This story is consuming me!!! Help! I need time to do my taxes. Ha! I’ll get to them later.
If you are starting this story, here is the link to chapter one: Chapter One
“She is a lovely young lady, Darcy. I cannot imagine you could find better should you search the whole of the Crown’s territories.” Bingley was standing vigil outside Miss Bennet’s bed chamber in hopes of getting a glimpse of his ‘angel’, so the cousins were indulging in his brandy in the privacy of his study.
“How can you be certain, cousin? You spent less than thirty minutes in her company before you removed upstairs to refresh yourself from your trip.”
“Ah, you see, that is the point, my good fellow.” The colonel appeared far too contented since he would not be the intended groom. “While Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst turned their nose up at the dust and mud on my uniform, Miss Elizabeth overlooked the debris. As well, she engaged in pleasant conversation to welcome a guest, quite unlike our hostess. Therefore, it is easy to conclude that she has been raised with good manners and is the model of gracious hospitality.”
“Humph!” Darcy scorned Richard’s opinion with one emphatic exhale. “Little do you know.”
“She is not the epitome of decorum?” His cousin raised his brows and his glass at the same time.
“For a certainty, she is. Nonetheless, her mother and two youngest sisters are ridiculously vulgar while her father sarcastically shreds their esteem by laughing at them. Her middle sister disappears behind a book as soon as any required social activity is concluded. Only her eldest sister, who is currently lying upstairs in her sick bed, is on par with Miss Elizabeth’s ladylike behavior.”
“What does her family have to do with anything? You would not be marrying any of them? You would not have to see them once you took your bride to Pemberley.” Richard flicked his hand into the air. “It is not as if you care what society thinks about yourself, Darcy. Why would you care what they think of your wife or her family?”
“I care because anyone I bring into my home will affect Georgiana. Miss Elizabeth’s younger sisters are of the same age. They would be terrible examples for a girl who is far more a follower than a leader.” Fair was fair. Darcy felt it necessary to play the Devil’s advocate to counter-balance Richard’s praise.
“I love Georgie too, cousin. Nevertheless, I would have no qualms about bringing Miss Elizabeth into my home as a wife.”
“What?” Darcy met his stare. “You would offer for her after knowing her less than an hour? Are you crazed? Or, are you making this declaration because you are safely leaving with your regiment in less than a week with no necessity tied upon you to find a bride?”
Richard clutched at his chest. “That was cruelly done.”
Darcy apologized, then spied the twinkle in the colonel’s eyes. He was being teased.
“I am serious, Rich. Did she make that much of an impression upon you or are you merely trying to determine my response to her?”
He shrugged. “I suppose a bit of both, if the truth were known. She does seem like the most pleasant female company I have met in a long while. You could do worse, I imagine.”
“She has agreed to help me find a wife.”
“What?” Richard unsuccessfully tried to cough and swallow at the same time. “However did this come about?”
“We spoke earlier today about what constitutes a good husband or wife. I am confident she knows exactly the type of lady I require to be Mistress of my estates and sister to Georgiana.”
“I cannot begin to imagine how that particular conversation took place, Darcy. You are not known for your verbosity, so I wonder at the information you actually imparted and what her understanding is of what you did share.”
“We will have to see who she conjures up from the local society, will we not? Then, and only then, will we know if I clearly delineated my desires and whether or not she is wise enough to make the correct application, would you not agree?” Darcy was smug, and he knew it. He was entirely confident in his abilities to communicate information. He also had no doubt of Miss Elizabeth’s ability to comprehend his opinions. “She will be busy tending her sister while they are in residence. Yet, I expect her to use her time wisely while she sits alongside the bed watching Miss Bennet rest. You shall see, Richard. If there is an appropriate candidate to be found in Hertfordshire, Miss Elizabeth will find her.”
“I hope so.” Richard muttered. “I dearly hope so.”
“Is Miss Bennet much improved?” Darcy asked the next morning when Elizabeth entered the breakfast room.
Only Mr. Bingley and Colonel Fitzwilliam expressed interest in her reply. The others continued devoting their attention to their meal.
“I am sorry to say she is not.” Elizabeth had been unable to do anything to remove the darkness beneath her eyes, nor did she care enough to try. Jane’s restless, sleepless night had kept her awake, running up and down the stairs to refill the water pitcher to cool her sister’s brow. Had Miss Bingley but provided a maid for assistance, they both might have received a measure of rest. Nonetheless, she determined to be a proper guest by not complaining.
“Perhaps the apothecary could be called?” Darcy suggested.
“Thank you, sir. It would be a kindness.” She placed a slice of bread and jam on a plate and carried it to the only available seat—one next to the colonel. Before she could be seated by an attending footman, Mr. Bingley had signaled a message be sent to Mr. Jones, who had seen to the Bennet family care for her lifetime.
“Miss Elizabeth,” the colonel spoke softly. “Might you enjoy a brief respite from the sickroom for a stroll in the garden outside the drawing room? Possibly the cool morning air would refresh you until help arrives. In the meantime, the servant Miss Bingley has provided can recall you to your sister’s room immediately should there be a need.”
She did not know how to reply for the only ones to know Miss Bingley had been neglectful was the two of them. She chose not to embarrass her hostess.
“I thank you for the generous invitation, Colonel. I do not think I can be gone long from Jane. In fact, pray excuse me so I can return to her.” At that she stood and left the room.
The next morning, Elizabeth had much better news to share. Jane peacefully slept through the night which meant that she was also able to get some rest.
As she was finishing breaking her fast, the colonel re-issued his invitation. “Miss Elizabeth, might we take advantage of her improvement to share a moment in the garden? I understand from Miss Bingley that you are a prodigious walker.”
His smirk at their hostess guaranteed Elizabeth’s agreement. Anyone who could laugh, albeit silently, at Miss Bingley’s officiousness would be a proper companion for a ramble.
By the time they had their outerwear, Mr. Darcy had joined them. Since he would be walking outside, Miss Bingley hurried to ready herself for the excursion.
The four of them sorted themselves into pairs at Miss Bingley’s direction within minutes of stepping into the chill of the morning. Within moments, a disturbance at the stables had both men’s focus.
From the sounds coming from one of the stalls, an animal was in distress. Both Darcy and the colonel rushed to see the source of the problem. Elizabeth and Miss Bingley, out of curiosity, followed behind.
Before they could reach the building, a horse burst from the stable to run frantically in circles inside the attached arena, kicking its hind legs every few steps while tossing its head back and forth. Its agitation was evident in every bulging muscle as the stallion searched for escape. A groom followed with a rope twisted in one hand and a bridle in the other.
An older man leaned on the fence, stepping back each time the horse approached his section of the structure.
“What has happened?” Darcy demanded, as if it was his estate, his stable, and his horse.
Elizabeth noted the same arrogance she had observed in him at the Meryton assembly settle back upon his wide shoulders. It saddened her to see the harsh revelation that the man she had spoken to in the glen was the anomaly. This was the true Mr. Darcy. She felt the disappointment to her toes. She would not help him find a wife for she would attach no one she knew to such an antagonist.
Turning away to return to her sister, she stopped in place when he yelled, “NO!”. Was he speaking to her? Glancing back, she witnessed the unexpected site of him vaulting over the top rail and landing inside the wooden circle—with the out-of-control animal and a frightened young servant.
At the new disturbance, the horse stopped, as far away from humans as it could get within the confinement.
Elizabeth could see that Darcy looked at the animal, not the groom who was quickly leaving the area. Then, he did the unexpected. Relaxing his shoulders, he held his hands out, palms up as he moved slowly towards the horse, speaking words undistinguishable in their quiet.
The stallion’s ears twitched as he shifted his weight, swinging his head away from the approaching man. Darcy stopped and stepped back. From the tilt of his head, Elizabeth understood he was looking at the dirt rather than at the frightened eyes of the animal.
Colonel Fitzwilliam whispered, “step close, Miss Elizabeth, and watch.” His peaceful countenance and the slight grin on his face bespoke experience. He had seen this before.
The horse stood completely still. So did Mr. Darcy. While the animal’s focus volleyed between what the world offered outside the arena and Mr. Darcy, he stared at the ground somewhere at the front of the horse’s hooves.
“That’s Barnabas,” the head groom whispered to the colonel. “He’s a nasty piece of work for the stable hands but the ladies love him.” He tilted his heads towards the barn where servants were turning the mares into a field. “His get are strong and even-tempered, which is entirely against his character.”
“He has been abused, then,” the colonel offered.
“That he has.” The groom’s jaw tensed and so did the colonel’s. “He arrived in the past hour. He’s traveled far and should be worn out, but his stubbornness will not allow for his care.”
“Why did you take him?”
“Colonel, he cannot help how he has been treated. Mr. Bingley told me to do as I pleased. I pleased to offer the rascal a home.”
Darcy’s cousin nodded.
With a slight shift of its shoulders towards and a last look at Darcy, the horse dipped its head slightly. Darcy stepped closer until he could reach out and touch him. He did. He started at the withers, rubbing him as he walked around him, talking softly the whole time.
The older man softly chuckled. “That there is a horseman.”
Elizabeth had to ask, “Why do you say that?”
The man continued to watch the action inside the fencing as he replied. “An inexperienced, or uncaring man would pat the horse.” He scoffed. “Babies are to be patted, Miss. Horses? They can feel a fly land on their skin anywhere on their body. No, if you want them relaxed, you do as that man there did, you start at the spot their mother nuzzles them when they are just born, and you imitate that motion. This is a pleasant place for a horse.” He gestured towards the pair. “Look at the expression on his face. Where before there were wrinkles under the stallion’s eyes, showing his worry and distress, now they are gone. Watch his tail. See it swish? It means the pressure he felt inside the stable is released, which is the only way a horse learns.”
“I do not understand.” Elizabeth continued to watch Mr. Darcy. As she did so, a feeling of intense warmth permeated her body as she, herself, relaxed with the movement of his hands. Maybe he was not so arrogant after all.
“Horses are not like dogs, Miss, who would give up their life for their owner. A dog loves anybody with food and a scratch for their ears. Horses don’t love humans. They react to training, not emotions.” He gestured towards the animal. “If you make the right thing easy for them, they will do it. If you make the wrong thing hard work for them, they will no longer do it. That man in there knows that fact and is acting in a manner that puts a tired animal at ease. He is not asking him to move. He is not asking him to do anything contrary to his inclination. Therefore, the horse can trust him because inside, it’s what the horse wants to do.”
“No. He wants to stand there and get a good rubdown. He wants a little peace and quiet after finding himself in a new home with new people around him. And now that he is settled, he will want the grain he knows that lad already dumped inside the stall and he will want the fresh hay covering the floor.”
“Then you expect Mr. Darcy to be able to lead that animal right back to where all of this started to go wrong?”
“I do.” The older groom puffed out his chest as if he had been the one to calm the horse. His confidence in the outcome was not misplaced when Mr. Darcy stepped towards the stables and the horse took a step forward as well.
“You admire what was done here?” She had to ask.
“No, Miss. I admire the man.”
Her admiration for Mr. Darcy was growing. She was clueless how she felt about this constant fluctuation between him being someone she despised and someone she…well, she needed to ponder on what she witnessed in the arena.
“These four-legged creatures are intuitive just as we are. He watched the man’s body as he approached the same way the man did his. Was he aggressive? Angry? Confrontational? Belligerent?”
All terms Elizabeth had applied to Mr. Darcy since the assembly.
“Or, was he approachable, friendly, kind, and most importantly, gentle?”
Seeing Mr. Darcy through the eyes of the stallion was revealing. Layers of hard feelings and disappointment in his character were falling away until she no longer knew what to think. He was a complicated human, much as she thought of herself. Glancing at the colonel, she found him looking at her—smiling.
Taking up her needlework, she glanced at her sister. Two hours had passed since she had left the stables, yet she could not stop thinking about the man. In reality, her temperament was far more suited to the colonel’s openness. Nevertheless, her heart thumped when she thought of his cousin. Mr. Darcy! If only…
Miss Mary King, at a year younger than her, was a lovely young lady who had recently inherited a large sum from the passing of her parents. Recently arriving in the area to reside under her uncle’s care, Elizabeth had been impressed by her timid smile and calmness amidst the hustle and bustle of the Bennet females. Of all her sisters, Miss King reminded Elizabeth most of Jane. Like them, she had been raised the daughter of a landed gentleman, which made her equal to Mr. Darcy. Certainly, with her dowry, she would be a more acceptable match than any of the Bennets, who would receive fifty-pounds a year until their mother’s death whereupon they would share her portion of five-thousand equally with five sisters. It left only her charms to recommend her, something that paled alongside the sweetness of Miss King.
Yes, the young lady would make an appropriate wife for Mr. Darcy. Sadness filled her chest at the thought.
“Stop!” Elizabeth told herself. “He is not, nor never will be, for you, Elizabeth Bennet.” Then she chuckled at herself. “Do you even want him? Mr. Darcy? How could you?”
She heard the men before she saw them. Glancing out the bedside window, the colonel took the lead as Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley, and Mr. Hurst closely followed behind. Their mounts were already at a run as they rapidly moved down the gravel approach to Netherfield Park before veering into the field running west of the property. The sight of the men sitting comfortably in their saddles with their thighs clasped tightly…she cleared her throat only to admit, they were magnificent.
Earlier the colonel had proudly showed her what he called his most faithful companion—his horse. The bay mare had a slight limp from the journey to Hertfordshire, so the colonel chose to allow his rest. The dapple grey he currently rode was swift enough to keep his lead.
What is it about men and horses? Elizabeth reflected as their laughter filtered back to the house. Mr. Darcy laughing? At both the assembly and at Lucas Lodge, she would not have thought it possible. Yet, the unquestionable evidence was before her eyes and ears. She sighed. Would she ever be able to fully sketch his character? It would take forever, which might be the opportunity for Miss King, but not for her.
Unconsciously, she became aware of the silence. Then, the pitiful cries of a wounded animal warred with the panic of men. The sound of a horse’s pounding gait approaching the house and a man’s voice yelling for help, brought her to her feet. Quickly stepping to the window, she spied Mr. Bingley galloping at full speed towards them. Without thought, she ran out of the room to the front of the house in time to hear him barking orders.
A servant was dispatched for the apothecary while another was readying himself to speed to London. A surgeon and a rifle were needed. The colonel’s horse had stepped into a hole, falling before its rider could kick his way clear. Both had a bone sticking outside the skin of its leg. For the horse, it meant the sad end of its life. For the colonel, possibly the end of his career.