The Fencing Lessons

Chapter 9

The next morning, Elizabeth woke up very rested and very calm. Since she had not been able to enjoy one for a very long time, she all the more felt the benefit of a good nightís sleep. She opened the curtains; the day was bright, it seemed to be freezing outside but the sun was shining. She rang for the maid, and, according to Janeís plan, she asked for her breakfast in her room. As she was getting dressed, she started to think of her discussion with her sister, and her confidence started to drift away as she realised the possible outcomes of the day. This could be the most magnificent day of her young life but it could also be the most devastating one. She tried to pray to ask God to help her, but, deep inside, she knew her future lay in her hands, and her plea remained somewhat half-hearted. She decided instead to cling to hopeful considerations, and she let her memory relive all their history; from his first slight, at the Meryton assembly, to their conversations in the Netherfield drawing-room; from their dance at the Netherfield ball to his proposal in Hunsford; from their unexpected meeting at Pemberley to their fencing lesson the day before. From all these events, she could gain some hope; even from the very first one, because she had been the only one he had singled out, in his proud and disdainful manner. And more than anything else, she had her sisterís assurance that he loved her. Of course, he had not told Jane so but she wouldnít have spoken thus, had she had any doubt. Yes, she had to believe that this day would prove to be the happiest of her life.

In the dining-room, all the others were gathered. On not seeing Elizabeth coming, Mr. Darcy started to feel uneasy. His resolve was still very strong. He would find a way to speak with her that very day. But if she were truly ill, to the concern he would feel for her welfare, would be added the anguish of waiting another day. He asked Jane if she had any news from her sister.

"No, I have not. I went to check on her last night, and her health seemed fine. Her spirits are still a little bit low but, with our help, she will overcome it." Then, standing up, she added: "If you will excuse me, I shall go directly to her room to see how she is this morning."

"Please, do. And if she needs anything, please let me know."

Jane left the room, leaving the others in their thoughts.

In her bedchamber, Elizabeth was waiting for her sister. As soon as Jane was inside, she eagerly asked: "So, is everything settled?"

"Not yet; but I can promise you that it will go on as planned." Jane remembered her husbandís summary of his discussion with Mr. Darcy and the latter had said that his solicitor was to come that morning. She studied her sisterís face and said: "You seem well, Lizzy, much more rested than I have seen you for several weeks."

"I thank you. Yes, I had, strangely, a very good night. And your precious words have given me hope. Ah, Jane, why didnít I tell you all before?"

Jane answered, playfully: "Why, indeed? This was very foolish of you! But youíre a very silly young woman, it might explain everything!" She went to the door, "I shall leave you now. I have to take Charles and Miss Darcy outside!"

Lizzy asked eagerly: "Wish me luck."

"You donít need luck, you have all the right cards and nobody can beat you at this game."

"But itís not a game. Itís my happiness, my whole life which is involved!"

"So much the better as nobody can beat you!" She opened the door, went in the corridor, but before closing the door, she added, "I love you Lizzy and so does he. Just remember this."

In the dining-room, all the assembled were expecting her return, though not with the same eagerness. She didnít linger and said, "Lizzy is quite well. She just overslept and didnít feel like hurrying to join us. She told me she wanted to work on her novel this morning, so I said we wouldnít disturb her." Jane was amazed at her own behaviour. She didnít know she could lie, but she found she did it very well. As she, nevertheless, felt some guilt, she decided that she would confess to them all her lies as soon as her sister and Mr. Darcy had found each other. It seemed funny how she had been unsure about Charles even though everyone, including Lizzy, was telling her that he loved her, while now she felt absolutely certain that she knew the truth about Mr. Darcyís feelings. She really couldnít explain it; maybe she would speak to Lizzy about that.

Georgiana was quite relieved to know that everything was fine with Miss Bennet. She hadnít forget her brotherís compliments and wanted to gather more. "What should we do today? Would you like to call on your uncle and aunt?"

Jane answered her hostess: "No, I would rather do that with Lizzy. But the sun is shining and I have seen a nice park around the corner. I would like to take a turn in it, if it agrees with you."

Mr. Darcy, who had also heard the news from Elizabethís room with relief, declined, "Iím afraid I canít be of the party. I have a business appointment this morning." He smiled to Jane and added, "But donít worry, Mrs. Bingley, I wonít disturb Miss Bennet."

She smiled back: "She told me you had helped her yesterday, so, I suspect you would not be unwelcome."

Charles was looking dubiously at his wife. They didnít have time to speak about the conversation she had shared with Lizzy but he could scarce recognize the schemer he was beholding as his wife. Certainly they had had a very enlightening conversation! Nonetheless, as she was his beloved wife and as he often thought she was clearly smarter than he was, he decided to enter her game, "This is a lovely idea." He then recalled Janeís last sentence. "I mean, the walk in the park, itís a lovely idea," he added in a laugh.

Georgiana had understood all the insinuations. She smiled broadly, seeing that everyone but, perhaps, the main characters were determined to see a quick and happy ending to this story. "So it is settled, I will take Mr. and Mrs. Bingley to the park. There are a great many sites to see, "she said, blushing at her obvious distortion of the truth, "Iím afraid we wonít be back until luncheon." And moreover, I have to speak with Mrs. Bingley about Elizabeth, and to find out the real reason of her absence, she added with a warm smile towards the said lady.

The look Mr. Darcy sent his sister contained some reproach mixed with gratitude. He knew that nature was slumbering at this time of the year and that the park was really not Londonís grandest; he also knew that Georgiana was quite aware of this fact as well. Yet he had not forbidden her to Ďhelp himí as she had put it. He just smiled at her, stood up and said. "Everything seems settled. I shall see you later, then."

As soon as Charles, Jane and Georgiana had dressed for a cold morning walk, they left. Looking up at the sky with a sheepish smile, Georgiana said, "I hope no clouds are to come." Jane answered with a reassuring tone, "Iím sure no clouds are to come."

From her bedchamber, Elizabeth heard the three of them leave. A while after, she heard the door-bell ring and the butler announce to Mr. Darcy, "Your solicitor is here, sir."

"Let him come in," answered the deep voice she had come to cherish, then the library door was shut.

She tried to work a little on her novel yet, although she now had some ideas of what to write for her fencing fight, she couldnít put anything on the paper. Each time she thought of a position Mr. Darcy had shown her, she started thinking on how handsome he looked in that position and her thoughts floated away. Eventually, she decided that she would rather play the pianoforte. That way, she would be downstairs and maybe, when his solicitor had left, he would come and see herÖ

She had been playing for some time when she heard the library door open and a manís voice say, "Well, Sir. I shall leave you now."

"Thank you, Sir. Send the contracts as soon as you have copied them."

"I shall. Good day, Sir." And the front-door was opened and shut.

Mr. Darcy was quite satisfied, this business matter had been conducted easily and with a quick conclusion. If only everything in his life could be likewise! He became suddenly aware that the library door had not been closed because he thought he could hear music. But Georgiana was not there and Elizabeth was supposed to be in her room, who could be playing? It had to be Elizabeth; indeed Georgiana had been very clear that she would not be back for at least two more hours. He decided to go and check. He would not disturb her, just check. He left the library and headed towards the drawing-room. Yes, indeed, Elizabeth was playing. He could now hear her delightful voice too. He decided just to take a look and then, he would go back to his library.

As soon as he appeared in the doorway, Elizabeth saw him. In fact she had been waiting for him since she had heard the departure of the solicitor. Nevertheless, she felt overpowered by the sight of him and she froze.

Mr. Darcy was embarrassed. He had only meant to watch her, unnoticed if possible, and he had very obviously failed. He bowed. "Miss Bennet. Please, I did not want to intrude. I just wanted to know to whom I owed this delightful music. Would you please forgive my intrusion?"

Elizabeth recovered and answered, "Of course, Mr. Darcy. I am sorry. I was lost in my music. I hope I havenít disturbed you. Jane told me you would go for a walk, I thought I was alone." Well, that was not exactly what she had told her butÖ it would do.

"I had myself a business appointment this morning and was unable to join them. And donít worry about your playing disturbing me, I really enjoy music; all the more when it is played so beautifully."

She felt a blush darkening her face. "Youíre flattering me, sir," she smiled shyly.

"Am I?" Mr. Darcy asked, truly surprised. "No, Iím just telling the truth. If you will excuse me now," he added after an awkward and short pause, "I shall leave you to your playing." He bowed, ready to leave the room, unaware of the short draw of disappointed breath she had taken. Elizabeth didnít want him to go but she couldnít voice the words; she impulsively started to play the song she had sung at Pemberley.

When he heard the first notes of ĎVoi che sapeteí, Mr. Darcy stopped abruptly. He turned around, and, as bewitched by her voice, he made his way to the sofa where he could sit, staring at her. His eyes didnít leave her face during the whole song, they rested on her lips, her eyes, the curls that were covering a part of her forehead. When the song ended, the spell was not immediately broken. She was now staring back at him, unable to utter a word. She saw in his eyes what she had seen at Pemberley and she tried to convey to him more than she had, then. Eventually, a very noisy carriage in the street below ended the enchantment. Mr. Darcy recovered first. "This was enthralling, Miss Bennet. I thank you."

She cast her eyes down shyly. She wanted him so much to speak but she didnít know how to encourage him. "Iím glad you liked it."

Mr. Darcy knew it could be the moment. They were alone, she had chosen that piece of Mozart, she really seemed unwilling to flee from him. He had to do it. Now. Come on, man, donít be a coward. He stood up and put his hands behind his back so that she couldnít see he was nervously clenching them. He licked his upper lip and started: "Miss BennetÖ"

She had lifted her head when she had heard him stand up. She felt her heart jumping in her chest; something was in her throat, preventing her from breathing properly. She waited for him to continue.

"IÖ" The words couldnít come out of his mouth. It was dreadful, much more awkward than it had been in Hunsford. "Miss Bennet, IÖ" He tried several times to catch his breath and to produce a sound but he couldnít. Elizabeth was looking expectantly at him. She seemed confused but his strange behaviour could easily explain it. Finally, deeply embarrassed, Mr. Darcy decided to change his tactic, and, avoiding her eyes, he said. "Miss Bennet, since the conditions seem favourable, would you like me to give you your second fencing lesson?"

She seemed quite surprised at his words. She clearly hadnít expected that. But she understood how difficult this moment had been for him. The proud, respected, probably even feared master of Pemberley had been at a loss for words for almost one full minute. Had she been told that a year ago, she would indeed have believed it to be an excellent joke! So, even though she was deeply disappointed, even though she had been at the gate of Heaven and was now back to Earth, she tried to hide her feelings, anchored her eyes in his and answered with her most gracious smile: "Yes, I would like that very much. Shall we meet in the ballroom in five minutes?"

"That will be perfect." He moved close to her, and offered her his arm to lead her to the staircase. She took it very willingly and thanked him with a nod. When he released her, she tried to refrain from running up to her room while he could watch her.

While she was putting on her old muslin gown, Elizabeth was trembling. She had still not recovered from his failed speech. It could only be his proposal. What else could it be? Why hadnít he managed to extract the words from his throat? He had seemed so confused, so lost, she had felt a wave of tenderness for him. But she would have to wait to tell him so. How long would she have to wait? O Lord, this was so difficult! She had to recover, she would see him in a few minutes; she had to appear as calm as she had been when she had agreed to the lesson. O the lesson! The last one had been so much yet so little. This one had to be all. She would help him, she would find a way, she would show him she cared deeply for him and she was more than willing to share his life; she wouldnít wait any longer, she couldnít wait any longerÖIn an all but serene state of mind, she exited her room to go and meet her destiny.

The Fencing Lessons, Chapter 10

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