A/N: It's finally here...the sequel to Childhood Impressions. I have already rambled on about my proposed ideas for the plot line. If anyone has any good pranks or anything for Lizzy, however, I would love recommendations. Well, I am very excited. Hope that you enjoy!

Mr. Bennet's Daughter

A Sequel to Childhood Impressions

Blurb: Sequel to CI. The summer of her 16th year, Lizzy must cope with a scheming widow, an insupportable cousin, and her own mixed feelings for a certain Fitzwilliam Darcy.

Chapter 1

A Reunion of Sorts

Seven Years Later

Elizabeth Bennet hurtled down the muddied lane, her hair flying free of its neat braids, her eyes bright with excitement.

"You will never beat me, Elton!" she called over her shoulder to the wheezing boy struggling to keep up with her.

"Save your words!" he managed between breaths, "you cannot run like that forever."

"Says who?" she cried merrily, speeding up. Feet flying down the path, she was virtually unstoppable; as quick and lithe as a deer. Dodging and ducking, she quickly clipped a fence, taking a little known short-cut through an open field to a shaded avenue of trees. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Elton, completely stopped, attempting to regain his breath. Satisfied, she ran onward, in the general direction of Meryton, entirely sure of her success.

About half a mile up the avenue, an enormous chestnut horse came across her path-seemingly from nowhere. She skidded to a halt just as the beast reared on its hind legs. Its rider, cursing, held on for dear life, as the animal bucked wildly. It took several moments for the rider to cajole the terrified horse; Lizzy, meanwhile, had run forward to attempt to placate it.

"Step away!" cried the rider, flinging himself down from the saddle. "It is dangerous."

Lizzy paid no heed to this warning, however. She was not longer concerned with the horse. Without further ado, she flung herself into the arms of the rider.

"Darcy!" she cried, embracing him tightly and forgetting her muddied dress.

"Lizzy?" came the incredulous reply, slightly muffled due to the vise-like hug being bestowed upon him. A groan issued from the folds of a large coat. "Of course it is you. Who else would have the audacity to be barreling along a dirt path at such an hour?"

"I'll pretend you didn't say that," Lizzy replied, finally releasing him. She stepped backwards towards the horse. The poor creature had calmed down and gazed back at her serenely.

Darcy took the bridle and sighed. "What are you doing?"

"Running away from bloodthirsty Huns," she teased, a broad smile upon her face.

"Oh, how nice," he remarked dryly.

Lizzy laughed. "I was racing Elton, of course."

"Oh, of course," he replied, mockly matter-of-fact, "and may I inquire as to Elton's current location?"

"Oh…I left him behind some time ago. He simply could not keep up!" Lizzy danced about happily, unable to contain her enthusiasm at seeing Darcy. He, on the other hand, was bracing himself for another crushing embrace. "Now, however, he shall beat me, but I really could care less. It was only for plums, after all. If I had bet my new fishing pole, I should surely have gone ahead…but fortunately I didn't. Besides, how could I finish when you are finally here?"

This string of incoherent speech did little to faze Darcy. Arms folded across his chest, he regarded Lizzy with a mixture of exasperation and amusement. "So, here you are…"

"Here I am!" she announced, "and here you are…here we both are, in fact…and it has been an entire year."

He submitted to yet another embrace. This time, she held on for more than a minute. "I am very glad to see you too, Lizzy," he replied, after being released for the second time.

She smiled benignly at him. Though not usually a person to condone embraces, Lizzy had temporarily forgotten her dislike in her excitement at seeing her best friend in the entire universe.

"So, what were you up to again?" he inquired, although he did not really need to know.

"Elton and I were racing," Lizzy repeated breathlessly, now clutching her side. In all the excitement, she had forgotten how very tired she was. The two mile sprint had been quite fatiguing.

Darcy allowed her time to catch her breath. He was surveying her closely, eager to note any changes. At the present moment, she was missing both bonnet and gloves, and her calico frock was unrecognizable beneath layers of mud. He was not, however, concerned with her disheveled appearance-instead, he was both delighted and relieved to find that a year's passing had not changed her. Admittedly, she was taller, her curls were more unruly, and her freckles more pronounced, but she was still the very same Lizzy he remembered from the last summer-slender, brown, and wild. Those unmistakable eyes-a mercurial cerulean-blinked back at him, full of mischief and mirth.

"Betsy has quite given up on me being a beauty, you know," Lizzy said, as though guessing the train of his thoughts, "I am much too dark and much too plain."

"Are you expecting a compliment?" Darcy inquired, "young ladies often deride their looks in order to procure one."

Lizzy rolled her eyes. "Do you think me that vain?"

He laughed. "Of course not."

"Now," she said, eyes twinkling, "did I give you a fright?"

He nodded fiercely. "Yes. You did. How very reckless of you."

"Well, do not look so censorious, Darcy," she scolded lightly, "you look as though you are about to lecture me, and that would make you no better than Hetta." Here she was referring to her governess of seven years.

"I was almost thrown from my horse," Darcy reminded her, still recovering from both his near accident and Lizzy's enthusiastic embraces. Mud now splattered his cravat, waistcoat, breeches, and top-boots.

"Well, serves you right," Lizzy remarked airily, "you should have been more prepared for the unexpected. What if you had encountered highwaymen, eh? Do not blame me for your poor equestrian skills."

"Poor equestrian abilities?" Darcy managed a wry smile. "I can see that you have not changed."

Lizzy's eyes flashed, and she was about to launch a biting retort when Darcy held up his hand.

"Please, let's not quarrel, Lizzy," he asked her, taking the horse's bridle in one hand and her brown paw in the other. "I have only just arrived, you know."

She did not struggle but allowed him to lead her down the path. "I suppose I could call it a truce for the time being."

They wandered in a desultory fashion down the wide path for some time, a comfortable silence settling between them. Both were curious to learn of the other's life during the past year, but time was on their side. Therefore, they each withdrew to their own thoughts, so as to procure the most choice morsels of information to trade with one another.

"Where is Uncle Willy-Ben?" inquired Lizzy, finally breaking the silence. She had long since dropped Darcy's hand and was strolling with a stick in hand, rattling the make-shift beams of the wicker fence that lined the avenue.

A pained expression crossed Darcy's face, and, although he attempted to conceal it, Lizzy was quick to notice. She abandoned her stick and fence-hitting in order to better observe him. "He was not feeling very well, I am afraid," was all that he said.

"What do you mean 'not feeling very well'?" Lizzy demanded sharply. She turned and faced Darcy, her eyes demanding the truth.

"I do not know," Darcy answered, turning away, "my father insists that it is nothing serious-only symptoms of old age…" he trailed off, leaving Lizzy to infer that it was much more serious… "and he sends his regards. As of now, his visit to Hertfordshire must be postponed until the end of July."

Elizabeth did not look happy with the arrangements, but, aware of the pained expression upon Darcy's face, decided not to press the matter. Face set, she continued onward at a brisk pace, leaving Darcy to follow.

"How have you been?" he asked her abruptly, grabbing her arm and slowing her to a leisurely pace. She looked rather annoyed at this change, but maintained the speed for his sake.

"What a mundane question," she replied shortly, "to ask me how I have been."

"Well…what should you like me to ask?"

"Something interesting. Like, "How many pranks have you pulled?" or something along those lines," Lizzy replied.

Darcy shrugged. "Perhaps I would rather know how you have been."

"Well, suit yourself," she snapped, "I suppose I have been fine." Concern over Mr. Darcy's health had made her rather waspish. Darcy wished that he had kept the information to himself and made some other excuse for his father's absence.

"Fine?" he inquired, eyebrows raised, "could you be slightly less ambiguous?"

Elizabeth sighed, but some of her sparkle had returned, and she appeared to be more aware of her duty to be her usual merry self. "Hetta and I have had the most terrific quarrels," she volunteered, "and I have pulled some abominably horrid pranks on her."

Darcy, glad to see Lizzy slightly cheered, interrupted to inquire, "Such as?"

Lizzy giggled in spite of herself. "I switched the bindings of two books… one of Mama's dreadful romance novels and The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. Hetta began to read the Rise and Fall during class-in front of Jane and Mary and Kitty and Lydia and everyone-but she was reading Udolpho instead…the worst and sappiest part of it! I have never laughed so hard!"

Darcy laughed too, in spite of himself. "Horrible girl!" he declared. "And has that been the extent of your studies?"

"No," Lizzy replied, "I have learned Greek and my French is on the mend…I can play a little Beethoven…I have read The Republic and any number of other novels…I can list all of the Roman emperors in order…recite Queen Elizabeth's famous speech…and I know almost everything there is about history." She smiled. "William the Conqueror is rapidly becoming a favorite…second only to Napoleon."

"Is he really?" Darcy inquired, "well, that is quite interesting, to say the least."

"How is Cambridge?" Lizzy asked, "how I envy you the opportunity to go!"

"It is quite… enlightening," said Darcy, with a slight laugh.

"And is Wickham behaving?"

Darcy's laugh faded quickly. "Wickham is steadily becoming a bad influence," he said, after a few moments, "he is increasingly beginning to doubt his preference for the Church. I do not think that he will end up a parson."

"I never thought that he would," Lizzy said, "he is not the sort to spend his time writing sermons."

"My father is disappointed in him," Darcy said, "but there is little he can do. When Wickham sets his mind against something, there is no persuading him otherwise."

Lizzy nodded, in complete understanding.

"He shall not cause us trouble this summer, though," Darcy said, and there was a trace of relief in his voice, "for he is off to a friend's home in Herefordshire."

"Really? And where is Bingley?"

"Bingley? He is gone to stay with his great-aunt in London," Darcy informed her, "poor fellow. He really did not want to go."

"Do you mean the one he was telling us about last year…the one with all of the cats?" inquired Lizzy, feeling quite sorry for Bingley.

"The very one," Darcy replied. He grimaced. "It will not be a very enjoyable summer for him, to say the least."

They neared a break in the road; it led in two directions. In the distance, the ramshackle roof-top of Longborne could be distinguished.

"Shall you come to dinner?" Lizzy asked him.

Darcy paused, hesitating.

"I doubt there is anything remotely edible at Netherfield right now, if you have just arrived," Lizzy informed him, "and I am sure that we are having roast lamb and some fruit tart this evening." She studied his face. "If you are worried about Mama, I can always sneak you in through my window and feed you in my room. Or we could have a picnic."

"Perhaps it would just be better if we ate dinner like civilized people," Darcy suggested, making up his mind.

Lizzy grimaced and made a face. "Please do not mention 'civilized people'," she teased, "I balk at the word. Bah!"

Darcy laughed, taking Lizzy's arm. She did not struggle, but took the left path towards Longborne.

"I should warn you that Amelia has come to stay again," she told him, as they descended a small hill.

Darcy laughed. "I am not worried about her. She is nothing to your mother."

"You are a very brave person, Darcy," Lizzy said, and there was a touch of admiration in her voice, "it is not every man who can face Mama without fear."

"Indeed. Is she really that bad?"

"Yes. Worse than you could possibly imagine. But you mustn't blame her; Jane is now of an age to be married, you know."

"And this makes her more terrifying how?" questioned Darcy, though he knew the answer.

Lizzy laughed. "You know as well as I do. She is bound and determined to see her married. And her ceaseless machinations are only worsening her 'nervous' condition. But she blames me."

"Poor Lizzy," said Darcy.

"I am not so very poor," she replied candidly, "because I am much faster than she is, so I can escape very easily."

"Can you?"

"Yes, and that will prove very useful now that you are here." Lizzy gazed thoughtfully off into the distance, before turning again to Darcy. "I am glad that you are here, you know," she informed him, without a trace of sarcasm in her voice. She gave his hand a gentle squeeze.

"Are you?" Darcy inquired, smiling in a rather funny manner.

Lizzy nodded, before donning a wicked smile. "Now…race you to the kitchen door!"

And before Darcy could manage to get a word in edgewise, she was flying down the path, scattering gravel and dirt in her wake.