Rivals & Rascals
by Maggie (Zevin)
August 4, 1812
Elizabeth was uncharacteristically subdued during the ride back to the Inn. Her Aunt Gardiner was curious to learn more about Elizabeth's relationship with the two gentlemen they had just left behind at Pemberley. She questioned Elizabeth with delicacy but persistence about the extent of her acquaintance with the two men. All she could ferret out, however, was the intriguing fact that while Lizzy had been visiting Hunsford last April, both Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam had been visiting their aunt on her neighboring estate of Rosings Park. Mrs. Gardiner was intuitive enough to know there was something important regarding one or both of the men that her niece was holding back.
"Ah, well," thought Mrs. Gardiner, "I'm sure Lizzy will confide in me in good time." In the meantime, Mrs. Gardiner resolved to trust in Lizzy's good sense to handle the situation, whatever it was, with good judgment and propriety. She decided to simply sit back and enjoy the unfolding drama. For surely, if Mrs. Gardiner had ever been witness to a romantic scenario, this was it. The two young gentlemen who had just bid them farewell were undeniably attractive. Even the damp, disheveled clothing that the two gentlemen had been wearing when she first caught a glimpse of them had not disguised their good looks and noble bearing.
Mrs. Gardiner compared the two men in her mind's eye. The colonel was more easygoing, more inclined to smile. Mr. Darcy, on the other, although perfectly hospitable, had a slight stiffness in his manner that hinted of shyness. Despite this stiffness, Mr. Darcy certainly had the most elegant manners she had ever encountered. Mrs. Gardiner smiled slightly as she remembered his graceful bow over her hand.
Both the gentlemen had seemed unaccountably delighted to make Mrs. Gardiner's acquaintance. Mrs. Gardiner had rarely been in close contact with two young men of such fine looks, manners and breeding, and had never had gentlemen of this caliber pay her such fine compliments before. It was enough to turn any woman's head. She herself, as a slightly older, happily married woman, was naturally immune to their charms. The affects that such fine attributes and attentions might have on her niece, however, was of great interest to Mrs. Gardiner. Of at least equal interest to Mrs. Gardiner, was the effect that Lizzy's charms had on each of the two gentlemen. She had noticed the softening in looks and voice in both of the men when they addressed her niece. They had both gravitated to Lizzy, leaning in to her when she spoke.
Mrs. Gardiner knew enough of Mr. Darcy, at least by rumor and reputation, to be surprised by the degree of tenderness that he had openly displayed towards Lizzy. He was a serious man, not given to flirtation. Although it was too soon to say with certainty, Mrs. Gardiner was inclined to believe that Mr. Darcy was enamored of her niece. The colonel seemed devoted to Lizzy, as well, but whether his attentions were merely a result of a rakish character, or indicative of more serious intentions, Mrs. Gardiner could not say.
She knew nothing of the man except that he had lively manners and he looked remarkably well in wet clothing.
What made the situation particularly enthralling was the setting in which it was all taking place - the majestic estate of Pemberley. When she was younger, Mrs. Gardiner had often fantasized about being an invited guest of Pemberley, an estate that in her imagination had taken on mythical proportions of grandeur and beauty. When she toured Pemberley first, years earlier and again this afternoon, Mrs. Gardiner was amazed to find that both the grounds and the house itself equaled, if not surpassed, her youthful fantasies.
The older woman leaned back into the carriage seat and examined her niece. If she couldn't get her niece to talk further about either of the two gentlemen, she could at least discover Lizzy's opinon of Pemberley. It was likely that she could discern something of Lizzy's opinion of Mr. Darcy by learning her view of his estate. She knew enough of her niece to know that if she was predisposed to find fault with a man, she would look on his estate with an equally jaundiced eye.
"Lizzy, tell me, my dear, what is your opinion of Pemberley?"
"Pemberley." Lizzy murmured, drawing the syllables of the word out in a sensuous manner. "I have never before seen its equal in beauty. Indeed, I have never seen a place for which nature has done more, or where natural beauty has been so little counteracted by an awkward taste." Lizzy laughed a little ruefully, "I must confess that although we have only left its grounds, I am already longing to return."
Lizzy smiled at her aunt and then returned to gazing at the passing scenery, indicating that she had no wish for further conversation.
Mrs. Gardiner glanced over at her husband to see how he had taken their niece's revelation, but he appeared to have dozed off. Mrs.Gardiner was thus left to ponder Lizzy's interesting remark on her own until the carriage arrived at the Lambton Inn.
The Gardiners and Lizzy took a stroll that afternoon through the village green in Lambton. Afterwards, they dined most satisfactorily on lamb stew and roasted vegetables. Mrs. Gardiner remarked, not for the first time, that she thought the lamb in Lambton to be the finest in all of England.
"Quite so my dear," replied her husband.
After dinner, Mr. Gardiner immersed himself in a large treatise on bass fishing. The two ladies did some needle work, while conversing easily together. Although nothing more was said between them about the afternoon's trip to Pemberley, that visit was forefront on both ladies' minds. All in all, it was a pleasant, if uneventful, evening.
Unfortunately, back in the beautiful environs of Pemberley, things were not so pleasant. Indeed, the thoughts of Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam were distinctly disturbed. Luckily, each of the gentlemen found an occupation, which soothed their nerves to some degree.
Darcy found his relative solace in his bath. When he had stalked into his bedchamber, tense and agitated, his valet had greeted him with the welcome news that he already prepared a bath for him. Bathing had always been a source of comfort to Darcy and was his favorite remedy for agitation of spirit. At first, he was perplexed as to how his valet could have anticipated that he would be in need of a bath so early in the day. He soon realized that his valet had drawn the bath due to the fact that Darcy had been traveling on horseback all morning and then swimming in the loamy pond. Smiling gratefully at the valet, Darcy tried to relax as his man swiftly stripped Darcy down to his breeches. With a polite but definitive wave of his hand, Darcy dismissed his valet.
After quickly removing his breeches, Darcy climbed into the bath. Darcy sank into the warm, slightly scented water and closed his eyes. He tried to think only of Elizabeth and the shy smiles and wistful looks that she had appeared to give him occasionally this afternoon. He could not shut out painful thoughts of his cousin, however, and his last comments about Elizabeth.
Darcy had been previously aware that Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam had a comfortable camaraderie and seemed to take pleasure in each other's company. Although he had felt occasional pangs of jealousy over Fitzwilliam's easy relationship with Elizabeth, he had been generally content to believe that theirs was a platonic friendship. The colonel's comments just now, however, had opened his eyes to other possibilities. He realized that Elizabeth's look of longing as she was leaving could have been just as easily been directed at his cousin as at him. Indeed, as he considered the grim possibility that Elizabeth might have been conveying her regret to part from his cousin, he had to concede that it made much more sense. As he remembered his disastrous proposal to Elizabeth in Kent and her harsh refusal of him, Darcy laughed bitterly, at his naivety in believing, even for a moment, that Elizabeth's wistful gaze had been met for him. The irony of it all was that he had thought earlier in the day that Elizabeth's forgiveness of him would be enough. He realized now that nothing short of Elizabeth's love and her hand in marriage would suffice to end his suffering.
"Shall I rinse your hair, Sir," called his valet from the other room.
"No. Later." And with that, Darcy sank deeper into the water.
While Darcy was brooding in his bath, Colonel Fitzwilliam's thoughts were equally gloomy. He pondered Darcy's reactions to his announcement of his feelings with Elizabeth Bennet. Last spring, Fitzwilliam had considered and then rejected, as being preposterous, the notion that Darcy might have serious designs on Elizabeth himself. He now saw clearly that Darcy was violently in love with her. He was not pleased to find that he had such a formidable rival and he was certainly not happy that the rival was his own cousin and close friend.
The colonel was also slightly worried about the violent aspect of Darcy's affections. Although, he knew his cousin was not generally a violent man, he knew many a man with shallower emotions than Darcy to engage in swordplay when they were violently in love. Fitzwilliam was not particularly worried about his own safety, as he knew he was more than a match for Darcy when it came to martial arts. He had no desire, however, to even contemplate crossing swords with his cousin.
Colonel Fitzwilliam knew he must come up with a plan to handle this potentially volatile situation. He sat down at a small marble table near the window. For a moment, he fondly handled the black queen piece of the chessboard that was set up on the table. He played chess rarely. When he played, it was to order his thoughts, to marshal his wits, and to soothe his nerves. He always played against the same opponent - himself. He placed the black queen gently in her place of honor. He stared at the board without blinking. Then he picked up the white knight and moved it forward. Without hesitation, he picked up the black knight and moved it according to the same pattern. They faced each other across the fine inlaid marble, the black knight and the white knight.
Darcy and the Colonel had avoided each other's company until dinnertime. Darcy was tempted to ask for a dinner tray in his room, but he knew that he must come to an understanding with his cousin at some point. It would be wise to do so before his sister and their guests arrived. He groaned inwardly when he thought of adding Caroline Bingley to an equation that was already stressful enough to tax his sanity.
When Darcy arrived downstairs, Colonel Fitzwilliam was awaiting him in the sitting room. The cousins acknowledged each other's presence with polite nods of the head.
"I am sorry, Darcy. I should not have taken such a liberty without your permission."
Darcy stared at his cousin. He had no idea and was loathe to ask what liberty the colonel referred to.
"You'll be relieved to know that I returned your jacket to your valet in good condition."
Darcy said nothing more. Colonel Fitzwilliam also lapsed into silence and so they remained until dinner was announced. The first course did nothing to encourage Darcy's appetite. When the footman raised the lid, a green murky substance confronted him.
"Cream of watercress soup, Sir."
Darcy glared at his soup, which reminded him of the loamy pond. He wondered why the cook had forgotten that he loathed watercress soup. He noted his cousin across the table devouring his soup. He remembered then that cream of watercress had always been Fitz's favorite. "Ah well," he thought, he'd never been particularly fond of soup in general. He was looking forward to the next course. He had not been in Pemberley for four months and he was anticipating his usual welcome home meal with all of his favorite dishes. "Curried shrimp, roast beef with horse radish, glazed pheasant," he thought hungrily as he stared down his soup. He knew that he hadn't given the cook much notice, but that had never prevented her from producing his favorite dishes upon his arrival before.
It soon became clear that it was not Darcy's taste buds that were being catered to. Darcy watched sourly while Colonel Fitzwilliam greeted each new dish with glee. There was little dinner conversation. Fitzwilliam was too busy inhaling his food and Darcy was preoccupied with thoughts of dismissing his cook.
The colonel drank as freely as he ate. The wine was the finest Bordeaux that money could buy. Although Darcy was not stingy of nature, he couldn't help calculating that the cost of the food and wine his cousin was consuming was worth more than his cousin earned in an entire month.
After dinner, Darcy asked his cousin to join him in the library.
"I must first compliment the cook." With that, the colonel disappeared in the direction of the kitchen.
While Darcy waited for his cousin in the library, he pondered what to say. "I should just concede defeat," he thought, "it is clear that Elizabeth prefers my cousin. Why should I prolong the agony." He heard someone enter the room. He looked up expecting his cousin and relaxed somewhat when he saw it was his housekeeper, Mrs. Reynolds.
He rose to his feet and put his arm around the older woman's shoulders. His arm remained around the woman's shoulder was a moment before he removed it.
"It is good to see you Mrs. Reynolds. I hope our early arrival has not caused you inconvenience."
"No indeed, Sir. Never think it. Your early arrival gave me a start, though Sir, that it did."
Darcy looked surprised. He was used to arriving unexpectedly and Mrs. Reynolds had never appeared startled by this before.
"A start, Mrs. Reynolds?"
"Well you see, Sir, it was on account of the young lady who visited Pemberley this afternoon with her relations. Miss Bennet, I believe she is called."
Darcy froze. "Miss Bennet?"
"Yes, sir. She was such an amiable and well mannered young lady. She seemed so taken with your portrait, Sir. I found out then that she had made your acquaintance. She stared at your portrait so intently, I thought to myself 'it is as if she wants to summon Master Darcy in the very flesh.' And then, lo and behold, you appeared directly. It was that strange, Sir, I felt a chill down my spine. It is a lucky thing, I am not of a superstitious nature."
"Very lucky," replied Darcy, while his mind raced. "Maybe, I have a chance after all," he thought.
Fitzwilliam soon entered the library and Mrs. Reynolds fondly bid the two gentlemen good night. Fitzwilliam seated himself on the sofa. Darcy sat in a chair across from him, but soon rose to his feet.
"Fitzwilliam," began Darcy, "I must know the extent of your feelings for Miss Bennet and your full understanding of her feelings for you."
Colonel Fitzwilliam coughed slightly. "I might ask the same of you, Darcy."
Darcy looked annoyed, but was resigned to get matters out in the open. There were certain events, however, that he was resolved not to talk to his cousin about.
"Very well.' Darcy walked to the liquor cabinet and poured himself a glass of brandy. He did not offer his cousin any.
"I love her," Darcy's voice, as opposed to his words, betrayed no emotion. "I have for a long time, since long before you ever met her." Darcy then turned his back to his cousin and stared into the mirror over the fireplace.
The colonel digested this information in silence. He was not surprised by the information that Darcy loved Elizabeth but was rather surprised by his confession that he had loved her for so long. He got up and helped himself to a glass of Darcy's brandy.
Darcy gazed into his brandy glass for a moment, and then returned his attention to the mirror. He stared at his cousin's reflection. "Now, you must do me the courtesy of providing me with the same information in regard to yourself."
"I will, but I ask that you turn around first. I cannot talk about such delicate matters while your back is turned to me."
Darcy scowled into the mirror, but he turned slowly around.
The colonel looked directly at Darcy. "Since the first day of our acquaintance, I have felt a strong attraction to Miss Bennet. I admired her and found her to be delightful company. She is remarkably intelligent and lively. I also found her to be one of the most physically appealing woman I have ever met."
Colonel Fitzwilliam looked at Darcy for a moment. His cousin stood, immobile and expressionless. "I must confess, Darcy, that I was not aware of having a serious attachment to the lady until today. Admiration, attraction, regard, even lust, perhaps."
Darcy winced at his cousin's bluntness and clenched his fists. The colonel took a small step backwards.
"Today, I felt something more. Much more. I don't know how it happened, exactly, but I now know that I love the lady. Beyond everything."
"Beyond everything?" Darcy raised an eyebrow. "Beyond your loyalty to me?" thought Darcy, but he did not say this out loud. "How can you be certain of feelings that have descended upon you so suddenly?"
"I can not answer that, beyond saying that I am certain. You know me Darcy. Once I set my mind on something, I will not be swayed, and I have never been so sure of anything as I am now of my feelings for Miss Elizabeth."
The colonel took a long draught of brandy. Darcy sat down and stretched out his long legs. He crossed and recrossed his ankles. He stood up again and looked for a moment in the looking glass over the mantle. Then, he turned and faced his cousin.
"And your intentions towards her?
Colonel Fitzwilliam scowled at Darcy. "They are honorable, of course."
"You intend to ask for her hand in marriage?"
"The colonel indicated his assent with a nod of his head.
"How will you support her?"
For the first time, the colonel looked uncomfortable. "As you know I cannot offer her what you can. " The colonel gestured at the thick rugs, the gold frames, the opulent drapes that surrounded them. "But we could live comfortably enough. I believe she is a lady who does not care overmuch for wealth. It is one of her myriad attractions."
Darcy did not contradict his cousin. He knew only too well, of how little wealth impressed Elizabeth Bennet.
"And you, Darcy. Do you intend to ask for her hand?"
Darcy ignored the question. He strode to the window, looking out into the darkness. He turned and looked at his cousin. The expression on his face remained blank, but there was a faint flush on his cheeks, which revealed his agitation.
"I could demand that you leave Pemberley now."
"Yes. You could do that. I would have no choice but to leave and you could court her here without my presence. But if she should then accept you in my absence, you would never know…" The Colonel paused and twirled the amber liquid in his glass. "You would never know," he repeated, "if given the choice, she would have chosen me."
Darcy drank the remainder of his brandy in one swallow. His expression when he looked at his cousin was impenetrable. "You are proposing that we both court her at the same time? That sounds like a bad comedy of errors."
"I am proposing that we do nothing to interfere with the other's prospects with Miss Bennet. No, more than that. I am proposing that we assist each other in courting Miss Bennet."
Darcy raised his eyebrows in a disapproving manner.
"I do not mean that assist each other in actual courtship, but that we cooperate so that we each have equal opportunities to converse with Miss Bennet."
"You are assuming too much. We do not know whether we will the have the opportunity to spend time with her during her visit to these parts."
"I heard her agree to be introduced to Georgiana."
"Yes, but there would be little opportunities for courtship during such a visit."
"Well, that's easy enough to mend, Darcy. You or Georgiana can invite her and her relatives to dine at Pemberley. I doubt they would refuse such an invitation. You, Darcy, have the most to gain from an understanding between us. I believe there are bigger obstacles to you being able to converse with Miss Bennet than exist in my case. Or should I say one particular, feminine obstacle who is traveling here, as we speak."
Darcy sat down and stared at the colonel in disbelief. "Are you offering to distract Miss Bingley while I court Miss Bennet?"
The colonel nodded.
"And what do you expect in return?"
"That you do your best to ensure that I have an equal opportunity to spend time with Miss Bennet. That is all."
Darcy turned towards the door. "I will make no promises. We will speak of this no more tonight."
Darcy was almost out the door, when his cousin spoke.
"Just answer me this. Do I have your permission to stay?"
Darcy looked at his cousin silently. Then he slightly nodded his head and left the room.
The colonel got up and poured himself another glass of his cousin's good brandy. He sat down at the chess table. He stared at the board for a long time, then, with a sweeping gesture, he knocked a number of chess pieces on the floor. Without bothering to pick up the scattered chessmen, he headed off to bed, taking his brandy glass with him.
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