Prologue - An Intriguing Couple

Authors' note: This is the story of Darcy and Elizabeth, but with big differing complications that try prevent them from coming together in perfect harmonious matrimonial bliss; not the least of which is both pride and prejudice, but also a few other major things that differ from the book/movie story-line. Beware; a certain amount of angst will come, but I also have a soft spot for fluffy cuteness, so I hope to include a bit of both. Rated T for future chapters... and I do, very much love HEA's.

Disclaimer: I do not own and did not write the original Pride and Prejudice and any familiar characters/places/phrases/dialogue are Jane Austen's. That's it. All events, characteristics and etc. not belonging to Jane Austen are mine, including all unfamiliar characters and all the circumstances I put them through. I would never lower myself to purposely copying someone else's work, though with p&p being such a large fandom, ideas or events may seem similar to another authors' at some time or another.

Now on to the story, I really do hope you all enjoy it. [and the story is not really about Rose Maldridge, but she's necessary for the prologue... We'll be hearing from Elizabeth's POV in the first chapter and Mr Darcy's in the next :]

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The room gleamed and sparkled, exuding warmth and good cheer while happy conversation and laughter floated through the air. She stepped out of the carriage, her initial fear and nervousness beginning to fade in the face of the welcoming ball room. Lambton wasn't a big town and balls were rare - other than at Farlington Manor, the closest ball room you would hope to come across was at Pemberley, a large estate that many had heard about but rarely seen. Rumours and tales surrounded the stately house, but balls were so uncommon that the residents of Lambton had given up hope of ever hoping to attend one there. The ball at Farlington Manor happened only twice a year, so those more fashionable people often went to London to experience a true 'Season' in town.

Unfortunately for one young lady, this was too much to hope for. Her parents had died, when she was but ten years old, of a fever that swept Lambton six years ago, and ever since, Rosemary Maldrigde had to live with her aunt and uncle on her father's side. The family had been estranged for many years but, in the wake of the tragic death, James and Petunia Maldridge were her only living relatives. The little girl of ten had no say in the matter.

Alone, but mostly treated civilly, she had grown up under the watchful eye of her Aunt Maldridge, a cold-mannered woman who cared a lot for ostentatious wealth and even more for public displays of condescension. Regard to such care of appearance was the main factor behind their taking in of Rose; their neighbours praised them for their kindness of 'looking after a girl they'd never had contact with before, after Mr Maldridge's dreadful brother cut ties with them years ago'. Mr and Mrs Maldridge lapped up the praise and allowed Rosemary's presence.

Despite living with such unpleasant people, Rose herself was not prone to such mannerisms of misplaced superiority, and had learnt to go about her daily life with relative contentment, settling in and adjusting as best she could. At ten, she had missed her parents dearly but over the years she had almost forgotten them and grew up to be a quiet, shy, but good-humoured girl who tolerated her only relations with equanimity. Her first introduction to society had been recent, when her aunt and uncle had taken her to town and presented her to court, but that had been all formality and everything stiff and uncomfortable. Now she would meet new people and perhaps make a friend or two - Rosemary wished with all her heart to have at least one friend her own age. She was finally out!

Rose smiled, feeling like a queen as she floated up the front steps behind her aunt and uncle, their earlier unkind words completely falling off her shoulders like water. Music graced her ears and excitement raced through her limbs.

"Good afternoon ma'am, Sir," said the butler at the door.

Mrs Maldridge nodded condescendingly at the man as she and her husband swept past him. Rose smiled shyly at the man, but he'd already turned to greet the next couple in line, hardly noticing her. Rose didn't mind.

Her attention was suddenly arrested by the other occupants of the room, the many beautiful ladies and gentlemen standing around the modest but friendly ballroom. As she followed her relations further into the room, it became immediately clear that something unusual was taking place this night. Snatches of conversation came and drifted, seemingly disconnected, but Rose suspected they were all very related.

"Did you hear - can't believe - " A young voice.

"Look at that dress! Isn't it - " A lady's shrill voice.

"He looks as uncomfortable as always, if you ask - " A gentleman speaking.

"See the way he stares - rude really." A matron disapproving.

" - connected. She moves - " A high-pitched, silly voice.

"Quite unusual, too." Another lady.

" - happy for him - good sort of chap." Another gentleman.

" - Attached. Married for love - " A sighing, sing-songing voice, like the one before.

" - a very disappointed family. On his side, at least. I heard that hers, though were very happy. She came from a family of five sisters! Five, can you imagine! And only one of the others married at the time. Lord, the lady's mother deserves a congratulations! She must have been so desperate to get her daughters married, though, frankly, considering their background, I'm shocked she managed to snatch such good matches for her daughters."

This last speech was spoken by a nasally-voiced young woman on Rose's left side, and she paused curiously, her aunt and uncle continuing forward and forgetting her presence as they lost themselves in the crowd. Feeling quite alone now, but not altogether concerned, she sidled closer to the nasally-voiced girl and her group. Another girl was now speaking.

"Well I should think that perhaps the mama had nothing to do with it; maybe it was love, at first sight." The sounds of dreamy girlish sighs followed, and Rose crept closer still, wondering who they were talking of.

"I think not!" said the first girl again, "What does she have that the rest of us do not? Why would he like her above all others?"

"That is the point is it not? That he should see something particularly special in her that no one else has, even if she is not the most beautiful girl?" Rose interjected. Four pairs of eyes suddenly fixed on Rose, one hostile, the other three merely curious. Realising her grievous mistake, Rose blushed brightly. What had she been thinking, speaking up like that, especially to girls she had never been properly introduced to?

"And what, pray tell, is so 'particularly special' about her then?" The owner of the nasally unpleasant voice was a tall blonde with green eyes that were currently narrowed unpleasantly in her direction.

"Well I - " Rose was blushing so hard now that she was sure her face must resemble the ruddier breed of her namesake, "I was speaking in general really... I'm not - I am not acquainted with the lady, nor the gentleman."

An unladylike snort erupted from the tall unpleasant blonde as she turned back to her three so-far silent other friends, "The poor girl doesn't even know of whom she speaks!"

The girl who'd spoken up before, the one who'd suggested the 'love at first sight' idea, apparently felt a little sorry for Rose and said a little timidly, "Well, she might be right - I mean, maybe he does see something in her differently. And Miss - " she paused, then gestured with her hand at Rose before carrying on, "can hardly be blamed, for none of us really know either of the couple personally, not even you, Eunice."

Eunice looked down her narrow nose at Rose, "I'm sure I know more about them than this girl anyway, whoever she is. It is terribly rude to eavesdrop and then interrupt a private conversation you know; very ill-mannered. Don't you agree Harriett?"

Feeling embarrassed and more than a little intimidated, Rose looked at the one named Harriett while speaking, "I apologise." She hesitated, then added quickly, "My name is Rosemary Maldridge. I'm here with Mr and Mrs Maldridge, my aunt and uncle."

One of the two girls who had yet to speak suddenly piped up, "Oh yes, we know you. Mrs Maldridge visits our mother quite often you see. Our mother is Mrs Stocks." She looked quite pleased with herself that she'd spoken, but when Eunice glared at her, she clammed up again.

"Oh, where are our manners!" Harriett, who seemed to be the bravest and kindest of the four girls, exclaimed, "My name is Harriett Montgomery, this is Eunice Bremmer and these are the twins; Ilene and Merle Stocks. It's a pleasure to meet you Miss Rosemary." Rose smiled back at Harriett gratefully.

Eunice fumed quietly to herself, but added, "Yes, it's nice to finally be introduced, Miss Maldridge."

The twins, feeling this gave them leave to greet Rose as well, both said at once, "It's very nice to meet you Miss Maldridge," and they did so with almost matching smiles, so Rose gladly smiled back.

"It's very nice to meet you all as well." Rose assured them, glad that she had made a friend of sorts in Harriett and three acquaintances at least in Eunice and the twins. "I wonder though, who was it specifically you were speaking of earlier?"

"Oh, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, of course!" Harriett enthused, "The most handsome couple I've ever seen, and the talk of the ton!" Ilene and Merle nodded in agreement, "They are here tonight too!" Harriett's eyes were bright and she began looking quickly around the room, attempting to look over the heads of all the people swarming around them.

"Yes, yes, they are here." Eunice said petulantly, "Though I do not think I agree about them being the most handsome couple. Mrs Darcy could only be considered pretty; no more."

"Oh tosh Eunice, you're just jealous." Harriett didn't seem to notice Eunice's affronted look, as she continued excitedly pointing with a finger towards the far side of the room, "Oh look! There they are, see the tall, dark gentleman with the lady walking by the refreshment table just now?"

The other three girls were already following the couple with their eyes, so Rose looked over to see what, or whom, captured their attention. What she saw was mostly as Harriett described; a very tall gentleman with dark hair and a severe expression, following a lady who appeared quite oblivious to him. The lady was of no abnormal height, with pretty dark curls piled upon her head, and an expression, that even from across the room, Rose could see was anything but demure. The lady was moving quickly away from her husband, her smaller frame weaving through the tight crowd easier than her large husband, who must have been trying to retain his dignity while wading slowly after his run-away lover.

Curiosity piqued, and still watching the couple weaving in and out of the crowd, Rose asked, "But what is so interesting about them? They are certainly handsome and the gentleman looks quite attached, to be sure, but why so much fuss?"

Harriett looked away from the object of their interest to gaze oddly at Rose, "Don't you know who they are?" Rose's expression told that she didn't, so Harriett continued, "They're the owners of Pemberley, the biggest estate in Derbyshire! And half the county! They're very wealthy indeed, and Eunice here first heard that the lady's pin-money was - "

"Yes, they're extremely wealthy." Eunice interrupted impatiently, her irritation boiling over, "And they have all the desirable connections anyone could possibly want and I heard something mentioned about a title - "

"That is just rumour." Harriett injected.

"It is not!" Eunice protested, "I heard it is a very real possibility! But that's not just what's so interesting. The point is, all of these good things came with Mr Darcy when he married, but Mrs Darcy, Nee Bennet, was almost a country nobody, just like us! Apparently there was a huge scandal regarding one of her sisters, of which there are four others, and she came with almost no dowry at all! Hardly a temptation to a man like him, if you ask me. And then there was her family! I've heard talk from my grandfathers cousins' sister that they were very improper and disagreeable - "

"Eunice!" Harriett scolded lightly, "You're missing half the story." And turning back to speak to Rose, she explained, "Mrs Darcy was married before she married Mr Darcy you know, although there's a certain amount of suspicion and rumour surrounding how that ended..."

"She killed him." Eunice said bluntly.

The other four girls, including Rose, gasped. "Eunice!" Harriett exclaimed, shocked, "You should not say things like that in company, someone might hear you!"

Eunice shrugged, apparently unconcerned, "Well, that is what people were saying. The circumstances of the viscount's death was - "

"Viscount?" Rose interrupted, getting quite confused. Up until now, she'd been listening very eagerly and attentively.

"Oh yes, she married a viscount, but ..." Merle, who apparently knew quite a lot about the subject and was less shy than her twin, would have continued, except she found that her companions were no longer listening. They were again searching the crowd with their eyes for the man and woman in question, when Merle suddenly pointed Mrs Darcy out, "There!"

Mrs Darcy, Rose saw, was engaged in an apparently amusing conversation with two gentlemen, their smiles big and laughter loud, but Mr Darcy was nowhere in sight. "That's strange," Ilene commented quietly, after a while, "They haven't separated from each other all evening until now."

"But where has Mr Darcy gone?" All the girls scanned the room, but he was either hidden or was in another part of the assembly rooms. They couldn't find him.

"Maybe they had a disagreement?" Harriett suggested with a thoughtful frown, "Although somehow, I wouldn't like to believe it of them."

Eunice snorted like she'd done earlier, "I think you've read too many silly romance novels. Of course married couples disagree sometimes! And they have even more reason than most too, considering their unequal - "

"I would say they were quite equal upon entering the marriage state together, actually." Harriett disagreed, swiping her dark curls behind an ear, "After all, Mr Darcy can have little to complain about if a viscount would have had her!"

Conversation ceased for a moment as a young, and clearly unattached man scooted past their group. Merle giggled. The bachelor gave them all an odd look and then was gone, swallowed by the crowd. Merle giggled again.

"Who was that?" Rose asked. He'd been a nice looking gentleman but was clearly not as polished as someone of Mr Darcy's standing.

"That's Archibald!" Merle giggled even more.

Eunice rolled her eyes, but Harriett explained, "Merle here has been infatuated with Mr Archibald Baxter since anyone can remember, but ..." she looked at the girl in question, who suddenly looked disheartened, "... he hasn't realised what a gem she is just yet." Merle grinned again, her spirits restored at the sisterly praise.

"Anyway," Eunice interrupted the pleasant silence, "Why don't we try to find Mr Darcy? I'd just love to find him locked out on a balcony somewhere doing something improper with another lady."

"Eunice!" Harriett stage-whispered angrily, her eyes flicking around again as if she was afraid they'd all been heard and were in trouble, "You really must stop talking of such things!"

"Well," Eunice said indignantly, "It's not odd that a gentleman would seek company elsewhere if his wife does not want him with her."

Suddenly all four girls, excluding Eunice, were flushed very deeply, but now even Harriett didn't bother to scold her. In the silence that followed, Rose cleared her throat, "Improper dealings or not, maybe we could try to find him until the dances start." The search for Mr Darcy would provide a diverting entertainment for them all until the dances started, at least.

"Yes." Harriett agreed quickly, "Shall we split up?"

Rose and Eunice nodded but the twins decided to stick together, which didn't surprise Rose very much. Leaving her companions, and feeling quite confident now that she knew a few people in the crowd, and having quite forgotten her relations, she started towards the refreshment table, which was where she'd last seen the mysterious couple together. The refreshment table was on a slightly raised platform so upon reaching it, she looked over the heads of the ballroom's occupants from her new perspective.

She could see Mrs Darcy better here, from her elevated view-point, as well as being closer, so she could almost hear her conversation with the two gentlemen, who appeared quite in awe of the lady. Then Mrs Darcy looked up and stared intently a ways across the room, her lips twitching momentarily. Following the direction of her gaze, Rose finally spotted Mr Darcy. He was backed up against one of the large central pillars surrounding the room, which explained why none of the girls had seen him earlier; and he was staring, quite unguardedly, back at his wife, his mouth and expression neutral, distant, if not slightly displeased and he looked everything the picture of arrogance, but as Rose looked she perceived that his eyes, which she could see very clearly, were neither distant or indifferent; they were in fact, very expressive. Just watching how he regarded his wife made Rose blush. Even across a room from each other, their connection was so obvious, they were communicating with just their eyes. Mr Darcy was not engaged in conversation with anyone, and he stood quite distant from everyone around him, but even his body language, the way he stood, the angle his face stilled at, was all suggesting that he was only very aware of a singular presence across the room; his eyes never wavered from their object.

Mrs Darcy, on the other hand, was engaged in animated conversation. It suddenly occurred to Rose that perhaps Mr Darcy was feeling a little jealous. His beautiful wife was, after all, having a very enjoyable conversation with two amiable gentlemen without him. To support this theory, Rose noticed that when Mrs Darcy suddenly laughed at something, a small frown suddenly appeared on Mr Darcy's brows. When Mrs Darcy leaned in closer to one of the gentlemen to say something in a lower voice, Mr Darcy noticeably stiffened and took a step forward before pausing, his glare trained purposefully at his wife's visage. She was now ignoring him however and didn't even glance up at him. It almost seemed like she was baiting him on purpose, just to get this reaction from him. Although quite appalled at this behaviour, Rose had to believe that Mrs Darcy didn't mean to hurt her husband, but was merely of a teasing disposition and must take some strange delight in provoking him. Mrs Darcy chuckled at something amusing the man on her left said. Rose realised with delight that she could hear it, her laughter was light and enjoyable, a sound that made you want to smile and know what the jest was. Perhaps it was Mrs Darcy's laughter that had so bewitched her Mr Darcy. One of the gentlemen was obviously also quite enamoured with her, as he moved surreptitiously closer to Mrs Darcy, and it was then that Rose realised with an indignant gasp that he let his gaze wander lower than her face - far lower!

Snapping her attention back to where Mr Darcy was, or had been, for he was no longer there, it became apparent that she wasn't the only one who noticed the supposed gentleman letting his eyes wander improperly. Mr Darcy was wading determinedly through the crowd towards Mrs Darcy, his expression thunderous. People parted to get out of his way upon seeing his expression and one lady even gasped and exclaimed, "Why Mr Darcy, whatever is the matter!?" but unfortunately she was thoroughly ignored and Mr Darcy was not to be distracted from his object; which was becoming quite obvious to Rose. When Mrs Darcy glanced over, hearing the commotion, her eyes widened and she said something to her companions and moved away from both them and her approaching husband. The ungentlemanly man followed her with his eyes, but his expression quickly changed to one of alarm upon realising that suddenly before him was Mr Darcy, the husband of the woman he'd been inappropriately eyeing.

Nervously, he took a step back from the taller man's imposing figure, while Mr Darcy glared at him and began to speak lowly. Even from here, Rose could see the shorter man swallow uncomfortably. She, seemingly, wasn't the only one watching. The two men had created quite the scene; half the ball rooms' occupants were staring openly. Rose wondered if either man was aware of this, as they seemed entirely too focused on the other to notice. Mr Darcy obviously had fury driving his intentions, his eyes narrowed dangerously, while the other man, stricken in terror, couldn't look away for fear of the possibility of Mr Darcy unexpectedly striking him. Then abruptly, Mr Darcy turned and left, his gaze once again finding that of his wifes' who met his eyes with a now unfathomable expression. She didn't look very pleased and at this moment he still looked very furious. The crowd parted around him uneasily and Rose realised with alarm that Mr Darcy was walking straight towards her! Frozen, the room strangely silent, she stood there as Mr Darcy approached, then stepped up to join her on the raised plat-form. A servant poured him a drink, which he took, and then ignoring everyone, he strode away, back through the crowd and disappeared through a door leading to an outdoor balcony. The room breathed an audible sigh of relief.

Just then, an older man suddenly called out, in an attempt at a jubilant tone; "How about we start-up some dances now? For what is a ball without them?" And agreeing collectively, people began to resume conversations while making room in their midst to create an open space for dancing. Couples started to line up but Rose couldn't take her eyes off Mrs Darcy. Her expression was very troubled and her eyes kept flicking to the door her husband had disappeared behind. The music started up and the dances began.

"Rosemary! There you are!"

Startled, Rose looked up to find her aunt striding towards her, "We've been looking for you everywhere, you ungrateful girl! It's no way for a young girl to go disappearing off on your own, who knew where you could have been!" Her aunt eyed her closely and then lowering her voice maliciously, said, "You haven't gone off with a boy have you?"

"No!" Rose protested indignantly, "I was here the whole time." Her aunt hmmphed and pulled her away back to where her uncle stood with some of their friends. Rose allowed herself to be led along behind her aunt in a docile manner, all the while conscious of the gossip going on around her.

"I always knew something was amiss!" declared one woman somewhere.

"Hmm, yes, it is quite strange..." came the reply.

Rose noticed another woman glaring at Mrs Darcy as she said, "Ungrateful, indecent woman! Flirting with other men right under her husband's nose!"

"Yes, it did certainly seem that way," intoned a man who might have been her husband, "Poor Darcy. A man of his position deserves better."

Rose hurried after her aunt to get away from the mean gossip, but could not escape it. Everywhere people seemed to be speaking of it and when they found her uncle among the crowd, he was standing with a lady and another man. Their identities soon became clear as to be the twins parents; Mr and Mrs Stocks. Mr Stocks was a round man, short and large, with a very ruddy countenance and a bare head; the scowl upon his face did nothing to lighten his over-all displeasing figure. His wife, Mrs Stocks, on the other hand, was a fair-haired lady and though not particularly tall or short, she too was on the plump side, which gave Rose to understand immediately that they were a family of wealthy means. The large, gaudy jewelry adorning - or rather, weighing down - Mrs Stocks ears and bodice added to this assumption.

"Ah, my dears!" exclaimed Mr Maldridge upon seeing his wife and niece, quite purposefully interrupting Mr Stocks who had been talking quite dully about how the musicians instruments hurt his ears, "There you are," he then added to them, but looking at Rose, quite sternly, "How nice of you to join us."

"Thank you James, Miss Rose was just getting herself a drink." Rose noticed with displeasure that her aunt said in a manner as though she herself didn't believe it.

"Hmm, yes, it seems everyone is in need of a drink this night," Mr Stocks muttered, "Even that Darcy fellow, disagreeable as he is."

"Oh yes?" said Mrs Maldridge with interest, "Do you know the Darcy's very well?"

"Well, I've spoken to Mrs Darcy, a perfectly amiably lady, much more so than her husband I assure you - " he here wiggled his eyebrows in a way that made Rose feel quite sick, as he continued, "Mr Darcy, now he's a proud and inattentive man. Why, Mrs Frenson might have been choking the other day and he wouldn't have moved from his wife's side!"

"The other day, you say?"

Mrs Stocks answered then, "Oh yes, we were calling upon the Frenson's and the Darcy's happened to be there too. Whatever happened today couldn't have been Mrs Darcy's fault, she's perfectly dear, her husband must just be far too high-handed."

"Hmm, indeed," her husband agreed, just as Merle and Ilene Stocks appeared together, one on each side of their parents, who were greeted and introduced before Ilene explained that they were already acquainted with Rose. "Superb!" he said, beaming with a full set of large teeth.

"Yes," Merle said excitedly, "Now all we need to complete the evening is a few nice gentlemen to dance with!"

"Hmm, calm down dear, I'm sure there's a nice gentleman just waiting to dance with you - " Suddenly Mr Stocks stopped talking, and his companions turned to see the cause; and what a surprising cause it was! Or rather he was a suprising cause; for Mr Darcy himself was walking towards them and stopped at their circle. No one had even noticed his silent return to the ballroom.

"Good evening Mr and Mrs Stocks." Mr Darcy said gravely.

"Oh good evening Sir!" said Mrs Stocks, who regained her faculties first, her husband seeming still quite shocked at his appearance. Mr Darcy nodded but didn't say anything immediately, so she continued, "Oh, and may we introduce our acquaintances, the Maldridge's?"

Mr Darcy started suddenly as though surprised as he regarded Rose's aunt and uncle and herself with sudden interest, but he agreed and Mr Stocks introduced them all. Then it was the Maldridge's and Stocks' turn to be surprised as Mr Darcy immediately asked Miss Maldridge for the next dance.

"Me?" Rose asked, incredulously, blushing furiously at the same time. Mr Darcy made no reply to that, so she added, "I mean, yes, of course, thank you Mr Darcy." he nodded, his indifferent facade so unfaltering that Rose couldn't help but wonder why he asked for the dance at all. She could feel Ilene and Merle's eyes on her, their stares questioning and envious, but they stayed silent in the presence of their parents. Rose had the distinct feeling that she would be questioned thoroughly later.

"Is your back feeling better today Mr Stocks?" The tall, handsome gentleman suddenly inquired of the short, round gentleman, who looked quite startled at the abruptness of address and change of topic.

"Oh - yes. Yes, its feeling quite better now, thank you Mr Darcy, thank you, and... how is Mrs Darcy this evening?"

Mr Darcy shifted slightly, his eyes flicking up and away from the present company for a moment, though not resting on anything for long as he answered, somewhat uncomfortably, Rose thought, "I dare say she is as well as ever."

"Good! Good..." there was a pause as he trailed off, but luckily the music was starting to wind down now, saving them from more awkward conversation.

Mr Darcy stated that the next dance was about to start and took his leave of the others, while a startled Rose took Mr Darcy's proffered arm shyly, feeling very young and small indeed next to the tall and imposing gentleman as he led her away, feeling the stares of six pairs of eyes on them acutely.

"How very odd..." she'd heard Mrs Stocks whisper as they'd turned away. Rose silently agreed.

Even as they reached the other dancing couples, it was perfectly obvious to Rose that her partner wasn't really paying much attention to her; his gaze wandered away to look over the crowds too often for that, but even so, Rose didn't particularly mind, so while the dance went on, she satisfied herself with examining the strange gentleman that had a large part in causing such a stir. Mr Darcy, she noticed, was a proficient dancer, despite his obvious inattention and seeming lack of interest in his partner, and he was surprisingly graceful for such a tall man. The line of his mouth was straight and sever, as she'd noticed earlier, but up close she could see clearly the strain about his lips as though he presently pondered a very unpleasant subject. His nose was noble and straight, as was his other features for that matter - such as his chin, and the lines of his face were very angular, with a broad forehead, currently creased slightly at the brows. He was completely clean-shaven, which was to be expected, and his hair was immaculately groomed while a lock of hair still managed to rest on his forehead. He was, over-all, very well-favoured. His eyes however, were the feature that most attracted her interest, as they seemed unsettled, a large comparative difference to the rest of his bearing and the way they had looked so steadily, so unwaveringly when he had looked upon his wife earlier. They were a very deep brown and were currently quite expressionless as they -

Rose was abruptly brought out of her musings. He was now looking at her!

She managed to not trip as she stepped towards him as the dance required and waited for him to speak; "Miss Maldridge," he began, "Are you enjoying yourself this night?"

"I - Yes, I am, thankyou." she stuttered, her cheeks flushed, "Er... and you, Sir?"

He hesitated before nodding slightly, seeming uninterested. Then he started a new topic, "Miss Maldridge - I hope I do not bring sad memories to mind by speaking of them, but I thought I'd mention that I was quite acquainted with your parents."

"My parents?" she asked incredulously, extremely surprised.

"Yes indeed. I heard you were quite young when they passed." He looked at her and she thought she heard something like compassion in his voice, though she couldn't see his face as she had walk around one of the other dance couples in the set.

"I was... pray tell, how did you know them?"

He pursed his lips, "I was very good friends with them while they lived, your father especially. He was a university professor when I went to Cambridge, though he quit not long after I left. You were but a babe when I first knew him."

"What was he like?" she asked, barely containing her eagerness. Her aunt and uncle hadn't given a favourable impression of him at all, and though she had been ten, and able to remember her parents after they passed, her memories were still quite limited and she longed to know more about them, and how they had fit into the society she was being introduced to.

"He was a good man. Fair and knowledgeable, kind to those beneath him. He was a man you could be proud to call father." he assured her, a tiny hint of a smile curling his mouth, which somehow softened his whole countenance considerably.

Was Mr Darcy perhaps implying that her father had been like a father figure to him? The thought made her suddenly extremely happy and she found herself a little teary eyed as she replied, "Thank you Mr Darcy, you are very kind."

He nodded once, his reserved countenance once again in place as he observed, "You look a lot like your mother."

"I do?" she asked, shooting a happy smile at him when she turned and skipped around him with the other women, "I always did wonder."

"Her hair colour was very similar to yours and... you have the same ears."

"Ears?" Rose repeated, perplexed. He seemed to say such unexpected things all the time that it seemed she needed confirmation for every second thing he declared.

"Yes, for your fathers' were very rather large and ... noticeable." Rose had the distinct impression that he found this amusing, perhaps remembering a fond memory of her father. She could remember that he did have rather noticeable ears - they were large and red, as Mr Darcy described, and stuck out from his head quite humorously, giving him the appearance of something like a kindly old troll... except perhaps better looking. Rose was extremely glad she did not resemble her father in that respect. She smiled at him but he regarded her as stoutly as ever, if perhaps a little less severely.

The dance soon came to an end and he escorted her silently back to her relations whereupon he bowed and walked away; Rose did not see where he went, but she soon found herself surrounded by three eager girls.

"But where has Merle got to?" Rose asked in confusion as Ilene and Harriett badgered her for what Mr Darcy said and what was it like dancing with him. Eunice watched patiently, although she too, must have been eager for details.

"Oh, she's dancing at the moment. Her partner isn't very agreeable, but seeing as he has asked me for the next set, I can hardly judge." Ilene said contentedly.

"Oh." Rose said nodding, frustrating the other girls with her reluctance and hesitation to talk about who they wanted to hear of.

"Now about Mr Darcy!" Harriett finally cried, "Was he agreeable or terrible or just ...tolerable?"

"His manners were perfectly pleasing, if a little distant. I can hardly think it a fault though, he seemed to have a lot on his mind."

"But why did he ask you?" Eunice interrupted, "I mean, Merle said you weren't even acquainted with him before he asked you!"

"I wasn't and it was all quite strange, I admit." Rose then reluctantly told them of what Mr Darcy had said after they demanded that she tell them, whereupon they then all claimed that it made perfect sense now. According to them, Mr Darcy was merely paying his respects to his friends' family by honouring the daughter with a dance. Eunice made it sound almost like an insult, but Rose decided not to comment.

"So where is he now?" Rose asked.

"Oh he just went out onto that balcony and oh, La! Mrs Darcy has just left through the same door too." Harriett said excitedly, "Honestly Rose, you should have seen them when they entered together, they really did look like quite the couple; very elegant, noble and very impressive. Then they split and haven't been together until now."

Eunice got a decidedly mischievous look about her as she said, "I don't suppose it would be very lady-like of us if we were to spy on them..." The girls exchanged looks and giggles, all quite ready to disregard this little impropriety for the moment, except Harriett who cautioned her friends;

"I don't know... if we were caught - "

"We won't!" said Eunice as she dragged Harriett by the hand with Rose and Ilene towards the doors. They didn't plan to go through them, they just planned to loiter a little bit and look inconspicuous. With this accomplished, they were able to see, but unfortunately not hear, Mr and Mrs Darcy. The two were on opposite sides of the balcony, Mrs Darcy having very clearly been the one to put the space between them, for even as they watched, Mr Darcy stepped towards her and Mrs Darcy backed up a little. None of the girls missed the decidedly unhappy look on that lady's face or the hurt one on her husbands'.

"They're having an argument!" Ilene whispered with wide eyes, stating what was already rather obvious.

Eunice looked smug, "I told you they were an unhappy couple, not suited at all!" Harriett hissed at her to hush, but she continued, "It's really quite hopeless, I think. She's obviously angry at him, but the more she pushes him away, the more likely he is to seek comfort elsewhere and therefore the angrier she'll get. I'm assured they are quite doomed already to an unhappy marriage. Serves them both right - "

"Eunice, stop that at once!"

" - for he married below himself and she obviously married into a position where she didn't belong. Now they're - Ow! " at this point Harriett actually kicked Eunice's ankles, earning herself a glare. From then they watched the spectacle in silence, half concealed by a large, heavy curtain and a strategically placed pot-plant.

Mr and Mrs Darcy really did look quite well together, Rose found herself thinking. It was quite a pity they seemed so at odds with each other, they seemed otherwise to be a good match. Both were dark-haired and dark-eyed, and the way the gentleman was really quite taller than his wife leant him an almost protective air, for at the moment he looked anything but threatening. He was currently speaking quietly and quite vehemently in almost a pleading manner to his wife, who was determinedly looking away from him, out over the town. Rose found herself thinking that if only a man cared about her the way Mr Darcy obviously did for his wife, then she would be quite content with life. Even Rose, young as she was, was aware that love in the upper classes was not as common as it should be; there were far many more inducements to marry than for love.

Rose desperately found herself wishing that the couple could settle their differences and love and be happy together; to be a real-life version of all the wild romance novels that young women of her time liked to read. She knew of no one currently alive that were happily and blissfully married [her aunt and uncle certainly weren't; they hated their niece only slightly more than they hated each other,] and though she would have liked to believe her parents had a happy marriage, she wouldn't ever know for sure, so she wanted to at least know of one happily married couple to be as an example for her. What hope of a good match did she have otherwise, if she didn't know what to expect in a good marriage?

With these perplexing and weighty thoughts on her mind, there was one question that stood out and begged for an immediate answer; Why was Mrs Darcy acting so cold towards her husband?

...&...&...&...&...

... I'm a new writer; please kindly tell me what you think by leaving a review. I'm always open to suggestion and critique :) Chapter 1 coming soon; "Amusing Musings and Notorious Nightmares"

~childofthetrueking