~~ Chapter Four ~~

The changes over the past week at Longbourn had baffled William to such an extent that he had privately questioned Bingley about them. Miss Jane Bennet’s involvement with her brother had been noticeably increasing, and William’s curiosity as to why she, and not Elizabeth, was more often Daniel’s companion in the morning went unsatisfied. Bingley gave him only vague intelligence regarding the change, stating that Jane was growing fond of the variation to her routine.

Regardless of the motives involved, William reaped the benefit of Elizabeth having more leisure, and predictable patterns began to develop to fill that time. Mornings spent with her in Longbourn’s small park were now common, as Elizabeth’s preference for the outdoors over the sitting room dominated her behavior. They were not always alone, as their friends and her sisters often sought them out and lingered for a while, but their attendance was not mandatory, and they would generally drift back into the home, leaving William and Elizabeth with privacy.

No romantic endeavors occurred between William and Elizabeth during their morning escapes. Their time spent wisely, becoming more intimately acquainted, was far more important at the delicate juncture in which they found themselves. She made him laugh, and he made her think, and often the roles would reverse, depending on their moods. Congeniality thrived even when they did not agree.

Proclamations of love had not yet been expressed, though if one were to closely study the weight with which they valued each other’s opinions, one would see that true devotion was what drove that interest. William was in love, and Elizabeth wished she knew a way that she could allow herself to be in love. Her attraction for William remained steadfast and genuine, but Elizabeth continued to view any alliance as hopeless due to circumstances she could not change.

Seeking out the other’s company was so embedded in their ritual, whether it be at Longbourn or Netherfield, that when William arrived at her home unexpectedly, he first looked for Elizabeth to be sitting on the bench in the grove they both preferred. William had borrowed books from Daniel’s collection and was returning them on his way to Meryton to order supplies which he required. Neither he nor Bingley called formally on Longbourn due to a report of Mrs. Bennet having a cold, but Jane and Daniel had come to Netherfield that morning. William could have given the books to Daniel to take home with him, but the absence of Elizabeth distracted him, and he simply forgot.

Elizabeth was alone in her family’s study when he found her. After offering William a cheerless "Good afternoon," Elizabeth went about refolding a paper she had been reading, while asking him if he could sit with her for a moment. William did not need to be told that she was disturbed; his instinctive awareness of the young woman sensed it immediately.

"Miss Elizabeth, what has troubled you?" William queried as he took a chair next to hers, repositioning it so that they were facing one another.

Elizabeth’s gaze dropped to the letter she held in her hand. "You have told me little about your aunt, Lady Catherine, other than she and the former Earl of Matlock were your mother’s siblings."

"That is correct. There is little of consequence for me to relate about her, unless you have a specific inquiry. I call upon Lady Catherine in Kent for two weeks every year," William paused, "out of obligation."

Running her thumb and forefinger over the crease in the parchment, Elizabeth’s steady voice solicited William for more information. "You are not in close contact with her then, if I may be so forward to ask?"


"Then may I presume that you have not written to Lady Catherine, detailing your time spent in Hertfordshire?" Elizabeth continued, shaking her head as if she already knew his response. "That you have not told her anything about our Daniel?"

"Of course not."

"Mr. Darcy, I make my sincerest apology for subjecting you to these questions." Relief played out on Elizabeth’s features in response to his reassurance, making it clear that the anger she was controlling was never intended for him.

"Will you tell me what has distressed you, and how it is related to my aunt?"

"I have received a correspondence from Lady Catherine de Bourgh."

"Did she write to you in regard to your cousin, Mr. Collins?"

"She did. Mr. Darcy, you have on numerous occasions encouraged me to be frank when we are speaking with one another. Today I request permission to take that liberty once again."

"Certainly. Please do."

"While I have the highest respect for you, I will not allow anyone from your family, especially one as wholly unconnected to my own as Lady Catherine, to dictate my brother’s future and that of Longbourn. Your aunt has made accusations that are ludicrous, and offered solutions that are cruel. If she is under the misconception that I will simply cower in deference to her title or fortune, heeding her warning and blindly accepting her reputed wisdom, Lady Catherine underestimates my fortitude. I will contest her, even if I must place the assets of Longbourn in jeopardy to ensure that the injury she proposes never reaches my family. Our response to Lady Catherine’s admonition has already begun. My Uncle Phillips is, by this time, in route to London to confer with Mr. Gardiner on the matter."

Into William’s hand Elizabeth slipped the letter that she had received from Lady Catherine that morning. As he unfolded it, William glanced up from the paper before he read the first word, offering Elizabeth an opportunity to change her mind about allowing him access to it. She did not falter in her permission, nor look away as his head lowered to take in the injudicious reasoning of Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

What William read was beyond his comprehension. By the second paragraph, he cast Elizabeth a look of disbelief before murmuring unguarded utterances as he absorbed each and every offending line. The comments that flowed from William were not censured, nor were they vulgar, yet they served to alert Elizabeth to the section of the letter that he had just read. "Daniel would never act in this manner," and "She has no legal qualifications to make these claims," were his fiercest allegations. By the salutation, William was ashamed of his connection to the woman in Kent.

Reaching out to Elizabeth, William cupped her chin with his free hand and remained silent for a time as he wrestled for the words to convey the storm of emotions brewing inside of him. His anger and repulsion was directed toward his aunt. He felt embarrassment that a person related to him was capable of making such baseless threats as were written on the paper he clutched, and he experienced a heartfelt need to be forgiven for a transgression over which he had no control.

She waited for him to speak, remarkably calm, considering the circumstances she had awaken to that morning. Elizabeth was not playing the part of a damsel in distress, having taken the initiative to contact Mr. Phillips within an hour of receiving the missive, and William’s admiration for her deepened because of it. Caroline Bingley had scorned what she termed Elizabeth’s self-sufficiency, yet how could it not be praised, especially at a time as this? He knew she had not allowed him the privilege of reading her letter in an attempt to solicit his protection, but rather William was convinced that it was Elizabeth’s way of forewarning him about the conflict.

It was Elizabeth who broke the silence, returning the favor he had once granted her by speaking aloud words of solace.

"Mr. Darcy, you are not liable for your aunt’s indiscretion."

"Lady Catherine has been grossly misinformed. This must be set to right. I cannot stand idly by while another impends on the peace that you have worked so hard to achieve."

"I will not deny that her words have been interpreted as more than a veiled threat, but I beg you not to become involved. I do not covet the responsibility of chancing a division between you and a member of your family. It is Daniel’s position that has been brought into question, and we will defend his right to Longbourn."

William did not agree to her plea, nor would he if Elizabeth had asked him for assurance, but she let the subject lie and requested no promise from him. Removing his hand from Elizabeth’s chin, William placed it over hers as he focused on the dilemma before them.

"Miss Elizabeth, is Longbourn entailed to your brother or an inherited property?"

"It is both. A year after my father’s death, the entailment will be dissolved as the stipulations placed on the property will have been met. Longbourn will be Daniel’s, and the choice of how it will be passed to the next generation will be his alone. There is a guardianship clause within the present entailment that states that if the intended heir is rendered unable to personally manage the estate within the first year of inheritance, the guardian is to assume control of the property until a time when the heir is able. If the heir dies without regaining control, Longbourn then goes to the first male child sired by the heir, or if none have been produced, to the guardian."

The identity of the man who would act on Daniel’s behalf if he were to be deemed unable did not need to be spoken, for it was written out in Lady Catherine’s letter and already known to Elizabeth. Regardless, there were times when even the most obvious details must be said aloud, if for no other reason but to acknowledge their existence.

"Mr. Collins is the guardian," Elizabeth admitted. "It is evident that he has found a champion for his cause in Lady Catherine. Daniel is not the man described in that letter, and I will not have him condemned to any fate she described to satisfy another man’s greed."

"Lady Catherine is no champion, Elizabeth. She is free with her words and advice even when it goes against sound reasoning, and her interference knows no bounds as we have witnessed, but when it comes to action, she would rather dispense direction than participate.

William again went back to the letter written by the hand of his aunt, her intent now clearly evident, and read from it aloud for both his and Elizabeth’s benefit.

"…It is most unethical that Mr. Bennet, a man who is indeed a liability to himself and others, should be placed indiscriminately in any position of favor. His actions indicate an unstable disposition and a presumption to aspire far beyond his scope. A man of his peculiar affliction should not and will not be permitted to inherit an estate. There are places for men comparable in nature to Mr. Bennet, places where all good society may be spared the menace of his unpredictable outbursts, places where men with diseased minds and dispositions congregate.

It is my resolute counsel to Mr. Collins that he seek out an institution that will accept his infirm cousin and have him committed forthwith and without tarry. There, he will be able to live out his days without endangering those ill-fated souls in his path, and the estate of Longbourn will be rightfully brought into guardianship, as it should have been, since the death of the former Mr. Bennet.

I have also made clear to Mr. Collins that the practice of Christian charity should be extended to the daughters and widow of Mr. Bennet, until a time when they are able to find appropriate situations. He has prudently resolved to allow my wisdom to guide him in this matter, and has stated that they will not be in the way as he takes authority over the property of Longbourn and its capital, as proscribed in the entailment…."

The slamming of a door outside the study abruptly stopped William’s recitation, as Elizabeth went to the window to see if someone had left.



"What happened when you were able to catch up to him?" Bingley asked as he stood by the fire in the drawing room of Netherfield that evening. An hour had not passed since William had returned, and he had already begun to make his preparations to depart at sunrise.

"It was not the same as we witnessed at Mr. Bennet’s service, Bingley. Daniel would not respond to any attempt his sister made, even when she reassured him that I was reading from a letter and that it was not my opinion. Oddly though, he did not seem suspicious of me. He kept looking at Miss Elizabeth…I can hardly explain it, but after numerous failures, I acted on my instinct and made the suggestion that she leave the two of us alone."

"Did she? I have seen Miss Elizabeth’s protective tendency toward her brother. I cannot imagine that she would leave him in a state such as that."

"Eventually she did and afterward his behavior changed again, this time to that of resignation. When he began to talk, he asked me the strangest question. Daniel said, ‘Will you take care of Elizabeth when I am gone, and ask Mr. Bingley if he will take in Jane?’

"So, he believed what you read from the letter?"

William paused and drew a deep breath. His anger stemmed from what he had not yet disclosed to Bingley, an atrocious deed he judged to be bred from the worst of human nature.

"Daniel Bennet believed what I had read aloud in the study because it was not the first time that he had heard the threat." With no response to be had from Bingley, William continued. "Mr. Collins has declared the darkest of falsehoods and has taken advantage of Mr. Bennet’s unique situation. He has told Daniel, on repeated occasions since his father’s death, that his mother will also surely die soon, and without his parents to harbor him, Daniel would certainly be placed in an institution, leaving his sisters at the mercy of whoever would take them in."


"At their father’s service. Twice during Christmas…"

"No one is that savage." Bingley whispered, searching for confirmation that what he desired to believe was true, but it was not in William to lie to his friend, even if it was what Bingley wished to hear. The simple truth was that Mr. Collins had been that unmerciful, ambitiously preying on the young man’s weakness for his own benefit.

"Daniel believed Mr. Collins?"

William nodded.

"And this is why you travel to Kent in the morning." Bingley grew quiet and fought against his inclination not to become involved in situations unpleasant. A passive approach, as William had pointed out to him recently, was not one a man of his age should always adopt, especially when the man felt a keen sense of responsibility for those he loved.

"I want to be if assistance, William. I insist upon it."

William had entered into this discussion with Bingley with every intention of utilizing his friend by asking him to go to London on the morrow to meet with Mr. Gardiner, arranging for him a series of appointments with attorneys knowledgeable in inheritance law. His friend, having made the offer to serve before William needed to make the request of him, satisfied him greatly.

Plans were soon laid out for the removal of Georgiana and Mrs. Annesley under the care of Bingley to London, for William was not comfortable with the thought of leaving the women alone at Netherfield without a committed return date set by the men. Before William was able to quit the room to inform his driver of the change in plans, Bingley placed his hand on William’s shoulder.

"Daniel Bennet would make any man a fine brother. Never have I observed violent tendencies in him, and I have been acquainted with Mr. Bennet many months longer than you. I ask that you let me share in this task once your business is concluded in Kent."

William understood Bingley’s desire, and he put aside his own inclination to fully take charge when a situation needed attention, rarely relying on others for aid. Bingley wanted to do this not only for Daniel, but also for Jane, as it was apparent that the man was thinking of the welfare of his destined family.


Traveling over familiar roads leading to Kent on horseback, afforded William time to think. Not a full day ago, he and Bingley were entertaining Miss Bennet and her brother at Netherfield. Now the estate stood deserted as the two men went in opposite directions with the same goal in mind.

Yesterday when he was alone with Daniel, William realized that he possessed composure under pressure that he had not identified in himself before. After Daniel had relayed what Mr. Collins had told him, the younger man unilaterally dismissed William’s remark that the parson had viciously lied to him. William continued to press the matter until he remembered what Elizabeth had said about Daniel taking statements literally. If Daniel did so with spoken words, might he also with titles and positions?

Being a minister, Mr. Collins was a supposed servant of God, and ministers did not lie. At least, that was what William concluded Daniel believed. A breakthrough between them occurred when William altered his original statement to inform Daniel that Mr. Collins had been wrong in what he had told him, that he had made a mistake. Only then did Daniel understand and open himself to the possibility that Mr. Collins had spoken an untruth. Time passed unmeasured while William and Daniel sat alone on a bench in the park that he usually shared with Elizabeth.

William’s suggestion that Elizabeth leave the two men by themselves had actually been a sound decision, for while they talked, he came to understand that Daniel had never told Elizabeth or her sisters what Collins had said because he could not bear the idea of frightening them with the prospect of a bleak future. Daniel was, in a sense, as protective of his sisters as they were of him.

William’s heart was moved, and he could not help but feel empathy for the young man’s plight. What struck him the deepest was that, although Daniel did not know why Collins said he would be sent away from his home, he accepted it as fact. Daniel did not see that his character was any worse than those around him, but he thought that he must have done something unpardonable that he could not remember, and that was why Mr. Collins said that he did not deserve to live at Longbourn forever.

The workings of Daniel’s mind were still a mystery to William, and he did not leave for Kent that afternoon with genuine insight, but rather relied on his own interpretation of his friend from Longbourn’s innermost thoughts. He and Elizabeth shared few words on his parting. William was too overwhelmed by Daniel’s confessions to speak at length, and Elizabeth’s energy was focused more toward her brother than herself.

In hindsight, William regretted not finding a way to let Elizabeth know that his position in this conflict aligned with hers, but his thoughts were filled with what must be done. He muttered an abrupt observation that she must desire his absence before leaving Longbourn, which was not indicative of what was thinking, nor the compassion William felt for those he had grown to love. If a misconception had formed from his hasty exit, William vowed to himself that he would correct it as soon as he was able to return to Hertfordshire.


The journey to Kent passed without incident, and when William dismounted at the stables of Lady Catherine’s estate, Rosings Park, he instructed the man attending him to prepare the horse for departure within the hour. Without ceremony, he entered the grand mansion, for the need to be announced was far from a priority, and his unexpected visit did not warrant the formality. Passing through the open foyer toward the room where his aunt often held court, William caught a shadow out of the corner of his eye and looked up to identify its origin.

"Are you ill, Anne?" William questioned his gaunt cousin after greeting her, as Anne stood above the stairs looking down on him. The young lady he addressed was Lady Catherine’s only child, a daughter of eighteen and sickly in nature. William had long held the suspicion that his cousin’s constant state of poor health might be related more to the elixirs she took daily than any physical ailment she endure. It was an opinion he kept to himself, as the family pretended that Anne would improve, while they watched her sink deeper into medicated exile.

"Welcome, Fitzwilliam. I am fine. It is good of you to call. Mother is in her sitting room," Anne replied with a hint of surprise in her voice before vanishing down the hallway in the direction of her bedroom.

A servant announced William to Lady Catherine and the two other women with her in attendance. One he knew to be Mrs. Pope, a favorite of his aunt, and the other he vaguely recognized as Mrs. Collins, her appearance obviously altered from being with child.

"My nephew!" Lady Catherine called out with an air of delight that one of her distinguished relations had joined her party. "What a surprise to see you."

"I have come here on a matter of urgency, Lady Catherine."

"Of course you have." She turned to the women sitting on a couch next to her chair. "You must excuse us, ladies. It appears that my nephew requires the benefit of my council."

William tightened his jaw at his aunt’s words, but did not respond as the women, now dismissed, filed past him. He caught Mrs. Collins’ eye as she passed him, and that instant marked the only time, during this trip, that William felt any remorse for what he needed to do.

Once the servants waiting on his aunt were asked to leave, William declined the offer from Lady Catherine to take a seat next to her and instead towered above the woman. He knew the best approach to use with his aunt, although it would take all the control he could muster not to lash out at her for her recent behavior. With this in mind, he began.

"Lady Catherine, you are in danger of being made a public laughingstock by someone in whom you have placed your trust. I have come with the greatest of haste to warn you, so that you may defend yourself from the ridicule that will soon follow if reparation is not made…"

For forty-five minutes William endured the presence of his aunt, manipulating her inbred Fitzwilliam pride that had been a common trait of all the children of his grandparents. His discourse went against the principles of an honest character which William held dear, one which did not partake in deceitful practices, but he saw no other option when dealing with a woman who was convinced that she was never in error.

Lady Catherine balked at the idea that Mr. Collins had led her astray, but after William admitted that Daniel Bennet could be viewed by some as eccentric but hardly unstable, and that he was well acquainted with the man and not ashamed of the connection, she began to listen.


Later that afternoon when he left Rosings Park, he carried a letter containing six sentences of apology written by Lady Catherine to be delivered to Daniel Bennet by her nephew. It never would reach the younger man, for William found her lack of sincerity insulting. Nevertheless, that which he wished to gain had been achieved. Lady Catherine withdrew her support of Mr. Collin’s unworthy venture and vowed appropriate punishment for him for jeopardizing her reputation through his misrepresentation of the situation at Longbourn.

William thought it better that he not encounter Mr. Collins that day. His abhorrence for the man was still too fresh, and he doubted that he could keep his temper as he had with his aunt. Unfortunately, upon hearing from his wife that Mr. Darcy was at Rosings, Mr. Collins voluntarily sought him out.

Spying the man up the lane waving an arm at him, William walked in his direction with long, determined strides closing the gap between the two men. He could have ignored Mr. Collins, but his seeing the man in person with no other workers around caused William to rethink his decision to avoid him.

"Word has reached me of a most alarming nature, Mr. Collins." William delivered forcefully and without a greeting to buffer the animosity.

"That is most disturbing. May I be of service, sir?" Clutching the Bible he had been carrying, the parson paled just a shade. If Collins instinctively knew what had provoked William’s anger, he disguised it well. "I have long served Lady Catherine, and it would be no burden for me to extend my aid to her nephew."

"Yes, you may. You may cease all legal action you have directed toward Mr. Bennet and his estate, and you may pray hard that God forgives you for what you have done."

"I do not understand," Collins answered cautiously. This was a mistake for the man to make, for the William had no tolerance for fabrication. A distinctive change in William’s demeanor occurred in the blink of an eye, as he veered dangerously close to the fine line between control and rage.

"You stand here and lie to me?" William spit back. "Have you no decency?"

"If this is in regard to my guardianship of Longbourn…"

"It is more than that. Chose your words carefully, and be aware that I know everything you have done. Do not presume innocence with me, for I am not ignorant of the methods you have employed against your cousin."

"I have every right to control Longbourn in light of Mr. Bennet’s mental infirmity."

"You listen to me, and listen well, Mr. Collins. I am not a man to repeat myself, nor am I accustomed to being questioned by the likes of men such as you. To state that it is Mr. Bennet with a frailty of mind, when you have proven that it is your mind that is sick, disgusts me. Preying on the vulnerability of others for your own advancement is the lowest of actions, making you the bane of all good society. If you dare to make contact with Mr. Bennet or his family again, you will find my condemnation awaits you. I have the financial means to ruin you, and I have the connections necessary to ensure that you will find employment nowhere. As it is, it would give me the greatest pleasure to see you brought to your knees for what you have already done!"

Collins was absolutely speechless and frightened beyond anything which he had ever known. Yet William had in him one last warning for the beleaguered parson.

"If word reaches me that Mrs. Collins has suffered in any way due to your displeasure in the failure to defraud your cousin out of his estate, I will come back and I promise that hell will rain down on you in payment for your transgression."

Clinching his fists so that the shaking in his hands would go unnoticed, William turned on his heal and went to collect his horse. As he neared the stables, he made one final glance back at the worthless man whose actions had nearly driven William to succumb to rage. Collins had not moved from the place of their encounter, his arms were dropped to his side and the Bible he had been clutching fallen to the ground.


The Phillips arrived after church was over to join the Bennets for luncheon, a tradition that had existed since Elizabeth was a child. This was her uncle’s second call of the week; his first was on Thursday when he returned from London. Attorneys had been consulted while he was in town, and all agreed that Mr. Collins did not have justification to pursue legal action to acquire Longbourn. This gave the family great ease, as did her uncle’s account that a formal letter had been written by a respected magistrate judge to Mr. Collins informing him that he should cease malicious attempts to gain control of the property, lest he become the subject of an inquiry.

The satisfaction that this news brought the Bennet household was unquestionable, yet for two young women, the relief was somewhat tainted by the fact that no word had been received from either Mr. Darcy or Mr. Bingley since they left Netherfield over a week ago. The last information had came in the form of a short note penned by Mr. Bingley, explaining that he had been called away by business to London and did not know when he might return. It did not occur to Elizabeth to question her Uncle Phillips if he had seen either man while in town, but had she done so, her question would have been answered.

Daniel, her mother, aunt, and uncle were all in conversation about the latest news that Mrs. Collins had returned to Lucas Lodge for the remainder of her confinement. Elizabeth excused herself from the room, asking Jane to join her for a short walk. The sisters were devotedly attached to each other, although there had been many days recently when they did not have the luxury of sitting down in private to share in conversation. Despite Elizabeth’s inclination to keep her keep her troubles to herself, she desperately needed to confide in her sister.

Avoiding the grove where she had spent mornings with William, Elizabeth instead opted to lead Jane to a shaded area at the back of the house. Her sister had not mentioned Mr. Bingley since he quit Netherfield Park, but before that, she had hinted about her growing attachment to the kind man. Jane maintained that Bingley would certainly return soon, and in this conviction, she did not waiver.

Elizabeth’s greatest fear was that their difficulty with Mr. Collins would be the excuse that William would use to break ties with their family. His parting words and actions had left her unsettled, and she wondered if Daniel’s conduct while upset had been more than William could tolerate. Elizabeth realized that when her brother became frightened, it could lead to behavior that could be intimidating to those unfamiliar with him, and if this was the reason for William’s departure, perhaps it was as it should be.

She did not disclose to Jane her apprehension, for to do so might also reveal her adoration for William, but during the first ten minutes they sat together, Elizabeth mentioned his name at least five times.

"Lizzy, do you care for Mr. Darcy?" Jane asked. Regardless of Elizabeth’s attempt at disguising her preference for the man, Jane perceived that the absence of Mr. Darcy was heavy on her heart and was convinced that with a little coaxing, her sister might find comfort in talking about him.

"It does not matter, Jane," was her reply, as Elizabeth tried very hard to sound indifferent.

"Why so? Mr. Darcy appears quite fond of your company. I have noticed, as has Mr. Bingley."

"You two have discussed it?"

"We talk about many things. Tell me why you believe it does not matter how you feel about Mr. Darcy?"

"To begin with, his home is to the north, and ours is here. When Mr. Darcy talks about it, he does so with such devotion that I can discern his longing to return there."

"Are you saying that you could not join him there, if you two were to come to an agreement?"

"I do not believe that I could leave Longbourn."

Jane was momentarily baffled, but when the unspoken impediment Elizabeth was referring to became clear, she revealed to her what no one else, save Bingley, had knowledge.

"Mr. Bingley is considering the purchase of Netherfield for his permanent home. Two weeks ago, he proposed to me, and I have accepted."

"Oh, that is wonderful news. Congratulations, Jane!" Embracing her sister with heartfelt delight, Elizabeth boasted that she always knew they were meant to be together, for what two people could be more perfectly matched in fair temperament and generosity of spirit. A prediction that Jane would be the happiest of brides was then made before Elizabeth released her sister, taking both of her hands in her own.

"But why have you told no one?"

Jane explained that she did not wish to make an announcement of their engagement until closer to the end of their family’s mourning period. She hesitantly acknowledged concern that her mother’s exuberance over the occasion might not be regulated, and although it was acceptable for her to become engaged to be married, Jane did not wish for the event to overshadow the reverence they were showing their father. Mr. Bingley had agreed with her request, and though he wished to share their good tidings with his friends and family, discretion for the moment far outweighed his desire for a public celebration.

After Elizabeth stated that she believed that her decision was indeed rooted in good judgment, Jane returned to the subject that had persuaded her to break her silence about the agreement between herself and Bingley.

"I would like you to reflect on what I am about to say to you, sweet Elizabeth. Since you were seven, you have watched over Daniel. Perhaps the time has come for you to bestow the same consideration and tender care you have shown to our brother on yourself."

"I cannot abandon Daniel."

"It is not abandonment. It is our family doing our share when he needs our assistance."

"You heard what I said to Mother?" Elizabeth remembered passing Jane in the hallway after the argument she had with her mother, but until now, they had never discussed it.

When Jane admitted that she had, Elizabeth attempted to interpret what she had meant during the conversation, but Jane would not let her.

"I have made it perfectly clear to Mr. Bingley that to marry me is to become a part of our entire family. He has consented, and expressed a desire to come to know Daniel better and to learn how best to help him once our engagement becomes public."

Elizabeth made no comment aloud in response to Jane’s declaration that she and Mr. Bingley were planning to become more involved in Daniel’s life, as she was not certain whether to be gladdened by the prospect, or troubled by it.

For so long, Elizabeth had gauged her self-worth by her ability to watch over her brother.

It was not so much a matter of pride, but principal. If Jane and Mr. Bingley were to become actively involved with the daily activities of her brother, what would Elizabeth do to compensate for the lessening of responsibility to which she had grown accustomed?

The prospect frightened her because it was unknown. Her life had been one of predictability and ritual, her days as structured as Daniel’s. Elizabeth also realized, that in certain aspects of her life, she had used her brother as an excuse not to face what other young women her age considered normal. This was evident in her thoughts about William. She did love him, but she had convinced herself that nothing could ever develop between them because her only duty was to her family.

Was there safety in her resignation? Perhaps there was.

Being in love often makes a person vulnerable, and there are no rules on how to protect one’s heart except to avoid love at all costs. For just a minute, Elizabeth considered what it would be like if she were to suddenly dismiss the feelings she had for William and return to the woman she was before she had met him. She found she could not contemplate the idea for long without heartbreak. William had become too dear to Elizabeth, and the vulnerability she feared awakened.

She needed someone to confide in and turned to Jane, who had always been a source of advice and compassion. A leap of faith was required for Elizabeth to utter the words, but a tender smile from her sister assured her that in all the world, Jane might be one of the few who would never judge her as weak for admitting that she was afraid.

"Jane, I have the suspicion that Mr. Darcy will not return with Mr. Bingley to Hertfordshire."


"Before he left, he said little to me, but I am under the impression that he wanted to be far away from Longbourn and the chaos surrounding it."

"How could you come to that conclusion when Uncle Phillips told us that he had been in contact with Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley while in London. Surely you must be confident that he is indeed unchanged in his regard for us."

"Uncle Phillips did not tell me this!" Elizabeth cried out. "Did our uncles seek Mr. Darcy out?"

"No, he and Mr. Bingley have been in constant contact with Uncle Gardiner during the whole of their time in London. I would not be surprised if it was Mr. Darcy that arranged for the letter from the magistrate to be sent." Smiling to herself, Jane continued. "I feel that it is time for me to share with you some details about your Mr. Darcy."

"He is not my Mr. Darcy." Elizabeth corrected, no longer hiding her warm feelings for the man.

"Oh, I believe he is. Let me begin with his connection to Mr. Griffin, his steward…"


Jane left her to her thoughts under the shade tree, but soon Elizabeth was in need of a diversion as the information passed on by her sister threatened to break through the calm exterior that she was attempting to preserve. Going up to her room, Elizabeth found herself with two options. One was to write in her journal all that she had learned in an attempt purge herself of the confusion, and the other was to change into her riding gown and go out on horseback by herself to clear her mind. She chose the latter.

It was inevitable that Elizabeth rode in the direction of Netherfield Park, although she had firmly set in her mind that she would not go to the place before she set out. But like a moth to a flame, she defied herself and traveled briskly in an arc that happened to cross over the property leased to Mr. Bingley.

Dismounting, Elizabeth walked the grounds certain that the people who worked on the estate would be in their own homes on a Sunday, with the exception of the elderly housekeeper who rarely came out of doors. Tying her horse to a post, she passed many minutes looking up at the main house, trying to envision Jane as mistress of Netherfield Park. It did not seem a good match, she thought to herself, as Netherfield was an intimidating, cold structure with its weathered gray stone. Still, it would be fortunate to have Jane so near, and as Elizabeth tried to dwell on the advantages of her sister being married to Mr. Bingley, thoughts of another gentleman kept intruding.

That afternoon Jane had recited a list of the kind acts that William has anonymously preformed for her and her family. Mr. Bingley had imparted her sister with the knowledge shortly after they became engaged, and with every example given by Jane, the pride Elizabeth had for William’s character increased. Her observation of William’s interaction with Georgiana had already led her to the conclusion that he was the dearest of men, but to have further proof made her realize that she wanted to loved by him.

Did William love her or was it merely friendship on his part? Elizabeth could not be completely certain without him saying so, but if what Jane had told her about his referring to her as handsome and accomplished were true, Elizabeth suspected that he might. She blushed at the thought of William’s romantic admiration being hers alone, for a gift that sweet would be difficult to reciprocate.

Elizabeth had not suddenly turned into a woman blinded by love, who was willing to forgo her loyalties to chase a dream, but she was allowing herself to hope, whereas in the past, she had not. Wandering without aim as she pondered the man from Derbyshire, a voice coming from inside the stables startled her out of her reverie. She needed to listen but a few seconds before she could identify it, as the richness of William’s baritone voice was distinguishable.

Perhaps Elizabeth should have left then, but her curiosity about to whom he was speaking was stronger than her need to flee. Elizabeth soon concluded that William was holding a one-sided conversation because the only response he received was an occasional snort from his horse.

Just as Elizabeth’s conscience was about to override her desire to stay, the man himself appeared at the opening of the large double doors with a small bucket in one hand and a brush in the other. Dressed in his shirt sleeves and a vest, his eyes immediately fixed on hers and neither said anything as the surprise of their meeting rendered both temporarily mute.

"Miss Elizabeth." William greeted, as he was the first of the two to regain his senses. "What a pleasure to see you this day!"

Elizabeth said that she believed Netherfield to be empty or she would never have dreamed of intruding uninvited, but he would have none of that. William reminded Elizabeth that she was always welcome at Netherfield, and explained that he had only just arrived not an hour before. Predictable inquiries about each other’s families were then made before he recalled his informal state of attire.

"Excuse me, I should put on my coat. I was brushing down my horse, and it was in the way…"

"Mr. Darcy," Elizabeth smiled nervously, "I recall that you have caught me on numerous occasions outside without my bonnet or gloves. I believe we can overlook your lack of a coat this once."

That was all that was needed to displace the uneasiness between them, and as their embarrassment faded, it was replaced by something akin to the expectancy young lovers often feel upon being reunited.

"I have a letter for you from Mr. Gardiner. If you would like, I will get it for you. It is here in the stable."

"I would like to see it, but please do not let me keep you from what you were doing."

William went to dip the bucket into a barrel of water before Elizabeth followed him into the building and waited patiently as William located the letter he had stowed in his breast pocket during his ride from London that morning.

Elizabeth contemplated thanking him at this point for all he had done for her family since they first met, but to do so might expose that Mr. Bingley had shared with Jane his friend’s deeds. Therefore, she instead asked after Mr. Bingley, saving her gratitude for a later time.

"He has been delayed at least another day, but he has asked that I pass on to your family that he will be back as soon as his business is concluded." William was privy to the fact that a jeweler, fashioning a ring for Jane, had been the cause of Bingley’s delay, as Bingley could not conceal his engagement from William any longer.

After handing Elizabeth her letter, William busied himself with the task of brushing his horse. The communication from her Uncle was businesslike and to the point, reassuring Elizabeth that the threat Mr. Collins had posed was now in the past. Folded within her Uncle’s letter was a single sheet of parchment that bore the handwriting of her Aunt Gardiner. This message was of a different nature.

Her Aunt’s serenity came through in her writing, and sincere praise of the man, William Darcy, dominated the four short paragraphs she had penned. Emily Gardiner wrote as if the pairing of Elizabeth and William was certain, and was so bold as to state that she would like to visit Pemberley with the children once her period of confinement was over. Yet there was one sentence that stood out from the rest, not for its originality, but rather for its wisdom, and after Elizabeth read it a second time, she finally accepted that not all mountains were immovable.

‘Where there is a will, my dear, there is a way.’

Unable to read any more while in close proximity to William, Elizabeth stood and tucked both letters into her pocket. She told him that the situation with Mr. Collins had been concluded in Daniel’s favor, knowing that it was unnecessary for her to do so. William expressed his pleasure at her news, not daring to turn to face her as he continued brushing his horse. Elizabeth believed that he might be embarrassed and said no more. As she looked past William, she noticed the Darcy family crest on a carriage parked in an open area at the end of the stable.

"Is Miss Darcy with you? I see your carriage is here."

"No, she has traveled on to Pemberley, but will return in a few weeks. That carriage belongs to my uncle, Mr. Randall Darcy. He is here at Netherfield with his eldest son." The brush stilled, and William looked over his shoulder at Elizabeth. "If you would allow it, may I introduce you to them?"

Elizabeth thought about how she plain she must look in her riding gown, as Lydia’s chastisement of her appearance had not been forgotten. Lifting the material, her action alerted William that it was her dress that made her hesitate accepting his offer.


"You need not concern yourself on that account, Miss Elizabeth. My Uncle does not follow the folly of fashion. But if you would be more comfortable waiting, I understand."

"It would be my honor to make the acquaintance of your uncle."

William Darcy was not a man inclined to display his joy in abundance, but Elizabeth’s willingness to meet his uncle gave rise to a wave of elation he could not contain. The widest of smiles graced his face, as his wish to have the woman he loved introduced to the man William esteemed second only to his own father was granted.

After putting away his tools, William washed his hands and redressed himself in his coat and cravat while Elizabeth informed him of the changes to the neighborhood that had occurred during the past week. Tying the neckpiece proved difficult for William, but she did not comment, as it lay crooked against his chest. Elizabeth found the imperfection charming, and taking his arm, they walked to the great door distinguishing the entrance of Netherfield Park.

"I must warn you before we go in that my uncle enjoys making sport of me on every occasion. Do not let it alarm you, for I have become accustomed to it over the years and know it gives him great pleasure to do so," William said with humor in his eyes.

"I will guard you from your uncle, Mr. Darcy." Elizabeth assured the man that was nearly a foot taller than she. "Stand by me, and no harm will befall you."

A hearty laugh rumbled through William at Elizabeth’s response, and as he reached out for the doorknob he told her in return, "I am very glad that you came to Netherfield this day."

"As am I."


~~ Chapter Five ~~

While William went to locate his uncle, Elizabeth placed her bonnet and gloves on a small table, looking into a mirror in the foyer of Netherfield, as she straightened her hair. It was inexplicable to her how the day had started out with her conviction that William might never return to Hertfordshire and now she found herself preparing to be introduced to his nearest relative. As her hands went up to smooth a few loose tendrils that had come free from the confines of her pins, the realization of the importance of this first meeting with the elder Mr. Darcy became apparent to Elizabeth, and she questioned her decision not to wait until a more opportune time.

Considering the varying emotions that had inundated her since speaking with Jane that afternoon, it was not surprising that this generally confident young woman was now feeling apprehensive. The topic of William’s uncle had been discussed briefly between them in the past, but never with much enlightenment about his temperament. She could only pray that he was nothing like Lady Catherine in personality.

A flash of movement reflected in the mirror alerted Elizabeth that William had returned and was standing several feet behind her. Lifting her eyes to meet his in the glass, she noticed that he was alone and looking back at her. A soft look of appreciation in his countenance told her without words not to fret over her appearance.

"I am guilty of impatience," William confessed to her reflection. "Have I inconvenienced you with my invitation? If so, I will explain all to my uncle"

This was the second opportunity since William suggested the introduction that he gave Elizabeth a graceful excuse to delay the meeting if she so desired, but the memory of the gorgeous smile William gave to her when she agreed to come inside Netherfield washed away her misgivings. Elizabeth would not deny William any request that would give him joy.

"If you say that I am tolerable, I would very much like to make his acquaintance." Catching herself, a blush spread across her cheeks as Elizabeth turned to peer over her shoulder at William. "That must have sounded vain on my part. I was not seeking out an unmerited compliment…"

"You deserve many more compliments than you receive from me. Miss Elizabeth, you are more than fair. Lovely…" William admitted, hesitating slightly as if he wished to say more. Instead he added, "Have I told you how pleased I am to see you this day?"

Elizabeth nodded her reply, reassuring William that he had already made that sentiment clear before they entered Netherfield, her smile cast in his direction a cross between embarrassment and elation. Stepping forward, he offered her his arm and led Elizabeth to the drawing room where his uncle was presently working on the fire.

Mr. Randall Darcy’s appearance was not exactly what she had anticipated. A portly gentleman, nearly as tall as his nephew with the same dark hair although peppered with gray, he was dressed in the finest clothes that only the truly wealthy could afford. Although she displayed a rather informal appearance, Elizabeth felt no intimidation as she looked upon him. Randall Darcy had an air about him that bespoke a jovial spirit, and as he walked toward her from where he had been waiting, the deep crinkling at the edges of his eyes indicated that they had been created from many years of amusement.

William’s formal introduction was too slow for his uncle, and with the wave of his hand Randall Darcy dismissed the practiced salutation, and issued a greeting of his own to Elizabeth. If his aim was to put her at ease, he succeeded, and within minutes, she also made the acquaintance of Phillip Darcy, a young man in his early twenties and Randall’s eldest son.

There was no lack of conversation in the room as Randall led Elizabeth through an array of questions all centered on knowing her better. None of his inquiries were intrusive, but soon Elizabeth realized that if he were to gather together all the information she had just freely given the man, he would have a rather accurate sketch of her character. Unable to determine if Randall was manipulating her or simply satisfying his curiosity, Elizabeth began to turn the questioning back to him, offering an answer for everyone he gave.

"How many children do you have, Mr. Darcy?"

"Five." Leaning over toward Elizabeth, Randall whispered an explanation, "Irish wife."

"You have six, Father," Phillip corrected in the background as Randall cast a wink in Elizabeth's direction. "Perhaps feigning senility is not the best approach for making new friends?"

Randall laughed heartily at his Phillip’s remark, opening the floor to friendly banter between father and son. A pattern soon developed where Randall was the jester while Phillip provided him with well rehearsed lines, and Elizabeth’s enjoyment at listening to them feed each other’s humor increased tenfold. It did not take her long to see that Randall was indeed pretending to be absent minded, for he was far too intelligent to be completely convincing, and the pleasure he took in riling his son had William grinning when they were being their most ridiculous.

While Randall and Phillip were amusing themselves by discussing the angularity of Netherfield and its rooms, Elizabeth turned her attention to William. He appeared completely relaxed in the company of his family, his hands folded in his lap as he listened to his relatives talk. William did not add his opinion to the conversation, but seemed content to be an observer. As Elizabeth thought about what Jane had shared with her that day about the goodness in William Darcy, she wondered about the role he had played in the resolution between Mr. Collins and her family.

William caught her staring at him, and possibly a shy maiden should have looked away to hide her admiration from the man, but Elizabeth was not timid, and she would not divert her eyes. In that instant, the possessiveness of love roused in Elizabeth, and she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she wanted William to be hers and hers alone. In this aspect they were finally equals, for William had realized he was in love many months ago. It had taken Elizabeth longer to identify what it was she felt for him, yet that did not lessen the depth of emotion when the acknowledgment came.

Decorum bound her to inaction, leaving Elizabeth with only one acceptable means of conveying to William that she was his; Elizabeth met his gaze and held it. The sound of Randall’s laughter and Phillip’s retorts played out in the room, but they were no distraction as these two shared silent secrets. William felt as though he was receiving the confirmation he had long sought, although he would not ask her to admit it until they were quite alone, and Elizabeth delighted in his open partiality for her.

Elizabeth considered William to be a handsome man, but as she studied him with the eyes of a woman in love, details she had never perceived before were unveiled. His skin was clear and imbued with a hint of darkening, a result, no doubt of his daylight journey to Hertfordshire on horseback. A small scar, barely visible, was above his left brow, and for a moment, her mind pondered how it had gotten there - if it was old or new, and how he been injured.

When her attention fell to William’s parted lips, she touched her own with her fingers, and her thoughts turned to what it would feel like to be kissed by him. Elizabeth had never shared that sign of love with any man, and if the only experience she would ever have in this lifetime was of William kissing her passionately on the mouth, she doubted she would ever regret it. Since Jane was a beauty, surely she had more than one suitor touch her lips, but Elizabeth liked to believe that she had been waiting for William without even knowing it.

Elizabeth did temporarily divert her gaze when William leaned forward in his chair, ashamed to think that he might have the ability to read her mind and know her unladylike thoughts.

"‘No," spoken very softly drifted in Elizabeth’s direction, and when she raised her head, William’s expression of tenderness told her that the words had come from him and not the conversation occurring around them. He, too, had been studying her, and did not want Elizabeth to shy away and hide her face.

Randall was no fool, and he could see that the two young lovers were admiring each other. The week William and Elizabeth had been parted was not long to others, but he remembered that for those so freshly in love, it must have felt an eternity. Therefore, he kept conversing with Phillip, who rolled his eyes to acknowledge the love match taking place right next to them, until they knew they had to either leave the room or bring the couple back into the present. Propriety ruled, and clearing his throat, Randall attempted to gain his nephew’s attention.

"William, how is that cousin of yours, Colonel Fitzwilliam? Did he ever marry that young woman he was so fond of, Miss Richards?"

"He did not."

"I was watching the paper after I last saw them together, but did not see an announcement. I finally gave up and assumed you would tell me if they were to wed."

"No, there never was an engagement." William looked at his uncle, curious as to why he would mention Colonel Fitzwilliam.

"Pity." Randall replied quietly. No more would be said on this subject and briefly the room grew still. "Miss Elizabeth, correct me if I am wrong, but is it your brother who is the equine expert?

"Yes, my brother has always had a way with horses."

"And you are as knowledgeable as he?"

"In book knowledge, sir, but not practice."

"Too much for your feminine sensibilities?" Randall teased.

"No, sir," Elizabeth smiled in return. "Although I allow that my brother has had more practical application where horses are concerned, my knowledge of their nature has primarily been gained by reading. My feminine sensibilities are, therefore, intact."

"Good for you, young lady. We have some fine horses at Pemberley. Have you ever been there?" Her negative answer encouraged the elder Mr. Darcy to continue. "You must come! There is no home in all of England more perfectly situated in its natural surroundings."

Randall began a colorful narration of all the splendors of Pemberley, the ancestral home to the Darcy’s for four generations. Whereas William had never boasted about the property when describing it to Elizabeth, Randall did not share the same restraint and many of its charms never mentioned to her before were laid out in detail. Enthusiasm laced the older man’s words, and the impression formed within Elizabeth that Pemberley was grander in scale than William’s modesty had led her to believe.

"Did you grow up in the area, Mr. Darcy?"

"Yes, I did. Derbyshire is God’s land, and there is nowhere more picturesque in all of England. My wife claims it is as beautiful as Ireland, and she would not make the claim if it were not true, for she is quite biased about her homeland. We visit Pemberley several times a year, but spend the majority of our time in London. Christopher’s physicians are there, and the location is advantageous for all involved."


"Our youngest." The smile did not drop from Randall’s face. "He is a special child and most precious to us."


"I will escort you home once I saddle my horse." William said to Elizabeth as she prepared to leave Netherfield.

"Mr. Darcy, I would not take you from your guests. I can find my way home without any trouble."

Bending down close to her ear, William thoughtfully responded, "I could not be at peace, letting you go alone."

Nodding her consent, Elizabeth thanked the other two Darcy men for a delightful afternoon and walked out with their promise to meet again the next day at Longbourn. William was not thirty feet from the door when his uncle called him back. Elizabeth continued on to the stables after agreeing to wait for him there.

Randall placed his hand on his nephew’s shoulder and spoke with a seriousness he had not displayed earlier. "In spite of Colonel Fitzwilliam’s affection for Miss Richards, your cousin did not marry her because of her small dowry. Am I correct?"

The reason behind Randall’s earlier question was now obvious to his nephew, and it had not been asked without purpose. Randall Darcy had come to Hertfordshire upon hearing a speculation that William had developed a strong affection for a woman from the area, but he had not asked for nor received direct confirmation from his nephew. The haste in which William brought Elizabeth to him validated Randall’s suspicions, and it did not take more than an hour of observing them together for Randall to be convinced that they were a worthy match.

"You are indeed correct about Colonel Fitzwilliam. He is entitled to his decision, and we must allow it, even if it would not be our own."

It was an accepted fact that William’s mother’s relations, the Fitzwilliams, would not have understood his preference for Elizabeth, especially when there were many women willing to make a match with the Darcy heir, who could bring wealth and connections to the union.

Randall’s gaze wandered over to the retreating form of Elizabeth, and as he watched her pass into the stable he recalled his own decision to marry for love over riches some twenty-two years before. Randall Darcy never regretted his own choice, and now as he witnessed William at the same threshold in life, he wanted his nephew to know that he had the support of the Darcy family, if he also elected to marry for love.

"It gladdens me that you will not make the same mistake as your cousin. I am convinced that your father would have approved of Miss Elizabeth."

"Thank you, sir." William said respectfully in response to the unsolicited blessing his uncle offered.

"If she is your choice, you could not have found a finer woman."


"Was your father inclined toward humor as your uncle showed himself to be this afternoon?" Elizabeth asked as she tightened a buckle on William’s saddle. She had insisted on helping him in compensation for escorting her home, and although the gesture was unnecessary, William appreciated her willingness to render assistance.

"On occasion, yes."

"Your mother must have considered herself fortunate."

Elizabeth’s declaration raised a curiosity in William. "Do you deem humor an important characteristic in an individual?"

"Everyone should laugh." Elizabeth looked over the top of his horse at him. "When I was younger I wished it possible that I could only remember those instances that gave me pleasure and made me happy, but that is not realistic, is it?"

"No," William returned while shaking his head.

"Nevertheless, I continue to believe that humor is important to balance out the seriousness of life."

"When my parents were first married, my mother was not accustomed to showing emotion. My father told me that she had great difficulty laughing because she had been trained to appear serious and proper. She was not even allowed to read comedies in my Grandfather Fitzwilliam’s home, for he was a stern man who had no use for them. But over time and with patience, she relaxed around my father. He said she would occasionally make the request of him to say something silly that would make her laugh, especially when times were hard."

William stepped back from his horse and continued. "I am certain you are correct about the balance, although I would like to amend your statement to add that people can also balance out each other. I saw it with my parents, so I know it to be true. At least, that is the wish that I have for myself and the family I may have someday."

"Do you suppose that is achievable?" Elizabeth asked him seriously. "With human nature being as it is."

"You do not believe it possible?"

"I did not witness it with my own parents, though I imagine it is likely that my Uncle Gardiner has that balance you describe with his wife."

"This is most discouraging," William announced unintentionally after meditating on what Elizabeth had just said.

"What is, Mr. Darcy?"

"How my confidence sways depending on the subject about which we are talking."

What William had just admitted to Elizabeth was true. He was not accustomed to fluctuation in his self-assurance, but William had also never been in love before and knew not what to expect. He could face down the devil, and had with Collins, but, asking this excellent lady for her hand somehow seemed insurmountable if he thought on it for too long, because he tended to over scrutinize Elizabeth’s statements in search of clues to her feelings for him.

"One minute I am convinced that when I propose, you might say yes, but then there are moments like this when I feel I could not possibly meet your expectations. Elizabeth, I am not a romantic man, and have been told that I am too serious, but I will endeavor to better myself if it will win me your regard "

"You are romantic," Elizabeth defended him as she reached out for his hand. "Do not change to gratify anyone but yourself."

William brought her hand up to press against his mouth. "I have loved you for the past year, although I cannot be the one to determine if I have made this clear to you or not."

"I did not know. I was also not looking, and you must take that into account."

Disappointment registered on William’s face at her response, as if Elizabeth had just proven his point. "Due to the period of mourning for your father?"

William brushed an errant curl that had worked itself loose behind her ear as he waited for Elizabeth’s explanation. The intimacy in which he touched her face was so completely natural that he did not resist the impulse.

"More than that, Mr. Darcy. Do you truly desire the particulars ?"

"If you will share them."

"I will," Elizabeth agreed. "Before you arrived in Hertfordshire, I was settled on never giving my heart away to any man. I had convinced myself that I would find my contentment living a quiet existence at Longbourn with my family, especially Daniel, and that my usefulness there was more important than any notions of love I might ever entertain. Then you came. I did not begin to think differently about what I wanted from my life right away; it was a slow discovery wrought with apprehension unrelated to you."

Elizabeth did not need to confirm for William that she was referring to Daniel’s guardianship as the source from which her apprehension grew. He also had worries over the younger man’s welfare, and he and Bingley had discussed it many times while they were in London.

"I have devoted serious consideration to Daniel, and you are not alone in your concern. Please realize that I do not expect you to cast aside your brother to be with me, any more than I would forsake my own sister. Although he may not chose to live with us all the time at Pemberley, we have the means to return to Longbourn several times a year, and Daniel will always be welcome whenever he desires to visit, or if he someday wishes to take up residence with us permanently."

William’s offer was crystal clear, and graciously received by Elizabeth. "It is difficult to contemplate letting him go," she admitted aloud.

"I imagine so. All will be well if we work together, my dearest Elizabeth."

William’s hand, which was still holding Elizabeth’s, was brought to her lips to receive a kiss in exchange for his faith and understanding, and through their open discourse, all that was left for him to ask Elizabeth was the most important question of his life.

William stepped closer to her. Inside his mind he reprimanded himself for his inability to cite for Elizabeth the moving phrases that men did in works of fiction, convincing her with poetic words of his admiration and love. But William was not that accomplished an orator and in place of poetry, he opted to follow the path he had all his life - that of unadorned honesty.

"Elizabeth, I do love you. Will you marry me?"

She raised her eyes to William as her free hand touched his face, and with joy he saw his answer before she said a word. Her face alight with her own happiness, all doubt faded as what could only be described as true love was expressed to him in the fairest of smiles.

"William, you are the only man in this world I would ever consider marrying, and I would be honored to be your wife."

Her acceptance left him speechless, for not only did Elizabeth seal their fate by agreeing to his request for her hand in marriage, it was also the first time William had heard her refer to him by his Christian name. It had never sounded sweeter, luring him to touch her lips with his own.

Her moist lips called William back after he withdrew while his thumb trailed along the silky line of her jaw. Their embrace was a reward for months of patience and each rejoiced in the intimacy. Reaching up, Elizabeth’s finger explored the small imperfection over William’s brow, her eyes wide as the warmth of his breath lingered against her skin. "How did you receive this scar?"

"I fell from a fence when I was young," he replied hoarsely as his mouth found hers again. "My Elizabeth, you are so beautiful..."


Randall Darcy watched from a large window as William and Elizabeth led their horses down the lane of Netherfield. She had her hand on William’s arm as they walked close to one another, the reins slack and their movements slow. Phillip came and stood beside his father, his attention also drawn to the couple.

"What do you say, Father?" Phillip saw no outward indications of whether his cousin had indeed proposed or not, and he wondered if he had not missed a sign while away from the window.

Before Randall was able to respond, they received their verification as Elizabeth’s hand slid down William’s forearm and her fingers interlaced with his.

"Today is a excellent day, my son," the elder Darcy claimed with genuine tenderness.

"Do not become sentimental, Father." Phillip warned, masking his own approval for his cousin.

"Too late," Randall answered quietly as he turned away to allow them their privacy.


Elizabeth and William walked their horses over half the distance to Longbourn as the newness of their union left them euphoric and quite unconcerned about the lateness of the day.  Before they had departed, he had kissed her twice more in those stables, and the experience was unlike any she had ever had.  Elizabeth loved that man, and though they agreed to follow Jane and Bingley's example and keep their arrangement from her mother for another month, they could not deny that they needed to share their happy news with a few cherished friends.

William continued to hold her hand when they had the road to themselves, and acknowledged that he had loved her when they danced together all those months ago at Netherfield.  Elizabeth did not divulge the secret that she knew how he had been watching over her from a distance since her father had died, preferring to let William tell her when he was ready.  They had all the time in the world for such confessions, a lifetime in fact, and not all needed to be revealed in a single day.

Underneath her gown and nestled between her breasts, Elizabeth wore a priceless ruby cross that William had been carrying in his pocket since he left London. The necklace was a family heirloom, believed to be dating back five generations in the Darcy family, and brought to England by a Branan D’Arcy for his northern English bride. In actuality, the cross was six generations old and originally belonged to Branan’s French born mother, Elisabeth D’Arcy. Family lore was that the cross, always passed to the eldest son to give to his bride, protected the Darcy women when their husband could not be with them, and acted like a beacon to guide their men home.



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