Chapter IV Part B
Elizabeth found the accumulated suspense increasingly uncomfortable as the minutes passed and finally bent near her sister to ask for her company. Jane whispered her explanation to Bingley and after a short commotion of polite farewells they were able to leave the party and go upstairs, heading for Jane's rooms. When the door was closed behind them Elizabeth let out a short exasperated sigh which caused a sympathetic smile from Jane and she turned without delay to ring for the maid. Sarah had come over from Longbourn for a few days to assist Jane until it could be arranged for the new Mrs Bingley to hire a maid of her own.
Although her mother had offered to pick one for her, both Jane and Charles agreed they would rather get a girl from London than to allow a random young girl from a family in the neighborhood into their private life. There were no doubt daughters among the merchants in Meryton or the farmers outside it that could be trained and in time turn out as well as Sarah. However, a Lady's maid should preferably be a reliable and discreet kind of person, which was not exactly what they expected Mrs Bennet to look for. So under some pretext they had declined her help. Jane was glad that her mother had been too happy to mind this setback.
"I was amazed Mama took that so well, Lizzy."
"It appears her son-in-law is too precious to do anything that is really wrong in her eyes. But I can easily understand you. It would not be desirable to have all Hertfordshire discuss what Mrs Bingley was wearing for breakfast or if Mr Bingley saw fit to comment on it."
A delicate shade of pink washed over Jane's face as she glanced over towards Sarah and motioned to hush her sister.
"Lizzy! I must beg you to stop. But it was such a relief. I had been dreading to let her know how we felt, but she just dropped the subject and instead started to talk to me about redecorating the dining room!'
"She did what? Oh Jane, I fear you will have to learn to show less forbearance towards Mama. I am indeed concerned for you and your Mr Bingley - you will allow me to call him thus now? - If you do not take measures to be sometimes disagreeable, you will not have a moment's peace."
Elizabeth seated herself at Jane's dressing table and nodded cheerfully towards Sarah who was approaching to help her. Now the official part of the celebration was come to an end her spirits seemed to be rising. She cast a glance around the room.
"So this is to be your dressing room, Jane! How very neat and pleasant it looks. I would say there is every reason to praise your Mr Bingley and compliment him on the arrangements."
With an affectionate smile Elizabeth watched as her sister blushed sweetly for the second time for she could very well imagine Jane's state of mind. I wonder very much what my own dressing room will look like ... . Sarah began by removing her bridal bonnet and then with capable hands carefully loosened the hairpins one by one. Finally she lifted the flimsy cloth from the bride's head. The veil with its fragile laces was cautiously tucked away.
"Now Miss Lizzy ... err forgive me, Madam, would you want your hair entirely redone?"
"Oh no, Sarah. I am very pleased with it the way you arranged it. Though perhaps some minor adjustments might be required ... ."
She shook her head with a mischievous smile causing some lose strands to become visible. Sarah enjoyed the light-hearted mood and dared a shy laugh.
"Why yes of course, Mrs Darcy. I shall see to that."
The curls that had escaped were brought back in place with a few skillfully applied hairpins. Elizabeth stared at her reflection. I am tolerable, I suppose. Perhaps even handsome enough to tempt... Her eyes happened to fall upon her sister who was standing behind the maid watching her work. There was sadness to Jane's eyes. Her own heart sank again. Dearest Jane, do not look so forlorn. When Sarah went away to fetch something she motioned for her sister to come close.
"Jane, I can not imagine you would rather send Mr Bingley on his way to London and keep me here?"
She blissfully made a silent addition. Besides I am quite convinced Mr Darcy would disapprove. Jane laughed despite herself on hearing Elizabeth's eager whisper.
"Oh Lizzy. To see you leave is painful, I admit. But you are right of course."
"Then you must not look like that! Mr Bingley might think you are not happily married!'
Laughter mingled with tears was their only resort.
Because of the gown Lizzy was too immobile to manage on her own and some embarrassment was added to her laughter as Sarah kneeled before her to replace the silk slippers with a pair of new boots, bought during their recent sojourn in town. They were adequate for winter weather although still more elegant than she had been used to.
"From the look of them, these boots must not be soiled by contact with the ground. No, I shall have to implore Mr Darcy that he carry me where ever I mean to go if it is out of doors! Yet indoors they may prove highly useful."
She stood to walk across the floor with mincing steps, demonstrating them to Jane.
"What do you think, Jane? Am I not simply too elegant for words?"
Her smile was hesitant and Jane spontaneously embraced her sister.
"You are indeed, but more than your elegance I am going to miss your smile-provoking comments, Lizzy."
They felt the parting was closing up on them and that every moment tears threatened behind the smiles.
"Oh dearest Jane. You must write very often and depend upon it I shall do the same."
Unable to speak Jane nodded vehemently.
Meanwhile Sarah had returned and was holding out the gift Elizabeth had received from her uncle and aunt: a pelisse to wear during her trip to London. After releasing her sister Elizabeth lifted her arms and allowed the girl to help her into the soft garment, a light overcoat made of an amber shade sarsenet and according to Mrs Gardiner considered most fashionable. It was cut on similar lines to her dress with a short waistline and a high neck and was decoratively lined and even interlined with white lamb's wool so it would certainly be warmer than it might appear.
She could see it in the mirror and Jane confirmed her impression.
"Now you are truly, Mrs Elizabeth Darcy! There can be no doubt about that, Lizzy. You look ... wealthy."
She made another attempt to laugh away the melancholic thoughts that insisted on taking precedence over her happiness.
"I am truly a very warm Mrs Darcy and if I am not soon on my way I fear I will look ... sweaty."
There was no room for further jokes as the sisters engaged in an emotional embrace both wishing the other every happiness and each in return volunteering the assurance of her own felicity.
The bride dressed in traveling wear was holding her sister's arm as they appeared on the stairs She saw that Darcy was already waiting for her below in his dark cape, hat in hand. Where he stood in the hall talking to Mr Bennet his back was turned to the stairs and Elizabeth's father caught sight of her first.
" There's a lovely sight. Your jewel is descending, Mr Darcy!'
He swirled round and looked up towards the sisters. Dear Lord she is adorable. A smile spread over his face as he bowed to his father-in-law and moved to join his wife. His formal address was belied by the message in his eyes.
"Are we all set to take our leave, Mrs Darcy?"
She happily received the support offered by a gloved hand and nodded her mute consent while her eyes met his to convey a pleased answer to his warm gaze. Yet Darcy searched her face. There is some distress ... . He looked over at Jane who smiled bravely towards her brother and he took her meaning to be that there was no more grief than could be expected. He applied a soft comforting pressure on the small hand in his.
Elizabeth felt reassured by his presence but also eased in her mind that they had said good bye to the greater part of the guests earlier. Before leaving the hall there were now only the most important and most deeply felt farewells left to be taken.
But first her pelisse had to be duly admired. Mrs Bennet praised her Lizzy for looking so well and her brother and sister for the handsome gift. Then her daughters buried their fingers in the lamb's wool while Mary conceded to fur clothing being highly appropriate during wintertime and Kitty declared that Elizabeth ought to be very happy. Even Georgiana was bold enough to step near and marvel at the soft curls of the lining. She added shyly.
"You look so wonderful, Elizabeth. I am sure you will stay warm in the coach."
Elizabeth smiled happily and brushed the cheek of her new sister. She owed a debt of gratitude to Miss Darcy for accepting her so readily. She knew that Darcy had been watching their exchange with a protective smile, but she was confused as he sent her a significant glance at the last pronouncement from his sister. Whatever could he mean by that? That she would stay warm ... ohh.
She hurried into the loving embraces of the Gardiners and thanked her aunt and uncle as they wished her luck from their hearts. They were soon to meet in town for it was already decided that Mrs Gardiner would accompany Elizabeth to the dressmaker and a joint visit to the theater had been mentioned.
Mrs Bennet positively oozed benevolence as Darcy thanked her, specially complimenting her on the splendid arrangements, and eventually bent to kiss her hand. His wife noticed his graciousness with gratitude before she clasped her parents and sisters tightly in her arms; Jane in particular while whispering again that they must write very soon and furtively exchanging glances of happy bewilderment.
As Mr and Mrs Darcy took their affectionate leave of Georgiana, they reminded her that they were to meet again at Pemberley within a fortnight. The bridegrooms restricted themselves to a firm handshake but both exhibited the same happily grinning face. Again there was a waving of hands and handkerchiefs, tear-filled eyes and melancholic thoughts as the couple descended the steps to the yard where the black carriage was awaiting them.
Mr Bullock cautiously collected the lash in his hand and greeted his master and mistress by a touch of the whip to his brim. He had just resumed his position on the driver's seat after checking that the few items of baggage were firmly secured with leather straps. Most of the luggage had left for London on another carriage several hours ago.
Assisted by her husband Elizabeth entered the big coach. Darcy turned to cast one last glance at the stone building where he had spent such important weeks of his life. He had been bothered at first and sometimes even mortified during his stay last autumn, but a year later also exceedingly happy. He raised his hand to salute its owner and never had he felt more keenly what he owed his dear friend. Bingley stood in the doorway beaming with happiness beside his beautiful bride. Darcy climbed in to join his own and as he met her eyes they both smiled on hearing Bingley's voice shouting his last 'God's speed!' Then the footman closed the door and Darcy leaned back next to his wife with a prolonged sigh.
"Ahhh, we are on our way at last."
"Did you find the morning too tiresome, Mr Darcy?"
He looked down into her lovely face.
"The morning? No no, I certainly wished for us to be properly joined together before God. But I admit the breakfast threatened to be going on forever. I somehow find myself less interested in food today."
She laughed and smoothed the folds of her coat.
"I fear your misgivings will turn out to be justified. It will probably not be over for yet another hour or two ... As for food I never was less inclined to it. I wonder why ..."
She had been looking down at the movements of her hand but now deliberately lifted her lashes and allowed him to see the mirth playing in her dark eyes. She provoked him to act upon her flirtatious invitation, but he managed to stop himself from speaking his mind without thinking.
"Elizabeth! I know what I hunger for ... '
He suddenly bent over to kiss her full on the mouth. She had no time to react before he withdrew. I can not believe I just did that. I kissed her. We have been on our way for a few minutes and I kiss her without respect! I was about to pull her near me and ... . Where would this kind of behaviour lead us during the hours we are to spend on our own in this carriage? It is unthinkable! He spoke with some discomposure.
"Two more hours of food and conversation? Ours was a lucky escape then!'
It was as if he wished her to disregard his action and though it had upset her by reminding her of what his kisses were like, Elizabeth tried to breath calmly and endeavoured to listen attentively to her husband.
"Yes I think it was."
"We should give a compassionate thought to Mr and Mrs Bingley then. On the other hand, they will not have several hours on the road once the guests do leave. They will be on their own ... ."
Elizabeth studied his countenance and she liked what she saw. He is not as unaffected as he would have me think.
"I would not wish to switch. To travel in such comfort and in such agreeable company can not be considered a hardship. I find myself quite happy with my lot. Are we not on our own already?"
He seized her hand and brought it to his lips.
"Are you comfortable, my love?"
"How can I possibly be anything but comfortable?"
She looked around admiring the luxuriously soft upholstery and with her free hand stroked the cloth on the seat.
"I have never travelled in such elegance before. There are curtains to match the seats, rugs, even cushions! We seem to lack for nothing."
His loving eyes watched her movements and then briefly placed the hand he had been holding against his cheek.
"You deserve nothing but the best, Elizabeth."
She moved to lean her head affectionately on his shoulder.
"However untrue this may be, it is still very nice to hear you say so, Fitzwilliam. I hope I shall never give you reason to think otherwise."
He was slowly tugging at the fingers of her glove, persistently trying to remove it.
"My dearest Elizabeth. I know I shall always admire you."
"But you are not too fond of my gloves I have noticed!'
Darcy paused to smile into her mischievous eyes before his face turned serious as he placed the glove on the seat.
"Very true! I have come to consider them a nuisance. Your skin is much to be preferred."
He took to kissing her fingers one by one and mumbled tenderly.
"So smooth and lovely. Infinitely to be preferred."
Moving a little closer to him she smiled and heaved a happy sigh.
"A well-behaved wife should always admit her husband is right and I do this readily. I agree that gloves should never be allowed in private."
He closed his eyes as her fingers escaped his grip to gently touch his chin. Now leave it at this. Be patient and enjoy her company and this sweet tenderness. He forced his hand to sink back on the seat beside him. Elizabeth seemed to be less single-minded and as she spoke she unknowingly helped him master some uninvited impulses.
"The ceremony in church was very beautiful, was it not?"
"Indeed it was and there was also a bride of infinite beauty'.
Her hand was gone but the skin on his face was still tingling.
"Now, be serious! I so liked to hear you make those promises ... and to say them myself. It emphasised that our marriage is not only a very happy adventure but a most serious undertaking as well."
On hearing her sincerity he collected his stray thoughts.
"My dearest Elizabeth. I might impress you as too light-hearted because of my great happiness, but I am fully aware of the significance. From now on we belong together come what may! It is a matter for solemn contemplation. But it is also the most wonderful thing that I have yet experienced. You must look mildly on my smiles. They are merely signs of happiness I cannot conceal!'
She lifted her head from his shoulder to look into his eyes.
"That was a beautiful thing to say. I do love you, Mr Darcy."
He had time to let her know that he felt the same before she cupped her hands under his jawbones and reached up to place a soft kiss on his lips. Then she resumed her former position by placing her head against his shoulder and grasping his hand in hers. When he could breathe he peered down at her face and saw that her eyes were closed and that a tiny smile was on her mouth. He moved his arm to hold her steadily by his side. Wisely he decided to keep his silence and savour the moment. He must see to it that her naked hand was warm and to that end enfolded it with his. His wife made no objection but sighed in approval.
The carriage wheeled ahead on the road to London and the pale December sun glittered for yet another hour through the window. Inside a calm and blissful silence soon prevailed as Darcy held his arm protectively around the shoulders of his young wife. The morning's strain and the excitement of the day had craved its tribute and Elizabeth was peacefully dozing, her head still confidently resting near his heart. She had removed her bonnet and he smiled to see that there were orange blossoms intertwined among the dark curls on her head. Their heavy scent somehow enhanced his longing and he placed a cautious kiss on her hair. He was filled with happiness and from fear of disturbing her dared hardly move. For the moment he wished for nothing more.
Chapter IV, Part C
Authors note: I know I am being very slow but it is not calculated. This is simply the time I have needed to get it done.
She had been there once before but the sensation of sitting in the carriage as it turned up in front of the broad stone steps was new. This was so very different! She was Mrs. Darcy now, coming home to their house with her husband by her side. Yes, he was seated near her though she could have sworn he had been facing her a moment ago!
Elizabeth was not aware that Darcy had been tenderly watching her as she slept opposite him. That he had in fact spent over an hour fighting an impulse to pull her into his arms. When we are approaching Portnam Square I shall venture to be near her. Must stay fairly indifferent for some time still. It was not until they were driving through the outskirts of London that he had moved over to sit next to her again and he waited until they were upon Upper Baker Street, to gently take her hand and breathe against her hair.
"It is time to wake up, my dear."
Elizabeth knew she had been dozing from time to time but as she looked outside when they were passing the corner at Dorset Street was amazed to see the gathering dusk.
"Oh, have I been sleeping then?"
An amatory twinkle was in his eye as he watched her attempts to conquer the drowsiness. He was resolved to escape the allurement offered by this sight and only reluctantly admitted.
"So you have, Elizabeth. And, allow me to add, you looked perfectly lovely while doing so."
He heard that his voice was unstable with hard-won temperance. This will not do at all. We are very soon about to become the center of attention. But ... patience now will be rewarded later. He smiled widely and even winked at her! The gravity on his face was not there any more. Does he know how that smile affects me? Elizabeth wanted to stay near his warmth, to rest her spinning head against his reassuring chest. But instead her hand was released and he helped her remove the blankets that had been tucked over her legs. Her shawl had been disposed of earlier on the opposite seat and now she watched him lift it in search of gloves. As he busied himself with their belongings he seemed to get livelier, almost cheerful. He handed the bonnet to her and briefly smoothed his hair before putting on his hat.
With nervous fingers she tied the ribbons firmly under her chin and while she tried to catch her elusive reflection in the window the carriage came to a stop. A transient rocking motion betrayed that the footman had jumped down to lower the foot-board before he opened the door. Mr. Bullock's voice was heard from outside and his rumbling bass provided a background for the sonorous baritone of her husband.
"We are finally here, Elizabeth; we are home! We have made good speed for it is not yet dark. Come let me help you out! Leave everything! It will be taken care of."
They were all so obviously relieved to be home. I am the only stranger in this house. She repressed her momentary sense of loneliness and as she accepted his upraised hand sent a searching glance up the venerable old building. Will I feel at home here? The friendly warmth from a line of gleaming windows was strangely comforting and she was grateful to feel her husband's firm support when she collected the cloth of her pelisse and skirt before stepping down.
Meanwhile the impressive front door had been opened wide and apart from the footman standing at attention near the coach, a row of heads became visible in the flooding light. She cast a hasty glance towards the white ovals and then hesitantly up into Darcy's face. Immediately perceiving her anxiety, he gave her hand a short reassuring clasp as he explained.
"Members of the household staff are lined to greet us, Elizabeth. I hope you are not too tired? It is customary ... and will be over in a few minutes."
She took a deep breath and hoped her hair was in order. This moment made her grateful that the trip had been so uneventful. She ought to look dignified enough. Nothing had happened to derange her appearance since Sarah helped her change into traveling dress at Netherfield. She smiled back at him endeavoring to hide her discomfort.
"Oh yes, of course. I shall be pleased to meet them. Would you say I am presentable?"
Tiny wrinkles deepened round his eyes as he contemplated the rosy cheeks and bright eyes under her bonnet.
"You look wonderful, Mrs. Darcy. Welcome home!'
With these words he brought her up the steps and over the threshold where Mr. Hudson was waiting to greet them with a bow.
"Mr. Darcy! It is good to have you home before nightfall."
"Good evening, Hudson! Thank you. I think you have already met Mrs. Darcy?"
"Indeed, I have Sir! Good evening, Mrs. Darcy, I hope yours was a pleasant journey?"
Elizabeth felt a stupid warmth creeping up her cheeks, but she tried to ignore it for she knew that his question was perfectly neutral and that any confusion was due to her own recollections. Another memory soon brought a glittering to her eyes for, as she smilingly shook his hand, she recognized the old butler's kind features and remembered from her previous visit a tete-a-tete with Darcy on the staircase landing. She had then expressed her fears that their whispering might be overheard by the butler in the hall below, but had been told by her surprisingly mischievous fiancª that Mr. Hudson's hearing was slightly reduced.
The old man silently reflected that such a smile would once have charmed him witless and was even now rather irresistible. It took no effort for him to understand the traces of infatuation on his master's countenance. When he had collected Darcy's hat and cloak and, with hardly perceptible movements, handed these items to the nearest footman, Mr. Hudson again addressed Mrs. Darcy this time to introduce the housekeeper, Mrs. Tuddler.
Elizabeth saw before her a sturdy middle-aged woman with impeccable attire who calmly awaited her new mistress' intentions before she extended a hand that was firmly clasped, probably with more cordiality than Margaret Tuddler had expected.
How was she to know that young Mrs. Darcy was suffering a mild attack of sentimental longing. That she had unconsciously pictured the woman in charge to be someone elderly like Mrs. Reynolds at Pemberley. However the overall appearance of Mrs. Tuddler reminded Elizabeth of Hill from her childhood and she instinctively approved of the integrity she could sense in the housekeeper.
"Mrs. Tuddler! I am so pleased to meet you."
"Thank you, Mrs. Darcy. May I wish you welcome to Portnam Square and, if it is no inconvenience, will you allow me to introduce ... the rest of the staff?"
Elizabeth expressed her readiness to meet everyone.
"Yes, Mrs. Tuddler, please do!'
She then proceeded to nod and utter a few words to everyone in the line, although the names and features soon became a blur. There were only two faces she remembered afterwards. One belonged to a short man who was easily singled out because he was not wearing a wig. She watched her husband start as this gentleman stepped forward to bow and express his contentment to see Mr. Darcy back.
"Roget?! I had not expected to see you here."
It was obvious that he tried to hide his surprise.
"I am happy to be at your service, sir. Not to mention, back in your service."
The man bowed anew with composure but despite his elegant turn of phrase Elizabeth thought she could detect a shadow of something very much like ... insecurity passing over his face. Since her hand was resting on Darcy's arm she sensed a tension in his muscles as if he hesitated before addressing her.
"Mrs. Darcy! This is Roget, my valet for many years."
Elizabeth expressed her benevolence with a smile. She knew he had not been at Netherfield but now believed she might have had a glimpse of him last year or perhaps at Pemberley in August. Figuring that his status as a faithful retainer required something more she added.
"I am sure you take good care of Mr. Darcy, Roget."
"You are very kind, Mrs. Darcy."
She heard her husband's voice.
"I would like to speak with you upstairs, Roget."
Any emotion aroused by these somewhat ominous words was suppressed as he bowed for a third time in compliance. Elizabeth furtively studied the faces of both men. Darcy gave nothing away but the valet seemed to her as if he was only simulating calmness. She glanced at him thoughtfully. Is he fearful? Why is that?
The other face that lingered with Elizabeth was further down the line. Actually it was the first female one after Mrs. Tuddler and was attached to a lean girl, who answered to the name Ellen and was presented as her new lady's maid. She found herself gazing into a pair of pale blue eyes expectantly directed at her from a thin face. She looks as if I was about to bite. Resolved to clear away such fears immediately she exclaimed with her usual spontaneity.
"Ellen! It is nice to meet you. I hope we shall become friends!'
A silent murmur swept through the hall as the girl gave her a surprised look and then lowered her eyes with a quick curtsey.
"Thank you, madam."
Elizabeth bit her lip. She turned to her husband who studied the girl for a moment, before he spoke.
"Very well, Ellen! Please collect Mrs. Darcy's belongings from the coach and bring them to her rooms when we are finished here."
"Yes Mr. Darcy, sir."
The maid dropped another curtsey and resumed her place in the line.
When the introductions were over and done with, Mr. Hudson cleared his throat.
"Mr. Darcy, Madam! Permit me - on behalf of the entire staff - to convey our most sincere good wishes! We are all very happy to welcome Mrs Darcy by your side, sir."
Elizabeth was exceedingly pleased to hear such friendly words. Perhaps they are not questioning their master's choice after all? Darcy could not claim that he had been totally unprepared. The staff had been known to pay their respects to the master and mistress on solemn occasions such as this, yet the butler's congratulations had stirred something within him. His voice betrayed emotions similar to Elizabeth's, as he expressed their joint gratitude. He mentioned that there would be further opportunities to meet Mrs. Darcy since she was going to spend some days in town with him before they continued to Derbyshire.
Elizabeth felt unexpectedly tired and only added a bright smile to the words of her husband. She was grateful that Darcy handled the remainder of the communication with the butler and Mrs Tuddler. He soon turned to her and offered his arm. The servants disappeared in different directions and she reflected that she had no idea where all these doors lead.
" Shall we go upstairs, Mrs. Darcy? Perhaps you would like to rest before supper?"
He was concerned. There was a sudden frailty to her and her cheeks had gone pale. They had started walking towards the staircase when, with a mumbled excuse, he stopped and turned to look back calling the housekeeper's name.
"I assume you have seen to it that Bullock and the men are well provided for in the servant's hall, Mrs. Tuddler?"
After her answer in the affirmative he nodded his approval and they proceeded upstairs. Elizabeth hesitated but then decided that she must never fear to ask him how things were to be done in her new household. While they climbed the stairs she lowered her voice.
" Would it be ... appropriate for us to change into evening dress for supper?"
He had not given it any thought, he very seldom did. Roget usually took care of such things. But he now considered her question to be well founded.
"No this is not a formal meal ... a light supper for the two of us and I see no need for that unless you wish it. Above everything I would want you to feel comfortable. This little reception ceremony was our last obligation for today. Your appearance was as dignified as could be expected and besides so lovely ... I was all admiration."
"You did not think that I overstepped or ... was too outspoken?"
She looked at him anxiously. She would not like to think that his servants ... their servants were making fun of her behind her back."
"My dearest Elizabeth! No, I assure you! You were all amiable loveliness. I think you captured Mr. Hudson's heart at once."
He squeezed her arm near him and smiled tenderly.
"As for the rest of the evening, it is for us to spend in privacy so whatever you choose to wear will meet with my approval."
"I do feel very elegant, though I am not sure about dignified. Nevertheless I would prefer to be able to move more freely. Informal then?"
A short admiring glance caressed her before he resumed his flawless gentlemanly behaviour to add gallantly.
"You will be just as beautiful if you feel at ease. Will you permit me to do the same?"
She nodded, speculating as to what he would understand by informal and was about to request that he be more specific, but then decided that instead she would put Ellen to the test.
Something about her made him throw a cautious glance over his shoulder before he bent forward to briefly kiss her temple as they reached the second floor.
"Your chamber is this way Elizabeth! The third door to the left ... ."
He hesitated, agreeably confused by the scent of her hair. To hell with that supper! A slight colour on his earlobes.
"I take it you would like to ... comb your hair or ... '
The look on his face was so charmingly insecure, she could not resist teasing him.
"Does it need combing then?"
"No no, I only assumed, ... apart from getting dressed I am not sure what ladies do when they retire!'
She laughed and moved the hand on his arm to remorsefully stroke his sleeve.
"You are most considerate, Mr. Darcy and I am very grateful. The truth is, I would appreciate some time on my own. Only I feel lost ... ."
He smiled lovingly, but glancing down the hallway towards their suite of rooms hesitated to escort her there himself. Although if truth be told his room was only two doors away from hers, he did not think it proper that he should visit her room or even make her aware of the premises ... yet. I feel as nervous as a stripling, afraid even to ask a lady to dance. What must she think of me? This is really too absurd ... . I have to pull myself together. A small sigh of relief escaped him when her maid appeared from the servant's stairs in the other end of the corridor. She approached them carrying a small bag, Elizabeth's shawl and some other items from the coach.
"Ah, splendid. Ellen, will you please show Mrs. Darcy to her rooms?"
"Certainly, Mr. Darcy. This way if you please, madam."
The maid walked ahead and he took a few steps with his wife down the gallery. Detecting what he deemed to be insecurity as Elizabeth glanced in his direction he mumbled reassuringly.
"She will be able to show you where to find ... things and help you settle in. I would be very pleased to meet you in the library before supper? It is on the first floor. Hm I just recalled that you have been there. Well anyhow, I usually spend some time in there before meals. With the papers and ... Your company would be much appreciated, Mrs. Darcy."
She was tempted to kiss him because of that mixture of insecurity and affectionate gallantry. He knew there was something gleaming in her eyes and cursed the presence of her servant. If that maid were not here I think I might have been granted a token of love, a kiss perhaps. Good God, I am nearly out of control. Here I go wishing her miles away; The same innocent girl whom I was only too glad to see a moment ago. In bewilderment he looked down into his wife's pretty face and watched her silent consent to his proposal. He brought her hand near his lips.
"Until later then! Just ring for a footman, when you are ready, my dear and he will take you there."
Chapter IV D
Darcy remained immobile in the gallery for some time after he had watched Elizabeth disappear behind her chamber door. While he stood staring towards its brown oak surface pleasurable thoughts hunted each other in his mind and more than one sigh was heaved as the happiness of his present circumstances took command over his breathing and quickened the beat of his pounding heart. She is home with me at last. Though hard to believe it is true. Just a few steps away. My sweet beloved lady! Under this very roof! Mine to love and protect from this day on. We are to share î most everything. How can it be that I have been granted such happiness?
Muffled sounds from the first floor betrayed that servants were laying the table in preparation for their meal. This called forth thoughts of the awaiting supper. I fear Maitre de Tarascon's delicacies will be wasted on us tonight. Though I suppose we must eat something, I do not think she is more interested than I am.
However the occasional clink and clatter from crystal and table silver also served to remind him of his whereabouts. Holy Hippopotamus I am still in the hallway! Guarding that door like a fool! What have I been thinking? It is sheer luck I have escaped the notice of a passing servant. Indeed, some maid or footman is likely to appear any minute. Hence, without further delay and shaking his head at this precarious lack of composure, he hastened the short distance to his own door and turned the knob.
Once inside he found his valet rapidly moving from dressing room to bedchamber evidently very busy unpacking. He looked up as Darcy entered and halted his step. Anxious that there be no reason for complaints about the way he performed his recently resumed duties, he spoke with some haste, the words tripping over each other.
"Sir, I meant to ask you before but there was no opportunity. Would you wish a bath to be drawn before supper?"
"I think not. Perhaps later."
Darcy was about to continue on a different cue when the man came close to interrupting his master. He spoke again with the same nervous alacrity, gesturing towards a selection of coats that had been brought forward.
"Which one would you prefer this evening, sir? I take it nothing too formal?"
"Correct, the grey one will be fine."
"Ah, the cashmere! Excellent choice, if I may say so, sir. I î '
Arresting any further comments from his valet Darcy raised his hand to bid silence. Roget attempted to steel himself for the moment of truth. He was not rejoicing at the thought of what was ahead. A confrontation with Mr Darcy was not something to look forward to with equanimity.
"Allow me a few simple questions. Primarily, what is the situation back home? Mrs Roget tolerably recovered I trust or you would not be here. Secondly, I would be interested to know why you are here. What is the reason for this change of plans? Did I not give you leave to see them safely into their new home ... in January was it? I think we agreed that you were to stay with them well over Christmas? How come you are already back then?"
"Duly considering the grievous circumstances I would say the situation is much more under regulation than I had once dared to expect. Indeed sir, you were most generous and everything was agreed upon as you say. I know that I deserve to be reprimanded for acting against your instructions. However, as things turned out ... ."
"Yes, Roget? Things?"
"If you permit me to say so, Mr Darcy. It was not ... err I was not aware that you intended to marry during the time I was off duty."
"But let me get this straight, man! Have you actually abandoned Mrs Roget to come running to my rescue?"
"I understand that you must be very displeased, sir? When I heard you were to spend time in town with Mrs Darcy, I was so conceited I imagined my services might be required. Your appearance is my responsibility, Mr Darcy, and never more so than in London society! I have got my professional reputation ... if you pardon my saying so."
" Hmm, we will only spend a few days here and shall be mostly on our own but for a family dinner and some visits to the dressmaker. An evening at the theatre perhaps. That is about as public as we will go. But your presence will of course be useful. As for displeased, I am not seriously so. Though I fail to see why you would not write me in the matter. Pray tell me how did these wedding rumours travel all the way to York then? Read it in the morning paper, did you?"
When first he spoke there was a softness to his countenance, which was then replaced by an expression of slight disapproval and finally transformed again so that there played upon his face a rather mischievous note.
"Uhm well, we got the news from Mrs Reynolds. Ever since the death of my father she has been extremely kind. From the first letter of condolence she has afforded Mrs Roget the consolation possible only from one who has experienced the same and also, as the weeks went by, an invaluable distraction. They have become quite close. It was only natural that she should let us know of the happy event in her letter. She suggested you might need me and even mentioned ... . But naturally I would never have travelled to Hertfordshire without your explicit orders."
Darcy took a few steps, feigning an interest in the grey coat of his choice but actually with the design to hide a smile of emotion and tender reproach. Dear old Reynolds! 'One who has experienced the same'. She would be the first one to extend a helping hand and offer the support of her human kindness. And she would have wanted her say in this. She is always concerned about the welfare of others. Roget has lost his father and that explains his behaviour to some extent. Yet he ought not to have acted without my knowledge. So she even figured I needed special attention when about to enter into matrimony. He turned back to fix his unrelenting dark eyes on the repentant figure of his valet.
"Very wise. Should there be any future occurrences of a similar kind I must insist on first hand notice. You should have consulted with me in this. I take it you must soon return to your family."
"By the time I heard that you were to have no replacement for me in town, it was too late to write to you, sir. I packed and was off the day after that particular letter arrived. Should you wish for me to accompany you to Pemberley it is altogether feasible and I would be happy to oblige. I need not be back until the beginning of January. But I fear I will be needed then. Mrs Roget requires my assistance with the final economic transactions as well as the packing and transportation. She is not one for figures, sir."
Darcy was amazed to hear his valet ramble on. It was certainly not like him. He must be nervous. I suppose I have been disagreeable to him as well? Then there is his recent loss to take into account. The deprivation of a father is bound to affect anybody. One who has experienced the same î . He sighed and endeavoured to ease the man's nervous strain.
"Of course I wish you to come to Pemberley and you may return to your family whenever you are needed. Just give a few days notice. We already discussed this in August. I am aware and have no objections whatsoever, Roget!'
A bow expressed his gratitude and after a short hesitation Roget dared his luck by attempting an explanation.
"I am exceedingly grateful, sir. Being in your service for more than nine years made me regret ... . I realise it is not my place to do so ... but ... . Mr Darcy if you would please try to understand. The wedding of a gentleman such as yourself is an extraordinary event."
Darcy made a swift motion and sent his valet a thoughtful gaze. Does he actually look hurt? He tried to prolong his answer as he searched for the right words.
"Well I ... my plans were not ... all firmly set at the time when we discussed your absence."
I confess I was not happy to be so ... . To have no part in all this!'
He flung his arms about and his entire body expressed disappointment. Darcy was finally beginning to see what was ailing his faithful manservant. Though annoyed that he had not been contacted, his present state of mind made him more inclined to overlook the liberties taken. Especially now his suspicions concerning Roget's probable accomplice had been confirmed.
"Come on, Roget, it goes without saying that I prefer your services to any other assistance. But even I am not so selfish that I would keep you from your family in times of despair. Let us face it! You were even more indispensable in York than you were to me. This is the sole reason I have not sent for you."
"Your kindness is greatly appreciated, Mr Darcy. Mrs. and Miss Roget respectfully send their best wishes for your future happiness. Whereto I humbly add my own. May I ask how you were faring in Hertfordshire?"
Darcy grinned to be reminded of his fortune and of the days in Hertfordshire but he moved towards a window, as was his habit. There he seemed to ponder the sparse flakes of snow that were slowly falling to the ground. How was I faring? In her company! Accepted at last! I should think, never better!
The sight of his master's beaming face so unguarded touched the core of Mr Roget. I never saw him like this. I think Reynolds must be right. It is most definitely a love match! Everything is explained. The restlessness from this time last winter. The unpredictability of temper on returning from Kent last spring! And that summer of such frightful distress, such deplorable low-spiritedness. But from the moment he happened upon Miss Bennet in Derbyshire he was miraculously changed. Only love can account for it all. My recent observations in the hall confirm it. I wonder what went on during those weeks in town when I was gone to York. I shall have to worm the truth from Hudson and Tuddler. And Lowell should be a veritable cornucopia of information!
By now Darcy had composed himself tolerably and was able to direct his attention to the current subject.
"You may, Roget! I take it you mean valet-wise? Rest assured that I was not left to manage on my own. Mr Bingley let me have the assistance of his own man, Lowell. You know him, I suppose? As you should be well aware and I might add in this instance luckily, our morning schedules are far from the same, so with the help of an extra man he was able to see to both of our needs. Given the fact that I could not rely on your services I found the arrangement quite satisfactory. But Lowell has not had a peaceful autumn. I dare say he was glad to see me leave!'
Mutterings of polite objections from Roget were swept away by Darcy.
"Though I have certainly been in excellent mood these last months, there was a time î ."
His eyes travelled to the treasured painting on the wall opposite his bed and he appeared to gaze into a distant reality beyond the hill with the windswept lady. Roget had been standing in front of his master much like an accused before his judge. On seeing the emotion on his master's countenance he discreetly looked away and gradually resumed his interrupted task.
"I understand you have every reason to be in a splendid mood, sir! Please allow me to congratulate you again."
"This is very true, Roget. Thank you."
Again he gazed at the picture, his eyes dwelling on the gracious form of his elusive lady. He smiled at the blissful knowledge that she was no longer turning away from him.
"I have taken the liberty of preparing the shaving tools. Would that be at all convenient î?"
"Yes indeed. As always you anticipate my wishes, Roget! It is good to have you back."
Chapter IV part E
This is a short post to let you now I am still at it ;)
It is likely that the light from lamps that were set out around the library enhanced the warmth and beauty of the leather-bound volumes. Foremost, however, it was the flames and flares from fireplace and candles that brought out the nuances of wine red, rust and chestnut brown and made golden leather covers shift in various shades from amber to ochre.
Newspapers were laid out on the sideboard intended for that purpose and while he collected one at random he registered with approval that his favourite retreat seemed ready to receive his wife. Not only did the fire add light, it had been burning long enough for a pleasant warmth to fill the room. Nevertheless there was something unnerving him although he came prepared to relax. The anticipated feeling of contented wellbeing did not occur.
The impact on him of this minor library as well as that of the far more substantial one at Pemberley was usually both peaceful and refreshing. Peaceful in the sense that whenever he entered either of them to seek refuge from the din and clamour of the outer world, they held the promise of undisturbed hours; and refreshing, since the quiet enjoyment of a book might be occasionally interspersed with some extended insight in addition to the witty and well-worded entertainment.
Refreshing also because they evoked an interest as to the contents behind the covers and afforded the possibility of encounters with men from all times. Every volume opened could not be expected to offer profound human wisdom. Even so, the enterprise always made him anticipate some grains of truth, or at least the challenge of speculations thitherto unknown to him.
Alas, tonight however, neither of these qualities was of any consequence to him as he subsided into the depths of an armchair, which was not his habitual one. He had spent uncounted hours in this sanctuary, but rarely one in such unease - not to say trepidation. Slightly vexed by his own lack of composure Darcy perused the pages of his newspaper, his agitation betrayed by excessive rustling.
Not many minutes had passed when he found that his interest in the paper's rendition of the latest news was well nigh non-existent. He let it sink on his lap and as he rested his head against the back of the chair his eyes were soon drawn towards the door. On this particular eve he had unconsciously shunned his favourite chair near the fireplace and had chosen instead one that afforded him the possibility of viewing the entrance from the gallery.
He knew not for how long he had been thus seated when some noise from outside made him start and lift the paper hurriedly in order to hide his face. His mind raced. Can it be Elizabeth ... ? If so, she will not be alone and ... . He turned hot with embarrassment. What would it look like if I were caught lost in dreams of my wife, posted like a devoted puppy near the door where she is expected to appear... and no doubt with the longing eyes of one?
This precautionary measure was for nought, however, since the door remained closed. Obviously his wife was otherwise occupied and not yet on her way. He sighed and attempted anew to focus on the reports of recent speeches from the House. His efforts were all in vain though for he saw only one face before him and imagined her voice whispering words so very different from what any Member of Parliament could be expected to utter. The paper sank again. I would that she was in my arms! Here and now! He wondered whether she felt the same way. Is she equally eager to join me? Remembering the warmth of her embraces he dismissed the thought with an expectant smile. Elizabeth, my sweet and lovely, come put your arms around me!
Impatiently disposing of the Morning Post he stood and paced the room. When his recurrent glances towards the clock on the mantelpiece would not make the minutes move any faster, the possibility of an error induced him to approach it to compare with the time on his pocket watch.
The rococo shepherd near the clock smiled at him as if he were able to guess his thoughts. With an almost imperceptible smile playing in the corner of her mouth his little shepherdess was gracefully reaching out her hand to her cavalier.
As Darcy checked the position of the hands on the clock-face, he arrived at the annoying conclusion that the time indicated was no different from what his own suggested. While his fingers snapped the watchcase shut, his eyes moved irresistibly back to a closer study of the tiny porcelain faces. He had not noticed the existence of a communication between these delicate figurines before.
They are in love. It is so obvious and yet I never saw it until today! That gesture is an invitation! She is asking him to come to her ... . A wistful sigh escaped him as he pondered Elizabeth's presence in his house ... in their home. What can she be doing? It has been little over an hour since we parted. I can not go to her ... nor send for her. Still wish for nothing but her company. I want to look into those eyes and tell her ... .
After one last longing gaze at the pastoral scene he abandoned the Meissen timepiece, replaced his own watch and with dawdling footsteps walked over to a window. The winter evening had rapidly swept his house in darkness but the snowing had ceased leaving a clear sky. From it a pale crescent shone on the thin cover of snow and helped to brighten the garden. He stared out contemplating the happiness of the day that had just passed; his eyes were aimlessly following the dark pattern of branches and he started humming a vaguely familiar tune.
The sound of his low, but increasingly confident, voice was accompanied by the cheery crackling of the well-fed fire. He lingered near the window with his hands behind his back when a vision of his imagination emerged out of nowhere. Against the wintry scene the memory of her vibrant face stood clearly before his eyes and he imagined her exactly the way she had looked several months ago.
On that evening when her heart had been in her eyes; the devotedness of her gaze for the first time enkindling in him a hope that he might some day be able to win her. His being had been so delightfully enveloped by her expressive voice, most willingly held captive by the sweet sight of her. By now the almost tangible nature of his mirage had silenced him.
Her song - so beautiful ... t'was ... about the enigma of love ... Mozart no doubt. What is this sorrow ... her face ... I would have her look at me like that again. He tapped the tempo tentatively with one hand against the other until a broad smile appeared on his face as it dawned on him that the aria back then was the same melody he had been humming. ... naught can dispel. How true!
Though more at ease in the kind of dress she was used to, Elizabeth could not but notice the considerable difference from the life she had been leading till today when she was about to leave her rooms to seek out the library. At Longbourn she had just closed the door behind her and danced down the steps to share a pleasant time with her father. Now Ellen, her own personal lady's maid, had summoned a footman in impeccable livery who was come to escort her from outside her chamber all the way to the room where her husband was expecting her.
Her feelings were utterly confounding. One minute she smiled secretively in happy anticipation albeit the next minute found her inwardly trembling from nervous premonitions. Darcy was partly the reason for these sentiments but he was also her sole comfort. She sighed inwardly when the maid had disappeared behind the door. You are the only one who can make me feel safe now, Fitzwilliam. She knew she went to him for refuge.
After a respectful bow the young servant walked solemnly ahead of her down the broad staircase and the more she reflected on it the sillier it made her feel. It was not in her disposition to act so indifferently. I am married to him but I am still the same person. He does not even wish for me to become another. Spontaneously she called for the footman's attention. He stopped at once and turned to hear her wish.
"I just wanted to say... to know ... what is your name?"
He looked surprised but stood straight as he answered.
"Why it is Paul, Ma'am, at your service."
"Nice to meet you, Paul. You must wonder at your present commission. I suppose this means a deviation from your ordinary work? It is because I am not to be trusted on my own, you see."
"Uhh, it is not my place to wonder, Mrs. Darcy. All I know is I was asked to take you to the library."
She smiled at him with some hesitation and cast a searching glance towards the far end of the gallery.
"You have been appointed my escort. Or else it is presumed I might get lost and have to spend several hours in some distant part of the house. Where I would be in danger of perishing, supposedly fade away without a drop of water. A dreadful story ... it might end up in the morning paper. Lady lost in her own house ... ."
As she uttered the last her eyes widened feigning alarm. So far the young boy had managed to keep a straight face, but he now turned red from his desperate efforts to hide an improper outburst of laughter. Elizabeth gave a nod of assent and continued with forced cheerfulness.
"Rather silly is it not? I must make it my first priority to acquaint myself with this house. Hopefully it should not be long then, before I am able to find my own way around."
Her voice dropped. What am I doing? I fear Mrs Darcy is not really supposed to hang around the stairs chatting and tittering with the servants. From now on I must strive towards a more dignified deportment. She drew breath.
" Now, perhaps we had better proceed on our discontinued expedition. Please take the lead, Paul."
Notwithstanding that his head was spinning the man had regained control and he was not slow to comply with her request. This first encounter with his new mistress left a smile on his face. It was still there when he made a stop before the library door and lifted his hand to announce her arrival by tapping it.
Chapter IV F
The last but one part of this story.
The measured knock broke the silence. He had been quite lost in his musical reverie but now instantly whirled round on his feet to see the door open, revealing a glimpse of his footman's merry face before he did obeisance.
"Mrs Darcy to see you, sir!'
It is a matter of doubt whether a more eagerly awaited lady has ever entered a room. Her husband, who was a proficient when it came to hiding his emotions, now exercised that skill to restrict the demonstration of his joy.
"Madam, it is a pleasure!'
He straightened from his formal bow to admire her. But before his reserve was completely conquered by her charms, his face and voice acquired a touch of disapproval as he noticed out of the corner of his eye the smiling servant whom he hastened to dismiss.
"That will be all. Please inform Mrs Tuddler that we would like supper to be served in half an hour."
The door shut and Elizabeth approached him. On her face was a mixture of amusement and insecurity that he found most endearing. The pounding of his heart had started the minute she came into the library and, as he moved towards her, he was slightly short of breath in wording the question that was also in his eyes.
"What is there to induce this mirth, my dear?"
Her gaze lingered momentarily on his while her brow formed an arch above the mischievous eye.
"Will there always be a footman escorting me around my own home to inform my husband when he is to expect a visit?"
Darcy chuckled and seized her hand to courteously lead her towards the winged armchairs near the fireplace.
"No indeed! That would not be according to any wish of mine, I assure you! Shall we sit?"
"I thank you, yes. No more your wish than mine then? What a relief! Coming here I felt rather like the single participant in a small procession and dreaded that we would never be on our own."
Holding her hand in his, devotedly listening to the laughter hidden beneath her voice, he was pervaded by happiness. His eyes could not get enough of her unpretentious apparition in the soft muslin frock. She looked more like the former Miss Bennet with whom he had fallen helplessly in love than she had earlier today in her magnificent silk gown. Yet she is Mrs Darcy now and we are on our own! Finally! He made a bold decision and sank down into one of the huge leather chairs without releasing her hand thus gently pulling her down beside him.
A faint blush crept up her cheeks and her face looked perplexed when she found herself without forewarning sitting so near to her husband. The chair was big indeed; the width of its seat offered space enough for two people to sit fairly comfortably. It was however not possible to occupy it and ignore the person next to you. Elizabeth could certainly feel the alarming warmth of a leg that was almost hidden under the cloth of her skirt. She was surprised by his behaviour for during the weeks of their courtship Darcy had always been the one to consider propriety. The realisation that he could find it in him to act so forwardly made her understand that she did not really know him all that well. That she was married to a man who was in some ways still a stranger to her. These reflections made another more excited flush pass through her and she feared her face must have turned crimson. She could only hope that her husband would attribute that to the heat emanating from the blaze before them. Darcy was experiencing this sudden new aspect of his wife's richly varied personality with tender emotion. He had seen very few evidences of such maidenly reserve as seemed to govern her at present.
"I trust your rooms were in order?"
Even such a perfectly neutral and unassuming inquiry was obviously disturbing, he reflected as her breathless reply came with her exhalation.
"Oh yes, thank you."
She knew he was watching her and expecting her to look him in the eyes, but as that sudden bashfulness took command of her she fastened her gaze instead on a fresh log of wood. The flames licked its unspoiled whiteness; tiny tongues of fire got a hold along its edge and soon the formerly untarnished surface turned black as it was defeated by the ruthless heat. A log that had been subjected to the fire for a longer period of time eventually altered its position and, yielding to the force, submitted itself to an unavoidable fate.
Her husband renewed his endeavours at polite conversation.
"And the girl...what are your first impressions? Do you think she will be suited for the task? Is her person at all acceptable to you? If not, we must find another...."
Elizabeth was aware she was behaving foolishly, she scolded herself and managed a sensible answer while peering furtively towards the black shoes so close to her own slippers on the carpet.
"She has been very helpful so far. I think we will get along well enough."
What about us then? Darcy had not let go of her hand but grasping it in his, appeared to be examining it thoroughly. He took to stroking the back of it, giving every finger its share of his tender attention. Now and again he glanced towards her, every second more affected by her proximity but also mildly puzzled by her distance. Finally he brought her hand near his face and subjected it to treatment that made her fingertips and palm tingle from the fiery contact with his lips.
Only briefly did he wonder if it was inconsiderate to take advantage of his favourable location. But in spite of the fact that her eyes were fixed on the fire he did not really doubt her willingness to participate in his doings. She made no attempt to withdraw the hand he had claimed though he imagined he saw the colour deepening on her cheeks and heard the pauses between her intakes of breath and her exhalations get shorter.
Elizabeth was truly in a state of confusion but she was just about to make an attempt at composing herself when her husband turned to face her and, as he did so, inevitably pressed his leg against hers. She lifted her chin and sat very straight. Placing a finger lightly between her brows he traced the dear stubborn profile, which was all she allowed him to see of her face. His heart was hammering against his ribs and he studied closely the lovely contour of a downy cheek as he moved his finger slowly from her forehead along her nose, brushing the curve of her mouth. Once he reached her round chin, his entire hand assisted that finger in directing her face towards him.
Her eyes still would not meet his, they were downcast with flickering lashes but a tiny twitch near her mouth caused an immediate reaction in him, forcing him to swallow hard. Had he missed these subtle signs, the delicate colouring of her skin as well as her quick breathing would have betrayed her agitation. The evidence of her affection excited him and rendered his voice hoarse.
"Elizabeth! What is on your mind? Is anything the matter?"
Everything is the matter. I want you to .... Oh, I do not even know what I want. She was not at all sure what could be allowed to take place in the library. Can a servant happen upon us any minute? She tried to stay calm and behave as could be expected of Mr Darcy's wife. But his gentle persuasive voice, the warm hand under her chin and the firm leg near her all threatened to turn her into melting weakness. With difficulty she managed to lift her gaze to his face. Darcy had bent forward to catch her almost inaudible answer and, when finally permitted to meet them, he saw that her dark eyes appeared bottomless.
"It is the flames. They are so ... they are not to be escaped."
She had whispered the first thing that came to mind without reflecting but as soon as she heard her own words their implication was clear. This is no longer a game. The courting season is over and I am his wife. It seemed he understood her thoughts for an expression that was both tender and serious was on his face, as he watched again the slight tremble on her lips.
"Would you wish to escape them, my love?"
His hand caressed her cheek and he looked deep into her eyes. She had finally met his gaze but she was unable to speak. His breath was warm and sweet, his presence overwhelming. She only shook her head and could do nothing but stay spellbound by that resolute glow, mutely watching as he neared to kiss her.
She sighed against his mouth as if she was relieved and he was gratified to feel how she turned towards him. Insinuating one arm behind her back he pulled her close and she allowed his body near her with an even deeper sigh as she lifted her arms to slide them round his neck. His hands were moving over her shoulders clasping her to him while his lips lingered gently on her mouth. Her feminine form in his arms and her intermittent panting against his face worked to increase his fervour.
Again he pressed his lips against hers, this time more passionately, and though she responded in an innocent manner there was eagerness to her compliance, which was most alluring. Darcy knew he never tasted anything more delightful than the sweetness of those lips.
He could feel he was on the verge of succumbing to her loveliness. Inhaling deeply, completely bewildered by her nearness he forced his lips from her mouth to rest his cheek against hers. I would that supper was over! The thought flashed through his brain. Elizabeth was breathing warm air into his ear and the sensation sent shivers down his body. She tightened her arms around his neck and the faint fragrance of lavender defeated his restraint, leaving him no alternative but to acknowledge the frailty of his equanimity with a low sound of surrender as he buried his lips in the smoothness of her upper arm.
When his endeavour to retain some degree of composure made him pull back again, his lips had left a burning love seal. It faded somewhat as his fingers gingerly traced the rosy mark, but far from satisfying him the recent memory of her skin made his lips ache with reinforced desire. This insight into the insatiability of his ardour and the thin sound from the clock on the mantelpiece striking nine induced him to find a diversion. Although it was not done without difficulty he eased his hold on her and told her in some measure of what was in his heart.
"My sweet, bewitching wife. How I love you!'
Elizabeth looked up at him, her countenance flustered and her eyes glassy with emotion. An unreflecting thought betrayed her wish to stay in his embrace. Stay near me then! Hold me! Show me! She sighed but dared say even less than he had.
"As I love you, Fitzwilliam."
Yet the full realisation of that silent uncontrolled wish shocked her. Her eyes darted to his mouth, to those strong lines of his jaw. I want you to kiss me again. She closed her eyes as if to escape the temptation. He could sense her affection and in his mind cursed the propriety he had always honoured. What if I were to take her in my arms and carry her upstairs? Who could object? Who would object? She is my wife. From her lovelorn eyes his gaze wandered to register the unspoken invitation of blushing cheeks and lips slightly separated and he very nearly gave in.
It was mainly the thought of the ensuing gossip that helped him regain his faculties. Not that he minded for his own sake. He never cared much for such public opinion that was the result of idle slander, as long as he was conscious of adhering to the family code of honour and was held in esteem by his peers. But he was not on his own any more and had to consider how materially his situation in life had changed. Now he had a most beloved wife to protect and her safety and happiness was his concern just as Georgiana's had always been. Perhaps even more so since his actions, especially in this context, were likely to affect the reputation of his wife to a higher degree than that of his sister.
He had given the matter some serious thought already and he would not deliberately give the malicious London tongues any fodder. Fully aware that their web-spinning efforts might ensnare all of town in a short time.... The tacky threads of slander spread so fast from the servants of one household to those of another. Grooms tending to horses while waiting near the carriages had plenty of time to be enlightened. Some mantua-makers delivered the latest speculations with the goods. From giggling chambermaids on the back stairs the gossip was overheard by valets. A coachman might take it upon him to inform the butler. Thus was it that a glove most unfortunately left behind or an intimate whisper overheard by the wrong ears had been known to end as topic of the day in parlours and at gentlemen's clubs.
However faithful and loyal he believed his staff to be he cherished no illusions about what might slip from an otherwise fairly judicious tongue under the liberating influence of a second or third tankard of beer. Unavoidably, the masters and mistresses of every household were subjected to the keen interest of those in their employ and hence to some amount of servant's gossip. He was used to this and had really only experienced a few occasions when he had thought it necessary to take precautions to maintain the highest level of secrecy and therefore limited the group of servants in his confidence to a very few.
Recently the protection of his confiding and defenceless sister had required such discretion and hence only Mrs Reynolds and Mr MacNab knew the full extent of what had really taken place at Ramsgate. Wickham's infamous attempt to consolidate his future by a ruthless and disrespectful swindling device towards the innocent daughter of his benefactor had not only seriously damaged the self-esteem and trust of a most delicate young girl. The realisation of his capacity for ill will had also inflicted a vindictive stab in the back of his childhood mate and been hurtful enough in itself. They would not need the addition of insult to injury by having the painful offence repeated through malicious rumours.
He had even been overly generous towards Mrs Younge, against his principles attempting to buy her silence in hopes of escaping her once and for all. The chances for success taken into consideration, he had been too generous by far according to his cousin. Colonel Fitzwilliam had indeed been right as was later proved by the wretched woman's renewed involvement in Mr Wickham's sordid affairs. She had clearly not been dissuaded from assisting in the rake's progress.
Now he was sure there would be - in fact he knew it had already started - gossip about this wife of his who emerged out of nowhere, was not presented at Court, had never been seen in society and had neither connections nor fortune.
Some with dashed expectations of their own might even echo the sentiments of Lady Catherine De Bourgh. But he intended to take every precaution to limit the effects of shock and anger in those circles of society where his unexpected choice of bride had caused vexation as well as amazement.
Above all he wanted to protect Elizabeth. He would not deliberately be the reason for any condescending words directed at his beloved. Nor would he do anything to encourage that any such opinions were openly expressed about her. Many of those qualities in her, which he found so endearing, were exactly what might shock the narrow-minded members in leading quarters. He could well imagine what could be said about her by those present at her first appearances in his circle of acquaintances; her behaviour perhaps considered unguarded, not to mention her liberating frankness which might label her as rudely outspoken.
So, if he were to carry through with his recent scheme, it would not matter that the initiative was all his. Rumour would have it that she had made a fool of him, making him forget the demands of propriety, his position and good name and take the entire household completely by surprise. Such a change in their master's conduct was not conceivable. For a gentleman to not take supper! Really! Not give a damn about supper? He was surprised that he should find the idea so appealing. Not the fact that he should wish to retire with his beloved; that was certainly no cause for amazement, but that he experienced a mischievous inclination to relinquish his habits. I fear the blame for this must be placed on Elizabeth! But I need not follow this impulse until her position is secured.
To his knowledge she was as capable of handling the expectations of refined society as any proud and dull young noblewoman. But he reckoned she would need time to establish her reputation and make her true value known. He figured that despite the shield constituted by the respectability of his position and family, the first months of their marriage would prove to be a time of probation. Hence a careful attention to decorum would be vital. The conclusion of these previous reflections now led him to summon his willpower and turn his eyes from her allurements. Briefly caressing her cheek with unsteady fingers he smiled into her beautiful eyes.
"Supper will probably be ready by now. What say you, dearest wife? Shall we move into the dining room?"
He did not await her answer but stood and supported her as she rose from the chair. Slightly dazed and at first avoiding the eyes of one another they took to furtively smoothing wrinkles and adjusting attires. Elizabeth searched the room in vain for a mirror and finally found a small one behind a bracket candlestick on the wall. She went there to check her hair in front of its tiny surface, and as Darcy came to stand beside her, he hesitated but a moment before he tried to be helpful by stroking an errant strand away from her ear.
By now she had had time to steady herself somewhat and turned to delight him with a grateful smile. He was further afflicted when she reciprocated his attention and shyly reached up to smooth down the end of his cravat. The sweet heat rushing through his body at her light touch prompted him to embrace her again. Imperative necessity, however, made him confine himself to the gentle brushing of his hand along her arm. He searched her eyes and what he saw in them touched him to his very marrow. That mixture of coyness and passion had grown familiar to him. Many a time he had contemplated the promises it held and was now increasingly eager to explore what would happen when she was persuaded to abandon her innate bashfulness. Again he saw reason to curse the considerately prepared supper since it was keeping him from her arms. It was turning into an annoying obstacle on his way to his wife.
The parlour normally used for family dinners was where Mrs Tuddler had arranged for Mr and Mrs Darcy to have supper and the composition of the repast betrayed that she knew what she was about but also the elegance of French cookery. She had taken into account the delicate feelings of a newly wedded young woman as well as the nervous strain that was very likely to afflict her bridegroom. The small signs of fatigue that had been perceptible to her motherly eye as Elizabeth Darcy went upstairs after her first ordeal in meeting the members of the household had induced her to caution Ellen and exchange some of the dishes.
Despite the talented efforts of Monsieur de Tartarin and the thoughtfulness of Mrs Tuddler Mr and Mrs Darcy were not very grateful dinner-guests. Had they been subjected to an inquiry about the meal they had just consumed, they would not have been able to account for much of it. Since they were seated opposite one another it was unavoidable that they looked more often into each other's eyes than on the delights of the table.
To every dish there was freshness and what could best be called apparent scarceness! The housekeeper had arranged that the meal be served in minor bowls so as to avoid any feelings of surfeit by mere sight. There was nothing too rich, clear soup - 'le consomm»' according to De Tartarin, a selection of light dishes with vegetables -'du l»gume'- and instead of roasted pork and ham De Tartarin had suggested breast of grouse and woodcock. The chef had not minded the opportunity to excel in the sauces and preserves -'de la confiture special'- accompanying the wildfowl.
Regardless of their exquisite preparation and tasteful arrangement the delicacies were partaken of without thought or even disrespectfully pushed around the plates. The couple was vastly more inclined to enjoy the tenderness offered through conversation, than that of the slighted woodcock. Frequent glances were exchanged over the brim of goblets and gazes were often locked to make them oblivious of the attending footman. As he testified to Mrs Tuddler afterwards.
"More than once I had to hum and cough until it made me feel quite stupid before I made Mr Darcy aware of the dish proffered."
"Ah well, Simon, I can imagine his distraction. But it really does not matter how you feel does it? The master can do as it pleases him. You are paid to disregard such things. Just be polite and discreet and...by no means are you supposed to spread this information any further. Apart from the impropriety of any gossip whatsoever in this case it would make for an unpleasant evening for all of us! Should it reach Tartarin he would be terribly upset and you know what he is like when his artistic pride is injured!
I tried to keep him occupied myself when the leftovers were brought back to the kitchen. He only saw the sauce bowl and was quite distressed by the untouched look of it. We would get no peace downstairs this whole evening if he heard what you just told me. Which would be such a pity since I have got a nice little feast planned once the master has retired. Mr Darcy has instructed Mr Hudson to take out some claret and port for the servants' hall."
"Not a word will pass over these lips of mine, Mrs Tuddler, upon my honour. You did not happen to notice the labels on that claret. Would that perchance be from the district of Pomerol, ma'am? I believe, I saw Mr Hudson handling such a bottle."
Simon had recently been taken under the butler's wing to acquire some knowledge of the wine cellar and in time be able to assist Mr Hudson and he already prided himself that he was able to tell the difference between wine from different districts. He did not impress the housekeeper though.
"Oh blimey! There's no need to show off, young man! Be it Pomerol or Pommeraux, I think it will do very well for you, Simon.
Mr Hudson who had been standing nearby in the butler's room sorting the table silver now passed them to administer what he considered a rightly-deserved rebuke.
"When will you pay attention, Simon? Have I not told you that by claret we understand a wine from Bordeaux? As for Pomerol, a bottle has been decanted and brought upstairs. It would not make much sense for us to be drinking one of Mr Darcy's favourite wines, now would it?"
"N-no sir. Certainly not, Mr Hudson."
Mrs Tuddler rolled her eyes behind the young man's back and though Simon was unaware, he could feel himself shrinking before the disapproving eyes of his elders. The butler sent him off.
"Now, perhaps you had better see to that table downstairs. We are going to need wineglasses are we not?"
He shook his head and exchanged an exhausted glance with Mrs Tuddler before he left to lock the silver away.
If a lonely wanderer passing under the trees in Portnam Square that night had let his gaze sweep over the facade of the house where the Darcys lived, he would have noticed that there was no light on the first floor. Perhaps he might then have deduced that the master was from home and that the mice were playing since there seemed to be some minor celebration going on in the basement where the lights were all lit. Had he been even more inclined to speculations he might have benefited from lifting his gaze to notice a thin streak of light trickling out between heavy curtains from a window on the second floor. What can be seriously doubted, however, is whether he - or indeed anyone - would be able to imagine the connubial felicity.
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