The Measure of a Marriage
Some for strength of love are noted, Who are really so devoted, That whene'er their wives are absent, They are lonesome and forlorn. And while now and then you'll find one, Who's a fairly good and kind one, Yet the perfect angelic husband, Well he's never yet been born.
So the woman who is mated, To the man who may be rated, Such as pretty fair should cherish, Him forever and a day. For the real angelic creature, Perfect quite in every feature, He has never been discovered, No, he won't be so they say!
~ From the song 'The Perfect Husband', words by RH Randall
It was no surprising achievement to her friends that the former Miss Elizabeth Bennet had caught the fancy of such a venerable man as Mr. Darcy of Derbyshire. Every gentleman chooses whether to marry at some time in his life. If Mr. Darcy chose to fall hopelessly in love with such a spirited girl, it could not truly be so unusual of his own character, however folks were not so convinced that Mr. Darcy was deserving of such a prize. Everyone who knew her, also knew that young Mrs. Darcy had a mind of her own, and they wondered how kindly her proud husband would take to her determination and will.
Now that they were pleased with each other's love and devotion, the time came for Mr. And Mrs. Darcy to settle into their married lives. Many women were wed at the age of one and twenty. Sometimes behaving as a wife was a thing of curiosity to one so unseasoned at it, and to any impressionable young woman there were times it could turn into an occupation of vexation and grief.
Elizabeth had gone from her father's house to that of her husband, and although she had been an exemplary daughter, she had really had no model at home of how to be the perfect wife. She thought she had been blessed with the perfect husband, however Mr. Darcy would always be a proud man, with his own indelible will, and his own definite ideas of propriety.
"My dear Elizabeth," Mrs. Edward Gardiner, Elizabeth's dearest aunt spoke. "Or shall I say, my dear Mrs. Darcy."
"Aunt," Elizabeth sighed in good humor. "It would be a comfort to be called by my own name by someone other than my husband, and somewhere other than behind closed doors."
Mrs. Gardiner smiled discreetly, for it had not been all that long ago since she had gone from maiden to matron in a dependably stuffy society. "I am happy for a visit from you, my dear. Sit with me, and tell me all your news."
Elizabeth's eyes alighted at the prospect of chatting with someone she knew would never betray her confidences. "I think there is not much news to tell, aunt--more than the revelation that I am still hopelessly in love, and that I continue to believe the moon and stars revolve around one handsome gentleman whom I now call husband."
Mrs. Gardiner giggled at the candor and playfulness of her favorite niece. "I see that marriage to the man has not hindered your gift for exuberance, Elizabeth. Tell me, what occupies our nephew, while his other half is out calling on her relatives?"
Elizabeth cast her eyes to the sky, her dimples deepening in her cheeks for what mysteries she had to disclose about her husband's character. "He departs twice weekly for noble discourse with his own relations at precisely eleven. At the stroke of one he is off to partake of a little sport against a chivalrous foe, of whom he is known to boast of besting at three o'clock sharp to his friends having afternoon refreshment at a preferred libation establishment. At exactly five he steps into the foyer of our townhouse with a lofty grin, an offering of hothouse flowers to yours truly, and the words 'where is my wife?', after which he dresses for dinner, and is in the dining room and seated by my side by the time the clock strikes seven." Elizabeth could hold back her laughter no longer. "I can set the parlor clock by him!"
Mrs. Gardiner had to laugh as well, and she reminded Elizabeth that her own excellent husband possessed much of the same diligence when it came to keeping a schedule. "Husbands are very much like that, my dear," Mrs. Gardiner admitted. "What would we do if we could not depend upon them to be such creatures of habit? How should we as wives ever know them--and how should we ever keep them?"
"Keep them, Aunt?" Elizabeth rolled her eyes in amused wonder as she took a sip of tea which her aunt poured out for her. "Is that the measure of a marriage? A husband is to please and a wife is to appease?"
Mrs. Gardiner chose to remain silent on that subject. "Do not mistake me, aunt," Elizabeth continued. "I believe where my husband's happiness is concerned, there is nothing I would deny him."
She stopped in introspection, twisting her lips tightly, "There is one thing however. I believe if he were agreeable to it, he would be the perfect husband."
Mrs. Gardiner was indeed curious as to what her niece would disclose. For she had yet to find a woman claiming to have the perfect husband.
"I suppose I did not bargain on trading my life so completely for his," Elizabeth confessed.
Mrs. Gardiner's face showed concern, "You are not unhappy as a wife, Elizabeth?"
"Oh, not at all!" Elizabeth quickly replied with a resolute shake of her head and a reassuring grasp of her aunt's hand across the divan. "Being a wife has many rewards!"
After a brief pause, Elizabeth went on a little less carefree. "It is only that I think it equitable that if he should have time with his own friends, that I should have time with mine."
As Elizabeth said this, her tone of voice resonated in more of a question than in comment. Had Mrs. Gardiner missed this inflection however, she would surely have caught on by the ever noticeable arch of her niece's brow while awaiting a reply. Mrs. Gardiner simply covered Elizabeth's hand with her own, giving it a pat.
"We spend so much of each day together, that I find the solitude during his outings more than I can bare." The impish smile which usually graced Elizabeth's features dimmed to indifference. "I find that I miss moments with friends, aunt. I want to shop with someone who is not always checking their timepiece and shifting positions nervously if I happen to scrutinize linen stays or stop to look at any other unmentionable. I miss laughing impulsively and behaving nonsensical now and then--for as much as he possesses a keen wit, Fitzwilliam Darcy does not own a countenance which is known to overflow with mirth."
Mrs. Gardiner sat back in her chair, biting her lip in a gesture of apprehension by what her independent young niece was proposing. Although Elizabeth's declaration did not sound at all unreasonable, Mrs. Gardiner knew from years of experience that husbands were not always agreeable to such willful exhibitions of principled reason.
"There is a group of wives amongst Fitzwilliam's London acquaintances, whom I feel at ease with at balls and parties. What would you think if I were to extend an invitation to them, for Friday next? Do you think it possible aunt, that they would want to spend an hour or two in my society?"
"I think it a splendid idea, Elizabeth," Mrs. Gardiner sighed out. "Who would not want to be in your company? But you must be sure that your husband has no objection to it. He is not exactly a man whom I find would be easy upon coming home with his handful of blossoms, cavalier grin, and expectations of solitude with his wife, only to find his townhouse inundated by a bevy of silly and giggling females."
Elizabeth placed a hand over her mouth to smother her amusement at the thought, "No indeed, I would not subject him to such agony unless I were sure he were first agreeable." Elizabeth sat back in her own chair and gazed fondly at her aunt. "Will you come also? You are so dear to me aunt, and I should like to know for sure that there is one person who will not fault me my humble beginnings."
Mrs. Gardiner slowly shook her head, "No my dear--it is not what you seek to have your doting aunt by your side. You must make your own impression as a gentleman's wife to those whom you wish to call your friends."
Elizabeth drew in a deep breath, for she began to have second thoughts about the prospect of serving as hostess to those who were sure to be discriminating. There was nothing more troubling than the possibility of her husband finding her behavior as a gentleman's wife lacking. With a polite smile upon her face, and determination she mustered from deep within, she nodded agreeably and let go her grasp on her aunt's hand.
Not surprisingly, dinner was served that evening precisely at seven. Darcy had taken his seat at the table, only to be commanded far more by the alluring nearness of his wife than by the victuals in front of him. If there was anything more gratifying to a young husband than spending a few hours in the company of one's friends, it was coming home to find that you had longed for your wife most desperately while separated, and hoping that the feeling was reciprocated.
"Did you call on your aunt?" he inquired.
"Yes, I did," Elizabeth was quick to admit.
"Hmm," Darcy nodded favorably, awaiting more of an account of Elizabeth's visit to her relations, than he was to receive. He took a bite of his food, and chewed it leisurely as he looked curiously to his wife. "Are you to leave it at that, my love? I would be happy to hear more of your day, if you are willing to disclose it." With the appearance of a brazen grin and humor in his voice to tease his spirited wife, he added, "Thus we shall have all the details out between us, and save our silence for later--when words are not so necessary."
Elizabeth blushed agreeably at her husband's confident expectations and twinkling eyes. It may have been that Darcy spent very little of his time in open exhibitions of jollity, however he did tend to sport himself in a droll manner which made Elizabeth wish to continue the conversation. "My aunt is very well, and we had a very good talk--about you."
"Me?" Darcy's dimpled grin and crimson cheeks made Elizabeth smile broader. He mumbled very quickly, as if hoping Elizabeth would not hear, "I do hope it was talk of a flattering nature, and that I am not in a bad spot for some matrimonial blunder which I have neglected to realize."
"The very best kind," she admitted with an approving smile, and his conscience eased. "She asked where you were today, and I told her of your schedule. She thought it sounded much like a splendid day."
"It was not bad," Darcy affirmed before consuming another bite of his meal. "Although," he pondered aloud, "the fellowship I so enjoyed last year at this time with my acquaintances, I now find to be somewhat--tedious."
"How so, husband?" Elizabeth whispered bashfully, as she caught the figure of a servant enter the room out of the corner of her eye.
Without a care for the unwelcome presence of a third wheel, Darcy leaned back against his chair and lifted the napkin to his lips. "I find I prefer your company to that of anyone else, Elizabeth," he said in the utmost honesty. "Is a man really suppose to be so in love with his wife, that six hours of separation feels more like six days?"
Darcy's infatuation with his wife was evident by the way his moonstruck gaze was transfixed on her, and Elizabeth was wholly glowing by the attentions of her husband. Of course this sort of insipid display is indigenous to newly-wedded bliss, and the faithful servant standing in the corner of the room had been instructed by his superior to simply ignore any such exhibits between the master and his lady, for they would surely cease with time.
With her husband's compliment to her credit, Elizabeth decided it prudent to try her hand with a request. "Fitzwilliam," she said sweetly. "On Friday next, might I extend an invitation to some ladies in town, to come for tea while you are gone?"
"Of course, have your aunt call on you. By all means."
"No, dearest--I meant to invite Mrs. Henry, Mrs. Montgomery, and Mrs. Burns."
Darcy was astonished by Elizabeth's request to entertain the wives of his friends. He was not sure why it affected him so, only that he had not been prepared for her to wish to mingle so readily in the society which he knew she had once had very little patience for. He was absurdly silent as he contemplated any sort of reason why he should object, and when he could not think of one, he said, "I suppose if you wish it--send out your invitations."
In her excitement, Elizabeth reached over, and grasping her husbands cheeks, kissed him squarely. "I will write them out tonight!"
Darcy blushed solely for the presence of the servant in the room, but he smiled affectionately at Elizabeth's provincial innocence, and as delicately as he could he reached out a hand and placed it over her own. "No my dear. Write out your invitation, and Stevens will take it to the engraver first thing in the morning. When the cards are ready, you may have him deliver them to whomever you wish, and they will send their replies."
Elizabeth's eyes widened at her mistake. "I am so coarse," she hissed of herself. "I shall never get this right."
"I hardly think so," Darcy chortled. "I find everything about you irresistibly charming. I did marry the perfect wife, you know."
Elizabeth's confidence in London society grew a little stronger with each appearance she made by her husband's side. She had always loved a dance, and if a night out at Almack's Assembly Rooms did anything for her enjoyment, it was to watch the people during the quadrille and the spectacle it afforded her. Darcy, on the other hand, was inclined to tolerate it for Elizabeth's sake, although he never expressed it in so many words.
Darcy's careful eye was always set upon his wife, no matter where he was perched within the room. Occasionally, he consented to her taking a turn on the dance floor with an admiring gentleman, although deep down in his soul he was far more likely to be agreeable if the gentlemen were perhaps twenty years older than himself. With his friends, he was a little more generous, and he even danced once or twice with their wives, however not without relentless prodding on Elizabeth's part.
The Darcys had been out on such an evening perhaps five times since they had been residing in town. It was always the case as they dressed beforehand, that Darcy would stand in front of the looking glass in their bedchamber, scrutinizing the knot of his necktie with a pout and grumble.
"Do you really want to go out tonight, my love?"
"Yes, dear," Elizabeth replied. "Surely you are not so very opposed to it?"
"No, not at all!" Darcy turned away from the glass, silently admonishing himself for his indifference to mingling in society. "I am not opposed to the world seeing what a splendid woman I have married. It is only that my idea of a fine time is to remain at home with you, curled up by the fire, and listening to your sweet voice as you read to me, on a cushion right here in our room."
As Elizabeth also considered this a fine time, she entertained thoughts of returning to an attire infinitely more comfortable, but she was determined that exposure to such galas of society would only do her a world of good given her present situation. Being a woman of her own will, she was inclined to speak up.
"Fitzwilliam, I wish for you to have pride in me. Country assemblies I fear are in no way good enough instruction in the etiquette of London society. I have much to learn about behaving as a gentleman's wife, and there is much to alter in a girl who likes to throw sticks for a pet dog to fetch, and muddies her skirts over hill and dale."
"This does not sound like the woman I married, at all." Darcy walked across the room toward her, so as not to raise his voice. "Elizabeth, who ever said I am not proud of you? Do you think it because you are not so knowledgeable in the practices of sending an invitation for tea?"
"That is only one instance which confirms in my mind that I am remiss." With a flush of her cheeks, Elizabeth cast her eyes away from her husband's gaze. "Fitzwilliam, I never again wish to hear the likes of Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst declaring that I am not worthy of a husband such as yourself."
"I shall not listen to another word of this," Darcy's exasperation elevated. "I chose to marry a woman who was not afraid to know her own will, and it was she who convinced me that if that lovely young woman's character is not good enough in society--well, then every objector be hanged."
Elizabeth did not quite know what had come over her. She had heard her husband's conviction as truth for it had once been her own, but something made her want to know what it was like to fit in, for it had been her own decision to choose this sort of life. Darcy leaned over and kissed his wife's lips, sorry for his temperamental reprimand. "Let us go then," he whispered, "It is late enough as it is, and my patience for society is wearing quite thin."
It was at a ball the likes of which had been mentioned before, that Elizabeth had first made the acquaintances of the wives of Darcy's friends. Mrs. Thomas Henry, Martha to her friends, was a woman of good birth, although not unkind. She had been married for two years and was completely devoted to her good husband, and Elizabeth had felt the most comfortable in their company.
Mrs. Albert Montgomery, or Molly as her husband referred to her, was in fact a saucy young woman. There was no end to her flirtatious manner with men, married or not. Her husband of almost two years was rather indifferent to all of this, and Elizabeth thought perhaps Molly behaved so to command his attention, more than anything else. Elizabeth was disposed to think her harmless, although she never really felt at ease when Molly was too near to Darcy.
Mrs. Stephen Burns, Anne to most, was a timid young woman, a girl really, who spent much time hiding behind her husband's coattails. Her family had insisted upon her accepting Mr. Burns' offer of marriage, even though it was obvious that she had not been ready to do so. On many occasions, Elizabeth had tried to strike up a conversation, only to succeed in drawing forth a minimal response from Anne. Mr. Burns, who had married the young woman only a year before, had told Darcy on one occasion that it would be good practice for Anne to be with Elizabeth more often, for perhaps Darcy's wife could succeed in drawing Mrs. Burns out from under her social shell.
"Mrs. Darcy!" Molly Montgomery called out at seeing her new friend enter the assembly room. After greeting Elizabeth with a peck to the cheek steeped in affectation, she turned around and disdainfully dipped a curtsey, "Mr. Darcy."
"Mrs. Montgomery," Darcy bowed, adding a bit of a flourish of his own in ridicule of the woman's snobbish enthusiasm. This did not go unnoticed by Elizabeth, and she drew her lips together in disapprobation of his teasing, however insincere she was in doing so.
"My husband stands over by the refreshment table, locked in conversation with his friends. It is where all the married men prefer to congregate at these assemblies, and I am sure there is a place reserved especially for you, Mr. Darcy."
Darcy smiled at the wife of his acquaintance, "It is very kind of you to worry so about my comfort, madam. However, I think I shall dance with my wife."
Elizabeth smiled her favor, but Molly Montgomery gave a quick pout. "It is my experience that husbands prefer conversation with others of their situation to terpsichorean delights with their wives, sir."
"Then you are extremely inexperienced," Darcy grinned from ear to ear, as he led his wife to the floor.
Once they had begun to dance, Elizabeth whispered, "You really should not torment her so, Fitzwilliam. I must have some friends and I know they have more feelings for their husbands than they betray."
"Is that so?" Darcy rolled his eyes as he passed by his wife's figure during the dance.
"Yes," she replied.
Darcy looked his wife straight in her expressive eyes, "Tell me--why did you marry me?"
For a moment, Elizabeth was astonished by Darcy's impertinent question, until she was able to compose herself and boast with conviction, "Because once I saw your true self, I liked what I saw--and I loved you." Then with a gleam to those eyes, she continued, "Only then did I think you would make the perfect husband."
Darcy's grin broadened, and as he danced, he dared to go one step farther. "And my money--did you marry me for my money?"
Elizabeth momentarily lost her count in the set and stopped to glare at him under heavy lashes. "I beg your pardon?"
"That is why those ladies married their husbands," Darcy said as his smile faded. "To them, ten thousand a year was what made the perfect husband. I doubt there was very much love to it at all."
"Not so in our case, Mr. Darcy," Elizabeth breathed out, annoyed at his frankness.
Darcy plucked Elizabeth out of the line and to the side of the room. "I am very glad to hear it," he said in a breathless voice, more out of admiration and desire, than from the exercise of the dance. "If you had accepted me for of my money, I would not have loved you any less. But being able to see devotion and affection in your eyes when you look at me, makes our life together all the more valuable."
Elizabeth gazed at him very much like a woman deep in love, although one who realized that perhaps her trust had just been tested. Her expression however was fleeting, for in another instance she quickly declared, "I remember now, that I married you to please my mother."
Although her impertinence made Darcy practically laugh aloud, he set his jaw to prevent it and replied, "You have me there, Madam."
Darcy spent the next hour observing his wife as she mingled with her new found friends. He was pleased that she was making the sort of impression of which she had sought to, but it left him feeling solitary and awkward, and he had no desire to see his Elizabeth altered in the ways of pretentious society. He decided to join the other husbands near the refreshment table, although in a way it vexed him to resemble the relenting spouse, the picture of which Mrs. Montgomery had so vividly painted for him earlier that evening.
"Darcy," Thomas Henry said upon seeing his friend. "It is about time you joined us."
With a sigh, Darcy replied, "Do you not dance with your wives, gentlemen?"
The three men stared at the young husband in dumb wonder. "Are you fond of dancing, Darcy?" Mr. Montgomery inquired in a haughtiness much resembling his wife's. Montgomery was more of an acquaintance to Darcy than a friend, for Darcy was not sure he trusted the man's manner. He grimaced at Montgomery's question, but offered no other reply. "There you have it--dancing to a man is merely a ruse for luring a bride. Now that the bride has been caught, we simply have no need for it."
"I suppose," Darcy laughed along with the others. "I would think it so as a general rule, but what about preserving that bride's happiness? If she so desires to dance, then what harm does it do to dance with her."
Mr. Montgomery swirled his aperitif within the glass, conjuring up the wisdom he felt only he possessed. "Only a truly unenlightened woman would need to be kept entertained, Darcy. Is it not enough that we keep them steeped in the luxury in which they are accustomed?"
"I believe not," Darcy replied with a snort of disagreement.
Mr. Montgomery raised a brow, then spoke unkindly, "I forget myself, sir. You did not have the advantage of a wife's dowry to enhance your fortune, for I hear your lady did not come to your house with one."
"Some things transcend wealth, Montgomery. Perhaps it should become the fashion for a man to marry because his heart tells him to. Besides, I find the simple fact that you are here, to be proof of your eagerness to appease your wife."
Montgomery glared at Darcy for a moment, then with a courtly bow, made his excuses and left the group. Mr. Burns startled Darcy, "Do not pay heed to Montgomery and his views. You would be in a sorry state yourself Darcy, if your wife were like his own. There are those who would call him a cuckold."
Facetiously Darcy replied, "Perhaps he should have chosen his wife as if he would have chosen a living or made an investment--or had he made a wager on a pony at Ascot and won her fair and square."
"I believe, Darcy," Thomas Henry said with a grin and a wink. "That is exactly how he got her."
Darcy was strangely quiescent the rest of the evening. He allowed Elizabeth time with her friends, but he paced about the room taking in every aspect of every character whom he happened to pass, and showing nothing more on his features than abhorrence at what he saw. When he had finally withstood more that he thought possible, he passed by his wife and whispered in her ear. "Come with me."
He slid his arm through hers and whisked her through the room, and out the doors to an airy court. Elizabeth had kept up well with Darcy's expeditious pace, and when he stopped, she stopped just short of running into his chest. He reached out and put his hands on either side of her shoulders, his face halfway concealed by the darkness, and he asked abruptly, "Do you really want to form a friendship with these women, Elizabeth?"
"You are friends with their husbands, Fitzwilliam. Is there some reason I should not be friends with their wives?"
Darcy pressed his lips together in disapprobation. "Do you not think them snobbish and patronizing--and a few adjunctive qualities which I hesitate to mention? Although I call their husbands my friends, I dare say I have never witnessed sorrier men to call themselves husbands!"
It was probably a good thing that the night was dark, for Darcy missed the widening of Elizabeth's eyes in wonder at his statement. Truly Mr. Darcy had changed since his marriage, and had Elizabeth thought that her husband would have been amiable to her teasing him about it, she would have jumped on the chance. He did appear to be quite vexed, and her novice, but good sense as a wife, told Elizabeth to let the opportunity pass by.
"It is only tea, Fitzwilliam. I promise I will not be drawn into their ways," she assured him, although with hidden amusement. "I promise I shall not hide behind you like Anne Burns, or flirt openly with other men like Molly Montgomery."
"I certainly hope not, Elizabeth," Darcy growled in his bad humor. "I should have to put you over my knee, were that the case. There are some things I believe would not bide well with me, and I know that would be one of them."
Elizabeth's cheeks flushed at Darcy's lecture, but she moved closer to her husband, and slid her arms through his in an embrace, in hopes it would please him, and calm him. He took an opportunity away from his vexation, to place a tender kiss on her forehead.
"I should never treat you with such disrespect," Elizabeth admitted honestly. "Do you not trust me enough to know that?"
"A wife should not make her husband look like a fool. Your innocence is beyond anything these women have to offer their own husbands, Elizabeth," Darcy replied hastily.
It was difficult for Elizabeth to understand Darcy's meaning. Although he meant it in its purest form as a compliment to her good character, Elizabeth thought perhaps he desired to keep her willfully ignorant. What she had been struggling with since coming to London as Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy, was her discomfort at feeling so unrefined next to the reputation of her husband.
There were times when it was difficult for Elizabeth to know what Darcy expected of her, and what he would demand of her when he introduced her as his wife. At the moment Darcy did not even seem to like his own friends, much less hers. However, Elizabeth felt as if the trust Darcy had always placed in her was gone, and to Elizabeth the measure of her marriage would always be based on trust.
On Sundays, the Darcys chose to walk through the park to church services. It was an easy and pleasant time for them both, to be able to stretch their legs and hold hands now and then, and feel as if the world was too occupied to notice them. Often, Elizabeth would stop to observe the children playing in the park, and it would amuse her to see young lovers strolling by in stolen moments of solitude away from their chaperones. She knew she and Darcy were still very much young lovers, coming closer to each other, and discovering what made the other happy and unhappy.
As Elizabeth watched others, Darcy watched Elizabeth. He had cautioned her many times before about letting her guard down while strolling in London. Her innocence and trust was indeed very much her charm to him, but one thing about Elizabeth made Darcy uneasy, that being her inattention for her own well being. He never let her out of his sight, although he allowed her to look about the wonders of her new situation, as if through the eyes of a child.
Sometimes, Elizabeth could draw Darcy out of his watchful protectiveness with her enthusiasm, and the brightness of her eyes was matched by his own. He had never known such happiness, and although he had walked alone through that park many times on any given Sunday, he had never truly noticed anything about it, nor had he realized that it could make him feel so free.
After luncheon, Elizabeth would coax Darcy into the open parlor of their townhouse, and she could even persuade him into practicing a dance as delightfully wicked as the waltz. They would hold each other close, and look into each others eyes, and discover that hours could fly by as if they were minutes, even without either of them speaking one word. In this way, the lovers became friends, for not only could one laugh and cry and talk with a friend, but a true friend was one with whom you could spend hours with in comfortable silence, and never wonder why it was so quiet. This day however, as man and wife moved across the floor in their dance, the wife spoke of her plans during the husband's absence.
"Have your friends been to the townhouse before, Fitzwilliam?"
"I believe the Henrys have been here, but none of the others. I did not manage to entertain much when I was in town."
"You had no wife to manage it for you," she said in hopefulness.
"No," Darcy smiled, as he moved his hand behind Elizabeth's back to guide her better in the steps. "I had no wife then, but I do now--and you shall manage these things for me, Mrs. Darcy."
"I promise I shall never disappoint you, Fitzwilliam. Your friends and their wives will say what a splendid time they had here, and our parties will be the envy of your circle."
"Elizabeth," Darcy sighed as he led his wife to a halt. His hands moved away from her back and the tenderness of her palm, and he cradled her face with them. "I have no doubt that people would find your company pleasing, but do you really wish to be the envy of others?"
"No," she admitted in a whisper. "But I do wish for your approval if I am to build my life around you."
Darcy did not know what to say. He had hoped he had made his happiness clear through the demonstrations of his love for her, but yet he felt Elizabeth still had doubts of herself, and more. "I cannot help thinking there is something else, Elizabeth."
"I do love it here with you, Fitzwilliam, but when you are not here..." she stopped to gather her strength "...I could use a little female companionship. There are some things about my old life that I find I miss."
"I understand," he said softly.
"I hope I am not too bold in speaking it?"
"You are not out of place in telling me what makes you happy," he admitted with a tender smile. "It would hurt me if you did not. Have your friends over for tea, and I shall not interrupt your time. But..." Darcy paused for a moment, and let his fingers trace Elizabeth's beautiful face, "...do not accept any invitation for us that night. It would please me very much to spend that evening alone. The one with the good book, and your good company."
Friday came quickly, and Elizabeth stood on the steps to wave goodbye to Darcy and his cavalier grin. "Try not to point out our faults as husbands with too much readiness, dearest," Darcy instructed in a good humor.
"We should never do that," Elizabeth claimed behind a grin.
Darcy laughed aloud and with confidence in what he was convinced to be true of wives, proclaimed before he stepped into his carriage, "Really--my father raised no fool."
The three ladies whom Elizabeth had invited for tea that day had sent their favorable replies, and they were expected to arrive within the hour. Elizabeth was very encouraged that they had so readily accepted her invitation. She glanced nervously about the townhouse, and then in the looking glass at her own appearance.
"Give me strength," she whispered to herself, while inspecting her hair. "I should not make a very good impression if one of them says something disagreeable--and I let her have it!"
Only Molly Montgomery was late by ten minutes, however that was the fashion, according to her own acclamation. Elizabeth found the company of these women to be pleasing, and if a nonsensical and light-hearted time was what she had sought, she was in store for the afternoon of a lifetime.
"Your townhouse is splendid!" Molly exclaimed. "What parties you will have here!"
"It is very stately," Anne Burns meekly added, and Martha Henry grasped Elizabeth's hands and smiled her ever so cultivated and approving smile.
"It has been in my husband's family for many years, and I am very honored to call it my home," Elizabeth stated with the pride of a Darcy. Once the ladies were settle in the parlor, and were excessively delighted with the tea and delectable edibles before them, did the conversation begin to flow freely.
"Did you happen to see Mrs. Edwin Smyth last Friday at Almack's?" Molly Montgomery began. "She looked very ill, indeed. Quite green, and I heard a rumor that she was vexed because her husband was madly jealous, and told her he was not to bring her to anymore assemblies. He thought her to pay too much attention to a certain Mr. Harlan Newland."
"Mr. Newland is a darling," Martha Henry replied. "What husband would be threatened by him?"
"Any husband who had no sense of fashion--as in the case of Mr. Smyth. Mr. Harlan Newland is indeed handsome, and charming--and what woman would not want to be near him? Mr. Smyth--he is such a portly little man, not at all a man I would consider the material of a lover."
"Such thoughts, Molly..." Martha cautioned. "..should be kept to yourself. Is Mr. Smyth not an associate of your husband?"
Molly thought it best to change the subject. "How is your handsome husband, Mrs. Darcy? May we call you Elizabeth?" she inquired.
"Yes, I would like that very much," Elizabeth nodded happily. "My husband is very well. He left the house some time ago to keep his schedule."
"Ah, yes--the schedule which every perfect husband keeps. Have you ever wondered what they talk of at their clubs?" Molly tried to fan the curiosity in the room.
"Perhaps they talk of the very same things we do," Anne Burns said in her innocence.
"How I doubt it, Anne dear," Molly replied with an impatient sigh. "I think needlework and china patterns too droll for their amusement."
Elizabeth made the mistake of laughing at the woman's statement, thus it only encouraged Molly to speculate further. "It must be that they boast of their sport, talk of their capital, and discuss the ponies at the derby. Perhaps..." she shrewdly looked to her friends, "...they even speak of women!"
Anne Burns shook her head decidedly, "Mr. Burns would never do such a thing. He does not even discuss women when I am alone with him in the room."
"You are so precious!" Molly exclaimed in laughter. "How do you know they do not talk of what they find appealing about us, how well we please them, and how they are to keep us happy? Albert says we do not need to be appeased, but the fact of the matter is that whatever I ask for, he is always willing to grant me."
"How so?" Martha Henry complacently smiled, then turned to Elizabeth with a coy gesture of skepticism at Molly's boast.
"He allows me to shop without chaperone, have luncheon with my friends every day if I like, and he even allows me to purchase books which would make you blush. Last week I purchased the book, How to Keep a Husband. Of course it was translated from the French manuscript, but I am sure it is unexpurgated, and Mr. Montgomery did not even bat an eye at the fact that I did it."
"French!" Anne put her hand to her mouth in awe. "Mr. Burns will not even bring me a copy of Tom Jones!"
"How to keep a husband?" Elizabeth giggled in amusement at such girlish prattle. "Keep him where?"
"Under your thumb and in your arms," Molly Montgomery caterwauled amid the uproarious giggles of all the young wives. "You must all promise me that tonight--you shall tell your husbands that Friday next you have been invited by me to go out shopping at the arcades. It will be splendid, and you shall all purchase your own copy of the book--that way, dearest Anne will be able to shock Mr. Burns dead away!"
Elizabeth thought perhaps there was something to keeping a husband happy after all. Molly Montgomery had given her a few hints which her book had to offer a young wife as to how to keep her husband contented. Besides the usual happy faces to put on when greeting him after he had been away, or laughing pleasingly at his wit, as their mothers had instructed them, the book claimed that the element of surprise was one way to keep a husband engaged. Elizabeth thought Darcy reasonable enough to such maneuvers and she was daring enough at least to give it a try.
Darcy did not find Elizabeth waiting for him in the foyer that evening as was usual when he returned from his Friday appointments. He was left standing, with his handful of flowers pointed down towards the floor, and his customary lofty grin transposed into a perplexed pout. After disposing of his overcoat, he strode through the townhouse, flowers in tow, and made his way towards their chambers.
"Elizabeth..." he bellowed as he opened the door, "...what has kept you upstairs?"
To Darcy's amazement, Elizabeth stood in the middle of the room, frivolous and easy and pleasingly dressed with her hair tossed down around her shoulders. Cushions had been placed in front of the hearth, and one of Darcy's favorite books rested on top of them.
A giddy grin spread over Darcy's face, however infused with wonder it was, and he abruptly remembered to hold out the flowers he bore in his hand, in presentation before him. Elizabeth took them into her own hands and breathed deeply of their fragrance. "Thank you," she said ardently, then slowly raised her lashes to gaze at the man.
Darcy was dumbstruck. He was completely trapped the moment his eyes met hers. Elizabeth was amused that for once he could not even seem to speak and thus she was to discover that this indeed was one of the ways a woman so effectively kept a husband.
Darcy lay sprawled across a cushion gazing at Elizabeth, his head propped against his arm and elbow. Elizabeth lounged in the same fashion next to him, however she was reading aloud from the book she had chosen.
"Enough of that," Darcy reached out and gently closed the book. "Tell me of your tea. Did the ladies find you a gracious hostess and did they approve of your house?"
"Do you really wish to hear it?" Elizabeth grinned in anticipation of disclosing all to her husband.
"Yes, yes. Of course I do. I know it will be infinitely more fascinating than listening to a group of men discuss the favorites on Derby day." Elizabeth tried not to giggle at the recollection of Molly Montgomery's proclamation that men were disposed to deliberating on their finances and horses. Poor Darcy did not know what secrets he was disclosing. "I do want to know everything about your day."
"Well, at first I thought they would do nothing but gossip, and I almost thought I had made a mistake. But then the conversation turned, and I found them very pleasing." Elizabeth giggled and Darcy took pleasure at the sweet sound of her happiness. "Fitzwilliam, have I been introduced to a Mr. Harlan Newland?"
"I do not recall it," Darcy answered with curious regard. "Why?"
"The ladies were saying what a darling he was, and how charming he is to all the wives at the assemblies, spending time in their company and not their husbands. I was curious that I could not place a face with the name."
"A darling, indeed," Darcy groaned. "The fellow oozes charm when he steps into a room--he is a dandy to be sure."
Elizabeth's face lit up at her husband's irritability. "Then I simply must meet him, and invite him to parties here at the townhouse."
"You may do so, my love," Darcy said dryly, "...when pigs fly over London bridge."
Elizabeth laughed at Darcy, and he even chuckled at himself. Elizabeth looked at him, thinking how amusing and engaging he could be at times. She loved him always, but there was not a finer time than when he was comfortable, and let his mirth flow free.
To hold his interest, Elizabeth tempted her curious husband with a secret of her own. "Did you know, we ladies even discussed books?"
"A group of women sat about drinking tea and gossiping, and then discussed books? I can hardly believe it," he replied in a ruse to ruffle his hard-headed wife's feathers.
"Is it so amazing that a woman is well-read?" Elizabeth taunted Darcy with a push of a finger against his chest.
"Not at all, however I find it difficult to believe that so young a group of women could have been kept amused by great works of literature, when dancing and husband hunting would no doubt have been of a higher priority."
"Well, they have husbands now, and so they have time to read," she said in good humored lecture. "Although I hear tell that some husbands will not allow their wives to even read Tom Jones."
Darcy dropped his head to the cushion with a thud, laughing like a schoolboy at the appearance of his sweet Elizabeth's hopeful face. "Neither your hints nor your teasing shall coax me into bringing you a copy of Tom Jones, Elizabeth!" he howled in laughter. "No matter how hard you twist my arm."
Elizabeth inched her way closer toward her husband, and as he lay laughing with uncommon exuberance for his nature she looked down into his expression-filled face, her own face devoid of sentiment. She poked a finger onto his chin and noted, "I have already read it."
Darcy did sober a little at Elizabeth's proclamation, although he had to admit to himself with a chuckle that he was not completely surprised. Darcy was in too good a humor to grumble about much of anything this night, so Elizabeth went on merrily.
"We are all to go shopping at the arcade. Molly Montgomery goes there often, and she says her carriage will come around for us at precisely one o'clock on Friday."
"I cannot go on Friday. You know I have an appointment then, dearest."
Elizabeth lifted her chin in determination, "It was an invitation only for us ladies, Fitzwilliam." Darcy quickly shook his head, making Elizabeth uneasy. "The footmen will follow behind--you shall not have to worry about me."
"I think not, Elizabeth," Darcy replied, his good humor melting away. "I would not feel easy knowing my wife were ambling about town, unchaperoned and unprotected."
"I shall be with the other ladies, Fitzwilliam. I promise I shall stay close to them, and I shall be on my guard every single moment." Elizabeth's face showed her disappointment, and her will made her speak out scornfully, "Or is it that you do not trust me?"
It was against Darcy's better judgement to allow Elizabeth this sort of independence, not because he wanted to keep her within any sort of confines, but because he feared for the well-being of a genteel young woman who looked as if she had money in her coin purse. He thought prudently of how he could make her see his reason, but he worried more that Elizabeth would see him only as some sort of tyrant, and it was never his intention to make her believe he had no trust in her or their marriage.
"You swear to me that you will be careful?" Darcy whispered with reluctance.
"I swear it," she whispered in turn, before placing a tender and appreciative kiss upon his lips.
In the short span of their marriage, Elizabeth had made Darcy"s life a treasure. He had never been more pleased, nor had he realized more complete delectation than when he was in her company. Her conversations were fascinating, and her desires for building their lives together were genuine, and most uncommon to wives of her day.
Darcy had always been the kind of soul to remain strung up, looking for this or that to warrant his disdain or disapproval. Lately however, he found himself letting his guard down, and allowing Elizabeth"s whimsical influence to take over his senses and his perhaps distort his judgement.
Elizabeth was almost two and twenty, and had lived every one of her years away from a husband"s protective guard. What was even more amazing to Darcy, was that she had survived every moment of it to this point without him. Darcy had always thought that being the perfect husband meant being the perfect protector, and even though he had consented to Elizabeth going out on the town with her friends, he had his reservations about it.
Darcy had once thought Albert Montgomery to be a damn fool for allowing his wife to stroll about town unaccompanied. For a week now he was afraid to peer into the looking glass, for the image of some other damn fool standing before him. What Darcy really wanted was to tell Elizabeth that he had changed his mind, and insist that she stay at home...but out of esteem for the young woman he loved so completely, he did not hazard to do so.
Thursday evening, Elizabeth sat at the dining table, in her husband"s good company, enjoying the good food placed before her. "I can barely wait for tomorrow," she proclaimed in a rather unfeeling manner, unaware of Darcy"s growing apprehensions to the whole excursion. "I shall not spend too much of my pocket allowance, although I would like a new pair of slippers, and some new gloves to wear with my blue evening gown. I do not think the gloves and slippers I have now are presentable enough for Almack"s."
Darcy labored a smile in an attempt to show some interest in his wife"s musing, "Whatever you wish, my dear." He set down his knife and fork onto his plate and turned toward her anxiously and with a great purpose. "I cannot stress enough, Elizabeth, the importance of remaining with your party. The part of London you are going is no place for a young woman to be wandering about alone."
"I shall take care, Fitzwilliam," Elizabeth dared to sigh out, feeling a little stifled. "Do trust me. I am not as naŒve as you seem willing to think I am."
"It is not you whom I distrust," he admitted flatly. ""Tis everyone else."
"I had a letter from Jane today," Elizabeth reported, to change the mood completely.
Darcy checked his nettled nerves enough to inquire with some amusement, "What is the news from the Bingleys and Hertfordshire? Do they still entertain your sister Wickham and her husband?"
"No, Mr. Bingley had the presence of mind to suggest that the Wickhams return to Newcastle," Elizabeth laughed quietly at the picture of her amiable brother-in-law having the fortitude to do such a thing. "Jane had some news of Caroline Bingley, however."
Darcy sat back in his chair, expecting to hear something notable of his friend"s sister. What he was about to hear, however, he was astonished to have heard in such a way, and from his dear Elizabeth"s own lips.
"Miss Bingley"s heart has again been broken," Elizabeth sighed out with a roll of her eyes to equal that of Molly Montgomery on her best day. "The gentleman she had set her sights on this time did not make his addresses as she had hoped." Elizabeth laughed cattily at the image of Miss Bingley and her sour pout. "Can you believe the woman went straight after the attentions of another gentleman of consequence, when she was not so fortunate to succeed with you? She shall never find a husband!"
Darcy looked at his wife beneath a skeptical brow. "That is rather unkind, Elizabeth. Miss Bingley is entitled to some happiness, as is any other person."
Elizabeth reddened at her husband"s censure, for he knew very little of what he spoke when it came to knowing exactly what Miss Bingley was made of. "Do you not harbor any ill will toward that woman for what she did to my own sister?"
"No," Darcy"s eyes widened in awe, "and neither should you...for if you do, then you must certainly think ill of me as well."
"It is not the same," Elizabeth huffed.
"Why not?" Darcy asked as he dropped his napkin onto the table. He sat looking at her with displeasure and disbelief in his eyes, for what Elizabeth considered to be an eternity. "Do you feel as though you belong in your new surroundings now, Mrs. Darcy? Are you so determined to make a good impression upon your new friends that you would be unkind to others, and look down your nose to those less fortuitous than yourself?"
"I am the same as I have always been," she declared with her chin held high. "I see things clearer, is all! I do not look at the world as if it were covered in rose petals anymore."
Darcy sighed, uncomfortable and sorrowful for what he could see happening to his wife. "What began as admiration for your character, Elizabeth, developed into the deepest love. I shall never lose those feelings for you...but I have come to consider you my friend. I would not be your friend if I did not tell you that I see a change in you, and that I am truly disappointed in what I see. If this is what society offers you, then so help me, Elizabeth, we shall leave it and never come back again."
Elizabeth made a move to voice her opinion contrary to Darcy"s, but Darcy did not wait for it. He removed himself from the table and left the room without an excuse. Elizabeth sat stunned and speechless, but most of all sorely displeased in the behavior of her husband. He would never trust her...not enough to tolerate her opinions if they differed from his own.
Perhaps she was wrong in having declared him the perfect husband. Perhaps she had been wrong in thinking they could ever live in harmony, and in thinking that two people with their own will could ever manage a marriage together.
Neither Darcy nor Elizabeth spoke another word to each other the whole of that evening. Their silence was not that of the comfortable sort they were accustomed to sharing as friends, but the silence of lovers locked in disagreement and disillusionment. They were both stubborn, and use to having their way with things, and neither of them seemed willing to make amends to the other, for what had been spoken between them at dinner.
All this silence allowed Elizabeth time to stew her feelings into a caldron of contempt. Just because a woman was married to a man, did not mean she was obligated to agree with every idea he ever thought, or every word he ever spoke. Elizabeth was determined she would never behave like Anne Burns, who never had an original thought in her pretty little head, unless she had first heard it from her husband"s lips.
"How can he not trust me enough to leave the house without him, except to go and visit a relative?" Elizabeth"s mind whirled as she stepped into her bath for the evening. "What impertinence to think I could not possibly survive in the world unless he be here to hold my hand every step of the way!" she hissed toward the door in her dressing chamber. "Friends indeed, Mr. Darcy! Friends have trust in one another, and you have none in me!"
Elizabeth splashed water on her face, trying to wash away her anger. It was beyond her how she could love someone so deeply, and be so angry with him at the same time. Her momentary irritation with Darcy faltered. She thought of the tenderness he had shown her since their engagement, and all the things he had ever done to be assured that she was made happy. With feelings now varied and confused, Elizabeth got out of the bath and dried herself off. After her maid helped her put on her nightgown, she left the solitude of her chambers and turned the covers down on her own side of the bed.
Hours passed and Elizabeth lay awake and alone. She had not considered the possibility that Darcy would be angered enough not to come to his bed. They had argued before, and had always tried to make amends before extinguishing the candle on the nightstand. At just that moment, Elizabeth heard Darcy enter the room. She closed her eyes in pretense of being asleep as he crawled under the covers, next to her. She felt him place a tender kiss on her forehead, and heard him wish her a pleasant rest.
When she did open her eyes, she could see his form next to her, and she carefully and remorsefully reached out a hand to touch the curve of his back. In another moment she pulled her hand away before it came to rest on his skin. She would not let herself make the first move towards rapprochement. She had not been in the wrong, and no matter how pleasant he looked, quiet and reposed before her, he would know that she had her own will, and that she would never play the wife who agreed to be kept under her husband"s thumb.
Elizabeth awoke not to the comfort of a loving husband, but to emptiness next to her. She got out of bed and rang for her maid, and after she dressed went to look for Darcy downstairs. She found him in his library, sitting quietly and reading a book.
"I shall not disturb you, if you are occupied," her voice trembled in passions for argument.
"Sit down if you like," he replied, although cool and collected, as he had once seemed at one time to her. His manner is this way vexed her greatly, and one day she swore she would tell him that she was not fond of it in the slightest.
Elizabeth sat down in a chair next to Darcy"s and she turned to him and said in a bother, "I am not a child, Fitzwilliam. You do not always need to protect me, and shelter me from every thing you perceive as threatening."
Darcy closed his book with a agitating thump, and Elizabeth could see his hand tighten around the spine of it. "I suppose you are correct. There are things you must know on your own." Darcy stood up and put the book down on the table next to Elizabeth. "I shall not venture to caution you another instance. I am off to my appointments, and bid you a fine day and a pleasant excursion. If you will excuse me." His bow of retreat was severe and to the point, much like the Mr. Darcy of old.
Elizabeth was anxiously waiting in the foyer when the Montgomery"s carriage pulled up to the doorway. She got in to see the happy faces of all of her friends inside.
"Elizabeth, is this not terribly exciting?" Anne Burns squealed.
"Yes," Elizabeth put on a smile. "Indeed it is."
The coach traveled on and Molly Montgomery pointed out the sights along the way. "That is the club where our husbands meet each Friday."
Elizabeth"s eyed the grand structure, its front doors strong and sturdy, and somewhat menacing in their architecture. She thought of her husband inside, comfortable with his friends, and wondered if they really did speak of their wives when within. She wondered if Darcy ever acknowledged to anyone that he was vexed with her, or if he just stuffed it all inside himself, as he did for her benefit. Just once she wished he would shout at the top of his voice, letting himself be carried away with some emotional outburst, and speak his thoughts freely.
She cringed at the thought of him looking at her, with his pretentious jaw clinched up tight in the manner of a father chastising a child. She was not a child, but a woman. When she looked into the glass in her dressing chamber she saw a woman. Sometimes she saw a woman in love, and on those very few instances she saw a woman angry and confused. As the carriage passed by the gentleman"s club and as the other wives within tittered away about shopping and luncheon, Elizabeth began to feel lonely, and quite sorry for herself.
"Mr. Darcy, sir," the headwaiter said to the gentleman. "Your party awaits inside at the usual place."
Darcy nodded in silent acknowledgement as the man took his hat and other accoutrements. He peered into the room to see his friends in amused conversation, not unlike any other Friday afternoon. Although Darcy was halfway tempted to retreat, he entered the room.
"Well Darcy, how was your sport? Another opponent bested at your hand?" Thomas. Henry inquired happily of his friend.
Darcy sat down and accepted the favor of a drink from a servant. "I must admit I was not the victor this day," he said as he pressed a thumb and forefinger to his temple. "I do not seem to have the mind, or the heart for it."
"Are you unwell, Darcy?" Stephen Burns asked with concern.
Darcy lowered his hand from his face, and said a little less affectedly, "No, no, I am quite all right."
Albert Montgomery covertly made his way around the table to take a look at Darcy"s face. With a tell-all smirk he ventured, "Trouble at home, I would say by the looks of him."
"That, Montgomery," Darcy jeered abruptly, "is none of your concern."
"Ease up, Darcy," Montgomery gibed back. "I have never seen a fellow in such a dither because his wife desires to shop with her friends." Montgomery took a seat and crossed his legs, giving him the appearance of airs. "It is what we can do to assure their happiness, man. Wives spend our pocket change, and they are grateful."
Darcy glowered at Montgomery under heavy brows, and even Stephen Burns had to frown. The last thing Darcy ever wanted from his wife was gratitude Elizabeth felt obligated to bestow. Although he knew it to be ungentlemanly and below his dignity to speak it, Darcy spit out vehemently, "That is how you keep your wife happy...and what of your lover?"
Montgomery squared his jaw at Darcy"s brash inquiry. "Women are wise to the ways of the world, Darcy. Our world, our needs."
"Your world, Montgomery...not mine. I would never measure my marriage so irrelevantly, for I do care where my wife goes and what she does, and I am concerned about her well being. Is there one man left in the world with a care for the feelings and dignity of the woman he married?"
"Enough, both of you!" Thomas Henry said in disgust. "Neither of you shall ever see eye to eye on this, so what is the point in spewing it forth once again?"
Darcy got up from his chair and walked to the window, uneasy with himself and the choices he had made. He looked down at the bustling street below, teaming with faces and characters he did not know, and he wondered to himself exactly where Elizabeth was and what she were doing, and hoped to god she were safe.
"Everything is well, my friend," Mr. Henry sighed at the apparent torment of his friend. "If you do not like this society Darcy, why do you leave the country at all?"
Darcy slowly shook his head. "I ask myself that very question, every single day that I am here. Once I thought the country confining, but now I find it peaceful and comforting. I find it home."
The ladies strolled the arcade most of that afternoon. Elizabeth did find her gloves and slippers, and after an hours time, the footmen were loaded down with packages purchased by each lady. Molly Montgomery did appear to find pleasure in spending her husband"s money, and Elizabeth had to wonder at it. Elizabeth had never been so concerned with material things, and she had found that after she had married Darcy, her desire for possessions had become even less important to her.
Very often Elizabeth"s mind would wander to thoughts of Darcy, and on a few occasions she came out of her reverie to find that the other ladies had gone off in some other direction, and she would have to hurry to catch up to them. "Elizabeth," Anne Burns startled her from one such preoccupation. "We are leaving now for another shop. Are you all right?"
"Yes, yes I am," Elizabeth smiled and moved her arm through her friend"s.
"If there is something troubling you, I am a good listener. I promise I will not say a word to anyone else about it, if you wish it."
Elizabeth lowered her eyes, for she was not accustomed to disclosing her feelings to acquaintances. There had been times when she had not even been able to tell her dearest sister Jane of her troubles. Although Elizabeth and Darcy had grown close enough to share their secrets, on occasion Elizabeth had still withheld her most intimate feelings from her husband. It occurred to her what hypocrisy it was to desire to know his feelings, while wishing to conceal her own.
"It is nothing, Anne," Elizabeth said lowly. "Mr. Darcy and I had a disagreement last night, is all."
"I see," Anne said sorrowfully. "Mr. Burns and I have never argued, but I can imagine that it would make me feel low, if we did."
Elizabeth heard the young woman"s words, but she paid them no heed, for she was too caught up in her own quandary to think of her friend"s. "He displays no trust in me, and when I tell him my wishes, he simply ignores them."
Anne looked amazed. "You tell him of your wishes?"
"Yes," Elizabeth replied in suspicion. "Do you not do the same with your own husband?"
"No," Anne continued. "I dare not do it! It is not prudent for a wife to tell her husband what is good for her. He must be the judge of that."
"Not prudent, Anne?" Elizabeth questioned. "How would you ever come to think that?"
"My parents told me so...when I married him. A wife must never argue or contradict her husband. He is the master of the household, and all that I possessed is now his. I am ruled by Mr. Burns" will."
Elizabeth was astounded to know there were women of such consequence, being told by their parents that their duty is to completely obey the man they marry. She had forgotten that Anne Burns had not had much say in the matter of her own marriage, and although Elizabeth felt indignant by what she had heard, she was in no position to dispel it.
"Do you always call him Mr. Burns, Anne?" Elizabeth inquired solemnly.
"Yes," Anne blushed. "Always."
"Do you never refer to him in terms of endearment...or even his given name?"
"Never. I do not even know if he would like it any other way."
Elizabeth gave her friend"s arm a poignant squeeze of affection, "Thank you, Anne. You words have helped me to see much." Anne Burns smiled graciously, and took Elizabeth from the shop.
As the ladies walked along the arcade, they looked into the shop windows and as something caught their fancy, they went in to browse further. Molly Montgomery squealed as she found her favorite booksellers and the ladies went in. Elizabeth bought a book of poetry, and she had begun to read it when Martha Henry came up behind her.
"Do you like poetry, Elizabeth?"
"Yes," Elizabeth smiled. "I do. There are times when I find the greatest pleasure in having it read to me..." Elizabeth stopped to grin broadly "...by my husband."
"You must spend much time together then?" Martha inquired.
Elizabeth nodded her head, and the luster in her eyes returned as she thought of Darcy and his pleasant voice when he returned to her on Friday evenings. Martha Henry answered Elizabeth"s smile with her own, although Elizabeth thought it to be a sober smile.
"Mr. Henry and I have not been fortunate enough to spend so much of our time together," Martha sighed. "It seems as though he is always away on business. I think since our marriage we have probably managed to spend perhaps a fortnight at one stretch."
"But you have been married for more than two years?" Elizabeth heard herself contradict.
"Yes," Martha nodded. "I knew when we married that business called him away most frequently. I thought I could do very well with the solitude, but," Martha lowered her eyes to the floor, "I think now, that having him home would be more agreeable and much less lonely. Perhaps one day I will have children to keep me company, but for now I suppose a good book will have to do."
Elizabeth handed Martha the book of poetry, "Do try this one, a gift from me to you." Martha Henry took it with a smile, and held it close to her breast.
"What are you two talking of in a book shop?" Molly Montgomery came from behind. "There is plenty of time to talk at refreshment...now is the time for shopping ladies, shopping!"
When the ladies left the booksellers they happened upon a pastry shop bustling with people partaking of tea and sweets. Their party was seated at a table, and Martha and Anne excused themselves, and left the room.
"I do hope you are enjoying yourself, Elizabeth?" Molly inquired as she removed her gloves from her hands.
"Very much so. Your invitation to me was very kind, Molly."
"Nonsense, you are one of us now. Perhaps we should make this a habit. Much like our husbands are use to doing every Friday."
"I think some Fridays I should prefer to wait at home for my husband," Elizabeth heard herself admit. "I do miss him when he is gone."
"Yes," Molly breathed with a frown. "We miss them, but do they miss us?"
"I believe Mr. Darcy is happy to see me when he returns home, as much as I am to see him," Elizabeth replied, sure of her husband"s affection.
"I believe he would be, Elizabeth. He and Mr. Montgomery do not seem to have much in common when it comes to adoring their wives," Molly replied affectedly.
"Mr. Montgomery is very good to give us his carriage for the afternoon. There are some wives who would be very envious at the fact that he is willing to do all this for your happiness."
"For my happiness?" Molly replied, almost moved to tears. "For his happiness you mean. He does not care what I do, as long as he is happy in his own pursuits. In this society there are some things a wife knows, and if she is wise she knows enough to look the other way. My husband is generous with his money, but cannot be with his affections...at least not to me."
Elizabeth was stunned to hear of such a thing, and for all that Molly Montgomery had disclosed, as the other ladies returned to the table, she appeared as if she had never spoken a word of it. Molly was indeed well versed in hiding away her feelings, and living the duty of a lie.
At once, Elizabeth knew she had made a mistake in coming out with her friends that day. She wanted to go home...home to her husband, and home to Pemberley. She concealed her desires until after they had taken tea, and she was never so grateful to leave, as she would be to leave the arcade.
A young couple seated by the window caught her eye as she left the shop. When outside, Elizabeth stopped to look back at them through the windows. The man sat quietly, listening to his fair lover speak her will. The look upon his face was familiar to Elizabeth, and she recognized the look of respect, the look of caring, and the look of love on his face. She had seen those looks many times before, but on the face of another man.
"Hand me your bag misses, and you won"t be getting hurt," a voice behind Elizabeth startled her.
A man grasped Elizabeth"s handbag, and put another hand around her wrist. Elizabeth"s reaction was to pull away, but the thief was too strong for her. He let go of her wrist and cut the strings of her bag with a knife, then forcefully pushed Elizabeth down to the ground to affect his escape.
The sounds of voices filled Elizabeth"s ears, and it felt as if her head whirled as the footmen dropped their packages and came to her assistance. Elizabeth could think of nothing else but to cry, and as hard as she tried to hold back her tears, they escaped and rolled down her cheeks, then landed in the dirt where she sat.
"Good day, sir!" the lady of the flower shop greeted upon seeing Darcy, much as she did each Friday. "You are early today."
"Yes," Darcy replied. "I have every desire to be home promptly this day." Darcy looked around the shop at all the blossoms situated in buckets, and he reached down and let the white petals of a daisy feather through the palm of his hand.
"What will it be today, sir?"
Darcy lifted the daisy stem from the bucket to take a better look. "Something different, today...something heartfelt."
"Every flower has a design of the heart, sir," the woman acknowledged with sincerity. "Like that daisy, sir...it is a token of innocence."
A curious smile appeared on Darcy"s face and he looked up from inspection of the petals in his hand and voiced, "I shall take a very large bouquet of these."
The woman smiled, and although apprehensive to speak so to such an esteemed gentleman, she said, "There must be a very enchanting lady who lives in your heart."
The light in Darcy"s eyes kindled, as he replied, "In my heart and in my home. She is my wife."
"She is a very lucky wife to be so admired that her husband brings tokens of his affection home to her every week."
"I think it has nothing to do with luck," Darcy sighed as if absorbed in fancy, "and everything to do with love and deserving." In another moment he realized his awkward situation, straightened his posture, and said more in the reserve of his nature, "This shall be my last visit here for a while. I suppose my wife will have to be satisfied with country flowers for a time."
The lady of the shop nodded her head, and smiled ever so curiously, "A flower is a flower, sir. It carries with it the deepest feelings, whether growing wild in a field in the country...or nurtured in a conservatory in town."
It did not take long for Darcy"s carriage to reach the townhouse, and when it did, he spied another equipage stopped on the quiet street. As Darcy entered the foyer of the townhouse, the housekeeper came up to him, taking his outer clothing.
"Whose livery is that in front of the townhouse?"
"Mr. Thomas Henry"s, sir," she replied. "Sir, Mrs. Henry and Mrs. Burns are with Mrs. Darcy in your chambers." The woman was hesitant, almost fearful as she spoke to the master, knowing full well his feelings. "Sir, Mrs. Darcy had some trouble today."
"Trouble?" Darcy grew fretful as he spoke.
"Yes, sir. It appears as if some wretched thief found her an easy mark, and...and..."
"Go on," Darcy growled.
"...and forcibly took her coin purse."
Darcy turned a tint of pale never before seen by the housekeeper, and he disappeared in a rush of coattails and daisies. Once at the top of the stairs, Darcy encountered the wives of his friends outside the bedchamber door.
"Mr. Darcy," Martha Henry stopped him from entering the room. "The physician is with her."
"Good god!" Darcy cried out. His composure withered as the spray of daisies he carried threatened to fall from his grasp.
"Oh no, sir," Anne Burns reached out to touch his sleeve in a consoling fashion. "She is well...only a few bruises and scrapes, nothing of a serious nature."
Darcy breathed a sigh of relief, however his fears molded into anger and regret. "Did I not think this a wretched idea?" he whispered to himself. "Why does she not listen to reason? I shall sell this place and we shall never come back here."
"Mr. Darcy," Anne Burns spoke again. Darcy looked up to see the woman"s innocent face, but for the first time since he had ever laid eyes on her, he saw the resemblance of courage. "She is afraid you will be very angry with her...she wept so all the way here to your townhouse, sir. She is not frightened by what has happened nor is her body injured...she is fearful that you will think ill of her."
The madness in Darcy"s eyes calmed some, and he turned to see the physician come from the room, then inquired abruptly, "My wife?"
"Everything is fine, sir. A very courageous young woman, she is," replied the physician.
With a new sense of what his wife was about, Darcy stepped into the room, and no sooner did he catch a glimpse of her, did his self-restraint melt. Elizabeth cradled a hand to a wrist badly bruised, as she sat upon the bed. She was not weeping at the time, but as she caught the gaze of her venerable husband, her lower lip quivered and she began to cry aloud.
Darcy dropped the bouquet of daisies to the floor, then shimmied out of his dress coat. He made his way hastily toward Elizabeth, and enveloped her in linen draped arms of gallant white. There was nothing more comforting to Elizabeth than when she lay her head on his shoulder, her eyes closed in repose. Tears streamed from her cheeks and rolled onto the starched white shirt her husband wore.
"I cannot venture to say why I keep crying," Elizabeth"s voice trembled through her tears.
Darcy gently held Elizabeth"s tender wrist in the palm of his hand, and his forehead came to rest upon hers. "What sort of devil could ever hurt you?" his voice quivered out his distress at the thought of someone intending to injure his family. "I should have been there, for if I had, there would have been nothing left of the scoundrel to throw into the stockade."
"I am not hurt badly, Fitzwilliam...except for perhaps my pride." Elizabeth sighed in reflection. "I have not been the perfect wife...I have not even been very good at it at all as of late. I should have heeded your warnings...I should have trusted your word."
"Elizabeth," Darcy sighed. "I only want to shelter you from the cruelty of this world."
"I know my love," she whispered as her fingers touched his cheek. "I have become aware of things...things I really did not want to know, but which I learned, but not from you, or from a man with a knife."
Darcy"s eyes widened and with a horrified frown exclaimed, "Good god, the blackguard had a knife?"
Elizabeth held Darcy"s face and kissed him. "Never mind that, love," she whispered again to calm him.
"What happened, exactly?" Darcy made an attempt at composure.
"Well," Elizabeth hesitated. "I was outside of a pastry shop, and when I saw a man in the window seated with his wife, I began to think of you. The rest of the party wandered off before I knew it, and then a man"s voice ordered me to surrender my bag."
"Why would you think of me, while looking at another man?" Darcy"s head was beginning to spin in confusion.
"The man reminded me of you...the way he looked at his wife, reminded me of the way you look at me."
"Ah," Darcy reached up to brush his hair back from his eyes. "Actually, Elizabeth...this makes very little sense at all."
"When I saw the man," Elizabeth said again, only slower and more pointedly. "I thought of you, and all I wanted was to come home, and tell you that I love you, and that you are as close to perfect as any woman shall ever have in a husband."
Darcy was still quite bewildered, but he was inclined to take his wife"s loving compliment, and ask no more questions, for he figured the recollection of the events did nothing more than to rile his own nerves. Elizabeth laid her cheek back on Darcy"s shoulder, and she happened to see the daisies on the floor where Darcy had dropped them.
Elizabeth left the bed, and scooped the flowers up into her arms. "I wanted to know all about life...about other people"s lives, but in one afternoon I learned more than I think I ever wanted to know. Fitzwilliam, I want to go on being us...always."
A smile came to Darcy"s face, the first Elizabeth had seen on him all that day, and she thought how truly becoming it looked on him. "You will hear no argument from me on that score, but I would prefer to be us somewhere else...say Derbyshire, perhaps."
Elizabeth took her daisies and sat again next to her husband. "As much as I want to go home to Pemberley, I would be loathe to admit to running away. Could we stay out our plans here, Fitzwilliam?"
Darcy again felt his judgment pressured by the wishes of his wife, but he wondered what their marriage would bring if he, once in a while, did not bend a little to her will. It felt a little like being on a short ride in a renegade coach, but Elizabeth always made his life exhilarating, and worth every risk.
At once, he recalled that he had his own stubborn will. "Another week," he replied firmly, "and that is all."
Their last evening in London, the Darcy"s entertained their friends for dinner, before attending one last assembly at Almack"s. The Henrys and Burns" graciously accepted the invitation, however the Montgomerys had declined. Although the other couples viewed it as some sort of slight, Darcy and Elizabeth took no offense.
The three young couples sat around the table, and the conversation was relaxed and free. "Mrs. Darcy," Mr. Henry spoke. "We are very happy to see you so well, and so happily back in the public eye."
"Thank you, sir," Elizabeth smiled broadly. "I think though, I shall be staying quite close to my husband when out on the town."
"So shall I," replied Martha Henry as she gazed lovingly at her own husband. "Mr. Henry has decided not to travel as often, and I am very grateful for his decision."
"When you do travel, let it be to Pemberley for a fortnight this summer," Elizabeth offered. "All of you."
"We could do a little fishing," Darcy offered to his friends.
Anne Burns looked excitedly to her husband. "Oh, Stephen," she whispered his name boldly. "Do you think we can?"
Mr. Burns was somewhat dumbfounded upon hearing his own name, even if it was from his wife. The slow smile which spread over his face convinced Elizabeth that not only was he agreeable to spending some time at Pemberley, but that he found his wife"s presumption a refreshing and welcome change.
Elizabeth was greeted with every affectation the revered hall of people at Almack"s could muster. Molly Montgomery approached her, a handsome young man in tow. "Oh Elizabeth, may I present Mr. Harlan Newland."
"Mr. Newland," Elizabeth greeted politely.
"Mrs. Darcy," the handsome Mr. Newland bowed his honor. "I must tell you we are all charmed by your courage and conduct."
"Thank you, Mr. Newland...but I must say one has not much time to muster any sort of courage, when one is not paying attention to detail."
Mr. Newland smiled broadly, then took Elizabeth"s hand, and placing a respectful kiss upon it, bowed to take his leave. "Is he not a dream?" Molly Montgomery squealed to her friends.
Elizabeth however, did not hear the insincere Mrs. Montgomery, for she was lost in her own thoughts once again. Elizabeth"s eyes had caught sight of a man...a very handsome man standing alone in a corner, waiting, as his wife gathered with her friends. Elizabeth knew that no other man would ever capture her fancy as this gentleman had, for he was everything she had ever dreamt of. She unconcernedly left her circle of friends, to stand beside the man whom she loved, and trusted more than anyone else on earth.
"Why did you marry me, Mr. Darcy?" Elizabeth inquired out of diversion.
Darcy heart was easily touched, and he affectionately replied, "Because once I saw your true self, I liked what I saw..." he stopped and leaned closer to Elizabeth"s ear, then whispered, "...and I loved you."
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