(Warning: This week’s excerpt ends on the edge of a story cliff…a nice steep cliff.)
Early Monday morning, shortly after Elizabeth and Maria had finished breakfast, Darcy’s carriage arrived at the parsonage. A sense of anticipation had settled in Elizabeth’s stomach as soon as she had risen this morning, and now, seeing Mr. Darcy climbing out of such a fine vehicle and knowing that she would spend the next several hours riding in it with him, her anticipation grew to a flutter of excitement.
She stopped at the mirror in the hall before she exited, pretending to fix her hat. However, in reality, she wished to see for herself that she was indeed herself, for she had not felt herself since Friday evening at Rosings. It was an odd feeling of unease that had gripped her heart — it was not unpleasant or a feeling that one might wish away. No, this was a flutter of nerves that brought a smile to a lady’s lips and caused one’s feet to pace the length of one’s bedroom as if waiting for some important and pleasurable event to take place. However, there were no soirees or fetes to be attended.
It must be the anticipation of seeing Jane, Elizabeth had reasoned until this moment when that flutter of nerves had risen in her chest as it often did before stepping into a ballroom. But Jane was not here. Mr. Darcy was. She shook her head. Obviously, these strange sensations were caused by the thought of soon being with Jane. The arrival of the carriage signalled the beginning of her journey. Satisfied that she had deciphered the cause of her delight, she picked up Mr. Darcy’s book from the table in front of the mirror and proceeded outside where everyone else was gathered as trunks were made secure.
Darcy stood so that he could both watch as the carriage was made ready and the door to the parsonage as his cousin ushered Mr. Collins around the carriage, speaking of the horses and the fittings as well as the length of time the driver had been employed by the Darcy family.
Mrs. Collins whispered final instructions to her younger sister and glanced nervously toward the door of the house. “I am certain Elizabeth will be along shortly, Mr. Darcy,” she assured him twice before the very person each had been eagerly waiting for appeared.
Darcy turned from the carriage. His men would see that all was well.
“That shade of blue is becoming on her, is it not?” Charlotte asked Mr. Darcy with a knowing smile.
The comment caught Darcy somewhat by surprise, but today, having determined over the last two days that Elizabeth was indeed the lady he would marry, no matter how long it took for him to convince her of his worth, he was not willing to be cowed by a bit of teasing. “It is,” he agreed, “as was the green she wore on Saturday and the yellow she wore to church yesterday.”
Charlotte’s smile grew.
He nodded to her and gave her a wink. “Not a word to your husband, if you would be so kind. My aunt…”
“Not a word,” whispered Charlotte as Elizabeth approached. “I thought you had decided to stay,” Charlotte teased her friend as she gave her a warm hug. “I would not be sorry if you did, but I dare say Jane would not be pleased.” She whispered a few lovely words of gratitude for Elizabeth having visited and how she would be missed. This was followed by the promise from each lady to write faithfully, and then, Charlotte relinquished her hold on Elizabeth.
“Miss Elizabeth,” Darcy held out a hand to her in offer of helping her into the carriage. “I see you have come prepared to entertain yourself with poetry if my cousin and I do not provide a proper diversion.”
“I have not yet finished reading it,” she explained, “and I thought there might be a moment or two for reading.”
“There is no need to rush. You may keep it as long as you would like.” Her hand felt good in his, and he wished he did not have to release it once she was in the carriage.However, release it he did to allow her to take her place on the most comfortable carriage bench on which she had ever sat.
“We do not move in the same circles, our paths may not cross often,” she cautioned.
Darcy stopped before climbing into the carriage and taking his seat next to Colonel Fitzwilliam. He held her gaze. “That will not be a problem,” he assured her. “Netherfield is still next to Longbourn, is it not?” he asked as he entered and took his place.
“Is Mr. Bingley going to return?” Maria asked excitedly.
“I cannot say for certain he may,” Darcy replied.
“Oh, it would be so nice to have him return,” said Maria. “The area seems so much less entertaining with Netherfield standing there lonely in its park. It is so much nicer to see activity at a fine house than to see it vacant. Even if he must bring his sisters.” She added the last part softly.
“Yes, that is a drawback, is it not?” Darcy muttered.
Elizabeth’s eyes grew wide, and she bit her lip to keep from laughing. Thankfully, Maria had turned to look out the window as she was speaking and likely did not hear the comment.
Darcy shrugged in response to Elizabeth’s look. “She is a friend’s sister and naught else.”
The colonel leaned toward Elizabeth and whispered, “No matter how much she might wish for the else.”
Elizabeth laughed softly as she tipped her head toward Maria and shook her head.
“Right,” said the colonel. “No more of that.”
“Thank you,” Elizabeth whispered.
The discussion shifted to the weather and the scenery and various other mundane topics before drifting into a natural lull. Elizabeth settled back and drew out her book of poems.
“May I?” Darcy asked.
Elizabeth nodded and handed him his book.
“You have surpassed me,” he said with a smile when he saw where she was in the book. He smoothed the page and began reading.
Behold her, single in the field,
Yon solitary Highland Lass!
Reaping and singing by herself;
Stop here, or gently pass!
Alone she cuts and binds the grain,
And sings a melancholy strain;
O listen! for the Vale profound
Is overflowing with the sound.
The rich tones and the natural rise and fall of Darcy’s voice made the poem come alive as Elizabeth listened. She leaned her head against the back side of the carriage, but did not close her eyes as Maria was doing. There was little chance she would be able to fall asleep listening to Mr. Darcy read. His brows furrowed at parts and his lips curved upwards in other places. It was evident that he did not just read the words but surrounded himself with their emotion and meaning.
Whate’er the theme, the Maiden sang
As if her song could have no ending;
I saw her singing at her work,
And o’er the sickle bending;–
I listened, motionless and still;
And, as I mounted up the hill,
The music in my heart I bore,
Long after it was heard no more.
He paused for a long moment after he completed the last line. “I wonder what she sang?”
“Likely something by Burns,” replied Richard.
“My Heart is in the Highlands?” Elizabeth asked.
“A very good choice.” Richard straightened himself and began to sing.
“My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart’s in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer;
Chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe –
My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go!”
“Come now, Miss Bennet, Darcy says you sing.”
“Oh, she does!” cried Maria.
“Please?” Darcy prodded.
Elizabeth rolled her eyes and shook her head. “I will sing if you promise to join me on the chorus.”
There were no dissenters, and so she sang. And as she did, Darcy knew that though he sang the words “my heart is not here” when he joined in on the chorus, it was not true. His heart was most certainly here, perched on the bench across from him and singing of the forests and wild-hanging woods of the Highlands.
“Have you ever been to the highlands?” Maria asked when the song had drawn to a close.
“Indeed I have,” said Richard. “Beautiful, rugged country.”
Maria sighed. “I should like to travel to the north one day.”
“My aunt and uncle are going to the peak district this summer,” said Elizabeth.
Maria sighed again. “And taking you with them. I never get to travel anywhere exciting.”
“You will pass through Derbyshire?” Darcy asked.
“I do not know the route we intend to take, but since my aunt is from Derbyshire, I would expect we will,” replied Elizabeth.
“Your aunt is from Derbyshire?” Darcy asked in surprise.
Elizabeth nodded. “Lambton.”
“Lambton?” Darcy’s eyes grew wide, and he smiled. “Then you will have to visit Pemberley for it is not far from Lambton.”
“Truly?” It was Elizabeth’s turn to be surprised. She had not considered how close her travels might take her to Mr. Darcy’s home. But then, she had not cared to know where his home was before this.
Maria sighed a third time. “I wish I could visit Pemberley.”
Richard chuckled at the girl’s wistful tone. “Perhaps one day you may.”
“No,” she said in a most forlorn tone. “I shall never travel farther than Kent or London.”
“Oh, come now,” Richard cajoled, “you may meet a fine Scottish laird and be whisked away on his noble stead.”
Maria propped her head on her hand and leaned against the window. “If only it were possible.” She then was lost to the conversation and the scenery outside. The others continued their discussion of Derbyshire, Pemberley, and Matlock until Maria popped up from her woeful watching of the road.
“Lizzy!” She grabbed Elizabeth’s hand and pulled her toward the window. “Is that Lydia?”
The poem that Darcy read in this section of the story is The Solitary Reaper by William Wordsworth. You may read the full poem HERE
The song that our characters sang in this section is My Heart is in the Highlands by Robert Burns. You may read the full poem HERE. If you wish to hear how this song might have sounded, you may listen to it on YouTube as performed by the Barra MacNeils HERE