Posted on 2016-09-10
"I think that one is a dragon."
Fitzwilliam Darcy, prone on his back, pointed one finger up at the vivid blue sky and indicated a large, fluffy white cloud drifting slowly across its canvas. George Wickham, several feet away and in a similar posture, made an assenting noise as he ruminated, a long piece of grass between his teeth.
"It's a decent dragon, but I think that one," the latter said at last, pointing to another cloud some distance away, "is the princess he's captured. And those are her lips and her round bosoms."
Darcy stifled his sigh. His friend, while an enjoyable playmate, always seemed to want to best him at everything and was sometimes just that little bit too common. He was also half a year older than him and becoming far too interested in girls.
"She'd probably be a good kisser," Wickham went on, to Darcy's disgust.
"That one looks like a rabbit," he said, trying to redirect the conversation into less salacious waters.
But Wickham was having none of it. He rolled onto his side and looked at his friend with a slight sneer. "Poor Darcy, always so squeamish. I bet you've never even kissed a girl."
Now this, true or not, was not a challenge that could be borne by any young man's pride. And Darcy was by no means deficient in that area. "That's not true at all!" he protested nobly. "I've kissed lots of girls."
It occurred to him after it was said that this was perhaps not the most gallant of statements, but he had gone this far already, and Wickham would certainly never allow him to back away from the claim.
Indeed, "Oh, have you? And who have you kissed?"
Darcy sat up and drew up his knees, crossing his arms on them. "It would be ungentlemanly of me to say." Besides, he couldn't admit that the swathe of females truly only extended to his mother, his sister, his aunts, and his nurse.
Wickham made a rude noise and pushed himself up on his elbows. As he scanned the countryside with his eyes, he detailed to his friend his most recent exploit with one of the young maids at the inn at Lambton. It was, perhaps, a little more colorful an account than had actually happened and the slap that had been delivered was completely left off the end of the tale, but it served its purpose. Clearly, Wickham was the more experienced in this arena.
"Oh, look who's picking strawberries," Wickham said with interesting inflection. "It's Long Meg."
Over on Box Hill, rising from a stooped position amid the shrubbery was, indeed, a tallish sort of girl with genteel clothes, a wide chip bonnet concealing her hair, and a basket over one arm. She was a handsome girl, of an age with Darcy and Wickham. She had just come to the area some months ago with her father, an antiquary and naturalist, a fellow of such notables as Whitaker and Lord Stanley. Mr. Harris -- as his name was -- had taken a cottage near the village and had requested of Darcy's father some land to do some digging on. Darcy had gone to watch a few times as the man had puttered about with his assistant on the burrow, carefully working at the earth and doing surveys. It had not looked exceedingly interesting, but then neither did Squire McCauley's butterfly collection.
"I vow a prig like you couldn't snatch a kiss from her."
Again, his pubescent pride overrode Darcy's good sense. "I dare say I could."
This dialogue went on for some time longer than it ought, until Wickham ended with the ages-old taunt, "Prove it."
Now, this was a challenge no young man could ever back away from, and Darcy, with his fledgling sense of honor, knew he had to try. It could not be denied, either, he thought as he approached the young lady, that he had some curiosity about it all that might be assuaged by the experience. Long Meg -- or just Miss Margaret Harris, as he had heard some of the other lower gentry of the village call her -- might even be a decent sort of girl to give a first kiss to. Certainly better than some scullery maid at the inn.
The young lady looked up, surprised at the greeting. Darcy had come to a stop some distance away and was rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet, his hands clasped nervously behind him. She narrowed his eyes at him, then scanned the countryside around him. Darcy hoped she didn't spot Wickham, who had taken a place of hiding behind some trees in a nearby stand.
"Good afternoon," she said hesitantly.
"Beautiful weather we're having."
"Indeed," she agreed.
"Picking strawberries, I see."
"Yes, I am."
Silence fell and Darcy felt a bit disgruntled that she didn't take up her fair share of the conversation. At last, having watched her select a few more berries and place them in her basket, he asked, "Can I help?"
A smile at last overtook her lips and her eyes twinkled at him. "You may," she agreed, and he approached eagerly, scanning the bushes for some ripe candidates. After selecting a few, he came over to put them in the basket, and then stayed at her side, picking a few berries here and there. They worked in silence for a while, and, indeed, Darcy had forgotten what he had come there for. But at last, spurred on perhaps by a cough that seemed to come from the trees he had left Wickham behind, he began to plan his approach.
"So...you are new to the village?"
"I am," she replied. "Papa has taken a house near here, and is hoping to stay for some years on his project. He's an antiquary, you know, and has found some vastly interesting old things around the country. He's a Fellow of the Royal Society, even. I haven't seen you around before. Do you live hereabouts?"
For a moment, Darcy considered telling her who he was, and using his position to tip the scales in favor of gaining a kiss, but decided it would probably get back to his father and that was undoubtedly to be avoided. "Oh, yes. Been here for years. But I've been at school most of the time."
"That sounds interesting. What have you been studying?"
Darcy, diverted by the novelty of someone at least pretending to be interested in listening to him talk about himself and his activities, spoke of his studies and his classmates. He found the young lady was actually quite well read in certain areas, and they discussed with enthusiasm and ease some of history and the philosophers and recent events until, once again, Darcy was reminded of what he was about by a throat-clearing from across the clearing. He broke off awkwardly and shuffled a bit, finally diving into the vines and retrieving a strawberry to conceal the blush that had arisen to his cheeks.
Again, they picked berries in silence until, with heroic effort, Darcy spoke, having concluded that the bold approach was going to work best: "I would like to give you a kiss," he said.
Her eyes flew wide to his, and she couldn't conceal the surprise in them before she averted her face and reached to pluck another berry. She didn't respond for a while, and Darcy's anxiety and perspiration grew to unbearable heights until he finally blurted out, his voice squeaking slightly, "May I?"
She looked at him again now, her lips pursed slightly, her head tilted to the side, and her eyes narrowed in thought as she looked him over. At last her lips tilted upwards at the corners and she said, "You may."
Darcy's heart felt as if it might burst from his chest as he exhaled in relief, then stepped forward. His hands rose, and then lowered, and then clasped behind his back as he wondered what he was supposed to do with them, and then leaned towards her as she did the same, his lips pursed and ready. He closed his eyes and leaned a little more until...
Contact. Red, mushy, juicy contact. He opened his eyes in surprise to see Miss Harris dancing away, laughing, and he brought his fingers to his lips to find the remains of the strawberry that had been smashed into his face.
"And tell your friend that if he ever tries it again, I'll use more than my hand on his face," she yelled as she crested the hill and disappeared over the rise.
The long walk back to Pemberley was a miserable affair, with Wickham laughing at him all the while and cracking jokes at his expense, but Darcy consoled himself with the knowledge that he had got off with only a strawberry, whereas his friend had apparently earned a more painful reward.
"Oooo, strawberries and cream!"
In her delight, Georgiana clapped her hands, and then blushed at her less-than-ladylike display. Her sister, Mrs. Darcy, however, laughed at her enthusiasm and waved it away as the servants delivered the dessert and withdrew. It was hardly a formal affair, en famille as they were, so one could hardly be offended.
Indeed, Mrs. Gardiner, who with her husband was visiting their niece and nephew, seemed to share in the pleasure of such a treat. "One of my favorites," she said.
"They are, most especially," Mr. Gardiner agreed, sharing a secret smile with her. "I'm hard pressed to find them in London, so my appreciation for your generosity is doubly so, Lizzy."
"Oh, they grow so abundantly here," Elizabeth said. "It was enjoyable to go out gathering them this afternoon with Mrs. Reynolds."
"Over on Box Hill, I suppose?" Mrs. Gardiner said.
"That's right!" Elizabeth cried. "I had forgotten you spent time in the country here, so would know where the best strawberries are to be found. Fitzwilliam always tells me the soil is so rich there that's where everyone goes to collect them."
Mrs. Margaret Gardiner, with perhaps a slyer smile than expected on her lips, glanced at the other end of the table and said, "Oh, yes. I could be found there many times while my father and I lived in the area. A lovely place to pick strawberries. And perhaps not all of them made it into the basket, either."
The rest of the table laughed, but Mr. Darcy, whose face had grown as red as the strawberries on his plate, suddenly found his appetite for them not as great as expected.The End