Beginning, Next Section
Posted on: 2010-08-21
Tuesday, October 15, 1811
You were made perfectly to be loved – and surely I have loved you, in the idea of you, my whole life long.
--Elizabeth Barrett Browning (English Poet 1806-1861)
He was riding on the grounds of Pemberley. It was a perfect day; the lake reflected a beautiful clear blue sky and a mirror image of the manor house.
He saw her walking toward him. She seemed distracted by the view and she did not catch sight of his approach. Her cheeks had the healthy glow that came from long summer walks. As she noticed he was nearing, a bewitching smile spread across those tempting lips and her eyes were bright and sparkling. Oh, how lovely she was! The sight took his breath away.
He dismounted, allowing the reins to fall to the ground, and stood drinking in her form and reveling in the grace of her movements as she neared. She stopped just in front of him, their bodies almost touching, and eyes locked. His breath quickened as he saw her eyes mirror the passion he felt anytime he was near her.
She laid her palm on his cheek as he leaned into the warmth of her touch. His head spun as her lavender scent overwhelmed him. Her hand slowly moved to the back of his neck and gently pulled him toward her as her other hand caressed his chest. She gave him the gentlest of kisses, then pulled back to look in his eyes. His arms wound around her waist as he pulled her closer. He rejoiced in the feel of every inch of her body pressed against his. His lips met hers, again and again. Her fingers laced through his hair. As the kiss deepened, he savored the taste of her.
He felt he should never need air again as long as he was with her, but his lungs rebelled. They pulled apart, with one last gentle kiss.
Her saucy grin reached her eyes as she said, "Have you had your fill of exercise for one morning, or would you like to join me?"
Trying to suppress a grin, he offered, "A walk, perhaps, or would you like to receive the riding lessons I promised you?"
"I think not today, my love. My mind was turned more toward indoor activities. You are in desperate need of a bath, and I was looking forward to…assisting. I am certain the opportunity of other forms of exercise will soon present itself." The look in her eyes made him gasp.
"I do believe that can be arranged." He said with a rakish smile, moving in for another kiss...
Fitzwilliam Darcy woke up with a start. He blinked a few times to focus his eyes and gain his bearings. There was faint light coming through the window. "Sunrise? Oh, yes…Netherfield," he thought,"Another day of avoiding Caroline Bingley's relentless attentions."
Darcy had been at the new home of his good friend, Charles Bingley, for a fortnight. He was willing to put up with much for Bingley's sake, but this was becoming increasingly difficult. His sister Mrs. Hurst's invariable repetition of their sister Caroline's opinions and Mr. Hurst's seemingly permanent state of inebriation were most annoying to say the least. Combined with Caroline Bingley's mercenary behavior, he was tempted to return to London--without them.
The only person of the group who had any sense was Bingley himself, but Bingley was insisting the entire party attend a local assembly to be held tonight. An evening surrounded by a hundred strangers, including matchmaking mamas and mercenary young ladies was not Darcy's idea of a good evening. It tended more towards torture. Bingley was only aware that Darcy was "uncomfortable with strangers"--he wondered how Bingley would react if he knew the true level of his discomfort.
"Noooo!" he moaned aloud and turned over with every intention of going back to sleep…back into the arms of the woman who had been haunting his dreams since his first night here.
Thinking back to two weeks ago, upon their arrival at Netherfield, he had been stiff from the carriage ride from London and in desperate need of a reprieve from Caroline Bingley's non-stop chattering and obvious but ineffectual attempts at flirtation. After the first few miles, albeit too late, Darcy had second thoughts about having disregarded Bingley's hints to ride alongside, instead of within the carriage! In need of fresh air and exercise to clear his head, he decided on a ride. While he was waiting for a fresh horse to be saddled, the stable boy suggested he ride to Oakham Mount which he promised would provide the best view of the area.
As he approached, a woman was standing at the top. Even now two weeks later he was still not sure whether it had been an illusion. The sunlight gave her an almost-glowing appearance. Her eyes were closed and her face tilted upward, the breeze playing with some chestnut brown curls which had broken free from the confinement of the rest. Her arms were extended a bit from her sides and slightly behind her. He had been expecting her to sprout wings--an angel about to take flight. She was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
He could not help but try to make his way to her. It was as if she were drawing him in with a mystical enchantment. He had some difficulty finding a path to the top and when he reached the spot she had been standing in, his disappointment was great when he found she was gone. He spun around, searching the surrounding landscape with his eyes, but there was no trace of her in any direction.
Darcy had ridden to Oakham Mount at least once a day since, weather permitting, sometimes at the same time he had seen her and at different times of the day as well, but had not encountered her again.
He sighed and decided the stress of the past few weeks followed by that horrid carriage ride must have caused him to imagine this absolute perfection. It was a proven fact that there was not a woman alive who could make Fitzwilliam Darcy, Master of Pemberley, feel the way he had when he saw her. He would have to be satisfied with spending time with her in his dreams instead.
The familiar sounds of his valet making preparations for the day from the dressing room pulled Darcy from his reverie. No matter how he longed for a return to his dreams, he knew he would rise…it was expected of him.
Elizabeth Bennet carefully ascended the stairs to the assembly room, following behind the other ladies of her family.
It had been a hectic day at the Bennet household; a day filled with discussions and arguments over ribbons, lace, dresses, and shoes while six ladies rushed this way and that in preparation for the ball. Mr. Bennet could not manage at all in this atmosphere, and so about halfway through breakfast he left his wife and daughters to themselves for the relative peace of only having to hear their muffled noise through his thick library door--where he would remain until his family returned from the ball.
Upon arrival, Elizabeth noted she would need to find a private place to fix her dress once she made her greetings to her neighbors. Her youngest sister, Lydia, in her excited anticipation of the ball, had fidgeted about in the cramped carriage and had torn Elizabeth's hem loose. It was through experience that the eldest sister of the Bennet family, Jane, had the foresight to include in her reticule a needle and thread enough to make a few minor repairs. Once civilities had been attended to, Elizabeth found the assembly room proprietor's wife, a Mrs. Jones, and Elizabeth was led to a small room where she could make her repairs.
The light, that lies in woman's eyes, has been my heart's undoing.
--Thomas Moore (Irish Poet 1779-1852)
The Netherfield party entered the assembly rooms and everyone…stopped. All sound and all movement ceased and all eyes were turned toward the door.
Darcy managed to hold his blush at bay by raising The Mask, a stone-faced stoic expression under which he usually hid when out in society to keep others away. The Mask, paired with his tall, muscular build, usually worked well enough.
Darcy's expression may have been under good regulation at this time, but his thoughts and emotions were not. "Oh! This is much worse than even I expected! Even Bingley looks uncomfortable. I can never think of what to say to strangers. How many will I insult tonight without meaning to? Why must so many people have to crowd into this small room; how can anyone breathe with such a horde crushing in on him?"
Having so many eyes upon him made his skin crawl and his heart pound. Beating back the anxiety threatening to overwhelm him, Darcy locked The Mask into place, hoping none of these strangers would dare to approach him. His eyes found a clock on the far wall and he concentrated his attention on the second hand to assist in breathing at regular intervals. A clock is such a friendly tool, always predictable and reliable as long as it is kept in good condition.
After what was only a few moments but felt like hours, the crowd began to stir and talk once again. As soon as the attention of the room was no longer solely directed at their party, he could feel his anxiety lessen. He carefully moved his attention from the second hand, and began to take note of his surroundings. Sir William Lucas came forward to greet them and offered to introduce the party to the neighborhood. Darcy, determined not to embarrass his friend, followed behind Bingley, though his sisters and Mr. Hurst did not care to do the same.
Darcy began to relax as Bingley chatted easily with his new neighbors with his usual cheerful manners, and happily diverted attention away from him. He listened to Bingley's conversations, but could not avoid hearing the whispers surrounding them. Darcy recognized the usual gossip of the matchmaking mamas. "Ah, so it is 5,000 for Bingley and 10,000 for me this time, eh? I wonder how they make their estimations."
They neared a petite but very loud woman with graying auburn hair who was soon introduced as Mrs. Bennet. Darcy smiled internally when he recognized the puppyish look Bingley's face took on the moment Bingley spotted the blonde beauty standing next to the matron. It was the same expression that overtook Bingley's countenance whenever he found his most recent object of admiration--and instantly forgot all the other ladies on a seemingly never-ending list of those he had been infatuated with for brief intervals in the past.
Bingley's open manners and amiability usually endeared him to the loveliest lady at any gathering…and to all the other ladies as well. Bingley's good temper never allowed him to notice that these ladies battled for his attention, in competition that was especially ruthless up until he made his preference known. Darcy sighed in relief at Bingley making his preference known much sooner than usual this time. He despised witnessing the incivility ladies displayed toward each other when they were vying for an eligible gentleman's attentions. Curiously, Darcy had noted that the more amiable or rich the gentleman they were competing over, the more callous the ladies became…and even more curious was that Bingley noticed none of it--ever. It was as if it were almost impossible for Bingley to think badly of ladies, though he seemed capable enough to recognizing abhorrent qualities among men.
Noting the time on the clock on the far side of the assembly hall, Darcy wondered how long it would be before he heard Bingley exclaiming that the blonde beauty was "the most beautiful creature ever beheld!" as he had with countless other ladies to date.
Mrs. Bennet went on to introduce her daughters to the gentlemen. Bingley's newest obsession was the eldest, Miss Jane Bennet. Miss Mary, the third-born, was sitting nearby reading a book of which Darcy was too far away to see the title. It was a very strange occupation for an assembly room but one Darcy would rather be engaged in as well. The two youngest, Miss Catherine and Miss Lydia, were dancing with great…enthusiasm and attracting quite a bit of attention.
Darcy wondered at the matron's decision to allow these two out in society so young since they apparently did not know how to behave. Perhaps their antics were acceptable for children playing in a field, but, even in the country, at public affairs ladies were expected to behave as ladies and should not be giggling loudly and running about.
Mrs. Bennet mentioned her second eldest, Elizabeth, but she could not locate her daughter among the crowd. "Where is she? Oh, that impertinent, headstrong girl! Well, it matters not; you will see Lizzy at some other time I suppose! It is of no import when my Jane is before you!" She was smiling at Bingley as if these statements were the most natural thing to say in polite society, shocking Darcy with her coarse manners. At least Miss Bennet had the decency to blush. Of one thing he was certain: Miss Elizabeth was not her mother's favorite daughter.
As Bingley applied for her hand for the next dance, followed immediately by Miss Bennet's acceptance, the matron turned to Darcy to ask if he enjoyed dancing as well. Darcy was too involved with his fear of having to stand with a blatantly crass mama who had five unmarried daughters while Bingley danced to even notice she had spoken. He bowed to Mrs. Bennet and turned to join Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst. "Better the devil you know than the devil you do not" Darcy thought to himself.
Unfortunately, where he had retreated to was not far enough to avoid hearing Mrs. Bennet tell anyone in the room who would listen about his rudeness in walking away without answering her question. "I did not hear her ask me a question! Blast! I have managed to insult someone already. If I attempt to apologize it would bring attention to the fact that I can hear her from such a distance, which might insult her further. I had best do nothing at this time."
Upon joining the ladies from his own party, Darcy became the object to which Caroline Bingley addressed her opinions of her new neighbors. As was usual, Mrs. Hurst readily agreed to every word her younger sister uttered, and Darcy briefly pondered how it could have come about that the younger sister dominated the elder. Caroline was of such a forceful nature that anybody who was not as strong-willed as she was could be intimidated. He speculated that Mrs. Hurst did seem as unsure of herself as this implied. In all of their acquaintance he did not remember ever hearing her voice an opinion which was not her sister's, or if Caroline was not in the room, her husband's.
Caroline Bingley's complaints about boorish country manners were incessant: the inferiority of society in Hertfordshire compared to Town, that the highest ranking person in the neighborhood was only a newly knighted and whose conversation consisted mostly of mentioning St. James and saying everything was "capital". Her continued comments upon on the decided lack of fashion, the failure in the attempt to be fashionable, the low quality of the musicians, the lack of excellence of the refreshments, the insufficient size of the rooms, the shabbiness of the furniture, and other incessant grievances were grating on him. He wondered if Caroline Bingley had anything favorable to say about, or a kind word to say to, anyone whom she thought "below" herself. He could not recall one occasion when she had.
She continued to prattle on even though Darcy did not give any indication of listening. When she began to deprecate the quality of wax used for the candles, for they did not burn evenly enough for her taste, he ground his teeth to keep himself from speaking until she finally paused to take a breath. The moment she did, he immediately excused himself.
Darcy began to wander around the outskirts of the dance, looking intently at Bingley's neighbors. "NOT with the hope of seeing her, of course, only out of curiosity. She is not here. She exists only in my imagination. No woman as perfect as I remember her being could truly exist!" he chanted to himself. Yet, still, his eyes searched the crowd.
Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?
--Christopher Marlowe (English poet 564–1593)
The damage to her dress was greater than Elizabeth realized, and it took longer than she expected, even with Mrs. Jones' assistance, to repair it well enough for her to avoid falling before the whole of the neighborhood as she danced. She took one last look in the mirror before joining the assembly. Her curls never seemed to behave the way she wished them to, and she tried to rearrange the ones that had been left loose around her face but with no success. Her white muslin ball gown was well worn and Elizabeth did not think it would survive another washing. For this evening's ball it had been refreshed with deep green ribbons around the hem, sleeves and neckline and was passable. She looked well enough, she supposed.
Judging from the bits of conversation that she overheard as she entered the assembly room, she realized that she had missed the much anticipated arrival of the Netherfield party. Elizabeth had her own reasons for looking forward to their joining the neighborhood. Since she and her father enjoyed character study as a hobby, new arrivals to such a small village as Meryton would no doubt offer hours of diversion for both of them.
Elizabeth had been out of the room for part of the first set, and had to sit out the second dance. She spent the time studying the faces in the crowd looking for anyone unfamiliar.
She smiled to herself when she spotted two ladies wearing very elegant dresses along with very sour expressions. "They obviously think themselves far above the company of us backward country folk and are not afraid of showing it!"
One was very tall with dark eyes and copper hair piled upon her head under a turban with long feathers protruding from the top, which seemed to increase her height considerably and make her appear taller than most of the men in the room. Though she had an air of fashionable beauty when one first looked upon her, with closer examination she had a pointy nose, chin, and jaw line. Even her cheekbones seemed to have sharp edges, making her look quite shrewish. The expertly fashioned orange silk dress that she wore was not complimentary to her hair or skin color at all, and Elizabeth was surprised that a lady so obviously interested in the latest fashions would put so little thought into color. Whether or not orange was the color this season should not matter if, when worn, it causes one to look as if her person clashed with her clothing.
The lady next to her was quite a bit shorter and had beautifully arranged hair the color of buttered toast. Elizabeth had to stifle a laugh when she noticed the feathers that were interlaced into the arrangement of her hair, as they reminded Elizabeth more of a peacock than a woman. Her green eyes were looking quite critically over the crowd in the assembly hall, especially the ladies. It seemed that she was examining the fashions of the local populace and was not at all happy with what she found. Her very expensive-looking green silk gown was much more suited to this lady's complexion than orange was to the other. They did not, however, look well when standing together. Elizabeth laughed as she thought that they should have chosen their attire to coordinate if they intended to do nothing but stand by one another and stare.
Jane was dancing with a pleasant looking, tallish, golden-blonde haired gentleman. His light blue eyes shone with admiration. "Ah, another man madly 'in love at first sight' with my Jane! If he will be paying his attentions to her, I certainly hope he is more intelligent than Mr. Smythe was!" He had a smile which seemed genuine and it made his countenance handsome. Even from this distance, Elizabeth could see by the way Jane was smiling and not taking her eyes off him that she was taken with him as well.
And there, sitting quite close to the refreshment table, was a dark haired, red-faced, heavyset man, fashionably dressed, who seemed to be taking more pleasure indulging in the available food and drink than in the other entertainments of the evening.
There was also an unfamiliar man facing away from her, standing near where she sat. Judging from what she could see of him from this angle, Elizabeth was quite interested in seeing him from other aspects. He was very tall and attractively built, extremely well dressed with unruly looking curls in his chocolate brown hair. She kept her eyes upon him, hoping he would turn so she could see his face.
When he did turn to look about, she was not disappointed, her breath catching in her chest. Elizabeth was taken back by how strikingly handsome he was, even though he seemed to be struggling to keep emotion hidden from his features. She speculated on how his countenance would improve when graced with a smile and was interested in seeing it happen. She felt oddly drawn to him in a way she never experienced before--it was an urgent, almost physical need, to be near him. Elizabeth felt she would have to guard her actions carefully or she would find herself drifting closer to him to satisfy this impulse.
Elizabeth watched as the man closed his eyes for a moment as if painfully sad. It shocked her because briefly, she felt the strong emotions that flitted across his face. Quickly, his expression darkened and as he opened his eyes, Elizabeth wondered what thoughts could be causing such a scowl.
Being extremely shy and in a foul mood, especially now that she did not magically appear before him (NOT that he was expecting her to of course) Darcy only wanted to melt away into the background. Tuning out his surroundings, he became lost in his own thoughts. This turned out to be a colossal error.
Darcy began to contemplate his sister's state of mind as a result of the events at Ramsgate, which had transpired several weeks prior. The guilt over his failure to protect his sister was intense. What Georgiana's companion, Mrs. Annesley, had said about the effects of his more recent actions on his sister was also deeply concerning. Darcy had not realized that his almost constant attentions to his sister ("hovering," as Mrs. Annesley had termed it) was making Georgiana feel even more upset about what had happened. The main reason behind his acceptance of Bingley's invitation to Hertfordshire was Mrs. Annesley's recommendation that a separation would do them both good.
Before this discussion with Mrs. Annesley, Darcy had been torn between the need to be of assistance to his sister during her difficult recovery and being able to help one of his best friends while he learned how to manage an estate. After Mrs. Annesley voiced her concerns, his choice was clear and he chose to attend Bingley in his new enterprise.
The overwhelming feeling that he had abandoned Georgiana, no matter what Mrs. Annesley had said, weighed on him heavily. As this feeling enveloped him, Darcy closed his eyes. So absorbed was he in his pain that he forgot where he was, and The Mask fell away, with his expression ending as a scowl as he contemplated his failure to be of help to his sister.
Just then, Bingley walked over to him. From experience, he knew what was coming next and Darcy sighed. Just being in these surroundings was enough to make him irritable, but then thinking on these subjects had made Darcy considerably cross, and he would have said anything to have Bingley leave him alone to wallow in his own guilt at that moment. Later, when he had time to reflect on the evening, he realized that none of this excused what happened next.
"Come, Darcy," said Bingley, "I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance."
"Oh please, Bingley, LEAVE ME ALONE!" he thought, and then said aloud, "I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this, it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with."
After Bingley's assertion that there were plenty of pleasant and uncommonly pretty girls in the room, Darcy tried to distract him by commenting that Bingley's partner was the only handsome girl present.
"Oh! She is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld!" Darcy discretely glanced at the clock, noting it took a little more than twenty minutes to make the declaration this time, beating all previous records. Bingley continued, "But there is one of her sisters, Miss Elizabeth, sitting down just behind you. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you."
Darcy played his part and made a show of looking around him, but was not interested and so did not look at anyone in particular. Then he coldly said, "She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humor at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me."
Bingley followed his advice and returned to the dance.
Soon after this exchange, a woman came from behind and passed close in front of him. It was HER! The Angel of Oakham Mount! Her hair was more elaborately arranged and she was much more formally attired than she had been before, but he had dreamt of her every night and had seen her face in his mind any time he closed his eyes for a fortnight--there was no doubt that this was the same woman. It seemed impossible to him, but she was even more beautiful in person than in his memory.
As she passed, their eyes met for the briefest of moments, his breath caught in his chest and he would swear his heart stopped beating. Those eyes! He had never seen that shade of green before--they were absolutely exquisite! How could any earthbound creature not want, not need, to get lost forever in those eyes? He knew it was fortunate he had not seen her eyes on Oakham Mount or he would have stopped at absolutely nothing to find her sooner.
Her eyes were also extremely expressive. From them he learned that Bingley had been speaking of her, and that she had heard what had been said, especially Darcy's insulting phrases. Those eyes were sparkling with intelligence and wit, but they were also laughing…at him.
Miss Elizabeth, Bingley had said…Miss Bennet's sister. Elizabeth. Even her name had a sensuous, celestial quality about it! Elizabeth! How magnificent she was! No, he would never think upon her as Miss Bennet or even Miss Elizabeth. After the way she had made him feel in the two brief moments he had seen her thus far, it was simply impossible to think of her as anything but Elizabeth from that moment on.
When she turned her eyes away and crossed the ballroom, a part of his own heart was torn away and went with her, to be hers forever. He could not move his eyes away from her as she stopped by another young lady and seem to whisper near her ear. The two of them looked to him and laughed--and he felt he had to look away.
Ridicule was the very last thing Darcy wanted to attract from anyone, but to be ridiculed by her as a result of the most deceitful comment that had ever passed his lips was insupportable, though rightly deserved.
"OH! What an utter fool I have been! She is the most splendid creature ever to walk the earth! How could I have voiced those words? What blasphemy! How can I ever absolve myself of this crime? There is only one thing to do. I must seek her out to apologize immediately!" Remembering the earlier incident with Mrs. Bennet, he thought, "Oh, yes, good going, Darcy! Not only have I insulted her, I have also insulted her mother!"
The situation caused a rare and long buried side of his personality to come to the surface, the dreaded "Darcy Impulsiveness", which, after a most embarrassing incident as a young man, had been under strict regulation for so many years that even Bingley had not ever witnessed this behavior. Before he knew what he was about, he had crossed the room and stood before her.
It was then, albeit too late, that he discerned he had never been introduced to her. Talking to her would be a major breach of propriety and would only make the situation worse than it already was. Nor had he any idea of what to say! He became filled with anxiety and blushed profusely. At a word from her friend, she turned toward him.
To say Elizabeth's disappointment was great upon hearing that this extremely attractive man she had been admiring for the past minutes had thought her "not handsome enough to tempt him" would be an understatement. She tried to push this thought aside by jesting about it to Charlotte. As she did this, Elizabeth looked across the dance toward him. The pain she had seen earlier on his countenance seemed mild compared to what she saw there now. Though she remained deeply wounded by his statement, she could not help but feel guilt for ridiculing him.
The man looked up and Elizabeth quickly looked away as she said "Charlotte, I should not have done that! I know it was wrong of him to speak so, but I saw how he looked earlier. It was if something terrible was troubling him. I have now succeeded in making the evening worse for him." Then she thought to herself, "What must he think of me?"
Charlotte looked up and saw that Mr. Darcy, who she had been introduced to earlier by her father, had crossed the room and was standing close by staring at Elizabeth, and displaying the brightest blush Charlotte had ever seen. She motioned toward Mr. Darcy while saying "Lizzy?" Confused, Elizabeth turned to face him and became completely mesmerized by the sight of him standing before her. She felt that as long as he held her gaze, she could never look away.
Darcy's air was one of silent apprehension as he stood before her. When Elizabeth turned and met his eyes, a wave of tranquility washed over him and his color began to return to normal. That he was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement, for he had expected to feel even more nervous in her presence, but being near her calmed him instead. When she looked in his eyes he felt as if he were…home. There was no need to summon The Mask at all. He filled his lungs with her scent. "She is already the most fascinating person I have ever met and I have yet to hear her speak!"
As the two continued staring at each other in silence, Charlotte decided to take pity on them and introduce the two. "Mr. Darcy, may I introduce my good friend, Miss Elizabeth Bennet? Lizzy, please meet Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley, Derbyshire."
Darcy started when Charlotte began to speak. Obviously Darcy had been so focused on Elizabeth that he had not even noticed she was there! Charlotte had to hide her laughter behind a cough.
Darcy bowed "Thank you Miss Lucas. Miss Bennet, it is a pleasure to meet you."
"I am pleased to meet you as well, Mr. Darcy" Elizabeth dropped a curtsy. "So this is Fitzwilliam Darcy who I have heard so much about?"
"Miss Bennet, may I be permitted to apologize for what you may have overheard a few minutes ago? I have to admit I am not in the best of spirits tonight, especially so when my friend was just urging me to dance. I would have said almost anything at that moment to have him leave me. I must admit I did not see you before answering him. If I had, I surely would have chosen a different subject to deter his efforts for I would not have been able to utter words which are so far from being true." He shifted from foot to foot while thinking, "Incredible! How did I manage to say all that to her? I have not said that much to a woman in a ballroom in my entire life! I complimented her, as well, did I not? Good job, Darcy! Or did I say too much?"
"Yes, I did hear your conversation, sir, though not intentionally. Your apology is accepted, Mr. Darcy." Elizabeth's face lit up with a brilliant smile.
Darcy's eyes opened wider. "Good G-d! How does she manage to become more beautiful every moment I look upon her?" Just then, he noticed the music for the next dance beginning and before he knew what he was about he had said, "Will you dance the next with me, Miss Bennet?"
Her smile widened, "Yes, I would be happy to, Mr. Darcy. Excuse us, Charlotte." and he took her hand to lead her to the dance. When their hands met, they both stopped as if stunned for a moment and looked into each other's eyes before Charlotte cleared her throat and brought them back to reality.
As he took her hand, Elizabeth felt very strange…but pleasantly so. There was a sort of tingling warmth beginning where he touched her and it slowly spread throughout her body. She wondered if everyone in Meryton could hear her heart beating.
As they walked away, Charlotte found herself hiding her smile as she thought, "Ah, Lizzy, he is already in love with you! Well done!"
The set that they danced had been extraordinary. At first, Elizabeth was lost in Darcy's eyes and the warmth that overtook her body and soul every time they touched was the only thing that occupied her mind. All other people in the room were forgotten; it was as if the two of them were in the assembly hall dancing alone.
Unbeknownst to Elizabeth, Jane was partnered with one of the Lucas boys and the movement of the dance was bringing Jane in her direction. As she came close enough to speak, Jane's voice startled Elizabeth out of her enchantment as she whispered, "Lizzy, I advise you and Mr. Darcy to speak while you go through the dance. It is being talked of…" she hesitated as the dance took her away from Elizabeth for a moment, then back again, "Your being so silent is being talked of, Lizzy. It is so unlike you, and is attracting attention." Jane smiled a knowing smile and then whispered even lower on her next pass, "Mr. Darcy is very handsome!" Elizabeth blushed…but understood the implications of what her beloved sister had said.
Elizabeth returned her attention to Darcy, with a teasing sparkle in her eye. "Mr. Darcy, I am told we must have some conversation during the dance. It seems the neighborhood feels it is quite odd for us to be entirely silent for half an hour together."
As a result of the light in her eyes while she spoke to him, it took a several moments for Darcy to recover enough to be able to speak. He was happy for the opportunity to bring up a certain topic. "When the weather allows, I ride every morning. Since my arrival, I have been exploring the lovely countryside surrounding Netherfield. I have often visited Oakham Mount at the recommendation of a local boy. Can you suggest other locations I should not miss while in the area, Miss Bennet?"
"I am a great walker and am fond of nature, Mr. Darcy. I have found many places worthy of notice, Oakham Mount being one of them. But it would be difficult to describe how to get to them, especially to someone who is unfamiliar with the area. For instance, if I told you to take the path by Johnson's cedar northward and continue on to Conroy's path at the split beech, you probably could not make any sense of it!" Elizabeth's amused look turned to one of bafflement as she tried to think of a way to give him directions to some of her favorite places to walk.
"I, too, am fond of nature. Perhaps we can arrange for a riding party and you could show us the finer points in the area?" Darcy suggested.
"Oh--I am sorry, sir, I do not ride." Elizabeth blushed. She could not ride sidesaddle and she had heard enough about how improper it is for a lady to "ride like a man" from her mother that she never wished to expose herself to such censure again!
Darcy remembered how much time he had spent with Georgiana teaching her how to ride and before he knew what he was saying, Darcy had blurted out, "I can teach you." His color rose when he realized how improper the offer had been. "I was only thinking…I had taught my sister…" he stuttered.
Elizabeth had no trace of reproach in her countenance, putting him at ease. "I thank you sir, but I must decline. Though a walking party might be arranged, I doubt there are many who would enjoy walking out over the distances required for the party to see most of the places I have in mind. There are a few closer to Netherfield that I could lead the way to…if we could find a few who are interested in what most would consider a long walk. Charlotte perhaps, and my sister Jane might be willing, but I doubt any of my other sisters would enjoy it. Would a long walk be appealing to any of your party?"
"I do believe Bingley would agree to go, though I do not think Mr. Hurst would enjoy a walk if it does not involve hunting. I am not sure about Bingley's sisters." Darcy was ecstatic that she had not taken offense to his slip born of his impulsive eagerness to spend time with her and had suggested an alternative instead.
The music ended and the dancers all bowed and curtsied to their partners. Darcy took Elizabeth's hand and escorted her off the floor to where Miss Lucas was still standing. "Perhaps this evening we can arrange the outing for a day in the near future." Elizabeth smiled brightly at Darcy, and then turned to Charlotte. "Would you be interested in showing some of my favorite walks around Netherfield to Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley, Charlotte?"
"Yes, that sounds delightful! You will be kind to those of us who are not accustomed to the extended marches you enjoy, though, will you not, Lizzy? I believe I have not yet fully recovered from the one I accompanied you on last spring." Charlotte laughed.
John Lucas, two years younger than Elizabeth, escorted Jane from the dance and they joined the group. Both were introduced to Darcy.
After being introduced to Miss Bennet, Darcy was secretly relieved at no longer having to remember to say "Miss Bennet" when referring to Elizabeth, though he would much prefer having the right to call her "Elizabeth" instead of the socially correct "Miss Elizabeth" for a younger daughter.
Bingley seemed to appear from nowhere, his eyes not leaving Jane's blushing countenance except when he was introduced to those yet unknown to him. The subject of the walking party was again brought up and all agreed to attend except John Lucas, who was returning to school in a day or two. Upon Bingley's suggestion, since the weather had been unusually warm for this time of year, the plan was changed to include a stop along the way for a picnic.
Jane said, "It is very kind of you to introduce the Bingleys and Mr. Darcy to the hidden beauties of the grounds of Netherfield that only you would know about, Lizzy. I would be delighted to be included. Will you take us to see the grove that Mr. Smythe planted two years past? It would be interesting to see how it has progressed."
"Mr. Smythe? Is he a neighbor to whom we have not yet been introduced?" Bingley inquired.
Charlotte replied, "Mr. Smythe was the former tenant at Netherfield, Mr. Bingley. He moved on not two years past." Charlotte's eyes darted to Jane causing her to blush deeply, revealing to Darcy that there was some history of a personal nature between Miss Bennet and Mr. Smythe.
Just then, Caroline Bingley and Mrs. Hurst happened to be passing by the group. "Ah, Mr. Darcy, there you are! Have you been kept here all this time?" said Caroline, carefully examining the ladies surrounding Mr. Darcy for potential rivals. "Louisa and I had given up on your returning to our party and have come in search of you." She latched onto to Mr. Darcy's arm, quite obviously claiming her "property". Elizabeth did not miss the look of disgust which crossed his features for an instant before he regained control. She had a combination of amusement and teasing in her eyes as Darcy's gaze once again met hers. "How does she do that to my heart with only a look?"
Caroline continued, "Charles, did I hear you invite guests to a picnic at Netherfield without apprising me first? A picnic in October?" Caroline almost whined.
Bingley had only just torn his gaze away from Jane at his sister's direct address of him. "Caroline! Louisa! I am happy you have joined us. May I introduce you to our new neighbors?" He then performed the necessary introductions. "We are to have a walking party to explore the area surrounding Netherfield. I had just expanded the plan to include a picnic due to the warm weather of late. If the weather is too cool, we could have the meal at Netherfield. I do think the whole outing a splendid idea!"
"How on earth did such a plan come into being?" Caroline said to Mr. Darcy.
Mr. Darcy replied, "During our dance, Miss Elizabeth had told me of the beauties in the area surrounding Netherfield and graciously offered to lead a walking party to introduce us to them."
"Miss Eliza!" Caroline noticed Elizabeth flinch a little. "How…interesting for you to make such an offer." Caroline's tone insinuated that Elizabeth had improper motives. In the same moment, Caroline tightened her grip on Mr. Darcy's arm, pulling herself closer so that she was brushing up against him. Mr. Darcy's eyes widened momentarily and he stepped away from her slightly, extending his arm further away from his body so she was not as close.
One of Elizabeth's eyebrows rose as her back straightened and her chin jutted out just a bit--it was all so subtle, but Darcy got the impression that she was instinctively readying herself for a battle in response to Caroline's implied accusation. In the next moment Darcy was relieved when he noticed there was amusement in her eyes. "How intriguing! Studying Elizabeth's elusive responses could become a captivating occupation."
Caroline continued, addressing her brother but directing her gaze at Elizabeth, "Charles, it is very generous of you to indulge Miss Eliza in her plans, but I am not fond of long walks."
A light danced in Elizabeth's eyes as she responded, "I have been thinking about where to take you all and I would limit the walk to showing the party the informal trail that I have walked many times near Netherfield, Miss Bingley. There are many beautiful, yet mostly undiscovered, places near there and I do think anyone would enjoy seeing them. Perhaps afterwards we could all take a carriage ride to Oakham Mount and have the picnic there? That view is the best of the area, as Mr. Darcy can no doubt attest to." She looked to Mr. Bingley for approval of the plan, being careful not to look at Mr. Darcy while Caroline Bingley was scrutinizing her every move.
Always thinking like an estate owner, Mr. Darcy added, "It would be an improvement to the grounds, Bingley, to have a more permanent path through a series of interesting locales."
Mr. Bingley replied, "Yes, I think it a very agreeable plan, Miss Elizabeth! I do hope you all will be able to attend. We will send a note around to Longbourn and Lucas Lodge to set the date, will we not Caroline?"
Caroline raised her chin a bit higher and then moved her head in a noncommittal way which could have been taken any way that the others chose.
When the music began again, John Lucas claimed a dance with Elizabeth. She was more than happy to leave Miss Bingley's presence. She also could not refuse the request without excluding herself from dancing for the remainder of the evening…and though she knew it was not probable, she could not help but hope that Mr. Darcy would ask her to dance once more before the music ended tonight.
A few minutes after Elizabeth had been led to the floor, Caroline asked Darcy to get her some punch to distract him from silently watching Elizabeth, and ignoring herself, as he had been since she left the group. Darcy gladly took the opportunity to remove his arm from her tight, almost painful, grip.
Caroline and Louisa were left standing alone. Having little to do but agree with Caroline while she rambled on this evening, Louisa had been observing her siblings' new neighbors. That Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth were different from their usual company was obvious, but in a way that made Louisa look forward to getting to know them better. It would be a refreshing change to have acquaintances that were well mannered but not artificial and stiff as most of their acquaintances were…the acquaintances and associations that Caroline chose for them. Louisa felt that with these ladies, she would not always have to fear duplicity in their motives and they could actually become friends. Louisa had noticed Miss Elizabeth's reaction to Caroline calling her "Eliza" and did not wish her sister to insult her by calling Miss Elizabeth something she did not like.
Louisa said, "Caroline, I think you should be told…judging by her reaction, I do not think Miss Elizabeth likes being called 'Eliza'."
"Yes, dear sister, I did notice…thank you." Caroline smiled, but Louisa recognized the look in her eyes and was genuinely disappointed. Knowing Caroline as she did, she should have known that Mr. Darcy's request to dance with Miss Elizabeth would have had such a result. Caroline had just "declared war" on Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
Whenever Elizabeth was dancing, she could feel Mr. Darcy's eyes upon her--she would glance in his direction occasionally to confirm it. She had to limit herself from looking at him, for she lost all concentration in what her partner was saying when her eyes connected with his. Her heart was beating faster than usual all evening and it was not always from the exertion of the dance. She could not seem to clear her mind of how it felt to touch Mr. Darcy's hand during the set that she had danced with him.
Whenever Elizabeth was not dancing, Darcy appeared beside her and one of them would start a conversation. They found they had many of the same interests, but not always the same opinions on them, which made for some very interesting discussions.
They discussed subjects such as literature and plays that they had read or seen performed. Amazing himself, Darcy was feeling pleasantly comfortable with Elizabeth--even more comfortable than he did with Bingley, more like the easy way he could speak with his cousin Richard. He decided that it was time to broach a much different topic. "I do not know if you have knowledge of it, but it has come to my attention that earlier this evening I had unintentionally insulted your mother, Miss Elizabeth. I should like to apologize to her."
Elizabeth blushed prettily and smiled. "There was no way I could avoid hearing of it, sir." She was thoughtful for a moment before continuing, tilting her head a little to the side, "Mr. Darcy, I am not certain how to say this tactfully, so I choose to speak honestly instead. My mother is often…distracted by the fact that our estate is entailed away from the female line and she has only five daughters. She is convinced that when my father passes on, she--and her daughters, of course--will be turned out of Longbourn to 'starve in the hedgerows'. Therefore, since the day Jane reached a marriageable age, my mother's main aim in life has been for at least one of her daughters to marry a gentleman who is well-off financially." Elizabeth hesitated, once again attempting to form her thoughts into more civil words. "She is not truly mercenary in every sense of the word, sir; I do not believe she would wish her daughters to be unhappily married to a man that she does not think…pleasant enough." Her eyebrow arched before saying, "Your unintentional insult may have provided protection for you against any designs that were forming in her mind."
Darcy was surprised, exhilarated, and amused by her honesty. A teasing look shone from his eyes. "Miss Bennet, are you suggesting I should not apologize to your mother?"
Elizabeth's brilliant smile left Darcy momentarily dazed. "Mr. Darcy, allow me to convey my point in another way. If I were a gentleman in a similar situation and understood the nuances of society specific to this part of Hertfordshire, then I would wish to allow the situation to remain unchanged for the time being and apologize at a later date. The reason being: my mother is one of Meryton's leading ladies, as well as one of Hertfordshire's leading gossips, and by doing this I would find myself well protected from all the marriage-minded-mamas in the area as they do not wish to be…" she struggled once more to find the right word, "to be the next subject of the local gossip by aligning themselves with a gentleman of whom my mother has a less than favorable opinion. I would think my stay in Hertfordshire would be a great deal more pleasant if I were not being chased all over the countryside by young ladies of marriageable age…and I could be almost entirely assured that all this would most likely come about by simply delaying my apology." At the end of her speech, her eyebrows rose up high, an enchantingly impish grin was displayed across her lips, and the light in her eyes was dancing with such alluring mischievousness--Darcy almost kissed her.
After taking a moment to gain control over this impulse, Darcy was struck with such an overwhelming sense of mirth that he could not hold back his laughter.
Not being able to stop herself, she joined in. Elizabeth was more than relieved that she had not insulted Darcy with her impertinence. Her heart skipped a few beats upon hearing his rich laughter and seeing his handsome face graced with such a smile as this! She had never been so affected by any other man and felt herself in great danger of falling in love with him. She knew it to be an impossible situation, and yet she could not help herself.
Darcy was thinking similar thoughts, though he was certain he was already in love with Elizabeth. He did not wish to leave her side, but realizing that the end of the evening was drawing near and he had not yet danced with his hostess, Caroline Bingley. He must do so…it was expected of him.
~Longbourn Estate, Hertfordshire
That night Elizabeth and Jane talked of the gentlemen who had caught their interest.
"I was pleased to meet your Mr. Darcy, Lizzy. He does seem shy, as we had heard of him, but when he was conversing with you alone I noticed that he was more animated."
"Jane, he is not my Mr. Darcy! He is just a kind gentleman and that is all."
"Well, Charlotte seems to think he is your Mr. Darcy, and so do I. How could he not fall instantly in love with you, Lizzy?"
"Charlotte has an excellent imagination sometimes, Jane. But I did detect a very marked partiality in your Mr. Bingley tonight," Elizabeth laughed.
Jane laughed and blushed. "Lizzy! He is not my Mr. Bingley, though I did enjoy his company greatly. He is just what a young man ought to be," said she, "sensible, good humored, lively; and I never saw such happy manners! So much ease, with such perfect good breeding!''
"He is also handsome," replied Elizabeth, "which a young man ought likewise to be, if he possibly can. His character is thereby complete."
"I was very much flattered by his asking me to dance a second time. I did not expect such a compliment."
"Did not you? I did for you. What could be more natural than his asking you again? He could not help seeing that you were about five times as pretty as every other woman in the room. No thanks to his gallantry for that. Well, he certainly is very agreeable, and I give you leave to like him. You have liked many a stupider person."
"Oh! You are a great deal too apt, you know, to like people in general. You never see a fault in anybody; the entire world is good and agreeable in your eyes. I have never heard you speak ill of a human being in my life."
"I would wish not to be hasty in censuring any one; but I always speak what I think."
Elizabeth smiled at Jane and thought, "Yes, I know you do, dear Jane. You are so sweet and good you think all others are like you. I do hope you do not get hurt one day as a result of being so naive!"
"There is something we need to speak of, Jane. Neither of us wishes to advertise to the world just who all our friends are in town, and Father agrees. But, do you think it is necessary to tell our new friends…Mr. Darcy especially?"
"Lizzy, I had thought about this subject briefly several times tonight since we had the pleasure of meeting him. I do not know what to do."
"Oh, you did think of something other than Mr. Bingley's smiles this evening?" Elizabeth teased.
"Lizzy! Do be serious!"
"Yes, I do need to be serious just now. I am quite confused about what to do, as well! I feel almost guilty keeping this information from Mr. Darcy. Then again, I am uncomfortable to think that telling him would more than likely look as though we are using our friendships with others to gain an advantage of some kind! And, we both know that one of our friends in particular has been attempting to introduce us for years with certain…hopeful expectations as to the outcome of that introduction. No matter how many times I have told them I would not wish what happened to Mr. Hainsworth after his attentions to me to happen again to any gentleman on my account, they seem persistent on this point. If I admit to Mr. Darcy that I know them, I would need to write about meeting him to our friend, and I am certain she would write back immediately with many questions that I am not prepared to answer…or at least not to her satisfaction. I am almost resolved not to speak of any of it to anyone at this time, but I would like your opinion, Jane."
"Lizzy! I do think you take too much upon yourself when it comes to what happened to Mr. Hainsworth! I have told you before that I believe the gossips would not have been severe upon him if they had known you were the lady he had such a marked interest in. But I believe you make valid points for not mentioning any of it to all the parties involved at this time. There is no sense in disappointing the hopes of our friends when we do not know what the outcome will be, and we have discussed many times our reasons for not wanting the neighborhood to know of our friendships with certain members of London society. Besides, I know that Father would not like it. I think you are being sensible, Lizzy." Jane stifled a yawn after her speech.
"Thank you, Jane. I am glad we spoke of this before bed for it would have weighed heavily on my mind and prevented me from sleeping if we had not. But now I think we must go to sleep since Mother will be very angry with me if I do not let you get your beauty rest in case Mr. Bingley calls tomorrow!"
Jane blushed, but smiled as she said, "Lizzy!"
After Jane fell asleep, Elizabeth could not quiet her mind from thinking of Darcy. He was just the sort of man she could fall in love with. Her heart swelled thinking of the attentions he paid to her tonight! He was intelligent, caring, attentive, and able to speak on a variety of subjects. He even had a sense of humor similar to hers though it seemed he displayed it only when they were speaking alone but was much quieter when others joined them due to his being so shy.
"No! I will not allow that kind of thinking! His attentions tonight did not mean anything! He was just feeling sorry for insulting me, and bored with the company of Mr. Bingley's sisters. That is all! Do not have any expectations, silly Lizzy; he is too highly placed in society to be interested in me. I, of all people, know what trouble that would cause for him and for Miss Darcy, and he is too sensible a man to even entertain the idea. He could never marry me. I must limit myself to enjoying the time I have with such a superior man--and that is all!"
Caroline Bingley was vexed. This was not supposed to happen! She had watched Mr. Darcy pay his attentions to Miss Eliza Bennet all evening and did not like it in the slightest. At all previous balls Mr. Darcy always danced with Caroline and Louisa, sometimes another friend's sister, perhaps a relative--but never anybody else.
She knew her dance with him was an obligatory dance in compliment to her brother, but someday that would change--she only needed time. Even this was satisfying for Mr. Darcy would always discharge his duties at the beginning of the evening and the other ladies in attendance, usually of higher rank than she, eventually would come to realize that they would not be honored with the opportunity to partner the most handsome eligible bachelor of all, while she had. It was an enjoyable pastime to witness their jealousy build over the course of the evening!
Tonight, she could not have the same degree of gratification since there were no high ranking ladies in attendance, but she had anticipated satisfaction to a lesser extent when she would gain the envy of these country bumpkins by the sophisticated style and grace displayed when Mr. Darcy danced with a truly worthy partner of the ton--her.
But Mr. Darcy had been busy watching, speaking to, and dancing with Eliza Bennet and had made no effort to hide that he was reluctant to leave her side, even if his expression was obvious only to those who knew him well. He had the audacity to ask Caroline to dance at the end of the evening, almost as if it were an afterthought, ruining any chance of the pleasure she could have taken from watching the disappointed hopes of all the country misses who should have been drooling over the prospect of his asking them.
What strange creatures some of these unmarried ladies were here in the country! She saw some of them with genuine smiles on their faces while watching Mr. Darcy and Eliza Bennet and her brother and Jane Bennet dance!
Caroline spoke with Louisa before leaving the assembly. Both had noticed that their brother was interested in the eldest Bennet daughter, and Caroline felt this was a distressing prospect based on what they had found out this evening. In the past, Charles had a series of harmless flirtations, most with ladies of whom she had approved, but she wished to make certain this one remained harmless. Neither had remembered ever before seeing Mr. Darcy act in the manner he did tonight, and so his behavior was even more alarming than their brother's.
Caroline devised a plan of action and Louisa agreed to it. They would repeat all they had heard about all the families they had met that night, with particular attention paid to detailing the drawbacks of being connected to the Bennet family.
As the Netherfield party returned home and retired to the drawing room, Mr. Hurst quickly drank a full glass of brandy and then immediately fell asleep on one of the sofas. Once the remainder of the party seated themselves comfortably, Caroline led the attack.
Caroline began with similar critique of the general population as she had at the ball. Darcy crossed the room to the brandy decanter and sighed as he poured himself a glass--civility required he stay in the drawing room for a little while, but he did not think he could listen to these odious remarks once again without a little something to brace himself for it.
When the ladies' observations became limited to the Bennet family, both Bingley and Darcy paid closer attention. Longbourn estate garnered an annual income of two thousand a year. The daughters had a dowry of only one thousand each! What they could discover about their connections was limited: Mrs. Bennet's father had been a tradesman, her sister was married to a Meryton attorney, and her brother was a tradesman in London, living in Cheapside.
Bingley stated, "Caroline, if the Bennets had tradesmen uncles to fill all Cheapside, I would not find them any less agreeable."
"But do you not see that their connections and fortune materially damage their chances of marrying well, Charles?" Caroline countered. "Jane Bennet is pretty, sweet and well mannered, I will admit. But her mother is vulgar and mercenary! She never stopped speaking of your income all evening! Excepting of course Mary Bennet who is a prosaic bluestocking, her sisters are all bordering on wanton in their behavior." She and Louisa laughed. "Eliza Bennet most of all! It was surprising to have heard her called a local beauty for when I met her I could see no beauty at all. Her face is too thin; her complexion has no brilliance; and her features are not at all handsome. Her nose wants character; there is nothing marked in its lines. Her teeth are tolerable, but not out of the common way; in her eyes there is a sharp, shrewish look, which I do not like at all; and in her air altogether, there is self-sufficiency without fashion, which is intolerable."
While Caroline paused to take a breath, Darcy suddenly stood and walked to the window in an attempt to keep himself from commenting. At a look from Caroline, Louisa took advantage of the opportunity to agree with everything her sister had said, if only to avoid Caroline's disapproval later.
Caroline began once more. "I am certain we all recognize the wanton impropriety of Eliza Bennet suggesting she take Mr. Darcy alone on a tour of the woods surrounding Netherfield! Do be careful Mr. Darcy; I think she is attempting to entrap you--though I believe you are in no need of my warning as you had converted it to a group outing yourself!"
Though he could not understand her views, Caroline was entitled to her own opinion about Elizabeth's beauty. But hurling such insulting and potentially damaging comments at Elizabeth--enough to ruin her reputation--was quite another matter and would not be tolerated for a moment.
Seething with anger he could no longer contain, Darcy pulled himself up to his full height and boomed, "Miss Bingley! I will have you know that the outing was not Miss Elizabeth's idea at all. It was after my request that Miss Elizabeth agreed to an outing, and she was the one who made it clearly understood it would be a group event. There was nothing but the most proper behavior displayed by Miss Elizabeth during the entire evening!
"Excuse me, Bingley, I have heard quite enough of this slander; I shall retire directly." With that, Darcy stormed from the room without taking leave of anyone else.
In his rooms, Darcy could let go of strict propriety. He kicked off his boots, stripped down to his lawn shirt and breeches, and slipped into his robe. Pouring himself a brandy, Darcy took his book to the comfortable chair next to the fireplace and sat down to read for a while. But his mind could not comprehend the words on the page and he put the book aside. His thoughts wandered back to Elizabeth as he sipped his brandy and stared into the fire.
Some of her family's behavior at the assembly was not pleasant, but it could be something he could overlook, he was sure. Whoever has a family where all members are perfect may cast the first stone, but he surely would not have that right! He saw Elizabeth was embarrassed by much of her mother's and younger sisters' behavior throughout the evening and that spoke well of her personal standards.
Darcy finished the contents of his glass and poured himself another brandy. The Bennets' connections and social standing were another story completely. He was a Darcy and a member of the illustrious Fitzwilliam line. His mother was the daughter of the Earl of Matlock, his father born of an ancient family, though untitled. His upbringing had been fashioned with the persistent understanding that he should marry within the first circle of society and obtain connections with either a titled family or one of great wealth--preferably both. Would his family accept her if he were to court, and later marry, Elizabeth, the daughter of a country squire with an insignificant estate and connections to trade?
But then…it was HER! The woman who he, from the first moment he laid eyes on her, felt something special. When he was with her tonight, he was not as nervous as usual about being in the room with so many people. As long as she was by his side he was able to have a few, admittedly limited, conversations with others. When he was talking to her, he forgot anyone else was in the room and was able to be himself. That was very rare indeed! He had spent hours in her company tonight and not for one moment was he bored. Elizabeth was absolutely amazing to converse with. She did not once agree with him just to agree, as did every other lady whose acquaintance he had ever made.
He laughed when he thought about the time he tested what was once known as the "Agreement Theory." Darcy had just turned twenty-one and his cousin Richard Fitzwilliam had not believed him when he observed he could get any unmarried woman in the room to agree with anything he said, so he set out to prove it. He had planted his "opinion" on a certain subject with five single ladies of the ton at a dinner they both attended. Though the opinion was not at all fashionable, all five ladies agreed with him completely.
Over the next two weeks, Richard and Darcy had encountered the same five ladies at various points during a number of gatherings, when Darcy changed his opinion to the opposite of what it had been at the original party. Richard kept close to listen to the conversation Darcy had with each of these ladies. Each of the five ladies agreed wholeheartedly with Darcy's new opinion, using almost the same words they had when they agreed to the original, but opposite, opinion. If any of the ladies noticed Darcy's opinion had changed, none of them commented on it.
Richard tried the same, but did not have the same results. Darcy explained it by stating Richard was a second son and not to inherit, therefore the ladies did not feel the same need to agree. He felt if a married man had done the same as Richard, he would have the same results. It was only the eligible "catch" who would reap the unsettling results Darcy did.
How refreshing, then, that Elizabeth was nothing like any woman he had ever met.
Did it really make a difference what her father's income was and how her mother and siblings acted? For his own sake, he would have to answer no…not when the reward was so great. To be able to spend a lifetime with Elizabeth would be heaven on Earth, but he expected his family and society would take a much different view. Though he would not hesitate if it were only himself, he had his sister to consider. Every move he made affected her future greatly.
And then, he had to take into account the promise he had made…
He knew he needed to learn more about her situation and tried to put these thoughts from his mind, but they kept returning. He promised himself that, for her sake, he would not display a decided preference for her in company again until he made a decision. He did not want to raise her hopes. He did not want to disappoint Elizabeth, ever.
He closed his eyes and enjoyed the picture of Elizabeth his mind conjured. How she looked at Oakham Mount faded into how she looked tonight when she danced, smiled, had a point to debate--and how she looked into his eyes. She was so beautiful, so witty, and so intelligent!
His glass empty, he walked over to the decanter and brought it back by the fire with him, pouring yet another glass. Why, why did this have to happen? Why would the woman formed for him in every respect that mattered to him have to be an unacceptable choice for him according to society?
He had felt so happy tonight with Elizabeth, such a foreign feeling. It had been so long since he had felt the joy he had tonight, if, indeed, he had ever.
The last time he could remember being content was many years ago when his mother was alive. More than fifteen years had passed since she died. Since then, there were several hours here and there through the years spent with Georgiana which were happy, but it never seemed to last more than a short while.
In the future he could envision with Elizabeth, he foresaw continuous happy days and nights.
Darcy could no longer sit thinking on this subject. He got up and began pacing in front of the fire and then, unconsciously, poured another brandy.
His mother died a few days after giving birth to Georgiana. She must have known she had only hours left of her life and had called him into her chambers. It took great effort for him not to cry; she looked so pale and sickly and her voice so soft it was more like a whisper. She told him how much she loved him and his sister, and how proud she was of him. She said to make sure he told her sister how much her mother loved her when Georgiana was old enough to understand.
Mother made him promise her three things, two being to take care of his father and Georgiana for her. The other was to "marry well," which he did not really understand. She fell asleep holding his hand just after thanking him for listening and for being such a good boy. Darcy wanted to wake her and ask her to explain this last promise further, but he did not want to overtax her. She was so weak and her voice was so tired. He thought to wait until she rested and ask her tomorrow--but she never woke again.
Darcy's father had been devastated by her death, and was never quite the same man afterwards. A young boy of twelve does not know what to do for his grieving father. He tried to help, but it seemed that no matter what he did it was the wrong thing and it would cause his father more pain. Therefore, Darcy became overly cautious around his father. From then on he always tried his best to behave perfectly and to make his father proud of him, as pride was the only emotion he would vocalize about his son.
He had spent time with his father after his mother's death, but it usually consisted of his father teaching him about estate management. Occasionally they would discuss a book they had both read. Though before his mother's death these had been times with his father that Darcy looked forward to, after his mother's death he was too filled with an anxious need to seek his father's approval to be able to enjoy himself.
To the child he was, Darcy comprehended only rejection. Mrs. Reynolds, the housekeeper at Pemberley, had mentioned many times over the years that while Georgiana looked like her, Darcy had many of the same mannerisms and facial expressions as Mother. Now that he understood this, he could also understand that his father loved him but to be near him was too painful a reminder of what he had lost. He swore to himself that if he ever was, G-d forbid, in the same situation, he would not do the same to his children.
The brandy glass was refilled once again.
The day of his mother's death, his Aunt Catherine, who had been at Pemberley to witness the birth of Georgiana and stayed during his mother's illness, found him in the library alone, crying. She scolded him for doing so--a gentleman does not show his emotions, and men do not cry, ever! She then she told him his father would be deeply ashamed of him if he had been the one to find him. Darcy had been mortified, and vowed to himself never to cry again.
After he calmed enough to speak, he asked his aunt if she knew what his mother meant when she said to "marry well". Aunt Catherine told him he must marry for wealth and consequence, and that his mother had held high hopes of his marrying his cousin Anne, Aunt Catherine's daughter, to keep three great families closely allied into the next generation.
When younger, he trusted that his aunt would tell him the truth. As he grew older and began to think about his aunt's personality and other things she told him, he realized some of the things Aunt Catherine had said through the years had proven to be not quite true. He began to doubt Mother had wanted him to marry Anne at all. If that was what she wanted, why was she not more specific in her request? Instead of "marry well," would she not have said "marry Anne"?
He had overheard many others talk about people in their circle marrying for wealth, consequence and good connections. He also had heard the degrading gossip about those in his circle who had not followed this rule. Since many different sources seemed to agree, it made him believe this was expected of those in his circle, and his doubts and his inner questioning was put to rest.
Since he had never loved a woman before, he thought he would have no problem waiting to find a suitable mate who met with society's expectations. He would honor his promise to his mother without question.
Now that he met Elizabeth, what his mother truly meant by "marry well" was crucial to him. He wanted it to mean something his aunt had not told him. He wanted for it to mean "choose your marriage partner well, someone you can love and respect, someone who makes you happy," but how could he ever really know what Mother meant?
Darcy's eyes filled with tears and he ground his teeth to repress them. He had failed Mother by not being able to take care of his father after she died. He failed her by not taking care of Georgiana last summer at Ramsgate. The third promise was now of vital importance to him. He could not fail Mother on the final promise.
The clock in the hall chimed three bells. Hours had passed since he retired and he was still too anxious to sleep. He closed his eyes and took several deep breaths to calm himself. He did not want to think of this anymore tonight. Maybe with the light of day his choice would be clearer.
Since sleep was still so evasive, he sat down and gathered supplies to write to his sister. He had promised to write often to Georgiana during his stay at Netherfield. He told her about his housemates and the neighbors he had met tonight at the assembly. If he wrote more about Elizabeth than of anyone else, it was not intentional.
When the letter and the last drop of brandy were finished he collapsed into bed and slept soundly, dreaming of his angel, Elizabeth.
Posted on: 2010-08-28
Wednesday, October 16, 1811
Over breakfast, Mr. Bennet heard much talk about the assembly dance last night, and of his new neighbors. He had met Mr. Bingley when he did his duty and visited Netherfield shortly after their arrival, but had not met Mr. Bingley's house guest at that time. Now he wished he would have, or at least had heard who he was, so he could have been better prepared this morning when he heard the house guest's name was Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy.
Mr. Bennet knew Darcy's reputation through well-connected friends in London, friends of Jane and Lizzy as well. Lizzy was especially close to Robert and Adelaide, and since both ladies had similar interests they continued to correspond frequently--even playing games of chess through the post on a board separate from the one they played on together.
He had first met them through Mrs. Bennet's brother and sister in London, Luke and Madeline Gardiner. At the time Jane had only just turned sixteen and Lizzy was fourteen. Since he felt his two daughters too young to travel alone with only a servant as chaperone, Mr. Bennet had taken it upon himself to deliver them to London for a visit with their aunt and uncle. He stayed a few days before returning to Longbourn without the girls. The Gardiners new friends, Robert and Adelaide, were generous enough to include their house guests in their first invitation to dine at their fine home.
Luke Gardiner was a sensible, gentleman-like man, greatly superior to his sister, by nature as well as education. Madeline Gardiner was an amiable, intelligent, elegant woman. Their very characters could not help but recommend them to any individual with sense, no matter what their rank in society, and regardless of Luke's occupation as a tradesman the Gardiners were often invited to dine with people of many varied social status. Some invitations were only made due to the acceptance of the couple by a few of the highest members of society and the perceived need to impress their friends by associating with the acquaintances of members of the first circle--a fact Mr. Bennet found rather amusing. There were those, like Robert and Adelaide, who truly enjoyed the company of the Gardiners.
Upon making their acquaintance and finding them to be surprisingly worth the time and effort of continuing such, Mr. Bennet had decided that he and his daughters should keep the connection to themselves once they returned home. If told, his wife would do nothing but gossip to anyone who would listen about having such connections, and when the time came for her daughters to be out in society he knew she would exert an inordinate amount of pressure on Jane and Lizzy to marry within the first circle to which Robert and Adelaide had eventually introduced them.
As time wore on, Fanny Bennet's behavior only proved his fears. He could not seem to stop her from acting in such a way, so he wished to keep her behavior confined to Hertfordshire whenever he could. If she discovered the acquaintance at that stage, his wife would demand to accompany all the girls to Town to seek husbands--and he recognized that Mrs. Bennet's displays would not go over well in the circle Jane and Lizzy were now welcomed into. He certainly did not want his daughters to be known in the ton as fortune hunters and social climbers and he believed that is just what they would be considered as if his wife became involved! He was proud that their characters were just the opposite.
Since he had become quite close to Robert and Adelaide himself over the years and trusted their judgment, he also trusted their opinions on the young men of the ton who took an interest in his daughters while spending time in company at their home.
While he thought they might be a little prejudiced in favor of Darcy, he did have faith in their overall opinion of him. He had heard quite a bit about Darcy through the years--most every word good--and much of it before the idea of matching him with Lizzy came into Adelaide's thoughts. From all reports, Darcy was an honorable man who had already accomplished much; a man to be admired and respected.
Mr. Bennet and Robert had shared a few laughs ever since Lizzy had come "out" and Adelaide became convinced that Lizzy and Darcy were formed for each other. It had been to Adelaide's disadvantage that her schemes were so obvious to the people who knew her well and that Darcy was, by then, so well versed at avoiding and despising any matchmaking schemes. Mr. Bennet also had to laugh that Adelaide admitted never telling Darcy Lizzy's name so he would not be frightened off if he met her by chance! And so, Lizzy and Darcy had never met until last night no matter how much effort Adelaide had expended trying to convince him to attend a function that Lizzy was attending.
Now that his daughters had finally met the man, Mr. Bennet was quite curious to see if Adelaide's prediction of Lizzy and Darcy being well matched was true.
Over the next few weeks, the Netherfield and Longbourn parties were often in company together, though their outing had been postponed. Caroline used the unpredictable weather to her advantage by delaying setting a date. It seemed the weather being warmer than usual for this time of year may have come to an end. The fall weather was often either colder than comfortable for an outside gathering, or it was raining. While not cold enough to inhibit Elizabeth or the gentlemen from enjoying the outdoors, the other ladies of the proposed party were not willing to brave the colder climate. While Caroline was congratulating herself on the escape, the remainder of the intended group was displeased with the turn in the weather.
About the outing's assumed demise, Darcy was torn between a sense of being preserved from, and despair upon the loss of, spending additional time with Elizabeth among her favorite places. He often reminded himself that his duty was to his family, not to himself. He attempted to put up The Mask and keep his distance from Elizabeth whenever they were in company.
And so, he resigned himself to watch her from a distance at every gathering. Though watching Elizabeth was very enjoyable, he could feel a pulling sensation radiating from her at all times, seemingly attached to his heart, which almost overwhelmed his willpower. At first it was much more difficult and his resolve to stay away from her would only last a few minutes, but with practice The Mask and his other precautions would stay in place longer and longer.
It was for her he did this, he told himself. If it were his own feelings alone he took into account, he would spend every waking hour with her.
The Bard once wrote "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players"*, but Elizabeth's countenance itself was a stage with a performance all her own and perpetually unfolding. It was captivating and enchanting. Her thoughts and feelings were expressed through infinitesimal changes that one would only notice with constant study: the angle at which she held her shoulders or head, the tension in the muscles of her neck, how she moved her hands, the changes in the pressure that she applied to her lips, the twitching of the corners of her mouth, the slight movement of her cheeks, the height and angles of her brows, the depth of the crease that at times appeared on her forehead, and, of course, the many different degrees of flashes, sparkles, and fire that danced in her eyes.
In his limited time with her up to that point, Darcy felt he had succeeded in identifying the combination of barely discernible adjustments that made up amusement, frustration, respect, disgust, friendship and familial love. He spent many covert hours on this undertaking. Darcy longed to spend a lifetime learning every combination that could play out on her countenance, categorizing each reaction, interpreting what she was truly thinking and feeling when propriety did not allow her to express herself otherwise. And he especially ached to see what heavenly combination would make up passion on the "stage" that was Elizabeth.
It was coincidence, and not by design, of course, that as each evening wore on the distance between Elizabeth and Darcy slowly diminished. It was pure civility, and not preference, by all means, that a little while later one could observe Elizabeth and Darcy sitting in a corner together sharing a private conversation.
It was also completely by chance when Darcy came upon Elizabeth several times while he was out riding. It was his right, after all, to allow his horse to take him wherever it liked. It was a coincidence, surely, that whenever the ache to see Elizabeth became too difficult for Darcy bear any longer was the same day his horse would prefer to go to Oakham Mount. He did not expect to meet her there; certainly, for he was completely unaware that the walk from Longbourn to Oakham Mount was one of Elizabeth's favorites (unless of course he had asked her--which he conveniently forgot to do).
Elizabeth was confused. Mr. Darcy had become unexpectedly a part of her everyday life. Though she would not see him for days at a time, she thought of him almost constantly. His behavior was most puzzling.
She understood he was more than a little shy around most people until he knew them well. She had seen that his demeanor took on a sudden friendly turn with her immediately after their misunderstanding had been cleared up. She, for her part, had been comfortable with him straight away after that, almost as if she had always known him.
Elizabeth knew she could not expect what her heart hoped for, but she did suppose that they could be friends. She was disappointed when his manner did not always seem friendly. She had noticed a pattern, but could not make any sense of his behavior.
He would begin by acting aloof toward her at every meeting, uttering the barest of civilities in his greeting, and often it seemed he avoided greeting her at all. He then headed toward the side of the room furthest away from her and mirrored her movements so as to remain as far away as possible. After a moment or two, his eyes would begin to follow her every move. Then, he would slowly make his way across the room until he was before her. She would greet him and he would turn to her with an expression that tended to convey that her words were a much needed remedy to a long standing ailment. The remainder of the evening would be spent in pleasant conversation between themselves or with others, and they did not part until the carriages arrived. Throughout the night, the only time he spoke to anyone outside his party was when he stood with her.
Then there were the accidental meetings at Oakham Mount. They were the strangest of all! A few times he would just ride away after wishing her a good morning. Other times, he would walk with her part way to Longbourn and they would converse on a diverse range of topics.
Elizabeth was not the only one to notice this behavior. She was a bit surprised when Charlotte brought it up while the two of them were alone, though Charlotte could have no way of knowing about Oakham Mount, and Elizabeth was not about to volunteer that information.
"What do you think of this odd behavior Mr. Darcy has displayed toward you, Lizzy?" Charlotte began, eager to find out if Elizabeth's conclusions concurred with her own.
"You noticed it, too, then? I thought I was imagining it! I cannot make him out at all, Charlotte! It is all so strange."
"Ah, I should have known she is too modest too see it as I do," Charlotte thought, and then said, "No, you are not imagining it. Lizzy…I feel I must say this. I think Mr. Darcy is in love with you, but is fighting this inclination for some reason. Though he starts out each evening by denying himself your company, he cannot keep away from you for long!"
"No, Charlotte! That cannot be so. Mr. Darcy is a member of the first circles in society; he could no more have an attachment to me than he could to a scullery maid**! Well, perhaps that is an extreme example, but nevertheless, I do not believe Mr. Darcy to be attached to me. My mother has often pointed out I am nothing to my sisters, and if he can withstand their beauty, he certainly can elude mine! We have many of the same interests; I can easily understand his selection of my company over the options offered by his own party. So you see, Charlotte, Mr. Darcy's interest in me is friendship, and that is all. Though, assuming we are correct in our theory that he is struggling against forming any relationship with me, I do tend to wonder why he feels he could not be friends with a gentleman's daughter."
"I can see I will not turn your mind about Mr. Darcy being in love with you, but mark my words, he is. Do you not see the way he looks at you? I know the matrons have not seen it, or at least have not recognized it for what it is, since your impending marriage to the gentleman is not already spread about all over the village, but I have seen it and believe me when I say it is not friendship that is shining from his eyes as they follow you around the room!" Elizabeth blushed at this statement as Charlotte continued.
"Though, now that you mention it, part of your reasoning may be sound, Lizzy. It could be the differences in your stations in life which is keeping him from declaring his affections to you. The expectations placed upon him from his social circle must be great, indeed."
Elizabeth thought on this for several minutes before answering.
"I certainly could believe Mr. Darcy's behavior is an attempt to shield me from gossip that may arise in the community if he pays particular attention to me. Also, though I know it is limited to friendship, he might not know that I do understand this. He could be trying to save me from my own expectations as well. Though, being an intelligent man, when at a gathering he becomes bored with the usual civilities, he naturally drifts toward me to start a more interesting conversation!"
A triumphant grin spread across Elizabeth's face at her analysis, "There, I have explained it! That is much more likely the answer! I will make certain he knows that I do understand when at your house tomorrow night. Afterwards he should not worry about my expectations being more than friendship!"
"Lizzy, take care! I believe your aim in this declaration is to convince yourself more than to convince me or Mr. Darcy. I do not think…"
Elizabeth interrupted, "No, Charlotte! I am confident that you are wrong about the direction of Mr. Darcy's feelings for me. I am certain this is the correct way to proceed and I will hear no more on the matter." And with that, Elizabeth began talking of another subject.
Friday, November 8, 1811
~Lucas Lodge, Hertfordshire
The principal families from the neighborhood were all in attendance at Lucas Lodge and so far the time had passed according to Mr. Darcy's previously established pattern.
Elizabeth had noticed Mr. Darcy hovering nearby as she spoke to Colonel Forster and decided to include him in her conversation with Charlotte, "Did not you think, Mr. Darcy, that I expressed myself uncommonly well just now, when I was teasing Colonel Forster to give us a ball at Meryton?"
Oh, how he loved that teasing look in her eye! He could not but want it to continue, and so replied, "With great energy--but it is a subject that always makes a lady energetic."
Elizabeth smiled and arched her brow "You are severe on us."
"It will be her turn soon to be teased," said Charlotte, enjoying their exchange but was required to shorten it due to a signal from her mother, "I am going to open the instrument, Lizzy, and you know what follows."
"You are a very strange creature by way of a friend--always wanting me to play and sing before anybody and everybody! If my vanity had taken a musical turn, you would have been invaluable, but as it is, I would really rather not sit down before those who must be in the habit of hearing the very best performers."
"Good G-d, no! Do not have her sing. Please, Miss Lucas, have her play but not sing! You know not what her voice does to me!" Darcy thought frantically.
Charlotte knew well what she was doing for she had seen Mr. Darcy's expression whenever Elizabeth played and sang, and so she persevered. Elizabeth finally agreed.
Darcy found it necessary to move toward the back of the room to find a seat. He thought to have most of the other people in front of him would make it less likely for anyone to notice his change in countenance. He tried to put The Mask in place, but it was no use…he knew he would lose control of his composure when he heard her sing. He purposely chose a seat where she would not see him, but he could watch her.
Darcy did not realize Charlotte was watching him out of the corner of her eye, a slight smile playing at the edges of her lips.
Darcy was so entranced by the performance and the performer that he did not notice the seat he had chosen was near Caroline Bingley, who he normally would have avoided at all costs. Miss Bingley leaned forward in her seat and whispered in his ear, "I can guess the subject of your reverie."
He jumped at this, a shiver of disgust running down his spine at the thought of her so close to him, and, quelling any amorous feelings in which he may have been indulging, he leaned away from her lips as he replied, "I should imagine not."
"You are considering how insupportable it would be to pass many evenings in this manner--in such society; and indeed I am quite of your opinion. I was never more annoyed! The insipidity and yet the noise; the nothingness and yet the self-importance of all these people! What I would give to hear your strictures of them!"
Darcy almost laughed and thought "How ironic that you are describing your own self to perfection, Miss Bingley, and in fact I do not think you would like to hear my remarks about it!" He was so tired of her abusive commentary. The audacity of interrupting Elizabeth's performance with this pettiness was far too much for him to hold his tongue…and so he said aloud,
"Your conjecture is totally wrong, I assure you. My mind was more agreeably engaged. I have been meditating on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow."
Miss Bingley sat back and looked pleased.
"And may I ask what lady had the credit of inspiring such reflections?"
"Miss Elizabeth Bennet."
An unbecoming expression of shock crossed Miss Bingley's face "Miss Elizabeth Bennet! I am all astonishment."
To Darcy's great relief, Miss Bingley left him in peace, and he quickly forgot her as he became once again captivated by Elizabeth's performance.
When her second song was done, Elizabeth stepped aside for her sister, Mary, who was persuaded to play some Scottish airs so that those of the company who were so inclined could dance. The company began to move from their seats to make room.
In order to further her plan to assure Mr. Darcy of her "disinterest" before the night was out, she decided to speed up his usual pattern by moving towards him.
When he saw Elizabeth approaching, Darcy's breath came more quickly as this was just what he dreamt, though he knew what he had imagined next could not happen--not in company, at any rate. His color heightened a bit at the thought, and he modified it by remembering Miss Bingley whispering in his ear--a thought to cool the most heated of blood.
By the time she was before him, Darcy had managed to avoid a most embarrassing predicament from arising though her beautiful smile and sparkling eyes combined with what she said next began to stir his ardor once more. "May I speak with you alone, Mr. Darcy?"
"OH! How did she know what I was thinking? No, it could not be!" His body betrayed him as he blushed deeply.
Elizabeth jumped to the wrong conclusion and struggled to keep her air teasing while saying, "Mr. Darcy, I am not a dangerous female about to compromise your honor! I only meant to find a quiet corner for I have something of import to discuss with you, and do not wish to be overheard."
His blush only deepened to crimson at the thought of how inappropriate his imaginings and resulting misunderstanding of her words had been. The embarrassment of Elizabeth knowing what he had interpreted as her meaning was overwhelming. "What must she think of me?"
Elizabeth was unsure of what to do next. She had thought her teasing would make him feel better, as it had always seemed to calm him in the past, but it seemed not to. He seemed even more embarrassed than before and now she felt herself beginning to color as well. Did he really think she misunderstood his attentions and would throw herself at him?
She took a calming deep breath and decided to change tactics. She would talk to him in a low voice here in the middle of the company. Taking a quick look around to see if anyone was close enough to hear, she found no evidence of it, and then continued with an arched brow "Well, then, perhaps we should speak here instead since I am so likely to corrupt you?"
When she received no answer, the teasing smile fell from her face, and before she lost her resolve, she began:
"Mr. Darcy, in all seriousness, I have been told there is at least one person in the neighborhood that has expectations of…of more than what can ever exist between us. I can tell you this person is trusted by me to be discreet and would never spread these expectations further than bringing them to my attention.
"I have since corrected this assumption, but as a result of this disclosure it occurred to me that you might suspect I have the same expectations. To be candid, this is the only explanation I can surmise for your recent behavior toward me.
"I wish to assure you that I do not have the expectation of our acquaintance progressing past friendship, sir. I do understand how the world works. Please allow me to ask for your forgiveness if any of my actions or words have caused you to think otherwise.
"I do value our friendship highly, sir, and have looked forward to continuing on in the friendly manner to which I had grown accustomed…but if our friendship makes you uncomfortable in any way, please know I do not wish to become a source of distress to you, sir. I would much rather not to be the cause of any further suffering, nor do I wish you to feel forced to maintain our acquaintance if it has become unpleasant to you. I do ask you the favor of thinking upon this, and I thank you for listening. I will allow your future behavior to guide my own. Good night, Mr. Darcy." Elizabeth curtsied, turned and walked away before a shocked Darcy could recover enough to say anything, or even bow, in reply.
Darcy had a sudden urgent need for the solitude of the balcony. Blinking into the darkness, he tried to process what Elizabeth just said. He felt as if he had been punched in the gut several times. He could not breathe past the lump in his throat. He felt a prickling sensation at his eyes which, of course, could not be tears.
Had she rejected him? No! He had offered nothing to reject. She had made it clear she did not want, but did expect his rejection of her friendship, not the other way around.
The problems did not stem from within her, it was due to his obligations - and yet she was blaming herself. She was asking for forgiveness? For what? She had said her friendship was causing him distress and suffering? The only distress or suffering he had experienced was in denying himself her company, not from spending time with her! There was nothing to forgive her for other than being so perfect for him, for which she was not to blame. She thinks he considers their acquaintance unpleasant? It has never been anything but pleasant…so pleasant he never wanted to leave her company.
What a selfish being he was! Caught up in his own struggle between duty and the longings of his heart that he had never taken into account what she must be feeling, how she was interpreting his odd behavior.
But she had rejected him in a way, had she not; by saying she did not expect anything more than friendship? Was this her way of telling him she could never love him? No, that is not what she said. Her words were that she knew she could expect only friendship from him because she understands how the world works. Did that mean if he declared himself, she would accept him?
Darcy's mind was a whirlwind of pain, indecision, self-censure and hope.
A movement nearby attracted his attention. The door to the next balcony opened and a figure emerged, walking out to the garden. He was sure he would recognize that figure anywhere, under any conditions, day or night. It was his Elizabeth. He heard a soft noise coming from her direction, and his heart wrenched within as he realized she was crying…and it was his fault. His vision blurred as he refused to acknowledge the tears which had pooled in his eyes. He was causing her pain, and that was one of the last things he had ever wanted to do. He needed to make a decision soon.
He ached to go to her, pull her into his arms and comfort her, but he knew that might cause her more confusion and pain. If he could offer nothing else, at least he would make sure she was safe walking through the gardens alone while she settled her emotions.
After walking away from Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth tried to go about the usual business of a social gathering, but found she could not. At the end of her soliloquy, she had realized Charlotte was correct, but not in the way her friend thought. It was true; Elizabeth had been trying to convince herself more than Charlotte when saying that Mr. Darcy and she could not be anything more than friends. Elizabeth had no doubt Mr. Darcy felt nothing but friendship for her and that all the things she had said to him were most likely true, and yet once she had given him the option of ending their friendship, she felt a great, aching loss at the prospect. It was then that she recognized that she was in love with Mr. Darcy, and he could never return her affection.
Which would be better, or less painful, for her? To avoid him, cast off his friendship? Or would she do better to encourage a friendship with the man she loved but could never have? To be involved in his life in some way had to be better than to be deprived of his company forever.
But when he married, as she was sure he would someday, if only because he needed an heir--would it be worse to see him marry out of convenience, as so many did, or to watch him fall in love? If he married for love, would it be too painful to bear? Or would it be more painful to watch him enter into a marriage devoid of love, knowing he would never find true happiness that way?
If she remained friends with him, would she ever be able to move on? Then again, would she marry even if she were not friends with him? She had always maintained that she would only marry for the deepest love and if that did not happen she would become an old maid and be content with being an aunt to her sisters' children. She had said it many times in a jesting way, but the sentiment was deeply felt as well.
She brushed at a strange wetness on her face and became aware that she was crying. She reached into her pocket for her handkerchief and became angry at her weakness as she wiped away the tears. "I must accept the way things are! Tears are of no use and I will waste no more energy on them. I have left the decision about our friendship up to Mr. Darcy and will accept whatever he decides."
Hearing a burst of noise from inside when the gathered company applauded Mary's efforts on the pianoforte, Elizabeth knew she would have to return to the party. Elizabeth swiped at the last of her tears, took a few deep, calming breaths and turned back to the house. Any further reflection on this subject would have to wait.
As she did, she noticed some movement in the shadows by the house. She knew it was him…she could feel his eyes upon her. She ignored his presence since he obviously did not want her to know he was there. Elizabeth wondered how long he had been observing her, and if he had watched her crying in the garden. Somehow she knew it to be so. If he did care about her, why had he not come to comfort her? The last bit of hope of Charlotte being correct about his feelings for her, which she just now became aware that she had been holding in her heart all this time, was cleared away by this thought. Elizabeth straightened her back, raised her chin, took another deep breath and walked through the balcony door, hoping any evidence of her sorrow had been left behind.
Outside show is a poor substitute for inner worth.
--Aesop (Greek author 620 BC – 560 BC)
Monday, November 11, 1811
The day following the party at Lucas Lodge, an invitation arrived from Colonel Forster of the militia for the gentlemen of Netherfield to dine with his officers. The day of the event, Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst knew they would be quite bored without the gentlemen present, so they discussed inviting Miss Jane Bennet for tea as entertainment. To deter their brother's interest in the lady, they conspired to pepper dear Jane with questions to further illuminate her want of connections, and report their findings to the gentlemen after they returned. After all, all people like to talk about themselves, they thought. Thinking this a good plan, Miss Bingley wrote a note to Miss Bennet extending the invitation.My dear Friend,
If you are not so compassionate as to dine today with Louisa and me, we shall be in danger of hating each other for the rest of our lives, for a whole day's tête-à-tête between two women can never end without a quarrel. Come as soon as you can on the receipt of this. My brother and the gentlemen are to dine with the officers.
As the gentlemen readied to depart for their engagement, Caroline and Louisa met them in the hall to see them off.
"What have you ladies planned for today?" A touch of fear entered Bingley's eyes, "I do hope you are not planning to redecorate the drawing room again!"
Ignoring her brother's remark and clear evidence that Mr. Darcy was suppressing a smile, Caroline responded, "It will be lonely here with only the two of us; therefore we have invited a guest to join us for dinner, Charles." She had purposely not told him earlier in the day for she was afraid he would not go out if he knew Jane Bennet was coming to Netherfield. She did not wish to spend another evening watching him moon over her--she wanted information about the Bennets!
Curious about whom Caroline Bingley could possibly wish to invite to dine, Darcy asked, "Who is to be your guest, Miss Bingley?"
"One would think that obvious, Mr. Darcy! It is Miss Jane Bennet, of course."
Bingley froze amidst donning his coat. By the look on Bingley's face, Darcy half expected him to cancel their engagement with Colonel Forster even at such short notice as this. "Ja…Miss Bennet…coming here? To Netherfield? To dine?" In his tone the words "without me?" could almost be heard.
"As I said, Charles," Caroline said with a sly smile.
Bingley blinked a few times before he returned to the task of dressing suitably for the rain they were expecting. Assuming his sisters were interested in getting to know his lady love without the distraction of the gentlemen, a smile spread across his features. "What a wonderful idea! I would like for you both to get to know Miss Bennet better."
Just then the carriage was heard and the gentlemen took their leave, Bingley displaying a grin from ear to ear, Darcy suspicious of what Caroline was up to, and Mr. Hurst anticipating the food, drink and talk of sport to be had with the officers of the regiment.
About three quarters of an hour later, when it began to rain heavily, the ladies of Netherfield expected to receive a note from Longbourn putting off their little party for another day. So they were not surprised a few minutes later when the doorbell rang, but became a bit curious when they heard a few dainty sneezes coming from the direction of the entry hall.
Their surprise was great, however, when a dripping, sneezing, shivering and obviously mortified Jane Bennet was announced. The ladies of Netherfield stood, mouths agape in shock momentarily before their good breeding took over. Dear Jane was ushered upstairs to a guest room to be fussed over. A blazing fire was ordered and Louisa, closer to Jane's size than Caroline, lent her some clothing until hers could be cleaned and dried. Whenever Jane's back was turned, Caroline's countenance showed her exasperation with the situation.
While Louisa's maid toweled off and brushed Jane's hair, Caroline asked with a voice oozing with affection, "Now that you are more comfortable, I must satisfy my curiosity, poor, dear Jane. How did you come to be out in the rain?"
Blushing, Jane said, "I received your invitation to dine. Was I in error as to which day it was for?"
"The invitation was for today, but when the skies darkened we were no longer expecting you to come--and especially not on horseback! Did your father not allow you to use the carriage?"
"My mother said the carriage horses were needed on the farm today and so I came on Nellie." Jane's color deepened and she kept her eyes on the rug as she thought of what else her mother had said, as in the rain would make it necessary for Jane to stay overnight and she would see Mr. Bingley. "It was not raining when I left Longbourn. When the sky darkened I did think I could make the trip before the rain began. By the time it started, I was closer to Netherfield than Longbourn." Jane was thoughtful for a moment before continuing, "I apologize, Miss Bingley; I had not thought of the inconvenience it would cause upon my arrival. I should have turned back."
"Dear Jane! There is no need to apologize, for it is perfectly understandable! Many small estates cannot afford to keep horses for the carriage and others for the farm. Why was Nellie not on the farm as well?" When Jane was not looking, Caroline shot Louisa an amused look.
"Nellie is now too old to be of use on the farm, Miss Bingley."
"Now that you are in a dry gown you should have a hot cup of tea before dinner. Let us remove to the drawing room."
Jane was seated near the fire in the drawing room with a blanket over her lap, another around her shoulders, and hot tea in her cup. Caroline had just begun to ask about Mrs. Bennet's family in order to expose her connections when dear Jane suddenly became weak and fainted. A servant was sent for salts, and Jane was roused, but Louisa became more concerned when she discovered that Jane was quite feverish. They had a servant carry her to a guest room and the apothecary was sent for.
After all the "good hostess" orders were made for the staff to care for their unexpected guest, the Netherfield ladies returned to the drawing room for neither of them had the nerves for the sick room. Caroline instantly began to criticize the Bennets for inconveniencing her by sending Jane in the rain and then moved on to ridiculing them for not having the funds to keep two sets of horses. She did not notice that Louisa was no longer agreeing with her and was looking upon her with disgust.
After Caroline could think of nothing more to say about the Bennets, the ladies were quite bored until the gentlemen returned. When Caroline's whining about being bored became too much for Louisa, she suggested they take turns playing the pianoforte.
Mrs. Robinson, the housekeeper at Netherfield, heard the hall clock chime and knew it was almost time for the master and his friends to arrive home. She realized she should prepare in advance what she would tell the master about today's happenings while he was gone.
Living in the area of Meryton her entire life, Mrs. Robinson had known the Bennet girls since their birth. Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth were favorites of hers, as they were to most of the working families in the neighborhood. The two eldest Bennet daughters, though generally different in temperament, were similar in that they were uncommonly kind, considerate, and appreciative of everyone without regard to rank or station in life. If someone in the area was in need, the eldest Bennet girls could be depended upon. The children of the area loved them, and the parents were grateful for their generous nature.
The Mistress of Netherfield was most often unaware of her staff, which made it easy for them to make Miss Bennet's stay more comfortable than they had been ordered to do, especially since they knew she would not pay many calls to Miss Bennet herself. Miss Bennet had even apologized to the staff for being a bother and interrupting their work!
The staff members who were brought to the area by the Bingleys were quite surprised by the locals' reaction to the news. Mrs. Robinson knew that at this moment there were many stories being told below stairs about the beloved Bennet girls in an attempt to enlighten those who did not know them. There were quite a few stories about Miss Elizabeth's capers through the years which were Mrs. Robinson's own favorite tales.
Mrs. Robinson was also fully aware of Mrs. Bennet's "quirks". She had been provided additional work at Longbourn on and off through the years, and for a period of several months last year when Mrs. Hill was ill. Being an intelligent woman, she had her suspicions that Miss Bennet was more than likely sent on horseback on purpose by her mother with the specific hope that it would rain. She also knew that Miss Bennet's personality differed drastically from her mother's, and suspected that Miss Jane followed her mother's orders in this matter as the rain would have been no inconvenience to anyone but herself.
Though her loyalty should be to her master, who she personally liked, Mrs. Robinson would not dare betray Miss Bennet by exposing Mrs. Bennet's probable motivations for what occurred this day. She decided she would not lie to the master, but would not tell the complete truth either.
Upon entering the house, Mrs. Robinson voiced a brief account of the unusual circumstances which occurred while the gentlemen had been dining out.
After an upset Mr. Bingley insisted on being repeatedly assured that Miss Bennet had nothing more than a trifling cold and was being well cared for, Mr. Bingley wondered aloud, "Why on earth would Miss Bennet have been riding in the rain?"
"It is my understanding, sir, that Miss Bennet was more than half way to Netherfield before the skies opened up, and so she determined it would be far better to continue forward than to turn back to Longbourn."
A little more than two hours later, Mrs. Robinson smiled to herself when Mr. Bingley asked, for the tenth time, how Miss Bennet fared. She finally confided in him that the staff was fond of Miss Jane Bennet and he could be confident that they would show her every attention possible. This seemed to calm him a little; Mr. Bingley now made inquiries every hour instead of every quarter hour.
*William Shakespeare, As You Like It
**The scullery maid was considered the very lowest servant position in a household.
Chapter 4Tuesday, November 12, 1811
The next morning, a note arrived for Elizabeth from Jane saying she was "very unwell", which required her to stay at Netherfield until she was better. She also mentioned Mr. Jones, the apothecary, had been called in to see her. This worried Elizabeth since she knew that Jane usually minimized her own symptoms of illness to deflect raising anyone's alarm. If Jane said she was "very unwell", she must be feeling poorly, indeed.
"Well, my dear," said Mr. Bennet, when Elizabeth had read the note aloud, "if your daughter should have a dangerous fit of illness, is she should die, it would be a comfort to know that it was all in pursuit of Mr. Bingley, and under your orders."
"Oh! I am not at all afraid of her dying. People do not die of little trifling colds. She will be taken good care of. As long as she stays there, it is all very well. I would go and see her, if I could have the carriage."
Elizabeth could not be comfortable without seeing Jane, and as the carriage could not be had she declared her resolution to walk to Netherfield.
"How can you be so silly?" cried her mother, "as to think of such a thing, in all this dirt! You will not be fit to be seen when you arrive."
"I shall be very fit to see Jane--which is all I want. The distance is nothing when one has a motive; only three miles. I shall be back by dinner."
"We will go as far as Meryton with you," said Kitty and Lydia. Elizabeth accepted their company and the three young ladies set off together.
While she walked the three miles to Netherfield, Elizabeth fought the fear of seeing Mr. Darcy by telling herself he would probably be out riding at that time of day. It was a glorious day, though muddy from yesterday's rain.
By the time she arrived at Netherfield, Elizabeth's skirts were quite dirty. She went around to the service entrance instead of the main doors so she would not embarrass her sister. Greeted happily by the staff, Maggie, one of the maids, brought Elizabeth up to Jane's room, while Mrs. Robinson went to the breakfast room and notified Mr. Bingley of Elizabeth's arrival.
The Netherfield ladies went up after breakfast to visit and saw Elizabeth's skirts. At luncheon, Caroline began abusing her to the gentlemen. "She walked three miles to see a sister who only has a trifling cold! Miss Eliza's skirts were at least six inches deep in mud. She looked positively wild, did she not, Louisa?" Louisa agreed.
Mr. Bingley could not understand why the ladies were so put out, "It is obvious to me that Miss Elizabeth knew she was not fit to be seen since she did not ask to be announced. She went directly up to see her sister through the service entrance. Now you tell me that when asked to come down for luncheon, she declined, asking for a tray of light fare to be sent up to her sister's room instead so that she could help Miss Bennet take some nourishment. In my opinion, this shows a pleasing tenderness and affection for her sister."
"Surely you do not agree with Charles, Mr. Darcy?"
Darcy replied, "It does display a willingness to inconvenience herself for another's comfort."
Miss Bingley said, "I cannot understand either of you for your forgiveness of the spectacle Miss Eliza has made of herself today! Would you like to see your sister, dearest Georgiana, expose herself in such a way, Mr. Darcy?"
Darcy hesitated knowing his answer might anger Caroline, but he decided to reply fully regardless of her expected reaction. "Would I like to see my sister walking three miles alone, ending with her skirts six inches deep in mud? No. But I also know that Georgiana would suffer through almost anything if she thought I was in any danger. I would do the same for her."
Seriously displeased with the turn of the conversation, Caroline's eyes flashed with vexation as she opened her mouth to respond. Before her sister could say something to insult Mr. Darcy, Louisa placed her hand on her sister's arm and said, "Caroline, will you join me above stairs to see how your guest fares?"
Caroline turned her head quickly towards her sister, giving her a sharp look. After seeing the warning in Louisa's eyes, she huffed, nodded and rose to leave the room after a quick curtsy. Louisa followed her from the room.
Caroline happily found Elizabeth was taking her leave when they arrived.
Noticing that Jane's fever was rising and seeing how unsettled she was at the thought of her sister leaving, Louisa said, "Caroline, may I speak with you alone, please?" and led her into the hall. Once the door was closed, Louisa continued, "After seeing Jane's distress I must point out it might be better for Jane if Miss Elizabeth stayed, Caroline."
Caroline's eyes opened wide, "I am shocked that you would suggest I have Eliza Bennet stay under the same roof as Mr. Darcy!"
Louisa felt this was important for Jane's welfare and decided it was worth inciting Caroline's ire--but she wished to keep it to a minimum. "Dear sister, it would display your talents of being a superior hostess if you allow Miss Elizabeth to stay at Netherfield to benefit her sister…your guest…who has fallen ill."
This made Caroline pause. Her reluctance to have Eliza so near Mr. Darcy battled with her desire to show Mr. Darcy what a good hostess she was. Eventually, the "good hostess" argument won, and Elizabeth was invited to stay for the remainder of dear Jane's illness. Elizabeth's clothing was sent for and arrived just in time to change for dinner.
The smaller the mind the greater the conceit.
--Aesop (Greek author 620 BC – 560 BC)
Caroline Bingley was vexed.
Hearing loud grunts emanating from the small room the mistress used to write her letters was not a concern to the staff, it was only an alert that they would soon need to clean up that room. They were all aware that Miss Bingley was usually vexed about something or other and that it was best to avoid her during these times lest the staff come to harm from the bric-a-brac she threw in order to ease her frustration.
Caroline was of that particular sort of temper that after an initial fit of pique and violence, overcomes its vexations within the hour. The drawback to such a disposition, however, is that each trouble is so thoroughly forgotten as to make every fresh offense felt as though it were the first time it had ever been encountered.
At this moment and despite her frequent vexation over this particular topic, Caroline was vexed about tonight's seating arrangement for dinner. Eliza Bennet's appearance had thrown off all her plans. Increasing her irritation was the fact that Mr. Darcy's enjoyment of Miss Eliza's conversation was rivaled only by his enjoyment in gazing at her, and where to place her at dinner was a difficult decision to make! Caroline would brook no opposition in her quest to become Mrs. Caroline Darcy, mistress of the great estate, Pemberley.
She smiled maliciously at the thought of Eliza Bennet's visible reaction to being called "Eliza" the first few times. Caroline could tell she hated the name and it brought much satisfaction to call her that as often as possible, though Eliza's reaction was now better hidden.
Name-calling was good, but offered no solution to her current predicament: with six at dinner, there were only two places to seat Eliza.
The first was to place Eliza across the table from Mr. Darcy, but then he would stare at her in that disgusting manner he had become so fond of. Seeing that look on his face--directed not at herself, but at a low-born rival--made her nauseous and she would not abide it!
She did not envy Eliza the way he looked at her. Louisa had explained to her what it could lead to and based on Louisa's reaction to her time spent alone with Mr. Hurst it must be horribly degrading. She realized that making Mr. Darcy look at herself that way gave her power over him which would be helpful in achieving her goal--but once they were married she would make absolutely certain those looks did not continue past bearing an heir! And she would make sure to bear the heir as soon as possible!
In order for that to happen at all, she had to keep Mr. Darcy from looking at Eliza that way now! If she sat Eliza next to Mr. Darcy, they could easily speak to each other and Caroline would be ignored for most of the meal. She could not move Louisa, as she was needed to help direct Mr. Darcy's attention toward Caroline. But this created another vexation in the seating arrangement as husbands and wives do not sit next to one another when dining in the first circles…not that Eliza Bennet would notice the breach, but certainly Mr. Darcy would!
"Oh! What complex problems I must solve!" Caroline said to herself. She grabbed the nearest breakable object and threw it at the hearth, watching it scatter into hundreds of pieces with a feeling of release. It was a shame that it had been the bric-a-brac that Louisa had made such a fuss over giving her. "Louisa should know better! Bric-a-brac has such an unfortunate history of accidents in our household." She smirked.
Weighing the options for several minutes, Caroline decided that forcing her way into a conversation was preferable to watching Darcy moon for the next two hours, and would seat Eliza next to him for the remainder of the Bennets' stay. Louisa would be only too happy to help, as she always was in any of Caroline's schemes. "Louisa lives to be of service to me!" She stood looking out the window, fantasizing about the conversations she would have with Mr. Darcy and planning how to keep Eliza out.
What a relief Caroline felt as she picked up the beautifully designed place cards, written in her own elegant hand, on the finest paper available in this backward part of the world, and she made her way to the dining room. With a genuine smile, she imagined what fun it would be to address even finer place cards and invitations with the names of Dukes, Marquesses, Earls, Viscounts, and Barons once she was Mrs. Darcy of Pemberley!
After all the cards were perfectly placed on the table, Caroline realized she was tired from the immense mental exertion of the past hour and decided to rest before dressing for dinner. Oh, what beautiful clothing she would dress in once she was Mrs. Darcy! Only the finest silk, satin and lace would do for one of her anticipated station in society.
In the hallway, Caroline lectured the maid, Sarah, on how the staff must cease placing bric-a-brac too close to the edge of the mantle since it keeps falling off. She would begin deducting pay from each of the staff to compensate for the cost of the broken pieces if this continued.
Sarah knew there was no one amongst the entire staff who would leave anything on the mantle in that room. All would much prefer no decorative items be in that room at all, but the mistress insisted on there being some. Sarah took the reprimand with grace, an apology and a low curtsy as she always did, and was off to clean the mistress' study. Sometimes she felt Miss Bingley expected her to keep her eyes lowered, remain bowed and back out of the room as one would do with royalty! Sarah would tell Mrs. Robinson of the encounter when she completed this duty.
Caroline congratulated herself…now she could replace any damaged bric-a-brac from the funds set aside to pay the servants and save her pin money for more important things! What a wonderful idea! The thrill of being in control of this house and those who served in it was truly lovely indeed. She could not wait until she was in control of such a grand estate as Pemberley and its multitude of servants--and a much higher monthly allowance!
Elizabeth was in a bind. For the sake of civility she knew she must join the rest of the party for dinner, but she did not want to seem as if she were throwing herself in Mr. Darcy's way either. He probably already thought this of her for showing up here at all, let alone agreeing to stay overnight. She told herself she would avoid conversing with him, or even looking at him, unless he addressed her first. This would be a test to see what Mr. Darcy's decision about their last conversation had been.
Would he talk to her? Did he wish to continue their friendship? Would he ignore her presence aside from civilities? Elizabeth was nervous as she descended the stairs to the dining parlor.
She was seated to the left of Mr. Bingley, across from Mr. Hurst, and surprisingly next to Mr. Darcy, who was on Miss Bingley's right. Mrs. Hurst sat to the left of Miss Bingley, across from Mr. Darcy.
It was a strange seating arrangement; for Elizabeth expected Miss Bingley to seat her as far from Mr. Darcy as possible, but during the meal Elizabeth could see why it was set up this way. Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley talked almost constantly to Mr. Darcy, keeping him from looking in her direction long enough to say anything to her at all. It seemed to be by design, and it was quite amusing. While one ate, the other kept Mr. Darcy busy with insipid conversation, and then they switched roles. Mr. Bingley was never at a loss for making amiable conversation and he kept Elizabeth engaged, though she was certain he was not aware of the ladies' plan. Mr. Hurst simply ate and drank, both in large quantities.
She was watching Mr. Darcy out of the corner of her eye. The poor gentleman had a difficult time consuming any of his dinner while attempting to remain polite. At the beginning of the meal, Elizabeth could tell he saw through the sisters' plan as well. He shot her a few amused glances, which made her heart lurch at the same time as made her almost begin laughing out loud. If she saw a bit of an apology or longing in his eye, she felt safer to dismiss it as wishful thinking. These exchanged glances with Elizabeth increased the sisters' demands for conversation with him. After a while, Elizabeth could tell by the way his muscles were becoming tense that he was becoming fully annoyed. She struggled to think of something to do to calm him down.
While Miss Bingley took a breath, Elizabeth quickly turned her head toward Mr. Darcy and said with a teasing sparkle in her eye, "Mr. Darcy, are you not enjoying the partridge? You have not touched your plate, sir. Perhaps you would like something else instead?"
Darcy opened his mouth to answer but closed his eyes briefly in frustration when Mr. Bingley broke in, "I happen to know Darcy greatly enjoys partridge, Miss Bennet. It is not dislike that is preventing my friend from eating, it is my sisters' chattering away and Darcy's good breeding! Louisa, Caroline! Please allow him to eat his dinner, and give the rest of us a chance to enjoy Darcy's conversation. I have been waiting for a chance to say something to Darcy through almost two courses!" Bingley went on into a long discourse about the hunting they had enjoyed earlier that day.
Elizabeth hid her smile behind her napkin when she saw hunger take precedence over conversation and propriety as Mr. Darcy began to eat without any regard for anyone's speeches. She could see the corners of his mouth turn up slightly as he noticed her action.
When Mr. Bingley finished his speech, Mr. Darcy spoke up, purposely including Elizabeth. "Miss Elizabeth, when you have been in London, have you been to the theater or the opera?" he turned to her with a mischievous gleam in his eye, which filled her with curiosity. She knew as well as he did they had discussed this previously, and she could not help but think, "What is he up to?" Alas, Elizabeth would never find out.
The plan between the sisters was that if Miss Eliza broke into the conversation, they would begin to ask her about her relations so that the gentlemen could hear how unsuitable she and her sister were from her own lips. Miss Bingley felt it would condemn both Bennet ladies irreparably in the eyes of the gentlemen.
Mrs. Hurst interrupted, "Miss Elizabeth, you have been to London? Where did you stay?"
"My aunt and uncle live in London, Mrs. Hurst. I have been to visit with them quite often through the years."
"And where in London do your relatives live, Miss Eliza?" Miss Bingley continued.
"My mother's brother and his family live on Gracechurch Street, Miss Bingley."
"That is in Cheapside, is it not?"
"It is near Cheapside, Miss Bingley. My uncle's warehouse is located nearby and so it is convenient for him."
"Oh…is your uncle in trade then?" Mrs. Hurst feigned a surprised look that would not fool a child of five.
Elizabeth used her napkin again to hide her smile before answering, "That is correct, Mrs.
Hurst. My uncle owns an import/export business as well as a bookshop."
Mr. Darcy looked as if he was about to ask something when Miss Bingley interrupted, "Miss Eliza, does your mother have any other siblings?"
"You may have met my mother's sister, Mrs. Philips, as she resides in Meryton with her husband. Mr. Philips is an attorney, Miss Bingley."
Mrs. Hurst went on with the show, "Hmmm. And your father? Does he have any siblings?"
"No, Mrs. Hurst, none living."
Dinner was over and Elizabeth was tired of being peppered with questions about her faulty connections. She knew exactly what the sisters were up to. They were trying to show Mr. Darcy just how low placed in society Elizabeth was compared to him. Did they not think her intelligent enough to understand how society worked and that she could not possibly have expectations of him past friendship? Elizabeth excused herself to check on her sister.
~Darcy House, London
The Honorable Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam was stationed in London, for the moment, with the Dragoons Light Calvary. Though only the second son of The Earl of Matlock, his good looks, amiable manners, and witty humor made him popular with the ladies. He was not considered an eligible marriage prospect, which suited Richard just fine, but he certainly knew how to entertain. He was a tall man, almost as tall as his cousin Darcy, with black hair and deep blue eyes, a trademark of the Fitzwilliam family, which usually danced with mirth.
Richard usually stayed at Darcy House when he came to town, so that he could spend some time with Georgie and Darce, as Richard called them. If an ulterior motive for staying with the Darcys was a wish to be out from under the ever watchful and critical eyes of his parents when he stayed at their home, the reader will forgive him. Staying at Darcy House provided all the luxuries of "home", without his parents' constant examination of his actions.
Richard was currently enjoying the company of his beloved cousin Georgie. A tall, slim girl of fifteen, she had a classic beauty in the features of her face and a fine figure. Being shy had not dimmed her responsiveness to those closest to her, as Richard was. Her Fitzwilliam-blue eyes shone with intelligence and affection.
Georgie and Richard were just finishing breaking their fast when a letter from Darce arrived from Hertfordshire. As he was interested in how his cousin Darce was faring, Georgie read him the letter. Georgie was quite amused, and Richard found it interesting, to hear so many references to Miss Elizabeth Bennet coming from a man who rarely looked at a woman but to find a blemish. It became intriguing, in fact, when Georgie went on to tell Richard about how Miss Bennet was mentioned, and quite highly praised, in all his former letters from Netherfield. After noticing Richard's interest, Georgie hurried up to her room to retrieve all of the letters from her letter box and returned to read the relevant parts to Richard.
Richard was unsure about what to think. Having Darce write anything positive about a lady was a novelty, but to have him write to his sister of a lady he met possessing so many favorable qualities was--alarming! Could any lady possibly be as wonderful as his cousin implied this one was? Since Darce had little experience with women he did not find repulsive, would he confuse a strong attraction or a passing infatuation with love?
He wanted to meet the woman who inspired this change in Darce, being wary of her intentions. Though Richard was not a target for mercenary ladies, he had seen enough of "the chase" through watching the tactics of these young ladies which his elder brother, the future Earl of Matlock, Darce and their wealthy friends had to deal with on a daily basis. Richard did not believe Darce would fall for any of their duplicity after his years of experience in dodging such schemes, but one never knew. The more he thought about it, the more anxious he became to meet Miss Elizabeth Bennet personally and determine whether Darce was being taken in…before it was too late!
When dinner was over, Elizabeth went upstairs to check on Jane. Finding her sleeping peacefully, she dawdled for a while. Though she did not wish to return to the party below, she knew civility required her to make a short appearance in the drawing room.
The group was involved with a game of loo when she arrived; allowing her the blessed option of reading a book as opposed to participating in any conversation with the other ladies.
Miss Bingley was intent on complimenting Mr. Darcy, as usual. She spoke of the wonders of Pemberley and of its unparalleled library. She then moved on to voluminous praise of Miss Darcy and her accomplishments. Mr. Bingley remarked on how all young ladies were so accomplished.
"All young ladies accomplished! My dear Charles, what do you mean?" Miss Bingley said with surprise.
"Yes, all of them, I think. They all paint tables, cover screens, and net purses. I scarcely know any one who cannot do all this, and I am sure I never heard a young lady spoken of for the first time without being informed that she was very accomplished."
"Your list of the common extent of accomplishments," said Darcy, "has too much truth. The word is applied to many a woman who deserve it not. I am very far from agreeing with your estimation of ladies in general. I cannot boast of knowing more than half a dozen in the whole range of my acquaintance that are really accomplished."
"Nor I, I am sure." said Miss Bingley, confident in the fact that she, at least, numbered among the privileged six.
"You must comprehend a great deal in your idea of an accomplished woman," observed Elizabeth.
"Yes, I do comprehend a great deal in it," Darcy started a bit when he heard her voice. His heart quickened in anticipation of the verbal duel he hoped lay ahead. He endeavored to hide his disappointment when he heard Miss Bingley's voice next.
"Oh! Certainly no one can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved."
Darcy thought of the particular importance of life and integrity, but knew he could not voice this opinion. He simply added, "And to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading," with a nod to Elizabeth's book.
Elizabeth noticed the slight twitch at the corners of his lips and she felt the release of the tension that had built between them. A sparkle entered her eye as she said, "I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished women. I rather wonder now at your knowing any."
Darcy's heart warmed at seeing her expression change, but wondered "Does she not recognize herself? No, she is too modest." Aloud he said, "Are you so severe upon your own sex, as to doubt the possibility of all this?"
"I never saw such a woman. I never saw such capacity, and taste, and application, and elegance, as you describe, united," Elizabeth said.
"Yes, modesty must be added to the list, my Elizabeth, and genuineness." Darcy thought with a slight smile directed at her. "You are the model of perfection in my eyes and in my heart."
Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley both cried out against the injustice of her implied doubt and were both protesting that they knew many women who answered this description, when Mr. Hurst called them to order, with bitter complaints of their inattention to what was going forward in their game. All conversation was thereby at an end.
Elizabeth went to check on her sister and found her unwell enough to necessitate her immediate return above stairs. Upon returning to tell the others of Jane's condition and that she would need to stay with her sister, Bingley wanted to call Mr. Jones immediately, but Elizabeth did not think her sister's condition warranted the apothecary, agreeing to call him in the morning if Jane was not any better.
They all bid her good night. She noticed something not easily identified, but pleasing, in Mr. Darcy's eyes as he said his adieus. With a little smile directed at Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth left and returned to Jane.
Jane was uncomfortable for the first part of the night, and Elizabeth spent the time applying cool cloths to Jane's forehead, wiping down her arms and face to help cool her fever… and thinking of Mr. Darcy.
It was nice to go back to a little of the friendliness they had experienced at the beginning of their acquaintance. She had missed him terribly since their talk at Lucas Lodge. Would they ever return to the previous level of ease, or would it be short bursts of ease interspersed with almost unbearable tension like tonight? What was that look in his eyes as she said goodnight?
"Oh, stop it Lizzy! There is no use in worrying about it. The future will tell itself. I cannot spend my time thinking on this subject any longer. I will put him out of my mind unless I am in his presence!" And yet he kept creeping back into her thoughts every time she pushed him away.
It seemed Jane's fever lessened about halfway through the night and she fell into a more peaceful sleep. Elizabeth did not want to leave her so she undressed, leaving on just her chemise. She climbed into bed with Jane to get some rest.
Elizabeth's presence in the same house was overwhelming to Darcy, especially any time she was in the same room. Darcy would immediately forget his plan of distancing himself from his feelings for her. Her smile made his heart skip a beat. A certain curve of her neck made him have to stop himself from rushing across the room to touch that beautiful skin and ascertain whether it was as silky in reality as it was in his dreams. A special twinkle in her eye, often just prior to when she was to make an impertinent remark, made his breath catch in his chest. When she arched her brow just so, his heart quickened. The trace of her scent left behind when she passed by, left him reeling. The musical quality of her laughter…oh, how he loved it…sent a pleasant shiver down his spine. He was relieved when Caroline and Louisa would not let her play and sing--he would certainly be lost! He had to hold himself in strict control at all times because the impulse to act on his feelings was gaining strength every minute.
There was no doubt Caroline Bingley had noticed his attraction since her barbs directed toward Elizabeth were obviously intensifying. Whenever she was not present, Caroline's criticisms of Elizabeth were becoming brutal. He wanted to forcefully put an end to Caroline's incessant chattering, but it was not his place, so he held his tongue, seething internally. Bingley seemed too distracted thinking about Miss Bennet to even notice most of what was going on around him.
When Elizabeth was not present, the best he could do was leave any room that Caroline was in. While literally hiding from Caroline, he tended to gravitate toward places where he had spent time with Elizabeth, or at least spent time pleasantly observing her from afar. In doing so, he felt great relief in being somehow closer to the essence of her, and he often found his thoughts wandering to what she might be doing just then. Darcy recognized this was not the wisest thing to do, but he was unable to resist.
Wednesday, November 13, 1811
As was his habit since Miss Bennet's illness began, Mr. Bingley often sent a maid to check on Miss Bennet. For the past two nights before retiring he had left orders for a maid to check on Miss Bennet's progress first thing in the morning and leave word with his valet so he would be informed of her condition immediately upon waking.
Therefore, Maggie's first duty this day would be to check on Miss Bennet. When entering the room Maggie smiled tenderly at the picture of Miss Lizzy snuggled up near Miss Bennet, knowing how close they were. She hesitated to move about the room, afraid to wake either of the ladies, especially since she knew Miss Lizzy had gotten little rest since arriving, but then noticed several items that needed her attention. She moved around the room as quietly as possible, tidying up a bit and refreshed the water in the pitcher and basin. Maggie felt Miss Bennet's forehead and smiled again when she detected her fever was lower. As she was turning to leave, Miss Lizzy's book slid from the bed.
Elizabeth awoke to the sound of the book hitting the wooden floor, and was a little confused about where she was. Upon seeing Jane she realized she was at Netherfield. The gentle light of daybreak came through the window, and she noticed Maggie standing near the doorway with some dirty linens.
"Oh, Miss Lizzy, I am sorry! I was hoping to allow you to sleep!" Maggie apologized quietly while bobbing a curtsy.
"Good morning, Maggie! I did sleep for a few hours, thank you," whispered Elizabeth. She checked Jane's temperature and was satisfied to find her cooler than the night before. "Maggie, would your duties permit staying with Miss Bennet for a little while this morning? Since my sister seems to be a little better I would like to freshen up and take a short walk. I will not venture far from the house in case I am needed." Fresh air always helped clear her mind and she felt she needed that desperately.
Maggie blushed a bit when she told Elizabeth she had to report back to Mr. Bingley's valet about Miss Bennet's condition first, and then she would return directly. Elizabeth smiled at the reference to Mr. Bingley's concern over Jane's health.
She dressed hurriedly in Jane's robe, gathered up the clothes from the previous night and did not bother to put her hair up…after all why go through all that trouble just to walk one door down? What were the chances of meeting anyone in the hall at this time of the morning?
She slipped from the room and down the hall, quickly entering her own bedchamber door. She did not realize Mr. Darcy had just been leaving his room nearby.
As had been Darcy's habit since coming to Netherfield, he woke early for a ride. He enjoyed watching the day begin as he cleared his head of the previous night's dreams with a gallop around the grounds of the park. His valet, Hughes, had helped him dress quickly and Darcy ordered his bath for an hour hence, and left the room.
Darcy froze when he heard the door to Miss Bennet's chamber open and saw Elizabeth exit, her hair down and her attire consisting of a thin robe.
He would not have been able to move if he wanted to. He had imagined and dreamt of her with her hair down and in similar, though more elegant, attire numerous times, but all of that was nothing compared to the reality before him. She was an absolute vision with her dark curls tumbling around her shoulders and down her back, the light filtering through the window down the hall picking up highlights, and each lock moving in an orchestrated harmony as her bare feet padded across the floor. The thin robe she was wearing did little to conceal the soft curves beneath.
If the sight before him was ever caught by an artist, it would be praised as a masterpiece and admired throughout eternity.
He did not know he had been holding his breath until she disappeared through her own door and he exhaled. The impulse to follow her through that door was so intense he could hardly stop himself. He had taken two or three steps in that direction before realizing what he was about and he froze in the middle of the hallway.
What would she think of him if he walked into her bedchamber? She would despise him forever! He could not, would not do this!
Taking stock of his physical state, he knew he could not be seen in public, and forced himself to turn back to his own room. The pulling sensation he usually felt when near Elizabeth was magnified at the moment, attempting to draw him back out that door and down the hall to Elizabeth's chamber. He quickly crossed the room back to his door and locked it…to delay himself long enough to think should this impulse overtake his reason. He needed to keep busy! "Yes, that is the answer!" so he decided to take a bath, and it must be right now! He went into the dressing room and realized Hughes was gone. He began to pace, waiting for Hughes to return.
Hughes returned from the kitchen where he had ordered the master's bath for an hour hence. He was surprised to find his master had returned so quickly. At first he thought Mr. Darcy had forgotten something, but upon seeing the master's agitated state, he did not know what to think.
"Hughes, I have decided to forego the ride and take a bath now."
"Mr. Darcy, I am sorry. I have just returned from the kitchen and ordered the water for your bath for later, as you requested sir. I diverted the hot water that is available now to Miss Elizabeth's maid instead. The staff does have orders from Miss Bingley to heed your requests before hers, sir, so if you would like me to, I can go down and have the water redirected to your bath instead." Hughes knew it was a mistake to mention Miss Elizabeth taking a bath when he noticed the expression on his master's face and hid a smile. "Ah, so she is the reason for his recent erratic behavior!"
Darcy's back stiffened. "Good G-d, why did he have to tell me that Elizabeth is taking a bath right now?" The images this information induced were far too much for him to handle without losing what little composure he had regained during his pacing. Resorting to something that had worked for him in the past he thought, "He said Miss Bingley is a king a bath, Miss Bingley!"
"I do not wish hot water, Hughes, get me a cold bath…now…GO!" he boomed as the intensity of his pacing increased. "If only I was at Pemberley I would go jump in the lake!"
Hughes left the room wondering how the kitchen staff would react when he requested a cold bath for Mr. Darcy.
Posted on: 2010-09-04
When she returned from her walk, Elizabeth met her mother and sisters in the front hall. Mr. Jones had also just arrived, and all the Bennet ladies went up to attend the examination. Jane was awake and just finishing some broth as the party arrived at her room. Mr. Jones was pleased that Miss Bennet's fever had lessened and did not feel she was in any danger, but felt she was still too ill to return home. He gave Elizabeth some powders and directions on how to use them to help with the throat pain.
Elizabeth was disappointed they could not return home, but she wanted to do what was best for Jane. The tension at Netherfield was so high it was almost unbearable.
Mrs. Bennet was thrilled to hear that Jane could not be moved and would need to stay at Netherfield, near Mr. Bingley. Jane and Elizabeth blushed for their mother saying such a thing in front of Mr. Jones. Mr. Jones understood the personalities of the family quite well after taking care of them for so many years and acted as if he did not hear. The Bennet ladies visited a while, and then wished to wait on the ladies of the house.
As they all, save Jane, joined the others of the house in the morning room, Elizabeth found it amusing to see Mr. Hurst slip out the door without taking his leave of anybody.
Bingley greeted his guests and said, "I do hope you have not found Miss Bennet worse than you expected, Mrs. Bennet."
Mrs. Bennet replied, "Indeed I have, sir. She is a great deal too ill to be moved. Mr. Jones says we must not think of moving her. We must trespass a little longer on your kindness."
"Removed!" cried Bingley, "It must not be thought of. My sister, I am sure, will not hear of her removal."
"You may depend upon it, Madam," said Caroline, with cold civility, "that Miss Bennet shall receive every possible attention while she remains with us."
Mrs. Bennet was profuse in her thanks for their hospitality for Jane's sake and then went on to advertise Jane's good qualities. "I am sure if it was not for such good friends I do not know what would become of her, for she is very ill indeed and suffers a vast deal, though with the greatest patience in the world which is always the way with her for she has, without exception, the sweetest temper I ever met with. I often tell my other girls they are nothing to her! And though I do not like to boast of my own child, to be sure one does not see anybody better looking than Jane. It is what everybody says; I do not trust my own partiality. Why, just last year Mr. Smythe, who was leasing Netherfield at the time--a kind gentleman of four thousand a year--said she was the most beautiful lady he had ever seen. He even wrote some verses on her, and very pretty they were."
There was an awkward pause while Elizabeth blushed furiously. That her mother would say such things in this company was beyond even her ability to forgive. She tried to think of something to say, but was speechless. She did not realize the worst was yet to come. Later, it was difficult for Elizabeth to judge which of her mother and younger sisters' pronouncements was the most inappropriate
Elizabeth's eyes opened wide as her mother began to speak again, afraid of what she might say next. "I must apologize for saddling you with Lizzy as well. You are too good! I do hope Lizzy is not giving you any trouble by carrying on in the wild manner she does at home!"
Lydia and Kitty both giggled loudly at her statement and Miss Bingley smiled at this direct insult to Elizabeth from her own mother.
Elizabeth's blush deepened and she looked to Mr. Darcy, who was staring at her mother in wide-eyed disbelief.
Even Mr. Bingley allowed some shock to show through his countenance, and cleared his throat, "Miss Elizabeth is the perfect house guest, madam; I assure you. It would be a pleasure to have her as a guest at Netherfield any time."
It was difficult to say whether Mrs. Bennet heard Mr. Bingley's answer for she immediately followed it up by saying, "You have a sweet room here, Mr. Bingley, and a charming prospect over that gravel walk. I do not know a place in the country that is equal to Netherfield. You will not think of quitting in such a hurry, I hope, though you have but a short lease."
Grateful for the change in subject, and anxious to keep it from returning to the former, Mr. Bingley quickly replied without any thought, "Whatever I do is done in a hurry and therefore if I should resolve to quit Netherfield, I should probably be off in five minutes. At present, however, I consider myself as quite fixed here."
"It is exactly what I should have supposed of you," said Elizabeth.
"You begin to comprehend me, do you?" cried Bingley, turning toward her.
"Oh yes! I understand you perfectly."
"I wish I might take this for a compliment; but to be so easily seen through I am afraid is pitiful."
Mrs. Bennet, afraid her daughter had insulted Jane's suitor, warned her. "Lizzy! Remember where you are and do not begin to run on in an insolent manner!"
Darcy became enraged at Mrs. Bennet's slanderous remarks about his Elizabeth. He knew if he spoke at that point, what he said would not be fit for feminine ears, so turned away from the company and walked to the window in an attempt to reign in his temper. After what happened at the assembly, he did not want to go about insulting her mother once more. He could feel Elizabeth's eyes follow him and was hoping his behavior was not causing her more pain, but he knew he would not be able to control his anger otherwise. He clasped his hands behind his back to remind himself to resist the impulse of carrying her away from anyone who may hurt her. "Oh, Elizabeth! Not only do you have to endure Caroline Bingley's unwarranted abuse but now to have to abide with this behavior from your own family!"
"It does not necessarily follow that a deep, intricate character is more or less estimable than such a one as yours, Mr. Bingley." Elizabeth clarified her opinion.
Bingley said, "I did not know before that you were a studier of character. It must be an amusing study."
"Yes, but intricate characters are the most amusing. They have that advantage."
Having calmed a little, Darcy moved toward the rest of the party and joined the conversation--partly wishing to put Elizabeth at ease and partly to show the others that he was not in agreement that her behavior was disrespectful. "The country can in general supply but few subjects for such a study. In a country neighborhood you move in a very confined and unvarying society."
He was rewarded with a small smile and a slight tilt of her head as Elizabeth answered, "But people themselves alter so much, that there is something new to be observed in them forever."
"Yes, indeed!" cried Mrs. Bennet loudly, startling everyone in the room. Offended by his manner of mentioning a country neighborhood, she did not hide her anger at Darcy while saying. "I assure you there is quite as much of that going on in the country as in town! I cannot see that London has any great advantage over the country for my part, except the shops and public places. The country is a vast deal pleasanter, is it not, Mr. Bingley?"
"When I am in the country I never wish to leave it; and when I am in town it is pretty much the same. They each have their advantages and I can be equally happy in either." Bingley replied, a bit nervous of what unexpected meaning Mrs. Bennet might take from his words as she had been doing with Darcy's.
"Ay--that is because you have the right disposition. But that gentleman," looking at Darcy, "seemed to think the country was nothing at all!"
Darcy returned to the window and closed his eyes for a moment while taking a deep breath, thinking, "I have managed to insult her mother once again after all!"
Elizabeth blushed and said, "Indeed, Mama, you are mistaken. You quite mistook Mr. Darcy. He only meant there were not such a variety of people to be met with in the country as in town, which you must acknowledge to be true."
"I believe there are few neighborhoods larger. We dine with four and twenty families!"
Caroline stifled a laugh, while Louisa was blushing slightly for Elizabeth's sake and tried her best to school her features. If anyone understood how it felt to be in company while a relative made remarks insulting others, it was Louisa; though her sister's comments were usually were implied insults rather than the outright ones hurled by Mrs. Bennet.
Elizabeth's mind moved quickly in an attempt to find something to distract her mother. "Has Charlotte been to visit at Longbourn since I have been away, Mama?"
Mrs. Bennet's annoyance with Mr. Darcy could still be heard in her voice when she replied, "Yes, she called yesterday with her father. What an agreeable man Sir William is. So much the man of fashion; so genteel and so easy! That is my idea of good breeding; and those persons who fancy themselves very important and hardly open their mouths quite mistake the matter." She said looking directly at Mr. Darcy.
Elizabeth quickly asked, "Did they dine with you?"
"No, Charlotte would go home. I fancy she was wanted about the mince pies. For my part, Mr. Bingley, I always keep servants that can do their own work; my daughters are brought up differently. The Lucases are very good sort of girls, but it is a pity they are not at all handsome."
"Miss Lucas seems a very pleasant young woman," said Bingley.
Mrs. Bennet saw the opportunity to call attention to Jane's superiority once again. "Oh dear yes--but you must own she is very plain. Lady Lucas herself has often said so, and envied me Jane's beauty."
Lydia and Kitty had been whispering and giggling since they arrived, now giggled loud enough for the whole party to turn in their direction. Since she had their attention, Lydia felt it was her turn to speak, "Mr. Bingley, you have promised to have a ball. It would be a great scandal if you should not keep your word!"
"I am perfectly ready, I assure you, to keep my engagement, when Miss Bennet is recovered. I am certain you would not wish to be dancing while she is ill."
Elizabeth, while grateful for the interruption of her mother's insulting remarks directed at Darcy, was not happy with Lydia's impropriety and was dreading what her sisters might say or do next.
Lydia and Kitty both jumped up off the sofa, giggling and clapping their hands. Lydia exclaimed, "Oh yes! It would be much better to wait because by that time most likely Captain Carter would be at Meryton again. And when you have given your ball I shall insist on their giving one also. I will tell Colonel Forster it would be shameful if he did not!"
Darcy, who had turned back to the company when Lydia spoke, could not understand how Mrs. Bennet could belittle Elizabeth for behaving well and not censure her younger daughters' when their behavior was such as this? He noticed Elizabeth was in an even higher state of agitation than before, and wished he could comfort her. "Can the two eldest actually be related to these ladies?" he thought.
In an almost constant state of mortification since her mother and sisters had arrived, Elizabeth unsuccessfully attempted to change the subject once more by asking whether she had received the letter she was expecting from her Aunt in London. Once the subject of balls and dancing had been introduced, nothing would distract them.
Mr. Bingley was as kind as ever though Elizabeth had seen him blush a few times during the visit. Mr. Darcy was holding himself rigidly throughout, and she had seen a look of anger in his eyes the few times she had dared to glance at him. Miss Bingley did not even attempt to hide her shock or disgust at some of her family's statements. After the most recent outburst from her sisters, Mrs. Hurst could no longer hold her countenance and her features displayed similar emotions to her sister's.
Elizabeth's family did not notice any of this and would not be dissuaded. "Oh Mama, do you not see what you are doing? Please silence your tongue and those of my sisters!" Elizabeth thought. "If they had set out on purpose to mortify me, they could not have done a better job."
Elizabeth was relieved to say goodbye to her mother and younger sisters and then immediately escaped to Jane's room. She decided not to tell Jane about the humiliation she had suffered during the visit. She only told her about Mr. Bingley's kind manner and how there was talk of a ball at Netherfield once Jane was completely recovered.
As Jane fell back to sleep, Elizabeth wondered what was being said of the visit downstairs…and especially what Mr. Darcy was thinking about her family's behavior.
Darcy could not blame Elizabeth for escaping above stairs to check on her sister after her family had gone. How he wanted to follow and comfort her! One thing he knew was that he did not wish to listen to Miss Bingley pick apart every detail of the visit, so he escaped to Bingley's study with the excuse of a pressing need to write a letter to his steward.
Once there, he stood by the window thinking. If he decided to pursue Elizabeth, these women would be his family as well. He understood that Elizabeth's fortitude stemmed from her love for them, but he did not love them. Could he possibly tolerate them?
Why must this be so difficult?
While at the office of his General, Richard overheard an assignment being issued for correspondence to be taken to a Colonel Forster of the militia stationed near Meryton, Hertfordshire. Richard thought this a happy coincidence since he knew Bingley's residence was near that village. Richard volunteered for the assignment and was granted permission for a fortnight of leave time there to "visit family".
Georgiana grinned and clapped her hands excitedly when she heard Richard's plan. She looked forward to hearing Richard's opinion of Miss Bennet, and thought perhaps he might be a more objective observer than her brother could be if he was besotted with the lady in question. Richard retired early, telling Georgie of his plan to be off at sunrise and that he should finish his business by noon, arriving at Netherfield soon after. He would write as soon as he had any news of her brother or Miss Bennet.
~ Netherfield Park
Jane was still feverish, but much less so. Her throat was painfully sore and she found speaking difficult so she had been spending most of the day alternating between sleeping and listening to Elizabeth read. Elizabeth saw to it that Jane took some broth and tea, though the exertion seemed to take its toll on her as she fell asleep while Elizabeth was out of the room changing for dinner.
Miss Bingley had again decided that their evening's entertainment would consist of keeping Mr. Darcy occupied so he did not have a chance to speak to Miss Eliza.
Elizabeth was relieved the conversation at dinner had not turned to her relations and connections as it had the day before. Following dinner, Elizabeth went to check on Jane, who was still sleeping soundly, then joined the others in the drawing room. Mr. Hurst and Mr. Bingley were engaged in a game of piquet, while Mrs. Hurst watched the game. Mr. Darcy sat at a writing desk composing a letter to his sister, and Miss Bingley hovered over him.
"He certainly does write to her often; they must be quite close. When I met her she did seem such a sweet girl. I am happy he is such an attentive brother." Elizabeth thought.
Miss Bingley seemed to be doing her best to test Mr. Darcy's limit of patience by interrupting his writing to send messages to Miss Darcy on her behalf and comment on his handwriting. "Does she think she is flirting?" Elizabeth wondered and her eyes danced with amusement.
"How delighted Miss Darcy will be to receive such a letter!"
Darcy made no answer.
"You write uncommonly fast."
"You are mistaken. I write rather slowly."
"How many letters you must have occasion to write in the course of the year! Letters of business too! How odious I should think them!"
"It is fortunate, then, that they fall to my lot instead of to yours." Darcy glanced at Elizabeth and saw the sparkle in her eyes as she looked upon the scene. He then began to move his eyes to meet Elizabeth's with a slight twitch of his lips as he made each of his responses to Miss Bingley.
"Pray tell your sister that I long to see her."
"I have already told her so once, by your desire." Understanding what he was about, Elizabeth could barely keep her countenance. Mr. Darcy was obviously in a teasing mood. She adjusted her book and turned her head toward it, only moving her eyes when he spoke hoping nobody would discover their silent exchange. After each of Darcy's rebukes of Miss Bingley, Elizabeth would attempt to read to distract herself from her repressed smiles before they got away from her, but she could not attend the words on the page–spending the time in anticipation of his next words instead.
"I am afraid you do not like your pen. Let me mend it for you. I mend pens remarkably well."
"Thank you, but I always mend my own."
"How can you contrive to write so even?"
He was silent.
"Tell your sister I am delighted to hear of her improvement on the harp, and pray let her know that I am quite in raptures with her beautiful little design for a table, and I think it infinitely superior to Miss Grantley's."
"Will you give me leave to defer your raptures till I write again? At present I have not room to do them justice."
"Oh! It is of no consequence. I shall see her in January. But do you always write such charming long letters to dear, sweet Georgiana, Mr. Darcy?"
"They are generally long, but whether always charming, it is not for me to determine." Darcy answered with another glance at Elizabeth.
"It is a rule with me that a person who can write a long letter with ease cannot write ill."
"That will not do for a compliment to Darcy, Caroline," cried Bingley, "He does not write with ease. He studies too much for words of four syllables. Do not you, Darcy?"
Darcy smiled. "My style of writing is very different from yours."
"Oh!" cried Miss Bingley, "Charles writes in the most careless way imaginable. He leaves out half his words and blots the rest."
"My ideas flow so rapidly that I have not time to express them--which means my letters sometimes convey no ideas at all to my correspondents." Bingley laughed.
Elizabeth joined in with a smile. "Your humility, Mr. Bingley, must disarm reproof."
Darcy could not resist challenging her on this point. "Nothing is more deceitful than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion and sometimes an indirect boast."
Bingley's eyebrows rose before he said, "And which of the two do you call my little piece of modesty?"
"The indirect boast; for you are really proud of your defects in writing. You consider them as proceeding from a rapidity of thought and carelessness of execution, which if not estimable you think at least highly interesting. The power of doing anything with quickness is always much prized by the possessor, and often without any attention to the imperfection of the performance. When you told Mrs. Bennet this morning that if you ever resolved on quitting Netherfield you should be gone in five minutes, you meant it to be a compliment to yourself--and yet what is there so very estimable in a haste which must leave very necessary business undone and can be of no real advantage to yourself or anyone else?"
Bingley cried, "To remember at night all the foolish things that were said in the morning. And yet, upon my honor I believed what I said of myself to be true and I believe it at the moment. At least I did not assume the character of needless haste merely to show off before the ladies."
"I daresay you believed it, but I am by no means convinced that you would be gone with such rapidity. Your conduct would be quite as dependant on chance as that of any man I know; and if as you were mounting your horse a friend were to say, 'Bingley you had better stay till next week' you would probably do it--you would probably not go--and at another word you might stay a month."
Elizabeth had heard enough to answer to the challenge she had seen in Darcy's eyes earlier. "You have only proved by this that Mr. Bingley did not do justice to his own disposition. You have shown him off now much more than he did himself."
"I am exceedingly gratified by your converting what Darcy said into a compliment on the sweetness of my temper. But I am afraid you are giving it a turn which he did by no means intend, for he would certainly think better of me if under such a circumstance I were to give a flat denial and ride off as fast as I could."
"Would Mr. Darcy then consider the rashness of your original intention as atoned for by your obstinacy in adhering to it?"
Bingley said, "Darcy must speak for himself."
"You expect me to account for opinions which you choose to call mine but which I have never acknowledged. Allowing the case, however, to stand according to your representation, you must remember, Miss Elizabeth, that the friend who is supposed to desire his return to the house and the delay of his plan, has merely desired it--asked it without offering one argument in favor of its propriety." Darcy answered looking only at Elizabeth.
"To yield readily--easily--to the persuasion of a friend is no merit with you."
"To yield without conviction is no compliment to the understanding of either."
Elizabeth stood and moved closer to Darcy, amusement dancing in her eyes and her brow arched in that way which could drive him to distraction. "You appear to me, Mr. Darcy, to allow nothing for the influence of friendship and affection. A regard for the requester would often make one readily yield to a request, without waiting for arguments to reason one into it. I am not particularly speaking of such a case as you have supposed about Mr. Bingley. We may as well wait, perhaps, till the circumstance occurs, before we discuss the discretion of his behavior thereupon. But in general and ordinary cases between friend and friend, where one of them is desired by the other to change a resolution of no very great moment, should you think ill of that person for complying with the desire, without waiting to be argued into it?"
Darcy enjoyed a debate with an intelligent partner and relished any opportunity to debate Elizabeth for she had impressed him by proving to be one of the most worthy adversaries he had debated so far.
This particular subject was affecting him deeply because it had struck him that all she had to do was request something of him and he would more than likely yield without question. Did she realize it, too, he wondered. No, she would not; she was too modest for it to even enter her thoughts!
He stood and took a step closer to her before answering, "Will it not be advisable before we proceed on this subject to arrange with rather more precision the degree of importance which is to apply to this request, as well as the degree of intimacy existing between the parties?"
Bingley interrupted their discourse, "By all means let us hear all the particulars, not forgetting their comparative height and size; for that will have more weight in the argument, Miss Elizabeth, than you may be aware of. I assure you that if Darcy were not such a great tall fellow in comparison with myself I should not pay him half so much deference. I declare I do not know a more awful object than Darcy on particular occasions and in particular places; at his own house especially and of a Sunday evening when he has nothing to do."
Darcy smiled but Elizabeth thought she could perceive that he was rather offended.
Darcy replied, "I see your design, Bingley, you dislike conflict and want to silence this debate."
"Perhaps I do. Debates are too much like disputes. If you and Miss Elizabeth will defer yours till I am out of the room I shall be thankful and then you may say whatever you like."
Elizabeth exchanged an amused glance with Darcy. They both enjoyed the exchange immensely, it was a feeling of relief to both of them to be speaking easily again.
Elizabeth said, "Perhaps Mr. Darcy had much better finish his letter to his sister."
Darcy bowed to her and returned to the writing desk to do just that, hoping Elizabeth understood he was yielding to his friend's wish by ending their debate, not to his own.
After a few minutes, Elizabeth took her leave, saying she had been away from her sister for too long.
Darcy excused himself for the night shortly after she left, not trusting his thoughts to remain off his face.
Thursday, November 14, 1811
The next morning, Miss Bingley commanded Mr. Darcy and Mrs. Hurst to attend her on a walk about the grounds. As they set out, they met Elizabeth as she was on her way into the house, and invited her to join them. Having already had her walk, and pleading the need to check on Jane, she declined the offer.
As they returned to the house, the party joined Mr. Bingley and Mr. Hurst in the sitting room for tea. A few minutes later, to everyone's surprise, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam was announced.
A bewildered Darcy crossed the room and met Richard with a hearty handshake and a big grin. "Richard! What are you doing in Hertfordshire?"
"Thank you for making me feel so welcome, Darce!" Richard teased.
As Bingley approached the two, Richard extended his hand in greeting his host, "Since sudden but brief military business has brought me to the area, I decided to take you up on the offer extended when I last saw you in London, Bingley. You did say to come for a visit anytime! If it is inconvenient to your household I could stay at the Inn at Meryton."
With his usual good humor, Bingley replied, "Fitzwilliam, I am glad to see you! What nonsense you speak! It is never an inconvenience to welcome a good friend to my home! How long can you stay?"
"Thank you! It is good to see you as well. Darce's recent letters to Georgiana, which she read to me, have piqued my interest of your new neighborhood, Bingley. My General seems to think I am in need of some diversion and relaxation so I have been granted a fortnight's leave of absence. Though, I would not wish to disrupt your plans." He glanced sideways at Darcy, whose eyes widened a bit in response to the speech.
"Your company would be agreeable for as long as you manage it. I hope you will be able to attend the ball we are planning when Miss Bennet is feeling better." Remembering Richard did not know the Bennet's, Bingley went on, "Oh, we are short two of our party this afternoon, as poor Miss Bennet is ill and her sister, Miss Elizabeth, is above stairs nursing her. They are staying with us until Miss Bennet is well enough to remove to her home nearby at Longbourn." Turning to the rest of the party, "You may remember my sister, Miss Caroline Bingley, my brother, Mr. Alexander Hurst and my sister, Mrs. Louisa Hurst."
Richard shot Darcy a pointed look at the information that Miss Elizabeth Bennet was actually staying under the same roof! As they knew each other so well, Darcy could not but understand the true nature of Richard's visit once he recognized the meaning of that look, and he was a more than a little disturbed.
Darcy had managed to avoid being alone with Richard since his arrival. He knew the moment they were alone, Richard would pounce upon him to gather information about Elizabeth. He had no idea that Richard would be in London, or any reason to suspect Georgiana would read his letters out loud. Darcy wracked his memory trying to recall what he wrote to his sister about Elizabeth. Obviously it had been enough to make Richard suspicious, and perhaps Georgiana as well. He could well imagine the two of them conspiring to find a way to get Richard to Netherfield. Darcy would also wager that if there had been any way, Georgiana would have come along. It mattered not what he had said in his letter for he was sure it was all true. He could not have praised Elizabeth highly enough.
Perhaps the inevitable meeting with Richard would be helpful for him to sort through his feelings, but he needed some time to think. Maybe Richard could give him the boost he needed, one way or the other, to make a decision. Or was that too much to hope for?
When she joined everyone in the dining room, Elizabeth was introduced to Colonel Fitzwilliam, Mr. Darcy's cousin. Elizabeth found herself seated between the cousins.
Richard's easy manners soon found him engaged in pleasant conversation with Elizabeth, while Darcy seethed with jealousy. It seemed the more uncomfortable he felt, the more Richard would flirt with her. He could not help feel that the smiles she directed toward Richard were supposed to be his! There were many instances that he was torn between the impulse to flog Richard or to carry Elizabeth off far away from him. Scotland would serve. This was absolutely maddening!
So far during the meal, in order to keep his temper under regulation so he would not verbally attack Richard, Darcy had remained silent. He now had to find a way to join in on their conversation with Elizabeth, to have her look at him, smile at him! He felt as if he would burst with rage if she smiled at Richard again.
Caroline was livid. Now Colonel Fitzwilliam was paying a great deal of attention to Eliza Bennet as well as Mr. Darcy--and both gentlemen were ignoring her. No matter how she tried this evening she could not engage Mr. Darcy in conversation, he was too busy watching his cousin and Eliza converse. This was not to be borne! She thought the way to remedy this would be to point out to the Colonel, and remind Mr. Darcy, just what a worthless country hoyden Eliza really was…connections in trade indeed! "Miss Eliza, you had shared with us recently that your uncle in London owns an import/export business, am I correct?"
"Yes he does and he has owned a bookshop for the past fifteen years as well."
Here was the perfect opportunity to gain Elizabeth's attention, "Pray, what is the name of your uncle's bookshop?" Darcy meant to ask this the last time it was brought up since he was familiar with many booksellers in London, but had been interrupted.
"Gardiner's Books, sir."
Darcy was surprised, "Miss Elizabeth, your uncle is Mr. Edward Gardiner?"
Elizabeth smiled at him, "Yes, he is my mother's brother. Do you know my uncle, Mr. Darcy?"
Darcy's eyes widened a bit in surprise. "Mrs. Bennet's brother? The personalities of these siblings could not be more opposite!" Elizabeth understood exactly what that look meant and her smile changed a bit to one of understanding as amusement danced in her eyes, for she had thought the same thing many, many times.
"Aye, he does, as do I, Miss Bennet!" the Colonel said with a smile, while Darcy's eyes threw daggers at him.
Darcy replied, "I have been frequenting Mr. Gardiner's shop for years; my father would take me there as a young man whenever we were in London, as did my uncle with Colonel Fitzwilliam. In size, it is smaller than most booksellers, but looks are deceiving. What a treasure is housed inside! He has one of the best shops in London for one who is interested in collecting as well as new editions and everything in between. Mr. Gardiner's talent in finding impossible-to-find editions is invaluable!"
With a wide smile, Darcy shifted his gaze and continued, "Bingley, you met Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner at my home the week before we came to Hertfordshire. His was the shop I showed you the following day." He looked back to Elizabeth, "We chose several books to begin Bingley's collection, Miss Elizabeth."
Caroline looked as if she had eaten something sour.
"I must agree with my cousin on everything he has said. I have spent many happy hours browsing your uncle's store," Colonel Fitzwilliam stated.
"And in conversation with Mr. Gardiner, as well" Darcy agreed.
Caroline could no longer hold her tongue, "Excuse me! Mr. Darcy! You entertained a tradesman at your home?!" she asked in disgust.
Darcy tried to hide his smile. Bingley's fortune was made in trade by his father and grandfather, though his sisters conveniently forgot that fact whenever possible, "Mr. Gardiner is a friend, Miss Bingley. I had the great pleasure of meeting Mrs. Gardiner as well when they honored my sister and me with their acceptance of our dinner invitation. It was a nice surprise to find that Mrs. Gardiner grew up in Lambton, not five miles from Pemberley. Georgiana enjoyed discussing the area with Mrs. Gardiner. I have been informed that she and Mrs. Gardiner have exchanged visits since I have been in Hertfordshire."
Bingley was beaming. "Yes, I cannot agree with you more, Darcy; it certainly was an honor to meet Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner. What a delightful couple! Mrs. Gardiner certainly did much to ease Miss Darcy's shy nature. I have never seen her so animated! Of course, Darcy's knowledge of bookshops is much greater than mine, but I was impressed with Mr. Gardiner's."
At the mention of Miss Darcy, Louisa knew Caroline would normally say something complimentary about Georgiana in order to ingratiate herself with Mr. Darcy, but she also knew that if Caroline uttered a word at this moment she would not be able to stop herself from saying something much different. Caroline had already insulted Mr. Darcy by criticizing his taste in dinner guests, and in Louisa's opinion Caroline should remain quiet for the time being. Under the table, Louisa put her hand on her sister's arm hoping to still her tongue.
Elizabeth's eyes betrayed how happy she was to hear such praise of her favorite aunt and uncle, "Gentlemen, you might continue on all evening in this vein and not compliment my aunt and uncle highly enough, in my opinion! They are wonderful people. I had no idea you all knew each other." Turning to Caroline, "Miss Bingley, my aunt and uncle are often invited to dine with their customers, as are Jane and I when we are staying with them."
This conversation was not going at all as Caroline had intended! Instead of bringing Eliza's faults to the forefront, it had initiated a more intimate degree of conversation between Eliza and the gentlemen--and they completely ignored her! Caroline did not even attempt to hide her displeasure, while she noticed Louisa made an unsuccessful effort to hide what seemed to be confusion. Caroline rose to signal it was time for the ladies to separate from the gentlemen.
Though the gentlemen would have been happy to forego the custom this particular evening, as was common in the country, they did not feel they could do so without causing insult. The fact was that usually Bingley and Darcy were the ones to insist upon the separation. Caroline assumed it was because being so highly placed in society Darcy was used to more formal dining and so she attempted to impress him with her "Town Hostess" abilities by agreeing to the separation without complaint. The truth of the matter was that after spending all of dinner listening to Caroline's generally insipid remarks with Louisa's concurrence of all her sister's opinions, that by the time their repast was done the gentlemen required some time away--and a bit of brandy to brace themselves before more of the same began in the drawing room. It might be too obvious had they not separated tonight that it was due to the gentlemen finding the additional company more pleasant.
Elizabeth took the opportunity to escape above stairs to check on Jane. If she felt well enough, Jane would return with her to the drawing room for a visit.
Elizabeth entered Jane's bedchamber and closed the door firmly behind her. Jane could tell something had unnerved her sister by the way she was moving. "Lizzy, what is it?"
"Jane! Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam is here!"
Jane's shocked "Oh!" was all that was heard for several minutes as both ladies were lost in thought.
Elizabeth said, "Perhaps it was not a wise decision to remain quiet about this subject after all? It would seem odd if we bring it up now, though, would it not? Oh! I should have told Mr. Darcy sooner! Telling one person would have been much more preferable than telling the entire group."
"What do you think Mama will do when she finds out, Lizzy?" The two knew exactly what would happen, it did not need to be said aloud…the very thing they had been avoiding by not telling her these past years, though now it would have the addition of being endlessly chastised for not telling her sooner. She would crow to the entire neighborhood about her daughters' connections and insist upon accompanying them to London soon to make certain they "caught" affluent husbands.
"At least we have avoided it for a few years, Jane," Elizabeth said, her disturbed thoughts obviously displayed on her face, "But really--must we expose the connection now? After Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam's current visit is done, we may never see them again in Hertfordshire. We may only see them in town. When we do, we can then confess…and nobody here will need to know. Additionally, Papa is unprepared..."
Jane's brow furrowed before saying, "It is true, Papa would be made quite unhappy if we expose the acquaintance. But Lizzy, we must speak to Papa about it when we go home. We may have avoided overly exciting Mama up until now, but we cannot do so forever. I do believe the next time we visit in London, upon our return we should be honest with Mama about who we visited while there."
"Yes, I agree, Jane. Also, if the acquaintance does come up in conversation, we will not lie about it."
With that, Elizabeth helped Jane downstairs.
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