"You will never play well, Miss Bennet, unless you practice more. You may come to Rosings as often as you like to play on the pianoforte in Mrs. Jenkinson's room," Lady Catherine informed Elizabeth from her seat in the drawing room. Then, addressing those who sat in front of her, she continued, "She would be in nobody's way in that part of the house."
Pausing in her playing, Elizabeth replied politely, "Thank you, madam."
"There are few people in England, I suppose, who have more true enjoyment in music than myself. Or a better taste. And if I had learned, I should be a true proficient," Lady Catherine remarked in her customary dull drone. During this comment, Mr. Darcy rose from his seat on the couch, and strode deliberately over to stand next to the pianoforte on which Elizabeth played. He stationed himself in such a way as to command a full view of the fair performer's countenance.
Elizabeth saw what he was doing, and at the convenient pause turned to him with an arch smile and said, "You mean to frighten me, Mr. Darcy, by coming in all this state to hear me. But I will not be alarmed though your sister does play so well. There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises with every attempt to intimidate me."
"I shall not say that you are mistaken," he replied, "because you could not really believe me to entertain any design of alarming you; and I have had the pleasure of your acquaintance long enough to know, that you find great enjoyment in occasionally professing opinions which, in fact, are not your own."
Elizabeth laughed heartily at this picture of herself, and said to Colonel Fitzwilliam, "Your cousin will give you a very pretty notion of me, and teach you not to believe a word I say. I am particularly unlucky in meeting with a person so well able to expose my real character, in a part of the world where I had hoped to pass myself off with some degree of credit. Indeed, Mr. Darcy, it is very ungenerous of you to mention all that you knew to my disadvantage in Hertfordshire -- and, Give me leave to say, very impolitic too -- for it is provoking me to retaliate, and such things may come out as will shock your relations to hear."
"I am not afraid of you," Darcy said, smiling.
"Pray let me hear what you accuse him off," cried Colonel Fitzwilliam, "I should like to know how he behaves among strangers."
"You shall hear then -- but prepare for something very dreadful. The first time of my ever seeing him in Hertfordshire, you must know, was at a ball -- and at this ball, what do you think he did? He danced only four dances! I am sorry to pain you, but so it was. He danced only four dances although gentlemen were scarce, and, to my certain knowledge, more than one young lady was sitting down in want of a partner. Mr. Darcy, you cannot deny the fact," she explained, nearly unable to speak due to the broad grin which spread over her face.
"I had not at that time the honour of knowing any lady in the assembly beyond my own party."
"True; and nobody can ever be introduced in a ball room. Well, Colonel Fitzwilliam, what do I play next? My fingers await your orders."
"Perhaps," said Darcy, "I should have judged better had I sought an introduction, but I am ill qualified to recommend myself to strangers."
Still addressing the Colonel, Elizabeth asked, "Shall we ask your cousin the reason of his? Shall we ask him why a man of sense and education, and who has lived in the world, is ill qualified to recommend himself to strangers?"
"I can answer your question," said Fitzwilliam, "with out applying to him. It is because he will not give himself the trouble."
"I certainly have not the talent which some people possess," said Darcy, "of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done."
"My fingers," said Elizabeth, "do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women's do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But I have always supposed it to be my own fault -- because I would not take the trouble of practicing. It is not that I do not believe my fingers as capable as any other woman's of superior execution."
Darcy smiled and said, "You are perfectly right. You have employed your time much better. No one admitted to the privilege of hearing you can think anything wanting. We neither of us perform to strangers.
Here they were interrupted by Lady Catherine, who called out to know what they were talking of. Elizabeth immediately began playing again and Darcy sighed softly while his eyes rolled ever so slightly. Fitzwilliam grinned at his cousin and said, "I'll go entertain our dear aunt for the time being, but you, my cousin, must remain here to turn pages for Miss Bennet so she may continue to pleasure our ears with her playing."
A flicker of surprise shown in Darcy's eyes for just a moment, before he nodded to his departing cousin and strode around behind Elizabeth to take up Fitzwilliam's former seat. Elizabeth's playing faltered for a mere second as she realized the nearness of Mr. Darcy's seat, but she regained herself without anyone noticing.
As Lady Catherine droned on before her guests in the drawing room, Elizabeth and Darcy sat by the pianoforte, rather uncomfortable in each other's company. Elizabeth's fingers occasionally fudged and slurred over the keys when Darcy made any movement; and meanwhile, Darcy's eyes would fix on Elizabeth's face for minutes before he was able to regain himself with a slight shake of the head.
Fitzwilliam had taken up Darcy's seat in the room opposite and was only half listening to his Aunt's tales. Since his senses had been sharpened by service in the military, the Colonel was able to keenly pick up on Elizabeth's faltering.
What could be distracting her so? She told me herself that she knew this song particularly well... Very odd indeed...
"...isn't that so, Fitzwilliam?" Lady Catherine's voice pulled him from his musings and he flushed deeply in embarrassment.
"Pray, forgive me, my thoughts wandered..." he apologized. He was not the type that lied to escape trouble.
Lady Catherine gave him an intensely dark look and abruptly changed the subject.
Back in the music room, Elizabeth was nearing the end of a page, but it didn't seem as thought Mr. Darcy being attentive enough to the music to know that a page needed to be turned. She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye and found him to be staring off, focusing on nothing in particular.
"Mr. Darcy?" Elizabeth questioned hesitantly, her playing becoming softer and gradually stopping completely.
There was no response. Why is he staring in such a fashion? Contemplating my faults, no doubt.
"Mr. Darcy?" she asked again, in the same very soft tone.
Again there was no response. Slowly, Elizabeth lifted her left hand from the keys and reached over to touch his hand lightly. Within a moment of contact, Darcy blinked several times and his head swung to face Elizabeth while she pulled her hand quickly from his, as if burned.
"Eliz--Miss Bennet?" he inquired, quickly recovering from his startled state.
"Are you well, Mr. Darcy? You seemed out of sorts for a moment," Elizabeth answered hesitantly. Wait...did he nearly call me Elizabeth? Yes...indeed he did... Was he thinking about me? Oh, control yourself Lizzy; you're beginning to talk nonsense.
"Yes, yes, I'm very well, thank you. Forgive me, my mind wandered," he apologized, staring at his boots. He then looked up at her and continued, "Oh! I have forgotten to turn the pages for you, have I not? Please, allow me." With that, he reached across the piano to move the top music sheet behind the others. Once again, Elizabeth found herself distracted by her companion's close proximity, but did not show it.
The rest of the evening with Elizabeth blessing the company with a few more melodies before Lady Catherine found need to gather everyone together again in the drawing room. Several stories, thoroughly infused with guidelines to how one should proceed in society, were told by Lady Catherine before the night was done. Her Ladyship found it necessary for her guests to take one of her carriages for the return home and Mr. Collins expressed his gratitude to his patron even as the carriage rolled away from Rosings.
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