A very small degree of hope is sufficient to cause the birth of love.
Henri B. Stendal
"My dear Lizzy,
I hope your journey has been as delightful as you anticipated. We all miss you; our father most of all I believe. I confess I have hardly had time to write: our nephews and nieces have commandeered almost every moment, but they are such dear children. Mama indeed, finds their exuberance a little trying for her nerves."
"Oomph, Mama. . . "
"She spends much the day above stairs in her room or with Mrs Philips -"
Before she had read more of Jane's letter, Elizabeth's solitude was disturbed: but upon discovery of the intruder, she forgot her irritation and smiled gladly.
"Miss Bennet, I hope this intrusion is not unwelcome" said Mr Darcy, his stiff tone of voice inducing a teasing spirit in Elizabeth as she was as yet unaware as to the reason for his early appearance at the inn. She thought for a moment that he came for her; but concluded that he must have had some business in Lambton and had stopped to see her aunt and uncle as an afterthought, not realising she might be here alone.
"No indeed, Mr Darcy, you are very welcome," She could see his face brighten at her sincerity and he smiled, "but I am afraid you have missed my Aunt and Uncle. They have just now gone to the church." She saw another smile tease his lips, "What do you find so amusing, sir?" said she, laughingly.
He paused a moment before answering; directing his gaze toward her. This time it was softer, she noted, and full of ease. "I do beg your pardon, Miss Bennet, but I must admit I came in search of your company…" the gentleman then cleared his throat and fixed his countenance to a more modest expression.
Elizabeth blushed profusely. She had not expelled him from her mind since they met. Yet she had tried desperately tried to control her emotions - a task that was proving especially difficult since she witnessed the change in him after their slightly indecorous meeting at Pemberley.
Mr Darcy, himself, knew not what to make of her. The encouragement he had received by way of the look in her eyes and in her smile - he wondered if she was aware of how very diverting she was, or if she was indeed, as he had not for a long time dared hope, perhaps now considering that she might be more comfortable with him.
Eventually, Elizabeth spoke, for she could not believe he had been so forthright with his feelings, nor could she determine that even ten years more time would be sufficient to understand why he had done so: "In that case, Mr Darcy I am at your service." She smiled in anticipation of his preference for the morning activity and waited for his directions.
Darcy, who realised he had not been breathing due to the fear he felt should she refuse him her private audience, exhaled. "I thank you, Miss Bennet. It is most appreciated. Perhaps then, we might follow Mr and Mrs Gardiner?" He, to Lizzy's surprise, offered his hand. Elizabeth put on her bonnet and placed her hand in his as he wrapped it round his arm.
Elizabeth thought they must have looked quite the couple. She noticed how attentive he was to her and the smile he wore now, almost constantly. She felt his hand still atop hers and confessed herself not at all in a mind to disoblige him.
They stepped out together and walked in companionable silence as they walked through the busy town of Lambton. Both noted the tradesmen and businessmen go about their work; one in particular was selling large yellow roses. Although Elizabeth's attention was first captured by the bright colour, her interest was retained when her eyes fell over the seller herself: the woman was dressed modestly and wrapped warmly though the weather hardly called for such clothing. Quickly, Lizzy realised that the wraps were not for the benefit of the adult, but for the child she clung to her breast.
"Oh." Elizabeth was unaware that she would say anything until she had, and her companion, perhaps as a compliment to his attention to the lady, turned to her and asked her politely if she had said something. "It is only . . ." she thought the better of telling him, and attempted to make an excuse.
"Miss Bennet, you are not a good liar."
She began to act offended but saw the playfulness in his eyes and demurely lowered her own. "I should not like to worry so much about my child as does that woman." She indicated the lady. "A baby should have no more concern than finding new things with which to amuse itself, but that one seems to have the weight of the world on its shoulders."
Darcy absorbed the smile on the woman's face and saw that it did not reach her eyes. He saw the child as it wildly grabbed for its mothers attention and felt sadness for them. He struggled with the fact that there was very little, if anything, he could do for them. He would find it even more alarming when, later, he would discover that his desire to help them was born more from his wish to see Elizabeth at ease than from much concern for the welfare of the baby.
In an attempt to regain the happy look that had just recently left Elizabeth's features, Mr Darcy then spoke, "Miss Bennet, there is the tree Mrs Gardiner remembered from her childhood. It is most beautiful in spring."
"It is a very handsome sight, indeed, Mr Darcy. I must confess I understand why you were so eager to spend a great deal of time here." Elizabeth slid out from his grasp and walked towards it.
The tree was extensive and dominated the parkland. Its flowers were blooming and presented a perfect summer scene. For Darcy, seeing Elizabeth enjoy the very landscape that had captured his spirit as a young boy was a wonderful experience: he watched her pick flowers and play with them in her hand and he saw her smile as she realised where his eyes had been resting.
"Mr Darcy, will you not join me? You yourself have told me of the fond memories you have of this particular area."
The gentleman strode purposefully to the lady and took her hand: guiding her to a rough bench carved from the stump of another tree. There, he kept her hand firmly within his; gazing at her with an expression she could not interpret. At length, Elizabeth felt she must entreat him to make some kind of conversation.
"Mr Darcy," said she softly.
To her surprise he looked up at her quite innocently, and was expressing a genuine interest as to why she had called his name. Elizabeth's problem came when she realised that she had not anything to say to the gentlemen and had to avoid his eyes.
"Miss Bennet? Had you a question?" inquired Mr Darcy.
Elizabeth's pulse had quickened considerably and she coloured deeply. Her companion of course noticed this and found her discomfort amusing as he saw what effect his attentions had on her. "I . . . I . . . forgot." She lied unconvincingly, but Mr Darcy seemed not to notice and when he kindly suggested they move on, she thanked the heavens and once again took his arm. "It is a very handsome place, sir. Indeed I told my Aunt I should be quite happy to spend my whole life in Derbyshire."
He started at her words but recollected that she might not have intentionally chosen to say them. The Lady, on the other hand, instantly realised what her words must have implied, but did not wish to take them back. Neither, in the end, said another word on the subject, but moved throughout the town until they reached the church. Upon meeting with Mr and Mrs Gardiner who related to them the pleasant nature of the friends they had met, it was agreed after a suggestion by Mr Darcy that they should tour the parts of the area that were known from both Mr Darcy's and Mrs Gardiner's childhoods. Elizabeth expressed great delight in seeing more of the countryside as it was a favourite pastime of hers and her Aunt warned her again to be careful where she stepped.
The small group canvassed the area before a spot was found that seemed to possess all the beauties of Derbyshire. Elizabeth bade her uncle stop the carriage and when he did so, she asked if they might stop for a while: they had a picnic with them and it was a warm day. Mr Darcy offered his inclination to Miss Bennet's offer – to the delight of Mr and Mrs Gardiner – and they walked out to a flat land on the hill where a grand vista could be seen.
"It is a beautiful view, Mr Darcy." Elizabeth breathed. She and the gentleman had separated from their companions as the speed of their step necessitated that they should surpass Mr and Mrs Gardiner. At this moment, they had stopped to admire their surroundings.
"Indeed so, Miss Bennet, I have always thought so. I enjoyed this scene in my boyhood."
She turned and smiled at him. He observed her dark curls as the light bounced off them. "Did you run here, too? I remember you said you would run to Lambton."
Darcy returned her light expression. "Yes, indeed. But my mother always warned me about this area." He pointed to the slope of rocks below them; it was not a straight fall, but one slip and there was little to prevent serious injury. "She could not abide the thought of me alone here." The lady explained that she understood his feelings having had a penchant for wildness herself.
"It was my father who urged me to tread with caution. He worried about me." Her tone implied it was a throwaway remark.
"I am not surprised, Miss Bennet. You must be very precious to him." She nodded and blushed prettily. Quickly, she saw a rise in the rocks ahead and climbed eagerly to see the view, immediately causing Darcy's heart rate to increase rapidly. "Uh . . . Miss Bennet, please take care!" He shouted earnestly and followed her, blindly reaching for her waist when he saw her sway. "Miss Ben – Elizabeth!" He called out as her fast feet fell out from under her and she tripped over the precipice.
His shouts had called the attention of Mr and Mrs Gardiner, but the absence of any sound following convinced them that their niece and the gentleman had merely reached an excited point of conversation.
Lizzy was severely disorientated; she had only intended to take in the pleasures of the vista when she lost her footing. Now, she knew not where she was and could only assume she was still outside as the wind whipped her face and she struggled to rise. Suddenly, a searing pain flashed through her head and she was forced to recline once more and to her continued horror, she felt hot, fat tears roll down her face.
"Elizabeth!" A strong voice reached her, but she could not make out a shape and the voice remained faceless. However, when her name was called out again it was much closer and she recognised it; Mr Darcy knelt beside her. "Good God!" For a moment, he forgot himself and whispered her name again. "Elizabeth, can you hear me?"
Honestly, Lizzy expected him to give in to hysteria as it was the only customary reaction to such a thing to which she had been exposed. Contrasting her opinions entirely, he waited until she answered him as coherently as was within her power and entreated her to explain where she hurt. "My head hurts." She replied, breathlessly.
She accepted his handkerchief and dried her tears, as he patiently observed her. "I thought as much." He felt completely out of control and desperately saw the need to remove her. "May I have your permission to ascertain if there are any breaks?" She mumbled her consent by way of reply and with a countenance removed of any colour he saw to it that she could be moved. "There are no breaks, perhaps a sprain. Do I ask too much of you, if I were to ask you to walk?"
She shook her head gently. "No, sir, there is nothing the matter with me." He smiled, but was unconvinced. Her pallor was dough-white and she looked unbalanced. However, she was not an insensible woman. "I know my limits, sir." She said brightly, bringing some semblance of laughter to Darcy.
They had not ventured more than ten feet, however, when he felt her weight on his arm increase. He looked down and saw that her head was bent and she breathed intensely. When he stopped her, it was clear she did not know they had been moving at all. "Miss Bennet?" He murmured.
She turned into him, letting her head fall down on his chest. When he spoke again, she raised her hand in a gesture that was intended to dismiss the concern in his voice, but she could not complete the movement and rested it on Darcy's arm instead. Thinking she must be faint, he waited for her to recover.
Elizabeth was unaware of what Mr Darcy had said; all she could hear was a loud rushing sound in her head. She only knew he spoke because she felt his vibrato. Her eyesight was white and blurred and she felt desperately tired. Without the consent of her mind, her arms ran round Mr Darcy's neck as she felt her legs give way.
Darcy reacted swiftly, bending down to support her legs with his arm as she fell. "Miss Bennet?" He asked, but there came no reply, and soon, he noticed she was unconscious. Still, he remembered that she may be able to hear him and so, softly, he spoke. "I wonder if you can hear me, Miss Bennet." He smiled and furrowed his brow at his stupidity and although he could not see Elizabeth smiling, he felt her head rested on his shoulder.
* * * * * * * * *
Darkly, he spoke. "Good morning, Miss Bennet." Darcy stood in one of Pemberley's finest guest rooms watching Elizabeth Bennet in what seemed like a perpetual slumber. Despite his physician's professional opinion that she was merely sleeping off her concussion, Darcy did not like that she had been incommunicable for more than thirty hours.
He sat next to her. The room was handsomely decorated; the colours were light and fresh and an excellent aspect of the park was visible from almost every corner of the room. Yet, she could not enjoy it.
In oppressive silence, he gazed at her hand and touched her fingers, eventually holding them as if he were about to lead her to dance. He smiled inwardly at the recollection of the fight they had whilst dancing and abhorred that he had been ill-mannered.
For a long time, he sat next to her.
Elizabeth was not, by nature, a woman inclined to sit in idly and her body was restless. So she woke. She did not at first recognise her surroundings, but saw that the room was large and comfortable. A light touch on her right hand brought to her memory the reason for her situation, though of course, she knew not exactly how she came to be there and immediately felt as if she overstayed her welcome. She must have breathed in sharply upon acknowledgement of the gentleman as his head snapped up and he stared at her, his eyes examining her face.
She blinked in the daylight. It may have been faint, but her deep sleep had made her eyes used to the darkest black and even the soft dawn stung through her head and made her close her eyes once more.
"How do you feel?" He asked gently.
"Mr Darcy?" She replied, trying once again to open her eyes.
"Yes, madam, it is me. How are you?" She let his voice drift about her head, and knew from some tone in his voice that he would wait tolerantly for her response.
"I am . . . I do not know . . . tell me why I am here . . . please. This room is not my own." She noted that he still held her hand.
"Indeed it is, Miss Bennet. For the duration of your stay, it is your room. My sister . . . saw to it personally." He swallowed and her eyes adjusted. She gazed around the room as he spoke and her breath caught; it was far beyond that which she had known. "You have a concussion. My physician explained you needed rest."
Lizzy's head now reeled again. Not from her state of health, but his information brought her no comfort and her wild expression told him as much. "Mr Darcy, where is my Aunt?" Her voice conveyed a slight hint of demand, and it amused him that he quickly stood and fetched Mrs Gardiner without question.
"Lizzy!" She embraced her with a kiss and her hand replaced Darcy's. "Oh you look better. More colour in your face. Mr Darcy, if you would not mind, might you call for the doctor. I would value his professional opinion."
"I will do it myself, madam." And with a smile to Elizabeth, he was gone.
Lizzy waited a moment to ensure she would be heard and then begged her Aunt for an earnest explanation of the occurrence.
"All I may say is that my heart caught in my breast the moment I perceived you unconscious in Mr Darcy's arms, and has not calmed until this moment. Mr Darcy has explained you have a concussion and are not to be moved. I am afraid we shall be here indefinitely."
"It shall not be too awful to endure, Aunt." She said with a grin and at a request from Elizabeth, Mrs Gardiner helped her niece to sit up and arrange herself more prettily.
An hour passed, and Mr Darcy returned with the Doctor and a maid carrying tea and light foods for Elizabeth. "Thank you, sir," she addressed the doctor, "I am sorry to have woken at such an hour and necessitated your journey here."
"Do not think of it, Miss." The Doctor was a stout and healthy man; his features were not particularly handsome but they were friendly and pleasing. A moment came and quickly passed, during which Lizzy thought with fright that Mr Darcy should remain in the room whilst she was examined. Her condition, however, did not call for any such analysis and in the end, only her temperature and her pulse were taken. Other questions were answered with her own tongue.
It did not escape the notice of either Elizabeth or Mrs Gardiner that during the former lady's appointment, Mr Darcy's eyes never strayed from Elizabeth's quiet form. He stood apart from them, at the fireplace, and yet occasionally Lizzy saw a smile play on the corner of his mouth. She too would watch him when she could, returning any smirk he offered. And each time, she knew her face crimsoned.
"Well, Miss Bennet, I can tell you that you have suffered no great injury. No broken bones etc." He stood and, kissing her hand, gathered his case and made to leave. Elizabeth saw Mr Darcy's happy expression cloud over. "Although, you are in no fit state to travel and I insist you remain in bed." Elizabeth sighed in frustration. "I do apologise, but the longer you put off a good long rest, the longer you shall be inflicted by this concussion."
Mrs Gardiner thanked the good man and followed out, leaving a moment of some seconds during which time Elizabeth and Darcy were quite alone.
"Miss Bennet, I hope to see you up soon." To her astonishment, he bent over her frame and softly kissed her hand. "Goodbye."
Elizabeth watched him walk slowly to the door and admired his form: he was tall but not long in height and his step was attractive. A flutter of pride welled within her that she had ever earned his addresses. "Thank you, sir." He stopped and turned back to her. She flashed a brilliant smile. "Goodbye."
His posture for a time convinced her he would come back to her side, but he soon returned her look and left.
* * * * * * * * *
After a deep sleep, Elizabeth woke. The room was heavy with darkness and it was some time before the comforting swells of the park outside her window could be seen and Lizzy realised she would not benefit from any more sleep. Thinking for a moment, the desire to read soon made itself known to her. Glancing at her watch and disregarding any advice from the Doctor, she saw it was a perfect time to run to the library as there would likely be no person about.
Wrapping herself in her dressing gown and a shawl, she tiptoed out of her room. Halting her plan somewhat, she was faced with a dilemma as there were two corridors: one immediately in front of her and one to her left. Following a fancy, she walked quickly forwards.
Darcy sat back in his chair: he was exhausted having had no success in finding sleep. It raised a great fever in his blood to think that Elizabeth was only steps from him for the whole night and he knew not what he would do tomorrow night, and every other night she remained at Pemberley. He resolved to concentrate on the game of backgammon at least and gazing over the pieces he resumed his battle.
Not one productive move had been made, however, when he heard the door open tentatively.
Elizabeth froze when the hinges creaked loudly, but she saw the room inside was lined with books and that no cold draught came from within. Braving the noise again, she entered and took some hesitant steps in exploration. The room was large and maze-like: shelves of generations' work weaved their way throughout the room creating perfect little reading nooks where desks and large chairs surrounded a fire. With such an abundance of material at her disposal, it was no wonder she quickly decided to spend some time in perusal of a book she would not find in Hertfordshire or London.
Still moving slowly, Lizzy trailed her hands along the spines of each work, carefully reading and dismissing each one as either boring or too familiar for her tastes. She silently complimented Mr Darcy on his cleaning staff, as not one surface was dirty or dusty and even those with yellowed pages or tearing leather need not be carefully handled.
Elizabeth's steps and breathing became louder when with each passing moment no person came upon her. Eventually, she spoke as she read the spines, a practice she continued from a young age and her words and bold footsteps drew Mr Darcy closer to her. Of course, she was unaware of his approach.
"Hmm . . . Stoics, Aristotle, Plato . . . this is Philosophy then . . ." She turned a corner and realised she'd somehow moved on to the letter D. Darcy followed her, keeping himself well-concealed. "He has Descartes' Meditations?" She suddenly exclaimed. Not pausing to think that her shout may have attracted someone, she pulled down the first of The Meditations and opened it, enthralled. She moved without looking, and it amazed him that she knew her way to one of the chairs without looking.
Darcy watched her relax and saw that he must speak now, before he was caught just staring at her reading. Instead of calling her name first, he scuffed his feet and chuckled slightly. "Miss Bennet, you should have told me the books in your room were unsatisfactory."
Lizzy's back was turned to him and all he saw was that she was still. Elizabeth on the other hand was mortified and she closed her eyes, praying that when she opened them she would be back in her room.
"Miss Bennet?" She heard him walk and could tell that he now stood in front of her. "Please, won't you sit by the fire?" Lizzy looked down and opened her eyes, glaring at her book. She raised her head and saw his sweet expression. "Please?" She knew she was bright red with embarrassment, but vainly attempted to regain her composure by smiling gratefully back at him. He took this gesture as a yes, and slipped his hand under hers, guiding her from her place to the armchairs in front of the hot hearth.
As soon as they reached the sofas, Elizabeth spoke fast, apologising. "I am sorry Mr Darcy I did not know anyone would be in here. I only thought to borrow a book and leave."
He laughed. "It is no matter, Miss Bennet, although I cannot help but comment on your disregard for my Physician's advice." Elizabeth could not look him in the face and he became troubled that she felt guilt for her lack of attention to his efforts. "I am only concerned for you, Miss Bennet." His voice dropped to whisper. "I watched you collapse in my arms."
The cheek in his face and suggestion in his manner made her raise her eyebrows. She laughed, too. "Mr Darcy as you well know, I am grateful for your gallantry."
Darcy thought for a moment of kissing her hand, but settled for pressing it instead and returned to the seat opposite her. For several minutes there was a silence between them, during which she bore expressions that told of her anticipation that he might speak, however, he did not and only watched her. So, she returned to her book.
"What is it you are reading, Miss Bennet?" Elizabeth looked up, wondering if he was just trying to make conversation and hoping he did not think she was uncomfortable. "I found you in the Philosophy section, I think."
She smiled at him. "Indeed, you did. I used to read these when I was younger."
He raised his eyebrows. "The Meditations? Are they not slightly obscure for a child?" Elizabeth iterated to him that she was seventeen when her father introduced them to her, and they sat for some time discussing the subject: she passionately defending Descartes and he introducing her to new critical theories.
"I must say, Mr Darcy, I have only ever been exposed to Rene Descartes." Elizabeth said when he confronted her with a problem she could not solve by referring to the Meditations. "You have bested me, I fear."
Darcy's expression seemed lifted as he smiled at her. "Perhaps, but the achievement is so rare that I must enjoy it for all I can." Lizzy blushed. "You are a very intelligent woman." Elizabeth reddened even more and knew not what to say to such a compliment. Darcy however, glanced at the clock and knew that he could not keep her to himself any longer. "Miss Bennet," She looked at him, "I do not think I can in all good conscience, keep you here any longer."
He rose, and took her hand. "Should you not like your book back?"
"Indeed not. Keep it, Miss Bennet. It is yours." Elizabeth was surprised at his offer and her look betrayed her feeling. "I would not deprive you of your reading material. I should very much like to continue our discussion when I am not at risk of depriving you of sleep."
They walked back down the hallway taken by Elizabeth, both silent, but neither finding a need for conversation. Even in the night the décor attracted a tired eye and especially one only used to plaster in a hallway. Lizzy remarked silently as she watched Mr Darcy stride down the passages of his home that she could have been mistress of all this, and what a title it would have been. Soon, they arrived at Elizabeth's door, and she wondered exactly how he would excuse himself.
"Miss Bennet, I do believe this is your bedchamber."
"How perceptive of you, it is Mr Darcy." He then took her hand and held it in his own. Pressing it as he had done before, he raised it to his lips. Elizabeth kept her eyes on him and when he released her once more she let slip a smile not too small for him to notice.
"Goodnight, Miss Bennet."