Previous Chapter: One / Two
“Miss Elizabeth, what are you doing?”
The unexpected intrusion of Caroline Bingley into what was, for the next several moments still, Elizabeth’s private room at Netherfield startled her. She jerked her hand and knocked over the inkwell, soiling the lone pair of gloves she had brought. It had been unseasonably warm, and her maid had not sent any mitts in the trunk she packed for her unexpected stay. Now she would have to travel all the way to Longbourn with bare hands. She would rather break propriety for a few miles than to ask to borrow a pair from Mr. Bingley’s sisters. She would much rather see their look of censure — indeed, she was quite familiar with it from everyone but Mr. Bingley — than have them cringe at the idea of allowing her to touch a pair of their gloves. Fortunately, the gloves caught all of the ink, and none of the Bingleys’ rented but fine furniture or carpet was ruined.
Elizabeth suppressed the urge to scream for the twentieth time since the Netherfield party returned from church at yet another interruption. She only desired to finish this note and check the rooms once more before blissfully returning home. It had been an exceptionally long and trying five days, made all the more difficult by her resolve to check her tongue around Mr. Darcy.
They had managed to talk in the library yesterday without argument, but Elizabeth still did not believe he thought well of her opinion. Likely only Mr. Bingley regretted their impending departure. She certainly knew Miss Bingley’s actual statement meant, “The carriage is nearly ready; you must not remain an instant longer!” Elizabeth wondered if Caroline would be surprised to learn the feeling was mutual.
Instead of snapping at Miss Bingley, Elizabeth turned and gave a small smile. “I only wished to write a note of thanks to Mrs. Parker and her staff for taking such good care of Jane while she was ill.”
Caroline sneered. “Of course, she took good care of dear Jane. It is her duty, and I would never employ a servant who could not complete her tasks competently and diligently.”
Elizabeth bristled at Caroline’s attitude. Mrs. Parker had been married to one of the tenant farmers on her father’s estate, and Elizabeth had known the lady her entire life. After Mrs. Parker’s husband had passed and her children were grown, she decided to go back into service. Any good mistress knew the difference between a servant merely completing her duty and one serving with pride and affection. Mrs. Parker was always a very good housekeeper, but she treated Jane with a fondness only Mrs. Bennet and Elizabeth would have been able to rival.
Again, instead of caving to her impulses, she civilly replied, “Then I must compliment you on hiring such a capable housekeeper. She followed your orders perfectly to soothe Jane during her illness.”
Elizabeth struggled not to roll her eyes at her words when she heard what sounded like a strangled coughing noise. She looked up again to see the outline of Mr. Darcy walk past her open door. The noise drew Caroline’s notice as well, and she nearly ran after the wealthy gentleman.
The entire visit had been perfectly ridiculous. Caroline never missed a way to put down Elizabeth and her connections or abilities. Yet Elizabeth was the one with an ancestry of landed gentry. She was the one who was taught since birth how to be mistress of an estate, which included a good deal more than demanding hot baths. She was the one who knew how to inspire esteem and affection in tenants, to keep them loyal, and treat them with respect. Elizabeth did have to allow that Miss Bingley undoubtedly had the dubious advantage of knowing more about London society, and she found she anticipated — and for more than mere curiosity’s sake — Mr. Bingley’s upcoming ball.
With a sigh, Elizabeth rang the bell for a maid, tossed her ink-sodden gloves into the fire, and dunked her stained hands into the water basin. She was pleased most of the ink came off and had just finished drying them when the maid quietly entered. “Yes, ma’am?”
Elizabeth turned and faced the young lady and gave a little smile. “Please give this note to Mrs. Parker, Susie.”
Elizabeth cast her eye over the room one more time. She had not found the tatted bookmark she made the other night. It was hardly a loss; she could easily make another. Satisfied, she allowed the maid to call for a footman to bring her trunk down to the carriage before she left to check Jane’s room.
A few minutes later found Elizabeth and Jane outside of Netherfield and about to board Mr. Bingley’s carriage. Their mother had refused to send their own because she desired her daughters to stay longer at Netherfield. Or rather, she desired Jane to stay longer. As the only other bachelor of the house, Mr. Darcy, had pronounced Elizabeth merely tolerable and not tempting enough for a dance, even Mrs. Bennet had no delusions of hope for a match between those two. Elizabeth was grateful only Miss Bingley seemed to know Darcy had come to find Elizabeth pretty. She would die of embarrassment if her mother tried to make the most of the situation.
Elizabeth blushed as the subject of her thoughts drew near the awaiting carriage.
“Good day, Mr. Darcy,” Jane spoke with her usual serenity.
Jane then turned her attention to Mr. Bingley, who was looking rather peculiar and seemed unwilling for Jane to leave. He engaged her in conversation while Jane’s cheeks turned slightly pink at the attention. Elizabeth knew her duty. After thanking Caroline, again, for her hospitality, she spoke to Mr. Darcy.
“Good day, Mr. Darcy.”
“Good day, Miss Elizabeth.” Elizabeth was confused when she discerned the similarities of expression between the two gentlemen. She had convinced herself he felt no real affection for her.
After a few more awkward and disjointed but adorable remarks between Jane and Bingley, he handed her in. Elizabeth stepped forward and was surprised to feel the warmth of a hand take hers. She nearly gasped when she realised the gentleman was not wearing gloves.
Looking down, she saw a bare, strong, masculine hand hold her own ungloved one. The owner’s thumb lightly stroked across the top of her hand and gave a gentle squeeze. She glanced up in bewilderment and saw the very proper Mr. Darcy attached to the hand that still held her own, and his pale blue eyes seemed to pierce her.
He immediately released her hand, quickly turned, and walked away. He did not even glance at the carriage as it drove off. Elizabeth hated to admit how much his gallantry affected her sensibilities. She had never had a suitor, no man to bow over her bare hand in her home before. If not for the ink spilling on her only pair of gloves, her hands would have been covered. What must he think of her for breaking propriety so much? Why was her heart thumping so wildly in her breast? And what was that look Mr. Darcy gave her?
Darcy stood in his bedchamber and heard the tell-tale sounds of Caroline Bingley walking the hallway. Today was to be a trying day. Elizabeth had been at Netherfield for nearly a week and was finally to leave.
When he first met the lady, he scarcely allowed her to be pretty, but before too many subsequent meetings took place, he grew enchanted by her playful manners and teasing wit. Soon he saw the sparkle in her eye, and he undoubtedly noticed her light and pleasing figure. Surprised as he was to admire a lady from Hertfordshire, or at this point any lady, he believed he was master of himself enough to be in no danger of deeper attachment. Surely admiration need not lead to love. At one time, he even admired Miss Bingley’s wit. Now he provoked her comments more to laugh at her than with her.
During the last week, he was alarmed at the direction of his thoughts. He was sure no lady bewitched him more than when Elizabeth Bennet appeared in Netherfield’s dining room with her eyes bright and cheeks rosy from her walk. Her petticoats were caked in mud, and Bingley’s sisters obviously held her in contempt for it. However, he had to admire that she cared much more for her sister than fashion. At first, he had doubted Miss Bennet was ill enough to warrant Elizabeth’s visit, but he saw her true concern and acknowledged he would do no less for his own sister.
As their encounters, conversations, and debates continued during the last week, he became increasingly aware of his attraction to the country miss. On her first night at Netherfield, he acknowledged to himself that if it were not for her inferior connections, he would be in some danger. Alarmingly, the very next evening he realised he would overcome that obstacle if only he had sufficient encouragement.
Still, Darcy knew his duty. He was to make a brilliant match of wealth and connections to continue his family legacy. It was certainly on his father’s mind when he married the daughter of an earl. Elizabeth Bennet had connections in trade; she would never meet with his family’s expectations.
His reason understood at least, but his heart and body seemed to disagree acutely. For they stopped outside of her open door when his eyes espied Miss Bingley within. He saw Elizabeth startle and overturn her inkwell, ruining the gloves that sat on the desk, and he overheard the entirety of Elizabeth’s conversation with Miss Bingley.
Yet another score for Miss Elizabeth.
He tried to suppress the chuckle that escaped him with a cough and knew that he must have drawn the ladies’ notice, so he walked on, prepared to see the Bennet ladies outside. When he reached the main door, he felt the unseasonable heat for mid-November and was very glad he was not required to don his gloves and hat just for the task of seeing the carriage depart.
Darcy had to agree with Elizabeth’s subtle point directed at Miss Bingley. A London debutante who spent little or no time in the country or running an estate would have no idea of the tasks associated with maintaining happiness and harmony amongst the servants and tenants. They did exist for more than one’s selfish pleasures, and to forget that would be to welcome rebellion, a point Miss Bingley was patently oblivious to. Darcy sometimes wondered how the country had avoided the insanity France now faced considering that so many men and women of his class treated their inferiors with unfeeling callousness. And as much as Darcy knew he was to marry a woman of wealth and connection, he also desired one who could run his estate well, one who could be a true companion.
Standing outside of Netherfield, he let out an exasperated sigh. Miss Bingley was hard on his heels and attempted to garner his notice. Is this all his life was now? Evading clinging women who wanted nothing to do with him and everything to do with his wealth? They all knew he was running against a wall. He could not remain a bachelor forever. His sister needed female companionship; his estate needed a mistress and an heir.
One of them would wear him down eventually. Unless the marriage turned unexpectedly sour by ton standards, he could not even claim that a marriage to any of the harpies he so assiduously avoided would affect his life very much. It would be the same: attending societal events with people he disliked for their morality and those who disliked him for his wealth, and running the estate. The only difference would be the required occasional visit to his wife’s chambers until an heir was produced. As Pemberley was not entailed, he would not require a son. And surely after that, he would be in the same situation as most men of his rank — unwelcome in his wife’s bed. Unlike them, he would never seek comfort outside of his marriage vows, and so aside from time spent with his child, his life would seem very much the same as now.
Darcy was unsure what the magical combination he wished to find was. Clearly money and connections were not enough or he could have married many years ago, especially once he inherited Pemberley. He could not precisely name the quality he desired that he found lacking in every young lady he had known, but he wanted more than his parents’ marriage of indifferent acquaintance. He wanted to feel alive.
A faint scent of lavender alerted him to Elizabeth’s presence. He barely managed to bid her farewell. Suddenly, his body was moving on its own. His mind still reprimanding itself for not speaking more to Elizabeth, it barely registered that she was about to enter the carriage. He stepped in front of Bingley and handed her in. A thrill coursed through his body when their hands met.
9 thoughts on “Sufficient Encouragement Refresh– Chapter Three”
Darcy really should tell Miss Bingley that she’s not got the correct attitude to manage any estate properly and she will certainly not be asked to manage his! Then he needs to accept that Elizabeth is perfect for him!
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