Welcome to the second excerpt from my Pride & Prejudice alternate history! I’ve combined two chapters for this post because I just couldn’t resist seeing what you think of it. My plan is to post the first quarter of the book in weekly segments. That’ll take you through the point which will answer some of your biggest questions. 🙂
If you missed the first chapter, you can find it here.
Trigger warning: There is a very small amount of non-consensual touch in the last scene of this excerpt. Beyond this there will be no scenes depicting sexual violence in the book.
Darcy could find no particular fault with Netherfield Park. The house was spacious and pleasant. The grounds were well kept. The rolling hills surrounding it kept the landscape interesting. Bingley was a gracious host. His cook produced tasty meals. And after two days, it was slowly driving Darcy mad.
He had spent hours calming Georgiana’s anxieties about being in a new place. He had walked with her around the gardens and listened to her practice her music. The previous night he had stayed up late drinking brandy with Bingley, something he had been looking forward to. But instead of finally being able to talk freely to his friend as he had hoped, he had hidden everything.
Today Bingley had gone to visit a neighbor, and Darcy was too restless to keep his attention on a book. The only distraction he could find was to work on his billiard game. At least it was quiet in the billiard room apart from the clicking of balls striking and the satisfying thump when one dropped into a pocket.
Bingley appeared in the doorway, apparently done with his visits. “Practicing again? As if you need it to thrash me thoroughly!”
Leaning over the table, Darcy sighted along his cue stick. “It passes the time.”
“If it is time you wish to pass, I have volunteered you to join me in a charitable duty.”
Without raising his head, Darcy flicked his eyes up at Bingley. “Why do I suppose I will not like this?”
Bingley chuckled. “It is true; you will not like it. The local regiment is having an assembly and has commanded the presence of all the young ladies. I agreed we would escort two of them who would both be quite unprotected otherwise.”
Darcy dropped the cue stick and straightened. “Bingley, the last thing I need is to be giving some local girl expectations I will never be able to meet.”
“There will be no expectations. Their fathers arranged it purely as a matter of their safety. So many of the local men have been conscripted that there are few left to provide escorts, leaving the ladies to the mercies of the French officers.”
“I suppose we must, then,” said Darcy grudgingly. Had he not already given up enough for his fellow countrymen? But the same answer always resounded in his head. Many had been forced to give their lives for their country, and he had not. Yet.
He would only go to this damned dance because if he refused and anything happened to those poor girls, he would bear that burden forever. Along with so many others. Sometimes he wondered if a clean death in battle would not have been preferable. But Georgiana needed him, so that was not an option.
Bingley clapped him on the shoulder. “No need to be so glum, old fellow! You might even enjoy yourself a bit. From what I gather, you are getting the young and pretty one. Mine, according to her loving father, is all but on the shelf and ‘not what I would call pretty, but a good girl, a good girl.’” His voice had deepened into an imitation of an older man’s.
“Most likely yours will at least manage some interesting conversation. What is the name of my insipid silly miss?”
“Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Her father already dislikes you, so you should be safe from expectations.”
“Dislikes me? I have not even met the man.”
Bingley grinned. “Oh, you are in a mood today! It is the usual complaint. I did not hesitate to point out his own failings in that regard. But look – the sun is finally showing its face. You should go for a ride and clear your head.”
He had been longing all day to do exactly that. “You will stay here if I do? I do not like to leave Georgiana alone in a new place.”
“Of course. Now go. Get out of here!”
A quarter of an hour later, the stable master regarded Darcy as if he were a being from another planet. The Netherfield staff had not yet accustomed themselves to their guest’s eccentricities, such as saddling and bridling Hurricane himself. But Hurricane was the one luxury he had insisted on keeping at a time when he had given up so much else. He had raised and broken the horse himself, and Hurricane always understood him. Darcy hated allowing anyone else to handle him. Even the process of saddling him and the feeling of Hurricane’s warm flanks under his hands brought him peace.
They set off at a trot down the lane and jumped a fence before cantering across a field. The sun had not yet burned off the dampness in the spring air.
Darcy had loved springtime when his mother was alive. She had taught him the names of each spring flower in the Pemberley gardens, encouraged him to watch each stage of leaves unfolding, made wishes with him over the star-shaped wood anemones, and taken him on adventures in Pemberley’s magical bluebell wood. She had died in the springtime, too, just as the bluebells were fading away to nothing. And then there had been the terrible spring of 1805 which had cost him his father and more relatives and friends than he could count, as well as his freedom and his country.
Spring had once been a time of beginnings for him. Now it made him think of all he had lost.
These thoughts were not helping to clear his head. He laid a hand on Hurricane’s neck, feeling the tautness of his muscles beneath his shiny coat. Hurricane was still with him, loyal, steady Hurricane.
At Pemberley he could gallop for miles over the empty moors, but Hertfordshire was more settled. He spotted a copse in the distance and made for that, hoping to find some semblance of untamed nature there. He skirted the edge until finding a path leading into it, but before he even entered the copse, a familiar floral scent transported him into the past. It was a bluebell wood.
On impulse he dismounted and tied Hurricane’s reins to a tree. Yes, before him bluebells swayed in the dappled sunlight. He strode towards them as their almost otherworldly scent enveloped him, raising goose bumps on his skin. The spring green of the wood was the perfect frame for the sapphire flowers. Magic, his mother had called the bluebells.
His pace slowed. How long has it been since he had visited a bluebell wood? He could not even recall. The bluebells seemed to dance around him with a ripple of laughter. But no – that was human laughter, and it was followed by a squeal of pain.
“That hurt, young man! Or young woman, as the case might be.” A woman’s musical voice seemed part of the magic, drawing him towards it with a seductive enchantment of its own. Where was she, the woman of the rippling laughter? He searched for a side path through the flowers. His mother had taught him never to trample bluebells.
There it was, so faint it could barely be called a path, just grass dividing a sea of bluebells. Carefully he stepped along it.
He could see her now. Tendrils of dark chestnut hair escaped their binding to riot across her long neck in exuberant curls. She sat on the ground, her legs curled up beside her, and she was surrounded by… puppies? Yes, puppies, crawling over her lap, nipping at her skirts, and rolling over for petting. She picked one up and kissed its head. Fortunate puppy!
His lips curved. A poet would call her Titania, queen of the fairies, in the flesh. More woodland magic!
She must have heard his footsteps, or perhaps the yapping of a puppy alerted her, because she looked back over her shoulder. At the sight of him, she twisted around and scrambled backwards.
In the dappled sunlight, his Titania’s face was alive with energy, full of fine sparkling eyes and kissable lips.
And she was pointing a fully cocked pistol at him.
He took a step back and opened his hands to show they were empty. “I mean you no harm.” The sound of his own voice startled him.
“English?” Her voice was sterner now.
“Yes. I am visiting from Derbyshire. Or, if you prefer, I will say it – ‘Theophilus Thistle, the thistle sifter, sifted a sieve full of unsifted thistles, thrusting three thousand thistles through the thick of his thumb.’” It was the tongue twister no Frenchman could pronounce, no matter how accent free his English might be.
Her lips quirked but she kept the pistol leveled at him. “Well, Theophilus Thistle from Derbyshire, why are you following me?”
“Because I was walking through an enchanted bluebell wood when I heard the dulcet tones of Titania, queen of the fairies, which enspells any mortal man.” He swept her a full-court bow.
She chuckled. “Lovely words, but perhaps you should avoid sudden movements when I have a pistol trained on you.”
“Do you know how to use it?”
“Of course. You could have been a French soldier out hunting for game.” The distaste in her voice made it clear what kind of game the soldiers hunted here.
“Good. I trained my sister to shoot for the same reason.” One of the puppies began to crawl in his direction.
“Ah.” She lowered the pistol but did not put it aside. “If I am Titania, perhaps I will cast a spell on you instead. It would be much less bloody.”
“Since I would prefer not to have the head of an ass, perhaps I should leave you in peace. Or at least as much peace as you can find with all these puppies.” He could see the mother dog now, a springer spaniel lying in a hollow between two trees and nursing two more puppies. “Which was the one that nipped you?”
He took a slow step forward and held out his hand to the puppy, who sniffed it eagerly. “May I?”
At her nod, he picked up the puppy. The mother dog raised her head and growled.
“You need not worry,” his Titania said to the dog. “He is wearing brown, not blue.” She looked up at him again. “I am training her to attack soldiers who come too close to me.”
“I will keep that in mind.” He turned the puppy over in his hands and examined him. “If you were still wondering, he is a young man. Definitely a young man.” He held the puppy up to his shoulder and scratched its ears. Pushing back against his hand, the puppy reached up to lick his chin. Repeatedly.
Her eyes sparkled when she laughed. “I should have known as much, since he is a troublemaker already!”
Darcy cuddled the puppy for another minute, taking pleasure in his warmth and the softness of his fur, and then reluctantly set him down. “Back to your mistress, young Puck,” he told the puppy firmly. “And now I will leave you in peace. Farewell, proud Titania.”
She set down the pistol at last, picked up the puppy, and waved a tiny paw at him. “Theophilus Thistle, I grant you safe passage through my domain.” She crinkled her nose at him.
As he made his way back through the sea of bluebells, it felt like the first time in years he had truly smiled. His mother had been right; there was magic in a bluebell wood. He would not wait so long to revisit one.
Darcy’s improved spirits lasted through the following day, even when it came time to depart for the assembly. He had resigned himself to the prospect of spending the evening with a silly, chattering girl. After all, he did not have to listen to what she was saying, did he?
Miss Lucas, whom they collected first, was a pleasant surprise, or at least a relief. While living up to her father’s description, she was soft-spoken and seemed sensible, and more importantly showed no embarrassing intention of flirting with either Bingley or Darcy. She was a peaceful presence. If he had to spend an evening escorting a woman, someone like Miss Lucas would suit him well.
He was less sanguine about the prospect of Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Miss Lucas described her as much younger, with a lively wit and a strong will. Not the sort of comfortable companion he would prefer.
Still, he managed to be civil through his introduction to Mr. Bennet and even to ignore that gentleman’s slightly scornful coolness.
Then a familiar face appeared, one whose eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Theophilus Thistle!” she exclaimed.
Now he was smiling like a fool again as he bowed. “Proud Titania.”
Mr. Bennet looked amused. “Lizzy, I would present Mr. Darcy to your acquaintance, but I perceive you have already met.”
Bingley asked, “How could you have met? Darcy has barely stirred from Netherfield since he arrived.”
Darcy said solemnly, “We have a mutual acquaintance, a young man with a taste for making trouble.”
Bingley looked more baffled than ever. Mr. Bennet wore a quizzical look.
Titania – no, Miss Bennet – had a mischievous glint in her fine eyes. “And a taste for licking Mr. Darcy’s face.”
“That as well,” Darcy agreed.
With a sidelong glance at her father, Miss Bennet said, “One of Rose’s puppies.”
Mr. Bennet pushed his spectacles up the bridge of his nose. “So dogs are performing introductions these days! Quite remarkable. Perhaps they are taking on the civility so many Englishmen have abandoned of late.”
The amusement faded from Miss Bennet’s face. “Indeed,” she said coolly. “I suppose we must not keep the French officers waiting, should we, Mr. Darcy?”
No. Not his Titania, too, turning away from him because of his association with the damned French. Why did the one bit of joy he had discovered here have to be quenched by those damned assumptions he could not contradict? His stomach churned.
Well, so be it. He had agreed to the sacrifice himself, and he would do it again in the same circumstances.
But sometimes it was simply not fair.
It was not fair. Elizabeth did not want to like Mr. Darcy. How could she like a man who put his own wealth and possessions before his love of his country? True, he had been far from the only man to do so, but she was prepared to hate every last one of them.
But she had liked Theophilus Thistle. How long had it been since she had the opportunity to exchange witticisms with an educated young Englishman? He had displayed a sense of humor and an ability to laugh at himself, and he was unquestionably pleasant to look at. He even liked to cuddle puppies. Why did the best prospect for flirtation she had met since the invasion have to turn out to be a French sympathizer?
Oh, if only she could stamp her feet in frustration! She should have realized who he was and not allowed herself to dwell on him. It was not as if young men of wealth and education suddenly appeared from nowhere. But it had been such a pleasant interaction that it had never crossed her mind he could be a traitor to England.
And now he was being unfair again, not only engaging her playfully, but then having the gall to look injured when she treated him as coldly as he deserved. Did he think his bloodstained wealth would influence her? If he had to consort with the enemy, the very least he could do was to behave like an unpleasant fellow. Before his arrival, she had been prepared to dislike the unknown Mr. Darcy, and dislike him she would, regardless of whether he cast puppy dog eyes at her. She certainly would not tell him she had named the mischievous puppy Puck in his honor.
Fortunately, she had a great deal of practice at being coldly polite.
Mr. Darcy declined to take the hint. “Miss Bennet, might I have the honor of the first dance?”
“I am afraid it is already promised.” It was just as well. If she had to spend half an hour close to him right now, he might start seeming like the delightful Theophilus Thistle again. That would be a mistake.
“Perhaps the second, then, or whatever you might have open?”
“If the second dance would suit you, I will be pleased to dance it with you.”
Once in the carriage, Mr. Bingley rubbed his hands together. “So, what should we expect from this assembly? Since it is given by the officers, will the gentlemen outnumber the ladies?”
Under her breath, Elizabeth said to Charlotte, “It depends on how you define gentlemen.”
Charlotte pretended not to hear her, but judging by Mr. Darcy’s raised eyebrow, he had made out her words as well.
Tactful as ever, Charlotte said, “It is likely they will, although not by much since there are so very few Englishmen left here. Lizzy and I will be the envy of many ladies for having English escorts.”
Mr. Bingley seemed somewhat embarrassed by that. “Will it be English dances or French?”
“Need you ask?” said Elizabeth with a lightness she did not feel. “They may have an English reel or two as a token gesture, but mostly will be waltzes and quadrilles. They are particularly fond of waltzes.”
“London balls are much the same,” Bingley confided. “Even those given by Englishmen seem designed to please the French.”
“There is no surprise in that,” said Elizabeth.
Mr. Darcy, of course, said nothing.
The first dance was indeed a waltz, and Elizabeth feared the second might be more of the same. To her relief, the musicians struck up a reel for it. That meant less opportunity for speech with Mr. Darcy, less ability to gaze into each his eyes, and she did not have to spend half an hour with his arms around her. A pity – she had imagined the pleasure of waltzing with Theophilus Thistle, but that had been before she discovered who he truly was.
When they reached the end of the set and had to wait to rejoin the dance, he said to her, “I hope your first set was enjoyable.”
“Waltzing with Lieutenant Bessette? It was tolerable, I suppose. His manners are better than many of the other officers and he never tries to take advantage of women, so I cannot complain.”
“He is a favorite of yours, then?”
She shot him a sharp look. “I suppose, in the same way that I prefer fleas to lice. Though that is unfair; if the lieutenant would simply return to France, I would think him a fine fellow.”
He spoke in a low voice. “Do you see all the French in England as being detestable, then?”
“Yes,” she said rashly. “And you do not.”
“I see them as men, some good, some bad, and I have yet to meet a single one who wishes to be here. They are following their Emperor’s orders, and they would tell you that we started this war, not them.” He glanced around as if to see if anyone might be listening.
Detestable man! “Only after they had invaded other countries! But I should have known you would take their side.”
“If you think considering them as individuals faced with a situation not of their choosing is taking their side, then yes, I do.”
With a huff, she turned to watch the dancers. No matter how handsome and amusing Mr. Darcy might be, he was a traitor, pure and simple.
At the end of the dance, she gave him only the curtest of thanks before Mr. Bingley came to claim her for the third dance. By the end of that set, she was almost calm again.
Mr. Bingley brought her lemonade during the break before the fourth dance, returning just as Lydia descended upon them in all her glory, clad in a fashionable silk dress dripping with lace. She tapped Elizabeth’s arm with her fan. “La, Lizzy, is that not last year’s dress?”
“It is three years old, as you know well,” said Elizabeth, but she bit her tongue before saying anything further about the source of Lydia’s lovely gown. No matter how much she disapproved of Lydia’s decision, she could not deny it had made her family’s life more comfortable. Not that Lydia cared about anyone’s comfort but her own, of course.
When Lydia moved on to preen her extravagant feathers in front of the other officers’ wives, Bingley said, “Is that your youngest sister, then?”
“Sadly, it is. Forgive me for not introducing you. She is not fully respectable.”
“I thought she had married a French officer.”
Elizabeth flushed and moved closer to him so she could speak quietly. “She went through a marriage ceremony with him, it is true, but he has a wife and children in France. All indications are that he intends to return to his French wife someday, though Lydia is certain he loves only her and will never leave her.”
“I suppose your parents had no choice but to allow it.” Bingley sounded bitter.
“They did not try to stop it. He was quartered at Longbourn at the time, and Lydia was perfectly happy to succumb to his blandishments.”
“Taking over our country was quite bad enough, but how dare they behave as if it means our women are their playthings!” said Bingley with some heat.
“Do you have sisters, Mr. Bingley?”
“I do, but they have protected themselves, at least to the extent they wish to. They have been very successful in French society circles in London. No, it is more that I hate watching how the French officers swoop in on the nearest pretty girl and treat her as their personal property.” His scorn was strong enough to make Elizabeth wonder if he once had a tendre for one of those pretty girls.
Just then Captain Renard began to move in Elizabeth’s direction. “Oh dear,” she said softly to Mr. Bingley. “This may not be pleasant.”
Miss Bennet – Darcy was going to have difficulty not thinking of her as Titania – had an odd, stiff expression when captain of the garrison asked her to dance, and she did not move with her usual smoothness when the music began. Something was amiss. Was there going to be trouble? Darcy watched closely, just in case.
The trouble started almost immediately. The captain was holding Miss Bennet too closely as they waltzed. She had been light on her feet when she danced with Darcy, but now she looked clumsy. Her face was in shadow, perhaps because she was looking down. The captain was speaking to her at length, but her replies appeared to be no more than a word or two.
Then the captain slid his hand downward from her waist to her hip. Judging by the pleased smirk on his face, it was no accident. Darcy’s hands wanted to clench into fists, but he forced them to relax and gritted his teeth instead. No one could see his gritted teeth, but visibly clenched fists could raise suspicions.
He could not afford to draw attention to himself by interrupting the dance, but he took a few deliberate strides until he was only a few steps away from the dancers, making it clear he was watching. His mere observing presence seemed to have no effect on the captain’s behavior.
Miss Bennet was practically stumbling over her own feet. Damn the man! Darcy would give it another minute or two, but then he would have to intervene, even if it did draw the wrong sort of attention.
Then she tripped while turning. With a sharp cry she staggered backwards, favoring her left foot.
“How clumsy I am! Pray forgive me, captain; I seem to have twisted my ankle.” She began to hobble toward the seats by the wall.
The captain put his arm around her, his hand trespassing to a spot where it had no right to be. “Allow me to assist you, ma cherie.”
Rage clouded Darcy’s vision. Without stopping to consider his actions, he cut between them and scooped Miss Bennet up in his arms. “That is very kind of you, Captain, but I am sure Miss Bennet would not wish to be any trouble to you.” He carried her towards the entrance to the hall.
She hissed, “Put me down! My ankle is fine.”
He did not slacken his pace. “I know. I saw it all.” He carefully set her down in the chair nearest the door and gestured to a servant. “Have my carriage brought around immediately.”
Elizabeth’s face was flushed. “There is no need for any of this.”
That was hardly news. Why had he reacted so angrily when the captain attempted to take liberties? Simply stepping in and saying something might have sufficed to stop it, and it would have drawn far less attention to him. Now he might well have made an enemy he could not afford, all because he had not been able to tolerate that man touching a woman Darcy hardly even knew.
No, it was not just that. It had been the half hidden look of despair in Miss Bennet’s fine eyes. It made him willing to do anything to rescue her, even if it meant forgetting his other responsibilities which ought to have taken precedence in his mind.
Now those fine eyes sparkled with irritation at him. Most likely she did not realize yet the consequences of what he had done. If he was luckier than he deserved, perhaps she never would. “I apologize if I overreacted.” He could say nothing more, not with all those ears listening to his every word.
The dance behind him ended. A minute later Miss Lucas joined them, still breathing quickly from the exercise. “Is something the matter?”
Darcy spoken his most authoritative voice. “Miss Bennet has injured her ankle. I think it best to take her home directly.” Good; from the expression of the nearby officer, his words have been noted.
Miss Lucas said something quiet into Miss Bennet’s ear and received a nod in response. Her lips tightened. “Shall I inform Mr. Bingley?”
“I suspect there is no need. He is already headed this way.” Of course he was; no one could have missed the little scene Darcy had made.
After Darcy made a quick explanation to Bingley, a servant informed him the carriage was outside. This time Darcy let Miss Bennet lean on his arm as she limped to the carriage. He handed her in, followed by Miss Lucas.
Their dark heads bent together, the two women were already conversing in low tones when he followed Bingley into the carriage. He rapped his cane on the roof to signal the driver to start up.
“Thank you for your assistance,” said Miss Bennet. “It was a difficult situation.”
“What happened?” asked Miss Lucas.
“Captain Renard, of course. He asked me to dance and of course I could not refuse. It was dreadful, just like what happened to Jane. First he asked about Jane and said what a pity it was, and then he told me I was almost as pretty as Jane, but in that horrible suggestive way he has. He said he wished to know me better, and he started to… Well, never mind. You can imagine.”
“Oh, Lizzy, I am so sorry.” Miss Lucas moved closer to her friend.
Miss Bennet said in an unsteady voice, “I do not think the consumption story would be likely to work twice, but I will think of something.”
Bingley cleared his throat. “Might I inquire who Jane is?”
The two ladies looked at each other. Miss Bennet, apparently reaching a decision, said, “Jane is my elder sister. She is very beautiful and the captain decided to pursue her. He was not offering marriage, and he threatened to force our family from Longbourn if she did not agree.”
“Despicable, completely despicable!” Bingley cried. “But I was told your elder sister was in the last stages of consumption.”
“That is what you are supposed to think. She did not want to be his mistress nor to injure our family by refusing, so she decided to have consumption instead. We shaved her head and told everyone her hair and fallen out, and I painted her face so it would look as if she had sores all over it. I stained handkerchiefs with blood from my arm, and Jane would pretend to cough into them. She now lives in isolation and the only people who see her are my father, Charlotte, and me. The rest of my family cannot be trusted.”
“That poor girl!” Bingley said. In a lower voice, he added, “That brave girl.”
“We have been hoping he would be transferred away. Unfortunately, it has not happened.” Her voice trembled.
Bingley leaned forward. “Do not despair. Darcy has bought you some time. The captain is unlikely to act while he thinks Darcy has an interest in you.”
“Devil take it, Bingley!” snapped Darcy. “Enough of that.”
“Why?” demanded his friend. “Should I let her live in terror to protect your precious privacy? You have done her good turn; now let her have a little peace of mind.”
“It is not that simple!” Darcy avoided Miss Bennet’s eyes.
After brief silence, Miss Bennet spoke in a level, restrained voice. “It seems I owe you more thanks than I knew. But why would a captain in the French army defer to you?” Apparently even in a situation this unpleasant, she was reluctant to be indebted to him.
Darcy said dismissively, “It is all foolishness. The French are under the impression that I am single-handedly preventing rebellion in Derbyshire.”
“And are you?”
“You must not be acquainted with the people of Derbyshire if you believe that I or any man could convince them not to rebel if they truly wished to.” His voice was sharper than he had intended.
“Why do the French think it, then?”
His temper snapped at her obvious disbelief. “I cannot tell you why they believe it but I can tell you this – that I would indeed stop a rebellion there if it were in my power, and it has nothing to do with favoring the French. A rebellion would be a pointless endeavor, apart from making the rivers run red with blood when the French took their inevitable reprisals. I would not want another Newcastle massacre or the burning of Portsmouth on my conscience.”
“So you favor giving in to our conquerors to avoid risk?” Her voice was sharp.
“No. I favor keeping Englishmen from throwing their lives away when there is no chance of victory,” said Darcy.
“Lizzy,” said Miss Lucas in a low voice.
Miss Bennet shifted back on the bench, took several deep breaths and folded her hands in her lap. “My apologies, Mr. Darcy. We have all found our own ways to live with the French, and it is not my place to criticize the choices others have made. If you have spared me, even temporarily, from an untenable situation, I am grateful.” But it was easy to see her words were recited rather than coming from her heart.
“You have no need to apologize for your loyalty.” But his words were stilted. If only they could go back to the simplicity they had found in the bluebell wood! Rashly, he said, “I think I liked it better when I was Theophilus Thistle and you are pointing a pistol at me.”
Her lips twitched. “I am sorry I cannot oblige you by doing so again, but the pistol does not fit into my reticule.”
“If you did have it, I hope you would have used your bullet on a more deserving subject at the assembly.”
“Do not tempt me!” But she smiled as she said it.
Miss Lucas, apparently deciding this was as much of a truce as she could hope for, began to discuss the weather in a determined manner.
As the carriage pulled up to Longbourn, Darcy said, “Miss Bennet, if it would be better for your family to believe you truly did injure your ankle, my walking stick is available for you to employ as you hobble in.”
She cocked her head to one side. “Thank you. It indeed would be wiser, and I would be glad to have your support for my story as well.”
He had plenty of practice at false stories, after all. Once upon a time, disguise of every sort had been his abhorrence. Now he could hardly recall when he had not worn a disguise.
As he handed Miss Bennet out of the carriage, she looked at him seriously and said, “Theophilus Thistle, you puzzle me exceedingly.”
He raised her gloved hand to his lips. “Queen Titania, if you should ever discover the answer to the puzzle, I hope you will share it with me.”
Her scent of lavender lingered even after she was gone.
Are you puzzled, too? Can you pronounce the full Theophilus Thistle tonguetwister?
So, what did you think of Darcy and Elizabeth’s first encounter? Any new theories yet about Darcy is collaborating with the French??
There should be another chapter next week. Thanks for reading!