As always, Darcy was the first to make his way downstairs. But this morning he chose to stare out the window rather than deal with his correspondence. Since he danced with Elizabeth his mind had been circling one thought, 'Elizabeth despises me!' He found it odd how painful the idea was to him.
It was almost as painful as knowing she believed whatever vile falsehood Wickham had told her. But Elizabeth preferring Wickham to him was like a knife twisting in his stomach.
Darcy was so lost in these thoughts that he didn't hear the dining hall door open or his friend Bingley approach. "Fine morning, is it not, Darcy?"
Darcy jumped at the sound of his friends voice so close to his back. He knew Charles expected an answer, even if it was distracted. "Oh, yes, I suppose it is. I really had not noticed."
Bingley laughed, "How did you fail to notice? You have been staring out the window since before I joined you!"
"She hates me." Darcy said, without thought. That could be the only explanation for saying something so personal out loud, even to Bingley, who was a trusted friend.
"Who hates you?" Bingley asked, confused. He knew his friend did not make friends easily but rarely had he given cause for that harsh of a response.
Darcy momentarily considered waving off his friends question, but thought better of it. This was one of the rare occasions that he found himself wanting to confide in a friend and seek advice. "Miss Bennent."
Bingley found himself even more confused by the answer. "Why would Jane hate you? What have you done to her?"
Darcy looked at his friend exasperated. Of course, Bingley's thoughts jumped immediately to the eldest Bennet. "No, not Jane. Elizabeth, Elizabeth hates me." Darcy said quietly.
Bingley scoffed, "Oh, come now, why would Miss Elizabeth hate you? I mean, to be sure, you've been rather disagreeable with her, and often rather cold. But surely not enough to warrant her hatred, Darcy!"
"Well, that bastard, Wickham, carried her the rest of the way." Darcy almost growled, imagining Wickham talking to Elizabeth. Then, as almost an after thought, "What do you mean, I have been disagreeable with Miss Elizabeth?"
At that same moment, Bingley called out, "What has Wickham done now, Darcy?"
The two men stared at each other, both waiting for an answer. Darcy had more patience than his friend did. Causing Bingley to sigh and be the first to speak, "I just meant to say that and Miss Elizabeth were always at odds. It seemed to me as though you were often trying to provoke her. Then just as suddenly, you seemed to ignore her very existence."
Darcy silently sighed to himself remembering the time that Elizabeth had spent at Netherfield caring for her sister. "Bingley, often I was provoking her. But not for the reasons that you may think. Her turn of phrase, the way her mind worked, simply fascinated me." Darcy said while staring out the window again. He may be able to force himself to make this confession to his friend, but he could not force himself to look at him while shock spread across his face.
Bingley managed to keep his surprise silent, and thought about what Darcy had just told him. After hearing Darcy's reason it was easy to see that it was true and explained why he had been so quarrelsome those days. Bingley chose not to comment on that, at present. Instead he addressed his question again. Knowing that Darcy had hoped it would have been forgotten in the middle of his confession. "And what pray tell, does the infamous Wickham, have to do with this?"
Darcy sighed, "This discussion is better left to when we are assured of privacy." He nodded to the dining hall doors as the flung open to admit Caroline and Louisa.
Bingley grinned at Darcy's perception. "Perhaps while as we examine some of the estate after breakfast?"
Darcy nodded, knowing that Bingley would not let this rest. "If you wish."
At Longbourn Elizabeth was startled awake by her Jane's urgent shoves. "Lizzy, Lizzy, you must wake up!"
"What is it, Jane? Is all well?" Lizzy asked, suddenly frightened by her sister's pale face.
"No! You must listen to me and make haste! Escape for the morning! I care not where you go, but leave this house for at the very least a few hours. Several would be better!" Jane rushed on, while pulling Elizabeth to her feet and shoving clothes, shoes and other things to her.
"Jane! You must tell me what it going on? Why are you all but tossing me out the window?" Elizabeth asked trying to make a small joke of Jane's apparent need for Elizabeth to be gone.
"Because, Mr. Collins plans on declaring himself to you this very morning!" Jane whispered.
All the pervious humor Elizabeth found drained away in an instant. And she began to dress with as much speed as Jane required. "Can you be sure?" Elizabeth asked, hoping that there was a chance of Jane's misunderstanding.
Jane nodded grimly, "I heard him practicing his speech just now. You must go!"
Once Elizabeth had finished dressing the girls quietly snuck down the servants stairs at the back of the house to a door that was often used but far enough to not be noticed. Before Elizabeth could say another word Jane kissed her cheek and quickly whispered, "I shall handle Mr. Collins, you need not fear his proposal on your return. Now go!"
Elizabeth was shoved out of the door and began to run along the well known paths of her childhood. At least she had this advantage, she could easily become lost to Mr. Collins in these woods and he would have no chance of finding her, until she was ready to be found.
Author's Note: Yes, this chapter is short. I promise to try and make them longer, but this felt like a good stopping point.
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