That evening, Elizabeth dressed in a pale pink dress and let Hannah fix her hair in what she said was a subdued version of the 'latest' fashion. She had to admit, she did look quite fetching. Georgiana had again chosen her dress and chattered away happily as Elizabeth's hair was done. She decided to let her neck go bare as there was a small lace trimming around the square-necked collar. Hannah allowed a few of her dark curls to hang over her shoulder, contrasting perfectly with the pale dress and her light skin.
"Thank you, Hannah. You truly are gifted."
"Thank you, Miss." Hannah flushed and curtseyed, then ducked out through the servant's entrance.
Georgiana came up behind her with a long piece of green ribbon. She held it out shyly to Elizabeth. "I think this will look lovely around your waist, Miss Bennet." Elizabeth noticed it was the same shade of green as Georgiana's dress, and that she was wearing a pink ribbon almost identical to Elizabeth's dress color.
"I think you are right, Miss Darcy. And just think how well we shall look together coming in to the dining room in all our finery?" Her eyes twinkled and Georgiana's shyness instantly melted away.
As the ladies entered the dining room, they heard the sound of men's voices.
"Richard!" Georgiana left Elizabeth's side and flew toward a tall, broad man with shaggy, sandy-colored hair.
"Georgie!" He opened his arms to her and embraced her fully, leaning back as he did, so that her feet came off the ground a bit. "It is good to see you my girl!"
They smiled broadly at each other as he set her down and released the embrace. "Ah, but where are my manners!" he said as he looked toward Elizabeth, an appraising look in his eyes. Elizabeth noted they were the same shade of blue as Georgiana's.
"Richard, may I present Miss Elizabeth Bennet? Miss Bennet, my cousin, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam." said Darcy.
Colonel Fitzwilliam bowed, "A pleasure to meet you, Miss Bennet."
"I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Colonel Fitzwilliam," Elizabeth curtseyed. "Miss Darcy has told me so much about you."
"Do not worry, Miss Bennet. It can't possibly all be true!" he said with a smile.
Elizabeth smiled brightly in return as she headed toward the chair he pulled out for her. Tonight Elizabeth was seated next to Georgiana, who was still on Darcy's right, with Colonel Fitzwilliam on his left. As the Colonel looked up, he caught the edge of a scowl on Darcy's face. But, not having the slightest idea what it was about, he dismissed it as another of his cousin's moods.
As the first course was being served, Georgiana peppered Colonel Fitzwilliam with questions about where he'd been and what he'd been doing in the ten days since she had last seen him. After a short lull, Elizabeth joined in.
"Colonel Fitzwilliam, I understand from Miss Darcy that you are quite the practical joker," Elizabeth addressed Fitzwilliam across the table.
"Oh she told you that, did she? And on whom does my fair cousin accuse me of playing these practical jokes?" he asked with an innocent smile.
"So far I have heard only of ones played on your brother, the Viscount."
"Ah, dear Cyril. If he wasn't such an easy target I wouldn't play so many jokes on him. Although the best one was when Darcy and I here -"
"That's quite enough, Fitzwilliam," Darcy interrupted.
"Oh come, cousin, the ladies want to be entertained," the Colonel said slyly as Georgiana muffled a giggle.
"Surely there are better ways to entertain them than with your sorry stories."
"And what do you suggest cousin? Shall you sing for us instead?" Colonel Fitzwilliam asked.
Darcy glared a hole through Colonel Fitzwilliam and said in a steely voice, "No, I have no such intention. I merely meant that perhaps that particular story was not fit for feminine ears." He gestured slightly with his head toward Georgiana.
"Do you sing Mr. Darcy?" Elizabeth asked before she could resist teasing him.
Darcy's head turned back towards Elizabeth to make a biting comment, but just before he was about to speak, he saw the gleam in her eye and knew she was teasing him. Here we are again, Miss Bennet. Who shall be the victor this time?
"Not in public Miss Bennet."
"What he means to say is only while bathing!" laughed Fitzwilliam.
Darcy flushed a deep red and his eyes became steely, but not before he caught Elizabeth looking down with a deep blush across her cheeks. She was pursing her lips, trying to stifle a smile. A sideways glance at Georgiana revealed her bottom lip was bitten in a desperate attempt at solemnity. Colonel Fitzwilliam looked rather like a Cheshire cat that had just caught a particularly succulent mouse.
A pain in his hand told him that he was squeezing his cutlery too hard, and with a clang he set it down on the table just as Elizabeth let out a choking sound. As Darcy sat surveying an entire table of people laughing at his expense, all the while desperately trying to hide it, he couldn't help but release a small chuckle. Soon the room was filled with laughter.
Funny, I didn't think Mr. Darcy could laugh at himself. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen him laugh before. But Wickham did say he was agreeable enough in the company of equals. Well Mr. Darcy, am I elevated to the level of equal now? No, I will not think this way! He has been perfectly kind and civil to me and I am a guest in his home. I promised Aunt I would be open-minded, and I shall be. She took a breath to clear her mind.
As all this was passing through her mind, Elizabeth had looked instinctually at Darcy. As the laughter faded away, he met her gaze. For a moment, their eyes locked and a small frisson shot through her. Surprised by the sudden intensity, she quickly looked to her plate.
The remainder of dinner was passed in amiable conversation, mostly between Elizabeth and Colonel Fitzwilliam, with Georgiana partaking occasionally and Darcy barely at all. Colonel Fitzwilliam was all that was pleasant and agreeable, ready to make conversation about a variety of subjects and clearly not put off by the serious expression of his cousin.
Soon they were headed out of the dining room to the music room.
"Georgie, what are you going to play for me tonight?" asked Colonel Fitzwilliam.
Georgiana looked down at her hands for a moment before looking up at the Colonel with brightened eyes. "Miss Bennet and I have been working on a new duet. Would you like to hear it?"
"Of course, dear, I'd be delighted." The gentlemen seated themselves on a small sofa, but not before Darcy noticed a small trace of anxiety cross Elizabeth's face.Could she be nervous? I've heard her play before, and in front of a much larger crowd than this. And she and Georgiana have been playing together constantly since her arrival. He noticed Colonel Fitzwilliam in the corner of his eye.Could it be that she's nervous in front of Richard? But he's so congenial! Surely not! Unless… She couldn't be developing feelings for him already, could she?
Darcy didn't like where this was going. He knew the feeling rising within him and knew its name: jealousy, plain and simple. How could he be jealous of Colonel Fitzwilliam when he had decided that he would not pursue her? He had decided to give her up and seek someone more suitable, hadn't he? Hadn't that been the purpose of his blasted trip to Somerset? To put her and Hertfordshire and Bingley and all their ridiculous problems out of his mind? That had clearly not gone as planned.
Elizabeth took a deep breath and focused on the difficult music in front of her. Georgiana was far more advanced a player than she was, and she knew she did not compare favorably. Oh, well! I have no one to impress here, she thought. And if Mr. Darcy tries to intimidate me, I will tease him mercilessly. No! Be nice Elizabeth!
The ladies began to play as he and Richard relaxed on the divan. Richard leaned over to him and whispered in his ear, "Pretty picture they make, isn't it?"
"Yes, they certainly look well together." Neither noticed when Elizabeth struck a wrong chord.
"Quite the scene of domestic bliss, eh? Sweet how they are dressed to match, too."
"Hmmm? Dressed to match?"
"Yes, Georgiana is pink on green, Miss Bennet is green on pink. You didn't notice?"
"No, I didn't. Whose idea was that, do you suppose?" asked Darcy.
"I would imagine it was Georgiana's. She seems rather taken with the idea of having another woman in the house. Well, at least someone closer to her own age. How old is Miss Bennet, do you think?"
"I believe she's somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty."
"Yes, that is a fine age; old enough to be a big sister, but young enough to still remember what it's like to be Georgiana's age."
"Yes, I suppose it is a rather good age."
"They met in Hertfordshire?"
"Yes. She met Miss Elizabeth while there. They got on rather well from the beginning and have been corresponding ever since. Georgiana invited her to stay here while I was in Somerset, but I returned early..." he trailed off.
"Yes, I wondered about that. Not very like you to invite a young single woman to stay in your home, unaccompanied. And a damned pretty one at that."
"Yes, you are correct; it is not very like me. But I could hardly send her home after she'd been invited to come all this way. It wasn't Georgiana's fault I cut my trip short and came home early. Plus I didn't want to discourage her; it was the first invitation she'd made on her own and I have been trying to encourage her to make friends and socialize."
"Yes, she certainly does seem to be recovering rather well. Time seems to be working its magic. Or perhaps time with the help of friendship."
Darcy was about to reply when they were interrupted by the soft melody of Elizabeth singing. He let the waves of music roll over him as he leaned his head back on the divan and closed his eyes. Yes, this would be a pleasant way to end most evenings, his sister happy and smiling, Elizabeth playing and singing for him. Yes, he certainly could get used to this 'domestic bliss', as the Colonel had called it.
The next two days were spent in similar fashion, only minus the company of Colonel Fitzwilliam. The two ladies would have breakfast together, and then Elizabeth would take a carriage to visit her aunt in Cheapside, while Georgiana did her studies with Mrs. Annesley. She would come back in time for tea and the two would go upstairs and dress for dinner, Georgiana receiving the same feminine pleasure from the ritual as she had the first time. They would have dinner with Mr. Darcy, and afterward they would take turns playing for him in the music room.
Elizabeth had decided to heed her aunt's words and observe Mr. Darcy with an open mind. She found that he was improving upon acquaintance and that he was not as disagreeable as she had found him before in Hertfordshire, but she still wouldn't describe him as amiable. He seemed too often to be brooding. One moment he was agreeable, the next he stopped talking altogether. She caught him staring at her sometimes the way he had in Hertfordshire. What was he looking for? She tried to ignore him and focus on something else, and on occasion would ask him a question, ending his reverie. Surely he had found all the fault he was going to find by now?
But overall, his manners were improved. She wasn't sure if this had anything to do with him being in his own home, but she was beginning to wonder if he was rather like Georgiana and reserved in company. Only in Georgiana, it came across as a sweet shyness; in Mr. Darcy, it was a reticent haughtiness. Only time would tell his true nature.
Wednesday afternoon, as Elizabeth's carriage pulled up to the Darcy doorstep, she saw another pulling away and wondered who it was that had just left. She stepped into the hall and handed her things to the footman. She went straight to the drawing room, hoping Georgiana was still there.
"Hello Miss Darcy. Did you have a pleasant morning?"
Georgiana looked up when Elizabeth spoke her name "I suppose it was pleasant enough. Miss Bingley just left. It's too bad you missed her."
"Yes, it is too bad." Elizabeth said ruefully. "Did you entertain her on your own?"
"Yes. She does not know Fitzwilliam is back yet. He is trying to get his work done without the interruption of callers. He always leaves the knocker off the door the first week after he returns from a trip."
"I suppose that makes sense. Was your visit pleasant?"
"Pleasant enough." Georgiana looked uneasy and twisted her hands in front of her. "Miss Bennet, may I ask you a question? Are you good friends with Miss Bingley?"
"I wouldn't say we were good friends, no, not exactly. We are more acquaintances," she said uncomfortably.
"If I were to confess something to you, would you think me terribly horrible?" Miss Darcy asked nervously.
"Miss Darcy! I doubt there is anything you could confess to me that would make me think you terribly horrible."
Georgiana paused, then said, "Very well, then. Miss Bennet, I find that I am not desirous of meeting with Miss Bingley too often and that I am fearful of being thrown continually into her company." She released all the words in one breath and heaved out a long sigh at the end of her speech, her shoulders slouching.
Elizabeth stifled a laugh but composed herself enough to respond. "Miss Darcy, whatever would make you think you might be thrown continually into her company?"
"Miss Bingley seems desirous of an alliance with my family," Georgiana replied quietly, looking at her feet, twisting her hands again.
"Oh, I see. You are afraid Mr. Darcy will marry Miss Bingley and you will have to live with her?" Georgiana nodded slightly. "Oh, dear! Miss Darcy, how can I comfort you? I understand your concern, and I can only try to assuage your doubts as best I can. From my observations, you are correct; Miss Bingley does desire a greater connection to your family. But without overstepping propriety, may I also say that my observations showed that feeling to be unreciprocated."
At this, Georgiana's head flew up and she smiled brightly. "Really, Miss Bennet? Do you really think so?"
"Yes, I think so. I may be incorrect of course, but it would appear that your 'family' is not desirous of the connection. Does that make you any easier?"
"Yes, it does. Thank you Miss Bennet!"
With that, Georgiana squeezed her hand and flew from the room.
Elizabeth looked out the window, and noticing that the sun was still shining brightly, she decided to take a short stroll to the park to get a bit of fresh air. After collecting her things from her room, she headed downstairs.
She was almost to the bottom step when she was arrested by male voices coming towards the entry.
"Good to see you again, Darcy."
"You too, Malcolm." They were shaking hands and about to part at the door when they noticed her waiting on the stairs. The man called Malcolm eyed her appreciatively, but as Darcy did not offer an introduction, he merely stepped out the door with a nod of his head in her direction.
"Miss Bennet, are you just arrived?" Darcy asked her.
"No, I am actually on my way out. I thought I'd enjoy the sunshine while it lasted with a turn in the park."
"Does Georgiana accompany you?" he asked.
"No, I go alone."
"Yes, sir, alone. Good afternoon Mr. Darcy." She made for the door but was blocked by him standing in her path.
"Miss Bennet, I cannot allow you to walk in the park alone," he said stiffly.
"Allow me, Mr. Darcy?" She raised a brow and looked up at him, her ire beginning to rise. Darcy fought the smile tugging at his lips and pressed his case.
"Miss Bennet, while you are staying at Darcy House, you are under my protection," Elizabeth felt her cheeks growing hot, "and as such I cannot simply watch you go off on your own into a busy city park. This is not Hertfordshire where you are known to every neighbor. Someone should accompany you."
Elizabeth knew that in a way he was right, but for some reason, she did not want to capitulate to this overbearing man.
"And who would you have accompany me sir? I find my stride is too quick for both Miss Darcy and Mrs. Annesley and neither likes to walk as far as I do. Thus, I walk alone," she stated clearly.
"I will accompany you," he declared.
Elizabeth started and looked up at him quizzically. Why would he want to accompany her? She knew very well he didn't like her. Could he possibly take his role as protector that seriously?
"Mr. Darcy, that is quite unnecessary. As you well know, I am accustomed to walking alone and am not afraid of being on my own. I do not require an escort." She was becoming seriously annoyed now, and Darcy could tell by the look in her eyes that she meant what she said.
"Miss Bennet, I am entirely aware of your walking prowess. However, I would feel much more at ease if I accompanied you. Besides, I have been inside all day and could use a little fresh air and exercise." He gave her a small smile, intending to put her at ease, but only confused her as to his purpose.
"Are you sure you can spare your business that long, Mr. Darcy? I do not intend to take a short walk."
Is she always this stubborn? He looked directly into her eyes, causing her resolve to retreat slightly, and said, "I never thought you would, Miss Bennet. Shall we?"
In a moment he had slipped on his great coat, gloves, and hat and collected a rather ostentatious brass-topped walking stick from a footman. He saw Elizabeth eying it and holding back a smirk, and quickly handed it back to the footman. "I won't be needing this today, Causer."
He turned to Elizabeth and saw the mirth dancing in her eyes.At least she does not stay angry long, he thought.
"Something amusing, Miss Bennet?"
"No, Mr. Darcy, not at all. I must say I am rather surprised at your going out without a walking stick, though," she replied with mock solemnity as they headed out the door. Why could she not resist an opportunity to tease him?
"Yes, well, I thought I wouldn't really need it today." Her teasing tone was putting him on edge, but he found that he liked the feeling of anticipation it gave him.
"What if you should lose your footing sir? Would such a fine cane not help you to right yourself?" She looked completely innocent, but he could see a hint of mirth behind her staid gaze.
"Possibly, Miss Bennet. I guess now I shall have to hold on to you." He smiled a little devilishly at her and she started in surprise. Two can play this game, Elizabeth.
Was Mr. Darcy teasing her? And so wickedly? She hadn't thought him capable. What had Colonel Fitzwilliam said? That he had played a practical joke on his brother with Darcy as his accomplice? She would have to find out the particulars of that. But how?
As Mr. Darcy held out his arm to her outside the front door, she eyed him carefully and said, "Mr. Darcy, if I am to lend my arm for your support, then I wish to receive something in return." His brow shot up at her statement.
"And what is your request Miss Bennet?" he asked in mock seriousness.
"I wish to be entertained, Mr. Darcy."
"Yes, I was thinking you could tell me a story, about a joke you played on a certain cousin of yours?" As his eyes grew wider and his brow shot up, she added, "Or you could sing to me." An impish smirk played on her lips as she awaited his answer.
"Miss Bennet, you drive a hard bargain."
She clearly was not backing down. Darcy looked into her determined eyes and smiled. If he was going to be humiliated, better to take his cousins with him.
"Very well, Miss Bennet. But I warn you, you may not like what you hear. I am afraid it's not fit for the ears of a lady, and I will have to ask you not to tell Georgiana."
"Of course, sir. You have my word." She offered a charming smile in reward for his surrender. See Aunt, I'm being nice.
As they entered the park gates, Darcy began his story. "Several years ago, when we were all just boys together, my cousins and I used to indulge in racing."
Elizabeth couldn't hide her triumph in getting the impenetrable Mr. Darcy to divulge information he didn't want to part with; she could hardly keep the smile off her face. Mr. Darcy caught her look, and thinking it was for him, continued with new enthusiasm and uncommon openness.
"I had gotten a new horse for my fifteenth birthday as a gift from my father. As a sort of initiation ritual, Richard, Cyril and I decided to race our stallions through Pemberley's meadows, down a small hill to a river in the valley. The whole distance was about two miles. As we started off, everything was as it usually was. Richard was in the lead, being more daring than his brother, even though Cyril is his senior by two years and mine by three. Cyril and I were right behind Richard, neck and neck. Then out of nowhere, Richard's mount seemed to startle and veer to the right, directly in front of me. We almost collided, but Richard was quick enough to get him back on track and avoid disaster. It was enough of a distraction for Cyril to pull ahead. He ended up beating us by a hair."
Elizabeth was so caught up in the story that she didn't realize she was staring up at Mr. Darcy's profile raptly. When he looked down at her and met her eyes, she smiled eagerly at him and said, "And then what happened?"
Darcy chuckled softly at her enthusiasm and continued. "Knowing Cyril as we did, we suspected he'd somehow made Richard's horse startle. So while he was down at the river, we looked into his saddlebags. Sure enough, there was a blow gun."
"A blow gun?" She peered at him with a confused look on her face. He lifted his hand to smooth her brow, but stopped himself just in time. Luckily she didn't seem to notice his slip.
"Yes. A blow gun is a hollowed out stick or pole in which you place a stone or a dart of some kind. You then put it to your mouth and blow, pointing it in the direction you wish to shoot. In this case, to the hind quarters of Richard's mount. It's not enough to hurt the animal, just startle it off its course. So we decided to get revenge."
Elizabeth's eyes were wide as she looked up at him expectantly.
"It was a hot day in early August, and we were a little worse for the wear. So we suggested to Cyril that we take a dip in the river. It was not so unusual, we'd done it several times in years past, though not recently. So we all went for a swim and as Cyril was leaning against the banks with his eyes closed, after an hour of bragging about his winning the race I might add, Richard and I gathered up his clothes, quickly mounted our horses and headed back to the stables, leaving a rather bare Cyril with nothing but his stallion for cover."
Miss Bennet's gasp brought him back to the present and he looked down at her shocked face. He was grinning mischievously (and not a little proudly) as she stared up at him with wide eyes. "You mean you were swimming without, without your… I mean you didn't have, you weren't wearing any…" she stammered and trailed off. As Darcy tried to catch her meaning, she blushed and looked down.
"Oh!" he exclaimed as realization hit him. "Yes, I suppose we were. Forgive me Miss Bennet. This story really isn't at all appropriate for a young lady's ears." He flushed and looked away, embarrassed. He hadn't meant to get so carried away.
"No Mr. Darcy, you gave me fair warning and I insisted. I was just a little surprised. I am quite collected now. Pray, do continue your story. I'm most interested to hear how it ends." She looked at him playfully and he carried on.
"Well, Richard and I made it back in good time, but we didn't know when Cyril would arrive, or even if he would. We'd left his horse tied to a tree, although Richard did consider sending it off as well, but thought better of it. We thought he might head to a barn or try to sneak in through one of the servants' entrances. We certainly didn't expect him at the stables. So we sat in the courtyard, laughing and congratulating ourselves, when in rode Cyril, bare as the day he was born, red in the face and swearing at the top of his lungs. He lunged straight for us on that enormous stallion and would have trampled us if we hadn't jumped out of the way.
"As it happened, we did make it clear, only to have him dismount and chase us around the stable yard, screaming profanities and hurling rocks at us. Richard and I were laughing so hard at the sight of him, we could hardly dodge the rocks. Eventually, one of the stable hands fetched my father and he came to the yard to put an end to things. He marched us all into his study and gave us a stern talking to, then dragged us back to the stables and whipped us soundly. Cyril was eighteen and didn't care for it, but father was determined. We never raced again; well, at least not with Cyril."
His broad smile was contagious, and Elizabeth couldn't help but laugh softly. "Forgive me sir, but it is a most entertaining story. I can just picture you and the Colonel, running around a stable yard, dodging rocks from a half mad, nude cousin. It really is too much!" She laughed in earnest now, partly from the story, and partly because she just admitted that she was picturing a nude man. A blush spread over her cheeks and she laughed even harder, embarrassed that he must realize her embarrassment. Darcy joined her with his mild chuckle, but mostly he just beamed at her while she blushed and laughed, enjoying the companionship.
They walked a few more feet before Elizabeth spoke. "I believe you are right, Sir. That story is not at all appropriate for young ladies. I am glad Colonel Fitzwilliam was unsuccessful in telling it in front of Georgiana. While it is terribly funny, I don't know how quickly she would recover from the shock. And I'm sure the Colonel's version is even less circumspect than yours."
"I fear you are right Miss Bennet. Richard has a flair for storytelling. The facts are not always accurate, but you will not become bored."
Elizabeth was having such an enjoyable time, she almost forgot she was with Mr. Darcy.
"Mr. Darcy, I'm afraid I am in your debt."
"Yes. I feel the cost of my escort was not equal to your rather illuminating story. I fear the balance now weighs heavily on your side."
"Does it now? Well, we shall have to even the score then." He smiled at her playfully.
"What do you have in mind, Mr. Darcy?" She smiled back, with a trace of a challenge in her eyes.
"I believe I have some rather tedious meetings scheduled for this week."
"Yes. I am sure that afterward, I will be quite in need of fresh air to shake off the business of the day."
"Yes, quite. And I shall be too tired to read, but will want entertainment."
"And who shall provide this entertainment?"
"Why you, Miss Bennet."
"Me?" He nodded. "And what form of entertainment shall you require? Shall I tell you a story? Or would you rather I sing to you?" she asked archly.
"Ah, Miss Bennet, you forget that you sing to me almost every night already, quite to my delight. I think I would like a story."
"And what kind of story would suit your fancy, sir?"
"One where at least one of the Misses Bennet is behaving rather badly and gets properly punished, preferably you."
His devilish grin was the only reply she was to have.
"Very well, then. I shall do my best," she said with more calm than she felt.
By now they had circled the park and were coming upon the gates.
"Are you ready to return Miss Bennet?" His voice was serious again.
"Yes, it is rather cold. It's probably best we get back before my fingers lose all feeling!" she joked.
"Are your hands cold?" he asked solicitously.
"A bit. But it is not far now, I shall be fine."
Before she could protest, he took up the hand that rested on his arm and began to rub it vigorously between his own. When he had gone on for a few moments, he gently laid it back on his arm and held out his palm for her other hand. She looked at him questioningly, and then cautiously laid her hand in his larger one. He followed the same procedure, rubbing it between his large, sturdy hands while she self-consciously watched his movement.
When he had finished, he released her hand and asked softly, "Better?"
"Yes, quite, I thank you," she replied quietly.
They walked the remaining block in silence, stepped into the house, and with a shy smile, she went upstairs to prepare for dinner.
A/N And that's all that's posted here. The whole story can be found on Amazon (search: The Houseguest by Elizabeth Adams) and you can find outtakes to this story, and other short stories, at Thanks for reading!