Elizabeth’s eyes widened in shock as she heard Mr. Darcy’s voice. She had not expected to encounter him here, and her heart raced with the realization that he may have overheard Mary’s confession.
Her mind was in a whirl over the events that had just happened. Mary’s deceitful act of leading Elizabeth down the hall and locking her in the room was done to gain Mr. Collins’s attention. Also, someone else had been in this room, the person she least would have wanted to be in a room with – Mr. Darcy. All of these facts were bombarding her brain, making it difficult to think straight.
Elizabeth turned to face Mr. Darcy, her temper rising as she took in his presence.
“What are you skulking about in the dark?” She demanded, her voice shaking with anger.
He said nothing at first, and she couldn’t really make out any of his features as her eyes were still adjusting to the room’s dimness. Then he said, “You should know better than to wander through the hallways of the house with your sister and intrude on the privacy of your hosts, who are only trying to provide an enjoyable ball.”
Elizabeth felt her cheeks flush at Mr. Darcy’s remarks, a wave of guilt washing over her. How dare he lecture her about manners and respectability!
Still, Elizabeth stood her ground, lifting her chin and glaring at him even though she could barely make out his form in the faint moonlight coming through the window.
“It’s not respectable for a gentleman to be skulking about rooms in the dark,” she retorted defiantly.
“It’s not respectable for a woman to be skulking about a house during a ball,” Mr. Darcy continued, his voice getting closer as he slowly walked across the rug toward her. “Most attendees to a ball know that they stay in the areas for the ball and not to go snooping around the rest of the house.”
Elizabeth felt her face flush with embarrassment as Mr. Darcy scolded her. She knew he was right, but she could not help the indignation that rose within her at his words. As he continued to talk, she heard his voice growing louder and his footsteps approaching closer. He was sauntering across the carpeted floor toward her.
Elizabeth stood in the darkness, her heart beating rapidly as Mr. Darcy closed the distance between them. She was filled with anger and embarrassment, knowing he was right about her behavior but unwilling to admit it aloud.
The room was dark, making it difficult to make out any furniture or obstacles that could be in their way. Elizabeth did not want to take a step forward and risk tripping over something, so she stayed still and clenched her fists while tilting her chin up defiantly.
“I had no idea,” Elizabeth retorted. “I thought Mary had important information for me. I never would have thought my sister would have done such a thing. I certainly wasn’t behind any of it.”
Mr. Darcy stepped closer, his voice growing softer now as he spoke. “You make it sound as if you’re above reproach, yet you are willing to hear gossip.”
Elizabeth flushed at his words, her anger rising. He was right – she had wanted to hear Mary’s gossip; she had been all too eager to listen. But she wasn’t about to admit it now and instead glared at him defiantly.
“I was not seeking too eagerly after gossip, sir,” she said coldly. “My sister posed an important question that I wanted to be answered.” She paused to take a deep breath before continuing more calmly, “And I did not intend to intrude upon your privacy by sneaking through the hallways of the house.”
Mr. Darcy continued, “Would it have been gossip? Or are you trying to find information you do not know and should not be privy to?”
Elizabeth could feel her anger boiling inside as Mr. Darcy tightly questioned her motives. She was tired of his condescending attitude and was determined to stand up for herself in the face of his judgmental remarks.
“Yes, I should be privy to this information,” she said firmly. “Everyone in Meryton should know how you treated Mr. Wickham most horribly. You prevented him from having a living that he was willed by your own father! He is suffering for this for the rest of his life!”
She could imagine Mr. Darcy’s expression had changed from sternness to surprise at Elizabeth’s outburst. Still, she continued without giving him a chance to respond. “How can you be so callous and cold-hearted? Wickham may not be perfect, but he does not deserve to suffer like this!”
“Yes, his sufferings indeed,” Mr. Darcy said, dripping with scorn and derision.
Elizabeth was taken aback by Mr. Darcy’s response and felt her cheeks flush with embarrassment. She had not expected him to be so nonchalant about Wickham’s plight, yet she could not deny the truth of his statement.
Elizabeth flushed even deeper at his tone but refused to back down in the face of his censure. “Your actions were most reprehensible, sir,” she declared firmly. “You caused great harm to another human being without thought or remorse, and that is simply unacceptable!”
Elizabeth stared at Mr. Darcy in disbelief, her indignation bubbling up within her. He had caused so much pain to an innocent man, yet it seemed he felt no remorse whatsoever. She thought of the unfairness of his actions and the injustice of it all, shaking her head in disbelief as she took a few steps away from him to compose herself.
“Is that all you have to say for yourself? You ruined this man’s life, and that’s all you have to say for yourself?” she asked with a frown, her voice thick with emotion.
Elizabeth felt a twinge of satisfaction at making him squirm. Still, it quickly faded when she realized his actions had negatively impacted someone else’s life. She sighed heavily and shook her head again before stepping away from him.
“I don’t understand how someone like you can act so callously and without any regard for the consequences of your actions,” she continued in a softer tone. “It’s not right, and it’s not fair.”
“Do you believe everything that you hear? From one source without ascertaining whether it is the correct information before you go off and accuse someone based on what you heard?”
Mr. Darcy’s words hit Elizabeth like a slap in the face, and she felt embarrassed. He was right; she had not taken the time to discover all the facts before jumping to conclusions about him and Wickham. Still, despite knowing he was right, she felt defensive, almost angry that he had called her out in such a manner.
“Mr. Wickham is beyond reproach. He is a man of high integrity and has mentioned that your father was like a father to him. He was raised the same as you despite being raised in different households.”
Elizabeth felt her stomach flip as she heard the sound of Mr. Darcy’s footsteps in front of her. She could sense his presence and felt a strange, nervous energy radiating from him, making her skin tingle with anticipation. She wanted to take a step back but forced herself to stay rooted, reaching her hand behind her, so she didn’t accidentally bump into anything in the darkness.
Mr. Darcy stepped closer, his voice low and gravelly when he spoke again. “Yes, you would think that, wouldn’t you? Both boys raised in the same company of the great man would turn out the same. You would believe that, wouldn’t you?”
Elizabeth was frozen in place, her heart pounding as Mr. Darcy’s words sunk in. She had been so sure of herself when she had accused him, but now she felt a twinge of doubt. Could what Wickham had said about Darcy be wrong?
Elizabeth felt her breath catch as she heard Mr. Darcy step closer.
“Mr Wickham is an honest and upstanding individual,” Elizabeth said, her voice barely a whisper. She took a step back while reaching back to check for obstacles with her hand.
“I do not fault him for wanting the best for himself,” Mr. Darcy replied, his voice still low and gravelly. “But I cannot ignore the fact that he has taken advantage of my generosity and good nature.”
Elizabeth was silent as she listened to Mr. Darcy’s words, her hand still outstretched in the darkness. She wanted to believe Wickham, but at the same time, she could see that there might be more to the story than he had told her.
“What you have learned of my past and the past of Mr. Wickham is merely what he has relayed to you. Do you not think that there might be more to the story, something he has left out? You should have gone straight to the source, me, before casting judgment on myself.”
Elizabeth was dumbfounded. “If you had been a bit more friendly and open, I might have approached you, but you have been rude and arrogant since you came to Meryton. You were completely unapproachable.”
Elizabeth felt her heart racing, her thoughts whirling as she tried to comprehend what Mr. Darcy had said. She had never expected him to point out the fault in her reasoning, but now that it was out in the open, she couldn’t help but feel embarrassed and ashamed.
She took a few steps back as if to create some distance between them and was surprised when she felt something behind her with her outstretched hand. It was a short, low table that she hadn’t noticed in the darkness before. She quickly stepped away from it and stopped when she reached the wall. Now there was nothing else between them but silence.
With the continued lack of noise in the room, the sounds from outside seemingly grew stronger. From the ballroom, Elizabeth heard the reverberating noise of chatter and laughter, along with the sound of music. She could even see faint swirls of dust illuminated by streaks of moonlight coming in through the window. Yet she could only make out a vague outline of an armchair near the window. She could not quite discern Mr. Darcy’s presence – it was still pitch black at their side of the room, away from the glimmering window.
Elizabeth was so attuned to her hearing that the soft sound of Mr. Darcy’s breath, ever so slight yet steady, filled the air between them. It felt as if he were inches away from her, even though Elizabeth knew he had to be a few feet away. Her heightened senses gave her a strange sense of closeness with him in the darkness, and an inexplicable feeling of intimacy surged through her veins.
She closed her eyes and allowed herself to fully take in the tableau. For a brief moment, she imagined what it would be like to be close to Mr. Darcy; his presence, his scent… She quickly shook off these thoughts and reminded herself sternly that this man had wronged Wickham horribly, no matter what Wickham had done before then.
Elizabeth’s heart was pounding in her chest as she stood there in the darkness, unable to move against the wall. She anxiously glanced around but could not make out the form of Mr. Darcy.
Just then, she heard a soft footfall and felt her breath catch in her throat. Mr. Darcy was closer than before. How could he be so quiet? He must have been stepping very gingerly. She almost expected to see him materialize out of the darkness like a ghostly figure, but no such thing happened.
Elizabeth held her breath as she waited for what seemed like an eternity. She hoped Mr. Darcy would stumble into the little side table she had stepped around earlier so she could at least hear where he was. Maybe it would slow him down somehow too.
Mr. Darcy finally spoke up, and his voice seemed close, almost right beside her, “It appears we both have our faults then.”
Things look baaaaad for our dear couple when Elizabeth and the Gardiners visit Pemberley…
As Mr. Darcy courts Elizabeth, old foes try to keep them apart and the sheep have more to say as well. But no matter how hard they try, nothing can stop Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth from falling in love. The culprit behind the constant interference is revealed and with a happily ever after, all’s wool that ends wool!