retiring to dress for dinner, Miss Bingley informed her brother that
a room had been prepared for Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
trunk has not yet arrived. I cannot think why! Please see that when
it does, the servant places it in the first bedroom on the right, down
the left hallway."
looked up distractedly from the fire. Miss Jane Bennet’s illness was
causing him grave worry.
you hear me, Charles?"
of course, Caroline. I will instruct the servant, do not worry. Now
hurry, you have only an hour before dinner."
ignored that last teasing reference to her vanity and hurried up the
stairs. She wanted to look her best for Mr. Darcy and fully intended
to out-do her unexpected competition.
quarters of an hour later, just as Mr. Bingley entered the hallway intent
on making his own preparations before dinner, the awaited trunk finally
arrived. He motioned his butler away and took care of the matter himself.
mind, Johnson, my sister has given me strict orders about this!"
Johnson hurried back to help with the dining room preparations.
You have at last returned with Miss Bennet’s trunk!"
very sorry, sir. The Mistress of Longbourn…well, er, there was a bit
of a delay on that end."
never mind. Just take it up to the room that’s been freshly prepared
for Miss Elizabeth Bennet. First door on the left, right hallway. And
then please see that Miss Bennet is informed of the arrangements."
looked at his master oddly for a moment. But Mr. Bingley was already
hurrying up the stairs. With a shrug, Peter did as he was told.
passed Mr. Darcy on the stairs.
it close again, aren’t you Bingley?"
you know what a careless fellow I am…oh, by the way, Darcy, did Caroline
mention it? Miss Elizabeth Bennet is to be an overnight guest as well."
looked surprised. "No, I have not spoken to your sister since breakfast.
Why is she — that is, why is Miss Bennet staying on? Is her sister very
looked upset for a moment, but recovering said lightly "She is
somewhat feverish today. The apothecary has ordered her to stay in bed
but thinks she will be well enough in a few days…her sister will be
a welcome addition. I cannot think of a better way to ensure Miss Bennet’s
merely nodded and reminded his friend of the time. Whatever else he
might have felt on hearing this new information about the second eldest
Miss Bennet, he kept to himself.
was not long in the drawing room before Miss Bingley and the Hursts
appeared, hastily followed by his friend. At his sister’s impatient
inquiry on Miss Bennet’s whereabouts, Bingley chimed in.
worry, she said she would be down directly. I ran into her in the hall
Bingley could finish his thought, Miss Elizabeth Bennet herself appeared.
She answered Miss Bingley’s inquiries regarding the suitability of her
room, apologizing also for not taking the time to change for dinner,
as her trunk had only arrived and she did not wish to hold up the proceedings.
The hem of her petticoat was still somewhat muddied, though barely visible
through the material of her gown. Her hair had been properly tidied,
while her complexion still revealed all the benefits of her early morning
exercise. Altogether, her appearance now brought back to one observer
at least, the memory of her remarkable arrival at breakfast that morning.
She had looked very well then…as she did now! Mr. Darcy forced himself
to stop staring.
was as pleasant as might be hoped under the circumstances. Bingley was
quieter than usual. Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst managed to carry on
as though no alteration in their lives had occurred. Mr. Hurst seemed
astonished to find that Miss Bennet preferred simple fare and would
not deign to converse with her after that. Darcy found that the addition
of Miss Bennet added a certain interest to the evening. He observed
that though she was obviously worried about her sister, she did her
best to converse when she could, despite the obstacles of an unpleasant
Hurst and a resentful Miss Bingley. Mr. Darcy contented himself with
listening to the curious dialogue between the two young Misses that
occasionally erupted, the one just managing to be civil, the other sincere
yet…hmmm, there was no mistaking a slight expression in Miss Bennet's
eye now and again that could not help but amuse. He was forcibly
struck once again by the realization that here was a different
sort of feminine creature!
half-expected her to be like other young ladies, and attempt to make
the most of her proximity to an eligible gentleman such as himself.
By the end of dinner he was forced to concede that Elizabeth Bennet
was sincere in her reason for being there. Her warmest replies were
reserved for Bingley and she seemed genuinely grateful for his shared
concern for her sister. She made absolutely no attempt to talk to Darcy!
Not that he required her attentions. Indeed, he wondered if he could
have tolerated the doting remarks of all three females at table. Two
was bad enough. Her lack of interest further aroused his.
after the meal ended, Miss Bennet hastened back upstairs to care for
her sister. She came down later in the evening and remained only long
enough to challenge his definition of a highly accomplished lady before
taking her impertinent self off again! Just as he was finding the
evening tedious in the extreme, she returned. She did not even acknowledge
his presence, for her mind was on her sister whom she reported was worse
and could not be left alone; she had time only to concur with Bingley’s
offer to fetch Mr. Jones if her sister were not improved on the morrow.
Mr. Darcy’s selfish wish for more of her company was suspended by his
genuine concern for her and her sister, thought he had no chance to
express these sentiments before she was away again.
informed her hostess that she could not leave Jane alone again, Elizabeth
hastened upstairs, intending to pass the chief of the night in her sister’s
room. In the upper hallway, she paused. Despite having thanked Miss
Bingley for her comfortable accommodations, she had not yet entered
the room assigned to her, having had insufficient time before dinner
to even peak inside. She opened the door, curious to see where Miss
Bingley had placed her.
a little taken aback by the fineness of it all. This room was as at
least as elegantly furnished as Jane’s accommodations. A cheerful fire
burned in the grate, but no candles had yet been lit. Altogether, the
room was neat and felt rather lived in somehow, though devoid of personal
possessions. From where she stood, she observed that some books had
been most thoughtfully placed on the closest bedside table, and a refreshment
tray placed on the low table situated between the two chairs near the
fire. She credited these touches, and the room assignment itself, to
Mr. Bingley, and was suitably impressed with the meaning behind such
a compliment to Jane’s sister.
was a quite large canopy, with thick curtains drawn back while not in
use. Her trunk, she quickly discovered, was placed at the end of the
nearest side of the bed. She did not expect that a servant would have
unpacked her trunk for her, but she wondered at it being placed here.
Fortunately, it was a smaller trunk. After retrieving a nightdress and
slippers, she pushed it under the bed to get it out of the way. Tomorrow
would be soon enough to settle in. She decided she could just as easily
prepare for bed in Jane’s room; her main concern was to get back to
her sister. Gown and slippers in hand, she left the room. Once again,
great thoughtfulness was in evidence, as Mr. Bingley had conveniently
placed her directly across the hall from her sister.
very late when Elizabeth felt satisfied enough with Jane’s resting state
to determine on getting some sleep herself. Already prepared for bed
and dozing in a chair, she forced herself to get up and make her way
across the darkened hall to her room. It was obvious that the whole
household had retired some time ago.
aside the blanket she had wrapped around her, she shivered and wondered
yet again what her mother was thinking to have packed such a flimsy
frivolous gown for her at such a time of year.
was low in the grate. Elizabeth could barely see in front of her as
she made her way around the bed, preferring to sleep nearer the window.
She felt, rather than saw, the bed curtains in front of her, now drawn
closed for the night, and managed to slip through them to find her way
beneath the bedclothes. She snuggled in with a sigh of contentment at
the pleasant scent and heat surrounding her. So exhausted was she, her
eyes were closed almost immediately on her head hitting the pillow.
awoke to the scent of lavender tickling at his senses. Brushing his
hand across his face, he found that something silky was actually tickling
his nose. He sighed his contentment and rolled unconsciously towards
a delicious source of heat. His hand moved beneath the bedclothes, and
for the moment he could not recall where he was.
feel of soft flesh beneath his touch caused his eyes to fly open and
his hand to withdraw as though burnt. He immediately rolled onto his
back in disbelief and lay there puzzled for a moment. He lifted a small
portion of the bedclothes to inspect, but in the dark could not discern
its appearance any better than anything else. Recovering his faculties
somewhat, he remembered that he was in fact, in the bed at Netherfield,
and not elsewhere. That there should not be any woman in his bed seemed
to contradict the facts! For one dreadful moment, he wondered if Miss
Bingley had completely lost her senses and was attempting to trap him
into a marriage of necessity.
more fully awake by the moment, owing to this possible perilous situation,
he lifted himself, and with his outstretched hand bravely drew the drapery
back enough to identify the form lying so very closely to him. It was
barely day, yet the early morning yielded enough light for him to see
quite clearly. Despite that, he doubted his own eyes. With great shock
he finally registered that Miss Elizabeth Bennet, not Miss Bingley,
was beside him! For several moments he was again too stunned to move
and had no idea what he should do. The sight of her was vastly appealing.
Her hair lay tumbled about her pillow and had spilled over onto his.
Her lashes, so long and thick, rested on her cheek. Her full bottom
lip was curved in an expression of contentment. And her gown, now somewhat
revealed as a consequence of his sitting up and dragging the bedclothes
with him…he tore his eyes away.
the familiar stirrings in full force as his eyes returned to her of
their own volition. He clenched his jaw, warring with himself. She had
obviously placed herself in his room. What could she possibly hope to
gain? She must have known that he would toss her out of his bed…as soon
as he thought it, he felt a violent reaction against the idea….
his situation was as perilous as ever! There she lay, so tempting, and
well within his reach; yet her pathetic scheme raised both disappointment
and contempt. He’d thought she was at least smarter than that! Mr. Darcy
ignored the stab of pain that the knowledge of her lack of morality
produced in him. He warred on. Temptation finally won against self-preservation.
He pushed away all regrets over her perfidiousness, and recklessly,
leaned forward to capture her lips with his own.
her sigh of contentment as her arms eventually came up around his neck.
For several glorious moments she responded to him with a whole-hearted
passion that rapidly defeated any honourable intentions he might have
had left. Then suddenly, quite unexpectedly, she began to struggle and
push at his shoulders. He drew his face away from hers just enough to
make out her expression. Even in the dim light filtering through the
gap in the bed curtains, there was no missing her look of outrage.
did not move.
said get off me, or I shall scream!"
you are the outraged innocent? How suitably dramatic."
however, move as she’d requested. She immediately put as much space
between them in the bed as she could and caught up the bedclothes to
her as though to shield herself from him as much as possible.
dare you!" she said. "Get out of my room at once!" She
grabbed at the curtain behind her, drawing it back angrily to decrease
the sense of intimacy created by the enclosure of the draperies.
stared at her incredulously for a moment. Then the light of comprehension
entered his eyes.
see. So this is your game…. Well Miss Bennet, you may as well know that
I am used to far more cunning husband-hunters than you. You can pretend
all you want, but we both know that this is my bedroom. And I
have not the least intention of marrying you."
Elizabeth’s turn to stare.
cannot be serious!" He must be mad. There was no other explanation
that presented itself to her.
I am….However, if you drop this charade now, we might be able to come
to an understanding." His calm manner belied the fact that his
heart continued to pound wildly.
She was too shocked to know what else to say.
with me and I will see that it is an arrangement of mutual… ah, er…convenience."
It sounded crass even to his own ears, but he did not know how else
to phrase it. And given the inducement directly before him…
attempted to speak, but no words came out.
Miss Ben—, er, Elizabeth. You must know that you have taken my fancy!
Otherwise, why would you be here?" He moved towards her and reached
for her again. "I would gladly take you under my care and provide
for you in London."
it a very generous offer. After all, he was not in the habit of procuring
such arrangements, not being a rake. He would never have considered
such an arrangement with her a possibility until this morning,
but Darcy was a quick thinker. It would solve an increasingly uncomfortable
problem — namely what to do with his burgeoning attraction to the eminently
unsuitable Elizabeth Bennet.
with himself, he was completely caught off guard by the shriek of outrage
and hard slap across his cheek that followed it. The next moment, Elizabeth
Bennet had disappeared from the bed. His ardor somewhat cooled, Darcy
tore out his own side as soon as he realized her intentions. He grabbed
for his dressing gown to cover his nightclothes, even as he scrambled
to pursue her.
Bennet, do not. Miss B—"
too late. She reached the door and hastened from the room before he
could stop her.
had he caught her by the arm and attempted to haul her back into his
bedroom to avoid a scandal, then he realized it was all, all too late!
Bingley stood just down the hall instructing a housemaid. The hand that
was pointing to Miss Jane Bennet’s door instantly fell away as Bingley
startled at the scene before him. The housemaid stood there gaping in
shock as well. There stood Miss Elizabeth Bennet, obviously just having
emerged from Mr. Darcy’s room in nothing but a fine, rather dubious,
though not indecent, nightdress. And there stood Bingley’s best friend
in his dressing gown, attempting to haul Miss Bennet back into his room.
Both people froze on realizing that they were not alone.
hurried down the hall, concern and shock still on his features. He was
thinking chiefly of Jane.
is the meaning of this?"
can explain, Bingley. This scheming piece of baggage placed herself
in my bed this morning in the hopes that I would marry her."
is a lie! This is my room. Your friend is mad! Mr. Bingley, I demand
that you order your carriage immediately. My sister and I will not stay
under the same roof with such a, a — such a rake!" With that imperious
order, Miss Elizabeth Bennet disappeared behind her sister’s door.
turned to his friend. "You say that she was in your room when you
awoke this morning."
did you come by that red mark?"
Darcy drew himself up to his full height.
you questioning my integrity, Bingley?"
of course not! It’s just that… there’s a huge red mark —"
she slapped me!" He answered somewhat testily. "Don’t you
see, she’s attempting to trap me into a marriage of convenience!!…we
have to ensure that none of the servants hear about this!"
turned. The housemaid had hurried away long ago. Darcy cursed softly.
He knew very well that the gossip would spread rapidly throughout the
better get dressed."
a good idea. I’ll try to sort this out. Perhaps you are wrong. Perhaps
she genuinely made a mistake. She might have got confused about the
room arrangements…" he finished lamely.
Darcy snorted. "Whatever the case, I don’t intend to marry her!"
course not. By the look on her face, I doubt she’d agree to marry you
Darcy gave his friend the oddest look before closing the door in his
face. Bingley hurried downstairs and sent for his footman.
servant entering, he quickly instructed him.
I’ve ordered the carriage for our guests. I’m afraid they must leave
immediately. Please retrieve Miss Bennet’s trunk and see that it is
placed on the carriage. You need not worry about disturbing her. She
is likely in her sister’s room at the moment."
Peter nodded and was gone directly.
told to enter, Peter hesitated before opening the door. There stood
none other than Mr. Darcy, who had wandered distractedly from his dressing
room while about to don his jacket. By all appearances, he was in a
great hurry and had not even taken the time to ring for his valet.
what is it?"
did not know what to say.
Darcy stared at him impatiently.
me sir, there must be some mistake."
I thought this was Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s room. That is to say, I thought
Miss Elizabeth Bennet was moved in here yesterday. I came to retrieve
froze. "What makes you think it was Miss Bennet’s room? It was
my room upon arriving, and I have not moved, as you can see."
braved the gentlemen’s icy expression. "Then, could you tell me
which room Miss Bennet was assigned to from here."
was assigned to no room from here. This was never her
room." But even as he insisted, Darcy knew a sinking feeling. With
a sigh, he asked the question he most dreaded to ask.
me why you think this is — or was — Miss Bennet’s room, Peter."
I thought it was strange at the time. Mr. Bingley instructed me to take
Miss Bennet’s trunk up to the first room on the left, right hallway."
see. And it did not occur to you at the time that this was the same
room I was assigned to?" He tried to keep the rising panic out
of his voice.
thought you must have moved — to assist the sick lady and her sister."
where did you put her trunk?"
here." Peter walked over to the bed. He crouched down. "Here
it is. She must have pushed it under the bed."
stared at this evidence of Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s innocence and felt
a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach. What had happened was
all too obvious.
around the room. Mr. Darcy did not like clutter. There was no evidence
of his presence save his few books by the side of the bed. The remainder
of his possessions were neatly stashed away in the clothespress and
chests of drawers in the dressing room. There were no clues to suggest
to a stranger that he resided here.
God, what have I done?"