You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.
However repulsed Elizabeth might have been upon first hearing Mr. Darcy’s ardent avowal, she would be lying if she denied his words now meant something to her, even if she was sure she might never hear them again and even if she was unsure whether she might ever wish to.
Thoughts of Jane’s letter intruded once again, specifically the part that read, I do not dare commit my reversal of fortune to paper, thinking as I do that fate is a fickle friend at best. For now, I will only say my happiness is almost complete.
Staring out the window at the countryside and admiring the abounding sights of spring as far as the eyes could see whisking by, Elizabeth sighed. Barring any travel delays, soon, my dearest Jane and I will be together again. Until such time as I can adequately satisfy my curiosity, I shall think no more on the matter.
Elizabeth’s carriage drove to the Gardiners’ door at the appointed time. The scene was much the same as she remembered it some weeks earlier when she had arrived from Hertfordshire with the Lucases with Jane sitting in the drawing room window awaiting her arrival. When she entered the passage, Jane welcomed Elizabeth with open arms and a smile as bright as the younger sister could ever wish to see.
Elizabeth glanced to the top of the stairs with the expectation of seeing a troop of little boys and girls, eager for attention from an older cousin. They were nowhere around, giving Elizabeth to suspect they were likely away at the nearby park. It was just as well, for Elizabeth’s primary design was the reunion with her sister and the unraveling of the mystery Jane’s letter had wrought.
Sitting beside her sister in the drawing room, Elizabeth said, “Dearest Jane, I cannot tell you how pleased I am seeing you looking so lovely. Pray, I am not speaking out of turn in saying it is most refreshing in comparison to when I was here last.” She took Jane by the hand. “Dare I say it is attributable to the change in circumstances you alluded to in your last letter?”
Jane blushed crimson. Despite her modesty, her natural beauty could not help but shine through.
“I would have to say it has everything to do with it,” she replied. “Oh, Lizzy! It has been so long since I had reason to feel as hopeful as I do.”
Indeed, Jane’s melancholy had persisted for months. Elizabeth feared the combination of Mr. Bingley’s defection and his sister Miss Caroline Bingley’s betrayal of what Jane had supposed was genuine affection between them jaded Jane’s wont to only see the best in people. This picture of her elder sister warmed Elizabeth’s heart. She squeezed her sister’s hand. “Pray, do not keep me in suspense.”
Jane was about to say more when both she and Elizabeth were suddenly roused by the sound of the doorbell. Jane’s face overspread with joy, as though she was expecting someone to call.
Releasing her sister’s hand, Elizabeth’s breath caught. She jumped to her feet.
Any number of thoughts raced through her head, the most unsettling of them all having to do with her suspicion that Jane’s newfound happiness indeed had to do with a renewal of her acquaintance with Mr. Bingley and the possibility that Mr. Darcy had been the means of bringing it about.
Jane stood and smoothed her skirt. Elizabeth also adjusted her attire.
The thought that not only was Mr. Bingley the imminent guest but that Mr. Darcy might be accompanying him also crossed her mind. Before she had time to think about what such a prospect must portend, the door of the drawing room opened, and in walked the Gardiners’ housekeeper with two gentlemen on her heels.
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