Posted on Thursday, 26 August 2004
"You will never play well, Miss Bennet, unless you practice more. You may come to Rosings as often as you like to play on the pianoforte in Mrs. Jenkinson's room," Lady Catherine informed Elizabeth from her seat in the drawing room. Then, addressing those who sat in front of her, she continued, "She would be in nobody's way in that part of the house."
Pausing in her playing, Elizabeth replied politely, "Thank you, madam."
"There are few people in England, I suppose, who have more true enjoyment in music than myself. Or a better taste. And if I had learned, I should be a true proficient," Lady Catherine remarked in her customary dull drone. During this comment, Mr. Darcy rose from his seat on the couch, and strode deliberately over to stand next to the pianoforte on which Elizabeth played. He stationed himself in such a way as to command a full view of the fair performer's countenance.
Elizabeth saw what he was doing, and at the convenient pause turned to him with an arch smile and said, "You mean to frighten me, Mr. Darcy, by coming in all this state to hear me. But I will not be alarmed though your sister does play so well. There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises with every attempt to intimidate me."
"I shall not say that you are mistaken," he replied, "because you could not really believe me to entertain any design of alarming you; and I have had the pleasure of your acquaintance long enough to know, that you find great enjoyment in occasionally professing opinions which, in fact, are not your own."
Elizabeth laughed heartily at this picture of herself, and said to Colonel Fitzwilliam, "Your cousin will give you a very pretty notion of me, and teach you not to believe a word I say. I am particularly unlucky in meeting with a person so well able to expose my real character, in a part of the world where I had hoped to pass myself off with some degree of credit. Indeed, Mr. Darcy, it is very ungenerous of you to mention all that you knew to my disadvantage in Hertfordshire -- and, Give me leave to say, very impolitic too -- for it is provoking me to retaliate, and such things may come out as will shock your relations to hear."
"I am not afraid of you," Darcy said, smiling.
"Pray let me hear what you accuse him off," cried Colonel Fitzwilliam, "I should like to know how he behaves among strangers."
"You shall hear then -- but prepare for something very dreadful. The first time of my ever seeing him in Hertfordshire, you must know, was at a ball -- and at this ball, what do you think he did? He danced only four dances! I am sorry to pain you, but so it was. He danced only four dances although gentlemen were scarce, and, to my certain knowledge, more than one young lady was sitting down in want of a partner. Mr. Darcy, you cannot deny the fact," she explained, nearly unable to speak due to the broad grin which spread over her face.
"I had not at that time the honour of knowing any lady in the assembly beyond my own party."
"True; and nobody can ever be introduced in a ball room. Well, Colonel Fitzwilliam, what do I play next? My fingers await your orders."
"Perhaps," said Darcy, "I should have judged better had I sought an introduction, but I am ill qualified to recommend myself to strangers."
Still addressing the Colonel, Elizabeth asked, "Shall we ask your cousin the reason of his? Shall we ask him why a man of sense and education, and who has lived in the world, is ill qualified to recommend himself to strangers?"
"I can answer your question," said Fitzwilliam, "with out applying to him. It is because he will not give himself the trouble."
"I certainly have not the talent which some people possess," said Darcy, "of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done."
"My fingers," said Elizabeth, "do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women's do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But I have always supposed it to be my own fault -- because I would not take the trouble of practicing. It is not that I do not believe my fingers as capable as any other woman's of superior execution."
Darcy smiled and said, "You are perfectly right. You have employed your time much better. No one admitted to the privilege of hearing you can think anything wanting. We neither of us perform to strangers.
Here they were interrupted by Lady Catherine, who called out to know what they were talking of. Elizabeth immediately began playing again and Darcy sighed softly while his eyes rolled ever so slightly. Fitzwilliam grinned at his cousin and said, "I'll go entertain our dear aunt for the time being, but you, my cousin, must remain here to turn pages for Miss Bennet so she may continue to pleasure our ears with her playing."
A flicker of surprise shown in Darcy's eyes for just a moment, before he nodded to his departing cousin and strode around behind Elizabeth to take up Fitzwilliam's former seat. Elizabeth's playing faltered for a mere second as she realized the nearness of Mr. Darcy's seat, but she regained herself without anyone noticing.
As Lady Catherine droned on before her guests in the drawing room, Elizabeth and Darcy sat by the pianoforte, rather uncomfortable in each other's company. Elizabeth's fingers occasionally fudged and slurred over the keys when Darcy made any movement; and meanwhile, Darcy's eyes would fix on Elizabeth's face for minutes before he was able to regain himself with a slight shake of the head.
Fitzwilliam had taken up Darcy's seat in the room opposite and was only half listening to his Aunt's tales. Since his senses had been sharpened by service in the military, the Colonel was able to keenly pick up on Elizabeth's faltering.
What could be distracting her so? She told me herself that she knew this song particularly well... Very odd indeed...
"...isn't that so, Fitzwilliam?" Lady Catherine's voice pulled him from his musings and he flushed deeply in embarrassment.
"Pray, forgive me, my thoughts wandered..." he apologized. He was not the type that lied to escape trouble.
Lady Catherine gave him an intensely dark look and abruptly changed the subject. - Back in the music room, Elizabeth was nearing the end of a page, but it didn't seem as thought Mr. Darcy being attentive enough to the music to know that a page needed to be turned. She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye and found him to be staring off, focusing on nothing in particular.
"Mr. Darcy?" Elizabeth questioned hesitantly, her playing becoming softer and gradually stopping completely.
There was no response. Why is he staring in such a fashion? Contemplating my faults, no doubt.
"Mr. Darcy?" she asked again, in the same very soft tone.
Again there was no response. Slowly, Elizabeth lifted her left hand from the keys and reached over to touch his hand lightly. Within a moment of contact, Darcy blinked several times and his head swung to face Elizabeth while she pulled her hand quickly from his, as if burned.
"Eliz--Miss Bennet?" he inquired, quickly recovering from his startled state.
"Are you well, Mr. Darcy? You seemed out of sorts for a moment," Elizabeth answered hesitantly. Wait...did he nearly call me Elizabeth? Yes...indeed he did... Was he thinking about me? Oh, control yourself Lizzy; you're beginning to talk nonsense.
"Yes, yes, I'm very well, thank you. Forgive me, my mind wandered," he apologized, staring at his boots. He then looked up at her and continued, "Oh! I have forgotten to turn the pages for you, have I not? Please, allow me." With that, he reached across the piano to move the top music sheet behind the others. Once again, Elizabeth found herself distracted by her companion's close proximity, but did not show it.
The rest of the evening with Elizabeth blessing the company with a few more melodies before Lady Catherine found need to gather everyone together again in the drawing room. Several stories, thoroughly infused with guidelines to how one should proceed in society, were told by Lady Catherine before the night was done. Her Ladyship found it necessary for her guests to take one of her carriages for the return home and Mr. Collins expressed his gratitude to his patron even as the carriage rolled away from Rosings.
All the occupants of the Parsonage slept well that night, exhausted from sitting with Her Ladyship and listening to her tales. That is, all but one. Elizabeth Bennet lay awake in her bed long past midnight, mulling over thoughts of a certain gentleman whose behavior she could not understand.
A few days later, Elizabeth awoke to a quiet knocking on her chamber door. She quickly rose to pull on a robe over her nightclothes and hurried over to the door and opened it a crack to observe who had interrupted her sleep.
“Charlotte! Do you have time to wait just a few moments, I would very much like to get dressed before speaking with you.”
Mrs. Collins smiled, “Please do not rush yourself, my dear Eliza; I just came by to enquire if you would be interested in taking a stroll with me this morning when you are ready.”
“I would be delighted Charlotte, I very much enjoy fresh air in the morning,” was the reply. Soon after, the door closed and within a very short time, Elizabeth headed out of her room and down the staircase, of which Mr. Collins was so proud, and met her good friend at the door. - The two friends walked slowly towards a side path that ran close to the paling which separated the Parsonage from Rosings. After the pair turned onto a path which led into the groves at Rosings, Elizabeth questioned, “Was there any particular reason you wanted to walk with me this morning, Charlotte?”
Charlotte contemplated how she should go about answering that question for a moment before replying, “Yes, I do have something on my mind that I would like to discuss with you...” She trailed off.
Elizabeth’s curiosity was piqued. “...and what would that be?” she prompted.
Her friend hesitated before answering, “I was curious if you have been feeling well recently. You seemed rather out-of-sorts for the last few nights since you played on the piano-forte at Rosings. Are you ill?”
Elizabeth looked slightly surprised at the question. She had assumed that is was something of a more...serious nature. “I’m perfectly well, thank you Charlotte. But I have been...no, I’m quite fine.”
“Please speak plainly with me, Elizabeth. You know I would never betray a confidence,” Charlotte urged. She stopped walking to face her friend.
Elizabeth grimaced, “Well...my emotions have been rather churned lately...mainly due to Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam’s arrival...”
“Do you still dislike Mr. Darcy as you once did?”
“Of course! He has done nothing to improve himself in my standings! Although I except he has no reason to wish to do so; his pride forbids it!”
“Please, allow me to finish, Charlotte. I must tell you this, recently I found out something about Mr. Darcy which has even lessened my opinion of him.” Elizabeth’s eyes darkened. “Promise that what I say now will go no farther?” Charlotte nodded and gestured for her friend to continue.
“Well, just yesterday, I was walking through Rosings and I ran into Colonel Fitzwilliam who was taking his yearly tour of the park. We walked together back towards the Parsonage and Mr. Bingley arose in conversation. I discovered that Colonel Fitzwilliam was under the impression that Mr. Bingley was greatly indebted to Mr. Darcy. I inquired as to why and the Colonel informed me that Darcy had boasted about recently saving Bingley from a most imprudent marriage. Considering the information I found, I assume that Mr. Darcy was chiefly involved in separating Mr. Bingley from my dear Jane! What say you to that?”
Charlotte was, to say the least, shocked. “Incredible! Who would have thought Mr. Darcy was capable of such a feat!?”
“Don not be a simpleton, Charlotte! You know how proud he is! Of course he wouldn’t wish his best friend to be involved with the lower class. It would be insupportable!”
Charlotte was silent for a while before she responded slowly, “Could it be that we have misconstrued Mr. Darcy’s motives? Could it be that he noticed something between Mr. Bingley and Jane that we did not?”
“Are you inferring that Jane was not interested in Mr. Bingley?” Elizabeth retorted indignantly.
“Oh no, Elizabeth, I said nothing of the kind. I was just thinking back to our conversation at my father’s gathering back in Hertfordshire. You spoke of how you believed your sister to be on the road to being very much in love with Mr. Bingley. You know your sister very well, and I have no doubt of that what you said was true. But as I said then, she should have showed more affection towards Mr. Bingley during the few times she was in company with him. I also remarked that if she did not, there was very much a chance of Mr. Bingley never doing more than liking her, if he was unsure of her regard for him. By reflecting on that, would you not agree that Mr. Darcy may have observed Jane in Mr. Bingley’s company and seen only contentment, nothing more?”
Elizabeth found herself unable to respond. How could that be correct!? I have no doubt in Mr. Darcy’s ill manners! He’s dishonorable! unjust! prideful! All those things have been said by poor Mr. Wickham and who I am to doubt him!? He is a gentleman. Darcy is not. I refuse to believe otherwise!
“Elizabeth? Are you unwell?”
“Charlotte, I find I cannot put faith in your reasoning. You know the story of Mr. Wickham’s past misfortunes in regards to Mr. Darcy, do you not?”
Charlotte was puzzled, “What does that militia officer and his tales have to do with Mr. Bingley and Jane?”
“No, no, Charlotte. You misunderstand my meaning. I was thinking of Mr. Darcy’s character as it has been revealed by Mr. Wickham. To me, I believe it more likely that Mr. Darcy did try and separate Mr. Bingley from my sister than the fact that he misread her feelings. We both know that Mr. Darcy is prideful! Must I repeat what I said only a short time ago? Mr. Darcy would never want his best friend to affix himself with the lower class! Am I not correct?”
Charlotte was about to respond when she heard loud crunching sounds coming from the large bushes that bordered the path. She glanced at Elizabeth and saw that her friend had also heard the noise and was gazing curiously into the brush. Both ladies walked hesitantly towards the sound; neither speaking a word.
They had almost reached the edge of the path before they both jumped back in surprise. A large black stallion, still saddled, trotted out onto the path, only a scant few meters in front of the two ladies. Charlotte, whom was more comfortable with horses than her friend, stepped forward carefully. The horse’s large head tilted to gaze at her and then took a step towards Charlotte. The latter smiled and walked slowly towards the horse. It stayed still until she arrived at its side and then extended its nose to touch her shoulder. Charlotte rubbed the horse on the snout and took hold of the bridle. At once, the horse turned its large body and began heading back into the bushes. Charlotte looked startled but allowed the horse to lead her. Elizabeth, whom was not a great fan of horses, followed at a safe distance.
The ladies found that the horse had come from a small parting in the bushes that led to a path; one parallel to the path that Charlotte and Elizabeth had tread on only moments before. As the two ladies and the stallion emerged onto the new path, the horse turned to the left. They walked a few meters down the path until Charlotte, who had been walking in front of Elizabeth, stopped short.
“What?” exclaimed Elizabeth, hurrying up to stand next to her friend. She gazed curiously at Charlotte’s face but when she got no response, her eyes drifting to where here friend’s were locked. When her eyes touched upon the strange sight, she adopted a very similar expression to her friend’s slightly open-mouthed one.
There was quite an odd sight to behold. Off to the left side of the path, there was a very small alcove surrounded by the tall bushes. Within the small area was a single stone bench with enough room for two people to sit quite comfortably. Now, this sight would not have been uncommon, had it not been the obvious fact that the bench was occupied by a single person who seemed to be asleep. It appeared to be a tall man dressed in a velvety green vest, beige trousers, loosened cream colored cravat, and a black tailcoat. They were fine quality clothes, but the man was covered with dust and a long streak of dirt on his right side.
Charlotte had let go of the black horse’s bridle and it walked over to the man’s side and nudged him in the shoulder with its snout.
“Intelligent horse,” commented Charlotte as she started pacing towards the resting man, “the horse apparently led us to his owner...who appears to be rather ill.”
“Indeed. I wonder what happened...” pondered Elizabeth, following her friend over to the bench. The man stirred slightly on account of his stallion’s prodding and that hat which had been resting of his eyes fell to the side, revealing his face.
Elizabeth gasped, “Mr. Darcy!”
Elizabeth was aghast. She never believed she would ever see Mr. Darcy in such a state. He was usually so dignified...imposing... This man was so much more...human...than Elizabeth thought Darcy was capable of being. She walked towards him a few steps before looking back at Charlotte.
"What should we do? Do you think he's injured?" inquired Charlotte, eyes flitting from Elizabeth to Darcy.
"I suppose we should try and wake him first, I really can't tell if he is in pain..." Elizabeth said and her friend nodded. "And then we should try and..." she paused, "...lift him onto his horse? To return him to Rosings?" Elizabeth was uneasy with the impropriety of her suggestion and Charlotte seemed equally anxious, but they agreed to go through with their plan. It seemed to be the only way. Charlotte headed over to the black stallion, which had wandered off to chew on some blades of grass, to check the buckles on the saddle.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth hesitated for a minute before reaching out her hand towards Mr. Darcy. Her fingers shook as they brushed his shoulder lightly in a weak attempt to wake him. "Mr. Darcy?" The man groaned and his head rolled to the side, causing Elizabeth's fingers to brush the side of his face. Before she would regain her senses enough to remove her hand from it's rather compromising position, Darcy took a deep breath and let it out slowly, his breath tickling her arm. Shivers ran up and down her spine.
"...Elizabeth..." he murmured so quietly that Elizabeth almost didn't hear him. How...how did he know I was here...? I believed him to be that be untrue? No...how could it not...he would not be faking...impossible...
She blinked and shook her head to clear her thoughts and prodded Darcy's shoulder, but taking care to avoid touching his face. "Mr. Darcy? Please, get up." She then removed her hand abruptly as he awoke from his restless slumber.
With his eyes still closed, Darcy raised a hand to rub the back of his head. He grimaced and slowly lifted his eyelids, revealing his dark brown pupils which were filled with confusion. Seconds later those eyes filled with recognition and he abruptly sat up, causing Elizabeth to pull back, startled. Afterwards, he regretted his action and closed his eyes tightly while rubbing his back.
"You're in pain, Mr. Darcy?" Elizabeth queried, "Can I assist you in any way?"
Darcy mumbled something incomprehensible before reopening his eyes and addressing Elizabeth, "No...no thank you, Miss Bennet... Just bruised."
"What happened?" she asked. The answer was quite obvious to an unbiased observer, but Elizabeth had been distracted by her overwhelming curiosity and had failed to place the pieces of the puzzle together.
Darcy thought for a moment before replying, "My dear aunt was becoming rather grating, thus I came out to take a ride through the groves for an escape. I was galloping down to the very point at which we are located now and I heard...no...I was rather distracted by my thoughts and I didn't see what occurred, but all of a sudden my horse jolted suddenly. I wasn't very secure in the saddle and his movements flung me off. I remember hitting the ground hard...on my right side, I believe...but somehow I remained conscious. I made my way over to that bench there and lay down to rest. That is the last thing I remember before I awoke with you staring into my face."
Elizabeth flushed at the memory of her fingers brushing his face and his warm breath on her arm. I will never be able to face him while that thought lingers in my mind...
"How came you to discover me?"
Elizabeth lifted her eyes back to his and explained, "Charlotte and I were walking down the path which lies opposite of these bushes and had paused to talk when we heard crunching noises being emitted from the left. It ended up being your stallion who led us here. He's very intelligent."
"My father bought him for me just before he died," Darcy said, his gaze lowering.
"I'm sorry for your loss, sir," she replied politely.
Darcy shook his head, still looking towards his boots, "There is no need...but thank you."
Has he ever thanked me before this? I do not believe so. He does not seem so full of pride in this atmosphere. What could have changed? I know something has...ever since that day at Rosings...when he was turning pages for me at the piano-forte. He nearly spoke my Christian name aloud...why... Lizzy, there is no time for this, you must get him back to Rosings, he is injured.
"Sir, can you walk?"
"I can try." With that, Darcy endeavored to rise from the stone bench. He managed to stand, but according to the look on his face, it was not without discomfort. Charlotte, who had noticed Mr. Darcy's awakening, led the black stallion over to the bench. Gritting his teeth against the pain, Darcy mounted his horse with slightly less grace than was customary, and then turned to the two ladies.
"I am greatly indebted to you both. Had I not been found my dear Aunt would have, no doubt, sent an outrageously large search party to discover me. That is a situation I have no desire to find myself in." With that, Mr. Darcy attempted a half bow from the back of his horse and rode off slowly, sitting rather stiffly.
"I do hope all will turn out well for him. He seemed rather worse for the wear, would you not agree?" said Charlotte, glancing over at her friend who still stared at the tall man riding away.
"Yes..." Elizabeth replied, continuing to stare, "That was quite a peculiar event... I never believed that I would see Mr. Darcy in any situation unfit for a man of his consequence, as that one surely was."
"Very peculiar indeed."
A smooth, deep voice echoed in her ears, seemingly coming from all directions. She glanced around wildly but all she could see was darkness.
Closer this time. She shivered. Where am I? Who's voice is that... I believe I recognize it... But from where?
"Who are you?"
She called it out hesitantly; softly. A soft yet reverberating laugh was her only reply. But moments later the voice spoke again.
"You cannot guess? I would except better of you, my dear."
She closed her eyes as he spoke to concentrate on the voice. And then her eyes shot open. It couldn't be... He should not be in my thoughts...
She had not meant to ask, but her lips betrayed her. I do not wish to know! Do not respond. Another laugh. Closer.
"Very good. I knew you had a quick wit."
She felt his warm breath on her face. Just like this afternoon...at Rosings. She jerked back. And gasped in alarm. She had stepped back and collided soundly into the chest of a tall man, whose hands now rested on her hips, sending eerie feelings up and down her spine. She swung around to find herself face to face with the gentleman whom she has assumed was there, due to his voice.
"How did end up behind me...I thought you were in front...your breath...my face...earlier..."
She stumbled over the words, confused. What is going on? Why is he here? How can I see him when everything is so black? His chest shook in a silent laugh. She looked up to his face quickly to try and see his smile, but she missed. Does he ever smile? I doubt it... He just struts around the room, gazing at everyone with displeasure.
"That is untrue, Elizabeth. Not everyone."
She gazed into his dark eyes, which stared into hers intently. She blushed and looked down. What is he speaking of? And why did I blush? Her thoughts were interrupted as fingertips pressed against the underside of her chin and raised her face, and eyes, to meet his once more. She started at seeing his face so close to hers; only a few inches. A step backward was attempted, but he closed the distance again swiftly.
"No, no, Elizabeth. You have avoided me long enough. I will not have it so any longer."
A warm, strong hand slid around her waist to rest at the small of her back while another slipped around to grasp the nape of her neck. She found herself being pulled closer and to her brain's utmost surprise, her body put up no objections. Wait! No! Soft lips brushed against hers once...then again...and she found her hands on Mr. Darcy's back, pulling them closer together. This cannot be happening... Mr. Darcy deepened the kiss and no objections were found, vocally or physically. Minutes passed before he pulled back slightly, breathing heavily, to rest his forehead against hers lightly. A fiery look in his eyes scorched hers as she gazed at him, although her brain was protesting fervently.
He then spoke two words which she had not expected in the least.
Elizabeth awoke shaking. She sat up abruptly and attempted to catch her breath. It was a fruitless attempt. Her fingers reached up hesitantly and brushed against her lips. That was most definitely the strangest dream I have ever had... Only then did the full impact of her dream impact her. I dreamt of Mr. Darcy...myself...kissing...marriage... She shook her head quickly to rid her head of those thoughts. Lizzy, don't be foolish. It was only a dream. A crazy, falsified dream. Based on nothing real. Be sensible. Elizabeth took a deep breath and rose from her bed, reaching for her dressing gown and slipping it over her shoulders. She took a deep breath and vowed to push the silly dream from her mind.
Posted on Sunday, 5 September 2004
Three days past before the inhabitants of the Parsonage were invited to Rosings. Elizabeth assumed it was due to Mr. Darcy's incident and that Lady Catherine found it her duty to keep the estate quiet for the duration of her future son-in-law's recovery.
Upon the walk across the lane to Rosings and up the main pathway to the building, the three ladies were forced to listen to Mr. Collins' ceaseless drone about Her Ladyship's Christian generosity, as well as her other foremost attributes. Elizabeth, however, tuned out of this speech after only a few minutes when her thoughts drifted to Lady Catherine's visitors. Mainly the tall, handsome, and proud one. Has he fully recovered? Will he be present if he is? If he isn't there, does that mean the injury was more severe than he let us know? Will he be all right? Does he remember murmuring my name in his sleep? How will I be able to face him when that dream is so fresh in my mind? Oh stop this immediately, Lizzy! You're being foolish once again! Go, enjoy yourself, be respectful to Her Ladyship, and then return. There is nothing so complicated about that.
However, Elizabeth's sensible voice's last statement did not hold true for the evening. Indeed, it was the exact opposite.
"My dear Mr. Darcy, pray tell me if you are feeling well?" inquired Lady Catherine when she had finished one of her many tales.
The group had found themselves once more in the drawing room, seated upon the two couches that flanked Her Ladyship for she found it the best arrangement for making sure all her guests were listening carefully. Elizabeth was seated to Lady Catherine's left and, to her utmost distraction, across from Mr. Darcy. Along with Mr. Darcy on the opposite couch were the Colonel, Miss Anne De Bourgh, and Mrs. Jenkinson. On Elizabeth's side were Mrs. Collins, Maria, and unfortunately, Mr. Collins.
Elizabeth glanced sharply at Mr. Darcy as Lady Catherine questioned him and was quick enough to see his lips purse in agitation but then clear his face of all emotion. "Very well, thank you, Aunt."
"I am delighted to hear it," replied Lady Catherine with one of those rare smiles she reserved for her daughter or her nephews. Elizabeth, though, doubted Her Ladyship's sincerity. I would assume that she only asked to try and ensnare the pity of her guests. I do hope that Mr. Darcy is better, though. As soon as the though entered her mind, Elizabeth forcefully reminded herself of her recent discovery in regards to Mr. Darcy. This thought sufficiently shut out any questions in regards to Mr. Darcy's health or happiness, which had been on Elizabeth's mind, to her vexation, as of late.
"...was ill? How dreadfully unfortunate!" Mr. Collins' voice broke through Elizabeth's angry reverie. I suppose he felt the need to express his surprise and deepest apologies in regards to Mr. Darcy's health. What a foolish man.
"Yes, yes. Mr. Darcy took a fall while riding in my groves," elucidated Lady Catherine, "I have had a few of my servants sent out to check over the grounds near the incident site for I will not put up with unevenness of ground of any sort that could cause injury. It would be unacceptable!"
Mr. Darcy sighed deeply, Elizabeth observed, and replied with cold politeness, "As I have said, ma'am, there is no need for you to do anything of the sort. I told you that my horse did not stumble, he simply stopped too quickly."
Lady Catherine waved off this remark and addressed Mrs. Jenkinson to ask some superfluous question in regards to Miss De Bourgh's studies.
A deep voice caused Elizabeth to pause in entering the carriage. She, along with the Collins' and Maria, had been preparing to leave Rosings for the evening. Elizabeth looked back to see Mr. Darcy striding purposefully down Rosings' front steps. She stepped back down from her position half-way into Lady Catherine's carriage, which had been generously bestowed on the party to see them back to the Parsonage, and faced the man whom had called to her.
Mr. Darcy bowed to her politely and Elizabeth curtsied back, giving him a questioning glance as she rose.
"Miss Bennet, I have a matter which I would like to speak with you about before you go." Darcy was about to continued, but he was cut off.
"Pardon me, cousin Elizabeth, but I must beg that we return as soon as possible. My dear Charlotte seems to be feeling rather ill and wishes to reach her bed as soon as possible." It was Mr. Collins sticking his head out from the carriage door. Elizabeth opened her mouth to answer but Mr. Darcy was quicker.
"If your wife wishes to return immediately, let us not detain you. Please go ahead. I will be happy to escort Miss Bennet home when I have spoken with her."
Mr. Collins thanked Darcy profusely and bid the driver to ride on. Elizabeth, on the other hand, had widened her eyes greatly at the idea of being escorted home by Mr. Darcy. Just before dark. Alone. How improper!
As if having read her thoughts, "I apologize for any impropriety in sending the rest of your party ahead without you, but I did wish to speak with you alone," Mr. Darcy explained, looking directly into Elizabeth's eyes. She blushed and looked away.
How can such a proud, insufferable man me affect in such a manner!? I blame it all on that foolish dream! And it's foolish ideas! Marrying Mr. Darcy! Bah!
Elizabeth was roused from her thoughts by warm fingertips brushing her upper arm. She looked up quickly, attempting to seem as though she had been paying attention. She found him looking at her with an unreadable expression on his face and his arm extended to her.
"Will you walk with me, Miss Bennet?"
Hesitantly, Elizabeth placed her arm in his, her fingers brushing against his arm in such a way that sent shivers through her. The pair walked for a few moments before Elizabeth could not stand it any longer,
"What was it you wished to speak with me about, sir?" She looked up to see his face as he responded. He sighed deeply, she noticed with some puzzlement, then closed his eyes for a moment. Suddenly he reopened them and fixed Elizabeth with an intense stare. Good God!
"I want to show you something," he said simply, looking away towards the forest where Mrs. Collins and Miss Bennet had been walking the day of his accident. Elizabeth was puzzled at his statement, but walked with him without inquiry. They walked silently, both rather uncomfortable in each other's presence in the dying light. When they reached the path that the black stallion had been the two ladies, Darcy stopped.
"You can see this is not a very long path, correct? There are not too many bushes between the two paths."
Elizabeth nodded calmly, but her thoughts were in turmoil. I think it frustrating that he requested my presence to tell me such petty, foolish things. I suppose he felt the need to hear the sound of his own voice and thought I would do in place of those prissy and conceited rich ladies who usually hang on his every word. Such a proud, contemptible man!
Darcy caught Elizabeth's attention and indicated that they should walk down the path. They did this in silence, as before, then turned left towards the bench which Darcy had laid upon only a few days prior. Elizabeth was practically overcome with confusion. The meaninglessness of this venture filled her mind. She recaptured a semblance of attentiveness when they reached the bench and looked up at Darcy. Half his face was masked in the shadow of tree, but the other half was brilliantly revealed by the warm light of the setting sun. How can such a prideful, arrogant man be so handsome? No, Lizzy!
"I would presume that you are wondering why I brought you here. I will tell you now. I have thought about it for the past days since my riding incident but I decided that I must tell you. I find it my duty, as a gentleman, to do so." He paused in his explanation and led her over to the bench. He indicated the brush beyond. "Can you see through that?"
Elizabeth, pursing her lips in confusion, glanced towards the bushes and shook her head.
Elizabeth removed her arm from his and walked to the very edge of the brush, but taking care to not get her skirts stuck in the fallen branches. She squinted slightly, trying to see through the somewhat dense foliage. She failed to see anything that she recognized. She looked back to Mr. Darcy to find him studying her intently. "I still cannot see anything of consequence."
He nodded, face blank, "I assumed you would not have been looking around at that time." Pardon? "I will explain then. If you had been paying more attention to your surroundings the day of your walk with Mrs. Collins, you would have noticed that you stopped by that crooked tree that is slightly visible if you look here." She started notably when his hands came to rest of her shoulders and he maneuvered her to stand in front of him. This is just too bizarre. He pointed directly in front of them, towards the bushes, his arm brushing her shoulder. Too close for comfort.
"Do you see the tree I mentioned?" She looked closely, then noticed a tall, old, gnarled tree erupting from the surrounding dark green bushes. She nodded her reply.
"I would have assumed, considering your brilliant wit, that you would have comprehended why I chose to bring you here," Mr. Darcy remarked, seeing no great change in her countenance.
Elizabeth was thoroughly exasperated, "Mr. Darcy, I beg you to pretend I am a simpleton and plainly inform me regarding your design in bring me hither!"
He nodded solemnly but Elizabeth had looked up in time to see a seconds worth of mirth dancing in his eyes. It quickly disappeared though, and was replaced by a firm look of resolve.
"Pardon me for taunting you, Miss Bennet."
Her anger lessened a scant few degrees.
"I wish to remind you that only a few days ago, you walked down that path with your friend Mrs. Collins. I am unsure how the conversation began but you ended up pausing in your stroll right next to that old tree. At the same time, I rode out from Rosings along the path on which we stand now, and was passing by this bench when I heard you raise your voice."
Elizabeth's eyes opened wide, jaw hanging slightly slack in a very un-ladylike manner.
"I remember vividly what I heard you say... 'I must tell you this, recently I found out something about Mr. Darcy which has even lessened my opinion of him.' Then you went on to explain a discussion with my cousin about your sister and Bingley.
"I was startled by hearing you discuss me in such a manner, and I reigned my horse in quickly. Too quickly though, I fear. He reared up and threw me from the saddle. I unfortunately had the wind knocked out of me and was forced to make my way over to the bench, in a most undignified fashion, to catch my breath." His eyes had darkened, troubled at having to say such things.
As Darcy had commented upon earlier, Elizabeth did indeed have a brilliant wit, and had no trouble in putting all the pieces together. She was shocked...stunned...and visibly upset.
"You overheard my conversation!"