Chapter 1: Thursday Morning
The trees at the side of the road flailed their branches hopelessly against the windshield. He was being warned that he would find nothing but trouble and pain.
But he was still going to drive all the way to Netherfield even if it might tear his heart in two.
The road was particularly muddy this season. He hoped it would rain heavily on Sunday. He didn't think Charlie's tent would hold up after a good, strong shower. And Jane wouldn't bear to marry in such conditions. She needed sunshine and blue skies. She wouldn't put up with this.
But could he make it rain? He would probably do many stupid things for her, if only he could.
It was Thursday morning and the clock chimed ten when he reached Hertfordshire. He knew that because he saw the ironed clock's hand just above the city hall hit the figure of a shepherd and a young woman in the shape of the number ten, repeatedly. The air was filled with dust from the ending summer.
There were terraces everywhere. People were sitting on plastic chairs, lazing about under the yellow sky, enjoying a cup of something terrible looking this early in the morning because it was late August and their holiday month was not over yet.
Darcy was sweating profusely. He stopped in front of Longbourn. It was a very picturesque motel settled in the nook of a hill.
He walked out of the car and arranged the soaked lapels of his crimson jacket. The tips were standing up, as if some powerful force was trying to ridicule him.
He was going to ask the concierge directions to the Netherfield estate, but he saw a young woman standing outside the building. She was wearing a very large and long brown coat, even though it was quite warm outside. She looked as if she'd just come out of bed.
She was talking to someone on the phone. He couldn't help overhear.
'Mno, they don't serve breakfast in bed, I asked. Yeah, I know, but I will bring some food in the morning if that's okay with them,' she was saying.
He walked up to her looking through the open door.
'Oh, another thing, Mrs. Patty and Jenny will have to share a room. Also, I think Wilson is going to have to sleep in Charlie's tent. They said you have too many guests. I know, I told them it's a small wedding.'
Darcy's ears quickly caught the mentioning of Charlie and a wedding.
'Myes, I explained it's just – well you know, I tried, but – come on, Jane, don't be like that,' the woman protested weakly. Her voice was languid and weary, as if she was going to lie down very soon.
He turned towards her and waited for her phone call to be done. It had to be his Jane she was talking about.
When he saw that she had finally shut her phone, he coughed loudly.
But she didn't turn. She just leant against the wooden rail and closed her eyes.
'Excuse me,' he began.
Her head slowly turned towards him, nestled in the hollow of her brown coat.
He winced. He wondered how many times she'd use the letter 'm' before a sentence.
'I'm sorry for bothering you, but do you happen to know the whereabouts of the Netherfield estate?'
She blinked several times dumbfounded.
'Netherfield? You've come for the wedding?'
'Something along the lines. I'm a friend of Jane's.'
'Oh, really? I didn't see you on the wedding list,' she replied, yawning.
'How can you know? You don't even know my name,' he said, beginning to feel she was not very intelligent.
She made a surprised face. 'Oh.'
It was as if someone had told her something very beautiful, but very sad at the same time.
'Well,' she began, 'I know everyone on the wedding list, that is why.'
'You can't know every single person on it, it's difficult. And I'm an old friend,' Darcy replied.
'How old do you mean?' she inquired.
'Look, if you would just show me where to go, I'll speak to Jane myself.'
'I'd be curious to hear that exchange,' she said, her face very serious. 'Alright, I'll show you where to go.'
She hopped down from the porch and started walking lazily towards his car, dragging her long, brown coat behind her.
Darcy opened the car door for her but she looked at him puzzled.
'Would you mind getting in?'
'Oh, no, I don't do that,' she said shaking her head. 'I don't like it. I'll walk next to you and you drive behind me. Or next to me. As you like.'
He stared at her confused.
'You'll walk?' he asked incredulously.
'It's not far away. Barely some miles. And it's a very good day for walking. Besides, I was going there myself,' she replied nonchalantly, digging into the muddy road with one of her green boots. He noticed her hem was already six inches deep in mud anyway.
'Sorry, but I can't just let you walk. Let me give you a ride,' he said frowning.
'No, really, it's fine. Just make sure you keep up,' she said, smiling sleepily.
Then she turned around and started walking briskly up the hill. He had nothing else to do but to get into his car and start the engine.
Five minutes later, he was driving torturously slow as she ambled peacefully beside his car. She tried from time to time to quicken the pace, but she got tired quickly.
'Are you sure you don't want to get in?' he asked her annoyed, pointing at the comfortable seat next to him.
She smiled wanly and waved her hand dismissively.
He felt thrice as ridiculous now as when he'd passed the first house in Hertfordshire. He regretted asking her for directions. He was sure he looked like a deranged bastard, driving slowly next to a young girl as if he was pursuing her for his own pleasure. He felt very ashamed when the passing cars slowed down and the drivers stopped to stare. The old ladies in front of the church were whispering angrily as they pointed their wrinkled fingers at him.
Darcy wished he could go back and ask the concierge. It wasn't too late now. He could stop the car and ask some passer-by.
However, everyone in town was throwing him hostile looks due to his most suspicious and peculiar behaviour, so he was stuck following a girl who was probably not very sound of mind.
But he had driven this far. He wouldn't turn around now. He'd bear it until he reached Netherfield.
After another ten minutes flew by, he leant towards the window and asked:
'Is it much longer?'
'Mno, not by much,' she replied. 'I think I already see the gardens.'
He craned his neck over the wheel in the hope that he would see something else but endless country road and sprawled dark green country fields spotted here and there with black, hungry crows.
He couldn't see anything.
'Are you sure?'
'Well, we'll see them any minute now,' she replied.
He ground his teeth and turned up the window. He wasn't going to address her anymore. He felt she was doing this on purpose.
After another couple of minutes, she tapped on his window. He stopped the car.
'Why'd you stop?' she asked confused.
'You wanted to say something?' he said, opening the door.
'I just wanted to tell you your trunk is open,' she remarked, gazing towards the horizon.
He jumped out of the car immediately. To his horror, he saw that his briefcase and his backpack were lying half-open on the ground and a bunch of other small things like bottles and books were also piled up behind them.
'Shit,' he said, kneeling down. 'Why'd you wait so long to tell me?'
'I didn't wait, but I didn't notice it very soon,' she said, walking up to him and kneeling down as well.
She grabbed a book and wiped it clean with the hem of her coat.
'You don't have to do that...' he mumbled, snatching it from her and dumping it in the car. She shrugged her shoulders and tried lifting his backpack.
He pulled it down.
She lunged for another book.
He grabbed her arm quickly.
'I don't need your help,' he said angrily.
'You want someone else's help then?' she asked dumbly.
He narrowed his eyes at her in bewilderment. He couldn't believe her.
'No, I meant I am fine on my own!'
'But you needed help to get her and you needed someone to tell you your trunk was open,' she argued.
'What are you implying?' he asked impatiently.
'That you're not entirely correct?' she asked.
'How am I not entirely correct?'
'The part about being fine is probably true, but on your own, maybe not,' she replied seriously.
'What's the point of this argument?' he retorted, closing his eyes.
'To help you get your things in the trunk.'
'Well, I am not getting there, am I?' he asked sardonically.
'Mno, since you are refusing help,' she said, looking towards the fields.
'I don't need – ', he began, but he stopped, feeling his forehead getting warmer. He needed to cool off.
He stepped out of her way and she knelt down again. He knelt next to her and they quietly put the things back in the trunk. She had a serene smile on her face.
'I'm going to walk behind you, so I can keep watch on your trunk,' she told him afterwards. 'You just drive straight ahead. And when you see a red birdhouse, turn left.'
He sighed. He'd never get to the end of this drive.
He started his car. He kept looking in the rear window, fearing he'd somehow stop abruptly and run her over, but she was at a safe distance from the car.
Still, his eyes travelled to her figure behind his car. He felt she would fall in the middle of the road any moment now. She looked like she was sleep-walking.
At long last, he reached the red birdhouse she had mentioned. It was hanging from a tall oak.
He saw the gardens covered in ivory and red flowers and then the small towers of Netherfield Hall. His breath hitched.
This was it. He crossed the open gates.
He sped up, knowing now where he was going. His heart pounded in his chest. He forgot about the young woman walking behind him.
She had to run to catch up with him.
He only stopped in front of the marble steps that led to the entrance hall. There were several cars parked around the small fountain in the middle of the court.
He stepped out of the car and looked around wildly, as if he'd just been born. The air felt constricted and heavy.
A little boy came running out of the house and an elderly lady went chasing after him.
'Oh, good morning!' she said cheerfully. 'Early guest, I suppose!'
He nodded his head and tried smiling. It died on his lips.
'Mrs. Bennet, mother of the bride,' she said, extending her hand. Darcy took it quickly and planted a dry kiss on it.
'Will Darcy, a...friend of Jane's,' he said.
'Darcy, I don't think she's ever mentioned you. Although, I do remember a Will,' she chipped, turning red.
'She did?' he asked hopefully.
'Maybe, but you know, I can't recall so well, afraid I'm growing old,' she said, laughing nervously.
'I wouldn't know about that,' he said distantly.
Mrs. Bennet was about to reply when the young woman from before came chasing towards the house.
She stopped in front of the steps and caught her breath.
'You know, that was a little bit rude –' she began, leaning against a tall pillar.
'Lizzie! What are you doing dressed like that?' Mrs. Bennet asked appalled.
'Oh, hi mum, went to solve some things at Longbourn,' she replied blankly, staring at her feet.
'Well, I don't see any other way.'
'You could have taken a car you know or a cab at the very least!'
'Mum, this is Jane's friend,' she said pointing at Darcy. 'I walked him here.'
Darcy stared at both of them, trying to understand what was going on.
'You walked him here? You mean you didn't let the nice man drive you?'
'Oh, when you put it that way it sounds very bad,' she said.
'Don't get smart with me! Please go inside and put some nice clothes on and stop taking random trips at Longbourn, there are other people for that,' she said, taking her forcedly by the arm.
'I'm sorry, I don't mean to impose,' Darcy interrupted them, 'I would just like to speak to Jane.'
'Oh, of course,' Mrs. Bennet said, letting go of Lizzie. 'I'll go fetch her to welcome you. She did promise to welcome all the guests.'
'I'll go get her, mum,' Lizzie offered. 'You go find Christopher. Think he's going to take a swim in the fountain again.'
Mrs. Bennet made a horrified face and excused herself as she went running after the little boy.
Lizzie turned around and skipped inside the house, leaving Darcy alone and confused in front of the marble stairs.
He looked up towards the front windows, hoping to catch a glimpse of someone he knew. He would have wanted to see Jane smiling down at him as she'd done one night when he'd stood under her balcony. Even Charlie would have sufficed. Even his miserable face would have made him feel slightly less alienated.
But the windows were devoid of any life. Only the beige curtains flew in and out of the house.
Before he realized what was happening, Lizzie had come back, dragging a very befuddled Jane behind her.
Jane was just as surreally beautiful as he remembered. Her golden hair was flowing freely down her shoulders, caught at one end with a small clip. She was wearing a grey skirt and a white blouse and he thought he would die a little inside.
'W-Will?' she asked bewildered.
Lizzie stared at him with interest.
'So you do know each other,' she concluded.
'Yes...' Jane said, staring into his eyes. 'We're acquaintances. We met in London. Will worked with our publishing house,' she explained, stammering slightly.
'You mean you're a writer?' Lizzie asked. 'Were the books we picked up written by you then? I think I spotted a Darcy on the cover.'
Jane stared at her confused.
'Well, Darcy's trunk fell open and...' Lizzie began, but Darcy interrupted her.
'We already met,' he said crisply, pointing at Lizzie.
He'd heard Jane mention a sister before, Eliza, if he remembered correctly, but she'd painted a different picture. He imagined this sister would be blonde as well and maybe taller too. But she was a small brunette with a sallow complexion and short brown hair. He couldn't imagine why Jane had said 'we are so alike sometimes'.
But he was past wondering that. He just wanted a moment alone with Jane.
'I really need to talk to you. Can we talk somewhere? It won't take long,' he said, the anguish pouring out of his voice like a stream.
Lizzie raised an eyebrow. Her sister and this man seemed awfully awkward around each other.
'Is he on the guest list?' Lizzie asks. 'I would just want to check.'
Jane shook her head, still staring at him. 'No, he's not. But write him down. As my friend.'
She made a sign with her head and he followed her as she started walking towards the gardens.
'Jane? Where are you going?' Lizzie yelled after her.
Jane made a gesture with her hand, meaning everything would be alright.
But Lizzie felt something dark stirring her soul. She was going to walk after them, but then she realized that would be worse. She sat down on the marble stairs and waited for her mother to return with Christopher.
Darcy took one last look at the house and the girl standing on the stairs before following Jane.
I hope you liked the story, so tell me what you think of it so far :)