Darcy arrived at the Hunsford Parsonage at the earliest hour for town calls. Well, a few minutes past as he had headed down the lane and then turned his horse around twice before firming his resolve. His heart pounded loudly, and he worried the maid answering the door could hear it.
In his fantasies the night before, he had met with Elizabeth alone during this premeditated visit. She welcomed him to sit on the settee while she served tea and they took turns inching closer to one another. Somehow, she would start them on one of their deep conversations. This led quickly to him confessing how she put him at ease and understood him more than any person in the world. Then, when her cheeks were rosy from his compliments and while sufficiently awed at his admiration but with a witty retort on her lips, he would consume that brightness. Pulling Elizabeth into his arms, he would kiss her breathless, pouring his heart into every meeting of their mouths. With as few words as possible, he would ask for her hand in marriage, and she would accept, preferably showing just how much she loved and desired him as well.
Calm down, he told himself. Whatever his fantasies were, they would not occur. Elizabeth would not be alone. Mrs. Collins and Miss Lucas would be present. Thankful for the small mercy that Mr. Collins would be out, Darcy did not hope for anything more. The air left his lungs in a whoosh, and all thought fled his mind when the maid opened the parlour door and revealed Elizabeth alone sitting by the window with the sun beaming down on her.
“Mr. Darcy!” she exclaimed in surprise before hastily curtseying.
His mind, so lately very agreeably engaged in improper thoughts, temporarily rendered him mute. His mouth had run dry as he craved the touch of her skin and even more, of her acceptance of him in a way no one had ever accepted him before.
“I apologise,” Darcy made a hasty bow. “I had thought all the ladies at home today.”
Elizabeth gracefully assured him all was well and bade him sit. “I trust that your aunt and cousins are well.”
“Indeed, thank you,” he said.
She peered over his shoulder. “I am glad to hear the Colonel is well. As we have seen him every morning all week and yet he is not with you, I had worried he took ill.”
Darcy frowned. Blasted Richard. “He was perfectly healthy when I left Rosings. He simply had other matters to attend to, I assure you.”
Elizabeth shrugged and nodded her head. “Of course.”
Silence ensued, and each tick-tock of the clock reverberated in his head. If he had been truly George Darcy’s son, he would know perfect drawing room talk and could rattle off charming platitudes. Instead, he was likely the son of a footman or stable hand. He did not know. He did not care to know. The decision he made upon learning of his mother’s affair was mostly out of deference for Mr. Darcy. However, a part of it was certainly out of cowardice. Such a trait became evident again as he sat in silence, too fearful to confess his feelings.
After several moments of awkwardness, Elizabeth cocked her head to one side. “How very suddenly you all quitted Netherfield last November, Mr. Darcy!”
Did she recall their dance? Was she angry for his hasty retreat from Hertfordshire? If she was, her indifferent questioning about Bingley and his sisters gave no indication. Having no desire to discuss them, Darcy only assured Elizabeth that they also were well. She must be as nervous as he about their private tete-e-tete.
Again, she asked after Bingley and if he would return to Netherfield. Did she ask for her own sake? No, Bingley could not return to Netherfield and see Jane Bennet again. Therefore, Darcy had no other chance to woo Elizabeth than here, under his aunt’s nose. He certainly could not call on her in Cheapside. At any rate, other than a few days in London, she had plans to return to Longbourn. Unsure how to put her mind at ease without declaring his sentiments, Darcy could offer little in the way of information regarding his friend. Although looking displeased, Elizabeth dropped the topic.
Finally, his mind began to thaw, and he considered a subject of conversation. “This seems a very comfortable house.”
Lady Catherine had done quite a bit of work to fix the place up when Mr. Collins accepted the position. However, anything that seemed explicitly of his aunt’s taste was considerably subdued. Undoubtedly, the handiwork of Mrs. Collins.
“Mr. Collins appears to be very fortunate in his choice of wife.” Of course, his wife had married an utter fool. Most would say it was a good match for her, but Darcy often wondered how the woman respected herself.
Elizabeth’s lips twitched. “…I am not sure I consider her marrying Mr. Collins to be the wisest thing she ever did.”
Something about her tone of voice when calling it a good match displayed, distinctly, to Darcy that she did not agree. Since they were speaking on marriages…
“It must be very agreeable for her to be settled within so easy a distance of her own family and friends.”
Darcy’s heart stopped when Elizabeth seemed aghast at his words. Did she consider fifty miles of good road too far from her family? Would she ever agree to leave them? He released a breath when she clarified a woman could live too near her family. Unable to stop himself, he scooted his chair closer to her.
“You cannot have a right to such very strong local attachment. You cannot have been always at Longbourn,” he said his voice rasping in passion.
Something he had done or said or maybe the warbled, throaty tone of his voice had shocked her. Elizabeth’s eyes widened, and she blinked. For a moment, he imagined she wore an expression which said she had never thoroughly looked at him before. The thought startled him. He pulled his chair back and grabbed a newspaper, needing the moment to affix his armour and mask in place.
Elizabeth was not yet ready to tell him about her feelings on leaving Longbourn. Darcy had come sure of instant success. Now, he saw he would have to woo Elizabeth. She had far too much integrity to jump into his waiting arms after months of abandonment. She certainly could not know about his months of torment and anguish. For all she could know, he was as flighty as Richard—merely looking for an amusing and pretty distraction.
Plan in place, Darcy finally put the newspaper away. Awkwardness filled the air, but for once he did not mind. He would trouble himself for this. To allow Elizabeth to see his admiration. He brought up her travels, and they compared Kent and Hertfordshire for several minutes. Just when he had judged it the appropriate time to ask if she would like a tour of the gardens, Mrs. Collins and her sister walked in.
Darcy had tried to explain the misunderstanding which involved his calling on Elizabeth while the others were out, but he could not escape Mrs. Collins’ keen attention.
“I am surprised you did not go for a walk while we were gone, Eliza,” Charlotte said.
“I have,” Elizabeth laughed. “I had letters to reply to, and so I could not indulge myself as much as I would like.” She looked out the window and gave a wistful sigh. “I hope the grove blooms before I leave. It must be beautiful in its height!”
Elizabeth favoured the grove? Quickly, Darcy’s mind considered that he could meet with her there. There, in the privacy they could not have in Mrs. Collins drawing room or at Rosings, he could woo her. He could find her on the path one morning. His imagination rapidly creating scenarios, he abruptly stood and made his excuses to leave, aware of the confused stares at his back as he exited.
The following morning, Darcy awoke early and walked down the whole of the grove, expecting to see Elizabeth. Once at the end, he tore off his hat and beat it in his hand. Had he come too early? Or too late? Perhaps he walked too fast? It seemed so simple in his head yesterday! Turning back, he lingered where the path forked with the one returning to Rosings. This kind of courtship was for the dogs.
“Know when to quit and when to seek assistance, boy,” George Darcy’s voice echoed in Darcy’s head.
He had been a nervous child and prone to wishing to quit. His guardian, although seemingly disappointed at his natural reticence, took the time to teach him the appearance of confidence. He taught Darcy wisdom and when a task or object of his desire was worth the investment. Elizabeth was worth this. He only needed help.
Arriving at Rosings, he was surprised to find Richard in the drawing room.
“You are not calling on the Parsonage?” he asked.
“No, they are at breakfast still,” Richard shook out a newspaper.
“How do you know?”
Richard half-lowered the paper and looked at his cousin strangely. “At the first visit, I asked when it would be convenient to call. I did not want to assume what sort of hours they kept.”
Darcy felt a slight heat creeping up his collar. How simple that would have been! Elizabeth must walk after their meal. Unfortunately, that fell during the time Lady Catherine ordered breakfast. Intent on avoiding thoughts of Elizabeth last week, Darcy had eaten his meal as quickly as possible then removed to the library. He did not know when Richard left for the morning.
“I suppose you will go today, then,” Darcy said.
Richard shrugged. “I do not know. I have been thinking about what you said about raising expectations. Aunt thought I had paid too much attention to Miss Bennet the other night and I would not want the lady to have any hopes.” Richard let out a sigh. “Alex gets to stay in London with all its entertainment, and he’s supposed to be the country gentleman! Here I am every Easter rusticating with our aunt.”
“I could go with you,” Darcy said while fiddling with a cufflink and attempting to sound nonchalant.
“Very well,” Richard said with indifference. “No one can construe it as a sign of courtship if I arrive with another, especially one as dour as you.” He stood and laughed at his own joke.
Darcy’s heart sank as he followed Richard to the breakfast room. No, accompanying his cousin would not signal courtship but perhaps he could learn more about Elizabeth’s habits. Bearing with Richard’s teasing and Mr. Collins’ company—for if he were home, he would be certain to visit with Lady Catherine’s nephews—would be worth it to know how to meet Elizabeth alone.
Upon finishing their quick meal, Richard and Darcy walked to the Parsonage. Darcy said little but observed much. Although continually reminding himself to not stare at Elizabeth and actually listen to the conversation around him—there being time to strategize later—he left feeling confident. She had often looked his away, despite Richard directing much of his discussion to her.
The following morning, Darcy left after breakfast. He thought about gathering some of the early blooms in a bouquet for her—that is what suitors did, was it not?—but he resisted. He had not said he desired to meet her and she had not hinted at it. An “accidental” encounter would be best.
Besides, he should begin as he meant to go on. He would not be like his “father” and court Elizabeth so she expected poetry and flowers and then discover she had married a reserved and taciturn man. George Darcy had been everything charming and amiable, but he had led his wife to believe he was a city man when in truth he desired a country life. Darcy shook his head as he continued on the path.
Such thoughts of the man always made Darcy consider Bingley. They were very much alike. Despite believing Jane Bennet had not been in love with his friend and that her situation in life would harm him, Darcy conceded that she was everything else that Bingley needed and desired in a wife. Although Bingley’s sisters relished London Society, their brother did not. He did not spend most of his time in London. Instead, he went from house party to house party as he had an abundance of friends and invitations. Even now he was at one in Cheshire. If he married a wife he loved, he might find the means to put down real roots and purchase an estate as he often talked about doing.
Darcy felt a little needle in his conscience that he could not advocate that he found Jane Bennet insufficient for Bingley but Elizabeth met all his requirements. He pushed it aside. Elizabeth does not meet all the requirements I had for a wife. Those are the facts. I am overlooking the deficiencies because I cannot live without her. Bingley is not broken-hearted about Jane. His head and heart had been through this too many times. Now, even his head conceded he never saw happiness come from a marriage built on meeting requirements while denying the heart.
Hearing a noise, Darcy turned and saw Elizabeth approach. The sun shone on her face and she tilted her head up to it with arms stretched wide. In a gown of daffodil yellow trimmed with green and green ribbon on her bonnets, Darcy could imagine her a flower. Wordsworth had written of coming across a field of daffodils, and it moved him to pen verses. He was among a set of poets who created a new movement in poetry, stirring up many intellectual debates. What Darcy witnessed went beyond a mental stimulation. It warmed his heart and touched his soul. Elizabeth lowered her face, but the smile remained. She shined brighter than any sun, and Darcy found himself pulled to her as if by magnetism.
Opening her eyes, the smile altered but she waved and greeted him.
“Good day, Miss Bennet,” Darcy said as he came nearer. “Do you often favour this grove?” He turned to walk next to her.
“Indeed,” she glanced around and smiled. “It is my favourite path.”
“Have you not seen the gardens?”
Elizabeth shrugged. “I have seen them from afar—when we walk to Rosings— but I confess the neat and orderly hold no interest to me. They all copy one another, do they not?”
Darcy agreed and marvelled at hearing her true opinions. All other ladies he had talked with assumed Pemberley was like those other estates with manicured lawns and sculptures. If they had dared utter such a view, it would be immediately taken back to prevent offense.
“Perhaps you think me too unused to fine society to appreciate their ways,” she said in a wry voice.
“I would not do you the dishonour,” Darcy said. “Everyone is entitled to their own taste. I would not desire anyone to impose their opinion on me.”
“No, you are far too independent for that,” Elizabeth chuckled.
The way she understood him tugged on his heart. “As are you,” he smiled down at her.
She made no reply for several minutes while Darcy attempted to find the courage to discuss courtship.
Courtship? You desire marriage. Do not be a coward! Darcy hardly knew if it was his internal voice or his father’s in his head.
“I suppose Kent is vastly different than Derbyshire?” Elizabeth asked.
Darcy nodded. That she asked about his home county must be a good sign. She must be attempting to help him along. Perhaps by the time he had finished, he would have regained his nerve. They approached the fork to Rosings.
“I planned on continuing to the village,” Elizabeth said at the first opening she had.
Darcy tensed but spoke civilly, “Please, allow me to escort you there.”
“Oh no,” Elizabeth shook her head. “I would not wish to deprive Lady Catherine of her favourite nephew for the whole of the morning. Imagine the inquisition I would have and how shocked she would hear about the liberties you took.” She winked at him and laughed.
“Pardon?” Darcy’s mind froze. Did she want him to take liberties?
Elizabeth sighed. “I see you are no better at taking a tease than you were in Hertfordshire. Our conversation does not merit her investigation or is worth the repeating. She knows all about her gardens and undoubtedly Pemberley’s as well.” She shrugged. “Explaining our conversation would simply require her to scold for no reason while extolling herself.”
Darcy smiled at how correct she was. “Ah, and that might be more than you could bear?”
Elizabeth raised her brows and smiled. “I did not say that, sir,” she said in a sweet tone before pursing her lips to keep from laughing.
“I will leave you to your wandering then,” Darcy said. “I would not ask you to bear my aunt’s scrutiny for my sake.”
“Thank you,” Elizabeth curtsied and turned.
“Miss Bennet,” Darcy called, and she glanced back. “Take care walking alone.”
“I am perfectly safe,” she laughed. “I walked these parts for weeks before stumbling upon you.”
Darcy longed to tell her she was too precious to be taken from his sight and how even if all was well he wanted to march her up and down every village and town in the Kingdom to show the world the treasure he had found.
Fitzwilliam, some people need their space. There’s no need to coddle everyone, George Darcy’s voice echoed in Darcy’s mind. Until he could kiss Elizabeth senseless and make her not want to leave him, he settled for a weak smile and a wave before turning up the path to Rosings. Next time, he would be prepared. He would have a clear plan for conversation. Affections and wishes would be stated.
A peace filled Darcy as he returned to his aunt’s house. Soon, he would have his greatest heart’s desire. No more loneliness, no more being unloved. And what a sweet love it would be. Well worth his years of pain. While getting to the point caused him no little trouble, he supposed it was a sight better than some face. Bingley was blocked from his desires by fortune and the lady’s indifference. Darcy saw far more in one look from Elizabeth than her sister ever gave his friend. And while he did not like to boast of his wealth, his income made her comparative poverty no evil. Indeed, he was blessed that the only trouble on his path to happiness was his cursed tied tongue.