There was something about sunrises. About sitting waiting in anticipation for what you knew would come. The cold seeping through the layers with which you had armoured yourself. The grey that gradually lost its grip on the world as the orb you had sat in expectation for began its ascent.
There was something about the sunrise that spoke to her hope, to her spirit.
They renewed her, gave her strength. As the rising warmth washed over her, Elizabeth Bennet lifted her face to it in welcome. Closing her eyes, letting the sun chase away the chill and the gloom. The uncertainty of her less than secure future, her fears for her family and herself. In those few silent moments, she could lift her face and be glad she was alive.
Elizabeth did not know that she was perceived. He had found himself awake and had risen rather than toss and turn. He had sought escape from the confines of a house not his own, and he had taken to the fields to exercise the demons that chased him. His aim for the hilltop was a coincidence born of it being the highest promontory in his view. He had not realised that it was the Mount she had spoken of with fondness, they were, after all, some four miles from Longbourn. When Miss Bingley had teased her for being an accomplished walker he had thought the words barbed, not true. But there she sat on a fallen log, her eyes closed, her face lifted to the warmth of the rising sun. Her bonnet was removed and in her lap, allowing the new rays to gild her hair with gold.
He was lost to her.
He was no poet to pen sonnets, nor an artist to capture the rapture. He instead had to contend with the ordinary feeling of his heart rising in his chest and the abominable ache of the need to have her as his own. He watched in silence and longed for the peace that she enjoyed. He had never seen anyone so at peace and yet he knew from their spirited conversations she was not so in company. The serenity that usually graced her elder sister now graced her face, and it made him breathless. She was not beautiful; she was unworldly. Bingley could call her sister an angel, but he was looking upon the face of a celestial being, transported to the mortal realm.
He wished for her to open her eyes, he needed to see the fire. The spark that spoke to him, that demanded he shed his taciturn nature and responded to her. He never had, in all his years in society, felt that way about any woman of his acquaintance, until he met her.
The light changed slightly, and it broke the spell that held them both. Elizabeth straightened, opening her eyes. A small shiver chasing itself down her body as the animation that fuelled her replaced the serenity of the moments previous. Her hands moved to her bonnet to replace it.
He took a step forward. The noise in the silence brought her head whipping around and he without thinking doffed his hat to her as he continued forward.
"Good morning, Miss Bennet."
Elizabeth rose, a blush staining her cheeks, her eyes downcast as she, accompanied with a small curtsey, returned the greeting.
"Good morning, Mr Darcy."
The sun was painting the world with light. The magic of the sunrise over with, the business of the day was getting underway. They stood silent sentinels side by side, both watching the fields spread out below them. Wordless, he offered his arm. Just as wordless, she took it, and they turned back down the hill.
Unbidden the words flowed from his mouth.
"Miss Bennet. I do not wish to presume upon an acquaintance of such short a duration, but I find myself curious and wish for you to satisfy that curiosity."
Elizabeth let her astonishment show and in failing to find the words only nodded her head to allow him to proceed.
"Do you enjoy roses, Miss Bennet?"
Elizabeth looked baffled at the question.
Darcy gestured with his free arm to the lane in which they walked. "Your enjoyment of the outdoors cannot be doubted; I only wished to know if you enjoyed more formally arranged gardens as you do the wilderness of nature."
Elizabeth found her tongue, only to pause, considering the question. She had no frame of reference as to why this man might wish to know her preference in particular. Neither Longbourn or Netherfield had extensive formal gardens. She had not heard Miss Bingley exclaim over Pemberley's in specific for all the lady had praised the estate. Her lips pursed as she decided upon honesty.
"I find all gardens of interest. I admit to a preference for more wild spaces than those rigorously patrolled by gardeners, but there is much beauty to be found in both. As for roses, in particular, they are not my favourite bloom, but I do enjoy them."
Mr Darcy nodded at her answer. Piqued, Elizabeth stole a glance at him.
"Perhaps, Mr Darcy, you would satisfy my curiosity by explaining why you wished to know?"
Mr Darcy smiled at her. In that one single action, a transformation of his features took place. From the habitual expression of distance to the warm, inviting conspirator, and Elizabeth found herself quite surprised by it.
"Mr Fellowton has had the keeping of Pemberley's rose garden for many a year. He has had some moderate success in producing blooms that are the yellows and pinks of sun rises. Seeing you sitting there made me think of them."
"I see. They sound delightful. Were your parent's lovers of roses?"
"My mother," Darcy replied. "I believe she had a great deal to do with the way in which the rose garden is laid out. There are several small arbours set about with those roses that could be encouraged to do so wound about them."
"That sounds perfectly lovely."
Darcy shrugged. "I confess that I have not spent as much time admiring them as Mr Fellowton's work deserves."
Elizabeth recognised the underlying pain in the statement and gently squeezed the arm under her hand in sympathy. He might have made a poor start of their acquaintance, but she could not imagine the hurt of losing a much-beloved parent, and that allowed her to offer her sympathy freely.
Their feet led them further from the hill. They began passing the fields belonging to Netherfield, then the Goldings, then to the outlying fields belonging to Longbourn. Elizabeth, in deference to her companion, stayed in the lanes instead of taking the path through the fields which she had taken to reach her destination. A gentleman of Mr Darcy standing would not wish to tramp through muddy fields. While the lanes were not dry, both she and Mr Darcy could be certain of arriving at their destination less dishevelled than the morning she had called upon Netherfield to tend to Jane.
"Miss Bennet, do you often walk out so early? I cannot help but wonder at the time you must have risen to be at the Mount to watch the sunrise. I should not wish to think your sleep so disturbed."
"I did not rise too early sir. I did not travel the lanes to reach my perch, but over the fields. The journey from Longbourn to the top of Oakham Mount that way is a much shorter distance."
"I see. Will your family not then expect your return sooner?"
Elizabeth shook her head. "My walks are, as you may know, somewhat infamous. I shall be back at Longbourn in time to make good my appearance for morning calls I assure you."
"Do you receive many callers?"
"The principle families enjoy calling on each other as I should imagine they do everywhere sir."
"Is the party at Netherfield counted among that number?"
"I am sure that where ever Mr Bingley calls he is welcome. He has shown himself to be an amiable neighbour."
"Indeed, I am sure that he has. He has the advantage of happy manners that ease him into society where ever he is."
"And why should he not? He is an educated man, and I am sure he has years of experience with the sorts of attitudes and behaviours displayed amongst those in society."
Mr Darcy cut a glance at Miss Bennet. Nothing on her face gave away the subtle play of her words, and it was entirely possible that, as with so much of her wit, it would flow past those to whom it targeted. "Do you believe that society in Hertfordshire can be compared to that of London society?"
"I recall that this topic has been raised before betwixt us, and I say as I did then, that there is a greater variety of people in London society. On that, there cannot be a dispute, but you cannot deny that even in a smaller society such as ours, the behaviours do not vary so much. Are not our aims the same?"
"Wealth and consequence? You do not strike me as one who puts stock in such things."
"Then I am afraid Mr Darcy that I shall disappoint you. I perhaps in folly, wish to marry for love. But I would be a fool if I did not believe that the material gain of wealth and consequence, as you put it, is not a consideration. Indeed marrying where there is no love and only material gain shall not tempt me. But where there is a foundation of understanding, regard and love that can be nurtured and encouraged, the amount of material gain need not be great. I believe that in that I have the advantage over you. I do not yearn for jewels, carriages, and wealth. Those can be gained and lost just as easily, but a partner that can weather the storms of a lifetime, that Mr Darcy, is worth more than any amount material gain." Elizabeth laughed and blushed. "There, you have allowed me to twitter on about the foolish wishes of a maiden. I am sure that it is of no interest to yourself."
"No, it is! That is, my sister. She is younger than yourself, and while she holds me dear, she is not to be expected to share such thoughts with an elder brother who has acted in place of her father this many years. Your explanation was most enlightening."
"I hardly think that your sister needs concern herself just yet with the idea of marriage. I believe you said she was but sixteen."
"I believe your claim was that behaviours do not vary so much? Why should my sister not wish for a love match? Are you perhaps suggesting that marrying for love and affection is out of the reach of those of the higher circles?"
"I might suggest that it is seldom that love and affection can be discovered in the ballrooms of the Ton. It could be considered that marriages for that set are alliances of wealth and consequence. While it is mathematically possible that some of those alliances are founded on the happy consequence of each party finding affection and love in the same place as wealth and connections, I cannot think that the percentages are so high."
"But it is possible."
"Mr Darcy, many things are possible."
They stopped at the junction in the road. Mr Darcy would turn left to Netherfield, she would continue onto Longbourn. Mr Darcy bowed over her hand. "I thank you for your conversation, Miss Bennet. It has been most gratifying, and indeed you have encouraged me once more to hope."
Elizabeth curtseyed her farewell, and as her hand dropped down to join her other, she realised she had never replaced her bonnet. Mr Darcy turned and began to walk up the lane as Elizabeth replaced her apparel, tying the ribbons securely. A puzzled look followed the retreating figure. Something about his words vexed her.
"Hope, Mr Darcy?" she called out.
Mr Darcy turned back towards her. He was not so far away, and she could still make out his features. He smiled at her, a boyish grin that spread across his face. His hand rose and lifted his hat to her again.
"Hope, Miss Bennet," he replied before turning again and continuing his way.
Elizabeth spent another moment watching him go before she remembered her own feet and set them off in the direction of Longbourn. He was puzzling indeed, and she had no notion of what he was about.