The Oak and the Ash

Chapter 3

Within an hour of being flung into the circle of her silly sisters and her mother, Elizabeth was thankful to hear the boisterous sounds of the laughter of men, revealing, somewhat peculiarly, the homecoming of her father, her brother, and of her own dear husband. It was curious in the regard that neither one of these men alone, save perhaps at times for Mr. Bingley, was exceedingly jolly; but it was good to Elizabeth’s ears to perceive the hearty laughter of men—a comforting clamor which meant that all was well.

Since the moment that he had left her side that morning, Elizabeth had wanted nothing more than the comfort of her consort; for in living as his wife for a mere six months she had come to expect that Darcy’s rarely bestowed smiles and his good humor should be saved for her own pleasure. Elizabeth could readily admit that wanting Darcy’s sole attention was quite selfish; and now the memory of her disturbing dream lingered, and caused her to feel guilt.

Elizabeth wondered how she could have had such a horrible and shocking dream, and the only thing in which she could think to have given her cause for distress was perchance she still possessed the timidity of a new bride. That was not likely and she dismissed the thought; and she truly could hold no guilt for anything that she had done so far as a wife. She had made some mistakes, it was true—but nothing, she hoped—nothing so very awful as to make Mr. Darcy want to forsake their marriage.

Elizabeth quickly let go of the cross-stitch that she had taken up, an idle occupation to save her sensibilities from the ridiculous conversations of her sisters; and the want of the closeness of Mr. Darcy. She made haste to the anteroom to be the first to greet the gentlemen, although no one else in the house had the ambition to follow.

“Hello my dear,” her father chuckled happily upon the sight of his dearest daughter scampering around the corner, and he gave her a pat on the crown of her head with the palm of his broad, weathered hand as though she was still his beloved little Lizzy.

Elizabeth grinned happily at her father’s affections. She had known him so often to be gentle in mien, and chuckle in sport at the folly of others; yet upon this day he appeared genuinely pleased and in fact, his manner was something akin to the behavior of a man wholly grateful.

“Elizabeth,” her father said, as luck would have it; “this Mr. Darcy of yours favors me with the answers to my troubles.”

Elizabeth pondered this proclamation; her brows drawing taut toward the bridge of her nose in puzzlement, and her eyes traveling to the spot where her husband stood to observe him removing his riding gloves, coolly as he always did, and handing them, along with his brushed beaver-hide hat to Mrs. Hill.

Darcy turned around and acknowledged Elizabeth with a prideful nod. He did not see anything odd in her expressions, for she was the clearest picture of a devoted wife awaiting the return of her husband. He smiled, more of an expressive grin than most people ever witness from the man, and he grasped her hand in his and quite surprising to his character and similar in the enthusiasm of his ostentatious friend, Bingley, placed a kiss upon Elizabeth’s delicate wrist.

“Does Mr. Darcy have the answers, Papa?” Elizabeth swallowed her words at the pleasant sensation of Darcy’s gesture.

“He does—oh, he does, indeed!” Mr. Bennet sang the gentleman’s praises once more, but before he spoke another word, he turned about and made haste toward the morning room in search of his breakfast, followed closely on his heels by Charles Bingley.

For the moment, Elizabeth dismissed her father’s curious enthusiasm to tell her husband earnestly, “You were missed, sir.”

“Was I?” Darcy chuckled with doubt, “by your mother and your sisters? Evidence that I must not be such a disagreeable fellow after all.”

Elizabeth blushed, as she acknowledged modestly, “I did simply mean that you were missed—by me.”

Darcy smiled again, and reached for his watch fob to have a look at the time. “It would seem that I was gone no more than an hour, my love,” he pointed out the elapse in time, sensibly.

Elizabeth grinned, “That is long enough, when one is at Longbourn.”

Darcy knew precisely how Elizabeth felt, and his smile broadened. The pair were friends, in a manner of speaking—mates in the pursuit of being left to themselves when opportunity afforded. They had discovered during courtship that when at Longbourn, there was no better opportunity to steal a kiss, as when they found themselves in another room during mealtime.

Elizabeth sighed at Darcy’s tender kiss, however she was by far too curious a creature for her own good, and she asked of him, her lips still pressed against his, “To what do you own all the answers, Mr. Darcy?”

Darcy pulled back, avoiding the question, as he asked, “Is there breakfast to be had, Elizabeth?”

“Fitzwilliam,” she whispered his name impatiently.

“The answers…” he sighed, his interest now captivated by the aroma of a likely meal and a cup of coffee, “answers; yes, the answer to your father’s problems.”

“Which are?”

Darcy grimaced, and then placed a hand on the small of Elizabeth’s back to shepherd her obstinate frame into the next room. As he did so, he explained to her quite succinctly, “Elizabeth, I am sure that your father will tell you what you wish to know immediately after breakfast.”

Mr. Bennet boorishly waved his knife in the air as the young couple stepped into the room. “Sit down, Darcy,” he muttered a patriarchal command to a man who was now his son by law and by affection, “Sit and eat.”

Darcy held out a chair for Elizabeth, yet she took the better part of a moment to glance back at him before sitting, her countenance disapproving of his reluctance to tell her any news. Upon the adamant whisper in her ear from her husband’s lips for her to ‘sit’, she did so, though her cheeks flushed red at his urging, and she spent the next twenty minutes irritably watching the three men assaulted the food in their plates as if they had not had a decent meal in weeks. Elizabeth had come to know the desires of a man, yet the need linking a man’s stomach to his responsiveness was something Elizabeth would never understand.

“Well Jane, Elizabeth,” Mr. Bennet finally said betwixt a wipe of his chin with a cloth, “your young men have taught this man a new thing or two.”

“About?” Elizabeth’s tone of voice demonstrated her impatience; eliciting a somewhat cross look from Darcy.

“Mr. Darcy has come up with the answer to irrigating the lower farmland, and Mr. Bingley does concur with the method. It is a conclusion brought about by some brilliant logic, I must say!”

Mr. Bennet sounded at best like Sir William Lucas in his efforts to choose the perfect words of accolade for his sons-in-law; and Elizabeth believed her father’s fawning and flattery too much to be borne.

“It is very simple, really,” Darcy replied to the praise. “A series of trenches, sluices and gates—not complicated at all.”

“Not to mention low in cost,” Mr. Bennet hawed. “So easy on my pocketbook in fact, that I shall not have to dip into your sisters’ allowances, thus running the risk of frightening away any other levelheaded fellows who may wish to join the family.”

“Indeed,” retorted Bingley; seemingly a great authority on the subject of ditches and dowries.

Mr. Bennet reached out and gripped Bingley’s shoulder in a fatherly show of affection. Such a grapple caused the young man to lose his precarious grip on his fork as he attempted to bring it to his mouth, and he dropped the utensil into his plate with an attention stealing clatter that made practically everyone at the table cringe for hearing such a noise.

“Quite,” Darcy agreed, paying no heed to the unnerving disruption, “although it is not the answer for dry land farming but will do very well for what crops have been planted.”

Elizabeth barely understood a word of any of this; yet somehow she found herself curiously satisfied, for her girlhood dream of a husband commanding her father’s respect, and vice versa, seemed to be realized.

“Well,” she said breathily, “That is that, as they say, for the answer to such bothersome problems. If you are no longer in need of my husband’s service, Papa, I should wish to take a turn with him out in the wilderness yard before the heat of the day.”

“My son-in-law has no time for that, Lizzy,” Mr. Bennet shook his head. “Plans must be made, you know.”

Darcy nodded in concurrence. “I am to sketch out a draft for your father’s men to follow, Elizabeth—it will take some time, but not the whole day.”

“I see,” she stifled a sigh of disappointment.

Darcy grinned; “Surely there will be time enough for walking out. Later.”

Elizabeth’s pretty lips pursed together; “I suppose there shall.”

“Never you mind, Lizzy,” Mrs. Bennet spoke up upon seeing the color rise in her daughter’s cheeks; again meddling in the affairs of a young husband and wife. “You shall be well occupied with helping Kitty trim an old bonnet and in listening to your sister Mary play at the pianoforte.”

Elizabeth sulked and pouted, and managed to stomp crossly throughout Longbourn house the remainder of that morning, and well past midday. It was behavior unusual for such a steady girl, but as it has been said, those who are often serious in ridiculous matters will occasionally find themselves absurd. By her current behavior, proper society would not have known that an advantageous transformation had occurred in the last six months; a makeover from the flawed, impish Miss Bennet into the steady, lovely—and married Mrs. Darcy.

For a time that morning, Elizabeth longed to be in London, solely for the fact that within a city of countless numbers of people, she and Darcy had spent most of their time alone. On each stroke of the half hour from the clock on the mantle Elizabeth wandered down the hallway, past the familiar door of her father’s study; pressing her ear to it in the hope of eavesdropping on a word or two, but the conversations were far too muffled to be distinguishable and any tangible intelligence eluded her ears. What did it matter what was being said inside, for what did Elizabeth care about things as provocative as the prospect of irrigation? At least by the muted voices, Elizabeth was assured that the gentlemen remained in the house, and that they had not gone out again—without her company.

By the stroke of one o’clock, Elizabeth felt she would crawl from her own skin for lack of significant conversation, and so she passed by the study door one last time, and in finding it latched closed just the same, in a huff she made haste for the main doors of Longbourn house. She scooped up a bonnet hanging from a peg on the wall by the doorway and put it on her head and tied it, not giving a care whether the bow was untidy and lopsided.

“Miss Elizabeth!” Mrs. Hill called to the young woman, and then curtsied upon realizing her mistake, “Mrs. Darcy—you are going out, and at such a cruel hour of the day?”

“Hill,” Elizabeth took the woman’s worn hands into her own to plead as she had done many times when she was a child, “I must be away—I must, for if I spend one more second staring at that door I shall surely go mad! Do not worry for I will only remain in the sun for a few minutes at best. I will go someplace where it is quiet, and cool.”

Mrs. Hill knew precisely where Elizabeth was headed, for she had seen the girl go in that direction on many a lazy afternoon. She nodded her head, agreeable to her part in the stealthy exit of Mrs. Elizabeth from the house.

“If and when my husband ever sets foot from my father’s study,” Elizabeth said cynically, “tell him that I am quite well, and will return shortly.”

The good housekeeper accepted the instruction; and she watched as the young mistress hurried from the house, running with the enthusiasm of a schoolgirl in the direction of the church on Longbourn Estate.

Longbourn parish had been an escape for Elizabeth; for neither the vicar, nor barely anyone else for that matter, ever came there in the afternoon. Tall, shade trees—some oaks and some ash surrounded the old structure; though the spire of the church, like an ancient keep, rose high above the green leaves.

The familiar chiseled gravestones; a few words telling of the humble lives and deaths of those who had been parishioners, stood in the grass surrounding the hewn ramparts of the church. Those parishioners of consequence, though there had not been many, rested in lesser peace beneath the church’s gray slate floor, their epitaphs more thorough in depicting a life well lived, however the inscriptions were barely legible for having been worn away by so many years of the congregating footsteps of men, women, and children.

Elizabeth knew every word on every stone and tomb, and instead of thinking of it as poetic foreshadowing of the fearsome prospect of leaving this world, Elizabeth found the words consoling. She was accustomed to bidding good day to those elders whom she had known in her childhood as she passed by where they lay, although she always did so in reverence.

She never lingered in the yard for long, but Elizabeth pushed on the old wooden door and stepped within the narthex to have a look about for anyone who might be engaged in silent prayer, before entering the nave. Sounds within the church reverberated when no one was there, and Elizabeth took pleasure in the sandy, scraping resonance of her footsteps as they echoed off hallowed walls.

The dark wooden pews were modern in comparison to the structure itself, and always when she sat upon her favorite pew, Elizabeth glanced upward at the arching wooden beams of the ceiling, knowing they were old and dusty, and that the shingles above were no doubt in sad need of repair. Of course, her father would never have saved the money for such an expensive undertaking when he was barely able to provide a sufficient fortune for his daughters to attract willing suitors.

Of all the things that Elizabeth missed in now living so far from her childhood home, this place was most dear. As she sat within the coolness of the medieval walls, she recalled the things that she had ever pondered while within the confines of the church. She remembered her fervent hopes of one day becoming a bride—a bride married at the step before the modest altar. Indeed, that wish had come to be, and the memory of that day made her face alight in a smile.

She remembered how trying it had been to wait for a man the likes of Mr. Darcy to come into her life—and then she recalled her girlish prank of years ago. It made her laugh to think what she had done when she was but sixteen, putting down her name in the marriage register she had found left on the pulpit one day after a morning wedding had occurred.

“June 1802, wed this day, Miss Elizabeth Bennet to Mr. ---,” she had transcribed in ink. “A marriage of love and mutual admiration to the advantage of both.”

For the life of her, she could not recall the name she had chosen so prudently, the name of a man to be her defender, her imaginary husband; though as Elizabeth laughed, she could remember every aspect of his invented, yet noble character. In that respect, he was not unlike the man she actually had married, and the glimmer now present in Elizabeth’s eyes told of how well satisfied she was with fact versus fiction. What a ridiculous girl she had been some years ago—but no one had ever been the wiser to her antics, and for this good fortune she knew she had gotten away with a splendid joke.

Longbourn house remained quiet that afternoon with the men engaged at their design for the good of Mr. Bennet’s estate; and the women tucked away in the cool of a small drawing room, a room quite fortunately facing due north. Mrs. Bennet did lie upon a chaise, comfortable in her idle repose while her daughters busied themselves as usual. Jane silently read a tiny blue-bound book penned by Sir Walter Scott, and Kitty was occupied in fashioning a very fine purse of red crewel and cream-colored beads. Only Mary was in another room, intent in her solitary pursuit of learning a new selection of music to play upon the upright pianoforte; a piece at the ready should anyone at a forthcoming engagement wish her to exhibit her talents.

Eventually, Mr. Darcy managed to escape the confines of his father-in-law’s study. He had finished his instructions for Mr. Bennet’s steward and the young man had no wish to dally another moment in the company of those still considered unfamiliar without at least a glimpse of his lovely wife’s face. Darcy pined in earnest for Elizabeth’s closeness at times, for he had grown accustomed to her good reason and friendship, and her sensible and loving ways—and the small truth of things, that Elizabeth always seemed to be waiting as anxiously for Darcy, as he was for her.

Darcy was pleased that Mr. Bennet had found his advice of some use, but unlike most men of the day, Darcy did not spend an excessive amount of time owning an obligation to remain in the company of his colleagues and peers. The gentleman did what he pleased, when he pleased—it had always been so, and no one had ever questioned his motives or purpose for doing so when he chose to go off by himself. Darcy determined that Elizabeth must be in the company of her mother and sisters, for women seemed far more prone to social closeness than he, and so he poked his head around every corner of every room in Longbourn house, until he found an assembly of pretty frocks and petticoats.

“I beg your pardon,” he said, at not seeing Elizabeth amongst the other ladies. “I am looking for my wife.”

No one dared speak; still so much in awe of the gentleman’s presence were the ladies. Having hardly ever heard two words from his lips spoken together, Mrs. Bennet and her daughters were overcome indeed, and impressed by the succinct manner of the man’s address, something they rarely ever knew from those living in their own house.

“Is she in the house?” Darcy asked, feeling that usual awkwardness when in the company of strangers, such as those who now claimed him as a relation.

Mrs. Bennet used her elbows to prop herself upright. “No, Mr. Darcy. Lizzy—I mean Mrs. Darcy, is out.”

Darcy presumed it proper that he should be allowed to enter, and so he strode through the center of the drawing room, slightly irritated, an emotion he tried desperately to conceal lest his mother-in-law come to the wrong conclusions about his character.

“Out?” he questioned aloud, and then made for the window, “on such an afternoon as this?”

“Oh, yes,” Mrs. Bennet replied with a sigh. “Many times Elizabeth has wandered out when more sensible girls would dare not expose themselves to such heat. The sun, you know, is not a kind thing to a woman’s complexion.” Mrs. Bennet looked to her daughters for vague agreement and then completed her lecture to her proud son-in-law by saying, “I fear that our Elizabeth is not a girl to be controlled, Mr. Darcy.”

Darcy grinned broadly at the comment, and the playful spirit evident on his features confused Elizabeth’s family. His grin did not last long for it was not intended for anyone in attendance, and Darcy was again quick to look out of the window.

Kitty was certain that Mr. Darcy was displeased at finding Elizabeth missing. Miss Catherine Bennet had decided she could never engage herself to such an austere man. She preferred a livelier sort, or so she thought, given her nominal experience in the company of the opposite sex.

Mr. Darcy left his place at the window and walked toward her, and when Kitty thought that he would pass her by without so much as a glance, he stopped; his tall figure looming over her, sending curious shivers down her spine and through her fingertips.

“And what do you do there, Miss Catherine?” he inquired, causing Kitty's heart to race at being caught doing something idle.

Kitty offered no answer to Mr. Darcy’s question, unaccustomed as she was to accepting the notice of a man; and this vexed her mother greatly. “Answer the gentleman, girl!” she was promptly scolded.

“I am…” Kitty gulped, “I am working a crewel purse, sir.”

Darcy bent down to have a closer look, and Kitty thought that she might die of fright for the nearness of the man. He remained in that manner long enough that she managed the wherewithal to glance at him as he inspected her handiwork. Kitty stared at the neatly groomed facial hair, and she recognized that Mr. Darcy’s face was that of a grown man. He was certainly not a youth bent on soldiering for glory, nor was he a milksop parson’s son. He was a man of means and breeding the likes of which Kitty had never seen in detail, and Kitty came to wonder if this was what Elizabeth liked in him after all.

Darcy was compelled to say more; for there was contentment in the sight of a woman peacefully creating something by her own hand. “It is quite good, this,” he opined. “I cannot say that I have seen one better.”

Kitty let out a whimper at Mr. Darcy's praise as she had never considered flattery to be his strength.

“Kitty,” Mrs. Bennet yapped out another reprimand. “Thank the gentleman!”

“I thank you Mr. Darcy,” Kitty wasted no time in saying, “for your notice.”

The young girl allowed her glance to fall timidly again upon the gentleman’s face, and at once her opinion of him changed. Mr. Darcy was not such a severe man as she once had thought, for in his eyes, which she had always believed stern and cold, was gentleness; and though the line of his jaw was indeed manly, it was not tense and harshly drawn in disapproval of her idleness.

“The praise is well deserved,” Darcy replied as the corners of his mouth slightly curled in what could be regarded as a smile. He stood back up to his full height and turned to his mother-in-law. “Your daughters have many talents, Mrs. Bennet. You should be proud.”

“I am sir,” Elizabeth’s mother twittered with satisfaction, for she too began to see Mr. Darcy in a different light, and the fact that he had ten thousand pounds per annum, and had married one of her own daughters, did not impede her judgment.

“Well,” Darcy sighed, once more longing for the companionship of his wife, “I will leave you all to your pursuits.” He nodded politely to Mrs. Bennet and then to Kitty, and he turned and smiled at Jane Bingley.

“Mr. Darcy,” Jane spoke to halt his departure, “Does my husband remain in the company of my father?”

“He does,” Darcy acknowledged.

“Very well,” Jane bowed her head toward her hands clutching the small book; “I thank you kindly for the information.”

Darcy was concerned by the look of gloominess displayed by his new sister. Jane Bingley, though he knew her very little, seemed a constant wife—but Bingley did appear to take her steadfast devotion for granted. If Darcy had the good fortune to have such a wife—and he did—he would not choose the company of others over that of his wife. Bingley, he thought, was a fool. Darcy turned and bowed once more to those in the room, and then made haste for the hallway.

He stopped before he reached the main doors of Longbourn house, and he leaned his shoulder against the wall to ponder his course in searching for Elizabeth. Perhaps it was wiser not to look for her, for it may be that she was in need of time spent without him—though upon second thought Darcy determined this highly improbable. It bothered him still to recall the resemblance of sadness upon the face of his friend’s wife, and although he was not quite sure why he felt the inclination to interfere, he wondered that he might say something to Bingley when he had the opportunity.

The day lagged as Elizabeth sat within the coolness of the archaic walls of Longbourn church. She hummed the melody to Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, which seemed an apt thing to do, and then she abruptly stopped for the invading memories tugging at her mind.

Elizabeth pondered the summer past, and of how she had begun to see Mr. Darcy in a different light. With fondness she recalled his kindness toward herself and her aunt and uncle when they had been in Lambton, and it made her smile to now know the reasons behind his gracious behavior. Still, from that point on he had been a gentle and attentive suitor, and for as long as she lived she would never forget the nervous angst of Mr. Darcy’s voice, when he asked if she would entertain a visit from himself and his sister. He had seemed almost naive then, though Elizabeth was aware that he was by no means an innocent. Innocence had never been the attraction for her—it had been something quite different.

Yet, the one thing that she wished she could forget about that summer was the dreadful return home to Longbourn, and the long days made miserable by her sister Lydia’s indiscretion in having eloped with Mr. Wickham. Elizabeth’s shame would not have been so great had Mr. Darcy not displayed such kindness; and so she recalled sitting on a pew in Longbourn church late that summer, wiping tears from her cheeks with the back of her hand, a hand tanned by the sun; wishing things had been different.

“Good day,” a man’s voice startled her reverie.

Elizabeth looked up, hoping to see her husband, but instead she saw a man who she did not know standing by the doors, looking as if he were barely grown out of knee breeches. His faceless silhouette startled her, for the happenstance of her dream of only last night still caused her great discomfort. She stood up quickly and curtsied, and bid the silhouette good day.

“Is there some way in which I might help you?” the man asked, coming out of the shadows and allowing Elizabeth a glimpse of his face.

“Not at all,” Elizabeth could smile on seeing his features. “I have not visited here for some time, and I fear that I became lost in thought at my fond memories of the place.”

“May I ask your name?” his lips pinched together after he spoke the question.

Elizabeth felt awkward, “Pray forgive me, sir. Elizabeth Bennet—I mean to say, Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy.”

“Goodness!” the young man’s voice warbled at the revelation, and he genuflected with as much proliferation as even Mr. Collins could muster. “Forgive me, Mrs. Darcy—I had not known you to be in the neighborhood, or I would certainly have taken more care!”

Elizabeth grinned, for it continued to amaze her that a thing as simple as a change of one’s name to that of Darcy could astound so many people.

“I have heard much of you, Mrs. Darcy—and of your husband,” the odd young gent added. “You have been the talk of Meryton since news of your marriage—the talk of most of Hertfordshire, in fact.”

“One is always happy to hear that they are the subject of gossip,” Elizabeth grinned. “That way people will not forget you when you reside in a place as far away as Derbyshire.”

“Nay,” he said, “’tis gossip of the very best kind, Ma’am.”

“Pray,” she said becoming somewhat annoyed with the man’s peculiar manners, “do you not have a name as well?”

“Enoch Pritchard, Ma’am,” he bowed again. “I have been made curate of this parish by Sir William Lucas, my benefactor, and by the good word of your father.”

“I see, Mr. Pritchard,” Elizabeth nodded. “I suppose even Longbourn parish is a fair living.”

“Indeed,” he replied. “A fair enough living, though a step toward a parish of my own, I must admit the ambition.”

“You are not suggesting,” she inquired somewhat alarmed, “that Reverend Goodwin is to give it up?”

“No Ma’am,” Mr. Pritchard replied, “Reverend Goodwin has no plans to leave it—I only meant that when my tenure here is done, I shall seek a position elsewhere—though I cannot rely on the good will of my benefactor, who has no parish of his own to bestow to me—or much of a fortune, I venture.”

“No, I suppose not,” Elizabeth acknowledged, knowing that Sir William Lucas did not carry that much weight amongst his peers. At once Elizabeth mused, “Perhaps when his son-in-law occupies Longbourn as its master, Mr. Collins may put in a good word for you with Lady Catherine de Bourgh.”

Mr. Pritchard knew little to what Mrs. Darcy did refer, though he was brazen enough of a young fellow to inquire further of her, “Your husband must surely possess the right of advowson, Ma’am.”

Elizabeth was caught unaware by the man’s bluntness. “I suppose—I do believe that he does. Yes, Kympton parish, if not some other, should a living become vacant.”

“Perhaps you might recommend me, and be so kind as to make an introduction?” Mr. Pritchard’s gall became more of an annoyance. “I believe I should like to become acquainted with your husband, Mrs. Darcy.”

“Perhaps,” Elizabeth replied as the man made her uneasy enough to consider leaving the sanctuary.

“Are you to church this Sunday?”

“I do believe so,” Elizabeth gulped, and then wondered to herself why such a man should make her feel so anxious. He was nothing to her, and she worked up her courage, the nerve a lady of her situation should own, and she replied, “Though might I suggest that you seek a proper introduction, Mr. Pritchard, by soliciting one from Sir William or my father? A word of counsel, sir—Mr. Darcy is very attentive to maintaining those considerations granted a gentleman.”

“Quite,” the man scratched at his scalp.

“Good day, Mr. Pritchard,” Elizabeth said as she turned to leave.

“Good day,” the man grinned, “Mrs. Darcy.”

Elizabeth hurried home, though it was still very hot, and when she arrived at the front doors of Longbourn house, her forehead was damp with perspiration and her cheeks were glowing from the exertion of having escaped the brazen familiarity demonstrated by the new curate of Longbourn parish. It unnerved her to think that Mr. Pritchard should imply that her husband might do him such a favor as bestowing on him a parish of his own. Mr. Darcy did not know the man, at all. Elizabeth was certain that her husband would not take kindly to the man, just as he abhorred the lack of civility once shown him by Mr. Collins. Elizabeth concluded that she would not speak a word of it to Darcy, for there was very little point in it at all.

“Lizzy!” Kitty ran to her as Elizabeth took care to hang her bonnet back upon the peg. “Lizzy—Mama and I wish to speak to you, in the drawing room.”

Elizabeth followed her sister, wishing first and foremost to have another listen at her father’s study door, though having no opportunity to do so. Once within the drawing room, Kitty turned to her, eyes agleam with exhilarating news.

“You shall never guess what has happened!”

“Never guess,” Mrs. Bennet boasted with a laugh, “should you have a million chances, you will never guess it, Lizzy!”

“I shall not venture to try then. What is it?” Elizabeth laughed at such enthusiasm, and Jane grinned at her sister’s reluctance to play such a silly game.

Kitty took Elizabeth by the hands and looked her square in the eye, saying very slowly to make her point, “Mr. Darcy did say that he liked my crewel reticule!”

“He did, Lizzy!” her mother confirmed with a ridiculous twitter, “and he admired the talents of all my girls! He said so himself.”

Elizabeth’s grin broadened. “So I take it that he is not in father’s study any longer?”

Elizabeth noticed the hurt feelings upon the faces of her mother and sister, and she felt badly for making no attempt to be impressed by such an event, or such a triviality depending on one’s own point of view. “That is a very fine thing, Kitty,” Elizabeth nodded, this time with a kindly smile, “for Mr. Darcy does not offer a compliment unless he feels that it is richly deserved.”

“Elizabeth!” her name was called again, and she turned about to see Mary behind her. “Elizabeth—you shall never guess!”

Elizabeth pondered the exclamation and with a twist of her lips in skepticism she answered drolly, “Mr. Darcy does praise you on your playing the pianoforte.”

“Quite so,” Mary replied, as though every word of admiration were true, “How did you know?”

Elizabeth shrugged, “A guess.”

“As a matter of fact, he does like my playing,” Mary strutted, “So much so that I did show him that old violin of grandfather Bennet’s, and Mr. Darcy did say that were he to have it restrung, that he and I might practice Morning Rout, and play it together—perhaps even after cards at Lucas Lodge.”

Elizabeth was truly astonished and a touch mortified, “Really?”

“Yes!” Mary insisted.

Elizabeth was indeed shocked by such events, and she earnestly wished a word with her husband. “Where exactly is Mr. Darcy?”

“As I said, he is in the front parlor, attempting to tune that old violin.”

“Astonishing,” was all that Elizabeth could mumble.

“Yes,” Kitty chimed in once again, “he is quite an amazing man—and I am at a loss to understand how I did not see it before.”

“Perhaps you did not care to look,” Elizabeth grimaced.

Kitty giggled, “No—but you did, Lizzy.”

“Yes, I did.”

“What precisely did you see in him, Lizzy?” Kitty asked a profound question for her sensibilities, though she ruined it by adding, “Did you see his estate, and his house in Town—did you see his ten thousand a year?”

“Did you see that perhaps he had some talent, Elizabeth?” Mary inquired. “At least he seems to have an interest in tuning that violin.”

“Perhaps Mr. Darcy was kind,” Jane proposed to her sisters from the goodness of her heart.

Elizabeth slowly shook her head. “No,” she recognized honestly. “It was not any of those things—though he is kind and generous, and there is no denying that he is endowed with material assets, and plays the violin tolerably well.”

Elizabeth’s mother and her sisters looked to her, silently awaiting more of an answer than they were given. Elizabeth felt their keen stares, and for reasons known only to her, she was compelled to tell them precisely why she had been apt to give Mr. Darcy one more glance.

“He has the whole world,” Elizabeth answered; her finger pointing to her brain, “here. I had always known that a learned man was for me,” she explained prudently. “I wanted a man who knows what to do, and when to do it—a man of achievement, and yet a man of few words. A man who has seen other places and done worthy things, more things than I shall ever do, and such a man thinks that those achievements are trifling enough not to mention should one not happen to ask. The husband I chose remembers all that he has read—so carefully in fact that he can recite it back, almost word for word. He is truthful and he remembers the good in his family and honors the past, yet he looks to a future that he himself can make good and prosperous. Above all this, he cares to ask what I think of it all—he truly cares to ask his wife.”

Elizabeth’s mother and sisters looked to her, although Elizabeth was not convinced that they understood a word that she had said. If they could not understand, it was by far and away their own loss, for Elizabeth could understand it, and she cherished Mr. Darcy for being just that sort of man.

“She likes him for his mind,” Mrs. Bennet twittered, in very poor taste.

“Excuse me,” Elizabeth’s eyebrows raised in silent bemusement, and she turned and left the room and hurried down the hallway toward the sounds of plucking and scratching at old and scoured catgut.

In the very room where Mary said that he could be found, Elizabeth came across Mr. Darcy. He sat upon on a chair far too low for his height, his legs sprawled out as a dusty old violin rested upon one knee, and his fingers worked diligently at tightening temperamental strings which were in great danger of being frayed and snapped clean through.

“Can it be saved, do you think?” Elizabeth asked as she sat on a chair across from her husband.

“I think not,” he replied, smiling. “Though perhaps it is worth a few shillings to be mended.”

“Oh indeed,” Elizabeth grinned, “for I am all astonishment to know that the neighborhood shall be favored with a duet so elegantly played by my husband—and my sister Mary.”

“What?” Darcy grumbled, “Oh yes—Morning Rout. Though I do not happen to recall saying that I would perform it before the whole of the neighborhood.”

“You have made quite an impression on the Bennets of Longbourn, Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth continued, “and all in one short afternoon.”

“An impression?” he grimaced. “Let it be a civilized one, I hope.”

“A very good impression,” Elizabeth boasted. “What with crafting ditches, and admiring purses, and attempting a daring duet—I would say, Mr. Darcy that you are a man to be admired.”

Darcy grinned at that proclamation though he highly doubted that these small deeds could produce such a grand effect. His amusement diminished and in his diffidence he voiced one of the few faults that he did own.

“You are plainly jealous, Mrs. Darcy.”

To this, Elizabeth felt some distress. Her cheeks reddened for lack of a clever reply for she could never tell Darcy that her reasons for going to the church in the first place had been to escape her vexation at having been ignored.

“While I was here performing the role of mindful son-in-law,” Darcy quipped, “Where were you?”

“I went to church.”

“To church?” he mused. “If that be so, then I hope is was to offer prayer and assistance that the ditches hold water, the purse does not unravel, and above all that your sister Mary and I are able to remain somewhat on key?”

“Nothing of the kind,” Elizabeth laughed, “I assure you.”

“Then what?” he grimaced.

Elizabeth answered coyly, “To think.”

Darcy sighed, knowing he truly had no right to ask such pointed questions. “I see,” he lowered his eyes back toward the strings of the instrument. “Should we have a chance for that walk out this evening, do you think?” he inquired, quite in the same endearing manner that Elizabeth had remembered him doing as when he had asked to bring his sister to meet her at the inn at Lambton.

“To be sure, Mr. Darcy. You cannot escape that duty.”

Darcy leaned toward Elizabeth; so close were his lips to her ear that she could feel his warm breath as he spoke, pleasing and comforting. “That is one duty I have no desire to avoid, my love,” he breathed, “for I have spent far too long in this house—and far too much time away from you.”

“With such words of enticement you could make a girl forget herself,” Elizabeth sighed.

The quaint smile came back to the corners of Darcy’s lips and he said without hesitation, “Is that a fact.”

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.