A lot has happened this past month and the older I get the faster time seems to pass, so I decided for this post to give you another look at my upcoming release. The title is ‘Duplicity and Deceit’, which I must confess was not my idea. It was suggested by the wonderful woman who is helping with editing my manuscript, and in my opinion it fits perfectly.
In this entry, Elizabeth has returned to Longbourn and Bingley has leased Netherfield, coincidentally it would seem. This scene has Elizabeth on her usual morning walk where she is met by Mr. Darcy, who might have an ulterior motive, although not one he admits to possessing.
Their conversation moves toward a hunt Darcy and Bingley went on with Mr. Bennet. In true Darcy fashion, he is not overly receptive to the advice he receives from Mr. Bennet until pondering the possible advantages to be gained.
“Miss Elizabeth, what a pleasant surprise,” said Mr. Darcy, interrupting Elizabeth’s reverie as she made her way along the path. “Are you a habitual morning walker? I ask because you are the first person I have seen on any of these trails, and I have explored them every morning since arriving.”
Elizabeth smiled at the gentleman as her thoughts, diverted from the course they were following, scrambled to return to the present.
“I enjoy the occasional early walk,” responded she, wondering while speaking why she thought it necessary to answer his innocent question with less than the truth.
“This is not my usual path,” she added, feeling the need, fed by the guilt which beset her immediately, to clarify her statement. “I tend to stay on the trails around Longbourn on the few days I venture outside, as they are the ones I am most familiar with.”
Mr. Darcy’s smile told her, before she finished speaking, that he was aware of her untruths.
“According to your elder sister, hardly a day goes by that sees you missing your early morning ‘constitutional’, as she describes it. And that you are known to go as far as Oakham Mount when the mood strikes you.”
Elizabeth’s laugh settled the issue with her conscience. As someone unfamiliar with intentional deceit, the fact Mr. Darcy knew she lied, but chose not to take offense, came as a welcome relief.
“You caught me,” she confessed, the gaiety of the moment removing her potential embarrassment. “Forgive me, but I have no idea why I thought to lie about this daily ritual. I walk every morning, weather permitting. And yes, I sometimes go as far as Oakham Mount, although that is more the exception than the rule.
“What about you? Is it your habit to prowl the local paths, looking for unsuspecting women to accost?”
The look Darcy gave her was momentarily stern, as if he objected to her accusation, though she said it in jest. Was he going to take an insult from her comment? Or had she unintentionally offended him in some unknown manner?
His countenance, however, shifted as rapidly as it darkened, his smile returning as he spoke: “Now I am the one caught. I confess that I have been stalking these paths every day, looking for someone to impress with my friendliness and humility. You are the first person I found. Does nobody in Hertfordshire walk anywhere?
“The roads are reasonably busy with carriages and riders on horseback, but where are your pedestrians? Surely not everyone rides or uses a carriage to go a mile or two. Or do you all stay home unless something or someone forces you to leave your houses?”
Elizabeth smiled at the thought of everyone in the county staying at home, not bothering to dress, and indulging in a constant diet of bonbons. The sight of her father wearing his robe, a book in one hand and a candy in the other, came to mind.
She could almost see their butler, Hill, standing ready in case Mr. Bennet wanted more, instead of being allowed to attend to his daily assignments. The absurdity of the image made her laugh, which infected Mr. Darcy. He soon joined in, the display of humor giving his face a pleasing appearance.
“Do you mind telling me what we are laughing about?” asked he when the episode ended, “or are you in the habit of doing this whenever the mood strikes?”
“Your questions about Hertfordshire’s preferred method for travel had me picturing my father, dressed in his robe and indulging in sweetmeats all day. I also saw our butler, Hill, called upon to keep him supplied with candies and port so he did not have to stir from his seat.”
“Please spare me the description,” said Mr. Darcy, his humor again displaying itself. “I have no desire to see Mr. Bennet in his bedclothes and certainly do not want to picture him leading a life of indolence. That would probably change the way I talk to him. If I am forced to imagine him as a lazy sot, interested only in his next licorice or peppermint candy, I will lose the ability to see him in another way.
“My resulting prejudice will taint our discussions, on any or all subjects. Are you willing to accept the responsibility?”
Elizabeth wanted to view his words as a continuation of their previous friendly banter but did not know him well enough to decide with any confidence. His smile seemed to mock her insecurity, daring her to take the chance of responding in a manner he would have reason to find offensive.
Was she prepared to accept the possibility of censure, leading to the destruction of what might otherwise become a lasting friendship? Or was he merely testing her mettle, the result of which would set the tone for their continued relationship whether cordial or disagreeable?
Mr. Darcy, seeming to sense her hesitation, laughed and ventured a comment that put her at ease: “Of course, your father strikes me as the type of gentleman who, other than the occasional glass of liquor after his evening meal, has little to no patience for indolence or habits that lead to such behaviour.”
“And you claim to have not met him before?” answered Elizabeth with mock severity, while struggling to contain the laughter wanting to make another appearance.
“I am blessed with an infallible memory, Miss Bennet, and your father is an unforgettable man. It is not possible, in my opinion, to forget meeting someone like that.”
“Forgive me,” said Elizabeth with a laugh, “but your description of him is as perfect as any I have heard. He has often told me that, other than his nightly glass after supper, he has no taste for alcohol of any kind. But how did you realize he is not a lazy man? So many of our neighbors, and the gossips in Meryton, take him for a man who stirs from his library only when he must.
“They assume that because he is not berating the tenants over the yield from their harvest, or castigating the stable hands for some slight error, he has no interest in Longbourn’s success or failure.”
Mr. Darcy, nodding his head in agreement, waited for her to finish before saying: “We had an interesting conversation the morning he invited us to hunt with him. Mr. Hurst and Bingley were impatient with our slow pace, so Mr. Bennet gave them leave to go on without us.
“When I tried to apologize for delaying him, he dismissed it and confessed that he was more interested in getting acquainted.
“Our conversation covered a lot of ground, but he left me with the impression that he is aware of the state of Longbourn and the issues his tenants, and servants I might add, are facing.
“According to him, there is nothing to be gained by paying overly close attention to every little thing that happens. His tenants know they can come to him with their problems, and he will either give them the assistance they require or advise them on how to fix the problem.”
“That sounds like my father,” agreed Elizabeth, “but I am surprised he was so willing to offer an opinion. He is normally reticent when it comes to discussing the affairs of the estate; how were you able to get him to tell you so much?”
Darcy laughed at her question, but she could tell the query had caused him some embarrassment. His face turned the loveliest shade of pink, while his eyes flitted about as though he was unwilling to look at her directly.
“One of the tenants approached us before we entered the woods, and we stopped to talk with him. He was having some trouble with one of the stable hands over the use of a team for the upcoming harvest. Mr. Bennet listened to his concerns and promised to speak with the servant about the problem.
“The fact that a tenant did not hesitate to approach and discuss an issue is not a common occurrence at Pemberley, and I told your father. He expressed surprise and concern that my own tenants did not feel comfortable enough to come to me with problems or concerns they face.
“In his opinion, Longbourn could not operate without such close relationships with its tenants.”
“I know he encourages them to present their problems to him. If they are minor or something they can resolve themselves, he tells them, but for the serious ones he has always promised he will do whatever he can to aid any of his tenants.”
Darcy smiled, the embarrassment still coloring his face: “When I claimed my tenants only rarely see fit to approach me, and when they do, their problems have grown so much that they are close to impossible to solve, he thought the problem was mine.”
“Let me guess, you found his opinion hard to accept?”
“In a word, yes. As a matter of fact, I took offense at the suggestion, but as we talked, he convinced me that I needed to make some changes to how I treat people. He offered some suggestions he said I could easily introduce and told me if I followed those with gradual adjustments to my attitude and reactions to their problems, Pemberley might become a better estate, for my tenants and me.
“I promised to consider his advice, not wanting to surrender my authority, but after thinking about it, I decided to make the attempt. After all, I have nothing to lose and plenty to gain.”
“And you came to this conclusion in the span of a week? Are you sure you had not talked to Papa before this?”
The manuscript is in the final editing process, and waiting for the cover. I hired a professional to design it and hope to see the first iteration sometime this week. As always, your opinion of my writing is both welcomed and appreciated.