November 16, 1811
To Mr. Darcy it was welcome intelligence—Elizabeth had been at Netherfield long enough. She attracted him more than he liked—and Miss Bingley was uncivil to her, and more teasing than usual to himself. He wisely resolved to be particularly careful that no sign of admiration should now escape him, nothing that could elevate her with the hope of influencing his felicity; sensible that if such an idea had been suggested, his behaviour during the last day must have material weight in confirming or crushing it. Steady to his purpose, he scarcely spoke ten words to her through the whole of Saturday, and though they were at one time left by themselves for half an hour, he adhered most conscientiously to his book, and would not even look at her. – Pride & Prejudice
“I will leave you to your book, then.” With those words, Bingley departed the room, leaving Darcy and Elizabeth in sole possession of it.
Good God! Had it not been struggle enough to avoid engaging Elizabeth in conversation all morning, saying nothing beyond the very least required for civility? How could Bingley have actually left him alone with Elizabeth? Darcy was not prepared for such an eventuality, having been certain that Miss Bingley would not permit such a tête-à-tête, but she was off somewhere, no doubt haranguing the housekeeper for some imagined fault. And here he was, at last alone with the woman who had so bewitched him, with nothing but his own determination to stand between them.
He had to forcibly remind himself of the importance of demonstrating to Elizabeth that she should have no expectations of him; it was bad enough that Bingley was constantly dangling after her sister. Beautiful and well-mannered as Miss Jane Bennet might be, she would not do as a wife for him. Bingley needed a bride of higher breeding to improve his status in the ton; Georgiana, when she came of age, would be a far better choice for him, and it would solve Darcy’s own dilemma of finding a husband for her who would not intimidate her or take advantage of her gentle nature. And Elizabeth Bennet would be an even less suitable bride for the Master of Pemberley.
No! He could not afford to even consider such a thing; it brought visions of Elizabeth more suitable for his private nocturnal imaginings of her. He needed to focus on his book and on appearing completely indifferent to her presence. How much easier that was said than done! He had already quite forgotten what he had been reading about, although the page was still open in front of him.
The sound of turning pages alerted him that Elizabeth must have picked up a book as well, and he mentally breathed a sigh of relief. He could not look at her; that would defeat his entire purpose, but surely it would not hurt to steal one brief glance in her direction when she was engaged in reading.
He immediately regretted his decision. Another woman might appear uninteresting when reading, but not Elizabeth. Her lips were half-parted in a smile at whatever she was reading, and with her free hand, she was unconsciously toying with one of the dark curls that lay against the soft skin of her face. That was the damnable thing about Elizabeth; her hands were so often in motion, seeming enamoured of exploring every tactile sensation in her vicinity, so that a man could think of nothing but how she might touch him with the same sensual curiosity. It was a subtle betrayal of the passionate nature so clearly within her. She might be unaware of it now, but the right man would be able to awaken it, and all that suppressed passion would pour forth onto that fortunate soul. God, but he hated to think of her with any man but himself! That she could turn those fine eyes on anyone else or that such incredible fire might burn for another man! But she was not for him. She could not be for him. He had duties and responsibilities, and he must remember that at all cost.
It was better to think that she would never marry and that she would pass her lifetime in the enchanting unawakened state he witnessed now. Or perhaps her husband might be one of those with little interest in his wife, and never see the sensual possibilities in Elizabeth’s bearing and even the way she breathed. What sort of man was he to be wishing an indifferent husband on this bewitching woman? He knew the answer to that too well: he was the sort who would do almost anything to possess her himself. Almost anything. His family honor and duty must take precedence even over his near-desperate physical need.
Perhaps he should speak to her after all – her sparkling repartee could be no more dangerous to his self-control than his private thoughts, and at least in those moments of conversation, he could imagine he was the only man in her world. But no, he must protect her as well from expectations of him; it was the only honorable thing to do. Damn honor! Why must it stand in the way of him taking for his own the one woman in all of creation that he wanted above all others?
He heard another page turning, and realized with a shock that he himself had been staring blindly at the same page for a quarter hour now. Quickly he flipped to the next page and forced his eyes to scan the lines, though for the life of him he could not take in a word of it. It might as well have been in Chinese for all the sense it made to him. How could he think of anything else when Elizabeth was but a few feet from him? Good God, how her mere breathing light up the entire room on this cloudy, dismal day?
Elizabeth’s soft, musical laugh filled the air, and he risked another glance in her direction, just to reassure himself that it was her book and not himself that gave her amusement. At least that was his excuse; the truth was that he could not resist. The ladies of the ton would never lower themselves so far as to laugh; it would not fit the bored, languid persona demanded by high style. Elizabeth showed her amusement frequently, as suited so lively a woman, and it did not matter how much he knew she would be scorned in the London ballrooms for it. His body reacted viscerally every time she laughed, wanting to hear that lovely sound again at the same time as he longed to stop it with his own lips. Not for the first time during her stay at Netherfield, he thanked merciful heaven for the fashion in trousers. If gentlemen were still required to wear tight breeches, he would have had to spend half his time hiding behind furniture.
He was starting to lose the battle with himself. He was too desperate for her, too desperate for her to turn those laughing fine eyes on him, to awaken that part of his soul that had remained dormant these many years during which he had been unmoved by the most beautiful ladies of the ton. He needed to gaze his fill of her – as if that could ever happen! – and to cross verbal swords with her once more before she left Netherfield. What if he never saw her again, or only across a crowded room, never close enough to share a conversation with her? It was untenable, just as untenable as the idea that he, Fitzwilliam Darcy, Master of Pemberley, would lose his vaunted self-control to any woman, much less one as unsuitable and hauntingly tempting as Elizabeth Bennet.
Just then Miss Bingley entered the room, saving him from himself. If only he could manage to be grateful for the interruption, and not feel like he had lost something precious because he could no longer sit in silence alone in a room with his own Elizabeth!