Hello, everyone! I'm so pleased by everyone who read my first chapter, and especially those who left comments. I should have an author's note on the first chapter, so I'm putting it here instead. This is a completed story (well except for one or two lines at the very end that I'm still thinking over). There are eighteen chapters. You can expect me to post a couple of times a week. I hope you enjoy it.
Chapter 2: A Lot of Gold to Turn Down
She remained in Jane's room for the rest of the afternoon, wishing fervently that they could go home. Her sister was still feverish though, and she could neither consider leaving nor removing her. She considered asking for a tray in her room, but knew such a request would be rude. Therefore, when the dinner bell rang she was ready, and went quietly down the stairs.
Mr. Darcy was in the room when she entered, standing off to the side and looking dour—but she averted her eyes as quickly as they identified him, and concentrated on greeting Mr. Bingley and the others. She gladly went into dinner with Bingley, leaving Darcy to escort Miss Bingley. When they were seated she lamented that their party was not larger—only six total, so it was impossible to be far from Mr. Darcy, though he had seated himself down the table and across from her. He was even more silent than usual, speaking only to answer Miss Bingley's sallies, and Elizabeth found herself unequal to much more.
After dinner Elizabeth excused herself to go check on her sister but, finding her sleeping, had no further excuse to remain upstairs. As strong as her desire to avoid Darcy was, she could not reconcile it to her conscience to claim Jane needed her when she did not. She entered the drawing room with some trepidation. Darcy, she saw immediately, was writing letters again, his tall form bent over the desk. Yesterday he had been writing slowly, but today his hand seemed to be moving with almost frantic speed. She saw his shoulders start when Mr. Bingley greeted her, and he turned his head and looked at her. Elizabeth blushed and hastily caught up a book from a side table, and sitting down, pretended to lose herself in it.
It was a volume of verse, and the pages fell open to a love poem. Finding it ironic, Elizabeth nevertheless began to read, and soon became genuinely interested in the expressions of passion. Some minutes passed in this way, until she heard Miss Bingley say, "Why, Mr. Darcy, what do you look for?"
"Only my book, madam," he replied.
There was a pause, then, "Why, Miss Elizabeth, I do believe you've taken Mr. Darcy's book. Did you not know it was his?"
Instantly she shut the book and held it out in his direction. "No, I am sorry."
He hesitated a moment before taking it. "No apology is necessary." Another pause. "Did you enjoy it?"
She looked away. "It passed the time well enough."
It burned her cheeks to realise that he might have thought of her as he read those poems. It was absurd, but less so than his proposal that afternoon. She could nearly believe it had all been imagined.
As soon as she reasonably could, Elizabeth excused herself. She looked in on Jane; she was still sleeping, and her skin felt cooler. Perhaps they would be able to return home soon.
Coming back into the hall, she nearly ran into Mr. Darcy. "Mr. Darcy!" Discomposed, she turned away, but he stopped her.
"Mr. Darcy, I cannot imagine that we have anything to say to each other."
"And I cannot imagine why you persist in refusing my offer."
"I believe I already—"
"You said that you did not think we would suit, but that seems manifestly absurd to me."
"Absurd?" She faced him indignantly.
"Anyone can see that we are well matched for sense and intelligence. We both have, I hope, good principles and a high sense of honour. You have a sister to whom you are devoted, I have a sister to whom I am devoted."
"So far you have said nothing that could not be said of many people."
"Some, yes; not many, I think. And fewer still have the liveliness of mind which you display. How many men do you believe could keep up with you?—Who would welcome your wit instead of deprecating it?"
"This is not about my wit, sir!" She was beginning to feel very uncomfortable and flushed.
"Not entirely." Suddenly his face and voice seemed to soften. "If you were not so pretty, I might be less affected by it."
She gasped, and spun away. Darcy moved quickly to block her path. "You have not answered me."
"On the contrary, I have given you a very clear answer. It is you who refuse to accept it!"
"That is not what I meant, and you know it. Tell me why you will not marry me!"
An audible gasp behind them caused both of them to turn quickly. Miss Bingley stood in the hall, having just rounded the corner. She was staring, her face so pale she seemed she might faint. Elizabeth and Darcy, by contrast, turned bright red. "Excuse me," Elizabeth murmured and, brushing past Darcy, fled to her room. She did not sleep much that night, too agitated and amazed to lie peacefully. That Mr. Darcy should love her was absurd, that he should annoy her with offers of marriage, beyond belief. Surely, surely, she would wake and find it all a dream.
After an agitated night, Elizabeth rose early and slipped down to the garden for a stroll before breakfast. She hoped that there, at least, she might be free from harassment. She found she was wrong when Darcy suddenly appeared before her. "You need to marry, and marry well."
This time she coloured in outright anger. "You are no gentleman to continue importuning me this way."
"I am only attempting to finish our conversation which was interrupted."
"I do not want to marry you!"
"That is nonsensical. Every woman wants to marry, and you cannot hope to do better."
"In terms of wealth I am sure you are right, but unlike some, I wish for more than a rich husband."
He laughed. "What do you wish for, then?"
She narrowed her eyes. "An amiable husband."
The laugh disappeared. "I do not take your point."
"Then let me make myself unmistakably clear. Your behaviour through this entire affair has been typical of the overweening arrogance that you display at every turn, Mr. Darcy. Your disdain for my family and my neighbourhood has been more than apparent, and has awoken an answering disdain in me. You are the most unpleasant man I have ever had the misfortune to know, and I would not marry you for all the gold in Ophir!"
He stared at her, his own eyes narrowed. "That is a lot of gold to turn down, madam, especially since you are destined to be poor."
"No poverty could make me as miserable as living with you would."
"And you base this astounding conclusion on what evidence? Have I ever lied to you, or been unkind to you? Have I comported myself as a rake, or a dandy, or talked like a fool? No! Rather, I have been scrupulously honest and sincere, I have respected your sense and intelligence—mistakenly, it appears!—and been circumspect about raising your expectations when I did not know my intentions. I am an honourable man, Miss Bennet, a just and many would say, generous one. My wife would lack for nothing. But you, however—!" He turned away as if unable to continue.
"Mr. Darcy, I must beg that you give me leave to go in the house. I do not believe either of us would profit from a continuation of this interview."
"I had thought better of your sense!" He rounded on her as if he had not heard what she said. "I thought you were a woman with judgement, with principles and discernment—not one who would throw away her own future for a whim!"
She stared at him in disbelief. "Is your opinion of yourself truly so high that you think any woman you deign to honour with a proposal must lay herself down at your feet in gratitude, and that nothing less than a severe lapse in sense could make her do otherwise?"
"That is not what I meant."
"Oh no, it is! It is precisely what you meant!" She clenched her hands. "Have I not just cause to refuse a man so arrogant, so full of his own worth that he cannot accept that there might be a woman in the world who does not wish to marry him? A man who can profess love with one breath, and with the other insult and berate the object of his choice? Mr. Darcy, even if I had not been previously set against you, what persuasion could tempt me after this? It is because I have principles, and discernment, and judgement that I refuse you!"
Once again she turned to flee from him, but he caught her wrist. "I cannot accept that."
"You must." Pulling her arm away with a jerk, she stared at him coldly. "I will not change my mind."
This time when she turned he did not stop her, although she knew that he stood and watched her until she gained the house.
Entering through the conservatory, she collided with Miss Bingley. Mumbling an apology she tried to move past her, but the lady blocked her path.
"What did you do to him?" Miss Bingley demanded.
She did not pretend to misunderstand. "Nothing. I did nothing." Once again she tried to move on, and once again was prevented.
"You must have done something. Men like Mr. Darcy do not just go around proposing to—to anyone!—let alone…" She gestured at Lizzy's person. "Tell me, what arts did you use? What means of allurement?"
Elizabeth pinched the bridge of her nose and tried to avoid laughing hysterically. "I ignored him, quarrelled with him, and laughed at him as often as possible, Miss Bingley. Perhaps that is what he likes; you have my permission to try it. Now may I go, please?"
With reluctance and a suspicious look, Miss Bingley moved aside, and Elizabeth hurried upstairs, praying that Jane would be well enough to leave Netherfield soon—preferably this morning! But Jane, although improved, was clearly not recovered yet. She answered Lizzy's suggestion with immediate agreement and tried to climb out of bed, but her weakness was so obvious that Elizabeth simply could not do it. Instead she pushed her back onto the pillows, and promised they would stay at least another night. Privately, though, she vowed that she would not go downstairs again, no matter how rude it appeared. She would remain in Jane's room or her own, neither of which even Darcy dared enter—she hoped.
This resolution was more difficult to carry out than she had anticipated. She did manage to remain in her room through dinner, but after a long and peaceful afternoon's rest Jane was well enough to go downstairs, and she could not deny it to her. They went down together, Jane warmly wrapped in a shawl the colour of her eyes. Elizabeth had hoped to sit with Jane, and by dint of remaining close to her, avoid the attentions, if not the notice, of Mr. Darcy. In this she was foiled by Mr. Bingley, for as soon as they entered he begged Miss Bennet to sit down in the chair closest to the fire, and promptly sat down in the opposite one himself. This left Elizabeth the settee between Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley, the sofa next to Mr. Hurst, an armchair nearby to where Mr. Darcy himself was seated with a book, or one or two other pieces of furniture which were far enough removed from the central groupings to cause alarm. Elizabeth had just settled in her mind that sitting close to Mr. Hurst was worth the security it offered when he gave up his battle with wakefulness and, putting his feet up, reclined full length. Thus Elizabeth had no choice but to sit in a chair at a distance from Jane and the fire, equally at a distance from Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley.
She need not have worried. Mr. Darcy did not disturb her; he did not even speak to her. With solemn civility he addressed himself to Jane, offering congratulations on her recovery, but Elizabeth got no more than a few long, serious looks. He adhered to his book, and Elizabeth thought with relief that perhaps he had finally accepted her refusal.
Two sources of enjoyment were afforded to her that evening: first, watching Jane's happiness in being with Mr. Bingley and Mr. Bingley's rapture in being with Jane; and second, observing Miss Bingley, who spent the time either ignoring or disagreeing with Mr. Darcy. Apparently, she had decided to attempt Elizabeth's method of seduction. Mr. Darcy looked a little surprised when she insisted that it had not been a good day for shooting grouse, but he refrained from arguing with her.
It was not long before Jane grew tired again, and Elizabeth announced her intention of retiring along with her. They went upstairs and Elizabeth helped Jane into bed, then sat and talked with her for several minutes. The whole of her conversation with Mr. Bingley had to be gone over, and all of his virtues suitably admired, after all. Finally she left her in a darkened room, already dozing off beneath her little frilled cap.
Elizabeth turned in the direction of her own room, then remembered that she had left her embroidery, with which she had planned to occupy herself until bed, downstairs in the drawing room. To go again into the lion's den seemed a little risky, but after all she had no real cause for alarm. So she made her way back downstairs, and retrieved the stitchery with a quick word of explanation. She noticed that Mr. Darcy was no longer present, but thought that he must either have retired, or be playing billiards down the hall—and so moved rather quickly past that particular room. Feeling almost like a small, errant child, she tip-toed up the stairs, and was just breathing a sigh of relief in the corridor when from around the corner came the man himself.
Without a word Elizabeth turned on her heel to go back the way she came.
"Miss Bennet, if you would only allow me a minute of your time," he persisted, pursuing her.
"I do not want to talk to you." The stairs were only a short distance ahead; surely he would not follow her down them, into the main hall.
"I know that," he said, his long strides easily outpacing hers. "But if I could just—" He put his hand on her upper arm to stop her, but at the look she gave him immediately drew it back. "I have been walking the halls for some time in hope of—"
"Why can you not leave me alone?" she demanded, hurrying toward the top of the steps.
"I have every intention—if you would listen to me for one—" He had moved to block her path, just before the stairs, and Elizabeth, with a rising sense of panic, darted past, but at the last moment he reached out as if to catch hold of her again, so she half-turned to avoid him and, her attention all on him, stumbled on the first step, her feet slipping, and the force of her rush carried her all the way down, tumbling down the fine marble staircase to the grand front hall where she lay in a heap on the Axminster carpet.
Elizabeth's vision blurred and swam; black spots danced before her eyes. There was a searing pain in her head, another in her foot, and she knew she had screamed. Other impressions were vague: her name, cried out in a terrible voice; Mr. Darcy's face, very white, hovering over her; then a cacophony of other voices, and the sensation of being lifted, and everything went black completely.