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A Ride with Mr. Darcy

Copyright © 2018 by Anne-Marie Grace

All rights reserved.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other non-commercial uses permitted by copyright law.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and events are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, places, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.



Chapter 1

Elizabeth

The sun that beat down upon Elizabeth was her favourite kind. Warm enough to cause her skin to glow pleasantly, but with just enough chill in the air to assure one would not overheat. Elizabeth had been in the Peak District for only a few days, but it was long enough for her to discover that the country produced perfect sunshine with delightful ease.

Elizabeth walked slowly along the path winding through the beautifully kept gardens of Pemberley House. Her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner walked a few paces ahead of her, their heads close together as they talked. Every so often, she heard one or the other of them—at times both—burst into a joyful gale of laughter. Each time, Elizabeth found herself smiling broadly. It was nice to be in the presence of such affection.

However, each peal of amusement also caused a slight twinge in her heart. It was startling to her to realise that, for the first time in her life, she desired such company and companionship. Elizabeth had always known she could not simply marry for the sake of marriage, but her aunt and uncle provided the perfect example of what was possible for two people. They complimented each other wonderfully and Elizabeth wanted the same.

Elizabeth felt a wry smile cross her lips: her convictions had been tested far more often than she might have imagined in her youth. For she had cause to turn down not just one, but two proposals that did not meet her standards. How surprised everyone would be should they learn of the second offer, she thought to herself. The ridiculous proposal from the ridiculous Mr. Collins was well-known. But the second… That was her knowledge alone.

Thinking of the second proposal, she felt a chill run down her back, despite the shining sun. Surreptitiously, she gazed at her surroundings, almost as if to reassure herself that she and the Gardiners were alone in their walking tour of the grounds. Her eyes saw nothing but the beautifully apportioned garden: tall rows of hedges, rose bushes, green grass, and flowers in a hundred different colours, all interspaced with marble statues and fountains. It was a truly remarkable place.

But even as her senses were assailed by the loveliness of the garden, she felt a sudden rise of regret and panic. She never should have allowed the Gardiners to convince her to come here. For this was not simply an awe-inspiring country house with a rich country gentleman hidden within. No, this was the home of the man who would have her for his wife.

Mr. Darcy,” she breathed aloud, trailing a hand through a patch of wisteria making its way over a stone wall.

There, she thought, she’s said his name and nothing terrible had happened. The thought, however, had done nothing to lessen the knot that had immediately formed in her stomach. Annoyance flooded her, why did something as simple as saying the man’s name have such a physical effect? He meant nothing to her, she told herself once more.

And yet, when the Gardiners had suggested visiting Pemberley, she had immediately rejected the idea. Not precisely the reaction someone would have if the master of the house truly meant nothing. She had begged off the plan: she had no wish to disturb the occupants of the house, after all.

But her uncle had provided a convincing argument: “Gentlemen who live in houses such as these are never home,” he had laughed. “No, they are far too busy with their pursuits and acquaintances.”

And when the housekeeper had confirmed that the gentleman was indeed away, Elizabeth had no other reason to refuse.

“Lizzy,” her aunt’s voice called her attention back to the present. Elizabeth looked up and saw that her aunt and uncle had taken a seat on a bench and she had almost walked right past them.

Aunt Gardiner,” she said with a blush and a smile. “I do apologise, I fear that I am lost in my own thoughts.”

That is quite evident, my dear,” her uncle replied with a laugh. He had his hat in his hand, fanning his somewhat red face.

“We thought to sit here for a while and enjoy the view of the pond,” Aunt Gardiner said, indicating the water behind Elizabeth.

Elizabeth turned and saw a small pond ringed by small water plants, with lily pads spotting the surface. As she watched, she saw a large frog hop into the murky waters. It seemed a peaceful place. But Elizabeth hesitated in her response.

No, no, my dear,” her uncle said, observing her face. “I do believe that Lizzy has far too much thinking to do. Perhaps if we leave her to it, she will tell us what has occupied her so.”

Elizabeth felt her face turn red once more. She had not realised that the Gardiners had noticed her withdrawn behaviour.

I apologise,” she said. “I have been quite within myself today.”

It is quite alright,” Mrs. Gardiner said with a smile. “This is as much an opportunity to get away from the everyday of life for you as it is for us. Keep walking with your thoughts, Lizzy. Somehow, we will manage without you.”

“Thank you, aunt,” Elizabeth said, smiling at her aunt’s small jest and feeling grateful that she was not the one to suggest separating.

It is still quite early,” Mr. Gardiner observed, glancing to the sky. “Would you object to spending the afternoon here?”

“Not at all,” Elizabeth replied. For all the worry their visit was causing her, she could not deny that she was enjoying herself.

Very good,” Mr. Gardiner said. “We shall find you in due course.” He waved his hand, giving Elizabeth permission to continue with her walk. She granted her aunt and uncle one more smile before turning and continuing upon her way.

Coming to a fork in the path, Elizabeth saw that she could either turn left and continue through the garden or go right towards places unknown. The housekeeper had advised them to stay within the garden, but she had not said the rest of the grounds were restricted.

Elizabeth enjoyed the well-kept and polished nature of the garden, but she wanted to see what else the grounds had to offer.

Turning to the right, she tested a wrought iron gate and found it unlocked. Taking it as an invitation, she walked through, resisting the temptation to check behind her to see if anyone watched. Through the gate, she found the ground sloped towards a long, low building. She could see men in the distance, with horses trotting around them in wide circles.

That must be the stables, she determined. Even from the distance at which she stood, she could see the animals in the yard were beautiful. She could see their shiny coats and streaming manes, and could picture their strong, graceful legs.

Elizabeth started the long walk down the hill to get a better look. She was so eager to get a look at the majestic animals, she completely forgot her intent to stay as invisible as possible on the property. She would find an excuse if anyone asked about her presence, she was sure of it.

Elizabeth loved horses. Her family was not wealthy enough to afford more than one saddle horse, but she took great pleasure in riding the gentle old mare. The Bennet’s brown horse, affectionately referred to as Daisy, was a kind and friendly mount, but she had none of the fire that Elizabeth could see in the horses of Pemberley.

As she walked closer, the floral fragrance of the gardens was replaced by the sharp aromas of the stables. The most prominent smell was hay, with the scent of manure only just detectable. It was a compliment to the care Mr. Darcy must insist upon for his horses. Not that Mr. Darcy would have any idea what sort of effort was required for the upkeep of stables, Elizabeth thought to herself. She conveniently ignored the fact that she too was ignorant of the work involved.

Coming to the shadowy door of the stable, she cautiously peered in. Her eyes met with a long row of stalls, most containing a horse of a different colour or variety. The empty stalls bore unmistakable signs of habitation and Elizabeth guessed that these were the animals she had seen from the top of the hill.

As she examined the inside, a tall, golden horse with a white mane caught her eye. The horse stared back at her, and Elizabeth was surprised to find the horse held onto her gaze without blinking. The strange behaviour of the beast drew Elizabeth into the stable, and she completely forgot her previous concerns. This animal was far too beautiful and far too interesting to worry about being caught where she was not welcome.

“Hello there,” she said quietly, approaching the horse carefully.

She was not so foolish as to rush at such a creature. She held her hand out, and slowly the horse lowered its head to smell it. With a snort, the horse shook out its mane and nuzzled its snout into her hand. She laughed and began to pet the animal.

Friendly, are you not?” She asked with a laugh.

Suddenly, she heard a crash behind her and she whirled around to see what had made the noise.

A man stood in the stall opposite her, and she took in his muck-covered boots and breeches. Her eyes travelled upwards and she saw that the man’s rough-spun linen shirt was soaked with sweat and untied to reveal his muscled chest. Her eyes continued upwards and she felt her heart stop, for she realised that she knew this man’s face.

He had a strong jaw and stubborn chin with a slight cleft. His nose was strong and pointed, and his brown eyes were wide with surprise. Brown hair was slicked back with sweat, but she knew that curls would fall over his forehead and ears after his toils ended. Yes, she knew this man very well.

For it was Mr. Darcy.

Elizabeth opened her mouth to say something, but found her throat had gone quite dry. Surprise was quickly turning into panic. “Mr. Da…” She began, but she realised her words came out as a croak. She swallowed hard and tried again. “Mr. Darcy!”

Miss… Bennet…” He said slowly.

It took Elizabeth several moments to notice, so great was her own astonishment at finding him here, that he looked quite as thunderstruck as she. He bowed quickly, and she returned his bow with as much alacrity.

They…” she began once more. “At the house. They said that the family was not in residence, else I never should have come…” She cast her eyes about the stable, humiliation rising. She felt very much as if she had been caught in something untoward. “And they said we may wander about freely. I apologise, I have presumed too much…”

She bent her head low, too embarrassed to continue. She wondered wildly if she should leave before he could say anything else.

No,” Mr. Darcy said quickly, before she could move her feet. “Yes, the housekeeper often gives tours.” He held a pitchfork in one hand and was wiping the other on his filthy breeches.

My aunt and uncle had a great desire to see the house,” Elizabeth said, desperately trying to explain. “And they said you were not here.”

I have only just arrived moments ago,” he said, leaning the tool against the wall. “I do not think my housekeeper is yet aware, for I was not supposed to be home until tomorrow.”

He kept his eyes downcast, and Elizabeth worried that she had deeply offended him. Neither of them spoke for several long seconds.

Your parents,” he said finally. “I trust they are well?”

Indeed, they are, sir,” Elizabeth replied gratefully. Such niceties were a welcome relief from the awkward situation in which she found herself.

And you are long in this part of the country?” He continued, rubbing the back of his neck.

“No, not long,” she replied, matching his off-handed tone. “We are here but a few days.” She shot an envious look at the door, wishing she could disappear through it.

“And you are staying in Lambton?” He still would not look her in the eye. Dread and embarrassment threatened to overwhelm her.

“Yes, at the inn,” she said without further elaboration. More long seconds passed.

“Of course… And your parents, they are well?” He asked again. “And your sisters?”

Elizabeth noted the circular nature of the conversation. She could not think of another situation in which she had borne such a degree of awkwardness. And yet, she did not know what she could do. She knotted her hands behind her back and thought desperately about how to remedy the situation: if, indeed, a remedy could be found.



Chapter 2

Darcy

Brilliant. Just brilliant, Darcy thought as he heard himself ask after Elizabeth’s family for a second time. He felt a mounting idiocy and knew not how to stop it. His head felt full of wool and his tongue completely in knots. What was she doing here?

She had not answered his second question yet, he noted miserably. Instead, she stood with her hands behind her back, eyes darting nervously between himself and the door. Her cheeks were flushed pink and he could sense her discomfort. Tiberius, the horse she had been petting when he had first noticed her presence, seemed to sense her discomfort as well and gave a loud whinny. Elizabeth jumped slightly, but it seemed to push her into words once more.

“Yes,” she said once more. “My family is in excellent health, thank you for asking.”

Darcy nodded dumbly. He opened his mouth to say something else, but realised that his mind was blank of both questions or statements, and he closed his mouth without another word. He could not recall when he last felt so stupid. Perhaps when he was seven and his tutor quizzed him on geometry. He could not abide geometry and his inability to answer the tutors’ questions proved that. He had felt quite bad then, but was beginning to think this was worse.

I am so sorry,” Elizabeth whispered, her face gaining even more colour. “They said it was alright.”

Darcy could not think of anything to say that did not further add to his appearance of stupidity, so he said nothing at all. Elizabeth continued to look nervously towards the door. Finally, she spoke again.

I bid you good day, sir.” She bobbed a curtsy and turned hurriedly toward the door.

Her sudden movement seemed to pull Darcy from his stupor—he very much did not want this conversation to be her sole impression of him. Or this appearance, he thought, glancing down at his muck-caked clothing. He shook his head as if to clear away cobwebs and hurried after her.

“Miss Bennet!”

She stopped, but did not turn around to face him. Instead, he walked around in front of her, so he could see her face once more. Darcy could see that she was breathing quickly and he doubted it was from exertion.

“Miss Bennet, they told you true. You are most welcome here.” He smiled in a manner he hoped was reassuring. However, he was not sure Elizabeth saw it because her eyes were still resolutely fastened upon her feet.

Thank you,” she said stiffly, finally looking up into his eyes once more. He noted that her breathing had slowed and she was quickly regaining her usual confident bearing. Her face was returning to its usual, slightly sun-kissed colour and he felt his heart leap.

In the weeks since her refusal of his proposal, there had been few hours unfilled by either anger or melancholy. In fact, Darcy had made his way to the stables that day because he felt he might be overwhelmed by a sudden wave of anger. Hard, physical labour had proved to be a useful tool. Darcy would have thought that an unexpected meeting with the source of his unhappiness would serve to fuel his foul temper. However, he was surprised to find that he was glad to see Elizabeth.

Would you care to meet the horse?” He asked. A plan was forming in his mind, and he decided to implement it before he had thought through its entirety.

Elizabeth had believed she knew the kind of man Darcy was; Darcy knew she knew nothing of him or his life. Perhaps this was fate’s way presenting an opportunity to correct her disastrous misconceptions.

May I?” She asked, her face lighting up.

Darcy could immediately discern that Elizabeth was fond of horses and it squeezed his heart. They had never conversed on the topic. To learn of this shared interest now was a painful surprise. He gave her another small smile and motioned for her to walk back towards the stall.

“This is Tiberius,” he said, pulling an apple from a barrel near the stall. He swiftly cut it in half and gave the golden horse a piece. The horse ate it delightedly and bumped his head against his shoulder. “He’s six years old, fourteen hands, and quite mischievous.”

He is beautiful,” Elizabeth said, offering an apple. “And he does have that glint in his eye, the one that says ‘I am smarter than you.’” She laughed.

He does,” Darcy agreed. “And, in many cases, he is most correct. I am not sure I have met a more intelligent creature.” He patted the horse fondly. “But he is kinder and more gentle than you would think. Now this one,” he turned to a dark horse in the next stall. “This is Persephone. She is just as intelligent as her brother, but shares none of his gentleness. In fact, I allow none but the head groom and myself to ride her. But she moves like the wind.”

Despite the ill-nature of the dark mare, she was by far Darcy’s favourite mount. She presented a challenge, to be sure, but the payoff was remarkable.

They are both wonderful,” Elizabeth agreed, watching Persephone out of the corner of her eye. “But I am afraid I must find my aunt and uncle. It is on their request that we came today.” She blushed again. “Not that I did not want to come. But their interest was…” She paused her speech but continued to pet Tiberius. “My aunt grew up in the village. She wished to see how the grounds had changed in the years since leaving for London.”

Darcy nodded, hiding his disappointment. He had not realised that he hoped Elizabeth had come to see his under her own curiosity until she had denied that reality. But he noticed that he was very glad she was here now.

All of the anger of the last weeks had fled as soon as he had locked eyes upon her. He did not understand this development. In his mind, it would have made far more sense to become enraged upon seeing her. But no, he was instead filled with an intense desire to impress her. Not with the grandeur and wealth of his house, Darcy knew her well enough to realise she would not be impressed by such things, but with himself. She had yet to see who he truly was, and this was an unexpected opportunity.

I hope the grounds have met her approval,” he replied, wiping the apple juice and horse saliva onto the back of his breeches. “May I offer to accompany you on your search?”

Elizabeth glanced at him, her eyes moving up and down, and Darcy could see a spark of amusement in her eye. Belatedly, he realised that his dress was not conducive to public consumption. He blushed deeply. However, his pride kept him from rescinding his offer.

Are you certain?” She asked, amusement in her voice as well.

“Quite,” he said stiffly, fighting down the urge to accept the escape her words offered.

“Then I gladly accept,” she said, a smile playing over her lips.

Darcy smiled back, but he knew it did not reach his eyes. He bowed and motioned for Elizabeth to move towards the door and to the outside.

In silence, they moved through the open field that surrounded the stables and began to climb the hill towards the garden once more. Darcy, once again, found himself feeling quite foolish and at a loss for words. Elizabeth, it seemed, was not content with allowing the silence to stand.

“Is it usual for the gentleman of the house to spend his time mucking out the stables?” She asked in mock curiosity.

Darcy felt a mild annoyance rise within him. She knew perfectly well that his behaviour was abnormal and he bit back a sharp reply. He knew she expected rudeness from him, but this was his chance to show her that he knew how to react well amid an embarrassing situation.

It is not unusual for this gentleman,” he said evenly, and she nodded politely in response. Emboldened, Darcy decided to share a bit more. “It is a long-standing habit,” he explained. “I find that the labour helps clear the mind far more efficiently than the sort of work that typically envelopes my days.”

Darcy turned his head and found that she was watching him. He gave her a genuine smile. “Correspondence, figures, books, business meetings—they are poor solutions when one has too much going on in his mind.”

“I suppose that makes sense,” Elizabeth agreed. “I believe I have much the same habit, except I take a strenuous walk. I doubt my mother would be pleased to find me in the stable.”

“No, I expect she would find that quite disturbing,” he agreed. They continued to walk, their effort increasing as they walk up the steep rise.

“And what has your mind so occupied that the stables are required?” She asked curiously.

The question took him by surprise and he did not know how to answer. In truth, the answer was Elizabeth herself. But he felt too awkward and embarrassed to be so honest. The situation of the day was uncomfortable enough as it was without adding yet another layer. And he did not wish to make Elizabeth uncomfortable—he suspected she knew the reasons for his displeasure with life, and the true answer would come to her as soon as she took the time to think it over. No, instead he decided to give a vague response.

Nothing of too much importance,” he replied after giving her question as much space and silence as was possible. Glancing up, he saw a man and woman standing at the iron gate of the garden. “Is that your aunt and uncle there by the gate?”

Even if it was not, he was grateful for the distraction. Elizabeth looked up and smiled.

Yes, it is,” she said, increasing her pace. They reached the top of the hill and drew near the gate, Elizabeth giving a small wave to her relatives.

“Lizzy!” The man called, waving back. “There you are, we were beginning to worry.” He cast a questioning glance at Darcy.

Yes, I do apologise, uncle,” Elizabeth said, stopping before the closed gate. “I’m afraid my curiosity got the better of me and I ventured away from the gardens. I found my way to the stables where I met Mr. Darcy.”

Darcy pretended not to notice the woman’s mouth drop open and her disbelieving gaze as her eyes raked over his appearance. He desperately hoped they would not be offended by his clothing.

Indeed,” Elizabeth said, not quite concealing a laugh. “Aunt, Uncle, may I present Mr. Darcy? Mr. Darcy, this is my Aunt and Uncle Gardiner of Gracechurch Street in London.”

Darcy bowed stiffly, feeling foolish once more. His annoyance was growing. He hated looking foolish and he could not help but think that the situation was forcing him into a ridiculous picture.

What an honour, Mr. Darcy,” Mrs. Gardiner said, and Darcy could not miss the kindness in her voice. It began to sooth the anger that had rekindled. “We cannot thank you enough for allowing us to spend this wonderful day enjoying your home. It has been marvellous!”

It is my pleasure, Mrs. Gardiner,” he tried to inject the same kindness into his voice, but was not sure he succeeded. “It is a joy that others can enjoy the majesty of Pemberley.” He could hear that his voice was flat: he did not think it sounded angry, but he was equally certain he did not sound warm or kind.

It was clear that no one knew what else to say. The silence began to stretch out until it made Darcy quite as uncomfortable as his attire. This was his home and he was the host, and he knew he must say something. Grasping onto the grounds of Pemberley, he began to speak again of his home.

Yes, Pemberley can only be truly appreciated when one leaves the gardens,” he said. “The wilds of the moors are truly breathtaking. One has not truly seen Pemberley until one sees it from horseback.” A sudden idea seized him and he blurted it out before he could stop himself. “In fact, I would be pleased to take you all riding so you could truly see what I am talking about.”

The startled looks on their faces told Darcy that his offer was quite unexpected. He felt embarrassment begin to rise once more. He felt like burying his face in his hands to hide. He was certain the last hour had held more humiliation than he had ever experienced in his life. Elizabeth, for some reason, made him lose all sense of propriety and self-protection. And now he stood waiting for an answer to his ridiculous invitation. He had no idea what answer he truly wanted to hear.



Chapter 3

Elizabeth

Elizabeth was shocked to hear Darcy’s invitation. In fact, his entire behaviour since she had found him in the stables had been mystifying.

Several times over their time together, she had inadvertently teased the man—it was difficult to control her tongue sometimes and she often regretted her words later. Each time, she had silently berated herself and waited for his rude or angry response, or for him to throw her out of his property.

And yet, each time, he might have blushed deeper, but he had not been rude or unkind. Indeed, to her embarrassment, she realised he had behaved far better than she.

Now, here he was, behaving quite to the contrary of what she might have expected. Instead of behaving extra-imperiously to make up for his clothing, he was inviting them to see more of his home. His unexpected behaviour was confusing for her and, despite her desire to see more of Pemberley and to ride one of his wonderful horses, she hoped her aunt and uncle would decline the invitation.

Aunt and Uncle Gardiner had not yet said anything, and Elizabeth gave them a forceful, wide-eyed look. She resisted the temptation to shake her head—there was no need for Mr. Darcy to know she did not wish to go. But to her horror, she realised that both her aunt and uncle looked delighted at the invitation and before either of them had even looked at her, Uncle Gardiner was responding.

“We’d be delighted, sir,” he said jovially.

Mr. Darcy smiled widely in response and he looked genuinely happy they had accepted.

Uncle,” Elizabeth said, unable to control herself. “Are you certain we have the time, I thought that Aunt Gardiner wished to spend time in the village and we are leaving tomorrow.”

Why, Lizzy,” her uncle laughed. “I had no idea you were so keen to stick to a schedule. No, no, I have no objections to delaying our departure by a day or two. Not for a kind opportunity such as this. Surely you have no objections?”

Elizabeth looked nervously between her aunt and uncle. Her uncle seemed not to realise that she was hesitant. Her aunt, however, seemed to notice that there was some distress in her eyes. But Elizabeth knew that there was no time to explain, and her aunt would not ask.

“Of course I have no objections,” she said hurriedly. “I simply did not wish to inconvenience anyone.”

She held her breath, waiting to see if her explanation was accepted. She kept a particular eye upon Mr. Darcy. She had no wish to hurt his feelings, especially not after his kind invitation. Mr. Darcy’s face did not change, and it seemed that he did not notice her attempt to wriggle out of the invitation. Quite to the contrary, his face broke into a wide smile.

Excellent,” he said, his delight sounding quite genuine. “There is still plenty of daylight, we could go now. And I would be honoured if you would join me afterwards for dinner. If that is convenient?”

Elizabeth felt panic rising once more: riding and dinner? What was happening? However, her aunt and uncle continued to look pleased and excited.

This afternoon is quite convenient,” Mrs. Gardiner said. “However, we will have to decline dinner this evening as we already have plans with a friend from my childhood.”

Ah,” Mr. Darcy said, looking slightly disappointed at the declined meal invitation. “Dinner shall have to wait for another time then. However, if you shall follow me to the stables, we will begin our ride.”

Elizabeth breathed a sigh of relief—she had forgotten they had dinner plans. She could not remember the name of Mrs. Gardiner’s friend, only that she was the wife of the local vicar. Before this moment, she had not been eager to spend the evening with people she did not know. But now she was quite excited to meet the woman.

They began to walk towards the stables, and Mr. Darcy continued to speak with Aunt Gardiner.

“Miss Elizabeth had mentioned you grew up in Lambton,” he said with a smile.

Elizabeth did not pay attention to her aunt’s response, choosing instead to walk behind the three others. The thoughts that had plagued her in the garden where surfacing once more. This time, however, she had more information with which to ponder.

The visit to Pemberley had brought up so much: The selfish part of her examined the house and grounds with a measure of regret. She might have been the mistress of this gorgeous place. That thought had led her to the man and his proposal, to her refusal, and what had happened after.

She still did not know how to feel about what Mr. Darcy had told her about Wickham. Before, she had been thoroughly convinced that Wickham had been treated in a most villainous manner. Elizabeth had easily believed that the arrogant Mr. Darcy had ruined the charming Mr. Wickham’s future. Mr. Darcy’s explanation of the situation was almost unbelievable. Indeed, she hardly wished to believe that Wickham could be capable of the cruelty Mr. Darcy laid at his feet.

And yet, she had begun to believe the story of Wickham’s trifling with Mr. Darcy’s sister, Georgiana. For no man as proud and arrogant as Mr. Darcy would admit to such a story if it had not been true.

But even though Elizabeth believed Mr. Darcy’s story, and her opinion of Mr. Wickham was forever changed, her feelings about Mr. Darcy and towards him remained resolutely unchanged. Her accusations against him in regards to Wickham might have proved to be false, but his involvement in Jane’s unhappiness was much more difficult to forgive. In that, she thought, his arrogance still showed strong.

Her confusion now, as they walked back down the hill, came at the picture Mr. Darcy presented today. He showed no arrogance today, indeed he showed a distinct inclination towards equality and hospitality. He knew her aunt and uncle were not of the same social class as he, yet his treatment and behaviour toward them was as if they were long-time friends. She knew he must feel foolish for his attire, yet he had not allowed it to show.

At that moment, Elizabeth realised that Mr. Darcy was addressing his clothing.

Yes, I do apologise for my appearance,” he said to Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner. “I was working in the stables when Miss Elizabeth surprised me. When she mentioned her relatives were here as well, I was eager to make your acquaintance and completely forgot my appearance.”

Not at all, Mr. Darcy,” Mrs. Gardiner said with a laugh. “‘Tis merely a mark of a man who cares deeply for his home.”

Elizabeth had been certain her aunt and uncle would think this way—they were kind people for whom social niceties only mattered in certain situations, and they both had excellent instincts to know when it mattered.

I am glad,” Mr. Darcy replied, glancing over his shoulder at Elizabeth. “For I have no wish to offend Miss Elizabeth in any way.”

Elizabeth blushed at his words—what did that mean? She wished they were at the stables. She might not have been looking forward to their ride, but she was eager for the distraction the horses would provide. She resolutely stared ahead and did not allow herself to think of Mr. Darcy again until they walked into the shade of the stables.

A stableboy hurried to them and waited for instructions.

My guests and I are going riding,” Mr. Darcy announced. “Please saddle Persephone for myself, Tiberius for Miss Elizabeth, and two others for Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner.”

The stableboy began to move off, but Mr. Darcy called him back. “Also, please send word to the house for a change of clothes.” He looked apologetically at Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner. “I apologise for not seeing to this sooner.” He held his arms away from his body. “This is not quite the impression one wants to give of Pemberley House.”

Elizabeth smiled at the joke and heard her aunt and uncle chuckle as well. “On the contrary, Mr. Darcy,” Aunt Gardiner said. “How could one possibly think poorly of a house whose master loves and cares for it so?”

You are quite kind,” Mr. Darcy said with a bow. Elizabeth heard him say something else, but she found herself distracted by the groom leading the golden horse from his stall.

I assumed that you might have wanted an opportunity to ride him,” Mr. Darcy said, following Elizabeth’s gaze. “He is gentle enough for most riders. You will have to pay attention to him, but he likes you well enough to want to please you.” He smiled at Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, “I keep calm horses in general.”

No need to worry, Mr. Darcy,” Mr. Gardiner said with a laugh. “We may live in the city now, but we were both raised in the country. My wife, in fact, is an excellent rider.” Mrs. Gardiner blushed at the compliment.

We thank you for your considerations, Mr. Darcy,” she said. “But I can see from here that all of your mounts will be a delight to ride.”

The stableboy was approaching again, guiding a piebald mare and a brown gelding for Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner.

Excuse me, sir, ma’am,” the stableboy said politely. “If you will follow me into the yard, I will assist you in mounting up.”

Elizabeth smiled at the effort such a speech cost the boy. He looked terrified he might do or say the wrong thing next. But Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner only followed him out the door, leaving Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth to wait for their mounts. They only had to wait a few seconds before the dark and golden horses came dancing forward. Tiberius, seeing Elizabeth once more, affectionately pushed his head against her shoulder.

He likes you very much,” Mr. Darcy said with a wide grin.

“He is a handsome lad,” she replied. “I’m sure he has many admirers among your friends and visitors.”

He surely does,” Mr. Darcy agreed. “But he does not share their affections. He is always nice, but never so evidently pleased to see someone.” Elizabeth ran her hand over the golden flanks, feeling quite satisfied that she had made such a quick friend.

Please excuse me, Miss Elizabeth,” Mr. Darcy said, glancing towards the house. “If you will join your aunt and uncle in the yard, I will be with you in a moment, just as soon as I have dressed.”

Of course, Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth answered, giving a slight curtsey.

She turned and followed the stableboy out the stables. Though she had been anxious the entire afternoon, she was surprised how the awkwardness was fading away. She was surprised to find that she had actually begun to find Mr. Darcy’s company bearable. Perhaps this ride would not be so bad after all.



Chapter 4

Darcy

A quarter of an hour later, they were all on their horses and Darcy led them out of the door at an easy pace. Persephone had already attempted to nip at the piebald Mr. Gardiner rode, and Darcy had been forced to speak quite sternly to the mare.

Darcy could feel Elizabeth watching him and he hoped she did not find the action too foolish. He knew it was somewhat silly to watch him talking to his horse, but the horse listened when he spoke—most of the time. For now, she was behaving, but Darcy was forced to keep a close watch on her.

He also kept glancing at Elizabeth, to ensure Tiberius was behaving himself—at least that is what he tried to convince himself. It only took one glance to realise that Elizabeth was a fine rider; she sat straight and strong in the saddle and handled the horse expertly. The golden stallion could sense the strength on his back and did not appear tempted to misbehave.

The truth was he kept looking because the joy on Elizabeth’s face warmed his heart. This afternoon had begun disastrously: he was uncertain it would have been possible for it to be more uncomfortable and awkward. However, the ride seemed to be smoothing away everything and only happiness and enjoyment was left.

Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner also looked to be having a wonderful time and Darcy was enjoying answering their questions about his home and family.

How long have the Darcys been at Pemberley?” Mrs. Gardiner asked. “My mother always said that you have been here as long as anyone can remember, but I am curious to know the truth of the matter.”

Well, your mother was right in many senses,” Darcy laughed. “Before the Darcys, there was no Pemberley. My great-grandfather built that house at the beginning of the last century and we have been here since.”

It is truly an extraordinary place,” Mr. Gardiner said, his head turning this way and that to take in everything that surrounded him. They had made their way through a wooded area out onto the wide expanses of the moors. Rocks dotted the wide, desolate landscape. Darcy knew many would consider the view inhospitable, but he loved every inch of it.

“If you look in the distance, just there,” he said, pointing to what appeared to be a small mound of rocks. “You’ll see the ruins of a church that was first built in the sixth century. It was used up until the reign of Henry the VIII when the king closed many churches. Since then, as you can see, it has fallen into disrepair.”

How interesting,” Mrs. Gardiner said, looking over and shielding her eyes from the bright sun. She turned to say something to Mr. Gardiner and Darcy took the opportunity to drop back and ride next to Elizabeth. As soon as Tiberius pulled up next to Persephone, he saw his mount eye the other horse with malicious intent.

Don’t you dare,” Darcy said in a warning voice.

What?” Elizabeth asked, sounding startled. She looked at Darcy as if she had not noticed his presence until that moment.

“My apologies, Miss Elizabeth,” Darcy said, slightly embarrassed—slightly. Nothing compared to earlier in the day. “I was talking to my horse. She seems tempted by the flesh of yours.”

Elizabeth leaned forward to look into Persephone’s eye. “Poor girl, it is obvious that she was not created for this pacing. She was made to run and this gentle walk must be agony for her.”

Darcy smiled, few people would be so astute. But before he could respond, Mr. Gardiner had turned to ask him a question.

Mr. Darcy, would it be possible to see that church up close?”

Of course,” Darcy agreed quickly. He had a passion for history, and it seemed as though Mr. Gardiner might share it. He was delighted at the prospect of speaking more about the church, the Tudor reign, the transition from Roman Catholicism to Church of England—whatever Mr. Gardiner might want to discuss. The possibilities were endless.

“Perhaps this is an opportunity to ease Persephone’s discomfort,” Elizabeth added casually.

Darcy turned to give Elizabeth a questioning look. He could see that she had a spark in her eye and a smile playing across her lips.

“What did you have in mind, Miss Elizabeth?” He asked. He had never seen this particular expression on her face before. He felt his mouth go dry as he noted how much the look added to her attractiveness.

“Perhaps a race?” She cast an eye over the field. “There does not seem to be too many obstacles.”

Darcy followed her gaze. She was correct. In fact, this was one of his favourite stretches to let his mount go as fast as her heart wanted.

“Are you certain?” He asked, glancing at her sidesaddle. “I do not know many ladies who can keep their seat on the gallop.”

“Then it is well past the time for you to see such a marvel,” Elizabeth replied dryly, tossing her head in an annoyed fashion. She was clearly quite confident and Darcy found it irresistible.

“Quite right,” he said, a smile slowly crossing his face. “It would do me well to have these scales fall from my eyes. Will your aunt and uncle object to such an activity?” He knew some ladies’ relations were quite protective; Darcy did not think the Gardiners were such people, but it was best to check.

They will not mind,” Elizabeth said with a smile, throwing a glance ahead to Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner. They had already swung their horses towards the church.

Alright then, to the church?” Darcy asked, his heart beginning to speed up.

Perfect,” Elizabeth replied with a wide grin. She stared at him for the space of two heartbeats and he felt his heart speed up even more—and knew it had nothing to do with their impending race. “Go!” She said without warning, digging her heels into the side of her mount. Tiberius leapt forward as if he had been shot from the barrel of a musket.

Darcy was taken completely by surprise, expecting them to begin the race on the count of three or something of the like. But he lost no time in urging the black mare into motion. He felt the powerful animal spring into motion and a feeling of complete abandon and joy came over him.

Elizabeth’s sudden start—her cheating, he thought with amusement—had given her several yards advantage, but Persephone eagerly surged forward, her hooves eating up the grass.

Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner were left behind in an instant, and Darcy forgot about them as soon as he raced past. His mind was empty and his body was joined to his horse. He focused only on the path ahead, keeping eyes open for potential dangers, and on Elizabeth’s back.

She leaned down low over Tiberius’ neck and kept her eyes forward. She could undoubtedly hear him coming up behind her, but she resisted the urge to check on his progress.

As he gripped the horse’s flank with his legs, he found himself impressed that Elizabeth was managing this ride sitting sidesaddle. He could not understand how women could ride in such a fashion, but Elizabeth confidently kept her seat and obviously had no trouble.

Darcy could see the church quickly coming closer and realised, with a start, that he and Persephone were coming no closer to the other pair! Tiberius, it seemed, was faster than Darcy had previously known.

With a laugh of delight, Elizabeth pulled up her reins just before the outer wall and turned to face Darcy with a look of triumph. Darcy, however, made no effort to stop just yet. Instead, he urged his horse forward and at the last second, jumped the animal gracefully over the fallen wall, into what used to be the sanctuary of the small country church.

Darcy heard Elizabeth gasp behind him, and a smile played over his face as well. She may have won the race, but he knew he had redeemed his and Persephone’s reputation with that jump.

Good girl,” he murmured to the horse, rubbing her neck. She was breathing hard, and he walked her gently around the grassy church, allowing her to cool down. He was about to swing out of the saddle, when Elizabeth came around the wall.

Well done,” he called, a smile still on his face. “I was not expecting such an outcome. It was well earned.”

You have a magnificent horse in this young lad,” she said fondly, patting the horse’s neck. “And I have never beheld such a creature of grace as she,” Elizabeth continued, indicating the black mare who was still breathing hard after her exertions. “Such a leap over that wall. It must be five feet tall if it is an inch!”

“We practice,” Darcy said proudly. It was easy to take pride in an animal such as this one. He swung out of his saddle and held her reins in his hand. “I think, however, she is done for a while.”

Yes, Tiberius as well,” Elizabeth agreed. She made a move as if to dismount as well, but Tiberius danced and walked this way and that.

Elizabeth laughed. “Or perhaps not,” she said. “It seems he is still energised from his ride. Poor boy does not yet know he is exhausted.” She murmured some soothing words that Darcy could not quite make out and the horse seemed to settle.

“Would you care for assistance?” Darcy asked, walking toward her.

Elizabeth smiled, as if she appreciated his offer.

That is not necessary, Mr. Darcy. But thank you,” she said with confidence, beginning to dismount once more.

However, before she could properly get down, a rabbit tore across the open patch of land, a fox in hot pursuit. Tiberius saw the pair and gave a loud neigh. Fear gripped Darcy’s heart as he saw the horse’s eyes roll and his front hooves begin to leave the ground. He reared back and Elizabeth, not anticipating the movement, was thrown.

Time seemed to stand still as she was in the air. Her terrified scream pierced the air and Darcy felt himself go pale as he tried to rush forward to help her. He grabbed for the rearing horse’s reins—he knew he could not catch Elizabeth, but he had to ensure that she would not be crushed beneath powerful hooves.

Pulling the horse back to the ground, Tiberius did not attempt to rear again. Darcy pulled him away and his eyes desperately searched for Elizabeth. He felt his heart stop as his eyes fell upon her. She was a few feet away, crumpled, and he could not see her moving.

“Elizabeth!” He said in a panic, running to her side. She did not respond to his words, and he prayed desperately that she was unhurt as he dropped to his knees beside her.



Chapter 5

Elizabeth

The sudden movement of the horse caught Elizabeth completely by surprise. She had loosened her grip in preparation to dismount, and Tiberius’ frightened rearing popped her off his back with shocking ease.

Flying through the air, a scream tore through her throat before she could stop it. She had no time to twist or move or attempt to soften her fall before she slammed into the earth. She felt her head knock into a rock forcefully, and the blow made everything go dark.

Through the darkness, she heard a muffled cry that she thought sounded like her name. But it seemed as if her ears were stuffed full of wax and her eyes were covered by a thick cloth. With no concept of how much time had passed, she felt gentle hands take her shoulders and turn her onto her back.

Sunlight began to penetrate the dark veil and as she blinked against the brightness, the image of Mr. Darcy came swimming into view.

“Elizabeth,” he breathed, fear in his voice. “Are you alright?”

I’m fine,” she tried to say, but her tongue felt thick in her mouth, her head pounded in pain, and she had trouble forming the words. She blinked hard and shook her head in an attempt to clear it. This proved to be a poor decision, as the motion caused the pounding in her head to increase tenfold. A small moan escaped her lips.

What am I saying, of course you are not alright,” Mr. Darcy said, panic in his voice. He wiped his thumb gently over her forehead, and Elizabeth gasped in pain at the sudden pressure. “I’m sorry,” he said apologetically. “But you are bleeding.” He held up his thumb as proof.

Elizabeth heard more hooves gallop into the yard. “What happened?” The voice of her aunt cut through the fog in Elizabeth’s head. “We heard a scream, and, oh dear Lord. Elizabeth!”

Elizabeth could not tell what was happening, but seconds later, she felt her aunt kneel beside her.

I’m fine.” This time, the words came out as she intended. Indeed, the longer she laid there, the more clear her head became. She still felt thick and out of sorts, but she was no longer robbed of speech as she had been a few minutes before. She turned to see Aunt Gardiner’s worried eyes. “Truly, I am alright.”

But you’re bleeding,” Aunt Gardiner said, Elizabeth’s assurances seemingly having no impact upon her. She took a handkerchief from her sleeve and placed it against the cut on Elizabeth’s forehead. Elizabeth gasped again, but it was not so painful as Mr. Darcy’s original touch.

What happened, Mr. Darcy?” This time, Elizabeth heard Uncle Gardiner voice the question. “We saw you gallop off, but we had no worry. Elizabeth is a fine rider. Was she thrown?”

Not on the gallop,” Mr. Darcy assured her uncle. “Her horse was spooked by an errant rabbit. She was dismounting and it was the exact wrong moment.”

Elizabeth thought that Mr. Darcy sounded scared, as if worried her aunt and uncle would blame him for this accident.

It was an accident,” she assured her relations. In fact, she thought to herself, one that was completely her fault. If she had only accepted Mr. Darcy’s help, she would not be in this situation at all. Embarrassment began to flood through her. “And I am fine,” she said again, with more force.

She pushed her aunt’s hand away and attempted to sit up. A wave of dizziness came over her and she was forced back down. She glanced around, hoping that no one noticed.

She needs a doctor,” Mr. Darcy said, the expression on his face telling her that he, at least, had seen her attempt.

Indeed, she does,” Aunt Gardiner agreed with a worried sigh.

No, I do not…” Elizabeth began to protest, but another wave of dizziness came over her and she did not finish her sentence.

I shall have the village doctor summoned at once. We must bring her back to the house,” Mr. Darcy said, beginning to pace. “She should not ride alone… I think she should ride double with you, Mr. Gardiner. That way you can make sure she keeps her seat.”

A fine idea, Mr. Darcy,” her uncle said at once.

“Now wait,” Elizabeth said, her embarrassment over being thrown quickly being replaced by anger. They were talking about her instead of to her as if she were unable to voice her own opinion!

She sat up once more and, this time anticipating the dizziness, pushed through the wave to remain in a seated position. To her frustration, however, she was forced to grab her aunt’s hand to maintain the position.

“Elizabeth,” Aunt Gardiner said gently, adding to her support for her niece by putting her arm around Elizabeth’s shoulders. “Now is not the time for stubbornness.”


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