Previous Chapter: One
Following port and cigars after dinner, Darcy arrived in the drawing room 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 was well enough to leave her room soon, she would be well enough to leave for Longbourn, and then… No. It mattered not.
Elizabeth was at work, and he quelled the urge to watch her nimble fingers, instead applying himself to his book. Miss Bingley selected the second volume of the very book he read and attempted to ask all manner of questions, but he returned to his book after every inquiry. Eventually, she tossed her book aside and instead asked Elizabeth to walk about the room with her.
He blinked back his surprise at the request. His eyes refused his commands to ignore her as he studied Elizabeth at Miss Bingley’s side. He had always found Elizabeth pretty and was captivated by her eyes, after just 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. Truthfully, he barely knew half of what flew out of his mouth when Elizabeth was near, and others were scrutinizing him in the room.
Miss Bingley was insistent on understanding his meaning, and fortunately, he 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,” he said 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 Miss Bingley clearly believed such a compliment was due the entire time. Would he ever be free of that woman?
Miss Bingley said Darcy deserved 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.
When Miss Bingley declared that Mr Darcy could never be laughed at, Elizabeth demurred, “Mr. Darcy is not to be laughed at! 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! He enjoyed Elizabeth’s laughter. Why must he unconsciously reach for defence in her presence?
“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, they 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 that 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 seen Bingley do. As Bingley did do at the moment in the corner with Jane Bennet. Instead, he resigned himself for Elizabeth’s counter 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 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 whispered lowly, even to his 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.
Elizabeth declined Miss Bingley’s request. “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.
“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 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 Miss Bingley 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 noticed the rosiness of Elizabeth’s smooth cheeks. Wondering if his presence affected her, he allowed himself just barely to brush her side on one occasion. He would have felt like a cad but for the sound of her breath catching.
Alas, much too soon her piece was finished, and he resigned himself to his penance of 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 to her sister and Bingley; her eyes brightened with amusement.
Upon reaching his room that evening, he realised he would have to make some 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.
During 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 Darcy’s tongue. Miss Bennet was insistent, however, in leaving on the next day. Darcy told himself to be careful; no admiration for Elizabeth 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 realised 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.”
“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 a genuine smile.
“You do not find poetry to be 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 like a flower. There is a seedling: the beginning of the acquaintance. Given the right encouragement, as a seed given any soil and the most basic form of sunlight and water, it will begin to sprout. But some loves are hardy to begin with while some are fragile and need more nurturing. Indeed, some may never reach their full potential. Some may grow tangles and tares to protect themselves from predators. But I do not think love 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. However, society considers humans reach the point of perceived maturity at a universal age.”
“So you do not believe it is foolish to declare yourself in love too early in an 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. “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 left the room. Darcy did not speak with her the remainder of the day. He hardly knew if it was his resolve or the matter of Miss Bingley adhering to his side. He acknowledged to himself that by nightfall Elizabeth looked exceptionally weary.
One thought on “Sufficient Encouragement Refresh– Chapter Two”
I’ve just seen these two chapters! It’s been a while since I read this so I’m enjoying this reminder! Miss Bingley is most persistent as usual! I do hope Elizabeth and Jane correspond with Georgiana.