Some People Call Him Proud
The temperature had been rising as the day progressed and the sun had regained it's sovereignty in the sky, making all clouds disappear, so that it was now quite warm. Like a heartbeat from the Park echoed the dull sound of horse's hooves against the soft earth, as Darcy came riding at a gallop through the exuberant greenery of the trees along the lane. His woolen coat had been appropriate in the chill of yesterday morning when he left London, but for the last couple of hours he would have preferred for it to be a linen one. After passing the Gate-keepers Lodge he had chosen the narrow winding path following the hills crest and was soon closing up on the Pond. He pulled up his horse at the sight of the water glimmering among the trees.
He looked around him to see if any living soul was visible, cast one hesitant look towards the House that was peeping out behind the crowns of the trees and then spurred the dapple-grey gelding towards the water. He halted and dismounted with a lithe spring, eager to cool down and get the dust from his face and sweat from his body. He removed his hat, letting it drop on the grass with his gloves and stick, and enjoyed the relief of the wind on his forehead blowing through his hair. Still walking towards the pondside, he took off his coat, threw it on the grass and seated himself down on it. While unfolding his cravat and unbuttoning his waistcoat in an impatient hurry, he let his glances survey the familiar surroundings. He reflected that it felt rather good to be home at last and with one sudden movement almost tore off his waistcoat. Finally he pulled off his boots and descended towards the Pond. His eyes were sweeping the surface with some difficulty, as the sunbeams rendered it all brilliant. Beautiful and alluring it was, and he made a forceful dive that split the smoothness, leaving a small fountain of water to splash back and dissolve into tiny glittering spots.
Standing on the brink shaking the water from his hair, he felt reinvigorated and cool. He had some difficulty getting his boots back on, due to the wet stockings. A stableboy had arrived to take care of his horse, probably summoned from someone at the Lodge, where his arrival would have attracted notice. Darcy collected his clothes from the grass and told the lad to take the horse back to the stables. Intending to walk the last part towards his home, he did not bother to look for a path, but found himself enjoying a sense of freedom and freshness as he went strolling through the clouds of yellow flowers covering the slopes.
Some hours later, on entering his chambers in order to get dressed for dinner, he got a most vivid picture before his eyes at the sight of his damp clothes all in a heap on the dressing- room floor. He was slightly amazed to realize, that he was not in the least annoyed at this neglect of his valet, merely reflecting that the hurried circumstances of that change of clothes certainly explained it.
He then devoted all of his attention to that first overthrowing and embarrassing encounter. He had been emerging from the pond feeling refreshed after his long and dusty ride, but certainly wet like a half drenched kitten, his shirt flapping over his breeches and clinging to his chest. Indeed he was not fit to be seen by anyone outside family and staff, as he came striding through the buttercups on the slopes towards the gardens.
His astonishment to suddenly behold Elizabeth Bennet before his eyes had made him initially forget that. He had been absolutely off his guard at the suddenness of her neat figure appearing on his own lawn, and his heart had been beating like it wanted out of his breast at the sight of her lovely face and the confusion on it. She had cried "Mr. Darcy!?" in a tone of utter disbelief not knowing where to direct her eyes, to be thereupon answered by his own distrustful exclaim "Miss Bennet?!" He was thrown between feelings of amazement, embarrassment, joy and bewilderment, She had obviously been feeling awkward on behalf of her actually being on his estate, excusing herself and her party, that they had been informed he would not be there. That he was not expected until the next day.
On the thought of this he was deeply grateful for his own impatience, and a note from his steward, that had made him leave London a day earlier than was previously planned. Even his early arrival this afternoon, was merely a result of his not bothering to make a halt for lunch. Mere chance had made this encounter happen! He might very likely have been delayed for a couple of hours. Thank God he was not! She would have left Pemberley by then and he might not even have known of her being in the neighbourhood. He was utterly shaken to think of this dreadful possibility. But fate, it seemed, had been favouring him on this day!
In what manner had he welcomed her to Pemberley? What did he say to greet her? Nothing that made much sense, to be sure. Suddenly, the way she was continually averting her eyes and an ever so slight smile on her lips, had made him become aware of his rather indecent apparition. He had been only half-dressed in his soaking wet shirt and breeches , his hair probably disheveled and the rest of his outfit hanging disorderly from his arm and to make things worse an impertinent reflection of the sun in his eyes had been very trying ... He made several attempts to disregard those improper circumstances, enquiring after her family in terms of perfect civility and ... where was she staying and ... and had she been long in the neighbourhood ... anything he could think of. All the time the thoughts went wild in his head, as he was trying to compose himself. 'she is here! Why is she here? How come she ... . What can I do? ... I must show her I have acknowledged her reproof ... and changed my behaviour accordingly. But I can do nothing while I am in this deplorable state of attire ... Just look at her. She is blushing . No wonder ..." When every sensible thought had left him, he tapped his riding stick against his chest in a last attempt to concentrate, but her presence was to much, he could think of nothing better than to beg to be excused and leave her.
However, as soon as he knew himself to be out of sight, he had set off running at a frantic speed to get indoors and upstairs. Shouting for his valet to assist him and a man to go and try to detain the carriage on the yard, until he had returned ... Pulling off his wet clothes and putting on dry ones at a furious speed. Never in his life had he dressed so carelessly, the state of his cravat had been disgraceful when he caught sight of it in a mirror after she was gone. More important matters were at stake when he tied it with trembling fingers. He left his rooms at a hurried pace towards the stairs, then leaping downstairs three steps at a time, doing the last buttoning up as he reached the inner yard. He adjusted his clothes, checking that he was presentable and looked all around him, listening for the horses. He caught a glimpse of the carriage through the South Arch and quickened his steps, hardly able to draw breath for fear that he would be to late.
But he had been in luck again. She was apparently just about to mount into the carriage when he managed to hinder her by his call, "Miss Bennet! Please accept my apologies for not receiving you properly. You were not leaving?" Then he had asked for her opinion on Pemberley. And she did like it! She approved of it ... very much. She had been a bit embarrassed to let him know, he could see that. Um, that dear sweet expression in her eyes! She was obviously still experiencing her being there, as a sort of intrusion. As if he would mind that! If only she was pleased with Pemberley ... If only she knew ... she could do as she pleased, just as long as she was near him.
And she had been. She had been walking next to him. So near, that the ribbons of her bonnet brushed gently against his chest and arm. Oh what a lovely breeze, he was quite grateful for it, it had been like a dÈjý-vu ...why ... yes ...that painting from the exhibition. That was it! His Lady in the Breeze! Of course, that was why he had fancied it. She was a bit like Elizabeth Bennet. Nearly as enchantingly fresh and full of life! He would see to it that a note was sent to procure it from the exhibition. The memory of that ribbon fluttering over his hand was as curiously arousing now, as its soft touch on his skin had been earlier ... tempting him to seize it ... to maybe let his hand pass along that silky softness to the point where it was attached to her bonnet ... just below her ear ... and if they had been alone ... if he had had reason to believe she would let him ... permit him to place his fingertips on that inviting spot to be able to follow the curve of her jaw to her chin. Then he would turn her head to have her look him straight in the eyes ... and .... He gave a start, as the sudden barking of a dog somewhere awoke him from his pleasant daydreams.
He directed his thoughts to matters more consistent with the actual situation. Had she approved of his behaviour towards her relatives? He sincerely hoped so. And they had, now that he came to think of it, been very pleasant and well mannered people. Not at all like Mrs. Bennet ... oh, never mind her. She was of no real consequence to him any more. All that mattered to him was her bewitching daughter. The fairest woman in the whole of England. Suddenly he realized that he was about to change his clothes for dinner, and he did so with his head full of flashbacks from the last hours, some to make him moan from embarrassment, others bringing a tender smile to his lips.
On those occasions when Darcy had dinner on his own he was usually done within the hour. Much to her surprise did Mrs. Reynolds enter the dining-parlour, to make certain that the new footman had handled the clearing of the table properly, and happen upon her master still seated with his wine glass, staring in front of him on some far off object. He turned his head hesitantly as if he was not really present and told her: "I shall be finished in a minute Mrs. Reynolds, thank you." She nodded and smiled as she asked to be excused for disturbing his dinner, saying she had been totally convinced that he had left the room long ago.
She closed the door murmuring to herself. "What is this supposed to mean? Why is Mr. Darcy still at dinner? Not that he seemed to mind where he was ... Appeared to be totally preoccupied, lost in his thoughts I would say. His gaze was all vacant ... I wonder if this is in any way connected with those visitors. Does their visit bother him ...? What a coincidence that he should arrive in time to meet with that young lady, who was apparently some passing acquaintance of his. She admitted that she knew him, ... a little! Had there not been a slight blush on her face? Yes, I think that was after she had been so closely studying that miniature with his face on it. There had been a discussion on it's likeness. Maybe she was one of those young ladies hovering about the master. What was her name, Miss Bennet?! Don't think we have ever had any guests from that family. Her father can hardly belong to the usual society of Mr. Darcy's in London then. She had been quite handsome though and apparently well-mannered. Not like those stuck-up sisters of dear, kind Mr. Bingley. And when I brought them upstairs to the gallery ... I particularly recollect, that she was devoting most of her time to that fine large picture of him. She must have been standing there admiring it for several minutes, while I was showing other paintings to her relatives. I remember thinking, that his countenance on that portrait is always sure to draw the attention of young female visitors, but maybe there was more to it. She seemed to be most earnestly contemplating it. Her face was expressing a sort of gentle bewilderment that I found rather puzzling at the time ... And I believe she returned to it once to get a last look before we went downstairs ... As for Mr. Darcy's behaviour ... I must say he acted quite unlike himself on that extraordinary arrival of his! One would think there had been an accident, the way he came running up the stairs shouting for Stevens, like he was in distress of some kind. He sure managed to change those wet clothes of his in a wink! I wonder if they were taken care of ...? And he was equally swift-footed on his way downstairs! Why all this hurry? ... And having Paul detain their carriage ... strange! It does give one the impression that he was really anxious to speak to those guests again. Now this makes me wonder...! What was the cause of all this fuss? Can it be possible that he has at last ... no, this will not do. It is not for me to speculate like this. I"ll have someone see to those moist clothes ...
On leaving the dining-room, Darcy felt an urge to get some air and he soon found himself taking the same route that he had been walking with his guests this afternoon. Absorbed in bothering thoughts of his delightful company, he could almost visualize her walking beside him again. He had barely dared to look at her, as he was endeavouring to make her forget any thoughts of her trespassing on his privacy. If Georgiana had seen him, she would have been able to tell from the way he kept twisting his ring, that he was inwardly far from the calmness he displayed. He had assured Miss Bennet that he had not informed anybody at Pemberley of his altered plans, and told her that there was no cause for her to make herself uneasy. Then he mentioned that the rest of the party were to arrive the next day. And that some of them claimed an acquaintance with her. His face coloured at the mentioning of Mr. Bingley, and he had glanced furtively at her to see her reaction. She had turned her face away from him to avoid his eyes and stayed silent. He knew he had something important to ask her before her relatives caught up on them and as they were climbing the stone steps of the garden lane leading to the Park, he cleared his throat and plucked up his courage. "Do I ask to much ... or will you allow me to introduce my sister to you during your stay at Lambton?" He had been truly relieved in his mind when she consented, as he was now certain that he would get to meet her again, that he had actually secured their next meeting. They now proceeded in silence, and he took the opportunity to enjoy that sweet face framed by her becoming bonnet with it's alluring ribbons. He had been dreaming of her face for months and now he could not see enough of those rosy cheeks, those dark eyes and the soft curves of her lips. He was, however, careful to avoid being caught devouring Miss Bennet with his eyes, and was only allowing himself short glances at her enchanting person.
Watching the carriage drive off towards Lambton had been almost more than he could handle without any outer signs of his bewilderment. He had wanted to run after it and cry out like a desperate child. 'stop the coach! Come back. Please stay with me!" She"d been out of reach for so long and now that he had met with her again, he felt it was all wrong, that she should be so soon going away from him. It had made his heart tumble violently in his breast, as those silent wishes were somehow heard! He had seen Miss Bennet turn her head to look back. She actually turned to gaze at him!! Why did she? Maybe her disapproval of him was after all less severe? Could it be, that she had noticed some results from his endeavours to improve his person. He had been most anxious to show her, that he was a reformed man, that he was now as gentlemanlike as she could ever wish for him to be, and that her reproach had been taken to heart.
The carriage had disappeared in a cloud of dust and he had walked slowly back to the house. His mind was in a complete turmoil. The overwhelming joy to have seen her beloved face again, the unbelievable truth being that Elizabeth Bennet had actually been at Pemberley, that he had been talking to her, walking next to her, hearing that sweet voice of hers again. Been permitted to take her hand in his to assist her into the carriage. How he had loved to hold that small hand of hers. To feel her leaning on him, relying on his support to help her step safely into that carriage. He"d been most reluctant to let go of that hand. And she had given him the loveliest little smile when she thanked him. He had forced his voice to appear calm, though his heart was beating very fast, when he told her that he hoped they were soon to meet again. And then remembering, that they were not alone, that her aunt and uncle were also leaving, he addressed them separately, bidding them farewell, and finally singling her out saying, "Good day Miss Bennet," and attempting to keep his eyes from staring at her. He really feared he would betray too much to her. That his love, that had by now regained all its former ardour, would be improperly conspicuous. What was she thinking? Did she look forward to having Georgiana introduced to her? He hoped that would happen before long. He so wanted them to meet. He thought Elizabeth Bennet would be able to look behind the mask of restrained civility, that his sister used to protect her shy and insecure being from being hurt by thoughtless people. He also believed Georgiana would have a most favourable impression of Miss Bennet. He wanted her to meet with a woman of quite another kind, than the ones she had hitherto encountered. Such liveliness of mind, such amusing wit, such freedom of thoughts and yet, such sound judgment! And all in one lovely person, Elizabeth Bennet! That She had really been to Pemberley! That I did walk by Her side not an hour ago! He could not remember, when he had last been as light at heart, as when he went to see his Steward, knowing that he could not postpone those matters any longer, without causing a lot of gossip among the staff. Although all he really wanted to do was muse over the events of this blessed afternoon.
It was not many hours since he last let his eyes rest on the charming apparition of Miss Bennet, still his conception of the time until he would be enjoying this privilege again was one of endless suspense. Nothing seemed to be worth his attention, unless it was somehow connected with the preparations for the dinner party of tomorrow night. He devoted much time to try to foresee the course of events and found a certain amount of joy in having some ideas of his carried out; on arrangements that were meant to please one very special guest to Pemberley!
Would he be able to wait until then, to see her again? Well, he"d have to. It would certainly look odd, if he were to show up at the Inn this evening. And even during the long day tomorrow, he could think of no excuse for a renewed visit but the true one. That his whole body was aching to be near her, to see her, hear her melodious voice and maybe even touch her hand on some pretext or other ... No he would simply have to endure. He could never hope to visit Lambton unnoticed. And if his carriage or his horse were seen repeatedly outside The Bull, there would be some chatting in Lambton to be sure. .. Darcy was walking along the lanes in the park and although his mind seemed to have a strong inclination towards the Inn at Lambton and one of its residents in particular, he was likewise pleased to think of the events of this morning.
The party from London had arrived according to schedule in two carriages. The ladies, being a bit exhausted from their journey, had retired to rest after a late breakfast. At first he tried to be patient, telling himself that there was time enough later on, but his restless walking about the house soon brought him upstairs, and although he had had no conscious intention of doing it, he found himself standing outside Georgiana's chambers, knocking at the door and entering at her reply.
She had not been asleep, merely lying on a couch and she was very happy to see him. She had been observant of his news about one of the visitors from yesterday. He had reminded her of a Miss Bennet whom he had met last autumn in Hertfordshire, while he was staying at Bingley's House and then again by chance in Kent this Spring, during his yearly visit to their aunt. "I think I mentioned meeting with a family of five daughters, did I not? Did I not tell you that the two eldest were amazingly well-behaved and with such pleasing manners as to separate them from their sisters ... Do you not recall our joint amazement, that even Lady Catherine was forced to admit her conversational abilities."
Though he tried to convey this information in a sort of casual way, he did not succeed. Georgiana had been surprised at first, that he should come to speak to her so soon after her arrival. - It was after all only a few days since they had stayed in the London House together.
But she soon noticed that Darcy was not the same dreary man, whom she had watched mounting his horse to take off towards Derbyshire. His figure had recovered it's former stateliness and was expressive of vitality. His face was glowing, he seemed most anxious to speak to her ... he was somewhat restless, but he did not appear to suffer like he had those last months. He was obviously filled with anticipation ... of what?
Could this possibly be in consequence of his short meeting with this lady from Hertfordshire? She asked him about this Miss Bennet's relatives. Had he met with them before? He told her no, just yesterday as he happened upon them in the garden. He said that he had asked Miss Bennet to introduce him to them. Georgiana was hardly able to conceal her surprise at this outgoing sort of behaviour. Fitzwilliam, she had always known to act with great reserve towards people that visited Pemberley without a proper invitation! To hear that he had sought new acquaintances without any formality !
He then mentioned to her that Miss Bennet was an agreeable and well informed young lady. That he would like to introduce Georgiana to her, that in his opinion they might very likely become friends, that he believed them to have a lot in common. "Miss Bennet does play and sing. She may not be trained like yourself, but her performance is ... most unpretentious. I must confess that I have rarely heard anything that gave me more pleasure. Hrm ... There is an easiness about her. And she ..."
He checked himself. He must not rattle on like this, Georgiana might wonder. And indeed she did. She was young and inexperienced in the ways of the world... , but she was no fool. From his words and the look on his face she gathered that Darcy's acquaintance with Miss Bennet was not just a nodding one. Everything indicated, that he had seen a lot of her and it was not long before she understood, that this was a very special lady in the eyes of her brother. His countenance was all soft and mild when he mentioned her, and he did return to that particular topic frequently during their conversation.
"I have been thinking ... made some plans actually". He hesitated and a faint blush came to his face. His eyes were avoiding hers looking out the window. He seemed to be considering alternate approaches, while he was twisting his ring in that familiar way. Then the urgent nature of his wishes made him force himself to proceed. "Hrm ...I hope you will join me to go to Lambton tomorrow ... to pay a visit to Miss Bennet. I have been thinking ... would it not be nice to increase our number ... we might invite her party for dinner. What do you say to that, Georgiana?"
His sister smiled ever so slightly and looked tenderly into the abashed face of her dear brother. "I think that is a very good idea, and I shall be happy to make Miss Bennet's acquaintance , only ..."
Darcy's immediate reaction was one of indicated alarm "Only what, Georgiana?" was his swift reply and a look of troubled uneasiness became visible in his eyes. It was obvious that he did not want this dinner invitation to be hindered. But she was not going to disappoint him. "I was just thinking, that it might be a little late to ask them tomorrow. Would it not be perhaps more convenient, if we were to visit them this afternoon? That would allow them more time to make arrangements."
His sitting bolt upright relaxed as she spoke and he leaned back in his chair with a sigh of relief. The happiness on his face was touching. She wanted to reach out and caress his cheek. Dearest Fitzwilliam! He had been so unhappy for months and it was simply miraculous to look at him now. He was so altered. This lady must have captured his heart completely. Oh I do hope she is a nice person. I hope she won't hurt him. I hope she is worthy of his esteem. I hope she is not a bit like Caroline Bingley ... .
Darcy had not dared to mention the possibility of waiting so soon on Miss Bennet. But he was excited to hear his sister suggest it. He would not have to wait until tomorrow! He was going to see her today, ... in a few hours! Then he composed himself to ask. "Do you feel up to it, dear? Are you sure you are not too fatigued." But Georgiana smiled at him and assured him that she just wanted time to change her dress, and that the short distance to Lambton comfortably seated in a coach would indeed not tire her one bit.
It was decided then, and on descending the stairs to the main hall on his way to see to it that the Phaeton be brought forward in an hour, Darcy encountered Charles Bingley, who came out from the library with a book in his hand. "I say Bingley! Georgiana and I are going to Lambton in about an hour. We are to visit a mutual acquaintance of ours. I think you will be surprised when you hear to whom I am referring. Imagine Miss Elizabeth Bennet is visiting Derbyshire with her aunt and uncle from London, and they are staying at the Inn at Lambton. Would you like to join us?"
The mentioning of the lady's name had an immediate effect on Bingley. He looked surprised, shocked, anxious and then a smile spread on his face as he opened his mouth to speak. "How agreeable. I always liked her exceedingly. I have often thought of ..." his voice died away and he looked very pensive for a second. "But of course Darcy! I shall be happy to accompany you! Nay, I insist on joining you."
They descended from the carriage and entered the Bull to be met by a servant girl, who was somewhat overwhelmed at the rare sight of Mr. Darcy of Pemberley accompanied by Miss Darcy and a foreign gentleman to Lambton. She was even more surprised to learn the purpose of their visit, as she showed them into the parlour, for it was not customary for any acquaintances of the Darcys to be staying at the inn. As she was a clever girl, she took care not to show any signs of her amazement, saying that their residents were all out, but that Miss Bennet was expected back very soon. Darcy who had felt his heart sinking from disappointment at the first part of this message, regained his expectant attitude and said. "We shall wait for her here, then. Please let Miss Bennet know of our presence when she returns."
"Oh yes, sir . I shall see to it, that she is informed without delay the minute she comes back." Darcy nodded approvingly and thanked her with a glimpse of an absent-minded smile. She left the parlour reprimanding herself on her silliness and stopped for a second in the hall pressing her clean apron against her cheeks in an attempt to cool them down.
Bingley, sensing some nervous tension in his company, a certain uneasiness in the air, murmured something to the effect of a dryness in his throat, and left to have a glass of beer in the tap-room. Darcy was grateful for his discretion and had no objections, though beverages could indeed just as well be served in the parlour. He brought out a chair for Georgiana and attempted a conversation on a small portrait in a broad golden frame that hung on the wall. Georgiana was feeling nervous and could not think of a reply on that topic. It was very important that she was helpful to her brother now. She was keenly aware of his attaching great significance to this visit. She had never seen him so anxious and full of emotions. His face changed constantly and he spoke but rarely after that initial effort.
There was a noise at the door and then Elizabeth Bennet entered, bonnet in her hands and some parcels tucked under her arm. Georgiana was amazed at the speed with which Darcy reacted, leaping to his feet to greet Miss Bennet. His eyes were black with admiration as he gazed at her. He was unable to speak and just devoted himself to the sight of her, searching her face for any signs of her spontaneous reaction to this visit. Perplexed by his penetrating eyes she uttered "Mr. Darcy" giving him a little welcoming smile. He made a silent bow and then, incapable of resisting his attraction to her, stared at her again. She curtseyed and asked, "I hope you have not been waiting long." Raising her eyebrows in that typical way, thereby instantly further enchanting Darcy, who earnestly replied in the negative, "No, not at all." To himself he reflected "I could have waited for hours, if it meant seeing You in the end ..." After that short pause he continued : "May I introduce my sister ... Georgiana" . He looked at Elizabeth as if he was saying: I want you to get to know her... I want you to become one of us. Please approve of her and be kind to her.
Then he turned and drew himself slightly backwards to give way, saying "Georgiana! This is Miss Elizabeth Bennet!" When he waved his hand in her direction, Georgiana was nearly in awe. She had risen and looked a bit shyly towards Miss Bennet, whose face lit up with a tiny smile as she resolutely approached her. They curtseyed simultaneously, Miss Darcy whispering "How do you do?"
"Miss Darcy! I'm very happy to meet you. I've heard so much about you." Another friendly smile loomed in her eyes.. "And I about you," was all Georgiana could manage..
Darcy looked protectively at his sister and admiringly at Elizabeth. How gracefully she handled this situation, already talking to Georgiana like they had been familiar for months. He wanted her eyes directed towards him again and broke in to let her know that Bingley was waiting to meet her. He asked her permission to summon him and was delighted to have her smiling in approbation, ... her dark eyes so friendly and warm, he felt it to be almost incredible ... how he loved this woman. His face gave him away to those who were observant. Georgiana had her presumptions confirmed, but Elizabeth was not composed enough to notice.
She was however happy to consent to his suggestion, as she was eager to know whether Mr. Bingley had forgotten about Jane, or if he was maybe suffering like her sister did. The fact, that Darcy had brought him to see her, was also pleasing. Maybe he did not feel, that his friend must be protected from associating with the Bennet sisters any more?
She had time to let Miss Darcy know that she had heard about her musical talent. Georgiana blushed and tried to humbly deny this fact. She said that she should dearly like to hear Miss Bennet play and sing, as she had been told by her brother that her performance was highly enjoyable. "You shall hear me, but I warn you! Your brother has grossly exaggerated my talent. No doubt for some mischievous reason of his."
His sister's reaction to this suggestion was astoundingly violent. She declared that her brother always spoke the absolute truth, but was maybe a little too kind to herself. Miss Bennet complimented her on such a brother adding that she had no brother, only four sisters. And Miss Darcy said she would have wished to have a sister, looking with sincere enthusiasm at Elizabeth.
While Bingley and Miss Bennet were engaged in the animated conversation certain to result when two people of their easy and friendly disposition met, Darcy's eyes were again drawn to the lady in sheer adoration of her person, her voice, her smile, her mouth ... Remembering their other main purpose, he tore his attention from Miss Bennet to Georgiana, instructing his sister to convey their dinner invitation. As she was too shy to make her voice heard on her own, he almost brusquely interrupted the chat to get Miss Bennet's attention, saying that his sister had a request to make to her. The young lady did so a bit halting, due to obvious inexperience, but her invitation was gracefully received and gratefully accepted. Georgiana believed herself to be very bold, repeating her earlier wish to have Miss Bennet perform. Darcy hung on to every word from Elizabeth's smiling lips as she told his sister, that if she insisted upon it, it would be done. He would get to hear her again! And at Pemberley! He was all anticipation.
Darcy was totally exhausted as they were riding back to Pemberley. The last hour had been a most bewildering experience ... he had been nervous like a schoolboy at the thought of seeing Elizabeth Bennet again. And he had wondered how he would manage to keep an outer calmness as he was being watched by his sister and his close friend. They were both among those people most able to notice any peculiarities in his behaviour. And even if his ... interest in Miss Bennet could not possibly be concealed much longer, he would not wish to have any comments on it. The subject was far too delicate. He felt as if he would have to protect his affectionate heart from the inquisitive prying eyes of the world. He considered it to be a matter that concerned nobody but himself and ... possibly ... hopefully ... one other person.
On top of this totally confusing and radical business of the utmost importance, it had been his responsibility to see to it, that this first meeting between the two women most dear to him would pass off without complications. No misunderstandings must occur. He was most eager to have them sympathetic towards one another. And as he was aware of Georgiana's shyness and insecurity in society, he would have to help her manage the fearless wit and open frankness of Elizabeth Bennet's. She must not be frightened stiff by the uncommon vivacity of her conversation. It would be devastating if Miss Bennet were to get the impression that his sister was a haughty snob or an uninteresting goose.
While he had been trying to foresee any possible obstacle on their way to mutual understanding and sympathy, his own feelings were threatening to overcome him. He had been uneasy and nervous sitting on the edge of his chair awaiting her arrival. But that was nothing compared to the waves of tender affection that washed over him the moment she entered the room. He sprang to his feet feeling his heartbeats echoing in his head and resonating everywhere inside him. Though he feared that she might indeed hear, he got in control of everything but his eyes, They were sending her glances of ardent admiration and had she dared to look into their dark depths, she would have found proof of his overshadowing love for her.
He had been delighted to see her adorable face, to hear her voice pronouncing his name and expressing a hope that he had not been waiting long in a tune of ... yes he believed it to be ... veritable delight. He had hopes that she had been glad to see ... them. And the next minute after he had introduced Georgiana to her, she directed all her attention to his sister and made him realize that all his fears had been totally unnecessary? Of course, he should have known of her superior ability to handle social situations by now.
As they were taking their first steps towards one another, he was at liberty to let his eyes sweep caressingly over her whole person. Everything about her was making him all weak from passionate and out of place wishes to touch her. Forcing himself to suppress those signs of a lover on fire, he acted like a responsible elder brother again. He told Miss Bennet of Bingley's presence and was happy to see her face gratefully smiling at him, as she agreed to meet with Mr. Bingley. She seemed to get the underlying message instantly. That he was regretting his interference and would try to make amends. Maybe she did not fully comprehend but her intuition was alerted. Darcy heaved a sigh and let his happy glances wander up into the clouds. He had no idea that Georgiana had secretly been observing him, inwardly smiling in sympathy with his satisfaction at the present state of things. While Mr. Bingley, who was deep in his own thoughts, had noticed very little except that Miss Jane Bennet was probably not yet engaged. And that he was indeed inclined to go to Netherfield again this autumn ... to shoot some birds .
After Mr. Darcy had returned to Pemberley, Mrs. Reynolds and Mr. Simmons, the butler, were informed about the additional guests for tomorrow's dinner! They soon realized that no efforts should be spared to make this dinner party a real treat.
Among other things they were surprised to notice that their master showed a keen interest in the different preparations. He was in the habit of leaving most of the responsibility on such occasions to them, after providing some general information on the guests and their connection to him and the family. But this time it was as if he could not cease to occupy himself with all sorts of things concerning the arrangements.
He was, for instance, being most particular on the choice of flowers for decorating the table. To be placed on a large mirror-covered stand and be surrounded by porcelain figurines, as a centrepiece. He had asked Mrs. Reynolds to see to it, that it included those pink roses with the faint fragrance of apples from the Rose garden. She was a bit annoyed at first, that he did not entrust her to pick the best flowers. But on further reflection she found it amusing. 'since when has he been aware of the different scents of roses? Those pink ones are the same kind that completely cover the walls in our London garden. As he has been so inexplicably stubborn as to spend most of the summer there, I guess maybe he noticed them. Well, there is no need for him to worry, I shall have an armful of them beautifully arranged and placed on the table. I think there may still be lots of buds. They will open from the heat of the candles and their fragrance is delicious when they are barely in blossom."
The gardener took no offense, but was pleased to see Mr. Darcy enter the Orangery to consult with him. After a while, he was even overjoyed to have his master take such an interest in the results of all his efforts as a cultivator. The matter of Mr. Darcy's special interest was which fruits should be gathered and served for dessert and refreshments. He took his time to sample the peaches and apricots, the nectarines and grapes to decide which sorts were most in their prime, and to make sure that nothing but the best was selected to be treated to the guests.
Finally he had a deliberation with Mr. Simmons on the choice of wine. He wanted it to be neither too heavy nor of any acerbity, and of a vintage that could be expected to suite a lady's taste. Mr. Simmons later told Mrs. Reynolds that he had never been discussing the wine at such length. "When we had at last decided on a claret from a French district, that is well known for their wine's mildness in taste, Mr. Darcy suddenly asked me, if we had any white wines that were light, with some sweetness, but still refreshing. I really believed we were to start all over again. I have never, in all those years, known him to care for the female guests to such extent !" Mrs. Reynolds nodded thoughtfully at this last remark, but she knew where her first loyalty was and did not confide to him where her own power of deduction had brought her.
On arriving at Pemberley in the golden light of the late summer evening, the guests from Lambton were most heartily received and bade welcome by Mr. and Miss Darcy who exerted themselves to make sure they were at ease. Apart from the Darcys, only one person was really pleased to welcome a merchant from London and his wife and niece.
Mr. Bingley seemed very happy to see an addition to their company, and it was not long before he was conversing with Mrs. Gardiner. They were discussing the passed season's repertoire on the London theatres and whenever the gentleman saw fit, he tried to bring up the subject of her relatives in Hertfordshire!
All in all there was certainly a lot of tension on different subjects, even apart from the fact that everybody present, Mr. Hurst of course excluded, was to a varying extent interested in the goings on regarding Mr. Darcy and Miss Bennet.
Mr. Darcy was naturally anxious to meet Miss Bennet, due to his longing affectionate heart and his wish to prove to her, that her reproach had been attended to. That he was indeed not devoid of all proper feelings and that, in order to please her, he endeavoured to behave without his former unbending reserve. But he was almost as eager to have her better acquainted with Georgiana, as he was to make her realize his reformed person. He always wanted the best for his sister, and now he sincerely considered the influence of Miss Bennet to be most beneficial for Georgiana. In doing this, he was also hoping for a friendly relation to be established between those two women, so precious to him.
Another matter to which he gave a good deal of attention, was his own getting to know Miss Bennet's relatives, to make them feel at home and to prevent any suspicions from her on there being any remains of his former haughtiness. His aim was to see to it, that no cause was given her to believe her old reproaches to him were still valid.
At dinner Elizabeth saw with pleasure, that Mr. Darcy's manners were continually softened, like they had been on their two previous meetings in Derbyshire. She felt flattered that he should care for her opinions on him, for she could not but recognise, that it must be due to some partiality for her. It was delightful to overhear the clever conversation between him and her relations and to watch his attentive behaviour towards them. Darcy appeared to be really anxious to get to know her aunt and uncle, to have the very people of whom he had spoken so slightingly of four months ago, pleased with this visit to Pemberley and with it's master. She was grateful for his gracious way of making her understand, that he was not arrogant or conceited any more.
During the whole of this evening, Elizabeth, not knowing her own heart, was experiencing such a mixture of feelings and fears, as to make her a bit unlike her usual merry self. She gave more time to silent reflection than she had ever done at a dinnerparty. Regarding Mr. Darcy, she was not at all sure of her own feelings towards him. Her getting to know him better had certainly improved her opinion of him. But to what degree? She found it not unlikely, that she might still have some power over him and she did not know, whether she should use it to make him aware of her change in affection.
The fact, that he was generous enough to forgive her manner towards him in Kent, her unjust accusations on Wickham's behalf and her harsh words on his person, made him rise in her esteem. She was grateful to realize, that he must love her still well enough to wish to preserve the acquaintance, and to be bent on making her known to his sister. As her respect for his qualities had been increasing ever since she got his letter and those last days by the collected reports on his liberal mind, she now tried to decide the effect of the impression of his love on her.
It was astonishing, but by no means unpleasing. It was exciting to be aware of such a man's ardent love for her, though as a result of his correct and moderate behaviour, there was no indelicate display of regard or peculiarity of manner where their two selves only were concerned.
At the same time she could not disregard the fact, that he was by far the most well-informed gentleman she had ever met with. She believed him to be highly rational and capable of giving his opinion based on discernment. This quality she had recently found to be sadly lacking in her own father, who had earlier been among the few person's she respected ... .
She now honestly admitted to herself that he was indeed handsome and that she approved of his impeccable attire. Obviously he did pay some attention to it. This evening he was wearing black coat and trousers and the high collar of his white shirt was a most becoming contrast to his thick black hair... . His looks were certainly distinguished.
She smiled at the memory of him all wet and only half-dressed. He had been ... agreeable to look at. Her cheeks were getting warm, as she recollected her feelings at that improper sight. She now understood, what every woman in Meryton had been talking of in their initial praisings of that rich and tall gentleman from Derbyshire. In those days she had been able to perceive hardly anything but his arrogance and the insulting manner in which he had treated almost everybody. This new insight made her confused, as she was somehow afraid to look at him and still experiencing a wish to do so.
There was also the awkwardness to know, that everybody in the room was observing them, whenever they spoke with each other. This was the reason for her to experience a momentary relief after dinner, when the gentlemen remained seated at the table, while the ladies went into the music room to admire Darcy's gift for his sister, the new pianoforte. But it was not long before she started to glance repeatedly towards the clock and was aware of herself listening for the heavy steps, that would mean the gentlemen were on their way to join the ladies.
Moreover there was a barely hidden resentment towards her from Miss Bingley. This worried her, and she was doing her best trying to avoid any unpleasantness in that quarter. She would not wish to embarrass her aunt and uncle ... or her host by using her acid tongue to fight back at the infamous words, that were more than once aimed at her from that lady.
Miss Bingley was jealous and not at all resigned, she meant to fight Miss Eliza Bennet by making her appear in a less favourable light, as often as she could think of a way to do so! And she put her nose as high as she dared at those guests from Cheapside! Not understanding how Darcy could lower himself ... this inexplicable regard for a country girl must be a temporary affection? She believed it her duty to make him realize the common nature of his guests. In this task she was faithfully assisted by Mrs. Hurst.
Mr. Hurst was only worried about the amount of attention given to food and wine. There was often a tendency to exaggerated conversations, that might be hindersome when it came to really enjoying one's dinner. He knew the Pemberley cooks to be highly capable and was in great expectations of a pleasant evening. If only he could have been certain, that there would not be too much music, a lot of time wasted at the pianoforte and an excessive inclination towards cultural outbursts.
Elizabeth had taken an instant liking to, and spent some time conversing more privately with, Miss Darcy, whom she was really interested in getting to know. She was apparently extremely timid and showed an unassured manner in company, which made Elizabeth pity her and also inclined to think of ways to try to help her overcome it.
Georgiana was aware that her associating with Miss Bennet would please and hopefully help her brother, but she was equally willing to get to know her better for her own sake. She found Miss Bennet very different from any other lady who had ever visited Pemberley, and the kindness and unaffected behaviour of Elizabeth Bennet was most engaging in Georgiana's opinion.
She was usually frightened by Miss Bingley's sharp tongue, and often feeling inferior and sort of outnumbered by her and Mrs. Hurst, whose prying eyes seemed to be everywhere. She really felt Miss Bennet's presence to be reassuring. Fitzwilliam could never understand her discomfort in Miss Bingley's company, she had tried to tell him once, but he only laughed and told her to ignore the rude remarks of Bingley's sisters. He did not know what it was to be afraid. But though Elizabeth Bennet seemed fearless enough, Georgiana was intuitively sensing her being on her guard against Miss Bingley.
Before dinner, they had all been looking at the room, that was newly fitted up for Georgiana as her own sitting-room. It was to a large extent containing the suite of furniture bought in London by Darcy in May. A very pleasant and handsome room it was, situated on the first floor and provided with plenty of daylight as there were three windows in a row. The curtains and furnishing fabrics of the whole room were in a pattern of pale pink and beige, most cleverly chosen to suit the youth and the unobtrusive nature of it's owner. It had been properly admired by the entire party and when they were leaving to look at some paintings in the gallery upstairs, Mrs. Gardiner had drawn the attention of her niece's to a small cupboard containing objects of porcelain and silver. They had commented on a deep blue bowl, that was made out of amazingly thin porcelain and then Mrs. Gardiner had been offered the arm of her husband.
Elizabeth did not notice that her aunt left, as her interest had been caught by a small silver shrine, on top of which an exquisite pattern of flowers had been chased. She was totally consumed in admiration and spoke out loud, supposing her aunt was still present, on the possibility of the flowers being either forget-me-nots or maybe one of those tiny pinks that could be found on stony hillslopes. As there was no answer, she took one step backward and turned around in search of her aunt, only to find herself facing Darcy, who had noticed her absence and returned to look for his "guest of honour".
On perceiving her obvious interest in those objets d"art, he had stopped to watch her, his heart overflowing with tender feelings towards her. She was standing with her arms behind her back in a manner now becoming familiar to him. Initially she reminded him of a little girl, who had been told not to touch. But suddenly, the sight of those soft curves of her shoulders and arms sent a flush of heat through his body. For a second, he wondered what would happen if he acted upon his impulse to seize her hand and kiss it? ... Or even was so bold as to pull her close to him ...? Some men would have done this, no doubt.
But he rejected those thoughts immediately. He had made her despise him once and he would certainly not run the risk of losing her respect, because of some unrestrained behaviour. He had reason to believe, that she did not recent him any more. He even had this feeling, that she might find some pleasure in his company! She would not have accepted this invitation if she thought ill of him! And in her eyes he had seen some glimpses of real interest. Those secret wishes of his, that had become most frequent whenever he devoted some time to contemplate Miss Bennet, were probably just normal, but for the time being, still a private matter. He considered his own lack of control in her presence somewhat improper. When she was suddenly so close and facing him, their eyes irresistibly met and the cheeks of each were overspread with a deep blush. He admired it on her face but was painfully aware of the heat on his own. He feared that she might be able to guess the nature of his thoughts.
"I really would not know. My botanical knowledge is somewhat limited, I fear. But perhaps you will be able to decide on a closer look, Miss Bennet." He linked up with her unanswered question, that had been echoing in the pregnant silence between them. He opened the cabinet, trying to conceal his being, to such extent, affected by her nearness. He lifted the shrine from it's place on the shelve and handed it to her. She was still in confusion at this unexpected appearance of his and she could not decide whether she most wished to be in his company or feared it. She received the silver piece from him and was glad to have something to occupy her hands and eyes.
But she soon found that the beauty of the work was able to catch her interest again and she let her finger follow the thin elevations of silver depicting the flowers. "What an exquisite work of art this is," she exclaimed lifting her eyes. He was intensely observing the shrine in her hands before his eyes left it to be directed straight into hers, as he nodded his assent. She was surprised at the gravity of his voice, when he said: "I have never before really looked at this silver box. You have pointed it out to me and I completely agree with your opinion on it. As for the species of the flowers, what think you of them?"
There was a warmth in his eyes, that made her feel a bit weak and in an attempt to escape her own indecisive heart and realizing that they had been lingering behind, she gave a little laugh and said: 'they do remind me of forget-me-nots, and if they are, they should be reminding us of the others." And she put the shrine back in the cupboard and Darcy closed it's door, smiling at her joke.
"Are you fond of flowers, Miss Bennet? If that be the case, you must visit the Hothouses. We have a most proficient gardener and I believe he will be able to show you some rather rare specimens." She managed to answer with exactly the proper amount of enthusiasm, for she was still hesitant to be speaking too much in praise of Pemberley, and she certainly did not consider it appropriate to give him her sincere answer to his suggestion. "Oh yes, please let's go there this minute!"
To hide her thoughts and as she was still contemplating the decorations on the shrine she said: "I think there may very likely be a picture in Culpeper's book on herbs, that might be helpful in deciding the name of those flowers." His eyes were again warm with sympathy and admiration as he inquired: "Am I to understand from this, that you are in the habit of turning to books for answers, when you find yourself at a loss? I do this frequently myself ... I wonder if this Culpeper can be found in my library ?"
Suddenly Elizabeth was able to retrieve her usual self-reliance and to answer him archly "Why yes, certainly. There is no way to handle life without constant access to the knowledge that can be found between the covers of a book. And if you have not yet secured a copy of Mr. Culpeper's flora, I strongly advice you to do so without further delay!"
His smile was one of delighted approval on answering that the matter must be attended to without any unnecessary retardation, and he looked like he was about to ask her if she would wish to visit his library ... but realizing that they had reached the gallery, where they were awaited by the Gardiner's, who had stayed behind, he added in a low voice "Maybe some time later?" Elizabeth, surprised by her own discomposure, was not able to breath an answer and merely bent her head to indicate her consent. As they were about to descend towards the drawingroom on the ground floor, Darcy offered her his arm for support and she placed her gloved hand on it, after a hardly perceptible hesitance. She feared it might be visibly trembling. She was however grateful for his support, as her knees were strangely unstable ...
When Elizabeth appeared together with Mr. Darcy, Mrs. Gardiner took a quick glance at her niece, but the rest of the company were already downstairs in the drawing room, and had not noticed their host's absence.
To meet with Elizabeth Bennet was to Mr. Bingley to have all his memories from a happier time come back. He was glad to have this opportunity to renew his acquaintance with a member of the Bennet family. He was in need to hear as much as possible from Longbourn ... Lizzy equally interested to get to talk to Bingley as she was eager to try to learn more about the state of his heart and whether it was likely that he would be standing up to his sisters in that matter. She imagined she once caught him looking at her, like he was searching for a resemblance.
His unaffected cordiality soon recommended him to Mrs. Gardiner, who had been thinking rather ill of him from the reports on his behaviour towards Jane. She had long wished to see him, to be able to form her own opinion on this young man, because of whom Jane had been suffering. Being a perceptive and intelligent woman with so many interesting objects of observation, she found the entire evening highly rewarding and offering several new clues to the mysterious relations of her favourite nieces to those two young men. And though it was only natural that Darcy and Lizzy were the main subjects of her interest, she did some discrete inquiring in order to come to a more complete understanding on the personality of Mr. Bingley.
Mrs. Gardiner was really interested in Elizabeth's view on things, and so was her husband, who had been fishing with the gentlemen earlier and had told her that he had found Darcy to be quite a gentleman and as nice and artless an outdoor companion, as any man could wish for. She was highly intrigued by Elizabeth's behaviour. It was obvious, that she was far better acquainted with Mr. Darcy than anything she had owned to them, had led them to believe. Her reserve was even more difficult to understand, as the gentleman was clearly overflowing with admiration and although very correct, took great care to show her niece every attention and sent her glances that spoke of his feelings for her.
Her earlier resentment of him was apparently gone, and as for her previous accounts of his appalling manners, his proud and ungentle conduct, Mrs. Gardiner found it hard to believe that she had actually been describing their friendly and unaffected host. She perceived something of dignity in his countenance, that did not lead her to think unfavourably of his heart. She recalled Lizzy saying something about a transformation and if this was an accurate way of describing reality, there was every reason to question, what could possibly have brought it on!
font size=+1 color="#336666">Part VII
The ladies had been seated in the Music Room for about half an hour, when they were joined by the gentlemen. In fact they had not been remaining at their port for more than the minimum time to be considered appropriate.
Some of the males present had not especially appreciated this opportunity to relax and be less attentive and polished for a while; which was actually the kind of breathing space it was intended to be. Nor had they been inclined to discuss the latest events or plunge into some minor debate on politics. Obviously the minds of the younger men had been otherwise engaged. Mr. Hurst had been amazed to notice this, after he had related a rather amusing shooting incident from his experience. Mr. Darcy had, of course, been politely listening and uttering the proper remarks when necessary, but Mr. Bingley seemed to be far away. He looked drowsy as Mr. Hurst called on his attention for a reaction and only the friendly rumbling of Mr. Gardiner's laughter could make the disappointed narrator take a contented gulp of the wine in his glass. "Most excellent port, Darcy !" he clicked his tongue and nodded approvingly towards his host.
Mr. Hurst thought to himself, that even Darcy appeared to be pondering over other things. Poor chap, there were bound to be lots of worries connected to an estate of the Pemberley dimensions, no doubt. Mr. Hurst was really pleased that he had only his London House to disturb his life. He considered the possibility to cheer his host up, but the kind of indecent jokes he came to think of, were not frequent at Pemberley, as he knew Darcy would discretely but firmly put an end to those pleasures, whenever too rude a language or any of the more crude variations were about to dominate. Mr. Hurst reflected, that for someone so young and healthy, Darcy was indeed deplorably moderate in his drinking as well as in his enjoyment of the latest gossip on pretty actresses or ravishing dancing girls.
So, Mr. Hurst was not really surprised to find himself in the same room with that darned musical instrument. He saw to it that he was well-supplied with grapes, walnuts and wine, before he occupied a secluded corner of one sofa, as far from the maddening pianoforte as he could get.
One other person in the room had been equally careful in his choice of seat. Mr. Darcy had placed himself opposite the pianoforte, where he would be allowed a good view of the fair performer, whom he knew was about to delight him before long.
The past hours had been filled with such happy moments, such sweet hints and hope-giving incidents that Darcy felt himself to be transferred to some blessed spot where many precious wishes might come true, where no misunderstandings existed and where nothing could go wrong. A place that seemed almost unreal.
This evening he had only had friendly words. Miss Bennet's conduct towards him had been all that he could wish for. Not once had he seen her face annoyed with him or worse still, with such an expression of bored indifference, that he could remember from a few occasions during their early acquaintance at Netherfield and even in Kent.
During these last days, the memory of her indignant and offended countenance that awful evening in Kent, although still vivid, was slowly becoming less dominant and had been completed by many different expressions on that lovely face of hers. Several smiles of playful tease. Some very enchanting looks of puzzlement. On one occasion he had caught her gaze directed on him manifesting a thoughtful reflection, that made him all warm inside and, as she saw that he was aware of her attention, she in her turn got a heightened colour and immediately averted her eyes. This made her look so beautifully confused, and he had been desperately mobilizing his self-constraint to refrain from approaching her, in hopes of obtaining another look of such sweet bewilderment to delight his eyes.
He admitted to himself, that he was indeed sorely tempted to get her to himself. Yet he knew that this was simply not done. A Darcy was not expected to permit himself such liberties of conduct, most certainly not towards a gentleman's daughter. He must always behave according to the implicit rules of his family. And it was not even as if she had given him reason to believe he had any right to ... . At the same time he could not help wondering, what would be her reaction to an approach from him. He had this wonderful vague intuition that she would probably not be prudish ... . That her attitude in those matters would be coherent with her general approach to life. If it was her wish, that was to say, if she had given her heart to some fortunate man, she might even be in favour of some ..., only a trace of course ... less proper behaviour ... . He threw a glance at her and saw her smiling and conversing with his sister. He was a bit ashamed and annoyed at his recurrent and unseemly submission to wishful thinking. Probably occasioned by his overheated brain, by the state of suffering he had been enduring for so long. He would never do anything disrespectful to a woman of whom he thought so highly. His own feelings forbade it. He loved her so profoundly, he would not let any harm come to her, if it was in his power to prevent it ... and of his infliction ... unthinkable.
His eyes were imbibing the beauty before him and his ears were listening to such delightful music. What incredible joy to have Miss Bennet performing to him at the pianoforte he had chosen so carefully for Georgiana! Little did he know when he purchased it, that she would touch it at any time. He had not dared to hope he would see her again, ever. Even less had it been in his power to imagine that she would be his guest. It was as if a superior force was favourably disposed towards him this evening.
She had been asked again by his sister, to let them hear her play and sing. She was not one to make a fuss over a request like that. With her usual frankness she had answered, that she would not mind performing, but that she was all but proficient. The two of them had then been browsing through some sheets of music and when the first tunes of their choice was heard, he felt his heart jump as he recognized one of his favourite composers. For they had chosen an aria from the very opera he had been listening to in his distress, so many times this passed spring. He had resorted to the opera quite frequently to seek some comfort from the divine music.
On one occasion he had devoted the entire evening to secretly and admiringly observe Miss Bennet, who was also attending the performance. He had not made his presence known to her, since it had been too soon after their painful meeting in Kent. But he had been watching her reaction to this very song. He briefly contemplated the possibility of Georgiana purposely having Miss Bennet sing the gracious aria of Cherubin's, as she was fully aware of his preference for this Mozart opera, though she did not know of that particular visit.
An exquisite song on the very essence of love. Her sweet voice brought the words to him in the Pemberley Music room!! It was as if his dearest, ... well not really, but a very dear wish of his was granted.
Georgiana was truly pleased with the way this evening had turned out. Not only did she realize that her brother was enjoying every minute of it. She could also understand why he had been charmed by the agreeable Miss Bennet. She was truly a most gifted and kind-hearted person. It was a welcome change and a relief to have her in the company, instead of being restricted to the uneasiness of empty flattery, having to endure the recurring biting remarks and wicked half-smiles of Miss Bingley and her sister. Furthermore, Miss Bennet was someone with whom Georgiana could share her love for music and they had already been comparing their views on some composers and discussing the difficulty to sing from the notes, without ever having heard the music played.
While they were listening to Miss Bennet, Georgiana had had a quick look at her brother to see if he was still pleased. She was amazed to behold the expression on his face, though the song was admittedly very beautifully performed. He was apparently delighted and was smiling his approval. He did not seem to mind, that his admiration of the performer was quite obvious.
Mr. Gardiner had been told by his wife, that she could think of no other reason for all this attention from the Darcy family, than a partiality for their niece, though Lizzy had not told them anything about it herself. Mrs. Gardiner was a bit vexed about this, to her husband's secret enjoyment, for she was usually taken into Elizabeth's confidence, much more so than her own mother. They had agreed to observe and reflect during this dinner party and now he was amused and touched to behold how the young man had fastened his bewitched gaze on his niece. "Yes, he is at her mercy, there is no doubt about it. I hope Lizzy will be gentle with him. She is a young woman of such decided opinions and if she does not look favourably on his inclination ... I pity him. He appears to be completely infatuated. In spite of all that previous gossip, he has proved to be a decent and honourable sort of fellow so far. I would not want him to be badly hurt."
After Elizabeth had finished, Georgiana tried to make her repeat the song, but Miss Bennet made some slighting remarks on her own fudging over the difficult parts. She added that it was a pleasure to play on such a beautiful instrument. Miss Darcy then told of its being a gift from her brother. A gift that she, in her own opinion, did not deserve. Miss Bennet contradicted her, saying that her brother must have thought she did ... adding in jest, "and as you know, he is never wrong!" They both smiled in agreement and directed their eyes towards the gentleman. Though Georgiana, who was not at all used to make fun of her brother, was smiling in spite of herself, while Elizabeth's mirth was of a more mischievous nature.
Darcy who was just looking up noticed that he was the object of their joint observations. They seemed to be amused ... by him? ...What did that teasing glimpse in those dark eyes imply ... ? He was experiencing a slight uneasiness, but as Georgiana was involved he knew it could not be too serious. He would, however, have been very interested in the cause of their mutual amusement.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth was rising to leave the place by the pianoforte to Miss Darcy. The latter was intimidated by the presence of the Gardiners, though she had an impression that Mrs. Gardiner was of a kind motherly disposition. She refused to sing in front of so many people, but consented to play. "If you like," was the lighthearted answer from Elizabeth, who felt it was important for her to leave the centre of attention, where not everybody in the room wanted her; she could easily come to this conclusion by judging from the displeased air of Miss Bingley. So she left Georgiana to join the listeners, aiming at a seat on the sofa beside her aunt.
Her intentions were, however, interfered with, and she was stopped halfways by Miss Bingley addressing her. She wished to discuss the whereabouts of the Meryton militia and told by Elizabeth, that they were encamped at Brighton for the summer, she gave her a look full of meaning and remarked with an insinuating smile, that the loss must be heavy on the Bennet family. Elizabeth, refusing to take offense, answered her, "We are enduring it as best we can."
This was not to Miss Bingley's liking - as her object was to remind Darcy of the unguarded manner of the Bennet girls. To this effect she believed it necessary to reinforce her impudent hints. "I should have thought the absence of one gentleman was particularly painful ..." Elizabeth did not see the extent of her ill-will and replied: "I can't imagine who you mean."
Darcy was moving uneasily at this rudeness, but he could not think of a way to assist Miss Bennet without making things worse. Any hints on other men in connection to Miss Bennet tug at his heart-strings. He was not confident of his own composure.
But Miss Bingley was determined to make her point. She opened her mouth to utter, "I had heard that some ladies found the society of Mr. ... Wickham curiously agreeable ?" Her mentioning of that name was like a whiplash, and both herself and Mrs. Hurst were highly interested in the guilty confusion which they were anticipating on Miss Bennet's face to betray her partiality to Wickham and hopefully expose her to Darcy's contempt and disregard ... . The effect of those malicious words was immediate, but not the one Miss Bingley had intended.
Georgiana gave a start and blinked like her face had actually been smacked and she also lost control of her music. Elizabeth reacted instantly and gracefully by exclaiming "Oh, but I am neglecting you, Miss Darcy. How can you play with no one to turn the pages?" And she hastened back to stand protectingly beside Georgiana, who managed to resume her playing.
Darcy, who had instinctively started to rise, saw that there was no need for him to interfere and sank back into the sofa with an inward sigh. His first feeling had been a lightening white rage at the mean impudence of this woman, but though he winced at the thought of Wickham applying his charms to Miss Bennet, she had not shown any signs of concern at the mentioning of this odious man. His wrath therefore soon melted away from the overwhelming sentiments of admiration and love that filled his heart, as he witnessed the inventive manner in which Miss Bennet discretely handled this awkward situation. So while he was grateful for her protection of Georgiana, his main attention had been on what would be her private emotional reaction. If Miss Bingley was capable of such perception, she must have had the undesired pleasure to see that the very circumstance which had been designed to turn Darcy's thoughts from Miss Bennet seemed to have fixed them on her more.
He fastened his gaze upon her head that was bent over his sister and as if she was aware of his eyes, she slowly, ever so slowly, lifted her own to look at him in the kind of complete understanding that may arise between two people in a crowded room, who know they are both thinking of the same thing. It was intensified by the charm of novelty. On his lips it was barely visible, but he sent her a grateful smile from his eyes. She looked straight into them and she liked what she saw. Her face softened from a feeling of happiness as his regard for her became even more obvious. His expression was one of tenderness bordering on merriment.
To Darcy it was as if the room ... , even the rest of the world, lost all significance and disappeared, to leave him alone with this divine woman for some precious moments. She was deliberately looking him straight in the eyes and it rendered him almost breathless. He could feel a sweet pain spreading from that gaze to his whole being. She looked upon him like she was confiding in him. His mind and his body were this moment united. How he loved her! Her face seemed to tell him: "Have no fear, I"ll help you protect your sister. I know you told me the truth in your letter." When the music ceased and the conversation was resumed, they reluctantly unlocked their gazes to gradually try to participate in it.
Elizabeth was partly glad to hear that her aunt soon afterwards began to express her gratitude for the pleasant evening, and she joined her and her uncle as they were taking their leave. Her mind was in such turmoil, that she feared to stay any longer in a company where some were all but well-inclined towards her and where one was certainly benevolent, but also having the most peculiar sort of influence on her composure.
She was every second keenly aware of Darcy, and when he said good night to her she felt very strange. His eyes were searching her face, and she was faintly blushing, as she forced herself to look him in the eyes. She got this momentary impulse to tell him ... something, to let him know that her opinion of him was so completely altered. But she could not think of a way to do this. She had to restrict herself to a warm smile and some words of gratitude, whose sincerity he could have no cause to doubt.
Once again did he get close to her as he handed her into the coach. He furtively inhaled her scent as the cloth of her gown swept past his face and could not resist giving her fingers the faintest squeeze before releasing them. He was not sure she noticed, it might be interpreted as merely the result from increased support, though her eyes were seriously fixed on him when she thanked him and until they were off.
As it was getting fairly late, Georgiana expressed a wish to retire and Bingley at once offered to escort her indoors. Darcy threw a hasty glance after them. He could not, would not leave just yet. He was, in fact, glad to be alone. He took a step forward to be able to watch the coach as it carried her away from him again. How much longer would he have to endure this pain? For the rest of his life? Or could he maybe hope ... .Part of him was in that vehicle. His heart was all hers. But his longing body was left behind. He concentrated his gaze on the disappearing coach and wondered what she was thinking.
He thought of her face, the expression on it as she was wishing him Good night. There had been something in her eyes ..., he sensed, that she wanted to say something else, something more ... . He had fixed his eyes on her mouth, to help her tell him, whatever it was she wished for him to know. But she lowered her eyes in embarrassment, maybe his stare was too intense. He could barely take his eyes from her soft-looking rosy lips. What he would give, to be allowed to kiss them! His own lips were aching from that wish.
As his heart was aching to be near her, to have her talk to him. He wanted to hear her thoughts on everything, he wanted her to listen to him. He longed for the pleasure of her humourous and witty remarks, that incomparable sparkle in her eyes. Tonight her sweet and considerate way of protecting Georgiana, had showed him still another side of her personality. She had given him yet another reason to love her.
The sound of the wheels and hooves was fading away, and he could no longer discern the carriage. It had melted into the dark blue dusk of the summer night and all that was left was the flickering of the torches along the road. He was feeling hot and bewildered and remained for a couple of minutes hidden in the shadow under the South Vault, walking up and down to get time to recollect himself before he joined the rest of the party.
He returned indoors and happened upon Bingley, who came slowly strolling down the hall, pensively humming to himself. His face lit up on beholding his host and friend: 'such a pleasant evening and what agreeable company, Darcy!"
Darcy had no reason whatsoever to contradict his contented guest and gave a slight nod of assent. As he had some suspicions on the reason for this praise, he raised his eyebrows asking: "Have you been spending some time in private reflections, Bingley?"
"Well, ... yes, been thinking of Hertfordshire actually." Bingley threw an almost shy glance at his friend.
Darcy experienced a passing feeling of guilt and decided, that now was as good a time as any, to start his repentant act.
"Are you, by any chance, considering spending some time there this autumn? The shooting was not too bad from what I recall".
Bingley was surprised and glad to hear that Darcy did not object to the idea of a Netherfield visit. He was indeed inclined to go there before long. His decision was mirrored on his unguarded face.
Darcy looked affectionately at his friend and wondered if Bingley's feelings for Jane Bennet were anywhere near his own for her younger sister. If that was the case, he had really been harmful to his friend and even to blame for a lot of suffering, by keeping those two people apart. Regretfully he thought to himself: "If Bingley has been going through even half of my agony, he would be in his right to break off his friendship with me. I can no longer perceive that I was presumptuous to such extent."
Then he remembered, that he was still the host of the present evening and expected to attend to his guests.
"I guess we had better join the others. Would you care for a glass of wine before we retire?"
It would be no exaggeration to state that Miss Bingley had been eagerly awaiting the return of Mr. Darcy, and vexed that it took him so long to take leave of the Lambton guests. She was filled with observations on the entire evening and they were leading her to the conclusion, that the marked attentions of Darcy's towards Miss Bennet might be of a serious nature. That this was maybe more than a passing whim on his behalf. This increased her exasperation.
She had already been giving vent to her feelings by some remarks on the guests to her sister. She had some severe reproaches on the guests from Cheapside, but she decided to concentrate on the most important one.
Mrs. Hurst was as always bearing her out and thus making her opinions seem even more justified. Convincing her that there was real substance to her objections. No, her sister was no help to her. Miss Bingley was jealous and angry and this did not improve her judgment. If only Mrs. Hurst had been able to see farther than beyond her nose, she might have realised that her sister was heading for a collision.
Thus was it, that as soon as the gentlemen had entered and while Mr. Darcy was busy pouring out wine from the decanter, she started her lamentations on the looks and manners of Miss Elizabeth Bennet. She found much to criticize and very few things to approve of and on every point of complaint she hoped to have Darcy see her point, and realise his mistake.
He was mostly silent, but on hearing that the shimmering velvet complexion he had just been admiring, was so brown and coarse, he snorted inwardly and could not stay seated, but walked over to the fireplace to be able to turn his back to the company, as he uttered.
"I noticed no great difference" (No indeed she is all the loveliness I can remember from before).
"Maybe a little tan (giving a warm glow to her face to render it even more enchanting), hardly surprising when one travels in the summer." (She is so alert, always outdoors on some walk or even climbe. She is not just sitting in the drawing-room to yawn and be nasty and spiteful towards other people).
Miss Bingley would not take warning, but pursued to sneer at the lack of brilliancy in Elizabeth's complexion, her merely tolerable teeth and to admit that though her eyes were sometimes considered fine, they had not made such impression on her. She also declared that she found Miss Bennet's self-sufficiency to be intolerable.
Darcy, who had moved over to a place on a sofa, was resolutely silent, though his patience was running short. He drank his wine sort of impatiently and ruminated on his guests. He had been enduring Miss Bingley for years out of some sort of pity for his friend. He did not wish to embarrass Bingley. And he begrudged her the pleasure of knowing that any of her opinions could affect him. Earlier they were never of any consequence to him. Her forwardness had not mattered that much to him before. But now she was being offensive to Miss Bennet, and he would have no more of it .
Bingley was looking at his sister with no small amount of disbelief and mortification. What had gotten into Caroline, that she should be speaking so rudely about a guest of Darcy's ... and a sister of .... He clasped his glass, threw a glance at Darcy and in order to apologize for his sister, he tried to speak his meaning, but she was shouting him down.
The sister's had their laughs at the quoting of Darcy's cruel remark on Elizabeth's looks from their first days in Hertfordshire; On the beauty of the daughter being equal to the wit of the mother! He was forced to listen, turning the wineglass restlessly in his hand, but considered it to be a matter of deep regret, that he had ever been so tactless. Once again he recognised what Elizabeth Bennet had told him of his arrogance. She had been so right, and to think that he had degraded himself for the mere amusement of this unpleasant woman and her sister. She seemed determined to have a reaction from him and by God, he was prepared to give it.
Mockingly she finished her performance by saying :
"But afterwards she seemed to improve on you. I even believe you thought her rather pretty at one time?"
Improve on me!? That is an understatement if ever there was one! He could contain himself no longer but cut in:
"Yes I did! But that was only when I first knew her, for it has been many months now since I have considered her one of the handsomest women of my acquaintance!"
He had got up while speaking and did not bother to check a tiny triumphant smile at those last words. It felt good to say it out loud. What Miss Bingley had achieved after all her endeavours was the reward of a self-inflicted pain. She was at last silent, she spoke no more and was almost shocked. Darcy had had his say, though the mortification was brought upon her by herself.
Bingley was ashamed on behalf of his sister and considered Darcy to be absolutely entitled to reproach her. Even Mrs. Hurst understood that things had been carried a bit to far and she put an end to the embarrassed atmosphere by announcing that she was retiring and by bringing her sister with her. The men followed her example and the party broke up.
Darcy was alone in his library, comfortably seated in his favourite chair with his legs stretched out in front of him. He had seized the book he was halfways through, but after two attempts to get into it, he had let it sink on his knee. He was far too excited to sleep, ... and as it would seem to even read. His mind was wandering as he let his eyes sweep along the shelves, enjoying the comfortable atmosphere of the room and going back to some pleasant memories from the passed evening. There were definitely some most agreeable moments to dwell on ... .
Suddenly he raised a low cry and leapt to his feet. The dogs, that had been dozing in front of the fireplace, lifted their heads to look expectantly at their master. Was there to be some pleasant surprise? Maybe some outdoor exercise?
"No no, not yet," Darcy mumbled and went over to the shelves between the windows. He was murmuring to himself, as he methodically let his eyes skim the variously coloured leather covers on one shelf after another, in search of one particular author.
"Nothing like that here, ...hmm. Maybe behind that chair ..." He lifted the chair to place it further away and bent down to look at the bottom shelf.
'this seems to be the right kind of books , on nature and plants ..., let me see, can this be it...? Yes !!"
Triumphantly he took out a green volume and rapidly browsed through it's pages while exclaiming:
"Miss Bennet, I've found your book!" Then regretting her absence, his voice sank to an almost seductive sort of timbre.
"Why are you not here to see it? We might study Mr. Culpeper together ... That should be agreeable ... " He smiled to himself, he certainly had an imaginative mind!
The dogs had followed him to the shelf and were bustling around him eagerly awaiting his next move.
"Are you as restless as I am? I am not sure what I am going to do about it, but I suppose you would like to get outdoors?"
He lit a fresh candle and left the library. He walked the upper gallery enlivened to recall being there with Miss Bennet a few hours ago. To his inner ear he could still hear the music and her voice like it had sounded earlier this evening. "What is this sorrow, naught can dispel...?" He looked around him and was pleased to see the same walls and the same pictures her eyes had been looking at. 'she has actually been here! Visiting Pemberley and me! And nothing went wrong, ... well it nearly did but ... , thanks to her it ended well." The animals appeared to be as merry as their master, they were leaping along the gallery.
After he had opened the door and let them out, he remained on the porch looking out into the darkness. Somewhere out there, in this sweet-scented night, and not very far away was the room where she was sleeping. An expression of tenderness passed on his face, but then he came to wonder if she was maybe still awake like him? Was her head as full of thoughts as his? Did she reflect on the passed evening and on ... him? He stared up into the sky and he felt lost. What was the purpose of his life if she was not in it?
The dogs came sauntering and brought their master with them back into the house. On a sudden impulse he headed for the Music Room. He went over to put his candlestick on the mantelpiece, and then placed one hand to rest against it.
He was somewhat puzzled by his own behaviour, but he had to do something, be someplace where some traces of her might be lingering to remind him of her. In an unconscious attempt to ease his consuming yearning for her, he let the back of his hand touch his lips. A poor replacement for her mouth, but ... like his mouth was aching to touch her skin, so was his heart aching to touch her mind. He missed her terribly. He wanted her to be near him, to talk to him, to listen to him, to share her thoughts with him. He longed to hear her voice. Her absence was an almost physical torment. She brought freshness and light and warmth to his home, to his heart. When she was near, life was suddenly so happy and abounding in possibilities. He placed her above all other women, above all others, even Georgiana, ... yes, much to his surprise he knew that his sister no longer occupied the foremost place in his heart!
He lifted his head and looked towards the empty space behind the instrument and tried to remember her standing there. He succeeded and for an instant he thought she was ... . She was standing there looking at him, so lovable and ... . The chill of misgivings crept upon him unexpectedly.
Had he been imagining things? "I must be on my guard against wishful thinking. I seem to be inclined towards such ways of my mind. Just because she no longer dislikes the mere sight of me ... there is no cause to be precipitate and indulge in blissful conclusions. It would be a great change for her to alter her opinion of me to such extent. I can never hope for her to accept me, to have me for a husband, just because she does not have anything against me. She is not that kind of woman, her integrity is too strong. She has immense self-respect and she is entitled to it! That's one reason why I love her."
He had perceived her behaviour towards him to be marked sympathetic, but now he tried to be impartial. She had been talking a lot to Bingley as well, and they had been laughing and, as always, getting along very well. She would perhaps prefer a man of his disposition, with an open turn of mind, one who always knew what to say, never dumb and stern like himself?
"What was it Fitzwilliam told me ? Something about being silent and too severe ... and about frightening the ladies ... ? I can not imagine, that I have ever frightened Miss Bennet ... , but she is so full of laughter and life. She might want such virtues in a man ... I certainly don't possess them. Maybe she was not smiling at me like I thought she was. I shall have to find out tomorrow. Yes, I must go visit her at the Inn. I"ll think of some pretext. If only this night was over. If only that clock wasn't so slow. How empty this room seems without her! I must try to bring her back to Pemberley. She belongs here!"
Finally Mr. Darcy left the Music Room and climbed the stairs to his bedchamber. He hoped the night would be shorter if it was devoted to sleep. And maybe even dreams? Of this Sorrow that Naught could dispel!
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