Elizabeth stopped brushing her hair and sighed deeply. Again. She was unaware that she had sighed three times since she had sat down before the mirror.
It had been a difficult day.
For the first time in the four months of their marriage, the Darcys were hosting the Bingley family--accompanied by Caroline. Charles and Jane had been guests previously--a visit which was a delight to all--but the addition of Caroline had proven to be a trial to Elizabeth. Caroline's overly officious attentions to Georgiana were laughable, but her attentions to Darcy were a source of unhappiness to Elizabeth. In fact, although she was ashamed to admit it, even to herself, Elizabeth was jealous.
She had no cause to doubt her husband's love and devotion; he had never given her any reason to believe that he had ever had the least interest in Caroline. Yet, Elizabeth found herself frustrated by Caroline's presence and ashamed of herself that she could sink so low as to be jealous of such a petty woman. Elizabeth felt that her husband would be insulted and disappointed to find that she was capable of such ridiculous emotions.
Elizabeth sighed again as she stood to walk to the bedroom, attempting to compose her wayward feelings before joining Fitzwilliam.
Darcy observed her curiously as she walked into the room. Ever sensitive to her moods, he had noticed her disquietude in the evening. She was witty and pleasant with their guests, encouraging to Georgiana in her efforts to join the conversation, charming to himself, and even pleasantly gracious to Miss Bingley; yet he knew that all was not well. Everything seemed fine, but somehow...Elizabeth did not sparkle tonight. He knew she had been looking forward to seeing her sister and Bingley, and yet something was definitely amiss. With some alarm, he hoped that all was well with Jane.
Darcy gave a welcoming smile but said nothing as Elizabeth joined him in bed. He drew her close, and she went through her nightly ritual of snuggling against him and placing a kiss on his neck. A deep sigh escaped her.
"What is it, Elizabeth?"
Elizabeth paused before answering. She hadn't even been aware of the sigh, but now realized her error. Momentarily vacillating between avoidance and honesty, she took a deep breath and made her shameful admission.
"I fear you will be offended, or will think me a fool, but I know I can keep nothing from you. I am ashamed to tell you that I am jealous of Miss Bingley's attentions to you."
Darcy almost laughed out loud, but instantly checked himself. Two things came to mind: first, he did not want Elizabeth to feel hindered in saying whatever she wished. And second, he immediately had some very unpleasant memories of his own jealousy. He thought of the torturous months when he pondered just what her feelings might be toward the despised Wickham. Even more ridiculous was the stunning realization that he was incredibly jealous to discover that Mr. Collins had proposed marriage to Elizabeth. These sobering thoughts made him unusually gentle in his response to Elizabeth.
"I could never think you a fool, Elizabeth. And I will admit that instead of being offended, I am rather gratified to discover that your affection for me is such that you are capable of jealousy. However, my dear, you must know that I never entertained any tender feelings for Miss Bingley, even before you entered my life. Of course, once I met you I was incapable of thinking of anyone else in such a way. Beside you, Miss Bingley is...insipid, colorless, and totally without interest. I merely tolerate her for the sake of Bingley's friendship."
"I know your feelings for Miss Bingley; in fact, I believe I discerned them shortly after our acquaintance. However, I know that she very much desired you as a husband, and it disturbs me," said Elizabeth honestly.
"You are mistaken in one thing, Elizabeth," replied Darcy firmly. "She never desired ME. She wished to be mistress of Pemberley; she desired the Darcy money and the respect of the Darcy name, but she didn't desire me."
Elizabeth gently caressed her husband's face as she responded with a smile. "At the risk of feeding your vanity, Dear, I must tell you that you do yourself a grave injustice. Apart from all the trappings that come with you, you are a very desirable man."
"You are the only woman I have ever met whom I can be positively certain truly desires me for who I am and not for what I have. You can never imagine what that means to me. I don't know how to solve this problem with Miss Bingley, but I will certainly make it my goal to assure you of my love and constancy in every way possible." So saying, he drew her closer to him and kissed her fervently. All conversation ended for quite some time.
Later, as Elizabeth curled contentedly against him, she announced, "I believe you have conquered my jealously of Miss Bingley. Instead, I pity her. She will never have the happiness that we have."
Darcy laughed and replied, "And I will likewise pity Mr. Collins."
"Mr. Collins!" Elizabeth gasped.
"Yes, I will also admit to feeling jealous at times. I wish that no one had ever proposed to you except for me. But I will pity him, for he will never know the joy of being your husband."
"Again, you are sadly mistaken. It would have been no joy to him to be married to me. I would never have been able to make him happy, and he would have been a miserable man. In fact, I can think of very few men of my acquaintance that I believe I would have been capable of making happy. I don't think I'm the kind of wife that most men desire."
"Well, you're exactly the kind of wife I desire. And I know without doubt that you are the only woman in the world who could make me happy. So, I will concentrate on your happiness, and you may concentrate on mine, and I dare say we will have the happiest of marriages."
With that happy thought, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy drifted off to sleep, all thoughts of Caroline Bingley and Mr. Collins exorcized from their minds.