On the Monday after Bingley's arrival, he was in the breakfast room when Jane entered at her normal time. She hesitated at the door, a little nervous to have their first private moment. One welcoming smile from Bingley as he rose to greet her helped her gather her courage, and she joined him.
"Miss Bennet! Good morning! I hope you had a restful night," Bingley said cheerfully.
"I did. Thank you, Mr. Bingley," Jane replied as Bingley waived the footman away and held her chair himself.
"May I get you a plate?" he asked as she sat.
"Yes, thank you sir."
Bingley went to retrieve her breakfast, attentively asking her preference for each dish before serving her choices to her. She smiled at his enthusiastic gallantry. When he presented her rather full plate, she thanked him politely. With such a full household growing up, she was not used to being pampered, and she found it rather nice.
"It is not like Darcy to be late to breakfast. Has this been common?" Bingley asked curiously.
"Mr. and Mrs. Darcy take breakfast in their rooms. I believe they prefer to start their day quietly together," Jane replied.
Bingley shook his head with a laugh, "As fastidious as my friend has always been, I am quite surprised by his besotted-groom attitude now. I never thought he would change so much."
"I gather that there is little he would not do for someone he loves. I do not think that has changed. My sister is very lucky in that sense; her husband is determined to make her happy."
A troubled expression crossed Bingley's face as he went to sit. During breakfast, his apparent distraction grew as they spoke quietly of their travels, the weather and the health of their families. Jane found herself finished with her food at the same time as she had used all of the safe topics of conversation. They fell to an awkward silence for several minutes while she quietly watched Bingley stare at his plate with a pensive expression on his face.
He looked up and asked suddenly, "Miss Bennet, would you take a turn about the garden with me? We can stay within sight of the house, if you like."
"I would like to walk with you," she replied with a smile.
Once they were outside, Jane attempted to speak of the gardens, but Bingley was too distracted to respond. It was so unlike him to be inattentive that Jane decided to simply let him think over whatever it was he was preoccupied by.
After another ten minutes or so, she was beginning to feel some concern for him. She had not needed to carry the conversations when they had been together in Hertfordshire, nor during the few meetings they had in London. She did not understand what what was causing this silence.
"You are terribly quiet this morning, Mr. Bingley," Jane said gently.
Bingley glanced at her eyes and quickly looked back to the ground, "I apologise, Miss Bennet. I do not mean to bore you."
"Time with you is hardly boring, Mr. Bingley," replied Jane in a subdued tone.
She heard him draw a long breath and exhale before he spoke, "Miss Bennet, I find myself in a quandary. It appears I cannot stop thinking of the possibility of us, and everything it entails, when I am with you, and I fear making you uncomfortable with talk of that sort. I know you have said that we should not allow fear to keep us from speaking, but I do not want to make you feel guilty for needing time."
"Mr. Bingley, I would truly rather you spoke honestly of what you are thinking. You have assured me that you are willing to wait, and I trust you to mean it." She smiled softly and then added hesitantly, "I would not mind hearing those thoughts. If my sister and new brother are an example of what happens to couples who speak their minds, I believe it bodes well. They are very happy."
Bingley visibly relaxed, "They are quite happy. I cannot quite reconcile to this besotted Darcy. Have they been so since you joined them in London?"
Jane blushed at the memory of the couple disappearing for an entire day as she replied, "Only for a few days now. They had been growing more comfortable since their wedding, but I do believe they have recently reached a better understanding of one another. I have not spoken to Lizzy of it yet, but it is clear something has changed."
"I am very happy for them."
"As am I."
Silence reigned again, but this time Jane was determined not to break it. She did not need to wait long.
"Miss Bennet, are you concerned that I am not willing to do everything for your happiness?" Bingley asked abruptly.
"I beg your pardon?"
"I hear you speak so highly of the Darcys, and specifically of my friend's treatment of your sister, and it leaves me to wonder if you are wishing for that yourself. That it is what you feel is missing."
Jane hesitated in her reply, "Mr. Bingley, while I admire the Darcys' relationship, I do not envy it. I do not expect you to treat me the same as Mr. Darcy does my sister."
Bingley, still unsure of himself, replied, "I want you to know that I care for you more than anyone, but I fear that I could never be as decisive as Darcy is, and I will not deny that I am afraid you expect that. That you need it."
It was Jane's turn to think quietly for a minute before she answered him, "I am not interested in marrying a man like my new brother. While he is a good man, and will make my sister very happy, I have never found him particularly attractive for myself. I am not my sister, and I have no desire for a relationship exactly like hers. Your consideration of everyone is one of the qualities I admire about you, Mr. Bingley. It may make you appear indecisive, but I think it speaks to your concern for others as well. I would not wish for that to change."
"Truly, Miss Bennet?"
"Truly," she replied.
"I like your universal consideration as well, Miss Bennet."
Jane smiled happily at him as they continued their walk quietly. Neither spoke much until they felt it was time to return to the house, but Bingley thought they were more comfortable together than they had ever been. He felt more confident than he had in nearly eight months.
It was a few days after Bingley's arrival before Darcy and Elizabeth found their way back to Darcy's study to finish unloading the crates of Mr. Bennet's books. This time Darcy sat on the floor with Elizabeth while she pulled each book out and shared her memories of many of them.
It was a day for laughter more than sadness as Elizabeth regaled Darcy with Mr. Bennet's satirical commentary.
"My appreciation for reading was passed to me from my father, as well," commented Darcy at one point.
"I do believe you said something to that effect when we were at Netherfield last autumn, that the Pemberley library was the work of many generations. Would you say there is long history of that appreciation in the Darcy family?"
"There is. I remember my father's father reading to me even before I had a governess, and my father spoke of it often. It is something I hope to do for our own children, some day. I think there can be little more important than teaching a child an appreciation for reading."
"You wish to be involved in your children's education, then?"
"There are not many men of your station who would do so."
"I very much look forward to having children of our own, and not to show them off. I fully intend to spend time with them," Darcy said firmly.
Elizabeth smiled, "I am glad to hear it. I do not wish to hand our children over to servants for the majority of their young lives, either."
"Do you wish for many children, Elizabeth?" Darcy asked hesitantly.
"I would not mind a large family, if you are so inclined," she replied.
"But is that what you truly want?"
It was Elizabeth's turn to hesitate, "If it were solely my decision and we were so blessed, I would have many children. There was always noise and chaos at Longbourn, though, and I do not see you enjoying that."
"I do not think there is much to possibly dislike in children who come from you," he said intently.
She blushed, but responded with a teasing tone, "You are prepared for wild, hoyden daughters then, and sons who drag all manner of things, animal and otherwise, home?"
"I remember what it is like to be a boy in short pants. I had my fair share of scrapes and mishaps."
"While I do not find it difficult to imagine you as a boy, I cannot reconcile you getting into scrapes. I would have expected a solemn young man."
Darcy smiled wistfully, "I was not always so serious. Besides there was nothing more frightening for my nurse and governess than my cousin Henry coming for a visit. Between George, Henry, and me, we ran them ragged."
Elizabeth laughed delightedly, "That I do believe. If I were to guess, I would say that a young Colonel could have talked you into doing just about anything."
"You might be surprised. I could lead us into trouble just as easily."
"We had best prepare ourselves for our own children then," Elizabeth said with sparkling eyes. "I would be willing to wager that you will not find a more wild, inventive, and determined child. Mrs. Rowley and Mrs. Reynolds might need to do a scolding or two along the way again."
Darcy pulled her toward him, "If they have your beautiful eyes, they will be well worth the trouble."
He kissed her softly. Elizabeth returned his kisses for a time, but then pulled back to speak again, "You may wish to learn not to be taken in by these eyes then, for otherwise those children will get away with way more than they ought."
"Do you get away with more than you ought?" he teased in return.
"That is different. A husband should be enamoured of his wife," Elizabeth said cheekily.
"But not a wife of her husband?" he asked.
"And give up her power over him? I think not," she teased again. When his eyes showed slight disappointment, she pulled him in and kissed him before she replied softly, "You ought to know, if you have not already figured it out, that this wife's heart is entirely yours. You have charmed me completely, and there is little I would not do for your happiness."
It was Darcy's turn to smile as he responded, "It is good to know we are on equal footing then."
"Do you truly wish for many children, Fitzwilliam?" Elizabeth asked after another quiet moment.
"I do. I believe that children should have siblings to grow up with, if their parents are able. My poor mother could not have a large family, due to her health. I have high hopes for us."
"If I follow my mother, we shall have sufficient children to please even you. You may only have daughters, though."
"Then for their sake, I am grateful that Pemberley is not entailed. I am grateful to know that if we do have only daughters, our oldest grandson could inherit. I am able to leave Pemberley in your able care, or his mother's, until he is ready."
"That is a great relief to me as well. My mother may have taken it too far, but I do understand her fear. To be left to fend for herself with five unwed daughters would have been terrifying. You were kind enough to take her most difficult child off her hands and rescue her from destitution at the same time. I do believe that you will long be her favourite son-in-law," Elizabeth said, ending in a lighter tone.
"Were you truly so much trouble? I cannot imagine, out of all your sisters, that your behaviour has been the most trying."
"Perhaps not to common society, but for my mother, who understood me not at all, I was the most difficult. I would not be demure nor would I flirt. I wanted intelligent conversation, which she was convinced would scare all eligible gentlemen away. I do believe, especially after my refusal of Mr. Collins, she had truly given up on my ever marrying."
"I suppose some men would feel inferior in your presence. I adore your intelligence. Among your other qualities, you are the most refreshing woman I know. There is much irony in the fact that I was most attracted to the quality that your mother detested."
"And my mother will never understand that. She still does not understand why, out of all of her daughters, a rich, eligible gentleman would pick me. I think she is still afraid you will dispose of me if you catch me in my wildness."
"Then she has the wild imagination. Is there really anything you have not already shown me?"
"I do not think so, but I will not let you hold me to that."
"I do believe that you still owe me a pond story."
Elizabeth flushed in embarrassment and said, "I am sure you do not really wish to hear that."
"A story that actually makes you embarrassed? I think I do."
"It may scandalise you."
Darcy raised his eyebrow, "Unlikely."
"You cannot say I did not warn you," she sighed.
"I was fourteen, which for a girl is too old to run around with the boys, but too young to care for grownup things. Even then I was often running off by myself, getting into mischief," she began.
"This time it was an extraordinarily hot summer day. When we were younger, Jane would go swimming with me. She was nearly seventeen by then though, and out. She was already a demure young lady; willing to sit in a hot parlour with a fan and pretend that she was perfectly comfortable. My mother was dozing on a sofa, and I took my chance to escape. The Smiths' pond was the closest pool surrounded by woods, which made it secluded enough for me. Unfortunately I was not the only one who thought so. I had just entered the water, in naught but my shift, when the Lucas boys came tearing down the path."
Darcy's eyes widened at that, but he remained quiet.
"I am sure you are aware of how boys swim when they are alone. They were stripped bare and leaping in before any of them noticed me. I do not know if you have met all of the Lucas sons, but there are three of them. The eldest, John, is about a year older than me, and the youngest, Charles, would have been six or seven at the time. The older two and l had often played together when we were younger, even swimming occasionally, but Charles had not seen me in the water before. My running wild had been lessening in the last year or so, and since my body began to change, I had not gone swimming with them.
"I yelled at them for jumping in without looking, demanding that they go so that I could escape. John yelled at me for being there at all, and then we proceeded to argue over who would leave."
Elizabeth smiled a little at the memory, "John and I had always been in a battle for command of our adventures. He was the oldest, other than complying Jane, and a boy, which he assumed made him the natural leader. I have never been very good at following someone else's lead, especially when I know I can do better myself, but as you can imagine he did not take well to a girl telling him what to do. I also may have told him he was pathetically unimaginative a few times," she finished ruefully.
Darcy did laugh at that, "I believe it. Your ability to be blunt has probably been tempered by age and society."
"Yes. If I could abuse you so abominably to your face at twenty, you can probably imagine how tactful I was at just fourteen," she said with a smile.
"So who won?" Darcy asked.
She sighed, "John did, but only because he said that they would face away from me until I told them I was out of sight. I escaped, grabbed my clothes and ran for home. I was able to sneak in through the kitchen and up to my room to dress without being seen. I came down and sat back in the parlour with my mother as though nothing had happened."
"That does not sound particularly embarrassing," Darcy said.
"That was not. It was the next day that went poorly. My mother came home from visiting with Lady Lucas, yelling for my father. Something about me being compromised and not even out yet. She slammed the door to his bookroom and we could all hear her shrill voice, though we could not quite make out what she was saying. You can imagine how I felt, knowing that my secret was out. Within a few minutes I was called into the bookroom. I can still remember the exact conversation," Elizabeth said.
"'Well, Lizzy, it appears you have gotten yourself into a bit of mischief,' my father said. 'Mischief! Mischief!' my mother interrupted. 'She was naked with a boy who is older than her!'"
Darcy laughed and cringed at Elizabeth's shrill impersonation of her mother.
"You can imagine my shock when I heard that. My father raised his brow at me and asked, 'Lizzy, can you please explain what happened yesterday?' To which I proceeded to tell him exactly what had happened. I was very careful to stress that I did, in fact, have my shift on the entire time.
"I could see the laughter in his eyes by this point. 'It would seem the oldest Lucas boy is not to be trusted,' he said. At this my mother interrupted again, 'Charles said that John looked at you and saw you naked! How could you run around, at your age naked!?' I tried to argue with my mother that I was not naked, but she did not believe me. I looked to Papa for help, and saw that by this point he was barely containing his amusement.
"He must have decided to help me however, because he explained what had been said. 'Young Charles told your mother this morning that when you got out of the pond John did not keep his promise, and Charles saw him peek at you. Charles did not look himself, so I assume he assumed you were undressed fully.' At this my mother interrupted again, 'But he is telling the neighborhood that John saw her naked, and that is all that matters! If this spreads, you must tell Sir William that John must offer for her! Her reputation will be ruined! We will never marry any of our other girls, all because of Lizzy and her hoyden ways. We will be ruined! Oh, my poor nerves.'"
Darcy laughed again, "You do that too well."
"I have heard it often enough. My mother's nerves have been a constant complaint of hers for as long as I can remember, especially in regards to me," replied Elizabeth, before returning to the story.
"'Well, I see two options before you, Lizzy,' said my father. 'We can have the eldest Lucas boy refute young Charles' claim that you were naked, or you can marry him and be done with it.'"
"He did not think it would all blow over?" Darcy asked in surprise. "I would think ignoring the issue truly was the best path in this case."
"At the time, I did not think of that. I did wonder briefly if he thought it would be entertaining. I begged him not to make us call John out for peeping, but he would not budge. Looking back now, I think I can see why he did it. My mother is incapable of discretion. She was going to rattle on about it, no matter the consequences. I think he saw that he would need to have the true story out there or my mother would have made it much worse."
"Why did he not simply forbid her from speaking of it?" Darcy asked.
"Do you truly see my father forbidding my mother anything, or having it work, for that matter?" Elizabeth asked in return.
"I suppose not. I will never understand your father's refusal to contain his wife."
Elizabeth raised a brow at that, "Do you intend to contain me?"
"Well, no, but that is different."
"You are able to act with decorum and discretion."
She smiled, "I am glad you do not think it will be necessary. I should probably warn you now that it would not go well if you did, regardless of what society thinks."
"I am...aware of that," he said carefully.
Elizabeth laughed, "That was delicately said. You also need to remember that my father is not one to take command. I sometimes wonder if he was truly capable of it. You are very different from him in that respect. By that point in their marriage they had already settled into what you saw of them last autumn, though. My father was content to laugh at my mother, but left her to her own will."
"So you were required to suffer instead."
Elizabeth shrugged lightly, "It was not the first nor the last. I loved my father dearly, but I know his tendency to inaction allowed others to suffer."
She leaned in to kiss him again, "Perhaps that is why I admire your preference for action."
He kissed her in return, "You will not suffer so on my watch."
She smiled, "I know."
"How did young Mr. Lucas take to being called out?" Darcy asked.
"It was everything horrible. My father, mother, and I went to Lucas Lodge immediately, and my father asked John to be called down. Sir William had not heard a thing of it yet, so he was oblivious. Lady Lucas would not look at me, I am sure I know where she placed the blame for the whole incident.
"John came down, saw me and immediately turned an incredible shade of red. I do not think I was much better, to my father's unending amusement. Papa wasted no time. 'Well young man, it seems you and my daughter have created quite the stir. Your youngest brother has let it be known that you have seen Lizzy in the nude, and she insists that it is not true. I am sure you know that we cannot allow a rumor such as this to ruin Lizzy's reputation. Are you planning to do the right thing, and repair her honor?' I am quite certain that he meant to entertain himself, stating it in such a manner. I do believe all but my mother objected to what he was insinuating. It did serve its purpose, however, as John quite loudly declared that I had been wearing my shift and there was no way he was going to marry such a mulish woman. That set off another round of arguments, which ended when I called John an inflexible clod."
Darcy shook his head with a grin as she continued, "By now, my father was not bothering to hide his amusement. He must have felt his purpose was served, however, as he declared we would be taking our leave. 'I am glad we cleared this matter up. I would be careful, young man' he said to John, 'that you do not threaten Lizzy's reputation, or any girl's for that matter, anytime soon. You will end up being labeled a rake and you might actually be forced to marry her.' John and his mother looked furious, Sir William was uselessly blustering something about keeping the peace and misunderstandings, and my mother tried one more time to insist he marry me. My father simply walked out the door, which was enough to get her to follow. I do not think she trusted him to not leave her behind without the carriage.
"I tried to give John an apologetic look as I left, but he would not look at me. To this day he has never asked me to dance nor has he come near me at neighborhood dinners and such, even though his parents seem to have forgiven me. I imagine he was relieved when our banns were read."
"Would your mother truly have married you off at fourteen to a boy who was not even in his majority?" asked Darcy.
"Is that what you heard from all of that?" Elizabeth asked incredulously.
"No, but I am very curious about it. I have not known your mother long enough to understand her fully."
"I like to think not, but it certainly appeared that way. I do not think she was feeling as desperate then, though. I am simply grateful that no one else would have agreed with her."
"You may have been...formed," he said hesitantly, "but I think your not being out shielded you from the inappropriateness of the situation."
"So in your opinion a girl is not a woman just because she looks it?"
"Absolutely not. I do not see any reason for girls to be out before their eighteenth year, either. I have no intention of allowing Georgiana to do so, and I hope you do not wish it for our daughters," Darcy said firmly.
"That was most definitely not my mother's opinion," Elizabeth replied. "As soon we began our womanly times she considered us ready to be out. She was married at seventeen, however, and saw nothing wrong with it."
Darcy shook his head, "Georgiana is sixteen. Could you imagine her attempting London society as a debutante?"
"I do not disagree with you. I suppose it was a little different in the country. We have a handful of families who all know each other, and very few prospects in the community. We had little opportunity to practice in society if we were not out. Georgiana has had dinner with your entire family, who happen to encompass an earl, a countess, a viscount, a viscountess...and I am sure many more."
"Yes, that is true. But you do not want to have our daughters out so young, do you?"
"I do not. I would have preferred to keep the status of girl for much longer than I was allowed. I do think we will need to judge each daughter's abilities for herself. You do not hold to the younger not being allowed out until the older are married, do you? I do agree with my mother there."
"I believe you said it does not promote sisterly affection, did you not?" he asked with a smile.
Elizabeth laughed, "Your aunt told you that, did she? Yes, I was quite impertinent that day. I meant it, though. Could you imagine the rest of us sisters still waiting for Jane to wed? I would not have been out at twenty, and even Mary is eighteen. I believe we were far too close in age to follow that old notion. Besides, being out is not only about marriage. A girl should have a few years to enjoy her friends at parties and balls before she settles into married life. However would we form our own minds without it?"
"I think that may be the point."
"Too true. There are many who would not have a woman form her own mind. If she passes from father to husband, then a man can always think for her, I suppose," Elizabeth said with a pinched expression.
Darcy laughed again and brushed his finger down the bridge of her nose, smoothing it, "Heaven help the man who tries to think for you or any of our daughters."
"We shall raise them all to thoroughly scandalise my mother!" Elizabeth exclaimed laughingly.
They soon moved from the study to the library, discussing where Mr. Bennet's books should be placed. To Elizabeth's surprise, Darcy already had a shelf large enough for them all placed adjacent to the seating area by the fire.
As she stood in silence, taking in what her husband had so thoughtfully done, Darcy began to grow nervous.
"Of course, you can choose anyplace you would prefer for your books. We can shift books on a different shelf. If you would like, we can move them to our sitting room," he rambled.
Elizabeth looked to him and he stopped speaking. She had a smile forming on her lips. He relaxed as she stepped into his embrace.
"I think this is exactly where I will want them," she said into his shirt, muffling her voice.
Darcy wrapped his arms tightly around her."I am glad you like it," he said.
Elizabeth let out a sigh, "You are so thoughtful."
Darcy huffed out a laugh, "I think it is more that I never stop thinking of you. I am quite certain everyone else feels very neglected lately."
"Perhaps I will apologise someday. For now, I think I will simply enjoy the surprisingly wonderful man I married."
A/N: I'm sorry that this is taking so long. I have not abandoned this story and I appreciate your sticking with me. For a little more detailed info, please check out the blog link that I added to my profile.