Back for the next installment of my short story. For those of you just joining us, here are the links to the earlier posts which have led to today:
If you are all caught up, here is the latest addition:
Elizabeth slipped soundlessly from the parsonage and hurried towards the nearest wooded area. Only when she was out of sight of her cousin’s home did she breathe easier and slow her step. Speaking to Charlotte the previous evening had helped her clear her mind, to a degree, but now she needed nature to soothe her soul.
Dew covered the ground and droplets dripped from leaves as she passed under them. Her path turned towards her favourite walk, but she hesitated. Elizabeth agreed with Charlotte that she would have to speak to Mr. Darcy, but she was uncertain if she was currently ready for the confrontation. She now realized they had met entirely too frequently on that path for it to have been a coincidence. In order to avoid him for a bit longer, she took another path she had seen but never explored.
A few feet down the trail, it began to narrow. Lost in her thoughts, she did not notice and continued on until branches pressed against her arms and plucked at her bonnet. Elizabeth released an exasperated sigh and turned, only to find an intrepid twig had snagged a lock of hair. Try though she might, she was unable to release herself without causing damage to the simple knot she had twisted her hair into that morning. Another step revealed a larger branch had entrapped her gown and yet another plucked at the sleeve or her pelisse.
Frustrated with her lack of perception, she suppressed another sigh and carefully removed herself from the predatory branches. Once in the wider path, she began to take stock of her appearance, certain she looked a sight.
Her gaze fell upon the opening at the end of the path to find the one man she had hoped to avoid that morning. “Mr. Darcy,” she managed in a soft voice as she dipped a brief curtsey.
He belatedly bowed before stepping closer. “Are you well?”
Her cheeks warmed. “Of course. I was enjoying a walk before breakfast.”
Mr. Darcy stepped closer still and removed his handkerchief. “May I?” he asked.
Uncertain what he would do, Elizabeth reluctantly nodded, and the gentleman gently pressed his handkerchief against her cheek. When he removed it, there was a spot of blood marring the pristine fabric.
“Oh!” She took the fabric from him and pressed it against the same spot. “The path,” she turned and motioned back the way she had come, “narrowed and I became entangled, but I did not realize the branches had attacked more than my clothes and hair.”
Mr. Darcy’s lips twitched, but he did an admirable job hiding his mirth. “I shall have the gardeners remove the offending flora at once.”
Elizabeth’s blush grew as her gaze fell to the ground. “In truth, I would have been in no danger had I not been trying to avoid you, sir.”
There was a moment of silence, and Elizabeth slowly tilted her head so she could see him. Mr. Darcy looked off to the side, biting his lip.
“Forgive me for forcing my presence upon you––“
“Oh, no.” She reached out and laid her hand upon his arm. “I must ask your forgiveness. I was angry with you when you arrived yesterday and did not consider my words . . .”
The gentleman shook his head. “You had every right to be angry with me.”
They stared at one another for a time before Mr. Darcy cleared his throat and motioned towards her hair. “I would like to walk with you, if you would allow me, but perhaps you should repair the damage to your appearance first?”
Elizabeth lifted her hand and found a lock had escaped, or more likely been pulled, from its pin. “I must be quite the sight, Mr. Darcy.” Her lips tugged upwards on one side, and she removed her bonnet. “Would you be so kind to hold this a moment?”
He accepted the bonnet as well as the soiled handkerchief, and Elizabeth removed her hair pins, placing them in his other outstretched hand, before gathering her hair once more and twisting it into a simple knot. Once the pins had been replaced and the bonnet covered any stray strands which attempted to escape, Mr. Darcy held out his arm and Elizabeth lightly laid her hand upon it.
They walked a short distance in silence. Elizabeth noted he was leading her away from the parsonage, but not towards the park where they had met on more than one occasion. Her lips tugged upwards, and she lifted a hand to hide her smile. It appeared they were both intent on avoiding trails they had explored in the past.
“I fear I was in quite a state when I returned to Rosings last evening. Luckily, it was my cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, who saw me; but unfortunately, he demanded an accounting of my condition.”
Elizabeth nodded. “I, too, was found in a less than satisfactory state by my friend, Mrs. Collins. She was equally as concerned and curious as your cousin.” She swallowed. “It was she who encouraged me to meet with you and apologize.”
“For what?” Mr. Darcy stopped and turned to meet her gaze. “What did you say that was not true?”
“Truth does not excuse my unladylike response to your genuine declaration, sir.” She bit her lip and stared at the ground before them, but he spoke before she could continue.
“Did you truly have no idea of my regard for you?” His voice was low but relayed his continued amazement.
“I suppose I should have. Charlotte and Jane had both suggested it’s possibility, but I refused to believe them. Not after your comment at the assembly.” Her cheeks warmed as she realized how she had allowed that one comment to fully colour her impression of the gentleman at her side.
His hand lifted, and brushed over his chest just over his heart. It was not the first time she had noted him do this since they had met that morning, but it was the first she heard a rustling sound. Elizabeth lifted her head to study his profile and found him looking at her. Their steps slowed until they stood still, now facing one another. She saw him swallow.
“I must apologize for my atrocious behaviour upon entering Hertfordshire.”
His hand once more brushed over his coat and Elizabeth’s eyes followed the motion. With a sigh, Mr. Darcy reached inside and withdrew a folded packet.
“I never dreamt you would agree to walk and speak with me this morning, so I wrote out my apology and explanation for my behaviour. I fear it is still lacking as there can be no excuse for my ungentlemanly words and actions.”
Elizabeth cautiously took the letter from his hand and stared at it. “Will you tell me what it says?” she finally asked, making no move to open it.
Mr. Darcy inhaled deeply. “If you wish.”
Sorry, out of room so you will have to wait until next time.
Please leave your thoughts below.