Alterations

Summary: What if Darcy met up with Elizabeth before she and the Gardiners reached Pemberley during their tour of the peak district? (Fluffy One Shot.)

Premise: Inspired by the brief scene in the 2005 P&P movie where Elizabeth is gazing out over the moors in Derbyshire.

~~oo~~

On a fine, clear morning in August, Fitzwilliam Darcy was riding back to Pemberley alone. After a brief stay in London, he was ready to return home to the comfort and serenity of his beloved home. He had spent the last two days traveling with his sister, his closest friend Charles Bingley, and Charles' two sisters who were to be his guests for a fortnight. Darcy wanted to attend to a few business matters with his steward prior to the arrival of his traveling party, in order to be available to devote his complete attention to his guests. He had been sorry to leave his impressionable sister within the clutches of the manipulative Caroline Bingley earlier that morning; nevertheless, he was relieved to be away from the manipulator. Her maneuvers were so overt and obvious; there was no mistaking her intention: she desired to be Mistress of Pemberley. In all of the time Darcy had known her, she had made not one attempt to convey any tender regard for him; clearly his wealth was the object of her affections. In an attempt to dispel the disturbing image of his pursuer from his mind, he decided to make a quick visit to the moors at Rowsely. The grand vista would certainly refresh his mind and prepare him for his return home. When he arrived at his favorite viewing post, he discovered it to be already occupied by a young woman in a brown coat. He wondered momentarily if it could be Elizabeth Bennet, but discarded the notion immediately; there would be no possibility of Miss Elizabeth being in that exact location at that exact moment, would there? As he approached, he scrutinized the woman more closely. Her coat and skirts billowed softly in the breeze as did her loose brown curls. He was mesmerized by the similarities she had to the woman who had stolen his heart. He continued forward, unable to resist the urge to be closer to the haunting creature. He dismounted his horse and approached her cautiously, not wishing to startle her. His foot slipped on a pile of loose rocks and he fell backwards, landing hard on the rock formation.


Elizabeth Bennet was touring the peak district with her Aunt Madeline and Uncle Edward. They had graciously invited her to accompany them on their summer tour and she had happily and gratefully accepted. The mood at home had turned decidedly somber after the departure of her youngest and most foolish sister Lydia, who had accepted an invitation to accompany Colonel and Mrs. Forster to Brighton. The militia had moved there for the summer and Lydia was only too happy to follow them there and continue her flirtatious pursuit of the red-coats. Lydia's departure and the loss of the militia had left sister Kitty depressed; her constant tears and morose behavior were a drain on Elizabeth's positive energy and she was only too happy to leave her beloved home behind. Elizabeth also hoped to leave something else behind; the memories of a certain gentleman she had met last year. Mr. Darcy was exceedingly proud and exceedingly handsome. His reserved demeanor had been somewhat disconcerting and she had only recently learned the reasons for his distant behavior. During their brief acquaintance, she had behaved badly and had most likely destroyed any chance of preserving any pleasant connection to him. She could hardly blame him for severing the connection; her behavior had been inexcusable and she had made false accusations against him. Well, there was nothing for it now; the best course of action was to move ahead and make the most of what life had to offer.

The traveling party had recently toured Matlock and Dovedale and was now in Rowsely, viewing the moors and the breathtaking vistas. Aunt Madeline had declined to walk to the edge of the moors with her, citing her fear of heights, prompting Uncle Edward to stay behind. Unable to resist the lure of the rocky cliffs, Elizabeth walked out to the peak alone. She had thought their earlier destinations had provided lovely scenery, but now as she reached the edge of the moors, she was convinced that it was the most remarkable sight she had ever seen. She stood at the highest peak and looked out over the lush green landscape. This was exactly what she needed to clear her mind and prepare her for whatever was next to come in her life. The breeze was steady and she filled her lungs with the warm, clean air feeling a cleansing sensation wash over her. She stood there for some time, drinking in the views and allowing her mind to think of nothing but the present moment. At this precise moment in time, all was good; she could want for nothing more.

Suddenly she heard a disturbance behind her; someone had fallen not far from her. Thinking it was her Uncle Edward, she ran to his side to offer her assistance and was started to behold the face of Fitzwilliam Darcy. The man who she had once detested, the man who had once proposed marriage to her, the man who she had misjudged so unfairly was now lying prone on the ground and appeared to be quite unconscious. She knelt down next to him and grasped his hand: "Mr. Darcy, please tell me that you are not hurt!" she cried stroking the back of his hand. When he did not respond, she gently stroked his face: "Mr. Darcy, please open your eyes." After a moment of silence, she continued: "You must awaken and allow me to apologize for my cruel treatment of you," she beseeched him. She stroked his handsome face and whispered into his ear: "My dear Mr. Darcy."


After his fall, Darcy was vaguely aware of being on the ground and heard a voice beseeching him to awaken. He dared to hope that the voice was that of his beloved Elizabeth. He had dreamt frequently of her in recent months. "Am I dreaming now?" he wondered as he opened his eyes.

The voice spoke again: "You appear to be quite awake," she said.

His vision had not quite returned to normal; only a blurred image appeared before him, but his hearing was in perfect order and the voice of his beloved was instantly recognized. He squeezed her hand and replied: "I am certain that you are mistaken for Miss Elizabeth Bennet would never offer me such tender caresses in my waking hours. She is quite generous with her affections in my dreams so I can only conclude that I am having an extraordinary dream," he said with a smile.

She squeezed his hand in return: "I am sure you are mistaken, Sir," she said with a blush and a smile.

After a brief moment, his vision improved and her face came into full view: "No, indeed, I know that it is quite impossible for Miss Elizabeth to offer me her affectionate smiles as she is quite cross with me," he insisted with a teasing smile as he reached out his other hand to her.

She sat down next to him and accepted his other hand: "No Sir, I assure you my smile is genuine as I am no longer cross with you," she assured him.

"You have every right to be cross with me for my behavior during our last meeting was quite abysmal," he told her, caressing her hands. He was quite pleased that she was allowing this physical contact which would be considered quite improper in polite company; however, the warmth and suppleness of her hands prevented him from adhering to decorum.

She shook her head: "You are mistaken once again, Sir, for the only abysmal behavior then was my own. You must allow me to apologize for questioning your character," she insisted.

He shook his head: "You must allow me to apologize for insulting you and your family, Elizabeth," he told her contritely.

She laughed brightly: "What a pair we are, Mr. Darcy!" she told him. He attempted to lift his head but dizziness prevented him. He raised his hand to the back of his head and groaned as felt a large, painful lump forming there. "How may I assist you, Mr. Darcy?" she asked.

He heard a male voice call out from a distance: "Lizzy? Where are you?"

She released his hands and stood, waving her arms over her head: "Here Uncle! Hurry please, Mr. Darcy needs your assistance!" she called out to the man.

He heard footsteps rushing towards them and observed a kindly gentleman kneel next to him: "Oh dear, what has happened?" he asked, his voice filled with concern.

"Mr. Darcy, this is my uncle, Mr. Gardiner. Mr. Darcy has fallen from his horse, Uncle," Elizabeth told him, her voice calm but filled with concern. Darcy was pleased with her composure.

"Mr. Gardiner, it is a pleasure to meet you and I fear I must ask for your assistance," Darcy told him. The gentleman helped him to his feet and supported his weight as they walked to their carriage.


Elizabeth captured Darcy's horse's reins and secured them to the Gardiner's carriage while Uncle Edward assisted Darcy into the carriage and within minutes they were on the road to Pemberley with Elizabeth seated next to Aunt Madeline. Darcy appeared to be somewhat groggy and unsteady, requiring her uncle's assistance to remain upright in his seat. His demeanor and behavior were everything cordial; however, Elizabeth had never observed him so talkative.

"My lovely Elizabeth looks wonderful today! I know why Caroline has abused her appearance so mercilessly; she is jealous of my attentions to Elizabeth! Unfortunately Caroline does not compare to her beauty! Her eyes are the finest I have ever beheld!" Darcy said with a sleepy smile.

Elizabeth was stunned by his talkative nature, so unlike the Darcy she had previously known.

"If I could but hold her hand, I would be the happiest man on Earth!" he happily announced.

Elizabeth blushed at his boldly flirtatious manner and reached out to her aunt who patted her hand reassuringly.

He continued his admirations much to Elizabeth's embarrassment: "How fortunate I am to encounter her today! I have a perfect view of my beloved from where I sit. Her smile is so enchanting and her blush is so sweet. My beautiful, bewitching lady love; has she truly forgiven me? Do I dare to hope that she might return my affections?" he said.

"Mr. Darcy is babbling," Elizabeth thought to herself. "That bump on the head must have caused more damage than I knew!" Her aunt and uncle seemed quite amused by Darcy's display but she could only feel embarrassment. "Is he delirious or has he just declared himself in the presence of my family?" she wondered.

"Mr. and Mrs. Uncle, I must insist that you allow me to return your kindness and join me for refreshments at the house," Darcy announced.

Elizabeth stifled a giggle at Darcy's error and her aunt squeezed her hand. Her uncle smiled with amusement at Darcy's request: "I appreciate your kind invitation, Mr. Darcy, but we shall not impose on you when you are in need of immediate medical attention," Uncle Edward replied.

Darcy shook his head and smiled: "Nonsense, Mr. Uncle! The doctor will simply tell me that I have a bump on the head and I am already painfully aware of that fact," he replied, touching the back of his head and wincing with pain.

The ride came to an end as they arrived at the front of the house. Elizabeth watched as Uncle Edward quickly dismounted and assisted Darcy down from the carriage. "You must not trouble yourself, Mr. Uncle. I can walk on my own," Darcy insisted. Of course, as Elizabeth observed, nothing could have been further from the truth; he wobbled on shaky legs leaving no doubt of his needing assistance. A footman hurried towards them: "Oh, here is my man Jenson to assist me. Jenson, will you notify Mrs. Reynolds that we have guests?" he instructed. Then turning back to his guests, he continued: "Mr. Uncle, you and your wife must be sure to tour the house and I will meet you in the solarium," he insisted as he wobbled off towards the door.

Jenson and another footman assisted him up the stairs and he could still be heard at the top of the stairs: "I shall not be but a moment, Miss Elizabeth! My Elizabeth is uncommonly pretty is she not?" he asked the footmen before disappearing upstairs.

"Yes, Sir," – "Indeed, Sir," the footmen were heard responding to Darcy's compliment.

Elizabeth blushed violently at his bold outburst: "What could be the meaning of it?" she wondered, as she followed her aunt and uncle.


Darcy was unable to recall the events of the ride from the moors to Pemberley; that time passed in somewhat of a blur and the exact details seemed to escape him, but he was certain that Elizabeth and her uncle were responsible for his safe return home. As he entered his chamber and was placed into a chair, he felt somewhat lightheaded but ignored the sensation in favor of changing his attire and returning to Elizabeth as quickly as possible. In his mind, nothing could prevent him from returning to his beloved. His valet entered the chamber and appeared to be startled at his appearance. He closed his eyes and attempted to force the pain from his mind and regain his composure.


After relinquishing Darcy's care to the servants, the Gardiners and Elizabeth were escorted to the gallery. When they were alone, Aunt Madeline smiled broadly: "Well, there can be no doubt of Mr. Darcy's affections for you Lizzy, can there?" she asked with a quiet laugh.

Uncle Edward joined in her laugh: "No doubt whatsoever, Madeline; however, if fear he did not intend to voice his admirations quite so publicly!" he replied, with a teasing glance at Elizabeth.

Elizabeth blushed furiously at her aunt and uncle's observations: "He did seem quite…. altered. I have never seen him express himself so candidly, Mr. Uncle," she whispered with a teasing smile. Her uncle stifled a chuckle.

"And I have never seen such a remarkable example of a man so 'violently in love,'" Aunt Madeline replied with a smile. They had discussed that particular expression during their Christmas holiday visit, after Mr. Bingley had left Hertfordshire so unexpectedly. Elizabeth had insisted that Mr. Bingley had been 'violently in love' with Jane prior to his departure. "I never gave much credence to the expression but it seems that I was quite mistaken," she whispered to Elizabeth.

Elizabeth had to agree; there was no doubt that Darcy was in love with her. "How do I feel about him?" she wondered as she gazed absently at the Darcy portraits. She truly had forgiven him for his offences against her; or perhaps she had come to realize that her complaints against him were unfounded. Well, all but one; he did admit to separating Jane from her heart's desire. Even though his reasoning was faulty, he had acted in an attempt to assist his friend. But how did she feel about Mr. Darcy? Did she return his affections? She puzzled over these questions as she wandered through the gallery.

She came upon a portrait of Mr. Darcy and stopped to admire it. "This must have been painted some years ago, Lizzy. He appears to be much younger but he is still just as handsome as he was then," Aunt Madeline observed.

Elizabeth studied the portrait intently and recognized the fullness in his lips and kindness in his eyes that she had noticed for the first time earlier at the moors: "He is very handsome indeed," she wistfully replied. She recalled seeing him lying prone at the moors; even after he had fallen, his appearance was impeccable; his cravat remained perfectly tied, his carefully tailored jacket had not a single wrinkle and his face was as handsome as she remembered. She also recalled the flutter in her heart when he held her hand and gazed so adoringly into her eyes; she had never felt such a sensation in her entire life. She had read many romance novels, despite her claims to the contrary, and she had always discounted the descriptions of such sensations as nonsensical. Should she have studied those novels more carefully?-she wondered.

Mrs. Reynolds the housekeeper joined them some minutes later. "I must thank you again and again for coming to Mr. Darcy's assistance, Mr. Gardiner," she told Uncle Edward.

"I hope his injury is not too severe, Mrs. Reynolds," Uncle replied.

"The doctor is with him now and I am certain that he is being well cared for," she replied. Her aunt and uncle seemed to be relieved at this prospect, as was Elizabeth but she was still uneasy about Darcy's behavior during their ride. Could his behavior have been altered so significantly in the past four months or was the alteration due to the injury to his head?

Mrs. Reynolds waited patiently while they rambled through the gallery, providing brief explanations on each of the portraits. Mrs. Reynolds spoke affectionately of her master, saying that she knew no man better than he. Elizabeth listened carefully to her aunt's conversation with the housekeeper but remained silent. Her praise of the master of the house was quite high, which was not entirely unexpected, but her affections for him were unmistakable. Elizabeth had already questioned her own discernment related to Darcy and was acutely aware of her failings during their acquaintance. Now listening to the housekeeper's affectionate praises, she moderated her opinion of him. "I have misjudged Mr. Darcy's behavior in so many ways," she thought to herself. "I must endeavor to keep my own behavior under good regulation." When they were finished in the gallery, Mrs. Reynolds escorted them to the solarium where they waited for Darcy to return.


Denton Hobbs had been employed as Darcy's valet for the past eight years. His devotion to the master had been established immediately upon meeting the young man. He was an honorable man and had impressed Hobbs with his fairness and compassionate nature. He was also meticulous and demanding, requiring only the highest standards regarding his attire and appearance. Hobbs was accustomed to the master's attention to detail and thought nothing of his requests to change a waistcoat or retie a cravat multiple times until the desired effect was achieved.

Today however, he stared at the master in astonishment. He was being escorted into his chamber by two footmen; the back of his clothing was covered with dirt, his hair was in disarray and his cravat was completely untied. He had never seen the master in such a disheveled state! "Hobbie! How good of you to come! As you can readily observe, I am in need of your assistance!" the master exclaimed. He was momentarily taken aback by this address; 'Hobbie' had been his nickname in his youth but no one had addressed him thusly in at least twenty years.

"The doctor has been called for," Jenson told him on his way out of the chamber.

"Oh, bother!" the master protested. "Preston will no doubt tell me that I have had a bump on the head and leave a draught for you to administer," he said with a scowl. 'Preston' was undoubtedly a reference to Dr. Oliver, the family physician. Hobbs had never heard the doctor referred to as 'Preston' but attributed this to the master's altered state.

Jenson returned carrying a bowl of water: "Mrs. Reynolds has requested that you use a cold compress until the doctor arrives," he told Hobbs.

"Yes, yes, that will do very well Jenson, thank you!" the master told Jenson on his way out of the chamber. "Hobbie, please get me ready to see Preston, will you? I have a devil of a bump on the back of my head!" he said as he gingerly touched his head. Hobbs concealed his concern for the master's well-being behind a serious gaze and quickly undressed Darcy, removing his soiled jacket, waist coat and rumpled cravat. He draped a large linen towel around Darcy's shoulders and placed the cold compress on the back of his head. Darcy winced and groaned at the pressure on his wound, then rose and moved to the bed. "I shall recline for a moment until Preston arrives," he insisted.

Hobbs waited for Darcy to get comfortable on his side and applied the cold compress to his head. Ten minutes later, there was a knock on the door and Dr. Preston Oliver entered. "What has happened, Mr. Darcy?" he inquired.

"I fell over at the moors and bumped my head," the master replied, gesturing to the back of his head.

Dr. Oliver carefully examined the patient and praised Hobbs for administering the cold compress: "That is exactly what I would have recommended. The compress will relieve the swelling and I will leave a draught to relieve the headache," he told Hobbs. "You will feel better in no time at all, Mr. Darcy!" he announced. The master prodigiously thanked the doctor who then took his leave and left the chamber.

Hobbs chuckled after the doctor left the chamber. "Dr. Oliver did just as you predicted, Mr. Darcy!" he said, mixing the powder into a glass of water.

"Did he?" the master asked.

"Yes, you said he would diagnose you with a bump on the head and give you a draught," he repeated.

"Did I?" the master asked in confusion, accepting the glass of powdered remedy.

Hobbs thought it quite odd that the master had trouble recalling a conversation he had moments ago. "Are you feeling unwell, Sir?" he asked as Darcy reluctantly drank the potion down. "Would it be better if you rested a while, Sir?" he asked.

Darcy shook his head and rose: "No Hobbs, I am perfectly well and prefer to be dressed immediately. I have guests to attend to," he replied. "One very special guest, Hobbs," he added.

Hobbs was relieved that the master seemed to be back to himself; at least he had ceased calling him 'Hobbie'. "A special guest, Sir?" he asked.

Darcy smiled: "A special lady!" he replied with a smile. "I think I shall wear the green waist coat," the master suggested.

Hobbs raised an eyebrow: "The green? This must be a very special lady, Mr. Darcy," he remarked, knowing his preference for the color.

The master smiled: "Indeed, there is none better, Hobbs!" he said with a wink.

Hobbs interpreted this as a good sign: "Well then, we must not disappoint the lady, Sir," he replied with a smile. Darcy was dressed with fresh breeches, shirt and cravat, the green waist coat and black jacket. After checking his appearance in the looking glass, he expressed his thanks and left the chamber. Hobbs was certain that he observed a spring in the master's step.


Darcy hurried downstairs in search of Elizabeth: "I hope you have enjoyed your tour of the house thus far," he asked his guests as he entered the solarium, glancing quickly at Elizabeth.

"Oh yes, we enjoyed the gallery and are infinitely fond of your housekeeper, Mrs. Reynolds! She has taken excellent care of us!" Mr. Gardiner replied with enthusiasm.

Darcy was pleased: "Yes, she is a treasure," he said, gazing directly into Elizabeth's sparkling eyes. He was rewarded for his efforts with the sound of his beloved's quick intake of breath and the sight of her alluring blush before she averted her eyes.

He turned his attention to her uncle: "Mr. Gardiner, are you fond of fishing? We have a beautiful river just outside filled with trout just waiting to be caught," he announced with a smile.

Mr. Gardiner brightened at this topic: "Indeed, I am excessively fond of the sport," he replied.

This pleased Darcy immensely and he invited the gentleman to join him and a few others the day after next in an outing. Mrs. Gardiner interrupted them: "Mr. Darcy, you must not exert yourself so soon after your injury!" she anxiously announced.

Her husband smiled and replied: "There is not much exertion required for the sport, my lady! Why else would you suppose it would interest me so well?" he said with a chuckle.

Darcy was touched by the woman's concern for his welfare: "I assure you, Mrs. Gardiner, that I am feeling quite recovered and I promise you that I will not exert any effort beyond walking from the carriage to the boat," he replied.

Mrs. Gardiner appeared to be quite embarrassed by her outburst and smiled sheepishly. "That should do very well then, Mr. Darcy," she replied. He gazed briefly at Elizabeth and was certain that he observed an appreciative smile on her countenance.

~~oo~~

Elizabeth watched Darcy walk into the solarium and noticed his cheerful gait and jovial demeanor. "I rather like this Mr. Darcy much better than the one I met in Hertfordshire," she thought to herself. He seemed much improved from his altered demeanor during the ride from the moors. She appreciated his attention to her aunt and uncle and listened to their exchange with a cheerful smile.

He then turned his attention to her: "Miss Elizabeth, how is your family?" he inquired.

"They are all enjoying good health, Mr. Darcy," she replied.

"Excellent! And how does your elder sister fare? Has she acquired any new interests since our last meeting?" he asked.

Knowing perfectly well that he was referring to Mr. Bingley, she smiled: "Jane is quite constant in her interests, Mr. Darcy, and is much the same as she ever was." He nodded thoughtfully in response. "How is your sister?" she asked.

He brightened at this question: "Georgiana is quite well and is to return home tomorrow. May we call on you tomorrow at the inn? It is my greatest desire for Georgiana to make your acquaintance," he told her quite earnestly.

She was pleasantly surprised by this request: "Yes, Mr. Darcy, I shall be very pleased to see you and meet Miss Darcy," she replied with a smile. She concluded that his desire for her to meet his sister would most likely indicate his desire to renew their acquaintance. She was relieved at this prospect as she had been severely disappointed by the outcome of their most recent encounter in Kent.


Early the next morning the traveling party arrived without Charles Bingley. "Charles received an express yesterday and insisted on returning to Town immediately," Caroline bitterly complained. "I told him I simply could not imagine what business matter could be so important to interrupt our plans but he insisted on leaving immediately," she told Darcy as she dismounted the carriage.

Darcy smiled, knowing precisely the business matter to which Caroline referred; he had sent an express to Charles advising him of Miss Bennet's continued affections. He apologized for his interference and wished his friend the best of luck with his lady love. He would have preferred a face-to-face meeting with Charles but since time was of the essence, he opted for sending a servant to deliver his missive. The servant had returned with Charles scribbled response; all that Darcy could decipher from the blotchy note was that he was returning immediately to his 'angel'.

He had the Bingley sisters escorted to their guest chambers and pulled his sister into his study. He told her of Elizabeth's visit and his intention to call on her immediately. She gasped with surprise and agreed to accompany him, promising to be ready in ten minutes. Twenty minutes later, they set out for Lambton.


Darcy arrived at the Lambton Inn thirty minutes later with his sister. Introductions were made and Elizabeth was quite pleased with Miss Darcy; she was fair and shy, not at all proud as Mr. Wickham had described her. She did her best to put the young girl at ease, grasping her hand and inviting her to sit beside her. Darcy appeared as handsome as ever and quite proud of his sister, as an older brother ought to be. "Mr. Bingley sends his regrets, Miss Elizabeth, but he has suddenly changed his plans and left for Hertfordshire yesterday," Darcy explained. Elizabeth was well pleased with this news and concluded that Mr. Darcy had advised Mr. Bingley of Jane's continued affections. Jane would certainly be pleased to see the object of her long-standing affections again and there was certain to be good news when she arrived home next week. She quickly realized that this new development entirely eliminated all of her prior complaints against Mr. Darcy.

As her aunt engaged Miss Darcy in polite conversation, Elizabeth walked to the center of the room where the tea service had been placed and began pouring tea, which she offered to Miss Darcy and Aunt Madeline. When she returned to the tea table, Darcy rose and followed her. He watched her as she poured coffee and served her uncle. "Would you care for coffee, Mr. Darcy?" she asked.

He accepted the coffee with thanks. Keeping his voice at a whisper, he leaned in close to her: "Miss Elizabeth, are you certain that you have forgiven me for my offenses against you?" he asked, with all sincerity.

She gazed at his earnest countenance; he really did appear quite contrite and eager for her acceptance: "Quite certain, Mr. Darcy – but are you certain that you have forgiven me for my offenses against you?" she asked in return.

He bowed in acknowledgment of her request: "I thank you, Miss Elizabeth, but you have done nothing to be forgiven," he replied with a smile.

She returned his smile, grateful for his response. She relished these few precious moments alone with him but was mindful that she had another guest to attend to. She glanced momentarily at Miss Darcy who was listening in rapt attention to Aunt Madeline as she retold the story of her eldest daughter's first piano-forte lesson. Thankful for her aunt's engaging manner, she returned her attentions to Darcy: "You are very generous, Mr. Darcy," she whispered.

"You are very beautiful, Miss Elizabeth," he quickly replied. She recalled his 'tolerable' remark upon their first meeting but decided against teasing him about it.

He returned his coffee cup to the table and gazed directly into her eyes: "I love you, most ardently, Miss Elizabeth," he whispered, repeating his declaration from last April. She blushed and lowered her eyes, returning her tea cup to the table. "If you desire my silence, you need only tell me," he quietly told her.

"He still loves me, after all these months!" she silently exclaimed, gazing into his eyes and listening intently to the fluttering in her heart. He kissed her hand and she reveled in the warmth of his hand, the softness of his lips on the back of her hand and the tingling sensations he left there. He caressed her hand and she placed her other hand in his. "I have no desire for your silence, Sir," she replied with a smile.

He bowed over her hands and kissed them both. "I love you my dearest, loveliest Elizabeth. I have fought against my irrational fears and the memory of my abhorrent behavior and hope with all my heart that you will accept me, despite my flaws. Please say that you will give me the greatest joy and accept my hand," he whispered.

All of her doubts were swept away in that instant and she knew that he was her perfect match. "I accept your hand and give you my heart, Mr. Darcy," she replied. He raised her hand to his lips and kissed the inside of her wrist. "Will you go to my father?" she asked as her heart fluttered furiously inside her chest.

He pressed her hand to his heart: "I shall leave immediately, if that is your desire," he whispered.

She considered their separation since last April and decided that she was not ready to be parted from him again so soon: "I would prefer to spend some time with you and my new sister before we are separated again. Let us speak to my uncle," she replied.

"Yes, by all means, Lizzy, do come and speak with me!" Uncle Edward exclaimed with a laugh. She turned to discover that her aunt, uncle and Miss Darcy were approaching them with joyful expressions and outstretched hands. It appeared that their private discussion was not so private after all!

The announcement was made and received with much joy by the Gardiners and Georgiana. Darcy expressed his desire to speak to Mr. Bennet as soon as possible and Uncle Edward agreed to accompany them to Hertfordshire, whenever they were ready to depart. "Yes," thought Elizabeth, "I shall enjoy my time with Mr. Darcy very much!"

~~The End~~

Source: Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen, 1813.

(Author's Note: Yes, I know, trouble is around the corner but for the moment, our favorite couple is incandescently happy!)