Believe it or not it is another chapter! Yay! I know this story has become painfully slow, but can only say that real life is a far greater drama than fiction ever could be! Thanks to those who have not given up- I dare say that at some future date this will make a good read to read through start to finish lol... As for the painful slip ups in the last chapter (not sure how I missed Mr Bennets age lol!) Thankyou for pointing them out- I look forward to fixing all my typos at some future date but it will likely be after the final chapter finally makes its way into the world!
I hope you enjoy this chapter- I aim to revive the levity that has been absent!
Lizzy stood on the other side of the small stream, laughing merrily behind her gloved hem of her dress had perhaps suffered a little damage from the wet fields they had trudged through, her hair slightly wispy, as the crisp morning breeze pulled it from her ribbon, but as a whole she remained largely presentable.
The same however, could not be said for her companion, who even now stood knee deep in murky brown water, cuffs and shins covered in thick brown mud, his hair, normally so carefully groomed, now soaking wet and falling in bedraggled locks across his brow, dripping onto his sodden, once pristine white shirt, now a mottled brown.
William attempted to sweep the wet hair out of his eyes with one hand, but served only to spread mud in a wide arc across his brow instead, turning Lizzy's gentle giggling into full fledged laughter.
"Are you quite done finding your amusement at my expense, Madam?" William asked sharply, his furrowed brows expressing his wounded pride.
"Not even nearly Sir! But I might offer you a hand out?" Lizzy offered no apology, the smirk on her face and twinkle in her dark eyes instead only serving to irritate him further.
"No thank-you, Madam. I assure you I am quite capable of getting out myself. You on the other hand, I am inclined to pull in to share my fate as you deserve!" William snapped testily.
About an hour earlier William had encountered Miss Elizabeth leaving the house in the early morning light, her shawl about her shoulders and a modest reticule in her hands. Her hair had been loose down her back, held off her face by a thin black ribbon, and she had been wearing a simple day dress with her walking boots. Assuming she intended to take her usual morning walk he had offered to join her.
"Thank-you, Mr Smith, but I am actually on my way to see Jane, so I fear that I cannot accept your offer." She had smiled back at him.
"But visiting hours are not for some time yet!" He countered.
"I do not intend to visit the Bingley's Sir, but my sister."
"But the roads are deep with mud,... and your hair!" William realised he was spluttering, but surely she could not mean to walk the distance to Netherfield through deep mud and be admitted to the Bingleys in such a state! Caroline Bingley would eat her alive for such a display!
"Fear not, Mr Smith, I shall take the cross country route, enter the house by the back entrance to see Jane, then ensure I am suitably attired before greeting my hosts, thus why I have brought a change of dress with me." She smiled, content that her plan was sound.
"I admire your dedication to your Sister Miss Elizabeth, but I cannot in good conscience allow you to walk the distance alone, surely the countryside must be equally as treacherous as the roads after such weather!" William allowed his irritation at her determination to carry through his voice.
"I assure you it is not needed Sir, I have been traversing these fields since childhood and know them very well, I am quite safe, thank-you for your concern. Besides, if you accompany me you shall miss your breakfast!" She had responded, her own irritation beginning to lace her voice.
"I must insist, Madam, I could not be easy otherwise." He had demanded.
Lizzy had been incensed at his high-handed manner, though his company was in no way unwelcome, she had not appreciated his treating her as some foolish young Miss, incapable of conducting herself without causing her family embarrassment. Inclining her head toward him, Lizzy silently seethed, refusing to respond to his demand.
Things had not improved a great deal as they progressed. On numerous occasions Mr Smith would inform Lizzy which direction to take, or which path to choose. Each time his intentions were gentlemanly, but his manner of dictating her movements served only to further her ire and increase her determined silence. This in turn increased his exasperation at her headstrong behaviour.
Finally things had reached a peak when they had reached a small but swiftly moving current of water. Near the stile they had just crossed, was a line of flat topped stones sticking out above the murky brown water. Looking up and down the fenceline, William had quickly decided that the line of stones were the best option for crossing the water, however as he turned to inform Miss Elizabeth of this decision, he saw she had already walked some yards upstream.
"Miss Elizabeth, it would be best to cross here." He called to her.
Lizzy had turned to look at the place he was indicating toward, and merely shook her head. Turning back to the water, she had dipped her foot near the stream, testing something. William walked up to where she stood and saw a mostly submerged log that reached across the water.
"Absolutely not! It will certainly be slippery and unstable. The stones further down are safer." He stated.
"You forget Sir, I know this area better than you, this is the best place to cross." She had insisted tightly, her eyes flashing with anger.
"You forget Madam, that I too am well accustomed to country life and have more experience than you in such circumstances! I must insist that you allow me to help you cross by the stones downstream or else return to Longbourne!" William matched her anger, standing close enough to feel her breath as he stared down into her flashing eyes.
"Fine." Lizzy conceded at last, "But only if you prove you can safely cross first."
"Fine." William responded, oddly resenting her loss as he stepped away from her, even despite his growing frustration.
William returned to the stones and cautiously tested each stone as he began to cross. After several stones he turned, smugly swinging up his arms to show Elizabeth his success so far, but she was no longer stood at the water's edge awaiting him. Turning his head sharply he saw her carefully crossing the log he had pulled her away from earlier.
Angrily, he turned back and leapt across two more stones in quick succession before it happened.
Each stone he had stepped on so far had been small but firmly placed, but as he reached the largest stone he failed to notice that the surrounding trees shade masked the slight wobble created by the waters drag on the rock. Leaping onto the rock he barely felt his foot slip out from beneath him, but he did feel the shock of cold water as he fell face first into the shallow but cold and muddy water.
Pulling himself upright again he found himself met with the sound of laughter.
William sat himself down on the grass beside a tree, attempting to ignore the woman laughing at his expense.
"You knew." William said quietly.
"I did try to tell you." She responded, no longer sounding angry.
"Why must you constantly fight me? Why can you not allow me to help you? Why is my assistance so offensive to you?" He asked, looking up at her genuinely perplexed.
Lizzy sighed and knelt down on the grass beside him.
"It is not your assistance that offends me." Elizabeth answered.
"Then what?" William persisted.
"Your manner, it's how you address me. As if, I am no more than some silly child to you! As if without your assistance I would be lost and defenceless! I may be a woman, but I have spent years walking these lands, playing in these woods, skipping across these streams! This is my home! But you treat me as though my knowledge and experience are worth nothing. I have spent these many years doing just fine without you, yet you treat me as though,... as though I need you just to survive!"
Lizzy, having finally vented her frustration, looked to see Williams reaction. He was staring at her pensively, a sad smile playing about his mouth. Ever so slowly he reached out to tuck a stray lock behind her ear.
"No. You don't need me. The time will come where I must return and you will survive as you always have. Strong. Independant. Beautiful."
Darcy began to pull himself up but stopped just in front of her. Kneeling before her he reached out and held her face between his hands, staring down into her eyes.
"Forgive me if you feel I fail to respect you, such could not be further from the truth. Forgive me if I long to be the man you would choose to lean on, the man to protect you, the man to…." Darcy paused, his mouth still open with a word unspoken, unable to continue. He dropped his face so she could not read the turmoil in his eyes. Releasing her, he rose onto his feet and held out his hand to help her up.
"You will have to continue alone, I do not believe it is far now?" His voice was thick even as he refused to meet her eyes.
"No. The park begins just beyond these trees." She replied quietly. "Mr Smith…. William?..."
"You should go" He said softly, finally meeting her eyes.
Lizzy nodded, and turned away walking toward Netherfield alone.
Walking across the Lawn toward Netherfield Lizzy was surprised to notice the sun had risen more than she had expected. Realizing she could no longer get away with slipping in the servants entrance, she swallowed her embarrassment and made instead for the formal entrance, attempting to smooth her dress and wipe the mud from her boots as she did so.
After being admitted inside, Lizzy was directed to the dining room where the family were breaking their fast.
The footman announced her presence and the entire room went silent, leading to an awkward pause, before Mr Bingley sprang to his feet.
"Miss Elizabeth! A pleasure to see you! How do you do this morning?"
"I am well, thank-you. Forgive my early arrival, I was eager to see my sister." Elizabeth smiled.
"Of course! It is good of you to tend to her. We are so very happy to have her here! Not that we are glad she is sick of course, but that she is here, being sick." Mr Bingley enthused awkwardly.
"My goodness, did you walk here?!" Came the shrill voice of Miss Bingley.
"I did. The roads are quite impassable by carriage" Elizabeth responded simply. "Forgive me but how is Jane?"
"She is upstairs, come I will take you to her." Mrs Hurst said, raising from her place at the table.
"Thankyou, but I do not mean to intrude upon your meal, I am sure the footman can show the way?" Lizzy said feeling rather embarrassed and wishing again she had arrived earlier.
"Nonsense, I am already finished and would like to check on dear Jane myself." Mrs Hurst smiled, kindly if somewhat stiffly.
Upon entering Janes chamber Lizzy was shocked to see the sweat beading on her sister's brow despite the maids efforts to make her comfortable.
"My goodness but she is burning up! Has a doctor been called?" Elizabeth cried.
Looking genuinely concerned, Mrs Hurst stepped forward to feel Janes temperature herself, "A footman was sent this morning but it may be some time before he arrives, she has become much worse in the past couple of hours I believe. It will be a comfort to her to have you present, I am sure."
"Thankyou, Mrs Hurst." Elizabeth responded, "I am very sorry to have arrived in such a condition, I had hoped to have refreshed myself before the family arose, but it took much longer to get here than I had anticipated."
"Do not trouble yourself, Miss Elizabeth, your devotion to your sister is touching and I am glad for Jane to have you. I cannot imagine what close sisterly bonds you must share, my own sister and I having some years between us, have never enjoyed such intimacy."
Elizabeth was unsure how to respond, and as such did not seem required in any case, Mrs Hurst continued "I will have a tray sent up to you and a maid to help you refresh yourself. I do hope you will feel comfortable to ask in case you require anything?"
"Thank-you, Mrs Hurst." Elizabeth said as the woman nodded and left the room.
"Lizzy?" Jane's voice was weak and she did not open her eyes. Jane had always suffered colds severely, but made for an undemanding invalid so it had always been a pleasure for Lizzy to nurse her.
"I am here, Jane, you must rest." Lizzy sat in the recently vacated chair and began to mop her sister's brow.
"Oh Lizzy…. I am so glad you are here! I am so embarrassed to impose upon the Bingleys so!"
"I am here Jane, and do not think of yourself as imposing, I truly do not know who is more glad you are here, Mama or Mr Bingley! Come now you must rest."
Lizzy stayed with Jane for some hours whilst she slept, until eventually, not long after noon, the doctor arrived. Having examined Jane, he expressed his concerns to Elizabeth and the Bingleys about removing her to Longbourne. Mr Bingley emphatically reassured both Elizabeth and the doctor that Jane was welcome to stay as long as she required, and Miss Bingley cooly offered an invitation for Elizabeth to stay as long as she was needed also.
"Thankyou Miss Bingley, it would be a great comfort to know how she fares, it is very generous of you." responded Elizabeth.
"You are most welcome Eliza." replied Miss Bingley with a smile that looked anything but genuine. "It will be a relief to us all to know she is well tended to."
Elizabeth returned a cool smile of her own as the doctor went on to reassure them that Jane suffered from no more than a common cold, but that she must rest until she regained her strength.
Elizabeth spent the remainder of the afternoon tending to Jane, but as Jane slept peacefully, she could not but heed propriety and go downstairs for dinner.
Dinner was an elegant affair, but with none of the intimacy one might expect of a family meal. After Mr Bingley enquired of Jane's health, and each member of the party expressed their desire for her swift recovery, the first course passed with not a single word to break the silence.
At last Elizabeth could bear it no longer. "Miss Bingley, how do you enjoy the country? I understand you normally reside in town." she enquired politely.
"Yes, I confess I find it very dull indeed Eliza! If only Charles had invited some company at least there might be some conversation worth having!" Miss Bingley responded haughtily, her words bringing a blush to her brothers face whether the insult was intended or not.
"Now, now Caroline, you know I invited Darcy! How was I to know he would be abroad! I admit that would have made for a merry addition to our party indeed!" Grinned Mr Bingley.
"Yes, well perhaps had you invited him with more time to respond, he might have come! After all, he did promise to assist you with your venture, he might even have brought some of his cousins! But you will make such hasty arrangements, it is impossible for anyone to keep up with you!" Miss Bingley pouted with the decided air of a petulant child denied it favorite toy.
Mr Bingley laughed heartily, "But it is true, and I make no apology with it! You see Miss Elizabeth I am no sooner settled in one place, as I am desiring to be off to another! When I am in the country I am perfectly happy and have no desire to ever leave, when I am in town it is much the same, but when the inspiration assaults me, I cannot move fast enough to fulfil its desires! I had intended to stay some time longer in town, but when I learned of such a delightful prospect as Netherfield I was instantly decided! I am certain Darcy shall join me before I have to make any final decisions and all shall be well, for certainly I could never make them without him!"
"Of course not Charles, it would be an offence to do otherwise! His good opinion is paramount." Sniffed Miss Bingley as she pushed away a second course untouched.
"Forgive me, I have not heard of a Mr Darcy, he is a close family friend I assume?" Elizabeth enquired.
"Why really Eliza! Everybody who's anybody knows who the Darcy's are! Charles became his closest friend in University, they have been quite inseparable ever since. The Darcy's own a good half Derbyshire, and being related so closely to the Earl of Matlock and Lady De Bourgh, they are a most influential connection in the first circles you understand. Why, Darcy does nothing without telling our dear Charles of his plans, and Charles could never act without our dear Darcy's advise on anything!" Caroline stated airily, her voice thick with pride.
"Besides go to the continent." Mrs Hurst stated ironicly as she sipped her wine.
"What was that, Louisa?" Caroline asked.
"Dear Darcy cannot possibly tell Charles everything, otherwise we would have known he had gone to the continent, Caroline." Mrs Hurst pointed out.
"Yes, well…." Miss Bingley sputtered.
"Damned odd business that!" Mr Hurst blustered, taking a long swig from his glass. "Who goes to the continent while the war is on? His father's only heir besides, damned odd business if you ask me!"
"Nobody in the club knew either! It is quite unlike Darcy to do anything so spontaneous, I do hope nothing's the matter." Bingley agreed, "Mind you, his uncle did say he will be back within the year. You know his cousin is stationed over there and they are terribly close."
"Have you considered what you shall do if he does not return by the time the lease is up Charles?" Louisa enquired "You know you will have to make a decision one way or another, and Mr Darcy did suggest you consider settling."
Bingley shifted awkwardly in his seat, picking at his food, "Well I don't rightly know, Louisa! I suppose I could extend the lease until Darcy returns, or I might give it up entirely, and return to town…. I really can not say I have thought about it yet."
"Well of course he must give it up, Louisa! You know Charles is entirely at Darcy's disposal! And old Mr Darcy is in such declining health! Besides, we absolutely must return to town for the season. Eliza, do you attend the season in town? I do not recall seeing you before, although perhaps we do not turn in the same circles, you know how the beau monde can be so very particular." Caroline asked with a sneer.
"No, I am afraid my Father does not care for town, so although Jane and I visit our Aunt and Uncle in London most years, it is only for a couple of weeks." Elizabeth answered, growing tired of Caroline's barbs but determined not to allow the woman to best her.
"Oh yes! Jane mentioned you had family in London, you must let us know when you are in town next so we might call, where do they reside again?" Caroline asked with the grin of a cat that had the cream and knew it.
"They live on Gracechurch Street, Miss Bingley." Elizabeth replied.
"Oh yes, in Cheapside! Jane did say, in view of the warehouses was it not?" Caroline sniggered shooting a look at her brother to ensure he was listening.
"So Mr Bingley, I understand your family are from Scarborough originally?" Elizabeth asked, ignoring the scowl Miss Bingley sent her way.
"Oh yes! A delightful place! Have you ever been Miss Elizabeth? It is right by the sea. Terribly picturesque!" Bingley grinned, not at all missing the point of Miss Elizabeth's question.
"Sadly no, I do so long to travel and see more places, but alas, my father believes a good book is as worthwhile an adventure as the trip itself, though I have seen some delightful watercolors of the area."
"Very pretty indeed, I try to return at least once every couple of years as we still have a great deal of family in the area. Caroline does not remember them because she was so very young when we moved to town, but before our mother's death and father sold the mills up there, we were very happy indeed! I remember so many days as a child playing in the water's edge." Mr Bingley had a wistful smile as he spoke. "Of course, after mother passed he decided to bring us all to London, so that Caroline could be the great lady mother always wished for her to be, and now I am to fulfill at last his dream of a family estate. What do you think Miss Elizabeth? Will Netherfield do the job do you think?"
"Netherfield is a fine estate Mr Bingley, but of course I am biased." Elizabeth laughed.
After Dinner, Elizabeth quietly checked in on Jane, but finding her yet still sleeping, she joined her hosts a while longer. A whist table was set up, and Caroline contrived to get Mr Bingley and the Hursts to agree to play, leaving Elizabeth quite alone, a situation that suited Elizabeth immensely. Having earlier scoured the library she had found its offerings meager at best, but had found a beautiful new edition of modern poetry, this being what currently held her attention.
"You are very diligent in your focus Miss Eliza, you must be a most devoted reader, despising all else." Miss Bingley teased loudly across the room.
"I confess I do love reading, Miss Bingley, but I deserve neither such praise nor such censure, as I am not so very great a reader, but I take a delight in a good many things." Elizabeth responded.
"Like walking, one must presume. I could not help but notice your hem, six inches deep in mud this morning Eliza! How very fearless you must be!" Caroline's smile was anything but kind.
"Indeed, Miss Bingley, I think it a very weak sort of love indeed that might be deterred by a mere few miles of muddy ground." Elizabeth smiled.
"Indeed. Whatever are you reading? To be certain there is never anything of value in Bingley's Library!" Groused Mr Hurst.
"I found a delightful volume of poetry, I hope I shall have the opportunity to finish it before I leave." Elizabeth smiled back, holding the volume up for inspection.
"Ah! I would gift it to you but it is not mine to give! Darcy cannot bear to be at the mercy of my selections, so he gave me that volume some time ago in order that if he was ever stranded in my home, he would have something he cared to read. I brought it with me thinking he might be in attendance, but alas it was not to be!" Laughed Bingley.
"He sounds like a man quite accustomed to getting his own way!" Elizabeth laughed, shutting the book and setting it down, finding herself prone to disliking this man who so controlled his freinds movements.
"Are not all the really great men likewise, Miss Eliza? Indeed, Mr Darcy is the very best of men, and shall undoubtedly become yet greater when he inherits Pemberley in Derbyshire in the near future! Yes we are all quite entirely at his disposal in all things. His sister is a dear sweet girl, he oversees her training quite tirelessly himself you know. She is really quite accomplished though yet very young. She plays several instruments perfectly, sings beautifully, speaks three languages fluently and draws and paints like an angel. Is it not so, Charles?" Miss Bingley had a calculating look on her face as she spoke to her brother.
"Oh yes- but of course I think it is quite amazing how accomplished all you young ladies are!"
"Whatever do you mean Charles?" Asked Miss Bingley, irritated at her brother going off topic.
"Well you all paint tables, sing, play pianoforte…" He responded with a smile.
"But it takes a great deal more to be truly accomplished Charles, of course she must have something in her air and manner of walking, indeed the next mistress of Pemberley will need to be very accomplished indeed, after all she must be able to lead our dear sweet Georgiana out into society." Caroline said, preening like a pea-pheasant, clearly considering herself a prime candidate.
"Well from what I have heard, she will have none of those things." Said Mrs Hurst blandly.
"I cannot believe it is true, Darcy cannot mean to marry the sickly chit!" Screeched Miss Bingley, her face going red.
"But you must Caroline!" responded Mr Bingley, "The Earl of Matlock himself said that an engagement between them was to be announced next year, you know it is what Darcy's family have always wanted."
"From what I have heard, time is becoming something of an issue, as Miss De Bourgh's health is becoming increasingly worse. Yes, if he intends to get a child on her it must be done before she becomes too weak to carry to term. She may not survive that long as it is! Neither are inclined towards the match of course, but it is the way of the very rich, and it will add a great deal to the Darcy coffers, which he cannot be insensible to." Stated Hurst throwing down his cards.
Not knowing the individuals being discussed, Elizabeth soon retreated back to check on Jane and dismiss the maid for the night.
The book of poetry she returned to its place in the library, wanting no part of the despicable man that drove a child to a ridiculous level of perfection, carelessly kept his friends at his disposal, and heartlessly wed a sickly woman to beget a wealthy heir before her death. A man who treated living people like nothing more than hapless pawns for his own use.
To Elizabeth, the great Mr Darcy epitomised everything that was so very wrong with the world and she wanted nothing to do with the man. He could stay on the continent forever for all she cared!