After the Ball
The parade of gentlemen who had sought to dance with Georgiana Darcy all averred they had been drawn by news of her singular beauty and diverse accomplishments, but her elder brother suspected that the promise of an expansive fortune had not been a deterrent. "I should have been at peace had she never been allowed out," he said, somewhat edgily, as he fell into his favorite chair by the fireplace. The ball had concluded and the house was now solemnly quiet, save for the crackling of the single fire, which had been lit to provide a reading light. Elizabeth Darcy let her eyes depart momentarily from the pages of her book to honor him with an amused glance, but she was soon reading again by firelight.
"And what do you mean by that look?" he asked, feeling himself settling back at ease after a tiresome night, which had required him to converse amiably with a great many strangers. He had performed admirably, but he was nonetheless glad to return to his own small family circle. Now that Georgiana and the family's various houseguest had retired for the night, Mr. Darcy could finally be alone with his wife.
"Why I mean nothing at all by it, Fitzwilliam," Elizabeth said, archly returning her eyes to his face.
"Hmmm," he murmured, clearly unconvinced. "You think me, perhaps, too cautious an elder brother?"
"I did not say so, my dear. Yet I think it may not be necessary to interrogate every gentleman who happens to dance with Miss Darcy."
"Interrogate! I was merely attempting to ascertain their characters."
"And how did you get on?"
"About as well as you when you first met me, I imagine."
"You thought them all despicable?"
"No. I only mean that I had not the necessary information to draw an informed opinion."
"Unfortunately, that consideration did not stop me when I first drew a fixed opinion of you. Had I been less hasty in solidifying my prejudices, perhaps, our courtship would not have been so---tumultuous."
He winced. "It is equally true that had I been less arrogant and more of a gentleman--"
Elizabeth stopped him with a slight raise of the hand. "It is enough. We have been married for well over a year now, and I think we can put our humble beginnings behind us."
He nodded. They sat silently for a moment, as he watched her face. At times, he still starred at her in that same odd manner; it was a look she had once mistaken for offense, but which she now knew meant he was either struggling to arrive at some conclusion or striving to control some emotion. In this case, she suspected the former and asked quietly, "What are you thinking?"
"I am hoping that my sister will be able to make as fulfilling a match as I have done. But I fearäI fear it will be difficult to tell if she is sought for herself or for her thirty thousand pounds. Appearances, as we have both learned, can be deceiving; men know well how to don masks in society. Of course, it has never been a particular talent of mine."
"No, it has not. And although I once took umbrage at the fact, I have since learned to respect you for it. But do you not trust your sister's feelings to be a reliable guide in this matter?"
He raised his eyebrows. It was not a well-thought question. Georgiana had almost eloped with the disreputable Mr. Wickham, who was now married to Elizabeth's sister Lydia. Indeed, even Elizabeth had been temporarily persuaded by his seemingly fine character, and she did not have quite the innocence of Georgiana.
"Then at least, love," she continued, "do not worry yourself about any of them, until your sister should take a particular preference to one. Then perhaps you could inquire after him in aäsubtle fashion."
"Invite him over in company for dinner; observe his character."
"Yes, exactly. And you will, no doubt, be sure he sees you have just finished cleaning your guns when he arrives."
He smiled. "You always know how to lighten my spirit, Elizabeth."
"It is certainly an arduous task," she sighed, "but I assume the burden as my domestic duty, and I will continue to persevere."
She had intended to tease him further, but he had already crossed the room and was now sitting beside her, his arm extended across the back of the couch, his eyes dancing with hers. "Take pity on me, my darling wife, and do not tease me tonight. Social exertion before strangers is for me an exhausting exercise, and having engaged in such efforts all evening, I fear I do not now have the energy to spar with you."
"Why should you feel drained, Fitzwilliam? You are not shy."
"No. But I am easily bored. And I don't much enjoy speaking casually on such an enormous host of trivial topics."
"Ah, yes. I had forgotten. You are above such discourse."
"You rebuke me. Perhaps not undeservingly."
"No, dear, I will assign credit where it is due. You were all charm tonight, the single exception being the thirty minutes you spent in the corner, watching your sister and Mr. Davidson dance."
"Did you not think he was a bit too familiar with her?"
"Yes, and so did Miss Darcy. I assure you she is not interested."
"And in whom would you say she did take an interest?"
"I am never one to disclose easily my opinions."
Mr. Darcy laughed. "Yes, indeed. You are quite guarded in your judgments, Lizzy. You have always been the epitome of restraint."
"And now it is you who rebukes me. Is it really true, then, that you have no energy remaining for the night?"
"Oh, I have energy enough," he hastened to clarify, "just not for a prolonged battle of wits."
"Then for what, Mr. Darcy?"
He looked as though he would begin to answer her, but instead he hesitated, attempted to speak, and again fell silent. She marveled that he could ever seem unsure of his reception, especially given the passion that--when it had first surfaced in response to his own--had surprised and almost frightened her by its intensity, but which she had since so often and so freely shown to him.
Mr. Darcy leaned closer. "Do you not think," he said, taking her hand in his, "as it is growing late, perhaps we should. . . that is, Elizabeth, do you wish--"
Her lips silenced his, and he responded to the kiss with fervor. He felt her draw very near to him, and when the faintest whisper of pleasure reached his ears, he knew he had his answer.
© 2002 Copyright held by author