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A Long, Strange Trip
[short story - R]

Historical Note: According to the BBC, the first documented use of psychedelic mushrooms was in the Medical and Physical Journal: In 1799, a man who had been picking mushrooms for breakfast in London's Green Park included them in his harvest, accidentally sending his entire family on a trip. The doctor who treated them later described how the youngest child "was attacked with fits of immoderate laughter, nor could the threats of his father or mother refrain him." From the online encyclopedia Wikipedia.org

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"What a long, strange trip it's been." The Grateful Dead

Jane was by no means better, and Elizabeth was grateful to Miss Bingley for having invited her to remain at Netherfield until such time as her sister was recovered sufficiently to be removed back to Longbourn. Still, her gratitude was tempered by her feeling that she was intruding and unwanted among the family party, and so, at half past six, when she was summoned to dinner, she was reluctant to quit Jane's beloved presence and descend. Yet, propriety demanded that she must. And having eaten very little indeed since arriving at Netherfield that morning, her constitution demanded it as well.

Mr. Bingley asked after Jane's condition with great anxiety, and although Elizabeth would rather have given him a more encouraging answer, she was pleased at his concern. Mr. Darcy, too, enquired, though it seemed more out of politeness than any actual unease. He then afterward remained silent, although he continued to fix his attention on her in a most vexing manner, causing her to suspect she had done something amiss with her toilette.

Not long thereafter, Elizabeth found herself seated at the end of the table next to Mr. Hurst and knew conclusively that dinner would hold little pleasure for her. Sighing to herself, she stared at the savoury concoction of meat, potatoes, vegetables and mushrooms that was even now being ladled onto her plate by a servant. Under ordinary circumstances she would eschew such rich fare. But now her stomach growled in a most unladylike fashion - though thankfully none in the party seemed to hear it - and she delicately began to indulge.

"There is nothing I like better than a fine ragout," said Mr. Hurst, digging in to his serving with gusto. "Do you not agree, Miss Bennet?"

Suspecting that any meal set before Mr. Hurst would be quickly labeled his favourite, Elizabeth declined to oblige him.

"In truth, Mr. Hurst," Elizabeth said, "I much prefer a plain dish. A simple roasted beef with boiled potatoes is among my preferred dinners." Nevertheless, her hunger was such that she ate the meal in its entirety, and after being served a second time, consumed that as well. The rest of the party seemed in agreement with Mr. Hurst, for they all consumed hearty portions. Only Miss Bingley seemed cross.

"I despise mushrooms," Caroline said, pouting. "Cook has ruined the ragout with the horrid, slimy things." She pushed the offending fungi aside. "Dinner is completely spoilt."

"Not at all, Miss Bingley," replied Darcy amiably. "For it has been much enjoyed by the rest of the party, and I see that since they have been added as more of a garnish, and not cooked together with the rest of the ingredients, you have easily separated the mushrooms from the meat and vegetables. There is no reason not to enjoy the remainder of your meal."

Coming as it did from Mr. Darcy, this comment was sufficient to cheer Miss Bingley, and she complied with his suggestion, though she did leave the mushrooms on the side of her plate.

It was not long after dinner was completed - indeed, the entire party had just retired to the drawing room, the gentlemen declining their usual after-dinner solitude, claiming fatigue - when Elizabeth began to feel rather queer. She found she could no longer attend to her needlework. The room began to swirl around her, the colors of the draperies blending with that of the rug, the sound of the others' voices taking on unnaturally deep tones. She turned her head slowly, for that is all she could manage at the moment, and stared wonderingly at the woman across from her.

"A witch!" she cried, pointing, with great effort, at Miss Bingley. "Fie! Leave us, creature of darkness!" Her own voice sounded slow and wrong in her ears. She tried to stand and run, but found her legs strangely rooted to the spot, her head in a muddle. The walls had started to melt. Trembling, she could only gaze at Miss Bingley in terror.

Miss Bingley was affronted in no small way. "Miss Eliza, what did you call me?" she demanded, aghast.

"There, there, Miss Bennet," said Mr. Darcy comfortingly, making his way on unsteady legs to sit beside Elizabeth on the sofa. He awkwardly began to stroke her arm as one might stroke a cat. "There is nothing to fear, Miss Bennet. I will protect you. Besides, it is no witch, after all," he added, laughing, "simply a scarecrow!"

"Witch! Scarecrow!" Miss Bingley sputtered. "How dare you...!"

Darcy continued to stroke Elizabeth's arm, and she quieted. He was feeling more than a little peculiar himself, and Elizabeth's bare skin seemed to fascinate him. It flowed like silk. It was silk. Pink silk. How extraordinary! He was using both hands now, drifting his touch delicately over her face, neck and shoulders. Her usually subtle scent overwhelmed him, and he found himself in a garden of giant pink roses, fondling the tender petals and pressing his whole body into them. His head was spinning - he was entranced, but it was not an unpleasant sensation. Moreover, the satiny feel of the roses was exquisite. Would their taste be as well? He tried one; it melted on his tongue. Delightful! He wanted more.

Elizabeth was now standing under a waterfall, a waterfall of a thousand shining colours. The water flowed down her head, over her shoulders and bosom, down to her legs. The experience was unlike any she had ever known, and was almost unbearably pleasurable. She parted her lips to catch the delicious sparkling waters and found her mouth immediately filled. She had no thirst, yet she was inclined to keep drinking, drinking deep of the sparkling water, while the colours swirled around her.

Miss Bingley gaped in disbelief as she watched Mr. Darcy draw Eliza Bennet into his embrace on the sofa, caressing that unsophisticated chit in a most intimate fashion, his hands flowing over her features, her skin, the material of her gown...gracious Lord, her bosom! Her legs! The brazen hussy was not even resisting his advances. What a harlot - how scandalous! And now he was kissing her in a most outrageous fashion, his open mouth shamelessly plying her lips. Good heavens, did he actually have his tongue in her mouth? Disgusting! Disgraceful!

Her face burning, her chest heaving in jealous distress, Caroline finally tore herself away and turned to remark on this contemptible scene to Mr. and Mrs. Hurst, but found them sitting opposite each other snorting in barely restrained laughter. The more they tried to control themselves, the louder their mirth became. Finally they slid to the floor in each other's arms, shrieking uproariously and most unbecomingly. Miss Bingley could not determine what was so frightfully amusing, for they did not acknowledge her presence and seemed quite incapable of rational conversation. Despite her attempts to interrupt their hilarity, their laughter continued unabated.

This was a nightmare; had the entire world gone mad? Finally, Caroline turned to importune her brother for help. But Mr. Bingley only sat smiling in his chair, staring at nothing, waving his hands in the air, humming loudly. Miss Bingley could not distinguish a melody. "Charles!" she demanded, seizing him by the shoulders and forcing him to look at her. Alas, it did not work. "Charles! What has come over you all?"

Charles was in heaven, flying through the air amid blue skies and rippling white clouds, attended by an angel. A blue-eyed, blond-haired angel whose voice was at once all the notes of a heavenly choir. "Charles!" she said. And again: "Charles!" He smiled. Jane. His angel.

Fleeing the room, Miss Bingley nearly collided with a servant. "See that no one enters that room," she hissed, slamming the door shut behind her. It would not do to have the servants gossiping over the extraordinary events taking place behind that door. The entire family's reputation would be ruined. Running up the stairs, she threw herself into Jane's room. "Jane, my dear," she cried, breathlessly, "what sort of illness besets you? Could it be contagious?"

Awakened from a doze and startled by her friend's sudden entrance, Jane looked up at Miss Bingley with fever-glazed eyes. "I am so sorry, Caroline," she said, coughing lightly. "Of what are you speaking? I fear I am not the best company at the moment."

Caroline could easily see that, despite Jane's illness, she was not afflicted in the same manner as the rest of the household. Aware that it would serve no useful purpose to apprise Jane of the events unfolding downstairs, Miss Bingley apologized for disturbing her, gave her an insincere smile and excused herself.

Heading slowly down the stairs, Miss Bingley attempted to make some sense of the madness in the drawing room. Were they all possessed? She shook off the idea. Caroline Bingley was not one given to hysterical superstitions. The malady had come upon them very suddenly, not long after dinner. Perhaps the wine...? But no, no one had drunk immoderately, save Mr. Hurst, and that was, after all, his common practice.

What else could have effected such a change in demeanour? Caroline mentally numbered the courses: the hors d'oeuvres, the soup, the fish, the ragout... The ragout! They had all partaken of the ragout, of course, but she was the only one who had not eaten the mushrooms. How could eating mushrooms cause such a reaction? Perhaps they had been tainted. She was suddenly very nervous. What if her relations - and Mr. Darcy and Miss Eliza - were truly ill? Worse yet, what if they all died from contaminated food? Miss Bingley hastened back to the drawing room. She was not yet willing to call a doctor - fear of an ensuing scandal held her in check - but she did feel it would be best to keep watch over everyone.

When she entered the room, she saw that nothing had changed at all in the five minutes since she had gone. No one appeared to be in peril. Charles - the fool! - was still smiling and humming, Louisa and Mr. Hurst were still upon the floor laughing boisterously at nothing (one would think they would have run out of breath by now), and Mr. Darcy and Miss Elizabeth were still agreeably engaged on the sofa.

Knowing that she was, in effect, unobserved made Miss Bingley bold. She viewed the two at length with a mixture of mortification, envy and curiosity. Could this be what transpired between a man and woman during courtship? It seemed highly improper for even the affianced. Perhaps these things were more in the purview of married couples. Another question arose in her mind: were such attentions really so very pleasing? Miss Elizabeth surely seemed to be pleased, if one could judge by the sighs and moans emanating from her.

Likewise, Mr. Darcy seemed not unaffected. He, too, was making little noises that spoke of great satisfaction. His colour was high, and Caroline saw how well the expression of heartfelt delight, diffused over his face, became him. In fascination, she followed his hands as they traveled over Miss Elizabeth's person, noting which actions seemed to be responsible for which reactions. My, this certainly was edifying!

It was also most disconcerting. Miss Bingley began to grow warm and her breathing became more rapid. She wondered if she too were becoming ill, but discarded the notion. Leaving the sofa, she paced about the room, fanning herself. How long was this infernal malady going to last? Attempting to read a fashion publication, she found herself too distracted by the various sounds of laughter, humming and sighing that surrounded her. Eventually she sat down at the pianoforte and began to play.

This, finally, had an effect. Although Mr. and Mrs. Hurst continued laughing, Mr. Bingley ceased his humming, and gazed, open-mouthed in wonder, into space. As if he has not heard this piece a dozen times! thought Caroline wryly. Better still, Mr. Darcy, finding that the music provided a novel stimulus for the confusion gripping his mind, withdrew somewhat from Elizabeth, and ceased to kiss her, but he did not release her, instead keeping a hold upon a section of her gown and staring intently at it as he stroked it between his fingers. Elizabeth, for her part, began swaying her body in time to the music, her hands clutching Mr. Darcy's sleeve. Meaningless sing-song syllables issued from her mouth, as if she was experimenting with the sound, yet no one else seemed to hear. Miss Bingley felt uneasily like a keeper at Bedlam.

Reluctant to permit her brother and particularly her guests to return to their previous demeanour, Caroline played her entire repertoire, then repeated it twice. She did not know how long she could perform in this manner, for her hands were cramping and her legs had begun to numb. When she was close to exhaustion and near to tears, she was gratified to realize that the silence in the room meant that Louisa and Mr. Hurst had at some point left off laughing, and they were now actually sitting up on the rug. Eventually, Mr. Darcy let go of Elizabeth's gown and sat with his hands upon his lap, looking perplexed, while his companion withdrew her own hands and sighed back against the sofa with a dazed and dreamy expression on her face.

At length Mr. Bingley yawned, and yawned again. He stood up, and Miss Bingley held her breath, fearing partly that he would not be able to remain on his feet and partly that this heralded some bizarre new stage in his indisposition. But no. He merely blinked at her, yawned once more, and, enunciating with great difficulty, said, "I believe I will retire now." And slowly, carefully, he made his way across the room and out the door. More yawning followed, from the other occupants of the room, as they each seemed one at a time to recover from their collective stupor. Mr. Darcy wavered slightly as he stood, looking about the room in confusion and no little embarrassment. He gazed for several moments at Elizabeth's flushed face and half-closed eyes, a look of some alarm on his countenance. Finally his eyes rested on Miss Bingley, who had an air of expectancy about her, and said thickly, "You will forgive me. I must have dozed off. Pray, excuse me." And with one final glance at Elizabeth, he too quit the room, walking stiffly for having sat so long in one attitude.

To Miss Bingley's great relief, Mr. and Mrs. Hurst soon followed suit, rising from the floor in bewilderment and, exhausted from the evening's exertions, heading immediately for their chambers. Mr. Hurst was heard to mutter, "I need a drink," and for once his wife agreed. Elizabeth was the last to regain her feet, her countenance pale, her bearing uncertain. She looked at Miss Bingley quizzically as if the latter could provide some explanation for the extraordinary recollections she now possessed, which seemed to concern a waterfall and, somehow, Mr. Darcy, but Caroline would not say a word. That fine lady had, during her marathon session upon the pianoforte, determined that her satisfaction at having caught Elizabeth in a flagrant indiscretion was far outweighed by the frightening possibility that Mr. Darcy would feel obligated to marry the country bumpkin, and therefore resolved to reveal nothing with regard to the unusual events she had witnessed, saying only in a calm voice, "The hour is late, Miss Eliza. Perhaps you would like to visit your sister and retire for the night?"

"Jane!" exclaimed Elizabeth, her voice hoarse. "Poor Jane, I have been neglecting her. If you will excuse me, Miss Bingley?"

"Certainly."

So Elizabeth fled, her limbs still somewhat uncooperative, but her desire to leave the troublesome memories of the drawing room for the haven of her sister's presence driving her quickly up the stairs.

The following morning, as they all gathered for breakfast, Miss Bingley was prepared. In truth, she had spent the greater part of a sleepless night deciding how to approach the undoubtedly awkward subject that was sure to arise among the party regarding the several hours for which none of them could logically account. She summoned her considerable powers of artifice and waited for the topic to arise. She did not have to wait long.

Mr. Darcy had from the start of breakfast been filled with a sense of disquiet, for he felt a nagging familiarity with Miss Bennet that he sensed was very improper. This morning he had recalled - albeit in no great detail - having been in a lush rose garden that he had found highly pleasurable. Yet he somehow associated the experience with Elizabeth. From behind lowered lids, he watched her eating her breakfast. When she reached out the tip of her tongue to delicately lick a crumb of muffin from the corner of her lips, he knew. Indeed, as a rational man he could not explain it. But he knew, without doubt, how her lips and even her tongue felt. And tasted. He ran his tongue over his own lips, and the sensation was unmistakable. As she continued to eat, perhaps feeling his gaze upon her and wondering what was amiss, she self-consciously smoothed her gown across her lap. Mr. Darcy glanced down at his own hands and stretched out his long fingers. There could be no mistake. These hands surely had touched, nay, had taken liberties upon Miss Bennet's person, for he knew with certainty the smoothness of her skin, the texture of the gown she wore last evening, and, mortifyingly, the curve of her breast and the shape of her thigh. This was intolerable! He must find a moment alone with her and beg her forgiveness for having thus compromised her. If necessary, he would offer to marry her.

Miss Bingley, who had been watching the entire party, but especially Mr. Darcy, with concern, knew it was time for her to speak up. Clearly Mr. Darcy, whose crimson face betrayed a look of anxiety, was on the verge of doing something rash, and she must stop him.

"What a singular evening we had yesterday!" she cried, drawing the attention of everyone at the table. "Have you all no idea of what transpired?"

Even Mr. Hurst was all attentiveness. Seeing that the party was eager for an explanation, she continued with great animation:

"Why, those mushrooms Cook put into the ragout yesterday - they were tainted! They put you all to sleep. And such a sound sleep it was. My word, I had to tend to all of you as if you were children, for I had not eaten of the mushrooms myself, and could do naught but watch you all snore for three hours. It was three hours, I tell you, before you all recovered from your stupor! I was inclined to call the doctor, were it not for the embarrassment it would cause you. What a relief when you woke up!" She laughed a bit too heartily. "Is it not amusing?"

Around the table, there was many a relieved sigh. Mr. Bingley began,

"And I had the most extraordinary dream, Caroline! I was..."

Miss Bingley, suspecting that they all had been in the grip of some outlandish delusions, did not desire to know her brother's in particular, nor did she wish the others to begin comparing theirs, for that would only confirm to Miss Eliza and Mr. Darcy that the two of them had shared some significant experience. So she hastened to stop him, and interrupted thus:

"As you can imagine, Charles, I have severely reprimanded Cook. I would have fired her on the spot, but we cannot do without her after all, and where would we find another on such short notice? But she has strict instructions from now on: no mushrooms!" Having gained her object, which was to distract Mr. Bingley from revealing too much, Miss Bingley served herself more breakfast, and smiled in satisfaction.

Satisfied, too, were Mr. Bingley, Louisa and Mr. Hurst. But Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, in their own ways, remain unconvinced. Their experience had been of a physical nature, and it could not be so easily explained away as a dream. Even if they had been having hallucinations, which to Mr. Darcy now seemed certain, it still did not account for the powerful feelings he retained of intimate contact with Elizabeth. Something had happened, he was sure of it! But the only conscious witness said they had all been sound asleep, a comforting assertion. It would, of course, be better for him - for both of them, actually - to accept Miss Bingley's explanation without question, for that would mean he had not compromised Miss Elizabeth, and they would not be forced to marry.

And yet...

Darcy looked at Elizabeth, her head bowed over her plate, her brow furrowed in thought. Suddenly she glanced up, and their gazes locked. She tilted her head, looking at him in confusion. That look alone spoke volumes, for though he could not know of what her hallucination had consisted, he reckoned it might have been similar to his own, and she too might have some recollections that she was having difficulty interpreting. Shifting his gaze to Miss Bingley, Darcy stared hard at her until she turned to face him. He peered at her with narrowed eyes, seeking the truth. In return she gave him as false a smile as he had ever seen, and immediately turned to Elizabeth to ask after her sister. The subject was now closed.

Once breakfast concluded, the party anticipated a visit from Mrs. Bennet, who had been requested by Elizabeth to ascertain Jane's condition. Darcy seized the opportunity, while the others lingered in conversation amongst themselves, to seek out Elizabeth. He found her in the hallway heading toward Jane's room.

"Miss Bennet, a moment of your time?"

Elizabeth stopped, her hand on the knob, and raised a brow at him in question.

"Before you visit your sister, will you perhaps walk with me a while?"

Reluctantly, Elizabeth released the handle and stepped into place alongside Mr. Darcy.

"You can be at no loss, Miss Bennet," he said in a low voice, "to understand the reason for my requesting a private audience with you."

"Indeed, sir," replied Elizabeth, wishing to come straight to the point, "you seek to know my opinion of last evening's events in the drawing room."

"Precisely. May I be so bold as to presume that you do not believe Miss Bingley when she said we were all asleep?"

"I do not know what to believe," Elizabeth said in a quiet voice. "I know only that whatever happened appeared far more real to me than any dream." With that she coloured, recalling the pleasurable sensations that accompanied her experience.

Mr. Darcy's heart pounded against his chest, for her light blush was most becoming. It was, in fact, the exact colour of...

Taking a deep breath, Darcy ventured, "I do not suppose you found yourself...in a rose garden?"

Elizabeth shook her head. "No, it was...a waterfall. I stood beneath a waterfall, and let the water run over me and fill my mouth. It was...most agreeable."

It was immediately clear to Darcy that he had been the waterfall - his hands, his mouth, his tongue - and was strangely proud that he had caused such agreeable sensations in Elizabeth. Stifling the burgeoning emotions in his breast, he questioned further:

"Was there," he cleared his throat, "was there anyone else with you, I mean, at the waterfall?"

"I do not know, I..." Elizabeth could no longer meet his gaze, and directed her eyes to the floor. "I believe that you were there, Mr. Darcy, though I do not recall seeing you there, exactly. It is more of a feeling than anything else, a feeling of your...presence."

Mr. Darcy sighed. It was just as he supposed. They had indeed been intimately involved with each other last evening, though in not so obvious a fashion as to be clear to either of them. It only remained to ascertain whether Elizabeth felt offended by his actions.

"Miss Bennet, it would appear that you and I...that I..." Blast! This was going to be difficult! "That I was concerned in some way...in the creation of...your hallucination, if one may call it that. My own...delusion...was of a rose garden, and I have reason to believe that you were...there, as well."

Elizabeth started, but was silent.

"If, in my altered condition, I have done anything to offend you, if you feel I have...compromised you in any way, I pray you will forgive me." He took a deep breath. "Miss Bennet, I am prepared to..."

"I think it is best for all concerned, Mr. Darcy," Elizabeth said quickly, for one pleasurable experience notwithstanding, her opinion of Mr. Darcy's disagreeable manners and arrogance had not changed, and she knew where this conversation was headed, "that we acknowledge Miss Bingley's story as truth, and leave it at that, for who among us can say exactly what happened? And now, I must ask you to excuse me, for I must apprise Jane that my mother will soon visit." She gave a brief curtsey and turned on her heel, heading back toward Jane's room.

As her demeanour did not indicate any residual distress, Darcy decided to let the matter drop, though he suspected that he would always carry the peculiar memory of the previous evening with some fondness, even a degree of wistfulness.

Shortly after Mrs. Bennet's visit, Caroline paid an unusual personal call to the kitchens, and met privately with Cook. The servant had made two promises in order to save her job: to ensure that mushrooms would never again be seen in the household, and to turn over to Miss Bingley the small packet containing the remainder of those that had caused such trouble the night before. Cook was eager to be relieved of the mushrooms, assuming her employer would ensure that the pigs would not get into them, and sighed in relief as Miss Bingley quit the kitchens.

Walking straight from the kitchens to her room, Miss Bingley placed the packet into a drawer, locking it. Certainly the mushrooms would not be fodder for the pigs; heavens, no! They were far too dangerous. Caroline would keep them safely stashed away - should the opportunity ever arise for a private dinner with Mr. Darcy.

END
(c) 2007 Held by the author


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Hunsford Revisited
[short story - R]

Mr. & Mrs. Darcy had not thought to leave their cozy haven at Pemberley so soon after their wedding, but not two months after the nuptials, Mr. Darcy found himself called to some business with a gentleman in Kent. Quite naturally he was adamant that Elizabeth accompany him, for the passionate young husband could not bear to be separated from his lovely new wife. Elizabeth readily agreed, but requested that he pay a visit to Rosings as part of the journey, and attempt to extend an olive branch to his Aunt, who had refused to know aught of them since they announced their engagement. While this notion did not give him pleasure, she gently insisted upon it as a condition of her traveling thither, and hence he acquiesced, albeit reluctantly. She suggested that she would take the occasion to visit with the Collinses whilst he made his overtures to Lady Catherine. And so it came to pass that Elizabeth once more found herself at the Parsonage in Hunsford, nearly a year after she had first seen it.

The couple arrived in Hunsford at a later hour than expected. So while Charlotte was delighted to have her friend pay a call as Darcy proceeded in the carriage to Rosings, she warned Elizabeth that she had not much time to spare, as she was expected shortly in the village with Mr. Collins. Nevertheless, she bade Elizabeth make herself comfortable, and offered her refreshment, which was gratefully accepted. Despite the abbreviated time she had with Elizabeth, Mrs. Collins was resolved to at least have some conversation, for she was eaten up with curiosity about their visit. "Lizzy," she asked in a low voice after they had enjoyed their tea and cake, "does Mr. Darcy have any idea that Lady Catherine will receive him?"

"I hardly know, Charlotte. I confess that Mr. Darcy has not been keen to attempt reconciliation with his aunt after the letter she wrote to him conveying her disgust at our marriage. To be frank, its language was so thoroughly abusive, especially of me, that my husband was not inclined to carry on further correspondence with her."

"I remember well her reaction to the news," Charlotte said with a cheeky grin. "So great was her wrath, we hid ourselves away at Lucas Lodge for nearly a fortnight! So why visit now? It has not been so very long since your wedding."

Elizabeth shrugged. "Since our business in Kent took us so close to Rosings, I could not let the opportunity pass, for I thought it might be time for Mr. Darcy to make his peace with Lady Catherine."

"You are very forgiving, Lizzy. It is admirable."

"It is nothing of the sort," Elizabeth smiled. "It is merely sensible. Her ladyship and Miss De Bourgh are part of his family, after all, and Mr. Darcy has so few near relations."

Their conversation was interrupted by Mr. Collins, who, already in his coat and hat, looked agitated. "Dear Mrs. Collins," he cried, "do make haste! We should have departed five minutes ago!" He fled the house in a great show of urgency.

"I am very sorry to leave you alone in the house," Charlotte continued, sighing, as she put on her bonnet, "but Mr. Collins requires me on business that cannot wait." She smiled wanly. "He is always in a great hurry when he can make himself important."

"Then by all means, go, Charlotte. Do not concern yourself with me. I have a letter to write to Jane."

Mrs. Collins kissed her friend affectionately. "We will be gone an hour at the most. Should you tire of writing..."

"Never fear, Charlotte," Elizabeth said, laughing, "I am more than capable of entertaining myself."

Once the door had closed behind the couple, Elizabeth sat down at the writing table and drew out some paper, ink and a pen, which she found needed mending. She had written no more than "Dearest Jane" upon the page when the door opened again. Thinking it was Charlotte returned for some forgotten item, she kept her seat. She was, however, surprised to see not her friend, but her husband standing in the doorway.

"Fitzwilliam!" she exclaimed. "You are returned from Rosings? So soon?"

"I am afraid so," Mr. Darcy sighed. "It did not go well."

"She refused to receive you?"

"No, my darling. She refused to receive you. And this I cannot accept."

"I see. I am sorry."

"I am not." Darcy drew himself up to his most imposing height. "By your wishes, I have tried. But if her ladyship will not be civil enough to extend her hospitality to my wife, I will consider the matter closed."

Elizabeth looked down at the mostly blank sheet of paper before her, at a loss for words.

"Do not trouble yourself, my love," Darcy said tenderly, kneeling beside her and taking her hand in his. "Aunt or no, she means less to me than your little finger." Kissing her hand, he rose and looked out the window. "Now then, where are Mr. and Mrs. Collins?"

"They have gone out for about an hour," Elizabeth said, resuming her letter. "You have missed them by minutes."

"Oh." This was welcome intelligence to Darcy. Although he found Mrs. Collins pleasant enough, he could barely tolerate her husband's society. It would be more than he could take at the moment, having just had a most disagreeable conversation with his aunt, to face the flattery and stupidity of the obsequious parson.

Furthermore, it had just struck Darcy that the last time he had been alone in this particular parlour with Elizabeth, it had been witness to a deeply unpleasant scene. His face clouded. That miserable proposal - what heartache it had caused him! It had been so much less than his lady deserved, and he had paid a dear price in months of loneliness, self-recrimination and uncertainty.

With relief he now observed his beloved wife writing calmly at the desk. He was indeed fortunate to have had a second opportunity to ask for her hand, to correct the reprehensible mistake he had made in this very room nearly a year ago. Now, as she wrote, he wondered how heavily this distasteful memory might weigh upon her. She had once claimed that she thought only of the past as its remembrance gave her pleasure, and in fact, at the moment she appeared serene and untroubled. Perhaps, then, it was just he who felt the burden of that sorry day. He wished he could erase it from his own memory, but that was impossible. Still, he thought, perchance he could give them both something more pleasurable to remember.

Darcy turned to Elizabeth and bowed. "Forgive the intrusion, Miss Bennet. I had understood all the ladies to be at home today."

At his words, Elizabeth ceased her writing and became very still, the top of the quill resting against her lips. Her sense of déjà vu was unmistakable, and its creation was no doubt deliberate on Darcy's part. She wondered at his wanting to remind her of her previous visit to Hunsford, for truly it had ended very badly, especially for him. His purpose in speaking thus therefore seemed unclear, until she recollected a day not a month prior when he had also called her "Miss Bennet." On that day she had discovered in a most physical way how much her husband had desired her before he had finally succeeded in making her his bride. It seemed likely, therefore, that he was now in a similar mood. Hence, she now responded in kind:

"Do not make yourself uneasy, Mr. Darcy. The rest of the party has gone on business to the village. Perhaps you would care to wait?" She indicated a chair.

"I will, thank you." But rather than sitting, Darcy walked around the room as if taking its measure. "This seems a very comfortable house. Lady Catherine, I believe, did a great deal to it when Mr. Collins first came to Hunsford."

"I believe she did - and I am sure she could not have bestowed her kindness on a more grateful object."

"I have not yet had the opportunity to see all of its comforts, Miss Bennet. Would you do me the honour of showing me around the Parsonage?"

"It would be my pleasure." Elizabeth smiled at her husband quizzically. She had learned from the last time they had played this game that she did not always know what to expect from this once-reticent man.

And so Elizabeth showed Darcy Mr. Collins's book room, which fronted the road and enabled him to keep watch for Lady Catherine and Miss De Bourgh; the good-sized dining parlour, possessed of a very pleasant aspect; the kitchen (much to the shock of the servants, who had congregated therein to share gossip); and the drawing room, which Charlotte had fitted up for her own personal use, the better to avoid the company of her husband.

"There, you see, Mr. Darcy? It is a most agreeable house, though I must in all candour admit I have no cause to repine having declined the opportunity to become its mistress."

"It is a fine house, indeed, Miss Bennet. Yet you have served me most ill."

"Sir?"

"Why, you have not yet showed me above stairs, madam. In particular, I am desirous of seeing a certain closet for which I understood Lady Catherine had given specific design instructions."

Elizabeth smiled, for she knew full well that the closet in question resided in the bedroom where she had passed her visit to the Parsonage. "I know the very one, Mr. Darcy. If you will follow me?"

The two made their way up the staircase and turned into a narrow doorway at the top. Elizabeth preceded Darcy into the room and walked directly to its corner, opening the closet door.

"As you see, sir," Elizabeth said, doing her best imitation of Mr. Collins, "Lady Catherine herself had recommended that the shelves be arranged in this closet just so. Uncommonly clever of her, was it not?"

"Indeed," he replied, shutting the door carefully behind him. "But there is more I wish to voice here than approbation of her ladyship's taste."

"And that would be...?"

Darcy approached Elizabeth and took her hand. To her astonishment, he dropped to one knee.

"Miss Bennet, in vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."

Elizabeth's confusion was sincere at hearing those familiar words, but her bewilderment quickly turned into something else entirely as he proceeded.

From his vantage upon his knee, Darcy slid his hands beneath her gown and rested them lightly upon her calves, stroking upward and carrying the hem of her skirt and petticoat with the movement. "I admire and love your strong, shapely legs, which carry you about the countryside on long walks and errands of mercy."

His hands skimmed up her thighs to land upon her hips, her skirts now gathered about his forearms. "I admire and love your rounded hips and derriere, which tease me to distraction beneath your gown, mocking my attempts to contain my lust."

Rising to his feet, Darcy raised his hands - and her gown along with them - to her midriff and continued, "I admire and love your tiny waist, around which I have longed to wrap my arms." And he did so, but could not resist the impulse to also grasp her bottom through her chemise and press her body to his own, so she might feel his heat, trapping her skirts between them.

"I admire and love your rosy lips," he added, moving his own fiercely upon them, while his hands roamed across her back, toying with the buttons on her gown. "They are every bit as delicious as I have dreamed."

Then, in one swift and unexpected movement, he pulled her gown and petticoat up and off her completely, dropping the clothing onto a chair and leaving her standing, panting, in her sheer shift and short stays. Darcy stared hungrily at the enticing picture she made, and said hoarsely:

"And I admire and love your beauteous breasts, for it has been my dearest wish since first we met in Hertfordshire to touch and taste their silken skin." And in demonstration he applied his ravenous lips to the same. Between kisses on her bosom and neck, he said, "I have found it impossible to conquer my passionate admiration and regard for you, Miss Bennet, and I do not wish to try. I therefore hope that you will now reward my devotion by consenting to become my wife."

"I hardly know what to say to such an ardent proposal, Mr. Darcy," Elizabeth breathed, as he explored her quaking body with masterful hands and eager lips.

"If you are undecided, perhaps I can find a way to encourage you to provide me an answer," he responded, nudging her gently backward until she was seated upon the bed.

Whilst Darcy withdrew long enough to remove his coat and waistcoat and drape them across the chair, never removing his eyes from her comely form, Elizabeth seized a pillow from atop the coverlet, and, in a false show of modesty calculated to drive his passion even wilder, she perched upon the edge of the mattress, clutching the pillow tightly to her as if to conceal her body from his heated gaze. But this maneuver, as she well knew, had the effect of revealing more than it concealed, for her breasts were pushed generously upward and nearly out of her shift. Likewise, she arranged her legs in such a parody of maidenly awkwardness that Darcy was granted a glimpse of the glistening pink flesh betwixt her thighs, and grew dry-mouthed with desire.

Elizabeth's eyes opened wide, feigning shock, as she watched Darcy unbuttoning his breeches. "Mr. Darcy!" she exclaimed. "I have not yet accepted your offer of marriage. Do you intend, then, to compromise me?"

"Why, yes, Miss Bennet," Darcy replied cheerfully. He moved to the bed and pulled the pillow from her, tossing it to the floor. "I do intend to compromise you. Most thoroughly." Grasping her ankles, he caused her to fall back across the width of the bed and then added close to her ear, "And I promise you will enjoy it!"

Thus saying, he stood briefly between her knees, drinking in the sight of his beloved sprawled before him: her breasts almost - yet somehow not totally - exposed, their buds erect and straining against the thin material of her shift, a mere motion away from lifting out entirely; her eyes dark and sultry with yearning; her lips parted and sighing; and, oh, her satiny thighs parted, too, and offering up to his view her womanly secret, damp and yawning and eager for him. He could bear the wait no longer. Slowly he introduced into her slick flesh the entire length of his substantial arousal. The tight, wet depths received him most willingly, and so intense was his pleasure, he felt the danger that he might spill himself ere they had the opportunity to enjoy the experience fully.

"Can you not see, Miss Bennet?" he gasped out as he started to move, the exquisite sensations entrancing them both. His hands caressed her ample breasts, finally freeing them from the confines of her shift, and stroked her hardened nipples, while each successive deep plunge of his hips drove her closer to the brink. "You are already mine, you know. I will not be denied. Say you will marry me, Miss Bennet; say it!"

Elizabeth moaned and sighed. Her pleasure in his touch, his virility, was undeniable. It was thus every time they made love. And yet, this time, she was relishing her power over him, tauntingly withholding the words he demanded to hear. "I am not so easily persuaded, Mr. Darcy," she said. She stretched her arms languorously above her head on the bed and smiled at him coquettishly as he stood over her, pausing momentarily in his exertions. "How else might you encourage me accept you?"

Darcy chuckled, the sound rumbling deep within his chest. "Allow me to demonstrate, Miss Bennet." And he slid his hands from her breasts down her belly to that small button of flesh that magnified her pleasure, and began to rub it gently in rhythm with his renewed motion. Elizabeth's smile disappeared, as did her triumph, as she melted into the cadence of Darcy's movements. She was all acquiescence now.

"So, what say you, Miss Bennet?" whispered Darcy, his thrusts becoming harsher, more feverish. "Will you marry me? Will you?"

"Yes!" she cried, the peak of her excitement coinciding with the answer he longed for. "Oh, yes!"

"Yes!" he echoed, having achieved his goal in more ways than one, and collapsed upon her on the bed with a groan, his legs no longer capable of sustaining him.

Some time later, their blood cooled, the two rose unsteadily from the bed. Darcy performed the office of lady's maid, helping Elizabeth on with her garments and buttoning her gown, before attending to his own attire while she smoothed the coverlet and replaced the pillow. Once more presentable, Darcy peered out the door to ensure there was no curious servant lingering about, and at his nod, Elizabeth walked calmly downstairs with her husband following shortly after.

By the time the Collinses returned from the village, Elizabeth and Darcy were sitting opposite each other in the parlour before the fire, calmly taking tea.

With far too many apologies, Mr. Collins excused himself from Mr. and Mrs. Darcy's company, still uncomfortable entertaining visitors so distasteful to his patroness. Bowing and scraping, he retired, to the relief of all, to his book room. Mrs. Collins, however, settled herself into a chair beside her guests.

"I do hope your visit to Kent was constructive, Mr. Darcy," said Charlotte politely. "Dare I ask if you received a response that satisfied you?"

"Indeed, I did, Mrs. Collins," he replied with a smile. He winked at Elizabeth over his tea. "Indeed, I did."

END
(c) 2007 Held by the author

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The Food of Love

"I have been used to consider poetry as the food of love," said Darcy. -- Volume 1, Chapter 9

Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy passed the chill Derbyshire afternoon as they often did, in the sublime surroundings of Pemberley's impressive library, the crackling of the cheerful fire and the turning of the pages of their books the only sounds. And today, as was frequently the case, Mr. Darcy's book was a mere prop with which to distract himself from his lovely wife, who sat in her usual chair by the fire, thoroughly engrossed in a volume of Shakespeare.

Elizabeth's attitude at that moment recalled to her husband's mind a similar posture she had taken in the library at Netherfield, the last day of her stay there during Jane's recovery. That memorable Saturday, he had been so weary of Miss Bingley's teasing and anxious of his own burgeoning feelings that he had been particularly careful that no sign of admiration for Elizabeth should escape him, nothing that could have elevated her with the hope of influencing his felicity; sensible that if such an idea had been suggested, his behaviour during the last day must have material weight in confirming or crushing it. Steady to his purpose, he had scarcely spoken ten words to her through the whole of the day, and though they had been left by themselves for half an hour, he had adhered most conscientiously to his book, and would not even look at her.

Although he had read nothing of it in the past twenty minutes, Darcy absently turned the page of his book. He had done much the same thing at Netherfield that day, ever conscious of Elizabeth's presence yet unwilling to act. How foolish he had been then, to have wasted precious time alone with the delectable Miss Elizabeth Bennet in the pretence of disinterest! Had he the opportunity to re-live the day, he surely would have put that half-hour to better use. His mind began to work, his blood to stir. Glancing down at the neglected volume before him, he smiled broadly. What luck! This would suit his purposes nicely.

Darcy's voice interrupted the silence in the library. "What do you think of the poetical works of Mr. Marvell*, Miss Bennet?"

So involved was Elizabeth in her Shakespeare, that at first her husband's words did not reach her, only the sound of his beloved voice. "What is it that you say, my dear?"

"I asked," he intoned, walking with stately deliberation to the fireplace, his hands holding the book clasped behind his back, "what you thought of Mr. Marvell's poetry, Miss Bennet."

Elizabeth finally closed her book and peered up at him in bewilderment. Why, she had abandoned her maiden name in favour of his own a full month prior! What could he mean by phrasing his question in such a way? "I do not have the pleasure of understanding you, Mr. Darcy," she responded in kind, arching an expressive brow at him.

"You might well be surprised at my choice of reading material, Miss Bennet, but I do find that the selection of books here at Netherfield is rather thin." Darcy was warming easily to this diversion, for how often during Elizabeth's brief stay at Bingley's estate had he wished he could have been on more intimate terms with her! "You have passed nearly a week here with your sister, and have spent a great deal of time reading rather than, say, playing at cards. Since you are due to leave tomorrow, you can feel free to share your opinions without fear of censure. So, do tell me, Miss Bennet: Perhaps you have, by necessity, chanced to pick up this volume of Marvell?" he asked, displaying the book of poetry in his hand.

Miss Bennet? Here at Netherfield? Leave tomorrow? This was indeed a singular conversation! Elizabeth, looking hard at Darcy and unexpectedly perceiving in his bearing a return of the hauteur he had displayed early in their acquaintance in Hertfordshire, was thoroughly perplexed. Nevertheless, a glance he sent her out of the corner of his eye, accompanied by a slight upward curve of his lip, caused some understanding to dawn. Her husband was speaking - and indeed, behaving - as if they were still sitting together in the library at Netherfield, the day before she returned to Longbourn after nursing Jane. How peculiar! She recalled that at the time he had ignored her completely, and they had sat in silence for a good half-hour or so. What was he about now? Lacking a better solution, Elizabeth decided to humour him. "No, sir, I have not had that pleasure."

"Then do allow me to enlighten you, Miss Bennet, for it is most extraordinary. It appears to me that our Mr. Marvell believes - contrary to all our notions of propriety - that a maiden in the bloom of youth should not withhold herself from her lover, but rather should relinquish her virtue to him as soon as the situation avails itself. Carpe diem** and all that. See here, he says:

'Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapt power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.'

"Do you agree, then, Miss Bennet," Darcy asked, locking his eyes with Elizabeth's, and dropping his voice to a sensual whisper, "that one should 'seize the day'? Live for the moment? Experience joy where one finds it?"

Elizabeth searched her mind for a suitable answer. "I confess I am generally of a cheerful disposition, sir, and I find pleasure in many things."

Better and better! This answer pleased him greatly; his blood ran hot. Smiling lazily, he replied, "Do you really, Miss Bennet? How remarkable! I am of exactly the same mind." With that, he strolled casually to the library door, closed it firmly and, to her astonishment, locked it. The Master of Pemberley never found a need to lock a door; while he was within, none would dare enter a room without knocking. He turned and, leaning against the door, looked at her through heavy-lidded eyes.

"Mr. Darcy!" she cried, still truly confounded. "What ever are you thinking?"

"Is it not obvious, Miss Bennet?" he responded as he walked back to face her. He stopped before her and bent down, his arms surrounding her on either side of her high-backed chair. "I am thinking that you and I should not be disturbed by the servants or, heaven forbid, one of the Bingleys." He took her now-forgotten book from her hand and placed it with his own on a table. "I am thinking that we could more profitably pass our time than by the improvement of our minds through extensive reading." Then, leaning down so his mouth was very close to hers, he added in a lowered voice, "I am thinking that I must have a kiss from you this very instant, Miss Bennet, or go mad."

And so he took his kiss, a very gentle yet exquisitely sensual one, his lips caressing hers warmly, whilst one hand grasped her own, and the other lightly held her chin.

Sighing, and hardly displeased, Elizabeth attempted to make some sense of her husband's odd behaviour, and said, "Mr. Darcy, I do not understand..."

"Then do allow me to explain, Miss Bennet. But I will make this concise, for I suspect our time together is brief." He smoothly drew her to her feet, then dropped down into her chair and pulled her down onto his lap. Pulling her hard against his chest, he whispered into her ear, sending delighted shivers down her spine. "I have desired you, my dear, almost from the first moments of our acquaintance, despite what you might have thought based upon my ill-advised comments at the Meryton assembly." With one arm wrapped tightly about her waist, his free hand began traveling down the length of her hip and thigh. "Knowing you have been sleeping here at Netherfield under the same roof has been a torment, for it has taken all my self-control not to burst into your bedchamber in the night and make violent love to you." As if to provide evidence for his words, his manhood began to press itself urgently against Elizabeth's bottom. "And now that we have a rare moment alone - besieged by neither well-meaning friends nor boisterous family - I intend to take this opportunity to demonstrate precisely and most graphically how very much I have wanted you."

Elizabeth was astounded. While she had known of the long standing of his love - indeed, his first proposal had taken place six months after they met, and it had taken him over a year to secure her affections - she had not the slightest idea of his passion - nay, his lust for her having such an early origin. He had always been a perfect gentleman, for all those months prior to their engagement at least, and had given nothing away. Yet even at Netherfield he had desired her!

But she had no chance at the present to ruminate on this new intelligence. For Mr. Darcy was at that moment sliding one hand up her bodice toward her bosom while employing the other to explore the inside of her thigh, progressing ever so slowly toward the center of her pleasure. His lips were enticing pressing kisses along her throat...her ear...the corners of her mouth....

Aroused and intrigued, but feeling that she must play the part assigned to her, Elizabeth mounted a feeble objection.

"Why, Mr. Darcy!" she exclaimed, making a show of resisting his embrace. She attempted to stay his hand from its explorations of her bosom, but found that removing one hand had no effect on the other. Similarly, pulling his hand away from her thigh only redoubled his attentions to her breast. How many hands did this man possess? She was becoming rather hot, and his fingers, now dipping below her neckline to stroke the bare skin of her bosom, were further searing her flesh. "Sir," Elizabeth gasped out, "I find myself quite overwhelmed!"

Darcy found Elizabeth's writhing upon his lap to be very stimulating, indeed. He was enjoying himself immensely - who knew it could be so exciting to perform a seduction on one's own wife? - and could tell by his beloved's quickened breathing that she was not unaffected. Keeping to his self-imposed time limit - for if at Netherfield they had been left alone for a half-hour, it would be his aim to replicate it now as closely as possible - he reckoned it was now appropriate to inject an element of urgency into their activity.

Hence, for a moment Darcy ceased his ministrations and, gripping her tightly, slid the both of them to the rug before the fireplace. He whispered feverishly into her ear, "Miss Bennet, I quote Marvell again: 'Had we but world enough, and time/This coyness, lady, were no crime.' But as it is, my dear Miss Bennet, we have little time to spare. So come, let us make the most of it!" and kissed her until she was quite breathless. Then he pressed her gently to lie upon the floor and, straddling her hips, quickly stripped himself of his jacket and vest and tossed them carelessly onto the vacated chair. He briefly considered removing his cravat also, but decided against it, reasoning that were this truly Netherfield he would be unable to quit the room with his cravat undone. Thus somewhat less encumbered, he lay fully atop Elizabeth, his lips joining hers, his tongue invading her mouth, his hands roaming her curves.

The heat that enveloped the two had little to do with their proximity to the fireplace. Elizabeth was now fully engaged in her husband's game, and moaned and sighed "Mr. Darcy!" with each intimate touch of his hands and mouth, both of which were plentiful. For he had released her creamy breasts from the low neckline of her gown (which style - the lower and more revealing the better - Elizabeth had found Mr. Darcy greatly favoured and which she therefore wore frequently, but only when they were alone at home, for his private gratification) and was bestowing upon each the most arousing kisses and caresses, paying the greater part of his attention to her ever-more responsive buds. Pleased with her reaction, he accelerated his explorations, moving his hands beneath her skirts to journey up her silken legs. When he felt between them the physical evidence that at she was as mad for him as he was for her, he raised himself upon an elbow and said:

"And now, Miss Bennet, we will together seize the day, and you will lose your maidenly shyness to the delights of passion between a man and a woman."

At that, he poised himself upon his knees and gathered Elizabeth's skirts in both hands, pushing them up above her hips and exposing her trembling thighs and the prize that lay between to his eager gaze. With a practiced hand, Darcy undid his breeches and freed his arousal. Its liberation was but brief, however, for his rigid manhood was at once confined within his beloved's moist passage, leaving them both gasping in delight at the intensity of the feeling.

For several minutes they strove together on the rug, reveling in the experience: she, exclaiming over the sensations he was causing in her with every powerful movement of his loins; he, complimenting her beauty and anatomy in the most intimate terms possible. "Miss Bennet!" he groaned over and over, finding that his liberal use of Elizabeth's maiden name, and hers, in turn, of his formal title, was unbearably exciting, a small taste of the ecstasy that might have been his before their marriage had the constraints of respectability - not to mention her dislike of him, but he could be forgiven for forgetting that at the moment - not forbidden it. It was scandalous; it was reprehensible. It was altogether intoxicating.

Quite caught up in this story of his own devising, Darcy soon felt all the necessity of a hasty conclusion - for just think if Bingley were to come in search of them! - and was therefore not inclined on this particular occasion to take his pleasure in a leisurely fashion. Still, he was ever conscious of the needs of his lovely partner, who seemed close to her own achievement. So, using information gleaned from their brief marriage - unfair as it was to the fantasy he had spun, it could not be helped - he succeeded in bringing her to completion, and found himself reaching release immediately thereafter, both of them restraining their usually vocal expressions of satisfaction as inappropriate to the situation.

In the wake of their passion, Elizabeth and Darcy were generally wont to luxuriate in each other's arms, but at this rewarding conclusion, Darcy arose from the floor and rearranged his clothing in a most business-like manner. He paused for a moment to enjoy his wife's most fetching state of dishabille before holding his hand out to her and assisting her to her feet. As he put on his vest and jacket, he watched with avid interest and a contented smile as she secured her bosom in her gown, straightened her skirts, and adjusted her hair pins. Then he nodded his approval, turned on his heel and strode to the door, unlocking and opening it.

The two then resumed their seats by the fire, retrieved their books, and proceeded as if nothing had happened, though to an attentive eye, their flushed countenances and irregular breathing would have given lie to their unassuming behaviour.

"'Tis a pity, you know," Elizabeth said at last, her face composed, her air serene.

"And what is that, my sweet?"

"Why, that I must leave Netherfield tomorrow." She turned the page.

"Oh, yes," he replied, matching her indifferent manner and nonchalant action, "a great pity."

"For I have much enjoyed our discussion of poetry, Mr. Darcy. It has been most edifying."

"Has it, indeed?"

"I daresay it has," Elizabeth continued in the same cool tone. "Shall we not, then, continue this conversation later? Perhaps tonight, after the Bingleys and Hursts have retired, and the servants are abed?" Without raising her eyes from the pages before her, she added, "Say, in the drawing room?"

Darcy smiled slyly. "As you wish, Miss Bennet."

(c) 2007 Held by the author

*Andrew Marvell, 1621-1678
**Latin: "Seize the day."
Excerpt from Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress"


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The Lesson

It was still early, but, as was their habit, the Master and Mistress of Pemberley had already risen and were breaking their fast. When they had eaten their fill in a leisurely manner, Mr. Darcy spoke thus:

"Elizabeth, I know I promised to take you riding today, but it is my intention to make use of the older stable on the south side of the estate. It is some distance from the house. I trust that this will not present a problem?"

"Oh, no," she said, her eyes twinkling at him across her raised teacup, "For I have a reputation as an excellent walker."

He smiled affectionately. "So I have heard."

So they set out together in the early morning sunlight, strolling arm in arm. Darcy would occasionally point out a bird or flower that might take Elizabeth's interest this late spring day, but soon they lapsed into a comfortable silence. Until Darcy sighed contentedly and remarked:

"It is a fine day for a long walk, is it not, Miss Bennet?"

Elizabeth continued without breaking stride. If she thought it odd that her husband called her by her maiden name, she did not remark upon it. Indeed, there had already been three other times during their brief marriage in which he had done the same. In each case, the phrase was no mere slip of the tongue; it was expressed quite deliberately, she had soon discovered...as the prelude to some new experience of a decidedly carnal nature. Although it had discomfited Elizabeth the first time had Darcy called her thus, she soon realized that it was not because of some dissatisfaction with their married state. Quite the contrary, it was because of the intense and unrequited passion he had carried for her for so long before she had agreed to be his bride, which had in him engendered some very provocative - and necessarily frustrated - flights of fancy. Now that they were safely wed, he could indulge himself in the fulfillment of those fantasies, much to the delight of them both. She would, therefore, always play along.

"It is indeed fine, Mr. Darcy. It is kind of you to tour your estate with me." They were now not far from the stable, a smallish outbuilding that to Elizabeth's mind had seen better days.

They went inside, and Elizabeth surveyed the interior. Yes, it was obvious that it had been quite abandoned and had not been used in years. And yet there was fresh, sweet-smelling hay strewn generously about, and tidy bales piled neatly throughout. Clean horse blankets lay stacked upon the bales. She pursed her lips.

"Sir, you have me here under false pretenses," Elizabeth said. "You promised me a riding lesson, yet there clearly are no horses about."

"Miss Bennet," he whispered close to her ear from just behind her, causing her to shiver slightly, "you misunderstand me." His hands stroked lightly down from her neck to her breasts and stopped to rest on her hips. "I did in fact promise to teach you to ride astride, but if you recall..." He turned her around and pulled her tightly against him, so she could feel the potency of his arousal and added, "...I never said aught of horses."

Finally Elizabeth understood why Darcy had not found it necessary to provide her with riding breeches despite her protestations over the nature of this particular lesson, and she coloured deeply. She would have spoken, but he silenced her with the sort of kiss that had from the very beginning of their time together the power to render her weak. Smiling provocatively, he pulled away from her and sat himself upon some baled hay. He began unbuttoning his breeches, his eyes locked with hers.

"Mr. Darcy, you are no gentleman." Elizabeth stood looking at him, her arms akimbo. This was unexpected. Had she taken offense? She had never before complained of their amorous adventures and had in fact enjoyed them as much as he. Before he could react further, however, Elizabeth added wickedly, "A real gentleman would offer to help a lady to mount." Laughing in relief and passion, Mr. Darcy was pleased to do his gentlemanly duty.

He would have at that time made some sly jest about her "extraordinary seat," had not the self-same seat been rising and falling warmly against his groin. Or he might have reiterated a remark he had once made to her of the added control over one's mount that this method gave the rider. But his mouth was more agreeably engaged, his nimble fingers having unbuttoned the neckline of her habit to afford himself the pleasure of her beauteous bosom. Her lips and neck he similarly entertained, to her infinite delight.

Nevertheless, once she had reached her achievement - an easy task given the novelty of the position and the passion of the partner on whom she was impaled - his demeanour proclaimed himself unsated, and he said hoarsely, "And now, Miss Bennet, it is my turn to ride."

In a thrice, he had her off his lap and poised face-down upon the same bales he had lately vacated. Without pause he lifted the hem of her habit to her waist. The sight of her pert, bare alabaster bottom charmingly framed by her skirts and petticoat was enough to drive him wild with lust. Groaning loudly, he slid himself into her moist womanly aperture and tightly gripped her hips.

Elizabeth was briefly affronted that he wished to take her in such an unseemly - not to mention uncomfortable - fashion, for she felt a sudden kinship to the brood mare at Longbourn. Nevertheless, she was not of a mind to complain when the stud was Darcy, for he had soon moved his hands from their grasp on her hips, and one slid inside the open bodice of her habit to seize her breast, and the other moved downward to stimulate the center of her desire. Thus she found herself every bit as aroused as he, and was soon lost to all conscious thought.

As he thrust himself within her, so intense was his excitement that words, long suppressed, flowed from him uncontrolled. "Miss Bennet...ah, pray, forgive me... I have long wanted to...Miss Bennet...always dreamed...of taking such liberties...ah, such liberties...upon your person...so wicked...to compromise you thus...yet I must...must have you...must...my desire for you...so great..."

The couple reached a very vocal satisfaction within moments of each other, collapsing together upon the soft blanket that covered the hay.

Much later, when they had both regained their breath, Darcy held Elizabeth in his arms as he explained that the building had been built as a convenience to himself when he was much younger, so that he could stay a-field all day without returning to the main stable. It had been abandoned after the death of his father when responsibilities left him less time for recreation.

Thus began a bland conversation about estate matters, and they soon started to gather themselves for the long walk back to the house.

But Elizabeth was not yet ready to leave. She had ideas of her own that she had never been in a situation to put forward. Thus, she felt emboldened to try one that had always titillated her.

Darcy had just about finished picking off the remaining straw from his riding clothes when he heard Elizabeth's voice behind him: "Mr. Darcy, sir," Her formal address piqued his curiosity, and, stilling his activity, he turned to face her. Elizabeth was seated on the ground amidst a heap of straw. Now having his complete attention, she leaned back seductively against a pile of hay. "I am but a proper gentlewoman," she said demurely, her words belying her actions, "and a maiden still." Smoothing her hands sensually down her riding habit, she caught her hem, and drew her skirts up inch by inch above her knees, glancing at him from beneath lowered lashes. "I am all confusion, Mr. Darcy," she cooed breathlessly, parting her thighs to his burning gaze. "Can you not show me what is meant by a 'roll in the hay'?"

For such an apt and untiring pupil, Darcy was only too happy to provide instruction.

The End

(c) 2007 Held by author


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Report from Longbourn

"Mr. Darcy, a report of a most delicious nature has just reached me from the kitchens at Longbourn," Caroline Bingley cried. "It concerns your favorite, Miss Eliza Bennet."

Though his interest was piqued, Mr. Darcy betrayed no emotion as he steadfastly kept his eyes upon his book. Turning a page, he endeavored to sound disinterested. "I am much averse to gossip, as you know, Miss Bingley, especially as it emanates from below stairs..."

"Oh, but it comes from a most reliable source in the Bennet household, I assure you, Mr. Darcy. And you will never guess its contents!"

Darcy's silence at her challenge did not in the least discourage Miss Bingley. She volunteered, "Why, it appears that our dear Miss Eliza has just received an offer of marriage! Is it not too delightful?"

This was, undeniably, the one piece of news which could cause Mr. Darcy to forgo the attractions of his book and give Miss Bingley his undivided attention. "An offer of marriage?" he repeated carefully. He longed to know more, but was loath to expose his curiosity to Miss Bingley. He said, "This is a fortunate circumstance for Miss Bennet, is it not?"

"Oh, indeed, Mr. Darcy. A most fortunate circumstance. For it is her cousin, Mr. Collins, who has proposed to Miss Eliza."

"Mr. Collins!" That greasy toad-eater! This cannot be true. "Miss Bingley, are you quite sure?"

"Quite, Mr. Darcy. Surely you could not help but notice how very devoted he was to her at the ball! Moreover, I have recently discovered that Longbourn is entailed away to Mr. Collins. This marriage will thus ensure that our dear Mrs. Bennet and her delightful daughters will not be rendered homeless upon the demise of Mr. Bennet. And lovely Miss Eliza will not end her days as an embittered spinster. Instead, she will never be in want of a highly entertaining companion and graceful dance partner! In all, as you see, it is a most advantageous match for her. Are you not excessively diverted?"

"Oh, yes," Mr. Darcy replied, but he was feeling quite the opposite. He rose from his chair and stood looking out the window. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Collins! He could hardly think of two people less suited for each other. Collins, that stupid fool! That obsequious, pandering, bloated excuse for a man...and Elizabeth? His whole being recoiled at the thought. He could not imagine that Elizabeth would agree to such an offer. A new thought struck him.

"And are we to wish them joy before we depart Hertfordshire? Has Miss Elizabeth yet accepted this proposal?"

Miss Bingley frowned. This part of her intelligence from Longbourn had been less satisfactory. "It appears that she is somewhat reluctant to concede what an eligible offer she has received. I understand that she refused his hand at first..."

"Ah, then perhaps, Miss Bingley, you are being too hasty, and there is not to be a wedding after all?" With his voice neutral and his back turned to Caroline, Mr. Darcy's countenance could not betray his hopes.

"But her mother is most determined that she shall have him, and has applied to Mr. Bennet for his intervention," Miss Bingley said, smiling.

"I see. How very interesting. Pray excuse me, Miss Bingley, I must prepare for our departure." He bowed curtly to her and strode from the room directly to the privacy of his bedchamber.

Conflicting emotions warred within Darcy's breast as he paced the confines of the room. What difference can it be to me? We will be quitting Hertfordshire on the morrow, and I will never see her again. Why should I care whom she marries? It is not as if she could have had a future with me. He had to admit that, given Elizabeth's low connections and lack of prospects, and with Longbourn entailed away from the female line, it was a very eligible match for her. It would ensure that the estate stayed within the family and that her mother and sisters would never be left destitute.

Darcy had early on concluded that, while he found her wit, beauty and passionate nature dangerously alluring, Miss Elizabeth Bennet was an unsuitable mistress for Pemberley, and he was careful never to excite her expectations of an offer from him. Yet he had been unable to conquer the powerful feelings of attraction which had arisen within him. So while on a rational level he understood that some other man would someday enjoy the lifelong pleasure of her company, he was unprepared that she might receive an offer so soon, and from such an unsuitable quarter...or that it would affect him so grievously. He was pained, he felt as if his very heart was breaking, but he was reluctant to admit to a cause.

Elizabeth, married to that sycophantic cleric! Darcy suddenly pictured her at the Parsonage in Hunsford, sitting silently at table as she served her odious husband: her chestnut curls hidden beneath an ugly white lace cap, her lovely brow furrowed with distress at his idiotic ravings, her lively eyes forever dimmed with sadness. He saw her visiting with Lady Catherine at Rosings, quietly enduring his aunt's opinionated nonsense, her own pert opinions silenced forever in deference to Mr. Collins' station.

Unbidden, another image presented itself: that of Elizabeth in her marriage bed, tense with revulsion, awaiting the loathsome embrace which would provide Longbourn with an heir.

Darcy broke into a sweat and sank into a chair. He felt soiled; he felt sick. No, this cannot be! In all his fancies of Elizabeth, and there had been many, it was always he who introduced her to the joys of passion between a man and a woman. And yet, there was nothing for it. Elizabeth would marry or not, and his wishes for her, whatever they might have been, could count for naught. He could not even know the resolution of this situation, for he would not keep up a correspondence with anyone in Hertfordshire.

Unless... Darcy thought for a moment. He could, after an appropriate amount of time, write to his Aunt Catherine for news on the matter. She would not be suspicious; he would couch his question in his concern for the well-being of the parish. While he could do nothing at all to affect the outcome of this situation, he could at least give himself the comfort of knowing how it came to be resolved.

~ * ~

My dear Nephew:

Darcy quickly read through his aunt's florid handwriting, rolling his eyes over her usual praise for herself and his cousin Anne, until he arrived at the paragraph that contained the only news he cared to see.

It is so very kind of you to enquire after the status of the parsonage. You are quite correct, it is of utmost importance that Mr. Collins, who serves as a kind of representative of Rosings - and myself - to the parish, set a good example in his choice of mate.

I am therefore delighted to report that Mr. Collins followed my instructions precisely, and brought back from Hertfordshire a bride of the most unimpeachable qualifications.

Darcy felt his stomach drop and his chest constrict. It was just as he had feared. Elizabeth was now irrevocably the wife of that detestable Mr. Collins! He read on:

She is a sensible young lady of seven-and-twenty, whose father, Sir William Lucas, is a pillar of the local community. I know that she will prove eminently humble and tractable and thus a suitable wife for our Mr. Collins.

Lucas... Elizabeth's friend Charlotte Lucas! Mr. Collins had taken Charlotte Lucas to wife in place of Elizabeth! How this development came to be he knew and cared not. Darcy smiled as he breezed over the rest of the lengthy details Lady Catherine provided, of the date of the nuptials, the officiating reverend, the arrival of the couple at Hunsford. With each piece of information his smile grew wider. Elizabeth was not his...no, she would never be, but she was safe!

Having secured the letter in a locked drawer, Darcy left the library and headed for his appointment with his London solicitor. It seemed of a sudden that the world was a much brighter place.

The End


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