Posted on: 2011-11-16
All through breakfast, a note from Mr. Darcy in the pocket of her dress burned against her thigh. "There is nothing quite like a good walk to begin the morning," Elizabeth said aloud. And without waiting for the response from the others, she stood and was out immediately.
The expanse of Rosings Park lay before her; it would take but a few hours to tour the entire grounds. But she had become so familiar with it now that such a long walk had no attraction for her. She edged along the open grove till she reached a nice sheltered path, almost wild looking for the thickness of trees around it. It was a place no one seemed to value but herself, and where she felt beyond the reach of Lady Catherine's curiosity.
Still, she could not pull the note out to read. She was afraid it would become wet in the patter of rain that had started. At least that is what she told herself. In actuality she was very much afraid of what the letter would say. It had arrived by express and, she knew not how Darcy had managed it, but the butler had slid it discreetly to her before the others had joined her for breakfast. It always paid to be an early riser.
It was in this favorite walk of hers that she had so often been surprised by him. Once, after a particularly dour day with Lady Catherine, she had come here and by the time she reached the end of her walk there he was--Fitzwilliam Darcy on horseback, smiling as if waiting only for her.
Elizabeth quickened her steps, but the rain was coming faster. Though she had been determined to take her walk and to read what Mr. Darcy had sent by the end of it, she was now quickly being drenched. She turned a corner and saw before her the parsonage. She was not desirous for any company. But having little choice, she ran to the house, rang the bell and showed herself in. She had barely any need to however, as Mr. Collins had been watching her approach through his study-room window.
He was already stumbling through long greetings, interspersed with how great an honor it was to have her enter his humble sitting room. Eizabeth paid him no heed, and bid him bring some hot tea and a dry shawl.
Mr. Collins thus cut off from his speech, and given the chance, looked her over. The white morning dress clung and fell around her in muddy wetness. For the first time in all her twenty years of living, Elizabeth felt embarrassed around the clergyman.
But regaining her composure she said imperially, "Mr. Collins, please! Make haste and start the fire or I may catch a cold."
The discomfort of her damp clothes was equal, she mused, to the discomfort of watching this awkward man running about as if the tails of his coat were on fire. She wanted badly to send him away till she was dry, but this was his home and she was a guest in it.
She wondered what to say to him. What would mother say? Suddenly at that thought she had plenty of subjects available. For whatever reason, her mother liked the man.
"Your housekeeper must be kept busy? I don't suppose she wants for help?"
The answer to this was too boring, and though admonishing herself for doing it she again cut his lengthy answer off to ask. "And Hertfordshire? Do you like it more than Kent? You were there not too long ago on business is that not right?"
"Oh madam, no county at all could ever come to be in my esteem if it did not at least resemble Kent, the home of my esteemed patron Lady Catherine DeBourgh and of yo--
"Yes, yes, but tell me of Hertfordshire. How do you like your future living."
He said that Longbourne was quite prominent, though nothing compared to Rosings. What indeed did compare to Rosings? Why even the logs used in the fireplaces are of the finest--"
"And," said Elizabeth trying to redirect him again. "of it's inhabitants? What were your first thoughts of the family at Longbourne?"
Suddenly Elizabeth realized that all her anxiety had been around this very question. Indeed, it was half the reason she had walked so far out--to ask Collins this important question. (The other half was the note burning a hole in her petticoat.)
It had become known to Collins that the Bennets were in some distant way connected to Sir Lewis de Bourgh, through his nephew's cousin's wife. Lady Catherine had been so indignant at the mention of it, that Collins could not bring it up again.
He sputtered and considered and then, with more encouragement from Elizabeth he at last said, "Your esteemed opinion is better... as you know Lady Catherine feels the Bennets are not.... they are beneath her company, surely. And though I did not have much occasion to see her, I believe the eldest Miss. Bennet is quite pretty. She was much admired in the dances at the town's assembly there. I thought it my duty to dance at least twice with her, though a clergyman I thought it the proper compliment to my host that I--"
"And what of Mr. Bennet?"
"You do me much honor by inquiring on such matters. Mr. Bennet does not deserve such kindnesss... Nor, I am sure, do I..."
His nonsense continued for some time till at last she was able to gather that Mr. Bennet largely stayed in the library. When she heard some of that gentleman's remarks to the clergyman, she laughed so heartily that even Collins realized he was being laughed at.
The rain outside ceased a little and Elizabeth stood to leave. "Do not mind Mr. Bennet, sir," she said somewhat applogetically to Collins. "We are all ridiculous in some way or other; only most of us are better at hiding it. I will give your compliments to my mother. But I must be off now."
And so saying she went through the door he opened. Trudging and tripping through new puddles she quickly crossed through the grove, went by the bridge, and entered, breathless, into her home.
Lady Catherine had noticed her absence an hour ago. And now she loomed before her in the lobby. "Elizabeth! What on earth girl were you doing? The mud has discolored your gown. Call a maid at once to clear it! Where is your sense of decorum? Your pride? I insist on knowing where you were. I want to see you in my sitting room at once, after you have changed into more decent clothing."
Elizabeth her face flushed and her eyes wide and bright solemnly curtsied.
"Yes, Mother," she said.
Elizabeth quickly went up the stairs and down a corridor as her mother, Lady Catherine called after her "You will not be going outdoors Elizabeth, till I have seen some improvements in you. You will not be allowed anywhere except church till you behave more like Anne."
Elizabeth hardly heard her. She turned the hall, pushed the heavy door and came into the expanse of her room. Heavy, gaudy red curtains, trimmed in gold, had been pushed aside to reveal the large windows overlooking a pond and a thicket of trees clustering it. The canopy around her bed hung lazily to the floor. The fireplace, nearly half her size, had but a few flames, remnants from the night. On the far side of the room was an opening in the wall with her other furniture--her "dressing room." But to all this splendor that her mother would have wished reminded her of her place, Elizabeth was perfectly oblivious. Now was the moment--mere minutes before her mother's servants came to help her change; and Mrs. Jenkinson pried in to ask if Elizabeth had a cold or whether she preferred the blue muslin or the pink?
She took off her muddy gown, letting it slide past her shoulder, bosom and waist to collect in a muddy circle at her feet. She plucked Darcy's note from the pocket. Elizabeth traipsed across the floor to her bed, losing her slippers along the way, and leaned against the pillar of the bed. With one hand curled around the canopy curtain, her heart raced in equal fear and anticipation as she held the plain white note in her other hand. With a quick flick, she opened it. It had but two lines:
She sighed and slid to the floor and let the canopy cover her bare toes and petticoat. A full month before he would come. He did not say that it was the earliest he could make it. Or how long he would stay.
He did not need to. She knew he had sent her the note as fast as he could, and that he would stay as long as he could. Her eyes lingered over affectionately, the tail on the y pointing down towards Darcy. The noise of the entourage beyond her door increased, with the voice of Lady Catherine in it's midst.
Disappointed as Elizabeth was, she couldn't help but smile slightly at how emphatically Darcy had placed the period after that single word. It was not a notice of his coming, but a promise. He would be here for Easter.
The door opened without a knock and her mother entered. The servants poured in from either side of her. Elizabeth stood as Lady Catherine began her lecture and the servants approached her. She brushed her petticoat down, and in one slick move hid the note out of sight.
Her last thought as she entered the lukewarm bath was not of Darcy, but of the Bennets. They might do just fine, she thought, and at last gave in to Lady Catherine's captivity.
"Elizabeth, I demand an answer! Do you agree or not?"
"Mother," said Elizabeth, "I do."