Rambles in the Park ~ by Alicia
As Elizabeth rambled through the park on her daily walk the morning after her odd conversation with Mr. Darcy at the parsonage, she was wondering what he could have meant by some of his expressions and wishing Charlotte would cease her speculations about that man’s affections. She soon perceived that another person was nearby and smiled to herself in anticipation of possibly meeting with Colonel Fitzwilliam. She was exceedingly vexed to see that it was not the colonel, but Mr. Darcy in the lane ahead of her and wondered what perverse mischance should bring him where no one else was brought!
After returning his initial salutation, she said, "I am surprised to see you in this part of the park. I walk here everyday and I have not seen you before."
"I make it a point to tour the entire grounds each year while I am here."
"Ah, and I confine myself to this grove. It has become a favorite haunt of mine."
He made no response, but she could see his mouth twitch almost into a smile. "Yes," she thought, "we understand one another. Now you know how to avoid me. I hope you will put the information to good use."
She then began considering the most polite way to end the encounter and was about to take her leave of him and continue on her way, when he turned and, gesturing in the direction she had been going, began to walk slowly. "Oh good lord," thought she, even as she joined him, "does he really mean to turn back with me?"
They walked in silence for some time, as Elizabeth wondered to herself why he would voluntarily undertake to accompany her – which he must consider a displeasure -- and then only to be silent! She had no trouble with his silence, as she had learned during their conversation yesterday that it was of no use to exert herself to talk.
She was surprised to hear his voice again, when he observed, "You have chosen well, this is one of the finest groves at Rosings. I can see why you like it so much."
She made no reply.
He continued, "But do you always walk out alone?"
"Yes. I indulge in solitary rambles whenever I can. I enjoy the time for personal reflection that it provides me; and, of course, I take great pleasure in all the wonders of nature."
"And how do the wonders of nature in Kent compare to those in Hertfordshire?"
"I do not find that there is a very great difference, except that your Aunt seems to order nature to her liking in this park."
He smiled a little, but said nothing as another long silence ensued.
After several moments, he spoke again, "And how are you enjoying your visit at the parsonage?"
"I am enjoying it a great deal. It has been a pleasure to see Mrs. Collins again. Before her marriage took her out of the country, we enjoyed an almost daily intercourse."
He seemed pensive a moment, then said, "But you have been able to maintain the intimacy of your friendship through correspondence, I suppose?"
"Yes. She is a very good correspondent, but it has been very pleasant to have her company again these past few weeks."
He was silent again, and this time remained so until they reached the gate in the pales opposite the parsonage. Elizabeth was relieved for the opportunity to be rid of him. She took her leave of him with great pleasure, and with every certainty that he would avoid meeting her again in the future.
Elizabeth embarked on her walk the following morning without the slightest concern of seeing Mr. Darcy. Indeed, she learned to look upon their accidental meeting the day before as a blessing, for now she could be certain of not encountering him again. Surely, he would assiduously avoid the grove she was so fond of walking. And, she certainly did her part by diligently remaining in the area she had declared as her favorite. For the next few days, her assurances were confirmed and she took her walks with all the felicity of never thinking of Mr. Darcy at all.
It was not until Friday that she saw him again in her way. She could scarcely believe it. She thought it very odd that he should be in this part of the park at all. He could have no reason for coming here and every reason to avoid it since learning of her preference for this area. He met her again with the usual civilities, and again turned and walked with her. She could not help but be vexed as she wondered how he could impose himself on her in such a way. Had she not emphasized during their last conversation that she walked out to enjoy her solitude? And if he cared not for her desire for privacy, why would he subject himself to her company when it was obvious he took no pleasure in it?
After a lengthy silence, the gentleman exerted himself to speak. "I hope you have been well entertained since I last saw you."
Elizabeth thought this a rather odd thing to say. "I have. Thank you." In the hope of reminding him that she enjoyed her solitary walks in this particular area, she added, "My daily walks in this grove have been refreshing. I enjoy strolling through the same areas so I can watch the changes brought on in the trees and shrubs by the coming of spring."
His only reply was to smile, and then provide a rather lengthy explanation of the manner in which he had spent his time over the past two or three days. It seemed he was kept extremely busy with his annual review of the details of Lady Catherine’s estate business. He ended saying, "So, I have not had much opportunity for walking out so much as I would like to."
"It is a pity," she replied, "if you enjoy the opportunity for solitude and reflection afforded by your daily walks as much as I do."
"I find great satisfaction in walking these groves."
"As do I, and I think the exercise is very beneficial," she observed, "I always come out in the mornings, after breakfast. The rest of the day I am usually with Mrs. Collins and Miss Lucas, so I am scarcely outdoors at any other time." After she had made this point clear he was silent, so she continued, adding, "Mrs. Collins has really been a very attentive hostess. I have enjoyed her society almost constantly during my visit."
"She seems to have adapted well to marriage."
"Yes. She is making the most of it. She assures me that she is very content in her situation, and I have seen nothing to the contrary."
"Mr. Collins also seems very content with his choice."
"I believe he is, though I am not sure he had any idea of how particularly well suited she would be to secure his happiness when he asked for her hand."
Darcy only smiled in response.
Elizabeth continued, "And he was able to procure Lady Catherine’s approval by his choice. I believe he was very anxious in that regard."
Darcy seemed a little more grim now. He replied, "Yes, well, she can be very difficult to please."
Elizabeth could not help but recall Mr. Collins’ proposal to herself. She felt certain that Lady Catherine would not have approved of her as a match for Mr. Collins so much as she did Charlotte. Elizabeth amused herself by considering how little Mr. Collins had understood her own character and Lady Catherine’s to really believe such a situation would have pleased either of them. That the wife he had ultimately chosen was so capable of remaining in Lady Catherine’s good graces was due more to luck than any real understanding of either of their dispositions on his part at the time of his proposal.
By now Elizabeth was pleased to see that they were approaching the gate opposite the parsonage. She quickly took her leave, glad to be rid of Mr. Darcy.
Elizabeth had all but forgotten about her two prior encounters with Mr. Darcy, by Tuesday when she chanced to meet him again. She could not imagine how it could be possible that they should meet this way a third time. Again, he turned and walked with her. It was some time before either of them spoke, after the usual civilities were exchanged.
At length, it was the gentleman who broke the silence. "I am glad it did not rain today, as it did yesterday."
"As am I," she replied, "I was sorry to miss my walk yesterday."
He smiled at this and said softly, "So was I." After a pause, he continued, "I spent much of the day in the library with a book. The room overlooks an excellent view of the lake and I enjoyed watching the rain fall down upon the water. If I could not be outdoors, I could at least have a pleasant view. I actually read very little of the book."
"I had no idea that there was a lake so near the house."
"It lies on the north side of the house, opposite from the side that faces the path from the parsonage."
"But does not the drawing room we have been in after dinner face that direction? I was sure it did, but I never saw a lake from the window."
"No, indeed, the drawing room faces south."
She was a little embarrassed. "I am afraid I do not perfectly understand the house."
"You will gain a better understanding of it in time. And I am sure on your next visit you will have an opportunity to see the lake. It is not a far walk from the house. There is a little stone path that leads from the outer door of the conservatory to its shores."
She was confused by his words. Was he actually suggesting that she might be staying at Rosings on her next visit into Kent? He could only be thinking of his cousin, but surely the colonel had no such intentions towards her. Did Darcy really imagine Colonel Fitzwilliam that attached to her? Was it possible the colonel had confided something of his feelings to his cousin? Her mind began to whirl with ideas, and she was glad for the silence that followed her companion’s last speech.
She was happy to see the gate ahead, and to be done with Mr. Darcy. After leaving him, she dwelt on his words only a short time, then decided to think no more on the subject. She had no expectation of a proposal, and should she receive one she would know how to respond then.
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