Yes, we sprinted again. 1,088 words this morning. Have you read anything by Nicole Clarkston? She’s a brilliant author. Oh, my! Wait until she is finished with the two she is currently writing. They are AMAZING!!! Her North and South adaptation will make you sob. Her Pride & Prejudice variation? I can’t quit laughing. You may think I’m sprinting to get my own book done. Nope! I’m trying to get her to finish hers so I can read the ending.
Here’s chapter five. We are sprinting again in the morning. Each of my chapters is approximately 3,000 words so, unless I get more time to write during the day, it will be a few days before the next chapter. Of course, I’m a bit anxious to see what Darcy and Lizzy will do next in my own story. Time for you to read and me to write, I think.
If you are starting from the begging, here is the link to Chapter One: Chapter One
Impressions filled Darcy’s mind. The comfort of books warred against the chaotic disorder of the shelves and small tables. The smell of leather and paper was tainted by dust and stale tobacco. The relaxed countenance of the Master of Longbourn clashed with that of his daughter, Miss Elizabeth. She stood fierce.
Momentarily, she had clutched the ledger to her chest, her chin slightly lifted and her eyes on fire. Darcy wanted to run his finger under his collar to loosen the sudden tightness, grateful her glare was not leveled at him. When she turned to carefully place the accounting book in its place on the shelf, he could not fail to notice how ordered that particular section of the library was. Was she responsible for their care? How peculiar!
The light seemed to dim when the door closed behind her. Darcy turned his attention to Mr. Bennet. When they left the room almost an hour later, he knew where the elder Bennet sisters gained their intelligence.
Bingley had been correct; all five daughters were an amalgam of their parents. Miss Bennet and the two youngest had the fair hair and coloring of their mother. Miss Elizabeth and Miss Mary both had the dark tresses and eyes their father would have had in his youth. While the two youngest were flighty, boldly improper, and lacked innate intelligence like their mother, the three other ladies held the quiet wit of their sire.
He had been unpleasantly shocked at the sarcastic barbs in Mr. Bennet’s conversation. Both he and Bingley had the advantage over the Master of Longbourn. A man with five unmarried daughters should have done all he could to curry favor with the gentleman present in his library. Instead, it was as if the father wished them gone so he could return to his reading.
Darcy had long entertained himself with the study of characters. He found the residents of Longbourn interesting. Speculating on what he had learned thus far, he wondered at Miss Bennet not yet being wed. With several years in society, she was either extremely picky when it came to a mate, or there was something wrong with her that forced a gentleman to cast her off despite her appearance. She was an attractive female who many a gentleman, including Bingley, would want on their arm. Yet, what had stopped men from offering for her? Was there a defect not yet apparent? With a mother who shoved her eldest in front of potential suitors, why had there been no success?
And, Miss Elizabeth, she, too, was a puzzle.
The last woman he had seen with estate books in her hands was his own mother. Her interest in every aspect of the running of Pemberley had made for delightfully rich conversations his parents had shared with Darcy. From infancy he was the recipient of two responsible adults who deeply cared for their good name, their home, the prosperity of those under their care, and their son.
What other ways was Miss Elizabeth Bennet like Lady Anne Darcy? For a certainty, she was not the daughter of an earl, but she carried herself with regal confidence while not being overbearing or filled with conceit.
He was impressed that she had so quickly made a positive impression upon him. Of course, she would never be the future Mistress of Pemberley. Ever! He would need to leave this portion of Hertfordshire if he was to find a bride with the elevated rank needed to be a fitting bride to a Darcy.
He needed to ponder his next step without the constant interruption of Miss Caroline Bingley. Thus, upon returning to Netherfield, he requested his mare be saddled for a hard ride across the fields. Solitude and pounding speed would provide the perfect setting to meditate on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman could bestow. Not that he would ever marry her, of course.
It was too bad, he mused. She had many appealing aspects to her character. Nevertheless, her position in society was far inferior to his own. He would need to look further afield.
Rushing up the stairs to his guest room, he quickly changed and set off on his task. In just under ninety days his sister would reach her sixteenth birthday. He needed a wife and he needed her quickly.
Little time passed before Elizabeth was angrily striding away from the house, following the line of trees east of Longbourn. So well-trod was the trail, barely a blade of grass could be found as one of her feet was place in front of the other with a vengeance. Therefore, she was completely unaware when she rounded a corner that she was not the only person, or creature, on the footpath.
“Mr. Darcy!” He sat astride his mount.
“My apologies for startling you, Miss Elizabeth. I failed to anticipate anyone other than myself on this route.” He immediately glanced behind her to see if she was accompanied, tipped his hat to leave when he realized she was not, then reconsidered. Rather than retreat, which was his habit when an unattached woman was in his presence, he swung his left leg over the saddle to dismount.
What was he about? His mind screamed at him. For almost every second of every day since he inherited, he avoided unmarried women. As a whole, he found them to be nasty creatures with little moral substance, even littler intellect, and single-minded in their pursuit of a mate—in particular a wealthy one.
However, he would wed a shrew before he lost the care of his dear sister, who, in her own way, had acted as female as the rest when she foolishly agreed to an elopement. Do girls think of anything other than marriage?
Darcy looked closely and discovered her hands fisted on her hips, her chin jutted out, and her lips tightly compressed together. He recognized the signs, she was livid.
Oh, Good Lord! Had he said that out loud?
“Miss Elizabeth, I…”
“Do not pretend contrition.” Her chin rose, and he felt threatened by this sprite of a young lady. As had flashed through his mind earlier, she was fierce. An Amazon woman!
He shook his head to clear his vision.
Her form was light and pleasing, the top of her head would not quite reach his chin should she stand in his embrace. He groaned aloud at the thought. Even under the stress of the moment, he knew his mind should not have gone there.
“Trust me, Miss. There is no pretence.” Whipping off the glove on his dominant hand, he rubbed his palm over his mouth, possibly to contain any other unexpected outbursts that would embarrass him further. “I offer you my sincerest apology.”
She snorted. “Sincere it may be but humble it is not.”
Her eyes blazed. She looked like his mental image of the Roman goddess Diana, the Huntress.
“I beg your pardon.” Bowing deeply, he wondered if she questioned his intellectual acuity. He would have done. Shaking his head, he decided to begin again. “My mind was not agreeably engaged and the surprise of coming upon you unexpectedly has, from all appearances, unhinged my tongue. Nevertheless, should you choose to answer my misspoken question, I would be grateful.”
During the pause, she studied his face. He felt exposed and desired nothing more than to jump back on his horse and ride like the wind to a distant location where he could hide himself from the probe of her eyes.
Finally, she spoke. “I assume, from your question, that you are often pursued as a prospective mate. Thus, you have come to view my sex as predators rather than seeing us for the individuals we are. Am I correct to this point?”
He had to admit she was spot on, so he nodded.
“Then, you have lumped all women into a mold of your own design, one that flatters your standing as superior, as if a man only can be varied in his interests. Am I still in the right?”
He knew better than to nod. In truth, he had no clue how to respond.
“Pray, Mr. Darcy, might I share with you my opinions of the male population as bluntly as you have done mine?” Before he could answer, she continued. “For I view them…you… in the same measure as you do us. I find men to be unbending, selfish, discriminatory, arrogant, prideful, callous, uncaring, and ignorant as to the affairs of their own household. Now, what have you to say for yourself, sir? Can you adequately defend yourself against my charges?”
Her countenance showed her confidence in her belief that he would fail should he try.
“I do not believe I can.” He honestly admitted. “Nonetheless, you are excessively harsh, Miss Elizabeth, as…”
She sneered, and he knew he was in trouble. “She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me. I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men.”
“What? How?” He clasped his hand over his mouth so hard he could feel the sensitive skin behind his lips press into his teeth. His humiliation was complete. “You heard. I understand why you think ill of me.”
“Those were not the words of a gentleman.” She huffed. “Do you wonder, then, why I easily lump you in with every other stubborn male of my acquaintance? A woman has little protection against the whims and opinions of the men in her household. Thus, a female with the full use of her thinking faculties will not rush into attaching herself to just anyone who comes her way. You see, sir, daily we may spend hours tending to our needlework as expected by society, receiving callers who share the news of the neighborhood. Our lives may appear, to an ignorant eye, to be stagnant and useless, yet, I know of not one female who does not long for something more.”
This must be the reason the eldest Miss Bennet was unwed.
Wait! What? Something more? He had to ask. “Such as?”
Sweeping her hands out to the side, she replied, “We want the same as you, I would imagine. A secure, comfortable home filled with happiness and joy. Good health for ourselves and our family. Wealth enough to sustain us. A sense of purpose. A measure of adventure. A lifetime of learning new things and experiencing life to the full. We do not want oppression, nor do we want to have our opinions disregarded. Like you, we know our worth and we long for someone to recognize and acknowledge the same. Are we so different?”
He studied her as intently as she had done him. To his shame, he had grouped all females into the opinion of being, in all honesty, boring. Shaking his head as he finally realized the accuracy of her words, he admitted, “No, we are much the same.”
“You are surprised, are you not?” Her head tilted as the sunlight sparkled from her irises.
“I am, indeed.” Unintentionally, he stepped closer. He wanted…no, he needed to fix this if possible—to repair her low opinion of him. “Besides my horrid comment at the assembly, which I now discern was blatantly untrue, is it your father, then, who has caused your turmoil and pain?”
His question was boldly done. Nevertheless, he cared for her answer because he knew at that moment in time that it would reveal much about her character.
Ah! Pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place. “Your father is pressuring you to act in a manner against your nature.”
Her head bobbed up and down.
“Mine, although he has been gone these five years, is doing the same.”
He had her full attention.
“According to his Last Will and Testament, I have eighty-nine and a half days to take a bride or I lose guardianship of my beloved sister to a relative who would make Georgiana’s life a constant misery.”
“Then your situation is much worse than mine, Mr. Darcy. Eventually, I will marry or take up a position to support myself. Either will change my circumstances although both would put me under the authority of another male, most likely. Yours will tie you for a lifetime to a mate who may or may not bring you happiness. I do prefer my circumstance over yours, sir. While my situation is not currently ideal, I am loved by my father.”
“Then, you are blessed.”
She turned from him, her gaze distant. “Yes, I suppose I am.” Still, she looked away. “I have witnessed marital felicity and it is a thing of immense beauty and value. My uncle and aunt are both intelligent souls who are entirely devoted to each other. My uncle works hard so his family prospers. With that said, he places his wife and children as a priority to pursuing wealth. They live together, laugh together, and love together.”
“Ah, yes. I understand.”
“Do you, sir?”
Darcy nodded. “My father was much the same. His efforts to build Pemberley’s coffers were not at the expense of time spent with my mother, my sister, and me. He was, as you described your uncle, devoted.”
“You loved your father.”
He appreciated that her comment was not in the form of a question as it indicated her comprehension of the relationship.
“I did, very much.”
“And, you have made it your goal to emulate him?”
“Harrumph!” Her eyes pinned him to where he stood. “Can you say that your father had the same low opinion of the female sex as you do? For, I cannot begin to imagine, if he truly valued your mother, that he thought of her as nothing but a brood mare who darned stockings and embroidered cushions.”
“Never!” He scoffed as memories flooded his vision. “My father would have felt the ire of my mother had he not cherished her.”
“Which is as it should be.” She chuckled.
Her smile was radiant, and he realized he was drawn to this slip of a girl. She unsettled him to the point he both wanted to be in her presence and wanted to remove himself quickly from in front of her.
Clearing his throat, he asked, “Do you not feel it imperative that a wife show her husband deep respect?”
“If he has earned such,” was her immediate reply.
“Ah, so you expect perfection in your mate.” He chided. “Then you will remain unwed, Miss Elizabeth, as a perfect man would expect a perfect wife, would he not?”
“Mr. Darcy, we have canvassed subjects that are typically unmentioned in polite society and neither of us have run from the topic. Therefore, I will ask you, daringly I suspect, what you look for in a bride?”
His horse snuffled, and he was grateful for the distraction. The question was critical to him. Darcy had given it much consideration over the past se’nnight.
“Miss Elizabeth, I see my future much the same as you see yours.” Taking the time to pull his glove back on, he selected his words carefully. This was no silly miss he could pass off with a trite comeback. “My mother was the daughter of an earl who well knew her position in society. My father, like me, had inherited our estate far younger than he had hoped. Both of my parents were strong-willed with even stronger opinions.” He felt the corners of his mouth lift. “I recall many times when they would clash against each other, voices raised and, in my mother’s case, arms flailing. However, as a child I never felt threatened by their disagreements as I understood they were, in their own way, trying to get their point across.” His eyes closed to better savor the memories.
“I have always assumed I would wed. Not for the sole purpose of providing an heir to my estates, although that is a consideration, but to have a lifetime companion, one to share both the joys and the heartaches of life. I see my wife as someone to take charge of my home, which would be wherever we are. We would consult together to determine where attention is needed and work together to see it done.”
“So, you do not see yourself as an autocrat?”
“An autocrat?” He was offended.
“You know, an absolute ruler of your domain?” Before he could respond, she snorted. “Sir, you appear surprised I am familiar with the word enough to use it appropriately in conversation.”
He wisely, he determined, remained quiet.
“My father’s library has several books on tsarist Russia and Byzantium.”
“As does mine. But, before we stray too far from our topic, I will resolutely confirm that I do not see myself as a tyrant over those who serve under my authority.” He was angry. Controlling his words was becoming more difficult by the second. “How dare you even use that word in reference to me. I have spent my lifetime seeing to the needs to my tenants, my servants, my sister, because they are important, not only to the welfare of my estate, but to me.” He poked his thumb at his chest, his irritation with her growing until he was forced to drop the reins and pace back and forth in front of where she stood. “When a man or a woman approaches me with a concern, I listen until I hear what it is they truly are asking of me. I would be a poor master, an ignorant man, if I arrogantly assumed I always knew what was best before comprehending the situation fully.”
He stopped in front of her, aghast. “You think this of me?”
Ignoring his question, she asked one of her own. “You listen?”
He threw his arms up in frustration. “Of course, I do!”
Her response was totally unexpected. She smiled until her cheeks bunched and her eyes…good heavens! Her eyes looked like pools of tranquility he could plunge into and be lost in forever.
“Then, sir, I will help you find a wife.”
“You?” Sudden hope filled his chest.
She laughed. Laughed! His embarrassment and disappointment were complete.
“Oh, no, never me, Mr. Darcy. After all, I am merely tolerable.”
He wanted to rip out his tongue.