Posted on 2012-05-21
He looked at his pocket watch for what seemed to be the tenth time, though, in reality, no more than three minutes had passed since Mr. Bennet had returned to the drawing room - without his daughter Elizabeth. In the best of circumstances, Fitzwilliam Darcy was not a patient man; in the present situation, the staid young man allowed his imagination to run rampant, and he was seized by a state of complete agitation.
Mr. Bennet had given the young man from Derbyshire permission to wed his favorite daughter, but he did not seem at all pleased to do so, and Darcy feared the worst. One doubt which surfaced as Elizabeth spoke with her father - and one he thought, to his horror, to be very likely - was that she had accepted him out of some mistaken sense of gratitude for the service he rendered her youngest sister, Lydia - if it could be called such - and now regretted it. Darcy felt no small pang of guilt for chaining the young girl to the punishment of a life with George Wickham, however necessary the measure may have been to protect the rest of her family from her damaged reputation. He held no illusion that what little affection subsisted between the two of them would stand the test of time, and was certain that of the two, she was the one most likely to suffer for it. As much as he detested the man, for Elizabeth's sake, and in the hope that he might be worked upon to treat his wife reasonably well, Darcy resolved to continue to assist Wickham in his profession.
Shaking off distressing thoughts of the impetuous couple, he considered Elizabeth. She may not have declared her affection as such, but, she had accepted him, with pleasure, it seemed, and Darcy knew - or rather, he hoped - from painful experience, that she would not have done so unless she truly loved and esteemed him. And, he reminded himself, when Mr. Bennet did emerge, it was with a small smile and a nod in his direction, allaying most of his fears; yet, Elizabeth did not follow, so his disquiet continued.
Without thinking, he reached into his pocket again. Five minutes. Though he was not able to see the amused look on Mr. Bennet's face, he was fully aware of the faint laughter which came from behind the newspaper the man was holding. Darcy doubted very much that the war in France was the source of such entertainment, and tried, earnestly, to check the compulsion to look at the time again.
In response to this repression, his right leg began bouncing rhythmically - or perhaps it was the effect of the two cups of coffee he nervously consumed in a hurry while Elizabeth was in conference with her father. He stamped his foot to force an end to the quaking leg, drawing everyone's notice in doing so. Four pairs of eyes pierced him at once, while Mr. Bennet's kept to his paper. Clearing his throat, he looked about and mumbled a clipped "Excuse me." As the others returned their attention to their varied amusements, Mr. Darcy shrugged to himself, and finished his third cup of coffee.
Were he home, or even at Netherfield, he might have taken to pacing the length of the room, but he was at Longbourn, where smaller proportions would render this antic ridiculous. He considered taking the air, but an irrational need to be present the moment Elizabeth returned kept him within doors. Perhaps this was not the wisest choice for his peace of mind, but lovers are rarely wise, so Mr. Darcy stubbornly persisted in his path of frustration, oblivious to the alternatives immediately before him, such as; writing a letter, reading a book, or, most obvious of all, conversing with the others in the room.
Of their own volition, fingers crept forward and began strumming the arm of his chair. When Bingley looked up at him in confusion, Darcy pursed his lips and slowly withdrew the recalcitrant hand.
Another chuckle escaped the paper.
"Whatever can you be reading that amuses you so?" Mrs. Bennet asked incredulously.
"A study on the passage of time," was the sardonic reply, which skipped no beat.
"Upon my word, Mr. Bennet; that sounds horridly tedious," his wife replied.
The paper remained in place as he countered, "Quite the contrary, I assure you; it is most diverting."
Darcy frowned in dismay, and sent up a silent prayer of thanks for the cravat which concealed the heat currently rising up his neck. He crossed his legs, and laced his hands firmly together in his lap, whereupon two thumbs began a relentless assault upon one another.
It was then that he spied a clock across the room atop the mantle, smiled inwardly, and sighed imperceptibly. Eight minutes.
His mind travelled back to Elizabeth - not that it had ever truly left her. Though he was not of a disposition in which happiness overflows in mirth, the joy he felt upon hearing her utter the sweetest words, "I will," just hours before, was immeasurable. It took all of his good breeding - and borrowed some more - to restrain himself from kissing her thoroughly before obtaining her father's consent to the marriage. But tomorrow, he would have no such compunction. He tried to relax by devising ways for the two of them to be alone, but though the mental exercise was successful in its purpose, it had one very undesirable effect - given the present company. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
Where was she? He cast a pleading gaze towards the door as though he might will her to arrive. Nothing happened, and the minute hand of the clock had not moved either.
He looked around the room. His friend Bingley and the eldest Miss Bennet bent their heads together in a close conference, serene smiles gracing both of their faces. Their palpable happiness subdued his anxiety - but not by much; until he could indulge in his own bliss, he would be uneasy. Mr. Bennet continued his perusal of the news, while the youngest unmarried Bennet quietly discussed fashion plates with her not-so-quiet mother. Darcy had noticed a slight shift in Miss Kitty's comportment with the absence of her younger sister, and thought perhaps her temper was not as ungovernable as the other. The change, it seemed, would do her some good. The clock on the mantle beckoned him. Ten minutes.
Darcy grunted slightly, and forced himself not to lower his head to his hands in exasperation. He rose abruptly and strode toward the window - a safe retreat. Another surreptitious glance at the time revealed the passing of only one minute more. Eleven minutes, all told.
He clasped his hands behind his back, and limited his nervous movements to a frenzied twisting of his signet ring. As he focused his sight on the path he had just traversed with his beloved, the strains of a pianoforte from another room registered in his hearing. The mechanical nature of the sound - and the consequence of deductive reasoning - indicated that Miss Mary must be the Bennet at the bench. Darcy was not blind to the way in which this middle daughter was generally ignored by the family; only the eldest Miss Bennet and Elizabeth occasionally solicited her opinion - it was no small wonder the poor girl's quest for attention manifested itself in an eagerness to perform, despite her deficiencies. For the second time in five minutes, Darcy arrived at a conclusion: he would endeavor to speak to Miss Mary at the next opportunity.
A welcome diversion from an unexpected source interrupted his silent musings.
"Mr. Bingley!" cried the portly matron of Longbourn. Darcy turned back. The ever affable Bingley looked over likewise, though a genuine smile spread over his face, unlike his restless friend, who continued to bear a scowl. "I don't believe I have shown you the drawing of Jane and Lizzy when they were girls." Darcy's interest was certainly piqued, and he stepped forward.
If possible, Mr. Bingley's smile grew wider, while Miss Bennet's cheeks noticeably pinked. "I should love to see it!" he answered, "If you would but show the way, Mrs. Bennet." After a fond look at his fiancé, he offered her his arm.
The lady happily complied, and Darcy quietly asked, "May I join you?"
Every face - aside from Mr. Bennet's - registered surprise, and Mrs. Bennet, most astonished of all, dropped the coolness she reserved for the seemingly proud man in her reply; "Certainly, Mr. Darcy; right this way."
He followed a few steps behind the others as he stole yet another glimpse of the sacred time keeper. Fourteen minutes.
The walk was short, and the men were soon face to face with a simple charcoal drawing of a young Miss Bennet embraced by a diminutive Lizzy, with love and joy shining from those eyes of hers.
"My sister Gardiner drew this when my brother was courting her. Jane is nine here, and Lizzy, seven. You see, Mr. Bingley, even then, Jane was the most beautiful girl."
The matron tittered with pride, and Bingley responded with all the appropriate effusions of admiration while the demure Miss Bennet lowered her eyes, blushed, and quietly added in embarrassment, "Oh, Mama!" The three thusly occupied, Darcy remained unnoticed; though he drew closer, no one saw the slight upward curve of his lips as he took in the picture before him.
He recalled a conversation with Miss Bingley from months before, and decided he had been mistaken in his claim that an artist would not be able to copy the beauty of Elizabeth's eyes. Mrs. Gardiner had indeed captured the light and life in the eyes of her vivacious niece. How he longed to see that expression turned on him! His wistful countenance continued to go unobserved by all - excepting Miss Bennet, who knew enough to attempt to attempt to understand the meaning of it; yet in ignorance of the true state of affairs between Darcy and her sister, she mistook the look for one of unrequited love. Her tender heart, not unacquainted with the feeling - however happy the conclusion - ached terribly for him. Darcy was unaware of all this as he continued in his pleasant reflections, and when the trio of Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Bingley, and Miss Bennet moved to return to the others, he lingered a few paces behind, savoring the delightful image.
He did not fail to notice the ticking clock upon his return to the drawing room. Eighteen minutes; and still, there was no sign of Elizabeth's return. Raking his hand through his hair, he inhaled deeply, and expelled a slow, measured breath.
Mr. Bennet finally took some pity on the young man, set his paper aside, and invited him to continue the chess game which he and Elizabeth had abandoned the evening before. Darcy gladly accepted the challenge, and found some solace in filling the chair which had been previously occupied by his beloved. He tried to ignore the timepiece as it taunted him from over Mr. Bennet's shoulder - tried, and failed. Nineteen minutes.
Though Mr. Bennet had given Darcy his consent to marry Elizabeth, he was by no means prepared to allow the young man to spirit her away without attempting to discomfit him - just a little - but he was much too surprised by Darcy's application for her hand to have the presence of mind to tease him then. But now was an altogether different story. With a raised brow, and an impertinent tone - not at all unlike his favorite daughter's - he avowed, "I trust you found my sister's work to be tolerable, Mr. Darcy."
In so saying, Mr. Bennet had not removed his eyes from the board in front of him, and therefore missed a golden opportunity to witness the ordinarily imperturbable young man's blush. Darcy, utterly mortified at having been overheard disparaging Elizabeth's beauty, and ashamed at actually having done so, struggled to think of an appropriate reply. Tilting his head to one side, he suppressed a sigh, and peeked at the clock. Twenty minutes, and Elizabeth would not be able to rescue him from his blunder. She had never taken him to task for this particular comment, so he had allowed himself to forget about it, but the pointed reference could not be ignored. Oh, how he hated to be laughed at! Unfamiliar as he was with the sensation, he realized he had best become accustomed to it; for if not the father, then surely the daughter would make a habit of sporting with him. So he played Mr. Bennet's game.
"Upon first glance, perhaps," he began, as composedly as he was able, then, with increasing sincerity, "But, I think if one were to describe the image as simply tolerable, then he has not truly looked at the tempting picture of a felicitous childhood the drawing represents. I would feel sorry for any person to dismiss it as such, and I am very grateful that I have been given the time and opportunity to look closely, and rightly understand its worth." He dropped his voice as he added, "I am sure that I will never see another so lovely and unique."
The last was spoken barely above a whisper, but Mr. Bennet heard every word. He stopped his contemplation of the game and stared in barely concealed astonishment as he instead considered the longest speech he had ever heard the younger man speak. Earlier, his conference with Mr. Darcy had been short and to the purpose; he saw little evidence of passion. Now, he had born the jest Mr. Bennet delivered with good humor, and turned it into an open declaration of his affection for Elizabeth. The older man sat back in admiration of the fortitude and cleverness displayed. His features softened into a smile as he responded, very quietly, to avoid being overheard by the others, "Well said, Son."
Darcy smiled warmly, and forgot to look at the clock. The two continued their game in companionable silence, and each was impressed with the skill of the other.
Darcy's third resolution in the minutes which had passed was to apologize to Elizabeth for the ill-fated comment, and to assure her, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she was, in fact, far more than just tolerably handsome. He focused his attention back to the game, and it was a full nine minutes before he thought of the time again - at which point Mrs. Bennet's shrill voice alerted him to this neglect.
"Where has Miss Lizzy been this half hour?"
One young man's head snapped up in eager expectation of an answer. Twenty-nine minutes had elapsed, and still, no Elizabeth. Mr. Bennet noticed the young man's grimace, but forbore teasing him - he looked unsettled enough already. The older man considered reassuring him, but was slow to think of an appropriate way to do so without revealing the newly acquired understanding with his daughter.
As if the lady in question had anticipated the question, Elizabeth's light step was heard descending the stairs, and shortly after, the door slowly creaked open. Her eyes sought out her betrothed immediately, and an affectionate smile suffused her face as she saw her two favorite men sitting together over the chess board.
Darcy, seeing in her eyes the very same expression which her Aunt Gardiner had captured many years before, gratefully returned the smile. He sighed audibly, his heart swelling with joy, and all his fears were put to rest.
Later, when Elizabeth was able to speak with him discreetly, she took his hand and apologized for her delay in returning; and when she asked whether the time spent with her family had been too taxing for him, he was able to reply, upon a moment's reflection, with an unaffected smile and perfect honesty, "No, not at all."
*For those who are wondering - as I confess, I would be - after the major events of this story, Darcy's next move was to visit the water closet - he did have three cups of coffee, after all. Elizabeth wisely chose to show him the way; and upon his return, he was gifted with the first of many opportunities for privacy with his dearest love.
Happy for all his ardent feelings of love was the moment that Darcy was able to shower his Lizzy with the passionate kisses he had previously ruminated upon; and she, despite her maidenly inexperience, was a happy recipient, and, was sufficiently persuaded that he indeed found her tempting. The lovers parted - and not an instant too soon. Fate and time were on their side, for Miss Mary exited the music room at precisely that same moment. The prim sister was met with the two standing alone together, faces flushed. She saw enough to invite suspicion, but nothing to cause alarm. Darcy grinned sheepishly at his fiancé, surprising her with the appearance of two lovely dimples, then made good on another of his resolutions, and engaged Miss Mary Bennet in conversation. They discussed Fordyce for a full quarter of an hour.The End