I have realized that I have not indicated which chapters I’m posting in my blog post titles. I might go back and add those.
I got quite a bit written this week. What I have for you today is the end of Chapter 4 and beginning of Chapter 5. I’m not sure how many words it is, so I can’t say how long it will take to read.
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“Then by all means, refrain from sharing the threat with anyone.” Bingley sounded just as eager to see the ladies safe from harm as Darcy was. “I believe Darcy has the right of it, and most likely, his ideas were the best.”
“I agree,” said Jane. “They are also the easiest to implement.”
“Yes,” Elizabeth added. “And the least likely to cause notice, though I would imagine the sight of me keeping to the gardens could raise some eyebrows.” She laughed softly at the mental image of her family and their perplexed looks.
Since they all agreed on the plan, the four stood and began to circulate among the other guests, confident that they had done all they could, given the circumstances.
The ladies had their first opportunity to put their strategy to use on the following day. All six Bennet women were lounging about the drawing-room, reading or drawing or sewing, when they heard a knock on the front door. Startling, they glanced at each other and swiftly tucked their books and projects behind them or under their seats before settling once more into seats. By the time Hill announced the visitors, all the ladies were seated once more, appearing serene and calm. They rose as three of the officers of the local militia entered the room. Lieutenants Wickham, Denny, and Saunders bowed a greeting. Elizabeth looked at Jane, who looked back at her, each silently acknowledging a vow to stay near.
“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” Mrs. Bennet gushed. “It is so good to see you here today. Come,” she gestured them further into the room. “Sit, sit.”
Thanking her, the gentlemen settled themselves on the furniture. Wickham looked toward Elizabeth, but she and Jane occupied the whole of the settee. There was, however, an empty chair sitting at an angle to the couch on which the girls sat, and the lieutenant chose that seat. “How are you this fine day?”
Elizabeth replied, “Fine, thank you. Yourself?” She could not bring herself to be rude, but she did her best to avoid injecting any warmth into her tone, and to keep her facial expression neutral.
“I am well. I have my basic needs met, and my desires for company fulfilled. Life could not be better.” Wickham grinned, crossing one leg over the other and placing his hands in his lap.
Jane was the one to reply this time. “That is excellent news, sir.”
Wickham smiled. He attempted to initiate more small talk, but Elizabeth and Jane gave only brief replies. A scowl passed over his features as he looked toward the window, where the light was rather dim due to thick clouds covering the sunlight. When he turned back to the ladies, his expression contained its usual smile. “I say, Miss Elizabeth, would you like to take a walk in the gardens with me?”
Before his prey could respond, there came the sound of a hard rain, and the view out the window was obscured by the downpour.
“Thank you, Mr. Wickham, but no, I think I would rather remain indoors.” Elizabeth gave him a small smile, relief filling her heart.
Wickham’s smile barely lifted his lips, and Elizabeth saw the flash of irritation in his expression. “Indeed, not,” he replied.
The rain continued for a full half-hour. At its onset, Mrs. Bennet had invited them to stay, and so they did. Wickham was called by good manners to spread his compliments around, and so spent most of the time flirting with Lydia and Kitty. Elizabeth and Jane kept a close eye on the situation.
When the rain stopped, Mrs. Bennet invited the officers to stay for dinner, but their duties required their return to town. It was with great relief that Elizabeth waved goodbye. They had not been gone more than five minutes before the sun came out once more.
“Oh,” Mrs. Bennet fluttered, handkerchief waving in the air. “I do hope the roads dry out enough for our guests to arrive!”
Elizabeth assured her all would be well. “Look, Mama; the ground in the paddock is already drying out. I am certain Mr. Bingley’s carriage will be fine to travel.”
True to Elizabeth’s prediction, within an hour or two, the ground had dried enough from its soaking that travel was once again possible. Later that day, Bingley, Darcy, and Bingley’s family all arrived at Longbourn for a dinner party. Though Darcy was eager to speak to Elizabeth, Mrs. Bennet monopolized his time and attention, as well as that of everyone in the room, with profuse expressions of gratitude for their attendance and a plethora of fussing over seating and gossiping. Thankfully, in his view, his hostess was not one to stand on precedence, and Darcy was able to escort Elizabeth into the dining room and seat himself at her side.
“How are you today?” Darcy leaned toward Elizabeth, breathing in the lavender of her perfume. Just yesterday, he had wandered Netherfield’s gardens, and had stood near a patch of the fragrant purple flower, enjoying the aroma and thinking of Elizabeth.
Elizabeth turned her head toward Darcy, leaning his way just a bit, as the servant placed a bowl of soup in front of her. “I am well. I am afraid Mr. Hill is not. I asked him to accompany me on my walk this morning; he is unused to the activity.”
The smirk on her lips and twinkle in her eye made Darcy chuckle. “I feel very sorry for Mr. Hill, then, but I am glad you did not walk out alone. Did you meet anyone on your walk?”
By this time, Elizabeth had moved away again. “No, not on my walk, but we did have …” She looked Darcy in the eye. “Visitors this afternoon.”
Darcy’s brows rose. “I see,” he said. “How did that go?”
“Very well. Jane never left my side, and it began to rain, so none of us could be separated from the rest.”
Darcy smiled now. “I am glad.” He finished the soup course with a small amount of conversation with Mrs. Bennet. She was, he thought, rather cold to him. Certainly, she was far more animated with Bingley. Darcy wondered at it for a while, but recalling Elizabeth’s recent dislike of him, he concluded that it was not surprising. He had, after all, insulted one of her daughters, and to a lady like Mrs. Bennet, he was sure that was tantamount to a declaration of war. It was with great relief that he was able to turn his attention back to Elizabeth. “The weather was very fine today.” He rolled his eyes, hoping no one saw him. That was a poor excuse for a conversational topic, Darcy. Get a grip!
“Yes, it was. Certainly much better than yesterday’s.”
Elizabeth’s quiet giggle made Darcy smile inside. He enjoyed her lively spirit and found himself craving it more and more.
“Oh, anything would be better than yesterday’s weather,” Elizabeth declared.
Darcy chuckled, but was prevented from responding by the servants, who removed the soup course and replaced it with the next one. He was greatly pleased by Elizabeth’s next question.
“Will you tell me more about your sister?”
“Certainly. Georgiana is twelve years younger than I. She loves music and practices almost constantly. Her tutors declare her a good student in all subjects, but she prefers maths to reading and literature. She speaks French and Italian, and is studying German. She has a knack for languages.”
Elizabeth nodded. “There is something musical about many languages. Perhaps her talent in music has helped her with them?”
“You may be correct. Whatever the reason, I am pleased with her progress. Of course, she has also learned other, more feminine skills. She embroiders beautifully and has learned to set a fine table. She has helped my aunt plan several dinner parties at Matlock House in town.”
“I understand she designs beautiful tables, as well.” Elizabeth smirked again, tipping her head toward Bingley’s sister, Caroline, who sat two places down from Elizabeth, between Lydia and Mr. Hurst.
Darcy had taken a sip of wine as Elizabeth was speaking, and began to laugh as she spoke, leading him to choke on the liquid in his cup. He brought his napkin to his mouth to prevent it from spewing all over the table. He felt Elizabeth take his cup and then slap his back two or three times. When he had himself under control, he noticed that she was attempting to rein in a laugh and only barely succeeding. Her lips quivered with the effort, and she looked away for a moment. “That was unfair, Miss Elizabeth. You should have waited until I had set my cup back down before you attempted to make me laugh.” Darcy struggled to keep his own smile from overtaking his countenance.
“Oh, but Mr. Darcy, the effect of such an endeavour is so much more enjoyable when the object is unsuspecting.”
At this, neither could hold on to their glee. They shared a laugh and a grin.
Darcy thought about that moment for a long time that night. He had felt such a warmth in the region of his heart, and a longing to share moments similar to that every day. He lay in bed, his mind alive with images of the lovely, laughing, Elizabeth Bennet.
Several days passed before Elizabeth came into contact with Wickham again. She had, instead, spent part of every day in the company of Darcy and Bingley. Her mother had pulled her aside the first day and asked her to accompany Darcy.
“Keep him occupied, so Jane has time with Mr. Bingley. I know he is not pleasant, but surely you can do this for your sister’s future happiness!” Mrs. Bennet was insistent, even grasping Elizabeth’s arm and squeezing it, as though she suspected her second daughter might refuse her request and run out the door.
“Yes, Mama, I will keep Mr. Darcy’s attention on me. I promise.”
With Elizabeth’s assurances, Mrs. Bennet finally let go. With a few parting words, threatening dire consequences if Elizabeth disobeyed, the matron bustled off to settle a dispute that could be heard from upstairs between her two youngest daughters.
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