Posted on Sunday, 16 January 2000
A stiff breeze ruffled the open collar of his shirt as Darcy pushed his way along the backroads of Pemberley, heavy-booted and rough-coated, hauling a load of recently cut firewood on a canvas carrier, towards a tenant's cottage. Thank God Miss Bennet cannot see me now, he mused, as he plunged through rain-slicked grasses to the solitary light. At his brisk knock, a waifish lad of five opened the door and stood staring.
"Is your grandfather awake?" Darcy enquired gently. The boy nodded somberly, stepping back as the man entered. A figure rocking in a chair near the hearth turned at the sound, then stood up, blindly listening. "Who's there?"
"Only I, Stephen, bringing more wood," murmured Darcy. The figure sighed: "You are a good man, sir, whoever you be." Darcy, smiling ironically to himself, carefully stacked the wood in the corner after placing one log on the dwindling fire. "Oh, I'm just your neighbor down the road, helping out a bit," he explained, calmly pulling from his pocket a bag of sweets for the child and a pouch of tobacco for the old one. The boy's eyes gladdened and he disappeared, bag tucked carefully in his arms, into the adjoining room.
"Have you enough to eat still?" asked the visitor, as his glance took in for only the second time the sorry condition of family's belongings. How could I have not come in before? he berated himself. Did it have to take the rejection of my heart's desire to awaken me to others' misery, even here? "Yes, we still have soup and bread and cheese enough," replied the elder, feeling his way back into his chair. "We are much beholden for your kindness. Will you not stay and join us for supper?"
"I must be getting back before nightfall but thank you. I shall look in upon you both again soon," he added, making a mental note to bring blankets as he quietly placed his hand on the old man's shoulder. A moment later he was gone.
Part Two The storm had taken some liberties with his own home while he was away. It was only after calming the fears of his sister by asserting that lightning would not strike twice that evening in the dining room that they could sit down to eat. Perhaps it was due to the dramatic view outside the broken window that they finished early. At any rate, it was only ten o'clock when they retired for the night.
In his quarters Darcy had become quite monastic in his habits of late. All fancy clothes were pushed to the side of one closet; in their place were functional yet ruggedly handsome garments more often worn by country squires or even tradesmen. He felt a peculiar pleasure in the rougher fit and feel, as if he were more able to identify with - and enjoy the tastes of - simpler men for once. This change of habit and mind stemmed from his luckless stay at Rosings, where Elizabeth - but no, he would not think of her. He would not permit his reverie to wander back to those moments when her eyes darted mockingly to his, when his mind grappled with the horror of her no, when...
Abruptly he moved to the armoire and pulled out an old robe, cinching it on with a simple rope belt. It is better to think of others, not of myself. In this way only can I learn to quell the selfish proud tendencies that she saw in me. He sat down at his desk, pulling out a little leather book; opening it to a marker, he wrote the following: Went to old Stephen's again today. Brought wood and trivial delights. Wonder if the boy's parents are dead or? Must ensure the boy's and old man's welfare. Georgiana scared of storm; reassured her....But what about me? Is there something I am afraid to face? Too soon to know.
He knew. As soon as the candle was carefully snuffed and he lay under his single blanket, he knew. Her face loomed in his mind's eye, hovering sweetly teasing, as his lips moved and his mouth groaned. Elizabeth.
Part Three Posted on Monday, 17 January 2000
The dawn showed grey, and sheeting rain coursed down Pemberley's walls and windows. Darcy swung his lithe frame up and out of bed, pausing only briefly to wash before tackling his boots and clothes. Glancing in the mirror, he faintly smiled at the dark stubble already shadowing his chin. Why not let it grow? It suits. And I am not likely to be going out in society anytime soon. With this thought now firmly planted, he headed for the stairs and his morning's work.
To his consternation, Mrs. Reynolds came to meet him in the hallway with news of Miss Caroline Bingley's arrival. Not having yet breakfasted, Darcy was loathe to see her; moreover, he was in no mood for her sort of teasing games. But it could not be helped. Resigned to his fate, he entered the drawing room.
Caroline's eyebrows worked as he came into view. The man without fault was certainly looking a bit testy, yet somehow agreeably masculine. How fortunate she knew just how to manage him; for instance, by catching him off-guard by this unannounced visit. "Mr. Darcy, I do hope I am not disturbing you. Pray tell me if I am disturbing you?" She smiled archly as he bowed, then edged forward to touch his arm lightly. "Oooh, what an interesting coat you are wearing! It almost catches at my fingers, it's so rough. And what do you mean by not shaving?"
"I am working on the estate," he answered tersely, wishing she were miles away. An escape occurred to him: "Would you care to join me? There is some danger downstream at the footbridge in need of repair." He looked at her closely, hoping for immediate denial. He nearly got it.
"Oh no," cooed Miss Bingley, "I couldn't possibly go out again in all this rain." His heart sank as she proceeded: "In fact, I have decided that dear Georgiana will need my company while you are out. This storm may have upset her delicate feelings. No more than you have mine. Can't you see, woman, that I need my privacy?
Aloud Darcy merely stated, "You are quite right. Why not join her for breakfast when she comes down? I myself will eat on the way." Before she could protest, he bowed again and took his leave. Caroline was left, indignant but determined, watching him stride past the window towards the stables. Not one to admit defeat where Mr. Darcy was concerned, she sidled in the direction of the dining room, ambition kindling anew. It was nothing that a cup of strong coffee couldn't resolve. That, and her new evening gown.
A child was huddled on the broken footbridge, hands clutching at the railing inches up from where it had broken off. His face bruised and eyes closed, he looked ill to death. Darcy recognized him at once but decided not to alarm him by speaking yet. Instead, he gingerly got off his mount, signaling the men to be quiet. Tying one end of a rope around his waist and throwing the other to one of the riders, who hooked it around his own, Darcy inched his way down into the waterway. The cold shocked him, yet he surged across, water waist-high, towards the boy. I fear he is dead. Look at him and weep, Darcy. Despite this terrible anxiety he splashed on, finally reaching the still form. Laying his ear for a moment on the lad's chest, he listened for signs of life. When he heard the wispy breathing, he bowed his head. Thank you for your mercy.
Then he sprang into action, knowing time was short to get the child to care and warmth. Removing his jacket, Darcy first cradled the unconscious little one on his chest, then put his jacket back on, this time across the front over the child in a protective sling. Next, calling to the rider over the current, he began to return, the rope acting as a guide and pulling them to safety. Mindful of the grandfather's likely concern over his missing boy, Darcy swiftly decided two things: the boy would stay temporarily at Pemberley to receive proper attention, and one rider would be dispatched to tell the blind man the news, as well as offer the opportunity to visit on the morrow.
It will be for the best. I cannot leave this child to uncertain medical treatment at the moment. Mrs. Reynolds will take prodigious care of him until he can return home. These and other egalitarian thoughts, that would have much amazed his society friends, filled the ride home with happy reflection. Until the front drive, that is, when he remembered Caroline. And then it was too late.