Part VIII Continued
Elizabeth woke up at Gracechurch Street on her second morning in London to a mixture of feelings. A thrill of excitement accompanied her first conscious thought, the agreeable certainty, that Darcy would be coming for dinner. The next minute an irritated nervousness, ...was it because the whole day separated her from him, or was there something even less pleasant lurking in the back of her mind? Oh yes, the purchase of gowns .... Impatiently she tried to rid herself of the threatening state of depression, searching for her determination from last night. Mama must be overcome, but how?
Elizabeth needed not have made herself uneasy on this account, for both she and her sister would soon find reason to be most grateful to their aunt. She arranged for the day ahead to be by far less tiresome, than their experiences from the previous day had made them expect and fear. Mrs. Gardiner was ingenious enough to gently direct the way their continued purchases were to be carried out. After breakfast she turned to Mrs. Bennet, firmly resolved to spare her nieces another day of such senseless fiddling about.
"If your plans are not definitely set, may I make a suggestion, sister? I think I know just the place where we could probably find lovely wedding gowns for the girls!'
Mrs. Bennet was about to object, that she had such a nice warehouse in mind, when her sister-in-law cleverly disarmed her.
"This is the place you once recommended to me, dear. I always tell my friends how exceedingly grateful I am, that you were so knowledgeable, Fanny! We go there on special occasions, when we are in pursuit of something out of the ordinary!"
There are few people able to remain unaffected by tactful flattery and Mrs. Bennet was no exception. Now very anxious to renew the acquaintance by searching out the place of her earlier approval, she was only too pleased to agree, that they should begin the day by visiting this establishment. Thus they were acting on Mrs. Gardiner's advice and within two hours the future brides did indeed find models for wedding-gowns to satisfy both of them as well as their mother.
Jane decided on a snow-white dress with a discrete pattern and although with a plunging neckline, the dÈcolletage could offend nobodies sense of propriety. Mrs. Bennet whispered to her sister, that this design made the most of Jane's fine figure. Raising her voice she then addressed her daughter.
"Jane dear, you look like a princess! Remember to hold your head high and keep your shoulders ...what is it Lizzy?"
Her second daughter feigned an interest in a highly conspicuous lace-covered dress and managed to distract her mother's attention, thereby sparing her sister the embarrassment of being publicly instructed on how to secure a gentleman's attention. Jane sent her a look of sincere gratitude.
The very first gown Elizabeth tried on was a model in a creamy white heavy satin. She felt comfortable even before she looked in the mirror. There was an elegance to it and the design was as complimentary to her figure as was the shade to her complexion. The long sleeves were narrow and slightly puffed up at the shoulders. Its square neckline was bordered by a delicate hemstitching and on the bodice front there was a line of tiny covered buttons. In the back a deep double fold contributed to increase the fullness of the skirt. It was very becoming, even Mrs. Bennet was able to see that and it made her beam with satisfaction.
"It seems to have been designed for you, Lizzy! You look quite a lady!"
Is this really me? Elizabeth was truly pleased to see her reflection and what finally convinced her and swept away all hesitation was the way aunt Gardiner nodded her smiling approval, when their eyes met in the mirror.
All their measurements were taken and the dress material decided on. Elizabeth ordered no alterations whatsoever and Jane just decided on another fabric. The gowns would be ready near the end of their intended stay.
When Darcy arrived with Bingley before dinner, there was a delay while they waited for Mrs. Bennet, who was still in her room getting ready. Mr. Bingley had immediately engaged his host and hostess in conversation on the favourable first impressions their home made on him. Elizabeth boldly bade Darcy take a seat on a sofa placed to one side of the room, where she figured they were offered a welcome opportunity to talk more privately. No sooner had she accomplished this arrangement, than her own unexpected reaction to his sitting so near, almost made her regret the initiative. She did not look at him, but devoted all attention to her gloves and her skirt. Darcy watched her smoothing the folds of her gown; the dress was apparently causing her a lot of trouble. He was amazed to realise, that her behaviour reminded him of Georgiana and suddenly it dawned upon him. She is embarrassed. She is affected by my presence! How delightful it is to know that she cares ...how lovely she is ...if only I was allowed to touch those blushing cheeks. They appear to be as soft as a peach... her lashes are moving like fluttering butterflies against them. I long to gaze into her eyes ...I must make her look at me. He reached out and placed his hand soothingly on top of hers. She started and finally lifted her eyes to have him smile into them. With an encouraging pat he removed his hand.
"It pleases me to see you again, Elizabeth. Might I inquire how you have enjoyed your first days in town?"
"I thank you, the second day was much more to my liking than was the first."
"How so? I was discontent, because yesterday I had to endure without seeing you, but I dare not hope the same to be true for you. What cause was there for your displeasure, Miss Bennet?"
"The day was wasted in what could best be described as a purposeless nothingness. Your absence was no comfort, sir."
Her statements brought about an appreciative twist of his mouth at her phrasing and he also expressed his concern.
"I understand that this day has offered you some amendment then? Other than my coming here ...?"
As he permitted himself this flirtatious implication of their mutual affection there was a warm flash in his eye though strangely blended with a hint of shyness. Elizabeth was touched to notice and returned his affectionate gaze as long as she dared. How my heart beats. Better not forget that we are in company ....
"It has, thanks to the sense of my aunt, which is the prerequisite of one of the two things that have brightened my day. I have ordered a gown ...to wear at our wedding that is. I am so pleased with it , even more so since I had nearly given up hope of procuring something, that much to my liking. I trust you shall approve of it. Your coming here is certainly appreciated, I have anticipated our meeting since you left the other day."
Her voice had been reduced to a whisper and a rosy hue again spread on her cheeks while she spoke that last sentence. Happiness shone in his eyes as he imprudently grabbed her hand to squeeze it. He then cast a cautious glance towards the Gardiners, but they were engrossed in conversation with Jane and Bingley. Still no sign of Mrs. Bennet. He lifted her hand to his lips, grazing it briefly. This cautious caress sent the warmth from his mouth through her entire being and made her heart beat at an alarming pace. Elizabeth tried to draw breath without a sound, while his next words only increased her confusion.
"I am in no doubt. The circumstances when I see you in it, that you will soon be my wife, are bound to have me favourably inclined. I am happy on your account that you are pleased, Elizabeth. For my own part, I find it difficult to imagine a dress that would make you look anything but lovely ...."
She had to withdraw her hand from his grasp, when she caught the eye of her aunt. Although Mrs. Gardiner was smiling to see Lizzy's happiness, her face still conveyed a slight warning. The atmosphere was suddenly charged, she tried to relieve it with a joke.
"You are all politeness, sir! I sometimes pity gentlemen, that they do not find the same pleasure from indulging in purchases of dresses and things like that. With the exception of course for the disciples of Mr. Brummel, they apparently take great pleasure in discussions on the various ways a cravat can be tied and obey his every wink .... Are you one of them, Mr. Darcy? Shall you search the kingdom to find a dashing waistcoat or ...?"
His shoulders relaxed and his mouth opened in an amused grin at her suggestion.
"Perhaps I had better bide my time for such excesses, until I enjoy the permanent company of my new counselor in matters of taste. It so happens, that I have quite recently procured a coat though ...."
"You have? There is some small pleasure to be had for men as well then ...shall you be wearing it in church? Pray what colour is this coat?"
"The Longbourn Church, yes that was my intention. I figured a blue one would be ...but if you prefer another shade, I might reconsider."
"Oh no, there is no need for that! I can imagine a blue coat would be most becoming. You made a good choice. Not that it is of vital importance, I believe, I could quite easily be persuaded to marry you whichever the colour of your coat. It is your person I care for."
"Is it indeed? This is such pleasing information, to obtain from your mouth ...hm, I think I could forgo the dinner, if you were instead to feed my vanity in this enchanting manner. Charmingly phrased, Elizabeth. Might I be so bold as to return the compliment. Your sweet person is inexpressibly precious to me."
Again their low-voiced conversation tended to grow too close and Elizabeth, although she treasured every proof of his affection, knew that she ought to bring them both back to a less untimely exchange.
However, she did not have to, for they were interrupted by Mrs. Bennet, who chose this moment to make her appearance. Darcy and Bingley immediately stood and bowed, politely expressing their contentment to find her in good health; it was a mumbling attempt to return her overflowing kindness towards her handsome sons-in-law. Mrs. Gardiner nodded to the butler and shortly afterwards they were summoned to dinner.
The third day in London held an event of considerable interest to Elizabeth and, if judgement were to be made solely by appearance, as it seemed of even greater importance to her mother. They were to join the gentlemen for dinner in Portsman Square, which was where the town house of the Darcy family had been situated for the last 50 years. Mr. Darcy's grandfather had it built when George III had recently ascended the throne, in what was then an even more secluded area in the outskirts of the growing city. Though it could now be considered to be situated near the town centre, not far from Oxford Street, it was still in a quiet part of London.
Since Miss Darcy had not yet arrived in town and the gentlemen were on their own, there had been no reason, but curiosity, to pay a visit there. Mrs. Bennet had made subtle suggestions, but been vexed to notice, that neither Lizzy nor Mrs. Gardiner would understand her meaning.
Subsequently this was the first time Elizabeth Bennet laid eyes on the house that would so soon become one of her homes. Her gaze was travelling along the facade to form her first impressions, when Darcy's footman came running up to open the door and assist her stepping out of the carriage. As she stood on the pavement waiting for her companions her eyes surveyed the street. The planted area in the middle of the square was surrounded by grand houses about the same size as Mr. Darcy's and their entrances all faced towards the fenced in lawn where well-kept trees and bushes were neatly arranged.
The neighbourhood emanated silent prosperity and the stone building seemed to loom large before her. She refused to let herself be impressed by a house and defiantly lifted her chin before she followed her relations ascending the stone steps that lead to the pillared porch. The heavy oak door was opened wide and momentarily framed by the door-posts, the tall figure of their host stood out against the lights from the illuminated hall, before he stepped outside to greet them.
"Mrs. Bennet, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, It is an honour to welcome you.. Please come in."
The butler attended to them and Darcy turned to Jane with a courteous bow and supported her passing the threshold where Bingley had finished his civilities to his new relations and was eager to take care of his fiancÈe. Finally Darcy was at liberty to give his undivided attention where it had been aiming since the arrival of the coach. He turned back to fasten his gaze upon Elizabeth and reached his hands out to seize and hold one of hers a moment before he raised it to his lips for a solemn kiss.
"You are warmly welcomed to this house, Elizabeth. It has been many months since I began to anticipate your coming here. From the start, contrary to all reason .... You arrive not a day too soon, it has long been awaiting you."
He offered his arm and they walked past Mr. Hudson, who kept a perfectly neutral demeanour although he was certainly interested to furtively observe the master's fiancÈe as he closed the door and advanced to collect Miss Bennet's cloak
Rumours among the staff had it, that the master was completely spellbound by her, so naturally the hopes and fears regarding her disposition were substantial. In all probability she would have a large influence on her husband and hence on the future conditions for all of them. He had discussed the matter in privacy with Mrs. Tuddler. The good lady expressed her fears.
"If I am to judge by his attention to the arrangements for her arrival after the wedding, he puts her very high indeed. I understand Mrs. Reynolds had the same impression from his letters and she also recalled the amount of fuss when Miss Bennet was visiting Pemberley last summer. Mind you, they were not even engaged at that time! You mark my words, her coming here might turn things upside down, if it pleases her. He is not likely to object."
"Mr. Darcy has always shown sound judgement and never tolerated any injustice. Let us hope he will remain the same!"
"An idle wish, if you ask me, Mr. Hudson. His kind, the silent and serious sort of man, are much the worse for it, when they are finally struck by love's lightning. He never allowed any woman, but Miss Darcy to influence his life before. And just look at him now! He has hardly been to Pemberley since her visit there. Not that he has been in town for any length of time either! He has spent weeks and weeks in some godforsaken place in Hertfordshire! Why? Because this is where she lives!
"Well, the master is in love, I do not doubt that, Mrs. Tuddler. I am happy for him, he appears to be a lot more cheerful, than he has been for a long time, if you ask me. Too dreary for a man his age, ever since Miss Georgiana visited Ramsgate. I would not be surprised if Miss Bennet has had a beneficial influence on him. Taught him to smile, eyh?"
"He is not smiling when he stands staring out a window for hours. Or when he is pacing in his room at night like some lost soul!"
Mr. Hudson was about to comment, but throwing a glance at Mrs. Tuddler decided he had better not. Reflecting to himself that there are things better left unsaid, and that women would never fully grip the multifarious afflictions that might fall upon a gentleman.
It was a large hall and at the far end a grand staircase was divided from a landing halfway up into two upper halves one turning to the right and one to the left. The walls were filled with paintings, many of them portraying proud and grave men or women with a haughty demeanour. Standing at the bottom of the stairs, Elizabeth got the feeling they were all looking down on her, to se whether she would prove worthy of their company and more important, if she would turn out a sound partner in marriage for their young descendant.
"They are all ancestors, there will be plenty of time to introduce you to them later. They hold no attraction for me tonight. Permit me to tell you how lovely you look, Elizabeth. I believe I shall have trouble remembering my other guests."
As had become their habit out of prudence, whenever their conversations turned emotional, his voice grew lower as he spoke, the last words were whispered and accompanied by a wistful look. Her face as she smiled to thank him was radiant with love and she felt reassured by his affection, that she could face all the Darcys from history, if only he was there to support her.
Slowly ascending she directed her eyes towards him, to compare the tenderness on his handsome face, to the severity of his ancestors and her musing gaze made him knit his brows with a look of bewilderment. She found that in the firm jawbone above the fluffy whiteness of his cravat there was a resemblance. However, none of them was possessed of the mirth visible on his beloved face as he followed her.
"Why are you studying me so inexorably, Miss Bennet? Do you mean to frighten me ...?"
She laughed merrily at the absurdity of his remark, before she enlightened him.
"I can detect a slight likeness between yourself and some of these portraits."
"Do I look as grim in your eyes ...?"
"No, not really, but there is this strain of stubbornness about them too."
"So, you find me obstinate ...?"
He drew nearer to her, gratified to observe the familiar sparkle in her eye.
"Oh, yes, you are not inclined to abandon an attempt just because you meet with resistance. For which I shall be eternally grateful to you, Fitzwilliam Darcy."
"Aha, you are referring to the miserable days, when I was not so fortunate as I find myself this evening ...?"
His eyes turned black and Elizabeth looked over her shoulder to see whether they were alone. On doing so, she caught sight of the butler, who was standing by a door at one side of the hall. Darcy followed her gaze and raised her hand to his lips. Bowing over it he whispered.
"He does not hear us .... The poor man is hard of hearing at this distance.'
"But he has got eyes ...!"
"It is just as well, he gets used to your being here. I could never keep a blank face when I am alone with you, Elizabeth!"
His expression was softening and thrilled to realise, that she would soon share his life in this house, she managed another attempt to place propriety before her own wishes.
"Your other guests might be expecting you...?"
"I dare say, though Bingley has kindly offered to assist me. He anticipated my preoccupation with one particularly lovely guest. But I fear you are right. I shall have to share you with them, then ...."
He placed her hand on the arm of his black coat and escorted her over the vast surface of the marble floor towards the door held open by Mr. Hudson. They arrived in a drawing room where the rest of the company was already assembled. Lizzy met the amused eyes of her aunt and Darcy bowed towards Mrs. Gardiner before he offered a plausible explanation for their delay.
"We have met some older members of my family from the past centuries. If you wish, we can all have a look after dinner."
To Elizabeth it seemed as if most of the evening was swept in an enchanted mist. Darcy was most attentive, whenever his other duties allowed him, he returned to her side. The dinner was delicious, Mrs. Bennet and her brother tried to surpass each other praising Mr. Darcy, who humbly and graciously referred to his cook, actually a Maitre de la Cuisine from Lyon as Bingley later informed them. The dinner conversation was maintained without Mrs. Bennet committing any serious faux pas. All of the guests were anxious to gloss over any embarrassing remarks of hers, and neither Bingley nor Darcy gave her effusions much consideration, since they were both otherwise deeply engaged.
Mrs. Gardiner told her husband, when they were going to bed that night, that she had high hopes both girls would find themselves very happily married.
"I could not agree more, my dear. I thought I recognised myself in Darcy, when he was unable to keep his eyes off Lizzy. Whatever she said, he tried to overhear, on one occasion he answered me altogether without sense. He has certainly had his head turned by our dear girl!"
"Yes, dearest, but this we have been aware of for some time. Do you not recall how he used to look at her when we visited Pemberley? He was so enamoured with her, I still find it hard to believe, that she did not realise. What I saw tonight ...and yesterday ...was, that she does love him back with all her heart.
"I have been slightly worried, that she might have persuaded herself to be in love. There are certainly many incentives, he is wealthy, amiable, handsome, intelligent, tender-hearted with such excellent taste and judgement. But above all, he loves her unconditionally. What girl would be able to resist such temptation? However, I have watched her, when she is in his company and the way she looks at him, and blushes, when he addresses her, has put my mind at ease! My worries are over, I know now that Lizzy is as helplessly in love as Mr. Darcy. You are right, Edward, they act a good deal like we did. I am so happy for Jane and Lizzy! There is nothing more valuable in marriage than a loving and respectful husband!"
Edward Gardiner smiled as he leaned over to kiss his wife good night..
"You are ever so right! And an amiable and clever wife is also a treasure!"
The gentlemen were about to return to the ladies after their port and business discussions, which by the way, had been of short duration, for the only subject of such nature, that could capture the young men's attention were the legal documents in connection with the marriages which were to be signed by Mr. Gardiner. Otherwise he soon found that their mind wandered and that Darcy appeared to be listening for voices from the drawing-room. Not more than twenty minutes had passed, when he cleared his throat and gave Darcy a look full of meaning.
"I hope there will be some coffee left for us. Mrs. Gardiner is nearly as addicted to that beverage as I am myself to port. This one was magnificent, Darcy!"
When he had declined an offer for another glass from his host, again stressing his being in great need of coffee, Darcy smiled and placed his napkin on the table.
"Well Gents, shall we join the ladies?'
His proposal was received with acclamation by Bingley and they all left the dining-room pretending to be in pursuit of the delicious coffee-scent.
There was one event during this bewitched evening that provided the fly in the ointment for Elizabeth. It was later that evening, a reminder of Darcy's earlier promise was pronounced by Mr. Bingley, who perhaps anticipated a chance to have Jane's hand on his arm.
"Might this be an appropriate time for you to keep your word, Darcy and introduce Mr. Gardiner and the ladies to some of the Darcys and Fitzwilliams on your walls?"
No cause for refusal was evident and so they all walked out into the upper hall where some of the larger portraits were hanging.
They were strolling slowly along the walls while Darcy commented on some portraits and some other paintings also. Elizabeth was happy to be by his side and have him mumble an occasional comment for her ears only.
The company as a whole appreciated it, but after a little while Mrs. Bennet wondered where a closed door led to and Darcy obliged her by opening it, revealing a minor sitting room which was used by Miss Darcy. Elizabeth was not at ease to watch her mother, for she was more than politely interested in the different pieces of furniture and ornaments. Although Mrs. Gardiner and Jane endeavoured to make interested remarks so as to take the sting out of this improper curiosity, the situation grew increasingly painful to Elizabeth. When Darcy left the room with Mr. Gardiner to show him an atlas in the library, she boldly followed them and asked her uncle if she could have a word with her fiancÈ. Both gentlemen started and she thought she saw a frown on Darcy's brow. Mr. Gardiner looked slightly worried as he nodded his consent.
"By all means, my dear ...."
He stayed behind, pacing the gallery while Darcy and Elizabeth left him to enter the library. Darcy had been silent up to now, but as soon as they were alone, he turned to face her, somewhat annoyed and puzzled by her behaviour. He gave her a look of reproach.
"You wish to speak to me, Elizabeth! I understand it is a matter of some urgency?"
The hint of reproach in his voice did not escape her. She heaved a deep sigh and forced herself to speak to him at once, since the other guests might enter any minute. Cringing from humiliation she let him know the cause of her improper conduct.
"Yes, please forgive me, but I would have you grant a request of mine ...that you comply with my wishes and make this tour of the house as short as possible."
Surprised and not entirely able to hide his disappointment he answered her.
"If you prefer, I had hoped that you would be interested to see it ...."
"But I am, of course I am. I want you to show it to me, only ...not like this. Not with the obtrusive remarks from my mother to embarrass me constantly. She spoils every pleasure for me. If you are displeased with me it gets even worse ...."
Tenderness was superseding the earlier frustration on his face as he watched her unhappy expression. He looked briefly towards the door and then pulled her behind a row of huge cupboards. Collecting her in his embrace, he whispered in her ear.
"My dearest, I am no longer displeased. Only distressed on your behalf. Think no more of it, I implore you. Shall we postpone the grand tour until after our wedding then?"
She nodded her relief and cuddled up to him with a sigh of content and gratitude.
"Yes please, if you do not mind?"
"Certainly not. I look forward to that pleasure .... I shall think of an excuse ..."
He released her abruptly at the sound of approaching steps and voices, and pulling a volume from the nearest shelf, began to comment on its leather cover and ancient writing in German types. Elizabeth smiled mischievously and tilted her head, giving the impression of a genuine bibliophile, when her mother entered the room with the others.
Mrs. Bennet was impressed by the size of the room and the amount of books in it. But she was more interested in the old Tudor chairs and a pair of imposing urns than the rare books. So after trying her patience by a series of various booklets and a few beautiful examples of book-plates, Mr. Darcy pretended to realise that some of his guest might wish for refreshments and he asked Bingley to escort the ladies back into the drawing-room, while he showed some Italian maps to Mr. Gardiner. Very pleased with what she had actually seen and with the display of refreshments, cakes and fruits, Mrs. Bennet did not complain on the short duration of that house tour. But she did mention it to Mrs. Gardiner the next day.
"If we got to see one fourth part of that house, I am sure it was not more. And I would gladly have looked into another salon instead of that library."
"Yes my dear, a beautiful house indeed! Such treasures of art!"
Her sister-in-law was rather absentminded and perhaps also approaching her fatigue limit!
Part VIII Continued
Due to the aforementioned circumstances over which he had no control, Darcy had found himself compelled to stay in London for little more than a week after the rest of the party left and was expected back this late November day to have dinner at Longbourn. Elizabeth had suffered through the days of his absence, with only two letters from him to console her, attempting to make the time pass faster by giving the most minute attention to her wardrobe. She wanted to make sure the clothes she brought with her would be fit for her new life.
Mrs. Bennet had told her, there was really no need since they had got her several new dresses apart from her wedding-gown in town; and she would be able to buy as many gowns as she could ever wish for, when she became the wife of Mr. Darcy. To this Elizabeth replied, unable to hide a slight annoyance, that if those dresses had been to her liking until this date, they would be just as useful after her marriage. There was nothing the matter with them and she had certainly no intention of wandering about her everyday business at Pemberley overdressed in silk and velvet ....
Mrs. Bennet listened to her daughter with incredulity and when Elizabeth had left the room, she snorted and reflected, that whatever Mr. Bennet kept telling her in praise of their second daughter and her sensible mind, she saw little proof of it. There was not much evidence that Elizabeth understood the fortunate circumstances of her marrying a man of such wealth as Mr. Darcy. Mrs. Bennet shook her head muttering to herself.
'No need for new dresses! I never heard such utter nonsense from any woman. I can not understand, why they are in such a hurry to leave London. If they were to stay a month at least, I would be happy to assist her most unselfishly. But oh no, they are anxious to get to Pemberley, she tells me. Well I suppose it is grand enough, but it is not as if it were to disappear is it? And from what I saw, Mr. Darcy's Town House is not all that uncomfortable! It is certainly no cottage ...though I never got to see all of it.
It is most annoying, since I would be able to show her more of the best warehouses and advise her in choosing the fabrics and colours as well as the latest fashion. She shall need more ribbons and feathers to adorn her coiffure as well, and she has little practise in such things. I doubt that she realises what will be expected of her. If only she would listen to me.'
As a matter of fact Elizabeth had given some attention to the subject. She could imagine that her responsibilities as Mistress of Pemberley would call for some gowns of more elegance, than she had ever owned and, during their stay in London, had sought the advice of her aunt Gardiner while her mother was otherwise occupied. She had gone through a good deal of trouble to come to an agreement with Mrs. Bennet on the purchase of the dresses she had acquired. One was an olive green woollen dress for walking purposes and it was fine, strict and comfortable, though too dull to strike Fanny Bennet's fancy. She had vastly preferred the morning dress -- which had some superfluous decorations, that Elizabeth would have to remove later. She had been very wise to ask her aunt's advice for not only had Mrs. Gardiner known how this problem was to be solved. She had also promised to assist her niece in another, even more urgent matter.
Out of kindness Mrs. Bennet had insisted on having new night-gowns made by her seamstress in Meryton for both her daughters and the result was not to Elizabeth's liking. Rather it had made her shudder to even think of appearing in anything so vulgar before her husband's eyes. Since it was a gift, it was impossible for her to let her mother know. She described it to her aunt.
"The fabric is a ...glaring pink shade, the kind that might cause damage to your eyes and the design ...lots and lots of fluffy lace and ribbons and more lace trimmings all over. I would feel awful wearing it! I am glad Jane's is not half as hideous, for as you know, she is too kind to even think of getting another. But I must have something else. It need not be fashionable. I want no excesses."
Though her vivacity in depicting the garment was amusing, Mrs. Gardiner could detect the sincerity of her niece's concern, for her voice was cracking and the fine wrinkles on her brow showed traces of her worry.
"Of course dearest Lizzy, You must have a gown that will make you look and feel your loveliest! It should be neither that colour, nor that design, it seems to me dear Fanny thinks you have the same taste in clothes as she herself!"
They had secretly, with the help of Mrs. Gardiner's fashion magazines, decided on a night-gown in La Belle AssemblÈe. The kind lady would effect for Elizabeth the ordering and deliverance of this model to Portnam Square without her mother's knowledge.
During these agreeable hours spent in the peaceful seclusion of Mrs. Gardiners snug parlour, Elizabeth again reflected on the gratitude she owed her Godmother, who had in fact always been closer to her than Mrs. Bennet. She tried to express her deep sense of obligation, but was affectionately hushed.
"Would I not love to assist my favourite niece, when she is about to take such a decisive step in her life? Look here, what do you think of this neckline Lizzy? Will this gown stay where it is supposed to? Only if you do not move, speak or breathe, I would say!!"
The amusement shared and the elegance and sophistication of the different gowns designed to seduce and please a gentleman, induced an atmosphere of trust and confidence. The elder woman hinted that if there was anything Lizzy wanted to ask her, she would do her best to answer. Elizabeth realised at once what her aunt meant and looked away bashfully before mumbling in response.
"Thank you, aunt. I do have some general idea ...of the ways of ...matrimony, although there are certainly ...things to puzzle me, but ...know not how to inquire ...it is of such private nature."
Mrs. Gardiner placed an arm around Elizabeth's shoulders to squeeze her lovingly.
"As a rule, men are more experienced in these matters and often display an ...eagerness that might be something of a shock to a girl at the beginning. But if she loves her husband, she will soon learn to understand him better and even as time passes, come to enjoy this part of her marriage as much as he does.'
A faint shade of pink came on her aunt's face and it helped to make Elizabeth less concerned about her own burning cheeks as she whispered.
"I imagine, yours is a happy marriage, aunt?"
"Oh, yes Lizzy and I think yours will be too. You might be surprised to learn things about yourself, once you are married and allowed some privacy with your husband. There are very special feelings ...."
"I hope you will not think ill of me, were I to tell you that I have already experienced such ...things. When Mr. Darcy ..., well, we have tried to behave properly, he is most particular ...yet when he holds me close to him, I feel I want to stay in his embrace for ever, I get all warm and I would not mind if he ...I wish he were not so strict ...."
Her aunt laughed softly and stroked her niece's glowing face.
"Dearest Lizzy, from what I hear, I think you will be very happy to share his bed. It is really the sweetest, most delightful thing to a man and a woman. When your minds are close, it is simply wonderful to have your bodies the same .... I think I am justified to tell you that you need not fear your wedding night, Elizabeth. Even less so, since it is clear that Mr. Darcy loves you so very dearly."
Elizabeth blushed anew, as, with a happy sigh, she rose to her feet and threw her arms round Mrs. Gardiner.
"Thank you for being such a wonderful friend. What would I do without you, my beloved aunt?"
It was also very comforting to know that when she was next in town, her aunt would accompany her to the establishment of an accomplished ladies dressmaker. Though they both felt a slight discomfort to act behind her back, they had agreed that much more would be accomplished if Mrs. Bennet was not present.
"Your mother has the best intentions, Elizabeth, but I admit that I understand your wish to handle some of your shopping without her assistance."
"Yes, I know she means well, but this is so important to me, I can not afford to be always considerate. I would prefer to visit this seamstress in your company. "
"They deliver nothing but the best, Lizzy, I am sure you will be delighted, my dear. I should imagine they will be extremely pleased and honoured to register Mrs. Darcy among their customers and then save your measurements for future purpose."
That way she would be able to order dresses by letter from Derbyshire. Elizabeth had spoken to Darcy about it, for she must know, if they were to stay in London long enough for her to accomplish this. One afternoon when they were walking with Jane and Bingley in Hyde Park, which was most conveniently situated at a walking distance from Portnam Square, she summoned her courage to inquire after the duration of their stay.
He was most obliging, even worried, to realise that he had rather rudely overlooked her wishes, when he planned the days after their wedding.
"Elizabeth! If you wish for an extended stay in town, it shall certainly be arranged. This is not for me to decide alone. You must accept my apology, it appears I am not used to this new situation. I am in the habit of arranging things for Georgiana and myself without consulting anybody. My dear, if you would prefer more time for the purpose of necessary purchases and such, you need only say so."
It was highly gratifying to have him express his view on the matter. That he intended to have her opinion before decisions were made. She furtively moved the hand that was resting on his supportive arm in a soothing caress. Then she assured him most earnestly, that she was eager to arrive in Derbyshire.
"Oh no, I do not really wish it. I would prefer that the delay of our departure for Pemberley was very short. It is only this vexing circumstance of my outfit. Mama has been insistent, and I tried to ignore it, but now aunt Gardiner confirms my apprehensions. I shall need some additional gowns in order to help frustrate Lady Catherine's hopes. I have no wish to bring disgrace on your name ...in the eyes of your Derbyshire neighbours, I would not want you to feel ashamed of me ...."
She could not help but feeling somewhat embarrassed to bring the subject up; dreading the possibility that he would think her acquisitive, that it would give the impression she could not wait to spend his money. Whether he fully understood her fears or merely sensed them, his answer was an endeavour to have her make light of it.
"But of course, my dearest Elizabeth, how neglectful of me to not realise this. You must certainly order the gowns you require, and shall no doubt lend them an appearance of more loveliness than their creator was ever able to fancy. I shall be pleased to see you wear them at Pemberley. Although you should know, that no matter what you wear, I could never feel ashamed of you. My pride forbids it!"
"Your pride, sir?"
She looked surprised by his choice of words. There was a glint in his eye at her reaction, before he went on.
"I am too proud of you. So proud that you have consented to be my wife, that you allow me to love you; not to mention the profound happiness to think that you return my affections.'
He looked at her with devotion and raised her hand to his lips. He held it to his heart after kissing it and asked her.
"For how long would you wish to stay in town then, Elizabeth? From my limited experience these are matters of the utmost importance to ladies! I assume you are no exception, my sweet lady. Would a week be satisfactory? '
"Oh no, not that long. I think three days should suffice. I so wonder what Pemberley looks like in the winter, Fitzwilliam. The prospect of getting acquainted with every corner of it holds greater attraction for me, than the purchase of some gown. Did I detect a slight mockery in your voice, sir?"
He would have agreed to any length of time she wished for, but was pleased to know that she shared his anxiety to go to Derbyshire. He was looking forward to showing Pemberley to her. He could not wait to make her feel at home, to have her love it, the way he did. Affectionately playing with her fingers he expressed his contentment and softly confessed.
"I was under the impression that clothes are given an infinitely greater amount of solicitude by most ladies. So, not mockery, only an attempt to navigate in obscure waters. But as I said, my knowledge in these matters is confined. I have been forced in the past, to notice the time devoted to dressing by Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley. Georgiana is still very young ....I should have known better than to compare you to any other woman! I was apparently mistaken."
Part VIII Continued
On the morning of the glorious day of his return she gave in to her longing for solitude and fresh air. After breakfast she put on her coat and bonnet and placed a woolen shawl on her shoulders, for the passed night had left the grounds covered by a thin frosty veil. She then started out on the familiar road towards Oakham Mount, with the epistles from Darcy tucked into a pocket, for it was her intention to allow her thoughts to dwell on her fiancÈ. After a brisk walk she was quite out of breath on arriving at her intended destination. She had climbed the hill to look down towards one of the huge fields surrounding the Netherfield estate, the one where she had first set eyes on Mr. Darcy. From this summit she had watched him and Bingley galloping their horses across the green surface and somehow that vision had made her inexplicably light at heart.
Elizabeth leaned back against the stem of a tree, recovering her breath and closing her eyes to try to recall the memory of Darcy's powerful riding that day. When she first caught sight of them, Bingley was in the lead, but as they bolted over the field, Darcy had urged his black corser to increase the speed and inexorably pass his opponent to finally leave him behind. It was not as if he had given his horse its head, for there was something absolutely controlled about the performance. The memory was still very clear, she could recall the rhythm of that distant thunder from the hooves against the ground. Indeed the sound was almost real. Is this my heart pounding at the thought of him? He had appeared to be one with his steed, and although she had no idea who he was at the time, she now believed his person had somehow affected her. Smiling to herself, she reflected that his influence on her was anything but diminishing. She unfolded his letters and her eyes found the treasured parts of each. Whispering his words she smiled and held the sheets to her heart. Now that he was to become her husband, his mere presence in a room, nay ...the mere thought of him made her heart palpitate and occasioned a silly wish to be near him or, at least, have him look at her.
Drawing a deep breath she turned round to start back homewards and while she put away her billets-doux, her eyes swept the less magnificent view offered in that direction. It was as if her heart overturned when a distant figure waving at her caught her attention. Lecturing herself on her foolish hopes, she deducted from the time of day, that it was much too early for Darcy to be back. The next minute she observed a coach on the road, noticed the size of it and, though the distance was too large for the crest to be discernible, realised that it had to be her most beloved. She knew he would bring the barouche back for the sole purpose of their traveling in it to London on their wedding day. The thought of this, not too far off, event brought about a passing feeling of nervous anticipation.
She commenced to walk faster, most anxious to have the testimony of her own eyes confirm the identity of that tall gentleman. As she got closer every doubt vanished, it was indeed him and without thinking she started running towards him. His grey coat flapping in the wind and the hair on his bare head -- no hat, she momentarily reflected -- tousled by that same breeze, as he moved with an apparent fixity of purpose up the hill, made him look very young and revealed an eagerness far from his usual dignified demeanour. The sight of his dear face and his masculine frame, in combination with the memory of his ardent words of affection in recent letters, occasioned a further increase in her already exuberant joy. Oh how happy I am!
A warm smile was on his face as he strode up the eminence to meet her and when she approached, his arms opened wide to welcome her. He took in her whole appearance floating down the slope towards him and as he watched the folds of her dress sweeping around her legs just above her swift feet, he got his heart in his throat, partly for fear that she might stumble and fall, but mostly because he was flown through by the almost incomprehensible, unprecedented certainty that this wonderful creature was his most beloved, dearer to his heart than any other living being and that she loved him back. Her feet barely touch the ground, her eyes sparkle with love, she is so light, so soft ...soon she will be in my arms. I never knew such joy!
Elizabeth's bonnet was blown off her head to dangle on her back and she could feel her heart beating with excitement. In a glimpse she realised that her behaviour was far from dignified, but she did not care and the moment before she tumbled into his embrace, she even cried out with joy in her voice.
"Fitzwilliam! You are back!'
His arms enfolded her lovingly and to steady her also.
"Yes,' he whispered in her hair. 'Yes, I am finally back with you dearest Elizabeth."
He held her close to him, softly brushing her temple with his lips, while they simply enjoyed the feeling of homecoming, their hearts beating against one another in profound contentment and their breathing slightly increased; on the lady's behalf partly due to running. A deep sigh escaped him.
"How I have missed you!"
Oh bliss to be wrapped up in these firm arms .... She murmured to his waistcoat.
"And I! I thought this day would never come! The hours seemed so long."
He smiled above her ear, his heart beating furiously. Her scent ...her warmth, this softness so close .... He managed a hoarse reply.
"They were indeed. The hands on my watch hardly moved at all."
Unwillingly considering propriety Darcy released her, but kept her hand in his and indicated the coach.
"May I offer you a ride, Miss Bennet?"
Elizabeth smiled happily and nodded her consent most graciously. He escorted her back through the irregularities of the ground vegetation; it had run quite wild near the ditch where the carriage awaited them. Glancing towards her feet and the hem of her frock and coat, he expressed his concern for the hardships he was subjecting her to.
"Will your dress allow you to cross this obstacle? Perhaps I had better take you over it?"
She looked at him, apparently considering his offer and a tiny smile showed on her face. He had time to anticipate the pleasure of holding her near again, before her voice put an end to his reverie.
"Would you really dare the leap over this terrifying abyss with such a burden in your arms? How utterly gallant, Mr. Darcy!"
The colour on his face rose as she teased him and she immediately repented her disobliging mockery. In a subdued voice she whispered another answer, where propriety was considered, but where one word accompanied by a flutter of eyelashes was enough to send a hot thrill through his chest, while a slight turn of her head and a short glance were meant to remind him of the coach and the men on it. Young Thomas had actually positioned himself near the door when he saw his master returning from his unexpected detour.
"However pleasant the prospect, I think this is neither the time nor the place. If you would be so kind as to lend me your hand, I think I should venture this on my own."
Delighted by her implied consent to his suggestion, if only circumstances had been more favourable, Darcy stationed himself steadily and reached out his arm towards her. He watched her as she was getting ready, collecting her skirts until a disturbing glimpse of the small of her leg made him avert his eyes. With the support of his hand she managed the bound across the ditch. He kissed her fingertips and smiled admiringly in response to her low triumphant cry.
Even Thomas and Mr. Bullock, the coach-man exchanged glances and a brief smile of approval passed on their faces, before they hastily resumed their expressions of supposed indifference, as Darcy raised his brow in mild disapprobation. Inwardly however, he was secretly pleased to notice their being impressed by the future Mistress.
He escorted her to the carriage and the footman opened the door, but Darcy handed her into it himself. Following her inside he took a seat opposite her and, as his gaze dwelt upon her lovely face, was thrilled to think that this was the first time they traveled by coach on their own. Could there be any objections? Surely not for a tour of such short duration? He shook off the irritating thought and lost himself in enchanted adoration of her shifting expressions as she began a vivid description of yesterday's gathering at Netherfield and what the apothecary in Meryton had said to Mrs. Long, when he thought no one else was listening. Darcy's sudden burst of laughter was overheard at the coach-box to have Mr. Bullock grin and nod his head. His voice was no more than a mutter when he triumphantly addressed his young mate.
"What did I tell you? He's eating out of that tiny hand of hers ...and I don't blame him."
Chapter VIII--Not Actually Married, Continued
Author's Note: One year ago, Easter time 1997, I posted an Easter Egg on Fan Fiction. It contained a Carriage Rumination, Darcy and Fitzwilliam were leaving Rosings Park in Darcy's barouche. Not until I was about to post today, did it strike me, that This Easter Egg 1998 contains a ride in that same barouche, but with one of the participants exchanged.;-) Need I warn you that Easter Eggs are just for fun - and pleasure? Their contents are only sweets and fluff; if you are hungry, read Austen!
The conversation inside the coach was dealing with insignificant local matters and some minor events that had taken place during his absence. The contracting parties to this recent agreement of the hearts were both so happy to simply be in company, and the primary reason for verbal exchange was to avoid the suspense that seemed to build up whenever silence reigned. Elizabeth was aware that the gaze of her fiancÈ frequently made her painfully self-conscious, whereas Darcy feared where his thoughts and wishes might bring him, if he did not keep his mind on indifferent topics and his eyes under good regulation.
Despite this touch of discomposure, the joint trip was most agreeable, albeit of short duration, for it was not long before the barouche wheeled over the gravel in front of Netherfield House. The familiar sound alerted Darcy and his eyes forsook their tribute of praise to her enchanting facial expressions, in order to survey the yard and sweep over the windows of the building. The sight of the empty front stairs served as an unwelcome reminder of harsh reality and he turned to his companion with a worried expression.
"I must beg to be forgiven! Now, on closer consideration, I deserve to be reproached on a severe lack of judgement; I fear you can not come indoors, Elizabeth. There are no ladies staying here at present, ...unless any of the guests are already arrived?"
The question was mirrored in his eyes when he looked at Elizabeth, who reluctantly shook her head.
"No, none has arrived yet, not that I know of. Mr. Bingley's sisters and Mr. Hurst are expected late this evening and from what I heard, Miss Darcy will travel from London with your cousin and his family? Will they be here tomorrow in time for the dinner at Netherfield?"
"Yes, that is what Fitzwilliam told me. But this is of no consequence dealing with our present predicament. We do not even know whether Bingley is still at home to keep you company, while I make myself presentable; if he is already gone to see Jane, your presence might be looked upon as improper. It would be very wrong of me to invite you in; Elizabeth, you should not be in the house when there is no one there but me ..."
He looked at her and appeared to be considering something. The expression on his face was one she had seen before and there was something to it, that made her lower her eyes. It rendered her slightly uneasy, for he was concentrating his gaze on her, but still somewhere else in his mind. The coach had come to a stop and Darcy pulled himself together to make a declining gesture, thus preventing the approaching footman from opening the carriage door. His reflections made him sigh and speak.
"I shall instruct Mr. Bullock to take you to Longbourn. It will not be long before I join you there."
The last was added to get the disappointed look off her face. Darcy noticed with sincere contentment, that she opposed to being parted from him, just as he was himself resentful to the idea. How it excites me to have even the slightest proof of her attachment. Falteringly smiling Elizabeth made a rash attempt to turn her displeasure into a jest. Not very successfully for the usual twinkle of amusement was not to be found in her eyes.
"When we met, I was so content to know we would not be separated until tonight. Now I am most seriously displeased instead, ...that you find it in your heart to take your leave so soon."
She paused and further emphasised her mood by forming her lips into a minor pout, which, with or without her knowledge, rendered her mouth highly inviting.
"My heart is not easy in doing so, I assure you ....'
His regretful expression was merged with a wistful glimpse in his eyes as he watched her charming discontent. She noticed that he was not pleased either and although fully aware, that the entire matter was a mere trifle, something ...perhaps the understanding of his being affected, induced her to exercise her power. In the back of her mind she was ashamed of this immature behaviour, yet could not resist to dare him.
"Who would mind, if I were to wait for you in the drawing-room? We are engaged and so soon to be married. Might not Mrs. Nichols do for an easily handled chaperon; when she has served tea, she could be dismissed. Perhaps you could even show me the chambers upstairs ...where you and Mr. Bingley live ....I have never been in that part of the house."
He was evidently shocked by her suggestion.
"Elizabeth! You can not be serious, you know this is not done."
But she could see, that against his will, he was considering the thought. She would not allow for him to get off lightly.
"Is there no way you could manage this secretly? Surely you have applied yourself to some mischievous behaviour of this kind before. At Cambridge perhaps?"
His colour heightened at her insinuations.
"You know there is not! At Cambridge? This was certainly not permitted. No lady ever visited my rooms on her own!"
Elizabeth could hear her own persistence. Why am I doing this?
"No lady ...? How about Georgiana ...some sisters of your college friends perhaps ...?
She observed him, her delicate brow raised and her head slightly bent to one side in a teasing manner. His throat turned dry, he found it very difficult to swallow. The thoughts she provoked in him were not altogether proper. He had to fight them, however tempting her suggestions. One half of him, wanted to act upon her challenge without scruples. At the same time, another part of him felt she deserved censure, she ought not to express herself with such outspoken intrepidity. This might rightfully be called arts, ... designed to ruin my self-command and even make me wish I had none ...but I doubt she is fully aware of it ....
"Miss Bennet! I beseech you! Cease this ...cruel play, it is not in accordance with the propriety expected from a fiancÈe of mine. I must remind you, that there are three more days until we are to be married. When you are my wife, I shall be happy to ...have you visit my rooms whether they be here at Netherfield, in London or at Pemberley.'
The last sentence was spoken in a raucous subdued voice almost inaudibly. Something about his face ...an expression of ...anguish ? brought her back to reason and when she became aware of a flickering appeal in his eyes, she knew she had passed the limits. Did he say cruel ...? With reddening cheeks Elizabeth realised that she must acknowledge her childish frustration and reached out to momentarily touch his gloved hand.
"Oh Fitzwilliam! Forgive me, I know I should not be so unruly. I tell myself to behave so that the shades of Pemberley will have no objections, but ...I am not sure why I keep forgetting myself ...."
He gave a short laugh at her joke and then spoke again in the same low tone of voice, while looking searchingly into her eyes.
"I think we both know why .... We did have this conversation on playing with fire? I can only speak for myself and declare that the flames are by no means dying away. On the contrary, these days spent away from you have only conduced to enhance my love. Perhaps by now it would be more appropriate to say, we both enjoy balancing on the edge of a volcano.'
She drew breath and averted her eyes to escape the increasing fervour of his gaze. But as she was contrite and anxious to ask his forgiveness, she spoke more openly than she had intended.
"Why I ...yes I think you are right. I was wrong, foolishly acting upon my immature feelings of disappointment, as if you were to blame .... It is improper I know, it is because I love you so much. I have missed you. All these days when you were not here, when my thoughts were on you, I have wished for you to ...look at me like that ..."
While she spoke, he had moved to sit near and now instinctively grasped her lower arm. His voice was more intent and his eyes impossible to elude. There was indeed an unusual heat in them. Elizabeth glanced down towards his resolute hand and something about him forced her to gasp for air. Barely enduring the confusion she mumbled.
"The way you do now."
The next second his mouth was eagerly pressed against hers. Aware of his persistent strictness, knowing his behaviour to be always guarded, she had not expected him to, but gave a faint cry of surprise and pleasure. That soft exclaim compelled him to tighten his grip and kiss her lips even more passionately, until he abruptly released her. Completely shaken, with cheeks all hot from the sudden and overwhelming proof of his feelings, Elizabeth tried to compose herself. Her hands groped the seat for support and she was panting with excitement as she sank back staring at her fiancÈ. Leaning his head back against the soft upholstery, eyes closed, Darcy inhaled and breathed out repeatedly in order to steady his voice, before he looked at her and spoke..
"My dearest, most bewitching and beloved Elizabeth. I assure you that I have missed you just as much, ...I have been desperate to be near you, you must know how I love to look at you. And I have told you I would not have you otherwise. If it were not ...the claims of society, there are unwritten laws, ...it would be most unwise for us to disregard them, my sweet rose."
Still flustered and slightly out of breath Elizabeth watched him and her eyes fell upon his hands. They were clenched, their suppressed strength and his deep voice made a chord resound within her and enticed her to betray her innermost thought.
"Must one be always wise?"
He took another deep breath. Such wonderful possibilities presented themselves when he envisioned the consequences of being unwise in this particular context .... He must not tell her. He must not even let her understand how ardently he longed for her to be in his arms. How his most fervent wish was to hold her close, kiss her, be alone with her,...to be allowed to ignore every consideration for the bonds of propriety and show her how he loved her. Looking into her eyes he could feel how he was drawn to her by innumerable tiny threads. What he would give for a short moment of irresponsibility .... But he resisted the temptation. Three more days, only three more days, until she becomes my wife ...after that, when I am her husband there will be no need for me to harden myself to her sweet allurements, we shall both be at liberty to ...oh my beloved if you only knew how frail is my defense .... Clearing his throat he managed to answer her.
"This is one time when one had better ..."
She heaved a deep sigh and gazed into his eyes.
"Yes! In my mind I know you are right. Your conduct is always impeccable, Fitzwilliam. I feel I am lacking in principle. I suppose ..., nay I fear it comes from the differences in our upbringing."
He pulled one glove from his hand to tenderly caress her cheek with the back of his fingers.
"This ...difference is not altogether insignificant when one ponders what induced me to fall in love with you in the first place, remember? As far as principles are concerned, I think you have got just about the proper amount of them. In this case mine are quite sufficient.'
At least I hope they will suffice. My recent conduct could not be labeled impeccable! I am alarmed to think that you made me lose my composure with the servants so near, just outside the carriage. Then, suddenly recollecting the outside world, he withdrew his hand to pull the glove back on, fitting every finger closely with the help of his other hand. She watched his face turn austere, almost negative. Apparently he forced himself to resume his official person. When he addressed her it was most formally.
"Shall I give the orders then, Miss Bennet?'
She placed her hands demurely on her lap and tried to assume a vacant attitude. A short glance of feigned indifference was all she condescended to give him.
"No, thank you sir. I think I would rather walk."
Puzzled by her guarded behaviour, he lost some of his resolution and his concern brought him closer to her by an impulsive choice of words.
"Are you sure, you are not too fatigued? For how long had you been ...scampering about, when I found you?"
She threw her head backwards and made him stare at her, enchanted, softening as his words were rewarded by a rippling laughter. How easily she finds a foible in me. Lovingly he watched her dainty fingers, busy with the silky ribbons, improving the bow in order to fix her bonnet and how she tucked a stray lock under its brim before answering with a glimpse in her dark eyes.
"I am not tired ...and I shall be careful to walk slowly, so I do not tire myself out ...and so that a horseman might eventually catch up on me."
How I love her, he reflected, getting his hat and stick and smiling to himself as he reached out to open the carriage door, for she prepared herself to step out. How I love and adore her!
They descended from the carriage, furtively observed by Mr. Bullock, the groom and one of Bingley's footmen who had opened the front door, but hesitated to make his approach. The coach had been outside Netherfield's main entrance for some ten or fifteen minutes without any signs that Mr. Darcy wished to leave it.
This gentleman could now be seen escorting his fiancÈe to the edge of the lawn, where they parted in a perfectly decent manner. After a few strides he turned to remind her.
"Very slowly then ...!"
She was aiming at the group of trees marking the border between the park of Netherfield and the fields. On hearing his voice she smiled and nodded, but did not look back. He pulled a sigh and made for the house with considerable haste.
At a leisurely pace Elizabeth proceeded on her way, occasionally stopping to ponder the outline of a bird visible against the pale sky or to listen to the distant barking of some dogs. She was not used to that lazy kind of amble, but with a tender smile admitted to herself that this was indeed a special occasion. The first field was crossed in an even mood, she let her mind wander and there was nothing to worry her.
When she got as far as the stile, she remembered climbing over it with his assistance and the pleasant thought made her turn to look towards Netherfield, but there was no sign of him yet.
I know how to conquer this on my own, it is only much more agreeable to be assisted .... She mocked her own foolishness and resolutely climbed over the wooden obstacle. At least there is no mud today. I guess the ground is almost frozen.
Chapter VIII Part G
Lizzy made very slow progress when she set out on her walk back to Longbourn. Darcy, on the other hand, was entering the main building at Netherfield in greatest haste, hardly taking his time to stop at the door and allow the awaiting footman to collect his hat and coat. Receiving a negative answer to his inquiry on the whereabouts of Mr Bingley, he was at liberty to rush upstairs and summon his man before he began to rapidly remove his travelling clothes. As soon as the valet entered Darcyís rooms, he was informed of the present shortage of time.
"I am in quite a hurry and wish to be off as soon as possible, so I need some hot water at once, please. No time for a bath though. Clothes for dinner, ...and Lowell, could you see to it, that my horse is ready in ten minutes?
Although there had been an alteration in Mr Darcyís formerly awe-inspiring demeanour over the last months, Mr Lowell had never known the reserved friend of his master to be as easy and good-humoured as this morning.
When he was initially ordered to wait upon Darcy he had considered it a stroke of bad fortune, and been accordingly pitied by the other members of Mr Bingleyís staff. Time had given him reason to adjust his apprehension of this wealthy poker from Derbyshire, to the point where he would even feel occasionally inclined to stand up for him in the servants hall; to explain that compared to Mr Bingley most any man in England would appear stiff and fraught with gravity, and that Mr Darcy was always fair and kind beneath that mask of cool indifference. The liberal gratuity Darcy allotted to Lowell on the day of his departure last autumn, had finally turned the compassion of his mates into something close to envy.
He returned with the water he had skillfully persuaded one of the kitchen maids to let him have, by putting sweet words and a few entreating glances into practise. Raising his brows he found the room was in a mess. Despite the short glimpse of undignified boyish bustle earlier, Lowell was not prepared for this. Clothes were scattered all over, he almost stumbled on a pair of dirty boots, with unexpected carelessness left near the threshold, and in the dressingroom his master who was bending over the washstand, had already started his toilet by having a wash with the avaialble cold water. His face was dripping wet, as he lifted it from the silver basin to greet the valet with an appreciative exclamation.
"What a relief ...some endurable water. Thank you Lowell. That was amazingly swift! Towels, please!í By means of Sandalwood soap and splashes of warm water Darcy washed off the dust of his journey. He was impatiently rubbing his body with one towel after another, knowing he had to get dry or the shirt would wrinkle. His man had been busy putting out a clean one and all the appropriate clothes, while he also took care to place the dirty articles of clothing on a chair. A pair of shining boots and a dazzling white cravat completed the picture. Darcy was about to leave his chambers, but Lowell coughed to call his attention and ventured a reminder.
"Sir, I think perhaps your hair ...."
Darcy cast an eye in the mirror and burst out laughing.
"By all means man, you are damned right. Where is that brush?"
It was promptly handed to him and after putting it to forceful use on his intractable hair, Darcy again moved towards the door. The valet opened it and held out his riding crop and a pair of pigskin gloves. They were received with a warm grin of appreciation.
"Thanks, you have been very patient, Lowell; I would not be surprised if we managed to set up a new speed record today."
Running downstairs he scolded himself, that he was eager as a schoolboy to be back in her company. We have not been separated for more than a few minutes and yet I can hardly bear to be away from her. If she knew, what power she holds over me ...I suppose, I shall not be able to hide it, once we are married. She will learn, that I am hers to command. Whatever you wish from me, oh Lady of my Heart, if I can but oblige you ...!
Bingleyís black gelding was snorting with impatience, fierily tossing its head and leaping an extra step now and again, as the groom tried to keep him calm by leading him round about the courtyard. On seeing the master he hurried back and began to explain, why he had not been awaiting him below the stairs. But Darcy readily acknowledge the wisdom of his actions.
"No need for that, lad. It is plain to see, he is giving you a hard time. Not keen on taking the role of a statue at all. I gather, he has not had enough exercise these last weeks, eh? Appearantly overeager to set off for the fields and put some accumulated energy into practise.... "
Rather like myself .... Darcy smirked as he collected the reins in his hand and placed his foot in the stirrup.
"Hoaaa theeere boy, eeeasy now .."
The horse was even more excited, when he understood his rider was mounting at last and by slowly moving forward, forced Darcy to jump by his side a couple of times before he had enough takeoff to manage the swing of his right leg and place himself in the saddle. In an attempt to slow down, the groom had been running along, holding the head of the steed firmly and using the weight of his own body, but without much effect. He was surprised, that there were no signs of displeasure at all, but a deep hearty laugh instead as the gentleman pronounced.
"It would have been wiser to use the mounting block today. All the kingís horses and all the kingís men ...it seems two men could not hold even one horse .... Perhaps his conduct will be somewhat improved, when I return him into your charge. "
He nodded and was off. Defying the animal's frequent attempts to increase their speed, Darcy kept a tight rein until he reached the first open field, where he broke into a hand gallop.Yet he made the horse move in big circles for some time, before they set out for the first ditch. He was on the lookout for the lovely figure of a female rambler somewhere ahead of him. After jumping over the fence near the stile he proceeded galloping across the next field, where at its far end, he soon caught sight of her.
A sudden warmth on her face provoked a sigh and she found a dry log to sit on, while she tilted her head to enjoy the capricious rays of sunlight. One moment they were gently caressing her cheeks and the next placing a curtain of hot red and blazing yellow before her eyes. Pure amazement took her unawares, when she began to contemplate their resemblance to different aspects of his love. His tenderness and his ...unexpected ardour. This makes him ...the sun of my life then ... An uncontrollable urge to giggle overcame her. I must tell him, I think he will be amused, but not until we are married. I would not dare .... After that sudden outburst of mirth, she pulled another contented sigh and sank into a state of drowse. A smile played on her lips as glimpses from their recent meeting shimmered in her mind.
Some uncertainty must remain on the length of the period of time that passed until the sound of hooves pulled her slowly out of her reverie. She shielded her eyes with her hand to watch the horseman advance, reflecting that he looked more handsome than ever and that she was glad the sun accounted for her glowing skin, before a chilly shadow fell on her, as he came in its place. He seemed so high and dark on his courser, quite the knight from a medieval tale surrounded by blinding light and forcing her to screw up her eyes struck with wonder at this imposing appearance.
"Miss Bennet! Did I wake you up?"
The sight of her compelled him to dismount and pull the reins over the horseís head. He stooped to seize her hand and while kissing it, was immediately drawn into her spell. He could not take his eyes from her rosy and drowsy appearance, but sank down beside her to plant an affectionate kiss on her cheek, then stood again before she had time to react. He smiled tenderly at her confusion and was at the same time, with some difficulty, trying to master the black bundle of energy, which was dancing and pulling at the reins, artfully mediating his tangible disapproval of their rampaging being interrupted. When there was no reply whatsoever from this usually so quick-witted lady, he spoke with a roguish twinkle.
"And your dreams were pleasant, I hope? This horse is impatient, he could do with further exercise, will you permit me to take him on another round? I shall be back in a few minutes ...when you are fully awake!"
Elizabeth was still blinking her eyes, attempting to drive sleep away and separate dreams from reality ...did he kiss me? She heard him tease her, but could think of nothing, so she simply nodded her head and watched him mount again.
He turned to prudently put some distance between them at a walking pace, before he urged the steed into gallop and left to return to the stile. His heart was racing. She looked too lovely. I would have made a fool of myself once more, if I had stayed a minute longer near her .... He found a ditch to jump, and the fence and then across the field at break-neck speed.
Elizabethís smile was introverted, her eyes followed the horse and rider, while the faint vibration in the ground as well as the rumbling reverberation of the hooves, brought back the memories from Oakham Mount once again. Only this time I know him. He is to be mine!
Placing a hand on her pocket she made sure the precious letters were still in safe custody. They were almost as dear to her as that first letter. The one that had been her only link to him during those sorrowful weeks, when she despaired of ever seeing him again. It was the only manifest memory of his being attached to me. HowI lingered on every word, on his writing even. She had gotten up from her former seat on the log and followed the path to the place where it turned to run along near the other fence. Some distance further ahead there was a gate in it, that allowed for a passage. She was leaning against this fence when he returned to her, lifted his hat in a sweeping salutation and dismounted.
Tucking his hat under the same arm that held his horse by the bridle, he offered Elizabeth the other. Linking her arm with his, she complimented him on his rapid return.
"I admire your speed and yet you appear to be most appropriately dressed for dinner."
He made a gallant bow and spoke accordingly.
"The inducement was more than enough to make me accelerate the process and have the excellent Mr Lowell do the same."
"I understand he is Mr Bingleyís man...?"
"Yes he is, but we get along very well, a capable chap, he was here last autumn as well ...."
"I take it there will be some regrets then, since you shall have to part from him soon ...and his master."
"Ay, that is correct, but regrets? ...not really, I believe, I shall have other things to occupy my mind. Ample sources of happiness ...."
Her cheeks warmed and she smiled to acknowledge the compliment, but there was something else on her mind.
"I suppose Mr Bingley can be expected to spend more time at Netherfield now. He will probably not devote quite as much time to London society, after his marriage .... How often do you associate with Mr Bingley? I take it, you meet regularly when you are both in London, but when you are staying at Pemberley ...? ...and now he shall be in Hertfordshire.
Up to then Darcy had been trying to figure out where her questions tended, but suddenly his face softened and a faint smile shone in his eyes as he inquired.
"Elizabeth, my love, are you dreading the prospect to be separated from Jane?"
He could easily imagine what it would be like to doubt the point of time of his seeing Georgiana next. Elizabeth started and darted a glance at him before she resumed the contemplation of her gloves. This was indeed one of her most severe anxieties upon entering a totally different kind of existence.
"Why ...I ..., yes I admit it seems somewhat .... I am used to discuss most anything with her and .... I can not help but wonder what it will be like without her. Although frequent letters will no doubt be exchanged ...."
She looked at him furtively to see if he was in any way displeased by her confession. He had listened to her tenderly and now moved to brush an irregular curly strand from her cheek.
"We shall certainly issue an invitation for them to come to Derbyshire before long. You must not distress yourself. Rest assured that I would not want you to feel desolate. I am sure Bingley is just as eager to ease the suffering of his beloved wife. I pity your favourite sister that she is about to lose your daily company."
She rewarded his generosity with a grateful smile and decided to let him know how much she appreciated it and that she was also anticipating the upcoming event.
"How very kind you are, Fitzwilliam. It is pleasing to be subjected to such consideration. I believe I am to be greatly envied. Any woman would be happy to be îin possessionî of such a fiancÈe. There are however no expectations on my part to be named suffering. You must not think, that I am having any serious doubts regarding my future happiness."
Her last words suddenly seemed too forward and she turned away to conceal the colour rising on her face. But he had noticed and happily reflecting on the sweet implications of her pronuncement, only thought she looked lovesome as he stepped near her to speak softly. Her assurances had not only influenced the beating pace of his heart, but warmed it as well, for he wanted her to feel safe as she considered her future by his side.
"Perhaps some of these confidences could be put in my care? I would be infinitely pleased if you were to honour me with your private opinions, Elizabeth."
He dared hardly meet her eyes, for this was one of his dearest wishes, that she would trust him with her confidence and allow him to share her intimate thoughts.
"I think that may very likely be the case, Fitzwilliam. And I hope that the confidence shall be mutual. I always thought there ought to be a good deal of friendship, as well as ...constituting a component of love, that is. You know I trust you and have certainly burdened you with my concerns more than once already; I suppose in time, it will be even more so, after we ...when we ....
"It is no burden Elizabeth, you must not hesitate to speak to me, whenever you are inclined to."
"Nor you to me, Fitzwilliam."
Their eyes were locked in serene warmth. She did not move, neither did he. A slight breeze moved the ribbons of her bonnet. At a distance the howling of a dog could be heard, otherwise the silence seemed to underline the serenity of the moment. A mute exchange took place, from eye to eye, but their lips spoke not. Finally Darcy grasped her hand and still gazing into her eyes, moved his thumb gently over her fingers.
Chapter VIII, Part H
The black horse was enjoying the slackened reins and had made the most of the slow path, to eagerly search for left delicacies among the weeds. Peacefully chewing the last find, he now lifted his head to observe the tranquil couple. Darcy was, as Lady Catherine De Bourgh might stingingly have put it, about to forget every obligation in the world, but those towards the enchanting lady in his company, and Elizabeth, overwhelmed by her feelings, every minute more drawn to the compelling magic of his captivating presence, knew she had to find a way out. She must demonstrate better conduct, than had brought on his earlier reproach, but how could this be achieved? Since she was almost choking from her inappropriate wishes and not sure how to handle them, she allowed a sudden impulse to take command.
"We are not alone!"
She whispered her warning, at the same time trying to curb her growing amusement. Darcy stiffened, let go of her hand and almost imperceptibly pulled backwards to increase the distance between them. Again obeying her impulse the sight of those big brown faithful eyes made her wickedly clarify.
"I believe it is a friend of yours, one of whom you think highly ...."
"A friend? Why should that be the cause of such mirth?"
There was a touch of reproach to his subdued question; he was puzzled by her behaviour and still hesitant to give his alarm away by looking over his shoulder.
"This obtrusive acquaintance is not far away, in all truth he is right behind you; no doubt wondering whatever we might be discussing at such tedious length."
Darcy was about to turn his head, when a substantial push from behind hit him between the shoulders. He was forced to take one forward stride in order to keep his balance and as he waved his arms violently to that same purpose, he also dropped his hat. Immediately realising how he had been taken in, he grinned widely and kneeled to fetch it from the ground.
"Miss Elizabeth Bennet! You are a mischievous, little sly fox ...and I thought we were speaking of trust here? I am loveís fool, no doubt! I was convinced a man from Netherfield or at least the good blacksmith from Meryton lay in wait for us in the shrubbery! "
He had drawn himself up to lead his mount near the fence, where he carelessly disposed of his hat by placing it on a pole. He laughed in bewilderment as he patted the graceful neck of the animal and casually combed its mane with his fingers. When she saw his good-humoured face and watched the wind in his hair, she unconsciously began to undo the bow of her bonnet and after removing it, shook her hair in relief before she hung her headgear next to his. Overcome by the sight of her bouncing curls and against his wish, excited by the subtle intimacy of her gesture, Darcy busied himself with the buckle on a stirrup-strap. A peculiar feeling stirred within him, but he shifted it off and pretended to be upset by her previous behaviour.
"So, the two of you were conspiring against me. Is that it?í
His dark eyes glittered almost teasingly and she could do nothing but join him to caress the horse along its nose.
"Indeed we were, sir; I fear there is nothing for me but confession. Can you forgive us? What is the name of this fellow then, I need to know my accomplice? He has got beautiful eyes, so clever .. he tricked me into this mischief, just by looking at me. You wanted me to make a joke did you not. I bet you are a clever rascal?"
She looked up at Darcy to have him name the horse and confirm her suspicions and found that his eyes were fixed upon her with that well-known expression, a mixture of amusement and tenderness.
"You are right, this horse does have a mind of his own. Perhaps this is why we get along splendidly? His full name is Thunder of Zeus. Thunder I have the great honour to present the lovely Miss Elizabeth Bennet to you! In her you have certainly met your match, when it comes to unforeseen ideas and mischievous conduct! She combines the virtues of Venus with those of Athena."
Elizabeth was happy to notice his high spirits and slightly embarrassed to hear him mock ...and court her ...by using such charming nonsense. It was quite disturbing, the way she approved of everything he said or did. She made a point of concentrating her attention on the magnificent animal.
"Thunder? So you are the Thunder of an ancient god ...and I dare say you look it! You are quite impressive!"
As he watched her stroking the horses head and bickering with it affectionately, he realised that his feelings were not far from jealousy. His eyes travelled longingly over her neat figure, from her murmuring lips and fondling hands along the soft lines of her coat all the way down to her small feet in those practical boots, so far from the elegant silk or saffian shoes of a fashionable London damsel, and then back again to her sweet profile, with lashes shadowing the peach curve of her cheek. He wired the reins round one of the fence poles and impatiently tried to fasten the refractory leather straps safely to it.
I must be out of my senses. Jealous of a horse? Thist is preposterous! But that soft and tender voice, ... I do wish, she was cooing in my ear .... He decided, the horse was secured and without thinking approached from behind to steal upon her, slipping his arms round her waist and mumbling in her hair.
"Enough is enough, Miss Bennet. Abandon that fortunate horse and save some sweet tenderness for me."
Elizabeth was taken by surprise, but not unpleasantly so. A satisfied smile played on her lips as she leaned back against his chest and acknowledged her approval of his embrace, by placing her arms and hands affirmatively upon his. Briefly closing her eyes she whispered reassuringly.
"I only lavished my caresses on Thunder because he is a friend of yours."
Near her ear she could feel the beat of his heart. The memory of his ardent kiss in the carriage came back to her. She blushed to realise, that she wanted him to .... Darcy was savouring the moment, clasping her firmly and imbibing that familiar and tempting lavender scent. Let me have some token of affection then. I am aching for you to touch me.
He bent his head to place his cheek next to hers, delighting in its softness. His fiancÈe shut her eyes again, her senses highly pleased by the cool firmness of his newly shaven skin. She
inhaled his scent trying to discern its different components, the increasingly familiar smell of his hair, both assuring and mysteriously exciting, a hint of leather, of horse?, his cologne .... The movements of the wings of her nose, her soft inhaling added to his enchantment and seeking her warmth, he neared his mouth to the side of her neck and kissed it slowly. Elizabeth gasped and unconsciously squeezed his arms.
"Elizabeth, you ...you are so soft ...umm smooth ...your scent makes me ....
He was murmuring incoherently as his lips brushed along her neckband.
Suddenly she needed him near her lips and face and therefore wrenched in his embrace. She turned to face him, placing her arms round his waist and sniffing at his cravat. He breathed her name and when she lifted her face, the tip of his fingers was gently touching her chin, her cheeks, the birth mark near her lip, repeatedly, like the fluttering wings of a moth.
When she thought, she could not bear the suspense any longer, he sought her mouth to kiss it, cautiously but accurately. Behold man, this is a severe attack on your self-possession, better resist ...do not give in . His inner voice issued those warnings and he endeavoured to avoid being too demanding. The sensation of her lips kissing him back was ...pleasant in the extreme, he forced himself into parting from them to retain his presence of mind, while reflecting, that he had been wise to avoid this delightful intimacy during the past weeks. He only indulged himself now, because the wedding was so near.
His hands were cupped under her elbows and he tilted his head to kiss the small cavity under her ear. She responded as he had expected, by nestling against him with a shiver and he got warm all over from this further proof of her hot-blooded disposition. Her arms were flung about his neck and as his lips travelled along her cheekbone, her fingers moved eagerly at the back of his head. Thrills of tickling delight run down his spine and enticed him to pull her even closer wrapping his arms around her. She nearly lost her balance and in order to avoid doing the same, he moved backwards only to discover that his back was pressed against a fence pole.
Elizabeth hardly knew where she was, she was lifted from the grass and held near him. He buried his face under her chin and murmured something unintelligible before she could feel that her feet were back on the ground. He had never been this passionate before, she tried to look into his eyes, but they were half-closed, when he neared his face to hers violently planting kisses all over it, moaning her name, as if he was begging for mercy. The grip of his hands on her arms was almost hurtful
Her heart was throbbing, her knees were weak, but his words echoed in her head. She remembered, what he had said to her in the coach earlier about the unwritten laws, the claims of society and realised, that this was her responsibility as well. Therefore she managed an effort to free her arms so she could seize his head with trembling hands and force his mouth from her face. His breathing was irregular, when she put her palms against his chest in an attempt to shove him away from her. He opened his eyes to look at her in amazement, soon allowing for some distance but the warmth of his hands was still firm against her back. He was not willing to let go of her. She could see, that he was out of control, that he struggled to recover his composure and knowing it was because of her, she felt somewhat protective although her own turmoil was considerable. She got hold of his hand to place it soothingly against her cheek, and a question was appearing in his dim eyes. She ventured a little smile and addressed him in a trembling voice.
"I think I might be missed at home. I have been gone for several hours now. No one knew I would happen upon you."
The sound of her voice helped him regain some composure, enough for him to be filled with remorse as he clasped one of her hands. His eyes glanced at her, then down on her hand and he bent his head to kiss it slowly and respectfully. Then their dark expression of penitence was again on her face.
"Elizabeth, I must ask your forgiveness. I allowed my feelings to get the better of me. I should not have ....
She put her hand briefly on his arm to silence him.
"So did I. No apology is required. We are both to blame."
He protested forcefully
"This was entirely my doing. I was tempted by your tenderness and gave in to my impulses."
"If you like .... But I made no objections ..."
She blushed and he squeezed her hand watching her.
"Elizabeth, you are the most precious among women ...."
His low emotional voice affected her deeply and once more she felt the urgent need for her to make light of his seriousness and escape into a jocular manner of speaking.
"It is a good thing that you take such a favourable view, since you will soon be expected to bear with me daily. It does seem, that I am perhaps not the perfect lady after all. Your powers of persuasion should not have been able to triumph if I were. However, I do not regret it. Now, should we untether Thunder and be on our way?"
He opened his mouth to contradict her, but the bothered look on her face made him reconsider and do as she suggested, contemplating her words. His fingers undid with great patience the intricate knot of leather, which bore witness to have been done in haste and some confusion of mind. She is avoiding my eyes and she does not wish for me to speak in earnest, yet ...She does not regret it? He was glad that she linked her arm with his as they walked slowly towards the gate. Her words on not being a lady made him anxious to take the blame ...
"But Elizabeth, I still feel my conduct is to be censured ...-
"I will not hear it, Fitzwilliam. I knew what we were doing, you have warned me often enough. It is not fair that the responsibility should be entirely yours. No harm is done. On the contrary, perhaps I ought not to tell you this, but I was ...pleased. Ever since we left the coach, I had been hoping you would kiss me again."
He stole a glance at her blushing face and pressed her arm to him. His feelings were not all that controllable, so he dared not answer her. It was difficult to disregard such a wonderful confession. Soon, very soon you shall have all the kisses you could ever wish for, my beloved ...He passed a somewhat shaky hand over his chin and cleared his throat to try her method handling the state of tension.
"It is to be looked upon as a most favourable circumstance that old boy Thunder is of a discrete and taciturn disposition. He would never even consider giving us away."
"He is indeed a fine animal ...."
Elizabeth's eyes glimmered in agreement, as she moved ahead to open the gate. Affectionately detecting the traces of emotion on his face, she watched Darcy pass by her with Thunder firmly on the rein.
§§§§§ The End §§§§§
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