Darcy sat atop his best horse, on a hill overlooking the grounds of Pemberley. He heaved a sigh of satisfaction, for this was by far the most agreeable time in his life. His steward rode up behind him, and glanced at the view as well.
"This is going to be a most profitable year, sir. If I may say, your marriage has greatly improved the outlook of the tenants and servants. Their enthusiasm has grown throughout the year, and this promises to be one of the most abundant harvests ever."
"Yes, Mr. Rawlings. I believe your observations are correct. My marriage has improved many an outlook, including my own." Darcy smiled with pleasure as he thought of his wife. Within less than a year she had elicited admiration and esteem as the mistress of the estate. He could not have asked for more from her, for her easy manner and lively countenance had endeared her to their community. Prudently speaking, what she had not brought to the marriage financially, she had brought spiritually, and that would always be treasure enough for Darcy. Financially, Darcy was sitting on top of the world, emotionally things were not very much different. He had everything he had always wanted, practically everything that is.
He made his way back to the house, and was walking through the halls when he encountered Georgiana. "Dear sister!" He exclaimed and gave her a quick kiss on the forehead. "What do you do this fine day?"
Georgiana giggled at her brother’s enthusiasm. It did her heart good to see him so consistently happy these days. "Let me see." She paused to think back on the day. "Well...I have practiced my scales, worked on some embroidery, strolled the gardens, and...oh, yes...Elizabeth and I went to the village and visited with some of the tenants."
"A very fulfilling day." Darcy concluded.
"Yes, it was, brother. I wish you had seen the happiness that follows Elizabeth wherever she goes. She is so very genuine. It is my hope to endeavor to follow in her path." Georgiana said in admiration of her new sister.
"Georgiana, I am reminded of Elizabeth’s excellence, every morning when I awaken and see her lovely smile", he acknowledged. "Pray, tell me...where is my wife?"
"She is in your chambers, dressing for supper." Georgiana replied.
Darcy made no move to comment, "I will see you at supper, sister" was all he said, and he took off at a quick pace, up the stairs to his rooms.
He opened the door and quietly slipped into the bedchamber. He did not want to disturb his wife if she were resting, for it was a bit early to begin dressing for supper. What he saw made him gasp as he beheld her figure, clothed only in a loose fitting night gown as she sat on a chaise, looking out the window. What a beautiful sight she was to him.
Elizabeth turned around to see his fine figure standing and watching her. He flushed a little when he saw her eyes on him as well. "I saw you come into the house" she whispered to him.
"You have been laying in wait of me then?" he managed to say.
Her mouth formed into a tiny smile, "you may say that."
He smiled broadly at her sport, "Then madam, you have me where you want me."
Supper was served at the appropriate time, and Elizabeth greeted Georgiana in the dining room. "Where is Fitzwilliam?" Georgiana inquired.
"He is still dressing." Elizabeth said briefly, and the two sisters exchanged a quick glance but Elizabeth looked away, not wanting to forfeit too many of the secrets of marriage.
Darcy burst into the dining room with enthusiasm, greeted his sister, then looked at his wife with the warmest look of adoration. "I am absolutely famished!" he exclaimed as he sat down. "What is for supper, dear?"
"Ham and macaroni pye." Elizabeth stated and Darcy unfolded his cloth in eager anticipation.
Elizabeth and Georgiana ate their meal with feminine delicacy, as they watched Darcy attack his with the zeal of a man who had not eaten in days. He looked up, knife and fork suspended over his food, and noticed their stares. "This is very good" he pronounced with a smile and turned his attention back to his food. "Mr. Rawlings and I were out most of the day looking over the prospective harvest. It looks to be a very good year, with thanks to you both." He smiled again to demonstrate his appreciation.
"To us?" Elizabeth questioned him.
He nodded his head in confirmation of his statement, "yes dear, you have both shown your concern and kindness to the tenants and they appreciate it. They have demonstrated their appreciation in kind by being very attentive to their jobs. Their attentions and the cooperation of mother nature have produced a very good yield, and a profitable one at that."
This last statement of Darcy’s, although an educated and factual statement, left Elizabeth and Georgiana feeling rather vacant. They had not demonstrated kindness to the tenants in return for favors, but as advocates for those less fortunate than themselves. Darcy looked up from his meal again to see that his sister and wife had stopped eating altogether, and were staring at him with concern.
"What?" he inquired with a frown.
"Fitzwilliam, our visits to the tenants are done out of respect for their service, not anticipation of their gratitude." Elizabeth commented.
"This I know, dear. So do the tenants, but it is another way of looking at the economics of it." He sighed trying to think of a satisfactory explanation. "In a good year we all profit, master and tenant alike. In a bad year we all suffer, and then it is my duty as master of the estate to financially bear the burden. This is the best reason not to put all your eggs, or finances if you will, in one basket."
"Economics." Elizabeth said and looked at Georgiana. The answer was satisfactory to both wife and sister.
"Yes." Darcy sighed. "A subject I would have pursued more in my education. Had I been offered that fellowship I applied for, I would have made it the area of study."
"When did you apply for a fellowship, dear?" Elizabeth inquired.
"A few years ago, however I have never heard a word about it. There are only a few offered each year, and I suppose they have gone to gentlemen more worthy than I."
Darcy said no more on the subject, although Elizabeth could see that he would have readily accepted the offer a few years ago, had it ever been extended. He sat back in his chair, finally finished with his meal, feeling satisfied with the evening and life in general.
After supper, they retired to the music room, and Georgiana played a Carolan piece on the harp, which she had recently been practicing. Elizabeth enjoyed listening to the harp as she undertook some needlework, and there was nothing better than the selections that Georgiana had brought back from London. Darcy flipped through a new book, however he found his mind wandering with the lull of the music. He thought again about the fellowship, and wondered to himself why he should bring the subject up now? He supposed it to be because it was the time of year that selections were announced. He did not need the further education, and it definitely did not fit into his plans at present, but he had always thought the accomplishment of it would be quite agreeable.
Elizabeth had noticed Darcy’s preoccupation the rest of that evening, and as they lay in bed that night she inquired of him again. "If you were to be offered this fellowship, would you go?" she whispered.
Darcy propped himself up on an elbow to look at her face. "That is a very large ‘if’, Elizabeth."
"Perhaps" she said. "Perhaps not. Would you want to go, Fitzwilliam?"
"Elizabeth...my academic career has always meant much to me." He was silent for a moment trying to find a way to make her understand his feelings. "It is one of the few things in my life that I had to earn...not just inherit. Does that make much sense at all?"
"I suppose. I did not realize that you considered your position and inheritance to be an impediment?"
"I do not, Elizabeth." Darcy said resolutely. "Only the lack of the accomplishment."
Elizabeth tried to make sense of it all. "Fitzwilliam, you would be so far away and for such a long time. Would you really want to make such a sacrifice?" she pleaded with him for an answer. "Would you go?"
Darcy looked away from her, not wanting to lie about his feelings. "Yes, I would" he said.
She smiled, although not heartily, and rolled away from him to think about what he had said. He gently pulled her back to face him, "we would both go, my love."
She tried her best to smile, although she found it hard to. She deemed herself ridiculous for her melancholy, for it was not as if they needed to truly consider the prospect of it, for there had been no word or offer extended.
Life went on as usual at Pemberley for the next few days. Elizabeth filled her mornings with letter writing and daily instructions to the household staff, and her afternoons with visits to tenants, occasional jaunts to Lambton and conversations with her sweet new sister. Her greatest happiness depended on Darcy, and the time she spent in his company every evening. They had delightful conversations, and she could sit, wrapped in his arms for hours and listen to his opinions and comments on things she had never considered before. She remembered when it had been her design to fall in love with a man who had some sense of the world. She had come to admire that of Darcy, and he admired her attentions to that part of his character. Another woman would have been bored by his speculations and wonder, but not Elizabeth.
Darcy walked up to the house in the afternoon with the post. He looked through the letters, noticing a few business correspondence and two letters from Elizabeth’s family. He turned around at the sound of a horse and rider and was hailed by a messenger. The rider handed him an express and Darcy looked at it in query. Darcy handed the man some coins and turned his attention back to the express. As he read its contents he was astonished and delighted at the same time. It simply could not be possible.
He ran into the house calling out for Mrs. Reynolds. "Sir?" she scurried up to him.
"Mrs. Reynolds, where is my wife?" he inquired happily.
"She is in the library, sir."
Darcy made haste to the library and found Elizabeth searching the shelves for a good book. "Elizabeth! It is the most incredible thing!" he belted out as he held the express out to her. "The fellowship...they have offered it to me!"
She stared at him and for a moment her heart sank. She quickly realized however, that her own feelings must be put on the shelf for that of her husband’s, and she mustered up all her enthusiasm and congratulated him with a kiss and a smile.
Elizabeth kept up her charade through supper that evening. Darcy was too preoccupied with his extreme good fortune to notice any differences in her countenance. Georgiana, however, noticed it greatly. After supper, Darcy went to the study to pen a note to Charles Bingley, informing him of his selection to the fellowship.
"Elizabeth?" Georgiana said in the kindest of manners. "I do not wish to pry, but you do not look as happy as Fitzwilliam would have you be at his news."
Elizabeth looked down at her lap, trying to find her previous composure. "I am not happy, Georgiana."
"But why sister? It is only for four months or so and you will be going with him."
Elizabeth shook her head, "it will be for four months, but I will remain at Pemberley." Her voice cracked at the thought of the separation.
Darcy walked back into the drawing room and saw the sadness of his wife and sister. The smile he wore left his features, "What is the matter?" he asked. Georgiana got up from her seat and excused herself from their company, for she knew this was a matter to be settled between husband and wife. "Elizabeth?" he questioned. "Why do you wear that frown on your face?"
She looked up at him with reserve, "I will not be able to accompany you, Fitzwilliam. You shall have to go alone."
"But why?" he whispered.
"My duties are here, and I will not have you feel obligated to entertain me for months. You will be much too engaged for that, and I would only serve as a distraction to you."
Darcy said nothing as he considered her words. His temper flared as he thought of potential reasons for her decline to accompany him. "Elizabeth, may I ask if this is a ploy to keep me from going?"
She looked at him, her face flushed at his presumptions. "It most certainly is not!" she calmed herself before continuing, "I would never dream of standing in your way, Fitzwilliam. That kind of control over you, has never and will never be my design."
He sat down in his chair and reached over to take her hand. "Then what is it that makes you want to stay behind?"
"It is as I said, Fitzwilliam. I do not want to be a hindrance to you."
"That is nonsense! You could never be a hindrance, you are my wife and I want you by my side."
Elizabeth reached out and touched the side of his face in tenderness. "I never want to be separated from you...but that is a place for men, not wives." Darcy made no effort to reply, for he knew her to be correct. Hers was the mature attitude, and his wreaked of his own satisfaction. "I shall not be a happy woman until you return, but I will be very proud of your accomplishments."
He sat back and lovingly smiled at his wife, for she was indeed more of a treasure than he had ever come to realize.
The night before his departure held little joy for Darcy. He found himself sleepless, holding his wife tightly as they lay together. He did not want to forget the feel of her body next to his, her warmth, or the tranquility his mind possessed when he was with her. He stared at her face, committing every feature to memory, for memories would have to satisfy him for some time.
When morning finally came, he turned to her before he entered the carriage. "You will write to me, Elizabeth? Not just news, but words of love...and the things you think and feel...as if I were here with you?"
"I promise...if you will promise to do the same." She said with a sniffle.
"Each and every day, my dearest." He forced a smile and kissed her, and she reached up to caress his face and commit his features to her own memory.
The carriage pulled away from Pemberley, and for a moment Elizabeth stood in her place and watched it go. Then with the exuberance of her youth she ran after it a ways, waving as her tears rolled down her cheeks.
Darcy arrived at the boarding house which would be his accommodations for some months. It was a fine place, but nothing that he was so indulgently used to.
"Mr. Darcy, sir." the proprietor, greeted him. "Did you have a pleasant journey?"
"It was very uneventful, sir." Darcy commented as he signed the register. "I will be requiring my supper every evening in my rooms. I am here to complete a fellowship, and then I will return to my home."
"Yes, sir." the kindly man tried not to take offense to the gentleman’s abruptness.
"If I leave my outgoing posts at this desk, will they be promptly sent out?" Darcy inquired.
"Yes, sir...in fact, there is one awaiting your arrival." The proprietor handed a letter to Darcy and a smile escaped his otherwise stone demeanor, as he recognized the handwriting to be that of Elizabeth’s. When he was safe within the confines of his rooms, Darcy hastily opened the letter.
My dearest friend and husband,
You have not yet left my side, but I thought it good to send a letter for your enjoyment upon your arrival. How I shall miss the sound of your voice, the touch of your gentle hand, and the serenity I feel when I am close to you. I shall think back on every conversation we have ever had, and delight in the memories of them. How I shall hear and see in my mind, the things that you have said and done every day of our marriage. I shall even miss your inquiries as to what is for supper.
I hope my letters will not disturb your concentrations on your work, it is only that I hope you will not forget my voice. Think of me often, Fitzwilliam; for those will be the times when I am thinking of you.
Your loving and devoted wife
Darcy let the letter drop to his lap as he stared out into the room. "How could I ever forget your lovely voice, Elizabeth? How could I forget anything about you?" He spoke as if she were right in the room with him, and for a moment he believed that she was. "I appreciate your assurances of devotion. Four months is a long time for a husband and wife to be separated." He frowned at the thought. Another sigh brought him back to the present and he found himself quite definitely alone.
After a few days, Darcy had settled in quite well and had begun his tedious research. His room was piled high with books. Books on the tables, books on some of the chairs and on the floor, even a few strewn across the bed. His days were spent at the various libraries and in conferences, and his nights spent in outline and composition. Each night however, he allowed some time as his own, and those moments were spent in letter writing to Elizabeth.
My friend, my wife,
It has been some seven days since last I laid eyes on you. I had always thought that those days I spent in wonder of your affections before our engagement, were the loneliest days of my life. I have never known lonely, until now. I sit here in this room, with books as my companions. I had always thought a book to be a delightful companion, until there was you.
In my reveries, I imagine your presence here with me. It is a poor substitute for the original, but it allows me conversation about something other than economics. Tell me, my dearest, that you love me and think of me as well?
I am, your devoted husband.
Darcy finished the letter, folded and sealed it. He sat back in his chair and took a look about the room, at the stacks of books. There had been times in the last day or two when he had tried to remember his reasons for being there in the first place. Then he would remember his desire for the glory of an accomplishment. He supposed that he had really not conquered his pride, for he believed pride to be the reason why he was there.
"Am I still all that proud of a man, Elizabeth?" he asked aloud.
"Yes, Fitzwilliam...you are", her apparition told him.
He smiled at her, "you are very honest, for a figment of my imagination."
"Did you expect me to be otherwise?" she laughed at him.
"No." he said still smiling. "Can you love a man with such pride?"
"Yes, dear. As long as it is a deserving pride. I shall love you always, Fitzwilliam."
Darcy’s smile disappeared along with Elizabeth’s image, as he heard a knock on the door. It was the housemaid bringing him a tray of food.
A servant entered the morning room where Elizabeth was sitting and reading her husband’s latest letter. "A Mr. Scott is here to see you, ma’am."
"Very good! Show him in here, please." She smiled with much enthusiasm. She stood up and smoothed her clothes and reached up to see if her hair had stayed in place, in anticipation of seeing Mr. Scott.
"Mrs. Darcy...it is always a pleasure to meet with you!" Mr. Scott greeted her upon his entrance.
"Mr. Scott, I feel as if the pleasure is always mine."
Mr. Scott was a handsome man in his late thirties. He was impeccably dressed and fashionable, and had an easy manner about him. Elizabeth thought him to be quite an attractive man, and very good company. Since the first time she had met him, she felt as if they had been acquainted for many years.
"Well, I would like to take a good look at you. Please stand where you are." Mr. Scott moved closer to her and gazed upon her face and figure. He slowly shook his head and sighed. Worry overcame Elizabeth and her brows furrowed as she assumed that Mr. Scott was disappointed in what he saw before him. Mr. Scott sighed again, "My...Mr. Darcy is a very fortunate man to have found such a beauty. I am quite envious!"
Elizabeth laughed in relief of his favorable disclosure, "Mr. Scott...you have quite a talent for flattery."
Mr. Scott smiled broadly, "Indeed I do, but I know a beautiful woman when I see one."
Elizabeth smiled, however she began to feel a little uncomfortable with Mr. Scott’s ease in complimenting her. She really hoped that she would be able to keep her meetings with Mr. Scott undisclosed. She would have to place her confidence in the integrity of the servants.
"When will your husband be returning, Mrs. Darcy?" Mr. Scott inquired.
"Not for quite some time, sir", she answered the man then thought of Darcy. She was indeed lonely without him, but at least she had found a diversion until his return.
A few weeks had passed since the master of Pemberley had departed. The harvest was now in full progress, and when Elizabeth was not with Mr. Scott, she spent time visiting the families of the tenants and farmers, to lend her support where she could. She feared that they may be discontented about her husband’s absence, especially after they had shown such good will towards the prosperity of the estate, this year in particular. Her visits were always enthusiastically and warmly received, and if Elizabeth had one thing always in her favor, it was her ability to provide genuine encouragement to others.
She was correct in her assumptions, for most of the families she visited did not completely understand why the master of Pemberley should feel the need to better himself in such a way. She tried to explain his reasons to them, the best way she could, but there were times she had difficulty understanding it herself. To Fitzwilliam Darcy, one’s accomplishments were an important part of life. He was determined to add this fellowship to his own list of accomplishments, even if those around him made the sacrifice as well. There were many things about her husband that Elizabeth Darcy had not yet come to understand, however much she made the effort to.
Elizabeth awoke one morning and turned over to stretch. She reached over to her husband’s side of the bed, and to her displeasure realized his absence. It proved to her that however long he had been away, it was something she could not get used to. She brushed back the hair strewn in her face with the back of her hand and sighed. It was now two months since Darcy had gone away. No matter how hard she tried not to be, Elizabeth was indeed melancholy.
Her maid brought out several frocks for her approval, but none of them appealed to her this day. She finally decided on one, and when dressed, joined Georgiana in the breakfast room. "Good morning, Georgiana." She sighed.
Georgiana smiled at her sister, "Good morning, Elizabeth."
Elizabeth sat down and asked for a cup of tea. She dropped in a cube of sugar, slowly lifted her spoon and swirled it around in the cup.
"Are you not well today, Elizabeth?" Georgiana inquired with some concern.
Elizabeth looked up from her reverie into the tea cup, "Hmm...did you say something, sister?"
"Is Mr. Scott to come today?" Georgiana inquired.
"No, I will not see him today. Pity, I do enjoy his conversations."
Georgiana felt for the loneliness of her sister. She had learned how to live without the presence of her brother for he had left her alone in pursuit of his own interests for many years, but she supposed it to be another story when a woman was left without the companionship of a husband.
"Elizabeth...I thought I would go to the dressmakers in Lambton today. Will you join me? Perhaps a new frock or gown would interest you?"
A smile finally came to Elizabeth’s features. "Yes...it would lift my spirits I think! Georgiana, you are a dear sweet sister."
Georgiana smiled as well, for she had been of use to her sister and had succeeded in bringing a much improved outlook to the day.
The ladies took the smaller carriage to Lambton late that morning. Elizabeth looked out the window at the people walking down the streets. Occasionally someone would smile and tip their hat at the passing vehicle. It pulled up in front of the dressmakers and the footman held the door for them and helped them out. They entered the shop and were greeted by the proprietress.
"Good day, Mrs. Darcy. Miss Darcy. May I be of some assistance to you today?"
"Yes, we are interested in a new frock or two...something to lift our spirits!" Elizabeth said in a trifling manner.
"Of course", smiled the proprietress. "I have a few that I think you may like. Please make yourselves comfortable and I will bring them out."
Elizabeth looked at Georgiana and giggled like a young girl. "Why is it that shopping always improves a woman’s spirits?"
Georgiana and Elizabeth were still giggling when another patron came into the shop. "Mrs. Darcy! Miss Darcy! How delightful it is to see you."
"Mrs. Potter." Elizabeth curtsied her greeting along with Georgiana.
"How do you do on this fine day?" Mrs. Potter inquired.
"Very well, thank you. We have come to occupy our time with a little shopping." Elizabeth replied.
"Oh yes, as have I. It is always a pleasure to spend my husband’s money!" she laughed.
Elizabeth and Georgiana laughed along with her, for Mrs. Potter was indeed in the habit of indulging herself in the Lambton shops, and she made no bones about it, either.
"Speaking of husbands, how is Mr. Darcy? Have you had much word from him since he has been away?"
The happiness that Elizabeth had been trying to occupy her thoughts with vanished as she realized that it was the first time that day that someone had mentioned Darcy to her. "Yes, Mrs. Potter", she managed to say with some difficulty. "We hear from him often, and he is very well."
"You must miss him dreadfully!" the woman said, rather tactlessly.
"Yes, I do." Elizabeth sighed and looked away from Mrs. Potter and Georgiana, pretending to look at a pair of shoes.
"Elizabeth, do come and look at these lovely nightgowns!" Georgiana attempted a distraction. "Excuse us Mrs. Potter...we will not keep you any longer from your shopping, Good day!"
"Good day to you both." Mrs. Potter said and was on her merry way.
Elizabeth turned around and gave Georgiana a teary-eyed look of appreciation. Georgiana took hold of her hand. "Elizabeth...I know this is difficult for you, but let us not think of his absence in this way. Perhaps you should begin anticipating his return, instead?"
Elizabeth managed a laugh, "you are very right, Georgiana. How did someone so young become so wise?" She looked at the nightgown that Georgiana had used as an excuse to escape Mrs. Potter. "This is a beautiful gown! What do you think sister? Do you think he will find it pleasing?" Elizabeth giggled at her own impudence to tease Georgiana in such a way.
Georgiana blushed, but laughed all the same. "Why do you not try it on, Elizabeth?"
"Yes! I believe I shall." Elizabeth took the garment and was shown to the dressing area. The attendant helped her to disrobe, then slip on the nightgown. It was very beautiful on her, and she smiled at her reflection in the glass. The attendant excused herself for a few moments and left Elizabeth alone in the dressing room.
Elizabeth’s mind drifted back to thoughts of times with her husband. Times when she had gone to great lengths to be wearing just the right gown, to gain his notice. Times when she had painstakingly dressed for his eyes only. She moved her hand to the neckline of the nightgown and gave it a little tug, so as to place it lower on her bosom and she closed her eyes to dream.
"You are a very beautiful woman, my lovely Elizabeth." Darcy came up behind her and looked at her reflection in the mirror.
"Do you still think so, my love?" she whispered.
He smiled with a glint in his eye, "More often than you can imagine."
"How I wish to hear you tell me so...and not in a letter. It is not the same coming from anyone else but you" she sighed.
"I am very glad to hear that." he said. "You know I should be very jealous to find that it were being said by another man, Elizabeth."
"Fitzwilliam" she said in a way as to chastise his remarks. "I do not think you should be in a dressmaker’s fitting room?"
"Why not?" he asked. "You wished it and I am here."
"Yes, indeed I did. I am very lonely without you, Fitzwilliam. Please come home to me."
"As soon as I am able. I do not wish to be away from you any more than is necessary, Elizabeth." he said, with a look of melancholy. "You must believe it to be the truth. I love you..." his voice trailed off as the sound of the attendant returning to the room, broke Elizabeth’s spell.
Pemberley continued to see the presence of Mr. Scott, on a regular basis, at least three or four times a week. The servants were very careful not to disclose any of the details, for they did not wish to spoil things for their mistress. They had become more devoted to Elizabeth than she could have ever imagined. Elizabeth had never given herself enough credit when it came to her character. The tenants and servants of Pemberley however had become as fond of her as they were of Mr. Darcy himself. This was quite an accomplishment to Elizabeth’s own character, for most of the servants and tenants had known Darcy for a great deal of his life, and they had only known Elizabeth for a matter of months.
Letters from Darcy also arrived on a regular basis. Elizabeth noticed the tone of Darcy’s letters to be increasingly melancholy. She thought of how hard he must be working to complete such a task in so little time. He still demonstrated his determination to see the achievement through, however. She knew it would still be sometime before she would lay eyes on him.
She sat in a chair in the drawing room, with Darcy’s letter in her hand. "Will you not let me read my letter, Mr. Scott?"
"Not yet my dear...it would ruin everything. You will have plenty of time for reading later!" Mr. Scott authoritatively told her. "What more could your husband tell you, than how desperately he misses you?"
"This is not true, sir. My husband and I have a very good relationship. He tells me more than you would give him credit."
"Oh, wives never want to hear all that pish posh about politics and academia. They only want to hear words of love and devotion from their men." Mr. Scott laughed.
"Tis not true!" Elizabeth laughed back. "You do delight in teasing me, sir."
"Yes I do madam, for you are not the typical wife." Mr. Scott walked over to where Elizabeth sat and took the letter from her hand. He opened the seal and then handed it back to her. "If you must read it...I give you leave to do so." He bowed and left Elizabeth alone.
My Friend, my wife,
I have had a brief visit from the Gardiners this morning. I was very happy to see familiar faces, and someone happy to see me as well. They informed me of their plans to visit Pemberley, and I shall now make this request of you.
Please...please, return with them. They have agreed to take you to Hertfordshire on their return. Bingley will expect you at Netherfield, and I will come for you there in a few weeks time, then we will return home together.
May I say how the thought of this plan improves my outlook on life? I am very close to finishing my research, and will continue on with the composition. I know I will be close to finishing by early December.
When I believe I cannot go on another minute, I close my eyes and think of you. I know that in your arms is where I belong, and the sooner that is so, the better. Again, please consent to come to Hertfordshire.
I am, your devoted husband
Darcy folded the letter and sealed it. He walked over to the chair to pick up his coat, and stopped a moment to look out the window.
"Oh Elizabeth...how I hope you will go to Hertfordshire." He sighed.
"There is nothing I want more than to be with you, Fitzwilliam." she whispered.
He turned around to look at her and smiled a weary smile. "I am very tired, Elizabeth. I want to sleep peacefully...for a whole night and day if that is what it takes. I want to eat something worth the effort." He rolled his eyes and let out a huff of air. He closed his eyes, "I want to hear you play the pianoforte. I want to hold you, and breath you and be at peace with you. To know that you are mine again."
She nodded, "If that is what you want, Fitzwilliam...I will come to Hertfordshire."
"Thank you." He looked down at the letter, grabbed his coat and headed out the door to send it, then left the inn to find something edible.
Elizabeth was indeed happy to see her aunt and uncle upon their arrival at Pemberley, and they told her all about seeing Darcy. "Is he well, aunt? Did he look alright?" she anxiously inquired.
Aunt Gardiner clasped Elizabeth’s hands in her own, "He is fine, dearest. He looks very tired, but he told your uncle that he spends most of his nights reading or writing, until the wee hours."
Elizabeth sighed at the revelation, "I suppose he wishes to finish as soon as may be. He sent a post the other day asking me to go to Hertfordshire with you on your return. Would you mind terribly if I did so?"
"Not at all, my dear!" Mr. Gardiner pronounced.
Elizabeth’s mind and melancholy had been more eased during the Gardiners visit than it had been during the months before. She could finally see an end to her loneliness. The time came for the Gardiners to leave, and Elizabeth bid Georgiana farewell. Georgiana had declined to go to Hertfordshire, even though the offer had been extended by her dear sister. She had no wish to interfere in the affairs of two lovers who had not seen each other in so long.
Elizabeth could see the familiar landscape that was once her home as the carriage rolled along. When they arrived at Netherfield, she disembarked the carriage and was immediately embraced by her sister, Jane.
"Oh, Lizzy! I am so glad you are here!"
"Jane...Jane!" Elizabeth touched her sisters face and laughed, even though her heart wanted to cry with joy. Jane quickly took her inside, for it was beginning to get cold during the days. The Gardiners went on to Longbourne, but Elizabeth was not quite ready to suffer the endless questions and needling of her mother.
Jane sat on the edge of the bed, as Elizabeth unpacked a few things and settled herself in. "This is a lovely room, Jane. I do not think I have ever seen it before."
"Charles said it was the room that Mr. Darcy always occupied when he was visiting. He thought you would like it, and he anticipates that your husband will find it to his liking when he arrives."
Elizabeth smiled and took another look around. "Oh Jane, how good it will be to have him back. I never want to be away from him again. Sometimes I think I was so very foolish not to have gone with him as he wanted me to. Had I gone however, I would never have known Mr. Scott. I hope Fitzwilliam will not be angry with my slyness."
"Oh Lizzy, how could he be angry with you. I believe he will be more pleased than you imagine."
"Let us hope, Jane. Let us hope it was worth the sacrifice."
Jane smiled but said nothing. All she knew was how her own heart felt, and her own heart told her that Elizabeth had made more of a sacrifice than she herself would ever know. The separation of Darcy and Elizabeth had been a favorite topic of conversation, whenever she and Bingley had been in the company of her parents. Mrs. Bennet simply could not understand why Mr. Darcy should have such a desire to be away from his bride, especially since they were so newly married. Mr. Bennet understood Darcy’s desires for the accomplishment, and tried his best to provide Mrs. Bennet with a satisfactory explanation, but after some time found it to be a tedious waste of effort.
"When do you anticipate that we will see him here, Lizzy?" Jane asked.
Elizabeth sat on the bed next to her sister. "I do not know, Jane. He has given me no particulars, just that when he is finished he will come for me, and we will return to Pemberley together." Elizabeth was happy to know that it would not be too long before she would see her husband, but she was saddened by the fact that there was nothing definite about it either. She looked at Jane and said nothing more, however within her heart she hoped that they would be together in two weeks time. It was her fondest hope to be able to share a certain day with him at that time. That day being the anniversary of their marriage, one year earlier.
Almost a fortnight had passed and there had been very few letters from Darcy. Elizabeth’s countenance took a turn for the worse and she was anxious and moody. Her mother’s constant nagging and cajoling did nothing to improve her spirits. She awoke that morning without a hope of attaining her wish to be with her husband this day of their wedding anniversary. She dressed and went downstairs to find Bingley and her sister enjoying their breakfast. Bingley stood and warmly greeted her and Jane gave her a smile.
"Good morning to you both", she mustered all her courage. "A happy wedding anniversary to you!"
"Thank you, dear sister!" Bingley said with some enthusiasm, although he was timid about discussing the subject.
"Happy anniversary to you also, Lizzy." Jane said then looked at her husband.
"I thank you as well." Elizabeth sighed.
"Elizabeth?" Bingley inquired. "There is an assembly in Meryton this night. We thought we would attend...for old times sake. Will you not come with us?"
"An assembly?" Elizabeth managed a small laugh at the thought. "You shall have a very good time...but I believe I will just remain here and read a good book."
"Lizzy, please come with us." Jane pleaded.
Elizabeth had to laugh at the irony of it, "All right, I will go. For old times sake, I believe Mr. Bingley can dance with us both!"
Darcy did his best to hurry that day. He had his man pack his trunks and he found a few moments to have his hair cut, so he would be in some kind of presentable shape. He flew down the stairs to the lobby of the inn and settled his tab. As he entered the carriage he called up to the driver. "Netherfield, in Hertfordshire...as fast as you can get us there!" The driver nodded and the carriage bolted on its way. Darcy sat back in the seat and smiled wide, "I have never been so happy to leave a place in all my life!" he said in satisfaction.
The trip was slow going for all the mud on the roadways. It had been raining for some days and the water had now turned to slush and mud. Several times the carriage threatened to get stuck, or they had to stop for another vehicle that had been caught in the mire. Darcy made the mistake of getting out of the carriage on a few occasions and he slipped and slid around in the mud, while expressing a few expletives.
It was late when the carriage finally rolled onto the grounds of Netherfield. Darcy hardly waited for it to come to a stop before he dashed out. He ran up the front steps and banged on the doors. With a broad smile he entered as the butler opened the door.
"Mr. Darcy!" the man exclaimed. "It is good to see you, sir!"
"Ah, my good man...it is good to be seen. Where is everyone? My wife, tell me sir, where is my wife?" he demanded anxiously.
"Gone, sir." the man stated.
Darcy’s eyes widened in shock. "Gone?"
"Yes, sir...just for the evening...to Meryton, to the assembly room. You have just missed them, sir."
"Oh, good god!" Darcy inhaled. "I must have the worst luck of anyone on the face of this earth! Not to mention the worst timing!"
The servants were carrying Darcy’s trunks out of the carriage, and he shouted at them to hurry. "My good man." Darcy spoke to the butler again. "I will need some hot water quickly, and have someone press a suit for me...It looks like I shall be attending an assembly!" Darcy started running up the stairs. "Oh yes...one more thing. Can you bring me something decent to eat?"
There were many familiar faces at the Assembly room. All of them fondly greeting Elizabeth and inquiring after Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth knew her coming there had been a mistake, but she tried to make the best of it, to please her family. She spoke with Mrs. Long, and her Aunt Phillips. She danced a set with Mr. Bingley, and watched Kitty enjoying herself with the young men. She encouraged Mary to look as if she would entertain an invitation to dance if one was offered, but to no avail on Mary’s part. Things had not really changed that much since she had been away. The Lucas’ entered the Assembly room, and to Elizabeth’s great delight Charlotte was with them.
"Lizzy!" Charlotte hugged her.
"Oh, Charlotte! It is good to see you! Where is Mr. Collins?"
"He is still at Hunsford, watching over Lady Catherine! I accompanied my father back from a visit and will stay until after Christmas. You are looking well, Lizzy. How is Mr. Darcy?"
"He is well, Charlotte. Although I have not seen him for some months."
"We heard about the fellowship, Lizzy. When will he return?"
"I was hoping to see him today, for it is our wedding anniversary. However, there has been no word from him." Elizabeth sighed and reached up to twirl a lock of her hair nervously. "Bingley and Jane teased me into attending tonight. Not much has changed in Meryton since we left Charlotte." The two women laughed and walked over to help themselves to some refreshments.
Darcy strode into the building and heard all the gaiety and music. He fairly broke out into a sweat at the sound of it. He really was not in the mood for this kind of entertainment, but fate had been unkind to him. He moved through the crowd of people and bumped into a familiar looking man.
"Bingley!" he exclaimed.
"Darcy!" Bingley yelled and practically hugged him. "You have made it after all! Elizabeth will be overjoyed to see you."
"Yes, I hope so. I was beginning to think she had come here this night to find a new husband!"
Bingley laughed at Darcy’s facetiousness and shook his head. "Why not go and dance with your wife, Darcy? You do remember how to dance?"
"Yes, I believe I shall dance a set or two with her..." He leaned over to whisper to his friend. "...then I believe I shall take her back to Netherfield, where we will have a chance to...be alone." Darcy stopped and sighed. "It has been a long four months, Bingley."
Bingley nodded with a smile, "It should be very quiet there Darcy. We will not disturb you in the morning, and if we do not see you until supper, then so be it. I will run interference with anyone who dares disturb you."
"Bingley, a man could ask for no better friend. Thank you." Darcy moved past his friend towards the entrance to the assembly room. "Oh...a happy anniversary to you Bingley!" he shouted.
"And to you Darcy! You will have to tell me what you think of Elizabeth’s Mr. Scott!"
Darcy stopped his movement towards the dance floor and turned to stare at Bingley as he made his way outside for some air. "Mr. Scott?" Darcy asked himself with a frown. "Who is Mr. Scott?" Darcy’s determination to find his wife was never so great as it was at that moment.
He quickly glanced around the room for his wife, trying his best not to be noticed although that was difficult for Fitzwilliam Darcy. He finally recognized the wonderfully familiar shape of his wife, speaking with Charlotte Collins and laughing. He wasted no time in walking over to where she stood, passing by people who stopped to stare when they recognized him. He stood behind Elizabeth and shook his head slightly at Mrs. Collins when she looked up and recognized him. She kept her tongue and he took a breath, and said, "If you are not otherwise engaged, may I have the honor of the next dance, Mrs. Darcy?"
Elizabeth’s eyes widened and she spun around to see his figure standing and awaiting her response. For a moment she could not speak, and she reached out and lightly poked his chest to make sure he was not the familiar apparition that had been her companion for the last few months. When she felt resistance of something solid to her touch, she took in a breath and giggled. "Is it really you Fitzwilliam?"
"Will you excuse us, Mrs. Collins?" Darcy bowed and took Elizabeth by the hand. "Are you really all that inclined to dance, Mrs. Darcy?"
"No Mr. Darcy, I am not inclined to dance with you at all!" she blurted out in her ecstasy.
"Do you think there is a chance that we can escape from here without being noticed?" he asked still smiling.
"Not a chance!" she said as she laughed in the greatest relief and joy. "Let us attempt it anyway!"
The Darcys were able to make it out of the Assembly room within a few minutes, dodging the likes of Sir William Lucas, Aunt Phillips and above all, Mrs. Bennet. Once inside the carriage they clung to each other. "God, how I have missed you, Elizabeth", Darcy said caressing her face and kissing her so as to make it impossible for her to speak. After a time he pulled away, giving Elizabeth a chance to catch her breath.
Elizabeth began to cry from the shear happiness she felt at being back together with her husband. Darcy looked at her, not completely of the understanding as to why his presence should make his wife burst out into tears.
"Elizabeth, why are you crying?" He wiped a tear from her cheek, but then a memory came flooding back into his mind. "Elizabeth...tell me at once. Who is this Mr. Scott?"
Elizabeth’s eyes widened at her husband’s sudden and commanding inquiry.
Darcy closed his eyes and sighed, "I must have been a fool Elizabeth to have ever left you...for all this time."
"Not a fool, dear. Just a very determined man." She whispered as she burrowed closer to him. "Fitzwilliam, was it worth the sacrifice?"
Darcy moved away to look directly at her face. "No, Elizabeth. I can honestly say it was not. I suppose the things I wanted when I was a younger man are different than the things I want now. I was too stubborn to see it." he sighed. "The only thing I want is to be with you...always. I shall never ask you for a sacrifice again, to satisfy my own vanity."
Elizabeth could not speak as joy filled her heart at the sound of his words.
"Can you forgive me for my petty jealousy?" he asked shamefully.
Elizabeth laughed, "I never thought I would have been able to keep the secret from you for as long as I did. There were so many times I wanted to tell you about it in my letters. I wanted it to be a surprise."
"Indeed...it was quite a surprise when Bingley let it slip. That must be why he is such a dreadful card player." Darcy laughed.
"Then you approve, my love?" she asked as she moved to kiss him.
"Indeed I do, my lovely wife. Indeed I do." he sighed. "Will you play the pianoforte for me, my love?"
"Yes" he said laughing. "Now...this very minute." He kissed her and got out of bed to dress back into his trousers and shirt. "Come on!"
Elizabeth feigned protest. "Fitzwilliam, it is late...and we have already retired."
"Elizabeth...it is hardly late to me, for I am use to burning candles at both ends." He sat on the edge of the bed. "Besides, there is no one here but us. I am sure the Bingleys will not be back for some time. Here, wear this." he handed her a gown that lay at the foot of the bed.
She put on the gown and got out of bed to search for a shawl. Darcy grabbed a blanket and tucked it under his arm. He gazed at his wife as she came out of her dressing room.
"Do you like my new nightgown, dear?" she teased him. "I purchased it in Lambton, especially for your return."
"It is very lovely...it looks rather familiar though. Are you sure I have never seen it before?"
Elizabeth shivered as she sat on the bench at the pianoforte. Darcy unfolded the blanket and sat next to her, covering them both as she began to play. She felt her way across the keyboard for it was very dark in the room. "I should be truly accomplished if I practiced more." She said with a smirk.
Darcy kissed the side of her face and huffed, "To hell with accomplishment."
The Bingleys returned home after the Assembly. Charles bid good night to the butler and they walked down the hallway towards the stairs to retire. They each heard the faint, low sound of the pianoforte, and they quietly went to the drawing room and looked inside of its doors.
The fire in the hearth was lit and there was a single candle glowing on top of the pianoforte. Elizabeth faintly plucked at the keys as Darcy sat on the bench next to her, encircling her with his arms. Both were sitting with their eyes closed, and neither one of them spoke a word. They simply sat, wrapped in the blanket, quietly listening to the instrument and sharing the warmth and comfort of each other, happy to know that they were truly together again.
"Shall we wish them good night, Charles?" Jane whispered.
Bingley took his wife’s arm and gently led her away from the door. "No my dear, they are having a good night without us." With a grin he continued, "We shall find another room and make our own music together."
Darcy opened his eyes when Elizabeth stopped playing, "Elizabeth" he whispered. "Am I still all that proud of a man?"
Elizabeth turned around and touched his face, tracing the features that had been only a memory to her for so many months. "Yes, Mr. Darcy, you are...but I could not love you any less, for I love you with all of my being."
As the Bingleys rounded the corner of the foyer to head up the stairs, they stopped in front of a portrait sitting on an easel.
"It is a wonderful likeness of Elizabeth, do you not think so Charles?"
"Yes indeed. Mr. Scott did a marvelous job I must say." Bingley stood back to get a better look at the portrait of Elizabeth which she had commissioned Mr. Scott to paint during Darcy’s absence. "You know, this is a very unique composition, Jane."
"How so, my dear?" Jane asked while gazing at the portrait herself.
Bingley smiled. "Well, I have seen portraits of women with their dogs, portraits of women with their children, even portraits of women with flowers or a book in their hands."
Jane was confused. "Yes, dear?"
Bingley shook his head in wonder, "It is just that I have never seen a portrait of a woman with a letter in her hands before?"
Jane smiled and reached up to kiss her husband. As they ascended the staircase in search of their own room, they again heard the melodic plucking of the keys of a pianoforte.
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