Chapter 1 : I'm Very Fond of Walking

Heart pounding, Elizabeth ran as fast as she could towards the first door she could find. She cared not where it led, as long as it brought her out of this prodigiously mortifying predicament she found herself in. He was here in Pemberley, and more discomfiting was that he had seen her. Oh what had she been thinking of in agreeing to come here? Foolish, foolish decision!

Her rushed footsteps echoed in the quiet hall, a footman started in surprise. Elizabeth scanned the number of doors in view, and hurried towards the one from whence she entered with her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner earlier that day. When she crossed the threshold, sunshine beamed down on her already hot face. She raised her skirts and ran down the flight of stairs, her breathing coming in pants. She hoped fervently that he had not followed her. Where were her Aunt and Uncle? They needed to leave, she needed to leave, she thought desperately. Where was their carriage? She would walk back to the village! Her mind raced frantically.

"Miss Elizabeth!"

Elizabeth flinched, she slowed to a stop. The deep voice was unmistakable. For a moment she considered running again, but the absurdity of it had her spine stiffening. She must face him, there was nothing she could do save explain how she came to be in his home. Oh why could not the earth open and swallow her whole, she thought. Elizabeth closed her eyes, drew in a steadying breath, and gathered the courage to face him.

She turned around. There he was, Fitzwilliam Darcy, Master of Pemberley.

He slowed down from his run and walked towards Elizabeth, his long legs in a purposeful stride, his look direct and intent. She had long ago accepted, albeit begrudgingly, that he was handsome, but she had forgotten just how impressive his person truly was. Elizabeth's heart pounded in her chest. Time slowed and her distress lasted an eternity.

Darcy was dreaming. Or going mad. For there was no other explanation to what was happening. In his loneliness and longing, he had somehow brought to life his dream of Elizabeth Bennet.

He had arrived a day earlier than planned owing to an urgent letter from his steward. After resolving the problem, he had gone directly to see Georgiana. Darcy, in a fit of sentimentality, had realized how much he missed his younger sister.

He had found her in the sitting room, Georgiana had been unaware of him, but after a moment, turned to see whose presence was in the room with her. The look of surprise and pleasure on her face had warmed Darcy's heart, he embraced and lifted her up laughingly, as he had always done.

It was at the moment when Darcy posed to ask Georgina a question that a movement in the slightly opened door caught his attention. He stood frozen, unbelieving. What he saw there made him doubt his mind. Elizabeth? All at once everything went out of focus, he saw nothing but her beautiful face. It could not be, no. And yet there she stood as if made of flesh and bone. It had finally happened, he thought, shaking his head. In his despondency, he had finally gone mad.

Ultimately, it was Georgiana's gasp of surprise at unexpectedly seeing a stranger in the doorway which told him otherwise. He was not imagining this, Elizabeth really was in Pemberley! Indeed, her face had a look of alarm that conveyed her astonishment at seeing him, and at being seen.

His heart beat hard, with hope, with trepidation, he did not know. But before Darcy could act, she had disappeared, the space that her form had occupied now stood empty. He would have gone back to thinking that he was hallucinating save for the sound of running footsteps which echoed audibly down the hall.

Recovering from his shock, Darcy realized that he must follow her, he could not let Elizabeth leave without speaking to her. He did not know what to say, his mind was a void, but his heart had its own will. He hurried to the door.

"Brother?" Georgiana said, perplexed and a little concerned, for she had witnessed the play of emotions on his face at seeing the unknown guest.

"You must excuse me, dearest. It is exceedingly important."

And without another word, Darcy ran after Elizabeth Bennet as if his life depended on it. Which, in his mind, it did. This was what he had most fervently been praying for, to see her again, to be given another chance.

Darcy stepped out unto the hallway and saw a flash of skirts disappear at the far end of the corridor. He picked up his pace, turned the corner and reached the grand hall only to find no trace of Elizabeth. He paused and scanned the area, his mind raced.

A footman cleared his throat loudly, Darcy turned to him with impatience. The footman bowed to his master, not meeting his eye. With a straight face, he raised his arm to point in the direction slightly to Darcy's left.

Darcy wanted to kiss the man, but instead nodded curtly. He hurriedly followed the footman's direction and saw Elizabeth rushing down a landing, her skirts flying in her haste.

So near, he thought. I love you. Do not leave, his mind shouted. Darcy found his voice and called after her.

"Miss Elizabeth!"

The lapels of Darcy's coat fluttered as he walked to Elizabeth, his long stride eating the ground, taking him closer to where she stood rooted. The pounding of her heart echoed the cadence of his steps. Even in the distance, she could feel his gaze on her, it left her warm. She glanced down, unable to meet his eyes.

What must he think of me, Elizabeth thought, being here uninvited, invading his privacy. And after such a bitter parting. She had, after all, rejected him, rejected all of this and what he represented and offered. He had poured his heart out and she had crumpled it all in a ball and cast it back to his face.

On any other occasion, Elizabeth would have found humor in the irony of her situation, but not today. She had come here, she admitted, because she had wanted to understand more of the man who had claimed ardent love for her, that was her reason. After gaining the knowledge of his true character, and if she was truthful to herself, there, in a place within her which she adamantly ignored and denied, lay the flutterings of a feeling for this man, a feeling that Elizabeth was afraid to name.

As Darcy approached Elizabeth, he felt nervousness creep across his chest. There she stood, agitated and embarrassed, her hands clutching the sides of her gown. He wanted to assure her that her appearance in Pemberley was more than welcome. But how could he begin? It was not as if he could merely continue where he had left off, God forbid! No, he had to show her that he had changed, that she had changed him. Because of her, he felt that he had become a better man, strove to be a better man.

Darcy stopped a short distance away from Elizabeth. The loveliness of Pemberley paled in comparison to her. Even in her anxiety, she was all that was beautiful in his eyes. His lungs constricted, she looked down, her arresting eyes clouded. He longed to move closer but he was afraid that she would flee if he did. But no, certainly not Elizabeth Bennet! She had more courage than anyone he knew. As if to confirm this, Elizabeth looked up and falteringly met his gaze.

"I thought you were in London." She said, sounding almost accusing in her nervous state.

"No. No, I'm not." Darcy said inarticulately.

"No." She bit her lip.

Both paused, Elizabeth could not meet his eyes properly, Darcy on the other hand, could not take his eyes off Elizabeth, he was the sea and she the moon.

They tried to gauge each other's thoughts and feelings. She felt guilty for being there, while he was overwhelmed with her presence. Then, as if seeming to make up their minds to be more coherent, both launched into concurrent explanations of their presence in Pemberley.

"We would not have come if we'd known you were here..."

"I came back a day early..."

These outbursts were followed by yet another uncomfortable silence. Elizabeth felt his gaze on her, soft and warm like a caress. This discomfited her even more, she looked down again, her cheeks hot. She must say something, anything! She looked about her, searching for a topic of conversation. Realizing the most obvious subject, she spoke of her travels.

"I'm in Derbyshire with my aunt and uncle." She forced a smile. Darcy nodded in understanding, so she was on holiday.

"And are you having a...pleasant trip?" He enquired.

"Yes, very pleasant." Elizabeth paused. "Tomorrow we go to Matlock."

"Tomorrow?" Darcy failed to hide the disappointment in his tone. So soon? He thought desperately. He had to take action, he had to find a way to make Elizabeth stay until he could convince her to grant him another chance.

Are you staying at Lambton?" Darcy persevered.

"Yes, at the Rose and Crown."

Another pause. Elizabeth felt how futile her efforts were and decided to no longer mask her embarrassment. I am not without shame, she wanted to tell him.

"I'm so sorry to intrude. They said that the house was open for visitors, I had no idea..." she trailed. Words failed Elizabeth. If it were anybody else, she could have fared better, but Darcy was affecting her in a way that he never had. Had she really been so indifferent? How had she failed to notice his feelings toward her?

Darcy shook his head, do not apologize for being here! He thought, it is my heart's most ardent desire for you to be here. With me. As my wife.

"May I see you back to the village?" Darcy asked hopefully, his heart on his sleeve.

"No!" Elizabeth replied rather abruptly. She did not want to contemplate just yet her feelings for Darcy. Instead she smiled and searched for an excuse.

"I'm very fond of walking."

Yes!" Darcy replied, impassioned, then continued more sedately, "Yes, I know."

"Elizabeth could no longer bear it, she must get away. With a brisk smile and a curtsy, she bid him good bye. Darcy could only react with a bow of his own.

He stood watching as Elizabeth made her leave. How despondent Darcy felt, unable to follow her, unable to convince her to stay. This would not do, he did not think his heart could handle any more sadness.

A breeze drifted around him, the leaves on the nearby trees turned silver under the summer sun. Pemberley was at its best, the rolling terrain was a verdant green that soothed the soul. Darcy could envision Elizabeth taking her walks here, he could see her rising early, swirling the mist as she moved across the land. Then and there, he made up his mind. He would pursue Elizabeth Bennet, again.

Elizabeth walked across an open field finding her way back to the village. She replayed her meeting with Darcy over in her mind. Her mortification grew with each recollection. Surely he understood, surely he did not blame her. Looking at everything now with a clearer mind, she was realizing how genial he had been. Considering her unexpected appearance, he had been all that was warm in his reception of her. Where could this amiability be coming from? Could it be that he still loved her? Even after everything that she had said? After her unkind words?

She felt herself blush, to be loved by such a man was gratifying to say the least, but more than that, her heart knew a secret. Could she be falling for this man? This man that she once could not even stand?

Elizabeth stopped walking. Her realization left her breathless. She was honest enough to acknowledge that it must be true. She placed her hand on her chest and closed her eyes. She could see him, declaring his feelings for her.

"I love you, most ardently."

He had followed her in the rain. She could see him looking at her on many instances with impassioned eyes, how had she mistaken those looks for disdain? And then just moments ago, he had spoken to her with such gentleness, his eyes conveying more than his words did. Elizabeth sighed, uncertain of the human heart.

"Mr. Darcy, what am I to do with you?" She whispered.

"Miss Elizabeth."

Elizabeth nearly stumbled in her surprise, Darcy stood there looking flushed, he had followed her. He bowed formally.

"I would very much like to see you back to the village."