The Cure for the Common Marriage
It was the time of year, somewhere between the frost of winter and the thaw of springtime, that was the most restless for Elizabeth Darcy. She was not a woman who took comfort in being cloistered in a house for months on end, but the weather in Derbyshire at this time of year was not inclined to be of her liking. This was Elizabeth's first winter at Pemberley, therefore she had not had the advantage of knowing what to expect. Having spent most of his years in Derbyshire, her husband, Fitzwilliam Darcy was somewhat accustomed to the tedium that life at this time of year offered.
Elizabeth sat in front of the hearth in her bedchamber. She had just bathed and the heat from the fire served to dry her damp hair, and warm her spirits a little. Mrs. Reynolds had brought up tea, blended from mint, chamomile and rosehips.
"There is also some honey, ma'am," the kindly housekeeper instructed Elizabeth with a nod of her head towards the tray. "When mixed in the tea it is said to be a cure for the melancholy."
Elizabeth thanked her and poured herself a cup. As she brought it to her lips, she inhaled the pleasant aroma. It did please her senses, and she took a slow sip and sighed.
She glanced next to her, at her husband, who looked comfortable in his nightclothes and robe, with his legs perched up on the footstool in front of him. He was silently reading a book, something about the exploration of islands in the vast expanse of the South Pacific Ocean, as he had explained to her earlier. He would heave a sigh after reading a few pages, then settle back into his chair and lose himself again in his book. Elizabeth leaned forward in her chair, to try and make out the title, but she could not.
Elizabeth had not seen Darcy reading a book for pleasure in at least a month. He had been busy for the last weeks, with the Pemberley accounts. His steward generally handled the books, however Darcy was not one to place his full trust in others, especially when it came to the finances of his estate. He felt it his duty after the turn of each new year to go over every book of accounts, personally, and Elizabeth found him to be obsessed with the task, until he finished.
Elizabeth put down her tea, and stood up from her chair. She walked around to the back of Darcy's chair and leaned over it. Darcy looked up, and Elizabeth's long, freshly washed locks of hair tumbled onto his shoulder. She smiled at his apparent gesture to give her some longed-for attention, and laid a tender hand on his shoulder.
"Would you like some of this tea?" she asked. "It is very good and it is rumored to lift your spirits."
"No, thank you, my spirits are fine." He serenely smiled back, then turned a page of his book and continued on with his solitary pursuits.
Elizabeth remained behind him, and before long she was squinting, while trying to read a paragraph or two of Darcy's book, over his shoulder. Darcy sighed again, with a bit of a grin this time, and calmly closed the book.
"I seem to recall a similar scene being played out by Miss Caroline Bingley and myself, some time ago."
Elizabeth's smile faded and she mumbled something under her breath with a teasing cast of her eye. She could not see how Darcy could be satisfied to have spent months in the same place, with not a visitor, or any other sort of diversion, except for a book of distant places and her own excellent company, of course.
Elizabeth was truly happy in Darcy's company since their marriage three months earlier. She was enraptured with his love and tenderness, and his good conversations. She was completely contented being the center of his world, which she knew to be quite selfish of her. She had waited patiently for him to finish his accounting of the finances, so she could have his attentions to herself again. He did not disappoint her, for when his work was finished, he gave her his fullest attentions again. At this moment however, she longed for more of the accomplished companionship she had grown accustomed to.
Darcy was completely contented with his wife's companionship. She made him give of himself, in ways he had never done before and gave him a closeness he had never experience with any other person. She made him laugh, even at himself at times. She made his days effortless, and his nights exhilarating. The one thing she had not been able to do however, was improve Darcy's ease in the company of others. He was simply content to spend his time with her, and her alone.
Darcy had never shown much of an inclination for society. The Darcys did not socialize much in the neighborhood, and if an invitation was extended, Darcy generally offered some sort of excuse for them not to attend. Elizabeth wondered, given his propensity to keep to himself, that he had ever been persuaded by Charles Bingley to visit Hertfordshire. In this respect, it was an amazement to her, that she had ever met her husband at all.
Darcy placed his book on the table next to his chair, and he reached behind him and grasped Elizabeth's hand. He pulled her around and she rested on his lap and wrapped her arms around his neck, looking at him with sad eyes.
"What is troubling you, dearest?" Darcy said with genuine concern.
Elizabeth laid her head onto his shoulder and spoke in a girlish voice, "I am not sure, Fitzwilliam."
"Elizabeth," Darcy chided her. "What is this about? I should think you are not prone to melancholy, and I have never known you to be unsure of what you are thinking."
"Husband," Elizabeth continued gingerly. "It has been a very long winter, and I wish for a little--community. I should like to be in the company of friends and family for a time."
"You did not wish to be entertained in society the last few months, Elizabeth?" Darcy frowned in a boyish fashion.
Elizabeth smiled at her husband and snuggled him closer. "Fitzwilliam, we have been recently married. If I remember correctly, we are perfectly content to explore the charms of each other, as most newlyweds are wont to do." The dimples in Darcys cheeks appeared as he thought of their first months together as man and wife, and Elizabeth kissed each one in pleasant remembrances herself. "I would venture to say, within this respect, that we are fairly familiar with each other at present."
Darcy lifted Elizabeth's chin, "You are not tiring of me already, are you? I had hoped it would be at least forty-five or fifty years before that would happen."
Elizabeth's eyes danced, "Oh Fitzwilliam, how could you ask such a question? I shall never tire of you. You are too complex a man for that!" She ran a playful finger across the square of his jaw. "It is only that I so enjoy being in company--with you. I am not accustom to living in such a large house with so little people in it, and it seems as though spring shall never come to Derbyshire."
"Would you like for us to go to London early?" He had to repress a grimace as he finished the question.
Elizabeth shook her head. "No dearest," she moved closer and whispered in his ear, "although you are very kind."
"Then, pray, tell me what it is you wish?"
Elizabeth flushed a little as she gathered every ounce of her courage her countenance possessed. "I have had a letter from my parents, dear." She stopped and let her fingers feather across his temple. "They are anxious for their first visit--to Pemberley."
Darcy's expression of the moment resembled that of a statue carved by a great Renaissance master, and his complexion somewhat white as marble. He dared not flinch at the words he had just been favored to hear from his wife's lips.
"Would it be very much trouble if my family came for a visit?" she asked sweetly.
"It is not any trouble..." Darcy pursed his lips, concealing a little white lie, "...if you desire it."
Elizabeth smiled brightly and her eyes twinkled at the prospect of seeing her loved ones again. She was grateful that her husband indulged her whims. She knew that there were many men who did not take kindly to a wife who professed her opinions and wishes, as much as Elizabeth was wont to do, or to a wife who made many demands. She was still a little timid about asking Darcy for things, especially those she knew could potentially be a cause of great strife to him.
"Thank you, my love. It will be good to see Papa and Mama again, and Mary, and Kitty. Even the Bingleys!" Elizabeth giggled in enthusiasm, "Perhaps my Aunt and Uncle could come, and bring the children!"
Darcy performed a quick calculation of bodies, in his head, as Elizabeth named each one. When he got to twelve, he forced a absurd grin and interrupted her. "Elizabeth! Dearest," he said with a kind of hiss through his teeth. "Might I have some of that tea now?" and he pointed to the tea tray in earnest.
Elizabeth nodded happily, and Darcy put his hands around her waist and lifted her up and off the chair. He got up himself, and walked to the secretary and opened a drawer, pulling out a deck of cards, giving them a quick shuffle in his hands. Before he turned around to look again at his wife, he tapped the deck onto the table top a few times, and exhaled.
"I hope you have plenty of money on hand, Mr. Darcy?" Elizabeth giggled as she moved a small table over in between their chairs.
"I do, Mrs. Darcy," he replied in his usual concise demeanor. He sat back down in his own chair, shuffled the deck of cards in his hands again, then dealt them out. "I had more particular stakes in mind, however."
Elizabeth's eyes widened. "Whatever could you mean, Mr. Darcy?"
"If you are victorious, we invite your Aunt Phillips to this family reunion. If I triumph..." Darcy lifted a stern brow, "...we resist all temptation to do so."
Darcy had a fretful sleep that night. He tossed and turned, contemplating his duty to entertain Elizabeth's entire family, for her sake. He had thought perhaps he would have escaped it, until Michaelmas at least. Before he finally drifted off to sleep, he told himself to remember to speak to Mrs. Reynolds about that tea. Her remedy for melancholy had succeeded with Elizabeth, however it seemed to have the opposite effect on himself.
The next morning, Elizabeth wrote her invitation to her family and had the letter sent by express to Longbourn. Darcy stared into his tea cup at breakfast, swirling the liquid around it like a tiny hurricane. He again made calculations in his mind. Assuming the express took three days to arrive at Longbourn, the Bennets allowed themselves two days for preparations to leave, and another three days for travel to Derbyshire, Darcy deduced he had a good week to convince himself that a fortnight with the Bennets would not be such a dreadful undertaking.
He walked out to the stables later that morning, chastising his conscience for being so unyielding. He had managed to survive being in his in-law's company practically every day during his engagement to Elizabeth. He took some comfort in this fact, although he realized that he had never been expected to live under the same roof with them before this.
Darcy only hoped that marriage had changed things. Elizabeth was his wife now, but she would always remain her father's daughter. He thought it might feel strange knowing that her father was in his house. He began to perspire thinking of Mr. Bennet's scrutiny of his every move as the husband of a most beloved daughter.
The thought of Mrs. Bennet, encircling his person as she tittered on ceaselessly, inundating him with her astute observations of his income, made his hair stand on end. He knew it should only be a matter of moments after setting foot on Pemberley grounds that she would turn her reflections to the prospects of Elizabeth soon producing an heir to such a great fortune.
Darcy did not stop there, for he was becoming obsessed with thoughts of his resolved torment. He could hear the cackling of Kitty Bennet ringing in his ears, along with her perpetual observations as to how many officers might be housed in the county.
He could imagine every sort of sermon from Mary Bennet, not to mention her joy at having access to such a wonderful assortment of musical instruments as was contained within the walls of Pemberley. He would make it his mission to conceal every last piece of sheet music with lyrics that he could find, within his locked desk drawer, before Miss Mary's arrival.
He even winced at the thought of his friend Charles Bingley and Elizabeth's sister Jane being amongst the throng. He was not sure he could tolerate to be around two of the most amiable people in England, while he himself owned desperation. Their goodness in such situations had the potential to completely send him over the brink.
His comfort came in knowing that the sensibilities of the Gardiners would be there. He was not convinced, however, that having four young children underfoot would allow him much condolence. At any rate, the express was sent, and there was really nothing Darcy could do now, but contemplate occasional methods of escape within the confines of a fortnight, and heave a sigh when he realized nothing could possibly help.
A processional of carriages arrived a little more than a week later. Elizabeth saw them from the gallery windows, and ran down to Darcy's study. "They are here!" she exclaimed. "Every single one of them!"
"Indeed," Darcy mastered the pretense of enthusiasm. "Go along with you, and I shall be right behind."
Elizabeth beamed in delight, and swiftly left the study to greet her family. Darcy stood up from his chair, with a look towards the heavens.
"I could have used some wise counsel on this," he spoke to the air.
"What was that sir?" Mrs. Reynolds poked her head in the study door.
"Nothing, Mrs. Reynolds," he blushed. "Nothing at all," and he dutifully left the room to view the ensuing spectacle.
It took some time to unload three carriages of their occupants and luggage. Mr. Bennet was the first to set foot on Pemberley ground. He had been fortunate to secure a seat in the Bingley's carriage, as far away from the proximity of his wife's silliness as was possible. Elizabeth ran to her father and hugged him tightly.
"Lizzy, my girl!" he exclaimed in delight. "You look very well, and I am excessively glad to see it." Mr. Bennet lifted his eyes to his son-in-law with a quiver of his lip, then extended his hand. Not so convinced by the momentary gesture of deceptive good will, Darcy smiled and greeted his father-in-law.
Bingley and Jane were next to be helped from the carriage. Upon sight of the smiling countenance of his friend Charles Bingley, Darcy felt somewhat better. "Ah, it is good to be back at Pemberley!" Bingley professed, and gave his wife an amiable grin. "Darcy! Are you not elated to see us all?"
"Oh Lizzy!" Jane Bingley hugged her sister. "This place is grander than anything you could have written about it, and you are lovelier than ever."
"Ah," Darcy thought to himself. "Three down, not so bad--so far."
The Gardiners were next, and Elizabeth greeted them with every happiness. Mr. And Mrs. Gardiner were as fashionable as ever, and their children quite well mannered, as they curtsied and bowed their polite greetings to their hosts. Darcy smiled at them, and he was grateful for children who were as well behaved as these children appeared to be.
"You are fairing well, Darcy," his conscience told him. "Barely a word, and only three more to go."
Kitty and Mary disembarked their carriage, and they both silently looked up at Pemberley house, their expressions matching their awe at the house's size and splendor. "Mary! Kitty!" Elizabeth wrapped her arms around her siblings. "Welcome to Pemberley."
Darcy's spine stiffened as he saw his mother-in-law's form slip out of the carriage, handkerchief in hand. "Oh!" she exclaimed and looked at her daughter with misty eyes, which she dabbed with the dainty cloth. She gave Elizabeth a hug, then turned to Darcy with a grin and a nod. She silently brought her hands into the air and looked up at the house, as if she would embrace the structure. "Well--I am speechless!"
Darcy raised a quizzical eyebrow, and Elizabeth could not help but let a brief laugh escape her lips at the gesture. She slipped her arm through Mrs. Bennet's, and led her mother towards the house. Everyone followed as they chattered on of their good fortune to be in the company of their loved ones. No one noticed Darcy, who strayed behind, looking doltish as he watched the scene. Servants swerved around him carrying in all the luggage, and Darcy simply stood in his place as if he had managed to turn into that marble masterpiece again.
"I shall never cease to be amazed," his mind whirled. "Perhaps I have been too harsh in my assessment of the character of others?" Still, he was disposed to be wary, until proven otherwise.
After a time he slipped into the house, which he found to be precariously quiet for being the center of amusement to twelve people, besides its regular inhabitants. He stepped covertly up the great staircase and down the gallery, along the row of guest chambers.
"Fitzwilliam!" Elizabeth inquired boldly as she came out of a room, and poor Darcy gave a start. "Where have you been, dear?"
"I stayed behind," he stammered. "I do not want to interfere with your reunion with your family."
Elizabeth looked at him curiously, "Interfere?" Darcy nodded his head in the affirmative. "Fitzwilliam, they are your family now as well. I had hoped that you would enjoy their visit as much as I will. Was I wrong in my assumptions?"
Darcy looked abashed. "No dear, not at all," he fibbed.
Elizabeth sighed in relief, "Thank goodness. For a moment I thought perhaps you were distressed."
Darcy shook his head vigorously, then gave a secret sigh of relief at his true feelings not being discovered. "Where is everyone?"
"They are all in their rooms, changing out of their traveling clothes."
"Very well then," Darcy smiled at his good fortune. "I believe I shall finish what I was doing in my study, until everyone resurfaces."
Elizabeth watched her husband depart from her company. He was acting very peculiar to say the least, creeping about the house in silence, answering her questions with nods and shakes of his head. Elizabeth knew Darcy to be a man of few words when not entertained in conversation of his choice, but this was more extreme than what was normal. For the first time since she had the idea to receive her relations, she had her reservations about it. She had assumed Darcy would hold the same enthusiasm for it as she did. Now she thought, perhaps she could have been grossly in error.
Darcy sat cloistered in his study, reading his book. He really had nothing to do of great importance at present, but his temptation to hide himself from his new relations far outweighed his temptation to do anything else. There came a knock at the door and he set down his book and answered.
"Darcy," Charles Bingley entered the study. "So here is where you have hidden yourself."
Darcy barely resisted a sneer, and rebuked his friend, "Bingley, I am not hiding."
"We have been friends for a long time, longer than we have been family--and I know when you are hiding!"
"Is it not common to find a gentleman in his study?" Darcy continued his protest. Bingley laughed, "It is quite common in the Bennet household!"
"This is fruitless," Darcy groaned.
Bingley sat down, and with a grin picked up the book Darcy had laid on the desk. "Hmm, The Voyages of Captain James Cook," Bingley read the title aloud. "Required reading for affairs of estate business, I take it?"
Darcy sat back in his chair, his arms folded across his chest, and a tight frown on his lips. "Alright, Bingley. I admit I am not exactly as occupied with business as one might think." He leaned forward as if to plead with his friend. "I am not sure I know what to make of having a house full of in-laws. This is rather a new experience for me, you know."
Bingley's smirk at his friend was constant, "I admit that I am looking forward to their having an opportunity to endear themselves to you for a change."
"Bingley, I am beginning to think you came here to see me crawl." Bingley began to laugh again, and this time Darcy could not resist the temptation to do so, himself. "Tell me, how is it--really?"
"A lot like courtship, only everyone is more comfortable being in your presence."
Darcy placed his hand over his mouth at the thought. "Good god," he whispered to himself.
No sooner had Darcy begun his lament, than the sound of a pianoforte was heard coming from the music room, and women's voices began to chatter. Darcy stood up from his chair and made haste into the hallway, followed by his brother-in-law. They glimpsed two men walking ahead of them in the hallway.
"It must be here somewhere?" Mr. Bennet grumbled as he opened hallway doors then shut them again.
"I cannot remember for sure. Perhaps if you were to inquire of Darcy, he could show you the location of the library," came Mr. Gardiner's reply.
"Nonsense, I shall make myself at home...Ah, here it is! Glorious! I should be content to spend the rest of my days in this room!"
Darcy's eyes were wide and his mouth inadvertently hung open. He recovered his senses just long enough to glimpse two children streak past him.
"Give it back! Give it back!" the youngest girl shrieked at her sibling as both children skidded down the hallway and out of sight. Darcy turned around and frowned at Bingley, who simply shrugged his shoulders for lack of any better response.
Before they were able to reach the music room with all the plucking and chattering, the sound of an out-of-tune warble reached their ears and traveled down their spines, then a matronly voice exclaimed, "Ten thousand a year, and very likely more! Lizzy, you must give him an heir as soon as may be!"
Darcy leaned his hand against the door and bowed his head in admission of overthrow. "Welcome to the cure for the common marriage, Darcy," Bingley grinned, as he shook his head.
Supper was no more of a kinder affair for Darcy that evening than any event previously that day. Conversation at the table was at best, a dull roar rattling within his brain. He was almost too aggravated to touch his meal, and he tried his best to answer every question brought forth by his relations, concerning his property, his finances, and the status of marriage, between mouthfuls.
Every few minutes Darcy would look at Elizabeth, his eyes resembling those of a lost puppy. She would return his gaze, however she wavered in her decisions to show him mercy, versus demonstrate her disapprobation at his being a man unable to recommend himself to anyone.
"Oh my dear Mr. Darcy," Mrs. Bennet was heard articulating from the other end of the table with the shake of her napkin in the air.
Darcy looked up from his plate, "Mrs. Bennet."
"How we missed Lizzy at Christmas this year--and yourself of course!"
Darcy nodded silently and went back to his meal.
"How did you find your gift, sir?" she inquired anxiously.
Darcy looked quizzically at Elizabeth, trying to remember the gift to which Mrs. Bennet referred.
"Your gift, dear," Elizabeth interrupted in a pointed manner. "The waistcoat dear--you remember," she prompted him with a whisper.
"Yes, of course," he whispered back, then raised his voice in reply to his mother-in-law. "It was very--thoughtful, Mrs. Bennet. Very thoughtful, indeed!"
"I have not seen you wear it since our arrival?" Mrs. Bennet was insistent. "Such a lovely cashmere waistcoat should be displayed."
"Cashmere?" Bingley was heard over the tinkling of knives and forks against fine china. "I thought cashmere made you break into the hives, Darcy?"
Darcy furrowed his brow at his friend, and Elizabeth brought her cloth to her lips. "Well!" huffed Mrs. Bennet. "I beg your pardon, Mr. Darcy. Perhaps Lizzy, could inform me of your constitution before I go to any more trouble to please you."
Darcy sighed, "On the contrary Mrs. Bennet, your gift was very much appreciated." Darcy saw Elizabeth's shoulders relax out of the corner of his eye. Mr. Bennet laughed, then nodded his head in admiration of his new son-in-law's evading diplomacy.
"Appreciated, indeed Darcy. Especially when you can view it as a gift which continues giving."
Darcy's complexion reddened this time, and he turned to his wife, making sure she was privileged to see his disapproval of her family's conduct.
Elizabeth paced the length of their bedchamber that night, after the guests had retired and she had gotten ready for bed. Darcy had elected to stay below in his study, again under the pretense of taking care of a few pressing matters. The more Elizabeth thought of her husband's social graces, or lack thereof that evening, the more disturbed she became. She was determined to know what it was that troubled him, other than the occasional impropriety of her family.
She waited the good portion of an hour, and still Darcy neglected to join her in their chambers. She threw on a robe and took a candleholder from her bureau and proceeded towards the door, insisting to herself that she had every right to know his mind. She had not married Darcy, believing that he was one day to ignore her for the solitude of his study. She was determined enough to insist that their marriage never take the turn that she had witnessed as a daughter. Elizabeth hurried down the hallway, and descended the staircase to the main level of the house. She passed a servant or two, who all turned their heads in wonder as if they had seen an apparition, as the mistress flew past them in her white nightclothes.
When Elizabeth turned the corner she saw the study door to be open. Without hesitation she entered the room, and before she looked about, she began to speak.
"Fitzwilliam, I wish to know..." she stopped abruptly upon not seeing her husband in the room. The housekeeper came up behind her. "Mrs. Reynolds," she tried to restrain her annoyance as she spoke. "Would you be so kind as to tell me where Mr. Darcy has gone?"
The housekeeper nodded, "He has gone out, ma'am."
"Out?" she questioned.
"Yes, ma'am. He said he was going to take a walk, and that was all that he said."
Elizabeth was stunned. Never before had Darcy simply left her in the house, without an explanation as to his whereabouts, or reasons for doing so. She had admired that about their relationship, and they had thus far been careful to show consideration for each other.
"Ma'am, is something wrong?" Mrs. Reynolds asked upon seeing the discomfiture of her mistress.
"I certainly hope not," Elizabeth sighed.
Darcy strolled slowly down the darkened drive. There was a chill in the air, and it felt good to his senses. He was at a loss to understand his feelings at present. He knew that Elizabeth was probably wondering as to his failure to join her in their room, but he felt he could not face her at the moment.
Darcy realized that more concessions on his part were necessary now, than he had given previously in his brief duration as a married man. He was forced to put up with the dishonor of having silly relatives. In this respect he felt very sorry for himself, thinking that he and Bingley were probably the only two sensible men in England with this great misfortune.
He was suffering from the infliction of practically every newly married man. He would have to control his desire for solitude with Elizabeth, so that she could find comfort in the company of others for a time. As much as he knew it was necessary to his wife's happiness, he opposed it greatly.
Darcy's conscience wanted Elizabeth all to himself. She was the center of his world, and he could not help but want to be the center of hers as well. He supposed he felt worse, because he lacked the talent of conversation, which everyone else appeared to possess. Elizabeth had become his closest friend, and he was not inclined to share her, for anything.
When he had reached the gates, Darcy resolved himself to going back to the house and facing his wife's censure. He stepped into the foyer and the footman took his hat and over coat.
Mrs. Reynolds scurried up to him. "Sir, Mrs. Darcy was inquiring after you."
"I had assumed as much, Mrs. Reynolds," Darcy said pleasantly. "Good night."
"A most agreeable evening to you, sir," the housekeeper replied, although secretly she had her doubts at to whether or not that was going to be possible for the young husband.
Darcy climbed the stairs, and headed down the hallway to their chambers. Elizabeth stood inside, next to the hearth, and she jumped at the rattle of the door latch. She stared at her husband, and he kept his place, all the while looking at her. Neither was comfortable, and neither knew what to say to the other. Finally, Darcy broke the silence between them.
"I took a walk, down the drive."
"So I was told," Elizabeth gripped the back of a chair to steady herself. "But, not by you."
"I do apologize for that, Elizabeth."
"Fitzwilliam, I wish you would tell me what is the matter with you."
Darcy shook his head, "There is nothing the matter, I simply needed a little air." He took his dress coat off and laid it on a chair, then walked to the bureau and began to unbutton the cuffs of his shirt. Elizabeth approached to him, to help him with the task.
"I shall ring down for Mr. Stevens, if you wish to change out of your clothes. You can get a good nights sleep, then perhaps in the morning things will be better."
Darcy mustered a genuine smile. Elizabeth was loving and caring, and more tender in her affections than he could have wished in a wife. She was willing to forgive him his singularities. She was willing to listen, even when he was inclined to say nothing. Darcy was feeling somewhat guilty for his performance as host that day.
"I am behaving as a child," he sighed, speaking more to himself than to Elizabeth.
Elizabeth looked at his face, and she could make out a hint of the torment which she had not seen for a very long time. "Yes," she said, and left their conversation at that.
Darcy awoke with a start, sat straight up in bed, and yelled out for Elizabeth. The morning light had crept into the room, and Elizabeth sat up in fright as well.
"What is it, my dear?" she said in genuine concern.
Darcy ran his hands over his face, and when he composed himself enough to speak, he turned, wide eyed, and looked at Elizabeth. "I thought you left me. I had a dream you left me."
She grasped his hands to calm him. "Left you?"
Darcy shook his head to clear his thoughts. "Only a nightmare," he said and let go of Elizabeth's hands. "I promised your father and uncle that we would go out partridge hunting this morning. If I do not hurry, I will be late."
Again, Elizabeth watched him go, this time to his dressing room. She wrapped her arms around her knees in a girlish fashion, and let her mind wonder at the uncommon behavior of Fitzwilliam Darcy.
Elizabeth took her coat and bonnet, and left the house later that morning for a solitary walk. The hum of Pemberley's occupants had indeed left her feeling frayed, but a visit by her entire family was not the reason for her renewed woe. Elizabeth had felt a distance between herself and Darcy since the arrival of her parents and siblings. In no way had she felt it more, than in the coldness of his heart.
She had gone to bed last night expecting her husband to join her as always. He did so, but he leaned on an arm, bid her a good night with a sterile peck on the forehead, then rolled over with a sigh. She waited for him to turn back, and wrap his arms around her, as was their usual custom when retiring, however he never did.
She did not know if he was angry with her for her agreement that his behavior that evening had been childlike, or that he was simply exhausted by the din of a house full of people. His lack of regard towards her that night made her feel forsaken and lonely. She could not say how a person could feel lonely when in the company of someone they loved, but she had felt it, and she had never felt it before, when in the presence of her husband.
As she walked along a path towards the lake, she thought of the three months of their marriage. They had an uncommon marriage, as most marriages went. They were two people who had married for love, and two people who expressed their love to each other in many ways. They did not live together for the sake of convention, but to satisfy the desires of their minds and of their hearts, but also to build their dreams, and Elizabeth thought it the most agreeable way to live.
She had come to the lake, and brushed a dusting of frost off of an old stump, then sat down on it. She reached down for a handful of stones and one by one threw them into the water. She was angry at her mind for making her heart melancholy again, and she wished she had the answers to ease Darcy's troubles. His troubles were her own troubles now, and it seemed as though any turn of emotion in the one, affected the other.
The men had returned from shooting that morning, and Darcy went on to the stables with the gamekeeper. As he walked down the path towards the house, he saw a figure sitting by the lake. He knew the figure as that of his wife's and he stopped and stared as she threw in a stone, and the glass-like water would ripple at the disturbance, then calm again.
Darcy knew his behavior had been dreadful these last few days, especially towards Elizabeth. He had placed pressures on her for his having to suffer the consequences of her silly relatives. He thought where Elizabeth was concerned he should be shameless, for there was nothing that could prevent him from loving her. He silently walked up from behind and upon reaching her, spoke softly as to not frighten her.
"Somehow I think you are a picture of loneliness?"
"I was, but now that you are here I am not," she whispered in his direction. "I am never lonely in your company, husband--except perhaps for last night."
Darcy's heart fell as Elizabeth voiced what he already knew. He helped her up from her seat and timidly caressed her cheek. "I love you," he whispered. "I know that words cannot make up for all things, but it is true."
Elizabeth smiled, although she still felt melancholy. "Your love makes up for everything--it always has."
"You know not what you do to me, Elizabeth," Darcy rested his cheek upon hers. "You are the most beautiful woman I have ever laid eyes on, and knowing you are mine astonishes me everyday." Elizabeth turned to face him. "Last night was my own undoing. Knowing your parents are living in this house plays on my mind, Elizabeth."
"Fitzwilliam, we are husband and wife. There is no shame between two people bound together in this way."
"When it comes to you I am shameless. Shameless and selfish. I admit that I never want to share you with anyone."
Elizabeth was completely overwhelmed. "There will come a day, Fitzwilliam, when you will have to."
Darcy sat down on the stump, his face contorted as if a sudden stabbing headache had come upon him. "This I know, Elizabeth."
Elizabeth was concerned by his sudden possessiveness, for this was a new side of Fitzwilliam Darcy's character, which she had never been admitted to see. She did not want to face this at the present, and she apprehensively said, "We have been away from our guests for too long, Fitzwilliam. Perhaps we should go back."
"I am not ready to go back, Elizabeth." He stood up from his seat, his attitude commanding. "What is it that you want me to do? You say that you miss my attentions, then when I profess my reasons for doing so, you back away!"
"I do miss your attentions, but I do not want to feel like another possession of the master of Pemberley!"
Darcy let out a frustrated sigh, "I never said I knew what I was doing--this whole business of marriage. It is one employment that I find totally alien at times. I am only trying to establish a sense of right and wrong!"
"Your sense of right and wrong always seems to be more unyielding than anyone else's," Elizabeth let her own frustrations slip out.
"Yes, perhaps--but at least I have a perception of some kind of decorum!" The moment the phrase left Darcy's mouth, he regretted it. Elizabeth turned away from him, much as she had another time ago when a haughty Mr. Darcy had complained of the impropriety of her family in comparison with his.
"I take that to be your personal reflections of my relations, Mr. Darcy. If you are as wise as you think you are, you will realize that any further discussion of this will only lead to an incident much like the one we enacted at Hunsford parsonage some months ago."
For lack of anything significant to say, Darcy reached down, picked up a stone and heaved it with great force in the direction of the lake, skipping it across the water. Darcy had thought he had learned his lesson before, but he had just taken a giant leap backwards in gentleman-like manners.
"Can we not come to an understanding about this?" he pleaded with his wife. "I admit I am being selfish by allowing this to come between us."
She turned to face him again, "I admit that my family lacks your gentility, but I do not see that any of this does us good."
Darcy gave an atoning nodded , "You are right. The fault is mine and lies with no other. I shall not allow this to be an issue in our marriage again. My reasons for loving you have nothing to do with any of this, and all that matters is how much I do love you."
The rest of that day, Darcy conducted himself in a more affable manner towards Elizabeth's family. He was not beyond reproach, but Elizabeth was still not convinced that his change of heart was genuine.
When Darcy felt he could get away with it, he made for his study and did manage to accomplish some business matters. That afternoon the ladies had gone to Lambton with Elizabeth and the men occupied themselves in solitary pursuits about the house and grounds. Darcy had just taken a pen from his desktop and began to return his correspondence when he thought he heard the door to the study creak open. He looked up to see the face of a small boy, staring back at him.
"Hallo," Darcy said.
The little boy blinked at the sight of the proud Mr. Darcy, then remembered his manners and bowed.
"Did you lose your way?" Darcy asked.
The boy shook his head, "I thought you were with my Papa, sir. I only wanted to see where it was that you go."
"Well, in that case, come in and have a seat." Darcy stood up and moved a chair to the front of the desk and motioned to the boy to sit down in it. The boy did so, his feet dangling some ways from the ground. He folded his hands in his small lap and craned his neck to look at the top of Darcy's desk. "You are Robert?"
The boy nodded in reply to Darcy's question. "Is this where you do business?" the boy inquired.
"Yes, it is."
"My Papa goes to his warehouse everyday to do business, but you do not have to leave your own house!"
"Not everything can be done in one small room, but as a general rule you are correct."
"Lizzy told me you are very busy most times. I think she likes Pemberley. She use to like Longbourn, but now she says, since you are married, Pemberley is her home.
"Yes, Pemberley is her home now, and I hope she finds it agreeable," Darcy continued to answered the boy's questions sedately.
"I was going to marry Lizzy--when I got older. She reads to me, and she plays games with us, and she is very pretty. Mama says she will be a good wife. I was sort of angry when she decided to marry you instead," the boy boldly confessed everything weighing on his mind.
Darcy sat back in his chair, a tiny smile directed towards this young rival for Elizabeth's affections. "I do not blame you for being angry, Robert. If Elizabeth..." Darcy paused. "...If Lizzy had not married me, I think I should never have recovered."
"Where are your Mama and Papa?" the boy inquired innocently.
"They died when I was but a young man," Darcy explained to the youngster.
"It must have been very dreary to be in this house by yourself?"
Darcy sighed, for the boy's innocence was beginning to touch his heart. "Yes," he answered grimly. "You cannot begin to know. You are very fortunate to have so many sisters and brothers--and your mother and father to keep you company."
"Well," the boy sighed. "I suppose in that case, it is best that Lizzy live here with you. That way she can make you laugh."
Darcy let out a chuckle, "Indeed. Thank you."
"Mama said we would have to learn to share Lizzy with you now. That instead of losing one friend we would be getting another."
With those words being said, Darcy was justly humbled. He had been mistaken when he proclaimed himself childish the other night. He had not been acting like a child at all, for here was a child demonstrating more forgiveness than Darcy could ever imagine from anyone else of his acquaintance.
"I would like to be your friend very much, Robert," Darcy confided truthfully to the boy. "Perhaps we could read together for a while?" Darcy stood up and took a book from the shelf behind him. "Do you like The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe?"
The boy eagerly nodded, "Yes, sir!" Darcy sat down on a chaise by the window of the study, and the boy scooted over next to him. Both were delighted with their newfound friendship as Darcy began to read aloud from the treasured book. Gone was Darcy's desire to be sequestered in his sanctuary alone. It was much more pleasing to share it someone else.
Within the fortnight, Darcy had managed to lessen in his disapproval of the manners of Elizabeth's relatives. The combination of his efforts to prove to Elizabeth that he was not the snob that he appeared to be at times, and the fact that as a general rule, Elizabeth's family were just plain folk, worked in his behalf.
Elizabeth also made some allowances during this time. She admitted Darcy his liberty, realizing that a man could not really change overnight. He had been patient with her, in her adjustment to being a wife, and the mistress of an estate. She knew having so many people in his house was unfamiliar to Darcy. The fact that she saw progress in his attitude, pleased her immensely.
Their love for each other slipped back to its comfortable place, and while there were so many married couples, of so many varying attitudes living under their roof, they took the opportunity to study them. Elizabeth's parents offered a glimpse into a common marriage that the newlyweds were eager to avoid.
The Bingley's marriage proved to them that there was something about the spice of an amiable disagreement now and then, which could be an asset to marriage. The Bingleys never seemed to disagree on anything. Elizabeth and Darcy had discussed this one evening in the privacy of their chambers. They shared a laugh and came to the conclusion that they would each harbor too much boredom, if this were the case in their own marriage.
The Gardiners had a marriage which both Darcy and Elizabeth grew to admire. They were examples in their respect of each other, knew their own minds independently, but combined it all into a happy atmosphere for themselves and for their children.
All things considered, Darcy did try his best to be amiable. There were only a few days left of the visit and his life would soon be mercifully back to normal. That night, Elizabeth looked over at her husband, who looked comfortable in his nightclothes, sitting in his chair by the hearth, reading a new book. She took another sip of her tea and sighed at her good fortune to have chosen a man who could see his own faults.
Darcy lifted his brow and cautiously closed the volume. He had come upon an unsettling passage in his book. "Men from children nothing differ," it read. As he contemplated its meaning, he thought it best to give up reading for the night, for this was truly a subject he did not wish to discuss, should Elizabeth happen to see it over his shoulder.
Elizabeth laid awake in bed that night. She could not seem to keep her eyes closed for more than a few minutes on end, for Darcy was sleeping restlessly again. She had noticed in the brief span of their marriage that when he retired for the night with problems weighing on his conscience, he would toss about as he slept, at times reverberating through his nose loudly enough to jar her from a deep sleep. The heavier the issue on his mind, the louder and more animated he became.
She sighed and leaned on an arm, giving him a little poke in the chest with her finger, which silenced him temporarily. She really did not blame him for being disquieted, for within a fortnight her family had managed to turn Mr. Darcy's serene home into something resembling a country rout. Elizabeth had to admit that there were times her family agitated her as well, but they were her family and she loved them nonetheless.
She smiled to herself as she watched her husband sleep. She realized how much her love for him had grown in such a short time. She could not imagine doing without him. He was proud, to be sure, but all his other qualities made up for any vanity he still possessed. Elizabeth knew him to be an intelligent man, she knew him to be compassionate and charitable, and she knew him to be loving. He amazed her at times with his own mark of wit, although at times she found it to be somewhat caustic.
She remembered having fleeting doubts before they married, as to what sort a union they would make together. She recalled wondering up until the ceremony, if she really did love Mr. Darcy as she thought. Wondering if her feelings were genuine, or if she had simply been caught up in the romance of being promised to such an admirable man. She began to see how the fancies of a bride and groom fade, and how rightful love takes over in their place.
Elizabeth did love Darcy, especially for the way in which he saw the world, and the way he lived in it. Even though he had been blessed as an heir, Darcy made his own fortunes, and he never squandered an opportunity because of folly or idleness. He very rarely lost in this game he played, for he was loath to admit defeat. She realized it had even been so where she was concerned.
If it was money he made, he was sure to turn around and reward those who were in his employ for their efforts towards the cause. If it was abundance of harvest or material goods, he laid it at the doorstep of those far less fortunate than himself. Why then was he so adverse to sharing the affections of his wife with her family, even for a fortnight? Elizabeth wondered if she lived with this man for fifty years, that it would be possible to know everything about him.
Darcy rolled over onto his side and moaned in his sleep. Elizabeth brushed the hair from his eyes with the tips of her fingers and he stirred. "Yes, Mrs. Bennet..." he murmured, still asleep. "...if you insist, we shall have to come for Easter..."
Elizabeth rolled her eyes and laughed, "Fitzwilliam," she gently shook him. "Fitzwilliam, I cannot sleep for all your tossing and snoring."
Darcy reached out, wrapping his arms around her waist, and pulling her closer. "Go back to sleep my love," he muttered, as she snuggled closer to him. "I love you, Elizabeth."
Darcy lay awake early that morning. He had awoken with a start and could not seem to go back to sleep. He laid on his side, his hand propping up his head, and he watched his wife as she slept. She was indeed a cozy sight, with her hair splashed against the starkness of the sheets, her eyes peacefully closed, and the corners of her lips upturned as if her dreams gave her the promise of exultation.
Darcy wondered at his life now and how it had changed in only three months. Everything around him had altered. The feeling of his house had changed, the attitudes of those around him had changed, and he even knew that he had changed--for the better he hoped. It made him wonder that Elizabeth must have changed also, although not knowing much of how she lived before their lives together, he could not say how. For a fleeting moment he pondered if Elizabeth were ever forced to make a choice, whether it would be he who would be the victor, or her family.
The chime on the mantle clock struck four, and though it was frightfully early, even for Darcy, he got out of bed and threw on some warm clothes. He made his way down to the kitchen, where he knew it would be warm from the perpetual fire burning within the large cooking hearth. He thought perhaps he would forage around quietly for something to eat, for unbeknownst to himself, Darcy possessed odd habits when he was troubled.
The kitchen was indeed warm, and as he entered it he looked about for the cook, Mrs. Beal. She was a jolly woman, who loved to cook, and performed her trade exceptionally well. Pemberley was reported to have the best food within a fifty mile radius, and Darcy had to admit that he never ate as well as when he was home in Derbyshire. Through the efforts of Mrs. Beal and Mrs. Reynolds, the housekeeper, Darcy had grown quite accustomed to being spoiled, even if it was by his servants.
Mrs. Beal was married to the groundskeeper of Pemberley. Mr. Beal was not quite as jovial as his wife, and Darcy thought the two complimented each other quite well. Separately they were valued servants, together they were indispensable. Darcy opened up the bread box and reached in to take a loaf out and help himself to a slice when he heard a noise from behind.
"Mr. Darcy!" the woman exclaimed in a hush.
Darcy turned around meekly, realizing he had been caught. "Mrs. Beal, I am sorry to intrude in your kitchen, but I was in search of something to settle my stomach."
"Mr. Darcy! she exclaimed again. "It is no intrusion--besides it is your house," she chuckled. "Here, here--sit yourself down, sir, and I shall prepare you whatever you like." She took a minute to study the master's features. He looked tired, as though he had not had a very restful night and she could not help but wonder why. "What can I get for you sir? Pastries or perhaps some fruit or cheese?"
Darcy shook his head, "No, just a slice of some bread."
The cook posed a look of concern, for when the master ventured down from his bed in the middle of a cold night, she was sure he was in need of more than just a mere slice of bread. Darcy moved a chair over to a table and sat down.
"Hmm," he continued slyly. "Perhaps a little ham with it, from last nights supper?"
"Of course, sir," the woman nodded.
"And maybe a slice or two of that cheese--you know, the one with the holes in it."
Mrs. Beal turned away from the master to fetch his request, but also to hide the grin upon her face. Mrs. Beal had always thought that people misjudged young Mr. Darcy. She had been told that he lacked in the ways of conversation, especially with those whom he had nothing in common. She had never found that to be true, for when he was at home she found him to be quite amiable. Many a time he had come down in the wee hours of the morning, and he would ask questions of her while he ate something, and she kneaded the bread for that day. She recalled that he had done it quite often when he had been home this last summer.
"Tell me, how long have you been married Mrs. Beal?" Darcy asked, then took a bite of his sandwich.
"Oh, sir--quite some time. Longer than you have been on this earth," she chuckled in her way.
"Do you still see much of your family?" Darcy asked between mouthfuls.
"Oh no, sir," she sighed as she mixed something in a large bowl. "It is the same for me as it has been for women since time began. A woman marries a man and leaves her home for his. Before long, she is so occupied with her duties to her husband, her home, and her children, that she finds she has not enough time for much of anything else. It does not matter anyway, since if the wife has sisters she is fond of, they also leave the nest to make their own way in the world."
Darcy looked up at the woman, and calmly nodded his head in understanding of the first part. "But, is it not the same for a man?"
"No sir, I do not believe it is--for a man does not have to leave his family. Most men take over where their fathers leave off, to do the same work. Keeping their name from getting buried in the dust of time. I believe if you asked Mrs. Darcy, she would tell you the same thing. I think it a fine thing that she have this time to enjoy her family," Mrs. Beal stopped to give the master time to digest her words. "Before she has little ones of her own to care for."
Darcy began to eat a little slower, as he found he really was not as hungry as he had thought. "Taking over where our fathers left off," Darcy contemplated out loud with a sigh. "Are we men really that predictable?"
Mrs. Beal gave a hearty laugh and took a look at the kitchen clock. "It is now half past four. Mark my words, sir--that if in fifteen minutes, Mr. Beal does not enter through that door and boast the words 'be quick woman, for the good people of this house will be stirring soon'--then I shall prepare my apron into a tasty hotpot and eat it for breakfast!"
Darcy laughed at the woman's assurances, finished his sandwich and sat back in his chair. "You must think me ignorant of the ways of the world, Mrs. Beal," Darcy smirked.
"No more so than any other man married a mere three months..." Mrs. Beal looked at him in a pointed manner. "...sir." She walked over to the large hearth and warmed her hands. "It is a cold morning, sir. There is still enough time before breakfast to warm yourself in your bed."
Darcy eyes drew into slits as he realized the wise woman's interference. "I suppose you are right, Mrs. Beal," he said and removed himself from the table. "Thank you for the sandwich."
As Darcy was leaving the room for the comforts of his bedchamber, he heard the back door open and felt a cold blast of air around his feet. "It is indeed a cold morning, Mrs. Beal! Be quick about you, woman--for the good people of this house will be stirring soon!" Darcy grinned as he heard the hearty laugh of Mrs. Beal echoing behind him.
Darcy, Bingley and Mr. Gardiner drove to Lambton that afternoon. The men had stopped at a local inn before returning home, to take refreshment and partake of some lively conversation between themselves.
"Darcy!" greeted an elderly gentleman as he passed their table.
Darcy stood up, and with great respect returned the gentleman's salutation. "Sir Walter, it is very good to see you!"
"Tell me, Darcy--how is your lovely wife? Is she getting on with you alright--teaching you a thing or two about being a good husband?" the old man teased.
"Yes, sir," Darcy laughed. "I believe she is. Allow me to introduce my family to you, sir." Darcy acquainted the man to Mr. Gardiner and Charles Bingley as being one of his neighbors, Sir Walter Downsley, of Smythdon Manor.
"I have been meaning to contact you, Darcy. I have a business proposition for you, one I know will be to your liking," the elderly gentleman offered with a grin.
Darcy was indeed intrigued, for Smythdon Manor held resources which Darcy had always wished to obtain for the preservation of Pemberley. Sir Walter and his amiable wife had been blessed with a son, around the same time as Darcy's own birth. Unfortunately, illness had taken the young man from them a month after the passing of Darcy's father.
Darcy and Sir Walter had grown fond on each other, and when Darcy was in need of advice as to the management of the estate he had always been able to turn to Sir Walter. Out of benevolence for the loss of Darcy's father, and his longing for a son, Sir Walter was always eager to extend his good advice to the young man.
"Why not bring your family to dine with us tomorrow evening? We do not have the opportunity to entertain good people as much as we would like, and my wife would be more than pleased to meet Mrs. Darcy's family, then we can discuss our business."
Darcy's eyes widened, "Sir Walter, that is very generous--but there are ten of us in the party. Surely that would be too much of an undertaking for your kind wife and yourself. Perhaps I could come tomorrow, first thing in the morning?"
"Nonsense, young man! I shall hear of it no other way." The gentleman shook a crooked finger at Darcy, "I know you too well Fitzwilliam Darcy, you are inclined to keep your lovely bride to yourself. She must be seen, for she does your position in society credit."
Darcy did not deny the fact that Elizabeth improved the outlook of the neighborhood in his favor. It was the fact that her family usually had the opposite effect, which sent his adrenaline into an upward spiral. Had it been the Gardiners and the Bingleys alone, he would have accepted immediately--but Mrs. Bennet?
"Very well," he whispered. "Tomorrow evening it is then. Sir Walter, will you give me no idea what it is you propose?"
The old man smiled curiously as he turned to take his leave, "Something you have been wanting for a long time, Darcy."
Darcy stiffened at the hint. It was the rights and ownership to the mill along the river. With that, Pemberley would truly be self-accommodating. The great expense of having to take the harvest by wagon to the village of Hempstead would no longer be necessary. This was indeed of great importance to Darcy, and he was placed in a position of loyalty to his estate and allegiance to Elizabeth and her family. In a simple phrase, this was dreadful.
Darcy nervously fussed with the buttons of his waistcoat as his valet held out his dress coat. Darcy slipped his arms into the sleeves and his valet finished the task by smoothing out the fabric of the coat. He had not seen the master so nervous about his attire since the then Miss Elizabeth Bennet had been in the neighborhood.
Darcy gave himself a look in the glass, and nodded, "Yes, this will do."
He walked out into his bedchamber to see Elizabeth waiting for him. She looked very lovely, and he smiled at her beauty and serenity.
"Fitzwilliam," she said. "I know you are having some doubts as to the success of this evening. I promise you nothing will go wrong. Please have faith."
He reached out and touched her cheek. "I shall, Elizabeth." His countenance stiffened, "This is so very important to us though. Securing this makes our future, and that of our children, all the more eminent."
"I know it does, but you and the Downsleys are on good terms. Surely they would not hold it against you, for having one or two silly relatives?"
Darcy nodded his head nervously, for he did not want to lose the option to the mill and Elizabeth all in one fell swoop. This was to be the moment of reckoning for him. He would have the responsibility of securing local approval, while saddled with relations which were not exactly those in whom he were accustomed to, all the while making sure his wife was not upset in the process. A part of him would rather have followed a flock of frenzied sheep over a cliff, but this was life and at the moment it was Fitzwilliam Darcy's life.
Elizabeth had tried to speak with her father, to get his assurances that all would be well, but Mr. Bennet replied in his usual manner. "You know your mother, Elizabeth. She will say and do whatever the moment warrants her to. It is something I have not been able to change in over twenty-five years."
All this did not give Elizabeth a great sense of hope. She had no idea what was to happen tonight, in fact she did not even want to contemplate of the possibilities. All she wanted was for her husband to be happy and successful in his ventures, for she again realized how much Mr. Darcy was determined not to lose.
Elizabeth reached next to her for her husband's hand. Darcy willingly slipped his hand into hers and she could make out a hint of a smile from him, even through the darkness inside the carriage.
"Fitzwilliam," she whispered. "These three months of our marriage..." she stopped and caressed the palm of his hand, looking down in hesitation.
Darcy held her hand tighter and moved closer to his wife, "Yes, my love?"
She brought his hand to her cheek, holding it there with her own palm. "These months have been the happiest of my life, Fitzwilliam. I cannot imagine life without you."
"Elizabeth," Darcy removed his hand from her grasp, and ran it down the satiny smoothness of her cheek. "What are you saying? You shall never have to do without me."
Elizabeth nodded her head silently and went back to holding Darcy's hand in her own. His touch gave her some assurance that all would be well. The ride from Pemberley to Smythdon Manor was barely five miles along the main road through Derbyshire, but it seemed an eternity at this hour. Elizabeth's thoughts drifted to the evening at hand, to her husband's business with Sir Walter, and his wishes for success for the good of Pemberley and their future.
Elizabeth so wanted to be an asset to Darcy. To stand by his side and play the role of a wife whom he could be proud of. Within herself she wished to be worthy of the esteem of those noble ancestors who lined the walls of her new home. Her conscience held doubts of her worth, for she was a country girl, whether or not it was a fact that she was the daughter of a gentleman.
"Elizabeth," Darcy's stern inflection broke into her thoughts. "I believe the Downsley's are sensible people. They have always shown me regard and understanding, and I have the utmost respect for them. I should wish to avoid anything which would damage our relationship with them as neighbors and peers."
Elizabeth looked through the darkness at her husband's face. His features were hard as stone as he spoke his particular wishes. She understood his meaning well, for in his own way he made himself perfectly clear to her. She nodded her head again, in dutiful understanding as their carriage arrived at its destination.
Darcy escorted his wife to the door, then turned around to glimpse his in-laws file into his neighbor's house one by one. Mr. Gardiner brought up the rear, and as he passed Darcy, he stopped and laid a hand on the young man's shoulder, giving Darcy a reassuring smile. Darcy was grateful for the understanding of at least one of his relations. Mr. Gardiner was a sensible man of business, and Darcy knew that he understood the importance of a dinner such as this.
Darcy heard the Downsleys greet his relations and Elizabeth did the honors of acquainting her family to their hosts. Darcy felt his body stiffen as he heard his mother-in-law proclaim Smythdon Manor as being a grand house, but not quite as elegant as her daughter's new home.
Mrs. Downsley escorted Elizabeth and her family through Smythdon Manor, and Darcy and Sir Walter had a chance to speak. Sir Walter looked at his young neighbor with a bit of a mirthful grin.
"Darcy, do try to ease yourself. You look as if you fear your in-laws will cross the moat and scale the walls of the battlement!" Darcy tried to conceal a frown as he took the offering of a drink from Sir Walter's hand. "How long have they been visiting Darcy?"
"A very lengthy fortnight," Darcy sighed.
Sir Walter gave a hearty laugh, "Ah, I am beginning to see clearly." He motioned for Darcy to take a seat. "Take solace in knowing, Darcy, that all us married men have endured our in-laws."
Darcy altered his position in his chair, casually looking away and whispering to himself, "Not like mine, I imagine."
"Shall we get on with the business at hand, Darcy? In a moment I fear our wives will not condone such talk."
"Indeed, sir--for I am very interested to hear what you have to say."
Sir Walter looked at the young man with pride, "Darcy, Lady Downsley and I were very happy when we heard you had finally taken a bride. We felt hope that the good name and honor of Pemberley shall continue." Sir Walter looked melancholy for a moment, "Our heritage will die out when I am gone."
Darcy nodded his head solemnly, for it was true that the Downsleys had no one to carry on their good name. When they were gone, Smythdon Manor would be turned over to some distant relation, or perhaps even sold.
"Before I am departed, I want to see the empire my family built remain within the heritage for which it was destined. I know how your father felt about such things, and I know he instilled that pride in you Darcy."
A smile came to Darcy's face as he heard the compliments of Sir Walter. "I am honored sir, that you should think so highly of myself."
"Not only you--but Mrs. Darcy as well. I approve highly of your choice of wife, Darcy. Like I have said, she does your position credit, and it is apparent that she comes from good breeding." Sir Walter smiled contentedly. "She reminds me of my lovely Martha when we first married. She had such liveliness--she still does!" he chuckled. "Together you will be honorable and just, and your children will carry on your traditions and your fine characters."
Pride welled within Darcy as he thought of his future with Elizabeth. Together they had managed to set a worthy example for the neighborhood in only three months of marriage. Indeed, this was uncommon. He thought how his parents would have been elated to know it, for family pride meant a great deal to Darcys.
"I am offering you the mill, and we shall discuss other options as well at a later date. That is, if you wish it?" Sir Walter inquired with a grin.
"Thank you, sir," Darcy reached out his hand to his elder. "You shall not regret it."
"No, Darcy," Sir Walter nodded his head. "I know I shall not."
When Darcy neared his wife in the drawing room, the beam on his face told Elizabeth that all was well, and that her husband had been made happy. She returned his sentimental smile and was delighted to witness more enthusiasm from him in the company of others than she had ever been privileged to see. She felt she could let her guard down now, and enjoy herself, for she truly liked being in the company of Lady Downsley.
Dinner was announced and everyone moved to the dining room and took their seats. Sir Walter sat at the head of his table, Lady Downsley at the foot. Mrs. Bennet secured a seat to the right of Sir Walter, and the look on her face told her daughter that she was very impressed with this new acquaintance.
"Well Mrs. Bennet," Sir Walter began. "Allow me to congratulate you on having such a lovely and genteel daughter. Darcy was very fortunate to have secured her good opinion!"
"I thank you, sir," Mrs. Bennet tittered. "I have been fortunate to have seen my daughters marry so well. That is always a mother's hope."
"Yes, indeed it is," laughed Sir Walter.
"We were told that Mr. Darcy met your daughter at an assembly in your fine town. Meryton, I believe it is called?" Lady Downsley took up the conversation.
"Ohhh, yes!" Mrs. Bennet replied. "That is where we all came upon our first impressions of Mr. Darcy."
Elizabeth's eyes widened as her mother spoke. She lifted her napkin to her lips and with great feminine delicacy, gave a slight cough to distract her mother's conversation. "Yes, that is correct. That is where I first laid eyes upon my husband. I thought him very handsome." Elizabeth took a loving look in her husband's direction, for her words did have truth to them.
"Indeed!" exclaimed Lady Downsley. "Sir Walter and I met while at a dance. Our parents were very pleased with our acquaintance."
"I can remember not being so pleased as your parents, Lady Downsley. Elizabeth may have thought Mr. Darcy handsome, but you would have been hard pressed to know it! I was quite surprised when she accepted his hand."
"That is where my sister met Mr. Bingley as well," Elizabeth tried to divert her mother. "Mr. Bingley had recently let Netherfield Park in the neighborhood. We were all very glad to know that it was no longer vacant."
"Oh, yes indeed," commented Mrs. Bennet.
Elizabeth took a quick look at Darcy, who thankfully had not paid much attention to the conversations of her mother. He was busy speaking with Mr. Gardiner, and had not overheard anything to make him uneasy. Elizabeth was indeed thankful that their conversation turned from her first acquaintance with Darcy to their present situation.
"We have always found it an honor to be neighbors of the Darcys. Mr. Darcy's parents were good friends, and we dearly miss them." Lady Downsley looked at Elizabeth with great affection. "We are so happy to have the new Mrs. Darcy in the neighborhood. You do the Darcy name great honor my dear."
"Thank you, Lady Downsley," Elizabeth replied, her eyes filled with hope and happiness.
Darcy had overheard the conversation of the ladies that time, and he turned to look at his wife next to him. Elizabeth could see the great look of approval and affection on his face, and her countenance blossomed with joy.
Everyone enjoyed their meal immensely, and for once during the last fortnight, Darcy ate a meal with enthusiasm. He was content, and very pleased with the reception of Elizabeth in his social circle. The Bennets were amazingly civil and courteous, and Darcy thought his life could not change much for the better at the moment. Perhaps he could be proud of his new family. After all, they had bore and nurtured the woman he was so much in love with, this woman who had honored him so by agreeing to share his life.
Sir Walter turned his attentions again to Mrs. Bennet. "I am happy to have the opportunity to know all your daughters, Mrs. Bennet. They are lovely. How fortunate you are to have two daughters so well settled to such fine gentlemen."
Darcy smiled as Mrs. Bennet nodded her head in agreement. "Oh, yes indeed, sir--but I have three daughters wed to fine young men."
The smile on Darcy's face vacated immediately. Elizabeth had neglected to realize that her mother was ignorant still as to the whole truth about George Wickham. She had not thought it to be a subject which would arise in casual conversation. Darcy leaned over to his wife and spoke her name in alarm.
"Mama, were you not saying how lovely you thought Derbyshire to be?" Elizabeth interrupted. "My mother has never been this far north, Sir Walter."
"No, I have not!" Mrs. Bennet looked quizzically at her daughter. "I had been told it was exquisite."
Elizabeth breathed a sigh of relief, and Darcy sat back in his chair not knowing quite what expression must be on his face. Mrs. Bennet nodded to her children with ease.
"You see, Sir Walter, my youngest daughter was the first to marry. She is now Mrs. George Wickham. Perhaps you have heard the name?"
"Wickham--George Wickham," Sir Walter repeated to himself trying to place the name.
Darcy went absolutely pale. His only hope was that Sir Walter would not remember the son of old Mr. Darcy's steward, or his reputation in the neighborhood.
"Wickham!" Lady Downsley exclaimed from the other end of the table. "I am sorry Mrs. Bennet, did you say your youngest daughter is married to Mr. George Wickham? The Mr. George Wickham, of your father's charge, Mr. Darcy?"
"Oh, yes!" Mrs. Bennet exclaimed. "The very one! Do you know of him?"
"Oh, yes of course," Sir Walter recalled with a appalled look in Darcy's direction. "That is quite a coincidence, Darcy."
Darcy had absolutely no response to offer his family's friend. Darcy knew that Wickham's character was somewhat well known in the neighborhood. Wherever George Wickham went, that was usually the case.
"How interesting you should mention a coincidence, Sir Walter," Mrs. Bennet continued through the gallery of mortified looks. "For I believe Lizzy was in love with Mr. Wickham herself, at one time! That is before she turned her attentions to Mr. Darcy."
Darcy sat across from Elizabeth in their carriage. Elizabeth could barely make him out through the darkness, but from his eerie silence she knew of his displeasure. It was apparent that the Downsleys had not been prepared to hear the news that Elizabeth's own sister was married to a man they knew to bear the reputation of a scoundrel. However, when her mother had divulged that Elizabeth at one time harbored feelings for him as well, the room went absolutely mute.
Darcy had barely spoken a word since the revelation, and now here they were, alone in their carriage. Elizabeth thought for sure he would question her about her reported feelings for Wickham, and censure her for her mother's hand in bringing it all forward. Still, Darcy was inclined not to speak for some time.
"Do you know what this means?" he finally whispered about two miles into the trip. Elizabeth did not venture a response. "There is not a prayer for ever merging Pemberley lands with the resources of Smythdon Manor."
Tears welled up in Elizabeth's eyes as Darcy spoke. She knew his disappointment must be great, but somehow she thought he would have been more angry about the confirmation that she had entertained feelings for Wickham at one time, than any business transactions he might have lost.
"The Downsleys are forgiving people, but this goes beyond forgiveness. It is completely reprehensible," he continued, obviously growing in anger and humiliation. He reached a hand to his stomach and took a deep breath.
"Fitzwilliam, surely they would not deny you an opportunity to secure the lands you want. They are fair people."
"They are honorable people, Elizabeth!" Darcy spit out vehemently. "Sir Walter spoke to me of family pride and honor. There is no honor in having a relation who is despised by your peers." Elizabeth heard Darcy growl in disgust before he worked himself up to a yell. "Where is the honor in knowing you took second best in the affections of your wife--to a man who you cannot even look at without abhorrence!?"
Darcy rapped on the ceiling of the carriage. The coach came to a halt and Darcy unlatched the door, and began to climb out.
"Where are you going?" Elizabeth asked on the verge of sobbing.
"I shall walk back home. I am in grave danger of losing what little supper I managed to choke down!" Darcy went to close the door, but before he did he yelled back into the carriage, "Do not wait up for me, Elizabeth!" He slammed the carriage door and tears streamed down Elizabeth's cheeks as she heard Darcy yell to the driver to continue, and the carriage lurched forward.
Elizabeth entered her dressing chamber in a great hurry and Frances attempted to help her change out of her evening gown. Frances tried to get a better glimpse of her mistress's face. It appeared as if she had been weeping, for her eyes were swollen and her body trembled. Frances had seen the mistress in such a state only once during the time she had been her maid. That was the day that the master and mistress had argued a few weeks into their marriage. However, by sunset that eve the lovers had made amends, and all had been restored back to the happiness which Pemberley possessed of late.
It was a difficult situation to be a lady's maid. The position not only required that your mistress's personal needs be attended to, but at times her inner being as well. The trick of it all was not to betray your purpose as confidant and friend. Frances liked the new Mrs. Darcy, and thought that a more gracious mistress was never born. The new wife was young however, and she had much to learn about understanding a husband, especially when that husband was as proud and starched as Mr. Darcy.
"Did you have a pleasant evening, ma'am?" Frances inquired innocently as she unfastened the buttons of Elizabeth's gown.
Elizabeth turned and looked her maid in the eye for the first time that evening. Her face creased into an awful frown, and she began to sob. "No!" she wailed, and made for the basin, grabbing a damp cloth and holding it to her face and neck. "It was wholly dreadful!"
"Oh, dear, dear," Frances chased after her mistress. She took the cloth from Elizabeth and began to dab at her mistress's eyes and cheeks with it. "I did not mean to cause you such distress, ma'am!"
"I know you did not, Frances. It is not any fault of yours," Elizabeth attempted to quiet herself. She was not in the habit of pressing her problems upon the household staff. She had been instructed that a mistress never exhibits the signs of distress or trouble, for how was the lady to command respect, who ended up wailing upon her maid's shoulder.
Elizabeth found this the most difficult part of being mistress of Pemberley. She was not one to hide her heart's will, as was her husband. Frances found this to be the mistress's most endearing distinction. Elizabeth placed her hand against her stomach and tried to take in a breath.
"There now, ma'am. Let me loosen your hair, and when you have washed your face and gotten out of your clothes, you shall feel better." Frances thought a moment about what could cause such an upheaval in her mistress's composure. "Ma'am, are you feeling ill?" she asked with affectionate concern. "Sometimes a woman's sensibilities run away with her, when she is about to discover she is with child."
Elizabeth laughed affably through her tears. "No, Frances--if it were only as joyous as the beginning of a family. My troubles are with the family I already have. I fear they are not very well suited to the temperament of Mr. Darcy."
Frances bowed her head in acknowledgement of the mistress's confession. It did not take a soothsayer to predict that Mr. Darcy would not favor any interference when it came to his attachment with his wife. The master's dependence on the affections of his lady was a common topic of gossip amongst Pemberley's servants. They had always known Mr. Darcy to be somewhat reclusive in nature. He preferred to be alone with his wife, and until now she had been indulgent of his wishes.
"Ma'am," Frances said with hesitation. "It is not my place to say, but..."
"Yes, Frances? You may speak what you will."
"It has been such a long time since the master has had much family of his own. One gets use to doing without, I think."
"Your observations are very true, Frances. Mr. Darcy has had things his way for a very long while." Elizabeth gave her eyes a dab once more, and took in another deep breath. She showed the signs of determination once again. With a decided air, she pronounced, "There comes a time in everyone's life however, when they must give up what is easy for themselves, and do what is necessary for the good of others."
Darcy walked along the damp road, occasionally stepping into a mud puddle, giving his foot a shake, along with the interjection of an angry word or two. He was now nearer to a half mile away from the warmth of his house. He began to regret his decision to escape the carriage and any confrontation he would have had with his wife, and actually thought his actions had been rather foolhardy. Not only was he not attired for such a hike, but the night air seemed to go through him like a bucket of ice water thrown for the sake of rousing a drunkard. It was times such as these that he realized what a nuisance his contumacious nature was.
There was no doubt in his mind either, that he surely had made Elizabeth cry. That was the worst of all of it, knowing he was the cause of distress to her. How many times had it been this way? She always willing to gratify him, he always inclined to find defect. He knew the difference between the two of them was that Elizabeth could see a half a glass of water as being full, and Darcy only saw it as being empty.
He had no idea how he was to make amends for his attitude that evening. He was not even sure why he had to, as he still felt he was the one who had suffered most of the trouble. His face contorted into a scowl as he contemplated the image of Mrs. Bennet, contented in one of his beds, in the comfort of one of his guest rooms, in his warm house. She would surely suffer no penitence if he were to sustain frostbite of a most serious nature. Playing the part of the martyr was beginning to chafe him greatly.
Darcy gave his hat a shove further down on his head, and reached up to close the collar of his greatcoat more securely as the wind whipped against him without mercy. He began to lose sight of why he was so angry. He quite forgot about mills and land, honor and pride. All he wanted was the tenderness of his wife, the warmth of his bed, and perhaps a cup of hot tea and a sandwich.
As he caught sight of Pemberley house from the main road, he stopped. He suddenly remembered that which had been most hurtful during evening. The revelation that Elizabeth had curtained feelings for another man. A man whom Darcy saw nothing redeeming in, whatsoever. It grieved him to think that Elizabeth may have actually loved Wickham, at a time when she had loathed himself. They had talked of that time in their lives before, but Elizabeth had never used the term 'love' in association with the name of George Wickham.
Elizabeth had waited in their bed chambers for over an hour, and still there had been no sign of Darcy. As each minute passed she became more and more frantic, wondering what had become of him. Everyone else had gone to bed, but Elizabeth remained awake, too melancholy to sleep and too fearful for Darcy's safety. She bundled herself up and went into the great hallway. When she got downstairs she checked Darcy's study, but it was dark and unoccupied. She stopped a moment to think where he might be, then she made haste for the kitchen.
"Mrs. Reynolds, Mrs. Beal," she inquired. "Has Mr. Darcy come home yet?"
"No ma'am, he has not been seen as yet," Mrs. Reynolds replied.
Elizabeth became frantic, "Do you think we should send someone out to look for him? He could be hurt, he could have been found by a highwayman and robbed! God knows what has become of him!"
Mrs. Beal wiped her hands on her apron and approached the terrified young wife. "Now, now, nothing dreadful has happened to the master." She looked Elizabeth in the face with a kindly expression that gave Elizabeth hope, and guided her to a chair. "You know he always takes great care."
Mrs. Beal went to the hearth and took the kettle from its place. She filled a teapot and steeped some herbs into it, then gave the mistress a cup. "Thank you," Elizabeth managed to say through her trembling. "Do you have something sweet that I may eat?"
"Men are a stubborn lot, are they not Mrs. Reynolds?" Mrs. Beal proclaimed as she went to fetch a slice of bread and some preserves.
"Indeed, Mrs. Beal, they are at that!" the housekeeper replied with a secret nod of approval to her cohort.
Elizabeth looked up from the study of her teacup. She watched as Mrs. Reynolds sat in front of a block, inspecting and polishing silver spoons. Mrs. Beal had gone back to trimming a joint to roast for the next day. There was something settling about being with these women. Watching them as they unaffectedly went about their duties.
"Has Mr. Darcy always been this unyielding?" Elizabeth asked.
"He has always had his own will, ma'am," Mrs. Reynolds gave a sly grin as she rubbed the metal bowl of the utensil.
Elizabeth's countenance lifted, "Who does he most resemble--his mother or his father?"
The two elder women looked at each other briefly. "He resembles them both," comment Mrs. Beal. "He resembles his father in appearance and carriage, his mother in temperament."
"His mother!" Elizabeth's eyes flew open wide. "I always thought Miss Georgiana was the image of her mother."
"In appearance only, ma'am," Mrs. Reynolds chuckled.
Elizabeth gave a giggle as well as she finished her dessert. "How I wish I could have known them. At least then Mr. Darcy and I would have been on equal terms, each of us having in-laws to contend with."
Darcy crashed through the back entrance of the house, and footmen came running to his service. He peeled off his coat, gloves, and hat, stopping to scour off the mud from his shoes onto the metal boot scrape which served the purpose. He was completely numb, but he had an objective which could not wait. Without so much as a word to the confused footmen, Darcy bolted away and ran up the stairs to his bed chamber. The house was quiet, although he did not take great care to conceal the sound of his footsteps. He opened the door and clattered into the room.
"Elizabeth, I wish to know..." he stopped short when he saw that the bed was not occupied. He took a quick look about the room, but there was no sign of the devoted wife whom he assumed would be there waiting for him.
His immediate thought was that she had been so put out with his bad manners and stubbornness, that she had confined herself to another room. Perhaps she was talking to Mrs. Gardiner or her sisters. No doubt seeking consolation and advice from them on how to handle the misfortune of having a resentful and exacting husband.
How could he have put themselves in this position? He loved Elizabeth with every aspect of his being, yet he had the uncanny talent of pushing her away. He was a wretch, and the pathetic thing about it was that he could admit it.
He started mumbling to himself as he entered his dressing room, slipped off his chilled and dewy clothing, and found something comfortable and warm to wear. He left the muddied clothes in a heap on the floor, and washed his face and hands in the washbowl. When he finished drying his face, he looked in the glass at his reflection.
"What a dolt you are," he grumbled at his image. "Of course she loves you--she married you, not him!"
He turned around, determined to find his wife even if he had to beat on every door in the house, waking the entire household in the process. Something made him turn back again to his reflection.
"If she does love you, why is she not anxious about your well being? Are wives not suppose to wane and worry, even when their men behave badly?" Darcy spun around and made haste again for the bed chamber. His conscience was playing him for a fool, and his mind went along with the sham, for then and there he decided that if Elizabeth was not to sleep in their bed this night, neither would he.
He snatched a blanket from the foot of the bed and a pillow from the chaise, tucked them under his arm and stormed out of the room. When he reached the main level of the house, he sought out the isolation of his study, throwing the blanket and pillow onto the chaise there. He sat down hard upon his makeshift bed and frowned as a boy who had just been chastised for doing something disobedient. He settled it that since he had not been favored to find his loving wife in his warm bed, he would seek out the vision of hot tea and a sandwich which had carried him through a three mile walk.
Elizabeth left the kitchen for a turn about the house. She looked in the direction of Darcy's study but it remained dark. She walked down the hallway and entered the library, in hopes she would find her husband there.
Darcy swiftly left his study and headed down the hallway for the kitchen. He pushed on the door and found Mrs. Beal and Mrs. Reynolds attending to their nightly duties.
"Mr. Darcy, sir!" Mrs. Reynolds exclaimed, then looked at Mrs. Beal with a raise of a brow.
Darcy lifted his hand to silence any further rejoicing at his making it home alive. "Mrs. Beal, will you please make me another one of those sandwiches, and pour me a hot cup of tea." He plopped down at the chair next to the hearth and heaved a sigh as the fire assisted him in thawing out.
Mrs. Beal hurriedly prepared some food for the master, and Mrs. Reynolds poured his tea. Both women could not help but stare at him, as he wolfed down the food placed in front of him, then held out his teacup for seconds.
"Have you seen Mrs. Darcy sir?" Mrs. Reynolds finally worked up the courage to inquire.
"No," he said distinctly even though his mouth was full.
Mrs. Reynolds gave a quick glance at Mrs. Beal and rolled her eyes. Mrs. Beal wrung her hands against her apron and gently shook her head. Both women wished there was more that they could do to satisfy this obvious misunderstanding between the master and mistress. Their place was not to interfere however. The master said nothing as he ate, however he did let an occasional angered growl escape him now and then. When he was finished he got up from the chair and flew back out of the room.
Elizabeth walked down the hallway to her bed chamber again. Perhaps Darcy had come home while she was in the kitchen. She smiled when she knew that must have been the case, and he would be waiting for her. As she passed one of the guest rooms, a door opened and Mrs. Bennet immerged in her nightgown and cap.
"Lizzy!" she called out and Elizabeth turned to her mother.
Elizabeth had not said one word to her mother upon their arrival back at Pemberley from Smythdon Manor. She could not think of anything pleasant to say, so she had held her tongue.
"Lizzy, Your father says your husband must be quite vexed with me! Was I not helpful in obtaining the good opinion of your neighbor?"
"Mama," Elizabeth sighed in frustration. "You do not realize how damaging your words were? I think it time you know exactly who Mr. Wickham is, Mama. He is not revered in this neighborhood, or any other for that matter. He is a scoundrel and a trickster, and Mr. Darcy and I will have nothing to do with him anymore. I was never in love with Mr. Wickham, and I only had sympathetic feelings towards him when I believed he had been wronged by Mr. Darcy. I was completely ignorant of the truth in that instance, and nothing is more genuine than the fact that Mr. Darcy possesses all the goodness, and Mr. Wickham all the cruelty."
Mrs. Bennet wrung her hands together. "Surely Lizzy your husband knows I meant nothing by it!"
"I do not know that for certain Mama, for he has not come home yet."
"He most certainly has, Lizzy!" Mrs. Bennet divulged. "I heard him walking down the hallway not a half hour ago. He has an unmistakable gait."
Elizabeth's eyes widened and she turned around without another word to her mother and ran into her bed chamber. She looked around the room, but did not see Darcy. She ran to his dressing room and rapped on the door. When there was no answer she flung open the door to see the pile of wet and muddy clothing laying on the floor. It was then she realized as she took another look about the room that the pillow from the chaise was missing, and the heavy blanket which had always rested at the foot of their bed.
Elizabeth's cheeks flushed, and with all the pride she could muster she climbed into their bed. Before she turned over to try to get some sleep, she looked at Darcy's pillow resting next to her and very notably gave it a punch. "If it is distance you want--then so be it, Mr. Darcy."
Neither Darcy, nor Elizabeth had gotten much sleep that night. Several times during the night, Darcy was tempted to return to his own bed and make mends with his Elizabeth right then and there, but his stubborn conscience simply would not allow him to do so.
The Bennets, Gardiners and Bingleys were to start out for home that morning after breakfast. Everyone had gathered in the morning room, with the exception of Darcy. Elizabeth managed a smile, even though she was in a dreadful state, and all present in the room could guess that the rift between Elizabeth and Darcy had not yet been repaired.
"Well," huffed Mrs. Bennet. "Is your husband not to take breakfast with us? Does he not know that we shall be leaving soon?"
"I am sure, my dear," said Mr. Bennet. "That he not only knows we are leaving, but awaits it with a blissfulness beyond compare."
Elizabeth blushed and let her napkin fall into her lap, "Papa." She was completely miserable, and Mr. Bennet was indeed sorry to see it.
"Lizzy, if you so wish it, you are welcome to come home with us." Mr. Bennet eyed his daughter for any sign that she was unhappy enough to leave her new home. "Perhaps a little separation will allow the young man to see what it is he has to lose?"
Elizabeth shook her head, "No Papa, I could not be that cruel. I love him, even when we argue, and this is something that a separation cannot repair. In time he will come to see that having a family is more important than having your way."
"Perhaps Mr. Gardiner and I can persuade him of that right now!" Bingley proclaimed, quite vexed with the uncharacteristic behavior of his friend.
Elizabeth smiled, even though the lack of happiness in her eyes betrayed feelings to the contrary. "I thank you all, but we shall handle this in our own way."
The door to the morning room swung open and a hush fell over the room as Darcy dared to grace them with his presence. "Good morning," he said and took a quick look over at his wife, then with colored cheeks turned away. Elizabeth also looked hastily at her husband, then lowered her eyes, not wanting anyone to see the tumult tumbling inside of her, awaiting an escape.
Darcy took his seat at the table, and a servant poured him a cup of coffee, which he drank without hesitation. He looked tired and troubled, but not a soul at the table felt much sorrow for him. Although Mrs. Bennet had been the initial cause of all his grief, what he had done later, he had done to himself, and Darcy appeared to be the only one who could not see it.
Mrs. Bennet began to speak, much to the chagrin of everyone present. "Mr. Darcy, I certainly hope we will see you in Hertfordshire soon."
Darcy cringed at the sound of her voice not to mention her words. "That is a possibility madam,", he heard himself say, although something more along the resemblance of 'when hell freezes over' traveled through his mind. Darcy finished his meal, then stood to take his leave. "I shall say my good-byes here," he said crassly. "I have much to do today and I must go to Smythdon Manor later this morning..." he stopped and sighed "...to see if there is anything to be done."
He walked over to Bingley and shook hands with his friend. "Charles, Mrs. Bingley, I hope you shall have a pleasant trip back." He turned to the Gardiners, "Mrs. And Mrs. Gardiner, it is always a pleasure," and he bowed in a show of true esteem.
"Miss Bennet," he bowed to both Kitty and Mary in turn. "My sincerest wishes for your health and happiness." Darcy turned to his mother-in-law and simply said with a curt bow, "Madam."
He looked at Elizabeth's father, and Mr. Bennet's stare seemed to pierce his soul. "Sir," Darcy said with a sigh. "I hope..." Darcy could not go through with his original thought, for he knew he was bordering on incivility. "I hope you find everything at your own estate has gone well in your absence. If you will excuse me." Darcy gave a final nod of his head to his in-laws and quit the room.
"Goodbye Papa," Elizabeth said giving her father a kiss on his cheek before he got into his carriage.
"It is not too late to change your mind, Lizzy--and come back with us. Your husband could use a little humbling."
Elizabeth shook her head again and smiled.
"Very well then, in the house with you. It is too cold out here to wait until we all get settled into the carriages." Mr. Bennet leaned forward and whispered in his daughter's ear, "And you had better go and set that young man straight."
"Yes, Papa. Indeed I shall."
Elizabeth waved to all her relations. In a way she was sad to see them go, but it was more sentimental than true sadness. Although she was angry she knew that she would truly be unhappy if she were to leave Pemberley, and Darcy. She entered the house and passed the door to his study. She stopped and with a determined countenance knocked loudly.
"What is it?" Darcy's voice rang out.
Elizabeth let herself in and Darcy looked up with a scowl. Upon seeing his wife however, the scowl faded, and he got up from his chair to receive her.
"You could have come out and seen them off," she said, the redness reappearing on her cheeks.
"Elizabeth, please. I am tired and to own the truth, very low. I must find a way to repair the damage that has been done with the Downsleys. I do not need or want your censure at present."
"I do not give a care what you want, Mr. Darcy!" Elizabeth blurted out angrily before she realized what she was doing.
Darcy's eyes flew open wide at what he felt was her impertinence, "I think you do, wife!" He paced behind his desk, then spun around with a growl, "You should care a great deal about what I want, and what I think of your association with other men!"
"My association with other men?!" Elizabeth huffed. "Fitzwilliam know this--that I have never given my heart, my body, or my soul to any other man! Those things belong to you and you alone!"
Darcy folded his arms across his chest and nodded in jealous satisfaction, although he felt in a way he had humiliated himself by doing so. It was strange, but Elizabeth had only confirmed what he really already knew. Still his ego could not help but press him to push his luck a little bit farther.
"'Tis not what your mother says," he spit out childishly.
"Nothing my mother says matters, it is simply idle talk. I thought you knew that?" Elizabeth was not particularly helping matters by taking an attitude of condescension. "Please try to remember it the next time we are in her company."
Darcy gave a laugh, "The next time we are in her company? Elizabeth, I should rather throw myself into a snake pit." He turned around and took a book off the shelf behind him, pretending to be in control of himself.
"You will not accompany me when I visit then?" she fumed.
From lack of sleep, and his abhorrence to be goaded in such a way by anyone, Darcy felt her comment warranted his unconstrained opinion. "Women leave their homes for that of their husbands, Elizabeth. Your duties are here, and you will not have opportunity to visit Longbourn much in the future."
Elizabeth had never heard anything so presumptuous come out of Darcy's mouth since that awful time at Hunsford. She could not believe her ears. "Are you asking me to make a choice between my life here and my family?"
Darcy opened the book and looked down, his back still to his wife. "It was not an inquiry, Elizabeth."
Darcy flipped a few pages of the book, giving Elizabeth a chance to realize that he was wise to the way of things. He had not said anything that in his opinion any other woman did not know as truth. Elizabeth's place was with him now, just as her mother's place was with her father, her Aunt's with her Uncle, and her sister's with Bingley. They all had it on very good authority. Darcy was convinced Elizabeth needed his authority on it to realize its wisdom.
When he received no reply, he assumed his meaning had been heard and accepted. Darcy turned around, a self-satisfied smile on his lips. Now that he and Elizabeth had come to an understanding, they could be done with this whole business of avoiding each other and go back to their comfortable situation.
Darcy was astonished to find that Elizabeth had left him alone in the room. He slammed the book shut and walked out into the hallway, looking both ways and seeing no one. He made his way down in one direction, and he met with Mrs. Reynolds who was coming the other way, with a grave look of concern on her face.
"Mrs. Reynolds, did you see Mrs. Darcy go by?" he asked.
Mrs. Reynolds nodded her head. "Yes, sir," her voice wavered. "She bid me goodbye and got into her father's carriage."
When Darcy recovered from the shock of Mrs. Reynolds' reply he shoved the book into the housekeeper's hands, and began to walk faster and faster towards the front doors. When he reached them, he threw them open with great force and ran down the stone steps. As he rounded the corner, there was not a carriage in sight. He flew down the drive until he caught a glimpse of the tail end of a carriage leaving the grounds.
He turned around and saw a stable hand returning to his duties. "Fetch me a horse--NOW!" he bellowed at the top of his voice.
Darcy was thrown into a frantic state. He had come to the realization that Elizabeth had chosen her family over himself, and as he thought hard about what he had done and said, he really could not blame her. He paced back and forth in the courtyard awaiting the stable hand and a mount, all the while chastising himself for acting in a manner which he had promised himself never to do.
When the stable hand brought the horse, Darcy flung himself atop and sped away as fast as the horse would carry him. His mind whirled as the cold air hit his unprotected face and hands. He had gone beyond good reason this day and succeeded in pushing Elizabeth away from him. Why should he not suffer for it?
Darcy finally caught up to the carriages some five miles down the road. Mr. Bennet opened the shade of his carriage window, to see that his son-in-law had halted their progress. He opened the carriage door, and got out.
"Darcy!" he began in irritation.
"Mr. Bennet!" Darcy interrupted. "I want to see my wife. I know that she is in your carriage."
"You cannot see her, Darcy."
A cloud of steam escaped Darcy's lips as he huffed in irritation, but then his countenance changed abruptly. "Please, sir. I am desperate. I know I have driven Elizabeth away with my conceit and stricture, and I do not blame her for wanting to go--but I cannot do without her!"
Mr. Bennet frowned and shook his head, and Darcy flinched at the reaction. Darcy held his arms out from his sides, pleading with his father-in-law.
"Sir--please!" his voice was anxious and quaking. "Surely I am not beyond a chance to make amends. I am sorry for my conduct during your visit. I offer you no excuses, for there are none worthy enough to give. Plain and simple, I am wretched!"
The hint of a smile came to Mr. Bennet's face. He never thought he would hear such an admission from his proud son-in-law, but he was happy to see that the man had some humility in him, and that his daughter possessed the ability to draw it forth.
"Go home, son." Mr. Bennet placed a hand on Darcy's shoulder. "Give Elizabeth a chance to know that your words are not trifling. She deserves to be in the most blissful of marriages. Perhaps this will serve as your cure, Darcy, and you will realize Elizabeth can not be persuaded to act as a complaisant wife."
Darcy bowed his head. His shoulders were no longer proud and squared as was his usual bearing. There was no hint of conceit on his face, and not a sign of arrogance to his voice as he spoke.
"When will she come home?"
"When she can, I imagine." Mr. Bennet turned to enter his carriage, then looked back. "A man does not own a woman's love, Darcy. He simply struggles to deserve it."
The carriages pulled away, leaving Darcy standing in the mud, in all his desperation. He had never felt so lonely on any other given day. Although he had felt rejected and desolate when Elizabeth had refused his proposal at Hunsford, he had not known what it was to miss her. Now that they had lived together and she had gone, it was the most devastating loss he had ever suffered in his life.
He walked along the muddied road, his horse following behind him. He was numb, but not from the cold this time, and for the first time in Fitzwilliam Darcy's life, thinking, manipulating, or purchasing his way out of a situation was not an option. There was nothing else to do than to allow Elizabeth time to make her choice, and to pray that she could find it in her heart to forgive him once more.
About a quarter-mile down the road, Darcy came to the turnoff leading to Smythdon Manor. He swallowed hard and wiped his dewy eyes as he turned off in the direction of a wiser man's empire.
Thanks to all for your wonderful comments. I enjoyed all the speculation and I do believe someone actually guessed the outcome! I hope it's satisfactory to all! :-) ~Lou
"Darcy!" Sir Walter exclaimed upon seeing his young friend in his drawing room. "You look dreadful! Sit down, sit down."
Darcy shook his head, his voice hoarse and foreboding, "No, thank you."
"Well then, to what do I owe this pleasure?" Sir Walter inquired out of curiosity. "Are you quite well, Darcy?"
"Sir, I came to tell you that I shall not regret your decision to keep the mill," Darcy pursed his lips. "It is of no importance to me anymore."
"What?" grumbled Sir Walter. "Darcy, do you think I have changed my mind?" Sir Walter watched as Darcy finally lowered himself onto the proffered chair. The younger man cast his eyes to the hands he had folded in his lap, and dared not look at the elder gentleman, then nodded solemnly.
Sir Walter began to laugh, "I think this has everything to do with your in-laws, Darcy--and the unfortunate fact that George Wickham is now your brother-in-law."
Darcy grimaced as Sir Walter mocked his plight. "It does not matter," Darcy insisted.
"Indeed it does not, Darcy!" Sir Walter chuckled again, and Darcy raised his eyes to look the man in the face. "Let me tell you something young man. When a man chooses a wife, unfortunately the in-laws come with the package, and there is nothing to be done about it! I actually found your wife's family to be quite amusing, and not at all unpleasant." Sir Walter shook his head in wonder, "You should have seen mine!"
Sir Walter was indeed merry at poor Darcy's expense. At another time, Darcy would have taken great offence to being the victim of such a joke, but there was no point in wasting the effort. Sir Walter calmed himself, as his friend did not seem to improve in spirits.
"You never lost the rights to the mill. It is your integrity which prompted me to offer it to you, not that of your in-laws nor anyone else, except perhaps the honesty and credit of your wife." Sir Walter studied the melancholy of his young friend and mused, "There is more to this though, I think. I see a man marked with jealousy in front of me, Darcy."
Darcy gave Sir Walter his most serious glare. It was a ruse which served as Darcy's greatest defense against anyone delving too deep within his character. Fortunately, it had no effect on Sir Walter, for that man considered himself too old for such devices.
With a wave of his hand in dismissal, Sir Walter struck a final blow. "You had better resign yourself to what everyone else knows--that your wife only has eyes for you. If you do not, you will not only be a jealous lover, Darcy--but quite a lonely one as well."
Darcy stood up and appeared as though he would walk out of the room in a second. He moved to the window however, and leaned against the casement, running his hand numbly across his face. "I know how it feels," his voice fractured. "My wife went back to Hertfordshire with her family this morning. She had every right to go, for the integrity you believe me to possess includes those qualities not worth having in a husband."
Darcy turned back to Sir Walter, "You do see a jealous man in your midst, sir. Jealous of her family, her meaningless past acquaintance with another man--jealous even of the ease she possesses with others, that I do not."
"Do you think that is what a marriage is about, Darcy?" the elderly man gave comment. "It is not wise to be envious of your wife's good spirit, but a good marriage means to revere her character, and to encourage her goodness. I believe your wife knows her role in your marriage. Is she not admirable of your decency? Does she not invite you to be a better man?"
Darcy winced as if Sir Walter's words were killing him, and he trembled as he spoke in haste. "With every thought and every breath I pray she will come back home to me."
Darcy turned to leave but Sir Walter stopped him with a hand to Darcy's cuff. "Are you not going after her, Darcy?"
"I already have. I stopped her father's carriage down the road from here, but he insisted she could not see me." Darcy's eyes misted over, "I always wanted an uncommon marriage, one brought forth in love and honor. I get the same feeling even now when I see her, as I had the first time our eyes met--that this can be good and true. Now all of a sudden things do not seem clear, and I do not know what to do to make right the things I have done wrong." Darcy bolted for the door. "Forgive me, Sir Walter," he called out as he quit the room in a great hurry.
Sir Walter leaned against his desk and sighed, truly sorry for the misfortunes of his young friend. "That man suffers as most husbands do when they realize that things cannot always be their way. After all these years I can still remember the feeling."
The old man looked melancholy, then in quite a turn of countenance he grasped at his chin and let out a chuckle. The kind of chuckle as a father might exhibit after witnessing the lesson of a disobedient son.
"There is no denying that he loves you a great deal, my dear."
Lady Downsley pushed on the door, letting herself into the drawing room, one arm through Elizabeth's. "Indeed, dear Elizabeth. It does appears advantageous to his lesson that your father led him to believe you are on your way back to Hertfordshire."
"I never sought to hurt him," Elizabeth lamented. "I only required a way here to ask you to reconsider on his behalf. I fear he does believe that I have left him."
"Do not deny him the pain he feels just yet, my dear," Sir Walter acknowledged. "It serves to remind him what he has held dearest to him, and what he thinks is gone."
Some time later Elizabeth returned to Pemberley. She walked through the servants entrance into the kitchen. Mrs. Reynolds and Mrs. Beal turned with happy expressions and curtsied to her.
'Ma'am!" Mrs. Beal said. "It is very good to see you home."
"Thank you, Mrs. Beal. It is very good to be home. I thought perhaps Mr. Darcy would be here, but I see he is not." Elizabeth headed for the entrance to the house, but as she passed Pemberley's housekeeper, she turned and smiled. "Mrs. Reynolds, I do believe you forgot the tell Mr. Darcy all that I said when I left the house this morning. He seems to have gotten the impression that I left this house for good."
"Yes, ma'am," Mrs. Reynolds answered her mistress, a blush upon her cheeks. Mrs. Beal could not help but laugh at what she heard. "I believe, ma'am," Mrs. Reynolds continued, "You will find Mr. Darcy in the library, sitting in front of the fire--in quite a frightful state. I have not seen him behave so..." Mrs. Reynolds grinned "...since a certain Miss Elizabeth Bennet left the county last summer."
Elizabeth returned the housekeeper's smile with an affectionate nod, "Thank you, Mrs. Reynolds--for everything."
Darcy was indeed sitting in the library, slouched back in a chair. He had his feet sprawled out on the footstool in front of him, but he was not reading. He was not doing anything, but thinking about his wife. He had dished out enough self-reproach in the span of an afternoon to make his head ache and his eyes bloodshot, and was now occupied in his unmitigated grief.
He really had never known how to handle a woman, and Elizabeth was no common woman by any means. He recalled the first time he had ever seen her. Even though he had expressed otherwise at the time, he had thought her handsome; and it was only his own absurd pride which kept her from him. It was not until the next time he saw her, and he discovered those eyes which danced while she amused others, did he wish to have their good opinion aimed at himself. He found eventually that those eyes enveloped him, but their lashes could slash him like daggers. Eventually he would see his own reflection in her eyes, and the likeness would be worthy.
Now that he knew her, he could see that their best times were when they were together, whether or not they were in the presence of others. He still longed for solitude with her, but he was sure now that if she wished it, he would fill Pemberley to the brink with people to provide her comfort. He remembered the sound of her laugh, the scent of her skin, the feel of the kisses he knew were kept only for him.
"You are so beautiful, Elizabeth. So forgiving, so fine a woman as was ever born." Darcy closed his eyes as he whispered, and in his mind he could see Elizabeth's beloved figure. "I remember everything about the first time we touched. I can hear your voice in my ear, assuring me of your devotion to make me a better man."
His legs slipped off the footstool and he sat forward in his chair, staring into the roaring fire. He heaved a sigh of utter helplessness, "Please forgive my foolishness and come home."
Elizabeth poked her head around the doorway. She could see Darcy watching the fire, and she heard his words and saw his despair. To think that he had acted in such a manner last summer, when she had left the inn at Lambton with her Aunt and Uncle. She marveled at her foolishness, that she had ever believed he had not cared for her at all.
"My good qualities, sir, are under your protection, and you are to exaggerate them as much as possible."
Darcy eyes widened at the sound and remembrance of just such a phrase, and he flew out of his chair and turned around to find Elizabeth standing behind him.
"And in return, it belongs to me to find occasions for teasing and quarrelling with you as often as may be."
Darcy had a curious look about his face, and he thought perhaps he would fall to his knees to beg. "I am at your mercy!", he made an impassioned plea and held out his arms in a gesture of peace. The feelings he had the first time their eyes met had returned with a vengeance. "Tell me you are home to stay!"
Elizabeth smiled, "I never left you to return to Hertfordshire. Forgive my father for misleading you, but when you stopped them, I was not even in the carriage." Darcy shook his head, not understanding her meaning. "My father had taken me to Smythdon Manor at my request. I went to ask the Downsley's to reconsider, and to give you the mill. Even though my family and I could never live up to the honor of you and yours." Elizabeth faintly looked down for a moment, "I was there when you spoke to Sir Walter."
"You never intended to leave?" Darcy asked in wonder.
"I could never stop loving you enough to do that, Fitzwilliam. Our marriage cannot be that fragile. Can you not see how much you mean to me?"
Darcy began to laugh, but in no time at all Elizabeth could not tell whether he was laughing or weeping. She went to comfort him, and he wrapped his arms around her and would not let her go.
"Elizabeth, you are the most honorable woman that was ever made for a man--for this man."
She looked up and kissed him, "Do not forget it, Mr. Darcy."
Later that evening, the newlyweds sat in front of the hearth in their bed chamber. The roaring fire kept them comfortably warm, and strangely enough Darcy was sitting of all places on the floor, his arms about Elizabeth who was nestled in front of him. It took time to repair a lover's trust, and the adoring husband and devoted wife were in no disposition to rush things along.
Darcy pressed his cheek against his wife's, his breath slow and steady against her chin. He had been given the means to truly call himself a married man this day. A man so consumed with preserving his bond with a woman that he would grovel in the mud for her, whether or not it was grossly against his nature to do anything of the kind. He would have given up his empire for her, he would have forfeit everything. Although he never told Elizabeth how he had behaved in front of her father, she knew it in her heart that he had demonstrated his remorse.
He dared to slowly kiss her cheek, her brow. "Elizabeth," Darcy finally whispered. "About your parents, and my sorry behavior..."
Elizabeth turned around and held Darcy's face, pulling him to her in a kiss to silence him. "No more," she sighed. "No more words, no more in-laws, no more separation."
For the first time that day Elizabeth saw her husband give a genuine smile. "No more misunderstandings, no more jealousy, I swear it," he said in completion.
The lovers sat on the floor in front of the warmth of the fire for a very long while, simply looking at each other, as if they had never met before. This time around, it was love for them both, the very first time their eyes met. They would always remember the events, and the people who had served as the remedy in bringing forth the repair of an extraordinary marriage. Extraordinary at least in the eyes of the two people who mattered the most.
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