du Tertre, the River, chapter
seven part one
next Saturday, Elizabeth and Jane went to the Boekelo Military. As
neither were in the possession of a car, they had to take the bus
from Meryton towards Breevoort. They were dropped off at a stop
close to the huge, temporary parking lots from where a shuttle
service would bring the visitors to the military site. It was quite
early since they both preferred to arrive and start walking the
course before most visitors did, and the sun hadn’t had the
opportunity to spread her warmth. Elizabeth wrapped herself in her
comfortably warm scarf and this move caused her not to pay attention
to the road when they crossed over it. She followed Jane, expecting
her sister to pay attention, therefore she didn’t see the huge car
approaching, and was surprised when a Mercedes stopped right in
front of her the moment she had reached the roadside. Looking up
amazed, she concluded Jane must have seen the car coming as she
noticed the signs of recognition on her sister’s face. Elizabeth
followed Jane’s gaze and saw the occupant and the explanation for
her sister’s look.
Bingley opened the front door and invited the two women in. “I bet
you are going to the military? Get in … it will save you from
waiting for the shuttle service.” He spoke fast and opened the
back door quickly because, regardless of the early hour, cars were
coming from behind and he didn’t want to block the road too long.
Jane and Elizabeth had no time to consider and stepped in the car,
accepting the lift Charles obvious wanted to give them.
happened rapidly, but Elizabeth had the opportunity to scrutinize
the car. She could see from the symbol on the front that it was a
Mercedes. At first glance it looked black, but when she walked to
the back door, she noticed the color changed from deep green to warm
purple. It must have that new multicolor metallic paint, she
thought, showing different colors depending on the light and angle
of view. Elizabeth didn’t know all the types, numbers and
varieties of Mercedes’, but from its appearance she could see it
was one of the top models. It was the kind of car in which it would
be suitable to have a driver in uniform in the front. She saw the
seats were leather and expected them to be cold, assuming they would
adapt to her temperature. To her surprise, the seats were
comfortably warm and amazingly soft. Buckling herself in, she
caressed the dark reclining seat and took a thorough look, taking in
all the luxury. Jane’s voice startled her.
thank you for the lift.”
then did Elizabeth notice there wasn’t a professional chauffeur.
William Darcy drove the car and he certainly wasn’t wearing a
uniform covered with shiny, golden braiding, but casual clothing. At
least Elizabeth assumed he was, noticing his green moleskin coat. He
looked at them through the rear-view mirror. “You’re welcome.”
Phillips gave us some three-day passes and assured us we would get
access to the parking lots close to the entrance. Do you know where
exactly we must turn off?” Charles turned in his front seat and
looked at Jane, who sat right behind the driver’s seat.
you mean the lot for competitors, sponsors and exhibitors or the
V.I.P. lot?“ Jane asked.
actually, I don’t know.” Charles answered.
doesn’t matter,” Elizabeth said. “In both cases you need to
turn off there, close to that white house yonder.” William slowed
down. The minor road was blocked and he had to show their pass
before they could go through.
you have to drive carefully. We will cross both 'Roads and Tracks'
several times, that’s why they block this road for visitors
without a pass,” Elizabeth explained. It was the second
competition day of the three-day event and the speed and endurance
phase was held today. This consisted of four phases: 'Roads and
Tracks', 'Steeplechase', another 'Roads and Tracks' and the
'Cross-country'. The first 'Roads and Tracks' was a road-racing
circuit with a distance of 3,740 meters, which should be covered at
a speed of 220 meters a minute. The speed was attainable in a trot
or a slow canter. The second part was a 'Steeplechase' with a length
of 2,415 meters. The competitors had to jump four hedges, two twice
and one trice for a total of eight obstacles, and ride it within
four minutes. Converted this meant a speed of 690 meters per minute,
so it should be done in a gallop. The third phase was another 'Roads
and Tracks', this time 6,080 meters, with an obligatory stop of ten
minutes between 1,000 and 3,000 meters. This 'Roads and Tracks'
ended at the main grounds, where there was another 10-minute stop
and a veterinary inspection for the horses. If the horses passed
this test, they could start the fourth and most spectacular phase,
the 'Cross-country', made up of a 5,800-meter track with 24
difficult, massive, immovable obstacles.
showing his pass, William was led to the parking lot for sponsors
and special guests. “Thanks for the ride, but I’m afraid we have
to split up here,” Elizabeth said after they stepped out of the
car. On Charles’s questioning face, in which she thought she
noticed a slight sign of disappointment, she added, “Jane and I
don’t have passes, so we won’t get access by this entrance. We
need to walk around and show our tickets at the main entrance.”
come on, we’ll see what we can do. Perhaps we can get you passes,
too.” Charles said and started walking towards the entrance.
please that’s not necessary. We didn’t come here to beg for free
tickets,” Elizabeth said facing her sister with an alarmed look,
not wanting the men to think they couldn’t or wouldn’t buy
Charles, don’t worry.” Jane said. “We’ll walk around and
perhaps we can meet somewhere in the Straw-village?” She
referred to the main grounds, where the campsite was located with
the V.I.P. tents, next to the show jumping field and the autumn fair
with all the stands. The third phase of the endurance would end on
the Show-jumping field where the 'Cross-country' would start.
wait. I see Mr. and Mrs. Phillips there. We agreed to meet here at
this time.” Charles said and before the girls could say something,
he walked towards their uncle, told him he and William had given the
sisters a lift, and asked if there was a possibility for them to get
in without having to walk around.
course,” Mr. Phillips said. “I didn’t know you had plans to
join the men today. If you had asked me, I would have arranged
passes for you.”
right. Only because we join the men,” Elizabeth whispered
offended. “Didn’t know … hah.”
uncle had their names registered. “Yes, please note ….Bennet,
Miss J. and Miss E.. With double ‘n’ … yes indeed, same as the
Bennets from Merytayns.”
attendant, who took care of the V.I.P. entrance, gave them their
passes. “Welcome to the Boekelo Military, Miss Bennet. I hope you
have a pleasant stay,” he said politely as he handed Elizabeth her
Jane asked when Elizabeth suddenly chuckled.
would love this,” Elizabeth said. “If she had the chance, she
would have arranged this herself, don’t you think?”
had to agree. Elizabeth referred to their mother’s disappointment
the past week when she had heard Jane had declined Charles’s
invitation to join him both days at the Military.
how could you?” Mrs. Bennet had said, thoroughly vexed. “Don’t
you know how important it is for us? It’s about time people know
that the name Bennet should be connected with Merytayns
instead of only Phillips. At least make sure you stay close to
Charles when you meet people on Sunday. Stay close and see to it
that you shake hands with everybody he shakes hands with. Say your
name clearly so everyone can hear it’s a Bennet who is standing
next to this new consultant. Be polite and for heaven’s sake,
don’t flirt with other men. I have a feeling this Bingley guy
might be important for Merytayns.”
had said nothing but Elizabeth had reacted to her mother’s words.
Jane wasn’t the type of person to flirt with other men. Mother
should have known that. Jane agreed to join Charles on Sunday
because he simply had invited her, perhaps for no other reason than
he didn’t like to go to these events on his own. Mother
shouldn’t have jumped
to conclusions. Elizabeth was sure Jane had accepted it because she
liked the man himself, not because he might be important for the
beer factory, and for the same reason Jane had decided to join her
sister on Saturday -- because she liked her.
mother would be delighted if she heard the girls were announced as
the Bennets from Merytayns. When she thought about it,
Elizabeth concluded it was indeed a huge coincidence they had
crossed the main road the same moment Charles Bingley and William
Darcy drove by. Now they would join the man after all. Although
Saturday was not as important a day as Sunday with its Head Gear
competition, they would be spotted by other business acquaintances
in the company of Merytayns management.
didn’t make a difference to Elizabeth. She loved to watch the
horses and competitors turn in their fantastic performances. She
looked forward to watching the tournament and it didn’t matter if
it was only in the company of Jane or with several other people as
well. Her eyes sparkled when she breathed the smell of leather,
horses and hay, and read the cross-country description with drawings
of each obstacle attentively. She nodded her agreement
absent-mindedly when her aunt suggested drinking a cup of coffee
before walking the course.
went to the main tent next to the V.I.P room where many stalls were
located, where books, outdoor clothing, horse necessities, home and
garden decorations, gifts and other merchandise were being sold.
Elizabeth was looking at some very nice illustrated books when
William brought her a paper cup with coffee.
you are,” he said. “If I remember correctly from the party, you
use both milk and sugar. If I’m mistaken, you can have mine,
you. You’re right, milk and sugar, as expensive as possible,”
she joked, surprised he remembered.
don’t smell any whiskey or other pricey ingredients … so I guess
it isn’t so expensive after all.”
right. It was only a manner of speaking. Besides, I don’t think
drinking whiskey at this hour of the day would do me any good.”
indeed, certainly not with the distance we have to walk. How long is
it, anyway?” William gestured at the description. They walked
towards a high table and Elizabeth spread out the paper, so they
could both examine it.
you been here before?” she asked, and when William shook his head
and explained he had visited other Militaries but never here in
Boekelo, she pointed at the map. “See, here’s the start. The
first obstacle is sponsored by Merytayns. The course is a
little less as six kilometers but I think we have to walk some more.
The footpath is crossing the track several times.” William
listened silently to her cheerful chatter and sipped his coffee,
surprised to find himself relieved to see her so lighthearted. She
hadn’t been this way on the earlier occasions they had met, and it
pleased him to discover this trait. They continued in a pleasant
chat until the others approached them and suggested they start
company of six leisurely walked through the Straw-village on
the grass paths that were still fresh and green, but would be muddy
by the end of the day due to many pedestrians following their route.
Elizabeth sometimes glanced at the merchandise displayed in the
temporary booths and pointed nice items out to Jane that would suit
their apartment perfectly. Unfortunately, the prices didn’t suit
their wallets, so this morning it would be browsing only.
the end of the Straw-village Mr. and Mrs. Phillips and Jane
sped up but Elizabeth saw a woman looking around, her face a huge
question mark. “Are you looking for something, Ma’am?” she
helpfully asked. On the question of where she could find rest rooms
Elizabeth explained that she had to walk back to the other side of
the Straw-village to find them or she had to walk quite a
ways on the other side, following the footpath where half-way the
track mobile toilets were installed.
fact the woman hadn’t asked anything, did not go unnoticed by
William. A questioning look was enough for Elizabeth to offer her
help. He liked it, as he did her next suggestion when he said,
“I’m afraid I also have to use them.” Both he and Charles had
stopped when Elizabeth talked to the woman and they now saw that Mr.
and Mrs. Phillips and Jane were quite a piece ahead of them.
Elizabeth saw how Charles looked at the three then back at William
with something that could be described as annoyance on his face,
then back to Jane. “I’ll walk back with William. You go ahead
Charles, we’ll catch up with you in no time, don’t worry,”
Elizabeth said and immediately turned, leaving the men no other
option than to follow her proposition.
William had returned from the rest rooms, they walked past the
booths again. “I shouldn’t forget to visit that one, when we
return this way,” William said pointing at a booth were riding
outfits were sold. “I need some new riding gloves.”
but then you had better buy them now, instead of when we’re
back,” Elizabeth said. “You might never know if they’ll still
be available this afternoon. It’s early now. At this time they
will have their complete stock, it’s a question what will be left
of it this afternoon.” She walked towards the booth. William
followed her, admitting to himself she might be right.
meandering through the tent to where the booth was and picking up
some gloves from a rack, Elizabeth examined William’s hands. “I
particularly like these ones,” she said, pointing at some gloves
hanging behind the counter. “They have those strengthened parts
between the ring finger and the little finger. Besides they have a
variety of lengths in fingers. You have long hands and long fingers.
Don’t you hate it when the fingers of your gloves stop a
centimeter before you finger does?”
lifted his hand and turned the palm up. He looked at his own hand as
if it was the first time he actually noticed he had long fingers.
“Indeed, you’re right,” he said, he voice colored with
surprise. “Would you believe the thought of searching for gloves
with extra long fingers has never crossed my mind?” He shifted his
look from his hand towards her face and from there to her hands. Her
fingers were also long … long and graceful.
thinking why she did it, or if it might be impolite, Elizabeth took
William’s right hand. She gently took it and put it against her
hand. “See, how huge it is compared to mine,” she smiled.
if she also felt the little shock when their hands touched from the
top of their fingers to the base of the palm, he broke the full
contact and took her hand instead. “You also have long fingers and
your hands are also slender. They might be much smaller than mine
but I definitely see some similarities.”
Elizabeth laughed and quickly caught his right hand with her left,
turning his palm up. “Let’s see if we have resemblances.”
no, don’t tell me you really believe you can read my palm.”
William laughed and tried to pull his hand out of her grasp.
why not?” Elizabeth said, quickly noticing in particular one
extremely long line. Wow, he must be very clever.
right ... well, palmist, what do you see? Any prosperity for me?”
William joked, rolling his eyes, showing Elizabeth he didn’t take
palm reading seriously.
realized she couldn’t convince him right this minute about the
things she truly believed in, and didn’t want to put too much
energy in it. Deciding to joke along with him, she answered: “I
see, I see, I see … wait a minute ... yes, I see it clearly now
… Today you are ... going to … buy gloves!” She looked at him
with a bright smile and William had to laugh heartily. The warm
sound surprised her, sending pleasant shivers along her spine. Was
she fooling herself or was this man quite different from the William
Darcy she had met several times the weeks before? It must be the
healthy fresh air, she decided to herself.
I please try on some of those?” William asked to the attendant,
pointing at the gloves on the rack behind the counter. Indeed, they
suited him perfectly, matching his long fingers.
for your advice,” he said when they walked along.
course, due to the gloves, they had used more time than they had
planned, and when they came back to the starting point, they
couldn’t see the others anymore. They must have gone on ahead. To
her own surprise, Elizabeth didn’t mind at all. If someone would
have asked her a few days ago if she would like to walk with no one
else but William Darcy, she would have answered in the negative. But
for some odd reason, this half hour in his company changed her
opinion a bit. He was able to share an easy conversation with her,
he could laugh and apparently she was able to show him something
new. And on top of that, this hadn’t annoyed him at all. On the
contrary, he had looked at her with some warmth in his eyes. She had
felt a strange sensation when his palm covered hers. It had been
like an electric shock, but simultaneously a feeling of rightness.
She decided he must have changed his attitude. The fact that her
bright mood that day could be the main reason she saw the man, who
was not much different from the weeks before, from a new
perspective, hadn’t crossed her mind … not one single moment.
few meters from the first obstacle, which was a huge wall made out
of Merytayns kegs, they waited, and both held their breath a
little when the first horse approached and took the heap of casks.
After waiting to see a few competitors, they walked along.
the Mercedes is yours?” Elizabeth asked.
driver in livery would do nicely in that kind of car.”
sometimes have one.” William said it matter of factly. At first,
Elizabeth wanted to laugh, as she had said it as a joke. It didn’t
occur to her that William actually had a chauffeur. Driving
in such a car, let alone with a paid driver in front, was beyond her
comprehension. His tone, making it sound as though it were no big
deal at all, stopped her laughter.
didn’t know. I’m not used to being driven,” she said honestly.
of the times I drive myself,” William answered. “I only ask
Gerard when I have several difficult conferences and meetings in one
day, so I can prepare for the next one in the car.”
you also see it as a luxury?”
I see it as a necessity.” William leisurely tucked his hands in
the pockets of his pants and despite the huge steps he took, he
adjusted his speed to Elizabeth’s. “I only ask him when I think
it’s necessary. If I would use a driver in livery for every
little, insignificant ride then, yes, I would consider it a
never been in such a position. I see every trip with a chauffeur as
a luxury. Heck, I don’t even have a car at my disposal.”
Elizabeth said it cheerfully, not making a big deal of it. “The
bright side is … the past few months I’ve used my bike more
often than in previous years.”
be happy to lend you my car with Gerard, when you have a special
looked at Williams face to see if he was joking or not, but it only
showed sincerity. She quickly declined the offer. “Don’t be
ridiculous. I wasn’t hinting at a free chauffeur-driven ride,”
know you didn’t ask … I offer it to you anyway.” William
glanced at Elizabeth, wondering if she could see that he would not
be averse to sharing that ride with her.
thanks, but I don’t think I’ll need a chauffeur very soon.”
shrugged his shoulders. They walked along briskly, engaged in an
easy conversation, only stopping at the obstacles to see how they
were taken by the horses.
my!” Elizabeth suddenly said.
alarmed by the sound of her voice, hearing a certain amount of
shock, looked in the direction Elizabeth was staring. “What?” he
asked in a low voice.
my ex-husband,” she hissed. Unconsciously, Elizabeth stood closer
to William, as if she wanted to hide behind his broad back. “Well,
almost ex, that is. We are in the middle of divorce proceedings.”
She stood stock-still, said nothing, but waited for her ex-husband
to approach her. Where they were standing, the footpath was rather
narrow and people who wanted to walk in one direction had to wait
for people coming from the opposite direction. It wasn’t very
busy, but they couldn’t proceed, and Elizabeth didn’t want to
turn and walk away. So there was no escape, she had to face
Jonathan, and since she wanted to show she was perfectly capable of
handling the situation, she plastered a beaming smile on her face,
tilted her chin a fraction into the air and looked her ex-husband
straight in the eye. “Well, good morning Jonathan, what a surprise
to see you here,” she said cheerfully.
wanted to see the military and I decided to join her,” Jonathan
said. Only then did Elizabeth notice the woman Jonathan had his arm
wrapped around. She was a little bit taller than her, and saw that
her hair was platinum blonde, except for the first few centimeters
that Elizabeth concluded might need a new dye job. Surprised that
such an insignificant detail could vex her, she shifted her look to
her ex-husband again. Her smile faded a bit. “How are your
parents?” she asked. “Fine, and yours?” Jonathan replied.
After Elizabeth’s nod there was silence but for the giggling
coming from Corinne. Jonathan glanced quickly at her, tightened his
embrace a little and faced Elizabeth again.
William did something that surprised them all. He wrapped his arm
around Elizabeth and drew her a little towards him. “We’re
blocking the footpath,” he said very politely, and with amazing
calm. He pulled Elizabeth backwards and made the same movement
himself, nodded at the other two and by voicing a “Good
morning”, he made it clear it was his intention for Jonathan and
Corinne to continue on their way.
Elizabeth from his unexpected touch, William started walking again.
As easy as their conversation had been before the sudden meeting, it
was notably absent now. Then William experienced something
completely new for him. He could feel Elizabeth’s mood dropping
below the freezing point. She said nothing and even when he glanced
at her face, didn’t show much. She could as well have been
thinking deeply about a math problem or another brainteaser. Her
facial expression showed surprise and concentration on whatever
question she tried to answer. It didn’t show vexation or
depression, but somehow William sensed its presence. This must be
what his little sister Georgiana was referring to, when they drove
home from gatherings or family meetings and she asked him if he
could also see that Mr. so-and-so and his wife had been quarrelling.
He never had a clue as to what she was talking about. “Ah, come on
William, you could clearly see they must have had a huge fight right
before we came. If eyes could shoot, he surely would be suffering
some bullet holes right now.” Georgiana used to say. But he never
had seen or heard a fight and was always amazed how women gathered
their knowledge about such domestic situations.
few weeks ago, he had said Elizabeth was an open book, showing her
emotion. He thought she wasn’t doing that right now, and still he
knew she was ill at ease. Since this experience was so new for
William, he didn’t know how to react. Should he ask what was the
matter? Perhaps she wasn’t depressed but only mad. He might be
wrong, and there might be nothing at all. But when Elizabeth only
glanced briefly at the next obstacle, not taking time to wait for a
horse to approach and admire the jump, but walking away to the next
with huge steps, William knew he was right. Something was bothering
far as he knew, he had never been in this position before, sensing
what someone else must be feeling. William automatically followed
his routine way of solving new problems and challenges; he
approached it analytically. She had been in a very bright mood this
morning. Although she hadn’t said much when she entered his car,
they chatted easily in the tent, enjoying a cup of coffee and
looking at the map together. She had been cheerful when they
selected the gloves for him. Walking along the first few obstacles
she had shared her excitement with him, pointing out to him the
difficult parts and the easy route the competitors could take. She
got depressed when she spotted her ex-husband. It must have had to
do with his unexpected presence.
sure his analysis was adequate, but due to inexperience unable to
react properly, he said nothing and walked next to her. He was as
silent as she was and they both looked mostly at the ground.
Suddenly, the noise of horse's hoofs startled William. Of course,
they were at a military … they were supposed to hear horses.
However, in a split second, he realized a squeal whistle was only
blown by the attendants when there was danger close to the obstacles
or crossroads of the course and the walking path. He looked up and
saw a horse approaching … fast and very close!
he wrapped both his arms around Elizabeth, pulled her close to him
and took a few steps backwards. He literally dragged her along. The
horse whizzed past at a short distance. Relieved they had escaped a
painful collision, William stood still and panted, his shock
decreasing. He didn’t get much of a chance to catch his breath
though, because Elizabeth struggled to free herself from his grasp.
She turned around and eyed him furiously. Her hand shot out,
smacking him in the eye.
“Take your hands off of