The Last Waltz: . . . another pride and prejudice journey of love (2 page)

BOOK: The Last Waltz: . . . another pride and prejudice journey of love
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CHAPTER
TWO

“Lizzy, just watching your exuberance is tiring me out! You have not sat out one dance the entire evening,” said Jane to her slightly out of breath sister.

It was less than a sennight following the service for George Darcy, and Mrs. Gardiner was chaperoning her two nieces at her parish’s Spring Social, an event both young girls had been pleasantly anticipating.

“I never dreamed dancing could be so exhilarating, so romantic, so thrilling! I hope we shall attend many such dances on our next visit to London.”

Elizabeth’s excitement at attending her very first London dance was almost contagious. She had been allowed to attend a few assemblies in Meryton over the past year, but they were trifling compared to this. The room was elegantly adorned with brightly colored lanterns, and beautiful floral arrangements gave off a most pleasant redolence. One would think the dance was being held in a garden rather than a parish church. And the music! It seemed to infiltrate the very air she breathed. Her dance partners were handsomely dressed in fine clothes, and she suspected that beneath the soft fabric of their fitted gloves she would undoubtedly find that their hands were uncallused; proof that they did not make their living in the fields.

Dangling from her wrist was a dance card. Certainly the assemblies in Meryton could not boast of such social elegance. Each line on her card was filled, no doubt due to her fine eyes and radiant smile that had garnered her complimentary remarks from the gentlemen. Her enthusiasm was abundant as she was most eager to demonstrate the results of her diligent practicing with Jane every afternoon over the past several days.

“Well I have never heard dancing described in such a way. I admit I enjoy dancing very much, but
exhilarating
,
romantic, thrilling
?” teased her sister.

“Oh Jane, how can you not think it is all those things!? To be so close to your partner, to have his hand touch yours while music is playing all around you… Is that not romantic? In the last set my partner placed a hand at my waist as we promenaded down the line. I never felt so elegant, so weightless; as if I were floating on a cloud! I imagine my breath would leave me completely should a gentleman I had feelings for perform such an intimate act.”

The face of one particular gentleman came immediately to mind.

The handsome Mr. Darcy had preoccupied her thoughts over the last several days. Though she was sure there were those who would consider her beneath his society, as far as she was concerned, he was a gentleman and she a gentleman’s daughter; thus, she convinced herself that they should be looked upon as equals. Of course, she conceded that he most likely considered her a mere child, but when she imagined a gentleman taking her breath away, his was the face she imagined. Just the thought of his hand at her waist caused her to blush, and suddenly she remembered her dream.

She was not one who usually fostered frivolous flights of fancy, but perhaps it had been prompted by the excitement and anticipation of tonight’s event, coupled with her recent acquaintance with such a charming gentleman. She smiled to herself as she recalled the sheer pleasure of last night’s decadent indulgence . . .

“If you are not otherwise engaged, would you do me the honour of dancing the last set with me, Miss Bennet?”

“I thank you, yes, Mr. Darcy.”

His hand rests gently at the small of my back as he leads me towards the dance floor, and all eyes turn in our direction. He is all I could ever want; his manners, his handsome face, his fit and agile body. Everything about him is pure perfection.

He stares down at me with intense brown eyes, and we begin to move as the music swells around us. I am the envy of every young woman in the room, at least for the next thirty minutes. When the set comes to an end, he takes my gloved hand in his and leads me back to my chair, praising my grace as he elegantly bows. “You make an excellent partner, Miss Bennet. I hope we shall have the opportunity to dance again.”

I blush at his words, and I fear my voice will fail me if I endeavour to answer him, but somehow I manage to speak. “That prospect is most pleasing, Mr. Darcy.”

“Indeed it is, Miss Bennet,” he replies, and I feel my heart melt as he brushes his lips across the back of my hand before leaving my company.

 

Elizabeth gave her head a slight shake to dispel the memory of her pleasant nocturnal activity. She took in a deep breath. “Yes, definitely romantic and thrilling,” she sighed.

Jane could not help but smile at her sister. Only two years younger than herself, Lizzy approached life with an enthusiasm that Jane could never quite muster. Unlike her sister, Jane’s manner was more controlled and sedate. She always thought things over carefully and never made rash or spontaneous decisions.

Lizzy’s adventurous nature was such that Jane knew she would never experience life as fully as would Lizzy. Her sister faced every new situation as a challenge to be met and conquered: a trait that as a child had resulted in many scrapes upon her elbows and knees.

“Thrilling” had been the exact word Lizzy, at age eight, had used to describe the first time she had ridden atop a horse, while Jane’s reaction to that very same endeavour was to declare that riding safely inside a carriage was more to her liking.

And “breathtaking” had been the first word Lizzy had gushed as she eagerly raced to reach the top of Oakham Mount and observed the exhilarating view, while Jane doggedly tried to catch up.

The fact that they were so different from each other somehow had made them so very close over the years, each one’s character balanced out perfectly by that of the other.

Considering all of this, Jane thought Lizzy’s reaction to tonight’s most impressive dance was hardly an anomaly. And now the sisters were engaged in the last set of the evening, a situation Lizzy found most disheartening for she wished the dance to go on forever. As the music ended, their partners brought them back to their chaperone, and the two sisters curtsied their farewells.

“Well, Lizzy, how did you enjoy your first London dance?” asked Mrs. Gardiner.

“Oh Aunt, it was wonderful! I shall never forget it, ever!”

Mrs. Gardiner smiled broadly at her niece. “Well, you can tell me everything in the morning. You two girls go along home in our carriage. I will stay and help Mrs. Wilkins, the vicar’s wife, tidy up a bit. They will see me home in their carriage.”

The two girls hugged their aunt and thanked her for such an enjoyable evening. Jane stifled a yawn, but Lizzy was wide awake and eager to discuss the entire night, dance by dance, with her sister on their journey home.

********

Another restless night was upon him. Darcy sat at the desk in the study of the family’s London townhouse, in the chair his father had occupied for years. He stared down at the pocket watch that his father had always worn, a gift from his mother to his father on their first anniversary. The inscription on the back simply read: “To my dearest George, With all my love, Anne.” He poured himself another glass of brandy and savoured the taste as memories flooded his thoughts.

For three days and three nights he had completely shut himself off, imprisoned by his melancholy frame of mind. It was only Georgiana that he allowed to impose upon his mourning, for he knew her grief to be equal to his own.

But it was not just sadness that filled his heart. He worried for the future of Pemberley. George Darcy, the once industrious and meticulous Master of Pemberley, had, since the loss of his wife, allowed the fertile fields to become almost barren and the estate to fall into disrepair. Darcy had been summoned from Cambridge last month due to the decline in his father’s health, and it was only then that Mr. Owens, his father’s steward, had informed him of the extent of the neglect. Now he must try to restore the land and regain the trust of his tenants and peers. He may have inherited the title of Master of Pemberley, but Darcy knew he would have to earn the respect it commanded.

Another cause for his apprehension was the guardianship of his sister, a responsibility that he and his cousin Richard now shared. Georgiana’s future was now dependent upon him. Her life and the lives of all his tenants now rested firmly upon his shoulders. All of it . . . all of it was now his burden to bear.

Darcy poured out yet another measure of brandy and stared at the deep, rich amber as if it contained the wisdom he sought. Consuming the contents of the glass, this time in one long swallow, he felt the liquid burn its way down his throat. Even though he knew the confidence that the alcohol provided would be of short duration, it was still a welcome relief from the constant insecurity that now plagued him.

As he closed his eyes, a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty young girl was suddenly before him. Her image had left an enduring impression, one that had caught him completely by surprise. Recalling the look of admiration the charming, dark-haired Miss Elizabeth Bennet had bestowed upon him, he smiled at the thought of her sweet innocence. He could not recall the last time a young lady had intrigued him so. Of course, someone as guileless as Miss Bennet would expect nothing less than love.

Disturbed by his wayward thoughts, he began to pace the room. He needed to clear his head. Undoubtedly the alcohol was affecting his emotional state. A short carriage ride in the cool night air would restore his rationality. He picked up his father’s watch and slipped it into his waistcoat pocket. Not wishing to wake his staff, for the hour was late, he walked the easy distance to the livery stable. The elderly hostler greeted him as he entered. “Waitin’ on your man, guv’nor?”

“No need to bother him,” answered Darcy as he tossed the man a coin. “I will take the rig out myself.”

********

“Oh, Mr. Bennet! What is it; are we to be murdered in our beds?” cried his wife.

Thomas Bennet reached for the candle on his nightstand and quickly lit it. He shoved his feet into the slippers on the floor at his bedside and shuffled towards the stairs.

Mrs. Bennet peeked from the slightly opened door of her bedchamber and watched as her husband descended the stairs as he answered the late night caller’s knock.

Mary, Kitty and Lydia, the three youngest of the Bennets’ five daughters, hovered on the top stair as their father opened the front door to reveal who had called upon them at such an ungodly hour.

Very few words were exchanged between the two gentlemen, but when Mr. Bennet closed the door and turned, in his hand was a missive.

He hesitated, staring down at the letter in his hand. In his two and forty years, never once had good news been gained by the deliverance of an express sent by special courier. He tore open the letter and forced his eyes to identify the sender. It was, as he feared, from his brother Gardiner.

Mrs. Bennet and her three daughters slowly and cautiously crept down the stairs as if Mr. Bennet were a skunk ready to spray at the slightest disturbance. He looked up at them, and his eyes revealed his grief as he informed them of the news the note contained.

“There has been a carriage accident,” he said. “Jane and Lizzy have been injured.”

Mrs. Bennet swooned as Kitty and Lydia led her towards a parlour chair.

“Oh, my poor Jane! Where was my brother Gardiner? How could he have let this happen?” she cried.

Mr. Bennet did his best to ignore the fact that his wife’s lament had included only one daughter, but his irritation could not be completely disguised as he said, “I will leave for London at once to see to the well-being of
both
our daughters.”

As quickly as the carriage could be summoned, Mr. Bennet was on his way to Cheapside, the length of the journey increasing his anxiety with every mile he travelled. Not knowing what to expect, he entered the townhouse with trepidation. He was partially relieved when he saw Jane seated on the couch in the parlour next to her uncle. Aside from several bruises and a cut on her forehead, her injuries appeared to be minor and she seemed to be coping well.

“Father!”

As soon as she looked up and saw him, she made a valiant effort to stand, but Mr. Bennet was immediately at her side before she had the chance and embraced her.

After confirming that she suffered no permanent injury, he enquired after Elizabeth. Just at that moment a grey haired, distinguished looking man descended the stairs. “Ah, I assume you are Mr. Bennet?”

He nodded, his voice being stuck in his throat.

“I am Dr. Graham. Perhaps we should talk in private before you go up to see Miss Elizabeth. Her aunt is with her now, and I have given her something for the pain. She should be feeling its effects soon.”

Mr. Bennet again nodded, assenting to the doctor’s request. “Please use my study, sir,” said Mr. Gardiner as he indicated the room down the hallway.

After twenty minutes, the two gentlemen emerged, their faces reflecting the seriousness of their conversation.

Without further hesitation, Mr. Bennet ascended the stairs to where Elizabeth lay. He was mindful to school his countenance as not to betray his emotions.

Despite her pain, her eyes lit up the moment she saw him. “Papa! I am so happy you have come.”

“Oh, my child.” Despite the promise he had just made to himself moments before, tears welled in his eyes.

BOOK: The Last Waltz: . . . another pride and prejudice journey of love
2.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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