Netherfield had remarkable ceilings. Mr. Darcy was quite positive on the subject, since he had spent two days watching them. The gentleman had no obsession with ceilings in general, nor was he usually disposed to such idle occupations. However, since he had entered Netherfield again, his mind and body refused to do anything other than stare at the void—and think of Elizabeth Bennet. So much so, that even Mr. Bingley, who usually was much idler than he, began to wonder and complain.
“Should we not go for hunting, my friend?” Charles asked a little impatiently on the second day. Mr. Darcy’s stare only slightly moved from the ceiling of the dining room.
“Do you feel like hunting?”
“No,” Charles answered promptly, “but that is why we came here, is it not? We should, you know, just go and do it.”
“Should we do something we are not inclined to only because we used it as an excuse to come here?”
“An excuse? Darcy, I have no idea what you are talking about. You were so enthusiastic about the hunting season. You praised the woods of Hertfordshire so much…”
“I was talking to your sister, Charles! I was trying to be convincing.”
“You were trying to deceive her?” Bingley was dumbfounded. “I thought you abhorred disguise and deceit.”
“I did… I do… But I am still very good at it.”
Bingley gave up trying to decipher his friend’s enigmatic responses. “So, if we did not come for hunting, why did we come here?”
Darcy finally looked him directly in the eye and smiled. “Do you really not know, Bingley? To you, are Hertfordshire’s woods the most delightful sight in the area?”
“Well, hmm, I….er… I suppose…Yes.”
“I said I am good at deceit, not you. You are quite despairing at it.”
“All right, then, I admit that I am not averse at the prospect of seeing Miss Bennet again. I know what you said about her feelings, Darce, but…”
“What was it that I said about her feelings?”
“That she is not in love with me, as I am with her.” Upon realizing what he said, he quickly added, while he blushed furiously, “I meant, I was.”
“Were you or are you?”
“Oh, Darcy, what does it matter? Miss Bennet is not likely to have fallen in love with me during my absence.”
“Quite true. But I may have been wrong, you know.” Darcy was not in the mood to make a full confession. That would take quite a long time and would jeopardize his stay at Netherfield. He could not leave Hertfordshire before he had seen Elizabeth, loyalty to his friend be damned!
“Wrong? But you…” Bingley’s face suddenly turned pale.
“I am human. I make mistakes, my friend. Quite dreadful at times, too. However, even if I was not wrong, and you are in love with Miss Bennet, why not try to win her heart?”
“I beg your pardon? But, last winter you said…”
“Forget what I said last winter. My judgment was not at its best then.” Thinking a little more, he added, “Bear that in mind, for future reference.”
“So, what are we going to do?” Bingley said, genuinely excited.
“What do you want to do?”
“Visit the Bennets.”
“Do you see now why I have spent so much time looking at your ceilings?”
“What have the ceilings to do with the Bennets? Let us go, now!”
“We only arrived in the area yesterday, Charles. We cannot slight everyone else and visit them today. Our intentions…your intentions, I mean,” he corrected hastily, “may be entirely honorable, but arising rumors is always unpleasant, both for us and the ladies.”
“Lady, Charles, lady.”
“May we go tomorrow then?”
“Bingley, propriety demands that…” Darcy began, but then Elizabeth’s image came before his eyes. He recalled their last meeting when she was teary, so sad and vulnerable. He remembered the moment he touched her hand, back at the Inn of Lambton and what irrational joy he felt, despite the overall distress.
“Yes, Charles, tomorrow will be a fine day to go.”
Just as he said those words, the skies opened and a fierce rain started.
Wednesday, 24th September 1812
It has been a bad day! According to my Aunt Phillips’ reports, Mr. Bingley returned at Netherfield yesterday. Mama and Papa are arguing whenever they happen upon each other in the house. Fortunately, thanks to my father’s conniving, they meet only at dinner, and we all try to eat as quickly as possible!
Poor Jane! This is hard for her. Though, to be honest, I think that she had a rather hopeful look on her face when Mother pleaded to Father for the upteempth time to visit Mr. Bingley now that he has returned. Yes, Jane still loves him, she can’t fool me.
It is sad, though, to watch my sister trying to hide her true feelings from me. We used to share everything that was in our hearts, but I cannot be so presumptuous as to complain, since for a very long time, I have been hiding my desires from dearest Jane. And I am proud to say—with much more success! No one in the house would ever suspect that my disturbingly frequent dreamy looks stem from my imagining myself being at Pemberley as Mr. Darcy’s wife.
I was in the middle of such a rewarding reverie today when my mother stormed into the drawing room, announcing that she had it on the best authority that Sir William Lucas had every intention of visiting Mr. Bingley. Unable to bear another recital of the reasons why my father should call upon Mr. Bingley which only served to make me think of Mr. Darcy even more, I ran out of the house, hoping that I would find peace in the serenity of our park.
To own the truth, I did not find it because recollections of my time at Pemberley intruded, followed, unfortunately, by the memory of the last time I saw him at the Inn in Lambton. His eyes were so serious, so cold, and foolishly, only then did I realize that I wanted his eyes on me with warmth and tenderness for the rest of my life.
Dearest diary, I am afraid my condition is serious. I am trying to narrate what happened to me this morning, and all I do is talk about Mr. Darcy. How do I manage to associate everything that happens in relation to him? If I thought that the situation was bad when we returned from Lambton, what am I to say now? After receiving my aunt’s letter of explanation—which, quite by chance, is right here on the table—hardly an hour passes without my thinking of him. But no more delays. I will say only what happened, without any more references to Mr. Darcy. I will try to eliminate them, at least. I shall conquer this!
I walked in the park, rather more absent-mindedly than usual, and I did not notice that I had made quite a distance until I felt the first drops of the rain. I should have tried to find refuge somewhere in the park. That is what my normal, practical self would have done. However, I am afraid that Ann Radcliff’s influences on me chose to make their presence known. I vow I have not touched any novel of hers since I was fourteen; still, I felt an incomprehensible urgency to walk my way back home in the rain, thus washing my sins and liberating my soul. I still can not explain what possessed me, but I remember that at the moment, it seemed very poetic, the kind of thing any heroine would do. As you can see, I behaved worse than a little girl.
When I reached the house, completely soaked, water dripping from every part of my clothing, I had changed my mind about what was romantic, but it was too late by then. The storm was getting worse and worse outside, and I prayed with all my heart that my absence had passed unnoticed. As I stood at the base of the stairs, uncertain of what to do, Hill appeared and saved me. She informed me that my mother had suddenly felt indisposed after a private conversation with my father (at least I was spared that!) and that Jane had been attending her, while my father had retired to his study. Even though my mother had asked for me, she had not insisted, so all I had to do was formulate a good excuse.
I was too numb to invent a good excuse, but I was able to devise a believable one. After Sarah helped me to change clothes, I ran like a thief into Mary’s room, grabbed the first book I found and ran to my mother to apologize profusely that I was so absorbed in my reading that I misunderstood Hill when she came to summon me.
My mother scolded me only for a few minutes, and I thought I had a narrow escape, but I am afraid that is not the case. Right now I have a headache, and I feel very cold, although everyone declares it to be a warm evening. My throat feels as if hundreds of pins are attacking it, and my body is not really under my command.
I hate being sick. I will not fall sick.
I will retire to my bed now, as my shivers are worsening. I will sleep, and everything will be well in the morning. I might even not dream of Mr. Darcy. I might even not think of Mr. Darcy. Yes, tomorrow I will have a day free from thoughts of Mr. Darcy. (Oh dear, how many times have I mentioned his name?)
I just looked at the book I took from Mary’s room—the one that supposedly had me so absorbed this morning. It is Ann Radcliff’s A Sicilian Romance.
It serves me right.
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