Beginning, Section II
Posted on 2013-08-22
Darcy woke the next morning when the sky was still grey. He had not slept very much, but he found he did not mind. His wife lay next to him in his bed, looking lovelier than he could recall.
Nothing could have surprised him more than her coming to him the night before. He had thought it would be weeks before she was ready, and he was prepared to wait until they were at Pemberley before approaching her again. Over the last few days they had talked of many things, sometimes touching on deeply personal matters. He knew not what had convinced her to trust him, but he was glad to know that she would. She was shy with him, but her blushes were born of inexperience, not fear of him, nor memories of that night in Ramsgate.
Elizabeth woke a few minutes after him, and she blushed again upon seeing him. "Good morning, Elizabeth," he said, his voice rougher than he expected.
"Good morning, Fitzwilliam," she replied, smiling softly.
He touched her cheek tenderly. "Did you sleep well?"
Her smile turned amused, as she no doubt remembered a similar conversation the morning after their wedding. "No," she said. "I am afraid, sir, that you snore."
He laughed heartily and brought her into his arms. After a long kiss, she laid her head upon his chest and sighed. "I suppose we ought to go to church this morning."
Darcy hummed in agreement. "We did tell your aunt we would dine with them today," he remarked. "It would not do to start married life by failing to honor a commitment."
"Indeed," Elizabeth replied, though the next moment she was shaking with laughter.
The day was still very young, so even though they took their time, they arrived for church punctually. There Darcy had the great pleasure of introducing his wife to his acquaintances, for everyone there that morning was curious about the new Mrs. Darcy.
Afterward, they made their way to Gracechurch Street, where Elizabeth's young cousins were all eagerness to see their visitors. Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner were hardly less eager, though far more decorous in their greetings. The little girls attached themselves to Darcy immediately, remembering him as their playmate weeks before. Their parents each had a kiss for Lizzy and a warm handshake for her husband. They had a very pleasant evening together, and when the Darcys were gone, the Gardiners would talk of Darcy's gentle attentions and Elizabeth's blushing smiles. They had both been worried about Lizzy and their friend, and felt no small amount of guilt at the role they had unwittingly played in necessitating the marriage. It was a relief, if they were honest, to see early evidence of mutual society and comfort.
The Darcys left for the Lakes the following morning. Lizzy found a source of delight in new scenery even when the roads were deplorable; every evening she was diligent in recording the day's events in the journal her husband had given her for that very purpose. On the road, Darcy would often read to her from the poets who had been so inspired by their destination. The days of travel were far more pleasant than she imagined, but a journey through storms and on foot would have been worth what awaited her in the Lake District. She had never seen such wildness, or such beauty, and she would often stand transfixed by the wonders surrounding her.
For his part, Darcy did enjoy seeing the Lakes again, but a far greater pleasure was seeing Elizabeth in such raptures. After what she had suffered for those weeks leading to their wedding, some of it at his hands, she deserved this holiday, unmarred by trouble and stress.
They concluded their wedding trip and arrived at Pemberley as autumn fell. Darcy had previously thought that the best view of his family's estate was at the height of summer, but after the look on Elizabeth's face he began to revise his opinion. The countryside was very beautiful, and the house showed very well against the changing foliage.
The only thing that would have made this homecoming complete would have been if his parents had lived to meet Elizabeth. Despite all of Aunt Catherine's protests, he imagined his mother in particular would have loved his wife. Both his father and mother likely had harbored higher ambitions for their son, but he knew they would approve that he had done his duty, and he hoped that they would approve of the wife he had gained.
Lizzy, for her part, was experiencing something akin to Jane's astonishment in Cavendish Square. The woods and groves had animated her greatly, but when they stopped for the first good prospect of the house itself, she was absolutely silent. Only when Darcy asked, low in her ear, if she liked the house, did she rouse herself to speak. It was beautiful, she told him, happily situated and possessed of stately dignity without excess. He smiled in satisfaction and ordered the driver on, and she recovered some of her customary manner. "I hope I am not to find you in the habit of tearing down perfectly good groves to make way for Grecian temples, Darcy."
He laughed and brought her gloved fingers up to his lips. "You shall find no such profligacy in me, Elizabeth."
Her agitation increased as they neared the house, but Darcy noted it not. He smiled when he handed her out of the carriage and drew her close. "Welcome home, Mrs. Darcy," he said quietly, as they crossed the threshold together.
This was home now, she thought. This grand estate was home.
She was introduced briefly to the steward, the butler, the housekeeper, and the cook, but more substantive interviews would wait until the morrow when she was rested from the journey. She had had a letter from Mrs. Reynolds after Darcy wrote to inform the housekeeper of his engagement, and she was glad to see that her impressions of the woman appeared true. She was deeply loyal to the Darcys and determined to see her master and Pemberley viewed in the best light. This now included ensuring that her young mistress was successful in managing the house.
Young Mrs. Darcy surprised Mrs. Reynolds, first by requesting so few alterations to the various rooms of the house, and second by deferring to her on so many matters. Since the death of Lady Anne, Mrs. Reynolds had feared that either old Mr. Darcy or the young master would take a bride who would not do credit to the family. She had feared it more with the current Mr. Darcy, who was young enough to make a foolish match. But Elizabeth Darcy was no fool.
Mrs. Reynolds was troubled a little by some of what she saw between the newlyweds; surely, with the disparity between them, this had been a love match, yet she did not see many signs of such. One of the upstairs maids reported in a whisper that only the master's bed had to be made the first morning they were in residence, but they did not always display the ease of a couple much in love.
She quickly learned, however, that Mrs. Darcy was most likely to be found in the library if she had nowhere else to be, and Mrs. Reynolds was quite convinced that the young lady would soon have Mr. Darcy's heart, if she had not already won him over.
Rain was keeping Lizzy within doors, or Mrs. Reynolds' observation of how she spent her unoccupied time might have been much different. Darcy lamented once or twice that they could not view the park as he would like, but Lizzy assured him that she did not mind. The house was providing exploration enough.
She found she had much to learn indoors. From her mother she had learned how to run a house, but Longbourn's house and grounds had not prepared her for the scale of Pemberley. There was never a day, and sometimes hardly an hour, when her attention was not needed somewhere. She began to wonder when great ladies had time to embroider or paint screens. When she said as much to Mrs. Reynolds, the housekeeper smiled. "Pemberley has been without a mistress for three years, Mrs. Darcy. You will always be able to keep your hands busy if you do not care for idleness, but for now there is simply too much curiosity about you. It will abate, I am sure."
Lizzy certainly hoped she was right.
On the first fine day since their arrival, she was surprised to find that her husband had ridden out at first light, but by noon he returned with a surprise for her. While they were still touring the Lakes, Darcy had written to inquire after a mare that a friend had talked of selling. It was a beautiful horse, dapple gray with darker mane and tail and a long streak of white between her eyes. Perhaps the horse was simply grateful to see that she was to be a lady's mount after all, but upon Lizzy's approach, the horse whinnied and nuzzled Lizzy's face with great affection.
Elizabeth laughed and stroked the mare's mane, but she turned quiet when she saw Darcy's pleasure. "Do you like her?" he asked.
"She is perfect," she said in all honesty, but it brought something rather awkward to the fore. "This is a lovely gift, Mr. Darcy, but I am no horsewoman."
That surprised him greatly. "Your father never taught you?"
She shook her head. "My feet took me everywhere I wanted to go in Hertfordshire."
"They cannot take you everywhere here," he said, patting the horse's back. "At least not in a timely fashion. I know you are a great walker, but a few of the tenants are too far away for you to visit on foot."
It was rational; too rational for her to offer objection. "I suppose I shall learn."
"I would be happy to teach you, Mrs. Darcy."
The offer was too much to resist, and in the afternoon he met her in the stables. He was doing a poor job of suppressing a smile at the sight of her. "If you do not ride, how do you happen to have a riding habit of the latest fashion?" he asked.
Lizzy thought for a moment that her uncle Gardiner would be proud, for Darcy had learned to tease, though laughing at himself was perhaps a little distance off. "It was Lady Matlock's notion," she replied. "I did not wish to disillusion her."
He helped her mount the horse while a groom held the mare's head; then Darcy took the groom's place and led horse and rider outside. Elizabeth noticed that a number of the men and boys had paused their work in the stables to see their proud master teaching his wife to ride. Fortunately the head groom called them back to work, and she felt a little more comfortable without the scrutiny.
This first lesson did not last long; Darcy said she should not exert herself too much when just learning. Afterward Elizabeth was still keen to be outside, so they walked together through the garden on the south side of the house. She took his arm, because she sensed he offered it out of something more than courtesy. As they ambled along, he told her what he remembered about the gardens and his mother's role in their design. Neither he nor his father had changed much about them, and Elizabeth saw no reason to do much either.
They sat down together on a bench facing the lake. "Did you teach your sister to ride?" she asked him.
"Yes, in the last year," he confirmed. "I believe it benefited us both; she needed to learn, and it gave me a way to spend time with her without..."
"Hovering?" Elizabeth asked with a small smile.
He chuckled and squeezed her hand affectionately.
They repeated the activity daily, as the weather now continued fine, until Darcy felt confident in riding alongside her. That first day, his horse was a little restless, and Elizabeth rather enjoyed watching him work to control his mount. He had an excellent seat, though, from his years of riding. There was much to be admired about him physically, and she would not miss this opportunity.
She had others, of course. They had spent more than half the nights of the last month together. But though Elizabeth had come to him, she could not say she was entirely comfortable with him yet. There was something missing, and she was too young and too inexperienced to know what.
Was it love? She wondered that often in unguarded moments. She liked and esteemed her husband, but love did not seem such an easy thing to her. Other young ladies her age were prone to fall in love at the slightest inclination, but Elizabeth was too sensible for that. It was perhaps to her disadvantage now, for it meant she was slow to show affection to her husband, when his interest was obvious to all but her. She was too wary of him, remembering that by turns he could be a very different person.
Though the days of their wedding tour and the weeks at Pemberley had been idyllic, she could not help but feel a little adrift. What would happen when her warm and gentle husband was replaced by the cold Mr. Darcy she had seen at times at Ramsgate and Longbourn? She had to guard her heart, else he would surely break it.
Another week would bring Jane and Georgiana to them, one to visit and one to stay. Lizzy found herself depending on their arrival, especially as the neighbors began to pay bridal calls. From the sound of it, the Darcys' marriage had taken the entire county by surprise. Every lady in the neighborhood commented on Elizabeth's youth and asked if she were musical? if she drew? if she had traveled much? No one seemed to understand what had drawn Mr. Darcy to her, for by then word of her family's fortunes had spread through Derbyshire. She exerted herself, then, to appear attached to her husband, and though they had never spoken of it, he did likewise. Their visitors usually carried away the idea that it was still a curious match, but the new Mrs. Darcy was an agreeable young lady, and her husband very much in love.
As the bridal calls subsided, Darcy began to spend more of his time as he used to, often at various places around the park. Elizabeth appreciated his diligence even though it left her alone when they did have callers. It was not so difficult, she reasoned, to entertain ladies for a morning. Those who came back so soon after welcoming her to the neighborhood were probably the ones who liked her anyway, so she need only be herself.
But one morning, the lady who called upon her was not from the neighborhood. Mrs. Reynolds came into Elizabeth's sitting room to announce a guest, but the housekeeper delivered the news as a warning. "Lady Catherine de Bourgh, ma'am."
Elizabeth's eyes widened for a moment. "Send for Mr. Darcy," she murmured just before Lady Catherine swept into the room.
Mrs. Reynolds nodded in understanding and left the ladies to themselves. Lady Catherine was surveying the sitting room. "You have changed little of my sister's room."
Elizabeth could think of nothing at all to say to that, so she changed the subject. "Will you not sit, Lady Catherine?"
"I will not. You must know why I am here; there is no point in drawing the matter out."
"I have not the slightest idea why you have come, ma'am," Elizabeth replied. "If you wish to speak to my husband, I am certain he will come as soon as he knows you are here."
"Then he has not told you of our arrangement?" Lady Catherine asked, looking entirely too pleased with herself. "Why, he is to send my niece to live with me."
This Elizabeth could not believe on the face of it. "I beg your pardon?"
"You heard me very well," the older woman said. "I told him I would forgive this infamous alliance he has made, but he had to allow me to take my sister's daughter away from your influence."
Elizabeth had learned, after her last encounter with this woman, not to take anything she said as unvarnished truth, but she was certain there was something wrong, something Darcy had not told her. She could not believe that Lady Catherine would fabricate such a story whole cloth.
"I fear you have wasted your time coming here, Lady Catherine," Elizabeth said, trying to keep her voice gentle and her countenance mild, like Jane would. "Georgiana is not even at Pemberley at present."
That took Lady Catherine by surprise. With great ceremony, she finally sat down, in the one of the two green, high-backed chairs, the grandest and least comfortable contraptions in the house. "I imagine you have not had the opportunity to change this room," she said, giving Elizabeth a sharp look.
Not one to be easily intimidated, Elizabeth fought an unholy urge to laugh at this ridiculous woman. "Its furnishings are not so old as to require replacing, and the paper was new just a few years ago," she replied, still standing. "There are one or two chairs I would remove."
"The green ones."
Lady Catherine, realizing the implication, turned her gaze to the fireplace and would not answer even the most civil inquiries.
Feeling keenly that she ought not let the woman so wholly disrupt her morning, Elizabeth went back to her desk and her ledgers, leaving her unwanted guest in astonished silence, until Darcy arrived. He was by no means expecting the scene he found, Elizabeth diligently bent over her work while his aunt sat nearby. "Lady Catherine," he said, "I did not expect you."
"What a remarkably foolish statement, nephew," she said, rising from her chair to face him. "I wrote to you that I would come."
At that, he heard the light scratch of his wife's pen come to a halt, and a moment or two later she had also risen and looked to him. He knew not how Elizabeth would take this, so he decided it would be best to deal with that difficulty in private, once his aunt was gone, possibly forever. "I most certainly did not write to you to indicate any agreement to the scheme you put forth," he said, "and never should."
"Oh! You ungrateful man! What would your mother say?"
"My father would thank me not to surrender his will to yours," Darcy replied. "He left my sister in my care, and I would not deny his wishes for the world."
"And my sister would be appalled to know that her son married an ignorant, insolent girl! That you, her only son, should be drawn in by whatever crude allurements such an unremarkable thing could possess! You were engaged to my daughter; does it mean nothing to you that Anne is heartbroken?"
Darcy looked at his wife, a little surprised to see her looking on so calmly. Her anger was obvious, but this was not at all like that day at Longbourn. "That you wished an engagement, Aunt, did not make it so," he said tersely. "And my wife did nothing to draw me in, as you so vilely put it. Now, my sister is not here, and-"
"So your wife informed me. She has already convinced you to disregard your duty-"
"My sister is not here," he repeated, more forcefully, "and I should not turn her over to your guidance and protection in any case. This is the second time you have appeared without invitation in another's home to abuse my wife, Aunt, and I shall not tolerate a third. If you cannot offer her civility, then you will find all connection with Pemberley at an end."
Lady Catherine looked astonished by this. "You will come to regret this, nephew."
"For my mother's sake, perhaps." That was all he would allow.
Lady Catherine stormed out, declaring she would not afford either of them the civility of leave-taking. Darcy would have seen her out regardless, except that Elizabeth's silent anger had been turned on him. "Elizabeth, I am-"
"You can have nothing to say to me, sir," she replied, returning to her desk.
"Lizzy," he pressed.
"I beg you will not importune me further. I have a great deal of work to do."
"How can you be angry at me?" he snapped. "You cannot believe me pleased that my own aunt would so abuse you!"
"You knew she was coming, sir, and gave me no warning. I can assume either that you did not think your wife had any business knowing to expect such a guest, or that you agreed with her, that Georgiana ought to be removed from my influence."
"I did not think you so foolish as to believe either option, madam."
He realized the magnitude of his error almost immediately, but his pride would not let him take the words back. He watched as Elizabeth deliberately closed up her books and set everything to right upon her desk, then left the room without a word to him.
He did not follow her; they both needed to calm themselves, he knew. A discreet inquiry of Mrs. Reynolds informed him that Lizzy went for a walk, and it was some hours before he saw her. Her face flushed with renewed anger when their paths crossed, and the sight piqued his own temper again. Yet the worst of his ire was reserved for the woman who had twice gone to such lengths to insult Elizabeth. That evening, after a painfully silent supper, he wrote to his uncle to inform him of the event and to request his assistance in convincing Lady Catherine that he was in earnest. Mrs. Darcy was not to be insulted and attacked in such a manner, and he was willing to cut ties to preserve her honor.
But his ties with Elizabeth needed mending. On the morrow, she was civil to him but no more. It was another day before he remembered that first encounter with Wickham in Ramsgate, when she had been so irritated with his silence on the subject. And how much he could have spared her, if only he had relented and spoken! No matter what the Gardiners or his own relations said, he knew that some significant portion of the blame lay with him. And now, she was wounded by his silence again, she whom he had promised to honor.
He sought her out and found her in the music room. Her back was to the door as she played, and Darcy stood, watching and listening unobserved for some minutes. She must have been practicing in recent weeks, he realized. He had never found her performance wanting, but he could detect a greater precision, improving skill, as her fingers moved on the keys.
She stopped in the middle of a phrase, and for several moments she did not move, not even to take her hands from the instrument. Then she asked, "Do you need me, sir?"
"I would speak to you, Elizabeth."
She closed up the instrument and walked over to the window. Darcy stepped inside and closed the door behind him. The servants were discreet, but he did not trust even them just now. "Lizzy, will you not look at me?"
She shook her head, curls swaying with the movement. Darcy wanted to be angry at her refusal, but he heard a soft sniffle and realized she was crying, or trying not to. With no thought to how she would respond, he crossed the room to her, so he could at least see her face. "Lizzy."
With a wince, she turned away from him. Unable to bear the force of her unhappiness, and that at his making, he moved behind her and wrapped his arms about her waist. When he bent to kiss the curve of her neck, she clapped her hand over her mouth. "My dear wife," he whispered, because he could think of nothing else to comfort her.
Some minutes passed before she was calm enough to speak. "Why did you not tell me she was coming?" she asked reproachfully, and he strove not to answer her in kind.
"The letter came only a few days after we arrived at home," he told her. "It was so full of bitter insults to us both that I burned it, and sent no reply. You seemed so content, Lizzy, and I did not wish to upset you by reminding you of my aunt's cruelty. I never dreamt she would come when I did not answer."
Elizabeth took a deep, shaking breath. "You should have told me. I am not so fragile that I could not bear such absurdity."
He nodded but said nothing. She turned in his arms, face against his shoulder, and he held her tightly. "Can you forgive me, Darcy?" she asked.
"Forgive you?" he said in shock. "Lizzy, it was my fault-"
"No, Darcy, do not say - let me feel at fault. I should have known there was some reasonable explanation. You have been nothing but kind to me, and I ought to have remembered that. No man could be so selfless and then so thoughtless."
Darcy was not convinced. "I have always been a selfish creature, Elizabeth," he said quietly, drawing her gaze up to him in surprise. "The product of being an only son, and for so long an only child, I suppose. I ought to have consulted you, and not assumed I knew what was best, or even what you would want."
She reached up with a tentative touch, and he kissed her palm and closed his eyes. "I am sorry, Darcy," she said.
He nodded. "As am I."
They stayed a little while longer in the music room, holding one another in silence. Lizzy, when she could focus her thoughts again, felt strangely better, even better than before Lady Catherine's intrusion. At last, he had a fault she could name. On the whole he had been so kind and good to her, that sometimes she felt wickedly petulant in a desire to provoke him, just to prove to herself that he was human after all, and that she was not dreaming. It was perhaps best that they were not to be alone much longer.
The day that was to bring their sisters to them arrived; one might have got the impression that Lizzy and Jane had been separated for years, from how they embraced upon seeing each other once more. Lizzy kissed Georgiana's cheek, but she was surprised to see who had accompanied them. Lady Matlock and Viscount Mallory were there, but so was another young lady, a little older than Jane, and so like Lady Matlock that she must be her daughter.
"Rachel!" Darcy exclaimed upon seeing her. "How do you do, cousin? You must be well if you have traveled all this way."
"You always have been quick to assume, Darcy," the dark-haired lady replied. "Now introduce me to your wife, or I shall think you have forgot all your manners." They had not been able to call on Rachel in London, as the lady's illness had prevented it.
"It will be a pleasure," he said, taking his cousin by the hand and leading her to Elizabeth. "Rachel, my wife. Elizabeth, my cousin, Lady Rachel Beckett. Her husband is John Beckett, my good friend; I have told you about him, I am sure."
The two ladies curtsied to each other. "I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Lady Rachel," Elizabeth said with a smile. "I have heard much about you."
"Oh dear," Rachel replied, laughing. "Knowing your sources must be my cousin and my eldest brother, I shudder to think what you have heard!"
Elizabeth had to laugh too. "Alas, I cannot assure you that Jane has similarly mistreated me in my absence, for I do not believe Jane has misrepresented anyone in her life!"
"An ideal sister, then," Lord Mallory put in, with a pointed look at Jane, who blushed.
Elizabeth urged her guests then to rest from their journey for a little while, after which they would have tea, but even as she and Mrs. Reynolds went about ensuring that all was in order, her spirits were lifted. With visitors Pemberley would not feel so very quiet, and perhaps might begin to feel more like home.
Posted on 2013-08-26
It was not until after dinner that Darcy realized something had changed. His wife was altered; more cheerful, more lively. Their time alone, whether in London or Derbyshire or the Lake District, had been quiet. He was not sure what to make of the difference.
Elizabeth played hostess to the family gathered at Pemberley that night, charming the room with stories of their tour of the Lakes, of Ramsgate, and of her own childhood. She and Mallory could keep whole ballrooms entertained for hours, Darcy thought, like actors on a stage. Mallory was like her, easy in company, quick to laugh. Darcy was not as open or as voluble. He loved his wife, he was sure of that now, but sometimes the contrast between them was striking.
For a few days, he did not spend much time alone with her. She was inseparable from Jane, and very frequently in company with his relations. Those days only served to tell him how much he longed to monopolize her time. She was his wife; did he not have a right to her company?
He was seeking her out one afternoon when he came upon Rachel instead. "Looking for your wife?" she asked. "My mother took her and Georgiana and Jane to Lambton."
Darcy tried not to scowl, but his cousin saw his frustration. "Are you so lovesick, Darcy, that you cannot bear a few hours' separation? You said over breakfast you would be with tenants most of the day. You cannot blame her for seeking diversion elsewhere."
"And you did not accompany them?"
Taking his arm, she urged him outside, into the garden. "I am feeling better than I did a month ago, but this morning did not agree with me. I was not sure I could manage the excursion, so I stayed back to answer John's latest letter."
"I am happy for you and Beckett, Rachel," Darcy said sincerely. The mention of her husband had reminded him that he had not congratulated her on her news. "I have never seen you so happy."
Indeed, Rachel's marriage seemed to have changed her, or perhaps returned her to what she once was. She had been quite an active girl, but after attending school and coming out, she had grown quiet and almost nervous. Her fortune made her prey, and she was well aware of it. But last summer, after Darcy's father died, she had come to Pemberley with her parents. John Beckett came as well to offer his condolences, as soon as he had leave from his unit. Darcy did not think much of the introduction when he made it, too busy with the estate and his sister to imagine it would be of any consequence.
When the engagement was made known to the family there at Pemberley, Darcy was the only one surprised. Even little Georgiana had figured out something. Once aware of it, many things did make more sense, but mostly he was relieved for Rachel. She was a sister to him, and his old friend made her happy.
"I expected to see you happier, Darcy," Rachel replied. "Mother said Elizabeth was delightful, and she is, but a girl of her background..."
"She is a gentleman's daughter," Darcy said, stiffening slightly as he realized no one had told Rachel about Ramsgate.
"I mean no disrespect to Mrs. Darcy. She is everything charming, but I thought you would both be somewhat more... attached."
He frowned a little, wondering what to say to her. The easier path would be to tell her, but they could not tell everyone. Besides, at some point it had occurred to him that it was Elizabeth's story to tell, not his. He and Elizabeth needed to look like they were happy together, to keep people from wondering.
He was growing frustrated over how to respond to his cousin, but a step on the gravel path called his attention back to the house, where a footman was coming towards them. Darcy rose, and the footman offered a letter to him. He broke the seal and soon found himself with news from his property in Scotland.
"Mrs. Darcy is in Lambton with some of our guests," he said to the footman. "Send a messenger for her; I need to speak to her as soon as possible."
When the footman was gone, Rachel stood and laid her hand on his arm. "Darcy, what is the matter?"
"A flood at Kinkirk," he replied, folding the paper again.
"And you must go."
"I will speak with my steward first, but yes, I think it would be best if I saw to the matter myself."
"Of course." They started walking back to the house arm in arm. "Mamma will not stay past Monday. When she and my brother leave, I would be happy to stay behind with your wife."
"You think she will need help."
"Perhaps. She is so young."
"You do not have great experience running a household either, Rachel."
"No, but I know where everything is here. Besides, Mamma means well, but I am not sure I like living with her as a married woman."
Darcy nodded. "I will have no objections if Mrs. Darcy does not."
Half an hour later, he had concluded his conference with his steward. By then the ladies had returned; Elizabeth hurried towards him when she caught sight of him. "Darcy, whatever is wrong? Lady Rachel is not unwell, is she?"
"No, she is well," he replied, clasping her hands. "There has been a flood at Kinkirk. My steward and I have agreed that I should go."
"Oh," Elizabeth said, sounding disappointed. "How long will you be gone?"
"I do not know, but I hope it will not be more than a fortnight. It will depend on how extensive the damage is."
The others had caught up by then, and he explained the news again. Mallory instantly offered whatever assistance he could provide, but all that was left was to gather belongings and go.
The others dispersed, and Darcy found himself alone with his wife. Knowing this privacy would not last, he ushered her into the nearest room and shut the door.
"Fitzwilliam," she began to say, but he cut her off with a kiss.
It took her a moment to respond, but soon her arms wound around his neck while he deepened the kiss. He had felt unsettled merely sharing her with their family; how much worse to be separated from her!
"Fitzwilliam," she repeated in a breathless accent, when he finally pulled away.
"Elizabeth," he said in kind, touching her cheek, and hoping she understood.
There were voices in the corridor; immediately they separated and moved to leave the room. If Mallory or Lady Matlock thought anything of their emergence, neither said a word of it. "Are you sure I should not come with you, Darcy?" Mallory asked. "You must know I would, if you give the word."
Darcy glanced at his wife, but she was looking elsewhere. "No, cousin, do not change your plans on my account."
Mallory agreed, though reluctantly. Before another half hour had passed, everything was ready. Darcy shook Mallory's hand and Jane's; then kissed Georgiana's forehead before embracing Rachel and his aunt. This left only Elizabeth to part from, and with great feeling he kissed her hand. Pale but calm, she placed her other hand upon his shoulder and raised up on her toes to kiss him softly.
It lasted only a moment, but as he traveled north, the remembrance of it gave him hope.
Elizabeth had her first letter from her husband four days after he departed. He had arrived in safety, and the situation did not seem so dire as reported. The others were pleased to hear this news, although Rachel laughed when Lizzy would not let them read the letter for themselves. There was nothing improper in it, but Darcy had expressed in tender terms that he missed her already, words she did not wish to share.
On the next morning, Mallory escorted his mother back to Matlock, leaving the young ladies to themselves. The little party remaining at Pemberley passed their days pleasantly, with rides about the park, trips into Lambton, and hours reading and talking to each other. Elizabeth enjoyed particularly having Jane with her again, but it was strange having her sister as her guest. They had been away from Longbourn together before; it should not have been so odd to be her hostess. Yet she was responsible for Jane's comfort now. Her elder sister depended on her.
Georgiana did too. The girl spent much of her time following Elizabeth about, which Elizabeth would have found irritating, except that Georgiana was so sweet that it was difficult to react to her the way she might to Lydia. The girl was eager to be loved by her new sister, and Elizabeth found her honest affection hard to resist.
"She is a dear girl," Jane said to Lizzy one afternoon, while Georgiana walked ahead with Rachel. "Is she the reason you have been practicing the pianoforte more now?"
Jane's teasing was rare, and it always made Lizzy laugh. "She is a good influence on me, I suppose."
"You have always been a good sister."
Elizabeth did not want to agree to that, knowing herself too well and knowing that Jane rarely saw the bad in life. She decided to turn the subject. "You must tell me then, dear sister, how you are enjoying your stay here."
"Oh! This must be the loveliest place in the world, Lizzy, and so particularly suited to you. How you must love your new home!"
Elizabeth smiled at her sister's praise. "It is not too lonely for you now that my husband's cousin has gone?"
Jane blushed. "Lizzy, you must not think me enamored of Lord Mallory. I am well aware of the differences between us. He is a pleasant man, but I shall not think more of his attention than courtesy to his cousin's new family."
Lizzy smiled and said no more, though she wished so much to ask what had passed between them in Matlock. That evening her patience was rewarded. After Georgiana retired, Rachel said to Jane, "My brother asked after you in his letter today. What shall I tell him, my dear Jane?"
Jane looked down in embarrassed silence; Lizzy answered instead. "That is very kind of Mallory, Rachel."
"You credit him for more than he deserves, Elizabeth."
Jane rose and moved to a collection of books on a table near the window. Rachel frowned at Lizzy, but Lizzy shook her head, wanting to end the conversation, even though it was apparent that Jane felt more than she was willing to admit.
On the day following, Jane had a headache and stayed to her room. Elizabeth would have gladly spent the day tending her, but found that her presence was genuinely required elsewhere. She also sensed that Jane perhaps wanted some time alone. That was not something either of them were much accustomed to at Longbourn, but Lizzy could not begrudge her the luxury at Pemberley.
That afternoon, while Georgiana was at the pianoforte, Elizabeth left her sitting room in dire need of exercise and found in Rachel a kindred spirit. With bonnets and gloves and spencers collected, the pair headed outside, determined to enjoy the fresh air before a storm set in.
"I am not certain what I would have done if I had married a man who lived in town," Elizabeth said, as they entered one of the groves near the house. "I have always enjoyed visiting my aunt and uncle in town but I doubt I would be happy living there."
"I wonder if you will take much pleasure in the Season, then," Rachel said. "There is always Hyde Park if you want fresh air, but one does not go there to be out of doors. One goes to be seen."
"I confess, it has me nervous," Elizabeth replied truthfully. "I have been to the theatre a few times with my uncle and aunt, but I doubt that is representative."
To her surprise, Rachel laughed. "At least you know that much already. Most of my friends went into their first Seasons with wildly unrealistic ideas. And of course, you have the advantage of being married already. That will make your life much easier in town."
"Is it a great advantage?"
Rachel's smile turned joyful. "Oh, without a doubt. There is nothing in the world to compare to a husband who loves you, and whom you love in return! Do you not agree, Lizzy?"
Elizabeth wanted to reply, but found the words caught in her throat. Quickly she turned away to compose herself, but Rachel caught her distress. "Cousin, dear Lizzy, what is the matter?" she asked. "Is it Darcy's absence? You know he will not be gone much longer."
"No, no," Elizabeth replied, shaking her head and desperately wondering what to say.
She wished Rachel would leave off, but knew it was impossible. "Elizabeth, will you not tell me what is the matter? I hate to see you in this kind of distress."
They had stopped walking, and Elizabeth turned to face her friend. She took Rachel's hand, and took a deep breath. "Rachel, I think you ought to know something, and know that I tell you this in the strictest confidence."
This only heightened Rachel's alarm. "You have it, of course."
"I know what the common belief is, Rachel, but Darcy and I... Ours is not a love match," Elizabeth told her, and steeled herself for the reaction.
Rachel, happy in her own marriage, was disbelieving, shaking her head. "You cannot be serious, Lizzy. I have seen how he looks at you. I cannot believe he married you for any other reason."
"I am in earnest, Rachel. We married because our choices were to marry or face a scandal that likely would have ruined me."
All the color drained from Rachel's face as she stared. "Surely he did not - Darcy would never - Darcy!"
"No, no!" Lizzy cried. "You misapprehend me. You are right; Darcy would never. I am not telling this well."
"Perhaps you should start from the beginning. I know you met at Ramsgate."
Elizabeth nodded. "We had known each other three weeks when we both attended an assembly. I... I danced with an old acquaintance of his, someone Darcy cannot bear the sight of. I walked outside in the garden and this man followed me. I screamed for help, and Darcy found me as I was trying to escape."
"And he was thought to have compromised you, and not the other man," Rachel said, comprehending the confusion.
"Yes. He acted as though he were the guilty party and did his duty."
"Oh, Darcy!" Rachel cried. "How impossibly good!"
They began to walk again, and Elizabeth could not stay silent. "He comprehends a great deal as his responsibility," she said. "I cannot call him impossibly good, for I can attest to his temper, but when we met that day on the seashore I could not have guessed at the depth of his true character."
"He has borne it well," Rachel mused. "But what of you, Lizzy? Such an ordeal, and then to find yourself married so swiftly afterward..."
Elizabeth took her time answering. "I had known him six weeks, almost to the day, when we were married," she said. "It was not enough for me to know him as well as I would have liked. I do so want to be happy with him, but I suppose I must learn patience."
Rachel took Elizabeth's arm affectionately. "Wanting to be happy must be the first step to being happy, Lizzy. And my cousin takes such tender care of you. I do believe he would go to the ends of the earth to secure your happiness."
Elizabeth blushed, and it was some time before she said anything more. "It is not yet four months since I left Longbourn for Ramsgate. I did not think my life could change so completely in so short a time."
Rachel gave a sympathetic smile. "Have you at least seen some change for the better?"
She nodded. "I do not believe I was made for melancholy, though I have felt more of it these last weeks than ever before. Already this life feels more rewarding than what I had before, and perhaps more than I could have had in Hertfordshire. My only regret is that I did not choose it for myself."
"I must say, Lizzy, that I admire you immensely," Rachel replied, "more than I already did. I do not know if I would have had the strength to make the best of it, as you have."
"I am glad you will not have to find out," Lizzy said sincerely. "Darcy has said often how pleased he was by your marrying his friend. I do hope to meet him before long."
"I am certain you shall. He is the best of men, even better than your Darcy."
Lizzy rolled her eyes. Before she could say anything in reply, thunder sounded through the woods, and two respectable married ladies were seen running back to the house in the rain.
As they warmed themselves before the fire in Elizabeth's dressing room, Elizabeth held a cup of tea in both hands as she sipped it. "Do you think your sister is truly ill?" Rachel asked. "She did seem out of sorts last night."
"I cannot say," Elizabeth replied. "She is not prone to this kind of indisposition, at least. But she has not been herself these past several days, since your brother left. I wish I knew what had passed between them at Matlock."
"I was not there the whole time, and for some of it I was more occupied with my husband, since he was shortly to leave for his regiment."
"That is perfectly understandable."
Rachel smiled. "You did not let me finish. I did find a scrap of paper in my brother's hand, an attempt at a verse on the beauty of a young lady."
"You cannot be serious."
"I am. Dreadful poetry, too. I do not know what he was thinking."
"Did Jane see this?"
"I made Andrew burn it and promise never to write another couplet."
Elizabeth could not help giggling.
The next day being Sunday, they all went to church in the morning, and Elizabeth invited the rector and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Peters, to come to Pemberley on Monday. The couple were about the age of Lord and Lady Matlock, and they had been at Lambton for years. They had been among the first to call on the Darcys after their marriage, and now they were Elizabeth's first dinner guests.
The small party assembled was an excellent group for the experience, even though there was only one gentleman at the table. Mr. and Mrs. Peters were unpretentious and very kind people, obviously fond of the Darcy family. When Elizabeth led the group into the drawing room after the meal, only a few minutes passed before the couple turned the conversation to remembrance of former visits. "I must congratulate you, Mrs. Darcy, on a lovely evening," said Mr. Peters. "Lady Anne would be proud of her son's marriage."
Elizabeth blushed. "I thank you, sir. I wish I could have known her."
"She was a remarkable woman," Mrs. Peters said, with a fond smile.
"Will you tell me about her, and my husband's father?" Elizabeth asked. "Mr. Darcy has told me some, of course, but I would like to know of them from others."
"Oh, Lady Anne was such a beauty," Mrs. Peters replied quickly. "It was considered an excellent match for Mr. Darcy - your husband's father, that is. She made an excellent mistress for Pemberley. There was nothing beneath her notice, yet if she did try to mediate some dispute among the servants or the tenants, it was all done so sweetly that no one thought she had interfered at all."
"She sounds quite exemplary," Elizabeth said, trying to keep her smile serene. She wondered fleetingly how Jane managed it.
"My wife is remembering her old friend kindly," Mr. Peters put in, though he said it with a grin. "Lady Anne had a temper too."
"And Mr. Darcy?" Elizabeth prompted. "Lady Rachel tells me my husband is much like his father in person and character."
Mr. Peters nodded. "He has his father's thoughtful nature, and he will never be as outgoing as his mother was. But they were both intelligent, well-read people, as their son is."
"And Lady Anne was so very musical, like Georgiana," Mrs. Peters added, with a smile for the young girl at Jane's side. "I understand you play and sing, Mrs. Darcy."
"Yes, but I would not call myself musical. I have never had much patience for practice."
"And yet my cousin says your playing is delightful," Rachel put in. "I believe he said he would listen to you before anyone else, or nearly."
Remembering an evening in Ramsgate when he turned pages for her, Elizabeth blushed furiously. "He has overstated my talents, I assure you."
"But Fitzwilliam always tells the truth!" Georgiana cried, before remembering her place and covering her mouth.
Elizabeth laughed, which set everyone else at ease. Then Mr. Peters said, "Mrs. Darcy, I fear I must impose on you to hear you play, that we may settle whether your husband is correct."
She wanted desperately to refuse, but knew it was not possible. She looked at Rachel. "Will you play for us as well?"
"If you like."
They moved to the music room together, and Elizabeth let Rachel play while she looked through the selections in a folio atop the instrument. Jane was right; she had practiced more of late, but she had not performed for anyone since that night in Ramsgate. She remembered what Darcy had liked best, and when Rachel had finished her Italian airs, she sat down and played some English songs, sometimes singing and sometimes not.
Rachel was the more proficient of the two, but while her audience had appreciated her talent, Elizabeth was listened to with more pleasure. Her playing had improved in recent weeks, but most important to her performance was her expressive nature, which covered a multitude of sins where her fingering was concerned.
Before she had relinquished the instrument, she had another member of her audience. At the end of her last song, she looked up to see her husband standing at the open door. "Mr. Darcy," she blurted out, rising awkwardly from the bench.
The others turned and rose when they saw him. "I did not mean to interrupt," he offered as he came to Elizabeth's side. He took her hand and kissed it, and added in a low voice, "That was lovely."
That caused laughter from some quarters as Elizabeth blushed again. "Your cousin told Mr. and Mrs. Peters that you preferred my playing above all others."
"My wife refuses to be complimented on this matter," Darcy said, turning to the rector. "How do you do, sir?"
They shook hands and smiled at each other with a friendly air, and Darcy bowed to Mrs. Peters. "Very well, sir," said the rector. "Your wife has provided a lovely evening for us."
The smile he turned to Elizabeth made her tremble and steady herself against the pianoforte. "I am glad to hear it," he replied.
A servant brought the coffee, and Elizabeth set about serving everyone while her husband talked of his journey to Scotland. Much of what he had to say she had heard from his letters, but it was good to hear his voice again. She had not been lonely in his absence, but she was glad to have him back.
That night, when Mr. and Mrs. Peters were gone home and the rest had retired, she was not surprised by the knock at her door. Her maid was long gone, and she opened the door for her husband and gave him a tired smile. "Are you well, Fitzwilliam?" she asked.
He nodded. Then he cupped her face with his hands and rested his forehead against hers. "I have missed you," he murmured, just before he kissed her.
Elizabeth knew her husband was a passionate man, beneath the placid expression he wore for the world to see. In the weeks they had been married, she had come to enjoy his bed, but this night was something different. After a fortnight away from her, his attentions were more like reverence than duty.
He was exhausted, and before long he was asleep at her side. Well into the night, Elizabeth lay awake, struggling with confusion. Something had changed, or perhaps she was only seeing it for the first time, and no amount of sleeplessness could give her an explanation.
Posted on 2013-08-29
They stayed at Pemberley until December, when they traveled to Matlock. John Beckett was there, unbeknownst to Rachel, who could not contain her joy at the surprise. Darcy found himself aching with jealousy towards his old friend for a moment. He harbored no desire for Rachel, but envied the obvious affection between her and John. His own wife was friendly to him, but Darcy did not want that from her. He wanted the impossible girl he met at Ramsgate.
Sometimes, and he hated the thought, but sometimes he imagined that she was avoiding him. Once Georgiana and their guests arrived, they rarely had any time alone, except when he came to her rooms at night. He supposed that was only natural. She had four sisters and no brothers, and even after those weeks alone with him, perhaps she was still more comfortable with the ladies than with him.
Matlock caused a small change, however. Cold weather set in while they were there, but it did not dampen Elizabeth's enthusiasm for walking. She bristled when he suggested it was not a good idea for her to walk out alone, but with Jane and Mallory's assistance, Darcy convinced her it was for the best if she did not go alone in unfamiliar country and in uncertain weather. Every morning, then, he had his wife's company, uninterrupted.
On the third day, she gave him the opportunity he sought. "Rachel never seemed unhappy at Pemberley, but I see now that she is happier with Captain Beckett than we could make her."
"They quite adore each other," Darcy agreed. "It is no discredit to you that you could not supply her with that."
She laughed a little and relaxed, though she also drew closer to him. "How did her parents respond to the match?" she asked. "I can see that they love him as a son now, but she could have married a man of greater consequence, had she had the ambition."
"I assure you, she never did," he replied. "The match was made at Pemberley, though I confess that I knew nothing of it until it was a settled matter. My aunt and uncle were pleased. Aunt Catherine thought she was throwing herself away on the younger son of a mere country squire, but she is hardly representative."
At the mention of Lady Catherine, Elizabeth stiffened. Darcy immediately regretted his words. "Lizzy, I am sorry."
"No, please, do not," she murmured, bringing them to a stop. "She is your aunt. I would not have you cut ties with family on my account."
"You are truly too generous, Elizabeth," he said, taking her hand. "What woman in a thousand would not demand a renunciation of the person who treated her so abominably?"
"Jane?" she said archly.
He laughed, and kissed her though they were in full view of the house. "My wife," he whispered, "has a tender heart."
Her cheeks were flushed as she met his gaze, but she did not speak. He gestured to their path and they set off again. "I have been thinking," said he. "I have missed the time we spent reading together."
Her eyes were intent upon the patch of ground before them. "I have abandoned you these last few weeks."
Darcy shook his head. "You have not abandoned me. It was incumbent on me as well to seek your time, and only natural that you should keep our guests company. Only-"
"Only I hope you have not been... frightened, somehow." He had never shaken the memory of the night after their wedding, when she had been steeling herself for his touch.
"Frightened? Of you?" She looked genuinely puzzled. "To be sure, you are a great man; very tall and strong, of course; and one cannot forget that I and so many others depend entirely upon you; and occasionally on a Sunday afternoon you can be positively a bear with nothing to do-"
"Peace!" he cried, laughing.
She smiled too and clasped his hand rather than take his arm. "I am not frightened of you, Darcy. But I must admit," she said, sobering, "that I do not always understand you. Sometimes you smile, and sometimes you scowl, and I cannot always work out why. We are for Hertfordshire in a few days, and perhaps I fear which husband I shall find when we are at Longbourn."
After a month with Jane, it was easy to forget what the rest of the Bennet family were like. Darcy tensed without thought. "And there it is," Elizabeth said. "I know what my family is, but I try not to be ashamed of them, for they made me what I am."
He lifted their joined hands to kiss hers. "Then I shall endeavor to honor them for it."
"Thank you." This time they walked on at her urging. "But I have a suggestion, which may fulfill both our wishes at once."
"I admire your efficiency, then."
"Teasing husband!" she said with laughter. "Come to me tonight, and read to me. Read to me something you love. I may learn to understand a man from his library."
"You have seen my library."
"I have seen your family's library; it is you whom I wish to know better."
He brought Shakespeare that night, and read of the quality of mercy while his wife reclined in his arms. On successive nights he read from novels, poets, the Bible, even a political tract, hoping that it accomplished the goal.
He did wonder at her confusion; he had never thought of himself as all that inscrutable. Yet he remembered when she and the Gardiners first called on him and Georgiana in Ramsgate. His sister had thought him severe when he was watching her and Elizabeth with pleasure. There was no shame in keeping the world from knowing his every thought, but if he were to gain more than friendship from her, he had to let her see him as he was.
The day before they were to leave for Hertfordshire, Darcy woke some minutes before Elizabeth. Her hair was a mess from his fingers the night before, and she looked pleased even in her sleep. She smiled when she woke under his scrutiny. "Why do you stare, sir?"
"To fix a most lovely portrait in my memory," he replied, pleased when she blushed, and more pleased when she brushed her fingers against his unshaven cheek. "I must arrange for you to sit for your portrait while we are in town this winter."
"A little more formal than the portrait you are taking now, I trust," she said, laughing even while he leaned in to kiss her.
"Undoubtedly." For a little while he lay still with her, breathing her in. "How do you progress with your portrait of me?"
For a moment she was confused; then she laughed. "I profess only to sketching, Fitzwilliam," she said, fingers combing through his hair. "I cannot say when I shall be finished, but I assure you, I am enjoying this sketch of your character."
"I am glad, Elizabeth," he said, drawing her closer. "Very glad indeed."
"Thank you, Aunt," Lizzy replied, "but I cannot think of anything at present."
Lady Matlock smiled. "Next time you must stay longer, Elizabeth. Perhaps we will have another inducement for you to come after Christmas."
Lizzy frowned a little. "I did not think Lady Rachel expected her child before Easter."
"Do you not think you will be visiting your sister before then?"
"My sister?" she repeated. "My sister Jane?"
Feeling overwhelmed suddenly, she sank into a chair nearby. Lady Matlock followed her quickly. "Forgive me, my dear. Andrew came to his father and me for our blessing two days ago. I thought he would speak before you left, but if Jane has not told you, he must be waiting to speak to Mr. Bennet first." When Elizabeth said nothing, Lady Matlock added, "I hope you will approve, Elizabeth. My son is very much in love with her."
"Of course," Elizabeth said in distraction. "I am sorry, Aunt. I am... I did not expect such news so quickly; that is all. I like Mallory exceedingly well, and he would make a good husband for my sister."
Lizzy sighed and looked away. "It is a match far beyond what any of my sisters ought to be able to lay a claim to. So is my marriage, for that matter. George Wickham is the only reason Darcy married me."
"Elizabeth Darcy, I will not hear you speak such nonsense again," Lady Matlock said, sounding every bit like she was scolding her own daughter. "Darcy is a good man, and he would help any young lady he found in trouble, but do you honestly think he would have noticed that any other lady at that assembly was gone? He was watching you; I am sure of it. I think you must put aside this notion that his marrying you was an altruistic matter. Have you not seen how he looks at you? How he has always looked at you?"
She had, but she had not understood. "He is not the easiest man to know."
"My dear girl, I have never seen him so bewitched." Lady Matlock sighed. "You have a lifetime with him ahead of you, Elizabeth. Do not put up barriers that will only make you both miserable."
Frustrated, Lizzy closed her eyes against the tears that threatened to fall. "I so want to please him, Aunt. There is such history to his family, so much responsibility, and I am dreadfully afraid that I cannot but disappoint him."
"Oh, Lizzy," Lady Matlock replied, pulling her into a much wanted embrace. Lizzy succumbed to a few tears while the other woman spoke. "Do you know what I saw when I visited? I saw how the servants and tenants and even the people in Lambton have already come to respect the new mistress of Pemberley. They see fairness and sweetness in her, though she is young, and they see how much she pleases the master."
Elizabeth drew away, wiping her eyes and hoping she would not need to cloister herself in her room before she would be presentable. "Have I been very silly?" she asked.
"No. Only a little silly."
She laughed softly and shook her head. "I had not let myself be overwhelmed before now. I suppose it was high time."
"I believe you managed longer than I did, dear."
Elizabeth laughed again at that, joined by Lady Matlock. "At least tell me that he is trying to be less guarded with you," the older woman said.
Elizabeth nodded. "We have spoken of this. He is trying. Do not blame him."
"I will blame him when he deserves it," Lady Matlock argued. "He is not a man without fault. Do not make that mistake."
Wide-eyed, Lizzy nodded. "I do know that. We have disputed often enough."
"Good. Do not let him think he is without fault either."
"I will do my best."
Elizabeth did feel better after the conversation, though she was obliged to retreat above stairs for a few minutes to collect herself before she would let herself be seen. She thought of the last few days at Matlock, where Darcy had tried so hard to let her see him for what he was. She had always known that he was a good man, but he had faults enough which sometimes obscured his better nature. His temper could be as short as hers, and pride he had in abundance. He had a tendency to assume she did not know things and needed his explanation. In lively company, he often withdrew.
Yet what was any of this to compare to her own character? She was too quick to anger, too readily mortified by ill breeding and wild behavior. She had always resisted formal instruction even when she knew it was for her betterment. And sometimes, when she saw her husband's discomfort among others, she simply ignored the matter instead of trying to set him at ease.
She would not want him to see only her bad qualities, so it was incumbent upon her to see more than his. This became her new determination as they left for Hertfordshire; but if she also helped keep him from the more ridiculous elements of her family, that would not hurt either.
The Darcys' stay in Hertfordshire was only a few days, as the Gardiners had invited them all to London for Christmas. Elizabeth told Darcy in a whisper her aunt's good news; Darcy felt a little sorry for Mrs. Gardiner, for not even the news of a baby stood a chance of fair hearing under the shadow of Jane's engagement.
Mallory had followed them to Longbourn, applied to Mr. Bennet, and gained himself a bride in hardly any time at all. Jane was very happy; Darcy could see that now. Elizabeth had been right about her sister. She was not given to shows of emotion, but that did not mean she was not given to emotion.
She would make a good wife for Mallory, who would benefit from her steady temper and sweet manners. For selfish reasons too Darcy was happy about the match. Jane would be within a day's journey of Elizabeth now, which he hoped would give her some happiness.
Mrs. Bennet was immoderate in her excitement over the match, but Darcy found his time with her limited. With some surprise he realized this shielding was of Elizabeth's making. She was doing what was in her power to make him more comfortable. Darcy wanted to protest at her handling of him, but decided to let his wife have her way. After all, Mallory was much better suited to Mrs. Bennet's raptures than he.
In London, the Gardiners hosted most of the Bennets, while the Darcys stayed in their own house. Jane stayed with her mother but Kitty came to Cavendish Square, much to Georgiana's excitement. Most of the days were filling with shopping for Jane's wedding clothes. Elizabeth too was shopping for new clothes for the winter. As a result, Darcy spent much of his time with his father-in-law, cousin, and uncle.
He remembered all his anger at Mr. Bennet before the wedding, but he also knew how much Elizabeth loved her father. Darcy still could not think well of his management of his family and was not sure he could forgive the man for not telling Elizabeth about the marriage settlements, but he tried to be polite to him, for Lizzy's sake.
There was more to Mr. Bennet than Darcy had supposed. Indolent he was, and too disinterested in his family's concerns, but he had a keen mind and sharp wit. His love for Elizabeth was plain too, and Darcy was surprised to find him absent the animosity he had displayed the previous summer. Darcy would have held that grudge much longer, he suspected, but he would follow suit and try to forget.
His uncle was a help in that regard. Bennet and Matlock had much in common and seemed like old friends from the beginning, at least when Bennet could be coaxed out of Darcy's library.
"You have an inordinate amount of poetry, young man," Bennet said to Darcy one morning while the ladies were out. "Will you now claim the library is the work of generations?"
Matlock laughed heartily before Darcy could reply. "It is, but I have it from both my sons that Darcy bought most of that poetry. And some of it he bought for his wife."
"She is fond of poetry," he offered by way of defense.
"I doubt her father let her read Donne," Matlock said pointedly.
Darcy wondered how his uncle knew what Elizabeth had been reading on their journey south but said nothing. Bennet answered instead. "I never restricted Lizzy's reading," he said, "but as I do not own any copies of Donne, you will have to ask her husband how he feels about it."
Darcy shrugged and tried to sound unaffected. "I see no reason to place restrictions on her," he said. "As I believe everyone in this room has told me at one point or another, she may be cleverer than me. Why tell her she may not read the things I enjoy?"
None of the men had much of an answer, so the conversation turned elsewhere. Yet it continued to bother him, enough that that night Elizabeth asked him what was wrong. "It is nothing serious," he answered, despite his preoccupation. "My uncle thought it strange that I let you read whatever you like, even though I own some books not thought suitable for ladies."
"I am afraid I am ill-suited to give an opinion on the matter, Darcy," she replied, turning back to her book.
That certainly took him by surprise. "You? Ill-suited to give an opinion?"
He was distracted for a moment as she tucked her feet up on the sofa, her slippers left behind on the floor. "I have no other husband to compare you to," she said, continuing calm. "Although Beatrice was right, I think. You are too costly to wear every day."
"Strange," he replied, taking her book from her and bidding her rise. "I have often thought the same of you."
"What a life I must lead!" she cried, smiling. "A husband who turns all my teasing into pretty compliments, and lets me read whatever I like. What woman could stand such treatment?"
Unwilling to expend the energy to respond in kind, he stopped her with a kiss instead.
Some time and very little talking later, they were sitting together in her bed, Darcy toying with her loosened curls as she leaned against him. He took up the book she had been reading before. He had not read it in a long time, but one of the poems came to mind. While he found it, Elizabeth sat up, looking curiously at the page while he read.
"To make a final conquest of all me,
Love did compose so sweet an enemy,
In whom both beauties to my death agree,
Joining themselves in fatal harmony;
That while she with her eyes my heart does bind,
She with her voice might captivate my mind.
"I could have fled from one but singly fair,
My disentangled soul itself might save,
Breaking the curled trammels of her hair.
But how should I avoid to be her slave,
Whose subtle art invisibly can wreath
My fetters of the very air I breathe?
"It had been easy fighting in some plain,
Where victory might hang in equal choice,
But all resistance against her is vain,
Who has th'advantage both of eyes and voice,
And all my forces needs must be undone,
She having gained both the wind and sun."
It was unlike anything else he had read her, and her eyes were wide when she looked up at him. He did not know then, nor did he ever discover, why he was so moved in that moment. It was the closest he had come to telling her how he felt, and in his heart he knew that it was time to cross the Rubicon; in fact, he had already waded in.
"Elizabeth," he said, touching her cheek, "I cannot - I cannot hide myself from you. I fear I never have, but I must speak. I must tell you how much I love you."
He hardly knew what to expect in response, but he was deeply surprised when tears welled up in her eyes. "Lizzy," he said, cupping her face and brushing tears away when they fell, "have I wronged you?"
She shook her head, obviously overcome. After a few minutes, she calmed herself enough to speak. "Your aunt tried to tell me this."
Darcy frowned. "Which aunt?"
Elizabeth let out a helpless laugh. "Aunt Matlock. She said you were - bewitched."
"How could I be otherwise?" Darcy leaned in to kiss her lips gently. "But why should this make you cry?"
She pressed her lips together and frowned. "May I be honest with you?"
"I do not know if I return your feelings." She would not look at him, even pulling his hand away when he tried to lift her chin. "I cannot name what I feel for you, and I will not lie to you."
He was disappointed; he could not deny that. Yet he knew she felt affection and respect for him. Love could not be so far off as to be unattainable.
Without another word he put out the candles and pulled the curtains to on his side of the bed. She did the same, and when he reached for her, she went willingly into his arms. Long after she was asleep, he was still contemplating what had happened. She had not found his confession repulsive, which was a relief in itself. He preferred that she had not lied to him, but found it curious that she was upset to tell him the truth.
He had married her because it was the right thing to do. He would have treated her well and tried to be a good husband to her because his sense of honor would allow no less. Even if she never came to love him the way he loved her, he would do whatever was in his power to make this a good marriage. When he let loose his imagination, he pictured real, lasting happiness with Elizabeth, his beloved wife always at his side while their children filled Pemberley with laughter.
But he wanted more; he knew that now. Darcy knew he could not command her love, but he could make sure she was never in doubt of his. And perhaps, in time, he could win her heart.
But the natural course of things had been stunted when Wickham followed her out of the assembly. Her husband was dear to her as no one outside her family ever had been before. She had respect for his mind, gratitude for his kindness, and desire for him. It would be easy to call that love, she thought, but was it in truth?
In the last year or two, she had come to recognize the great inequality in her parents' marriage, how ill-suited they were to domestic peace with each other. It could not be right that child should see that father did not respect mother, nor mother understand father. Elizabeth could not comprehend how either parent had made such a grave error, but it had convinced her that love, or something like it, might not be enough.
And yet her husband's brief, impassioned confession had moved her to tears. Months ago, when they were first at Pemberley, she had resolved to guard herself, but to hear that he loved her opened up the possibility that she could trust him with her heart, as he had trusted her with his.
She ached to know for sure, but how? For a moment she thought to talk to Jane, but as much as she adored her sister, she knew they were not alike in all things. And Jane had not struggled with her heart; Mallory had wooed her and won her as she deserved. Seeking her mother's counsel was out of the question, but there was perhaps someone in her family in whom she could confide.
Her aunt Gardiner was very busy with all her guests, but when Lizzy arrived early and asked to speak, she put everything aside and walked out with her into the courtyard. The weather was mild enough that they could stay out there in privacy for some minutes. They talked of trivialities at first as they walked along the cobblestones, past the empty flower beds and pots. But Mrs. Gardiner knew something was wrong, and she came to the point soon. "Lizzy, what is the matter? I know you must have something particular on your mind."
Elizabeth bit her lip and took her aunt's hand. "Darcy told me last night that he loves me."
"Oh!" cried Mrs. Gardiner, covering her mouth briefly in surprise. "Oh, Lizzy, it is as I hoped. I knew he would always be good to you, but I do not know if he could make you happy if he did not love you as you deserve."
"I did not know what to say to him," Lizzy confessed. "He understood, and I know he would not want me to dissemble, but I wish I could honestly say it in return."
Her aunt smiled on her kindly. "You have never made things easy for yourself, have you?" she teased. "Your uncle and I were worried about you in Ramsgate, you know."
"You did not think me in love with him then, surely."
"We wondered. When had you ever shown such interest in a young man? To be sure, I doubt you had ever met a man so uniquely suited to you, but you seemed fascinated."
"I was," Lizzy confessed, feeling as young as her years. "No young man had ever asked for my opinion and seemed interested in it. He was so kind to me, so happy to be with all of us. And sometimes he seemed... Lady Matlock told me he was able to help me at the assembly because he had been watching me."
"He did, and often," Aunt Gardiner confirmed. "You never did tell me of your dance with him."
The ladies sat down on a bench as Elizabeth sighed. "Oh, Aunt," she said, "would you believe that I was completely tongue-tied?"
Aunt Gardiner laughed. "Yes, I would! For the first time I danced with your uncle, I could not speak a word for shyness either."
Elizabeth found herself blushing again. "How did you know that you loved him?"
"I cannot tell you," Mrs. Gardiner replied. "I wish I could, but it is not so simple. But do you not remember what Scripture tells us? 'There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear.'"
"I do not fear him, Aunt."
"I know, but love casts out doubt too."
Lizzy stayed outside a few minutes after her aunt returned to the house, knowing what awaited her inside. Darcy had brought her, and he was waiting for her in the sitting room. He had a book in his hand, which he threw aside when she returned. Elizabeth gave him a small smile to reassure him, but he still pulled her close the moment they were alone. "Lizzy, are you well?" he asked, nervous concern written all over him.
"Of course," she replied. "I only wanted to speak to my aunt, on a matter of some delicacy."
Darcy still frowned. "Is there something..."
Belatedly she realized what he must have assumed, when she asked to come here and have a private conversation with an older female relative. "Forgive me, Fitzwilliam," she said. "I did not mean to raise... expectations."
He smiled ruefully. "I have only a too active imagination to blame, dearest."
He pulled her into an embrace, and Elizabeth relaxed in his arms. It was not a subject they had often discussed, but she knew his mind. As much as he loved his sister, she was not his peer. He did not want to see his own children live in the same solitude.
Maggie Gardiner burst into the room then, startling them out of their quiet moment. Little Maggie had become quite convinced at some point that Darcy was her very own friend and no one else's, and could rarely be put off when she demanded his attention. Darcy stepped away from his wife so he could swing Maggie into the air till she shrieked with joy and begged, "Again, Uncle Darcy, again!"
Elizabeth covered her mouth as she laughed. Darcy swung her up high again and looked at Elizabeth curiously. "Did she call me Uncle Darcy?"
"My aunt tells me she cannot convince Maggie that you ought to be Cousin Darcy," Elizabeth replied. "She has decided, so Uncle Darcy you will be."
Maggie continued begging, but Darcy settled her in his arms and drew Elizabeth with them to a sofa. She kissed his cheek fondly before resting her head upon his shoulder, while he let Maggie play with his watch. With the child thus occupied, Darcy said lowly, "I should like to name our first child Margaret, for your aunt."
"Are you sure? He will probably be picked on awfully."
He let out a sigh. "You are impossible."
"Yes, but you love me for it."
"That I do."
Mary and Jane came in then, much more quietly than their little cousin, and much more aware that they might be interrupting something. Mrs. Bennet was not far behind. Lizzy was sitting up by then, but Darcy would not release her hand, so she did not try to distance herself. "Oh, do you not make a handsome picture there?" she said, a pleased smile upon her face. "Lizzy, do tell us where you got the lace on that frock! It would look very well on Jane."
Maggie gave up the watch and moved instead to throw her arms around Darcy's neck, though it was a deceptive move, for the change in position allowed her to watch the street through the window behind them. "Oh, Maggie, do not be so unruly!" Mrs. Bennet snapped, but Darcy held up his hand.
"It is no trouble, madam," he said. "She has not bothered me."
Lizzy tried to hold in her amusement as she watched her mother's face. She wanted to contradict, for gentlemen were not supposed to be so easy with children, and children were better off in the nursery while guests were about, but she did not want to oppose her son-in-law, who after all was a rather imposing figure of a man, despite his years.
"Ah, Darcy!" Mr. Gardiner said, coming into the room. "My wife said you were here."
"Pleased to see you too, Uncle," Lizzy said very primly.
While everyone laughed, Gardiner came and kissed her cheek. "Always a pleasure, Mrs. Darcy, always a pleasure."
The nurse came in soon to take Maggie back above stairs, which the child did most reluctantly. Around the room, plans were being made, but before long Darcy leaned close to Elizabeth and whispered, "Come with me."
A little startled, she said, "Where?"
"That is a secret."
There was a smile lurking about the corners of his mouth as he lifted her fingers to a kiss. She could hardly resist him in this mood, so she nodded without another word.
Darcy rose then and made his apologies to Mrs. Gardiner and Mrs. Bennet, but he and Lizzy had business which could not be put off. The next day being Christmas, they would all see each other, at the Gardiners' dinner.
Georgiana and Kitty were with the Gardiners and Bennets for the day, so Lizzy and Darcy found themselves quite alone, and masters of their time. To her surprise and delight, when they returned home, he had the curricle hitched and absconded with her for a drive in the countryside. It was too late in the year for anything very picturesque, but Elizabeth was all too happy to find this impulsiveness in her husband. In Ramsgate, he had been prone to throw over the day's plans when it became apparent that something else would give her pleasure-
She felt like a fool for not having seen it before, and could not have been more blind if she had been in love with him. Nothing had changed to prompt his words; he had loved her all the time! It was not just the fancy of their aunts. The love he had professed the night before was far more than the work of the moment.
He brought the horses to a stop at the crest of a hill, from which they could see London and the country beyond if they looked back. When she had taken in the view, she turned her husband's face to her and kissed him soundly, caring not if anyone came by and saw.
His eyes were dark when he drew back. "It would not do if we ran away together, would it?"
"We are married," she pointed out, "so it would not be so dreadfully improper."
"That is true," he agreed, "but we promised my aunt we would dine with her this evening."
"We should not disappoint her."
Darcy laughed. "I am almost as afraid of disappointing her as I am of disappointing you."
She smiled with him as he brought the horses round. In the coming weeks she would recognize that this was the moment when the embers of doubt finally began to die away, but for now she was content, and that was more than enough.
Note: The poem quoted in full is "The Fair Singer" by Andrew Marvell; Mrs. Gardiner later quotes I John 4:18.
Posted on 2013-09-01
Taking the carriage to the Matlocks' house on the other side of the square would have been quite ridiculous, except the Darcys first went to Gracechurch Street to bring Jane for dinner. It was to be a small affair, only the earl and countess, the Darcys, Jane, and Mallory. But there was a surprise waiting for them. "Fitzwilliam!" Darcy cried, seeing his cousin and forgetting himself.
"Yes, that is my name," his cousin replied. "How do you do, Darcy?"
"Very well, Fitzwilliam," Darcy said, shaking hands with him most warmly. "Come, let me introduce you to my wife."
"I came here with no other purpose."
Richard's joking aside, he was all pleasure to meet Elizabeth and Jane both. Elizabeth and he were friends from the start, and as they were all moving to the dining room, Richard pulled Darcy aside. "However did you convince her to marry you, Darcy?" he asked, only half in jest. "She is utterly charming."
"Is she not?" Darcy replied, smiling.
They were just sitting down when they all heard a commotion at the door. A deep contralto voice echoed down the corridor, and Darcy froze. A quick look at his pale-faced wife told him that she too recognized that voice.
Lord Matlock was on his feet before Lady Catherine stormed in. "Catherine," he said, with barely a veneer of civility, while the younger men rose. "What an honor. Will you not join us?"
"I will not, brother," she said, chin high. "Is it true? Is my nephew, the next earl of Matlock, set to marry the sister of that heartless schemer who took Darcy away from my daughter?"
The earl was ready to defend himself and his family, but Elizabeth made it quite unnecessary. "I am neither heartless nor scheming, Lady Catherine, and I should prefer it if you did not insult my sister," she said.
"Rudeness and ignorance! Darcy, how do you tolerate this in your wife?"
"I should not, if I saw either rudeness or ignorance," Darcy said sharply, though it did not calm the situation, nor even deflect his aunt's ire away from his wife.
"That is your sister, then?" Lady Catherine said, nodding at Jane, whose eyes were downcast. "This is madness, Mallory, madness! How can a girl of her breeding possibly be the wife you need?"
"Aunt, you cannot be the judge of my happiness," said Mallory, probably the only man in the room who could respond to such an insult with equanimity. "Jane is my choice; my father gives his blessing; what can it be to you? Were you planning to throw Anne at me, now that Darcy cannot marry her?"
"I will not listen to such insolence! Brother, you must prevent this folly! You cannot allow our family's name to be sullied by such a girl, doubtless as impoverished in principles as she is in fortune!"
Elizabeth bolted up from her chair, her eyes full of fury. "Your quarrel is with me, madam!" she cried. Darcy was immobile from shock; he could not remember anyone speaking thus to his aunt. But he knew from his own experience that nothing quickened Elizabeth's anger faster than slighting Jane. His aunt had no idea what she had done. "Do not insult my sister, who has never in her life given harm to anyone. You are angry with me; so be it. But I will not stand for your abuse of my dearest sister, simply because I married your nephew!"
"Will you be happy when you have made him all things contemptible, girl?" Lady Catherine continued. "Will his money comfort you when you are barred from all good society? Will anyone show you kindness, when you have stepped so far beyond your sphere, and taken what was rightfully someone else's?"
"I have done nothing of the kind, Lady Catherine," Elizabeth said. "I care nothing for society's opinion, or my husband's money. He offered himself to me freely, and I accepted him. I have a husband who loves me; what can compare to that?"
She was trembling by the end of that speech, but she held Lady Catherine's gaze unwaveringly, and it was Lady Catherine who gave in. "Very well, Mallory," she said, brushing at imaginary dirt on her traveling clothes. "You will do what you like whether you have the family's blessing or not. Be a fool if it suits you."
She swept out of the room before Mallory could say that it suited him very well. Once the door was closed again, all but the Darcys had something to say; Darcy did not listen. He was two seats down from his wife, but when she swayed on her feet, he was the first to her side. "Lizzy!" he cried, catching her with an arm around her waist.
"I am well, I am well," she was repeating, even as the family closed in on her in concern. "Please, Darcy, let me sit."
He helped her back into her chair and knelt by her side. Jane handed him Elizabeth's wine glass, and he pressed her to take it. "Dearest, you are not well," he said lowly.
She drank the wine and set the glass aside with a steady hand. "Perhaps I am a little shaken," she admitted, "but I have not had a bite to eat since breakfast. I suspect therein lies the culprit."
"Then we should forget this unpleasantness at once," said Matlock, "and go back to this excellent meal before it is cold."
Reluctantly Darcy rose from her side. Jane, without a word, moved into his former seat and allowed him to sit next to his wife. "I should like to raise a toast, Father," Richard said, when the room was calm again. "To Mrs. Darcy, the dragon-slayer."
There was much chuckling as the glasses were raised.
It was late before they took Jane back to Gracechurch Street, trying to banish the memory of the evening's unpleasantness. The ride back to Cavendish Square was silent, while Darcy utterly failed to forget his aunt's unpardonable interruption. Yet it was Lizzy his thoughts dwelt upon most. Lizzy, who with all the fierceness of a lioness stood up to defend not herself, but her sister. She was fearless, utterly fearless.
Her words, her looks, played over and over in his mind as his valet helped him from his coat. He dismissed the man, though, wanting solitude. It had been an eventful day, but as his thoughts turned to the morning, he wondered at his wife's assertion that she had no expectations at present. She had nearly collapsed after Lady Catherine swept away; her explanation was sensible, but Darcy could not help but wonder. And hope.
Elizabeth slipped into the room without knocking, and she stood near the door while he decided between two books for their evening reading. When he looked up at her, though, hair loose about her shoulders, dressing gown open to reveal the delicate nightgown underneath, he forgot entirely that he had been looking at books at all. When she smiled at him, he crossed the room without knowing how and pulled her into a frantic kiss.
She responded to him eagerly, wildly, and hunger for her flared to life uncontrollably. For months he had told himself that he needed to be gentle with her, but this night was testing his resolve. How was he to act as he ought when her every touch seemed calculated to tempt him? Not thinking, he propelled her back, pushing her into the wall as his mouth moved greedily down her neck. She gasped his name, and Darcy pulled back in alarm. "Forgive me, Lizzy," he managed.
She shook her head. "You cannot break me, Fitzwilliam," she replied. "I am not glass, and never have been."
Understanding her, he nodded. He did strive for calm, for patience, and they did read a little before bed. But the last of his restraint was gone, for it served no purpose now.
In another six weeks they were back in Hertfordshire, where Elizabeth shed tears at Jane's wedding, and rejoiced to be the first to embrace her Ladyship. Jane had transcended mere beauty in her happiness as a bride; even Mallory seemed in awe of her. Elizabeth clung to her husband's arm, strongly suspecting that Darcy was trying not to laugh at her. "They look so well together," she said to him quietly.
It was snowing lightly outside the church, and Darcy drew her closer. "They do," he said, before turning his eye to her. "Are you warm enough, my love?"
She nodded. "Only worried about what it is like at Pemberley."
No one was paying the least attention to them, not while Jane and Mallory lingered at the door. Darcy took advantage of the moment and kissed her briefly. "My steward says there is above foot of snow already."
At Lizzy's look of alarm, he only smiled.
They left that afternoon, not long after Lord and Lady Mallory departed. Georgiana and Kitty came with them, the girls spending the long days of travel reading a novel to each other. Darcy would, once in a while, take a volume from them and insist they skip forward several pages, but fortunately the girls thought this amusing and not offensive. Lizzy was rather more indignant than they, for she would have liked to have read those pages for herself.
By the time they reached Pemberley, Elizabeth was very happy to have her feet on the ground again, for the days of travel had been harder this time than after her own wedding. Her husband, dear man that he was, had noticed, and his solicitousness brought him to her side after she had changed from her traveling clothes. She had not wanted to tell him this until she was certain, but she bade him sit by the fire, as she told him her hopes that a child would be born to them in the autumn.
"You still wish to name the poor boy Margaret?" she asked, when he said nothing.
He caught her wrist and pulled her down to his lap, where he whispered such sweet things in her ear that she utterly forgot how to tease him for fully ten minutes.
So the weeks passed by; storms might rage without, but the family party within Pemberley's walls was all warmth and laughter. Darcy had always been attentive to her, but impending fatherhood brought him into sharper focus. Yet in those early days, as he tried to help her through the sickness brought by her condition, she caught sight of an expression she had seen sometimes in Ramsgate, sometimes at Longbourn, and at last understood. He drew within himself when too much around him spiraled out of his control. If he looked grave now, it was because he was concerned about her and their child.
As the time drew near for them to return to London, his somberness increased. "I do not like to go," he told her flatly. "If you think you are not well enough, we will not."
"Darcy, do not be absurd; it does not suit you," she answered with a smile. "Besides, I wish to see Rachel and Beckett's baby. Do you not?"
Darcy grudgingly agreed.
A week later, they were sitting in the Matlocks' drawing room, Lizzy discussing her own condition with Rachel and Lady Matlock in hushed voices. But soon her attention was arrested by her husband, who sat, in disregard of the world around him, with his cousin's child in his arms. Elizabeth had already cooed over the beautiful little boy, but there was something infinitely dearer about the sight of Darcy cradling the infant. The boy reached a hand up, grabbing Darcy's chin, and Darcy smiled.
How she longed to see her own child in his arms, she could not tell, but the moment was far greater than it appeared to those around them. Like Darcy's realization all those months ago, Lizzy's hit her with all the force of a conclusion both simple and inevitable, so rational that she could not believe it had taken her so long to see things for what they were. Now it only remained to tell him what he so deserved to hear.
That night he gave her a perfect opportunity. "Will you not read to me tonight?" he asked, while they sat before the fire. Over the winter she had started reading to him, so the request was not a new one. Lizzy chose her book with care, one to which she had returned often over the months of their marriage.
"Send me some tokens, that my hope may live
Or that my easeless thoughts may sleep and rest;
Send me some honey, to make sweet my hive,
That in my passions I may hope the best.
I beg nor ribbon wrought with thine own hands,
To knit our loves in the fantastic strain
Of new-touch'd youth; nor ring to show the stands
Of our affection, that, as that's round and plain,
So should our loves meet in simplicity;
No, nor the corals, which thy wrist enfold,
Laced up together in congruity,
To show our thoughts should rest in the same hold;
No, nor thy picture, though most gracious,
And most desired, 'cause 'tis like the best;
Nor witty lines, which are most copious,
Within the writings which thou hast address'd.
Send me nor this nor that, to increase my score-"
He looked up when she stopped reading, and she answered his concerned frown with a small smile. "'But swear thou think'st I love thee,'" she finished, looking only at him, "'and no more.'"
She had no words to describe his look of wonder. "Do not trifle with me, Lizzy," he said, his voice strained.
Elizabeth shook her head. "I could not, not in this."
He touched her cheek, as tentatively as the first time he touched her. "Then say it."
"I love you," she told him. "I fear I have loved you much longer than I knew."
"That is well," said he, "for I cannot say when I first loved you. I only know that I love you now, and always shall."
Elizabeth was overcome, almost as overcome as she was the first time he told her that he loved her. For once she could not speak; the only proper response was to kiss him. Soon she was kneeling over him, kissing him again and again while he held her close.
"I love you, Fitzwilliam," she breathed, resting her cheek against his.
"My precious wife," he murmured. "I love you, far more than I can say."
They stayed in town only as long as absolutely necessary, as it suited neither of them to live perpetually on display for society. Even so, Elizabeth's condition was beginning to show, to those who knew to look, by the time they left.
"I will not miss London," she said, leaning against him as they headed north. "Although if you could tempt an opera company to relocate to Lambton, I should not object."
"I will ask Mallory to help. His mother would be thrilled to have a company within a day's drive."
She laughed, and he kissed the top of her head. The total lack of reserve between them no longer felt strange; in fact, quite the reverse. Even in the months since her confession of love, they had fought, but they had been honest. He had never imagined being so open with another person, and now he could not imagine being without his partner and confidante.
At Pemberley they were not inseparable, but it was more common than not to find the mistress working in the master's study with him. Mrs. Reynolds commented once to Darcy at how seamlessly he and his wife worked together, and he could not keep a grin off his face. He had as much to do as ever before, but Elizabeth, sometimes with nothing more than her presence, lightened the burdens of his responsibilities. He strove to give her the same support, to fulfill the vows he had made to her.
At the same time, he tried to keep his worries to himself as much as possible. Elizabeth was as healthy and active as ever as she carried his child, but he could not really help himself. As he had told her once, when they were first married, he did not like a situation he could not control, and this one was as far out of his power as any could be. So he devoted himself to her comfort; though she resisted his coddling at first, eventually she gave in, hoping to ease his fears.
By the time they received word that Mrs. Gardiner had safely delivered a son, it was time for Elizabeth to enter her own confinement. Jane and Mallory came then, and her mother was not far behind. Mrs. Bennet was still a silly woman, but she did know about bringing children into the world, and Elizabeth seemed to derive some comfort from her mother's presence.
Pemberley had more guests that late summer than Darcy could remember even from his childhood. All the Bennets were there, along with the Matlocks and his cousins. It seemed like a great fuss for such a small person, but when the time finally came, Darcy was more anxious than any of them. Fitzwilliam and Mallory kept Darcy from going for new information at every moment, but it was his uncle and Elizabeth's father who managed to keep him somewhat calm. His immediate worry was the safety of his wife and child, but new worries were creeping in. He had guardianship over his sister, but he was swiftly realizing that that was not the same as being a father. Georgiana had occasionally alarmed him, but nothing in his previous experience could compare to the well of nervous terror now in him.
The time came long before he could quell the anxiety in his heart. Jane brought the news that Elizabeth and the baby were both well. After hearing the congratulations of all gathered that night, Darcy hurried to his wife's side.
Elizabeth was clearly exhausted, but there was a fire in her eyes which he had never seen before. He looked to the bundle in her arms and could not look away. When he sat next to her on the bed, she pulled the blanket back so he could see the babe's face. "My darling girl, this is your papa," she said happily.
"A girl," he said, smiling as he reached to touch the impossibly soft tufts of dark hair on the baby's head. "She is so beautiful, Elizabeth."
Elizabeth nodded. "I thought we could call her Meg, if you think my aunt's name still suits her."
"Meg," he repeated. "I like that very much."
She shifted the baby to his arms and watched them with a tired smile. Their daughter was so tiny, yet the weight of her did not seem so insignificant. She needed them in ways neither of them could yet imagine, and Darcy found himself filled with inexplicable and utterly unconditional love for the child shifting restlessly in his arms. His own eyes filled with tears, and he looked away.
Elizabeth's hand touched his cheek and compelled him to look back. She was crying too. "I love you," he murmured, turning to kiss her palm, and forgetting there was ever a time when those words were not true.
When Darcy's friend Bingley spoke of letting Netherfield Park in Hertfordshire, Elizabeth gave him such a glowing recommendation that he nearly took the place sight unseen. Darcy laughed at their enthusiasm and reminded Elizabeth that she had not lived in Hertfordshire in four years. Elizabeth conceded that much could have happened in that time; why, the place could be in ruins, if her mother's assertions about the previous tenants were not wildly overstated.
The Darcys, who had not seen Elizabeth's family since Mary's wedding the previous winter, were due a visit. It took little persuading to get Darcy to ride to Meryton with Bingley to look at the place. They came back with the news that Bingley had closed with the attorney and would take possession at Michaelmas. Elizabeth was thrilled, and not the least surprised. "Is it not delightful country?" she asked her husband's friend. "Though I must warn you, my mother will try to marry you off to one of my sisters."
Darcy looked alarmed, but the good-natured Bingley only laughed. "If your sisters can compare to yourself or Lady Mallory, I think I should not mind."
Barely keeping her countenance, Elizabeth looked to her husband. "What say you, Darcy? Can Kitty or Lydia compare to Jane or myself?"
"I know better than to answer that, Elizabeth," he replied drolly. "Except to say that no woman compares to my wife."
"Pretty words, Darcy."
"I speak nothing but the truth, my dear."
In the two years since meeting them, Bingley had come to expect such little shows of teasing affection between the Darcys. There were some among their acquaintance who thought them curious, for she was all liveliness and he was all reserve. Yet those who really knew them saw that she was not incapable of gravity, nor he of levity. Their marriage was reckoned a happy one, and if some did not comprehend them, it was hardly their concern.
Bingley went ahead of them into Hertfordshire, his family and the Darcys to follow in a week. Miss Bingley tried to invite herself into the Darcys' carriage rather than travel with her sister Hurst, until she realized that the Darcy children would be with their parents and aunt. Armed with that knowledge, she could not get to the Hursts' carriage quickly enough.
Elizabeth found Caroline more amusing than not. She was so eager to be accepted by them, because their acceptance might mean entrance into the Fitzwilliams' circle. Yet she had a great deal of difficulty accepting them. Darcy she certainly would have liked better unmarried; Georgiana she would have liked more timid and malleable. Lizzy would hardly venture a guess about herself. So Darcy was civil, Georgiana was kind, and Elizabeth tried not to inflict the children on her too often, though the results were always sure to amuse her.
There was to be an assembly in Meryton the evening after their arrival, and Miss Bingley was all attention to her guests, especially Georgiana. But she was horrified when Elizabeth began that morning by walking three miles from Netherfield to Longbourn, not wanting to wait a moment to see her family again, even though Darcy came with the children an hour later.
Mrs. Bennet's reaction to Lizzy's wild appearance at Longbourn would have rivaled Miss Bingley's. "Six inches deep in mud! Oh, Lizzy, whatever will I do with you?" her mother cried, even as they embraced.
Her sisters were happy to see her despite her muddy petticoats, but her father had the warmest greeting of all for her. He embraced her, kissed the top of her head, and said, "I am glad you are come back, Lizzy. Perhaps I will hear sense now and then, with you at Netherfield."
"Papa," she said, knowing he was not serious. Her younger sisters had spent more than half their time with her household or Jane's in the last four years. Separated from an indulgent mother and indolent father, all three had improved vastly over what they had been as younger girls. Mary had wed a quite sensible clergyman from Staffordshire; Kitty had had a lovely Season in town with the Mallorys as sponsors. Lydia had done what none of her sisters had, and gone to school.
She was just approaching her parents with a scheme to take Lydia to Ireland next summer when the carriage turned into the sweep. Elizabeth went out to greet her family, and soon Georgiana alighted with little Margaret holding her hand. Darcy himself carried baby James up to the house. "Georgiana, I did not think to see you here," Lizzy said, while Meg showed her the very pretty leaves she and her papa had found at Netherfield after breakfast.
Georgiana looked unaccountably nervous. "Is it very wicked of me, Lizzy, that I hope I do not have to spend too much time with Miss Bingley while we are here?"
Lizzy laughed. "No, only a little wicked."
"I do not find this very amusing, sister," Georgiana continued. "I wish she were a little friendlier to you, and a little less to my brother."
"I may wish that too, Georgiana, but I do not doubt my husband."
"Oh! I did not mean - that is - I know how he loves you. He has always loved you."
Darcy was waiting for them at the door, but Lizzy thought perhaps her sister needed to hear something at last. Over the last year, as they prepared for Georgiana to come out, it had become clear that the girl had set up her brother's marriage as a sort of ideal, not understanding what those early months were like, nor even the circumstances that made it necessary.
Sending Meg to her father, Elizabeth steered Georgiana into the gardens for some privacy. "You were twelve, were you not, when we met?"
"Yes," said Georgiana, in some confusion. "My father had died only a year before."
"There were certain things Fitzwilliam and I decided to keep from you, and I know you have drawn your own conclusions about that summer. But I think the time has come for you to know."
So Elizabeth told Georgiana everything that happened. Georgiana listened in some shock as Elizabeth told how her marriage to Fitzwilliam had come about, and at the end, Elizabeth feared she had shattered all her sister's romantic ideals. "But I do not understand," the girl said, clinging to Elizabeth's hands. "I thought..."
"I know," Elizabeth said kindly. "Do not be deceived now: I love your brother more than I thought it was possible to love. He has made me happier than I can express. But those early months were difficult, for we did not know each other, nor how to speak to each other."
Georgiana did not understand that either, and Elizabeth found herself remembering her aunt Gardiner's admonition, that some things could only be understood in the moment. "You are coming out next Season, sister, and I thought it best that you do so with your eyes open. Do you know what your aunt Matlock said to me, the first time I spoke with her?" Georgiana shook her head. "She told me, and I quite agree, that ignorance can only cause harm, especially to ladies. I would not make you afraid, but I would have you understand."
At Georgiana's request, Elizabeth left her in the garden to think, with a promise to talk with her again at some later date. She came back inside and followed the sound of Meg in very earnest conversation with her grandfather, who had found that he loved teasing his clever little granddaughter above all else. Mrs. Bennet was holding her grandson while Kitty admired him and sketched his likeness.
In this intimate little scene, Darcy drew near his wife. "Have you forgotten how to ride, Mrs. Darcy?"
"You could hardly expect me to trust those wild things Mr. Bingley buys, even for his sister," she told him. "My feet take me everywhere here. You know the way of it."
James was soon wailing for his mamma, so Elizabeth was obliged to take him out of the parlor and into the quiet of the corridor where he could fall asleep. There her father followed her. "You used to sleep like that," he said.
Elizabeth smiled. James was sucking his thumb, eyes only half closed, and occasionally he would make a little snuffling sound. "I will never tire of this," she said, kissing her son's head softly, lest he wake.
"You are happy, Lizzy," her father said gruffly.
Elizabeth looked at him in surprise. "Of course, Father." Had he not come to Pemberley often, when he was least expected? Had he not seen the peace and joy in their home?
"I shall always worry about you, my girl," he replied. "Sometimes I still remember the boy telling me you should want for nothing as his wife. I prayed he would learn that all his money could not bring you, of all people, happiness."
Elizabeth gave her father a small smile, before she shifted her sleeping son into his arms. "Papa, he loves me very much, and I love him," she said. "You will tell me that is not always enough, and I know that. But he holds me in high honor, as something more than his wife and the mother of his children. I have come to respect him as much as I love him."
That gave her father a little solace, although his little grandson might have had as much to do with it. "I am glad you are come, Lizzy," he said, and she smiled, understanding what he would not say.
At the assembly that night, Darcy found himself greeted by nearly everyone of his acquaintance in the county. Miss Bingley found it quite shocking that he had ever condescended to socialize in the area; he wondered if she thought he spent all his time writing letters and reading when he came to visit his wife's family.
He danced the first with his sister, who was not quite out but allowed to dance at this small country assembly. After that he thought to claim his wife for a dance, but it was not to be. They were both so busy with friends that it was not until the last dance of the night that he was able to lead her to the floor. "I see you have danced far more than normal tonight," she said to him, taking his hand.
"I am not permitted to spend an entire assembly watching you and your partners."
"No, that would not do at all," Elizabeth said, laughing as he repeated her own words. "Have you enjoyed yourself this evening?"
"I have," he said, knowing his surprise was evident in his voice. Meryton society would always be unrefined, but his wife loved this place and its people, so he would strive to enjoy it too.
They had a great deal they needed to speak on, but the assembly was hardly the place. Georgiana had asked to talk with him about that summer at Ramsgate. There was no time that afternoon, but since then he had reflected that he hardly ever thought of that or George Wickham anymore. After the birth of their little Margaret, it had seemed impossible that they had married to preserve Elizabeth's honor. They loved each other too much to think there was any other reason.
They never spoke much while they danced, which had confused nearly everyone who ever saw them dance together. Darcy always found that his thoughts were too happily situated to bother with speaking. Elizabeth never failed to understand how he admired her; indeed, he found her lovelier now than he did when they met. Bearing children had given her a more fashionable figure, but it was more than that. Her countenance was full of grace and joy, and she could not help affecting all those around her.
When the final dance of the night ended, Darcy drew his wife close. "Husband?" she said in playful inquiry.
"Wife," he replied in kind, kissing her fingers, pleased that he could still make her blush.
But she had some small retaliation in mind. With a hand upon his shoulder, she rose up to speak low in his ear. "'His mouth is most sweet: yea, he is altogether lovely,'" she quoted.
Darcy felt color rising in his face, but he could not leave her unchallenged, nor the verse half-quoted. "'This is my beloved," said he, meeting her remarkably fine eyes, "'and this is my friend.'"
Note: Elizabeth reads "The Token" by John Donne, and she and Darcy quote (most of) Song of Solomon 5:16.The End