Here’s a frequently asked question among those who read my May 28, 2020 Austen Authors post: Where is Elizabeth? This month’s excerpt from Most Ardently, Most Unknowingly in Love chapter 3 answers that question and more. Enjoy!
Having looked in on Jane some hours earlier and finding her sister fast asleep, Elizabeth went directly to the library. She knew the gentlemen were away for the evening, purportedly dining with the officers, and thus Elizabeth felt reasonably assured she would have the room all to herself.
Burying one’s head in the pages of a good book had a way of making one lose track of time. What a surprise it was to Elizabeth upon looking up and seeing Mr. Bingley’s proud friend enter the room.
“Miss Elizabeth,” Mr. Darcy said, bowing slightly. “I did not think I would find you here.”
Elizabeth, being in a playful mood, as a consequence of a passage in the book in her hand, replied, “Oh! Where did you think you would find me, sir?”
Rather than appear amused by her teasing, the tall, brooding gentleman seemed alarmed. “No,” he quickly responded, holding up his hand almost apologetically. “What I meant to say is I did not expect to find you here at this hour. It is very late.”
Using her finger as a bookmark to remember her place, Elizabeth closed her book. Having sat for so long in the same attitude, she adjusted her position in her large velvety chair by tucking her foot underneath herself. Half smiling at the gentleman, she said, “You really do not like being teased, do you, Mr. Darcy?”
In saying as much, Elizabeth was referring to a prior conversation she had suffered with Mr. Darcy and Miss Caroline Bingley in the drawing-room:
“Mr. Darcy is not to be laughed at!” Elizabeth had teased. “That is an uncommon advantage, and uncommon I hope it will continue, for it would be a great loss to me to have many such acquaintances. I dearly love a laugh.”
“Miss Bingley has given me more credit than can be. The wisest and the best of men—nay, the wisest and best of their actions—may be rendered ridiculous by a person whose first object in life is a joke,” he then replied.
“Certainly there are such people, but I hope I am not one of them. I hope I never ridicule what is wise and good. Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies, do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can. But these, I suppose, are precisely what you are without.”
“Perhaps that is not possible for anyone. But it has been the study of my life to avoid those weaknesses which often expose a strong understanding to ridicule.”
“Such as vanity and pride.”
“Yes, vanity is a weakness indeed. But pride—where there is a real superiority of mind, pride will be always under good regulation.”
“Your examination of Mr. Darcy is over, I presume, and pray what is the result?” Miss Bingley had asked.
“I am perfectly convinced by it that Mr. Darcy has no defect. He owns it himself without disguise.”
No doubt, remembering their conversation as well, the gentleman cleared his throat. “As I said then, I cannot forget the follies and vices of others so soon as I ought, nor their offenses against myself.”
Elizabeth nodded. “You concluded with the words: My good opinion once lost is lost forever; I believe.”
“Your point being, Miss Elizabeth?”
“My point is that if I am not careful, I may risk your censure for the remainder of all times, that is to say, if I have not done so already.”
This last statement served to draw Mr. Darcy further into the conversation as well as to the part of the room where Elizabeth sat. “Why would you say that, Miss Elizabeth?”
Here, Elizabeth threw a quick glance about the library. “Did the two of us not spend nearly a half-hour in this very room just this afternoon, during which you did not utter a single word to me? Why! I am sure you did not look at me even once.”
Mr. Darcy arched his brow. “The same might be said of you, Miss Elizabeth. I do not recall your having spared a single glance in my direction, either.”
“But sir, how would you know if I looked at you or not, what with your own steadfastness to your purpose of not looking at me.”
“Your point is well taken, but as I recall you did not utter a single word to me either. What say you now?”
“I say a lady must not speak unless spoken to.”
As though he forgot the purpose of coming to the library at such a late hour, Mr. Darcy gestured to the seat closest to Elizabeth – a silent request to sit with her to continue their discussion. “You have an answer for everything, do you not?” Having taken his seat, he leaned closer to hers. “Indeed, I had resolved upon entering the library earlier that I would not be having intercourse of any kind with you. You looked so contented reading your book. I dared not interrupt you.”
“Now, it would seem that you, too, have an answer for everything. Are we not the two most compatible people in the room?”
“I suspect the two of us have far more in common than either of us suppose, and as you are nowhere near as engaged in your book now as you appeared to be earlier, I would like nothing better than to explore the complementary aspects of our characters. Who is to say what we may discover about each other before the night is over?”
Elizabeth placed her book aside on the nearby table. “That, sir, seems like a challenge.”
“One that I hope you are willing to accept. I, for one, have nothing better to do this evening, although you may opt for a less daunting means of passing the time.”
“I am not afraid of you, Mr. Darcy.”
“Not even a little afraid, Miss Elizabeth?”
Elizabeth cleared her throat. She cleared it again. “Should I be?” she asked, her voice an odd mixture of curiosity and skepticism.
Mr. Darcy stood. “You seemed parched. Shall I pour you a drink? As for myself, I believe one is in order.”
She nodded. “I will have whatever you are having, sir.”
Until that moment, it had gone entirely unnoticed by Elizabeth that there was a liquor cabinet in the room. She could only suppose it was there strictly for Mr. Darcy’s convenience, for the Bingleys never entered that part of the house as best she could tell. She watched in wonder as Mr. Darcy went about the business of preparing their drinks, and for whatever reason, she could not help but be intrigued. Here was a man whom she supposed never lifted one finger to do anything. Not that she thought he was lazy, but rather because he was so wealthy. Her own family was by no means poor, but by Mr. Darcy’s standards, the Bennets were not even rich.
Moments later, Mr. Darcy stood before her with two snifters in hand: one for her and one for himself. Their eyes were fixed on each other’s when he handed Elizabeth’s drink to her. The slight brush of their hands against each other’s during the exchange caused Elizabeth to feel as though she was already suffering the effects of her drink, and she had not taken a single sip.
She smiled, nodded her thanks, and promptly raised her glass to her lips. She took a long slow sip, closing her eyes tightly as the hot amber-colored liquid went down her throat.
By now, Mr. Darcy had resumed his former attitude, although she could swear their seats were just a little closer than they were before. Elizabeth raised her glass to her lips once more.
Mr. Darcy said, “Shall I bring the decanter over and place it on the table?”
Elizabeth brushed her lower lip with her tongue – a consequence of being in the middle of her next sip. “Listen to you, Mr. Darcy. Teasing and taunting.”
“Once you get to know me better, Miss Elizabeth, you will realize that I give as good as I get.”
Elizabeth was not unaffected by his manner of looking at her. She said nothing, which no doubt encouraged him to say more.
“I imagine you feel the same as regards your own ability to give and take.”
She raised her glass, and the gentleman did likewise. Clicking her glass to his, Elizabeth said, “And so it begins.”
“Are you quite certain you are up to this, Miss Elizabeth?”
“Do you mean to intimidate me, sir, with such a question? You ought to know that my courage always rises with any attempt to intimidate me.”
“As does my own, I assure you.”
“Then, we shall both consider ourselves forewarned.” Elizabeth took another sip of her beverage. “Where shall we begin in the first step towards our journey to discover all that we have in common, Mr. Darcy?”
“Well, being that we both have a penchant for spending time in libraries, perhaps we might start with books.”
Elizabeth shrugged. “We might start there. We are in a library, after all. It is certainly a fitting subject, but I suspect once we embark upon such a discussion as that we might be here all night and well into the next day. Surely you did not intend to spend the entire evening inside this room, sir.”
“Not entirely. Then where should you like to begin, Miss Elizabeth?”
“Do not mistake me, sir. I would very much like to continue this line of discussion, particularly as it concerns this particular room.”
“What about this particular room?”
“I will not argue that you love to read. Doing so is the very essence of a consummate gentleman, and I daresay you are nothing if not consummate.”
“I think there is a compliment in your speech, Miss Elizabeth, and therefore I feel obliged to thank you.”
Elizabeth nodded. “A compliment, indeed. It is my pleasure, sir. More to the matter at hand, tell me I am not wrong to suspect your desire to spend copious amounts of time inside this room is a consequence of your wanting to be beyond Miss Caroline Bingley’s reach.”
Mr. Darcy laughed a little at this conjecture. “I cannot argue your point. I know her well enough to know she is the last person in the world I might expect to see in this room. Were it not for Bingley’s library, I do not know that I would have found my time spent here in his home nearly so tolerable.”
His use of the word ‘tolerable’ struck a particular chord with Elizabeth, and she supposed that now was as good a time as any to introduce the subject.
“Pardon me, Mr. Darcy. What is this fondness you have for that particular word: tolerable?”
“That is an odd question? Would you care to elaborate?”
“Do you not recall telling Mr. Bingley the night of the Meryton assembly that you found me barely tolerable and not handsome enough to tempt you?”
Mr. Darcy colored. “I did not mean for you to hear me say that, Miss Elizabeth. How can I make amends for such an ungentlemanly remark?”
“Are you saying that you meant what you said, but you did not mean for me to hear what you said, because it sounds to me that the latter is true.”
“The latter is certainly true, but not the former. Not by any stretch of the imagination, I assure you.”
“Mr. Darcy, I am confused. Do you or do you not find me tolerable?”
“Miss Elizabeth, it was not long after I met you that I realized you are one of the handsomest women of my acquaintance. Does that put an end to your confusion?”
“It is certainly a pleasing start, but I am still rather perplexed.”
“How might I end your suspense, Miss Elizabeth?” Mr. Darcy asked, leaning closer and resting his hand atop hers. The same hand that she had resting in her lap. Elizabeth was almost afraid to ask her next question, but as it was on the tip of her tongue, she proceeded. “My question is, do you believe me to be handsome enough to tempt you, sir, or do you not?” she asked, moving her hand from her lap to the armrest of her chair.
“I think you know the answer to your own question.”
“I think I should like to hear you speak the words, Mr. Darcy.”
“I am of the opinion that actions speak louder than words.” Mr. Darcy reached for her glass. “Let me pour you another—that is unless you suppose you have reached your limit for one evening.”
Elizabeth handed the gentleman her glass. “I shall not allow you to escape answering my question so easily as that, Mr. Darcy.”
He stood and went to the liquor cabinet. “Are you certain I do not need to bring the decanter over to the table, Miss Elizabeth? I have a feeling we are going to be here for quite a while.”
“If you continue to evade all my questions so well as this, you may have a point, sir.”
Without saying a word, he refilled both snifters. With both glasses and the decanter in his hands, he returned to Elizabeth’s side. After setting the crystal decanter on the table, he handed Elizabeth her drink. Once again, their fingers brushed against each other’s, only this time, the two of them lingered a second or two longer than was necessary. Elizabeth could only wonder if what she was feeling, the gentleman was feeling too.
“Are you certain that you are a connoisseur of fine Cognac, Miss Elizabeth? This is from my private stock. You may be unaccustomed to its effects. Dare I might be accused of plying you with fine liquor and then having my way with you.”
“You need not concern yourself on that account, Mr. Darcy. I assure you. It is not as though I have never imbibed brandy before tonight,” she said, raising her freshened drink to her lips.
“Yes, well, there is brandy, and then there is Cognac. This, young woman, is not just Cognac, but, as I said, it is from my private stock.”
“I wonder at the distinction, sir. Are Cognac and brandy not the same?”
“It is certainly true that all Cognac is brandy. Not every brandy is Cognac. There are rich distinctions inherent in the latter which makes comparing the two akin to comparing champagne to wine. Whereas brandy is made all over the world, every Cognac is made in the Cognac region of France.”
“Hence, your reasoning for traveling with your own stock. Is there anything else that you bring along with you, Mr. Darcy, other than the usual things?”
“You would be surprised, Miss Elizabeth.”
“Test me,” she teased. “What about books? Is there a secret stash hidden somewhere in this very room, owned by you, and reserved for your own particular pleasure? Or perhaps you keep them in your apartment.”
“A particular pleasure that I would be happy to share with you.”
“In your apartment, Mr. Darcy! How scandalous,” she cried before taking another sip of her drink.
“Well, we would not want that, would we, Miss Elizabeth? What say you that I bring one of the books from my private library with me the next time we meet here in the middle of the night?”
“As intriguing an offer as that is, who is to say there will be a next time?”
“Only you can say. My philosophy is there is always a next time. At any rate, I often come here during the late hours of the night – just in case you ever wish to know.”
“I shall take your words under advisement, Mr. Darcy.”
Leaning forward, Mr. Darcy reached for the decanter. “Will you be having another, Miss Elizabeth? Or have you reached your limit for one evening?”
“I do not know that I have a limit, Mr. Darcy. Is that something you would advise?”
“Generally. Everyone ought to establish a limit in one matter or another. It is what keeps us safe from harm.”
“Pray tell me what is one of your limits? Perhaps it is yet another shade in our characters that we share.”
“Actually, I have a limit where imbibing Cognac is concerned, which is the reason I intend for this to be my last one for the night.”
“Oh! But I thought we agreed the night is young.”
“If you insist.”
“I am afraid I must, for you have yet to answer my earlier question.”
“Ask me again?”
“My question is, do you believe me to be handsome enough to tempt you, sir, or do you not?”
At length, he said, “You more than tempt me, Miss Elizabeth.”
After taking a long sip from his refilled glass, he leaned closer to her once again. “The question remains, do I tempt you, Miss Elizabeth?”
“Well, sir. I have never uttered such words against you, which renders your question a moot point in my estimation.”
Darcy leaned closer. “Then allow me to rephrase the question: do you want me to tempt you?”
Surely there can be only one answer to such a question. What say you? Comment below to have your share in the conversation.
Because Most Ardently, Most Unknowingly in Love is still in development and scheduled for release later this summer, I thought I’d have a giveaway offer similar to last month’s. Leave a comment for a chance to win a release day eBook edition. One copy will be given away to the winner.
In the meantime, the winner will be awarded an eBook edition of either A Night with Mr. Darcy to Remember or the winner’s choice.
The giveaway contest ends Tuesday, June 30, 2020.