A/N: Jane has an idea… 🙂
Elizabeth’s message to Darcy roused him from his melancholy — but only slightly. He kept mostly to his study or his rooms, venturing as far as the breakfast room where he took all his meals. The knocker was left off the door. All who were employed by Darcy House carried out their duties in a manner which was respectful of a master not feeling like his normal self. Richard was grateful for the dedication Darcy’s servants had to their master. It had only taken a few brief words to Haywood, Darcy’s butler, and things had fallen into a slow and serene state of order.
Richard watched his cousin with a wary eye but did not amend his disposition. He refused to tiptoe about, although he did keep the noise he created to a minimum. Richard knew that in time his cousin would share all that was passing through his mind. Darcy rarely acted on impulse, and, having suffered such a blow as he had when he received Mr. Bennet’s letter, Richard knew that Darcy would be even more hesitant to act without giving the matter a great deal of consideration. Therefore, he left his cousin to his thoughts and carried on about his own business while watching for and relying on Chase to inform him of anything needing urgent attention.
It was on the second day after visiting Mr. Bennet, when Richard finally had something requiring action which needed Darcy’s attention, that Richard entered Darcy’s study for more than a word of greeting.
He had just settled himself into a chair in front of Darcy’s desk when Haywood stepped into the room.
“There is a young lady here to see you, sir.” The butler shifted uneasily. “I told her you were not home to callers, but she insisted that if you were not available, she be allowed to see Colonel Fitzwilliam. She said it is of great importance.”
“Then allow her to see the colonel,” said Darcy without lifting his eyes from the page of his book. He had no desire to see anyone.
Richard scowled at the top of his cousin’s head. “Did she give you her name?”
“Miss Bennet, sir.”
Darcy’s head popped up from his book. “Miss Jane Bennet?”
“Miss Elizabeth Bennet,” Haywood replied, “but she is accompanied by another. Shall I inquire if that is Miss Jane Bennet?”
Darcy was on his feet. “No, no. I shall see them in the blue sitting room.” He ran a hand through his hair and fidgeted with his cravat before putting on his jacket.
“I thought you wished for me to deal with the intruder,” Richard quipped. It was good to see his cousin showing some liveliness, but there was a gnawing worry in the pit of his stomach that seeing Miss Elizabeth might do more harm than good.
Darcy stopped at the door to his study.
Richard shook his head and rose from his chair. His cousin was most likely contemplating whether or not it would be better for Richard to see to the ladies than himself. It was at moments such as these when Richard wished his cousin was not so contemplative. It was his dashed penchant to consider all the ramifications of a situation that had not allowed Elizabeth’s message two days ago to work as much of an effect on him as Richard had hoped it would. No doubt Darcy had been pondering her sorrow, his own sorry state, and the likelihood of Mr. Bennet relenting and whether he ought to pursue the matter. However, when the lady one loves shows up on one’s doorstep, the time for all ponderance is at an end and action is required.
“If you do not accompany me to the blue sitting room under your own power, I shall drag you there,” Richard said from directly behind Darcy, causing his cousin to jump. “She has asked to see you.” He pushed past his cousin. “Come along, Darcy.”
In the sitting room, Elizabeth shifted uneasily in her seat. Jane was no more at ease than Elizabeth. They had requested the carriage for a trip to the stores to purchase a few things to work on while sitting with Lydia. And they had stopped at the stores as they had said. However, this stop was not one about which either lady wished their father to know.
“Miss Bennet, Miss Elizabeth,” Richard greeted as he entered the room with Darcy at his heels.
“We apologize. The knocker was not in place, but you did not call today to inquire after Lydia.” Elizabeth’s eyes shifted from the colonel to the man standing next to him. She held out the book she had brought with her. “I have finished reading this, and I had hoped that perhaps you had another I could borrow so that I might have a reason to call again when I have finished it.”
Darcy stared mutely at the book. She was here and looking for a reason to return. She wished to see him. A small, fleeting glimmer of hope fluttered in his chest.
“I am certain there is something in the library, is there not, Darcy?” Richard nudged his cousin.
“Oh, I am certain there is,” Darcy agreed with a smile. “Shall I choose for you, or would you like to make your own selection?”
Elizabeth bit her lip and looked at Jane who nodded. “Your choice of this one was excellent, so I am willing to allow you to choose. However,” her cheeks began to feel a bit warm, “I do love seeing libraries.”
“Then you must accompany me while I make the selection.” Darcy offered her his arm, which she readily accepted.
Her heart beat a rapid pattern as she walked next to him through the beautiful corridor from the sitting room to the library. “Lydia woke yesterday for a few moments.” She felt his arm tense under her hand. “She seemed disoriented, but we were able to get her to drink a bit of broth, and though she still sleeps, she is not as warm as she was.”
“That is encouraging,” Darcy replied. “I feared…” He could not complete his fear that Elizabeth’s sister would die as a result of his actions — or rather lack of action in revealing Wickham’s character.
“As did we all,” Elizabeth’s reply was little more than a whisper. “I wanted you to know she seems to be improving. We will not leave town until she has regained her strength. My mother and sisters have joined us.” She would have told him more of the current situation at Gracechurch Street, but he had opened the door to the most beautiful library she had ever seen, and words fled her mind.
Richard chuckled at Elizabeth’s response to the library.
“Lizzy loves books,” Jane whispered with a smile.
“And do you?” Richard kept his voice low as to not disturb the pair walking a slow circuit around the library.
“Not as much as Lizzy.” Jane stood next to the colonel just inside the door to the library, watching her sister. “I worry for her, Colonel. It is why I suggested we make this clandestine visit. She eats very little and laughs even less. She is so quiet and withdrawn, and Papa does not see what he has done. He is so busy thinking of everything else than what is before him.”
Elizabeth was standing next to Darcy on the opposite side of the room.
“My cousin is little better,” Richard replied.
“Does he love her?” Jane asked.
Richard studied Jane’s serious expression and nodded. “He was hoping to make her an offer until…”
Jane sighed. “She loves him. She told me so.”
“I had suspected,” Richard admitted.
“If only my father could see what he is doing to her.” Jane shook her head.
“He may come to see it yet,” Richard reassured. He knew that for some gentlemen, worry and guilt took time to work their way through a mind and settle enough to be dealt with as they should be. He also knew that keeping busy with anything and everything else, other than the source of one’s unease, would keep those nagging thoughts at bay for a time.
“Has Mr. Bingley called at Gracechurch Street?” Richard asked.
Jane’s cheeks grew rosy. “Yesterday. Thank you for telling him about my being in town.”
While Jane and Richard continued their conversation regarding Mr. Bingley, Darcy pulled yet another book from the shelf, flipped through it and with as nod of satisfaction declared this to be a book he suspected Elizabeth would enjoy.
Elizabeth took the book from him and paged through it. “A fine selection,” she said as she closed the book and gave him a smile of delight. “Mr. Coleridge is very good.”
“That he is,” Darcy agreed with a smile. It was so very pleasant to be once again in a library discussing books with Elizabeth. He had not done so since he was at Netherfield, save for those few moments in Rosings’ library when he had given her the book she returned to him today. He sighed. “Has Bingley called?”
Elizabeth nodded. “He has.”
“I sent him a note regarding your sister being in town and my apology for having been so grievously wrong. Richard delivered it for me.” He motioned to a pair of chairs in one corner of the room.
“You have not seen him?” Elizabeth asked in surprise as she took a seat and glanced to where Jane was talking with Richard. Jane said something that caused Richard to turn and look in Elizabeth’s direction. Then after giving her a nod of his head, he led Jane to a place where they could sit while continuing their discussion.
“I have only seen you since arriving back in town,” Darcy admitted. “I have not wished to see anyone else.” He blew out a great breath. “It was good of you to come, but I do not see how…” He paused. “I do not see a way…” He shrugged. “You cannot continue to borrow books forever.”
Elizabeth nodded her understanding. Her eyes swept the shelves. “Not for lack of items to borrow.” She lifted a brow and gave him a small smile. “If only I could borrow each and every book,” she added sadly. “I would read them rapidly so that I might return regularly to retrieve a new one.” She blushed under his close scrutiny of her face. It was as if he were attempting to read her mind for the desires that lay behind her words.
“And when you had come to the last book, what then?” he asked, the fluttering of hope he had felt earlier was stirring and increasing in his chest.
She arched a brow. “Is your library complete? Would you not add to it with time? I cannot say that I would expect you to be satisfied with what is here and never increase your holdings by even one new volume of work. Why what will you do when Wordsworth or Coleridge put out a new collection of poems? Shall you leave them for others to read and have no curiosity to read them yourself?”
He chuckled. “You know me well. I will certainly add to my library in time, but what if I did not?”
“Do you doubt my determination, sir?”
“Never, Miss Elizabeth, but I should like to know its extent.”
Her eyes followed her hand as it ran nervously over the cover of the book she held. “I dare say I could read this book a thousand times over.” She lifted her eyes to him. “And each of the others as well.”
His lips parted, and his brows furrowed. Was she saying what he wished or was his mind merely twisting her words to its purpose? Had he indeed won her affections? There was only one way to know. “Do you wish to see me so often or just my books?” He watched her lips tip up, and her eyes spark with impertinence.
“Might I not wish to see both?’
“If you had to choose?” he pressed on. He needed to know if her heart was engaged as his was. If it was, then come what may, he was going to find a way to win Mr. Bennet over and claim Elizabeth as his wife.
Elizabeth swallowed. She had spoken of her heart to her sister, and Jane, much to Elizabeth’s surprise, had urged Elizabeth to not hide her feelings if an opportunity should present itself. Jane had endured much because of being circumspect. She had tried to guard her heart against hurt, but in so doing, had been the very cause of her own grief. Elizabeth had promised to not do the same, and so, as she drew a breath she gathered her courage, and replied, “I would choose you.”
A smile spread across Darcy’s face. “You would choose me?”
“And I would choose you,” he replied. “Forever and always you. If you would have me.”
Her lips trembled, and tears gathered. It was so very wonderful to hear such things, but reality was not such that she could choose him nor could he choose her. Her father would not allow it.
He grasped her hands. “I will find a way if you will say that you will be mine. I love you, and I always shall. Please give me reason to hope. Would you marry me, if you were free to do so?”
A tear crept out of the corner of her eye and raced down her cheek as she nodded. “I would.”
He lifted her hand to his lips and gave it a quick kiss. “Then, I will find a way. I promise you. I will find a way.”