Yet the misery, for which years of happiness were to offer no compensation, received soon afterwards material relief, from observing how much the beauty of her sister re-kindled the admiration of her former lover. When first he came in, he had spoken to her but little; but every five minutes seemed to be giving her more of his attention. P&P Chapter 53

Jane rose from her chair, her countenance showing the same serenity she always showed. She carefully smoothed a few nonexistent wrinkles from the front of her dress, and started speaking calmly.

"Mr. Bingley. I find upon five months of reflection that I prefer to be courted by a man. I've had quite enough of boys. Go back to town Mr. Bingley. There's nothing for you here."

The entire room sat in stunned silence. Could this really be the ever amiable and serene Jane, speaking so candidly and forcefully?

With that declaration, made without the slightest change in her countenance, Jane serenely turned and walked out the parlor door. Just before she quit the room, she turned back briefly to add one last bit of wisdom.

"Oh! And take your pernicious sisters and your friend with you."

With that, Jane quit the room, leaving everyone stunned.

Silence reigned for a full minute, though to the participants it seemed more like an hour. Mrs. Bennett recovered first and proceeded to chase after Jane with such effusions and screeching about her nerves, fluttering and vexation that she could no doubt be heard at Lucas Lodge, but nobody in the house paid the slightest attention. In her mind, at least one and maybe two suitable husbands were being casually discarded, and she was now one day closer to her inevitable fate in the hedgerows.

Mary and Kitty had yet to recover the power of speech, which did not damage the level of discourse in the least.

Darcy and Bingley looked at each other with their mouths agape and quite undignified. They had both awe and fear in their eyes, and neither had the vaguest idea what to do next. Sensing the obvious end of their welcome, they stirred themselves to quit the room, ending the visit, while striving valiantly to appear to be something less like chastised schoolboys running from the nanny.

Elizabeth, quite as stunned as anybody else, quickly grasped that there might be only one chance to have her own say, and she was quite determined to press her point.

She stood up slowly, and self-consciously smoothed the front of her skirt. She didn't realize that she mimicked Jane's actions just before her declaration, practically ensuring that the men would depart as soon as possible to avoid yet another thrashing. Seeing their eyes widened, and their postures indicate eminent flight, she started speaking as serenely yet forcefully as possible.

"Well! I daresay that any previous difficulties some in this room may have had in understanding Jane's countenance, thoughts and feelings have been entirely resolved." This was said with just a hint of a sardonic smirk.

Darcy flinched a bit, obviously the target of this assault, but owned in his mind that he deserved it.

Bingley let out a quiet breath, and said, "Yes Miss Elizabeth, I have never in my life heard such a clear and unambiguous statement of fully earned disapprobation, nor have I ever seen such eminently clear direction delivered to anyone."

"I have." mumbled Darcy so quietly that Bingley barely heard him. Elizabeth however saw it in his eyes and his posture, and knew she had only a moment to accomplish her aim.

Bingley offered, "With your leave, Darcy and I will depart posthaste, and apologize for taking up your time."

"Mr. Bingley" said Elizabeth, although she was looking at both men rather carefully. "If you will excuse my impertinence, would you answer one question for me?"

"I am at your disposal Miss Elizabeth."

"I will agree that my sister's instructions were abundantly clear and unambiguous, but would you mind telling me which instructions you intend to follow?"

Bingley was quite at a loss, and took a moment to reply, "Miss Elizabeth. I quite realize I am not as sharp as Darcy is and he's probably not as sharp as you, but I understood only one set of instructions. If there are other meanings, I beg you to enlighten me?"

Darcy was also confused. To his mind, Jane Bennett's instructions contained the second-worst set down he had ever heard in his life, and there was no room for ambiguity. It wasn't as bad as the one he received in Huntsford, but it was quite harsh enough, so he replied, "I'm afraid I am as unenlightened as Bingley."

Elizabeth now had exactly what she required both gentlemens' complete and undivided attention. She made one small and nearly invisible step towards the gentlemen.

"Mr. Bingley my sister made abundantly clear that she wishes to be courted by a man, and implied that you are a boy. Are not men forged from boys through adversity, learning and self-correction? Cannot you become a man worthy of her attentions? Where else are such men to come from? I believe it may be time for some of us on both sides of this room to give up their childish things."

She gave both of the gentlemen a few seconds to absorb her meanings, made another small, nearly invisible step towards them, and continued the lesson.

"A man listens to people he respects regarding any possible deficiencies in their character. Upon reflection, a man will strive to master himself, apply the appropriate reproofs, and prove himself worthy of his previous self-opinion. He will do this without complaint, no matter the difficulties. Nay, the true measure of a man will be in how successful he can be, despite the difficulty of the transformation."

"A woman will be well aware of these changes, and will happily accept the changed man in front of her, without reference to any past difficulties, and will happily give due credit for the difficulty of the transformation."

"A man will find a woman to love, and strive to become worthy of her affections, while also assisting her to become worthy of his."

"A woman will understand when she has grievously misjudged a man due to a prejudiced formed early in their relationship, and will offer her most profound and heartfelt apologies for that misjudgment and try to make reparations. A true man may take such apologies, perhaps as evidence of a girl becoming a woman."

"A man will be steadfast and constant in the pursuit of the woman he loves. He will allow her the time to really know him, and will earn her respect, admiration, esteem and even love through his actions not just to her, but to all people of their acquaintance."

"A woman will do her absolute best to be fair in her judgments and affections, and communicate the true depth of her feelings in a way that leaves no room for doubt."

By this time, Bingley realized that he had just been freely given the path to redemption. He saw that it was time to become the man that Jane Bennett could respect, admire and possibly love for a lifetime. It would indeed be difficult, and would take some time but was this not true of any worthy aspiration? He had the Jane Bennett amiability in abundance perhaps he needed some of the Elizabeth Bennett cleverness and impertinence, and a dash of the Darcy implacable stubbornness. It could be done.

Of course, he was not at all convinced any of this was strictly for his benefit. While she had been talking Elizabeth had slowly walked towards the men, and Darcy had risen from his chair, his eyes wide and staring with something he would guess was half passion and half fear. Never in all their years together had he seen the slightest indication of either emotion in the master of Pemberley.

When Elizabeth finished her last word, she was standing less than a pace in front of Darcy, nearly touching, with both parties looking in each others' eyes with the most intense look.

"The best of men will do everything within their power to protect those they love and their families. They will perform any task, pay any cost and suffer any mortification to achieve this, without expecting thanks or reward. They will accept the heartfelt thanks of those they have protected, and will understand that that thanks comes partly from gratitude, but mostly from respect, admiration and love."

The couple now stood but inches apart. Elizabeth was standing on her toes staring into Darcy's eyes, with her hands tightly gripping his lapel without her knowledge. Darcy's hand was similarly resting on the curve of her back. The rest of the room stood in breathless anticipation.

Mr. Bennett happened in from the library just in time to hear the last half of what Elizabeth had said. Jane and Mrs. Bennett had also returned, although Mrs. Bennett was for the first time in her life completely silent, mesmerized by the drama.

Very softly so softly almost none could hear, Elizabeth whispered the last thing she had to say

"Yes, I will."

This left room for only one possible reply.

"Miss Elizabeth Bennett, love of my life, would you do me the great honor of becoming my wife."

-End-