them myself, of course, which is a prospect that I do not jump at. Yet, I shall brave their fastidiousness in the name of friendship while you do all you can to woo your wife. The two of them remained seated and nothing more was said between them.

Each of them was engrossed in their own thoughts concerning their perspective ladies. The afternoon light was fading fast. Elizabeth's letter to her mother would have to be short - a prospect which did not entirely displease her. She knew little how to best satisfy her mother in her missives without disconcerting herself.

Bennet's last letters were filled with questions regarding the number of new gowns she had acquired in London, the quantity of servants the family had to wait on them and just how ornate the furnishings were at Pemberley. Perhaps her mother's most rancorous letter had been the one she had written immediately after learning that a native English woman had been hired as her personal maid. Elizabeth was sure her mother had been disposed to a fit of nerves upon learning that Mrs. Darcy did not have a French maid to help her in her new role. She let it be understood that nothing other than a Parisian would know the latest fashions and how to set her hair in the most elegant styles possible.

Accordingly, Mrs. Philips and Lady Lucas were presumably shocked that Elizabeth had so easily settled for less than the best maid available. Her mother pleaded with her to speak to Mr. Darcy and, when Elizabeth refused, her very next correspondence had her threatening to contact Mr.