Chapter 2 : From the Heavens
The fates were punishing him. For what, Darcy would have to consider. What great sin have I committed to find myself in this predicament? As quickly as he felt his embarrassment, did he manage to mask it with a haughty expression. But the look on Miss Elizabeth Bennet's eyes told him that he would not fool her. Curses! His gaze shifted away from those eyes, but soon again found their way back to her face. She was now addressing Bingley with a smile. How that face appealed to him! After he had returned to Netherfield from the circulating library, he had wondered who she was and if he would see her again. Meryton was not very big, he had thought that perhaps he would. But soon recalling the circumstances on how they first met, his face had heated. Perhaps it would be better if he did not see her again. If he had only known on what conditions he would meet her next. He sighed.
Miss Bingley heard his sigh, leaning towards him, she whispered conspiratorially. "What place has my brother brought us to? How shall we survive this evening do think?" Resting her hand lightly on his arm, she continued. "It is very fortunate that you are here with us, Mr. Darcy." She looked contemptuously towards the crowd as energetic laughter filled the air. "How I dislike public balls!"
Discreetly moving his arm away, Darcy made no answer, Miss Bingley continued on with her various complaints, oblivious to the fact that he heard not a word she said.
"How do you find Hertfordshire, Mr. Darcy?"
Darcy's head snapped towards Elizabeth's direction. Her lips held a slight expectant smile, her dark eyes merry. He could not decide if she was baiting him or merely making conversation. Taking him longer to answer such a simple question, Bingley looked at him curiously. He cleared his throat. "I find it perfectly adequate, thank you."
Mrs. Bennet replied quickly. "You must see our sights, Mr. Darcy, we have some of the best walks in the country. Oakham Mount is particularly pleasing. And very near our estate, Longbourn." She added suggestively.
"We would very much like to see that!" Bingley said enthusiastically. "Perhaps after a call at Longbourn we can all walk that way." He smiled at Jane.
Mrs. Bennet, not one to let pass an opportunity, agreed with Bingley with utmost enthusiasm. And encouraged them to do so very soon.
"Mama, Oakham Mount will not disappear, I am sure our new neighbors are still settling in." Elizabeth said with a smile.
Darcy noticed Elizabeth's eyes become guarded as she said this. She is embarrassed at her mother's forwardness. Surprising himself with this insight, he shifted slightly.
To Mrs. Bennet's delight, Bingley protested that indeed they were perfectly settled in and were now looking forward to be in company and to get to know more of Meryton and its people.
At that time, the signal for the next set was heard, not surprisingly, Bingley asked Jane to dance. Another gentleman claimed Elizabeth as a dance partner, and the group dispersed. Miss Bingley intimated that she would not mind dancing although she disliked public balls, Darcy restrained from rolling his eyes and, resignedly, decided to get it over with and asked her to dance. The following dance, he danced with Mrs. Hurst, after that he considered his duty for the night fulfilled and proceeded to walk about the place, primarily to get away from Miss Bingley who had hinted at a second dance.
Darcy stood across the room from his group. He stayed behind a column which he hoped concealed him from Miss Bingley. From there he observed his friend as he danced a second dance with Miss Jane Bennet, he knew what Bingley was about, he saw the way he looked at her. He had seen his friend fall in love many times that this occasion did not surprise him. To be fair to Bingley, Miss Bennet was, indeed, very handsome. But not nearly so interesting as her sister, he thought. His eyes shifting to Elizabeth, who was dancing as well, her face was so alive.
Later that evening, Darcy found himself in a small group consisting of Bingley, the two elder Bennet sisters, Charlotte Lucas and Caroline Bingley. Talk was lively, even Miss Bingley who was predisposed to not enjoy the evening, was talking to Jane with engaging manners. Darcy For his part remained mostly silent, preferring to listen to the conversation instead. He forced himself not to look at Elizabeth as often as he would have wanted, although he had a feeling that she was watching him, he could never catch her at it. Indeed, she did not even ask him any direct questions.
A servant passed by bearing a tray of refreshments, Bingley availed of some for their group. Conversation resuming, they sipped at their drinks.
"Oh, Lizzy! You have spilled some negus on your sleeve." Charlotte exclaimed.
Elizabeth had forgotten that she had spilled her drink in the balcony, for indeed, after what followed, who could blame her. She looked at her sleeve, then instinctively looked at Darcy. He was looking right back at her. On the arm of his own sleeve was an outline of a stain, not so noticeable due to the dark fabric of his garments.
"So clumsy of me."
Almost instantly, a handkerchief appeared before Elizabeth, startling her. She looked up to see Darcy, with an intent gaze, handing her his handkerchief. She accepted it, belatedly remembering that her sleeve had already dried.
"I thank you, Mr. Darcy, but I no longer have any need for it." With an embarrassed smile she confessed to the group that the incident happened earlier that evening. Thanking him again, she made to hand him back the handkerchief.
Darcy motioned for her to keep the garment. "Not at all, the pleasure is all mine."
Elizabeth's eyes searched his. He smiled politely at her.
Ah, so this is how it shall be. She mentally rubbed her hands together. But before she could reply, Bingley spoke.
"You have got a spill on your sleeve as well, Darcy."
"Yes, a small accident as well." To his consternation, he felt his face grow hot.
"Oh, dear, I have your handkerchief." Elizabeth said, her eyes dancing.
"Think nothing of it, Miss Elizabeth." Darcy cleared his throat. "Like yours, it has also dried now."
"Pity, I had hoped to return the service and come to your rescue. Another time perhaps?"
Darcy was unable to speak for a moment. Such cheek! He wanted to laugh aloud, but instead replied in an amused voice. "I look forward to it, madam."
At that very moment, two people, for entirely different reasons, regarded their banter. Charlotte looked at Elizabeth, then at Mr. Darcy. She held back a smile. Caroline Bingley looked at them suspiciously for a mere moment, then as if deeming her thoughts silly, she shook her head and resumed her conversation with Jane.
Darcy could not explain why he felt so nervous. Berating himself, he took Elizabeth's hand as the dance commenced. She moved gracefully, her form light and pleasing. He had not intended to dance a third dance that evening, therefore it was to his surprise—more than anyone else's—when he found himself asking Miss Elizabeth Bennet for her next available dance.
Elizabeth was having a very pleasant evening, indeed the presence of their new neighbors added very much to her pleasure. Studying them had been her preoccupation as soon as they were introduced. She tended to agree with Charlotte's initial opinion, Mr. Bingley was very amiable—especially to her sister, Jane. His sisters were, as her friend had observed, feeling superior to the present company, but were polite enough to mask it. Mr. Hurst had excused himself soon after they were introduced and had not been seen since then. And Mr. Darcy. She smiled secretly, the Hiding Gentleman. Her mind could not connect him to the gossip Charlotte had shared with her, proud and conceited? Surely a proud man would not hide under a table or in a dark corner just to escape a lady! Well, if that lady was as wolfish as Caroline Bingley then perhaps even the proudest of gentlemen might! Elizabeth actually felt pity for him as she had witnessed Miss Bingley's attentions to him, and to be living in the same house as that! Poor dear! She chuckled.
"I pray you are not laughing at me again, Miss Elizabeth."
"Oh!" Elizabeth had the grace to blush. A turn in the dance saved her from replying at once. When again they met, she had composed herself.
"Of course I can not blame you." Darcy continued. "After all, from your perspective, the circumstances of our meetings do seem laughable."
"Oh, no! No, indeed." Elizabeth replied suppressing a laugh. "I can fully appreciate the reasons behind your efforts, the circumstances were definitely not laughable, it was the—the actions that I found very amusing."
Darcy raised his eyebrows. The dance separated them again. When they met he continued. "The circumstances were not laughable—but I was?"
Elizabeth's face turned pink. "Well...you would have laughed too had you seen what I saw."
Darcy faught to keep a straight face. He had never in his life engaged in such a conversation. Elizabeth Bennet, he thought, was certainly unique. He felt such ease in her company that he almost forgot his reservations in making new acquaintances. Well, perhaps humiliating himself first was the solution, for anything after that must come easy.
"And it was most ungracious of you to make me laugh in such an unladylike manner, sir! Thank heavens nobody was around to see me."
Darcy's laughter could no longer be checked. The sound made Elizabeth look at him sharply.
"Now you are laughing at me."
"No, indeed, I am not, madam."
When the dance ended, Darcy escorted Elizabeth back to her friends. But before they reached them, he implored her.
"Miss Elizabeth, might it be asking too much if I request of you to—to keep private what happened earlier this evening?"
"And that of the other day in the circulating library?" Elizabeth could not resist.
"Ah—yes. Yes, that incident as well." He looked so embarrassed that Elizabeth took pity on him and ceased her teasing.
"You may depend upon me, Mr. Darcy." She said earnestly.
"I thank you, Miss Elizabeth."
Caroline Bingley was not in the best of moods. Standing in front of a mirror in her chambers, brush held in hand, she studied her face from different angles. Her careful planning on engaging Mr. Darcy's affections was not working as she had hoped. Indeed, when her brother had told her of his plans about Netherfield, she had leaped on the opportunity. Giving the reason that he needed a lady to handle his household, she had convinced her brother to bring her and the others along. In Hertfordshire, she had believed, amongst its countrified people, she would shine.
But things were not progressing as they ought. She gripped the handle of the brush tighter. Mr. Darcy was not paying her the attentions that she had hoped. Indeed the arrival of their guests was doing her harm. Her mind felt unease at the thought of Elizabeth Bennet.
It was but three days ago when Jane Bennet, having arrived by her invitation, had become ill from being caught in the rain—traveling on horseback in such weather, indeed!—so ill that they had to keep her at Netherfield until her recovery. That had not been so bad, for although her family was not of the finest quality, Jane Bennet was a gentleman's daughter, and she was a sweet girl.
But it was when her sister, Elizabeth, had arrived to care for her—three miles on foot!—that things went downhill. Mr. Darcy was showing an interest in Elizabeth Bennet, she could feel it. Impertinent chit! They were miles apart! Of what could the little miss boast? Certainly nothing that could come close to Caroline Bingley! She would show Mr. Darcy, surely he would see that she, Caroline Bingley, was a diamond of the first water! And surely from this comparison he would see that she was the woman for him. With this in mind, she smiled at her reflection. She put the brush down and pulled the bell cord for her maid.
Elizabeth opened the balcony doors and stepped out. It was a beautiful day out, the rains had let yesterday, and the rest of the morning promised blue skies.
"Lizzy, you must go on your walk."
Elizabeth looked back inside Jane's room and smiled at her sister. "Where I am is fine indeed, thank you."
"Do not keep yourself locked indoors on such a fine day, Lizzy, it might not last." Jane winced suddenly, her headache getting the better of her.
"There now, I have told you not to exert any effort whatsoever." Closing the doors, Elizabeth went to her sister's side.
"It was but a twinge. It is gone now."
"Oh, Jane, you sweet girl." She smoothed her sister's hair. "You must close your eyes and try to return to sleep, dearest."
Elizabeth sat by her sister's side until Jane fell back to sleep. Her fever had broken the previous night, relieving Elizabeth of her worry. She sighed, recalling her mother's orders for Jane to go on horseback to Netherfield Park. Mama. She just needed a few more days to recover, thank goodness. She smiled at Jane's sleeping form, then slowly stood up and quit the room. She entered her own chambers which were right next to Jane's.
Since her arrival yesterday afternoon at Netherfield, Elizabeth had stayed by Jane's side. Indeed, she went down to the others only for supper, and then again to the library to fetch a book for herself.
Mr. Bingley was truly a very good host, nothing was too good for Jane and herself. Observing them, Elizabeth felt that both had blossoming feelings for each other. She would enquire more from her sister when they returned to Longbourn, she thought with a smile. Mr. Bingley's sisters where another story altogether. When they were in Jane's company they appeared fully devoted to their new friend, but once removed from it they forgot all about her. Because of this observation, Elizabeth questioned the sincerity of their friendship.
As for Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth was at a complete loss of an opinion. Upon her arrival yesterday, he had said nary a word to her, indeed had he looked stunned to see her. Was it so very novel an idea to ask after a sick sister? At supper he had asked about Jane's condition—although here Elizabeth had felt his sincerity—and then proceeded not to speak to her at all after that. Then as she searched for a book in the library, he had suddenly appeared. She had attempted conversation.
"Now I completely comprehend why you had to go to the Meryton library, the Netherfield collection is utterly lacking in quality and quantity!" She had said archly.
He replied with a completely serious countenance. "Yes, I have, on several occasions, implored Bingley to add to it, but it was all in vain."
He had remained silent after that. Elizabeth felt offended at his formal attitude, for had not they started some form of friendship—albeit a strange one—the night of the Meryton Assembly? She had shrugged her shoulders, then with a curtsy left the room.
And finally just earlier that morning, as if to confound her even more, he had been at his most amiable. Elizabeth had been surprised to see him starting his meal in the breakfast room, she had thought that all of them kept town hours, apparently she was mistaken. He had greeted her and walked over to assist her in selecting her meal. It had not stopped there, they talked of books, of Hertfordshire, of Derbyshire—where his family estate, Pemberley, was located. He was, once again, the Mr. Darcy of the Meryton Assembly, the Hiding Gentleman.
She stepped out onto the balcony, breathing deeply, taking in the morning air, she banished all thoughts of her confusing friend out of her mind. Her chambers afforded her a view of the formal gardens of Netherfield. A hedge maze stood in the center of it, nicely pruned and maintained. It was a pleasing view, but Elizabeth preferred the beauty of a more natural setting. Nonetheless, she could appreciate this man made display. Leaning against the doorframe, she closed her eyes. She could hear the twittering of birds outside, a breeze drifted around her.
Her eyes snapped open and Elizabeth straightened. That was Caroline Bingley's voice. Grinning, she looked forward to a diverting episode. Elizabeth carefully looked out. Her expectations did not fail her, her grin grew wider at the scene below; Mr. Darcy emerged from the house hurrying. In pursuit of that gentleman was, of course, Miss Bingley.
Good god, would it never end? Darcy had only himself to blame. He had been perfectly safe in his chambers reading a book, when the promise of a beautiful day lured him out of doors. He had planned to go on a ride, but as soon as he had stepped into the hall he heard Miss Bingley's voice call out to him. He made a quick turn and had exited through the gardens. But alas, she was tenacious.
Now finding himself in the formal gardens, Darcy looked for a way out. He had never played this much hide-and-seek even as a child!
He winced. Looking about he saw the hedge maze and, without further thought, ran into it. I am a fool! Otherwise why leave his perfectly safe chambers? For the freedom, he used to enjoy, his brain shouted. In the hedge maze now, he turned, not thinking what direction to take. He soon found that he had got himself lost in it. God save him, but he was becoming stupid.
"Mr. Darceee! Are you here?"
She is near! Desperately, he looked about, getting his bearings from what he could glimpse of outside the hedges. Recognizing the balconies of the bedchambers, he started to plot his location in his mind—only to freeze as his eyes recognized the figure that stood in one of the balconies. He closed his eyes and prayed for the earth to swallow him whole.
Elizabeth Bennet, hand covering her mouth, doubtless to prevent herself from laughing aloud, waved at him. Resignedly, he waved back. He wanted to laugh but he feared that would lead Miss Bingley to his location, he fervently hoped that she had not mastered this hedge maze. Looking up at Elizabeth again, he saw her pointing to the left. He looked to the heavens. Oh, help. Then following her instructions, he took the left turn. Looking at her again, she pointed up. Straight, he thought. He had almost reached the end of the straight path, when his eyes caught her frantic movements. Her hands beckoned him back, quick movements and an urgent expression made him realize that Miss Bingley must have taken a turn that would meet with his path. Elizabeth pointed left, he followed. When next he looked up, she was no longer there. Confused, he stood where he was. A mere moment later, she appeared again. She indicated to her eye, then pointed down towards the maze. Guessing, Darcy hazarded that she had to hide to prevent from being seen by Miss Bingley.
Later he would laugh at all this, there was no point in being embarrassed now. Miss Elizabeth Bennet had seen too much. Darcy continued to follow her directions until finally—after what seemed like hours—he emerged from the maze. He saw the walk that went out to the stables and hurriedly took it. Taking a final look at Elizabeth, he saw her salute to him. Chuckling now, he saluted back, hoping he conveyed his gratitude at her being, once again, his rescuer.
From that distance he took in her form, it almost seemed as if she were Juliet, waiting up in her balcony for Romeo. His feet wanted to turn back and scale the wall up to her balcony. He caught his breath, what was happening to him? He had never in his life been prone to flights of fancy. I have gone mad. It was the only explanation he could think of
Hello, everyone! I am sending my thanks for all those who posted reviews and encouragements for the first chapter of this story, you were all very kind!
I have been playing around with ideas about the direction of this story, so far nothing is concrete yet, but I found that I was satisfied with how this chapter turned out. I hope you like it too. Please let me know what you think!
Lastly, stay safe everyone, stay at home, always wash your hands, keep healthy, and read fanfiction! :D