After shedding her wraps as she entered Netherfield, Elizabeth crossed the foyer and then stood in the line at the bottom of the grand staircase, waiting to be received by her hosts. She was already scanning the crowds for Mr. Wickham. Suddenly she felt someone close behind her, too close. An imposing presence. Then she felt a hand press gently but firmly, and far too familiarly against her arm as a voice whispered in her ear, "you did not wait for me, my love."
Elizabeth turned suddenly, shaking the hand from her arm, to stare into the eyes of Mr. Darcy, "pardon me, sir," she said incredulously.
"You left our chamber without me."
She stared at him in disbelief. "Our chamber?"
"What is the matter, Elizabeth?"
She gazed at him in undisguised bewilderment as her anger became apparent in her features, the color rising in her cheeks. "I would ask, sir, that you not address me in such an informal manner."
He looked at her in surprise and said with a smile, "I dare say no one heard me, Mrs. Darcy."
Elizabeth's eyes became large as she backed away from him, only to bump into her father. She was relieved when he turned towards her and she looked back challengingly at Mr. Darcy. Her astonishment was beyond all expression when Mr. Bennet extended his hand warmly to Mr. Darcy and greeted him fondly. "Ah, there you are son. And how are you treating my Lizzy, then?"
"Very well, I hope, sir."
At that moment, Mrs. Bennet cut in and said, "of course he is treating her well. Did you think she would not have the best of everything? Just look at her gown, it is of the latest fashion and highest quality silk." Lizzy now realized she was not wearing the same gown she had dressed in for the evening. She was wearing a much finer one. Moreover, there was a ring on her ring finger of her left hand. She would have stared at it in wonder longer had she not witnessed her mother fawning over Mr. Darcy, insisting that he kiss her -- to which request he readily obliged. All of her sisters, even Jane, greeted him with equal familiarity and called her Mrs. Darcy. Even Mr. Collins emerged from behind his cousins to bow and scrape before Mr. and Mrs. Darcy.
Before he had completed his lengthy speech regarding the illustriousness of Mr. Darcy's personage, the Bennets had reached the Bingleys and the Hursts in the receiving line. They were each greeted in turn, and Elizabeth was only slightly less surprised than she had been by the spectacle only moments before when Miss Bingley dropped a curtsey and muttered, "Mrs. Darcy." This title was repeated by Mrs. Hurst, Mr. Hurst and Mr. Bingley. Elizabeth simply wanted to escape this dreadfully strange moment and turned to walk into the ballroom; but she was forestalled by a hand on the small of her back. Mr. Darcy was at her side and offering her his arm. Realizing, as she did, that all her own family seemed to be labouring under the same misapprehension as the gentleman - that she was married to him - and that she had yet to find an ally who had not fallen into the same insanity, she accepted his arm and merely smiled as she searched out her friend, the ever-sensible Charlotte.
Elizabeth walked through the room in a daze, continuously surprised by all her friends and neighbors greeting her as Mrs. Darcy. After a moment Mr. Darcy leaned towards her and said, "there is your friend, Miss Lucas."
Soon they had arrived at Charlotte's side and after greetings had been exchanged, Elizabeth looked to Darcy and said, "would you be so kind as to get me a glass of wine, sir?"
He immediately complied and when he was gone Elizabeth looked to Charlotte hoping that she would make sense of what had happened. But Charlotte said, "You are looking very well, Lizzy. I dare say marriage agrees with you. That is a lovely pendant. Another gift from your charming husband?"
Elizabeth's hand flew to her throat, where she felt a pendant resting against her skin. She said, "Charlotte, does this not seem very strange to you?"
"Does what seem strange?"
"That I should be married to . . . to him."
Charlotte laughed, "It is not strange at all."
Mr. Darcy then returned and offered Elizabeth a glass of wine, which she drank in one gulp. When she handed the glass back to him he said, "are you quite alright, my dear?"
"I am well," she replied.
As he handed the glass to a servant the music started for the dancing to commence. Never had Elizabeth been more pleased that she had promised the first dances to Mr. Collins. She looked around for him, expecting to see him approaching her; but instead she saw him lining up with Mary. Meanwhile Darcy had taken her hand and begun to lead her to the dance. She could not hide her surprise and when he saw it he smiled and said, "I trust you have not promised your hand to another for the first dances this evening?"
She could not help but reply, "perhaps you should not presume, Mr. Darcy."
He smiled, as if her response was just as he expected it would be. "May a husband presume nothing, Mrs. Darcy?"
She could not answer. Then, just as he left her side to take his place opposite her, he whispered, "you look very beautiful this evening."
She blushed furiously and he seemed to take great delight in witnessing it. He spoke to her throughout the dance with perfect ease, while she struggled to follow the conversation - her mind preoccupied with attempting to understand her situation. Was it possible that she had married and recalled nothing of having done so? Was it possible that this was all some terrible dream? A nightmare? Mr. Collins then moved the wrong way in the dance, trampling her foot, and the stinging sensation of pain that she felt as a result confirmed that her experience was quite real. Mr. Collins apologized profusely and Mr. Darcy asked if she had been badly hurt, giving Collins a fierce glance. She assured him she was fine and they continued to dance.
They were interrupted briefly by Sir William who suggested that the happiness of their matrimony could only be followed by a second marriage between Bingley and Jane. When he left them, Darcy said, "I have never seen Bingley so in love. But your sister's feelings are more difficult to discern."
"She is quite pleased with his attentions, I assure you."
"I confess that I have wondered whether she returns his affection."
"She cares for him a great deal."
"Then I am sure it is only a matter of time before they are engaged. I am very happy for them both."
Elizabeth simply replied, "yes, I am sure they will be very happy together."
After their second dance, Elizabeth was relieved to finally be separated from Mr. Darcy, though he raised her hand to his lips before relinquishing it at the end of the dance. She was amazed as he then danced every dance of the evening, engaging all of her sisters as well as Bingley's sisters and Miss Lucas. Elizabeth also danced every dance.
Soon it was time for supper, and she was surprised when Mr. Darcy sat down with her family. After they had eaten, Darcy took Elizabeth's hand and said, "come," as he escorted her from the room. She walked with him, feeling all the impropriety of being alone with him but at a loss as to how to go about refusing him under the strange circumstances of the evening. After a short walk, they entered Netherfield's conservatory.
Once inside he led her well into the room before turning to face her. Taking her hand in his, he asked, "are you quite alright, my love? You seem a bit out of sorts this evening."
"I am well."
"Are you angry with me for some reason?"
"Is there a reason I should be?"
He smiled, "I cannot think of one, but I am very concerned about you."
"I assure you that I am well, sir."
"You have not been yourself all evening."
She turned away from him and walked to the window. He walked up behind her and slid his arms around her waist. She was startled by this intimacy, but said nothing as he whispered into her ear, "please tell me what is troubling you." His voice was so close she could feel the warmth of his breath against her skin. His embrace was firm, and at first she was uncomfortable, but it was not constricting. Then suddenly she felt his lips press against the skin just behind her ear. She stiffened and he caressed her arm and whispered, "all is well my sweet." He continued to place soft, gentle, warm kisses on her ear and the back of her neck. The sensation was incredibly pleasurable and Elizabeth began to relax allowing herself to enjoy it. Soft notes of music wafted into the room as someone played the pianoforte after supper. Darcy's embrace tightened as his lips pressed against her ear again and he whispered, "I love you so much, Elizabeth."
She turned around to look at him. His eyes were bright with passion. He placed a hand on her cheek and kissed her lips tenderly. Her mouth naturally responded to his with an ardor matching his own. She became lost in the power of his kisses and almost forgot that she wasn't really married to him. Almost. She backed away from him, ending the pleasant exchange. At that moment she could almost love him and she wondered how she could ever have disliked him. Then she recalled that she did, indeed, dislike him. She recalled Mr. Wickham.
"I wish to speak to you regarding Mr. Wickham."
Considering the mood of their encounter and their recent activities, Darcy was more than a little surprised by the subject of her preoccupation. "Mr. Wickham?"
"Yes. He said some things about you . . ."
"You spoke to him? When? Where?"
She looked at him curiously and replied, "he was at my Aunt Phillips' for tea last week." He furrowed his brow and she continued, "he said that you and he were raised as brothers, that your father was his godfather and loved him. He said that when your father died he bequeathed him a valuable family living, which you denied him."
"Why did you not tell me of this conversation immediately after it occurred."
To this she did not have an answer. She could not say she had not been married to him then, that she did not really think she was married to him now. Everyone, her own family even, believed her to be so and she would be viewed as not quite well if she were to make such a declaration. So she indulged in a small lie, "I only just found out about it this evening. This is what he told to Lydia and Kitty."
He sighed and said, "I do not like the idea of your sisters being in company with him. I have been thinking, and I believe they would benefit from some time with us in town this season. What do you think?"
She looked at him incredulously. "You mean to invite Kitty and Lydia to spend the season in London?"
"Do you not approve?"
"Yes but, . . ."
"I know you had your heart set on spending Christmas at Pemberley and I have no intention of altering your plans. In fact, I would like to invite the Gardiners and their children. And then, we can return to London in January and Kitty and Lydia can join us."
Elizabeth stepped back as she realized this was now her life. She had not thought of what the strange events of this evening would mean for her future. Was she to remain in this state forever? Would it be so bad if she did?
"That all sounds very lovely."
"And what of Mr. Wickham?"
"Elizabeth, you cannot really believe that I acted unjustly towards him?"
She looked down, then said, "I want to know what you have to say about it."
"Very well. It is true that he was raised with me at Pemberley and that my father loved him. His father was my father's steward and a very good man, but he died leaving his son nothing. As Wickham and I grew older, I began to see a side of him that my father never saw. He lived a lifestyle unguided by principles and indulgent in - vicious propensities. Upon my father's death he was granted a living in addition to the sum of one-thousand pounds; but he renounced his claim to the living in exchange for an additional three-thousand pounds. When the living fell vacant some years later, and after he had squandered all of his money, he announced his intent of taking orders and demanded the living. I, of course, refused."
Elizabeth was astonished. She felt all the folly she had allowed herself to engage in by believing Wickham so readily. "I see. That explains it then," was all she could say.
"There is more." She looked up to meet his eyes and could see that he was in pain. He took her hand in his and said, "last summer I sent Georgiana to Ramsgate and he followed her there. He convinced her that he loved her and led her to believe herself in love with him. She consented to an elopement. His purpose was, of course, to secure her thirty-thousand pounds." Elizabeth gasped. "I arrived just in time to prevent it. She told me everything. She remembered him fondly from her youth and his manners are so engaging. This is why your sisters must avoid him."
"I had no idea he was capable of . . . he must be exposed or he might make another attempt."
"I cannot risk damaging my sister's reputation, Elizabeth."
"There must be a way to expose him and still protect her."
"I promise you I will consider it." He then pulled her to him and held her close. After a moment he turned her gently back towards the window and, looking over her shoulder, pointed across the dark horizon. "There is the wishing star," he said.
"I did not know that you were a believer in wishing upon stars, Mr. Darcy," she said lightly.
"I have only ever attempted it once," he replied.
"And what was your result?"
"Perfect success," he said, kissing her cheek. She turned to face him, and he claimed her lips again.
A few minutes later, as they walked back towards the door to return to the ballroom, Darcy stopped in front of a potted rose bush and plucked one of the flowers. He carefully removed the thorns from the short stem and then handed it to her. As she lowered her nose to smell its fragrance he said, "I want you to keep that, as a remembrance of this evening, so that you will never forget our first ball together as husband and wife."
"Thank you," she replied, "I do not think I shall ever forget this evening. But I cannot carry this around all evening, or it will become damaged."
"Then let us put it away before returning to the company," he replied as he led her up a staircase.
She was a little hesitant to go with him, but she did not resist. They arrived at a door and when she entered the room, she was surprised to see many of her own things among a variety of things she did not recognize. In a corner she noticed a painting, set upon an easel, of her and Mr. Darcy standing together hand in hand, looking into each other's eyes. She stared at it a moment and then continued scanning the room. Sitting atop a dressing table she saw her own keepsake box that had held her treasures for many years. She opened it and found some things she recognized and a few she did not, including a letter that was folded and lying on top with her name written on the outside in a hand she did not recognize. She placed the rose on top, closed the box, and then followed Mr. Darcy out of the room.
They returned to the ball, where they danced another two dances together. Elizabeth had become accustomed to the strange situation enough to be able to enjoy the evening with some level of comfort. At the end of it, the Bennets were the last family to depart and they all stood around talking at the bottom of the front staircase while awaiting their carriage. At last its arrival was announced. As Elizabeth stood with her hand on Darcy's arm, she realized that she would not be leaving with her family. She would be expected to stay with her husband. She became very nervous. She took a step towards them as they donned their wraps, but Darcy's hand on her arm stopped her. She looked up at him and said, "I must say goodbye to my family." A look of understanding crossed his face, and he released her.
As soon as she crossed the foyer her mother said, "Lizzy, what are you waiting for, child? Put on your cloak. The carriage is waiting. Hurry up, girl." Lizzy looked down and realized she was wearing the dress she had put on at Longbourn while preparing for the ball. The ring and pendant were gone. She turned and looked at Mr. Darcy. He held her gaze for a moment and then turned and walked slowly up the stairs. Did he know? Had he experienced the same thing she had, or had he simply attended a ball at which Miss Elizabeth Bennet had also been in attendance? Elizabeth quickly put on her wraps and departed Netherfield with her family.
The following morning, Elizabeth awoke to the memory of a very strange dream, where she had been married to Mr. Darcy. Yet, as she tried to recall the Netherfield Ball, her only memories were those of the dream. She stood from her bed and walked over to her dressing table. She noticed her keepsake box and, recalling her dream, could not help opening it. She gasped when she saw a single red rose with a short stem from which the thorns had been removed.
On the morning following the Netherfield Ball, Mr. Darcy awoke with a start. He'd had a very disturbing dream - that he had been married to Elizabeth during the ball. He remembered very distinctly the events of the evening. He had danced once with Elizabeth. Perhaps it was this indulgence that had caused the strange dream. She had mentioned Wickham during the dance and had asked him some odd questions in an attempt to sketch his character. He also remembered her family's abominable behavior and Sir William's hint about Bingley and Miss Bennet. He had not realized until then that Bingley's attentions to the lady had created a general expectation that they should become engaged. But worse, he had not before realized the true gravity of Bingley's danger. His friend should not return to Netherfield from London this winter.
As he arose and rang for his valet, Darcy's mind returned to the dream. It depicted a very different series of events at the ball than what had actually occurred, but it had seemed so real. He could almost feel Elizabeth in his arms, taste her kiss on his lips, smell the scent of her skin. It was almost like an alternate memory of the same evening - and one he most definitely preferred. Never had he experienced such a powerful dream.
He recalled showing her the wishing star in his dream. That was it - the cause of all this trouble! The night before the ball he had been thinking of her, staring out his window, regretting that she was so very unsuitable, regretting that he would never know the pleasure of her charms. It was then that he had seen the star, that he had wished he could know what it would be to have her for his wife though he could not marry her. An absurdly impossible wish, and one that had been answered in the form of a dream - his desire holding the reins to his imagination as he lay sleeping. He smiled.
Once he was dressed, his dream still haunted his thoughts and propelled him almost subconsciously to the conservatory. When he entered, he looked across the room at the window on the far side. He moved towards it as he recalled that in the dream he had mentioned his wish to Elizabeth. He reflected that in his dream his wish had been granted by the reality of marriage to her, but in reality it had been granted only by a dream. He shook his head as he considered it. He knew not how long he stood at the window, but when he walked back towards the door his attention was caught by a potted rose bush. He examined the plant carefully and could see that a single flower had been plucked from a stem near the top. He felt a powerful sense of sublime awe descend upon him as he considered the strange coincidence of the proof before him.
He remembered his dream so vividly, as vividly as he recalled his true memories of the evening before. He had stood in this very spot, plucked a rose from the very stem that was now missing a bud, removed the thorns, and handed the flower to Elizabeth. Prompted by the memory, he bent further to study the pot in which the rose bush was planted. There were no broken thorns anywhere on the floor or in the pot. He was fairly certain the conservatory had not been swept yet this morning. He was satisfied - it was merely a coincidence. Someone, undoubtedly Miss Bingley or Mrs. Hurst, had taken a flower.
Yet, his mind was not satisfied and he considered his dream further, delved deeper into the memory of it. When he had removed the thorns from the rose, he had not thrown them on the floor. So focused had he been on his wife, he had simply kept them in his hand. They had gone upstairs for her to put the rose away in her keepsake box. There, in their bedchamber he had deposited the thorns carelessly on a table as he stood waiting for her.
Darcy immediately left the conservatory in all the haste his pride would allow him and made his way back to his own chamber. His astonishment was beyond all expression when there, on top of a small table near the door, were four thorns - just where he had left them in the dream. He carefully picked them up, wrapped them in his handkerchief, and placed them into his coat pocket.
He realized how ridiculous this all seemed, but he could not conceive of an adequate explanation for the evidence he had discovered. His thoughts were now in a tumult of confusion, attempting to discern dream from memory and reality from fantasy. With Bingley out of the house and in little humour to be in the company of the others with his present preoccupation, he decided to go riding through the countryside surrounding Netherfield.
He rode hard and fast, trying to make sense of the situation. There must be some rational explanation for the missing flower. Someone may very well have cut it last night or this morning. It was possible. It had to be the answer. But why would anyone leave the thorns in his room. There was no explanation for that.
This is what comes of allowing oneself to become bewitched by a woman! He felt as if he had lost all his rationality. As he rode, he tried to shake himself of the imprudent attachment he had formed. But the dream had given him a glimpse of what it might be like to be married to Elizabeth, to have her for his own. Would it be so terrible? No, it had been wonderful. And not just holding her and kissing her, but the comfort of knowing she was his, of having her companionship. His heart had been filled with satisfaction and contentment. He had even found her family tolerable. Perhaps it was time to stop thinking of marriage to Elizabeth as an impossibility. Time to give in to his feelings. Was he ready to call those feelings love? He had done so in his dream.
Somewhere quite a distance from Netherfield, he slowed his horse along a path that followed the river, and dismounted to allow the animal a chance to have a drink as he walked along the riverbank. Within a few minutes he rounded a bend in the path and suddenly came upon the very object of his troublesome reverie. Elizabeth was sitting on a rock near the water staring intently at a rose she held in her hands. A very familiar rose.
He knew he should make his presence known. "Good morning, Miss Bennet."
Elizabeth looked up at him suddenly. It was apparent that she was quite startled by his address. "Good morning, sir," she replied, as she stood from the rock.
He walked towards her, glancing at the flower in her hand and said, "It is not the season for roses, Miss Bennet."
"No indeed it is not, sir," she replied quietly.
"Your father's hothouse must be very special indeed, if it is capable of growing roses without thorns."
"The thorns were removed, and . . . we have no roses in Longbourn's hothouse."
He took another step towards her and said, "Then I am very curious to know where you acquired such an unseasonable treasure, Miss Bennet."
"I am equally curious to know as well, sir, for I found it this morning lying inside a box where I keep things of value to me."
He caught her eye with an expression of understanding when she mentioned her keepsake box, and he said, "It is very like the roses that grow on a particular bush in Bingley's conservatory."
This time it was her countenance that expressed understanding. She simply stared at him in silence.
At length he said, "And may I ask how many thorns were on your rose?"
She looked at him with curiosity, but then looked down at the flower to count the spots where the thorns had been. "Four," she replied.
He carefully removed his handkerchief from his pocket and opened it. She absolutely started when she saw its contents, letting out a small gasp of surprise. "Where did you get those?" she asked in a whisper.
"On a table . . . in my room. I found them there this morning."
Elizabeth caught his eye and held his gaze for a moment before saying, "Have you ever wished upon a star, Mr. Darcy?"
He simply looked at her and smiled, "Only once, Miss Bennet."
"Have you ever wished upon a star, Mr. Darcy?"
He simply looked at her and smiled, "Only once, Miss Bennet."
"And what was your result?" she whispered, avoiding his gaze.
"Perfect success," he said softly.
Elizabeth's hand flew to her cheek of its own volition. Both of them recalled the exact words of their conversation from the dream, the words that had just been repeated. Both of them recalled that in the dream Darcy had kissed Elizabeth on the cheek just after saying the last.
She turned away from him full of embarrassment and confusion. His heart was beating wildly. He took a deep breath to compose himself. What was happening? It was impossible that the events of the dream had actually occurred. He could more readily believe that he and Elizabeth had had the same dream though that in itself was incredible enough. But the existence of the rose and of the thorns spoke otherwise.
Finally, she turned to face him again. "Forgive me sir. I believe it is time for me to return home. Excuse me."
"May I have the honour of escorting you to Longbourn?"
Elizabeth was at a loss. All she wanted was to get away from him. Yet she did not wish to offend. "That is not necessary."
"It would be my pleasure."
She could do naught but consent. They walked along the river a bit, stopping to retrieve Darcy's horse, before gaining the main path towards Longbourn. They spoke very little, and only of the weather and their surroundings. Both felt awkward and uncomfortable, unsure of what had happened, or was happening, between them.
When they arrived at the house, Elizabeth invited Darcy in for some refreshment. She did so only out of politeness, but he accepted. He was just as confused as she was and would have preferred not to be in the company of her family with the events of the morning weighing on his mind, but he hoped to learn more about what was happening between them by staying with her longer.
When they entered the house, he noticed she laid her rose carefully on a table in the foyer before leading him to the drawing room.
Before she was inside the room, her mother began speaking, "There you are, Lizzy, where have you been this morning? Mr. Collins has been waiting for a chance to speak to you for he has something very particular . . . " Mrs. Bennet stopped abruptly as she perceived Mr. Darcy entering the room behind her daughter, "Why, Mr. Darcy, what a pleasant surprise. We did not expect to see you, sir, while Mr. Bingley is in London." Mrs. Bennet then asked Lydia to ring for tea.
Elizabeth had blushed deeply when Mrs. Bennet made reference to Mr. Collins' intentions towards her within Mr. Darcy's hearing. For his part, Mr. Darcy had heard Mrs. Bennet's admonition and understood what she had hinted at.
Elizabeth noticed Charlotte was in the room and had been conversing with Mr. Collins, so she took a seat next to her.
As he took a chair across from Elizabeth, Mr. Darcy responded, "I encountered Miss Elizabeth out walking this morning and escorted her home."
"How very kind of you, sir," replied Mrs. Bennet.
At this point, Mr. Collins interrupted their discourse to inform Mr. Darcy of the great honor that was his upon finding himself in company yet again, and so soon, with the nephew of his esteemed patroness.
Mrs. Bennet smiled at his speech, no doubt admiring the prettiness of his words and the cleverness of his turn of phrase. She then resumed speaking, "We were just discussing the ball last night at Netherfield. I trust you had an enjoyable time, Mr. Darcy?"
"Yes, madam, I thank you."
"You did not dance very much, but I will say you and Lizzy looked very well together."
Elizabeth stared at her mother in surprise. Had she really danced with Mr. Darcy? She had been so certain it was a dream, but she had no other memory of the ball.
"I took great pleasure in dancing with her," he replied to Mrs. Bennet, but he looked at Elizabeth.
Elizabeth cast her eyes down, unable to meet his gaze.
Mrs. Bennet then said, "I believe the ball was a great success. With all the officers there, my girls danced every dance -- even Mary."
"But not all; of the officers were there, Mama," added Lydia, "do not forget that Mr. Wickham did not attend the ball. I had so looked forward to dancing with him."
"And so had I," said Kitty.
"But I think Lizzy missed him the most," replied Lydia.
Elizabeth gasped as Jane said, "Lydia!"
Elizabeth wanted nothing more than to leave the room, but even if she could make some excuse to be gone she had no doubt Mr. Collins would follow her seeking the private interview he had hoped for this morning. She looked up to see Darcy watching her intently.
"Oh yes," said Mrs. Bennet, "Mr. Wickham is a charming young man. It is such a shame that his prospects are so limited."
Elizabeth recalled everything Mr. Darcy had said to her in her dream, regarding his association with Wickham. Was it all true? "Perhaps," she said, "Mr. Wickham has only himself to blame for his present situation."
Having heard the entirety of the tale Wickham had related to Elizabeth and knowing how offended she had been on his behalf upon hearing of his treatment by Darcy, Jane and Charlotte both looked at her in surprise.
"What do you mean, my dear?" replied Mrs. Bennet, "He has no family, no connections, no fortune, he could hope for little more than a commission in the militia. And, he may yet do very well for himself."
"I think Mr. Wickham may have had some very good opportunities to improve his situation which he let pass by him," she replied, looking questioningly at Mr. Darcy.
Darcy was surprised now. This reference was too close to what he said to her in his dream. How did she know that Wickham had declined to accept the living that had been meant for him? Was it possible that Wickham had told her? Something told him that her knowledge came from another source entirely but it was impossible that she could be remembering a conversation that never took place. Nevertheless, she seemed to be seeking confirmation of it.
"What other opportunities could a man such as him possibly have had?" asked Mrs. Bennet.
"It is true," interjected Mr. Darcy, recalling the promise he'd made to Elizabeth in his dream to expose Wickham's true character. "I have known Mr. Wickham since my youth and I can assure you that he did have better prospects in the past than he seems to have at present."
Jane and Charlotte witnessed the exchange in wonder as Mrs. Bennet expressed her desire to know more. "Goodness, I had no idea that the two of you were even acquainted. How is it that you know one another?"
"His father was steward to my father, but we no longer associate."
Elizabeth could see that Darcy was growing uncomfortable, and she knew her mother would not be satisfied until she knew every particular of the affairs between the two gentlemen. Having received confirmation from Darcy that the information she'd learned in the dream regarding Wickham was true, she was ready to change the subject.
"Mr. Darcy," she said before her mother could ask another question, "when is Mr. Bingley to return from London?"
He noticed Miss Bennet turn her gaze towards him expectantly. "On Saturday," he replied with a smile of gratitude to Elizabeth.
"Did you not invite him to dine one day next week, Mama?" she asked her mother, hoping to keep to this new subject.
"Oh yes," replied Mrs. Bennet, looking to Darcy, "we hope to have all of you here on Tuesday evening. I shall send a card round to Miss Bingley. Of course Mr. Bingley already assured me he would be happy to dine with us next week. All that is wanting is to fix the date. Do you know what Mr. Bingley particularly likes to eat, Mr. Darcy?"
After assisting in planning next Tuesday's menu Darcy took leave of the ladies, and they were all left to discuss this latest news of Mr. Wickham among themselves. Mrs. Bennet longed to know more of his intriguing association with Mr. Darcy. Jane and Charlotte were also curious as to Elizabeth's apparent change of heart towards Mr. Wickham and her relationship with Mr. Darcy, but both kept their own counsel.
When Darcy returned to Netherfield, he found Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst discussing their brother. Miss Bingley was quick to inform Mr. Darcy of the content of their conversation. "It came to our attention, last evening, that Charles' admiration for Miss Bennet seems to have given rise to a general expectation of their marriage."
"We also noticed that Charles seems to be more in love than usual this time," added Mrs. Hurst. "I had not thought to be concerned that he might actually propose until yesterday."
Miss Bingley continued, "It would be a most imprudent match for him. As sweet a girl as Jane is, she really has nothing to offer him beyond the charms of her person. All the advantages of such an alliance would be on her side."
Darcy could not disagree. He felt the exact same way about Bingley's attachment to Miss Bennet. Had he not awoken this morning to very similar thoughts? He had thought Jane almost as unworthy for Bingley as he felt Elizabeth was for himself. Yet, he had since learned to doubt whether Elizabeth was so unworthy. His dream had shown him what it might be like to be married to her, and in his dream he had been happy. And, the evils of such an attachment would not be so great in Bingley's case as in his own.
"We think it would be best for all of us to quit Netherfield tomorrow morning, join him in London, and convince him not to return," said Mrs. Hurst.
Darcy had no wish to leave Netherfield at present. He was preoccupied with his own situation and had no desire to leave the area until he, at the very least, understood what had happened between himself and Elizabeth.
Miss Bingley then said, "We are counting on you, sir, to aid us in convincing him to give up any idea of marrying Miss Bennet."
"I do not think I will be successful."
"Of course you will," said Miss Bingley. "You have a far better chance than either of us. He has the greatest confidence in your advice."
"If he is as in love with her as you fear he may think nothing of the imprudence of the marriage."
"Which is all the more reason he must be made to see the mercenary nature of her intentions towards him. For it is apparent that she does not return his regard."
Darcy suddenly remembered something from his dream. He and Elizabeth had discussed Bingley and Miss Bennet while they danced. She is quite pleased with his attentions, I assure you. . . . She cares for him a great deal. Yet his own observations from what had really occurred last evening had led him to the opposite conclusion. Could he have been wrong? If the rose had been real, and the thorns had been real, and the conversation in the conservatory had been real, could Elizabeth's assurances of her sister's feelings have likewise been real? He remembered Jane's apparent interest only that morning in knowing when Mr. Bingley was expected to return, and she had seemed to pay particular attention to his discussion with Mrs. Bennet about his friend's preferences.
"I am not convinced that she does not love him," he said.
Both women gasped. "Mr. Darcy," said Miss Bingley, "surely you have seen the way Mrs. Bennet has thrown her daughter at our brother. Surely you have heard her boasting of all the benefits the match will bring to her family."
"Unfortunately, those events have not escaped my notice. But is not it possible for her to feel something for him in spite of the fact that the marriage will benefit her family?"
"Of course that is possible. But in the end, what does it matter? Her returning his affections would not make her a more suitable wife for him."
Darcy considered the irony of Miss Bingley's last statement. He was not surprised to find her definition of one's suitability for marriage to be so limited. "I agree that her situation is the same regardless of how she feels," he replied, "but I cannot represent to him that she feels nothing for him when that is not my true opinion; and as long as he believes she returns his love, I do not think he will be swayed by arguments that the match is an imprudent one."
"So you will not help us?" asked Mrs. Hurst.
"I will not hesitate to give him my opinions regarding the disadvantages of the match when he returns to Netherfield on Saturday."
"You mean not to come with us to London?" asked Miss Bingley, appalled.
"I do not believe removing from Netherfield would achieve your object, and I have no desire to leave at present."
Miss Bingley's eyes narrowed. "Perhaps you have your own reason for wishing to stay in the neighborhood. A reason with fine eyes and a love for the dance!"
"Perhaps I have," he replied curtly. "Please excuse me."
He then went away, and Miss Bingley was left to all the satisfaction of having forced him to say what gave no one any pain but herself.
After leaving the drawing room, Darcy sought the refuge of his own chambers. Alone with his thoughts, at last, his mind returned to its preoccupation with Elizabeth and the strange events of the morning. He pulled the handkerchief from his jacket pocket and looked at the thorns within it. "Impossible," he said to himself.
After Mr. Darcy went away, Mrs. Bennet gained a brief moment to speak with Elizabeth. "Mr. Collins wished for a private interview with you this morning, for he has something very particular that he wishes to ask you, but you were nowhere to be found. You must assist me in getting rid of Charlotte so that he may have the opportunity of speaking with you."
"Mother, please, I have no desire for a private interview with Mr. Collins. I am very glad to have Charlotte's company today."
"I believe you do not fully understand my meaning, Lizzy. He wishes to address you, in particular, about a very delicate and personal matter."
"I assure you, madam, that I understand your meaning perfectly," replied Elizabeth.
Elizabeth's agitation over the events of the night before and the morning made her less tolerant than usual of her mother. Luckily, Mrs. Bennet was at the next moment distracted by Kitty and Lydia; and Elizabeth moved away from her mother and closer to Jane.
Elizabeth managed to pass the rest of the day without being subjected to a private meeting with Mr. Collins. He would be gone in only two more days. What a relief it would be if she could only avoid the dreaded conversation until Saturday.
The following morning, both Darcy and Elizabeth awoke with the same thought at the forefront of their minds meeting again by the river and trying to learn more of the meaning of the strange dream they seemed to have shared. To be alone together again was to risk discomfort, awkwardness, and embarrassment; but neither had slept well and both had been unable to think of anything else.
When Elizabeth arrived at the spot by the river where they had met the day before, Darcy was already there waiting for her. Although she had hoped to encounter him, she had not thought about how she would feel upon realizing that he had purposely set out to meet her as well. He seemed to be thinking along the same lines.
"Good morning, Miss Bennet."
"Good morning, sir."
"Do you walk often along this river path?"
"No, not very often. I usually keep to the road. Do you often ride here?"
He smiled. "No, indeed. I only discovered this location yesterday." He hesitated, and then continued, "I see you are without your rose today." She looked down and said nothing. "I hope you returned it to the safety of your filigree box."
She looked up at him suddenly, "How did you know that my keepsake box is decorated with filigree?"
He did not know what to say, he had meant to approach the matter more delicately. But now that they had made a start, he decided on the direct approach. "Perhaps the same way you know of my history with Mr. Wickham, for I doubt your notion that he may be at fault for his own limited prospects was derived from anything he related to your sisters."
Elizabeth looked at him sharply. Her heart began pounding and her breathing became unsteady in response to his pointed reference to a conversation that could not have possibly occurred though they both seemed to remember it. "It was me and not my sisters that Mr. Wickham spoke to about the matter."
"You? But I thought . . . ." He stopped abruptly. Darcy now remembered that Mrs. Bennet had known nothing of Wickham's past and if it had been the younger girls he had told, then surely they would have repeated it to their mother. This did not accord with what Elizabeth had told him in his dream. Perhaps it had been just a dream after all. But there had already been too many coincidences, too many signs that it was more than that.
"Did this conversation occur over tea at your Aunt Phillips' house last week?"
"Yes," she replied quietly. He was pensive for a long moment and seemed to be puzzled about something. She spoke again, almost in a whisper, "I know why you thought I had heard his story from my sisters."
He caught her eyes with his own and held them for a moment, both of them puzzling over the same question, knowing the other was thinking the exact same thing, but fearing open acknowledgment of it. "It is not possible," he said at last, averting his eyes from her.
"No, it is not," she agreed.
But their agreement regarding the impossibility of the event was enough to confirm its occurrence. He started in response to her speech, and she realized that her denial of what seemed to be happening had revealed that their minds were in accord.
"How did you know my keepsake box was decorated with filigree?" she repeated.
He sighed. "I saw it, in a dream. At least I thought it was a dream."
"It had to be a dream," she said quickly before realizing that her words would constitute further confirmation that whatever had happened had been experienced by both of them.
"Then what of the rose . . . and the thorns?"
"I do not know. I cannot explain it," she replied in an agitated manner.
"Forgive me, I did not intend to upset you. The events of the last two days have been confusing, for both of us."
"Perhaps it is best forgotten. Let us speak of it no more."
"If that is really your desire, I will abide by it, but I would prefer to understand what has happened."
"How can it ever be understood? How can it be explained? Why should such a thing even be suggested?"
"What do you mean?" he asked, in reference to the last question she posed.
"Mr. Darcy, I think the present circumstances give me leave to be address you frankly. You and I have never even been friendly. Truth be told, we have disliked one another from the first."
He looked at her with a furrowed brow. "You dislike me?"
She felt his surprise must be feigned and chose not to acknowledge it with a reply. Instead she added, "You must see that understanding this . . . situation . . . is impossible in more ways than one. Forgetting for a moment the impossibility of the event itself, why should such a connection even have been suggested to either of our minds much less both of them?"
Darcy did not know what to say. He knew why it had been suggested to his own mind and he believed his wish had been what suggested it to hers as well. Impossible as it seemed, it was the only explanation available to him and more information than even she had. Yet, she had just professed to disliking him; he could not reveal now the content of his wish upon a star. Perhaps it was best to do as she had said, to forget about it and never mention it again. Her dislike could be an omen to show that his assessment had been correct: he could not marry her. He admired her, perhaps even loved her, but she was unsuitable and there was nothing to be done for it.
"I believe you are right, madam. I will not mention this matter to you again. I hope you will forgive my forwardness today. Should we meet again, I will make every effort to prevent any discomfort my company might bring you. I hope you have a pleasant day."
With that, he made his bow and then led his horse to the road, where he mounted and rode away. As Elizabeth watched him go, she realized that her suggestion of speaking no further on the matter had not been what she truly desired. She too had wished to gain an understanding of what had occurred, of why it had occurred. But it was all too late. She certainly would not mention it again, and she knew that he would not either. It was for the best. Perhaps they would meet again at some future time. But if not, she knew they would always be connected by this strange experience they had shared one that had given her a glimpse of what it would be like to be married to such a man.
As Darcy rode in the carriage with Miss Bingley and the Hursts, he could think of nothing but Elizabeth. Of the strange experience that had connected them and of his promise never to speak of it again. She had looked beautiful this morning, vibrant, happy except when she'd looked upon him. His very presence caused her discomfort, which is why he had fled to London after leaving her that day by the river.
He had known he'd be unable to sway Bingley against Miss Bennet so long as his friend had any hope that his love was requited. He had spoken of his objections to the marriage but Bingley was convinced that Miss Bennet, now Mrs. Bingley, returned his love and Darcy had not, in good conscience, been able to protest this belief. And now, to meet Elizabeth again after two months and for a wedding of all things, had been very trying for both of them. Observing the ceremony had been difficult he wanted nothing more than to speak those words to Elizabeth, to make her his. But she did not even like him. They had scarcely said anything to each other and only what was required by civility. He drew in his breath as the carriage stopped in front of Longbourn for the wedding breakfast.
After handing his coat to the butler Darcy crossed the foyer, and when he looked up he was surprised to see Elizabeth smiling into his eyes. There was something different about her. She was not wearing the same dress that she had worn to Church, she was wearing a more elegant one. He had no time to contemplate the changes in her appearance, for she immediately took his hand and said, "There you are, my dear! Why are you lingering in the entryway? Let us go inside and congratulate the Bingleys again!"
He stared at her for a moment, astonished and bewildered by her behavior. Then he heard himself say, "Oh God! It is happening again."
"What is happening again? Are you well, Fitzwilliam? Can I get you something?"
Did she not know it was happening again?
She was waiting for a reply. "No, thank you. I am well."
He offered her his arm and they walked into the drawing room where they were greeted by everyone as if they had been married for some time. Darcy was confused. This is not how it was last time. In the dream they had shared in November they had really been married, now it just seemed as though everyone else believed them to be married even Elizabeth.
Then he remembered how she had been during the dream confused, uncomfortable. He remembered asking her if she was well. Was this how it had been for her then? How difficult it must have been for her! How strange! He remembered the liberties he had taken in the conservatory. Of course, for him they had been married, but for her . . . . Apprehension rose in the pit of his stomach. Oh no! What had he done? She must have felt so trapped! But then he remembered her responsiveness. She had returned his kiss, if only for a very brief moment. She had enjoyed his attentions. He smiled.
"What is so amusing, Mr. Darcy?" Elizabeth asked him, archly.
Having greeted everyone, they were now standing alone at one end of the room. "It was simply a pleasant memory," he replied.
She smiled and said, "Are you reminded of our own wedding day?"
What could he say? He had no such recollection. "I was thinking of the Netherfield Ball." He hoped she would not be disappointed.
Instead, her eyes seemed to brighten, "Another pleasant memory," she said, and then she gestured to her abdomen and whispered, "particularly after the ball ended! You may think me silly, but I do believe that was the night it happened!"
He simply stared at her. Was she intimating . . . that she was . . . with child? He was overwhelmed by the very idea of it. And lord how he wanted to kiss her when she looked at him so! With so much love in her expression! He had never seen anything like it. He had imagined it, imagined what it would be like if she loved him. Then he recalled that he was not really married to her. None of this was real. Oh, if only there was a way to keep this reality! What he would give to make it so! But he knew it would end, just as it had ended last time. He would wake up tomorrow as if all this had been only a dream.
His expression turned melancholy at this thought, and she became concerned. "Are you not pleased? You seemed pleased when I told you last week."
He realized she had misunderstood his reaction. "Oh Elizabeth, nothing could please me more!" he exclaimed with great sincerity.
She squeezed his hand and said, "Forgive me for doubting you. It was silly of me."
At this time, everyone was called in to breakfast. The meal was held in the dining room as the breakfast room could not accommodate such a number of guests.
Darcy found the conversation at table quite enlightening, as Mrs. Bennet naturally compared today's events with his own wedding. She seemed to delight in referring to Elizabeth as Mrs. Darcy; and each time he heard it, his heart swelled with pride and contentment. Amusement was added to his pleasure when he heard the same appellation unwillingly uttered by Miss Bingley or Mrs. Hurst.
After the meal, everyone assembled in the drawing room and Miss Mary moved to the instrument to play a song she had practised for the occasion. When Darcy entered the room, with Elizabeth on his arm, he began looking for two chairs together. She, however, urged him into the corridor and as the music began she said, "I dare say we have heard this song played quite enough times these past few days," as she led him into the breakfast room.
When the door was closed she approached him and said, "Please tell me what is troubling you, my love. You are not yourself today."
The endearment she had spoken gave him great pleasure. The content of her speech, however, caused him to recall having said almost the exact same words to her during his dream last November. His breathing became unsteady. She was standing so close to him, fully believing herself to be his wife, to be carrying his child! How was it possible? But there was no time now for thinking of it. He must get through this day. He would be at leisure enough tomorrow to consider the meaning of all that was happening.
"I see you are determined to be silent," she said at last. "I know you are not inclined to talk a great deal, but you are not usually so very silent as you have been today. It reminds me of how you were when we first met."
He looked at her pensively. "You did not like me then."
She smiled, "Please do not remind me of such unhappy times! I did not know you, my love."
She placed her hand to his cheek, "And now I know you to be the very best of men."
His heart fluttered as he inhaled sharply. After a moment's consideration he said, "I hope you will remember that tomorrow."
"Why? Are you planning some mischief tomorrow that might cause me to doubt your honor?"
She slid her hand to the back of his neck and said in a low voice, "Good, because I do not think I could ever think ill of you now that I have grown to love you so dearly!"
Her declaration was almost more than he could withstand. He longed to take her in his arms, and her proximity to him at present together with her conviction that they were married would make it so easy. But the very thought of abusing the situation in such a way was sufficiently repugnant to him to drive away those urges.
At that moment, however, she made his resolution to resist them all the more difficult to adhere to by turning her face up towards him and placing a light kiss on his cheek. Darcy closed his eyes as she repeated the gesture a few times. Elizabeth was kissing him!! Yet, he could not respond, however urgently he felt the temptation. She was not really his. They were not really married. He had never imagined agony could be so sweet! He had to put an end to this.
He opened his eyes and gently grasping her shoulders, he urged her away from him. She looked up at him questioningly.
"Please understand. We cannot . . . ." He paused, at a loss for an explanation of his apparent rejection of her demonstrations of affection. He grasped at the first reasonable thought to enter his mind, "Someone might walk in at any moment."
"I suppose you are right, but you were not so concerned about it at the Netherfield Ball when we were in the conservatory together."
"But this is different. There is nothing I could desire more than to . . . but I cannot allow it. I promise that tomorrow you will understand why."
He had not thought how very odd the last might seem to her before saying it. But, thankfully, her mind was elsewhere. "You never did tell me what your wish was. The one that you told me about that night. The one wish you made upon the wishing star."
He smiled. "That is because such wishes are meant to be kept secret or they will not come true. Have you never wished upon a star?"
"I confess that I have once. But I will not allow you to change the subject. You said your wish had been successful. Certainly, you can divulge it once it has been granted."
His countenance became very serious and he looked into her eyes with great intensity as he whispered, "Do you not know? I wished for you, Elizabeth."
She smiled, and as she placed her hand on his arm and moved towards the door she said, "It is a good thing that you have placed an embargo on the activity, otherwise I would not be able to resist kissing you most fervently after such a declaration."
He returned her smile as his heart filled with warmth and joy as they walked out of the breakfast room. In the corridor they passed a table upon which Jane had placed the flowers she had carried in the wedding that morning. Elizabeth stopped, pulled a white rose from the bouquet and handed it to him. He smiled as he took it from her. Then he plucked one of the petals, kissed it, and handed it to her, saying, "Go put this into your keepsake box."
Elizabeth immediately complied with his request and he carefully tucked his rose into his coat pocket as he watched her ascend the stairs. While she was in her room, the Hurst carriage was announced. Bingley found Darcy in the corridor and urged him to walk outside with him to say goodbye to his sisters.
As he stood on the threshold of the foyer he turned and looked upstairs. There was no sign of Elizabeth. He knew it was time for this beautiful dream to come to an end. He crossed the foyer and as the butler handed him his overcoat, he heard footsteps on the stairs. He paused, closed his eyes briefly, and then turned around just as she reached the bottom. She was wearing the dress she had worn to Church. As their eyes met, she appeared apprehensive, uncomfortable. He bowed to her and then turned and walked out to the carriage, where the Hursts and Miss Bingley awaited him.
The morning after the Bingleys were wed, Darcy awoke to the vivid memory of a dream about the day before. He went into the dressing room to find the coat he had worn to the wedding and he searched the pockets. There, he found a single white rose, slightly damaged from being in his pocket, and missing a petal. He smiled, then walked to his chest of drawers, opened the top one, and took out a handkerchief. He carefully placed the rose with the thorns that were wrapped in it, then put them all in his pocket. He smiled to himself knowing that during the course of the morning, she would discover a white rose petal in her keepsake box.
When Elizabeth awoke the morning after Jane and Bingley's wedding, she remembered dreaming of being married to Mr. Darcy. She immediately became apprehensive as a knot formed in her stomach, and she sat up abruptly in her bed. It had happened again. Then she remembered the actual events of the day before. Darcy had come to Longbourn for the wedding breakfast. It had been awkward and uncomfortable and she had hoped to avoid him as much as possible, but he had been polite and attentive to her.
She let out a sigh of relief and fell back onto her pillow -- this time it really had been just a dream. In November she'd had no other recollection of the Netherfield Ball than the inexplicable memory of everyone else believing she was Mr. Darcy's wife that he had seemed to share. Now, she remembered the events of yesterday, and in the dream it had been as though she had really been married to him. In November she had known she wasn't. It was different this time. This time it had only been a dream -- undoubtedly brought on by having seen him again yesterday after two months.
She got out of bed and moved to her dressing table to begin her day, as the events of the dream played in her mind -- the rose she had given him, the petal he had given to her. As she sat down, she saw her keepsake box. She shook her head and turned towards the looking glass trying to ignore the box; but it was no use. "Oh I must put an end to this," she said to herself, "I will not rest until I prove there is nothing there." She opened the box and there, next to the wilted rose from November, was a single, fresh, white rose petal. She gasped, then picked it up and stared at it for a moment, saying, "Oh no!"
This was beyond comprehension! She began to think more carefully of all that had happened in the dream. She had been married to him, she had hinted that she was with child, she had kissed him! But he had resisted, he would not kiss her, he had said she would understand why the next day. He knew. He had known they were not married in the dream, just as she had known it in November. Except, this time he'd had the benefit of their past experience. She remembered that in November he had seemed to recall the real events of the Netherfield Ball, while she had recalled only the dream. It had happened again -- and this time their experiences had been reversed, but why?
What had brought it on? She remembered the night before Jane's wedding, staring out her window, so happy her sister had found real love, wondering if she would ever find something similar, if she would be able to marry for love.
She had known Jane's marriage would give her opportunities to meet a greater number of men than she otherwise might encounter by remaining always in the country, and men of greater consequence than she might meet when staying in town with the Gardiners. But would she be able to love any of them? Would any of them love her enough to choose her, in spite of her circumstances? That's when she had settled her gaze on the wishing star and hoped that she might someday find true love. She had done it. She had made it happen. But surely this could not be the answer to those wistful thoughts, true love with . . . Mr. Darcy?
She realized that if she had made it happen now, with her musings, then he must have made it happen in November. His wish must have brought it on. His wish upon a star. She remembered his words from her dream yesterday, I wished for you, Elizabeth. But he would have to have made the wish before the Netherfield Ball. Was it possible that he was really in love with her, that he had already been so then? The realization that he had disclosed the content of his wish yesterday during the dream, knowing the truth of the circumstances, settled upon her.
She then remembered his words during their last conversation in November, when she had pointed out that they disliked one another, You dislike me? His surprise had been sincere. And in yesterday's dream he had reminded her that she had disliked him. She had claimed, and felt, very different feelings. And what had he said? I hope you will remember that tomorrow. Could it be possible? His words and actions seemed to hint that he had feelings for her, though there had been no declaration. Yet he had declared his love in November's dream, and in yesterday's he had kissed the rose petal before giving it to her -- with full knowledge of the reality of the situation.
Confused and bewildered by these meditations, she dressed quickly, then wrapped her rose from November and her new rose petal in a handkerchief and tucked them into her reticule. She went downstairs to the kitchen and found Jane's flowers from the wedding, where she had hung them to dry out. Elizabeth had made the arrangement herself and she knew she had included four white roses that Bingley had sent over from the hothouse at Netherfield. She counted the roses in the arrangement -- there were only three. She knew where the missing rose was.
Before she realized what she was doing, Elizabeth had stopped in at the breakfast room to bid her family good morning and advise them she was going for a walk. As she walked towards the river, part of her wanted to turn back and run home with each step; but something propelled her forward. When she arrived at the spot where she'd met Mr. Darcy those two days in November, he was already there -- holding a white rose in one hand.
Darcy smiled when he saw her. "Good morning Miss Bennet."
She could not meet his eye, "Good morning," she said, looking at the ground as she dropped a quick curtsy. Suddenly, she recalled her behavior in the dream -- she had touched him, kissed him. It was only a dream, but she knew he remembered it too, and she could feel the warmth in her face as she blushed with embarrassment.
"It is a pleasure to see you here again," he said.
"Thank you," she replied in almost a whisper, still avoiding his gaze.
"I hope you are well," he said in a tone that conveyed an awareness of some circumstance that might make her unwell.
"I am quite well, I thank you."
They were silent for several moments before Darcy spoke again. "We are having fine weather, are we not?"
She was a little surprised to find him talking of the weather. Then she remembered their last conversation, in November. He had promised not to speak of the incident again. But why then had he come to meet her?
"Yes," she replied.
They had to speak of it. Was it not the reason they had both come here? He had promised not to mention it, so she must make some beginning. She looked at his flower. Perhaps it was all just some coincidence. She must seek some acknowledgment from him of what had happened before she could speak of it openly. "It is not the season for roses," she observed, her words reflecting his from November.
He smiled. "No, it is not. I found this one this morning in one of the pockets of the coat I wore yesterday. I believe it is from Mrs. Bingley's bridal bouquet." He caught Elizabeth's eye as he said the last, and her heart began beating more rapidly. "But it is missing one of the larger petals here," he continued, showing her the flower.
She opened her bag, took out the petal, and showed it to him. "This was in my keepsake box this morning." She paused, then added in a whisper, "but you knew it would be there."
"I suspected as much."
Darcy was unsure how to proceed. He wished to speak of what had happened and she too seemed willing to talk of it, but he had promised her in November that he would not speak of it to her again.
Then she spoke. Quietly. Almost in a whisper. "Why did you come here?"
"I hoped to see you." Then after a pause, he said, "Why did you come here?"
She let out a sigh. "I hardly know. After what happened yesterday . . . ." She seemed disinclined to continue.
"Yesterday was also a beautiful day. The wedding was lovely, and the weather cooperative."
Elizabeth smiled involuntarily, somewhat amused by his attempts to blatantly avoid a subject they both wished to address by talking of the weather. Then she said in the same quiet tones, "I think you know I did not come here to talk about the weather, or my sister's wedding."
Now Darcy smiled. "I would not wish to presume that you came here to talk to me at all." Elizabeth blushed again as she realized the implication inadvertently made by her words. "Much as I might hope that to be the case." She raised her eyes to his in silent surprise. He took a step towards her and said quietly, "I think I know what you wish to discuss, but I require your leave to speak of it, as I once promised you I would not mention it again."
"You have my leave, sir, to speak of whatever you will," she replied, "though I do not suppose speaking of it will be any more effective in preventing another similar occurrence than not speaking of it was."
"Preventing it from happening again was never my purpose in promising to be silent on the subject, nor would it be my purpose in speaking of it now. But I thank you nonetheless for releasing me from my promise."
"What is your purpose in wishing to speak of it, then?"
"To understand what happened, why it happened, and most importantly, to know your thoughts on the subject."
"My thoughts? They are so scattered, so confused, I do not know what to think. I can hardly think of anything but the impossibility, the strangeness of it all."
He simply nodded his understanding, and said, "I think any attempt to comprehend the occurrence is futile. I have tried instead to just accept that it happened, as impossible as it might be, and to meditate instead on the meaning of what has occurred."
She said nothing in response and he too was silent for several moments as he walked towards the river. Finally, he stopped and turned towards her to say, "I believe I know why it happened last November." He paused and she stood silent. Her expression conveyed that she understood his reference to his wish and she looked at him expectantly. He continued, "But yesterday was not my doing, so I can only conclude that it must have been yours."
Elizabeth was a little taken aback by his forwardness. Should she reveal her musings on the night before the wedding? Without pondering that question too much she said, "I did spend some time the night before last thinking fondly of Jane's happiness and wondering . . . about my own future."
Darcy smiled, "And where were you while you entertained these musings?"
"Sitting on the window seat in my bedroom, gazing out at the stars in the sky." Then, lest he believe she had been thinking of him, she added, "But I was not contemplating any particular future, only whether I would be blessed with the same happiness Jane has found."
"You felt that happiness yesterday."
It was not a question, but a statement. There was no denying it. She turned away from him, too embarrassed to make any response.
He walked towards her until he was directly behind her then he whispered, "Will you not look at me?"
She turned around, slowly.
"Only tell me that you do not dislike me," he said. "That you remember your own words from yesterday declaring my goodness, that you remember how you felt when you uttered them."
"I remember," she said, almost inaudibly.
"Last November I wished to know what it would be like to be married to you, because I believed then that I could not make that choice. I was given a glimpse of what that life -- the life I refused to pursue -- would be like if I gave in to my feelings.
"Two nights ago, you wished to know whether you could have a happy future with a man who loved you and whom you could love. Yesterday you were granted a glimpse of that future. You know it was the answer to your wish, just as the lovely evening we shared in November was the answer to mine. That future can be yours . . . ours, and it is what I desire above anything else."
She stared at him for a few moments in astonishment. Was this a marriage proposal? She thought about all he had said, repeating it in her mind. At length she said, "I wonder why you would have considered something that you now profess as your greatest desire to have been impossible just two months ago."
"I admired you a great deal in November, but I did not think then that it would be a prudent match on my part. I repressed my feelings for the sake of less noble considerations. The fulfillment of my wish at the Netherfield Ball opened my eyes. Rather than feeling satisfied with the evening I had been granted as your husband, I began to desire that reality all the more." He paused briefly then continued, "Then, you said you disliked me. I was shocked and pained. I believed you wanted nothing to do with me. You said you did not wish to discuss what had happened, so I promised not to mention it again. I confess that I hoped to make a better impression on you when I saw you again yesterday, but I never expected what happened in November to happen again."
"No, neither did I."
"But, I believe it happened for a reason. As impossible as we know the occurrence to have been, it could not have been the result of chance. And I believe the purpose was to show us that we were meant to be together." He paused again, then said, "I love you." She looked up at him suddenly. He smiled at her surprised expression. "You know I do. Perhaps you do not reciprocate my feelings now, but I know you can. I have faith in your words yesterday, in the conviction with which you said them."
As she listened to him, Elizabeth's mind filled with memories of the dream, and her heart filled with the sensations she had then experienced. She resigned herself to the futility of rational thought in this situation and gave over the effort entirely. The feelings of yesterday's dream suffused her. She loved and trusted the man before her as much as she had yesterday when she believed herself to be married to him. A fusion occurred within her between that reality and this one, as inexplicable as the occurrences themselves had been.
She looked earnestly into his eyes and smiled. As he bent to kiss her, contentment filled them both as they thought of their future together, a future of which they had already had a glimpse.
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