Fitzwilliam Darcy was not best pleased. He had been elated at the prospect of having Elizabeth reside as a guest within his house, and further, was grateful for her uncle's presence, for he had much knowledge of which Darcy was in need. Acquirements notwithstanding, he could not deny that his first thought had been of Elizabeth. Hosting her in Pemberley, observing her as she wandered and examined the house and its park - the mere notion caused his features to be graced with a most joyous expression.

But he could not be certain whether what he offered her was indeed what she desired. He had given her a great deal of license to do as she wished; she would not be barred from any room of the house or from inspecting the many edifices upon his land. In giving her this boon, he hoped she might recognize the respect he held for her and that he had, many months since, become accustomed to ** the taste of olives.

It was, in truth, Elizabeth herself who had brought him to apprehend his faults. Her courage in sallying out to harass their enemy, despite the marked contrast between the circumstances at Rosings and those in Hertfordshire, had struck him forcefully at the time and no less so as the weeks passed. His cousin the colonel had been amazed by Mrs. Bennet and her group, greatly impressed by how well-ordered and disciplined they were. His far less impressed reaction to Darcy's stated desire to assist in the fighting remained painful to recall.

'Don't be a fool. You can engage well with a rapier but this is not a polite fencing arena. There will be a great deal of uncivil fighting. I cannot countenance your being injured, which you will certainly be if you were to step one foot in the direction of Lady Catherine's home. Her men would kill you before wondering who had been your forebears.'

Was that not the crux of the matter? His grandfather was an earl; his property was extensive; his family name was well-known and respected. And yet, for all of his supposed power and connections, he was deemed not good enough to join those who sought justice in a most direct manner. For all of his wealth and responsibility, he was not permitted to aid beyond planning and sitting in a well-appointed library, anxiously awaiting word of their return. His inability to provide more than the most trivial of assistance galled, as if he had been measured and weighed and found lacking.

Having been Master of Pemberley for the past five years, he had believed there could be no more formidable task than to manage the entirety of his family's affairs, and had looked meanly upon any with a lesser charge, for their burden could not possibly approach that of his own. Even Bunting could not escape this verdict, despite the breadth of his holdings. It was truly astonishing, Darcy thought, how his friends could accept such drivel without rancor. Perhaps they merely accepted it as his right, with his vast property and noble connections. Or perhaps, they chafed under it but said nothing to maintain the acquaintance.

He blinked. No. Bunting would not have teased him as he had if their attachment were not strong. Moreover, it was not in Mrs. Bunting's nature to chaff a person with whom she was not familiar. Mayhap they saw beyond his posturing and pride, and attended only to his better, higher qualities. Of a certainty, he wished it to be so.

Irrespective, becoming involved with this endeavor gave Darcy pause. For the first time, he felt as if he required the assistance of another to ensure success; it was not the extent of the undertaking but, rather, the paucity of his own specific knowledge and abilities, which had been proven repeatedly since the first moment he set foot in Hertfordshire.

Hertfordshire. Merely thinking the word brought to mind a certain inhabitant of that shire, currently residing within his house. On their return from the Buntings, she appeared much more her cheerful self than how she had looked in her aunt and uncle's abode. In London, her countenance was despondent and miserable; he had spoken with his cousin the colonel for information on how best to aid her. After many meetings, he at last had ceased to despair of her recovery and began to hope for a return of her spirits. He was greatly appreciative of all the Gardiners did to bolster his efforts.

Why had he not known of Gardiner's connection to the Buntings? How had his cousin not known of this connection? Samuel and his relations kept their counsel - he respected this - but it galled him to have walked into a discussion lacking important intelligence. Nevertheless, he had brought his own surprise, for they had known only of Mr. Gardiner's coming. Elizabeth was quite unexpected, as Mrs. Bunting had proven.

If he will not tell me, I will not tell him, Darcy thought with juvenile satisfaction, before laughing at his foolishness.

The following month passed with surprising rapidity, spent in excursions of varying sorts and much arranging and rearranging of Darcy's provision for his people's training and armament. Although he was able to devote a goodly amount of time to this, he also found himself too frequently required elsewhere. Thus, Elizabeth was often in Georgiana's company and the younger lady thanked her brother for his wisdom in bringing such a friend to Pemberley. She explained the two had discovered a great many similarities in their preferences and turn of their minds. In the mode of elder brothers the world over, he inquired of their activities and of what they had been speaking. Upon hearing they had, in the main, conversed on innocuous themes - horses and books and whatnot - and on details which needed attending, he realized disappointment.

In the mode of younger sisters the world over, Georgiana asked rather pertly if they were to only converse of him and his various occupations. When her brother could make no reply from amazement of her manner, she relented and let him know clearly Elizabeth had been quite inquisitive of his practices and was it his way to be so much more at ease here at Pemberley than elsewhere. She even, if he might pardon her overstepping, would credit her new friend might feel some slight preference for him. This intelligence brought Darcy a measure of hope, for he did not believe he had seen any indication of such during their many meetings.

Georgiana's words sounded yet again in his mind as he and Elizabeth embarked on another excursion about the area. In the intervening period, he had begun to wonder whether his sister was correct, for the lady beside him was as teasingly civil as he had ever known her to be.

Elizabeth had requested to see the edifice Darcy's people were using for their training. Similar to the old barn at Longbourn, this building also appeared decrepit and abandoned to the forest, but the interior had been recently made over and was replete with all types of weapons. He watched, uncertain of her thoughts, as she walked about the structure, examining its exterior and immediate grounds for vulnerable or unprotected sites. Did she find the premises and accoutrements acceptable? He was grateful for the forethought which caused him to have apprised his people of her coming and that they should show her all respect, for they were dutiful when accepting her corrections and advice.

As they turned back toward the house, Darcy could not but ask, 'How did you find them?'

'Well, I believe,' she answered, 'for all their need to practice further with those splendidly pristine weapons.' He peeked at her and recognized the playful expression on her visage, the particular expression he envisioned when her face appeared in his mind, and that aspect which he feared had been lost inside the pales of Rosings.

It was a close thing but he maintained his dispassionate demeanor. 'Have I not said? Where there is a real superiority of weapon, pride will be always under good regulation.' The sound of her quiet laugh was a solace; another indication of the relief of her spirit.

He purposefully focused his eyes upon the hills in the distance and then up at the sky, before twisting his head slightly toward her. 'Has all been to your liking? I should hope none have caused you any difficulty, for I was careful in instructing all senior staff your requests were to be attended with alacrity. The house and grounds in their entirety are yours to do with as you wish.'

Elizabeth's steps slowed as she spoke. 'Please accept my gratitude for your kindness in this matter. I had been surprised by the acquiescence shown to my uncle and myself but you have now accounted for the whole. Mr. Gardiner informed me he had expressed his appreciation prior to his return to London, but let me thank you again on behalf of us both.' She was silent for several moments before saying, 'You, sir, have behaved quite the gentlemanly host and I find myself sorry for the passage of time, as it brings ever closer the end of my visit to this sublime part of the country. I shall miss our debates and our - dare I call you friend?'

He allowed it to be so and she resumed, 'Then I shall also be lacking the solace of our friendship. You are of a particular disposition which permits one to speak sans interruption, and when you reply, your answer is forthright, yet clement. Yes, sir, your absence will be sore regretted.' Here, she stopped and he detected color upon her face.

Overwhelmed by what her words could mean - by what he wished her words would mean - he could make no coherent reply. It was during that silence when she inquired, 'Shall I have the principle rooms repapered, sir? Perhaps you would prefer flocks of sheep to take up their residence on your front lawn? If I am to do with your house and grounds as I wish, you must first inform me of those actions which might be displeasing to yourself.' He glanced at her and saw such a look of kindness directed toward himself that he was certain his feet would touch not a single blade of grass for the remainder of their ramble.

'Miss Bennet, I cannot abide the current mode of green papers adorning walls. So long as you eschew that particularly noxious color, we shall have no argument between us.' His words stalled and he felt again all of his ineptitude of speech, and particularly with this woman. Why was he more capable of jesting rather than engaging her in earnest discourse? 'What think you of Pemberley? Does it speak to any supposition you had determined as to my domicile?'

At this last, she could only smile. 'Sir, there was a time when I might have credited you with employing ornamentation as a manner of preserving the distinction of rank. Having now examined your property quite closely, I can proclaim your grandiose reputation wholly intact. The grounds are delightful and the house itself is charming. Who that understands beauty would not ascribe it to this place?' She waved her arm, as if to encompass the entirety of his park. 'All we must now determine is whether this delightful site is prepared for our little excursion.'

The gentleman was enlivened and put at greater ease by her words. As she was to remain in Derbyshire when her uncle returned to London, he could now trust she might in time come to comprehend him far better, hoping the continued propinquity would lead to greater intimacy.

It was this final thought which led him to say, 'I must now put to you a concern which has been troubling me and, in doing so, will confess a home truth. Despite my deplorable showing in Hertfordshire, would you . . . be amenable to my accompaniment during the nighttime inspections?'

Although he held himself as usual, the slightest of quivers in his countenance betrayed quite how much this request meant to him. Elizabeth was regarding him closely, her inquisitive expression altering to one of compassion, particularly as his words brought to mind the circumstances in which they had last ridden out together.

'Sir, your presence is of a certainty welcome and particularly as we inspect the fitness of these grounds to expel minacious intruders. You have, after all, put in some trifling effort toward this scheme; therefore, I would not deny your petition.' Her arch manner, in conjunction with her speech, allayed his disquietude.

Darkness had fallen and their small group of three was at the ready. As they made their way out the door nearest the stables, Elizabeth laughed quietly. 'How curious it is to be in this state, yet not in Hertfordshire.'

Her bearing then changed subtly to that of the fighter Darcy had seen often enough and she looked firmly at both men. 'Mr. Darcy. Mr. Bunting. There should be little or no danger tonight, but you must be heedful of our surroundings at all times, for peril often comes from that quarter we do not expect. We are to work as a whole and each must be responsible for the other two. As we had discussed, if we encounter any bother, I will take the fore and advise you of your charges. Have you questions before we begin?' At the shake of two heads, she led them to the rear of the stables, where three horses were waiting upon their riders.

They rode off, black capes undulating behind them. In accordance with their designs, they made for the far end of Pemberley's park. It was to be a night of little rest, for they meant to take unaware the posted guards at an hour when it was natural to seek one's repose. At Darcy's cognizance of the location, he gestured; they dismounted and continued on foot, the better to conceal their presence amongst the trees. The date had been chosen with care to ensure the moon would be sufficient for Elizabeth and Samuel to see that to which they were not accustomed.

Approaching with caution the first place they were to scrutinize, the three proceeded slowly, attending to every sound, every footfall. Elizabeth soon motioned and they knew the sentry was near. Darcy could not but be impressed by her stealth and agility, for she moved as a cat scenting its prey.

There. The two men they expected to see were standing, swiveling their heads and searching amongst the blackness for intruders. Then came the shout, 'Ho there! Watchword and name yourself!'

Darcy stepped forward, announcing, 'It is I, Fitzwilliam Darcy. I found myself within a dark woods.' He waited, anxious for the man's next words.

When he heard the phrase, 'Where the straight way was lost', he - and his escorts - presented themselves to the sentries, relieved at finding precisely what they had expected. After congratulating the astonished men on their execution and exhorting continued vigilance, they took their leave and recommenced along the designated route.

Reiterating this performance over and over throughout the remainder of the night, it was a pleased, if fatigued, triad who welcomed the first rays of sun breaking over the peaks.

** In Gaskell's North and South, Margaret Hale is speaking of John Thornton and says, "He is the first specimen of a manufacturer—of a person engaged in trade—that I had ever the opportunity of studying, papa. He is my first olive: let me make a face while I swallow it."