Jealous Of His Esteem
Part V--That Tall, Proud Man.
For about a week there had been rumours of Mr. Bingley's returning to Netherfield. In the beginning when Kitty told them about it, Jane and Elizabeth decided, that it was just the result of some idle gossip.
But then their aunt Philips was able to confirm it, since she had actually managed to question the housekeeper, when she was in Meryton. Mrs. Nichols had been instructed to order meat at the butcher's for Wednesday and there were reports of additional servants arriving with the luggage to help air and clean the house. Finally the local merchant's were observed delivering food supplies.
"Well I guess we may now rely upon it, he is actually coming here then,' said Lizzy, as the sisters were attending to the drying of herbs and immortelles collected from the garden. They had withdrawn into the small room used for this purpose to be allowed some private exchange of thoughts. Jane put a bouquet of purple coloured mint in place on the wooden frame that was hanging from the ceiling.
"Yes and I assure you Lizzy, it does not affect me in the least! I only dread other peoples remarks and their observing my face so closely to notice any reaction of mine."
Jane tried to convince her sister ... and herself that she was not giving any thoughts to Mr. Bingley. Elizabeth did not believe her and even teased her slightly.
"Then I shall venture none ... . After all, it is hard that the poor man can not come to a house he legally rented without causing a lot of speculation!"
She tied a bunch of rosemary together and fastened it on a hook. On doing this she looked fixedly at Jane while a smile was slowly taking command of her face. Her sister attempted to defend herself.
"Stop it, Lizzy!"
For herself Elizabeth knew that there was no indifference to the event. She could not help but wonder whether Mr. Darcy had permitted his friend to return or if Mr. Bingley came this time without the consent of his protector.
From this she was easily distracted to aim her thoughts on a more agreeable subject. The heavy smell of lavender reminded her of the gardens at Pemberley. There had been a blue abundance along the path she had been walking with him. Oh how long ago it seemed!
Mrs. Bennet made a few attempts to have her husband pay a welcome visit to Mr. Bingley, but he absolutely refused to meet her wishes. He reminded her, that he had done what she demanded of him last year, on her firm promise that Mr. Bingley would marry one of their daughters and it had all come to nothing, so he would not be sent on a fool's errand again.
Lizzy was pained to see an expression of embarrassment pass on Jane's face. She reflected, that Mr. Bennet was wrong to mock his daughters at all and that as a father, he should know better than to expose Jane in particular.
Early on a Saturday afternoon in the middle of September, Mary was practising the same passage over and over again on the pianoforte and the daylight was still sufficient for her sisters to occupy themselves with needlework. They were seated around the table in the drawing room. Then all of a sudden Kitty, who was not very patiently pinning a flowery patterned ribbon on an obstinate bonnet, got up to look out the window.
"Mama, I think he's coming!"
"Who dear, whom do you mean?"
"Why, Mr. Bingley!! He is riding up the driveway."
Elizabeth saw Jane's perplexed reaction and she reached out to seize her hand and press it reassuringly. Mrs. Bennet rose to join her daughter peeking out the window and she exclaimed.
"I believe you are right."
"Who is that with him?" Kitty was curious, but Mrs. Bennet could not care less.
"Oh lord, I do not know, ... some acquaintance."
Kitty remained at the window, but tried to hide behind the curtains.
"I believe it is that man that was with him before ... that tall proud one! What's his name?"
At this information Elizabeth's heart was fluttering madly and she squeezed Jane's hand again. There was no need for her to hear Kitty suggest the visitor's name in an inquiring tone.
"Oh yes I believe it is. Well, any friend of Mr. Bingley's will always be welcome here. Though I must say, I hate the sight of him. I'll be civil to him, but no more than civil."
Elizabeth was utterly embarrassed to hear Mrs. Bennet speak thus of the man, who had done the family such immense services. She cast a tormented glance at her mother while she was instructing Jane to sit up, shoulders back to make the most of her figure. How mortifying it was, to have her mother act like a salesman, eagerly presenting his goods at best advantage.
She heaved a sigh and pitied her sister, whom she believed to be nearly as agitated as she was herself. At least she had the benefit of secrecy. Nobody in the room knew of her feelings for Mr. Darcy, not even Jane.
Hill knocked the door and entered to announce the visitors. As the gentlemen stepped inside and bowed to the ladies, Elizabeth cautiously glanced at Mr. Darcy and tried to stifle her excited feelings. She got a glimpse of his eyes on her too, just after she had made a curtsey and a most peculiar sweet pain ran through her chest. He was just as handsome as in her fantasies, but she had often pictured him with the tender smile from his portrait at Pemberley and now his face wore it's former stern expression. She wondered at it's significance.
Mrs. Bennet lost no time to let the gentlemen know how she valued them. Her welcoming of Mr. Bingley was characterised by an overflowing kindness. After an effusion of several minutes, she seemed to remember, that there was another visitor and so condescended to add. "And I see you brought Mr. Darcy ... You are very welcome too, sir."
Lizzy inhaled soundlessly. Oh, was this to be endured. She wished to thank him from her heart for his kindness towards them. She also wished to show him he was indeed welcome, but propriety forbade it.
Mr. Darcy asked her how Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner did, a question which by the inevitable associations caused an addition of confusion to her answer. After that he hardly opened his mouth. She wanted to speak to him, but could only pluck up courage to inquire after his sister.
Mrs. Bennet instructed 'Ring the bell for tea, Kitty!" and then she began to inform the visitors of Miss Lucas being married and one of her own daughters ... . As soon as her mother began her lengthy outpourings, he moved towards the nearest window.
He looked out into the garden, but he was keenly aware of every movement in one particular corner of the room. Now and then he ventured a brief glance in her direction and saw her head bent over an embroidery, her hands occupied with needle and thread, they were so small and fidgety, so white, so hesitantly moving over the fabric ... he wanted to put them to rest in his own, to kiss them tenderly ... .
He resumed his stare into the fading greenery, giving his breathing time to regain it's normal rhythm and forcing his attention back to the conversation. It was dealing with the odious marriage, but Mrs. Bennet did not seem to feel any anguish to mention it.
On the contrary, he could scarcely believe it, but she was actually praising her son-in-law! She made an acid comment on Wickham's having some friends to help him, though perhaps not as many as he deserved! Incredible lack of decorum!
He sensed a sudden movement at the table and the next minute her voice was heard. "Do you ... intend to stay long ... in the neighbourhood?"
Her sweet voice was trembling and she stumbled over the words. His heart reached out to her 'Oh my dearest, don't be so mortified, don't take this foolishness upon yourself ." He squirmed inwardly to witness the wretched situation she had to endure. For someone so bright and sensible, to hear every day such stupid remarks, to bear with such ungracious behaviour and from her own mother to crown it all! He could not imagine, what it must be like, to be unable to respect one's parents.
He wanted to spare her further embarrassment and decided that they were not to remain long at Longbourn this day.
Bingley was answering her question somewhat incoherently.
"Our plans are not yet firmly set but I hope we shall stay some weeks at least, I hope, ... a few weeks, ... at least... at the very least'.
His friend was looking one minute in enchantment at Miss Jane Bennet and the next minute, inquiringly at himself. Come on, Charles! When will you realise that you can make your own decisions? That you don't have to ask my consent ... . Suddenly he had a vague notion that he might be to some extent responsible for this insecurity of Bingley's. He brushed the thought away. I shall not think about it now. He could perceive her breathing, her every movement and was excited to be in the same room with her. But he ventured not to talk to her nor dared he look at her for long. He did not trust himself to be in command of his voice and feared he would be admiring her too openly before he knew of it. Even now, when he was constantly on his guard, his eyes were irresistibly drawn to her person.
Were he to expose them both to the gossip of Meryton by an imprudent betrayal of his affection for her, the matters of his heart would be common knowledge and she might be embarrassed from having her name mentioned in connection with his... . No it would not do!
How he wished there had been a plausible excuse for him to take her from this room and out into the garden. But it was of course impossible, and would arouse every suspicion if he were to blurt out something like 'Would you be so kind as to show me the garden, Miss Bennet? ... or May I suggest a walk as far as the old bridge? ... or Miss Bennet might you be persuaded to favour such a random suggestion as ... ?"
Apart form the facts, that it was autumn and not many flowers were left to simulate an interest in and getting dusk and probably rather chilly by the water, he would compromise her and also, he had no idea what he would say to her. He just was in urgent need of being alone with her. She would probably think of something to say. She was so clever, so gracious and adorable.
To have her to himself for an hour! It would enable him to investigate her attitude towards him. Make her look him in the eyes and find out whether his memories from Derbyshire were all twisted and made to fit his cherished dream. That she had changed her opinion of him and would now permit his attentions to her ... . He sighed realising that this visit would offer no relief for him.
Instead he gave a lot of his attention to the exchange of words, smiles and glances between his friend and Miss Jane Bennet and he had to admit that they seemed both to be by the minute more delighted with each others company. Though they were no more in privacy than himself and Miss Elizabeth Bennet ... .
He threw another glance at her to find she was that same moment looking in his direction. His heart raced to meet her gaze and he turned his head away to keep his reaction from the company. A shade of pink suffused her cheeks as she looked down to eagerly study her needlework. Shortly after that Mr. Darcy said something to make Mr. Bingley rise and they took their leave.
After the gentlemen had ridden off, Jane and Lizzy needed some air to cool their heated cheeks and to that effect were taking a brisk walk in the garden.
Jane was expressing her relief to have managed the first renewal of their acquaintance with Mr. Bingley. Stating that she would now be able to meet him in a common and indifferent manner. Elizabeth sent her a quick glance of mockery.
"Oh yes, very calm and composed indeed! Oh Jane, take care."
"Lizzy! Please do not believe me to be in any danger... "
"Oh but I do. I think you are in danger of making him very much in love with you!"
When their exchange came to deal with the awful indelicacy of Mrs. Bennet's, Elizabeth, painfully recollecting the recent humiliation exclaimed, 'It is insupportable to hear such insults being spoken. The first wish of my heart is to never be in the company of Mr. Darcy or Mr. Bingley again. The pleasure of their visits can not make up for such mortifying experience!"
"Oh Lizzy! You do not really mean that."
Elizabeth looked at the glowing face of her sister and also into her own heart and admitted. "No, I do not mean it."
The taciturn behaviour of Mr. Darcy's caused her some vexation when she was on her own. He had apparently been lost in thoughts, not so eager to please as when they last met and he had spoken but rarely. 'If he came here only to be grave, silent and indifferent, why bother to come at all? Teasing, teasing man ... ."
She had tried to observe where his attention was aimed, but when he was not looking down on the floor or just out into the garden, his eyes had been mostly on Jane with a serious expression. When she finally met his eyes he hastened to look in another direction!
However they owed it to Mrs. Bennet that she had invited the two gentlemen for dinner in a few days' time, next Tuesday. So there was still some cause for anticipation!
Part VI--Nothing To Hope, But That His Eyes Were So Often Turned Towards Her Side Of The Room ...
The family included there were fourteen people streaming in through the twin doors of the dining room at Longbourn. The table looked splendid and fairly inviting with no less than five three-branched candelabras spreading their light over it's white linen cloth. Upon it several dishes of carefully prepared food were put forward, since Mrs. Bennet took great pride in her table, and always intended the meals served at her dinners to be far more savoury than those of Lady Lucas's and others.
This evening she also wished to please Mr. Bingley so that his mind would be favourably inclined towards Longbourn and it's inhabitants and despite her animosity towards Mr. Darcy she did acknowledge that he required a certain amount of special attention. He was probably used to three our four courses every day and she wanted to show him that she knew how to satisfy the appetite and pride of one who had ten thousand a-year.
A pleasant festival atmosphere was prevalent among the guests as they took their seats around the table. But at least four of them were in a state of nervous expectation. Elizabeth saw Mr. Bingley look a trifle hesitant on entering, but then Jane happened to look around smiling, so he approached to help her with the chair and with an air of obvious contentment sat down by her side. Jane was really beautiful this evening in a dress of a mild blue shade, with thin velvet ribbons to match, becomingly twisted into her hair.
Elizabeth had given a good deal of care to her own outfit, but she was not as lucky as her sister for Mr. Darcy was almost as far from her as the table allowed him. He seemed thoroughly polite in assisting Kitty to take her seat next to him. She saw this with a twinge of envy and was slightly disconcerted from fear that he might have noticed, when he sent her a serious reflecting look after they were all seated.
On his other side was her mother, which worried Elizabeth since this could offer neither of them much enjoyment. Also she dreaded the possibility that some silly remark of her mother's would annoy Mr. Darcy as she knew Kitty could not handle any resulting displeasure. She hoped Mrs. Long would be sensible enough to find another topic of conversation if necessary.
All through the dinner she gave only half of her attention to what was discussed at her part of the table. She tried to follow the conversation emanating from her mother and was particularly anxious to collect every word from his lips. She was not always able to do so and in her heart blamed Sir William Lucas, who was incessantly entertaining his neighbours with tidbits from London and his frequent encounters with people of prominence there. At the same time his torrent of words was a blessing, for he did not require much response above an occasional phrase of polite amazement or respectful approval.
She could see how rare was the exchange of words between Mrs. Bennet and her stern partner at table. The numbness of their countenances also betrayed that the contents of their dialogue was cold and impersonal.
Mr. Darcy was repeatedly fidgeting with his ring or his wineglass, but she did hear him comment politely on the subject of keeping a large room tolerably heated during winter, when the older ladies devoted themselves to it wholeheartedly.
She was happy to recognise this kind of civility from Derbyshire and could feel her face soften at the memories. That very moment he turned his eyes towards her and she knew not what to do. She had been practically staring at him and he had caught her. She blushed and hastened to offer some additional vegetables to Sir William. After that she did not dare look in his direction.
Towards the dinner's end when the fruit and sweets were served, a more lively discussion was resulting from the general feeling of satisfaction at an excellent meal and -- to some extent -- from Mr. Bennet's claret.
Elizabeth felt the ordeal was nearly over and was engaged in a conversation with Jane and Mr. Bingley who were seated across the table. The gentleman had expressed an admiration for Jane's sound judgment on people. Elizabeth could not resist this opportunity to tease her sister.
"She has indeed a tendency to good judgment. She can hardly ever be persuaded to think ill of anyone. She is so cautious and wants every detail before she gives her opinion. Whereas I am sadly lacking in this respect and rather in favour of some entertaining piece of malice, whenever I get the chance!"
Jane and Mr. Bingley laughed at these characterisations, partly because they were in a state of happiness that made them seek every opportunity to express it. Elizabeth thought it was rather funny too and her smile spread to her eyes making them sparkle and exercise their power over a bewitched gentleman further down the table.
From the corner of her eye she noticed that Mr. Darcy was observing her with a smile on his lips. The sight of him sent a joyous thrill through her heart, but then she sort of heard her own words echoing in her head! ... in favour of some entertaining piece of malice! ... . Was not this exactly what she had so ruthlessly exposed Mr. Darcy to during the first months of their acquaintance? Never bothering to find out who he really was.
The repentance came over her to wipe the glittering smile off her face. How she must have hurt him. Oh how she regretted it. If only she dared let him know! She cast one remorseful glance towards him but her courage failed her. I must thank him for his goodness to my family, when I ... if I get an opportunity to talk to him in private. Then I can ask his forgiveness for my behaviour as well.
Darcy was absolutely bewildered by the way her face had changed. He knew his admiration had probably been obvious but after watching her across the room talking and laughing he did not care. He was enchanted by the sight of her and he wanted to approach her at once. But ... then ... when she registered his gaze, her smile vanished and she looked at him as if ... as if she pitied him! Oh no, not that! He did not want her to feel sorry for him. He shrank back at the possibility. That would mean his love was a burden to her.
Then he happened to look at Bingley. The lucky devil had been talking to Jane Bennet since the dinner began! His heart was on the mend that was clear to everybody. The lady smiled at him whatever he said and seemed to think the world of him. Well no wonder! Charles is an amiable fellow to be sure. He is not haughty and selfish ... . Women have been falling in love with him for years. And not because of his money ... .
Not more than half an hour ago he had been in high hopes himself, because he had caught her actually looking at him and when he met her eyes, she had looked so beautifully confused with an enchanting blush covering her cheeks. Only thanks to his many years of formal and strict education, teaching him to always give consideration to propriety, had he been able to refrain from acting upon his immediate impulse. I want her in my arms. Well go to her and embrace her then. ... but that's not done. In her fathers house, ... it would be utterly improper! Well ask her permission then! Thus far in his inner debate, he had conquered his instinct and besides, she paid him no further attention. I probably imagined it all. Perhaps I have been staring at her in an unseemly way. Despite all my endeavours ... so that it bothers her.
Darcy had to remain with the gentlemen at the port, while the ladies left for the drawingroom. He looked furtively after her yellow dress as it rustled past him on her way out. Never had he loathed this custom before. Why must he sit with a lot of loud-voiced men to listen to them telling boring or indecent stories and have their say on the foreign affairs, while she was in the same house but still out of reach?
She had never been too fond of those after dinner gatherings with the ladies mostly chatting about trivial and uninteresting things. She had always suspected that the men had much more fun, which the sudden outburst of roaring laughter from the dining room seemed to imply.
This evening it meant the most unbearable wait in her life. Elizabeth was impatient since the minutes seemed to move so slowly. She was anxiously expecting an opportunity to talk to him. To understand why he was visiting them. Was it on Bingley's behalf only? Was it to save the family name and reputation of Bingley's future bride, that he had brought about the restoration of Lydia? Or was her aunt Gardiner right to suspect another motive? When Elizabeth was spoken to she was almost uncivil, for she could not keep her concentration on anything else. If he does not come to me now, I must give up every hope ... .
At last the noise from deeper voices and heavier footsteps was oh so sweet to her ears. Mr. Darcy looked at her almost immediately after the gentlemen joined them, and she was full of hope as he approached towards an empty chair near her ... .
The insupportable young Harriet Long moved hastily over close to Elizabeth, whispering something to the effect of not having the men come and disturb their conversation ... and though she could do nothing to prevent her, Elizabeth moaned inwardly to see Mr. Darcy turn and walk away bringing his coffee to another part of the room.
She followed him with her eyes, was envious of everyone he spoke to and when he was not too far off, she attempted without shame to hear what he was saying. She grew angry with herself for being so silly. Why would a man once refused propose a second time to the same woman? She must have been foolish beyond reason to ever allow herself to hope for that.
Then again, he brought his cup back to her himself, which could be interpreted as a sign of his wishing to speak to her and she managed to ask him about Miss Darcy. He answered that his sister was still at Pemberley in the company of Mrs. Annesley and then Elizabeth could think of nothing more to say, for every word could be overheard and though she had a million things to say to him none of it was fit to be spoken out in public.
Darcy stood for a while near her, inhaling the warm scent of rosewater, without being able to utter a word. He was in agony for want of words. Nothing that came to mind was conformable to the place and the circumstances.
He felt like a complete fool. Why was he not easy and agreeable towards her? He would like to see her laugh like she did before at dinner ... but the thought of her fading smile made him loose his nerve and then Miss Long leaned over to whisper something to Miss Bennet, which made him feel out of place, and he walked away.
When the card-tables were placed, everyone rose and Elizabeth hoped to be soon joined by him. Surely Mr. Darcy would not prefer cards to her company? But alas she had to watch how he was asked by Mrs. Bennet to complete a table of whist-players and so all her anticipations were frustrated.
Her sole comfort was that his eyes were often aimed towards her table and that his attention was not on the cards, for she heard Sir William Lucas reproach him in a good-natured manner.
She had to tolerate the same laments from her partner, for she played very ill indeed! She found herself staring at the cards, but thinking of Mr. Darcy's eyes. She wanted him to look at her and at the same time she feared it. Afraid that she would repeat her unwary conduct at dinner.
Yet she invented every excuse to turn her eyes his way. It was irresistible. A few times his gaze was upon her and she dared not allow her eyes to rest on him more than a moment. But it was delightful. She turned quite warm and played a card at random.
When the guests were all gone, both Jane and Mrs. Bennet were very pleased. Mrs. Bennet had been amply rewarded for the abilities of her cook and was now happily contemplating the venisons being roasted to a turn and the fact that the soup had been so infinitely superior to the one served at Lucas Lodge the other week.
The only information of any interest to Elizabeth was that even Mr. Darcy had considered the partridges remarkably well done. He had obviously tried to please her mother! How extraordinary.
Even the fact that he had actually been sitting next to Mrs. Bennet at dinner was amazing, now that she came to think of it. She had only been disappointed for herself on seeing it, but it could be looked upon as a message for her. That he regretted his former censure and wished for her to know it.
Though she praised all the guests and Mr. Bingley in particular, Jane asked Elizabeth to stop suspecting her and also tried to convince her sister that Mr. Bingley never had any intention of gaining her affection, that he was only blessed with a greater sweetness of address than any other man.
When she walked slowly upstairs to her bedroom Elizabeth was thinking of Jane's words. Her love had been shining through. She smiled affectionately thinking of the happy couple. Then the smile grew more sad and a deep sigh escaped her lips as she entered her room. The sweetness of address is certainly not a quality shared by Mr. Darcy, but I care not for that, if only he had spoken to me at all.
A few days later Mr. Bingley called again and he was on his own. He told them that Mr. Darcy had left for London and would be back in about ten days' time.
His face was excessively happy this morning and his sweetness of address was overwhelming. Not only Jane but all her sisters must acknowledge that he was indeed an agreeable man. The reason for this additional happiness was not known to them!
That same morning Darcy had been awake since dawn and contemplating the trial before him. He was to leave for London after breakfast and he had decided that the time had come for him to let Bingley know how he had been deceived. It was painful to think of his conceited attitude a year ago, when he had taken it upon himself to protect Bingley from a marriage that he had decided to be improper and inconvenient.
It was no comfort to acknowledge his allies in this attempt. The vanity and the calculating nature of Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst had become a good deal more obvious to him these last months. There was an ever-present sense of dissemblance about them, that was most unpleasant.
How infinitely preferable was a forthright approach, even if it might sometimes give rise to a behaviour that bordered on what was permitted for a refined lady. Miss Elizabeth Bennet, now there was a lady who could hold her own! He so admired her open and frank disposition.
From his experience it was not often found in a woman. He had been greatly surprised to realise that the countryside in Hertfordshire was holding such a jewel. That it was actually there and to be had in combination with intelligence, sense and wit. Also a tender and affectionate heart, an entertaining ability to spot the humorous and ridiculous sides of life and to laugh at herself and others. In addition, he considered the setting of this precious stone to be exquisite! Eyes ... mouth ... hair ... skin ... figure!! In his eyes there were indeed no flaws to her beauty.
His early morning walk was not very agreeable. But he felt a need to clear his head before he set out to talk to Bingley. There was a cutting wind sweeping around the corner of the stables when Darcy turned into the narrow path that led from the far off cluttering of estate offices, cow houses and similar buildings back to the manor. A few flakes of snow whirling around in the grey morning air fell on the back of his neck to occasion an unpleasant chilly moist and produce a shiver. He buttoned his cloak and pulled its collar up to keep the wind from blowing into his ears.
He wondered how Bingley would react. He had every reason to become infuriated! He had been separated from the girl of his dreams for almost a whole year. By a man whom he trusted and considered to be his close friend.
The temperature had been below zero during the night and there was a thin cover of ice on the small puddles along the walk. Also the last of the leaves had been shaken off their branches to partly cover those icy spots.
Since he was not paying any attention to where he trod, Darcy unsuspectingly placed his boot upon such a treacherous cluster of dried oak leaves and unexpectedly slipped to loose his balance. If he had not managed to grasp at a hanging bough, he would have hit the ground. A sharp pain in the shoulder told of the damage to it's muscles the weight of his whole body had inflicted. He leaned against the trunk of the nearest oak and remained standing to rub his aching shoulder and calm down.
Slowly shaking his head Darcy wondered how he had managed to stay so insensitive to the feelings of his old friend. Sheer lack of insight he muttered. I knew nothing of sincere, deeply felt love at the time. Fate, it would seem, found it necessary to give me a shake. Make me taste my own medicine. To have me realise what Bingley was suffering. To make me understand its unrelenting nature ... the power of it ... the way it infiltrates your daily life, until you are almost begging for mercy ... yet all the time aware, that there is but one remedy ... her love! Elizabeth ... your heart ... your arms around me, your mouth whispering words of consolation ... your soft body against mine ... . His eyes were closed but on his face the fervour of this silent entreaty was reflected.
Darcy left his cloak and gloves with the footman in the hall and headed directly towards the breakfast room. Like he had imagined Bingley was comfortably seated near the fireplace and enjoying his meal with an expression of secret pleasure on his face. It changed to light up with a warm smile at the sight of Darcy.
"There you are Darcy! I was beginning to wonder whether you had postponed your departure!"
"Good morning, Bingley! No, no I have just been out for a short walk and found it took me a little longer than I had reckoned... ."
"A walk Darcy? In this weather? It does not strike me as agreeable at all. As a matter of fact you look rather frozen. Where is the sense in getting chilled before you set out for several hours on the road?"
"I just needed some air to help me think, Bingley.
Darcy had helped himself to some spoonfuls of scrambled eggs, cheese and bread and was now having a cup of coffee poured by the under-butler.
Bingley watched him, sensing something was bothering his friend, but not wishing to ask him about it with the servant present. Instead he commented on his food.
"Is that all you are going to eat? Man, have some sausages or fish to help you keep warm and content during your trip."
Darcy only shook his head with a polite smile towards his friend and sat down to empty his plate mechanically. Bingley acted upon his intuition.
"Thank you Fawcett, that will be all."
As soon as the door closed, Darcy got up to walk over to the window. He stared out of it while sipping his coffee.
"I say Darcy. Would you not rather stay. Are your business engagements in town really that urgent? We could go over to visit the ladies at Longbourn. This is really a day to sit by the fire and enjoy some nice chatting."
Darcy pictured the pleasant scene. It would be ... nice to sit in the same room with her, warm and comfortable, perhaps watch her fingers busy with some piece of needlework or just pouring his tea and handing it to him in a thin cup. His fingers might get to touch hers... . But he knew not, if he was welcome. Bingley on the other hand was eagerly awaited... . He shrugged to rid himself of the temptation.
"I thank you Bingley, but no. I must leave. But I consider the suggestion to be most suitable for you. You must go on your own! And will be cordially received no doubt! I believe Miss Bennet is expecting you. She holds you in high esteem, Charles!"
Bingley was surprised to her Darcy use his Christian name, but the contents of his answer was even more interesting.
"Why do you say that Darcy? Have you changed your opinion lately? Do you really think she ... "
He was interrupted by Darcy who had left his window and approached to stand by the mantelpiece. His face was very solemn and he looked Bingley straight in the face.
"Bingley! I have done something of which I am thoroughly ashamed. I have tried to separate you from Miss Bennet. And her from you. Against the will of both of you!"
"What? ... But Darcy only the other day we were both visiting her home. You did nothing to separate us then. Nothing I noticed! We were in each others company most of the day!"
"Not now Charles! A year ago after you first met her and fell in love with her. You may recall how we all left for London after the ball and when you wished to return, I told you to refrain because Miss Bennet had only been nice and polite to you since her mother expected it from her. Remember? I told you that you had better try to forget about her and ... "
"But Darcy! I do not blame you! Louisa and Caroline thought so too. Even I found it hard to believe she would prefer me to any other man, I still do! She is such an angel and so sweet and beautiful and I ... "
"There is more Bingley! You are going to hate me for this. During the winter Miss Bennet came to visit once in your town house, and your sisters received her, and I think Miss Bingley paid her a return visit at her aunt's and uncle's ..."
"She came to visit? In ... London? Her aunt and uncle ...?"
"Yes, she was staying in their house in Gracechurch street ... for several months, I think ... . But we never told you."
Bingley had left his chair to move uneasily around the room. He stared at Darcy, then he looked down on his hands while he opened and closed them trying to take in what he had been told.
"If you wish to beat me up I can easily understand it! Hit me on the chin if you feel like it! However it is not necessary to make me feel awful about what I have done. I ... I had ... heard that Miss Jane Bennet was seriously attached to you, but I wanted to see it with my own eyes. Ever since we came here it has been clear to me that I made a terrible mistake. She loves you Charles! I am in no doubt about it. It is plain to see when she looks at you."
Bingley just mumbled and made a movement to ward off the violent suggestions. He looked briefly at Darcy and then turned his back on him to stare into the fire.
"I know you must be hurt, Bingley! I can offer no justification. I only hope in time you will be able to accept my apology. It is most sincere. I ... can ... imagine what you have suffered ... all those months... ."
When Bingley did not move Darcy finished his coffee and put the cup down.
"I shall go upstairs to collect my things. It is time I set off for town."
There was still no answer and he left the room. While he got ready to leave, the thoughts whirled round in his head. Perhaps it was wrong of me to tell him so abruptly? We should have had more time to talk about it. Or perhaps he is just happy to see me go? I expected him to shout at me, but not this silence. He is terribly hurt of course ... . To think that I joined his sisters against him! How despicable! A true friend indeed!
My only comfort is that I have learned a lot about myself this last year. But I had to hurt the people I love best to realise my faults! Him ... and her!
Darcy was slowly descending the stairs wondering whether he should try to say good-bye. But when he came down into the hall the door to the breakfast room burst open and an agitated Bingley appeared.
"Darcy! Is this your honest opinion? That she, ... that Miss Bennet is ... is really ... ?"
Darcy looked around to see if they were alone, but a valet was prepared to assist him with his cloak so he hurried to put it on, thanked him and dismissed him.
"Why Bingley, I can understand your happiness but do you really want the servants informed?"
"What? Informed ... well if she loves me I don't mind if the whole world knows ... ."
Darcy smiled slightly at this exuberant joy. It was wonderful to see the transformation in the younger man. He lowered his voice and assured his friend that the love he hoped for was waiting for him at Longbourn.
"Can you forgive me for making it so difficult for you? For being so wrong. I should never have interfered."
"You mean she was in town all those months and you concealed it from me?"
"Yes Bingley. It was most conceited of me. A decision based on a false assumption on the nature of your true feelings ... and Miss Bennet's. It was very wrong of me and I apologise."
Bingley was accompanying Darcy to his coach. He hardly believed his ears and had to ask again.
"You admit you were in the wrong?"
Darcy looked seriously at his friend.
"Utterly and completely!"
"Then ... I have your blessing?"
Darcy could not hide a tiny smile at the trust Bingley still had in him. He raised one eyebrow to tease him a little.
"Do you need my blessing?"
"Hrm, no ... but I should like to know I have it all the same."
Darcy was about to step into his carriage. He smiled encouragingly.
"Then go to it, man!"
Bingley stood in amazement at the turn of things and watched Darcy give him an affectionate glance through the coach window. Then the door was closed, the horses were urged to get going and he was off. Bingley looked around him and made a quick decision.
"Get me my horse; at once!" he shouted. "Quick man!"
Even if he was not too happy to leave, Darcy was feeling more easy than he had done waking up this morning. Now there was to be another trying period of waiting until Bingley was settled as the fianc» of Miss Bennet.
There was a tug at his heartstrings when the coach passed the turning that led to Longbourn. How are you this morning, Miss Elizabeth Bennet? Are you awake or ... still asleep ..."
He sighed, but the next minute, determined to keep up his spirits he chuckled at a memory. ' No, more likely you are already out to scamper about the countryside and get all muddy ... and rosy."
Irresistibly he let his eyes search the meadows outside the carriage, looking for a single, strenuous figure climbing a hill or collecting rose hips along the road. He did not give up hope until the coach had been on the road for a quarter of an hour.
Part VIII--Are The Shades Of Pemberley To Be Thus Polluted?
Darcy was writing a letter to Bingley. He wondered how his friend was doing. In all likeliness he was engaged by now and enjoying the manifold pleasures of a frequent association with his fianc»e. Darcy put the pen down and stared in front of him without focusing.
One day soon he himself would return to seek the company of Elizabeth Bennet. How he wanted to go there at once. It was insufferable to be so far from her, he had not seen her for eleven days... and he had not talked to her for what seemed an eternity.
The familiar restlessness came over him. He walked over to throw himself on his bed. There was nothing worth doing this day. He might as well spend the whole of it in thoughts of her.
The last time he was in the same room with her, there had been a large party present to ruin every possibility for a private exchange. He wanted to have her to himself, to be able to talk to her and hopefully retrieve the ... warmth of their relation at Pemberley. He wished to know her opinions and enjoy her spirits every day. He had not fully realised at the time, how lucky he was to meet with her so frequently in the woods around Rosings.
To have that sparkle lit in her eyes as she conjectured a new way of teasing him. Now his thoughts were brought upon the matter, he realised it was some time since last she did that!! Not at Pemberley? Not to any extent that he could recall ... . Peculiar! Why was this?
He remembered her impertinence from Kent, before he spoiled it all by his insensitive move. But after that he seemed to remember her less outspoken, more pensive, sometimes to make him suspect she was shy or ... even uncomfortable in his company?
His days were once again devoted to a sort of endless waiting. He had been in this state for nearly a year but this last week had been more acutely trying to his patience. After he left Netherfield, he did not bother to go as far as Derbyshire, he just stayed in town where he had some business, though not nearly enough to keep him occupied.
He placed his hands under his head while comparing his complete admiration for her now with the amazed bewilderment from the first weeks of his knowing her. He pictured her smiling face against the green velvet of the canopy. He had indeed struggled in vain! Attempting at first to look upon her as an unpolished girl with country manners. Trying to deny his ever increasing fascination with her. All the time aware that something was stirring deep down inside him. That unaccustomed sense of joy from being near her. The unfamiliar feeling of intense anticipation at the next day. The pleasure from being the target of her witty arrows. The suddenness and impropriety of certain thoughts ... .
There was a knock at the door and his valet entered to inform him that Lady Catherine de Bourgh was downstairs wishing to see him.
A puzzlement was upon Darcy the minute he got notice that his aunt had arrived to visit him without any previous announcement! He was in a profound state of doubt as to her errand.
It was indeed only rarely that Lady Catherine de Bourgh saw fit to honour London with her glorious presence. The fact that her daughter had never participated in social life had rendered her less anxious to mingle in high society herself. She did not approve of obtrusive inquiries on the subject of Anne's delicate health.
Darcy was familiar with this preference of Her Ladyship's and so his curiosity was immediately aroused.
It was rather early on the day for a visit, and Darcy, having recently returned from his morning ride and now in the middle of washing himself and changing his clothes to have a somewhat belated breakfast, had been in no particular hurry. Acting on an impulse he had commenced that letter to Bingley, with the intention of inquiring after the latest news from Hertfordshire, but now he hastened to make himself presentable. There would be plenty of time to finish the letter.
He knew Bingley had every intention of proposing within a few days after he left and he would not return himself, until he knew Bingley was happily engaged to Miss Bennet. Hence the letter to ascertain how matters of the heart were advancing.
He ran down the stairs straightening his cravat. Why was it, that every time he was about to meet his aunt, he felt momentarily reduced into the schoolboy she had once ordered about.
No my precious aunt, those days are long since gone! He took a deep breath and straightened himself up full length before he entered the morning room, where she was awaiting him.
"Ah, my dear nephew! How are you this morning? I understood from your man that you have made a late start this day. I hope you are not unwell!"
Darcy bowed graciously to her with an inward sigh at her overpowering tirade. Also he was somewhat annoyed by the implication that he ought to be prepared to receive his aunt whenever it pleased her to pay him a visit. Partly against his will, he was answering her in a defensive mood.
"I am recently back from my habitual morning ride, dear aunt. You need not worry about my health. I am perfectly well. I just saw fit to postpone breakfast, since I am on my own and can do as I choose." He stressed those last words hardly perceptibly.
"So I gathered. May I join you for a cup of tea ? I think I could do with one. I am only just arrived in town."
Darcy was all astonishment!
"You came this morning! You must be exhausted."
He was about to ask the reason for her haste to visit him, but on second thought he knew that he would soon be informed. Whatever accusations could be made to his aunt, she was not given to secrecy in her doings, she was rather bent on informing her company about all of her undertakings. Then he recalled her question and obligingly added.
"But of course aunt! Let's have some breakfast shall we."
His good manners made him smile towards her while offering his arm to escort her into the breakfast room.
"We shall soon learn what cook has prepared for us, and if there is something missing, just let me know and I shall see to it."
Lady Catherine moved over to the sideboard and poured out her tea. Then she took a plate and started to investigate the hot contents in the silver line of deep dishes.
"You might perhaps wonder at my coming here in such haste and without any previous notice, Darcy."
She looked at the ham and eggs on her plate in approval and brought it back to the table. As she sank down on her chair she exclaimed.
"I fear that time might be crucial and so decided to come directly to London from Hertfordshire. I come to advise you on a matter of urgency.
"I stayed the night a few miles outside town at the Inninghams, who most generously put me up. This morning however, I left their estate rather early, for I could get no peace and you know how late they serve breakfast, it seems to be quite the fashion. So I wrote a letter of gratitude apologising for my haste and left.
"It is outrageous by the way how many insolent farmers with their overloaded carriages and lazy horses are permitted to take up the space on the road. Decent people can hardly travel these days."
Darcy who had been stirring the milk in his teacup had stopped to face his aunt in utter amazement at her mentioning of Hertfordshire. Her ramblings gave him no opportunity to inquire after the reason for her trip until she had to catch breath.
"From ... Hertfordshire? I was not aware that you had acquaintances in that part of England."
"I do not and I am glad of it. From my experience that county has little to recommend it!"
"But ... why then were you going there?"
He knocked the top off an egg but looked incessantly at her.
"A report of the most alarming nature had reached me a few days ago, and I thought it best to see to the matter at once."
Darcy had not had much time to reflect on the pieces of information he had got so far and all he could come up with were vague guesses. An incredible suspicion about the possible nature of her errand began to form. But he let her continue.
"I was informed that your young friend, Mr. Binkley was about to marry a young woman from a family of nobodies, whom no one ever heard of ... . Much as I pity his sisters I did not at first consider that a concern of mine. Until I was further enlightened ... Rumours have it that her sister, Miss Elizabeth Bennet, you remember the cousin of Mr. Collins back at Hunsford ... well that she is determined to rake in an even greater catch! Yourself, my dear nephew!! What do you think of that?"
She stopped for a second to give him a questioning look but she was too agitated to stay silent. Darcy was utterly amazed and he could not think were she had heard this. He managed to look indifferent and muttered something indistinct.
"I did not believe a word of it of course, but I know the vicious nature of some of these young upstarts and I think it is better to put an end to such malicious rumours. That's why I went to see Miss Bennet. But I am most seriously ..."
"You did WHAT??"
Darcy could not believe he heard her right.
"I went to see her in her home. There is nothing improper about that. She was a frequent guest at Rosings last spring ... "
She looked searchingly at Darcy and wondered why he looked so upset.
"You must remember, she was there during your stay. I found her quite amusing at the time. She is a young woman of decided opinions and not one of those whining affected girls that care for nothing but ribbons and lace! But I am sad to inform you, that she has lost her sense of proportions and turns out to be rather cunning."
Darcy had no control over his mind and tongue to enable him to answer his aunt. In his head the thoughts were running wild trying to imagine the scene back at Longbourn. He stammered almost against his will.
"You say you have ... met Miss Bennet. Am I to understand ... you brought this ... subject up in front of her family ...?"
"No no, I know where prudence is called for, it would not do to spread these scandalous rumours any further. Servants might be eavesdropping and ... . No, I told Miss Bennet to show me their hmpf ... garden, ... there were some trees ... and flowerbeds, but it was certainly small mind you. However there was a little wilderness further from the house and it was secluded enough for my purpose. It was able to offer the privacy required ... But have you not visited the Bennet family during your stays at your friends estate, Netherham is it? I got the impression you had ... ?
Darcy did not even pretend he was eating breakfast any more, but was attentively listening to her every word. Elizabeth, my lovely, what did she say to you ?
He recollected himself to answer.
"Why yes, I have been visiting them and in my opinion the two eldest sisters are very different from the rest of the family. Sensible and well behaved. I do not believe deception to be in their nature ..."
"Sensible? Well behaved? You would say that, my boy! Anyhow, I had intended to talk some sense into this young person ... to tell her, that she must never again mention your name in connection with her own, that you are in fact already ... more or less engaged to Anne and that every rumour of this nature could do nothing but damage to everyone concerned!"
By now Darcy's face was betraying some of his agitation, and he could feel an anger building up deep down inside him. But he decided to hear her out and only uttered.
"I take it, your intentions were ... hindered?"
"Oh yes!! Miss Bennet is ... a most irritating person, she was not in the least aware of the pretentious nature of her scheme ... ."
"Her ... scheme ...?"
He stammered in disbelief.
"Oh, I am sure you know nothing of it. She has been hiding it from you. Men are so gullible, never very good at detecting such things ... . The more I spoke with her the more alarmed I was! I began by asking her to contradict the rumour at once, ... but she refused. Then I asked her if you had ... made her an offer ... "
She waved her hand to silence his obvious indignation.
"Wait Darcy, please hear me out."
He placed his fist in front of his mouth as if to hinder his agitation from bursting forth. His aunt gave him a look of understanding and carried on.
"I am a married woman of some maturity, Darcy. I know what the arts and allurements of these women can do to a man, what they can make him promise when he is ... not himself ... . A shameless woman can easily get the better of a young man. You need not blame yourself."
He was now unable to remain seated, but got up to pace the room. His face was blushing from Lady Catherine's description of his helplessness at the mercy of Elizabeth Bennet. It was an insult to her of course, but there was some truth to it. He really believed, she could prevail upon him to do a great many things, if she choose to.
Then he remembered what his aunt had asked Miss Bennet, and his eyes were again looking fixedly at Lady Catherine. He did not think she would have exposed him willingly, but he could imagine how his aunt had pressed her.
"What did Miss Bennet say?"
"The impertinent girl! She would not answer, said something like Your Ladyship may choose to ask me things, which I might choose not to answer. Imagine such impudence!"
He could imagine, and though his inner turmoil was severe, he had to hide a smile from emerging at this proof of her strength.
"However I made her answer a direct question if you were engaged, and to my great relief, she had to admit you are not. So if you believed yourself trapped in her web, you may now feel relief.
"But .. and this is vital, Darcy, and the reason why I am in such a hurry. I think, that apart from your telling her off, you must refrain from every association with this woman until your own life is finally in order. I know this is awkward since your friend is to marry her sister, but if we were to announce your engagement to Anne, every danger would be gone. You might even be able to attend the Bingley wedding."
The revelations of his aunt had almost made him forget his anger at her self-imposed duty to mingle in his private life and bother Miss Bennet. He wanted to hear everything, that had been said during their meeting and so modified his statement.
"Aunt Catherine. I must tell you that I am perfectly capable of managing my own life and that I need no protection from you or anyone else. I understand you act in what you consider to be my best interest, but may I point it out to you, that I, myself am the best judge of my own wishes. As for your opinion of Miss Bennet, I must object ... "
His aunt had listened to him with an air every second more displeased and now she interrupted him.
"No no, you must hear me out, I am not finished. When I asked Miss Bennet to make me a promise that she would never enter into an alliance with you ... she refused!! She is still determined to draw you in, I am almost certain of it."
His heart overturned in his chest at this disclosure and he cried.
"I can see you are as shocked by her pretentious behaviour as I am. Oh yes, she said, she would make no such promise and later, when I asked her if she was determined to ruin your future ... I was exaggerating perhaps, but there was no need to spare her ... .Do you know what she said?"
No, I ... but tell me, for I am most anxious to hear it.
"I am only determined to act in that manner which will constitute my own happiness, without any consideration for Your Ladyship or anyone else so wholly unconnected with me. And she had the nerve to tell me that she would not let me importune her any further. She said, that I had insulted her ... that she must ask me to leave.
"What do you say to that? How dared she address me like that? She has no idea who she is or indeed who I am. Or perhaps she is counting on a successful end to her foul plans. I remember her saying that the wife of Mr. Darcy must have such extraordinary sources of happiness, she was referring to Pemberley and your money no doubt! I never met a more self-assured and unfeeling young woman. She even said it would be no degradation for you to marry her."
Oh my God, she said that? She did not contradict the thought. She did not denounce me! It is ... it is as if she left a door half open ... I must go there at once. I can wait no longer, not another day. First thing tomorrow morning.
My beloved. I must be brave and renew my proposal. What if she says no, my life will be miserable. How could I bear to live without her. But her answers to my aunt all point in another direction. What would constitute your happiness, Elizabeth? Tell me and I shall do my utmost to let you have it. It seems she does not totally object to me, to the thought of my becoming ... . It is possible she might love me enough to be my wife. She can not possibly love me like I love her, but I shall spend the rest of my life taking care of her. Proving myself worthy of her love. ...extraordinary sources of happiness!! I know she does not mean money ... what can she mean? Good God how I long for her... .
"Really Darcy, your comments are beginning to annoy me. Have you nothing else to say to her outrageous conduct. Do you realise the danger you are in. Even if her plans are thwarted, the slander and gossip is not to be neglected. Our family reputation has always been impeccable, and I am sure you would not want it soiled. You must put her off and make her stop persecuting you.
"I also think it is about time that your engagement to Anne is made public. That will prove an efficient shield for you in the future. No more will you be bothered by those adventuresses and greedy daughters of upstarts."
The voice of his aunt brought Darcy back from his thoughts. The part of her speech, that reached his ears, made him answer.
"I am a grown-up man, Lady Catherine and have been so for years, though you tend to ignore the fact. Since you brought the matter up, let me take this opportunity to inform you once and for all, that I have no intention of marrying my cousin. I never had. Much as I respect and admire Anne as a sister, I could never consider her for a wife."
"You don't know what you are saying. I absolutely refuse to listen to you. I understand that this has been an alarming revelation for you. You are upset and perhaps you are not able to think soberly. But let that matter rest at present.
"My mind is made up Aunt, I assure you. But we need not dwell on the matter now."
"Well ... no. For the time being I only ask you to sort things out with this young person in Hertfordshire. There must be no remaining ambiguities between the two of you. Make every effort until you are certain that she understands your wishes and agrees with them. Once that is settled I am sure you shall be able to meet the future with complete confidence."
"I believe you are right Lady Catherine. For once I think we are of one mind. I shall sort things out and make sure she knows my wishes! And if possible have her agree to their being carried out before long."
His mind seemed to be suddenly inclined towards merriment, which made Lady Catherine somewhat suspicious and caused her to give her unpredictable nephew yet another piece of advice.
"Darcy, beware! Even if you know her nature, she may still surprise you. Take care that you do not stay too long and do not allow her to tie you to her apron strings."
"I guess you are right Lady Catherine. She may very likely surprise me."
That is one of the things I love about her. But I do not think she would consider having me tied to her apron. It is not in her disposition. Even though I would be her slave if she ... .
"I see no reason for amusement. You seem to think me cautious to a fault. But Darcy, I implore you, do not underestimate the danger you are facing. This young person is rather intelligent. She strikes me as someone who knows exactly what she wants, and I am certain she has got yet another plan to secure her spoils.
"You must use the utmost caution, she might even be willing to risk her reputation by attempting to compromise you, slyly calculating that your honour as a gentleman and your regard for your family name, would make you feel the obligation to marry her. Oh ... I can not speak more plainly ... you do understand do you not ...? What I mean is ... do not get anywhere near her. Her power of seduction may prove fatal ... ."
Darcy had been listening, but of course he did not take his aunt's warnings seriously. Nor did it infuriate him to hear her slander his beloved. It was all too absurd, and Lady Catherine had always been blunt in private. He understood that she had been defeated by Elizabeth Bennet, and he did think that she might live to regret her words.
Instead her hints on the possible dangers awaiting him in Hertfordshire made his mind take a most agreeable turn. I wish she had a plan and that I knew what she wants, ... and if she would be so good as to compromise me ... I would enjoy every second of it, I am sure ... I am afraid you would not approve of my intentions at all, my dear aunt. Were I to inform you that I am determined to get as near to Miss Bennet as she will allow me.
He drew a deep breath and, throwing a glance at the unappetising display of cold ham and dried egg on the untouched plate of his aunt's, suggested,
"Now allow me to ring the bell for some hot food and fresh coffee!"
After rubbing his hair with the towel, he threw it on a chair and reached for the clean shirt, put out by his valet, in order to get dressed. When his head emerged from within the white linen fabric, his eyes, like so many times before, fell on the painting.
It was certainly well known to him. Yet it was never quite the same. Many a late evening had he lost himself in contemplation of the woman portrayed on it. The paleness of her averted face, faintly outlined behind the dark strands of hair blowing over it, never ceased to fascinate him. She was not facing the beholder, but caught by the artist as she was turning away from him. There was a loneliness to the entire figure. The thin cloth of her soft dress, particularly the wide skirt, was torn at by the wind and also in folds pressed tightly to her form, sometimes giving him the impression, that she was having some difficulty to stand upright braving the force of a gale.
He called it Lady In The Breeze, for when he first saw it and got to like it, he supposed the wind to be softly caressing her. It was not until he met with Elizabeth Bennet again at Pemberley, that he realised there was some resemblance to her. A letter was then promptly written to the Academy of Art, commissioning them to contact the artist and buy it.
Darcy was buttoning his waistcoat, when the musing expression on his face changed from the glimpse of a quick smile. He took a few steps backwards intently looking at the lady, as if to make sure his eyes were not deceiving him. Some words escaped him.
"Why did I never see that before?"
He moved in front of the painting observing it from different angles and mumbling to himself. He was thoroughly amazed by his discovery. Ever since he first looked at this portrait, he had always believed her to be turning away, but this evening it struck him, that she might very likely be about to face him!
"Why not? It is indeed possible."
He finished his dressing and after one last meditative gaze at his Lady In The Breeze, went downstairs to have dinner with Lady Catherine. He felt perfectly capable to endure any further advice from her in connection with his return to Hertfordshire.
Sequel: Heartfelt Delight
© 1997 Copyright held by author