I hope you enjoyed chapter 27 and my post on Emma.
Here is the next instalment for you.
Elizabeth returned to her own room and began to prepare for bed. She washed her face, cleaned her teeth, and then brushed her hair one hundred strokes, yet still, she was not tired.
Reading was an excellent way to induce sleep, and so she sat in bed and picked up her book. However, she seemed to be reading the same sentence again and again.
In exasperation, Elizabeth tossed her book aside, threw back the blankets and slipped out of bed. As she pulled back the curtains the room was instantly flooded with pale moonlight that looked both magical and eerie. She perched herself on the padded cushions in the window seat and drew her knees up to her chin, then tugged at her nightgown until it reached her ankles.
It was not that she was cold, for the night still held a residue of warmth from the sunny day, but it somehow made her feel safe and secure.
It was her indecision that kept her awake, and Elizabeth knew this. There would be no rest for her until she had made up her mind whether to marry Mr Darcy or not. Once the decision had been made, there was then the task of telling him yay or nay.
She remembered when they first met, his arrogance and conceit had made her adamant that he was the last man on earth she could ever be prevailed upon to marry, but all that had changed; he had changed. Oh, not in the essentials, there was still the odd moment when his misplaced pride made an unwelcome appearance. But overall, he was a far better man now, than when they had first been introduced.
Elizabeth gave a huff on the glass and watched as her breath condensed forming an opaque patch on the window pane. With her index finger, she drew a heart shape and then traced out her initials, followed by Mr Darcy’s below.
The fact that Mr Darcy loved her she did not doubt, and she knew that she loved him. So, was it just her pride that had been bruised by his deception? If he had involved her in his plan to see Anne and Mr Galbraith married, would they still be in harmony? That she could never know, but what she did know was this; Lydia was a respectable widow because of Mr Darcy. Anne and Angus were even now on their wedding journey, because of Mr Darcy. And, her beloved sister, Jane, and Mr Bingley were again reunited and betrothed at the hand of Mr Darcy. Could she justify denying her own happiness purely because of the way he had brought these couples together?
Elizabeth looked deep into her heart that night, and she did not like what she found. For she discovered pride and anger and resentment residing there, and it pained her to discover this.
“How could I have been so blind, so unseeing and selfish?” She said aloud.
In that instant, Elizabeth knew what she wanted more than anything else in the world; she wanted to be his wife.
However, her protestation would have to wait until morning; it was after midnight.
She took one last look up at the night sky, sure sleep would now claim her. A carpet of twinkling lights, together with the light of the full moon stared back at her. The sun’s reflected light bathed the moon’s surface, which in turn covering the Longbourn estate in an eerie, almost translucent light, causing long shadows from the trees to be drawn on the ground and stretched across the grass until they kissed the house.
Elizabeth would be sad to leave here with all its familiar nooks, crannies, smells, and shadows, but if Mr Darcy would still have her, then Pemberley would soon be her home.
Lost in her own thoughts, Elizabeth’s attention was suddenly drawn to a sharp movement in the garden. Rubbing away her childish doodle, she screwed up her eyes and looked harder into the area of trees and shrubs that skirted Longbourn’s entrance. Shielding her eyes from the bright moonlight, she peered deeper into the shadowed area.
Someone was hiding in the bushes!
Darcy had tried to keep away, to give Elizabeth the time and space she needed to think, all the while believing she would arrive at a fair and just decision once she had considered all aspects of his actions.
He left his horse at the gates and made his way to the area opposite Elizabeth’s window. Between the moonlight and candlelight in her room, he could make out her figure sitting at her window. He watched as she raised her hand and etched out the shape of a heart, only to be further elated when she wrote his initials below her own. His own heart race at the thought of Elizabeth lining their names together romantically. He stepped forward, intending to call out to her, but the words died on his lips. What was he thinking? The hour was late, and the house was in darkness. Clearly, all were abed.
Stepping back towards the perimeter of the bushes, he hoped he had not been detected, but his actions were for nought. He watched as Elizabeth raised her arm and rubbed away the steam drawing, leaving the glass clear and her vision unobstructed.
She had been him. There was nothing for it now but for him to step out from the darkness and identify himself.
Two long strides brought him out into the clearing below her window. He removed his hat and turned his face skywards, giving the moonlight and Elizabeth ample time to reveal his identity.
Elizabeth drew in a shocked gasp. It was Mr Darcy. What was he doing coming to Longbourn this late at night?
Elizabeth unlatched her window as quietly as possible in a house as old as Longbourn, and gingerly pushed it open.
She popped her head out just far enough so that Mr Darcy could hear what she was saying without having to shout.
“What can you be thinking, sir? Go home this instant before you are discovered.”
The last thing Darcy wanted was to do was force Elizabeth into marriage by compromise. He only wanted her if she loved him for himself.
He lifted his arm and waved something in his hand.
Elizabeth closed the window and blew out her candle, hoping he would leave. Instead, he made his way to the front door.
Elizabeth could not contain her curiosity and opened her window again. This time, she leaned over the window ledge as far as she dared without falling.
He took the object in his hand and slipped it under the locked door.
Elizabeth suspected, to fit between the door and its frame, it could only be a letter.
A mixture of feeling engulfed her senses. She was excited that Mr Darcy had not been able to stay away, and she was eager to see what could be so important that he would risk all to deliver it in the dead of night. She also felt fear; what if it was a note of farewell. But the sense that overwhelmed her the most was intrigue. Just what was on that piece of paper?
Elizabeth watched and waited until Mr Darcy had made his way back to the trees where he had previously been standing. Then he began frantically jabbing in the air with one finger, pointing towards the door.
Clearly, he expected her to go downstairs and retrieve it.
Pulling on her dressing gown and slippers, Elizabeth went back to the window and raised her hand, instructing him to stay where he was. Then she relit her candle and crept out of her bedroom.
The house appeared to be in total darkness, and so as quietly as she could, Elizabeth made her way downstairs, avoiding any of the steps she knew were loose and might creak under her feet.
She drew near to the front door and instantly recognised what had been deposited under it.
Lying there, in stark contrast to the dark wooden floorboards, was a white piece of paper, neatly folded to conceal its contents.
Elizabeth carefully placed her candle on the side table, picked up the paper and unfolded it.
She held it closer to the flickering flame of the candle to illuminate the script.
The life that I have
Is all that I have
And the life that I have
The love that I have
Of the life that I have
Is yours and yours and yours!
Forgive me Elizabeth
Her spirit soared. It was beautiful and sad and wonderful and loving and… oh, it made her want to cry and laugh at the same time.
He loves me!
Was he was still standing in the garden, waiting for her to acknowledge his note or even expecting a reply? Now was the time to be completely honest. No more doubts, no more misplaced pride.
With no thought of her state of undress, her reputation, or the wrath her father would surely rain down upon them both should they be caught, Elizabeth pulled back the top and bottom bolts on the door and quietly open it.
Darcy saw the door open and took a tentative step forward out of the shadows, unsure of the reception Elizabeth would give him. He did not want to assume she had forgiven him, or that she even wanted to speak to him. But he hoped…yes, he hoped that she had. And that she did. Too often he had made rash assumptions where Elizabeth was concerned only to have them fall short of his unrealistic expectations.
Elizabeth, her eyes now accustomed to the moonlight, immediately spotted the outlined figure of Mr Darcy as he stepped out from the darkness.
It was brash and foolish and reckless and unwise, but she was following her heart, not convention.
She did not hurry to his side. Instead, she took slow and deliberate steps, full of meaning and promise.
Standing before him, she raised her eyes and look up at him through her long dark lashes. Lifting her hand, she cupped his cheek in her palm and gently caressed his face. The newly grown stubble on his strong jaw did not register on her soft skin.
“Fitzwilliam,” she whispered softly, “can you ever forgive me…”
Darcy stifled her next words as he smothered her mouth with his lips, seeking to reassure them both that they were once more in harmony.
Then, Darcy placed his hands on either side of Elizabeth’s face and preceded to deliver soft kisses on her eyes, her nose, her cheeks, and finally, her lips again. There was not a single part of her face that did not benefit from his ministrations. His feather-light caresses caused Elizabeth’s body to quiver with delight and anticipation and Darcy obligingly pulling her closer.
“Elizabeth…my love,” he whispered, as he buried his face in her long soft curls. “How I have dreamt of this day, longed for this day, that I might hold you in my arms and tell you how very much I love you…”
Elizabeth wound her arms around his neck and leaned into his embrace, tilting her face upwards, offering her lips to him. An invitation he was only too happy to accept.
They clung to one another for several seconds before he broke away.
“My darling, my own sweet love, it is I who must beg your forgiveness.”
Elizabeth brought her hand to his mouth and placed a single finger on his lips, silencing the words he was about to say.
“We must both promise to never deceive one another again, Fitzwilliam. And from this moment on, we will never speak of this again. Of my pride and your…” she hesitated, reluctant to use the word that sprang to mind.
“Deceit,” he said it for her.
Elizabeth smiled, “It will be a thing of the past.”
“I will never do anything to endanger our love again,” Darcy promised as he placed a soft kiss on her fingertip.
Gazing into her eyes, made all the brighter for the reflected moonlight, Darcy knew his heart was lost forever, destined to love Elizabeth for all eternity, like Anthony and Cleopatra, or Romeo and Juliet, but God willing, theirs would be a long and happy union.
“Elizabeth, I want to…”
Suddenly, Darcy stiffened, and his arms dropped to his sides.
Instinct told Elizabeth they had been discovered.
“Elizabeth, get inside at once.”
Elizabeth waited until she had walked past her father before glancing over her shoulder at Mr Darcy. Then she disappeared from his view as she entered the house.
Taking a step towards the understandably very irate Mr Bennet, Darcy thought to explain their actions and take all the blame upon himself.
“Sir, I know how this must look but…”
“Do not think to make light of this incident, sir. You will be in my study at ten in the morning. Now get off my property!” With that, Mr Bennet turned on his heels and went inside. It took all his restraint not to slam the door shut, thus making his displeasure known to both Elizabeth and Mr Darcy, but with the rest of his family already abed and likely asleep, he closed it quietly and pulled the bolts back into place.
Elizabeth stood shamefaced in the hall as she waited for her father to return. Yes, she had been reckless, but in her eyes, there were extenuating circumstances.
After he entered the house, Mr Bennet walked straight past Elizabeth. He never even gave her a second look before entering his study. He correctly assumed she would follow him in, and then he closed the door behind them.
He walked over to the fireplace and immediately began to pace back and forth.
Elizabeth shivered. Her summer night clothes afforded her little warmth, and with no fire in the grate, it was decidedly chilly.
Mr Bennet’s initial reaction had been one of rage. On each turn as, he paced to and fro, he tossed Elizabeth a look of disapproval. He felt engulfed by shock and disappointment.
Elizabeth was his favourite child, the brightest, the wittiest, and the most sensible of the bunch. She was the only one of his children he could spend any length of time with in equanimity. The younger girls looked up to her, and he had always been confident in her setting a good example for them to emulate. Lydia, he thought, had at least had the good sense to elope before flinging herself into the arms of her lover.
Elizabeth was in the wrong, and she knew it. Her rash behaviour might have ruined everything. Her reputation, her father’s good opinion of her, and even her betrothal. She was not yet one and twenty, and her father could still withdraw his consent to her union with Mr Darcy. Even she viewed her actions as foolish and ill-advised. But worse, she had let everyone down. Let her father down, let Lydia down, and let herself down. She had put her dear papa in an awkward position, and he did not deserve it. He had always shown her great tolerance and leniency, especially where her cousin was concerned. If it had not been for her father interference, she might now be Mrs William Collins!