Lost in Austen: Reborn

The Highwaymen

"Angry people are not always wise." - Jane Austen

We walked into the room, and Lady Catherine peered at me through narrowed eyes. Charlotte and I curtsied, and she turned around, ignoring us, "Ah! Fitzwilliam, there you are."

Once he entered the room, he paused in step and looked at me. His posture straightened as if there was an invisible thread pulling him. It should not have been a surprise to him. My best friend lived right next door; therefore, my visit to her should have been an obvious clue. As he observed me, he unconsciously balled his hands into fists. He snapped out of his trance and bowed towards Lady Catherine, "Aunt."

He addressed Charlotte and I, "Miss Elizabeth. Mrs. Collins."

"You are acquainted?" Lady Catherine looked back at me. This time, regarding me with an importance, albeit with narrowed eyes and scolded, "Fitzwilliam, do not glare so. One would think you were angry with Miss Elizabeth."

I took a shaky breath, "Goodness, I should hope not!"

Lady Catherine's eyes reminded me of an eagle watching its prey before pouncing on it from above. Her eyes were sharp and bright; she missed nothing. She was the daughter of an earl and in her time, was considered a great beauty. Nonetheless, the time had eroded away anything reminiscent of early days. In her present state, she was a tall, large woman. She was plump and reminded one of an angry bull; ready to strike at the sight of red.

Darcy moved towards me, "How is your family?"

"Good." I smiled, "Lydia is much changed. You would not recognize her."

He opened his mouth to speak, but Lady Catherine butted in, "Fitzwilliam, Anne is not feeling well today. But, she shall join us for dinner."

A few minutes afterward, Anne de Bourgh came downstairs. The black dress she wore made her look like a widow instead of a young woman. She did not acknowledge any of us and sat down on the couch opposite her mother. Anne looked defeated as though somebody had told her tragic news. She looked down without making eye contact. I figured trying to talk to her would have been challenging.

After a few awkward moments of silence, dinner was announced, and we walked to the dining room. Darcy walked behind me, and I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck prick. He pulled my seat out for me under Lady Catherine's cold glare. An uneasiness overcame me as the onslaught of Lady Catherine's questions began to take form.

Lady Catherine addressed me, "Your estate falls to Mr. Collins." She looked at Charlotte, "I am glad for you."

Charlotte blushed and sent me an apologetic look, "Thank you, Lady Catherine."

"Do you play and sing?"

"Not well."

"I was told that you sing well."

"Oh." I blushed and looked at Darcy, "Whoever said this must have given me more credit than I deserve."

"Do your sisters play and sing?"

"My younger sister, Mary, does."

"Do you and your sisters draw?"

"No. Not at all."

"Not at all! How shocking," Lady Catherine haughtily said, "Your mother should have taken you and your sisters for the benefit of the masters in London. How many sisters have you?"

"Four, ma'am." I took a sip of my wine, "Three younger and one older."

"Are your younger sisters out?"

I found myself laughing out loud. Everyone looked at me in shock that made me laugh even more. It struck me that I was at Rosings. I was talking to Lady Catherine. It was surreal.

Mr. Collins looked as though he was going to burst a brain vessel. I suppose he felt I was insulting his precious Lady Catherine. Charlotte's mouth hung open. Lady Catherine had an odd combination of eye-widening and glaring; which I had a feeling was the result of significant practice. I am sure she could not perceive why I found the question so funny. The only people who were not looking at me as though my face was bleeding were Anne and Mr. Darcy. Anne was trying her best to hide a smirk and Darcy, well; he was taking in the situation with a blasé look.

"Do you find this humorous?"

I smiled, "No. I do not. I find your questions very ... diverting."

Lady Catherine hesitated, sizing me up, "I am glad."


The completion of dinner found us back in the parlor room. An uneasy silence hung in the air, and I was convinced Lady Catherine was going to jump the gun, point at me and scream, "Unsuitable!" Anne seemed to be the only one with common sense, and I sat next to her. We did not talk to one another. Our mutual silence did not mean hatred or indifference rather; it was an understanding, a sign of respect for one another.

Mr. Darcy sat next to me. He leaned in and whispered, "It is, as you are perfectly well aware, quite impossible for you to be here."

I gave him a polite smile. "Not impossible, for, I am here. If you would like to send me back to the parsonage, then please do so, for, this excursion has turned into a nightmare."

"You have made it thus." He sat next to me, "You called her questions diverting."

"Is that bad?"

He smirked, "Perhaps, you should only speak when spoken to."

I sent him a strained smile and quipped, "Oh Mr. Darcy, you sure know how to charm a girl, don't you?"

***

When we came back to the parsonage, Mr. Collins scolded me for being rude to Lady Catherine. I think, on some level, Mr. Collins was right. I was representing his house, and Lady Catherine was his patroness. I could have held my tongue even though she had been asking insulting questions. I found myself apologizing to Collins even though I did not want to. I groaned, then trudged back to my room.

I changed into my nightgown. It was a simple, long, white shift. The nightgown had a full neck, which had the annoying habit of slipping to reveal my shoulder. There was no form to it. However, it was comfortable. There was a soft knock on the door, and I opened it to reveal Charlotte.

"Mr. Darcy wishes to speak with you."

"Could this not have waited?" I whispered to Charlotte.

"It seems urgent, Lizzy."

"I was about to get ready for bed!"

"You ought not to keep an important man like Mr. Darcy waiting."

"Fine." I put on my robe, "I will come."

I walked downstairs; my stomach was doing flip-flops the whole time. I saw Mr. Darcy standing alone in the parlor room. I paused and watched him for a minute before I went inside. He turned his head towards me.

"You wished to speak to me, sir?"

Mr. Darcy looked away; flushed, "I am," he swallowed, "concerned."

"I don't understand."

Mr. Darcy continued; his voice quaked, "You came to this house knowing that you would be brought to Lady Catherine's, knowing that I would be there." I opened my mouth to speak; however, Mr. Darcy continued, "Why, when I am, as you insist, so relentlessly unpleasant to you, do you persist in seeking me out?"

I raised an eyebrow, "But, I didn't seek you out, sir. You came to me."

"Why?" He asked with a furrowed brow.

"I don't know what you're talking about!"

"You must know," Mr. Darcy said with despair, his eyes gleaming in the candlelight. "I do not know why and my lack of comprehension is," Mr. Darcy shut his eyes as he choked on his words, "tormenting me."

"What do you mean? Mr. Darcy," I shook my head, "what do you want me to say?"

"You knew I would be here."

I looked at him in complete disbelief. "What kind of a man, gentleman being too polite a word, assumes the worst of a lady?"

"I didn't intend to imply-"

"Mrs. Collins needs me," I curtsied in haste, "Good night."

Mr. Darcy walked towards me and grabbed me by both shoulders. My robe slipped revealing my bare shoulder. His fingers grazed my skin and I shivered. My breathing quickened as he looked into my eyes. He tarried for a while; debating.

"Are you sure this is what you mean to do?" I whispered.

The door to the room opened and he let me go; I turned to see Charlotte standing there. She looked shocked as he bowed in haste and walked out of the house, no doubt, to brood some more.

"He is in love with you," Charlotte stated.

"No," I shook my head, "He can't be! Not after the way he's been treating me," I looked back at the way Darcy had left. "He-he can't be!"

"And yet," Charlotte smiled, "no man would have done and said what he did tonight if it was not love."

"I wish I never came here!"

Charlotte looked at me, "But-"

"It is too intolerable!" I looked away, "I will leave for home tonight."

"Lizzy, you should sleep on this. If you feel the same way tomorrow-"

"I will feel the same tomorrow. I am done, Charlotte." I shook my head, "He doesn't understand his own feelings, and I doubt he ever will! I cannot stand by and let him speak to me like this. And then, when he begins to tell me about his feelings, he ends up running away. He-he accused me of following him here!"

Charlotte sighed, "But, how could you have known? You were visiting me."

I knew. Of course, I had known all along. I shook my head, reminding myself that I was Amanda Price. Elizabeth Bennet was a character I was being forced to play. Even though I was being forced to play her, why did it feel as if it was becoming easier? Why did I feel my heart stop whenever Darcy was around? No, I needed to leave and I needed to leave now. I had to go home as soon as possible.

I looked down, "I have made up my mind."

I changed my clothes and packed my belongings. The carriage was ordered for me. I hugged Charlotte good-bye and told her that I would write. She gave me a knowing smile, "But, now it is you that is running away."

I knew that she was right and I might have been making a mistake. But, I needed to show Mr. Darcy that, first of all, his running away had affected me and secondly, that his constant changefulness was odd, for, I never knew where I stood with him (especially after tonight).

My carriage dashed past the dark scenery. In the distance, I could hear shouts and horse hooves upon the gravel road. I heard a large crack and felt myself being hurtled around. My head hit the side of the carriage window as it tipped over. I blinked away blinding white spots of pain. Something wet trickled down my forehead and past my eyebrow. My breathing quickened as I thought to myself about all the mistakes I had made. My neck began to strain and I climbed out of the open side of the carriage. "I am so wishing for roadside assistance right now," I thought to myself.

I heard unusual sounds and twisted around to see a group of gypsies approaching me. They looked in the carriage and saw that there was luggage. The closer they came, the more menacing they looked. The coach driver took hold of my hand, "Highwaymen. We must run!"

I turned to run; however, one of the highwaymen grabbed my arm. I cried and burst free as I hightailed it towards the parsonage only to hear the rapid beating of horse hooves upon the paving. A strong arm lifted me up and onto a white horse. Before I could look up to see who was riding the horse, I passed out.

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