Posted on 2015-02-26
With this Ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
It was done. She was his. The vows were exchanged before most of their friends and relatives, and Fitzwilliam Darcy proudly slipped the ring on the finger of his bride, inwardly beaming while exercising every muscle in his body not to appear so. He was not Bingley, who stood beside his own lovely bride in the double wedding with a ridiculous grin that revealed all in his heart. Darcy had always envied that quality in Bingley whilst acknowledging he could never, ever share his enthusiasm and approval of all things as he did; but even Darcy had to admit that Charles Bingley and Jane Bennet were truly right for each other. They would light up a room as a couple, and theirs shall be a joyful household full of laughter, and their children should grow up marvelously.
Though Darcy had readily sanctioned being married in a church before God, he was not elated with the sizeable amount of guests in attendance, courtesy of his overzealous and spectacle-loving new mother-in-law. In all honesty, he would have carried Elizabeth off to Gretna Green the moment she accepted him if that were her fervent wish. He was that ready to end his suffering after a year of internal torment, though he should never admit such desperation. The very thought of eloping to Scotland was absurd, after all, and ungentlemanly.
Had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner...
But even after that lengthy reading from the Book of Common Prayers, even after being addressed by the vicar and the dance of the hands, Darcy was reminded that they were yet not married as the couples were asked by the parish priest to kneel down before leading everyone in prayer.
"O Eternal God, Creator and Preserver of all mankind, Giver of all spiritual grace..."
Darcy hardly listened to the prayer, feeling the eyes of all around them. Some of the guests he respected more than others--Col. Fitzwilliam, for example--while others, such as Caroline Bingley and Louisa Hurst, only reminded him of the miserable cynic he once was and the life he never realized he hated until he met and fell in love with Elizabeth Bennet, now Elizabeth Darcy. Now?
"...And have declared the same by giving and receiving of a ring, and by joining of hands, I pronounce that they be man and wife together, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."
Now they were married. Now she was Elizabeth Darcy; but the blasted ceremony bid he remain still another eternity whilst the vicar added a final blessing and sang a Psalm, followed by another Psalm, then another final blessing...Gretna Green was appearing more to Darcy a much more satisfactory alternative that he wished he had given more thoughtful consideration.
"...Sanctify and bless you, that ye may please him both in body and soul, and live together in holy love unto your lives' end. Amen."
Amen! Darcy took a deep breath and glanced at his bride, squeezing her hand as they headed up the aisle.
He took long strides on their way to the registry, forcing Elizabeth into a jog to stay by his side, her laughter coercing a smile from him wide enough to reveal the two handsome dimples she first noticed upon visiting Netherfield last year when her sister fell ill. She had thought he was laughing at her wild appearance after a three-mile walk in mud to see to poor Jane, but after months of misunderstanding Mr. Darcy's character to her own detriment, Lizzy now understood that those dimples meant a rare and wonderful moment had occurred. She would enjoy the challenge of making them appear as often as possible.
As they signed the registry, Darcy had to keep reminding himself that this was real. This was happening. No longer was he only married to her in his dreams, both waking and sleeping. No attention was paid to everyone applauding the two couples as they made their way out of the church and toward the waiting barouche carriages that would take them to Netherfield for the wedding breakfast.
Dash all this pomp and circumstance. As far as he was concerned, Darcy could not start his life, their life, soon enough, and he knew Elizabeth felt the same way. She told him during one of their rare, private walks during the two-month engagement that further tested what was left of his fortitude.
"It is all for Mama," sighed Elizabeth. "Jane and I discussed it, and, much as we are eager for a simple and immediate ceremony..."
Darcy kissed the hand that held his in agreement, as she continued, "...It is our wedding gift to her, for Jane and I shall on that day be beginning what we feel is the happiest of lives, and she shall be nearer to knowing true loneliness after two decades of existing for nothing but the planning and settling of her daughters. Papa will always have his books, but what does she have? She does not know this yet, but when Mary and Kitty are finally gone from the house, Mama will fall into despair. I worry about that."
There was a long silence as Darcy could certainly relate to loneliness and despair while feeling little empathy for a woman who had raised being an impertinent embarrassment to her daughters to an art form. Still, he did not like the idea of his Elizabeth worrying about anything, so he attempted to lighten the moment.
"Well, if you should like to postpone the wedding another six months to allow more flowers and frippery, I've no doubt Mrs. Bennet would be most obliging--
"Bite your tongue, sir!" Elizabeth playfully swatted him on the arm, which made him laugh. She looked at him archly.
"Why, Mr. Darcy? Laughing? I did not know such a thing was possible."
"It is more than possible," he said, looking ahead, not daring to meet her eyes lest he kiss her to silence her teasing as he had always imagined.
Well, why not? We are engaged now.
Darcy halted and gazed down at her, much as he had just before he proposed the second time.
Should I ask permission? What if she thinks me too forward? Stop being a fool, Darcy!
Elizabeth looked up at him in a way that he could not mistake her feelings.
"Well, Mr. Darcy? Or shall I call you Fitzwilliam?"
He swallowed hard. "William."
She lowered her eyelids and said in a voice just above a whisper, "William."
Careful of her inexperience, he gently put his arms around her as if she may break and lowered his mouth to hers. It started with a light brushing of her lips, then gradually deepened to the point where he hardly knew how or when to stop. His head moved from side to side as he claimed her lips again and again. Her response to him was at first submissive, then just as demanding as she embraced him tightly, prompting him to do the same. He felt her hand on the back of his head, which only heightened his arousal, and he continued drinking from her while inhibiting with great strength his most ardent desires. To keep them from wandering elsewhere, his hands moved to her face, fingertips lightly touching her hair, and he wondered between kisses just how long those dark curls extended and what it would feel like against his bare skin as they lay in bed...
Darcy at last pulled away, fearing he may very well act out the fantasy that began swirling in his mind if he continued. By God, he was a gentleman, and remain one he shall! Closing his eyes, his breathing labored, he fought with himself for control, but kept his hands on her face, his thumb brushing over her now rosy lower lip. Before he knew it, the words spilled out in a whisper: "I love you."
There was a long silence as he sensed her gaze upon him, yet he could not bring himself to return it.
Reluctantly, Darcy opened his eyes, wanting to close them again immediately, but she commanded him.
"I love you, too," she said openly, without fear, eyes sparkling in a way that always threatened to undo him.
He lay his forehead against hers. Should he fall down dead at that moment, he would be happy. He never wanted this moment to end and could not imagine having a happier moment in the future. Something in him still feared he might lose her. He could not explain it and refused to dwell on it; therefore, Darcy straightened himself and hesitantly left their embrace.
"Come," he said, linking her arm around his to lead her back to Longbourn.
As the barouche set off for the wedding breakfast at Netherfield, Darcy laughed inwardly at the impatience he felt at that moment, when just a few months ago he was convinced all hope for ever having her was lost. Now that his future was sealed, all the petals and well-wishes fluttering about them meant very little, while the anticipation of their wedding night in London, their journey to Pemberley, their children, and their subsequent days as man and wife meant everything, that he had finally attained his piece of the world and to the devil with all the rest.
She may very well die in childbirth.
Darcy grimaced at that horrific thought, wondering why such notions plagued him during his happiest moments and wishing he could get shut of them. During this assessment, he felt the gentle squeezing of his hand and looked over at the beauty in white sitting beside him.
"All is well," she said as though reading his troubled mind. He leaned toward her and kissed her smiling lips.
At the wedding breakfast in Netherfield's ballroom, Col. Richard Fitzwilliam was all contentment during this most happy occasion. He was well acquainted with Charles Bingley, who he had met through Darcy a few times and found to be a most agreeable gentleman--and Bingley's bride, good Lord! She was a diamond of the first water with the temperament of a seraph. But he was truly there for Darcy, his first cousin and dearest friend with whom he had shared his youth. During the celebration, Fitzwilliam glanced frequently at Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, marveling at the change not only in his cousin's demeanor, but his entire being, since Elizabeth Bennet came into his life.
He had no idea, no idea at all, that Darcy harbored passionate feelings for Miss Bennet during their yearly visit to Rosings Park in Hunsford, Kent, a visit both cousins had abhorred since childhood, yet dutifully sustained if only for their long-suffering cousin, Anne, who remained so much under her mother's thumb that she rarely spoke even when spoken to. Miss Bennet had been visiting her friend, Mrs. Collins, who lived but a lane apart from Rosings at the Hunsford parsonage; and Col. Fitzwilliam was grateful for Miss Bennet's company during a normally tortuous week in the household of their wretched Aunt. Having been informed of Miss Bennet's liveliness of spirit from Darcy, he openly engaged in flirting with her and was delighted in her reception, as no one else in their party seemed willing to take pleasure in anything, but were rather resigned in being at the disposal of, as that ridiculous rector Mr. Collins would proclaim, his noble patroness, Lady Catherine DeBourgh.
Much as he enjoyed Miss Bennet's companionship during that time, finding both her natural beauty and wit exhilarating, the colonel and second son of the Earl of Matlock had no serious designs on her, as his financial dependence and lack of an inheritance must be duly considered in the choosing of a bride. He had no delusions in terms of his worth, or lack thereof, having "earned" the rank of colonel by value of his family's estate, though he had always found the military fascinating and took seriously his occupation unlike so many of his peers. He ran his men ragged during mock skirmishes and drills and took care that every one of his subordinates could fire a weapon with the utmost precision. He was held in respect by superiors for that very reason, but with only a meager allowance to help support him, Fitzwilliam had not Darcy's freedom to marry where he wished, nor could he, to be perfectly honest, provide the kind of life befitting a woman of Miss Bennet's nature. She needed and deserved what a man like Darcy could provide, not the unsteady life of a soldier's wife amidst the reign of that madman in France where, if ever called to combat, Col. Fitzwilliam may be gone for weeks at a time while she waited at home, a modest home, with only a maid of all work for companionship; And if he should die in battle...no, that would not do.
Moreover, the depth of Darcy's feelings for Miss Bennet manifested itself in a most profound and disturbing way one morning at Rosings when Darcy barged through the front door after having been out since near daybreak. "Darcy!" The Colonel had shouted in his most authoritative voice that had halted many a soldier in his tracks. He'd had enough of this secrecy, this sort of turmoil that seemed to consume his cousin of late, for he had also disappeared the day before during a visit from that insipid Collins, his wife, and her younger sister. Lady Catherine was literally in mid-sentence when Darcy bolted from the room without a word. At first, Fitzwilliam was convinced he had either suddenly taken ill or had just heard some dreadful bit of news from one of the servants, perhaps about Georgiana. Upon that notion, Fitzwilliam had started after him when only seconds later heard the front door slam and through a window watched his cousin march down the lane in a most determined manner. Wherever he was going, there would be no stopping him, so the colonel patiently awaited his return, enduring the exceedingly dull visit as best he could and wishing Miss Bennet were there to entertain him.
Miss Bennet? Surely not...
Comprehension dawned while he sat apart from the rest of the party, his thoughts thoroughly engaged over Lady Catherine's ramblings. The colonel had been out walking with Miss Bennet not an hour before when she had suddenly claimed illness, citing a slight headache. They had been discussing Darcy and his recent intervention concerning his dear friend, Charles Bingley, who came close, Fitzwilliam had told her, to making a most imprudent decision in regards to a certain lady from an unsuitable family...
Did Miss Bennet know the lady? Was she a friend?
Whatever Fitzwilliam had said, it had distressed her immensely, so much so that she had feigned a headache in order to be alone for the afternoon. And Darcy was heading straight in her direction.
It cannot be so. Darcy would hardly condescend...
He admired her, of that Fitzwilliam was certain, for Darcy had never before sung the praises of any lady before Miss Bennet, finding fault with most every available female in his presence to an annoying degree. Some were patently mercenary, while others merely dismissed without reason at all. He seemed, however, to find no fault with Miss Bennet, but rather mentioned her often, was drawn to her presence, and certainly stared enough at her to divert the colonel exceedingly; yet he also knew the strength of Darcy's sense of duty and propriety instilled in him from a very young age. Though he possessed that luxury, choosing a bride below one's station was not commonly done and certainly not done by a man of Darcy's integrity.
Upon my word, I shall get to the bottom of this.
Sensing his return an hour later by the sound of the front door opening, followed by several harsh footsteps, Fitzwilliam decided to appear lighthearted in an effort not to disconcert Lady Catherine further, although she had already begun demanding the reasons for her favorite nephew's sudden departure. The last thing Darcy needed was her interference, to be sure, therefore Fitzwilliam, acting as a buffer, casually headed in his direction, jovially exclaiming upon seeing his cousin that they'd all quite despaired over having missed his company. With little concern for decorum, Darcy dismissed both he and his bellowing Aunt as abruptly as he had departed, muttering something about tending to a "pressing matter of business" before disappearing up the stairs to his chambers. Now truly alarmed, Fitzwilliam nearly marched up the stairs himself to demand an explanation if only to assuage his profound curiosity. He had decided against it, however, as he knew his cousin well enough to know when he demanded solitude, a solitude that lasted over the next twelve hours.
Had he proposed? Possibly. Had she refused him? Most assuredly not. Perhaps he intended to make Miss Bennet his mistress. So help me, if he compromised her...
Fitzwilliam had appeared at the breakfast table the next morning, ready to confront Darcy as he undoubtedly believed Lady Catherine would. Perhaps he could assist him by keeping her tentacles at bay before getting some answers of his own at a later time. Upon learning that Darcy was already out at such an early hour, Fitzwilliam's vexation was ready to undo him. What the bloody hell was going on? He kept an eye on the front entrance all morning in anticipation of Darcy's arrival, determined that upon the massive door's opening he would have an answer.
Sure enough, Darcy came to a halt right there in the foyer, clearly aware of Fitzwilliam's presence but staring straight ahead, his expression fearful in its intensity. Fitzwilliam waved off the doorman, who could not have been happier to disappear at that moment.
"It is done," Darcy said in an unrecognizable voice to no one as the colonel slowly approached his clearly distraught cousin.
"What? What is done, Darcy?"
Darcy stood motionless, squeezing his hat so tightly as to ruin it, as though something violent within him would unleash but for his equanimity. Fitzwilliam was concerned beyond measure. No matter of business would cause his friend these twenty-five years at least to behave thusly. This was personal, and deeply so.
Fitzwilliam braced himself. "Cousin, please tell me you've done nothing dishonorable. You must give me that."
Darcy finally turned his head to look at him, and Fitzwilliam would never forget the utter defeat in his countenance. For a moment, the colonel detected an anger directed at him, a most accusatory stare that suddenly gave way to unbearable sadness. Were those tears in his eyes?
"Darcy, let me help you--"
"Forgive me," he interrupted. "I must go at once."
The dark eyes that a moment ago were so full of feeling suddenly turned cold. Fitzwilliam immediately recognized what he was about, as he had seen that look after the death of Darcy's mother, again upon the passing of his father, then once more after Wickham's treachery that nearly destroyed his beloved sister. He was suppressing everything he felt and willing himself to remain under complete control.
"Do not do this, Will. You must talk--"
Before the colonel could finish, Darcy strode past him toward the sanctity of his rooms once again. He started up the stairs, Fitzwilliam close behind.
"You cannot leave at once, Darcy. We have to make our excuses--"
"I am done caring about my duties to that woman or to anyone else!"
Suddenly, both men froze upon the distant pounding of a cane against the floor, followed by the same shrill voice that had set their teeth on edge since boyhood.
"Darcy! Fitzwilliam! Where are you? I demand you come to me this instant!"
Immediately, Darcy turned and started back down the stairs.
"Very well, Richard. We shall leave first thing in the morning."
"And you will tell me all?"
Darcy gestured for his cousin to join him outside. Both gentlemen departed just before the old woman emerged to impose her wrath.
And so it was. Elizabeth Bennet was indeed the source of Darcy's despair, as he related during a walk in the direction of the parsonage where she had been residing those last few weeks. Darcy was solemn throughout his confession as he talked of an insulting proposal, the lies of George Wickham, and an ill-considered interference in the lives of Charles Bingley and Miss Bennet's own beloved sister, wherein a heated quarrel ensued between himself and the object of his most ardent desire. To the colonel, Miss Bennet's outright refusal of Darcy's hand was shocking enough, but the venom accompanying it he found near implausible.
Who refuses Fitzwilliam Darcy? Nobody!
As he listened, the colonel began to grasp that both men had underestimated this country lass, that she would not be won over by the mere presence of wealth, the promise of security and a place in Society, and that Darcy, for all his strength of character, had done nothing to actually earn her respect and admiration. Still, as he hated to see his dear friend suffer, Fitzwilliam wanted to advise him as he would his own men, encourage him not to surrender, that there was still hope, especially after Darcy had delivered to her his all-revealing letter that absolved his character she had so soundly condemned. But no, his cousin was not in battle, but rather conquered. Fitzwilliam reminded Darcy that he was at the man's disposal and willing to do anything he asked regarding the matter. As they were received at the parsonage and told Miss Bennet had not yet returned, Darcy, clearly relieved, had simply asked Fitzwilliam that he make himself available to her in order to validate the details regarding Georgiana and Wickham, then promptly took his leave. As Fitzwilliam waited and poor, awkward Maria Lucas fumbled with the tea, he grew more and more restless, still believing things could be set right between his cousin and Miss Bennet and nearly resolved to search for her himself. He thought better of it, however, for as far as Darcy was concerned, the battle was over and lost, leaving him wounded and embittered. He could not bear to ever again upset her thusly, nor would he ever forgive Fitzwilliam for doing so. There was nothing for it. He would not be moved, and Fitzwilliam could hardly lay blame, nor identify with his grief. After an hour at least, the colonel finally quit the house, resigned that a favorable resolution may indeed be out of reach.
And now here he was, half a year later, attending Darcy's wedding, for in the form of misfortune, or temporary defeat, often comes opportunity. Darcy seized the opportunity as soon as it set foot onto the grounds of Pemberley, held on with both hands, and refused to let go. Indeed, there was no choice to be made, according to Darcy, who asserted simply that another rejection would have cracked his resolve, but never his constancy. Though an intrigued Fitzwilliam persisted, Darcy would say no more than that; and as he saw the joy in his cousin's eyes while standing next to his beloved bride, Fitzwilliam was ashamed at how little he had regarded Darcy as a man of flesh and blood who could be broken as any man could under exacting circumstances. He was also ashamed of the jealousy he felt at that moment. Truly, Fitzwilliam never wished to become undone by love, requited or not, but he and Darcy had shared a rivalry from a young age that was never malicious, but competitive nonetheless. Fitzwilliam had enjoyed monopolizing Miss Bennet's attentions during those days at Rosings, proving once again to his wealthier cousin how much better he was at both charming and entertaining the fairer sex; yet Darcy had ultimately and most inadvertently bested him, for even an officer of Col. Fitzwilliam's courage would not have gone to the depths and breadths to which Darcy had gone to win the heart of a woman, the woman. Yes, theirs would be an extraordinary marriage indeed.
Elizabeth Darcy could no longer lie to herself that she was not frightened. She was about to leave all she had ever known, had ever loved, in her life, and start a new life as mistress of a most grand estate in which her duties would be, in relative terms, monumental indeed. Her love for William tempered her anxieties, for she could no longer imagine her life without him, no more than she could ignore the enormous responsibilities that awaited her. She sensed her beloved's impatience during the ceremony and vowed right then and there to never be an idle mistress, but both dependable and useful, for he clearly had in her the utmost confidence. The reservations he had expressed during his disastrous first proposal was an acknowledged blunder he swore he would spend the rest of his life regretting, even when she assured him such moments must be left in the past in order to attain their future happiness.
"Never doubt my pride in you," he stressed the evening before their wedding.
Elizabeth laughed. "No indeed, sir! If there is but one thing I can always rely upon, Mr. Darcy, it is your pride!"
Out of either emphasis or frustration, she knew not which, Darcy raised the hand that held his and pressed it against his heart.
"I am quite serious, Madam."
She sobered instantly. "I do understand, forgive me. Had you any doubts, I know you'd have never fought for me as you did."
"And I would do so again." He kissed her then repeatedly. "And again...and again...and again."
And she would do the same for him. She also would see to her husband's needs, as well as the needs of their staff, their tenants if necessary, their frequent guests, and especially their children. As much as possible, she would relieve William of the stress that no doubt weighed upon him since the death of his father that left him at too young an age not only guardian to a grieving child, but Master of an estate half the size of Derbyshire. Her daily tasks would be nothing to his, and she would prove herself worthy to both her husband and the society that still harbored misgivings.
But such an undertaking would be life-altering, indeed. Before Mr. Darcy lay his claim on her, Elizabeth's daily tasks were little more than a pleasant walk, a good book, and keeping her younger sisters in line. She spoke to Jane about it at length, sometimes until dawn, for her sister held the same fears and uncertainties. How does one prepare for such an adjustment? Finally, they sought the counsel of their Aunt Gardiner, whose wisdom and calmness of manner always helped to set their minds at ease.
"Dear Lizzy! Dear Jane! Do not distress over such things. It is not quicksilver, but a gradual transition. You are both, as I was, immeasurably fortunate in marrying men who love you so dearly. You will want to please him as he wants you to be pleased. You will want all these things you now fear, for his happiness and well-being will be your first waking thought each and every morning. If nothing else, you will heed this tenet in your marriage: As you have chosen wisely, you must treat kindly."
Those words were both a comfort and a command to Lizzy. Sweet Jane treated everyone with kindness, even those who did not deserve it, as did Bingley! Elizabeth was more obstinate toward those who made her cross. She could always maintain civility, except when she could not, as Mr. Darcy was most painfully aware. She could not promise, but fervently prayed, that she should never punish him so again, not when his love for her was understood so completely. He was fully in her power, and she would not abuse it. Rather, she would turn her power over to him, not merely in subservience, but in deepest affection.
Both Elizabeth and Jane also fretted over the impending wedding night. Upon retiring, whenever Lizzy brought up the delicate subject, Jane would immediately cover her face with her hands or hide under the covers.
"Oh, Lizzy! What are we to do? Must we be...naked?"
Elizabeth laughed. She knew little of the knowledge between man and wife beyond drawings found in certain books Mr. Bennet had thought were hidden away from his most curious daughter. In truth, the very idea of lying nude with William unnerved her exceedingly, but in a way, she would not admit to her dear, innocent sister, that was most welcome. He had kissed her multiple times during private moments, sometimes quite ardently, and each kiss sent tingles throughout her body. Indeed, she was most attracted to him, and to be perfectly honest had always been, even when she was certain she loathed his very being, even during and after she rejected his hand! Physical attraction was a strange thing, certainly much different than love. Clearly men experienced lust often and love but a few times in life, while women as the recipients of passion either accept or reject a man's ardor, but tend to fall in love quite frequently. Once again, Elizabeth had placed herself in a singular category of female. She not only loved William with all her heart, she wanted him, and the sooner the better! Was that wrong?
Mrs. Bennet was of no help on this subject, as she stressed that the marriage bed was a cursed duty all wives must bear in order to allow their husbands to both take their pleasure and produce an heir.
"It will be over quickly, girls, and painful to be sure," their Mother said. "Take comfort in that he will come less and less to you once you become expectant, for men hate the very sight of a woman with child!"
Upon hearing this alarming bit of counsel from her addled nieces, Mrs. Gardiner once again assumed the task of setting things right.
"It is painful at first," she said thoughtfully. "But after a while...quite glorious."
Lizzy and Jane watched their Aunt blush and instantly requested to hear more of what they were to expect. Mrs. Gardiner waved off their inquiries, refusing to go into unladylike detail.
"It is different for everyone," she said, choosing her words carefully. "I cannot tell you what you will feel. I can only tell you that...the more you trust you husband, and certainly the more you love him, the better it will be. For both of you."
Such a vague summation! At that, Lizzy and Jane were forced to quit the subject entirely, for their Aunt Gardiner assured them they would need no further information, that nature would take its course.
In fact, the very nature of love was what must have compelled Darcy to suddenly take Elizabeth's hand and furtively lead her from Netherfield's ballroom to the secluded and darkened billiard room, upon which he embraced her passionately, lifting her off her feet, and kissed her until she could scarcely breathe. With joyful laughter, she wrapped her arms around his strong shoulders and spoke softly into his ear.
"Are you happy, Mr. Darcy?"
He answered by setting her down on the table, wherein he captured her lips again, uttering between kisses, "I remember when you wandered into this room...that evening...while I was alone--"
"Quite by accident, I daresay--"
"Yet I so wanted you to stay and keep me company--"
"A scandalous notion, indeed--"
"Just to be near you for a short while--"
She then discontinued their fervent kissing to take his face in her hands and stare at him in awe.
"Why, dear William! Had you already formed an attachment?"
He pondered a moment. "I hardly know."
"Perhaps...something within you needed me by your side?"
She remembered that moment over a year ago as vividly as he, how she had become lost on her way to the drawing room after tending to poor Jane, how awkward she had felt having intruded upon Mr. Darcy's solitary game, and how much his brooding gaze had unnerved her before she hastily quit the room.
They kissed once again, this time slowly, relishing one another. Elizabeth knew that if William tried to take her as his wife right then and there, she may very well do nothing to stop it! If only the entire world at that moment would disappear. Or intervene.
"We must return," she said weakly.
"Indeed," he whispered, kissing a trail down her neck and along her collarbone.
Posted on 2015-02-28
With both reverence and envy, Mary Bennet watched Georgiana Darcy happily playing the pianoforte in Netherfield's ballroom while the improperly large amount of guests made merry among a bounteous buffet. It was impossible not to notice that the young lady was most accomplished. Then again, Miss Darcy had the best masters to refine her talents, unlike herself, who practiced endlessly, but mostly at her own tutelage.
Mary caught Georgiana's eye as she played the final movement, and her reticent, but welcoming smile compelled her to make her way over to the instrument, for Mary was unaccustomed to being noticed, much less summoned.
Whether it was an interest in her playing or merely making a friend, Georgiana was not sure, but as she had not exchanged more than a few words with Mary Bennet since meeting her a few days before the wedding, Georgiana decided to use the opportunity know her new sister better, silently inviting Mary to join her at the instrument. There was a long, awkward silence between them, as neither seemed to know what to say. Georgiana then thought of how easily Elizabeth could begin a conversation, and was most determined at that moment to overcome her shyness. What better time than at her dear brother's wedding?
"I understand you play, Mary, as well." There, she thought. Solid attempt!
Mary said flatly, "Indeed, but I am afraid I haven't the talents you possess, nor the masters at your disposal."
Georgiana feigned concentration in an effort not to show offense, remembering Elizabeth's warning to her about Mary's pedantic nature. "On the contrary, I had few teachers," Georgiana finally replied. "My mother was quite weak as I grew up and did little but play while I sat by her side. I watched her fingers and would mimic her movements. Eventually she could play no longer, and I took over, which brought her pleasure. The masters were far too strict, and my brother discarded them altogether while I was still very young."
Mary looked down at her own clasped hands. "I meant no disrespect, Miss...Georgiana. I did not mean to imply...that is, you simply play so expertly it is difficult to imagine you've not had careful instruction."
Georgiana's smile returned. "I thank you." She stood up. "Now it is your turn, for Elizabeth tells me you play at home far more than even I, and therefore must be a true proficient."
Mary hesitated only a moment before replacing Georgiana at the instrument as though eager to prove herself. Before she had the chance to begin, however, Kitty Bennet approached in all excitement with Maria Lucas in tow.
"We've just heard Mr. Bingley...or Charles has promised to give another ball after Christmas!"
Inquired Maria, "Do you have many balls at Pemberley, Miss Darcy?"
Georgiana hardly had time to answer before Kitty exclaimed, "Surely you must have one for every occasion, how could you not? Why, if I had your family's wealth--"
"Hold your tongue!" Mary scolded. "And I know not why you talk of balls, Kitty, when Papa has expressly forbid you attending anything of the sort for the foreseeable future. Have you learned nothing from Lydia's loss of virtue due to such frivolities?"
"Lydia is a married woman now, is she not? Everything turned out for the best, I daresay. And Papa would not dare lock me away during a ball held by my own brother! It would be most cruel! Do you not agree, Georgiana?"
"He both would and should," said Mary, quite ignoring Georgiana's presence by now, "for I shall most fervently advise against it, and as I am now the eldest sister at Longbourn, it is my duty to see you not behave against all better judgment and the principles of morality--"
"If I fell in line with your principles of morality, I'd scarcely have any fun or friends, nor leave the confines of Longbourn ever again!"
"'Tis no more than you deserve given your utter impertinence..."
The girls bickered on as Georgiana stood by in discomfort. She said to Maria in a whisper, "Is this what it is like to have sisters?"
Maria giggled. "Certainly in the Bennet family, I daresay."
Georgiana pondered this answer. How could that be? Elizabeth behaved nothing like this. More Bennet by blood than by nature, she concluded, looking over to see her brother and Elizabeth entering the ballroom after an extended absence. William whispered something in his wife's ear that made her laugh before she left his side to visit with Mr. and Mrs. Bingley. William then looked directly at Georgiana and motioned for her to join him, an invitation she would gladly accept.
"Excuse me ladies," she said before taking her leave, not that Mary and Kitty had noticed over their sniping at one another.
Georgiana entered her brother's strong embrace, inwardly declaring she had never before seen him so happy after having observed quite the opposite upon his return from Kent last spring. If he were not for those two months together locked away in his study or his chambers, then he was sitting alone in an empty room merely staring out the window. He took long morning rides, buried himself in his duties to the exclusion of everything and everyone, and accepted no invitations or visitors outside of business matters; but what alarmed Georgiana most was when he snapped rudely at the servants, once even at her, which caused her to flee the room in heartbreak.
He is so altered, she had thought. But he would never behave so without good reason.
Finally, she had come to the conclusion that he was still deeply saddened and full of self-recrimination over her thoughtless actions the year before that nearly cost her and her family so dearly. He always took so much upon himself, and her own despondency must have only made matters worse.
One evening, she found him sitting in the music room at the pianoforte, tapping the keys in a most inharmonious fashion. He hardly noticed her presence until she asked warily, "May I play for you, brother?"
He said nothing, but merely shifted his position and patted the empty place by his side for her to sit down. She did so and began playing a light arrangement in a vain effort to lift his spirits, for she could not bring herself to break the tension in the room by once again begging his forgiveness and promising to both find a way to cease her melancholy and to never let him down again. Tears sprung as she played a full sonata while William remained motionless, his eyes distant.
This will not do! We are both so utterly miserable, she thought. I must surely say something--
"Your brother is a fool."
His abrupt statement seemed so out of character that Georgiana's fingers immediately froze upon the keys, and she looked at him with blue eyes pleading.
"You are not a fool! But for God's mercy and your intervention I might be, I would be, the miserable wife of a blackguard by now! You are all that is wise and good, and no one can truthfully say otherwise!"
William stood at that point and took several steps away, keeping his back to her.
"There's where you are wrong, dearest. There are those indeed who can say otherwise and so much more. That I am conceited, that I am arrogant, that I am selfish, that I am...that I am insensitive to the feelings and wishes of those I hold most dear and disdainful of those I hold below me, and they..." He paused to discipline his rising emotions, then continued, "And she is correct in her assessment."
In great shock, Georgiana could scarcely find the words before she simply asked, "She?"
Georgiana had been practically in awe of Elizabeth Bennet since their first meeting in Lambton when introduced by her brother, who had mentioned her only in letters before finally admitting his love for the lady in the music room that evening at Pemberley. At first, she wanted to hate the mysterious woman who had caused her brother such despair, but William would have none of it; and later, when she saw the hope in his eyes as he described having run into her quite by accident on Pemberley's grounds and how she had accepted his offer to introduce them, Georgiana wanted nothing more than for Miss Elizabeth to become part of their family as soon as possible so that William could finally attain the happiness he so deserved.
The lady certainly did not disappoint. Expecting her to be intimidating, Elizabeth's kindness and humor, along with her even-tempered manner and self-confidence, impressed Georgiana far more than most of the established ladies of the Beau Monde, who seemed only to sway their noses in the air like the feathers in their turbans. She had witnessed the way Elizabeth managed hens like Miss Bingley and had heard from William about her extraordinary confrontation with Aunt Catherine, a woman who always made Georgiana want to run and hide. Indeed, she had never seen such intelligence, such poise, and found Elizabeth--just as William had--a perfect addition to their lives.
"Do you like your new sister?" William asked as they watched Elizabeth talking and laughing with Mr. and Mrs. Bingley.
She smiled up at him, squeezing his arm.
"Oh, I simply adore her, Will. I hope to be just like her someday."
He smiled slightly. "She will help you to become the best you can be, I assure you."
"And I think she is perfect for you! I only hope..."
Georgiana looked away shyly. William placed his hand gently on hers.
"You hope what, dearest?"
"Do you think it possible that I might find a match as you did?"
"Of course you will," he said effortlessly, and at her puzzled expression added, "Do you know how I know?"
She shook her head.
"Because unlike so many your age, and I daresay many more three times that, you have the advantage of wisdom as the result of a grievous error in judgment--an error that has undoubtedly strengthened your character and elevated your reason."
She took comfort in his words until a sudden thought crossed her mind that made her cry, "But love has no reason!"
William was silent for several moments. Finally he said, "Then you are not to fall in love until I give you express permission."
He gave her an arch glance, and Georgiana broke into laughter. Hardly able to contain his smile, William leaned in and kissed her forehead.
Caroline Bingley could scarce believe it. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley had allowed the allurements of a country nobody to ensnare him into the most appalling of marriages. Why, she remembered vividly how repulsed he was upon his first visit to Meryton and the jests they had shared in regard to the savages in attendance at that awful assembly. Had his superior character altered so drastically?
Most certainly not! He will regret his decision soon after having his fill of their marriage bed. Of that, there is no doubt.
Lustful desire was a most disastrous thing--so impractical, so silly! Caroline had always considered Darcy above such carnality. He was no longer to her a man of sense and worth, but a weak-willed and weak-minded fool. Well, what was done was done. It was too late for him, but not for her. She would find a creditable and wealthy gentleman to be her husband. She would be mistress of her own estate. And the man she finally settled on would be of excellent breeding and would treat her with all the respect and admiration she deserved.
There would be a price to pay, of course. She simply must learn to treat Eliza Bennet--or Darcy, with a semblance of respect, no matter how much she loathed her. Caroline looked over at the smiling bride in merry conversation with Charles and Jane, so satisfied in her fine catch of a husband.
Impudent trollop, how dare you! You are nobody!
As for her brother's choice, he was not only a caper wit but unforgivably selfish for connecting the Bingley name to that wretched Bennet family--much as Jane, she was forced to admit, was a sweet and lovely girl. Properly humble. That Eliza, however, with her disrespectful remarks and flagrant conceit--Caroline abhorred her very existence; yet she had to behave courteously in order to attain at least a yearly invitation to Pemberley. Charles was now Jane's husband, which made Caroline a relation Mrs. Darcy could not ignore, but civility would no doubt be a requirement. There was nothing else for it. Caroline had to maintain her status in society while working like the devil to elevate it. As Mr. Darcy was temporarily gone from his wife's side, Caroline decided it was time to make her move. She must go congratulate the new Mrs. Darcy.
Elizabeth stiffened instantly. The sing-song voice of insincerity doth approach. Let us get this over with.
She put on her best smile as Caroline Bingley took Elizabeth's hands and kissed one cheek, then the other.
"I could not allow you to depart without wishing you joy. Such a beautiful ceremony, was it not, Charles?"
"Indeed," said Charles in a jolly tone, but with an air of suspicion.
"I thank you, Miss Bingley." Elizabeth braced herself for an ill-disguised rude remark.
"My dear, you must call me Caroline. We are sisters now, after all." Miss Bingley took Jane's hand along with Elizabeth's. "We are all sisters. I wonder, Mrs. Darcy, may I now call you Lizzy?"
"You may." Elizabeth hardly knew what to make of Caroline's manner, half-wondering if she were jug-bitten. Caroline once again took both of Elizabeth's hands.
"Lizzy, I sense your apprehension, and I do not blame you. Indeed, I have learned a great deal these past months after so despicably helping to separate dear Jane from my brother, and believe me, received a thorough tongue-lashing for it."
Caroline glanced at her brother, who nodded slightly.
"I shall not attempt to deny," She continued, "that I once disapproved of you and found the entire Bennet family beneath our own..."
"Miss Bing--Caroline, please, let us not dwell on such unpleasantness. It is all in the past."
"But now I am proud to call you sister, and I think you truly worthy of the Darcy name."
Elizabeth saw the opportunity in this declaration. "Such praise, indeed! And what made you change your mind, pray?"
Caroline did not hesitate. "I told you once that Mr. Darcy was a man without fault. As he has chosen you out of all eligible women of the ton who could scarcely turn his head, I am convinced you are something special, indeed. Therefore, please accept my apology, Mrs. Darcy, and my friendship."
Elizabeth noted the contradiction in Caroline's words, for how could her high opinion of Mr. Darcy have remained exactly the same while he first condemned, then accepted her family; yet her esteem for a woman she reviled increased only after knowing his intention to marry her? Elizabeth's instinct was to make this very point aloud until she glanced over at Jane, whose eyes pleaded with Elizabeth for a truce between them.
"I accept your apology." Elizabeth hesitated a moment, then added, "And your friendship."
Elizabeth regretted the last words the instant she said them, fully understanding that they were the exact words Caroline wished to hear in front of Jane and Charles, for now Elizabeth was duty-bound to live by the affirmation if Caroline could maintain her sisterly attitude.
"I thank you, Lizzy. From the bottom of my heart," said Caroline, her smile as unbending as her posture.
Kindness, Lizzy. Kindness!
Elizabeth was absolutely resolved not to allow the abject falseness of the woman before her trigger even a sarcastic retort, for she would be confronted regularly with many a Caroline Bingley (and the occasional Lady Catherine) from here on end. Furthermore, she resolved not to allow a mere stiffness of manner or an unfriendly appearance instigate a low opinion of anyone she encountered among the gentry or the peerage. As it should be, she would judge all on an individual basis. Given that with Caroline Bingley, her opinion was decidedly set, mercy and kindness in spite of what she felt were the only two options before her. Elizabeth could spare both for a short while at least.
Charlotte Collins was eager for a word with Lizzy, for they had long been the best of friends; and despite her own husband's objections, Charlotte had insisted on attending Lizzy's wedding to Mr. Darcy. In fact, Mr. Collins made a feeble attempt to forbid his wife to make the trip to Hertfordshire, no doubt at the behest of Lady Catherine, to which Charlotte stated simply that she would be staying at Lucas Lodge with her family, longtime neighbors of the Bennets, and that she would be gone a sennight. It was the first time Charlotte outright denied a request from her husband. Mr. Collins acquiesced, not that he had a choice, on the condition that he go with her, for Lady Catherine would not approve of her pastor's wife on such a journey unaccompanied. This Charlotte could not deny him, though she suspected more behind his motivations than adherence to Lady Catherine's dictates of propriety.
The wedding breakfast at Netherfield was certainly not a lavish affair, but Mr. Bingley's jolliness of manner affirmed for Charlotte a propensity to be near those he cared for most, in addition to an inability to exclude those who cared most about those loved ones; therefore, those in attendance included not only the standard tradition of immediate family and close friends, but also the nearest relations to both. The utilization of the ballroom was not ostentatious, but merely necessary, though Charlotte could clearly see Mr. Darcy's discomfort over the aberrantly large amount of guests.
She could also sense that, beneath his ever present cloak of self-possession, he was ready to burst at the seams with the desire to whisk Lizzy away to London post haste. Charlotte had known since well before Eliza's visit to Kent last April that Mr. Darcy was not the man many had believed him to be--arrogant, proud, impenetrable--that in one capacity at least this guarded gentleman was truly susceptible, namely the mere presence of Elizabeth Bennet.
Charlotte had tried to tell Lizzy that Mr. Darcy was enamored with her and had encouraged her to accept his attentions favorably, but Lizzy at the time was quite stubbornly determined to not only dislike one of the wealthiest and most eligible bachelors in all the East Midlands of England, but to fervently deny that she was his maiden of choice! Any fool could see it--well, not Mr. Collins or Lady Catherine, certainly not Maria--but it was entirely evident to Charlotte that Mr. Darcy would either propose or go mad before their Easter holiday in Hunsford was complete. How unfortunate he did not at that most opportune time.
Lizzy's letter several months later stating she was at last engaged to Mr. Darcy caused a knowing smile to spread across Charlotte's face, for apparently her friend's pig-headed resolve was ultimately (thank goodness!) no match for his. Indeed, they made a truly splendid pair, with her sparkling vivacity and his no-nonsense austerity; and the security he could offer her and the entire Bennet family made Charlotte frequently wonder why on Earth it took dear Eliza so long to see reason. The subject of reason versus romanticism had been often discussed between them, no more recently than upon Charlotte's acceptance of William Collins, a man Lizzy and most others found profoundly ridiculous. She knew Elizabeth could still not fully grasp the logic in such a union, but as she was a full seven years younger than Charlotte, this mindset was understandable. Charlotte herself had felt similarly at such an age, had even fallen in love once most painfully and regrettably; but there comes a time when idealism must be laid to rest in favor of rationality. Mr. Collins's situation in life, a protected occupation in Hunsford along with the inheritance of Longbourn upon the death of Mr. Bennet, not to mention their current residence in the parsonage, assured Charlotte the kind of security that Lizzy was still far too young to covet. The manageable drawbacks of being married to Mr. Collins far outweighed the utter misery of being a destitute and dependent spinster, and Charlotte felt she managed her home and husband quite well, complete with privacy, autonomy, and peace of mind. Whether Lizzy chose to believe so or not, Charlotte had not a single regret in her choices and was well satisfied in her circumstances. Furthermore, she possessed news that made her feel even more content, news she could hardly wait to share with Mrs. Darcy if she could only find the right moment.
Finally, it was Lizzy who sought her out after Mr. Collins had decided to approach Mr. and Mrs. Bingley to offer congratulations and to remind the couple (once again!) of how comparable their ballroom was to that of the "grand ballroom" at Rosings. Charlotte had learned to ignore her husband's boorish ramblings long ago, though had not yet figured out a way to curb them. A most difficult charge, that.
Elizabeth embraced her dear friend, entirely grateful that she had decided to attend the wedding despite the overt objections of a certain overbearing dowager who Charlotte no doubt must have endured up until the day of her departure. Charlotte wrote of her ladyship's outrage at the match, but only to, as she put it, reassure Elizabeth that she herself was delighted by the engagement, and that she would gladly bear the brunt of Lady Catherine's vitriol, for she was by now as accustomed to her histrionics as she was her husband's categorical adulation of all things DeBourgh.
Much as she felt she could confide in Charlotte in most other areas, Elizabeth could never bring herself to divulge her initial refusal of Mr. Darcy's hand. She would not have been able to bear the disappointment in Charlotte's eyes, nor the firm admonishment that would follow. Elizabeth remembered all too well her own reaction to Charlotte's accepting of Mr. Collins, voicing protestations in near the same vein as Lady Catherine--well, perhaps not that awful--but the very thought of her thoughtful, intelligent friend forfeiting her life to such a pretentious, simpering...
Stop it! Elizabeth thought. I am no better!
Elizabeth came so very close to losing the man she loved out of her own ill-tempered stupidity. How dare she judge Charlotte for making a painstaking choice in the best interest of her future as opposed to her own prideful and cruel rejection of a most worthy gentleman?
"I am so thankful you've come," said Elizabeth, determined to lay those bad memories to rest.
"I wish you so much happiness, Lizzy. You have made a justly wise decision." Charlotte looked over at Darcy, who was engaged in conversation with his sister and Col. Fitzwilliam between frequent glances in Elizabeth's direction. "He is a good man."
"I truly do love him, you know."
"Well, of course you do! You were just far too obstinate to see it!"
"Indeed I was."
"When did you finally realize...?
"Oh, the particulars are not important. Just be satisfied in knowing you were right, Charlotte. You were right all along about Mr. Darcy's cleverly disguised, amiable nature. He not only loves me dearly, he is also full of kindness and courage."
"Courageous, as well? You must tell me, Lizzy."
"Believe me, I shall. Some day. But for now, I should much rather hear about how you are faring with Lady Catherine. Please tell me she has not been too abominable."
"As I said, Lizzy, it is nothing to which I am not familiar. In fact, I am rather cheerful of late."
Indeed, there was an unusual happiness behind Charlotte's eyes, rather than just a polite smile. But there was more than that--a certain glow...
Elizabeth gasped. "Dear Charlotte! Are you...?"
Charlotte began to laugh, nodding her head. "I am, Lizzy. I am due in the spring."
Elizabeth at once threw her arms around her friend in mutual delight. "I am so happy for you!"
"Oh, Lizzy...it is too much. I cannot tell you..."
"You will be a wonderful mother."
"Do you really think so?"
"Of course! You have entirely too much love to give not to be. Shall I make an announcement?"
"Certainly not, I beg you! This is your day, Mrs. Darcy. Mr. Collins does not even know."
"Not even...? But how on Earth--"
"It is not difficult keeping him in the dark about most things, I daresay. I am only telling you now because I am not sure when I shall see you again. Better face to face rather than in a letter, as you are the only one who could be near as happy as I am." Charlotte then glanced over at her father, the perpetually cheerful Sir William Lucas, as he declared the buffet-style banquet laid out on the long dining table most capital, indeed. "Well, except maybe for Papa."
Both ladies laughed merrily, but were soon interrupted by the braying sound of a displeased Mrs. Bennet.
"Lizzy! Lizzy! What are you about, girl? I have stood by and watched you neglect your husband for the better part of half an hour!"
"It has not been that long, Mama. And it would be most discourteous of me to ignore our wedding guests, especially since I'll not see many of them for ages. As Mr. Darcy tends to be uncomfortable in large gatherings, he was perfectly willing for me to play the part of social butterfly."
"Indeed, my dear," Mr. Bennet interjected, clearly amused by his wife's outburst. "Lizzy is making the proverbial rounds so that valedictions may be made, since Mr. Darcy will be removing her a safe distance from us these next fifty years."
"Really, Papa! You know perfectly well that all at Longbourn are welcome to visit Pemberley whenever you like. And, of course, I shall wish to visit home on occasion, and Jane and--"
"Nonsense, child!" Mrs. Bennet cried. "You must give Mr. Darcy an heir before you even think of gallivanting about the country! Keep yourself available to him so that you may secure your position soon as possible! Then you may be as wild as you like!"
Mrs. Bennet took Elizabeth's arm. "Oh, what kind of mistress shall you be if you cannot stay by Mr. Darcy's side for your own wedding party? Go to him this instant!"
Mrs. Bennet led her mortified daughter across the ballroom to where Mr. Darcy was standing with Georgiana and Col. Fitzwilliam.
"Mr. Darcy, you are a good man to allow dear Lizzy to say her farewells," said Mrs. Bennet in all contrition. "She was a favorite among all of Hertfordshire, as you may know; however, I assure you she is most eager to begin her life with you, and we shan't be missed a jot in view of what awaits her in Derbyshire! Isn't that right, Lizzy?"
Elizabeth's hands were covering her face in abject humiliation, wherein, at the end of her mother's declaration, she peeked out to her husband and mouthed the words "I'm sorry." With a slight grin, Darcy never took his eyes from Elizabeth as he addressed Mrs. Bennet.
"I am happy to hear it, Madam. I confess I missed her company."
"If I may say, Mrs. Bennet," chimed in Col. Fitzwilliam, thoroughly diverted by the scene before him, "I believe my cousin here has been quietly planning his escape with your daughter since, well..."
"Since the day he laid eyes upon her!" cheered Georgiana.
"I concur, Miss Darcy," said Sir William with equal fervor. "For Lady Lucas and I could see it plain as day Mr. Darcy's passion for our dear Miss Elizabeth as far back as the party at our own Lucas Lodge when she refused to dance with him, despite all evidence of an attraction. And now here we are on this joyous occasion. Most capital!"
Now both Darcy and Elizabeth were showing their embarrassment as the oblivious Mr. Collins inopportunely descended to exacerbate their discomfort.
"And as my benefactress Lady Catherine has condescended most generously to provide me with the patronage that allows me and my dear Charlotte to enjoy a livelihood fully flourished, so has Mr. Darcy bestowed the gift of distinction to my cousin Elizabeth, who, though having no way of knowing so at the time, wisely refused an offer made by none other than myself just one year prior..."
Elizabeth had no time to assess the myriad of expressions that crossed her husband's face during Mr. Collins's address, as her full concentration was on silencing her idiot cousin before he mentioned her ladyship's unfortunate absence due to her passionate objections to their union.
"...Which, at the time, made little sense in light of her situation, but has now upon this occasion elevated her worth considerably even though--
"Thank you, Mr. Collins!" Elizabeth exclaimed in near desperation. "I am most honored, indeed. But let us not forget there is another couple in the room just as worthy of our attention--my dear sister, Jane Bingley, who is as kind as she is beautiful, and Mr. Bingley, who is one of the most amiable gentlemen of my acquaintance."
Jane and Bingley smiled timorously as all eyes turned to them. Praises were then sung in that handsome and happy couple's direction, with all interest at last shifted away from Mr. and Mrs. Darcy. With a sigh of relief, Elizabeth looked up into her husband's questioning eyes.
"Perhaps it is time for us to depart."
Darcy nodded in agreement.
Half an hour later, with tears in her eyes, Elizabeth waved and said many goodbyes out of the window as the coach departed Netherfield, assuring everyone that she would write soon. She had moments earlier embraced Jane tightly, making her and her husband promise that they would visit Pemberley for Christmas, and she could swear she spotted some wetness in her own father's eyes when he kissed her cheek.
When Netherfield was finally out of sight, Elizabeth settled into her seat, wiping the tears away before addressing her husband, who was already quite relaxed by her side, watching her every move with an unreadable expression.
"Forgive me," Elizabeth said, still composing herself. She laughed nervously. "Do not interpret that these are tears of sadness. They truly are not. I am simply...overcome!"
Without a word, Darcy took her hand and held it in his own. He appeared to study her small fingers, lightly tracing each of them. Many moments passed before he then raised the hand to his lips and kissed it gently, reverently. Elizabeth, too moved to speak, felt utterly foolish for any apprehension she had felt upon leaving all her family and friends behind. As much as they would be missed, it was the man before her who now meant everything, for she clearly meant everything to him. Her future was now before her, and her past must be left in Hertfordshire without regret and with only fond memories, and some not so fond, as she takes this momentous step toward lifelong felicity with this man she loved.
Finally, he looked at her as if to speak, though Elizabeth was wholly unprepared for what was said.
"Mr. Collins asked for your hand?"
Elizabeth groaned upon the memory of that ill-bred man's thoughtless remarks to everyone in attendance.
So that Collins had indeed proposed.
As Darcy pondered when this might have occurred, his mind's eye conjured the Netherfield ball of last November and how, as he observed quite helplessly, Collins had remained as near to Elizabeth's side as possible while she looked about the room undoubtedly for George Wickham. Darcy had loathed watching Elizabeth first seeking out any man other than himself, never mind a man so despised, then dancing with such a graceless twit as Collins, who had not the self-awareness to check his impertinent babbling in regards to the superior rank of his patroness in Kent. Darcy could plainly see Elizabeth's boredom at having to remain shackled to Collins most of the evening for her mother's sake, while Mrs. Bennet rattled on about finding rich men for her other daughters. More than anything, he wanted to rescue her, for even then, Darcy truly believed Elizabeth Bennet belonged by his side that memorable evening and no other's, least of all that man's. It was this ardent belief, along with a longing he was unable at that time to fully comprehend, that gave him the courage to ask Elizabeth to dance once again after having been heretofore denied. When she accepted, albeit reluctantly, he dared not show his delight; and when they argued most unpleasantly during the dance, about blasted Wickham no less, he dared not show his indignation, for he had hoped to gain her favor after having apparently offended her in the past time and time again.
Even then, even then, Darcy was certain Elizabeth would have accepted his hand had he proposed that tumultuous evening, and, consequently, had quietly promised himself after that bittersweet dance that he should go straightaway to London to begin the process of forgetting her, that he should no longer encourage her, that it would be most unfair to get her hopes up...
The humor in remembrance of his utter idiocy struck him quite unexpectedly, and an involuntary fit of laughter ensued.
To Elizabeth's surprise, Darcy began laughing after having been in silent reflection for several minutes. It was the first time she had ever heard him really laugh, and indeed she enjoyed the resounding baritone sound; but unsure as to the reason for the laughter, she crossed her arms impatiently, since the last thing said was the confirmation of her cousin's proposal. As his chortling continued, Elizabeth could hardly contain her own amusement, nor her curiosity.
"May I ask what you find so amusing, Mr. Darcy?"
Darcy turned to her, his laughter having finally subsided, and he simply gazed upon her in that familiar way. The cold November weather adversely effected the interior of the lavish carriage, and her crossed arms gave way to embracing herself to keep warm. This gesture prompted Darcy to reach under the seat and pull out a blanket, wherein he unfolded it, then wrapped it about her shoulders.
"Forgive me, Mrs. Darcy," he said as he bundled her up securely.
"Thank you, sir. Now are you going to tell me what was so diverting?"
Darcy began untying her bonnet. "It was just after the ball, was it not? When he proposed?"
Darcy removed the bonnet completely and tossed it to the empty seat opposite them, followed by his own topper. He then gathered her into the further warmth of his arms. "And you refused him immediately?"
"Of course! Though Mama was exceedingly cross about it, declaring she would never see me again if I did not accept him."
Darcy frowned. Elizabeth reached up and smoothed his furrowed brow with her fingers.
"But Papa was my champion that day, for he declared that he would never see me again if I did."
Elizabeth had hoped this account would make him laugh again, but Darcy only smiled slightly, taking her hand and studying it yet again. Clearly he was troubled.
"What is it, my dear?" She asked.
"I cannot make sport of him. I think only of my own slipshod proposal, all my insupportable presumptions--that's why I was laughing. Not at him, but at myself. I cannot help but wonder if Mr. Collins were even a tenth as insulting as I upon first declaring my intentions."
"I daresay his complete and utter lack of sincere regard was an insult in and of itself, though he gave his farce of a presentation cordially enough," Elizabeth replied. When this assertion failed to give her husband comfort, she sighed and added, "Upon my word, will we ever put the past behind us?"
"You may want to forget that awful day in Hunsford, but I do not. It is a reminder of what I once was and must never be again, for if any man needed dressing down that day, it was I. You must promise to do so in the future, as well, should the occasion arise."
"I am happy to oblige, sir. But only if you promise to refrain from further self-reproach."
Elizabeth drew his face to hers and kissed him softly, which he returned. Before long, the coach was adequately warm enough for the both of them.
Posted on 2015-03-03
"I do not understand why Aunt and Uncle could not have attended the wedding," Georgiana said with an air of petulance to Col. Fitzwilliam, who was sitting in the seat opposite her in the coach that was fully on its way to his family's townhouse in London. Georgiana's companion, Mrs. Annesley, remained silent by her side, knitting something or another. It was a long way to the Matlock estate in Derbyshire where Georgiana would spend a fortnight while the Darcys honeymooned, and Fitzwilliam had decided they should rest a few days in London before making the journey.
"Mother and Father were a bit put out by your brother's hasty decision," Fitzwilliam said in response to her grievance.
"It was not hasty!"
"Not to you or I, but Darcy's private nature prevented him from relating the full breadth of their relationship in his letter. He did not even bring Elizabeth to meet them in Matlock during their engagement."
"He knew they would not have approved."
"Only because he kept them entirely in the dark in regards to her before writing a brief and perfunctory note declaring his betrothal and inviting them to attend their nuptials in the country. Of course they would not have approved. Of course they did not attend. And Darcy shall be made to answer for what he's done, I daresay."
Georgiana opened her mouth to protest, but Fitzwilliam put up his hand to halt her.
"It does not matter, Georgie, how much they are in love. There are rules of propriety in terms of introducing ones intended to the family, and not just in le bon ton."
"I wrote to them and described thoroughly how wonderful she is and how much William loves her! That should be well enough to win their approval!"
"Really? Tell me more about this illusory land of Should."
"Oh! How I hate it when you mock me! You treat me like a child."
Fitzwilliam could not help but laugh as he threw his hands up in surrender. "No longer, dearest! No longer! Indeed, you will be coming out before long. Next year, if I am not mistaken."
"Not that I am looking forward to it. Marriage is the furthest thing from my mind, Richard. I should much rather be practicing duets with my new sister-in-law.
Richard chose his words carefully. "Might this be your shyness talking?"
"No it is not!" She said sharply. "I simply have little regard for Society or the season and have no wish to be presented any time soon for the perusal of fortune-hunting riff-raff."
"And yet it is what all debutantes in possession of a sizable dowry must suffer eventually. Might as well get it over and done, Georgie; however, should you wish it, your brother would be willing to postpone it another year, for he is in no hurry for you to grow up and leave him, I assure you."
Georgiana stared pensively out the window for several moments before she finally looked at her cousin and said in all finality, "I shall discuss it with Elizabeth. And when we arrive in Matlock, I shall tell Aunt and Uncle myself of my displeasure at their abstention."
Fitzwilliam wanted to laugh again, but dared not. That should be most entertaining, indeed.
The Darcys carriage reached London just before sundown, and the couple had fallen asleep nestled together well before then as neither bride nor groom had slept more than an hour the night before the wedding. The sound of hooves against the cobblestone streets finally awoke Darcy, who was leaning against one side of the carriage with one arm fully draped around his napping wife still wrapped in the blanket. He kissed her hair before gently rousing her.
"Wake up, dearest. We are in London."
Elizabeth yawned and stretched. "Lord bless me, I had not meant to sleep so long."
"I'm afraid we are both guilty of that. It should not be long now."
The last statement for Darcy carried a double meaning unbeknownst to Elizabeth. At least, he hoped as much, for he felt he was in the final stretch of the most arduous journey of his entire life thus far. Everything he had suffered in the past was prologue to the upcoming moment he would enter his home with Elizabeth on his arm as his wife. He had brought her to Darcy House but once during their engagement in preparation for what she was to expect. She had met the staff, including Mrs. Chapman, the housekeeper these last fifteen years, and Peters, the butler, who had served at least twenty. Elizabeth had been overwhelmed at first, clearly unaccustomed to such luxury, but Darcy did all he could to put her mind at ease, assuring her that she need not be apprehensive about giving orders, that the servants would treat her with all the respect and subservience owing to Mrs. Darcy. The most unnerving part of the tour was when he showed Elizabeth her rooms on the second floor, which had not been in use since well before his mother died. It was the first time he had ever been in a bedroom with her, and they were alone!--for they had snuck off while her Uncle Gardiner, acting as chaperone, was busy perusing the vast library. As Elizabeth looked about the lavish room with admiration, a rush of emotion nearly overpowered Darcy. The vision of her exploring these chambers reminded him so much of his mother that he had to excuse himself into the hallway lest he burst into tears. He could not explain it at all, as she looked nothing like Anne Darcy, nor were their personalities similar in any way. Georgiana far more resembled their mother both in countenance and character than Elizabeth; therefore, Darcy concluded that it must have been the magnitude of knowing the room that had lay dormant for so many years would be brought to life once again and by the only woman meant to reside there, the woman so nearly lost to him forever who was now half of him forever. Darcy had collected himself just before Elizabeth entered the hallway in evident concern.
He was leaning against the wall and took great comfort just in hearing his name upon her lips. All was right and well. "Forgive me," he said simply.
"There is nothing to forgive. What discomposed you so?"
"Nothing at all. Do you like your room? Mrs. Chapman has been instructed to have it altered in any way you wish--"
"Fitzwilliam Darcy, do not dare dismiss my care for you," Elizabeth ordered, hands on her hips. The pretty picture she made forced him to smile before he responded,
"A mere bout of anxiety." He shrugged. "Such moments happen from time to time, but they pass quickly. There is hardly a need for concern."
Elizabeth looked around to make sure no one was watching, then eased over to her fiancé and put her arms around his waist. "I should like to think I can relieve these moments of distress, not cause them."
"Do not be silly." Darcy cupped her face in his hands and kissed her firm on the lips. "There," he said. "You have relieved me."
"I do not believe you."
He sighed in frustration. "And how can I convince you, my dear?"
She smiled up at him. "I am not certain. It may take years before I am persuaded you are well at ease."
"I do not think men are meant to be fully at ease. Such a thing leads to complacency, which leads to lethargy, which leads to generational deterioration."
"I refuse to accept that your being free of perpetual angst will lead to the destruction of civilization as we know it!"
"We are called upon not to be in every way comfortable, but to take charge and take care of those we love and everything for which we are responsible--"
"And we are called upon to take care of those we love," Elizabeth insisted. "Just as you refuse to rest in your duties, I shall not rest in mine, Mr. Darcy."
She kissed him, then lay her head upon his chest, embracing him tightly. They stood that way a few silent minutes, and finally he allowed his body to relax and melt in to hers. For a brief time, he truly felt the relief of which she spoke and looked forward to many more such moments in the future.
Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, having arrived at Darcy House an hour before, sat at the table in the smaller dining room of the lavish townhouse as courses were served to them by Darcy's most efficient kitchen staff. They had prepared an elegant meal for the newlyweds with a menu carefully selected by Mrs. Chapman, who was thorough enough to inquire about Mrs. Darcy's favorite dishes. Despite such a tasty spread before them, the couple picked at their food as though it were nothing more than last night's mutton. Despite wishing she could accommodate those who worked so hard to please them, Elizabeth found it difficult to eat more than a few bites, besieged as she was by her blasted nerves. Still, she could not help but find humor in the situation and looked over at her husband, who continued to stare blankly down at his plate.
"It appears neither of us carry much of an appetite this evening, Mr. Darcy."
Darcy roused from his momentary stupor. "Hm?"
Elizabeth smiled, reaching over to take his hand. "Tell me what is on your mind, sir--and I shall do the same."
"I shall not attempt to put into words what is on my mind, Madam, for I shall fail miserably."
"Very well, then I suppose I must break the silence by telling you what a bundle of nerves I am at this moment. With all due respect to your diligent staff, I could not possibly eat what is before me. Do you feel the same, Mr. Darcy?"
"I confess for myself it is more than nerves. It is utter bewilderment that you are in my home. Our home. It is...it is a feeling with which I am not at all familiar. More than elation, for I have felt that since you accepted me. I am reflecting on how this all came to pass and how, but for your tour of the lakes last summer with the Gardiners and visit to Pemberley by happenstance, we would not presently be in this room. You would not be holding my hand. You would not be my wife."
Elizabeth heart ached at his words and was indeed near the point of tears as he continued speaking ostensibly to himself:
"It makes me wonder how much of my own effort was required and how much good fortune or something greater may have been at work. But perhaps it is best not to mull over such matters."
At this, Elizabeth felt compelled to respond. "I have thought about these things, as well, and I have concluded that, while it a mere coincidence we were reunited, it was through a series of choices that the thread binding us together--while that thread bended and pulled and stretched to no end--it never gave way. My presence here now is not the result of good fortune. It was good fortune you were born a Darcy, but through your efforts that I shall die one. For that, I shall be forever thankful."
Elizabeth felt the gentle squeezing of her hand in response, as well as her husband's usual intense stare that she often found difficult to decipher. Tonight, however, she understood fully his meaning--and abject desire--behind those dark eyes. Dare she challenge him?
"I find I am very tired from the activities of the day," she said in a breathier voice than usual with the hope that she did not sound too ridiculous. "I should like to retire early if you don't mind."
Elizabeth stood, prompting Darcy to do the same as he was always trained to do.
"Anna shall attend you, one of our Pemberley maids sent by Mrs. Reynolds. I was assured she would suit you well."
"Of course. I thank you, sir."
Elizabeth passed behind him on her way out of the dining room, upon which she heard over her shoulder, "How long do you need?"
The question halted her footsteps, and she replied, not daring to meet his eyes lest the dinner table serve as the altar for their first conjugal union, "Half an hour."
Elizabeth then hastily left the room, half wondering as she headed in the direction of her chambers if she would hear her husband's footsteps behind her directly. Fortunately for her nerves, she did not. Later she lay in the warm bath, trying to relax, but finding it most difficult, tormented as she was with thoughts of her husband--his eyes, his handsome face, his virility, his...tallness. And how in just a few minutes he would be coming to her to make her his. She wondered what he was doing at that very moment in his adjoining bedroom. Was he as nervous as she? Would he be gentle? She was not so naïve as to believe him inexperienced, though she hated the very thought of him having knowledge of other women, even from years ago. Finally, she grudgingly admitted to herself that she must count on him to guide her through the lovemaking process, and she was certain--grateful, even--that he would be a most willing and capable teacher.
"Mrs. Darcy? I have your bedclothes ready."
"Thank you, Anna."
Elizabeth had instructed Anna to locate the nightgown given to her by her Aunt Gardiner as a wedding gift--the silky, sheer one with the deep neckline that would expose not only much of her bosom, but also her back near down to the waist! Elizabeth had blushed upon first receiving the gift in the presence of her aunt and Jane, who had turned her own shade of crimson at receiving a similar rendition.
"Aunt, I could not possibly!" Elizabeth had said.
"Nor I! What will he think of me?" Jane concurred.
"Oh, don't be so missish, dear girls. I have seen the way your men look at you, so it is not as though you shall be wearing them for long."
The two sisters gasped. Mrs. Gardiner smiled and shook her head.
"You are too innocent to comprehend at present, but you will understand soon enough the gift that is passion with your husband. Enjoy it, ladies, for felicity in the bedroom is a rare thing as so few of us marry for love."
Once again, the girls had bombarded their aunt with questions, but Mrs. Gardiner merely excused herself and left the room with a knowing smile.
"I have your towel, M'um."
Elizabeth was jolted from her reverie as Anna held out a fresh towel for her. Elizabeth stepped out of the bath and dried herself with her abigail's assistance.
"Are you married, Anna?"
"Aye, M'um, just a year ago. My husband's an under-butler at Pemberley."
"And were you nervous on your wedding night?"
Anna seemed surprised that her new mistress was speaking to her on such equal terms, but answered obligingly, "I was, M'um."
Elizabeth suddenly checked herself. "Forgive me, Anna. That was most improper. I should not have asked."
"I understand how you feel, Mrs. Darcy. A glass of wine would help."
Elizabeth slipped on the nightgown, followed by a beautiful new dressing gown she understood to be hand-picked by Mrs. Chapman at the master's request. She felt at the pins keeping her hair in place.
"Should I wear my hair down?"
"Most definitely, M'um! You have such lovely curls. And I understand lavender is your scent of choice. Permit me."
Elizabeth spent the next ten minutes allowing Anna to prepare her before the girl excused herself upon her mistress's approval and assurance that she would not be needed for the rest of the evening. Elizabeth sat at her dressing table, taking sips of wine, looking at her reflection in the mirror. She was no longer a running, jumping, tree-climbing, country maiden, but a married woman of the World. She so wanted her husband to be pleased with her, to live up to the standard of excellence set upon himself. Pondering this, something caught her eye on the dressing table--a box. A box wrapped in gold paper with a note attached.
Why did Anna not mention this? Perhaps she did not notice, either.
Setting down the wine glass, Elizabeth took the note from the gift, which read:
Could I be what I have been,
And could I see what I have seen--
Could I repose upon the breast
Which once my warmest wishes blest--
I should not seek another zone,
Because I cannot love but one.
Elizabeth carefully removed the wrapping to reveal a case no doubt containing a necklace. She held her breath upon lifting the lid, then exhaled upon the sight of a single strand of pearls with a diamond cluster clasp.
"Oh, William," she whispered.
"You found your gift, I see," a masculine voice answered.
Elizabeth hardly had to time to turn before Darcy appeared behind her, laying his hands upon her shoulders. He was wearing an elegant robe over a nightshirt untied at the neck to expose his bare chest. The privilege of seeing him so informally attired pleased her immensely, and she looked forward to many years' worth of nights where she could look upon him as no one else could. Admiring and adoring him through the mirror, she took one of his hands and kissed it.
"Will you ever cease to astonish me, dear husband?" Elizabeth said as he leaned forward and took the pearls from their decorative encasement. "I had no idea you were an admirer of Byron, sir."
Darcy delicately adorned her neck with the pearls. "More of an enthusiast. I choose very carefully whom I admire," he said as he snapped the necklace in place.
Elizabeth tentatively raised her hand to her neck, almost fearing to touch something so precious.
"They are exquisite," she said. "But William, you must know that I do not require such gifts--"
"Are you rejecting me again, Mrs. Darcy?"
Elizabeth at once stood to face him in utter repentance. "Of course not! Oh, my sweetheart, do not think--"
Darcy broke into laughter, embracing her tightly and kissing her fretful face. Realizing the jest, she pounded his chest with both fists.
"Oh! Insufferable man!"
Her husband stifled any further admonishment with a thorough, passionate kiss that she wholeheartedly returned as he ran his hands over the silky fabric of her dressing gown, a thin obstruction he slipped off of her easily as the first measure in exploring her body. The feeling of his hands on the bare skin of her back made her moan against his mouth, and she wrapped her arms around his neck as he began touching her in places once forbidden before this very evening. She was not afraid, for she felt such a need to be as close to this man as heaven allowed that all apprehension dissipated the instant his trembling hands moved over her relentlessly but tenderly. Her eyes remained closed and their lips never parted as she felt him scoop her up into his arms and carry her to the bed--whose bed it was, his or hers, remained unclear; not that she cared, for his hands and lips continued their seemingly endless journey that robbed her of all reason, transcending her imagination and carrying her off into oblivion. She supposed herself mad, desperate even, while helping to remove his clothing. Surely such wanton behavior was unseemly, but it was too late. And once she felt the warmth of his bare skin against hers, she moaned again in rapturous surrender, however reluctant she was to look upon him lest she become overwhelmed by what was happening to her. After countless minutes, after an eternity of ecstasy, she felt her nightgown being lifted over her head and off of her body, upon which she heard her husband's coarse plea: "Lizzy!"
She opened her eyes to see him fully unclothed and marveled at his divinely masculine form hovering over her. His dark eyes bore into hers, and she nodded her consent, sensing both his concern for her welfare, as well as the ardent need to consummate their love. She touched him brazenly, upon which he exhaled and crushed his mouth against hers, wherein she had to remind herself between kisses to breathe. Their flesh pressed together, and she felt his weight upon her with only faint candlelight to render one lover barely visible to the other. As she most willingly and joyfully gave herself to her beloved, Elizabeth at last fully understood what her Aunt Gardiner had meant. She needed no instruction, no books, and no counsel on how to make love to her husband, for nature would indeed take its course. Her inhibition where he was concerned was now a thing of the past, and with a few quick movements, her girlhood was gone. She smiled as both tears of pain and pleasure ran down her cheeks and reveled in the sensation of hot breath against her ear. When at last the storm subsided, they neither of them felt compelled to leave their embrace.
Charlotte Collins looked over at her husband sitting across from her in the carriage on the way to Kent, patiently waiting for the proper moment to tell him of her condition. A marriage such as theirs was not uncommon, but they probably spoke less to one another than most couples on a daily basis--not out of resentment or mutual disdain, but because they simply had little about which to discuss beyond the order of the day. These brief conversations took place routinely at the breakfast table; however, the day after Lizzy and Jane's wedding had been an exception, for on this particular morning and every morning for the past week, she and Mr. Collins had dined with the entire Lucas family, including Lady Lucas, Charlotte's younger brother Henry, who had recently announced his own engagement, brother Christian, who was a Meryton law clerk of twenty-three, Maria, now sixteen and well out, and twelve-year-old Sophie, who ever looked up to Maria. And of course there was Sir William, who rattled away endlessly about the upcoming events in Meryton while Lady Lucas was teaching her youngest daughters the finer arts of local gossip. Mr. Collins, meanwhile, had kept his eyes on his plate and ate his ham and eggs in silence, ignoring her family completely, for the Lucas's realized early into their daughter's marriage that Mr. Collins's interests began and ended with his duties in Hunsford, and that the less they addressed him, the less they had to hear a response somehow calling to attention her ladyship, her estate, his parish, or his garden. The table was as much of a raucous as usual, so Charlotte did not blame Mr. Collins for tuning them out for his own sanity. For a few moments, she had considered making an announcement to all that her husband should soon have an heir, her parents a grandchild, and her siblings a new niece or nephew. But the right moment to make such an announcement never seemed to present itself, and therefore she had decided that a letter to her family upon returning home would do just as well. Yes, the carriage ride home would be the most convenient and proper time for her to share with Mr. Collins her--their--life-changing news.
She watched her husband quietly as he read a new book of sermons and marked various pages, no doubt searching for passages that might please her ladyship, for he had been a nervous wreck since the day he had informed Lady Catherine of the gossip concerning her nephew's intentions to marry Elizabeth Bennet, a young woman whose manners Lady Catherine had already thought--after Lizzy's extended visit to the parsonage last Easter--could use some improvement given her opinions unbecoming of a lady in her station. Ever since the formal announcement of Mr. Darcy's betrothal, Mr. Collins had considered himself most unfortunate to be the cousin of such an impertinent, headstrong hoyden, and had told her ladyship as much whenever possible; but his pleas for clemency in the face of "this whole awful affair" fell on deaf ears, for since neither Lizzy nor Mr. Darcy were readily available to censure at length, the cousin of that "impudent chit" would have to do; therefore, Mr. Collins would be paying the price for Elizabeth's marriage to her nephew for the duration. He would continue to grovel and agree with whatever her ladyship said in regards to the Darcys, and hopefully time would heal the wound. Perhaps this bit of news would ease his mind in some way--or perhaps it would only add undue stress. In any case, she could not see the use in delaying this conversation any longer.
"My dear, I have need to discuss the upstairs guest room."
Several moments passed before Mr. Collins looked up from his book. "Did you say something, my dear?"
"I did, sir. The upstairs guest room, the corner room--you know, the one situated for Eliza when last she visited..."
Mr. Collins's brow furrowed as though straining to comprehend her meaning. "Yes?" He asked simply.
"I should like to modify the room in accordance with an upcoming...change in our circumstances."
Now Mr. Collins was truly baffled. "I am afraid I do not take your meaning, Mrs. Collins."
"I mean that the room will have to be altered in the very near future, my dear--for I am with child."
A long silence ensued as Charlotte allowed the news to permeate. Her husband's expression must have changed no less than half a dozen times before he finally asked, "You are certain?"
Charlotte nodded. "I started feeling the symptoms about two weeks ago, and Dr. Thompson confirmed my suspicions just before we left Hunsford for the wedding."
"Dear Lord...oh, my dear wife--this is most excellent news!"
Charlotte smiled timidly at this favorable response--not that she feared the reverse, but his apparent cheer was a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately, he continued:
"I was most confident this day would come sooner or later, but the timing of such a revelation could not be better, dear wife--for I have been searching for a more agreeable digression that may divert Lady Catherine's current frame of mind, and I am certain your condition is just the thing to lift her spirits. We must welcome her ladyship's counsel in all regards to your confinement and express gratitude at every turn, do you hear? Ah, this is grand news, indeed!"
He closed his book at that moment and looked out the window of the carriage as though a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders.
"I am glad you are pleased, my dear," said Charlotte, entirely unsurprised by such a soliloquy. This in no way tempered her current frame of mind, for she neither needed nor desired her husband to share in her joy in the very same vein as she. He did not even bother to inquire about her seeing Dr. Thompson without his knowledge--again, no matter. Just his approval was enough, and she knew Mr. Collins would be little in the way once the baby was born. As for Lady Catherine, Charlotte would gladly bear her guidance and take all of her suggestions to heart just as Mr. Collins required. Indeed, all of her unquestioning compliance was a small price to pay for the happiness of becoming a mother. She had learned long ago how to handle Lady Catherine's constant interference--or influence, in her home. This child was her own piece of the world, her one true joy in life, someone to love forever and unconditionally, and no one could take that away from her.
Posted on 2015-03-08
She is gone!
Darcy awakened suddenly from a bothersome dream that had faded away but for those penetrating words that caused him to sit straight up in bed, searching frantically for his wife. To his relief, he had imagined such an exclamation, as she was lying by his side in a deep and peaceful slumber. He touched the thick curls that blanketed her otherwise exposed upper body, then, feeling a chill in the room, covered her with the counterpane up to her lovely neck. As he fully came to his senses, he realized it was near dawn, and they both of them had slept little throughout the night. Darcy contritely recalled how he had disturbed Elizabeth's rest no less than four times due to the stirrings of arousal that would not give way till he felt her beneath him once again, though he was at least charitable enough not to fully join with her so that she may rest that part of her aching body. She was both accommodating and passionate as he both gave her pleasure and took his own in other ways, but, as he watched her sleep, the pangs of guilt disturbed him greatly. Was he an animal? At the moment, he felt most certainly that he was no gentleman! He also felt the gentle rumblings of his empty stomach, which brought him to mind the conversation he'd had many hours before with his longtime valet, Fleming, who had dutifully helped him prepare for his first night as a married man.
"Fleming, you must convey my apologies to the kitchen staff and tell them how exceedingly pleased I am with their efforts. I suppose I did not anticipate...Mrs. Darcy's fatigue."
"Not at all, sir," said Fleming with a slight smile. "You must remember that anticipation is a gift your servants possesses in abundance, for they had already prepared for such a contingency."
"I see," said Darcy, a little embarrassed.
"Rest assured, sir, that the meal shall not go to waste. You only need to ring, and a tray shall be brought up directly. Properly warmed, of course."
"Right. Well, excellent. Thank you, Fleming." Now fully in his nightclothes, Darcy was standing in front of the fire, staring thoughtfully into the flames.
"Will that be all, sir?"
"Yes. No, wait--what time do you have?"
"It is seventeen past the hour of eight, sir."
Nearly half an hour has passed. Should I give her more time? It may alarm her if I appear overzealous. Perhaps I should wait a bit longer.
Fleming broke the tense silence in the room when he finally said, "And may I say a hearty congratulations, sir, in regards to your nuptials? Mrs. Darcy is a lovely woman, indeed."
"Thank you, Fleming. Wait--did you say 'lovely' or 'lucky?'"
"I...I said 'lovely,' sir. Though I daresay 'lucky' would also be an apt description--"
"On that you are wrong, Fleming. I must inform you of this now, as I understand those in my employ possess not only the gift of anticipation, but also the gift of idle gossip."
Fleming now appeared quite nervous, no doubt under the impression that he had put his foot in his mouth. "Sir, I swear I meant no disrespect toward the lady--"
Darcy put up his hand to silence him. "I am not censuring you, Fleming; rather I am requesting that you as my valet convey these words to all working within the walls of any Darcy manor from the master's lips himself--that I am the lucky one. Of all I possess, from here to Pemberley and beyond, none is more valuable than that woman in the next room. I want that made quite clear, Fleming, for I will not tolerate speculation of any kind in regards to Mrs. Darcy--not in this house or any other."
"Y-yes, sir. I shall make it perfectly clear, sir."
Darcy smiled at him reassuringly and patted him on the back. "Thank you, Fleming. You may retire. I shall ring in the morning if anything is needed."
Darcy laughed to himself at the memory of poor Fleming scurrying out of the room. It was not his intention to frighten the man, but Darcy was well aware of the incessant natter among servants, who often saw the gentry as an endless source of entertainment--and to be fair were often used as entertainment themselves by certain rakes in his own class. He ignored the rampant whisperings most of the time, as he felt it a minor drawback of leading a privileged life, besides the fact that it was best to have nothing to hide so that one may therefore hide nothing. But Elizabeth's name being bandied about--theories and assumptions about her lack of wealth and connections and how such a woman came to be Mrs. Darcy--such a thing would not be borne! And as Fleming was most proficient, fiercely loyal and accompanied him most everywhere, Darcy was certain he could count on the message reaching the ears of all in his servitude within a short span of time.
At the moment, however, the master of the home was famished, and he imagined Elizabeth would feel the same when she awakened. He robed himself and departed her room in order to summon Fleming, who appeared within minutes, still in his nightclothes, for it was not yet daybreak and few servants would be up and about at this hour. Darcy apologized for ringing so prematurely and stated simply that he wanted to make sure the fires were lit and that there would be plenty to eat and drink for both himself and Mrs. Darcy before she awakened. Indeed, the more Darcy explained the matter, the more excited he became at the prospect of surprising his bride with breakfast in bed. A rush of utter delight flowed through him as he finished his instructions and told his man to make haste. Fleming assured all would be brought to Mrs. Darcy's room quickly as possible.
"No! Not her room," Darcy said in a whisper. "We do not want to wake her. Deliver everything to my room and have the fires lit at once."
"Yes, sir," Fleming whispered back before promptly setting out.
Thrilled as a child on Christmas morning, Darcy tiptoed back into his wife's room, disrobed, and slipped back into her bed as surreptitiously as possible. A few moments later, a chamber maid quietly stepped in and proceeded to light the fire. Darcy, lying still as possible, actually prayed that Elizabeth would not stir, though he knew the maids were well versed in the practice of stealthily stoking a fireplace. Darcy exhaled after the girl exited as silently as she had entered. Had he known her name, he would have made sure to have an extra sixpence dispensed in her week's pay, glad as he was that everything was falling into place so nicely. At long last, he would feel the pleasure of holding Elizabeth in his arms while she slept, something he was unable to do last night without becoming impassioned. Tucking her bottom against his abdomen, he enclosed her lovely, naked form in his embrace and breathed in the intoxicating scent of her hair. Though well settled, he was neither tired nor aroused, but rather at peace, daydreaming about the future they would share much as he had during the days when she was always in his thoughts but entirely out of reach. Of course, the grim and dark thoughts also intruded, but he managed to cast them aside for the time being--for her proximity never failed to bring him comfort--and instead replace them with more agreeable deliberations. What would their children look like? What would it be like to show her all of Pemberley's grounds--on horseback, perhaps--or to sleigh ride with her in the winter? Surely the staff and the tenants shall adore her, but how long could he have her all to himself before inevitably introducing her to his Aunt and Uncle Matlock and the rest of London Society? Surely Lady Matlock would insist on having a ball--such a tiresome event of which he had no use. Still, if Elizabeth should appreciate it, much as she enjoys dancing...
During this reverie, she began to awaken, stirring slightly, and he kissed her temple. She entwined her fingers with his, and he smiled into her hair as she sighed, "Good morning, Mr. Darcy."
"It is barely that, Mrs. Darcy," he said. "You may sleep longer if you wish."
She turned to face him with a yawn and nestled into his chest. "I am far too hungry to sleep longer."
Bravo! Darcy thought. The timing could not be more brilliant.
"Then we must remedy that, shall we not?"
He arose enthusiastically and robed himself once again, then found her own nightclothes laying scattered on the floor and handed them to her as she sat up in surprise.
"The fire is already lit!"
"So it is," he said with a grin. "Come, make haste--No! Wait there. Do not move."
Darcy hurried into his adjoining bedroom and shut the door.
Elizabeth sat still on the bed, her arms folded around her legs, waiting for her uncharacteristically exuberant husband to return. She felt the string of pearls that still clung to her neck, and her head began swimming with the memories of all they had done the night before--his kisses, the way he touched her--the way she touched him! It was the most magnificent experience of her life, and she loved how he was as reluctant for it to end as she, for he had resumed their lovemaking throughout the night, gently but determinedly waking her several times and teaching her how much more there was to physical love than mere copulation. It all felt like a dream, but she knew what they had shared was as true and genuine as the pearls around her neck, even if the occurrence seemed a blur in retrospect.
A few moments later, Darcy reappeared, closing the door behind him, a look of disappointment on his face.
"Whatever is the matter?" Elizabeth asked.
"Nothing of significance. Just...apparently a little more time is needed."
"Need for what, my dear?"
"Fleming will knock when all is ready."
Darcy sat on the edge of the bed, his shoulders slumped. Was he actually pouting? Elizabeth came up behind him and threw her arms around his shoulders, whispering into his ear.
"Why, Mr. Darcy--were you going to surprise me?" She planted tiny kisses on his neck. "Have I told you this morning what a marvelous man you are?"
His mouth finally crooked into a smile, tempting one of his dimples to appear. "No, you have not."
She let him go abruptly and lay back down in bed, stretching like a house cat. "Pity. Well, it is still early, after all."
Darcy turned and proceeded to climb atop her, his eyes full of mischief. She could not help but laugh. Could anyone love someone as much as she loved her husband at this moment? Trapping her beneath him, he clasped her hands with his and brought them over her head. His lips barely brushed against hers as he murmured, "Yes, it is very early. There is time for many things."
She tried to kiss him, but he pulled away just out of her reach. She sighed with longing and decided he had won their bout of teasing this round. He allowed her one kiss, but would not release her hands. Such sweet agony was bound to drive her mad if he continued, which, judging from his leer, was exactly what he wanted.
"William..." she pleaded.
He kissed her again briefly and pulled away once again. Insufferable man.
"I want to hold you," she said in a near whimper.
His will buckled upon her plea, and he claimed her lips violently. He loosened his grip enough for her to release herself and wrap her arms tightly around him. He raised the hem of her nightgown to caress her thighs, and she proceeded to untie his robe. His lips tore from hers to explore wildly, from her chin, down her neck, along her breasts, and back up to dust her face with kisses. Soon as the lovers were ready to complete one another came a most untimely knock at the door.
"Thank you, Fleming!" Darcy answered in as contained a voice as possible under the circumstances. Hardly noticing the interruption, Elizabeth ran her hands through his hair and brought his mouth down to hers once again. After many moments, Darcy stopped for air, his mouth hovering over hers, and they breathed each other's breath.
"God, Lizzy...you are--"
"Will there be anything else, sir?"
"Be gone, man!" Darcy shouted at the door, his patience at an end. Conversely, Elizabeth could not help but laugh uproariously, and her husband finally collapsed upon her in defeat. The moment had passed, their passion replaced with her own mirth at the situation and Darcy's utter frustration. Still, she held him to her firmly.
"Do not be cross, my love. We shall have ample opportunity in the near future to...continue this conversation."
Caroline Bingley enjoyed her tea in the sitting room of the Hurst townhouse just a stone's throw from Hyde Park where she had resided the week following her brother and Mr. Darcy's double wedding. Her older sister, Louisa, as well as Lady Eleanor and Lady Norwood, had agreed to all congregate that afternoon to share of what they knew in regards to the newlywed Darcys, who were honeymooning just up the street.
"They have not left Darcy House," said Lady Eleanor in astonishment. "Not once! Not even for a carriage ride or just a bit of air."
"I find it very odd, indeed," said Lady Norwood. "One might get the impression that Darcy was ashamed of the woman."
Lady Eleanor nodded. "Not that I blame him. Why ever did he marry her?"
"Surely she entrapped him," answered Lady Norwood. "Country women are notorious for such things. Sir Lawrence never ventures North of London for just that reason."
At that bit of nonsense, Caroline felt compelled to interject. "Lady Norwood, your husband is not only a married man, but well into his fifties. Surely he is not in danger of being preyed upon."
"Oh, do not be so naïve, Caroline," replied Lady Norwood. "They are taught from girlhood how to identify, allure and ensnare men of Society into taking them as lovers. Many are very pretty, I daresay, as well as extremely artful. And they are quite adept at convincing susceptible men like my Lawrence to give them carte blanche. It is all too common!"
"I see," said Caroline with full knowledge that Sir Lawrence was scarcely accepted by the ton, having earned his fortune in trade much like Sir William Lucas and her own father, Alfred Bingley. Lady Norwood, despite a meager title that enabled her delusions of grandeur, was well in the same boat as Caroline in terms of societal status, and both women had decided long ago to aid one another in improving their respective stations. As Louisa was already married to the well-connected but otherwise useless Mr. Hurst, she had no horse in the race, but did enjoy a spot of gossip with her tea--as did Lady Eleanor, who was clever enough to have married a man of magnitude whose estate joined with her already inherited rank, title, and wealth. It was she Caroline envied and admired most of all, for it was she who had everything a woman of worth should desire in life--beauty (or style, at least), wealth, status, connections and, above all, good breeding. Caroline Bingley would always be the daughter of a tradesman, but that shall not be her enduring legacy.
"The question is," pondered Lady Eleanor, "Why is he hiding her? I understand he has not yet even introduced her to his uncle, the Earl of Matlock!" Lady Eleanor placed such emphasis on his lordship's title one would think she referenced the king himself.
"Oh, indeed!" Louisa finally contributed. "Caroline and I saw it firsthand--that Lord and Lady Matlock had abstained from the wedding."
"Were they even invited, do you think?" Lady Norwood asked.
"Darcy would not dare snub his uncle in such a way," said Caroline. "Imprudent he may be, but otherwise dutiful. No, I am convinced his lordship was invited, but abstained. Either he outright disapproves of Darcy's little wood-nymph or felt slighted by the absence of a proper introduction. Remember, Darcy is master of his own household. In all propriety, he may welcome his uncle's guidance, but in practice, he answers to no one."
"Oh, Caroline--what a catch he would have been for you, my dear!" Lady Norwood cried.
"And what a catch Miss Darcy would have been for Charles," said Louisa. "Caroline labored exceedingly to make it so, I assure you, but unfortunately she was no match for the charms of the enthralling Bennet sisters."
Louisa laughed at her own quip, and Caroline was becoming annoyed with her sister's biting remarks. Have your fun, she thought. Being married to even a baronet would be an improvement over the addle-pated lump to which you are shackled.
"He is not ashamed of his wife--at least, not yet," Caroline finally said, changing the subject. "I was a witness to it all. Eliza made sport of him from the start and showed him no reverence or proper respect. She is all conceit and impertinence, and--fool that he is--her cheek bewitched the poor devil. That and her fine eyes."
"Amorous flame," chuckled Lady Norwood.
"I confess it is true," concurred Louisa. "He seemed to begin admiring her near as soon as he scorned her!"
"I keep telling you, Caroline," said Lady Eleanor, "Men of substance are not susceptible to flattery. They require more of a challenge. And speaking of challenge, have I told you about the arrival of Lord Thornhaugh?"
The ladies put down their tea glasses and--to her great satisfaction--stared at Lady Eleanor in profound curiosity. Caroline rang the bell, and a servant appeared.
"Margaret, a tray of biscuits, please."
The girl curtseyed and disappeared from the room where upon Caroline urged Lady Eleanor to continue. This visit should turn out to be most worthwhile, after all.
Mr. and Mrs. Darcy continued their "conversations" at length after filling their stomachs with food and wine, sharing a bath and a bed, dressing and then undressing one another. In fact, they almost never left their chambers or even one another's arms in those first few days, and the time they spent in London passed all too quickly. After almost a week, Darcy became eager to move along to Pemberley, and Elizabeth readily complied to set out directly, though she could not help but notice her husband's lack of interest in morning walks along the promenade of Hyde Park. Indeed, the man had no interest in even setting foot out of doors, mostly citing the weather, and Elizabeth was ultimately obliged to give up the entreaty, especially when he would begin kissing her neck the way she liked. On the morning they were to depart for Derbyshire, after once again refusing to indulge her on what he considered to be a "particularly chilly morning," Darcy kissed Elizabeth's pouting lips and assured her that Pemberley's grounds were ideal for the long walks she enjoyed so well.
"It shall be as cold in Derbyshire as it is in London."
"London is much colder, I assure you," he said solemnly, and she let the subject drop.
Darcy had hoped to reach Pemberley in only two days after starting off at sunrise, stopping only briefly at an Inn to rest, change horses and have a proper meal; but eventually even he had to acknowledge the impossibility of such an endeavor, finally (and begrudgingly) agreeing to his head coachman's more reasonable proposal that they set aside four days of travel given the road conditions. Elizabeth assured Darcy that she was in no great hurry, that the estate would still be there should they arrive in two days or ten. She was right, of course, and Darcy was beginning to marvel at his own impatience. Why exhaust the men and the horses in order to curtail the trip by half? As they arrived on the premises, Mrs. Reynolds was waiting for them, lining up the staff accordingly as was customary upon the master's return after an extended absence. Someone would keep watch throughout the day, then alert both the housekeeper and butler soon as the carriage was spotted. Very rarely had Mrs. Reynolds been unprepared for Darcy's arrival, as he nearly always notified her by private messenger well in advance. One exception had been when he had appeared the day guests on holiday had been on the premises to admire the splendor of the place, a practice not uncommon during the summer months. Darcy and his own companions were expected the following day, so Mrs. Reynolds had allowed for an arranged tour of the grounds--a Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, along with their niece. Business matters had required Darcy to ride ahead of his party in order to meet with his steward, Mr. Thatcher, the very man who replaced the elder Mr. Wickham upon his death. Darcy had been absent from Pemberley a month entire, and there were affairs that needed his attention. Quite numb he was in those days to the fact that Elizabeth Bennet would never be his, and he was grateful to have reached a level of acceptance that allowed him to think of her only when idle (nights were the worst). He therefore decided to take Georgiana's suggestion of traveling abroad for a month--to Italy, to France, to Scotland--all the while busying himself profusely with both work and recreation. By July, he had grown tired of traveling and longed for the sanctity of home without the despondency of perpetual solitude. Even Caroline Bingley's company was an improvement over that. Hence, he retrieved Georgiana from the Bingleys care and invited them along with the Hursts to Pemberley a full month before the start of the shooting season.
He remembered being in a better mood than usual that day he rode up on the parklands to meet with Thatcher, a feeling to which Darcy attributed being where he was ever most contented. The sun was shining, the air was crisp, and a familiar weight was not pressing upon his heart. He had dismounted, sending his horse away with the stable hand, and was not far from the stable block himself when he spotted her not more than twenty yards away, exiting the house.
The moment he laid eyes upon her, Darcy was certain that he had gone mad. It simply could not be! Moments later, when another couple joined her, Darcy breathed a sigh of relief in realizing they were indeed the guests Mrs. Reynolds had mentioned in her note. Darcy feared to hope that Elizabeth's opinion of him had improved since last he saw her, but had not for a moment considered avoiding her altogether, which he could have easily done had he the inclination. The estate was certainly vast enough for a hasty retreat. No, after the initial shock had subsided, his feet carried him to her instantly. Perhaps he had gone a little mad, because in that instant he was truly not in his right mind and had no idea what he was to say until he reached her party. Thankfully, he managed to be thoroughly, yet reticently amiable toward her and her relations, despite the emotions that whirled violently within him. As the afternoon progressed, and Darcy had decidedly convinced himself that the favorable change in her demeanor was not wishful thinking, he once again could not help himself and asked Elizabeth if he might introduce her to Georgiana. What on Earth was he thinking? Not three months earlier, she had figuratively spat in his face, and rightly so! She despised him! It was the Netherfield ball all over again! Was he to drive himself to Bedlam or was he merely the proverbial glutton for punishment? This time, however, he was not to be thwarted by another rejection, for she had consented, and this time not reluctantly, but with courtesy and kindness--a warmth, even. It was a start! By God, it was a start! Even the slightest bits of encouragement from her were to him like sips of water after crossing the Sahara, and with every drink he felt his soul reviving. Then the moment came when she and the Gardiners had to depart, and the devilish weight upon his heart returned, the fear of never seeing her again despite her avowal to the contrary gripping his insides. He remembered as he helped her into the carriage wanting to take her into his arms and beg her to not leave--not ever! As absurd as the very notion may have been, it took every muscle in his body to stand still and allow the carriage to pull away; and he would never forget the exhilaration of her looking back at him just before they were out of sight. Perhaps that was why, now that they were married, he was so eager to reach Pemberley as quickly as possible--to replace the memory of her leaving his home with a new one of her staying to reside for as long as they lived.
The carriage pulled up to the front of the house where the upper servants were lined up according to gender and rank with Mrs. Reynolds and Mr. Bridges at the forefront. Though Bridges was a most competent butler, having risen up the ranks throughout his lifetime to attain his current title about ten years ago, everyone acknowledged Mrs. Reynolds as the head of the household when Darcy was away and second in command amidst his presence, having practically raised him since the age of four. She knew him better than anyone, was superior in anticipating his needs, could interpret every mood and gesture, and was most adept at making things understood to the other servants - when to attend him, when to let him be, and how to deduce his temperament from one day to the next. Darcy knew that his marriage was bittersweet for this woman stricken in years, for the brunt of this burden now belonged to Mrs. Darcy, and it was a full-time job, indeed--though not one in which Mrs. Reynolds, she herself admitted, had looked forward to relinquishing. A footman opened the carriage door and Darcy exited, leading his wife out by the hand. Mrs. Reynolds smiled warmly at the new mistress and made a deep curtsey.
"Welcome home, Mrs. Darcy."
Elizabeth blushed, clearly honored by the gesture, and seemed as surprised as Darcy to witness the servants follow suit, the females in line curtseying as the men concurrently bowed. Darcy looked at Mrs. Reynolds with great affection and by her countenance knew that this moment was her wedding gift to him.
Georgiana, having arrived in Matlock just that afternoon, sat across from Col. Fitzwilliam at the dinner table with the earl and countess at the lower and upper ends respectively. Lord Matlock, Georgiana had always observed, resembled her brother in physical stature and brooding countenance--only their uncle was much older, of course, and possessed striking blue eyes as opposed to William's eyes of chocolate brown. And as did William with his sense of duty, his lordship took his own quite seriously. He had neither the time nor inclination for "nonsense," a word he used commonly, which was perhaps why his younger son tended more toward the lighthearted in terms of temperament and loved a good laugh-- even sometimes at his father's expense, which vexed his lordship to no end. Lady Matlock, sitting with perfect deportment at the head of the table, was also an intimidating presence for Georgiana, for though she was nowhere near as severe and opinionated as Lady Catherine, she held an air of great style and elegance in addition to being one, like Elizabeth, to speak as she found. Georgiana was never certain of where she fell in her ladyship's esteem, for while she may give the occasional smile or nod, the countess only voiced her approval in but exceedingly rare moments.
As the first course was being served, Georgiana could not help but notice her cousin's frequent glances at her, a look of amusement on his face. She knew what he was about, but only looked away in annoyance. Why did she have to express her anger over her aunt and uncle having missed the wedding so vehemently--and to Richard of all people? Georgiana had decided days ago that her behavior in the carriage was unfair and silly. Certainly Elizabeth would never lose her temper in such a juvenile fashion. She handled everything with elegance and grace. And kindness. Well, maybe she used a few harsh words with William after initially refusing his hand, but Georgiana was still convinced that the quarrel that had separated them was based on a terrible misunderstanding, one that thank heavens they resolved. And then, she supposed, there was that altercation with Lady Catherine, but--
"Georgiana, dear, have you no appetite, this evening?" Lady Matlock asked with concern.
Georgiana looked down at her soup, realizing she had not even lifted her spoon.
"You must excuse your niece this evening, Mama," said Richard. "She is a bit tired from the journey."
Blasted Richard, thought Georgiana. I do not need you to speak for me.
"Well, the road from London to Matlock is a long one," said Lord Matlock. "I should hope you saw to her comfort, Richard."
"Of course, Father. Though I suspect it is more from distraction than the absence of hunger, I can account for neither--but no matter. I am sure my dear cousin will disclose all that is on her mind as she sees fit."
Glaring at the colonel, Georgiana asserted that she was not tired or distracted, took the spoon and began to tuck in. Several minutes passed in silence before Lady Matlock finally broached the subject that hung in the air like one of those French hot-air balloons.
"So let us have it, the two of you."
"Why, whatever do you mean, Mother?" Richard asked innocently.
"Oh, give over, Richard. You know perfectly well I wish to discuss this country girl your cousin has seen fit to marry without even introducing her to what remains of his family."
Georgiana gripped the fabric of her skirts under the table, detesting Elizabeth being described with such condescension. She remembered how with so much refinement Elizabeth had handled Caroline Bingley's overt impoliteness that night at Pemberley when visiting with her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner. She remembered how her brother looked at Elizabeth the whole of that evening and how he lit up whenever she was near him or even in the room. Her thoughts were interrupted by a question asked by Lord Matlock in exasperation.
"Must we talk about this now, Alexandra?"
"I see no reason why not," her ladyship answered. "What else have we to talk about but the weather?"
"You are incorrect, Madam," said Richard. "The lady has been introduced to some of Darcy's close relations. She has had the honor, for example, of meeting the noble Lady Catherine--"
"Do not try your mother's patience, Richard," warned his lordship, though it was clear the patience he spoke of was his own. "You know right well the five-page letter I received from my sister condemning this relationship soon as the engagement was confirmed."
"And you know right well how hysterical Aunt Catherine can be, not to mention abominably rude and snobbish. Reminds me a little of your eldest, to be quite honest."
"Richard!" Her ladyship exclaimed.
"Very well, Mother, I shall get right to the point. You missed a most lovely and moving ceremony, and my cousin is--if it can be believed--the happiest of men this very moment. Elizabeth Bennet--or Darcy, I should say--is a perfectly lovely, intelligent woman with a liveliness of mind well-suited to Darce."
"Then why not write us asking for our blessing--or better yet, pay us a call to discuss it in person?" Lord Matlock asked before taking a drink from his wineglass.
Fitzwilliam looked over at Georgiana, inviting her to voice her opinion as she had declared she would, but as her jaw felt frozen shut at the moment, the colonel was forced to finally answer.
"I cannot speak for the man. I suppose you must take that up with Darcy."
"Because there was nothing to be discussed," murmured Georgiana.
"I beg your pardon?" Lord Matlock looked at his niece commandingly, which frightened her. She glanced at her cousin for support, and he nodded for her to continue. She did so reluctantly, clasping her hands together to keep them from trembling.
"He genuinely desired your attendance, Uncle, but he simply could not bring himself to ask your blessing when he was quite certain he would not have it due to her...situation. He also unquestionably would have married her with or without your blessing, and therefore considered the very idea a pretense."
"But Georgiana, my dear," said Lady Matlock, shaking her head. "That does not explain why he did not at least allow us to meet this girl during the engagement. I do not understand. What have we done to deserve such a slight, such a lack of respect and decorum?"
"That I do not know, Aunt," said Georgiana with a little more confidence. "I only know that my brother is the very best of men and does nothing without good reason. I also know...that is, I genuinely believe that had you answered his letter with an invitation to bring Elizabeth to Matlock for dinner...or just for tea, perhaps..."
"Ah, I see," said the earl, quite indignantly. "So apparently we are in the wrong. Did you hear, my dear? It appears it is we who have slighted him." He scoffed. "Bloody nonsense!"
"Is it not a matter of precedence that one be called upon by an earl or countess before paying a call, even if the gentleman is the nephew of said lord and lady?" Georgiana said softly, wishing her nerves would calm. She could feel her aunt's eyes on her and continued to stare into her soup. After many moments, she heard what sounded like a sigh of resignation from her ladyship.
"I'm afraid we may have miscalculated our nephew, James," said Lady Matlock to her husband. "This young lady has evidently affected him deeply, and I believe she may indeed be a woman worth knowing."
"Or the lad may have been duped into riveting himself to a right bit of muslin like so many nobs before him..."
Georgiana nearly jumped out of her seat at such an affront to Elizabeth's character, but allowed Lord Matlock to continue upon the slight raising of Richard's hand as a warning for her to be still.
"...Although I admit that is highly unlikely, given Darcy's good sense and breeding." To Fitzwilliam, he asked, "Surely he is well acquainted with her family?"
Fitzwilliam nearly spit out his swig of wine in his effort to contain his laughter before answering, "Yes, I daresay he is."
"Ah-ha!" His lordship exclaimed. "You see, Alexandra! I knew something had to be off. You see how Richard just reacted upon the mentioning of her family--these, these Bennets, correct?"
"And Catherine went into full detail about the girl's youngest sister, something about an elopement with that Wickham lad George Darcy was so fond of--we all know how he turned out--and a patched-up marriage to avoid scandal? I do not like it, Alexandra. I feel the boy may have lost all reason."
"Nevertheless," said her ladyship, "Georgiana makes a viable point. We should have extended an invitation to Darcy and his betrothed immediately rather than pointlessly mull over the sense of it all. Therefore, I shall extend the olive branch and invite Mr. and Mrs. Darcy to dinner directly. If our nephew has lost all reason, I should very much like to meet the source of it."
Georgiana exhaled in relief over her aunt's decision and once again glanced across the table at Richard, who was now smiling at her not with amusement but with approval. In that moment, Georgiana could not help feeling proud of herself, terrifying as crossing Lord and Lady Matlock may have been. How Elizabeth was able to do the same amidst the ravings of Lady Catherine and to a much greater degree, Georgiana could hardly begin to contemplate.