Posted on 2011-04-09
"MORE than once did Elizabeth in her ramble within the Park, unexpectedly meet Mr. Darcy."
--- Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 33
The third time, she was hard-pressed not to show her exasperation.
"We meet again, Mr. Darcy."
He bowed. "I trust you are well?" She nodded. "I am glad. So, which way today, Miss Bennet?"
Which way, indeed! What an insufferable man. Very well, she decided, she would show him which way.
"I've been wanting to explore a little deeper into the woods here abouts." Mischief glinted in her eyes as she gestured towards a path that appeared seldom used and poorly maintained. "Shall we?"
He looked at the path, then turned back to Elizabeth and lifted one eyebrow. "You wish to explore the bog?"
She glanced at the path again and swallowed--obviously she had let her spirits overrule her good judgment, and she turned to Darcy to tell him so; but the gentleman wore such a self-satisfied smirk that the lady could do ought but exclaim,
"Of course! We have no decent bogs near Longbourn, and I have so wanted to see Lady Catherine's." She clutched his arm with false gaiety and was delighted to see his alarmed blush. "Thank you for accompanying me, sir."
Off they went down the rutted trail, she jauntily, he warily. The jaunt however soon ended as the path closed around them, and even Elizabeth was forced to duck overhanging branches while poor Darcy bent nearly double at times. Elizabeth's problem, at least, was partly solved when they were forced into single file by a further narrowing of the trail. Darcy now served as guide and trailblazer, and Elizabeth walked with her nose almost touching the back of his fine coat while he swatted leaves and branches aside.
But as the trail continued downward into a ravine, the ruts gradually turned to mud and calamity struck.
"Oh!" cried Elizabeth. "I've lost my shoe!"
She stood perched on one foot, her other foot poised above the mud which had swallowed her shoe whole. She held onto Darcy's shoulder for dear life.
Darcy turned to help her and a leafy branch he had been holding aside swatted her in the face while she hopped sideways so as not to lose her grip on him.
"Good God!" he cried. "I am sorry. Here, let me help you."
He knelt down before her to examine the situation, while Elizabeth stood as still as possible with a hand on each of his shoulders which were now conveniently situated just above the level of her waist. He took her shoeless foot in his hands and gently wiped the dirt from her stockings. It felt--pleasant.
"Oh," she murmured.
"Are you all right?" he asked with concern.
She looked down at him. She nodded. "I am well."
He smiled up at her and continued gently massaging her foot; for it was most definitely a massage, she knew that now. A foot massage. From Mr. Darcy. She closed her eyes and laughed softly.
"Do I amuse you, Miss Bennet?"
She opened her eyes. He was still smiling up at her, but now his cheeks were deeply flushed, and there was something else in his eyes that she had seen there before, thinking it to be some sort of intent disapproval; but now for the first time she recognized it as passion.
"Oh dear," said she.
He stood and looked down at her.
"I think I should return to the Parsonage," she whispered, her hands still on his shoulders.
"Now?" was his incredulous reply as he placed his hands on her waist.
She looked up into his eyes and silently nodded.
He swallowed. He sighed. He said, "Your wish is my command, madam."
He swept her up into his arms and carried her back up towards the main path.
"Wait," she shouted, "my other shoe just came off!"
"I will come out here later with Fitzwilliam. We will find your shoes."
"Thank you," she said, feeling more than a little self-conscious being carried through the Park. "This is all my fault. I am sorry for dragging you out here. I did not really want to see the bog. I was just being mean."
"I realized that," he said, "but I don't know why you did it. Did I anger you somehow?"
She laughed. "Sir, you have been angering me since the first night I saw you."
He blushed. "I told you on Easter-Day that am sorry for not dancing."
"Well, it was more the manner in which you declined to dance that angered me."
His blush deepened.
"But it is more than that." She narrowed her eyes at him. "Do you really want to know all the ways you have angered me?"
"To be honest, maybe not. Unless, of course, it is serious." He looked into her eyes and smiled. "I would hate for anything serious to come between us, Elizabeth."
Elizabeth was dumbfounded: Charlotte was right--he loved her! It was sketched in his face as plain as day. How did this happen, she wondered!
Well, she could worry about how later--the immediate question was what should she do about it?
His smile had begun to waver. In a worried tone, he asked, "Is it a serious problem, these things that anger you?"
She thought a moment, and decided there was nothing for it but to be absolutely truthful. She simply said, "Yes."
"Oh." He carried her for a time in silence. "We should probably discuss it, then."
"Discuss the ways in which you anger me? Why?"
"So I can stop angering you."
They went for a while longer in silence as Elizabeth digested this. Then he truly shocked her by saying,
"I shall call on you at Longbourn, if you will allow it." Her face must have shown her surprise, for he quickly added, "I realize I have not done you justice, Elizabeth. You deserve to be courted, properly courted, and I clearly must learn how to please a woman worthy of being pleased."
"If you come to Longbourn," she said carefully, "I will see you, Mr. Darcy, and I will explain all the ways in which you anger me." She felt him chuckle softly at that. "But that does not mean that I will agree to anything more. So come to Hertfordshire at your own risk."
He said no more until they were at the Parsonage gate. Mrs. Collins hurried out to meet them as Darcy finally set Elizabeth down on her own two feet.
"Eliza, Mr. Darcy," cried Mrs. Collins, an uncharacteristic smirk on her plain face. "Did you have a pleasant walk?"
Elizabeth blushed and shook her head at her friend's teasing.
Darcy said, "I certainly enjoyed it." He took Elizabeth's hand. "I will see you next month at Longbourn, Miss Bennet."
When he'd left, Mrs. Collins hugged Elizabeth and exclaimed at her good fortune, but Elizabeth quickly said,
"Nothing is settled, Charlotte. Far from it. Let us just see what happens."
Then for the first time, Elizabeth felt it: hope. What an odd thing to feel about Mr. Darcy.
As they turned toward the front door, Mrs. Collins asked, "Eliza, what happened to your shoes?"
Elizabeth just laughed.The End