Blurb: Upon hearing that Fitzwilliam Darcy admires her, Elizabeth Bennet’s imagination rapidly comes to the decision to neither encourage nor discourage his attachment in order to allow her dearest sister more time to secure the man she loves. As Elizabeth tries to patiently wait for Jane and Bingley’s love to bloom, she finds a little scheming may have far reaching and unconscious effects.
Elizabeth was glad to escape the rooms of Netherfield. She intended to pick some of the last of the flowers in the nearby garden for Jane. Mr. Bingley provided plenty of hot house flowers for her but Elizabeth needed a reason to escape the other residents of the house. That all but Mr. Bingely wanted her away from them was very obvious.
Pushing any unpleasant thoughts from her mind she happily plucked the last blooms of mid-November in solitude until she heard the voices of Miss Bingley and Mr. Darcy. A sly smile crept across Elizabeth’s face. Were they out for a lover’s stroll?
“Have you anything else to propose for my domestic felicity?”
“Oh yes! Do let the portraits of your aunt and uncle Phillips sit next to your great uncle the judge. They are in the same profession you know, only different lines. As for your Elizabeth’s picture, you must have it taken, for who could do justice to those remarkable eyes?”
“It would not be easy, indeed, to catch the expression but their colour and shape and the eyelashes, so remarkably fine, might be copied.”
Elizabeth’s eyes widened in disbelief. Mr. Darcy admired her? She was so uncomprehending she could hardly guess who was alarmed more at the unexpected, but inevitible, meeting.
“Miss Eliza! I had no idea you were out for a walk.” Miss Bingley exclaimed.
Recovering quickly, Elizabeth replied, “Oh, I was only gathering a posy for Jane.”
“How does she do this morning?” Mr. Darcy politely inquired.
“She is improving quickly, thank you.”
“And have you no intention of walking then?” Darcy asked at the same moment Caroline spoke.
“Oh, I do hope she recovers soon.”
They both coloured and Elizabeth hid her smile.
Caroline began again. “Louisa and I were planning to visit dear Jane after I returned indoors.”
Elizabeth smiled in reply. “She would like that, thank you.”
Darcy interjected, “Why not visit with her now? It would allow Miss Bennet a more ample excursion. She has scarcely left her sister’s side and the exercise would do her well.”
“Oh, yes. Why of course. Do excuse us, Miss Elizabeth.” She began to turn but ceased when Darcy did not follow with her. “Mr. Darcy, I had thought you were returning as well.”
Elizabeth turned her face to avoid laughing.
“No, you know I always indulge in an hour’s exercise in the morning.”
Miss Bingley begrudgingly returned to the house and Elizabeth hoped Darcy would return to his walk.
“Do you not feel a great inclination for a country walk?”
She lightly laughed at his request, his words mirrored the ones he spoke the night before when he asked her for a reel. She took his arm as they began to walk from the house.
“My, my Mr. Darcy. Hertfordshire is rubbing off on you! First you want to dance a reel and now a country walk instead of on the avenue of sculpted gardens?”
He smiled. “I miss the wilds of Derbyshire, actually.”
“You do not spend much time in Town?”
“I make frequent trips to Town but my estate does need much of my attention. My sister resides mostly in London, so it is natural I would wish to spend time with her.”
A single young man of rank and wealth enjoying London only to spend time with his sister? “The amusements of Town do not compel you?”
“I enjoy the diversions of the theatre and the like, the access of the bookshops but cannot care for all the people.”
Of course he could not, for most of them were beneath his notice. “Cannot or will not?”
“You imply I do not converse easily with people out of choice.”
“Easily? I daresay you do not converse with anyone outside your own party.”
“I am speaking with you.”
He gave her a pointed look and Elizabeth grew troubled as she considered again the words she heard earlier “I suppose you have found some amusement in speaking with me because you have made it clear you dislike speaking with the others of the area.”
She glanced up at him and indeed he did look amused.
“You think you have my character entirely sketched, then? And on only a few weeks acquaintance when, by your own testament, I barely speak?”
She had thought that exactly, until a moment ago, that is. She could not admit such a thing, though.
“I mean no offense when I admit some characters are easier to sketch than others.”
He laughed lightly and it was as though the sun broke through the clouds on his face. Why would such a handsome man wish to appear grim so often?
“You are uncommonly clever, Miss Bennet.”
She tried to contain her surprise. A compliment from Mr. Darcy?
She was silent too long and his voice close to her ear startled her. “The correct response would be to thank me.”
She blushed. No, of course he would not mean to praise her. It was only a means to criticize her again.
“I apologize. I was searching for the correct response to that particular kind of compliment.”
“I did not know compliments came in different forms.”
“Oh, but they do. If at a ball I say how nice one’s headdress looks, how delicate, and it would be a shame to see it suffer ill effects you may be sure I am not complimenting the lady on her ability to dance but rather suggesting she sit out.”
A small smile crept across his face. “And what kind of compliment was my praise?”
She looked down at her feet. “Perhaps you find that I am too clever, for a woman. Perhaps any intelligence from my sex takes you by surprise. Perhaps from one with such lofty opinions on what makes an accomplished woman you were truly pointing out what you conceive as a failure of mine.”
Satisfied she had made perfect sense of his earlier praise, and that he could not be offended by her seeing through his facade, she left his side after exclaiming at the sight of more wildflowers. When he approached her she raised her eyebrows in expectation. Regardless of what he thought of her intelligence she was sincerely beginning to doubt his.
“You claimed I conceived your intelligence a failure…”
“Yes, because I am certain the rest of the world does not have such ridiculous expectations.” Actually, she was not so certain at all. She only knew Meryton did not.
“True, I do have high expectations. I am certain the rest of the world, that enjoys the frivolousness of soirees and gambling, cannot possibly value a lady who is well read and entertains independent thoughts.”
“And I am certain no lady who has so much intelligence and sense would also kill herself to become accomplished in languages, art, dancing, conversation and everything else you and Miss Bingley believe are required of a woman simply for the label of accomplishment and to be displayed on some man’s arm. A lady with so much talent and intelligence would pursue study out of enjoyment and would have too much self-respect to marry only to be an ornament.”
“Then we are in agreement on what an accomplished lady is like.”
Elizabeth raised he eyebrows in disbelief. His words reminded her of something she overheard on the day of her arrival at Netherfield. “Do you also think being thus accomplished makes a woman a more attractive marital partner?”
“Many gentlemen certainly would pursue a lady with so much sense and ability.”
“Gentlemen of sense may think so. Alas, I there have been a shortage of gentlemen of sense in my acquaintance. I often meet with men who believe an alliance should be based upon connections and fortune.”
Darcy smiled a little. “Are you now to give me a list of what is required for a gentleman?”
“Perhaps you are not the only one with fastidious standards. The perfect gentleman is amiable to all he meets and puts his own feelings and desires last. He considers those in his care as his primary concern. Perhaps this gives him little time to read or write long letters. He takes care to only have friends of the greatest sense, and so he may rely upon their advice.”
Her companion frowned. “You return to our subject last night. My friend is unaffectedly modest and he does rely on my advice greatly. I hope I meet with his demands of having good sense. But do you not make allowances for differences in temper and situation? Bingley is very obliging to everyone he meets. He cannot imagine an offense against him. To assume that I am less gentlemanly than him simply because I cannot forgive all the offenses against me would be as if I believed you less of a lady than those who do not walk three miles to nurse their sister or those that defer to every opinion spoken by a gentleman. You give my sex no compliment by believing we must all have the same temperament.”
“I speak as I find.”
“And do you still agree that in the country you do not meet as many people with differing personalities?”
“I suppose I must.”
“Then perhaps you have not met many gentlemen who can disprove your narrow constraints of gentlemanly behaviour.”
“Logic would follow that would be the case, and yet you in all your broad acquaintance, have not met more than half a dozen ladies who are truly accomplished.”
He was silenced and Elizabeth smiled to herself. Now, no one could say she recommended herself to the other sex by undervaluing her own as she overheard Miss Bingley claim the other night. She rather thought little of men.
“I ought to return to Jane. I have gathered enough flowers.”
She turned to leave and was rather amazed when he continued to follow. She had believed he was affronted at her words.
“I have been thinking,” he began, “on your words about the influence of friendship.”
“For all that I argued an amiable temper might easily change out of regard for the friend, you will not change my opinion, sir.”
He chuckled. “I would not dream of it.”
Elizabeth laughed in return. “How diplomatic of you! For by your agreement you either state we are not friends or that I do not have an amiable temper.”
“Perhaps I believe this to be too important of a subject to try to turn your opinion.”
She was not sure how to reply.
“I was thinking that one could benefit from the affection of a good friend.”
She ought not to be surprised. She overheard him declare he admired her, but still the idea that he spoke of them stopped her in her tracks. She silently waited for him to continue.
“I have a sister who is more than ten years my junior. She was taken from school last spring. Her education was completed but she has missed having friends.”
She blushed. How silly of her! Had she thought he would declare love for her in Mr. Bingley’s garden? “I had thought Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst quite friendly with her.”
“I believe she may need ones closer to her age and of a certain disposition. Might I persuade you and your eldest sister to strike a correspondence with her?”
She began to argue but he anticipated her reasons.
“Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst can send letters of introduction. I am uncertain how long I will remain in the country and if I would ever bring her here it would be nice for her to have more acquaintances.”
They reached the house just before then and Elizabeth dislodged her arm as she flushed. “Certainly, sir. Thank you for the escort.”
After a bow and a curtsy she fled his side for Jane’s room. Caroline and Louisa were sitting with Jane and stared daggers at her. Thankfully, they quickly made their excuses. Certainly they perceived Mr. Darcy had returned and Jane could be of little interest to them then.
Jane soon rested and Elizabeth was left with her own thoughts. She had seldom had an admirer before. She frowned as she considered the ones she had in the past did not seem to keep their attention on her long, if they noticed her at all instead of Jane. Not that she had wanted to encourage any of the gentlemen. Indeed, she had no wish to encourage Mr. Darcy for whatever distraction she provided. Then she reconsidered. He did have influence over his friend. If she would spurn him, his pride would demand he leave Netherfield. Would he take his friend with him? Jane deserved every chance with Mr. Bingley! And if Elizabeth could persuade Darcy that a match between his friend and her sister was not an evil, then she would simply have to swallow the discomfort. Darcy could never mean anything serious by his attentions. Admiration did not a proposal make. Something all the more relevant in relation to Jane and Bingley.
Darcy arrived in the drawing room after the men had their port and cigars with a feeling of trepidation. Walking with Elizabeth this afternoon had been a treat but he gave her too much notice, and Miss Bingley was certainly aware. He could ill afford to raise Elizabeth’s expectations. He would adhere to his book this evening and not fall for any of her enchanting conversation.
Thus the feeling of panic when he saw Miss Bennet down from her room betrayed his true feelings. If she were well enough to leave her room soon she would be well enough to leave for Longbourn and then… No. It mattered not.
Caroline selected the second volume of the very book he read and attempted to ask all manner of questions but he returned to his own book after every inquiry. Until the moment she tossed her book aside and asked Elizabeth to walk about the room with her.
He blinked back his surprise at the request. His eyes refused his commands as he studied Elizabeth at Caroline’s side. He had always found Elizabeth pretty and was captivated by her eyes especially within a few meetings, but this evening she looked truly lovely. He knew she ought to look tired but he believed their walk this morning did her well. There was something unexpectedly becoming about her gown or hair arrangement. As a man he paid little attention to such things, but he felt this was not the same lady who cared so little for their good opinion that she arrived with dirty petticoats and unkempt hair.
“Will you not join us, Mr. Darcy?” Miss Bingley asked.
Suddenly aware that he had closed his book and could not use it as an excuse he blurted out the first thing he could think of; something about them only having two motives for walking about the room in such a way.
Caroline was insistent on understanding his meaning and he fortunately had recovered his wits. Elizabeth accused him of meaning to be severe on them, so naturally he must argue the opposite.
“I have not the smallest objection to explaining them,” said he, as soon as she allowed him to speak. “You either choose this method of passing the evening because you are in each other’s confidence, and have secret affairs to discuss, or because you are conscious that your figures appear to the greatest advantage in walking; if the first, I would be completely in your way, and if the second, I can admire you much better as I sit by the fire.”
He tried not to betray his thoughts that he very much wished they would walk by the fire, the light might catch more of the outline of Elizabeth’s superb figure. She blushed at his words but Caroline clearly believed such a compliment was due the entire time. Would he ever be free of that woman?
Caroline said something about punishment and Elizabeth suggested they all laugh at each other. Did she truly believe him incapable of finding amusement in things? He had smiled and laughed unguardedly with her this morning.
“Mr. Darcy is not to be laughed at!” cried Elizabeth. “That is an uncommon advantage, and uncommon I hope it will continue, for it would be a great loss to me to have many such acquaintances. I dearly love a laugh.”
“Miss Bingley,” said he, “has given me more credit than can be. The wisest and the best of men—nay, the wisest and best of their actions—may be rendered ridiculous by a person whose first object in life is a joke.” This was not what he wanted to say at all!
“Certainly,” replied Elizabeth—”there are such people, but I hope I am not one of them. I hope I never ridicule what is wise and good. Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies, do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can. But these, I suppose, are precisely what you are without.”
“Perhaps that is not possible for anyone. But it has been the study of my life to avoid those weaknesses which often expose a strong understanding to ridicule.”
If his eyes would not obey his intentions, then neither would his mouth. He wished he could flirt or converse easily as he had often see Bingley do. As Bingley did do in the corner with Jane Bennet. Instead, he resigned himself for Elizabeth to skewer him with her sharp wit. He certainly set himself up for it. What would she find in him to ridicule? And why did he welcome her criticism? Perhaps it was only the excitement of having a pretty and new acquaintance’s attention to himself.
She cocked her head as she thought. “You dislike dancing, I assume, as you did not stand up with anyone outside your own party at the Assembly last month. Nor did you eagerly attend to the dance floor at Lucas Lodge. Yet, when prompted by the correct person you are amenable to dancing. Indeed, with certain tunes it seems you can even desire a set on your own. I begin to think it is perfectly fitting for dancing to be your moment of folly and whim.”
Was she flirting with him? “Perhaps the inducement is only the correct partner,” he said lowly even to his own ears.
Miss Bingley and Elizabeth both gasped quietly. He had been far too direct.
Miss Bingley hastily said, “Speaking of dancing, I should very much like to hear you play something Miss Elizabeth. I recall your performance at Lucas Lodge, what a lovely piece you played.”
Darcy understood her motivation. The piece would be conducive to dancing and Miss Bingley sought to trap him with a set.
“Thank you but I would hate to perform the same piece to the same audience and you have such a lovely selection. Could you show me some of the Italian ones?”
Miss Bingley coldly agreed and retreated. As Elizabeth walked behind she cast a look over her shoulder at Darcy. He could swear it struck his heart.
“Allow me to turn the pages for you,” he heard himself say as he followed her.
“Oh, that is really not necessary. Read your book and I will turn for Miss Eliza,” Miss Bingley bit out.
Darcy repressed a sigh at the sacrifice to be paid, but it would be worth it. “But if you do then you will not have time to select your own piece. Miss Bennet did not get to hear your superior performance last night.”
Seemingly pleased with the compliments, she agreed and left him and Elizabeth in peace. As she selected her song her eyes frequently fell upon them. Elizabeth sang sweetly and as he leaned in with each page he could not help but to inhale her scent. He wondered if she made her own, his mother had.
He could not help but notice the rosiness of Elizabeth’s smooth cheeks. Wondering if his presence affected her, he allowed himself to just barely brush her side on one occasion. He would have felt like a cad but for the sound of her breath catching.
Much too soon her piece was finished and he resigned himself to turning pages for Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst. More than once, however, he was reprimanded for his straying attention. He sought Elizabeth’s eyes across the room. She sat talking with her sister and Bingley, her eyes brightened with amusement.
Upon reaching his room that evening he realized he would have to make some kind of resolve about Elizabeth. He was paying her too much attention for a mere acquaintance. His mind told him of his danger, but a bigger part of him was too excited to care. It was…thrilling to be in her presence and he had never felt such a wonderful feeling before.
At breakfast the following morning came the news that the Bennet sisters were to leave for Longbourn. Bingley had asked them to stay an additional day, and indeed the request was on the tip of his own tongue. Miss Bennet was insistent, however, in leaving on the next day. Darcy told himself to be careful no admiration would escape him on this day but when she came upon him alone in the library his resolve disintegrated.
“Good day,” she said in her sweet voice.
“Good day,” he returned.
She selected a volume to read and sat in a chair near his own.
“I am surprised Mr. Bingley has this edition of Wordsworth.”
He smiled. “He does not. Knowing the state of my friend’s library I brought several of my own. I hope you enjoy it.”
He returned to his book but soon realized he needed to speak with her on the matter of his sister’s letter.
“I understand from Miss Bingley that her letter to Georgiana will be completed this afternoon. If you have your letter ready they could go out together, before you leave tomorrow, that is.”
“Certainly. I thought you might wish to read it.”
“No, ladies must have their secret affairs.” He tried to give a flirtatious smile, hoping to remind her of last night.
“Perhaps some do, but I hope you know by now I am not of a devious bent.” She blushed and he could not keep back his smile.
“You do not find poetry is the food of love, yet you enjoy it readily enough.” He nodded at the book and then sat back, waiting for her to fascinate him anew.
“I am sure you believed I was jesting but I suppose I think of love differently than most.”
“And that is?”
“Love is more like a flower. There is a seedling: the beginning of the acquaintance. Given any sort of soil and the most basic form of sunlight and water and it will begin to sprout. But some loves are hardy to begin with, and some are fragile and need more nurturing. Indeed, some may never reach their full potential. Some may grow tangles and tares to protect itself from predators. But I do not think it requires food such as an animal or a human does. That requires too many choices in taste, too much potential for indigestion at one meal but not the next. Two people may eat the same foods but grow very differently.”
“You believe falling in love has no personal variance.”
“I am certain it does, but not as you imagine. Some may fall in love at first sight. Some may need their acquaintance to grow longer first. Each plant has a different point of full maturity. Humans reach the point of perceived maturity at a universal age.”
“You do not believe it is foolish to declare yourself in love too early in acquaintance?”
He held his breath for her answer, though he knew not why.
“For some, certainly. But if one is of a steady temperament then that is vastly different than one who is flighty.”
His heart began to beat ferociously and she paused.
“You are overlooking the most salient point. Love is like a flower for it is well worth the toil to cultivate it.” She shrugged her shoulders, “Love is beautiful.”
“Beautiful,” he echoed, but thought only of her.
She blushed and hastily stood. “I should return to Jane.”
She promptly curtsied and fled the room. Darcy was unable to speak with her again before she left for Longbourn. Beautiful is all he could think as she gathered her skirts and entered the carriage. He shook his head but long after she left the image remained.