The Exception That Proves The Rule:
The One About Eavesdropping
You know the rule. Eavesdroppers rarely hear good of themselves.
So, this is a what-if one-shot that is intended to be the exception to that rule.
Our little tale begins at Netherfield, while Elizabeth is there nursing Jane. Elizabeth comes downstairs to dispatch the letter to her mother, requesting that the carriage be sent to collect them. Of course, she must ask Mr Bingley for the use of a rider to convey the message to Longbourn, and so she goes looking for him.
Elizabeth checked first the breakfast-parlour, hoping she might yet find Mr Bingley at table. He was not there, though. She saw only Mr Hurst, eating his way steadily through a large plateful. With a slight shudder of revulsion – how Mrs Hurst could bear marriage to such a glutton! – Elizabeth retreated, and encountered the butler in the hallway.
“Good morning, Mr Brinks,” she greeted the man. “I was hoping to find Mr Bingley?”
“Miss Bennet,” the butler intoned politely, bowing. “I believe that you might find him in the billiard-room. May I assist you in any way?” He glanced at the letter in her hand. “Mr Bingley has given instruction to have any messages to Longbourn conveyed directly, without your needing to ask him.”
“In that case, thank you, Mr Brinks, this is indeed a note to Longbourn!” Elizabeth handed him the note, and received another bow.
“It will be delivered within the hour, Miss; shall I have the rider await a reply?”
“That would be very good, if it is not an inconvenience.”
“Miss Bennet, Mr Bingley has made it very clear that anything that may be done for you or Miss Bennet must be done directly, no matter the inconvenience. In this case, there is none.” Yet another bow was delivered, and Elizabeth went on her way smiling, feeling certain that Mr Bingley was surely so generous due to his regard for Jane, and his staff so deferent because they were of the belief that Jane would one day soon be mistress of the house. Thanks must be proffered, though, and instead of going back upstairs to her sister, she directed her steps toward the billiard-room, the door to which Mr Brinks had indicated. The door was very slightly open, though not quite so much that she could see into the room. She paused for a moment outside to twitch her skirt straight, and to her amazement heard a voice mentioning her name!
“Miss Elizabeth is a very fine young lady, Darcy, and I really must request that you not fight with her so much.”
It was Bingley’s voice, and Elizabeth could not help but smile at the young man defending her to his friend. I need no defence! she thought. My courage rises with every attempt to intimidate me! She lifted her hand to knock on the door, and froze, her mouth dropping open, as she heard Mr Darcy’s voice.
“Bingley, you mistake the matter, Miss Elizabeth and I are not fighting. It is a joy to spar with her verbally, for she is more intelligent than any other woman I have ever met. And, by God, she is lovely when she is angry!”
I cannot possibly have heard that correctly.
Bingley laughed. “Darcy, I know Caroline has teased you about your opinion of her fine eyes…”
“And how beautifully they flash when she is riled!” Both men laughed.
He ADMIRES me?
“The Bennet family is unfortunately not of the first circles. If they were, I should be very certain that I had found the woman with whom I wished to share my life.” Darcy sounded almost sad.
This – cannot – be – happening!
“You won’t offer for her, then? A shame. I should have liked to have been your brother, Darcy, it would have made my constant requests for your advice less of an imposition!”
Both men laughed again at Bingley’s joke. “You are well aware that you will not become my brother any other way, Bingley. Would you please, again, attempt to dissuade your sister? Because if it falls upon me to do it, I am afraid that I may not be able to spare her feelings. If I witness another attack on Miss Elizabeth such as the one she conducted last night, I may not be able to keep my temper in check.”
“Caroline is jealous, Darcy; you made your preference and your admiration of Miss Elizabeth’s figure plain.”
Not to me!
“She does have a most magnificent figure, does she not?” Darcy sighed.
I think I am going to swoon.
“Much like her sister’s,” Bingley said, laughing. “Darcy, you are in a bad way.”
“Sometimes I wish I wasn’t an honourable man,” Darcy said. “Miss Elizabeth inspires me to distinctly dishonourable thoughts!”
“I have no fear for the honour of the lady I hope one day to call my sister.”
The entire conversation had been punctuated with the sound of footfalls about the room, and the occasional click of cue on ball. Elizabeth was straining so hard to hear the words spoken, that she did not hear the steps behind her.
“Good morning, Miss Elizabeth,” Mr Hurst’s words made her jump, and she almost brought forth a shriek. “Are you looking for my brother?”
“Why, yes, Mr Hurst,” she said politely, trying to calm her racing heart and quell her incipient flush, “I was just about to knock.”
He gave her a look which made her wonder just how long he had been watching her standing there frozen. “Allow me to relieve you of the necessity.” He pushed the door open. “Morning Bingley, Darcy. Here is Miss Elizabeth to speak with you.”
Elizabeth hardly knew what she said. Mr Darcy and Mr Bingley were both flush-faced, no doubt wondering if she had heard any of their conversation. She did her best to imitate Jane’s serene innocence. Only after she had left the room and returned to Jane’s side did it occur to her that her act must have appeared very out of character for herself.
Darcy and Bingley both hastily excused themselves from Hurst’s presence, claiming a desire to ride out, and reconvened at the stables twenty minutes later.
“Do you think she heard us?” Bingley asked Darcy, as soon as they had ridden out of earshot of the house.
“What do you mean, us, it wasn’t you declaring your admiration! You’ve already made your feelings for Miss Bennet more than clear; in honour you can’t draw back now.”
Bingley smiled, looking back at Netherfield. To his surprise he saw Jane standing at the open window of the apartments where she currently resided. Delighted, he turned his horse and waved. She waved back, and he thought she smiled. A moment later, he saw Elizabeth come to her side, tucking a shawl around her shoulders to shield her from the chilly air.
“We have an audience,” Bingley teased Darcy, who turned his horse and looked to where Bingley gestured.
“I wish you well with Miss Bennet, truly,” Darcy said after a few moments. “She is a fine match for you.”
“Oh, she is an angel; I have known it from the first moment. I shall surely be in heaven if she deigns to accept me. But are you sure you will not reconsider courting Miss Elizabeth, Darcy? You have no need to marry for money or position: you have told me already that you are not bound by honour or inclination to marry your cousin, or anyone else. Why not Miss Elizabeth? God knows you – and I – have seen little to tempt either of us in the debutantes of the Ton!”
“Why not Miss Elizabeth, indeed?” Darcy’s eyes were fixed on the dark-haired maiden at the window, gazing at him seriously. Slowly he lifted his hand to wave to her. It took a long moment, and then she waved back.
“You overheard the whole conversation!” Darcy stared at Elizabeth in horror. She looked back at him, her delectable mouth curving into that impish smile he loved so well.
“I am not sure if it was the whole conversation,” she demurred. “What I overheard began with Charles asking you not to fight with me so much.”
“Pretty much the whole conversation then, yes.” Darcy sat back, covered his eyes with his hands and groaned.
“I particularly liked the part when you admired my magnificent figure,” Elizabeth said, fighting down her laughter.
“I have admired your magnificent figure greatly from the first moment of our acquaintance,” Darcy admitted, taking his hands from his face and looking at his new bride. She sat primly opposite him, swaying gently with the movement of the carriage taking them ever further from their wedding breakfast at Netherfield and ever closer to his house in Town. Closer to the moment when he could truly claim her for his own.
“Really!” Delicate brows arched. “I thought I was only tolerable? Not handsome enough to tempt you?”
“You must have the most acute hearing of anyone I have ever known,” Darcy groaned, and she laughed. He could resist no longer and scrambled across the carriage, taking a seat beside her and pulling her into his arms. “Mrs Darcy, you are teasing me most cruelly!”
“Apart from my excellent hearing, it is my greatest skill, I believe,” she said, smirking until he stopped her taunt with his mouth.
“Oh,” Elizabeth sagged against her husband, astonished. He had kissed her three times prior to their wedding, each one gentle and unthreatening. This first kiss after they were married was something else entirely. It was passionate, untamed, and it let her know very clearly how he felt about her. “Fitzwilliam!”
“Say it again,” Darcy almost growled it. “Say my name again.”
“I suspect it would not be wise, just now! Not until we reach your house, anyway… ohhh,” her protests trailed off in a long sigh as he bent her back across his arm and applied his lips to that part of her figure which had most enticed him from the beginning, displayed very pleasingly in her new gown. “Fitzwilliam!”
“Wonders will never cease,” Darcy marvelled, his voice just a little muffled. “I have finally worked out how to get you to do what I ask!”
“I shall decide how to make you pay for that remark later, husband,” Elizabeth retorted. At least, she intended it to be a retort. It came out as a breathy little whimper.
Darcy laughed quietly. “No doubt you will, my darling. I am entirely in thrall to you.” He leaned back a moment and looked at her, taking in the half-closed eyes, burning with a passion that was entirely new to her, the flush across her bosom, the thick mahogany curls escaping their pins. “Such a fool, I was,” he marvelled, “to think you at your most beautiful when you are angry.”
She opened her eyes wider and smiled at him, unconscious of her seductive allure. “Fitzwilliam,” she deliberately said his name, “stop talking.”
He needed no further command.