"I will never understand, Darcy, why you insist on going out in Society only to be displeased with everyone you meet."
Fitzwilliam Darcy poured two glasses of brandy and handed one to his friend before he took the chair opposite him. "I go out because it is expected of me, Bingley. You know that."
Charles Bingley pointed at him. "Ah, but that does not answer the question, does it?"
Darcy conceded the point with the barest shrug of his shoulders. Here, in the comfort of his own study, there was no need to pretend. "I admit that I find little in Society of which to approve."
"Only because you are determined to disapprove." Bingley protested. "What of the young lady you sat out with tonight? Let me hear your opinion of her."
Darcy ran his fingers down the side of his glass. "Her aunt approached me and said her niece had sprained her ankle, and would I be willing to keep her company? Good manners forbade I refuse, though you know how little I enjoy making conversation with someone I am not intimately acquainted with. I have not your ease of speaking on subjects in which I have little or no interest." His lips curled in disdain, and he took a sip of brandy to wash the sour taste from his mouth.
"That is a commentary on your own character, not the lady's."
He ignored the familiar needling. "After two minutes of idle chatter, I inquired after her injury."
Satisfaction gleamed in Bingley's eyes. "Ah, you are capable courtesy after all."
Darcy leaned forward, his forehead creased in a frown. "Perhaps you will not be so victorious, Bingley, when you hear the rest of the story. She did not understand what I spoke of. When she returned to her aunt shortly thereafter, she did not have a limp. The entire incident was manufactured so she could gain my attention. No doubt they have heard that I do not dance often —"
The leather chair creaked in protest when Darcy stood. He took Bingley's glass and strode to the table, glad to have something to do, even if it was only refilling their drinks. This topic never failed to rile him, but he found a measure of calm in pouring the liquor into their glasses.
"They sought a way to get time with me, and they found it. You wish to know why I so seldom give my good opinion to those I meet; it is this dishonesty, this deception of which I cannot approve. I cannot—I will not—marry a woman I do not trust."
Bingley took his refilled glass, and Darcy noted his frown with some vexation. "You are being a bit presumptuous, Darcy. How can you be so certain she wished to marry you? It was simply a dance."
Darcy set the decanter down on the tray with a hard clang. "Surely even you will acknowledge that a single woman in possession of no brothers must be in want of a husband."
Bingley shook his head and laughed. "You can hardly claim that to be a universal truth."
Darcy ran his hands through his close-cropped dark curls. Has it truly escaped his notice that he too has received such attentions? Though it was this very ability to see nothing but the good in people that recommended Bingley to him, at times his amiable nature bordered on naiveté.
"Perhaps not universal, but a truth nonetheless." He paced the confines of the study. The paneled walls, usually calming, pressed in on him tonight. London always wore on his nerves, but this Season had been worse than most. "I need to get out of town, Bingley."
Bingley eyed Darcy over the edge of his glass. "You sound as if you had a plan in mind."
Darcy stood in front of the empty fireplace and tapped his fingers on the mantle. "I believe it is time I visited Georgiana in Ramsgate."
"Is that what has made you so tense of late? I know you take great care of her."
Bingley's insight startled Darcy. "Yes, I imagine so. I trust Mrs. Younge of course or I would not have consented to the plan. Still, I will feel better once I see for myself how she is getting on." He turned back to his friend, at ease for the first time in weeks.
"When will you leave?"
Bingley raised his eyebrows. "That is rather spontaneous, Darcy—indeed, it is the kind of precipitous decision you often tease me for."
Darcy tossed back the rest of his brandy before he answered. "In truth, I have been thinking about it some weeks," he replied. "I just did not realize it until tonight."
"Well, if you are decided, then I wish you safe travels."
Bingley rose and shook his hand in farewell, and Darcy retired for the night soon after. He slept well, content with the knowledge he would soon be free of the artifice of town, once again in a comfortable family setting.
From Chapter 11: The Netherfield Ball
Darcy glanced at his watch one last time. Guests had begun arriving over half an hour ago, and he had purposely delayed his own entrance in order to avoid the Bennet family. For Mrs. Bennet surely saw to it they were among the first to arrive.
He walked through the open doors, and all his good intentions were lost. Elizabeth Bennet stood not ten feet away. Her back was to him, and though Darcy told himself to turn away, to pretend he had not seen her, he could not.
She took his breath away. The delicate fabric of her ball gown revealed more of the lithe lines of her figure than he had previously seen, and the candlelight caught and reflected off the jewels in her hair.
Darcy approached her slowly, gauging his own reaction. Only when he was certain he could maintain his usual reserve did he speak. "Miss Elizabeth?"
She turned, and he wondered if perhaps he had overestimated his own control. Up close, he could see the smooth texture of her creamy skin, and he clenched a fist to keep himself from taking her hand to see if it felt as satiny as it looked.
"Yes, Mr. Darcy?"
He flushed at the question in her voice; how long had he stood without saying a word? "I trust the weather has not dampened your sprits this evening?"
He thought her smile was a little forced, but as he himself struggled to find enjoyment in balls, he did not wonder at it. "You will find, sir, that I rarely allow anything to interfere with my enjoyment."
He bowed and walked away to hide the emotions those words stirred in him. "You will find…" Could this possibly be a hint that she would welcome further attentions from me? Darcy had thought himself immune to her charms, inured against them by the knowledge of her family connections. However, the idea that she would encourage his suit enthralled him, and none of his previous arguments held any weight against it.
From Chapter 25
Richard left the following morning for the Fitzwilliam family seat near Matlock, and Darcy, in desperate need of distraction, threw himself into the affairs of his own estate. In consequence of his lengthy absences over the last year, there were many things that have been left unattended to.
Nothing, however, could drive Elizabeth from his mind. With every task he completed, he was conscious of how much easier or pleasanter it would have been with her by his side.
When he walked the estate with his steward, he remembered Georgiana commenting that he needed a wife who could walk with him, and he thought again of Elizabeth and the walks they had shared in Kent. How he had looked forward then to showing her the grounds of Pemberley and his favorite walks through the park. Those spots he had loved all his life lacked luster, now that he saw them without Elizabeth.
Not long after his return to Pemberley, one of his best tenants celebrated the birth of his first child. By rights, the mistress of the estate would visit the family—but Pemberley had no mistress.
When Darcy appeared on the Coombs' doorstep, the man could not hide his surprise. "Mr. Darcy!"
"Good day, Coombs. I hear your wife has provided you with a son."
Coombs snapped his gaping mouth shut and swallowed. "Yes sir. That is… Well, yes sir. May I ask, sir, why you are here?"
Darcy raised an eyebrow. "I should think that obvious, Coombs. I came to congratulate you."
Coombs nodded slowly. "Of course, Mr. Darcy. Would you like to come in and see James?"
Darcy took his hat off and followed Coombs into the cottage. Mrs. Coombs smiled up at him when he entered. "Mr. Darcy, this is such a surprise!"
He knit his brows together for a moment. Why are they both so shocked to see me pay this form of courtesy?
Before he could think any more on the question, a babe was thrust into his arMiss "This is our James—isn't he the sweetest lad you ever did see?"
Darcy held the child six inches out from his chest, and when James yawned and stretched, he panicked. Please do not wake. But young James had not yet learnt that the master of Pemberley was always to be obeyed, and the tiny eyes opened. On beholding an unfamiliar face, his mouth opened in a wail that would have scared years off the life of a grown man, had he not known where it originated.
Mrs. Coombs bustled over and took her child back into the comfort of her arMiss "There there, Jamesey—Mama's here. You aren't afraid of Mr. Darcy, are you?"
Darcy watched in wonder as the child immediately quieted and settled back to sleep. Never had he been more aware of his own awkwardness, or longed more for Elizabeth's ease of manner.
The incident did not quickly leave his thoughts. Late into the evening he pondered it, always coming back to one thing: his own tenants, who knew him to be a generous landlord, had been surprised when he also showed them courtesy.
"Your manners impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance…"
Was there truth in her words? Did he look down on those he saw as beneath him and not treat them with the same kindness he treated those of his own class?
Darcy paced the length of his study, an empty brandy glass in his hand. How do my fellow landowners see me? Would they be likewise surprised to receive a note from me on the birth or marriage of one of their offspring? The answer came in an instant—they would not. Those common forms of politeness were de rigueur among the upper class.
Am I then so caught up with social standing that I cannot offer simple congratulations to a family without it being a noteworthy event? Was Elizabeth so right about me?
Darcy had long acknowledged he had not the ease or openness of manner that many did. Of course he had pride in his family and his land, but he had never taken the time to consider how that was presented to others. In truth, he had never cared enough for the opinion of others to care how they saw him, but now he wondered if it was more than how he appeared. Am I truly prideful?
Over the next few weeks, he examined his interactions with all he met: staff, tenant, and landowner alike. What was his first response in all of these situations? Was it one of habitual pride? Did he consider himself so far above even his friends? Were Elizabeth's accusations true?
Such self-examination is never a pleasant course of study, and therefore, Richard's return in late May was welcome for the diversion it offered. "Did you grow tired of your family so soon?" Darcy gibed when they were seated in the study.