The first week of Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy's marriage was spent at home in London. They rarely went out, enjoying only each other's company. Darcy had arranged for the housekeeper to take over running of the house for one more week, so his bride could acquaint herself slowly with the responsibilities that would soon befall her. Their time was spent quietly, walking through the park on their square during the day or sitting in the library where they would write letters or talk. In the evening after dinner, they would sit in the drawing room. Darcy enjoyed listening to his wife read to him or they would play a game of casino. They invariably went to bed earlier than later.
The second week of their marriage, they dropped off their calling cards at the home of Darcy's friends and acquaintances to let them know they would now be at home to receive guests. The Gardiners and Colonel Fitzwilliam came almost at once, but Elizabeth waited with great trepidation for the visitors who were curious to see Darcy's country bride. They did not hesitate long. Politeness reigned during these visits and by the third week, Elizabeth felt comfortable enough to receive some visitors alone and even return some calls.
After three weeks of marriage, Darcy felt it was time for him to return to his business in town. He also found time for a few afternoons to visit his club, when he felt the need for physical exercise as well as conversation with his bachelor friends.
When he returned one afternoon after the first day away from Elizabeth, he hurried into the house to see how she had fared alone. Elizabeth was dashing down the stairs to greet him. He caught her hands but waited until they were in his library before letting her welcome him with a kiss.
"And who came to see you today?" he inquired with a smile.
"Mrs. Folsom came again today. She is a gossip but I like her, I think."
"I am sure she can keep you quite entertained with stories of the follies of our neighbors. I always thought her a little empty headed but her husband is a fine fellow. Mrs. Folsom once caught the interest of Bingley, before her marriage of course."
Elizabeth looked amused. "You are not above a bit of gossip yourself, my dear."
Darcy smiled. "I can probably name five ladies who you have become acquainted with in the past two weeks who once caught the interest of Bingley. But rest assured, he has never been in love with anyone but your sister. That I know."
"And none of these ladies ever caught your interest?"
Darcy leaned forward in his chair and looked at her earnestly. "I have been paired with one or two of the ladies you now know but, truly Elizabeth, I have never had more than a casual interest in any of them."
Elizabeth laughed. "My dear, sweet boy. I am not concerned about your past liaisons, although I am curious. You may tell me all about them and I shall not be one bit jealous, because I know you have only loved me. You have told me so many times, I quite believe it."
Her husband looked a bit sheepish. He had still not yet learned when his wife was teasing him. She surprised him every day and she soon surprised him again for she came to him and lowered herself on his lap, putting her arms around his neck. Truly a sensation he did not object to.
"I have done something you may not like," Elizabeth said. "I have accepted Mrs. Folsom's invitation to a party for next week. Just a few couples, she said, and most we have met."
"Just a few couples! Mrs. Folsom's idea of a few couples means at least twenty."
"Are you angry?"
Darcy kissed her forehead. "Not at all. I am glad you are becoming more comfortable in London society."
"We shall leave it soon enough in the spring. When Georgiana comes to us in a fortnight, I will feel more adequate as a sister to be able to entertain her, if we can take her out more in society."
Elizabeth moved her finger to his cravat and hooked her little finger in it. "One more thing," she murmured. "May I see the dressmaker for a new gown? I don't think I have anything elegant enough for your London friends."
Her husband could only smile. He knew he was as tightly wound around his wife's finger as his cravat.
After the fourth week of marriage, the Darcys were making their first appearance in the evening as a couple. Elizabeth's new gown was of fine pale yellow silk with the bodice cut flattering to her figure. Exquisite Belgian lace adorned the sleeves and shoulders. Her hair was simply done with a few silk ribbons and pearls. She wore her husband' s wedding present to her, a lustrous pearl necklace and earrings.
She had written to her sister Jane asking the Bingleys to come to London for the week so they could attend the Folsom's party but Jane was not able to attend for they were promised to be at Lucas Lodge the very same evening. However, Jane informed her that the Hursts and Caroline Bingley would be in London and not only would soon call on the Darcys, but would also be at the party. That news was not welcome but by the day of the party, Mr. Bingley's sisters had not called, so perhaps they were not yet in town after all.
Entering the grand Folsom house with great apprehension, Elizabeth clung tightly to her husband's arm. Although being promised the party would be small, true to Darcy's prediction, there were at least thirty people arrived already. Elizabeth recognized some guests as having visited her but she knew all eyes would be on her as the curiousity of the party.
She and Darcy approached their hosts.
"Oh, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, we have all been waiting for you," Mrs. Folsom cried out.
"Good evening, Mrs. Folsom," Darcy bowed. "Folsom, I don't believe you have met my wife yet. Elizabeth, may I present Benjamin Folsom to you. Folsom, my wife, Mrs. Darcy."
Mr. Folsom bowed and kissed Elizabeth's hand. "I am very pleased and honored to make your acquaintance, Mrs. Darcy. It delights me to no end to have Darcy married. I hope we will become great friends."
Elizabeth curtsied and thanked him. She was relieved Mr. Folsom seemed a convivial, thoughtful man, unlikely to judge her by her background.
"Wonderful," Mrs. Folsom exclaimed. "Now that is out of the way. Mrs. Darcy, I must show you off to some of my friends. They have all been waiting breathlessly to meet the new bride!"
She grabbed Elizabeth's arm and guided her to a knot of fashionable men and women at the other end of the room. Some of them were already known by Elizabeth, although superficially. Mrs. Folsom could not be deterred from being the first to exhibit Mrs. Darcy as her good friend and took her to another group of ladies who might not yet have had the pleasure of her acquaintance.
While some of Mrs. Folsom's friends seemed genuinely charmed to be introduced, one or two were condescending in their address to her.
"Is not Mrs. Darcy's gown extremely fine?" Mrs. Folsom exclaimed.
"That looks like the work of Mrs. Standish in Aldermanbury," Mrs. Slocum said eyeing Elizabeth closely. "She does fine work, but really, Mrs. Darcy, I should introduce you to my dressmaker. She is French, you know, and they do the finest work."
"I would be happy to be introduced to your dressmaker, but this gown is not done by Mrs. Standish but Madame de Fleur, recently arrived from Paris," Elizabeth sweetly informed her.
"Mrs. Darcy, I believe you are acquainted with my good friend, Caroline Bingley," Miss Delacroix said. "She told me all men are captivated by your fine eyes."
"Oh yes, your eyes are very pretty," Mrs. Folsom offered.
"Thank you very much but I am sure Miss Bingley was teasing you," Elizabeth said. "I can not say that I have captivated any man, except my husband."
"You are so lucky to have captured him," Mrs. Folsom innocently said. "You know not how many women in London and in the country too had set their caps for him. The news of Mr. Darcy's marriage broke many a heart, both the young ladies and their mothers. Miss Delacroix, was not your friend Miss Bingley quite taken with Mr. Darcy?"
"They are just very good friends and always have been," Miss Delacroix coldly said. "You need not fear, Mrs. Darcy. Miss Bingley has no designs on your husband."
Elizabeth merely smiled but turned a longing glance at her husband across the room. Her eyes flew wide when she saw the very lady they were discussing standing next to him, looking deep in conversation. Knowing that her haste in returning to her husband would be remarked on, she stayed longer with the ladies and contributed a few comments on the shocking cost of lace and the poetry of that handsome but startling young man, Lord Byron. When some of the ladies were joined by their husbands, she found she could leave without anyone taking much notice.
"Darling," Elizabeth interrupted Caroline Bingley and Darcy. She had never called her husband this endearment before but it received the desired effect. His attention was immediately drawn to only his wife and Caroline stiffened and drew back.
"Oh, Miss Bingley," Elizabeth said with feigned surprise. "I did not see you had arrived. I am very pleased to see you. Please forgive me if I interrupted you. Are Mr. and Mrs. Hurst here as well?"
"Eliza," Miss Bingley sniffed. "I have been here for some time conversing with Mr. Darcy. I hope you are well."
"Very well, Caroline," Elizabeth said smiling. "Have you been amusing my husband?"
"We have been talking of people familiar to us. It is most refreshing to get out of the country and see people of consequence."
"Then you have been amusing him. I am indebted to you Caroline, for I fear my husband gets too easily bored at parties, even with people of consequence."
Darcy had remained silent through this exchange but thought it was time to interject. "Mrs. Folsom seems to be quite a friend to you, my dear."
"I like her very much," Elizabeth agreed. "Miss Bingley, I have met Miss Delacroix, a friend of yours, I believe. She is very elegant."
"Most assuredly so. She spends every season in London with the finest of society. Mrs. Folsom is perhaps one rank below from whom she normally associates with."
"Benjamin Folsom is hardly low in rank, Caroline," Darcy said. "He has a fine property in Northamptonshire and is quite important in London politics."
"I did not mean Mr. Folsom," Caroline hastily said. "But his wife is perhaps not quite in the same league."
Caroline did not need to say more. Darcy took his wife's arm. "Shall we greet Mr. and Mrs. Hurst, darling?"
Elizabeth was startled at this endearment from him but appreciated what he meant by saying it. While the Hursts were not much better companions than Miss Bingley, she was glad to be away from the sister.
Mr. Hurst was already at the punch bowl but Mrs. Hurst was conversing with Mrs. Folsom. After exchanging polite pleasantries with Louisa and inquiring after the health of the Bingleys at Netherfield, Mrs. Folsom took Elizabeth aside.
"I must introduce you to that man standing over there by the fire. I am going to seat him next to you at dinner. His name is Randolph Benedict."
"The man in the blue waistcoat? He is very handsome."
"Oh, yes, my dear," Mrs. Folsom said. "He is quite a rake." She drew closer and whispered. "There is more than one lady here who has fallen captive to him and one or two of them are married women!."
Elizabeth looked startled.
"So I shall seat him by you for I know there is no danger for your husband. You are too sensible to fall for just a pretty face. But he is amusing."
Elizabeth allowed her friend to take her to the scandalous Mr. Benedict for introductions.
"Believe me, we all thought the day would never come when we would be introduced to Darcy's wife but now that I've met you, I see now he was wise to wait for that perfect woman", Mr. Benedict said. "Your beauty quite surpasses what I've been told and I was told you were very beautiful."
Flattering never appealed to Elizabeth but she remained polite.
"You know my husband?"
"We are members of the same club and would meet socially, but rarely. Darcy was never the man to enjoy society much. I suppose you know that."
"Since our marriage, my husband and I have spent most of our evenings at home and have been quite content to do so. But he enjoys going out as much as I do."
"Oh, the honeymoon. Of course, you are still quite newly wed. I can see that he would prefer to spend his evenings alone with you."
Elizabeth was not sure how to begin a new topic but was saved for the moment by the announcement that dinner was being served. She was seated to the right of Mr. Folsom, an honor she was pleased by but to her right was Mr. Benedict. Darcy was across the table seated to the right of Mrs. Folsom, too far for her to hear his conversation but they exchanged amused glances quite often.
"Upon my word," Mr. Benedict spoke to Elizabeth. "Miss Bingley looks as if she had swallowed a frog."
Elizabeth was so startled by his exclamation that she began to laugh. "What do you mean?"
"Well, look at her. She is throwing glances our way as if she expected us to levitate. Do you think she is jealous?"
"Of what?" Elizabeth innocently asked.
"Perhaps she fancies me and wishes you to disappear."
"Perhaps she does wish I would disappear," Elizabeth wryly said but felt it better not to say more on that subject. "And what of you? Does Miss Bingley interest you as a potential partner? You must forgive me, for now that I am an old married woman, I have the luxury of playing matchmaker for my single friends."
"I am honored that you consider me a friend but I did not know you were friends with Miss Bingley."
"We have known each other for more than a year. Her brother is married to my sister."
Mr. Benedict lightly slapped his forehead. "Of course, how stupid of me. Miss Bingley let everyone know quite early on that she favored Darcy when he was still single. I believe it was expected by some that they would wed some day for he seemed disinterested in most women. How mortified she must be that he married someone else. Here I thought she might have been interested in me, instead she is still interested in your husband."
"Why, not? Marriage does not stop everyone from pursuing the partner of their dreams."
"Perhaps marriage for Miss Bingley would be the answer to her pining away for someone else." Again Elizabeth thought she may have gone too far but Benedict seemed quite amused by her opinions.
"I do not know Miss Bingley very well. I know she has a bit of fortune which would attract some men. Do you think I should marry her?"
"If it would only be for her fortune, I do not think so at all. Every lady deserves love in her marriage."
"That is not always expected in marriage, let me assure you." Benedict studied Elizabeth.
She looked across to her husband and saw him looking at them. She smiled to assure him all was well and watched his gaze soften. They held each other's eye for almost a minute.
"It is actually most refreshing to see," Benedict continued, " a very true, strong love between a husband and wife. I would rejoice if I could find the same."
"And Miss Bingley? Could you love her?"
Benedict laughed. "I am used to women of another kind. She seems a strong type, not my style. My taste runs to the more helpless."
"A strong woman might take you in hand."
"I need taking in hand?"
"Well, certainly a man needs an equal partnership. A helpless woman would scarcely be your equal. I could see Caroline Bingley being your equal. But she needs kindness. Could you be kind to her?"
Benedict looked across at Caroline who seemed more interested in the centerpiece in front of her than by her dinner partners.
"I could be kinder to her if she did not have such a pointy nose," he muttered. "I am afraid I can not be matched, Mrs. Darcy. I expect to remain a bachelor my whole life."
"That is a shame. There are many worthy, marriageable women who would make a fine wife for you."
"Perhaps someday you may introduce me to one. I hope we shall be friends."
"I think we may be."
Part 4 (The End)
Elizabeth was surprised to find that dinner had passed so agreeably in conversation with Mr. Benedict. When assembled with the other ladies in the drawing room, it was noted by more than one woman that Mrs. Darcy seemed to be enjoying Benedict's company very much.
"Take care, Mrs. Darcy," Mrs. Slocum advised. "Mr. Benedict is not to be trusted."
"I should hope to be able to trust anyone invited into Mrs. Folsom's home," Elizabeth demurred.
"Eliza, I have known you for many years," Caroline said. "And I think we are friends enough for me to say that you have fallen for a handsome face before."
Elizabeth was indignant but tried to hide it with a laugh. "And you have known Mr. Darcy for many years, Caroline. Well enough to know that it is impossible to be tempted away from him. I am in no danger, ladies. I thank you for the warning."
"Of course, Mrs. Darcy can not be tempted by Benedict, as tempting as he is," Mrs. Folsom laughed. "She is married to the man we all dreamed of before our own weddings, is she not?"
"Speak for yourself, Margaret," Mrs. Slocum sharply said.
Mrs. Folsom smiled knowingly at Elizabeth. If anyone had chased after Fitzwilliam Darcy harder than Caroline, it was Clarissa Slocum, nee Barkley.
The gentlemen soon joined the ladies. Darcy stayed close to his wife for the rest of the evening and soon suggested it was time to leave.
Elizabeth was surprised at the enjoyment she felt most of the evening. She had known it would be required for her to be out in London society and had dreaded it but Mrs. Folsom had given her much friendship and support. She thanked her warmly before they departed.
As they were entering their carriage, she saw the Hursts and Miss Bingley leaving also. She supposed the entertainment for them had walked out the door just before them.
"Did you enjoy yourself?" Darcy inquired.
"I did, very much, I am surprised to say," Elizabeth replied.
Darcy looked thoughtful.
"Darling, I enjoyed Mr. Benedict's company at dinner. He was quite amusing. You know him a bit, I believe."
"Yes, I do."
"Then you know of his reputation with women."
"I have heard of it."
"Do you know that the women at the party equate you with Mr. Benedict, at least in terms of allure?"
"That is ridiculous," Darcy snorted.
"No, it is not! I am so proud to be your wife." Elizabeth moved closer to him and took his arm. "Of course I am not in love with you because of the way you look or the fortune you have. I believe a few of the women could be so with you though for those very reasons. Aren't you glad you waited for me?"
"Benedict has done some very despicable things. More than one husband has been cuckolded by that man. He is amusing but I fear is dangerous."
"It is shocking to think he could be so cruel. So I have decided to find a wife for him."
"That would be cruel to his wife!"
"No, no, I truly believe he can be kind. What do you think of Caroline Bingley for him?"
Darcy looked at Elizabeth incredulously. "My dear, dear Elizabeth. There is nothing she has that could appeal to him."
"I think she would be perfect for him. And I have set my sights on it."
"I am glad we are to leave London in a month," Darcy said. "Your matchmaking frightens me."
"So do you believe me when I say Mr. Benedict has no other appeal to me?"
"Of course, I believe you, Elizabeth. I am glad you enjoyed yourself tonight. You were quite a success, I believe. But I am glad it is all over. It's been three hours at least since you let me kiss you."
"Then I shall let you now."
Her husband warmly obliged as their carriage moved through the streets toward home.
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rcy, if he were also very rich and handsome."