Here is Chapter 6 of my WIP. I had been posting once a month, then mentioned last month that I would be posting twice this month, but I changed my mind. I’m going to post 4 chapters. They will be on different days of the week, as I decided after most of the days were already selected by someone. So just watch for our facebook posts announcing it, or just check here.
If you are not begun reading this story, it is a Pride and Prejudice variation in which Elizabeth meets Mr. Bingley first. Both Jane and Mr. Darcy are gone, so Mr. Bingley begins favouring her, as he had Jane in the novel. If you want to read Chapter 1, here is the link.
A few mornings later, Elizabeth threw back the coverlet of her bed when the first rays of sunlight began to light the room. She stretched out her arms, stood up, and walked to the window to pull back the lacy curtains. Gazing out, she smiled at the day awaiting her. She looked forward to enjoying a brisk hike up Oakham Mount again.
The house was quiet as she came downstairs, but she stopped at the door to her father’s study and gave it a soft tap.
“Come,” her father said.
Elizabeth opened the door and peeked in. “Good morning, Papa.”
Mr. Bennet looked up from the book he was reading and removed his glasses. He leaned back in his chair and gave her a smile. “You are up and dressed early, Lizzy. I believe I know what that means.”
Elizabeth gave a slight shrug. “You know that once the sun comes up announcing a new day, I must rise with it.” She laughed. “And as it is such a lovely morning; I am going to walk up Oakham Mount.”
He lifted a brow. “Ahh! Do you hope for another unexpected encounter with Mr. Bingley?” He tapped his fingers on the desk. “Or perhaps it will not be unexpected as the two of you made plans for a clandestine meeting while talking at Lucas Lodge, eh?”
“I know you are teasing, Father. I am merely looking forward to a pleasant walk. Whether I encounter Mr. Bingley or not will have no bearing on the delight it will provide me.”
Mr. Bennet waved his hand. “Then be off with you, Lizzy, and enjoy your time.”
“You know I shall! Nothing shall deter my pleasure.”
“Make certain you return in time to break your fast with the rest of us.”
“I will.” Elizabeth left the study and walked to the front door. When she stepped outside, she drew in a deep breath, filling her lungs with the cool, fresh air.
She took brisk steps to the path that led to Oakham Mount, shielding her eyes from the glare of the sun on the horizon. As she looked up at the bright blue sky, she brushed a wayward strand of hair that blew across her face. The morning was cool, but the bright sun warmed her. She could not have asked for a more perfect morning.
When she came to a small lookout along the path, she stopped and gazed at the beauty below. The greens of summer were beginning to fade into shades of bronze, gold, and an occasional red. Soon the leaves would drift lazily down, leaving the trees barren through the long months of winter. She loved this time of the year, especially from the lovely prospect atop Oakham Mount!
She continued up the path, humming as she went. When she finally reached the summit, she ambled about, looking at the view before sitting down on the trunk of a fallen tree. She clasped her hands and looked towards Netherfield and smiled. This was the view Mr. Bingley was on his way to see when they first met. She wondered whether he had ever made it back up here.
It was a beautiful property that extended even beyond what she could see from her lofty vantage point. As she thought about him, she had to admit he was kind, gentlemanly, enthusiastic, and… she chuckled. He was also very attentive to her – to the great displeasure of his family and his friend. Her shoulders rose as she took in a breath and then let it out briskly.
As she rose to her feet to begin the walk down, she felt a tug at the back of her dress. She turned her head and saw that it was snagged in a branch of the tree upon which she had been sitting. She reached around to untangle it, but it was thoroughly caught, and she did not want to pull it and risk ripping her dress. She stamped her foot and turned the other way. She could not untangle it from either direction.
She gave one more unsuccessful pull, and when she looked up, she started, for she was staring into the face of Mr. Darcy!
“Mr. Darcy!” she said, with a hitch in her breath.
The gentleman walked towards her and gave a quick bow. “Miss Bennet.” He looked at her with an amused smile. “Do you find yourself in a predicament?”
Elizabeth shook her head. “Nothing that cannot be remedied by a good pull!” She turned in aggravation and reached behind her, giving another tug at her dress, but again to no avail.
Darcy reached out and stopped her. “There is no need to put a tear in a perfectly good dress.” He lifted his brows and asked, “Would you allow me?”
Elizabeth swallowed hard and acquiesced with an extended hand. “I thank you, sir.” She turned away while Darcy came near, and she felt her face warm when he reached down to untangle the cloth. As she waited impatiently for him to announce he had loosened it, she heard him grumble. “Is there a problem, sir?”
“It is firmly caught. I am attempting to take care and not do further damage to the gown.”
“Further damage?” she asked.
“There is a slight hole where the branch snagged it, but I think it will be easily repairable.” He abruptly stood up. “There! You are free!”
“Thank you,” Elizabeth said softly.
His shoulders rose as he took in a deep breath. “I am rather surprised to see you walking so early in the morning.”
Elizabeth lifted a brow. “Are you? I do not think there is a finer time to walk.” She forced a smile. “And what brings you out so early?”
Darcy looked down. “I am of the same mind as you.” He shifted from one foot to the other. “Do you walk often?”
Elizabeth nodded affirmatively. “I take every opportunity.”
Darcy looked about. “Alone?”
Feeling her ire rise and her body tense, she glared at him and announced determinedly, “As you see.” She forced herself to relax. “Unfortunately, I seldom find anyone who is interested in climbing to the summit, particularly at the break of day.” She wondered whether Mr. Bingley had informed him of their meeting up here when she was walking unaccompanied, as she was this morning.
Darcy walked to the edge of the path and looked out over Netherfield, crossing his arms across his chest. “It is a good prospect of Bingley’s home from up here.”
“It is indeed,” Elizabeth replied. “As well as of the whole neighbourhood.” Elizabeth wondered whether he suspected she had come up here to look at the large country manor she hoped would one day be hers.
When he did not seem inclined to say anything further, she said, “If you will excuse me, sir, I will let you continue on your way, and I shall go on mine.”
“No, I shall accompany you back.” He returned to her side.
“You really have no need, sir.”
He turned abruptly. “That may be true, but I shall, nevertheless.” He extended his arm for her to join him.
Elizabeth let out a soft sigh and reluctantly put her hand through it, barely touching it. “If you insist, Mr. Darcy.”
As the two walked silently, Elizabeth waited for her unwelcomed walking companion to say something. When he did not seem inclined to talk, she said, “I would assume you do not approve of a young lady walking unaccompanied.”
“I would not tolerate my sister walking such a distance unaccompanied.”
Elizabeth stopped. “You have a sister?” She suddenly felt sorry for this unknown sister that was likely forbidden to go anywhere by herself. Darcy stood rigid, his frame unbending, much like his strict views on propriety, Elizabeth thought.
“I do.” A small smile appeared, and Darcy’s comportment suddenly relaxed. “She is fifteen.”
“So young?” Elizabeth was surprised, as she had suspected her to have been older. “I suppose at fifteen your parents are committed to ensuring she is being raised as a proper and accomplished young lady, and she goes nowhere without a companion.”
Darcy’s expression sobered. “Both my parents have died, Miss Bennet.”
“Oh, I am sorry for your loss.” Elizabeth felt a touch of regret and knew not what more to say.
Darcy gave a nod. “Thank you, but it has been many years. My cousin and I share guardianship of my sister – and yes, we are doing everything in our power to ensure a proper upbringing.” He extended his hand forward, and they began walking again. “Including always having a companion with her,” he said after a moment’s silence.
Elizabeth stole a glance up at him. Knowing this man had guardianship of his sister made her feel even more sorry for the young girl. She could not imagine how much influence he likely exerted over her life.
“Does she give you many worries or is she exceedingly obedient to your wishes?”
Darcy did not answer immediately.
Finally, he said, “She has… she gives us no worries.” He drew in a deep breath. “Since you live around here and enjoy walking, can you give any other recommendations for places to walk in the area?”
Elizabeth sensed he wished to change the subject. “There is a stream that flows between the Gouldings’ property and Meryton that has a lovely stone bridge crossing it. In the spring, it is a delightful walk when the flowers are budding and the trees blossoming. In autumn, some of the trees turn vivid shades of orange and red.” She chuckled.
Darcy looked down at her. “What do you find so amusing, Miss Bennet?”
Elizabeth closed her eyes briefly as she now wished she had not given thought to that day four years ago. What would he think of her? She gave her head a little shake. It mattered not what he thought of her. He would likely despise her more, but she was certain if she told Mr. Bingley what had happened, he would laugh along with her.
She straightened her shoulders. “Four years ago, I found myself in quite a predicament.” She laughed again and looked up at Mr. Darcy. She was somewhat surprised to see that he was looking at her with a smile, albeit a very slight one. “A little more severe than my predicament in which you just found me.”
“And what was that?”
Is that a genuine smile or a mocking smirk?
“It was a beautiful spring day, and nature had beckoned me for a walk.” She drew in a breath. “I wanted to walk to the bridge, but at the age of sixteen, my mother had some reservations about my walking alone, so I talked my elder sister Jane into accompanying me.”
Elizabeth shrugged. “It was a rather long walk for Jane. She grew weary before we reached the bridge, and I told her to sit and wait for me to return while I continued on.”
“I assume she is not quite the walker that you are.”
Elizabeth briskly shook her head. “Heavens, no! She will walk short distances with me, but this was…”
Elizabeth winced. “I should never have pressed her.”
Darcy folded his arms across his chest. “So, I assume your predicament occurred after you continued on without your sister?”
Elizabeth closed her eyes. “I made it easily to the bridge, walked across it and sat on its wide ledge, dangling my feet over the side. It was a beautiful day, and I was enjoying the trees, blossoms, and birds singing.” She smiled. “Merrily, merrily shall I live now. Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.”
Darcy looked at her with widened eyes. “Shakespeare?”
“Do you read Shakespeare?”
“I have read several of his works that my father owns. I hope someday to read them all.” She looked up at him. “You seem surprised.”
“No, I…” Darcy shrugged. “I really had not considered whether you had read Shakespeare, or anything, for that matter.”
“I will have you know I am an extensive reader.”
Elizabeth watched him press his lips tightly as an indecipherable look quickly flickered across his face. “Continue.”
“This large tree, with the brightest pink blossoms I had ever seen, spread its branches over the crystal blue water. Whenever there was a slight breeze, I watched some of those blossoms drift lazily from the branches and begin floating down the stream.” Elizabeth chuckled. “I was rather mesmerized, and before I knew it, I leaned over to watch them float under the bridge, and I…”
“You fell off the bridge into the water?” Mr. Darcy’s voice resonated with a touch of laughter.
Elizabeth was surprised at how his slight smile softened his features. “I did. Everything would have been all right if I had not twisted my ankle when I landed in the shallow water.”
“What did you do?”
“I waited for Jane to begin worrying as to why I had not returned, and for her to come look for me. I hoped she would come look for me. When she finally found me, I sent her to the Gouldings’ home for help. Mr. and Mrs. Goulding and their son brought her back in their carriage to get me. The men helped me in, and they took us back home.”
Darcy was quiet for a moment. Finally, he asked, “Did you learn anything from this accident?”
Elizabeth laughed. “Oh, yes! Never worry about what others think of you.” She stole a glance back up at Mr. Darcy. “There are some people whose opinions are too severe, and you will never please them no matter what you do.”
“Do you refer to the Gouldings?”
Despite believing Mr. Darcy’s opinions were too severe, she nodded. “Their son had often spoken of Jane with great admiration, but it was quite apparent that he and his parents did not look upon our adventure with approval. Thankfully, they gave us the assistance we needed, but as they took us home, Mr. Goulding admonished us about the hazards of young ladies walking unaccompanied.” She shrugged. “Young Mr. Goulding ended up marrying another young lady from the neighbourhood the very next year.” Her eyes and nose crinkled in a smile. “I would consider that his loss.”
Mr. Darcy drew in a breath and stopped, as they had come to the fork in the path that would take her to Longbourn and Mr. Darcy in the other direction to Netherfield. “There is no need to walk me further, Mr. Darcy. Longbourn is just around the bend.”
“I do not mind.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “It is truly unnecessary, but I thank you.”
Mr. Darcy stood quietly for a moment, shifting from one foot to the other. He looked at Elizabeth intently and said, “Miss Bennet, Mr. Bingley is my good friend, and I would not wish him to be hurt in any way.” He looked down and scuffed the dirt with his boot.
“I have no intention of hurting him, if that remark is intended for me,” she replied tartly.
He gave his head a brisk shake. “I would not wish for you to be hurt, either.” He bowed and quickly turned away, leaving no opportunity for her to respond.
Elizabeth stood watching him for some time, perplexed by his last words. She gave a shrug and continued on to Longbourn. Unfortunately, her walk had not given her the delight she had anticipated at the start, but… She suddenly stopped and looked back at Mr. Darcy’s retreating figure. Her lips turned up into a wide smile, and she laughed as she realized that she had taken great delight in vexing him.
As Darcy walked the three miles to Netherfield, the image of Elizabeth Bennet’s face, brightened by the exercise and suffused in delight and mischief as she relayed her story, seemed imprinted in his mind. Her lilting voice seemed always to have a hint of joy and laughter in it. He found her truly captivating, even in her perfect indifference to what others thought of her – and her apparent disregard for him!
He clenched his jaw as he considered his dilemma. Each encounter with this young lady evoked a stronger conviction that she was more suited to him than he could have imagined possible. She had a clever and well-informed mind, pleasing and engaging manners, a lively animation to her features, and he considered her as one of the handsomest women of his acquaintance.
He clasped his hands behind him and trudged with his head down. She was also unlike any other woman he had ever met. She did not attempt to use arts and allurements to attract his attention, and he had never noticed her use them around Bingley, either. He believed his friend had been the force behind their mutual attachment since the beginning. He felt at a loss to know what he ought to do with such burgeoning feelings, when he had no right to entertain them because of Bingley’s previous attachment to her. He shook his head as he considered her family and how he would normally consider them beneath his notice.
He kicked a rock, sending it flying off into the bushes. He had to conquer this! There was no reason he should not be able to. He merely had to keep from being in her presence, and when he was, he had to remind himself that Bingley was well on his way to falling in love with her – as wrong as he felt they were for each other!