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"I should infinitely prefer a book." -- Chapter 39, Pride and Prejudice
"...I wish my collection were larger for your benefit and my own credit..." -- Chapter 8, Pride and Prejudice
"I shall be glad to have the library to myself as soon as may be." -- Chapter 20, Pride and Prejudice

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

No Fault to Find

(Or, Lizzy's Minute)


(2009)
Pride and Prejudice    
"September Smooches"
After touring the grounds of Pemberley, Elizabeth accepts Mr Darcy's offer of refreshments.


From Chapter 43 of Pride and Prejudice:
He then asked her to walk into the house—but she declared herself not tired, and they stood together on the lawn. At such a time, much might have been said, and silence was very awkward. She wanted to talk, but there seemed an embargo on every subject. At last she recollected that she had been travelling, and they talked of Matlock and Dove Dale with great perseverance. Yet time and her aunt moved slowly...



Elizabeth began to wonder how much longer she could speak on the topic of Dove Dale without running the risk of repeating herself. A soft breeze brushed her cheek, and she turned to watch it rustle the nearby leaves, their green surfaces vibrant in the summer sun.

“There is a painting in the saloon,” Mr. Darcy injected into the quietness, drawing Elizabeth’s attention, “of just such a view as you have described. Have you seen it?”

“I do not recall.” She honestly did not know. She had seen so many things.

“Would you care to see it now?”

Elizabeth glanced at her aunt, whose progress seemed even slower than before. She looked up at her companion. Captivated by the eagerness she read in his face, she found herself inclined to reward rather than disappoint it. “Why not?”

His immediate, radiant smile put any doubts to rest, and they walked into the house.

The room was one she had entered on her tour, but she had been too busy admiring the prospect from the windows to closely examine the art on the walls. Though still not tired, she suddenly felt an urge to recline on one of the sofas. It really looked to be a very comfortable room. She laughed then, thinking, unaccountably, of Mr. Darcy’s once having called Hunsford Parsonage a comfortable home. What a compliment from the Master of luxurious Pemberley House!

“See the way the trees overhang the cliff, forming a canopy of sorts? There is the Peak in the distance, of course, and a hint of the valley below… Miss Bennet? Are you in need of rest after all, or perhaps some refreshment?”

Elizabeth started, and her hand stilled in its path over the rich upholstery of the sofa. Although she had heard him speaking, she had not caught one word in ten. Refreshment, had he said? “As you like, Mr. Darcy.” She could not claim hunger or thirst, but she felt in need of something.

“Please, Miss Bennet, do sit.” He came and led her, quite unnecessarily, to the front of the sofa. They sat down together, their legs touching. Mr. Darcy leapt up immediately to carry out his duties as host.

Elizabeth walked over to study the landscape. The painting was, as he had said, reminiscent of the prospect she had described with such fervour. She laughed to herself. How unlike her to try so hard, and for Mr. Darcy, of all people! He had seemed to appreciate her efforts, however, and had shown no signs of boredom or irritation. She could not call him unfriendly or ungentlemanly now. He had paid her every possible attention.

“What do you think?” His voice wrapped round her and she stilled.

“I think you are perfectly right,” she said, keeping her back to him.

“Am I?” The warmth of his tone made her feel as if she were being embraced. She shivered; was that his breath on her ear? She stepped back unsteadily on her heel and turned, and suddenly she was, in fact, being embraced. He had been—he was—quite close. Mr. Darcy’s hands held her fast, until she stood completely upright, and then caressed her back and arm where they had grasped her. “Oh” and “Pardon me,” followed by a half-laugh and a muffled cough, preceded their hasty separation. A servant entered with a tray and left.

“May I?” Mr. Darcy began to fill her plate. She poured the tea as if she had done so innumerable times in this parlour, for this man. They looked at each other, and they smiled, and conversation followed quite naturally.

“Not too much, please. I did have a very filling meal at the inn to-day.”

“I am being over-zealous, am I not? This seems enough for two.”

In an unusual display of ease and informality, rather than prepare his own plate, he set the miniature feast before them both and sat with her, inviting her to make her choice and selecting a small cluster of grapes for himself. Elizabeth knew not what to make of it. She opened her mouth to tease him for his presumption but could not bring herself to do it. Smiling reluctantly, she remarked on the pleasantness of the day and listened with satisfaction to Mr. Darcy’s whole-hearted agreement.

“How has it come to pass,” she wondered aloud after her first sip, “that I am here, in your house, and that we are talking so very comfortably together as we are now? Had someone told me only this morning that it would be so, I would have laughed at him. I never imagined it.”

“I have often imagined it,” said Darcy quietly, turning away a little. “Wished for it,” he whispered. “Dreamt of it.”

“Mr. Darcy, I am sorry.”

“For what?”

She could barely tolerate the pained expression on his face. “I have made you uneasy. I should go.” She put down her teacup and started to rise.

He caught her hand. “If you go, that will make me uneasy.”

“Sir, I do not understand you.”

“I meant that—”

“I know what you meant. At least I believe I do. What I mean is that I do not understand you. How can you be so civil—no, gracious—to me? How can you desire my company after all that has passed between us? I stood staring at your portrait, the large one in the gallery, and tried and tried to comprehend your character. Mrs. Reynolds had said such things about you! Clearly there was much I did not know. I must have gazed at your face for a quarter of an hour, imploring it to reveal to me the mystery behind that smile.”

“And you would deprive me of a few more minutes of gazing upon your own face?” He tugged on her hand. “Stay with me.”

She sighed. “How can I not?” She sank back onto the plump cushions. “When you plead so earnestly, I have no choice.”

“You have always had a choice, and you have exercised it at least once already.”

“Oh, my. I had not intended to be solemn on such a bright day.”

“Shall I pretend we have no history, then? Shall I pretend I do not daily regret my deplorable behaviour towards you?”

“No,” she said soberly. “For pretence is something you find abhorrent, is it not?”

“I can only hope you will someday grant me forgiveness.”

Elizabeth realised she must have already forgiven him, for she felt no lingering resentment. She let her gaze slip from his face to the narrow gap between them on the sofa. “You are still holding my hand.”

“I wish I were still holding the rest of you.”

“Mr. Darcy!” She was glad she had laid her cup aside; else, she might have spilt tea everywhere after hearing that declaration. “What has come over you?”

“I have been reserved all my life, but I find it nearly impossible to maintain my reserve with you. Not here, at Pemberley.”

“Not in your letter, either,” she murmured, still discomposed. “And to think you were not even to be here to-day.”

“I thank God my steward sent for me.”

“Nor had I planned to come. I tried to dissuade my aunt.”

“I am glad she would not be swayed.”

“You are very forthright.”

“Have I ever been otherwise?”

She made no answer. He had often said things that confounded her, but after his proposal she had admitted to herself the extent of her blindness concerning him. He was not a talkative man, but his few words tended to directness more often than not.

“I am sorry,” he said, “if it is too soon, or too much. I was shocked to see you. How could I not have been? Yet, I doubt more than half an hour had passed before I knew I wished to see you again and again, as often as you would allow, despite any awkwardness.”

“What happens now?” Her voice quieted as she looked about the room again, growing used to his hand stroking hers.

“What are you thinking, Miss Bennet?”

“Should I tell you?”

“You are not reserved. Why would you hesitate?”

“You would be surprised at how often a woman with four sisters and a curious mother finds it necessary to conceal her thoughts.”

“Tell me.”

What was it about his manner that made her acquiesce? “This place…this…” She spread her arms wide and grinned as he grudgingly released her hand. “It feels like home. Not Longbourn, of course. I did not mean to imply that. And not for its grandeur or anything of the sort, but… Oh, I feel unaccountably stupid all of a sudden. I cannot say what I wish to say.”

“Home.”

An echo. An acknowledgement. He understood. She could see that she did not have to explain herself further, and, of course, he knew his fortune had never been her first consideration. “Yes.” She smiled in relief.

“You could not have said anything that I would have found more gratifying at this moment.”

“Then I am glad”—her breath caught at the intensity of his stare—“that I shed my reserve.”

“I shall follow your example and shed mine.” He leant forward.

She leant back. “I thought you already had.”

He broke their gaze.

Elizabeth exhaled nervously and closed her eyes. For a moment, she had believed he had been about to take liberties with her. Then he startled her by doing exactly that. She felt his breath not against her mouth but against her throat; in an instant his lips were there, warm and smooth. She gasped.

He drew his face close to hers. If he kissed her now, she would hardly know what to do, for she had no experience to guide her. As they stared at each other, sounds from the hall intruded and grew louder. Darcy stood. Elizabeth remained pressed against the corner of the sofa, catching her breath, as the housekeeper showed her relations into the room.

“Mr. Gardiner,” Mr. Darcy greeted them, “Mrs. Gardiner. May I offer you some refreshment?”

“Thank you,” replied Mrs. Gardiner. “I will happily accept, but we cannot stay much longer. We must get back to Lambton soon.”

“Ah, yes,” Mr. Gardiner said, taking a biscuit. “Dinner tonight with your cousins.”

“It would not do to slight them, my dear.”

Mr. Darcy began a new subject. It was fortunate that his lack of reserve, in a general sense, lasted for the duration of the visit, for Elizabeth was too lost in thought to contribute much to the conversation herself.


~~~~~~~~




Soon they all were out of doors again. Mr. Darcy handed Mrs. Gardiner into the carriage. As he reached for Elizabeth’s hand, she pulled back.

“I just recalled…something…in the saloon. I left… I will only be a minute.” She looked pointedly at Mr. Darcy.

He appeared bewildered but turned to address her relations. “A…a minute,” she heard him repeat. Certain now that he would follow, she hurried on her way.

She hoped she appeared to be examining the picture, but then he walked in and his presence shattered all her efforts to feign interest in anything else.

“What did you leave here?” His eyes scanned the furniture. “May I help you search for it?”

When she did not answer, he looked at her for one long moment and closed the door behind him.

“I do not want to go.” Her voice was quiet. She felt very small and bare standing alone.

“Elizabeth?”

This time she did not lean away when he approached her. This time she felt him on her mouth and her shoulders and her back and pressed to her bosom all at once. She felt her own fingers in his hair and her weakening knees resting against his trembling legs.

“Elizabeth.”

She let out a sound that was more a laugh than a cry, but definitely a bit of both. “I must go.”

“Yes, but you will return.”

Another kiss was the only reply she could think of that would do justice to the voicing of this delightful certainty.


~~~~~~~~




That evening at the inn, Elizabeth sat by the window remembering her first kiss (and her second, third and fourth as well) as her aunt and uncle chattered in their typical, lively fashion. They occasionally commented on her unusual silence but for the most part left her to her musings. They had already teased her regarding her initial unwillingness to view Pemberley. She had to admit she had deserved it, especially after her lamentable absence of mind at dinner.

“Lizzy, come.” Her uncle thumped the table with a light hand. “Play cards with us.”

Elizabeth nodded, or thought she did.

“Lizzy?” Mr. Gardiner repeated. “Did you hear me at all, dear?”

“Yes, Uncle.” She glanced over her shoulder and turned directly back to the window. “I am coming in a minute.”

She heard her aunt say something about “Lizzy’s minute” being no longer a reliable measure of time and then laugh her elegant, musical laugh.

Straining to see clearly in the fading light, Elizabeth thought she spied a man on horseback looking straight at her. As it was dusk, it was difficult to tell. The rider tipped his hat and disappeared into the twilight.

She closed the curtains and sat down with the Gardiners, unable to help wishing a certain gentleman were at her side, and not purely to make a fourth at Reverse*.


~~~The End~~~




* Reverse (Reversis): a game that would later be known to Elizabeth Darcy’s grandchildren as Hearts and would often be played at Pemberley on a summer’s evening when they had nothing to do

I admit to shameless (mis)use(?) of card-playing history to suit (pun intended) my purposes. However, as I am no card-player, I cannot say I prefer Commerce to comments.

4 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. I'm glad! Thanks for letting me know. :)

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  2. Oh, this is wonderful. I enjoyed it very much, as I've enjoyed all of your work!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! Glad you stopped by to read. :)

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