Rivals & Rascals
by Maggie (Zevin)
August 4th 1812
Colonel Fitzwilliam rode his horse fast and hard, but never managed to keep more than a few feet ahead of his cousin. It was hot, even for August in Derbyshire, and the colonel was drenched in sweat. Suddenly, Pemberley loomed into view. The colonel abruptly pulled on his horse's reins until the horse came to a standstill. He turned to look at his cousin, Fitzwilliam Darcy, who had brought his own horse to a stop next to the colonel. Darcy stared at the large stone manor with a grim expression on his face. Although the colonel was used to see his cousin looking dour, especially of late, he was surprised to see such a harsh look on Darcy's face as he gazed at his family home. "Darcy must be worse off than I imagined," thought the colonel, "I must do what I can to liven him up."
The colonel stood up in his stirrups and raised one arm in the air, "To the pond!" he cried. "The last one in the water gets to hand Caroline Bingley down from her carriage tomorrow." Darcy looked startled by his cousin's words and actions, but his face lost some of his gloomy aspect and he nodded briefly to his cousin.
Colonel Fitzwilliam and Darcy simultaneously turned their horses' heads in the direction of the pond and raced each other to the water. The colonel got to the water's edge first and immediately began pulling his long boots off. Darcy followed his lead and managed to pull off his own boots. He then proceeded to remove his jacket, waistcloth and neck cloth. He had stripped down to his shirt and breeches before the colonel had managed to pull both boots off. Darcy immediately dived into the rather murky water and remained under water for several minutes. When he emerged, he was surprised to see his cousin still sitting on the grass fully dressed except for his boots.
"What the devil has gotten into you, Fitzwilliam?" Darcy called, "Why aren't you getting undressed?"
"I have no intention of getting in that scum ridden water. I shall just sit here and watch you frolic in the muck."
Darcy looked at his cousin in disbelief for a moment, and then rapidly pummeled his arm on the top of the pond so that a great deal of water splashed up on to the colonel. The colonel jumped to his feet cursing, "You are ruining my coat." He darted away from the reach of the splashing water.
Darcy glared at his cousin. "You're not getting away so easy, Cousin. You're coming into the pond, if I have to drag you in myself. On top of that, you must admit that you have lost the wager and will have to hand Miss Bingley down from her carriage tomorrow."
"Very well." Richard took a few more steps back from the pond's edge. He picked up his cousin's elegant silk waistcoat and held it up in the air. "What will give you me not to drop this fine waistcoat into the pond?"
"You would not dare. You know that is my favorite waistcoat. The pond water would completely ruin it."
"Well, what about my own waistcoat," muttered the colonel, looking down at his spattered clothing.
Darcy made a rather inelegant snorting sound. "Your waist coat is not nearly as fine as mine, and in any event, it is your own fault if it got wet because you neglected to remove it."
The colonel continued to wave Darcy's waistcoat in the air. "I'm serious, Darcy, you have to grant me a favor or I will throw this fine piece of apparel into the water."
Darcy stood up in the pond with his hands on his hips. He wiped his wet hair out of his eyes. "Well," he said, "what favor are you asking?"
The colonel cracked a devilish grin, "All you have to do is agree to hand Miss Bingley out of her carriage yourself.”
The corners of Darcy's mouth twitched; it wasn't a smile exactly, but it was the closest thing to a smile that the colonel had observed on his cousin in a number of months.
"I agree to the bargain," Darcy said solemnly, "but you are a scoundrel and you are damn well coming into this pond."
Darcy started moving in the water towards his cousin. The colonel immediately began pulling his outer garments off. By the time, Darcy had pulled himself out of the water; the colonel had stripped himself down, like his cousin, to only his shirt and breeches. Darcy lunged for the colonel who immediately dived into the pond.
When the colonel's head surfaced out of the water, Darcy was standing at the water's age with the colonel's jacket in one hand and his waistcoat in the other. "I believe you are intelligent enough cousin, to realize what I ask in return for not throwing your clothing in the pond."
The colonel groaned. "You win, Darcy. I will assist Miss Bingley from her carriage."
Darcy broke into a grin and dropped the colonel’s waistcoat on the ground. "Yes, well, in that case I will spare your waistcoat. There is still the matter of your jacket, however. What is it worth to you to keep it in its present dry condition?"
The colonel tried to keep from laughing. “You are a rascal cousin. Who would have thought the grand Mr. Darcy would be such a scoundrel?” Richard climbed out of the water and made a lunge for Darcy and his jacket.
Darcy jumped nimbly out of his cousin’s reach and raised the jacket in the air. “Very well, then,” he said, “this is your last chance, cousin."
Colonel Fitzwilliam rolled his eyes and sat down the ground. He shook his head furiously to shake off excess water from his hair.
“Pax. Just give me the bloody jacket and I will do as you wish.”
Darcy smiled and handed his cousin the jacket. “You will assist Miss Bingley down from her carriage, and you will also escort her into dinner tomorrow night."
The colonel groaned loudly. He knew the aforementioned lady well enough to know that such attentions to her would not be pleasant. He was secretly delighted, however, at the gleeful look on Darcy's face. He would never admit it to his cousin, but he would have gladly escorted Miss Bingley to dinner for an entire week to see Darcy in such good spirits. Moreover, the colonel knew that Miss Bingley's aspirations were so firmly fixed upon his cousin that he need not worry that she would be take such attentions from the colonel as an invitation to pursue him instead.
The colonel began pulling his long boots on over his wet breeches. Darcy did the same. Both men then gathered up their outer garments holding them away from themselves so as not to get them wet.
"You look like one of my hounds after he has been chasing the ducks." said Darcy. The colonel made an odd noise, somewhat reminiscent of a quack. “Speak for yourself, cousin,” he said.
The men walked over to their horses. They each grabbed their horse’s reins with their free hand and walked silently towards the great house. The colonel glanced at Darcy who looked almost light hearted.
The colonel was well pleased with himself. “Whatever it is that is bothering Darcy, I believe I can tease him out of it completely by week’s end,” he thought smugly.
When they neared the stables, a groomsman came running out. "Should I take the horses, sir," he said to Darcy.
Darcy nodded and walked on towards the house, leaving his cousin to say a few words to the groom about his horse's eating habits. The colonel also instructed the groom to deliver his saddlebag to the house directly.
By the time the colonel had dismissed the groom, Darcy was well ahead of him. The colonel had to double his strides to catch up. When he was about five yards behind Darcy, Darcy reached the crest of small hill looking down on his estate and came to an abrupt standstill. Darcy's back stiffened noticeably, but the colonel could not see the cause of this strange reaction. He hurried towards Darcy and when he reached the hilltop, he soon saw the reason for Darcy’s odd behavior. Standing on an incline in front of his cousin, was a dark haired young lady. The colonel instantly recognized as Miss Elizabeth Bennet - a young lady from Hertfordshire that he and his cousin were both acquainted with.
Colonel Fitzwilliam stood transfixed for a moment gazing at the lovely woman before him. A light wind blew the lady’s soft curls in the air and the sunlight danced upon her cheeks. In the bright daylight, Miss Bennett’s cotton gown was practically transparent. The colonel could see the shape of her comely legs through the sunlit fabric.
"My god, she is a glorious creature; more beautiful than I remembered," thought the colonel. He then turned his attention to the halting conversation that was taking place between the lady and Darcy. His cousin asked several times after the health of the lady's family in a distracted fashion. It was clear from Darcy’s manner that he was as surprised as the colonel himself by Miss Bennet's presence at Pemberley. The lady answered Darcy's enquiries with a slight blush but with admirable composure. She made it clear that she had not expected to find Darcy at home.
"And where are you staying?' The colonel asked eagerly.
Miss Bennet appeared to be startled by the Colonel's question and he realized that she had previously been unaware of his presence behind Darcy. She seemed to stare at the colonel appraisingly for a few moments and then turned her face away from both gentlemen.
"The Inn at Lambton," she replied softly.
“Ah” murmured Darcy, rather stupidly, the colonel thought. The back of Darcy’s neck turned deep red.
Although he could only see Darcy's back, judging from the way Darcy's clothes clung to his back and buttocks, the colonel knew that Darcy looked thoroughly wet and rather disreputable. The colonel quickly glanced down at his own apparel and saw that his wet shirt had become completely unbuttoned and was hanging open to reveal most of his chest. He was simultaneously mortified and titillated that the lovely Miss Bennet should see him in such a condition. He didn't glance further down, not wanting to see the effect his swim had wrought on the appearance of his breeches. He tried to find a delicate way for himself and Darcy to extricate them quickly from this rather compromising situation without further offending the lady.
He stepped next to his cousin and bowed as gracefully as he could under the circumstances. "Miss Bennet, as you see, my cousin and I have just been indulging in a swim. We are both delighted to see you and to renew our acquaintance. Will you wait in the garden a few moments so that we can repair our apparel and give you a tour of the grounds?"
Since Pemberley was Darcy's property not the colonel's, he knew it was not strictly proper for him to be inviting Miss Bennet to tour the grounds. He prodded his cousin discreetly in the back, hoping Darcy would second the invitation. Darcy remained silent with his eyes firmly fixed on the lady's face.
Miss Bennet smiled briefly in response to the colonel's invitation and then looked over her shoulder where a well dressed man and woman could be seen inspecting the garden. "Thank you, but I do not know, that is, I am here with my aunt and uncle and I believe that we must leave directly. I am …."
Darcy interrupted the lady, "Miss Bennet, I beg you to accept my apologies for our appearance and stay at least a few moments longer so that we can greet you and your aunt and uncle properly. It appears that your aunt and uncle are touring the flower garden. “ He gestured to the right of the house, "may we meet you there in five minutes time?"
Miss Bennet seemed to hesitate for a moment, then she nodded. "I thank you, sir,"
After a slight curtsy; she turned and headed quickly in the direction the garden. Darcy moved rapidly towards the house. The colonel was right behind him.
"Well done, Darcy," murmured the colonel as the two men practically scampered across Pemberley's inner courtyard. As they burst through the manor's front door, neither man noticed the three scullery maids who were scrubbing the marble floor on their knees. The two men raced towards the massive staircase, leaving a trail of small muddy puddles in their wake.
With the help of his valet, Darcy quickly stripped off his wet clothes and put on a dry shirt and breeches. The valet held up several jackets for Darcy to choose from. Darcy nodded in the direction of a dark blue one and his man helped him put it on. He studied himself in the mirror while the valet tied his neck cloth. Colonel Fitzwilliam strode into Darcy's chamber.
"Good God, Darcy!" exclaimed the colonel. "You are almost dressed and I haven't even located my satchel with my clothing yet."
"I believe, Sir, you'll find your bag in the last room down the hall," said Darcy's valet.
The colonel thanked the man and hastened out of the room in search of his clothing. The valet turned his attention to Darcy’s wet hair.
"Shall I brush your hair, Sir?" Darcy nodded absentmindedly.
His man laid a small towel across Darcy’s shoulders and carefully brushed out his hair. One curl fell forward across Darcy's brow. The valet brushed the errant piece of hair back in place and removed the damp towel. A moment later the curl fell forward once more. The valet picked up the brush again, but Darcy waved him aside.
"Do you require anything else, Sir?"
"No, that will do."
Darcy fidgeted with his neatly tied neck cloth. His eyes drifted to the window, which looked out over the garden. He could see a straw bonnet with bright blue ribbons gently bobbing over the hedges. It was a bonnet that he recognized. Hers. Darcy gazed at the bonnet, deep in thought. He was feeling dazzled and disoriented. He had never expected to see Elizabeth Bennet again. He certainly never expected to run into her on the grounds of his own estate while he was in a state of semi-undress. He shuddered to think of the picture he must have presented with his wet shirt plastered to chest.
“What must she think of me,” he groaned inwardly.
Darcy pondered the fact that his cousin had been there, too, in a similar condition. He wasn’t sure if it was more or less of a social catastrophe that there had been two of them, equally disheveled and disreputable in appearance.
Darcy’s appearance suddenly lightened and he smiled slightly. If anyone could see the humor rather than merely the gross improprieties in the situation, Darcy knew that Elizabeth Bennet could. She took delight in anything ridiculous. It was one of the things that charmed him about her. Although, if truth be told, he had never desired to delight her in that particular way himself. There were other ways of delighting her that he far preferred to contemplate. He exhaled quickly and closed his eyes. Then he looked out the window again. He could still see the top of her bonnet.
He must forget about the past for the moment and concentrate on the present. Here. She was here, on his very grounds. He felt suddenly giddy. Her presence at Pemberley gave him hope, where there had been none before. His sense of hope was fragile, but alive. Yes, he could hope to earn her respect. Surely, that would be enough. Darcy leaned his face closer to the window. "Please give a chance to absolve myself.” He whispered against the glass. “That is all that I ask.”
Colonel Fitzwilliam strode into the room. Darcy turned from position at the window quickly, hoping that his cousin had not observed his foolish behavior just now. He glanced at Fitzwilliam and frowned when he saw what his cousin was wearing – breeches, a shirt, but no neck cloth or jacket.
"Why are you not dressed?"
"My jacket was badly wrinkled from the journey and your good man offered to press it for me."
Darcy started pacing. "That will not do. It will take five minutes or more at least to press your jacket. I promised Miss Bennet we would join her immediately."
The colonel grinned. "Well, the only solution, Darcy, is for you to lend me one of your jackets. God knows you have enough to spare."
Darcy instantly dismissed this notion. He had never loaned anyone his clothing before and he did not look on the idea with favor. On the other hand, he had no intentions of keeping Miss Bennet waiting any longer. He could proceed without his cousin. “But would that seem too forward, he pondered, too eager? “No, no,” he thought, “I must not delay or she will feel slighted. She will think me arrogant.”
Darcy briefly looked his cousin up and down. "We are not of equal size. It is far better that you wait for your own jacket to be pressed. I will go and receive Miss Bennet and inform her that you will soon join us."
Before his cousin had a chance to respond, Darcy strode purposely out of the room. Darcy hurried down the great stairs and out into the courtyard. He paused in the courtyard to adjust his jacket and push his hair from his face. He felt anxious, almost wild. Since that fateful day at Hunsford, Darcy's opinion of himself had become interwoven with Elizabeth's opinion of him. Ever since he learned of her disdain for him, Darcy had felt, for the first time, contempt for himself. He feared that if he could not win Elizabeth's good opinion, he would never recover his self-respect.
Soon Darcy was within the hedged boundaries of the garden. Elizabeth was there, bending slightly over a bed of flowers. Darcy approached her and bowed.
“Miss Bennet," he began awkwardly. "Allow me to apologize once more for not receiving you properly just now."
Elizabeth held up a gloved hand. "Please Mr. Darcy do not apologize. It is I who must beg your pardon. I had no idea you would be here, indeed, I was informed that you were not in residence, or I would never have dreamed of invading your privacy."
"Indeed, I had not planned to be here until tomorrow, but my cousin got a few weeks leave unexpectedly and we decided to ride down to Pemberley together ahead of our other guests."
The couple that Darcy had seen earlier came though the hedges. Eager to show her that he was capable of the ease and friendliness that Elizabeth seemed to admire in others, Darcy looked over at the couple.
"Would you introduce me to your companions?"
Elizabeth nodded. "Certainly."
They moved together to join the other couple and the introductions were quickly made. Darcy applied himself to being as cordial and welcoming as possible and was surprised to find that this was not difficult. Elizabeth's aunt and uncle proved to be both gracious and charming. Elizabeth's aunt, Mrs. Gardiner, informed him that she grew up in the neighboring village of Lambton. Darcy found himself freely talking to Mrs. Gardiner about his childhood memories of Lambton. She seemed to be as fond of Derbyshire as Darcy was himself and this newfound connection to a relative of Elizabeth was a source of pleasure to Darcy. He glanced at Elizabeth while he was talking to her aunt and noticed that she seemed surprised and pleased by his behavior. Indeed, her whole demeanor seemed gentler and more open than he had ever observed her before.
Darcy realized he was staring at Elizabeth and he forced himself to turn towards her uncle. While the two men embarked upon a discussion of fishing, Elizabeth and her aunt moved slightly away to examine a bed of yellow flowers. Darcy tried to concentrate on poles and fish, but all his attention was focused on Elizabeth. He steered Mr. Gardiner towards the two women, not wanting to be too far apart from Elizabeth.
Colonel Fitzwilliam soon joined them. With his usual social ease, the colonel greeted Elizabeth and was introduced to her aunt and uncle. The colonel quickly fell into conversation with the older couple as if he known them all of his life.
Darcy took advantage of the situation and held his arm out to Elizabeth. "Shall we walk towards the pond?”
Elizabeth hesitated and for a terrible moment, Darcy thought she would refuse him. To his relief, she inclined her head and
placed her fingers very lightly on Darcy's arm. As they walked, Darcy informed Miss Bennet of the guests he expected tomorrow, including Mr. Bingley and his sisters. He watched her closely as he gave her this information, knowing that she would most likely have unhappy associations with at least one of this party. Knowing also, that she might reasonably blame him for these unpleasant associations. Elizabeth had turned her face away so he could not see her expression, but he felt her hand tense slightly on his arm.
Darcy plunged forward. "Miss Bennet, there is another in the party whom I particularly want you to meet, my sister, Georgiana."
"I would be pleased to make her acquaintance," Elizabeth said, blushing softly.
Colonel Fitzwilliam joined Elizabeth and Darcy in time to hear Elizabeth's last statement. "Whose acquaintance are you looking forward to making?" he said, in a teasing manner. "Miss Bingley's?"
Elizabeth laughed. Darcy felt a pang that his cousin could make her laugh so easily. "No,” she replied, “I have already had the pleasure of making Miss Bingley's acquaintance. I was accepting Mr. Darcy's invitation to be introduced to his sister."
The colonel walked closely by Elizabeth’s side. "That is an excellent plan. My cousin, Georgiana, would benefit greatly by the acquaintance, I have no doubt. She is very fond of music, and books, as well. I recall you that you delight in books and music, so you would have much to talk about. Georgiana does not have the benefit of female companionship, other than her companion who is not very lively."
"Are you not forgetting Miss Bingley?" said Elizabeth, "I recall Miss Bingley expressing great fondness for Miss Darcy."
"Well of course, we can never forget Miss Bingley," replied Colonel Fitzwilliam. "However, fond of Georgiana as Miss Bingley may be, I believe she is too occupied with certain pursuits to be provide much companionship to Georgiana." The colonel gave Darcy a sly look as he said this. Darcy blushed slightly. He never liked being teased about Miss Bingley's obsessive pursuit of him, and certainly not in front of Elizabeth Bennet. Elizabeth noticed Mr. Darcy’s embarrassment, and was rather amazed at the delicacy of feelings revealed in his blush.
Elizabeth’s aunt and uncle, who had been admiring the view of the pond from the crest of the small hill, joined the others then, and the talk turned to the sights the Gardiners and Elizabeth had seen during the earlier part of their journey. Soon - too soon, in Darcy's opinion, Elizabeth and her aunt declared it was time to leave. Everyone strolled towards the front of the house where the Gardiners’ carriage awaited. To Darcy's chagrin, Colonel Fitzwilliam held out his arm to hand Elizabeth into the carriage. Darcy watched enviously while Elizabeth placed her gloved hand on his cousin’s arm. She leaned on the colonel slightly while she stepped into the carriage. Trying to keep his emotions in check, Darcy stepped forward to exchange goodbyes with Elizabeth and the Gardiners.
"I hope we meet again soon," Darcy said solemnly.
Elizabeth looked directly into his eyes and smiled at him. It was a forgiving smile. Darcy realized that she was giving him the absolution that he craved. His heart skipped as the carriage started away. He stared at the departing carriage. Then something happened which changed everything. Just before the carriage turned down the lane, Elizabeth turned around in her seat and looked behind her to the spot where Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam were standing. There was an unmistakable look of longing on her face. Her expression was so sensuous, so passionate, that Darcy forgot to breathe. He drank in her look until the carriage turned and she was gone from view.
Colonel Fitzwilliam turned to Darcy. "I am a lost man. She pierced my defenses with that look."
Darcy looked at his cousin incomprehensibly. "What?"
"Did you not see the expression on Miss Bennet’s face as she looked back at me just now?" replied the colonel.
"I have been trying forget about her since I met her in Kent. I have never met a more agreeable woman, but she has no fortune, no social standing. I know you, of all people, would not approve of such a match. I did not consider it myself, until this afternoon. There is nothing to be done for it, now. With that one look, she has captured my heart. I am enough of a military man to know when I am conquered."
Darcy could hardly register what he was hearing. He had seen the look that his cousin referred to and he had thought that Elizabeth had directed it at him. Now, upon reflection, Darcy was not so sure. He stared at his cousin in mounting dismay. Darcy suddenly noticed that Richard was wearing one of his jackets, his favorite green jacket, in fact. A surge of fury swept through Darcy.
"Must you, Fitzwilliam? Must you plunder everything?" With that, Darcy turned his back on his cousin and stalked towards the house.
Colonel Fitzwilliam stared after him, comprehension slowly dawning. The truth, that they were rivals for the affections of a woman, was hard to accept. The fact that the colonel had realized only moments ago that he loved Elizabeth Bennet did nothing to dull the pain of this realization. Although the love he felt for her was newly acknowledged, it surged through him with a strength of passion that he had never before felt. Colonel Fitzwilliam, who was well known for his decisiveness, stood rooted to the ground. For the first time in nearly thirty years of life, he had no absolutely no idea how to proceed.
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