Place du Tertre, the River


   
 

Table 
of contents:

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7.1

Chapter 7.2

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 11b

Chapter 11c

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Place du Tertre, the River

 

A modern Pride and Prejudice version, set in the Netherlands. 

 

The story is NC-17, R rated.

 

Marjolein 2003-2004 All rights reserved M.Houwer


Place du Tertre, the River,       chapter eleven, part three   

 

If William was nervous or fearful of Elizabeth pushing his arm away, it was for naught. She felt surprisingly comfortable and at ease in his embrace … and suddenly warm. His arm was spreading a warmth on her shoulder that she could feel to the tips of her toes. William's upper leg, glued to hers from knee to hip, wasn't cooling her down either, nor his heaving chest which slightly brushed her breast with every breath.

"I'm sorry I snapped at you." Elizabeth kept staring at her hands clasped together in her lap.

"Like I said, I was out of line. I should do the apologizing here."

William's fingers, tenderly drawing steady, perfectly symmetrical ellipses on Elizabeth's upper arm, had a calming effect on her. Slowly, unconsciously, she leaned a little bit more on him, shifting her hands a bit until they touched his leg, and rested her head against his shoulder.

"No, you're not. I was a bit annoyed with my mother and sisters and I directed my anger at you." Elizabeth joked, "You have that effect on me, you know? Apparently you open the anger floodgates in me."

William briefly increased the pressure of his fingers on Elizabeth's arm in a teasing manner. "I do hope that's not the only effect I have on you."

"Of course not, but I was upset, and you happened to be there, so you got my snarls. You said something that was true and I couldn't handle it. You were here at the wrong place at the wrong time."

"I don't consider this the wrong place, right now." His breathing had calmed down and William felt perfectly content sitting next to Elizabeth, feeling her body pressed against him. He was tempted to wrap his other arm around her as well and lock her in a complete embrace, but sensed that might spoil the moment. So he laid his hand casually in his lap and enjoyed the moment, while trying to ignore the sudden excitement that arose in a certain area.

Elizabeth played with her watch. "Not only did my mother embarrass me, my sister did as well."

William continued his strokes again. Even though he expected she wouldn't be happy, he decided Elizabeth was a woman who preferred honesty above pretence. "I heard what your sister said."

"You did?" Elizabeth wasn't surprised. She knew all along it might be very possible he had heard it, yet it didn't lessen the embarrassment. "You know, I normally don't casually sleep around as she said."

"There's no need to excuse yourself," William gently said. "I don't need to know if you don't want to explain."

"It just isn't true what she said, and I hate it when she takes every opportunity to point out something she thinks I did." Somehow she wanted to clarify, regardless of the fact William had just said she didn't need to. It felt good to tell, and the reassuring atmosphere, created within his cocooning arm and his tender caresses, made it that much easier.

"Lydia is my little sister, and to be honest she's sometimes …. impulsive," Elizabeth started. "On more than one occasion I've tried to stop her from doing something she suddenly wanted to do. Well, you can imagine, she hasn't always liked that. She accuses me of constant, uninvited meddling in her life. And now there is something she can rebuke me for and she uses every opportunity to do so."

"I assume you made a tiny mistake?"

"I don't even know if it was a mistake. Well, it was anything but respectable. When I tell you this, it may sound very calculated but it wasn't. It just kind of happened." Elizabeth heaved a deep sigh and started to tell about the past summer; how deep down, she felt the need to end her marriage, but didn't dare oppose her husband; how she slowly started to flirt with other men after having a couple of drinks at parties; and how on one fatal evening, she had done a little bit more than flirting, when she and another man had thoroughly kissed and groped each other. She had fully realized how likely it was for her husband to catch her. Jonathan <i>had</i> seen her, of course, and had been justifiable angry. It was the start of a quarrel that ended with him threatening divorce. In hindsight, that was exactly what Elizabeth had wanted. She hadn't had the courage to say it herself so she forced a situation where Jonathan would say it.

"Do you regret that you and that man … ?" William asked.

"To be honest … not really." Elizabeth was self-assured with that statement. She truly believed her own remark. "Of course, I wish I had had the strength to just say to Jonathan I wanted a divorce. I think I kind of fled into the behavior of flirting with other men; a kind of unrealistic world. And in this little town, I now have the reputation of being the woman who played around, who cheated on her husband. On the one hand, I hate it so much, and on the other hand, I don't care, because strictly taken, they are correct. I broke my wedding vows. Of course, it wasn't technically 'adultery', but the remarks of the others made me feel as though they were accusing me of it nonetheless."

"I can imagine you'd hate it to be accused of that," William softly said.

"Well, most of all because very few people seem to wonder what made me act that way. It's quite simple: I kissed another man, so I am the bad one. They don't have a clue that Jonathan had so much influence on me that I didn't dare to even suggest a divorce myself."

"It must have been a tough time for you." William drew Elizabeth a bit closer to him, and with that movement his coat slowly glided off his shoulder. With his other arm, he quickly gripped it, put the coat back and left his arm there longer than was necessary, enjoying every second he had Elizabeth in this complete embrace. "Did you see that other man afterwards?"

"Oh, no," Elizabeth reacted. "I haven't seen him since and I don't care. I think he enjoyed the moment and the idea of no strings attached. That part of Lydia's casual sex remark was true."

"And you, do you enjoy the idea of no strings attached?" William was surprised that he would dare ask.

"You know, when I was younger, and studied in another city, I was a normal red-blooded girl; I had a few casual relationships, I just enjoyed the moment, and liked the freedom of no commitment." Elizabeth's face lit up as if she had found a solution. "Well, that might be just the thing. Go out again, party, and live for the moment, no commitments, just to get past Jonathan; erase my last experience with him for good." She laughed as if someone told her the last good joke of the day.

Infected by Elizabeth's sudden change of mood, William laughed. "Who knows, it might work."

Elizabeth saw the rain had stopped. "Come on, I don't want to sit here talking about my former life. What must you think of me? When I'm not slapping you, or snarling at you, I burden you with my problems." She gently pushed William's arms away and rose to her feet. "It did feel good to talk, and I thank you for listening, but now I'm passed my annoyance and I'd like to do something else. Shall we go into the house, get a new coat for me and go on our walk after all?"

William just smiled at her. He liked how Elizabeth's mood could brighten in seconds. She wasn't one likely to stay gloomy for hours. He liked how she could laugh. He recalled her dinner with her sisters, the day she had moved to her apartment, he had heard her laughing and joking. His mind went back to when he had seen her dancing at the anniversary party; an elegant, dazzling appearance on the dance floor. Well, he had to admit it, he liked <i>her</i>, the woman, Elizabeth Bennet. He admired how Elizabeth dared to share her secrets with him. He felt pride that for some unknown reason, he was the one who made her comfortable enough to talk, but that pride alternated with envy, that she dared to do what he knew he should do himself. William saw by talking about it, Elizabeth eased the pain of what she had experienced, and he realized this approach might be helpful for him as well. He certainly had a history, and the need to get over it was increasing every day. If only he could become so at ease that he could dare share. But William Darcy had <i>never</i> shown insecurity, or shared private and incomprehensible feelings. The moment was approaching though. He felt it. The only reason why Elizabeth was so relaxed, was because <i>he</i> felt so utterly at ease in her company. Her presence made him feel comfortable and her soft, warm, feminine body against his had made him want to lose himself in her. It was contradictory. His physical reaction had been anything but relaxed, but his mind had been all peace and quiet; an addictive feeling he feared he might not be able to live without much longer.

He laughed when Elizabeth pulled him to his feet. Although he felt the need, he couldn't find the right thing to say, which words to choose, and after some seconds he concluded it wasn't necessary. It must be obvious how much he admired her. There was no need to say something that was so obvious. He was sure Elizabeth realized how much he held her in great esteem. So he only nodded, and they quickly got back to the main house.

* ~* ~*


Upon entering the house, their plans changed as they discovered Jane was fully dressed and sitting in the Chinese room. On Elizabeth's worried cries and surprised questions, Jane simply answered she was sick and tired of lying on the bed. She was no hothouse flower, and although her muscles hurt, she felt there was nothing wrong with being up for a few hours. So, Elizabeth joined her and Charles at the cozy arrangement of couches in front of the fireplace. She could not help but smile when she saw how caring Charles was for Jane.

"Do you want some tea, Jane?" Elizabeth heard Charles ask softly. "It's no trouble at all. What flavor would you like? Are you sure you're warm enough? I can get you an extra blanket."

It was Elizabeth who interrupted this sweet conversation by the loud noise of her sneeze.

"Lizzy, your clothes are wet. What happened?" Jane asked, worried.

Elizabeth and William told the others they were caught by the sudden downpour. After another sneeze, Elizabeth followed Jane's advice that it might be a good idea to take a nice, hot shower, instead of continuing on her walk outside. Half an hour later she re-entered the Chinese room, finding a nice fire ablaze. Caroline and Louisa sat at the other end of the room in front of the little television watching a fashion program. Jane and Charles were discussing Merytayns figures over a cup of tea. Elizabeth went to the fire and stretched her hands out to the heat of the flames.

"That's nice. Was there lightwood here? I didn't see it before," she asked.

"William was nice enough to go to the stables and cut the wood," Jane explained.

As Elizabeth looked around, her sister added, "He's taking a shower now."

"I see you're not only talking shop this weekend, but studying the figures as well?" Elizabeth nodded at the papers and reports scattered over the couch.

"William and I studied some reports this morning and we have a few questions. It's very likely Jane knows the answers with all her inside knowledge of Merytayns," Charles clarified. "But don't worry, Elizabeth, I won't wear your sister out too much." He cast a caring look towards Jane. "In fact, I think you should take the day off tomorrow." Upon Jane's objection, he softly added, "I insist on it."

Elizabeth took a place on one of the couches, pulled her legs casually under her, and started to read the book she had taken from upstairs, when William entered the room, laptop in hand. She noted how Caroline looked up from the television immediately, flashing a bright smile at William. "There you are, Will. Enjoyed the shower?"

William absentmindedly nodded towards Caroline and walked towards the fireplace. "Are you warm again?" he asked and sat next to Elizabeth.

"Yes, thank you. The fire is just the perfect finishing touch."

William softly smiled, then aimed his attention towards Charles and Jane. "Here, this is what I meant earlier." He opened a file and turned the laptop so the others could see it.

Jane briefly looked. "This entry is for the staff beer." On the questioning looks from the men she continued, "Merytayns delivers a crate of beer to the houses of all of the employees every Friday afternoon."

"Amazing," William quietly said.

"If you ever want to make suggestions to cut down expenses, make sure this is the absolute last one." Jane laughed. "Don't touch their beer; it's an ancient ritual."

Once again, William looked surprised, but he said nothing, shrugged and made a note. The three continued to analyze the figures. Elizabeth also said nothing, but took the opportunity to observe William. He was so different from the sweet man in the bower. A dark crease disgraced his brow, and the friendly wrinkles at the corner of his eyes had disappeared. His face emanated concentration; a cold, aloof business mask. Slowly, but ever so steadily, doubt crawled into Elizabeth's consciousness. Again, she had shared some very private feelings with this man. What must he think of her? What possessed her to burden him with her silly tales? Imagine, I even said I didn't regret my actions last summer.That wasn't true. She wished she had been stronger, she wished she would have told Jonathan right away instead of lowering herself to playing around. And now, she allowed William to believe she was pretty happy with herself. Silly me. She now felt she had lowered herself twice. First, with her actions last summer, and now when she made it appear she was rather indifferent towards it. But she wasn't. She decided she would never again drown in a relationship like that one. She decided she would never bottle up her frustrations again, but would release them out immediately. And if she ever had a relationship again, she would never, ever let another man come between her and her lover, not even for a little kiss or a fun flirt.

Again, her look slowly shifted from her book to William and back. What kind of man was he? He could make her burst out in anger, just by saying nothing more than the truth. Earlier, he had made her feel so at ease that she shared her most private thoughts with him, and now, seeing him working together with Charles, focused on financial figures, his face stern; he made her uncomfortable. Then she realized it. William was exactly the man who could make you drown if you didn't pay attention.

Having felt awkward many times in her life, Elizabeth automatically reacted as she had done before; tease, answer with just the right amount of impudence, sprinkle remarks with a touch of humor and irony; they were her trademarks.

To her utter surprise, she received very likely unintentional assistance from Caroline. The two Bingley sisters approached the fireplace as soon as the television program ended. Seeing the couches were occupied with people, papers and reports they took a place at the table instead. Caroline wearily took one of the magazines and made an attempt to finish the crossword.

"William, darling, do you know another word for efficiency or skill? It starts with a C." The sudden question startled William. Annoyed for the interruption he curtly answered, "Capacity."

"Hmm, too short."

"Competence," Elizabeth piped in.

Caroline audibly tried to fit the word. "… t e n c e… that could match with pinnacle vertical. I think you might be correct, Elizabeth." She immediately shifted her attention to William again, clearly unaware of his reluctance to enter a conversation at this time. "I thought you would have known that, Will. Isn't competence part of that famous list of 'C's you mentioned to me the other day? The one you draw up when you make a strategy plan for a company you're interested in?"

William said nothing.

"You mean Content, Context, Conduct, Change and Control?" Elizabeth kindly asked.

Caroline who had no clue those C-words were indeed the ones to which she was referring, rather cattily snapped back: "Now, Elizabeth, you must know William makes very professional analyses before he decides to invest in a company. It's not just a simple list."

William slowly looked up from his laptop into Elizabeth's eyes. The lifting of his left eyebrow the tiniest bit was the only sign he was surprised. "Elizabeth is right."

The words did not reach Caroline's ears. "William invented the most incredible calculation system. He showed it to me a while ago."

It was funny to see how Caroline's attempts to exhibit William's perfections, and his assumed eagerness to share them with her, resulted not only in his irritation, but also showed Caroline's lack of knowledge about the subject. Elizabeth was too modest to even realize it also proved she knew exactly what the subject was, and how much that surprised William. Instead, she wondered what Caroline precisely was to William Darcy. Only the sister of his friend and colleague, or something else? It was clear the lady in question would like it to be more. But before Elizabeth could ponder what that goal could be, she surprisingly discovered it amused her to witness William in a slightly irritated state.

"Oh, really? That sounds interesting. What kind of calculating system was it?" Elizabeth sweetly asked Caroline.

"William, help me on this." Caroline obviously had no clue how to continue. "You explained to me you could measure the return on … on what was it again?"

"Assets." His voice was as sharp as the answer was short.

"Return on assets … you mean the DuPont Formula?" On Caroline's gesticulations that this indeed rang a bell of recognition, Elizabeth mimicked William's earlier reaction -- with the difference being she moved her brow quite a bit, and her surprised look was anything but genuine. "You invented that?"

"Of course, I did not." Somehow William felt the need to explain. "We used the simpler version of the formula on one of our strategic plans. That report was lying on a table once and Caroline asked what it meant. I never said I invented it."

"I thought that formula was old-fashioned, replaced by other financial performance measures such as Economic Value Added and Market Value Added." Elizabeth said calmly, at ease discussing business as her education had never left her.

"You're right, but it's always a good start."

"A start?" Now Elizabeth truly sounded surprised. The amount of data required to do the DuPont analysis would certainly not make it the first thing you'd do when examining a company.

"Yes." He sounded arrogant now. "When done properly, of course, it's necessary for a good SWOT analysis, and from there on the Generic Strategy Choices, formulate Business Unit Strategies and Product-market Scope Analysis." He used the words as if they were the most usual topic to discuss on an enjoyable Sunday afternoon.

"Right, of course, You make it sound plain and simple."

Caroline wanted to say something but was baffled by the jargon. She could only sit idly by and watch as William focused his attention on Elizabeth. "If you want to be successful in business, Elizabeth, you need to see things simply. Iron out all the unnecessary details out." William smoothed out the piece of paper in front of him as if to illustrate his point.

"Naturally, and I assume since you have success in business you are quite capable in doing that?" Elizabeth knew she was provoking him, but to her surprise she discovered she didn't regret it. It felt like she was stepping back from him, keeping a safer distance, after the trust she gave him this afternoon.

"Yes, I can." William sounded remarkably confident, even cocky.

"It isn't an accident that he's successful. It's amazing, all those analysis systems he invented." Caroline finally got the opportunity to pipe up.

"I bet he used men like Kotler and Porter to help him develop that." Elizabeth laughed. She deliberately used the names of two globally-known strategic marketers of whom it was very unlikely William had personally met, to ridicule Caroline's remark.

William cast a quick look at Caroline before he turned to Elizabeth again. His irritation with Caroline's silly remarks made him sound more conceited then he intented. "Of course, I did not invent those theories, but I'm proud to say I'm able to have a helicopter view because of them. No details and no emotions."

"No emotions?" The corners of her mouth twitched slightly, which somehow annoyed William even more.

"No emotions," he repeated. "Emotions are dangerous." Suddenly, he looked quite solemn. William realized Elizabeth was teasing him, but he was not in the mood to joke back. He was very serious about how to run a business, and having heard Elizabeth's familiarity with strategic theories, he simply could not understand how she was able to make fun of it.

Elizabeth didn't notice the change of his mood. "Absolutely." The twitching became more visible, combined with repeated nodding of her head.

"Charles and I have a reputation to uphold. We've invested venture capital for years now and we do it very carefully. Other investors trust us and when we believe in a company, they will follow, blindly."

"That's quite a reputation indeed." Elizabeth's smile vanished. Teasing was no longer appropriate. She felt as if she had touched on something that was really important to him. "You're not allowed to make a mistake." By his look it seemed as if William was relieved she understood. But she couldn't resist adding, "But I'm not sure if I would be proud to say I'm emotionless."

"It's necessary," William replied. "No, we cannot make mistakes, we have to be very careful, and therefore we have to be able to turn around and let an opportunity go if we have to."

"Meaning?" Elizabeth asked.

"We will never invest in a company which is dealing with, or has had to deal with fraud or other illegal actions. If we find something, we will say our adieus and move on."

"Even if that happened years ago and the people who committed it are long gone?"

"Yes. The company will never be completely free again from the slur, and therefore Charles and I won't have anything to do with it." Both William and Elizabeth didn't see the surprised faces of the other four people in the room. Caroline and Louisa were plainly astonished Elizabeth dared such a conversation with William. They had never seen someone, and certainly not a woman, contradict him this way.

"This all indeed sounds as though you only work for perfection. I wonder if anyone can find something amiss in you?" Her voice was teasing again. "Never is a long time. It seems you cannot forgive and forget, but you even manage to make that sound like a perfectly positive trait."

"I wouldn't say it's a positive trait, but in business you need to be tough; therefore, it's permissible."

"And in your personal life?"

"That's different."

"But William, you seem to forget there are people behind companies as well," Elizabeth softly explained. "People of flesh and blood who made a company grow."

"See, and that's where success begins; the ability to differentiate between business and emotions, being able to make the tough decisions; it's the best chance for true growth for a company."

"I see." Elizabeth shifted her gaze from William to Charles, back to William and finally to Charles again. "I assume Merytayns is in good hands then." With her business knowledge, she realized William wasn't making a bad point, but Merytayns was a family company and close to her heart. It disturbed her to see the organization that she considered socially conscious viewed in a cold, commercial and almost insensible light. She couldn't estimate how much Charles agreed to William, but she knew it was important to the latter. It was a mismatch between the company she was connected to her entire life and the man she knew only a few weeks. Although the brevity of her acquaintance with William should not countervail against her lifelong bond with Merytayns, this contrast bothered her, and it surprised her. She decided it best to end the conversation and do something safe, so with her last statement she picked up her book again, start reading, and enjoyed the warmth of the flames.

* ~* ~*


The river slowly continued its journey along dark wooded walls, sunny mountain meadows, and stony vales. Every now and then, something fell into the water, joining the expedition. Once it was a leaf, fallen from an old oak tree; another time, a few grains of sand blown by the wind into the water, or a white blossom of spring dropped by a busy bird. Sometimes these fellow passengers stayed only temporarily, quickly descending to the bottom of the stream, seeking their end and easily forgotten. In other cases, they followed the flow, becoming permanently part of the liquid that formed the river, burdening the pure H2O with other substances; the lasting memories of visited places, experienced events and witnessed happenings.

After a winding trip, the river reached its first lake; the waves suddenly and unexpectedly dropped down on the peaceful surface. The calm ripples of the lake drew them to the next stage of their inescapable expedition. The innocent, pristine water droplets were still unaware of the dangers lurking deep down at the hidden, dark depths of the lake … ignorant of the pollution slowly dripping into the water from the village, that from afar seemed so peacefully situated at the waterside.

 
   

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