I'd like to thank Myshlp as always, for editing this and the last chapter in one marathon session.
This chapter was written very quickly (for me) in only about a week. As such, I feel like I haven't pored over every word like I usually do. I apologise for any resulting error and I'd be grateful if you could point out any that you notice, so I can fix them when I go back and edit.
I've just noticed that my hyperlinks aren't coming out, even though I hide the dots. If you're interested in any of the webpages I've referenced, PM me and I can give you more info.
If you need a recap, you should find one in ch.18.
The following morning, after a leisurely breakfast, the Gardiners set out on foot to meet some friends of Mrs. Gardiner. Elizabeth chose to remain at home, still tired after their late night amusement and planning to spend the morning reading. She could not convince her body to forgo its usual habits, however, and before long, had collected her bonnet and spencer, donned her gloves and was heading out the door. Though she walked with abandon at home, she was sensible enough not to strike off alone into the Derbyshire wilderness (1). She would stick to the turnpike road and keep her walk very short (2).
As she left the town behind, the road was verged by a dry stone wall enclosing, on the right hand side, a field of golden rapeseed (3), which she stopped to admire. The hills around Pemberley were before her in the distance and in a cleared area on the crest was visible the apex of a building, barely in view over the top of the hill. The façade, she knew could be seen from the other side, the Pemberley facing side. Her thoughts were disturbed by the urge to traipse through the flowers and trek the mile or so up to reach it.
She stood leaning against the wall, when the sound of an approaching vehicle attracted her attention. Of course, it was Mr. Darcy coming towards her in a smart curricle pulled by a matching pair. His amused smile on seeing her out alone spoke to his lack of surprise.
"Good day, Miss Bennet," he called as he alighted from his carriage. "You have not lost your enthusiasm for a morning walk, I see."
"Good day, sir. I was just admiring your folly on the hill." Mr. Darcy followed her line of sight and smiled at the compliment.
"I must say I am rather fond of that one, myself. The path up to it is very pleasant also."
He looked down at her for a moment with smiling thoughtfulness, before finally remembering to speak.
"I was just on my way to call on your aunt and invite your uncle to fish with the party at Pemberley tomorrow. May I offer you a ride back?"
"I am afraid you will not find my uncle at the inn. He and my aunt are visiting friends. I would be happy to relay your message, though."
"I thank you, but I should prefer to ask him in person and spare your uncle the cost of a messenger."
Mr. Darcy seemed to think for a moment, before asking, probably with more haste than he had intended, "Perhaps I could show you the folly, as you expressed an interest in it?"
He was in awkward agony for the few moments it took her to reply. For her part, she didn't know how to answer. Formerly, she would have been wishing not to go and merely grasping for a polite excuse. Now, she felt none of the daunting energy from him that she once did, and found that she rather wanted to go, but didn't know if she should.
She thought, somehow, that she could trust him not to molest her, and there could, after all, be no impropriety in travelling together in an open carriage (4). She accepted prettily, and Mr. Darcy handed her up and took a seat beside her. The jostling of the carriage, as they turned off the turnpike road and onto a more interesting path helped to keep her mind off of Mr. Darcy's proximity. So, also, did his conversation as they began to climb a series of undulations that would finally lead to the folly.
"The Bingley party has left Pemberley unexpectedly." Darcy blurted out of the blue. Her head whipping around must have alarmed him, as he hurried to explain, "They wished me to convey their regret at not being able to properly take their leave." He cautiously glanced over at her while trying to keep his eyes on the horses, also.
"Mr. Bingley in particular was vehement that his warmest esteem be conveyed to your aunt and uncle, as well as to yourself, and that you be assured of his distress at having to leave all of his friends so soon." He finally began to relax on seeing her gentle smile while imagining the scene. She was still uneasy at his disappearance so soon after their own arrival and what it may mean for his reawakened interest in Jane, but it seemed he had, at least, not been eager to be away from them.
Due to the surrounding trees, Elizabeth did not see the folly, until they were upon it and it appeared, quite imposing, before them. It was a four-sided building in the style of a Greek temple complete with columns and pediments. The temple lacked a roof, a choice that Elizabeth thought was inspired, as she made her way up the steps to enter the space and gaze out of the void and into the blue sky. Four sturdy corners were connected by Corinthian columns on the long sides and separated by an arch on each of the short ones. The whole effect was one of commanding, yet restrained elegance, nestled in the surrounding woodlands: it was Pemberley in miniature (5).
Mr. Darcy, after securing the horses, followed her up to the folly, but remained outside due to some odd sense of propriety. She explored it with delight, weaving in and out of the structure to examine it from every angle. Finally satisfied, she came to a stop beside Mr. Darcy, who was leaning on a column looking out onto the valley below. Following his gaze, she noticed, for the first time, the view of Pemberley, from higher ground than she had ever seen it before: the park and its meandering river, and the pale house to their right.
"It is the most beautiful house I've ever seen."
Mr. Darcy dipped his head shyly, but was clearly proud of his home. "I cannot bow to modesty and disagree with you." His solemnity returned as he contemplated the sight before him: his life's work. "I have yet to find a place I like better, but the house is 250 years old. I cannot take the credit for Pemberley. It is the work of many generations and merely good fortune that I have been born into my position. It is a great privilege to live here, but a responsibility, also."
"Pemberley is not mine, to be fit up according to the latest fashions, with no regard to posterity," he continued, referencing their discussion of the night before. "In 100 years' time, this house will still stand, I hope. I will be long gone, yet this will remain."
Elizabeth was struck by the thought of how meaningful Pemberley was to Darcy, how connected he was to this place and how little he could be understood apart from it.
She had once thought herself a study of character, but never had she made allowance for any consideration outside of her own experience. Mr. Wickham had acted the gentleman with her, and so he was a gentleman. Mr. Darcy had acted an arrogant, self-assured prig, who chose not to engage with those around him, and so he was; He had shown her one aspect to his character, in one situation, and so that was all she had deemed him to be. What a fool she was.
"Our guests are visiting Stanage Edge today. I had planned to lead the party, but I had estate business this morning that could not be avoided (6)."
"Georgianna felt herself indisposed this morning," Mr. Darcy continued with a pulse of his jaw, "and also stayed at home. I am sure she would welcome your company. Will you come and take tea at the house?" His manner had regained that stiff reserve which she had previously known, and she could not help feeling that he was not best pleased with Georgianna's remaining at home. Far from annoying her as it once did, she felt amused at his obvious exasperation and sorry for Georgianna.
She agreed to his proposition and they set off in his curricle—to Pemberley this time—by a less taken route, as evidenced by the narrow road and rougher terrain. Mr. Darcy stopped before the entrance, handed the reins to a waiting stable boy and waved off the other staff that attempted to fuss about them, though one did manage to help Elizabeth alight.
Mr. Darcy strode up the steps, before remembering her. He stopped, abashed and waited to escort her in, which he did at a ludicrously slow pace, it seemed to her, as if to make up for his previous impatience. He inquired from a passing footman as to the whereabouts of his sister and bristled to learn that she was keeping to her rooms, though where else he expected an ill girl to be, Elizabeth didn't know. They proceeded up the staircase towards Georgianna's sitting room. Mr. Darcy was too agitated to converse easily and Elizabeth truly began to fear for Georgianna, once her brother found her.
His knock on the door of Georgianna's sitting room was bizarrely gentle, given his behaviour, and Georgianna's meek response ushered Mr. Darcy in with quiet steps. Georgianna's eyes, as they lit up at seeing her, were all the welcome that Elizabeth needed. However, the girl did attempt to verbalise her delight, rising from the fainting couch on which she was settled and dropping the blanket that had covered her knees. She seemed to realise her mistake and sat back down as feebly as she could manage, tucking herself in for good measure. Elizabeth knew better than to bring attention to her supposed malady, but felt she must say something, out of politeness, and settled for wishing her hostess well.
She and Mr. Darcy settled on a pair of chairs opposite her. Georgianna took up her work once more, but glanced at her brother surreptitiously when she thought he wasn't watching. He always was. Elizabeth felt out of place, though Mr. Darcy's troubled face no longer made her fear his anger at his sister. He just watched her forlornly.
"Are you feeling better, now?" he finally asked and her expression when she met his eyes and answered that she was, a little, was heart-breaking.
Mr. Darcy watched her for a moment, standing abruptly, and paced to the window. He stared out of the it, but his eyes brimmed with emotion: he did not see what was before him.
Elizabeth could not leave the girl to her guilt. "I hope your guests will enjoy Stanage Edge. We had planned to visit, but I don't believe we will get the chance before returning home now. I have seen pictures, of course, but I imagine they hardly convey the reality. Have you ever been there?"
"I have not, I'm afraid to say. I have not seen a lot of my own county. I should have liked to go on the excursion today. However…" Here her voice dropped off and she glanced anxiously at her brother's back.
"Oh, that is a pity," Elizabeth interjected in an effort to smooth over any possible discord. "But you will be here for the summer, will you not? Perhaps you can take the trip with your brother before you return to London." Mr. Darcy looked over his shoulder slightly at her mentioning his name, but did not re-join the conversation. "
"Still," Elizabeth continued, "It is nice to have a quiet morning to yourself, when you are entertaining a large party." Georgianna did not respond.
"I would find the whole endeavour quite daunting." This got her attention and she seemed to doubt the truth of that statement. Elizabeth continued, "You are so tall and grown-up looking that I'm sure your guests must forget how young you are." Georgianna lowered her eyes, but could not hide her pleasure at being thought older than she was.
Elizabeth moved to the edge of her seat in an attempt to catch her eye. "Thank you for the invitation to dinner yesterday," she said. "We enjoyed ourselves very much. Did you plan the menu?"
She was surprised to learn that Georgianna, encouraged by her brother, had taken an active role in planning for the house party through frequent letters with Mrs. Reynolds and had planned the menu for the entire fortnight of their guests' stay.
In this manner, Elizabeth drew Georgianna into conversation. It was sometimes two steps forward and one back with the girl. She would find a topic that engaged and lightened the girls' mood, only to fall on some unknown stumbling block of embarrassment that caused her to round her shoulders and seek refuge in her workbasket.
Elizabeth was nothing if not tenacious, and she really did like the girl and persevered. Georgiana suffered from the same affliction as her brother, but without the independence, consequence, or responsibilities that might distract her from her brooding tendencies.
The mention of Georgiana's puppy was the final cord broken and all her girlish enthusiasm came bursting forth as she described his antics in the carriage. Elizabeth got as much enjoyment from imagining Miss Bingley's reactions as she struggled to reconcile her innate self-importance and the enjoyment of Mr. Darcy's carriage springs with the tolerance of a slobbering dog, even if he did chew a hole in her reticule.
When she chanced to look up, she saw that Mr. Darcy had turned full around and was grinning down at the pair—there was no other word. He beamed openly and without disguise. Elizabeth almost missed Georgiana's next question.
"Would you like to meet him? We're keeping him down in the stables, because he chews everything and Mrs. Reynolds won't have him in the house…"
Before Elizabeth could answer, Mr. Darcy stepped back towards them. "Dearest, you have been sick all day and missed the excursion because of it. It would not do to be seen gallivanting outdoors with Figaro. You would not want word to get back to your guests." He was firm, but had lost his agitation and Elizabeth could see his affection for his sister as he let her know that she would not be getting away with her deception, and would have to live with her actions.
Georgiana capitulated, obviously disappointed, but her elevated mood was not lost and when Elizabeth, not wanting to outstay her welcome, said that she would leave her to rest, Georgiana bid her farewell with good humour.
"Thank you for your kindness to my sister." Mr. Darcy spoke as they retraced their steps down the corridor. "She is rarely so open, even with ladies she has known for some time."
"It is nothing, sir. She is a sweet girl".
Mr. Darcy offered his arm as they stood at the top of the grand staircase.
"She was never confident, even before last summer; she finds it very difficult to make friends." His tense arm felt like stone beneath her fingers.
"I think that someone, such as your sister, who finds themselves uneasy in large parties, should be gently encouraged to practice. Any young person her age would be overwhelmed by hosting such a large gathering. When I think of Lydia or Kitty being asked to…" Her cheeks reddened at the thought of reminding him of her younger sisters' misdeeds. "Well, I don't think I know of any girl of 16 years old who would acquit herself with more grace than I have seen from Georgiana. You should be very proud of her."
There was that grin of his again. He evidently was proud of her, even if disappointed in her actions of that morning.
"Even so, I thank you for being gentle with her when she needed it, and when I could not be."
When they reached the bottom of the stairs, Elizabeth presumed that he would call for the carriage and take her home, or have her taken home, but he hesitated below the bottom step.
"When you toured the house, did you visit the library?"
She answered in the negative and Mr. Darcy, having released her arm, gestured for her to follow his direction. The library was located in a wing of the house, and they walked through several connecting rooms, familiar to Elizabeth, to get there.
The library was beyond two over-sized doors, giving an indication of the room beyond, and her anticipation was not disappointed when Mr. Darcy opened them. The remarkable feature of the library was its rounded roof, looming overhead. It was panelled with dark wood and punctuated with arched beams, which almost disappeared in the gloom at their zenith: a cathedral of knowledge. These arches delineated the free space in the centre of the room and the base of each was marked by a bust. The books—wonderfully warm and textured—lined several wall-to-ceiling bookshelves, which connected each arch to the walls of the room. This created a small aisle between the bases of the arches on both sides of the room, where Elizabeth could imagine herself hiding away with her favourite tome. A second storey of books, on a mezzanine above them added to the impression of being watched over by the literature of years gone by (7). She wandered for a time enjoying the play of light in the gloom.
"You know not how lucky you are to have such a resource. And Georgiana; she strikes me as a girl who reads."
Darcy confirmed that she was. "Though I doubt she could match your enthusiasm."
"Yes, I have always been too curious for my own good."
"Curiosity expressed through reading can never be a bad thing, surely."
"I don't think my father's pocketbook would have agreed with you; but he indulged me in my passion, even if it meant my taking over his book room. It is a little different now."
Darcy did not know what say to that. He would have loved to tell her what he really felt: that he would lay his library at her feet; that she would never want for a book or a room to put it in again; that he would make Pemberley a deposit library if she wished! If only she promised to stay forever(8).
Damn his cowardice! Instead he made some dull comment about reading being a pleasant pastime.
"I don't doubt that your understanding is first rate, sir, but you could not possibly comprehend the importance of reading for a woman with an inquiring mind. Men are expected to learn through experience: you travel to broaden your experience—take the Grand Tour; while we must make do with travel books, describing strange sights in unknown climes that we shall never see. Take away our books, and we are left with a very limited view of the world indeed."
"I cannot pretend to have experienced any such predicament, but I sympathise. I certainly do not wish Georgianna to be cloistered away and experience everything second hand, through her novels. I think she has been guilty of that, to some degree, or rather, that I have been too protective of her. But I cannot see that you have been stifled. You paint yourself as being impoverished by your sex, but I cannot see anything lacking in your education."
He was making a habit of such statements; statements that she could not reply to; statements that ended the argument and made her blush.
Rather than make any attempt at a retort, she continued down the aisles until her attention was drawn to a section towards the back of the room, containing volumes of modern poetry. She reached tentatively, to pull one out of its place and read the title. "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell," she read.
"William Blake!" she exclaimed stupidly, turning to Mr. Darcy who had followed her perusal. "But you hate William Blake."
Mr. Darcy smiled indulgently. "It's a recent acquisition". Elizabeth turned her attention back to the book, running her hand down the spine to trace the gilt title; she noticed an ornamented P—for Pemberley, she presumed—as part of the ornamentation (9). She opened the book and it landed on a page that had clearly seen much use.
"Proverbs of Hell". Elizabeth started at the sound of Mr. Darcy's voice, reading the poem's title over her shoulder.
She stilled, except for the hammering of her heart. "Is this a particular favourite of yours?" wondering if he could hear the quiver in her voice.
He did not answer and instead read the poem in a low voice. Near the end, he read the line, 'Exuberance is beauty'. He paused and then said. "I think of you whenever I read that." Her attention was not on the page, but on the man who was all around her. She could feel his eyes and his breath on her neck and unconsciously moved her head to the side, exposing more of it to him.
"That's why I like Blake." Her voice was breathy, in spite of herself. "I like that he doesn't preach a traditional morality. Inaction is as bad as excess to him. He wants us to take pleasure in acting upon our lusts without shame or guilt." What was she saying? She had thought that she was just blathering, but somehow she had ended up saying something in her ramblings. But what was it that she was saying?
"Of course," Oh God, I've started speaking again! "Really, he is arguing against extremes; that any extreme, even if labelled as 'good', is innately evil." She stopped. Finally she had stopped. Now, if she could only prevent herself from opening her mouth again.
He still wasn't saying anything, though, and every moment the pressure within her built. Suspended in that never-ending moment, she waited for his reaction, waited for him to say something, to do anything.
Finally, like the caress of a gentle breeze, she felt the most feathery brush of his lips on the place where her shoulder and neck met. He hung there for a moment, his lips resting on her skin, as he breathed in her scent and she trembled. He remembered himself then; he did not move away, but tucked his head in to break contact while still hovering over her.
"Forgive me," he whispered in a hoarse voice.
She knew that he was apologising for more than one kiss. She could imagine his stance, defeated and pensive as he wallowed in his guilt and relived every painful moment.
She turned to face him, and she was not far wrong. He had shrunk into himself, his eyes winced shut.
"I believe you should follow Mr. Blake's example, in this."
That got his attention, his confused and startled attention. Staring into his vulnerable eyes, she slowly moved towards him. Their first contact was through the book in her hands, placed against his chest as she leaned in and lifted herself onto her toes. The stretching of the leather in her boots was echoed in the lengthening of her neck as she reached, ever so carefully reached, and tilted and elongated, until she kissed his lips, simply and gently, and with an intent unlike any previous in its purity.
Mr. Darcy accepted her kiss, more or less passively. Afterwards, he opened his mouth to speak, closed it again and took a deliberate step back, unsure what to do, what was permitted, what would best convey his unfailing admiration and respect. This was not how he had planned to approach her!
His timidity and reluctance only fuelled her courage and she boldly stepped forward. "We have both done things for which to beg forgiveness, but that was not one of them."
He wore a quizzical look, that would not be out of place on a startled dog and he wore it for longer than did credit to his considerable intelligence.
Exasperated she inquired, "Would you force me to embarrass myself by asking that my salutation be returned? (10)"
Mr. Darcy's features shifted into a look of realisation and then mischief; a look that would have worried her, had not his affection also been plainly visible.
No-one could be smug like Mr. Darcy could. His whole demeanour changed: squared shoulders proved his new-found confidence and a cocked eyebrow foretold some mischief on his part. He reached for her and a spur of the moment impulse told her to run. She had made it to the end of the library before he knew what had happened. He called to her 'Elizabeth', and she was up the steps.
By the time he had made a move to follow her, she was following the path along the edge of the bookcases of the mezzanine. She didn't know where she was going, but the impulse to run was building, as Darcy, finally snapping out of his confusion, had run up the steps and was in earnest pursuit.
Having followed the wall of the library back to its junction with the main building, she knew she would soon be trapped. A happily placed door in the wall at the end led her out into the dazzling brightness of the picture gallery. She took off, not a moment too soon, as she heard Mr. Darcy's footsteps on the wooden floorboards. Eyes focused on the end, she sprinted down its length, cursing her heavy walking boots for their weight. Her advantage on Mr. Darcy was lost now. He was faster than her, pounding down the hall like he didn't care who was listening. Exalted ancestors frowned down at her in disapproval as Elizabeth raced past them, half joyfully, half panicking as his footsteps were getting closer.
She reached the end, though. She knew she could not evade him for long, but she had reached that goal. She crossed the landing at the top of the stairs and into the private wing of the house that housed the bedrooms. Another long hall stretched out before her, inviting her to take flight. She did not look back, but knew that he had backed off in the chase; she no longer heard him running behind her.
At the end of the corridor, she found herself trapped, with only a servants' entrance through which to escape: a line she knew not to cross. Her heart was thumping, even in this playful chase. Darcy did not look playful now, though, as she turned around and saw him. He had slowed to a walk and was taking his time. He tormented her with the wait and she fidgeted and shifted, looking around for an escape. He was getting too close and she backed away from him, edging towards one of the doors.
"Not that one," he called, as she reached behind her back for the knob, keeping him in her sights all the while. He stopped in his tracks and jutted his chin towards a room across the hall. She followed his direction with her eyes, and looked back to him once more. Both were silent, both still: both tense and ready. Her first step would be the starter's pistol and she knew that this time he would not yield. And so, she ran; bolting across the hall and into the room, before he could reach her. She didn't try to lock the door or even close it—what would be the fun in that.
It was a bedroom, his bedroom she knew. It was dark, and plush and warm and she ran into the middle of it and waited.
He was standing in the door when she turned around enjoying the sight of her here in his apartment, licking his lips in anticipation. He moved towards her and she was suddenly nervous. She was breathing hard, whereas he was calm; she had won the race—the chase—but he was acting as if he had triumphed. He stalked towards her.
With a cheeky grin he uttered "Forgive me," in a tone that suggested anything but apology, and swiftly lifted her off of her feet. He carried her towards the thick bed, on which he deposited her with great enthusiasm. His hands were under her skirts before the bed had ceased to bounce and he trailed his way up her legs, lips alternating between her inner thighs and a hand on each hip. She had been out all day; she was sweaty and musty, but she didn't care. She was drunk on his admiration, his proven and tested attraction. He attempted to kiss around her mons, still teasing, still trying to gain the upper hand, but she wasn't having any of that. She squirmed up the bed to prevent him moving up her stomach and opened her legs wide, leaving him in no doubt of her wishes.
Laughing at her enthusiasm, he dived in, lapping his tongue up her slit. He didn't attempt to separate her lips and the indirect stimulation sent her wild. Why would he not just do it like she wanted; stick his tongue up her quim, straining for entrance, or pursue that startling little nub to completion. He teased her mercilessly for a time, but by the time she screamed out her pleasure, he was done with his games and as eager for it as she.
Elizabeth felt serene; her limbs were heavy on the mattress and Darcy's head, soft on her thigh. When he rose, she could see his anticipation as he gently, but firmly held her by the hips and encouraged her to move up in the bed. She now lay with her head on the pillows, where his own head must lie every night, as he knelt at her feet, rubbing her bent knee. He would not go any further, she knew, until she began.
There was no hesitation, on her part, no final doubt to overcome when she pulled him towards her. She tugged at his cravat, amusing him with her growing frustration, and settled for unbuttoning his coat as he undid the over-tightened knot.
Undressing him was a game, tactile and playful. His bare chest was a revelation, thatched with black hair that disappeared into his breeches. His smooth sides were ticklish to her kisses and his stomach wrinkled adorably when he leaned towards her.
Now it was her turn and their light-heartedness ended immediately. This was serious work. Wanting to see what he'd make of it, she let him take the lead. He couldn't resist kissing her shoulder as he drew her unlaced frock down around her waist and he constantly touched her somewhere on her bare skin. Her breasts were presented on a platter, erupting from her obliging stays, and Elizabeth didn't feel the need to remove them. Mr. Darcy thought otherwise. He laid her on her back and diligently unlaced them in their entirety. He slipped her out of her various layers- overhead, under foot, stays opened out like shutters. His ardour increased with every layer unwrapped and in the end he almost ripped her out of her petticoat and stockings. She found herself naked; cool and raw on the embroidered counterpane.
"The nakedness of woman is the work of God." His words were no more than a whisper (11).
He marvelled and he explored. No part of her was neglected, from the folds of her bellybutton to the mole on her left buttock. Her breasts, of course, were captivating to him. He worshipped them with his eyes and his hands, comparing their heft and examining their quiver. His mouth followed—his lips and his tongue—and he was soon suckling on her nipples and laving the raised areolae with his dragging tongue.
He removed his breeches himself, rising from the bed to free himself from his boots and she finally got an unobstructed view of his instrument. She had once heard it called a sugar stick, by the woman who they drafted in on washing day as she made filthy banter over the tub.
She wouldn't call it a stick—that would suggest it was slender, brittle, when in fact it was substantial and insistent: a hearty lump of flesh that stood, ready for business. Mr. Darcy seemed to hold his breath as she reached out to touch it, dancing her fingers over it, at first, afraid to take a firm hold. He didn't rush her, or push her to do more than explore. When she was finished, she kissed the tip, taking the opportunity to enjoy the smell as well as the taste of him and then lay back in the bed.
When he entered her, Darcy's face was a vision of wonder. He wanted to watch her, to feel her, to touch every part of her. She was warm and moist, as he remembered, but more than that, she was tender, as she never had been before. No longer did she lie rigid and barely tolerant; she undulated and partook of their passion, moulding herself to him as they savoured their intimacy. Darcy relished the way she clung to him, fingers digging into his flesh, as she rested her cheek against his and whispered precious nothings in his ear.
He remembered to pull out before he came, groaning deeply in frustration and satisfaction. It was Elizabeth's turn to gaze in awe at God's creation, as he convulsed before her through an exquisite demise.
"I cannot wait for the day when that's no longer necessary," he muttered when he had regained some composure. The mess on her stomach and the eruption that caused it were fascinating to Elizabeth and she prodded a finger into the viscous milk. Darcy quickly found a cloth to clean her up, kissing her clean tummy when he was done.
He climbed back over Elizabeth and lay on top of her, leaning his weight on his arms, kissing her clavicle and the top of her breasts. She closed her eyes to enjoy the sensation. The tension she felt growing in him impinged on her bliss and she opened her eyes lazily to find him staring down at her.
"I once would have thought that the answer to my next question was a forgone conclusion, but I know you well enough by now to say that that isn't the case."
He was attempting levity, but she could see the strain in his jaw.
With real apprehension in his eyes, Mr. Darcy spoke desperately. "Elizabeth, would you marry me?"
She was almost overcome with emotion—so contradictory to what she had once felt; yet her joy was bruised by reminiscences of their mutual past. She looked up at this anxious man—panicking more with every second that ticked by on the mantel clock—and she knew that he was not what she had originally thought. They had not yet broached the subject of their former actions, and so their absolution was incomplete—but that absolution, and the resulting union seemed inevitable. Her most pertinent thought was that she wanted to relieve his misery, when she said, "I would and I will". She said no more. She had no grand professions right now: he just needed to know.
Mr. Darcy gazed from one of her eyes to the other, searching for the truth. He nodded slightly when he found it and seemed to fall into a daze. Lowering his head to her breasts, his shoulders began to shake. Is he laughing? The shuddering continued, broken only by a convulsive sob and Elizabeth realised: He's weeping.
Every guilty feeling she had ever experienced, every acrimonious exchange between them and miserable recrimination crushed her, more than Darcy's weight on her chest ever could. She did the only thing that occurred to her: she clung to his curls, anchoring his head to her bosom, and wrapped her legs around him. His trembling shook her and his weeping overwhelmed her; she broke down crying and, together, they shuddered quietly into sleep.
1) Although Jane Austen has Elizabeth walking all over the place, she writes in one of her letters to her sister Cassandra about taking a long walk, unaccompanied, and how shocked she is at herself: Jane Austen: A Life; Tomalin, C (1997). (That's a brilliant book by the way. I'd recommend it.)
2) Turnpike road: A road on which all travellers in vehicles had to pay a toll or fee for the use of the road: the 'main' road. The vehicles had to stop from time to time at wooden gates where the toll was collected. This money was used for improving the roads: Pride and Prejudice, Austen, J. edited by Sunanda Dutta; . /Tollhouses%20of%
3) This view Elizabeth is seeing is based on a photo of the Derbyshire countryside I found: . , or canola as it is known in the US was popular at the time as a 'break' crop to rest the land while keeping weeds down and improving the soil. It was rarely eaten as the strains available at the time were not suitable for human consumption: lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2012/jun/12/rise-of-rapeseed-oil
4) This is Marianne's justification for riding alone in a carriage with Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility.
5) The description of the folly is based on one in the grounds of Highclere Castle (location for Downton Abbey). Its name is Jackdaw's Castle and is seen several times in the show: .ie/pin/38913984253717979/
6) Stanage Edge is a famous inland rockcliff in the Peak District. It was used as a location for the 2005 Pride and Prejudice, when Kiera Knightley stands on the edge and looks out.
7) I have modelled the library on the Long Room in Trinity College, Dublin- albeit a scaled down version to fit in a private home rather than a university. The distinguishing features of an arched roof and two storeys of bookshelves would be the same: .c0m/culture/books/a-remarkable-chapter-trinity-college-library-dublin-a-history-1.1895833
8) A legal deposit is a legal requirement in many countries that all new published copyrighted books be submitted to certain repositories, usually libraries. In the UK, for example, a copy of all newly published books must be submitted to the British Library, and five other libraries are entitled to apply for a copy within a year of publication. Mr. Darcy is obviously being facetious here.
9) At this time, wealthy book-buyers would have their books custom bound, often to match the section of library that they would be kept in. The title would be on the spine rather than the front cover, which may be designed or plain. I considered that Mr. Darcy might have sourced a first edition, but as the book was only about twenty years old at this point, I wasn't sure how valuable or practical that would be.
10) In descriptions of kissing forfeits for parlour games, they don't use the word kiss- they call it saluting. Kissing was often a forfeit for losing a game, and- I suspect- the whole point of playing. /wordpress/2013/09/wicked-little-parlor-games-from-1837/
11) 'The nakedness of woman is the work of God': from Proverbs of Hell, a poem in 'The Marriage of Heaven and Hell', by William Blake and the one that they were reading in the library.
I hope that'll satisfy the pervs in the audience, who've been grumbling about the lack of sex recently. I know it looks like they're wrapping things up, but don't get too complacent. They're not done yet.
Reviews are always welcome and brighten my day. I'm never more motivated than when I see that message on my phone letting me know someone has taken the time to comment.
I'm particularly interested in what you think of Elizabeth and Darcy getting back together and her accepting his proposal before they've worked out all the kinks.
I haven't even started the next chapter, so I can make no promises, but I hope to speak to you all again very soon.