“Pardon me, Miss—” The tall, striking gentleman immediately knelt before Elizabeth, and one by one he handed her the toppled parcels and books scattered about on the ground. Amazed at finding herself in such a position even though she saw it coming but had been unable to avoid it, she accepted the packages in silence.
He stood and cleared his throat. “I understand it is the established mode for a young gentlewoman not to speak with unknown gentlemen, but a proper ‘thank you’ surely is in order,” said he, still holding one of the books she had dropped.
Elizabeth had been in a sour mood all morning, what with her aunt’s insistence she wear that ridiculous pink garb with the flouncy bottom. It was certainly not one that Elizabeth would have chosen for herself, for she much preferred muslin over silk for such an occasion. Then, too, her aunt had insisted that Elizabeth take the carriage to the village when it was a perfectly fine day for a walk. The gentleman’s superior attitude only increased her ire.
“Sir, if you had been paying attention to where you were going, then our near collision would have been avoided in its entirety.”
He bowed ever so slightly. “Your point is well taken.” He turned over the book in his hand and silently read the title. It was but one of several books she had procured to familiarise herself with horse racing. He arched his brow. “My, what interesting taste in books you have, young lady.”
His tone dripping with sarcasm did nothing to recommend him. Before she could fashion a retort, Betsy bounced from around the corner. “Miss Eliza—” As if remembering her place, she coloured and corrected her manner of speaking. “Miss Bennet, I beg your pardon for not coming to your aid sooner.”
“Miss Elizabeth Bennet.” An amused looked played across his face. “Your burden is heavy. May I assist you and see you to your carriage?”
Elizabeth handed her armload over to Betsy. She extended her gloved hand to the stranger, silently beckoning him to surrender her book. “No, sir, it is entirely unnecessary.” He still did not relinquish the book—the last relic between them. She arched her brow.
Eventually he looked down, and he must have recalled that he was indeed holding something that belonged to her. He handed it over. “Enjoy your reading, Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”
“I have every intention of doing just that, sir, and I would ask you to pay attention to where you are walking.”
Elizabeth and her companion walked away, and she had the satisfaction of believing that she had prickled the haughty stranger’s swollen pride if only a little. By his manner of dress, his manner of speech, and his proud mien, he was a nobleman—perhaps even a Duke. I wager he is not accustomed to women who do not bow at his feet.
“Arrogant, pompous man,” Elizabeth said in a low voice intended for her own gratification.
Betsy gaped. “Miss Elizabeth, are you not aware with whom you were speaking just then?”
Elizabeth shrugged. Whomever he was made no difference to her. “No—I have no idea.”
“Why, that was Mr. Darcy of Pemberley and Derbyshire.”
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