One Week Away
A humble offering... Pray forgive any errors, English is my second language. R.W. Chapman dates the events of P&P as occurring in 1812-1813, but I have always felt, perhaps unreasonably, that they happened in 1813-1814, and I have taken the liberty of dating my story accordingly. Mr. Harvey is Pemberley's steward.
The morning sun streamed through the high windows of Mrs. Darcy's sitting room, casting a warm glow over its lone occupant. The clock in the hallway chimed the hour, alerting Elizabeth to the necessity of finishing the letter she was writing, and head downstairs to meet with her housekeeper. She put her pen down for a moment and thought with a smile of her sister's happiness, for it was to Mrs. Bingley that she wrote.
Now I must conclude, my dearest Jane, as I must confer with Mrs. Reynolds. I am sure she awaits me. Pray do not be so cruel as to make me wait too long for your next letter. I am eager to know how your new gown fares at the assembly, and I am only sorry you could not defy mama's opinion as to the color. You are too amiable for your own good. -Yours, lovingly, E.D.
Intermingled with the accounts of parties and engagements, family concerns and neighborhood news, there were clear indications of Jane's satisfaction with her situation. In every one of her letters, there were sentences that inadvertently conveyed her felicity, and Elizabeth could not but feel grateful. The knowledge of her sister being nearly as happy as she was provided ample consolation for the pain of separation.
She sealed her letter, and put her blotter and pen away. As she motioned to rise from her chair, her husband knocked lightly on the door as he entered the room.
"Are you much occupied, dearest? I do not wish to disturb you, but I must speak to you," he said.
"I was on my way to meet with Mrs. Reynolds, darling, but I can certainly spare you a few minutes," she replied with a smile.
"Mr. Harvey has written from Cheshire today. It seems he will require my presence there, I am afraid. I had hoped he would be able to settle the business that took there on his own, but he has met with some resistance and nothing but my personal attention can bring it to an end in our favor," he said looking at her with a resigned expression on his face. The last thing he wanted was to be separated from her, even for one day.
Elizabeth turned her face away, but appeared more composed than felt herself to be. Her good sense prevailed over her disappointment, and as she found no objection to his trip but her own wishes, she resolved to conceal her aversion to his plan. It was not in her disposition to parade her feelings unreasonably, so she calmly answered him.
"Of course. You must join him there. When do you set out?"
"Tomorrow. You must believe me when I tell you that were it not for the absolute necessity of my presence, I would not think of leaving you, my love." hewas somewhat disappointed with her sensible response, for he had rather hoped his announcement would excite a more animated show of emotion than he had been given.
"Fitzwilliam, I beg you, do not be distressed on my account. I understand perfectly, and though I confess I will feel your absence, I know your duties are great, and must be attended to," she replied. I do not wish to pain him, which will undoubtedly occur if I tell him how dreadfully I shall miss him. But why must he go? Oh Mr. Harvey! If you knew what pain you inflict!
As much as her demeanor was calm, she could not control the dimness of her eyes and the slight contraction of her brow. He was observing her attentively, and thus the subtle evidence of her feelings did not escape him. He thought her show of fortitude very becoming, and she endeared herself to him again, as he was presented with yet another proof of her steady character. And yet, I cannot allow you to remain unmoved, my love. I must have your sweet tenderness.
"Your forbearance is appreciated, Elizabeth. I will perhaps consider extending my journey all the way to Lancashire, as there are some interesting prospects in that county, though I reckon it would add at least a fortnight to my trip. Mr. Harvey would certainly be grateful if I take the errand upon myself. What say you, my dear?" said he in his most serious tone.
Elizabeth had not expected this. Her eyes widened and she hurriedly rose from her chair. Lancashire? He would not! Oh what am I to do? She looked at him, unable to prevent the signs of her vexation from unsettling the picture of proper wifely acquiescence that she had sought to present.
"A fortnight?" she asked, in a slightly higher pitch. "B-but..." she could not finish. She looked at him, and then the gleam of satisfaction and amusement in his eyes granted her the mortifying knowledge of his game. She flushed and wondered at her futile attempts to hide anything from this man.
He grinned at her, highly enjoying her confusion, and reflecting that it was only fair she should be for once the object of open pleasantry. He moved closer to her, and raising his hand to her cheek, he prepared himself to claim the reward of his diligent jest.
"I gather you are not as unaffected as you wish me to believe, my dear," he said, lifting her face by her chin. "
And now perhaps you will show me how you really feel."
Before he could bring her lips to meet his, she drew back and with a challenging sparkle in her eyes, moved out of his reach.
"Nay, sir," she said with a laugh. "
Given that you so heartlessly trifle with my affections, I will remind you that I take great enjoyment in overthrowing these kind of schemes, and will therefore cheat you out of your satisfaction."
"Ah, a challenge! Perhaps I can persuade you to relent. I shall use all my powers," he warned, his eyes darkening as he spoke. "
Prepare yourself, my sweetest wife, this night I shall claim my reward!"
"No, Mr. Darcy. You should prepare yourself, for tonight I shall take my revenge, and once I do, it will be well-nigh impossible for you to leave," she replied, a triumphant smile playing archly on her lips. With bright eyes and a raised eyebrow, she quickly turned to exit the room. Her husband stood there, the sound of her skirt as she walked away echoing blissfully in his ear.
He remained where he was for some time, fully enthralled by his wife's banter. He thought it most amazing that she should be able to turn him into a quivering mass of nerves with a mere sentence. He unconsciously brought his hand to his heart, and closed his eyes, as a sweet oppressive pain spread through his chest. Again he felt his love for her swell within him, this time with such force as to actually cause him physical pain. Even the most innocent word or action could set his heart ablaze. Sweet suffering, he thought. Her power over him had only intensified since their marriage, and as their intimacy grew and her enchanting character unfolded, his admiration, and his respect for her, increased many-fold.
Her revenge...his excitement grew as he imagined the possibilities. How could he part from her? Never before had his duties been so little agreeable to him, and yet, they must be discharged. Even now there were matters to be arranged, if he meant to depart on the morrow. He pressed his lips together and slowly made his way downstairs to see to their completion.
Elizabeth, on quitting the sitting room, walked with a heavy heart. She dreaded feeling lonely in her husband's absence, and though her duties would keep her occupied, and Georgiana's companionship would comfort her, nothing could atone for the loss she would endure. Her need for him sometimes amazed her; it was like a physical tie that bound her irresistibly to him. How shall I bear it? They had never been separated since their marriage, but she was certain she would need every ounce of patience she possessed to tolerate the days to come.
On meeting Mrs. Reynolds she apprised her of the master's impending journey, and made arrangements to ensure his comfort and pleasure.
"Breakfast must be early tomorrow, then, and let us have plum cake," she instructed with a smile.
"Oh yes, ma'am. Mr. Darcy will be quite pleased,"
the kindly lady replied, always willing to indulge her master.
"Also, would you see to it that a basket is prepared for his journey? Make sure it includes those sweet apples he likes so much."
"Of course, Mrs. Darcy. Shall you like to amend the rest of tomorrow's menu?"
"I think that would be wise. Miss Darcy and I are not great eaters, after all,"
Elizabeth said, and then proceeded to relay the rest of her domestic instructions. She always gave her attention to every detail, and her efficiency and good taste had long ago procured her the admiration of the faithful housekeeper. This time, however, she forewent their usual conversation, preferring instead to seek solitude and reflection out of doors.
She headed, therefore, upstairs to her dressing room. After her maid had helped her into proper outdoor attire, she set out for the walled garden on one side of the house, where the beauty and seclusion of the place afforded her much needed solace for her restless spirits. The spot was a favorite of hers, and she would go there whenever she wished to be undisturbed. She smiled as she recollected one rather passionate encounter with her husband, right there between the rose bushes. Their kisses and ardent professions of love had been so heartfelt that she treasured them deeply in her heart.
They had just arrived at Pemberley, and the weather being unseasonably warm that day, they had been walking the grounds for some time when they reached the garden.
"What a peaceful place, Fitzwilliam. Even in winter it is so beautiful. I remember when I came here last summer I thought it could never look better, but I see now I was wrong." she inclined her head in that familiar way, and with a dimpled smile she said, half in jest, "
If you do not take care, I shall claim it for my own and then you will not be able to keep me away from here."
"Dearest Elizabeth! It is all yours! It pleases me that you like it," he said, and after a pause he thoughtfully added, "
It was my mother's favorite. She would come down here nearly every day."
Elizabeth could see that he was affected, and eager to ease his mind, she turned to face him and gently touched his cheek. She could not find words that seemed appropriate, so she only looked earnestly into his eyes, silently offering consolation. He responded immediately to her gesture by softly circling her waist with his arms, resting his hands in the small of her back. Her unspoken message touched him, and he closed his eyes for a moment as the soothing balm of her warmth filled his senses.
After several minutes he said, " for so long I hoped that you would join me here. Even after you refused me, I would imagine you here, walking next to me, sharing your life with me. I can hardly comprehend sometimes that you are really here, that you are my wife."
His voice was painfully subdued as the memories of his past torment intruded on his present happiness.
"But it is true. I am here, and I am your wife, and I will never leave," she solemnly replied. Her feelings threatened to overpower her, as his dark bottomless eyes bored through her very soul. Married but two weeks, she was still in awe of their newly sanctioned intimacy, and felt a little embarrassed and vulnerable when voicing her deepest feelings to her husband. This was very unlike herself, she knew, but then she had never experienced anything that even began to resemble her love for him. Completely spellbound by his gaze and highly affected by the moment, she sought to relieve her overflowing heart. She breathed in deeply and with a voice full of emotion, she said, "I love you, Fitzwilliam."
A faint cry escaped him as he brought her closer, wrapping his arms violently around her. He closed his eyes and felt himself alarmingly ready to weep. The upheaval caused by her humble confession was indescribable. She had said it before, but never so directly, nor so gravely. He moved her back a little, to look into her eyes. "You know not how happy I am," he breathlessly said, "I love you most ardently, dearest Elizabeth."
He then swiftly untied the ribbons of her bonnet, freeing her bouncing curls from their confinement. She assisted him, eager for his touch and trembling as he buried his hands in her hair. He tilted his head and avidly kissed her, tightly holding her head, never wanting to let her go.
She responded whole-heartedly to his embrace. She found his kisses absolutely delightful; the warmth and sweetness of his lips always sent a thrill through her whole being. She moaned her objection when he pulled his mouth away, but was silenced when he slowly started kissing every feature of her face, enchanting her anew. He moved his lips over her eyes, her nose, her forehead, all the while whispering how much he loved her.
Elizabeth gasped for air. Her heart was pounding, and from actual weakness rested her head on his chest, hiding her trembling hands inside his coat. She inhaled his smell and softly pressed her lips against the fabric of his waistcoat. Fitzwilliam held her, gently stroking her hair. How came I to be so blessed? He thought. He silently mouthed his gratitude, and made a promise to be always deserving of her love.
They had remained for a long time in each other's arms, and now as she remembered, Elizabeth blushed because she knew that had dinner not been already served when they returned to the house, they would have gone directly to their chamber, so tender had been their exchange.
After that day Elizabeth could not hold her feelings back, even if she had wished to. She had always hoped for trust and openness in her marriage, and to be so fortunate as to have attained them made her happiness complete. Fitzwilliam was now her dearest friend, her most trusted adviser and her most cherished companion.
Tomorrow he is to leave...what shall I do without him in this great house? She rose from the bench where she had been seating for the past half-hour and walked slowly around the garden for some time before returning to the house.
*** After supper Elizabeth felt herself growing more anxious, as the next day and its painful separation loomed closer. She had made an effort to appear cheerful and composed at table, but found that her success was poor consolation for her discomfort. Georgiana had seemed to instinctively understand her state of mind, and had kindly directed the conversation to safe topics agreeable to all, among them her expected introduction into society later in the spring.
Elizabeth looked at her sister with gratitude when she excused herself from playing that evening, claiming to have some letters to write. To the library, therefore, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy repaired.
Thank you for all the generous comments. I was very hesitant about posting this story, but your kindness has rendered my hesitation unwarranted. I am very glad you like it.
As they sat together on the sofa, Elizabeth rested her head on Fitzwilliam's shoulder, highly enjoying the comfort of his nearness and the rich timbre of his voice as he read to her. Reading to each other by turns was one of their favorite pastimes. Fitzwilliam softly kissed her hair and moved his arm behind her to embrace her.
"Are you tired, my dear?" he asked. "You seem preoccupied."
"I am not tired..." she paused for a moment and then softly added, "it is just that...I have been thinking, how long do you expect to be away?"
"I wish I could say with certainty that it will be no more than a few days, but I am not so sure. Mr. Harvey informs me that the man with whom we are dealing has become obdurate, and refuses to reconsider his price, which is unusually high."
"What do you intend to do? Will you agree to what he asks?"
"I will not pay more than the fair price. I understand his cattle are of superior quality, and I plan to have a look and judge their worth. If I conclude that the quality does not warrant what he asks, I intend to make him see reason," heexplained. "
I expect to be able to return in one week's time." After a pause he added, "I shall miss you exceedingly, Elizabeth."
"And I you. I feel as though we have always been in each other's company. I can barely remember a time when we were not together. It is a silly feeling, I know, especially considering our history, and in other circumstances I would laugh at my foolishness, but at this moment I fail to find humor in it."
"It is not foolishness. It is only testimony of our great happiness, my love. I feel as you do. There is no other place for you to be but in my arms," he said, tightening his embrace.
"Hmmm...yes..." she agreed.
"That reminds me, do you not agree that the hour grows late and it is perhaps time we went to bed?"
"Indeed I think you are right, my dear. You had better rest before your journey."
"Ah, yes. My rest...but have you forgotten that I am to claim my reward?" he said with simulated seriousness. "Debts must be paid, you know, and what I have in mind does not have anything to do with repose."
She turned to look at him somewhat surprised; she had forgotten their morning conversation.
"If I had a debt to pay, I would agree with you. But as it is, I can only extol the great benefits of a full night's rest," she replied, suddenly determined to get even in a way she was sure he did not expect.
"Then what of your revenge? Was that an empty threat? I am disappointed, my lady. I had expected a worthy opponent."
She laughed and then said, "My dear Mr. Darcy, do you not see that allowing you a full night's rest is my revenge?" she stood and looked at him with merry eyes.
"Oh no, Mrs. Darcy. I think not," he said, and before she could move he seized her by the shoulders and swiftly covered her mouth with his own. Oh no! she thought, and a second later she was lost. All he had to do was touch her and she was at his mercy. She began to respond to the beloved pressure of his lips and she lifted her arms to draw him closer, but he abruptly released her.
"I shall meet you upstairs, my dear," he breathlessly said and with a tiny smile, left the room.
As Elizabeth lay in her husband's arms in the warmth and comfort of their bedchamber, she thought of the different ways their love manifested itself. Sometimes it was overwhelmingly passionate, and others, it was gentle and full of tenderness. She had never expected this part of marriage to be so satisfying. The closeness she felt was incredible. It was as if their souls actually touched...
She nestled closer to him and buried her face in his neck, kissing his birthmark as she drifted off to sleep.
* * * As the light of the morning invaded the bedchamber, Fitzwilliam moved lazily in his sleep, unconsciously seeking the warmth of the soft body lying next to him. He slowly opened his eyes as he snuggled closer to the source of the comforting heat. He blinked a few times as he became accustomed to the brightness of the room, and he rubbed his eyes like a child as a giant yawn escaped from his lips. He turned his face and closed his eyes for a moment, as the sight that had greeted him every morning for the past three months became clear.
With Elizabeth's face only a few inches away, he was immediately enthralled by the sweet expression of her relaxed countenance, the delicate movement of her nose as she breathed and the inviting softness of her rosy lips. He suppressed the wish to kiss her pouting mouth and gazed instead at her sleeping features in adoring observation. He held his breath and allowed his eyes to travel the length of her body...her messy curls sprawled on the soft whiteness of the pillow...the outline of her cheek against the sunlight.... Dearest Elizabeth...He shyly caressed the fabric of her nightgown, its delicate embroidery evoking in him the most fervent emotions.
He was roused from his absorption as Elizabeth slowly stirred to consciousness, sleepily stretching her arms.
As soon as she saw him, his longing expression brought a tender smile to her lips. Her heart gave a start as she read the thoughts that were plainly written on his face, and a happy giggle escaped her mouth as he raised her up to passionately kiss her.
"I see you have...been awake...for...some time, my love," she managed to say against his lips. He pushed away the tiny curls that framed her face, and holding her still, looked intently into her eyes. The depth of the passion that she saw reflected in his eyes made her hold her breath. She gasped as he pressed his mouth over her own once again.
"My wife, you are so beautiful...you have such effect on me!" he hoarsely said, and every other word became unnecessary.
* * * Fitzwilliam collected his hat and walking stick in the great hallway, and was momentarily distracted from his conversation with the butler by thoughts of Elizabeth. He could hear her playful voice as she talked to Georgiana in a nearby room, and was grateful for the moments of privacy they had spent in the study a few minutes before. To have nothing more than a ceremonious farewell from his wife was a punishment not to be endured.
"Everything has been set for Mrs. Darcy as you ordered, sir," said Mr. Whiddon, calling his attention.
"Very well, Whiddon. Have you seen it yourself?" he inquired.
"Yes, sir. Mr. Granger has outdone himself. It is certainly a magnificent bouquet."
"Excellent. Convey my appreciation, then. I can rely on you to renew the commission during my absence. See to it that there are flowers for Mrs. Darcy every day," he instructed.
"It shall be done, sir. I wish you a safe and speedy return, Mr. Darcy."
"Thank you. Good day," he said as Elizabeth and Georgiana approached. He offered each an arm and escorted them out to the courtyard.
They talked cheerfully for a few minutes, and after planting an affectionate kiss on Georgiana's forehead, Fitzwilliam turned toward his wife and was immediately drawn into the spell of her bright eyes. He took her hand, furtively squeezing her fingers as he remembered her words of affection and the warm embrace they had just shared in the study. With a look full of meaning, he brought her hand to his lips, lingering on her soft skin. He held her gaze and forgot for a moment about the presence of his sister, the servants waiting in the carriage, and even the horses and their impatient snorts. The intensity of his eyes Elizabeth could not mistake, and she felt her knees go weak as she sweetly smiled in understanding. She pressed her fingers against his hand as he released them, discreetly responding to the ardent message of his gaze.
She stood there watching as his carriage slowly made its way around the driveway, and it was not until she felt Georgiana's gentle touch on her arm that she realized she could not remain where she was. How life had changed for her! To think that she had once spurned the love of this man! He, who was everything she could wish for in a husband! She suppressed a chuckle, as she was again sensible of the remarkable difference between her former feelings and what they now were. Her thoughts engrossed her for a moment, but she soon managed to regain enough presence of mind to answer Georgiana's good-natured remarks as they walked back to the house.
Once inside, Elizabeth felt restless. She roamed the rooms of Pemberley in search of distraction for awhile, but neither Georgiana's delightful playing, nor the most interesting volumes in the magnificent library, could fix her attention. At last, she gave up, and decided that meaningful employment was the only remedy for her uneasy mood. Perhaps if she attended to the most pressing cares now, she could take a long walk before lunch. It seemed like ages since she had been outdoors for any length of time.
With the prospect of fresh air and exercise to delight her, Elizabeth made a mental review of the things to which she must attend before she could set out. Her list was rather full today.
First, she must discuss with Mrs. Reynolds the list of provisions for the coming month. She must not forget to order prawns for that dish that Georgiana enjoyed so much. Of great importance too, was the placing of that village girl, whose family's situation she understood was exceedingly strained. She was sure something could be found, if not within their household, perhaps with some acquaintance of Mrs. Reynolds. She would then check on the work of the still-room maid; her lavender water had been too strong for her liking the last time. And she must still review the floral arrangements with the parlormaid; umm...perhaps she should postpone that until she returned. She bit her lip while she pondered this question. Yes, if I leave that for later, I will have enough time for a decent walk, she decided. With renewed enthusiasm, she headed toward the dining parlor, where she could hear Mrs. Reynolds talking to one of the maids.
* * * Mr. Whiddon surveyed the list before him with a careful eye. He was quite familiar with the contents of the wine cellar, having just checked them a few days before. He slowly nodded in satisfaction at the efficiency of his under-butler. Young Duncan had turned out to be a good choice for the post, he thought. Of course, had he known that the man in his forties of whom he was thinking so highly, cringed at the appellative that only a punctilious butler of the old school could so easily bestow, he would have given him one of his well-known looks of disapproval. Mr. Whiddon was not a man who cared for the informality of the young, and because of Mr. Duncan's age and subordinate position, he considered him positively juvenile. He prided himself on his good judgement and was clearly determined to keep his staff under tight rein. Furthermore, he judged it his highest duty to watch over the interests of his master and his family. Mr. Whiddon was also a kind man, who had an almost improper fatherly affection for Mr. Darcy, though he would never be so forward as to admit it to anyone, or indeed, to himself.
He lifted his eyes from the paper, and with a displeased frown motioned to rise from his chair, as the chatter of two maids passing his door perturbed the peaceful atmosphere of his office. He must speak to Mrs. Reynolds about this; every disruption meant loss of valuable time, and he still had to inspect the secured cupboard where the finest wines were kept. "Ah, Jenny and Molly* again," he said to himself as he opened the door and saw to whose loquacity he owed this annoying interruption.
The maids were quickly silenced when they heard the door, and immediately lowered their heads in guilty acknowledgement under the reproving eye of the intimidating old man. They walked away with a hurried step, and Mr. Whiddon could then return to the venerable tranquility of his sanctuary. However much he censured the boisterous spirits of the two women, he reflected that their chatter was not wholly unwelcome.
Despite the fact that his hearing was admittedly not as sharp as it had once been, his senses were finely tuned to anything that might be of relevance to his position, and he had learned from their conversation that Mrs. Darcy was to go for a walk. He had come to know the mistress's fondness for the outdoors, and he thought it very likely that her walk this time might be a long one. He knew she had been busy with the staff all morning, so he suspected she had not yet been to her sitting room, where the splendid offering from his master awaited her. With a slight twist of his mouth he thought he would prevent her from leaving without seeing what beautiful flowers Mr. Darcy had ordered for her.
It was a source of great satisfaction for Mr. Whiddon to see the sincere attachment between his master and mistress. Though Mrs. Darcy had recommended herself to him merely by the obvious happiness she had brought to Mr. Darcy, he was genuinely pleased by her polite manners and by the unaffected propriety and judiciousness of her character.
Mr. Whiddon smiled to himself, quite satisfied with his present scheme. He soon directed his dignified steps to the main part of the house, as he went in search of Mrs. Darcy.
*Jenny and Molly were Jane Austen's real life maids.
* * *
Upon entering the sitting room, Elizabeth was immediately aware of the rich scent that permeated the entire chamber, and when her eyes rested on the enormous bouquet that dominated a small table, her delight was beyond expression. She fully comprehended the tender meaning behind the offering and she was nearly overcome with emotion.
She approached the lavish display in awe. They were the most beautiful, the most fragrant roses she had ever seen! She drew the downy blossoms gently toward her face to deeply inhale their intoxicating scent. Elizabeth could hardly contain her happiness. She wanted to smile and cry at the same time and the deep sense of joy and gratitude she felt brought color to her cheeks and a sparkle to her eyes. Fitzwilliam...she whispered under her breath as her fingers slowly caressed the velvety petals. Oh, how she wanted to run into his arms! If only she could tell him how much she loved him, and how much she appreciated his loving gesture!
Her heart was brimming over with love, and her spirits, fluttering with pleasure. All she could do was think of her husband, and her longing for him at this moment was severe. She walked over to a window, and with a dreamy smile looked out to the grounds of their home, without really distinguishing any of what she saw. She was lost in blissful remembrances. It was so flattering to know that her husband continued to court her, even months after their marriage.
Elizabeth treasured every proof of his attachment, and at this moment she felt that there was nothing in her life she could wish for, except his presence. Oh, she must be ready for his homecoming! She must do something to reciprocate his kindness, to let him know how much he was loved and to give him even half the pleasure he had bestowed on her. What can I do? There is not much time! As much as I want him home, he must not be back until I have prepared a proper welcome for him. She contemplated several ideas, but her mind was too full to think clearly. I shall think of it by the lake, she decided. Her thoughts always seemed to clear after a long walk, and she had much to plan.
With grateful acknowledgement to Marcia, whose knowledge is surpassed only by her generosity.
Fitzwilliam alighted from the carriage with a sigh of relief. This had been one of the longest rides he could remember! His legs were stiff and his shoulders, drooping with fatigue, and to make matters worse, the sun had been out for most of the journey, making him feel sweaty and sticky. He was quickly ushered inside the inn, and he was glad of it, for the thunderous neighing of the horses and the continuous prattle of the servants as they unloaded the trunks contributed to his incipient headache. The prospect of a warm meal and a change of clothes seemed every moment more alluring.
After a refreshing wash and a hearty repast, Fitzwilliam sat comfortably in his room. He had already written a letter to his wife, and now he leisurely stretched his legs in front of the crackling fire. It was too late to get any business done, but he would see his steward shortly, and then he would discuss with him the situation that had brought him hither. In the meantime, he could relax and shake off the weary feeling of his limbs and the slight pressure in his head. His mood had improved considerably since he had settled in his chambers. He was a man of habit, and he was pleased to see that his valet had already unpacked his trunks. His toiletries were neatly arranged on top of the dresser, his clothes carefully hung in the heavy armoire to one side of the room, and even some of his favorite books were set on the small table next to him.
Fitzwilliam inhaled deeply and rested his head on the back of the chair, brushing aside the errant curl on his forehead. He sincerely hoped this business would be concluded soon. All he wanted was to get back home to his wife! What was he doing in some nondescript village of Cheshire, enduring the inconveniences of travel and a rented room, when he could be at home enjoying the company of his lovely bride? It would surely be a trial to his forbearance. His thoughts were not likely to sustain his benevolent mood, the ominous sign of a frown already appearing on his brow, so it was fortunate indeed that his valet at that moment appeared in the room, saving him from his ill-humored meditation.
"Is everything to your satisfaction, sir?" his valet inquired, after a respectful bow.
"Yes, Peters. Has Mr. Harvey arrived?"
"No, sir. He will be notified of your arrival as soon as he returns. He will await you in the parlor, if that is agreeable to you, sir."
Fitzwilliam silently nodded his agreement and walked slowly around the room. After a few minutes he turned toward the valet, who was already busy preparing his attire for the next day, and said, "I would like your assistance in procuring a present for my wife and my sister, Peters. Perhaps you can visit the shops tomorrow. I dare say they will have what I have in mind, and if not, you can go up to Macclesfield* and scour the shops there, or even the mills. I will tell you what I want," and he went on to give the necessary descriptions, endeavoring to impress the importance of the commission and stressing that nothing but the best would satisfy him.
Peters readily assented, and offered his own qualified suggestions when prompted. It was very clear to him that no distance was too great and no amount too high where these presents were concerned. Peters' countenance remained composed and he betrayed none of the amusement that the enthusiastic manner of his master caused him. Though Mr. Darcy had always been most attentive to his sister, always mindful of whatever would bring her pleasure, he was obviously devoted to Mrs. Darcy.
Fitzwilliam reached for a glass of wine and then settled himself in his former seat by the fire, picking up a book from the table. "It was good of you to bring some books, Peters," he said, "I meant to request it of you before we set out, but in the end it escaped my notice."
"Thank you, sir, but it was not I who thought of it. It was Mrs. Darcy, sir."
Peters soon bowed as he retreated from the room, eager to give his master privacy, because suddenly Mr. Darcy had acquired a faraway, dreamy expression, and he seemed hardly to hear him, absentmindedly approving the outfit that he held in front of him with a wave of his hand. *The city of Macclesfield in Cheshire was one of the main centers of silk spinning and weaving during the Regency, when the Napoleonic wars precluded the legal import of French silk.
Elizabeth's brisk movements revealed her growing excitement. She knew exactly what she would do for Fitzwilliam's return, and with the impatience of a child she set about putting her plans in action. The first order of business was to write letters, express letters, she told herself; she could not risk any delays.
She opened the small drawer of her writing box where she kept her stationery, and taking several sheets of her elegant, hot pressed paper embossed with the Darcy crest, she began to write in her fair, sweeping hand. Her letter was to Mr. Gardiner.
"My dear uncle,
"Your generous nature gives me leave to burden you with a request that I know you will not find it in your heart to deny. I have had so many proofs of your affection that I have no fear of being found pretentious. Before I proceed, let me tell you again how much Fitzwilliam and I enjoyed the excellent wine* you and my aunt sent last month. I will not ask how you managed to procure it, but I am grateful for your resourcefulness nonetheless. We finished the last bottle just this past week and dinner had never been better accompanied. Monsieur Renan* was very impressed.
And now, my aforementioned entreaty: when Mr. Darcy and I were last in town, we heard high praise for a new translation of Dante's verses that a certain clergyman is about to publish*; forgive me, but I cannot recall his name. Mr. Darcy's bookseller has promised to send a copy of the work as soon as he has one, but knowing the extent of your business connections, I thought it possible that you might be able to obtain a volume before it reaches the public. Do you think it manageable? I know I ask much of you, my dear uncle, but I confess I would dearly love to see the expression on my husband's face when he sees this gift. He is from home at the moment, gone on business to Cheshire, and will not be back for several days.
Our plans for travelling into town are not firmly settled yet, but I shall let you all know as soon as we decide when we will leave Pemberley. I think Fitzwilliam has not forgotten his defeat at billiards at your hands, and is eager to settle the score, so you must make time to battle with him. Pray tell my aunt my reply to her last will be in the post in the next few days. Do let me know as soon as you have news. I eagerly await your reply. "
"With all the affection of your niece,
Her letter finished, Elizabeth sealed it, deftly pouring the hot wax and making a precise impression on the dark pool that secured her pages together. She turned her attention to the next item on her mental list, gathering her fashion magazines in a pile. She paused for a moment, her eyes lingering on the fragrant clouds that were cheerfully suspended in the warm air of the sunny sitting room. They seemed to be smiling at her in complicity. She smiled back distractedly, her mind already occupied with frilly descriptions of lace and muslin, silk and ribbons that accompanied the idealized illustrations found in a lady's fashion pocket book.
After perusing the pages of several issues, Elizabeth found a number of gowns to her liking. She narrowed her choices down, choosing two dresses that were suited to her style and purpose. Her taste was sophisticated, but not unduly so. The wealth attached to her married status signified nothing more to her than the means of pleasing those whom she loved, and it was actually a source of amusement for her to be the subject of obsequious attention, as she had become immediately upon her marriage. Every merchant of importance in London had seen it fit to present her with samples of his stock, and her aunt had even told her that two dressmakers had engaged in a war of words over her patronage.
As it was, Elizabeth took it all with amused detachment, though she expected her diversion would turn to disgust when the novelty wore off. Sometimes it was mortifying, the way people made a nuisance of themselves and not even her appreciation of human folly could make her find entertainment value in the absurdity of empty flattery. She did own it to herself, however, that extraordinary wealth made ordinary things infinitely easier to accomplish, as in the present case.
Elizabeth now reached for the parcel that her London dressmaker had sent her the week before. It contained swatches of the latest fabrics, and she examined them with a keen eye on color and texture. She took her penknife and carefully cut out the inside of the dresses she had chosen*. She placed the swatches behind the paper, the fabric forming a background for the perforations, and she was immediately sure of her choices. A fine silk in a deep blue was perfect for the dress she would wear when Fitzwilliam came home. The color was a little darker than she was used to, but she had to admit that rich colors became her complexion, and the fabric was lovely. The dress was simple, but very striking, with a square neckline and a delicate lace under-dress. The other gown, she would order for their trip to London, so she chose ivory mull for it, the gauzy fabric spotted with beautiful tinsel embroidery in green and gold.
She was very pleased with her progress, and she quickly wrote a letter to her dressmaker, explaining that the blue dress was to be made with all haste, for she must have it before the week was up. She had no doubt of it being completed in time. The very discreet woman whom she had finally chosen as her dressmaker would understand, and as Elizabeth had never been unreasonable with her orders, the importance of this commission would be evident for it being unprecedented.
*Mr. Gardiner sent the Darcys several bottles of illegal French wine.
*M. Renan is Pemberley's French cook.
*Elizabeth is referring to Henry F. Cary's translation of "The Divine Comedy", which was published in 1814.
*Jane Austen's niece, Fanny Knight, cut out the inside of the dresses in her fashion magazines, to display the latest fabrics, and it is from her preserved journals that I got the idea.
* * *
The moon was high in the night sky of Cheshire, its pale glow suffusing the room where Fitzwilliam Darcy spent long wakeful hours with a bluish glow. He stood by the window gazing out into the darkness, the stillness of the night broken only by the ululant sounds of owls and stray dogs. Somehow the mournful cries formed a befitting setting for his hopeless loneliness. He turned his eyes to the cold bed he had just vacated, his body rejecting the feather-soft expanse of white linen, his mind rebelling against the cruel physical comfort of having a large bed all to himself. It was a mocking reminder of what he was meant to have, the sweet companionship of his beloved and the intimacy of her bed. A heavy sigh escaped from his chest, his yearning for her a hot, relentless wish to feel the warmth of her loving embrace.
What was he to do? The night stretched long and arduous, his heart refusing to be placated. He paced the room and for lack of occupation stoked the fire, the heat of the flames lapping his face, his noble features rendered more imposing by the dancing shadows that ended in beautiful arabesque patterns no artist could hope to reproduce. He made a resolute effort to quell his need and pacify his mind. He glanced over the titles that Elizabeth had chosen for him, a tender smile curling his mouth. He took the book he had been reading before, but tonight he was in no humor to read about the military exploits of Admiral Nelson.*
He settled instead for something that seemed much more in tune with his own feelings and that he had not read in quite a long time. How Elizabeth understood what would suit his mood he knew not, but her loving attention to his tastes satisfied him exceedingly. He had carried the burden of responsibility on his own for so long that he had actually forgotten what it was to be cosseted and looked after. As he opened the book, letting the pages part on their own, his eyes began their slow movement along the lines, his body visibly relaxing as he read the soothing words of John Milton.
"÷what seemed fair in all the world, seemed now
Mean, or in her summed up, in her contained
And in her looks, which from that time infused
Sweetness into my heart, unfelt before,
And into all things from her air inspired
The spirit of love and amorous delight."
How well these words reflected his own truth astounded him, and he felt warm all over as the depth of his emotions darkened his eyes and softened his face. He took a deep breath and read on.
"She disappeared, and left me dark, I waked
To find her, or forever to deplore
Her loss, and other pleasures all abjure:
When out of hope, behold her, not far off,
Such as I saw her in my dream, adorned
With what all earth or heaven could bestow÷"*
Fitzwilliam took comfort in the words, and found a measure of peace for his tortured mind. His heart swelled with love for Elizabeth, and for a moment he could clearly see her face before him, the ripple of her laughter tickling his ear. How he loved her! He had this unfailing wish to make her happy, to cherish her and see to it that nothing could ever give her cause for regret. He smiled sheepishly because together with these noble sentiments came the purely selfish desire to forever be the object of her affections, to woo her and enchant her, and make her fall in love with him again and again. A faint tremor ran through his body as he remembered how her eyes shone whenever he entered a room, how her cheeks glowed scarlet when he murmured private endearments in her ear and how her lips parted and softened in anticipation of his kiss. She was so loving, so sweet, but though he loved her sparkling wit and lively spirits, it was the tenderness of her heart and the righteousness of her character what he treasured most. His marriage had indeed exceeded all his expectations; Elizabeth was truly the worthiest of women, and she was his.
With his thoughts chasing each other in his mind, he could not keep his attention on the book for long, however determinedly he tried. His body at length succumbed to fatigue, and in his dreams, he was back at Pemberley, in the sweet surrender of Elizabeth's arms.
* "Life of Nelson" Robert Southey, 1813.
* Book VIII, "Paradise Lost" John Milton, 1658-1665.
Elizabeth spent the next few days in considerable, though private, dejection. She occupied herself as much as she could, making every possible effort to suppress wistful reflection. She sought Georgiana's companionship during the day, conscious of the girl's soothing effect on her deflated spirits. Whether they sat together in comfortable silence, or animated conversation, there was in the younger girl, a placidity of temper that brought to Elizabeth cherished recollections of her sister Jane and the solace they had offered each other in the noisy confusion of their father's household. The nights were another matter entirely, and she spent many a sleepless hour in the solitude of her apartment, reading until her eyes hurt and sheer exhaustion forced her into sleep.
She had the pleasure of receiving a letter from Fitzwilliam the day after his departure, and she read his ardent words of affection with a thudding heart, the throbbing of her blood almost overwhelming her powers of comprehension. Elizabeth thought the letter much too short, but was nonetheless gratified by its speedy arrival, and she read it so many times that she soon had it memorized. She tried to reproduce his voice in her mind, but even though she knew exactly how it sounded and she could distinguish it in a room-full of people, the precise sound escaped her. She missed him terribly. She was very happy with her new life, but all the comfort and elegance of their home was nothing but an empty shell without him. She berated herself for feeling so forlorn and depressed, and, aware of the observant eyes of the household, she exerted herself to appear composed and dignified in the presence of others. The effort sometimes left her fatigued and irritated, as there was always a footman or a maid standing by, but she would not give rise to idle speculation.
She found great relief in devoting all her energy to the preparations for her husband's reception. She expected him to return by the end of the week, and she had one or two moments of great anxiety, fearing that Mr. Gardiner would fail to secure the book, or that her dressmaker would prove dilatory, and she waited for the post every day with the greatest impatience. She planned a splendid menu, meticulously including his favorite dishes. The first course had garnished dressed lamb, chicken with tongue, soup and fricassee of turnips, with buttered prawns and sole with wine and mushrooms for side dishes. Pheasant a la Braise, forcemeat balls, Florentine rabbits and vegetable pudding made up the second course, with larded sweetbreads and a basket of pastries accompanying them. Fitzwilliam was very fond of sweets, so she ordered syllabub, trifle, ratafia cake and 'Maids of Honor', his favorite dessert *. It was a table that would make Mrs. Bennet proud!
With Georgiana's help, she perfected a beautiful song that she liked very much. The lyrics were sweet and fervent, and the melody, simple enough for her talents, and with careful practice and Georgiana's expert advice, her performance acquired a fluidity of expression that was very pleasing. She used the pianoforte in one of the upstairs drawing rooms, and although it was not as fine as the o ne in the music room, she liked its well-worn feel and, against Georgiana's protests that she really should use the new instrument, Elizabeth had come to consider it her own.
Fitzwilliam had been away for five days when Mr. Gardiner wrote, and to her great joy, a thick parcel accompanied his letter.
"My dear, good uncle!" she whispered, her fingers hastily breaking the seal.
"Gracechurch Street, March --, 1814
My dear Lizzy,
"As you can surmise by the package that follows this letter, I have been successful in my endeavors. It has taken some persuasion on my part, but I have been very fortunate. A friend from my club is an associate of considerable influence at the publishers, and he appealed to Egerton* himself as a special favor. The book is due to make its appearance in two weeks time; I believe it will be advertised in Monday's paper. I have read a few pages, and I daresay it is worthy of the reputation that precedes it. I understand quite well why you are eager to have it.
So there you are my dear. I have done what you asked, and I am very pleased with myself. Tell your husband that I will take great pleasure in battling with him any time and that my best port and my best cue stick will be ready for our match. We must plan a visit to Drury Lane; Kean as Shylock* is all the rage. Your aunt asks me to apologize on her behalf for not having answered your letter, but the children have caught cold and she has been much occupied. I am sure Mr. Darcy will be well pleased with your gift."
Elizabeth quickly opened the parcel and as her fingers caressed the smooth leather of the covers, she gave a contented sigh and smiled with satisfaction. Fitzwilliam would be so surprised. She penned a brief letter full of affection and gratitude to her uncle, and though she wanted very much to peruse the book, the knowledge of it being in her possession must satisfy her for the present. She and Georgiana wer ™e to make a charitable visit to the village of Kympton; the carriage was surely already waiting for them. Her pleasure therefore, would have to be postponed.
* I have taken these dishes from the books " Jane Austen, In Style" and "The Jane Austen Cookbook"
* Egerton was the publisher of P&P.
* Jane Austen attended a performance of " The Merchant of Venice" at the Drury Lane Theater on March 5, 1814. Edmund Kean played the role of Shylock.
* * *
While Mr. Darcy took his bath, Peters was busy putting away the shaving tools and picking up the clothing that lay crumpled on a chair. He muttered to himself as he went about his task, gasping in displeasure at the poor state of his master's apparel. It had rained all day and dirt seemed to be everywhere. The trousers were splashed and the boots were covered with thick lumps of mud. Peters immediately took the offending footwear and placed it outside the chamber to be cleaned and polished, and proceeded to retrieve a shiny pair of ˜ boots from the armoire. Thank Heaven they were going home tomorrow! He could not withstand another day, and, for the look of things, neither could Mr. Darcy.
This trip had not been very pleasant. He had found the inn not up to his standards, the keepers were too lax, and the servants negligent. The weather had been nasty every day but one, and Peters was already dreading the ride home, for the roads would surely be wet and muddy. Mr. Darcy too, had seemed restless and distracted, and he had not known how to appease him. Peters shuddered as he remembered the anxiety he had suffered concerning the presents for Mrs. and Miss Darcy, and for a moment he had really thought the master was displeased, but it had all turned out alright in the end.
He had arranged for a very obliging and knowledgeable shopkeeper in the nearby town of ----- to bring his best items for Mr. Darcy's approval. Peters had found his shop superior to any others in the neighborhood and the quality of his merchandise better than he had expected to find in a place so far removed from London. To his great surprise, nothing that the man produced pleased Mr. Darcy. Handkerchiefs, scarves, hair combs, neither of them were good enough. Peters had cringed inwardly in acute embarrassment and mortification, and he was about to dismiss the shopkeeper, when the portly little man suddenly opened another package and began displaying the most exquisite silk items. In one single minute Peters' fear of having displeased his master turned to elation and relief, as Mr. Darcy clearly expressed his approbation.
As it happened, the shopkeeper's wife was a skilled needlewoman, who came from a long line of weavers from one of the mills. Her work was very impressive, and Mr. Darcy had chosen several items. A beautiful letter case in ivory silk with an intricate floral pattern embroidered over the flaps, and a lovely bed jacket for Mrs. Darcy, and for Miss Darcy, a fichu in sheer white muslin embroidered with tiny purple flowers and shaded green leaves.
Finding that shopkeeper was a stroke of luck, thought Peters as a servant arrived bringing more water for Mr. Darcy's bath. His mind wandered as he poured the warm water over Mr. Darcy's shoulders, and he made a mental list of the things he had yet to do in preparation for tomorrow's journey. He had got most of the packing done and what remained would not take too long, so he hoped to make it an early night. As he held the robe for Mr. Darcy, Peters thought he would remind Nicholson, the coachman, to warn Thomas that spending another night at the tavern next door would ensure dismissal. What a dreadful journey it would be if they had a crapulent groom lolloping around in the back of the coach.
* * *
The day of her husband's return was one of the longest Elizabeth could remember. As she sat in the warm peacefulness of the library, she lifted her eyes to the clock on the mantel and with grim resignation pressed her lips together. Only eleven! Would there be no end to the misery of waiting? It seemed to her that the hands on the clock were hardly moving, but then she checked the time so often that perhaps it was only her imagination.
She took comfort in knowing that everything was ready for Fitzwilliam's arrival. Mrs. Reynolds assured her that the preparations for dinner were most satisfactorily coming along and the older woman had most kindly congratulated her on the excellence of the menu. Her gown had arrived the day before, and except for a necessary but minor adjustment to the bodice, the fit had been perfect. It became her very well and her heart fluttered like a caged bird as she imagined the gleam of appreciation in her husband's chestnut eyes when he saw her.
Elizabeth smiled as she held her present for Fitzwilliam in her hands. It was a wonderful book, and she had been reading parts of it since the day before, but she purposely refrained from reading it in its correct sequence, as she wanted the privilege of first perusal to be Fitzwilliam's. She read several pages and was thoroughly absorbed in the words when the beauty of a particular verse arrested her.
"Light intellectual, replete with love; Love of true happiness, replete with joy, Joy, that transcends all sweetness of delight."* Elizabeth stared at the page and read the ancient words over and over. The simplicity and power of the verse affected her profoundly, and she was curiously overwhelmed by a sense of recognition, a dawning comprehension that this was exactly how she loved Fitzwilliam. She loved him with conviction, with the conscious knowledge that he was worthy of her love and her respect, and she had the sobering understanding that she was a better woman for loving him, for having overcome her blind prejudice and her faulty discernment of his character. Yet her love had also the joyful exuberance and the heady warmth of a more basic, less intellectual attachment, and with this reflection she had the certain knowledge that her happiness was true, complete, abiding.
She sat for some time in silent introspection, vividly recalling cherished moments of their shared history. Her mind's eye went from that first, mortifying meeting at the assembly dance in Meryton, to the unexpected avowal of his feelings at the Hunsford Parsonage and her acrimonious rejection of his suit. She slowly shook her head in self-reproof, but then she smiled as she remembered that magical, unforgettable moment by the piano last summer, when she had looked straight into his eyes and had nearly drowned in the depth of the affection they betrayed. Her soft heart contracted when the images of their wedding and the delightful intimacy that followed flashed before her eyes. The remembrance of his ardent embrace and her own fervent response heightened her color and drew an anguished, breathless sigh of longing from her chest.
She rose and walked around the room, stopping in front of the gilded mirror near the door. She looked at her reflection and pressed her cool hands to her scorching carmine cheeks. She paused for a moment and with assessing eyes examined her appearance. She was not a girl anymore. Her features had bloomed in voluptuous awakening. Her hair glowed, her mouth was full and ripe and in her eyes there was a languorous sparkle that when directed at her husband beckoned his complete surrender. Could she ever have imagined that marriage would be so wonderful? She had always respected the sanctity of matrimony, but to feel so close to a man was a glorious gift that she had never expected. She now knew that this was what she had been born for, to be his, in complete, absolute possession.
*Canto XXX, "The Divine Comedy" Dante Alighieri. Translated by Henry Frances Cary, 1814.
* * * It was nearly seven and Fitzwilliam had still not arrived. Elizabeth's concern increased with every passing minute, and as she looked out the window, the Cimmerian darkness that shrouded the land intensified her distress. She could not but fear for his safety and more than once she was forced to dismiss from her mind alarming images of lame horses and overturned carriages. She would not augment her anxiety by indulging her fancy, however, so she steadfastly concentrated on the anticipated pleasure of his arrival. Her resolution did credit to her sense, but it could not, by sheer force of will, do away with her disappointment.
Would all her plans come to naught? What a perverse trick of fate it would be, if after all her careful planning and all the good fortune that had aided her uncle's efforts, Fitzwilliam arrived too late to enjoy any of it. She had fixed all her happiest thoughts on this reunion, the expectation of his homecoming being the strongest inducement to her bearing the past week with a tolerable degree of equanimity.
Elizabeth bit the inside of her lip as she furtively checked the time again. She was sitting with Georgiana in the saloon, and she realized that unless Fitzwilliam arrived soon, they would have to start dinner without him, a commonplace ending to all her carefully laid out arrangements. She looked down at herself, clad in the beautiful blue silk of her gown, the tips of her satin slippers peeping out from underneath the embroidered hem of her skirt. She pressed her teeth more deeply into the soft flesh of her bottom lip, as tears of vexation threatened to roll down her cheeks. "Where are you Fitzwilliam?" she silently cried out.
Her moment of weakness lasted mere seconds, as she quickly admonished herself against repining. It was thoroughly disappointing, but it must be accepted, and nothing could be gained by dwelling on the frustration of her hopes. Her resolution made, Elizabeth straightened her shoulders and lifted her chin a little as she moved to ring for Mr. Whiddon. It would do no good to delay dinner any longer. Everything was surely ready in the dining room, and Monsieur Renan was probably having great difficulty keeping the food warm.
She was waiting for Georgiana, who had gone to her room to retrieve her shawl, when the sound of the dogs running drew her to the hallway. Her heart turned over and she was rooted to the spot as her eyes rested on the tall, handsome figure of her husband, who was at that moment being relieved of his cloak and hat.
Fitzwilliam Darcy had never beheld a more beautiful sight than the one that greeted him upon entering his home. He stopped whatever he was doing and lost all sense of time and place as Elizabeth stood looking at him in bewilderment just outside the door to the saloon. His breathing caught itself in his throat and his heart ceased beating for a moment before starting a mad hammering dance against his ribs. He colored slightly as a revealing heat suffused his face. His eyes swept over her figure in unguarded appraisal, committing to memory the picture of loveliness that she presented. He took in every detail of her appearance, from the pearl-encrusted ornament in her hair, to the graceful curve of her neck and the cerulean sheen of her frock, before resting with piercing intensity on the bewitching darkness of her eyes.
Elizabeth...love...light... Happiness rained over him as he held her beloved form in his arms and pressed it hardly to his heart. He closed his eyes and let himself drown in the faint lavender mist that surrounded her. He wanted to kiss her, to crush the rose that was her mouth and drink the nectar of her lips, but how could he, when there were people all around? Confounded servants, he silently cursed, as he contented himself with reverently brushing the silky hair of her temple. His throat was thick with emotion, and it was several moments before he released her, though he kept his hands on the rounded flesh of her arms.
"Fitzwilliam, I am so happy you are home! I have missed you so!" Elizabeth breathlessly said.
"And I am happy to be home! These have been wretched days indeed."
"But why are you so late? I expected you hours ago."
"A mishap on the road..."
"A mishap? Are you well? What...?" Elizabeth interrupted, her eyebrows rising in concern.
"Do not be alarmed. A carriage overturned ascending a hill and impeded our passage. Nicholson and Thomas assisted the driver to right it, but I am afraid it delayed us quite a bit. The weather, too, conspired against us."
"Georgiana and I have been anxious. I thought that perhaps you would not arrive until tomorrow..."
"We traveled as expeditiously as possible. I would not have stayed away for anything, I assure you," he said, and then softly added, "you look very well, my love. Is this a new gown?"
Elizabeth blushed under his regard and her dark lashes fanned her cheek before she looked up and with a shy smile assented. "I have been busy in your absence. I hope you approve...but you will see what I mean shortly."
"Approve? My dearest Elizabeth, the sight of you..." he looked around to where a footman was keeping the dogs at bay, and after clearing his throat, he whispered, "you do not know how I have missed you."
"Then you must tell me all about it, but pray, we cannot remain standing here. Come, dinner is served."
"Will you permit me to change out of this clothes? I shall be but a moment." He took her hand and kissed it, and as Georgiana came down the stairs, he moved towards her and tightly embraced her. He turned to look at them as he climbed up the stairs and with a little smile said to himself, "my dear family!"
The happy sounds of laughter drifted from the dining room at Pemberley, curling around doorways and settling with loving familiarity in the stately rooms of the great house. Happiness flowed throughout the household and everyone was caught up in the excitement of the evening, from Mrs. Reynolds and Mr. Whiddon, to the liveried footmen, and all the way down to Mr. Darcy's dogs. Elizabeth's smile betrayed her contentment. Her eyes sparkled and her cheeks were tinted with a most becoming shade of pink. She looked at her husband with undisguised joy, greedily absorbing the brightness of his eyes and the disturbing dimple that creased his cheek. He appeared very pleased with the sumptuous feast that she had ordered in his honor, and Elizabeth glowed under the sincerity of his approbation. They lingered for a while over the dessert course, and as with the enthusiasm of a child Fitzwilliam ate his favorite sweets, Elizabeth felt that the sight of his innocent enjoyment more than compensated for all the desolation that his absence had afforded. When they removed to the music room and she took her place by the piano, she endeavored to ignore the slight tremble of her hands as she arranged the music sheets, and silently congratulated herself on having practiced conscientiously. She could easily forget about it all, for her mind and her eyes seemed more inclined to concentrate on the tall gentleman that sat across the room, than on the notes that lay in front of her. She spread her fingers on the cool ivory of the instrument, proudly noticing the rich luster of her wedding ring. As she began her song, she lifted her head to meet the spellbinding velvet of Fitzwilliam's eyes.
"I will not say it with my lips Which have not that courage;
Perhaps the sparks Of my burning eyes,
Revealing my passion, My glance will speak."*
As the words left her lips, Elizabeth felt herself grow very warm, and her face broke with the intensity of the feelings that flooded her being. All the loneliness of the past week came back to her, impaling her heart and choking her throat. The dullness of her days and the emptiness of her nights rose in her breast, charging her voice with emotion and lending to her performance an earnestness that was heartbreaking.
She was unaware of how beautiful she looked, or how her song affected her husband. He was already under her spell, enchanted by the music and bewitched by her presence. His eyes swept with unconcealed admiration over her glowing skin, the warmth of his gaze caressing the delicate bones of her shoulders and the teasing promise of her beaded neckline. He wanted to be alone with her, to hold her tightly and bury his face in the creamy curve of her throat, her sweet, womanly scent inundating his senses. What delicious torment it was to sit across from her in gentlemanly composure, listening to her angelic voice repeating the fervent refrain of her song, watching as her eyes burned with the intensity of her message. All he had wanted to do since he arrived was to take her in his arms and lose himself in the sweetness of her love. What a wonderful thing it was to have a wife, a beloved wife. His whole world was now the siren that sat in front of him, luring him with her song, weaving her spell with thousands of silken strands tightly entwined around his heart. There was nothing he would not do for her, nothing he would refuse her.
As if she had read his thoughts, Elizabeth smiled at him, her eyes softening as if responding to his unspoken surrender. Fitzwilliam shifted slightly in his seat and wondered how soon propriety would allow him the pleasure of his wife's company. He was barely aware of Georgiana moving closer to him on the sofa, and when he failed to grasp the words that she whispered to him, he was forced to remember that he and Elizabeth were not alone. He removed his eyes from the fair performer, and lest he should be remiss in his attentions to his sister, turned towards her and made a noncommittal remark that he hoped concealed his distraction.
*"Silent Worship" (Non lo diro col labbro). Georg Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
A short installment, but the end is near...
Elizabeth brushed her hair one more time while she waited for Fitzwilliam. She was facing her reflection in the glass, but the image of her rosy face and lustrous curls went unseen by her distracted eyes.
She was in such a state of agitated expectation that she had little mind for anything but the desired presence of her husband. It had been nearly an hour since they had left the music room and her impatience grew as the minutes passed away with impudent slowness. She kept turning her head towards the door, straining to hear even the slightest creak that would herald his arrival, but the wished-for sound was not forthcoming.
What was keeping him thus? Surely he must be as eager for her company as she was for his! The long days of waiting were nothing compared to the consuming yearning that she now felt. There was a persistent void in her heart that only he could fill, a faint ache in her chest that would surcease only with his healing touch. She was wild to feel the comforting strength of his arms around her, to blot out her loneliness and frustration with the reassuring warmth of his embrace. She longed to rest her weight against the protective wall of his chest and tuck her head under the cozy curve below his chin. She fit so well there, as if the spot had been made especially for her”My dear husband, will you not come to me?
Elizabeth trembled with sweet anticipation as her mind played tricks with her composure. She rose from her chair and with an uneven sigh walked away from the dressing table. The room was bathed in the soft golden light of the fire that hissed and crackled contentedly in the sooty cradle of the marble chimneypiece. Elizabethºs eyes rested on the fluttering flames and her mouth curved into a tiny smile as her fingers traveled over the soft fabric of her bed jacket.
It had been such a surprise to find the wispy garment lovingly spread out on her bed. She had not expected another gift, as Fitzwilliam had already given her and Georgiana beautiful presents before they left the music room. How did he know just exactly what would please her? She lowered her eyes to the diaphanous cloth that covered her shoulders. It was such a lovely piece, deceiving in its simplicity. It had no more adornment than tiny embroidered spots, with the pattern becoming more profuse at the neckline and sleeves. On closer inspection, though, the spots were little flowers that formed an exquisite millefleur design all over the jacket.
Elizabeth was in love with this gift, more for what it represented, than for what it was, although she admitted she liked it very well on its own. The silky bolero was a beautiful piece of feminine apparel, and the embroidery a testament to the skill of the worker, but Elizabeth was scarcely sensible of either. To her, the perfection of the garment could not distract from the personal significance of the offering. This gift spoke of the rapturous intimacy that she and her husband shared and of that special connection that flourished in their moments of privacy. Elizabeth trembled once more as she thought that soon Fitzwilliam would see how well the garment became her. Oh, if only he would come”
Elizabeth walked over to the small table next to the window and with a shaky hand picked up Fitzwilliamºs book. Would he be pleased? She had refrained from giving it to him after dinner, despite being eager to see his reaction. If Georgiana had been present, delicacy would have obliged Elizabeth to include her sister-in-law, and in all truth, this was not a gift that she wished to share with anyone. They had so little time to spend in private”always surrounded by servants and forever heeding decorum and propriety!
The crisp rustle of the pages intermingled joyously in Elizabethºs ears with the sweet sound of the door as Fitzwilliam at last favored her with his presence.
Fitzwilliam closed the door behind him with a gentle push and stood for a moment in dumbfounded admiration of the woman before him. It always happened to him. He could not enter the privacy of her chamber without every rational thought fleeing his mind and every word drying in his mouth.
She looked so lovely, even lovelier than he remembered. The sight of her standing by the window almost brought him to his knees. She was wearing his gift, and though he had longed for this moment ever since the jacket had been presented to him, he now wondered how he would withstand the pleasure of seeing her thus adorned. The precious covering hovered around her shoulders like a silken cloud, framing the dark river of hair that tumbled wildly down her back, and FitzwilliamÌs lips parted in an enchanted sigh as he gazed adoringly at her womanly figure.
In the instant before she turned to face him, his eyes feasted on the pure line of her profile and the delicate slope of her head as it bent over a book. He frowned slightly as he experienced some disappointment at her reading, for he had been so impatient to join her that he had barely resisted the impulse to run after her with undignified speed as she left the music room. Only his fastidious nature had saved him from dismissing his man and dispensing with his time-consuming ministrations. The little details of his nightly ritual seemed utterly trifling when his bewitching wife awaited him in the next chamber. What did it matter if the warm water had not arrived? He would have endured freezing temperatures if it meant his shaving could be done in half the time.
Fitzwilliam hurried his step as Elizabeth moved toward him. Her expressive face concealed nothing from his attentive gaze, and he took great pleasure in the pink blush that stained her cheeks and the slight quiver of her parted lips. She murmured something unintelligible as he reached her side, and the sweet sound of her voice echoed in his ear as he drew her into his arms.
Dear Heaven! She was soft. Soft and round, and she smelled of lavender and fresh rain. He tightened his embrace and bent his head to press his face against the precious haven of her neck. He breathed in deeply as his lips sought the warm skin below her ear, and a tiny cry rose in his throat as he felt her tremble in response. Again he heard her speak, but he was too overwhelmed by the wave of tenderness that filled his heart to understand what she said.
It never ceased to amaze him, how deeply she affected him. The nearness of her body, the softness of her skin and the beguiling scent that danced up to his nose robbed him of whatever equanimity he had left. He was barely aware of the words of love that left his lips as he twined a ringlet of hair around his fingers and began to kiss every feature of her beloved face.
* No. X ÏSonnets from the PortugueseÓ Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
He was breathing in her ear, and Elizabeth sighed with happiness as she pressed her face against his heart. She closed her eyes and whispered his name into the fragrant folds of his dressing gown. Her love welled up inside her and she leaned helplessly against him as a wave of relief washed over her.
His embrace was warm and ardent, and she shivered with delight as he kissed the tender hollow below her ear. She arched her neck in loving invitation and a breathless word of pleasure escaped from her lips. Her hands pressed against his chest, she moved her fingers in gentle caress, brushing past the collar of his robe and reaching inside to touch the downy linen of his nightshirt.
The beating of his heart tickled her palms, and the faint woody scent of his skin filled her nose. He was touching her hair, and his deep, velvety voice cooed longed-for endearments in her ear. Beloved÷sweet÷Elizabeth trembled in the happy circle of his arms, and she raised her face toward his mouth, craving the sweetness of his kiss.
ÏFitzwilliam÷I thought you would never come,Ó she said as his lips brushed her cheek.
ÏOh÷how I love you,Ó she whispered as he dropped fervent little kisses along her jaw. She moved her hand from where it lay ensconced inside his robe and lifted it to bury her fingers in his dark hair. He said her name over and over, the muffled words fluttering softly against her chin.
Elizabeth moved closer, raising her other arm to link her hands behind his neck. It felt so wonderful÷she looked with adoration into his beautiful eyes and listened with a quivering heart as he told her how ardently he loved her, how much he had missed her, how desperately he had needed her.
A peal of happiness curled in her throat, and she closed her eyes as he tenderly kissed her mouth. The brief caress was not enough. More÷ she thought as his lips moved to trace the soft outline of her cheek. She turned her face toward him, but he still did not kiss her! He brushed the corner of her mouth and the warm, tingling sensation of his lips so close to her own was more than Elizabeth could bear.
She stepped back a little and looked directly into his eyes, her features openly reflecting her love. Her gaze locked with his, Elizabeth blinked in bewilderment as a slow, sweet smile curved her pink mouth. She breathed an aching sigh of joy as Fitzwilliam at last cradled her head in his hands and passionately took her lips. Yes÷yes÷
ÏFor a breeze of morning moves,
And the planet of Love is on high
Beginning to faint in the light that she loves
On a bed of daffodil skyÓ*
The light filtered through the satin of the curtains, but Elizabeth resolutely ignored it. Her bed was warm and she was snugly wrapped in her most beloved blanket. Happiness÷She tried to move a little, but the strong arms that enfolded her tightened around her in objection. With a satisfied pout she cuddled against him, kissing his forearm as she hid her face from the impertinent brightness of the morning.
She had not slept this soundly in days, and she felt wonderfully rested and very, very happy. Fitzwilliam murmured something as her fingers began to trace an indefinite pattern along his arm. Elizabeth could not suppress a smile as she thought of their reunion÷so beautiful, so heartfelt, so÷
She opened her eyes for a moment and tenderness filled her heart as she looked at his handsome features in repose. I love you so dearly, Fitzwilliam Darcy÷she thought, and with a happy sigh drifted back to sleep.
Forgotten, DanteÌs book lay on the table where Elizabeth had left it, victim of the love Ïthat moves the sun in Heaven, and all the stars.Ó*
* The poem from which this verse is taken is not of the period, but it is a favorite of mine, and it always reminds me of Elizabeth, so pray forgive its use. ÏMaudÓ Alfred, Lord Tennison.
* Canto XXX, The Divine Comedy. Dante Alighieri.
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