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In a Prudential Light, Part 2, Chapter 4

July 13, 2018 07:33PM
Chapter Four

The first week of the Rosings party’s visit to Derbyshire passed in quiet comfort and enjoyment. Every advantage of a small, summer party in the country was theirs— mild weather, an obliging host, few outside engagements, freedom from the everyday duties of home, and the liberty to do exactly as they liked at virtually every hour of the day. Elizabeth spent much of her time walking through the park (which was so large she felt at times she must have ventured into an entirely separate wilderness), sitting with Anne, and writing to her family.

While their host was much occupied during the day with the business that had called him back to Derbyshire prematurely, in the evening he was at liberty to dine with his guests. These evenings were as pleasant as they were quiet, and a palpable conviviality seemed to settle over the house and all its occupants. Even Lady Catherine seemed transformed by the bucolic scene and the harmony of the company— she was less irritable, less demanding, and more inclined to let the young people amuse themselves however they saw fit.

One such agreeable evening after dinner, Elizabeth sat down at Georgiana Darcy’s pianoforte. The instrument had become something of a fascination to her, being so beloved by its owner, of whom Elizabeth had heard so much but had not yet met. The pianoforte was made of a rich, sturdy wood, and had the appearance of both frequent use and painstaking care for its preservation. She lifted the lid carefully to inspect the keys. They were a beautiful ivory, certainly worn from use, but very fine indeed. Though Elizabeth would never have described herself a first-rate musician, she could well appreciate the beauty and quality of the instrument before her.

Darcy, who had been good-naturedly listening to his aunt’s remembrances of her first summer at Pemberley shortly after her sister’s marriage, now delicately extricated himself from the conversation and joined Elizabeth at the piano.

“Do you have a mind to play?” he asked, pleased at her obvious admiration of the instrument.

“Yes, if you like,” replied Elizabeth, smiling up at him as she began a few scales by way of discovering the touch of the keyboard. “Though I can hardly promise to do this fine instrument justice.”

Darcy, who enjoyed Elizabeth’s playing very much but knew this remark was no insincere attempt to draw compliments with false modesty, wished to set her at ease. “I believe Georgiana has a number of rather pretty songs here – most of them quite straightforward and likely already known to you. . .” he began sifting through the small stack of music on the piano. “Ah, what do you say to this?”

Elizabeth cast her eyes over the music he handed her and quickly recognized the tune as a favorite. She smiled and nodded her agreement, grateful he had been sensitive to her desire to avoid being out of her depth. As she spread music before her and made herself ready to play, Elizabeth was surprised to discover Darcy settling himself to her left on the piano bench, apparently ready to turn her pages.

“I did not know you were musical, sir,” she said, attempting to keep her voice steady despite the immediate effect his physical proximity seemed to have on her equanimity.

He smiled modestly. “I know enough to make myself useful.”

“Ah,” said Elizabeth, guessing the implications of his reply. “Miss Darcy’s doing, I suppose.”


Elizabeth brought her hands to the keyboard and began to play. Her proficiency had improved somewhat as a result of the lessons she had given Miss de Bourgh in the last month, and the proof of this improvement as she returned to an old favorite much increased her enjoyment in playing. So too did the competent, ready assistance of her companion. Miss Darcy had trained her brother well – his page turning was both timely and unobtrusive. Elizabeth doubted, however, that his training had included the frequent slide-long glances of her profile he stole as she sang, or the light brush of his knee against hers when he leaned forward to grasp the upper corner of the opposite page to turn it. She felt the heat rise in her cheeks, reminding herself of their agreement earlier that week in favor of friendship. She could not deny, however, that the feelings his nearness inspired within her were not altogether friendly in nature.

“That was a great favorite of my mother’s,” he remarked in a reflective tone when she had finished.

Intrigued by this rare mention of his mother and eager to discuss a topic which might provide a convenient distraction her from her present thoughts, Elizabeth turned away from the music and regarded her companion on the bench, encouraging him to elaborate.

“She loved music – I seem to remember her nearly always humming or singing.” He paused, looked toward Lady Catherine on the other side of the room, and continued, “you may not believe it, madam, but my mother had a unique ability to bring out a much more sympathetic quality in my aunt.”

Elizabeth eyebrows rose, and she smiled incredulously at her companion. “Did she indeed, sir?”

“Indeed. Lady Catherine was exceeding fond of my mother and would have done anything to please her. My mother was well aware of that fact, and tried to use her influence to soften the temperament nature had given her sister. But, my mother’s influence seems sadly to have died with her.”

“When did she die?”

“Twelve years ago. I was still a boy by many accounts – sixteen. Georgiana was a mere child.”

Elizabeth made a small, empathetic sigh. “May I ask – what happened to her?”

“She fell seriously ill one winter and was dead within a fortnight. She’d been strong and vital all her life, and yet the last illness came on very suddenly, and overcame her. My poor father took it very hard. In fact, I don’t think he ever quite recovered in the seven years between her death and his. They were devoted to each other.”

Elizabeth nodded, suddenly finding her cheeks warm and the keyboard before her an absorbing object of study. She brought her fingers to the keys again and absently began to play another tune from the banks of her memory. Presently, she replied, still playing, “I know my mother loved my father—in her way—but I am under no illusion that they had the kind of bond it seems your parents did. I hope very much my sisters will marry good men with whom they can share that kind of lasting affection.”

Darcy wished he could ask her if securing this possibility for her sisters had been her own motivation for marrying William Collins, but willed himself to be silent on this point. Instead he offered, “of course. I wish the same for Georgiana.”

Elizabeth, feeling the melancholy tune she had begun to play added unnecessarily to the somber turn of their conversation, abandoned it for a livelier one in her mental repertoire, and soon felt her courage returning. “And you, Mr. Darcy?” she asked a few moments later, the teasing note returning to her voice. “Who will you marry?”

Undeterred by the boldness of her question, Darcy replied with a sly smile, “Why my cousin Anne, of course. As my aunt has instructed.”

Elizabeth shook her head and laughed quietly at this quip, knowing Darcy meant no slight to his cousin by it. She had no doubt that he was almost as sure of Anne’s unwillingness to fulfill her mother’s wishes as Elizabeth was herself. She continued at the pianoforte until the party was ready to retire for the evening, playing through the small catalogue of memorized pieces she had mastered. And though she did not take up another piece of Miss Darcy’s music again, her page turner never left the bench.

A little while later that evening, Darcy, who had not in fact retired but stayed awake to complete a few remaining matters of business, was at last ready to return to his rooms for the night. His two favorite dogs, who had followed their master into the study, now walked alongside him down the corridor as he made his way across the dark, silent house.

He was passing the great doors that led out onto the main balcony at the front of the house when he saw through their large glass panes that he was not the only one who hadn’t yet retired. Elizabeth, still wearing the gown she had worn at dinner and wrapped in a summer shawl, was leaning out over the balcony, staring up at the night sky.

Almost unconsciously, Darcy stopped to study her through the glass. Unaware she was observed, her behavior lost something of that capable, quick-witted, and self-possessed young woman she was in public, and took on the qualities of the inquisitive, impetuous girl he imagined she must have been not so terribly long ago. She was leaning far out over the balustrade, craning her neck at a sharp angle, obviously intent on examining some constellation of stars barely within her view. One of her feet had popped up beneath her to balance her weight and keep her from tumbling over the balcony. She seemed completely oblivious to anything but the object of her observation. It was a charming, strangely intimate view of her, a side he hadn’t yet seen.

Darcy briefly weighed his options, but knew he was fooling himself to even entertain the possibility he could be capable of going directly to bed without speaking to her. He opened the doors and stepped out onto the balcony.

Hearing the dogs follow their master’s steps, Elizabeth straightened her posture and turned. Far from disliking the intrusion to her solitary reverie, or suffering embarrassment at being discovered in the childlike posture she had adopted to watch her stellar subject, she knelt to affectionately greet the dogs and they advanced toward her. She let them press their eager noises into her hands and laughed warmly at their enthusiasm for her attention. For what felt like the hundredth time since her arrival earlier that week, Darcy felt his heart tighten in his chest, full of love and desire for her.

He gathered himself and said apologetically, “I hope we haven’t disturbed you. I’ve just shut up my study for the night and was going to retire.”

“No, no,” she said, rising after fondly and thoroughly stroking each dog behind the ears. “I meant to go to bed long ago myself, but found the fresh night air was too tempting a prospect to resist. It’s such a beautiful, clear night, and so mild – I couldn’t sleep until I had a view of the stars from this vantage point.”

He smiled and joined her at the balustrade, looking out over it into the night.

“Your business keeps you to late hours?” she asked him.

“Not always,” he replied, pleased by her interest, “but there’s been a rather disagreeable conflict of late with neighboring landowners to the north of the estate. It’s the matter that brought me back to Pemberley earlier than I intended.”

“I’m sorry to hear it. What seems to be the trouble?”

“A dispute over Pemberley’s tenants’ recent use of our northern bordering fields. We re-opened them for grazing about a month ago.”

“Why should that cause your neighbors concern?”

“Their concern, as I understand it, is that before now, Pemberley had let the land alone for some years (since I was a boy, I believe). In the meantime, a few of the neighboring farmers have used the land as their own, under a mistaken belief that it did not belong to Pemberley. Before our tenants resumed grazing, these landowners intended to build stables and keep horses there, perhaps even to plant wheat.”

“But the land does belong to Pemberley?”

“Oh, undoubtedly. And in recent years it has become some of the finest grazing land on the estate. It would be foolish to part with it, even for just compensation. My solicitor tells me we’ve every right to take a firm view of the matter and force them out immediately. But I can’t help feeling it’s rather ill-conceived to alienate the same families who have lived in harmony with Pemberley for so many generations, simply because of a misunderstanding.”

“Yes, of course you should feel that way,” replied Elizabeth thoughtfully.

“At present, however, I cannot see my way to an alternative.”

“I wonder,” she began again, after dwelling some moments on the dilemma, “is there no other land around Pemberley’s borders that might suit their purposes?”

Darcy paused to consider this point. “I suppose in theory there would be—why do you ask?”

“And if this land was suitable, would you be opposed to allowing these gentlemen to use it?”

“No. . .” said Darcy, beginning to see her point.

“It occurs to me,” Elizabeth continued, her voice gaining excitement as she contemplated the plan, “that fine grass is not necessary for building stables and planting wheat as it is for grazing cattle. But this is no reason for you to disappoint your neighbors or to frustrate their plans. How much better it would be for everyone if you were to locate some other tract of Pemberley’s land, which you could lease to them for a small share of their profits, and in exchange for this benefit, these landowners would give up any claim to the land on which you would like to continue grazing your cattle?”

He regarded her blankly for a moment, so stunned by the elegant simplicity of her response that he could not believe that neither he, his solicitor, nor any of the wealthy, educated men involved in the entire dispute had thought of the solution sooner.

Elizabeth, misinterpreting his look and his silence, quickly blushed in embarrassment. “Have I said something amiss? To be sure, I know nothing of land rights or farming interests. . .”

“No, no, no!” reassured Darcy, quickly regaining his faculties. “It’s an excellent plan! I intend to write to my solicitor about it first thing tomorrow. I’m only very sorry I did not think of it myself!”

She smiled up at him with real pleasure at the compliment, then turned her eyes away modestly. “Not at all. I am very glad to be of assistance to you.”

They were quiet for several moments, returning to look out over the balcony into the stillness of the evening, both seemingly lost in their own thoughts. For his part, Darcy could not help but reflect how very clever she was, how discerning and clear-minded. How he wished such a superior woman could be at his side all the time, helping with every important matter and decision, instead of coming in and out of his life as the demands of those with superior claims to her time and attention dictated. He stole another side-long glance at her profile. Her moonlit face was as serene and contented as he’d ever recalled seeing it. What if they could spend every evening together this way? And go to bed together every night. . .

After many more moments of quiet, Elizabeth spoke again. Her voice was low, and her tone frank but undoubtedly concerned, as if the subject of her private reverie had been much different than his own. “My sister Lydia has gone to Brighton.”


“The regiment is encamped there for the summer. She is the particular guest of Colonel and Mrs. Foster.”

“Ah,” replied Darcy, hoping his response provided her subtle encouragement to continue.

Elizabeth sighed, almost impatiently. “I am anxious for my sister’s well-being and reputation. Unfortunately, Lydia's general behavior is too often tinged with impropriety. I can see little advantage in her friendship with Mrs. Forster, who is no very steady character herself, and may very likely increase the probability of Lydia’s being yet more imprudent at Brighton, where the temptations are greater than at home. Though I am sorry to speak disparagingly of my sister, I cannot help but feel that great disadvantage to our family must arise from the public notice of Lydia's unguarded and imprudent manner.”

“Hmm,” said Darcy, thoughtfully. “She has already left Hertfordshire?”

“Yes. She will have been with the Fosters for a week at least by now. I cannot help but think that had my father been alive, he might have prevented the scheme, and taken pains to check her. As it is, I fear she will soon be beyond the reach of amendment. Her character will be fixed as the most determined flirt that ever made herself and her family ridiculous.”

Darcy, who remembered all too well how the exuberantly flirtatious Miss Lydia Bennet tended to behave in society, could not bring himself to falsely assuage her elder sister’s fears with feigned protestations of the young woman’s steady character.

“I confess, I am at a loss for what I ought to do,” Elizabeth continued. “I have written to my sister to urge her to act with as much prudence as she possesses, but I cannot hope this exhortation will have much effect. Unfortunately, neither can I depend upon our mother to extend the same counsel to Lydia. I would go to Brighton myself if such a thing were possible, but at present I am completely at her ladyship’s disposal. Even if that were not the case, such a journey would be nearly impossible to accomplish.”

Darcy could not deny her options were few. He knew how seriously she took her responsibility to her sisters, and how this relative inability to intervene on Lydia Bennet’s behalf must weigh heavily on her.

Feeling he had to ask the question, Darcy replied somewhat reticently, “what does Mr. Collins advise?”

Elizabeth looked briefly surprised, then colored, as if realizing for the first time she had not consulted, or even thought to consult, her husband. “I confess, I do not know. I have not informed him of the situation.”

Despite the gravity of their conversation, Darcy could not help but feel selfishly pleased that she had applied to him for guidance over her husband. Sensitive to her feelings, however, he attempted to conceal the triumph of this coup and instead studiously apply himself to her assistance.

“You have an uncle in London, do you not?”

“Indeed— Mr. Edward Gardiner. He is a solicitor.”

“And do you trust Mr. Gardiner’s judgment, character, and discretion?”

“Implicitly. My uncle is the best of men.”

“Well then— write to your uncle at once and share with him your concerns. A man of sense and character such as he will see immediately the truth of what you say and take steps to correct his niece, who has no father or brother to protect her interests and warn her against whatever grave misstep she may be tempted to make in Brighton. It may even be in your uncle’s power to take you to Brighton, or at least to go himself. Let him be your ally.”

A look of deep relief spread over her face as she contemplated his advice, and soon she was favoring him once more with a wide smile. “Yes, yes of course you are right. I will write to my uncle by express first thing tomorrow morning. Even thinking of it gives me comfort.”

Darcy smiled at her. “I am glad.”

She shook her head incredulously, still beaming up at him. “How silly of me not to have applied to my Uncle Gardiner before!”

The candid relief and appreciation on her face was intoxicating—he immediately wished it were within his power to make her feel that way every day of his life. “There, you see? I am as essential to you as you are to me.”

Elizabeth’s smile slowly slipped from her features as she considered his words, replaced by an intense but enigmatic expression as she regarded him. He could see her breath rise and fall a little faster, and the two of them stood looking into each other’s faces for several long minutes, neither saying a word. Darcy could not help himself—his gaze drifted briefly down to her lips, considering for a fleeting moment whether she might allow him the same liberty she had at Hunsford. When he returned to her fine eyes half a moment later, he could see by their dark, hazy look that she had read his thoughts. And though he could not name the emotion he saw in those fine eyes, it sent a very familiar jolt straight to his core.

Then he found himself saying, “if you really wish to go to Brighton yourself, I would take you.”

She swallowed hard before responding. “I cannot ask you to do that. . . what would people say?”

His voice was quiet, but firm. “Let them say it.”

Elizabeth let out a small, incredulous sigh, and quickly turned her face away from his to hide whatever emotion was written there. But Darcy was suddenly in no mood to dissemble. It was surprisingly easy to throw off the courteous caution with which they had agreed to approach each other only a few days before. Willing her to meet his gaze again, he refused to look away from her face, even as he saw water pool in her eyes and the faintest hint of a tremor about her mouth.

Then, haltingly, Elizabeth raised her hand from its place on the balustrade and brought it to rest over his. It was as if she hoped the hesitant but tender motion took the place of all the words she could not speak. For what felt like hours, they both stared down at their joined hands. Darcy felt his heart hammering in his ears, frantically calculating whether or not to turn his palm over, grasp her hand, and pull her body toward his.

At last she said, in a quiet but steady voice, “Thank you for your kindness.”

“It’s not k—”

She shook her head vigorously, without looking up at him, as if another word on the subject would destroy the fragile but all-important detente they had so recently reached. She withdrew her hand. “Goodnight.”

Before he was even sensible of her retreat, she had disappeared into the house.

In a Prudential Light, Part 2, Chapter 4

RoslynJuly 13, 2018 07:33PM

Re: In a Prudential Light, Part 2, Chapter 4

JeannineAugust 04, 2018 04:37AM

Re: In a Prudential Light, Part 2, Chapter 4

ShannaGJuly 14, 2018 07:29PM

Re: In a Prudential Light, Part 2, Chapter 4

juliesclbJuly 18, 2018 10:06AM

Re: In a Prudential Light, Part 2, Chapter 4

MichaJuly 13, 2018 08:48PM


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