Well, this is a surprise. I started typing this morning and could not seem to stop. Did Nicole and I sprint early today? Oh, yes.
Please understand that I am posting this raw. I have a beta reader who is reviewing the chapters but I am not waiting for her before I post. So, please forgive the errors. Without further ado here is chapter six.
If you missed the start of the story, here is the link to Chapter One: Chapter One
The noise coming from inside Longbourn was deafening. It was the work of a moment for Elizabeth to determine its cause. Jane had received an invitation from Miss Bingley to attend tea at Netherfield Park.
Their mother was fussing over her gown, tugging the neckline down while simultaneously puffing her sleeves. Both Kitty and Lydia complained at their not having been invited, while Mary silently went about the office of ignoring all that went on around her.
The look of panic her elder sister directed at her when Elizabeth stepped into the room moved her to come to the rescue. It would be hours before the carriage would need to be readied for the three-mile trip to the Bingley residence.
“Jane, you are positively giddy.” Elizabeth giggled when Jane sighed aloud for possibly the tenth time. The sisters were finally alone in their room under the guise of repairing a slightly misaligned hem.
“Am I?” The slight dip at the bottom of her skirt had been adjusted and she was staring out the only window in their bed chamber. “Most likely you are correct, Lizzy. After all, you usually are.”
Elizabeth snorted. “I would not say so myself, sister dear. As a matter of fact, a fact you might find of interest, I will confess for your ears alone that I may have been in error as to the officiousness of Mr. Darcy’s character.”
“What is this?” Jane spun towards her, her mouth dropped open and her brows almost to her hairline. “You no longer hate the man? How could this be?”
“Perhaps I have decided to emulate my roommate and learn to think well of everyone and believe that none have a flaw they cannot justify.”
“Never!” blurted Jane. “I know you, Lizzy Bennet. You have enough of our father in you that you see the world much differently than I. Although I am pleased to hear you are not bearing the heavy weight of a grudge, what has come over you to make this dramatic change?”
Elizabeth sat on the edge of her bed, grabbed her pillow, and held it protectively to her chest.
“Mr. Darcy must have jumped the fence line between our neighbor’s property and ours as he was riding along the path to Oakham Mount. We nearly collided, or rather, I nearly collided with the massive animal he was sitting upon.” She picked at the fabric of her skirt. “I was quite surprised when he dismounted rather than ride off when he became aware of my identity, but he did not. Instead, we had a lengthy conversation that revealed certain qualities about him I did not know existed.”
“You do not seem pleased.” Jane suggested.
“I do not know that I am.” Now it was she who sighed. “My displeasure with the gentleman fit as comfortably as my old wool coat. After his ugly comment at the assembly, I had easily tossed him into the quagmire with all the other men of my acquaintance who arrogantly assumed they were superior based solely upon their sex. Into the mixture were other men who are not so blatantly proud, but who refuse to acknowledge a lady’s opinion as worthy of note.”
“That reeks of bitterness, Lizzy.”
“I will admit,” she lifted her head to look directly at Jane, “I was bitter. Here was the handsomest, wealthiest, educated man to enter our sphere and he despised me from his first glance. Were my feelings hurt? Of course, they were. I vowed to myself to never forgive his slight and concluded the fault had to be his in an effort to preserve my own self-esteem.”
“Oh, Lizzy.” Jane rushed to sit alongside her. “You are lovely from head to toe. He must not have truly looked at you or he never would have said such cruel words.”
“Thus, speaks a sister who loves me.” Elizabeth clasped her sister’s hand in her own. “No matter. He has apologized most eloquently, well, in truth, it was a simple statement that had more meaning to me than had he written a sonnet begging my forgiveness.”
At her chuckle, Jane curiously inquired, “was that all you talked about?”
“No.” She pondered how much to share. “My dearest sister, I was quite surprised to find the man equal parts stoicism and…” Elizabeth paused to consider her thoughts carefully. She had reviewed each word spoken in the glen and had been stunned at how openly he had expressed himself. A man of his stature, the grandson of an earl, owed nothing to her, especially not a slight revelation into the emotions driving his decisions. “…and friendly.”
Jane nodded knowingly, as if Mr. Darcy had been the pinnacle of amiability equaling his close friend and host.
“We spoke of marriage, family responsibilities, expectations, and hopes.”
“Lizzy!” Her sister was quite shocked, a feeling Elizabeth also bore in her chest.
“I know.” She squeezed the hand held in her own. “I have determined to aid Mr. Darcy in a personal quest. He is in need of a wife and I promised I would filter through the unattached ladies of Meryton to see if there is a gem of the highest value who could tolerate such a man. So far, the only female who comes to mind is you.”
Jane’s chin dropped. “Me? And Mr. Darcy?”
Uncontained laughter burst from Elizabeth as she tossed the pillow aside. “Yes, Jane dear. You are the only person I know, either male or female, who would meet his exacting standards.”
“But I do not think of Mr. Darcy in that way.”
“Yes, I know. Your heart is already attached to Mr. Bingley.”
“Elizabeth Margaret Bennet!” Jane stood and faced her, hands upon her hips. “My heart, is no more secured to Mr. Bingley as yours is to Mr. Darcy.” She leaned forward, her face within inches of Elizabeth’s. Again, her mouth dropped open. “Oh! Oh! Oh! Or, have you given your heart to him and you are unwilling to admit it to me, or to yourself? Are you falling under his spell? Do you love him?”
“Ha! I do not know if I yet like the man, nor if I ever will.” Elizabeth confessed, her laughter gone. “What I am entirely confident of is that Mama is the last human on the planet who needs to know Mr. Darcy is seeking a bride. Could you imagine?”
Horror covered Jane’s beautiful face, her hand clapped over her mouth. She whispered, “Let this be our secret or she will have Lydia primped and polished and stuffed into the carriage with me for Netherfield.”
Elizabeth shuddered at the thought. Lydia and Mr. Darcy? Never!
Charles Bingley briefly studied the billiard table before lining up his shot. In his distraction, his cue clipped the ball, so it missed his target by several inches. Setting the long wooden stick aside, he refilled his brandy glass, offering to do the same for his friend.
Darcy shook his head before taking his turn in the game. His shot was direct and true, knocking two balls into the pockets.
“Your brain and your aim is upstairs in the guest room, I suspect.” Darcy mused.
“She is an angel, I say.” Bingley had no reason to deny his thoughts were with Miss Jane Bennet, currently ensconced in a bed chamber at Netherfield Park. She had not traveled by carriage to tea. Instead, she and her horse were soaked from the pouring rain by the time they arrived. Within an hour, the eldest Miss Bennet had been stricken with a dastardly chill. “I would much rather have her here under different circumstances, wishing she was not ill, yet I am glad to have her close.”
“Bingley!” Darcy growled. “Would you feel the same if it were Miss Lucas above stairs?”
“Miss Lucas? Why would you ask about her?” Bingley seemed truly surprised. “I mean, she is a lovely girl, a woman really, who assuredly has much to offer, but she is not my angel.”
“Then why did you flirt with her during the treasure hunt? You stood too close, you clasped her hand, you even embraced.”
“What? Embraced? I certainly did not!” Bingley was flabbergasted.
“Yes, Bingley, you did.”
“I meant nothing by it, Darcy. I was merely being friendly.” He insisted.
“We have spoken of this before, my man.” Had he been a younger relative, Darcy might have grabbed Bingley’s shoulders and shook until some sense settled into his skull. However, he breathed deeply instead, keeping his hands to himself. “You are playing a dangerous game. You are no longer at university nor do you have a father to step in to rescue you if need be. As a responsible land owner of the prominent house in the community, you should be a pillar, an exemplar of fine conduct for those reaching for your position to imitate.” At Bingley’s blank stare, he gave up. “I shall say no more.”
“But, you agree she is an angel, do you not?”
“I do not know her well enough to be able to give an honest response, Charles, and remind you that you do not know her well either.” Darcy rested the blunt end of the cue stick on the floor and leaned into it before continuing. “What I do know with confidence is that ladies are complex creatures. Any interaction we have with them needs to be well-thought-out in advance. Deciding who is the appropriate mate for us should be a matter of deep contemplation as we weigh how they personality would fit into our lives. They will not always have their youthful looks and their innocence as to marital expectations.”
“I am not speaking of the marriage bed, Bingley.” Darcy’s chin dropped to his chest. Breathing deeply to remove the frustration from his voice, he lifted his head to stare his companion in the eye and added, “Both the man and woman go into a marriage with certain…expectations of what our partnership will be. However, since we have never actually been wed, our expectations and hopes may be based on fiction rather than reality. We will only find out after spending months on end with our brides what our futures will hold.”
“You have a very cynical view of matrimony, Darcy, though I am not surprised you have given the subject considerable thought. Which might also explain why you are no closer to finding a mate then you were when we met over four years past.”
“Have you pondered what Miss Bennet hopes for in a marriage? Have you given any thought as to her expectations?”
“Why would I?” Bingley was flustered. “Is it not every girl’s dream to have a healthy, wealthy husband with a fine estate and enough funds in her reticule to purchase whatever her heart desires?”
“And this is the type of wife you are looking for?” Darcy was astounded. He should not have been surprised.
“What else is there?” Bingley’s arms stretched out from his side.
“What else? I will tell you what women truly want. They want the same as we do. A secure, comfortable home filled with happiness and joy. Good health for themselves and their family. Wealth enough to sustain them. A sense of purpose. A measure of adventure. A lifetime of learning new things and experiencing life to the full. They do not want their opinions disregarded. They know their worth and they long for someone to recognize and acknowledge the same. They want felicity and contentment, so their homes are filled with peace.”
Darcy wanted to slap his hands over his mouth. Those were Miss Elizabeth’s words, not his own.
“Opinions? I am not going to marry a woman with opinions.” Bingley chugged his brandy, disregarding the quality and the taste. “My sister, Caroline, has enough for a lifetime so I do not need another female in my house with opinions!”
“Then you have much to learn.” Suddenly, Darcy felt old and tired.
“And you know so much about women? I cannot fathom where you have gotten your information, Darcy. You rarely speak to a female, brushing them off like dust on your collar.”
Darcy tilted his head to acknowledge the barb had struck its target. Bingley was correct. That had been his habit. Yet, Darcy had learned a thing or two from speaking with Elizabeth Bennet. He now comprehended that being ignorant of a woman’s nature was a dangerous thing.
“Bingley, you will do what you will do. I believe we have canvassed this subject to the point where we need to speak of something else. Are you agreed?”
“I agree we should speak of Jane Bennet.” Bingley chuckled at the stern look Darcy wore.
By the end of the day, not only was Jane Bennet established in a guest room under the care of the local apothecary, her next youngest sister had joined her. Darcy could not believe his good fortune as he needed to know if she, knowing his desires, had found someone in the locality who would measure up.
However, Miss Bingley would not give them leave for any private conversation.
“Surely, your purpose in walking to Netherfield Park is rather obvious, Miss Eliza. Despite being a fine walker, there had to be a motive other than tending to your sister. After all, nobody dies from a cold.” Caroline sneered.
“I cannot imagine what you mean.” Elizabeth kindly responded.
Darcy recognized from their hostess’s posture—elevated chin, raised brow, stiffened spine, and hands clasped so tightly the knuckles were white—that her comment was meant to intimidate, something he doubted Miss Elizabeth rarely allowed to happen.
“You and your unwed sister, who has had how many seasons so far?”
Now, it was Miss Elizabeth whose hands were tightly fisted. Rather than provide a response, Elizabeth’s own chin shot up. What was arrogance in one was righteous anger in the other.
Miss Bingley continued prodding. “You both have easily positioned yourself in a household with two of the most eligible bachelors in the Kingdom. Your mother must be overwhelmed with joy at your accomplishments.”
“Bingley!” Darcy sharply whispered to get his friend’s attention. He needed to restrain his sister’s rude comments. Of course, Darcy felt regret at his own earlier rudeness towards Miss Elizabeth, but he had apologized. Caroline would not.
“I do not know, Miss Bingley, as I did not stop to inquire as to my mother’s attitude before I started for Netherfield Park.” Miss Elizabeth’s voice was calm. Yet, the signs of turmoil were there should one choose to observe. Darcy watched her like a hawk. “You do bring up a subject I would enjoy discussing with you and that is the London season.”
“I dearly love the season and imagine, more than anything else, you long to participate.” Miss Bingley again needled her guest.
“I cannot say that I long to participate. I am curious,” she paused until Caroline leaned forward in her chair, unwilling to miss a word. “How many seasons have you had?”
Darcy wanted to laugh. He heard Bingley’s soft chuckle. Miss Caroline Bingley was almost four and twenty years and had six complete seasons to make a match. Had she not aspired to the highest echelons by keeping her focus on the Darcy name, she might have made a successful match. Darcy’s shoulders spasmed at the thought of having her on his arm, in his home, and in his bed. Never!
Caroline slumped into the back of her chair. She had been bested at her own game.
He was proud of the young woman with the dark chestnut curls and flashing brown eyes. Darcy yearned to clasp Miss Elizabeth to him as Bingley had done to Miss Lucas during the treasure hunt. How inappropriate!
Miss Elizabeth? He had better watch himself around her. Dormant feelings were being stirred by this impertinent miss. While her circumstances kept her unqualified from becoming a prospect for marriage, she was worming her way into his heart, one inch at a time. Deciding William Shakespeare was wise when he wrote in Henry IV that “the better part of Valour, is Discretion”, Darcy stood, excused himself, and proceeded to leave the room.
Before he could take two steps, the butler approached with a man in his shadow.
“Mr. Bingley, sir.” He bowed, irritation at having the gentleman following him rather than waiting, as was proper, in the entrance hall. “Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam to see you.”
Bold as usual, the colonel did not wait to be presented. Stepping around the servant, he approached Darcy, shaking his hand. He did the same to Bingley and Mr. Hurst, who until this point had remained asleep on a sofa placed in the far corner of the room. Bowing to Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley, Richard finally turned to look at the room’s final occupant.
“Well, well, well. Who do we have here?” Stepping closer to Miss Elizabeth, he gave her a full courtly bow.
As hostess, Miss Bingley would have been within her rights to greet the colonel and offer introductions. Regardless, with the interest he was showing her foe, she pressed her lips together and turned her face away.
Darcy was shocked by her bad behavior. It could only mean that Caroline thought Miss Elizabeth to be a threat to her reaching her goal of wedding Fitzwilliam Darcy. How could that be? He had no interest in Bingley’s sister and only a slight inclination toward Bennet’s second child. Jealousy was an ugly thing.
Charles Bingley jumped to his feet after shooting a glare at his sister. Expressing good manners, he performed the necessary tasks so Richard and the true beauty in the room could become acquainted.
A sharp pain flashed across his chest when Miss Elizabeth smiled at his cousin. How could that be? She had not smiled at him like that until he knew her for almost a se’nnight. He wanted to growl. Yes, jealousy was, indeed, an ugly thing.