du Tertre, the River, chapter
eleven, part one
as Elizabeth was, she had made it a custom to walk around on tip
toes, making as little noise as possible when she left her bedroom,
lest she awaken someone. This Sunday, in a rather unfamiliar house,
she didn't act any differently. But unlike in her parent's house,
or the apartment, she discovered Netherfield held another early
bird as well. William was already sitting on the kitchen table with
a mug of fresh coffee when Elizabeth entered.
"You're up early," she said, surprised
but pleased with his company.
"I can say the same of you." William
calmly smiled back. "Coffee?"
"Yes, please." She nodded eagerly.
"Do you mind if I smoke? Nothing tops a cigarette and coffee
first thing in the morning."
"And rest room right after it?"
William stood up and took another mug from the cupboard.
"How did you know?" Elizabeth was
taken aback. Indeed after a mug of coffee and one or two early morning
cigarettes, she always needed to use a toilet.
"I used to know a smoker and she had
the same habit. As far as I know, the nicotine affects the metabolism."
William smiled, surprised as he was that he felt comfortable enough
to discuss such private habits. But then his friendly expression
suddenly vanished at the memory of the woman who had made him familiar
with the morning routine of a chain smoker.
He must have been very familiar with her
if he knows such details. Surprised at why something like that
would bother her, she took the mug from him. "Thanks."
Questioningly, she raised her package of cigarettes.
"I don't mind, but I think Mrs. White
disapproves of it." But at Elizabeth's shrug he continued,
"I guess she won't smell it if you smoke under the range hood."
Elizabeth hopped on the counter, put the
ashtray on the stove and crossed her legs. Stretching out her arm,
she turned the fan on. As it was a new and silent one, she still
was able to talk to William without being drowned out by its noise.
"Is this also something your friend used to do?"
"No, she didn't," William curtly
responded, remembering how often he had asked Victoria not to smoke
in every room in Pemberley and how she always refused. In the end,
he had practically forbidden her to smoke in his house and he thought
she had quit because of it. But a few months later he discovered
she never had. Absentmindedly, he took Elizabeth's package and started
to read the back while he stood in front of her.
Although not able to read his mind, Elizabeth
had coincidental musings. "I want to quit." She turned
her head to blow the smoke into the hood. "
"Eventually?" William put the package
down again next to the mug. He hadn't gone back to his chair and,
standing in front of Elizabeth, he put one hand in the pocket of
his dark grey trousers, which Elizabeth assessed as being considerably
chic but William would very likely call just 'casual', and leaned
with his other hand on the counter a few inches from Elizabeth's
knee, almost touching her.
"Yes, eventually. When I'm ready for
it. I tried to quit a few times, but that was because someone else
urged me. I don't think that works. I really need to want it myself."
"Hey, there's nothing wrong with some
"Of course not," Elizabeth replied.
"But when it's too pushy, it will work in the opposite way."
William wanted to protest, but something
in Elizabeth's eyes restrained him. He turned and took his place
at the kitchen table again. While doing so, his fingers slightly
brushed her knee, an accidental caress they both felt
"You're reading about the factory?"
Elizabeth pointed at the book that was issued a few years ago, on
the centennial anniversary of purchase of the factory in Breevoort
by the Bennets.
"Before Charles took this assignment
at Merytayns, I didn't have any idea how beer was produced."
William wrapped his long fingers around his mug to warm them while
he opened the book with his other hand.
"Really? Never interested in it?"
William turned the pages until he reached
the chapter about the Bennet family. "I never paid attention
to it, other than to drink the liquid, that is," he said while
reading the family tree and looking at the pictures of the last
few generations of Bennets.
Elizabeth laughed. "They tell us we get our first drop of Merytayns
in our milk bottles. It's one of the goodies we give each other
at baby showers, a bottle of Merytayns with a nipple on top."
"You're joking." William absentmindedly
leafed through the book as he was not that interested in the family
history. He never dove too deeply into the owners' past of a company
in which he was interested. Plain cold figures, or the development
of the products and services that were brought on the market, could
always count on his attention.
"No, I'm not kidding, but I'm sure the
daddies always drink the beer instead of the babies."
"I bet," William answered. "It
would certainly not be good for the young mothers."
"That's not totally true. Of course
it isn't good if they drink a lot of it, but do you know many young
mothers drink a bottle of dark brown beer? They say it's good to
start the breastfeeding."
William chuckled. "In that case, the babies would indeed start
with beer as their first drink, wouldn't they?"
"It's a good start. But not for always,
I prefer coffee nowadays," Elizabeth laughed. "I'm ready
for my second one, and you?" William looked into his mug that
was indeed almost empty. He quickly drank the last sip and handed
it to Elizabeth. As she took the cup, their fingertips touched,
and they both felt jolts through their arms.
Keeping his attention on the book, William
reached the chapter about a century of advertising <i>Merytayns</i>.
"I don't see your work in it." It wasn't a question, but
his voice showed his surprise.
"The book is several years old and Merytayns
hasn't been using my work that long." Elizabeth put sugar and
milk in her mug and asked how William drank his coffee. On his answer
that he preferred it black she chuckled, "A typical accountant."
"I'm not an accountant," William
"You're a figures man. Just like an
accountant." After Elizabeth put his mug on the table in front
of the book, she took her position on the counter next to the hood
"What makes you think I'm a figures
man? Not that I know how you would describe such a person."
"From the moment I've been here in the
kitchen you've been leafing through that book," Elizabeth explained.
"You have thoroughly read the profit and sales figures of the
last few decades and the market shares. Those are in the fourth
chapter. Then you skimmed the other chapters."
William was stunned. "You are a sharp
observer." His eyebrows rose in surprise.
Elizabeth casually shrugged. "I need
to be. When I paint, I often do a person in a few strokes.
I need to observe thoroughly to assess which strokes are needed
and which absolutely are not."
William's mind jumped back to Place du Tertre,
a few months prior. As his eyes focused on Elizabeth's slender fingers
now holding a cigarette, his thoughts put something else in her
the wooden handle of a brush topped with delicate sable
After she inhaled deeply, Elizabeth put the
cigarette down on the edge of the ashtray and casually brushed an
unruly lock of hair out of her face. However, from William's point
of view, she carefully laid the brush down on the worktable next
to an easel and used her finger to create a soft, colorful line
on a blurry countenance. Imagining himself in the squeaky cane chair
in the center of Place du Tertre again, he could almost feel
his skin tickle at the exact same place where Elizabeth's finger
followed the line of her own eyebrow. In a familiar movement, he
moistened his lips with a quick swing of his tongue.
It must have been a weird sight because he
noticed Elizabeth was eying him with an amused look on her face.
"What are you staring at, so intently? Something wrong with
my clothing?" he vaguely heard her say. She made a fuss of
inspecting her clothes on possible stains and rips. "They seem
well enough to me. They aren't Christian Lacroix, but they are clean,
and what about yours?"
"Everything I wear is Hugo." Having
been distracted with his fantasies, he realized what he said was
the silliest answer he'd ever heard and even worse, it had been
he who had said it. He shook his head and blinked a few times, his
face coloring dark red.
"You wear what?" Elizabeth laughed.
" William stuttered. "I
mean, my clothes are from Hugo Boss."
"Your clothes are from Hugo and you
are the boss?" Elizabeth, who knew perfectly well he was referring
to the brand of clothes, joked. She had to chuckle at William's
apparent discomfort, but simultaneously she wondered why he had
so intensely stared at her.
William smiled back. "I'm sorry, I think
I was staring at your hands. You said something about painting and
You have beautiful hands, you know that?" He wanted
to say more. He wanted to say what he had felt when he was at Place
du Tertre: what he thought when he gazed at the portrait she
had painted there, the one he had locked carefully in his bedroom
at Pemberley; how just thinking about her paintings and seeing her
hands brushing a lock away made his skin tingle all over again,
as it had done on that sunny day in Paris. He would like to know
if she had felt something special when she had painted his portrait
and if so, what those feelings had been. He wanted to ask if she
understood what was happening to him, because he could find neither
rhyme nor reason to it. But he didn't dare. She would probably laugh
in his face. She had painted him and he had fallen asleep, having
a very strange head trip. That was it. No, William would not talk
about such silly things as dreaming about tenderly brushing hands.
"Thanks." Elizabeth spread her
fingers and looked at her hands.
"So, why hasn't Merytayns used
your work before?" William asked, changing the conversation
to a safer subject.
"I haven't been painting for very long."
Elizabeth took her cigarette again.
"Really? I assumed you painted for years.
From what I've seen, I think your work is remarkable. You learned
this only in a few years?"
Elizabeth's countenance suddenly fell. "I
mean, I've painted for fun for years." She jumped from the
counter and turned to the stove to smother her cigarette. "I
quit and only last year I took up the thread again."
"Why did you quit?" William noticed
Elizabeth tighten her shoulders.
"I've always loved to paint and I even
started an education that was a combination of advertising science
and practice. But after the first year, someone convinced me that
painting doesn't pay enough to keep body and soul together. I switched
from Advertising to a more theoretical education and now I have
a degree in Business Administration." Elizabeth turned again
and leaned against the counter. She heaved a deep sigh. "At
that time, I thought it was the right decision."
"You've changed your mind?" William
"Yes and no." Elizabeth shrugged.
"The education is never lost. I majored in both Advertising
and Marketing and I learned a lot. But after a few years, I felt
that marketing wasn't what I truly wanted and I decided to try to
sell my paintings. Merytayns used a portrait I did of the
ancient Peter Kuipson, the Guild Master. They liked it and then
I got the assignment to paint the four seasons."
"I liked them."
"They aren't finished yet."
"Did you dislike it when we came in
the studio and viewed them before you had finished?" William
still tried to avoid looking at her hands, and he slowly turned
a page over.
Elizabeth was surprised. How could he know?
She hadn't shown her annoyance, had she? "Actually, yes I did.
Not many people get to see my paintings if they aren't ready. Consider
yourself chosen." She smiled.
"I would like to," William smiled
back, "but I'm afraid Charles practically dragged me in. I
think he had no inkling that you probably wouldn't approve of the
"How did you figure it out I didn't
Now it was William's turn to have his countenance
fall. "My mother loved to paint. We were never allowed to even
peek before she was completely happy with her work."
"Does she sell her work?"
Elizabeth could hear him heave a soft sigh.
"Did," William repeated. "She
died years ago."
"I'm sorry," Elizabeth said quietly.
"It must be awful."
William kept silent for a minute and then
nodded, unhurried. "No, she didn't sell her work. Whoever it
was who convinced you painting doesn't earn daily bread easily,
he or she might be right. Only a few people are capable of making
much money out of their work and my mother wasn't one of them. I
don't think she even wanted to. She once told me she regretted the
few times she had given a painting away to a relative or a good
friend. She loved them too much." He spoke slowly, carefully
choosing his words. He kept glancing through the book but Elizabeth
noticed he wasn't even skimming the chapters this time. He didn't
see a thing; his thoughts were elsewhere.
In an attempt to raise the spirits that had
suddenly dropped, Elizabeth closed the distance a bit and seated
herself on the chair next to William. "You know," she
started. "I didn't mind at all that you saw my season paintings."
William raised his head and gazed in surprise at her. "I saw
how you took your time to examine them one by one. You didn't glance
at them superficially with a disappointed look as I have seen many
people do." Then she chuckled, "Well, not that many people
actually, as, like I said, I don't show unfinished paintings often.
Most of the time they are disappointed because they can't imagine
what the end result will be and think what they see is what they
"I could see they weren't completed,
but I liked them already," William said and the golden flecks
in his eyes started to shine a little bit again.
"Are you sure your mother didn't let
you have a peek every now and then? It looks like you're trained."
Elizabeth said it friendly, but she grew silently mad about her
own stupidity, when she saw she had turned the shining flecks off
with her tactless remark.
Now it was Elizabeth who had plenty of questions
to ask: Did he miss his mother? How long ago was it since she passed
away? Had she been ill? What kind of paintings did she make? Did
William still have them and if so, did he look at them often? Did
his mother's work remind him of who she was? What kind of woman
had she been? But Elizabeth deemed it too private to pry and instead,
on impulse, she laid her hand on his arm. "Are you up for a
walk? One of the seasons I have to finish is Autumn and I
have a feeling I could get plenty of inspiration from this weather."
"I would like to
William sighed. "But I have to get through the reports of Merytayns.
I'm afraid I have too many obligations this week so I planned to
do it this morning." Then he smiled at Elizabeth, feeling her
hand practically burning through his arm. "But, perhaps this
afternoon? If I start right away I might get ready early and have
some time left."
"In that case, I won't keep you any
longer," Elizabeth smiled. "I need to go upstairs and
see if Jane is awake anyway. Don't let me bother you."
She quickly stood up, rinsed out her coffee
mug in the sink and walked to the door. "Thanks for the coffee.
It tasted good."
Before William knew it, he was looking at
a closed kitchen door. Don't let me bother you
mentally repeated her words. With a small thud, he closed the book
and saw the image on the back flap. It was an aquarelle of how the
two Merytayns factories must have looked 100 years ago. The
small river that meandered around Meryton and provided its canals
with water divided the image into two. In the top half was the Merytayns
factory in Meryton, and in the bottom was the one in Breevoort.
With his fingertip he absentmindedly followed the line of the water.
Then, with a sigh he took the book and stood up to leave for the
study. Lately you bother me day and night!