Welcome back to Austen Promises!
I just finished Chapter 3 a few minutes ago. The last couple paragraphs have had zero editing. Upon the advice of some expert friends, I have added a hint of one of the conflicts to come to this chapter. I am currently attempting to learn the three act structure. (I think. 😉 )
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Though they had an appointment to go to the theatre in six days’ time, Darcy was unable to stay away from Gracechurch Street for the entirety of the week. The third day after his initial visit and the fourth day after spying and meeting Elizabeth and her uncle, Darcy once again knocked on the Gardiners’ front door. He had fought with himself to stay away, and had begun several times to send a note around, but in the end, his longing to be near Elizabeth once more won out. So, here he was.
After giving his hat, coat, gloves, and walking stick to the maid who had let him in, Darcy followed her to the drawing room. As had happened the last time he was here, he was struck dumb at the sight of Elizabeth standing in front of the couch. His heart stopped beating for a moment before suddenly starting to thump in his ears. His vision narrowed to take in only her and her beautiful blue gown.
“Welcome, Mr. Darcy.” Elizabeth curtseyed to him.
Darcy bowed in return. He swallowed as he straightened and forced his eyes to her face. “Thank you, Miss Bennet. I am pleased you could receive me today.” He moved closer as he spoke, finally stopping in front of her. Reaching for her hand, he bowed over it, completely forgetting that he had already performed the social nicety.
“You are always welcome, sir,” Elizabeth replied softly. She looked down as a light blush spread over her cheeks. Peeking back up at him, she continued, “My aunt is upstairs with the children, but she should return in a few minutes. Why do we not sit and talk while we wait for her?”
Darcy was happy to do anything Elizabeth suggested, and so he assisted her in sitting and then took the place next to her for himself. He was aware that he was grinning like a fool, but was unable to stop. He decided to just let it happen. He was happy to be seated next to her, and he did not care who knew.
“I am very much looking forward to our theatre outing on Friday. There are so many people to observe and sketch the characters of during intermissions, and then, of course, there is the performance itself.”
Elizabeth’s enthusiasm was infectious. Darcy eagerly agreed. “Have you ever sat in a box when you attended before?”
“I have, yes. My uncle has a box at one of the theatres. He sometimes treats investors and suppliers to a performance. I thought it was great fun to watch the crowd when the action on the stage was slow.” Elizabeth grinned. “I was able to make up stories about the people I saw that rivalled that of the play.”
Darcy chuckled. “I have never thought of doing that. I tend to ignore the crowd as much as possible. It is generally me who is being observed and spoken about.”
Elizabeth tipped her head. “Are you famous, then?”
Shaking his head, Darcy replied, “Not so much famous as eligible. There are not many gentlemen in my position, having already inherited at a young age. I tend to gain the attention of mothers and daughters, though they do not gather mine.”
“I see.” Elizabeth drew the word out. “Do you have to beat them off with a stick?”
Darcy had caught the twinkle in his companion’s eye and knew she was teasing. Playing along, he affected a serious demeanour, and, lifting his hand to observe his fingernails, he blew on them, rubbed them on his jacket, and said, “I am a gentleman. I would never strike a lady. Rather, I look down my impressive nose at them.” He then lifted that appendage and peered down at Elizabeth with one brow cocked. He held the position as she burst into laughter, at which point, he did the same.
“Oh, Mr. Darcy, that was impressive! You surely would have frightened me off with that look, and I am a difficult one to scare.”
“I would never wish to frighten you,” Darcy replied, his whole being suffused with warmth at the camaraderie they shared.
Before Darcy could do something untoward, like kiss Elizabeth, Mrs. Gardiner returned to the drawing room. He and Elizabeth stood, and Darcy bowed. “Good afternoon.”
“Good afternoon, Mr. Darcy. How good it is to see you today.” Maddie curtseyed and then took her seat.
“You, as well.” Darcy again assisted Elizabeth in sitting, more for the opportunity to hold her hand than anything else. Then, he resumed his place.
“Lizzy, have you called for tea?”
“Oh, no, Aunt, I have not.” Elizabeth blushed. “Mr. Darcy and I have been talking and it just never occurred to me to do so.”
“I believe that.” Maddie winked at her niece before turning to gesture to the maid who waited just inside the room. When the maid had dropped a curtsey and hurried out, Maddie turned back to the couple on the couch. “What were you talking about so intently that you forgot to offer your guest refreshments?”
“The theatre. I was explaining how much I enjoy sketching the characters of the other attendees.”
Maddie raised her brows and her chin. Speaking to Darcy, she said, “Our Lizzy does do that. She comes up with some fantastical tales, as well.”
Darcy chuckled. “I cannot wait to hear one.” He looked at Elizabeth.
“Well, I cannot just produce one out of the air. I must have inspiration,” she declared. “You shall have to wait until Friday to hear a story, Mr. Darcy.” Elizabeth tossed her head and sniffed.
Darcy was enthralled with Elizabeth’s sauciness. It inspired feelings and thoughts in him that he had wondered if he’d ever experience. However inappropriate they were for a drawing room, they were additional evidence that he was falling in love with her. His heart sang with the knowledge. Mrs. Gardiner drew his attention with another question.
“Will we meet any of your other relatives on Friday? I mean, other than Miss Darcy?”
“I believe we might see my aunt and uncle. Lord Matlock indicated to me the other day that he and Aunt Audra were considering attending the same performance.” Darcy felt a twinge of unease at the thought. His uncle ought to take to Elizabeth and the Gardiners just fine. He was a peer with all the accompanying prejudices, but once he made a person’s acquaintance, he often threw off his previous judgements. It had happened when he befriended Bingley, and he hoped it would happen again.
It was his aunt’s reaction that made Darcy nervous. Lady Matlock’s opinions about anyone of a lower circle were pretty much set in stone and unlikely to change. She was very much like her sister-in-law, Lady Catherine De Bourgh, in that sense—rigid and unyielding. Darcy shook off his musings to pay attention once more to Miss Bennet and her aunt.
Darcy spent the next half-hour in conversation with the ladies. When he could no longer politely extend the visit, he reluctantly bowed over their hands and boarded his carriage. He was never more eager for a visit to the theatre than he was for this one.
Friday evening, Darcy paced the music room while his sister played. Georgiana watched with a half-smile on her face as he pulled his watch out for what seemed like the fiftieth time. She looked down again as he tucked the timepiece back into his waistcoat pocket, and he thought he saw the smile bloom into a giggle as she did so. Deciding to ignore her, Darcy made another circuit around the room as Georgiana finished her song with a flourish.
“Are you uneasy, Brother?”
Turning away from the window, Darcy pulled his waistcoat down and glowered at her. “No. What makes you think I might be?” He could see the twitch that tried to take over her lips.
“Oh, nothing. You were just pacing more than usual.” Georgiana looked away, but Darcy could see the smile spreading over her face. He did not appreciate her impertinence, but his relief at seeing her good humor reappear after months of sadness prompted him to let it go. He jumped when he heard a sudden knock on the door.
Georgiana giggled as Darcy stepped to the mirror above the mantle to check his cravat and hair. Rolling his eyes at her, he brushed at imaginary lint on his sleeves and coat, then stepped to his sister’s side.
Mr. Baxter, Darcy House’s butler, opened the door to the room and stepped in. “Mr. and Mrs. Edward Gardiner and Miss Elizabeth Bennet.” He bowed, then gestured the guests into the room and closed the door behind them.
Darcy could hardly wait for Baxter to finish announcing the visitors. They had barely stepped into the room when Darcy strode to them. He bowed quickly to the Gardiners, and then reached for Elizabeth’s hand. To her, he bowed low, bringing her hand to his lips but not actually caressing it with them. Straightening, he said, “I am so happy you are here. Come,” he turned half away and held his elbow out. “Allow me to introduce my sister to you.” Darcy felt a delightful tingling go up and down his spine when Elizabeth tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow. Aware he was grinning like a fool, a condition he seemed to perpetually be in when near Elizabeth, Darcy did not care to even attempt schooling his features. As he drew her near his sister, his eyes remained focused on her dear face.
“Georgiana, this is Miss Elizabeth Bennet and her aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner.”
Georgiana, who had grown serious and quiet upon the arrival of her brother’s guests, curtseyed and barely lifted her eyes from her shoes. “I am pleased to meet you,” she whispered.
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