Love, Pride & Delicacy

Chapter One

Please be aware this is an unedited work in progress. While I aim for perfection, I can almost guarantee there will be errors.
I hope you enjoy the story regardless.
xx Maree

Fitzwilliam Darcy paced a length of the grove nearby Rosings, his Aunt’s residence, before turning and retracing his steps. The leaves no longer crunched, nor did the twigs snap, as he had repeated this process countless times already; the path worn beneath his boots.

He busied his hands, tracing his thumb and forefinger along the folds and over the wax seal of the letter he carried, to prevent from again checking his pocket watch. Releasing a sigh, Darcy turned once more.

He believed Miss Bennet to be an early riser. He also believed her to be a creature of habit, and unlikely to forego her morning walk through the grove without reason.

That it was his harsh words the previous evening that may have lain cause to her missing her exercise vexed him greatly. Despite his best efforts, Darcy’s feelings for Elizabeth had refused to be repressed. He cared deeply for her, and could not bear having caused her distress.

But Darcy could not abide disguise. He could not pretend to rejoice in the inferiority of Elizabeth’s position. Nor, from what he had witnessed of her family, could he foresee improvement to her circumstance.

“I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.”

Her words played endlessly in his head. Despite the harshness of delivery, in the cold light of day, Darcy knew Elizabeth was right to reject his proposal. He had succumbed to his feelings, disregarding his apprehension towards her relations. Darcy rubbed at his chest. Her words of the previous night still carried a sting.

He did his best to convince himself her opinion of his character was of no consequence. Indeed, it was her interest in George Wickham’s concerns that had him restless and unable to sleep, until finally he found himself seated at his desk, penning the letter he now held.

The words had poured from his quill, spilling the secrets of Wickham’s wickedness and betrayal and by consequence, Darcy’s own shame at having failed his sister so greatly.

Darcy set out to the grove at first light and had been pacing the path ever since. As the hours passed and the sun rose above the treeline, he had no choice but to accept he would not see Miss Bennet on her walk this morning.

Turning one final time, Darcy headed towards the track that would lead him back to Rosings. As he reached the junction he looked toward Hunsford. His heart quickened at the sight of a lone female figure approaching.

Miss Bennet was residing at the parsonage during her visit to Kent. Darcy had little tolerance for Mr Collins, finding the Rector quite insufferable. Fortunately, Mr Collins held himself in high enough esteem that Darcy’s opinion of him was of little consequence.

“I have never desired your good opinion.” The recollection of Elizabeth’s scathing rejection weighed on him still. It seemed Darcy’s opinions of others were of little consequence to anyone.

His hand tightened around the letter. How foolish she would feel when she knew the truth of her beloved Wickham’s despicable behaviour. Unlike his sister Georgiana, who remained enamoured with the scoundrel despite herself falling victim to his schemes, Darcy held faith Elizabeth would take heed of his warnings once apprised of the truth.

If she believed him.

He shook his head. He’d allowed Miss Bennet to occupy his waking thoughts far too greatly. Heat filled his cheeks as his memory replayed scandalous images of the dreams she had also occupied.

“Enough!” He spoke the word sternly, as though scolding a misbehaving child.

A startled squeak drew his attention the woman who now stood but a few yards away. He unclenched his fist and attempted to smooth the additional creases he had created in the letter.

“Mr Darcy, are you quite well?”

The timid voice was most certainly not that of Elizabeth Bennet. He should have known from first appearance, even at great distance. Elizabeth never bowed her head or looked at her feet while she walked as this woman had done. Elizabeth always stood tall and took pleasure in the scenery around her.

“Mr Darcy?”

“Oh yes, right…” Darcy cleared his throat. “Mrs Collins, good morning.”

Mrs Collins bowed her head in greeting. “Good morning, Mr Darcy.” She looked up before quickly returning her gaze to the ground in front of her feet.

Darcy found the action unnerving. Indeed, Elizabeth’s confident nature, despite her circumstance, was one of the things he admired most. The corner of his lip tilted in an almost imperceptible smirk as he recalled the way she most effectively handled the great Lady Catherine.

Mrs Collins shuffled her feet, drawing Darcy’s awareness to the silence that had fallen between them. He cleared his throat before uttering, “Lovely morning.”

“Yes.”

Awkward silence again grew between them. Darcy knew it was improper to keep Mrs Collins standing in the middle of the road thus. He desperately wished to ask after Elizabeth, but could think of no way to broach the topic without disclosing more of his opinion to the pastor’s wife than he desired.

“Are you headed to Rosings, Mrs Collins? I am headed that way myself and would be happy to accompany you.” He gestured in the direction she had been walking, expecting her to resume her journey.

“Oh no, Mr Darcy.” She threw her hand against her mouth, as though to push the words back in. “I mean, yes I would be happy for you to accompany me should I be heading to Rosings, but Rosings is not my intended destination.”

Darcy’s eyebrows dipped down, his brow furrowed with confusion. He turned to look down the track. Rosings was the only destination within appropriate walking distance for a lady. He returned his gaze to Mrs Collin’s feet, noting the slippers she wore showed signs of damage, and in his opinion where highly ineffective for the rigours of walking any great distance.

Mrs Collins’ soft voice again broke the silence. “I guess I did not really have a destination in mind when I set out. I confess I am not really one for taking exercise. It is just, Lizzy always seems so at peace when she returns from her walks, I thought I might try it myself.”

“I see. And Miss Elizabeth, she did not wish to join you on your walk?” Darcy was again working his fingers along the creases of the letter he held.

Mrs Collins shook her head. “If Lizzy were still here, I do not believe my need to walk would have been so great. Mr Collins was most displeased at her sudden departure early this morning. He is in quite a state over what Lady Catherine will think. She was expecting us all…”

Mrs Collins continued to prattle about her insipid husband’s displeasure, but Darcy’s mind was stuck on her comment of Elizabeth’s departure. He turned his attention back to Mrs Collins who, upon noticing his scrutiny, finally stopped speaking.

“Miss Elizabeth has departed, you say?”

“Yes, this morning. She was quite distressed, insisting she must leave at first light. I do hope she has not taken ill. She was not at all her usual self.”

“Right. I see.”

Mrs Collins raised her head, taking a moment to look him over. Darcy stood rigid, finding her attention discomforting. She tilted her head to the side, as though analysing her findings. “Were you hoping to cross paths with her this morning, Mr Darcy?”

Darcy opened his mouth to respond before the challenging nature of Mrs Collins’ enquiry became evident.

“I beg your pardon?”

Mrs Collins nodded towards the letter in his hand. Darcy looked down and saw Elizabeth’s name clearly inscribed in his handwriting. “I would be happy to forward your letter with my next correspondence to Lizzy if you please. I always thought she protested too greatly against your character.” Though her expression remained stoic, Darcy saw mischief in the pastor’s wife’s eyes.

Heat filled his cheeks, no doubt accompanied by redness. Standing before this woman, Darcy felt exposed. What of their encounter the previous evening had Elizabeth shared with her friend?

He inhaled deeply and worked to maintain his external composure, despite the deluge of internal turmoil he suffered. Then he calmed. Mrs Collins believed Elizabeth would be interested in receiving his correspondence. Indeed, Mrs Collins’ willingness to conspire to deliver such a letter, putting both her own and Elizabeth’s reputations at risk, made clear to Darcy that Elizabeth had not confided to her friend of her rejection of his proposal the previous evening.

Darcy tucked the letter into the pocket of his jacket. “Thank you but that will not be necessary, Mrs Collins. It is of no consequence. I must allow you to continue your walk and be on my way. Good day to you, madam.” He bowed his head in a gesture of farewell, then turned and made quick strides back to Rosings.

He heard a belated farewell from Mrs Collins as he walked away. What had he been thinking, pacing the grove in the hopes of running into Elizabeth. He should be thankful she had not taken her usual walk this morning. Had she been seen receiving a letter from him, alone in the grove, her reputation would be in ruins.

Knowing Elizabeth as he believed he did, she would likely accuse him of an attempt to trap her into accepting his proposal. He imagined her justifying his behaviour as an endeavour to lessen the blow to his immeasurable pride. In his mind he saw her clearly, her dark curls bouncing around her shoulders, her dark eyes glistening with ire as she took him to task for his perceived wrongdoings. His lips quirked at the preposterous notion.

He shook his head, once again fruitlessly attempting to dislodge the incessant presence of Elizabeth in his thoughts. In truth, the entire situation was preposterous. Darcy could not have imagined proposing marriage to any woman at this point in his life. He could scarce believe he had succumbed to his desires to the point of proposing to a woman of such scant means and inferior connections. So out of character were his actions, he would not have been surprised to learn he had been bewitched into behaving as such.

“Darcy!” The booming voice of Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam pulled Darcy from his thoughts. “There you are, man. I was beginning to think you might have left without me.”

“Allow me to allay your fear, cousin, for as you see I am quite obviously not left without you. Though we really should be away. Are the horses readied?” Darcy continued his long strides past his cousin as he headed directly to the stables.

“Steady on, Darce. Do you not think it wise bid farewell to Aunt Catherine before we leave? She will be most displeased to discover you left without proper notice.”

Darcy’s strides did not falter in the slightest. “Unlike you, cousin, it has been a great many years since I have been in want of Aunt Catherine’s good opinion.” There was only one woman whose good opinion of him held value, and for the life of him, Darcy could not understand what it was about Miss Elizabeth Bennet that made that so. “Besides, the great beauty in my manner of taking leave is that I am not present to witness our Aunt’s great displeasure.”

Behind him, he heard the Colonel chuckle. “You are a braver man than I, Fitzwilliam Darcy.”

Reaching the stables, Darcy found the horses were indeed readied. Moments later he was mounted and on his way to London, where he intended to put thoughts of Elizabeth out of his mind for good.