BOOTBF Chapters 8-9

Chapter Eight

Elizabeth and Darcy had just sat down to dinner when a commotion in the hall commanded their attention. Almost immediately, a rather imperious looking older woman strode toward them.

Darcy stood. “Lady Catherine. To what do we owe the honour? Allow me to introduce my wife, Elizabeth.”

“Hrumph. So this is who you married instead of Anne? Darcy, I want a private word with you.”

Elizabeth rose to leave, “If you will excuse me…”

“No, Elizabeth, please stay. Lady Catherine, I can think of nothing you may wish to speak with me about that cannot be said in front of my wife.”

“If you insist, Darcy,” Lady Catherine seated herself at the far end of the table. “I can see by the fact that your wife is not seated in her appropriate place at table that my fears for this union have already been proven correct. I am greatly displeased that you went against the wishes of your entire family and did not honour our expectation of marriage to Anne. My fool of a brother did nothing to stop you and warned me not to interfere. I should never have listened to him. I should have gone to Hertfordshire to talk some sense into you before the wedding took place. It is clear that this woman has trapped you somehow; nothing except gross impropriety can explain such a hastily arranged marriage. Darcy, do you not know that a man of your station can easily see such things quieted? You could have had your pleasure with her then sent her away. You need not have married her!”

“Lady Catherine! You assume too much. Neither Elizabeth nor I have acted improperly and I highly resent your accusations!”

“Oh, Darcy, do not play the gallant with me! I am almost your nearest relation and such family secrets are common. But it is not too late to arrange an annulment. If there is a child in seven months, it — and this woman — can be taken care of.”

“ENOUGH!!!” Darcy roared as he rose from his chair. “How dare you come into my house and speak such slanderous falsehoods. You impugn my honour and that of my wife’s! Remove yourself from this house AT ONCE!!! You are not welcome here, and you are not welcome at Pemberley, until you apologize to me and to my wife. Good night, madam!” Darcy gripped his aunt’s arm and began to lead her from the room.

“Take your hands off me, Nephew! I will not stay another minute in a house so polluted by a woman of no consequence, a country nobody who DARES believe she is a worthy successor to the daughter of an earl! I take no leave of you and I leave no compliments to your wife! I am most seriously displeased!” With that, Lady Catherine stormed out of the room and out of the house.

“Elizabeth, I… I apologize. I should not have asked you to stay, but I did not believe Lady Catherine capable of such … a venomous attack on our characters.”

Elizabeth saw Darcy’s deep distress and was moved to comfort him, although she was badly in need of comforting herself.

“William, let us remove to the drawing room. After such an … enlightening encounter I believe some music may be the food that most satisfies us now.” She smiled at him, but her face was pale and a shaky voice betrayed her emotions.

At the pianoforte, Elizabeth asked Darcy to turn the pages for her. She played and played and played until the animosity both were feeling melted away.

“William, shall I ask for a tray of food to be brought to us now?”

“Yes, I do not wish to return to that room tonight.”

Elizabeth rang for a servant and gave the pertinent instructions. When she turned her attention back to her husband, she found him seated on the divan.

“Come, sit next to me.” Darcy pulled her close to him. “Elizabeth, I cannot say I am surprised by my aunt’s displeasure. I was relieved when she did not come to our wedding; I knew she would only cause distress. For as long as I can remember, she has talked of a marriage between her daughter, my cousin Anne, and me, although she never took the trouble to ascertain if either of us were agreeable. She seemed more interested in uniting Pemberley and Rosings than a man and a wife. It pains me that she has so abused you, and I am heartily sorry for it. She will never be welcome here again.”

“William, I can not deny that I was appalled and hurt by her words, but I do not want to be the reason for discord or estrangement in your family. Should Lady Catherine wish reconciliation, my wounded pride will not be a barrier to it. Besides, if her … performance was any indication, I suspect that Lady Catherine’s disapproval will long outlast the wounds to my pride.” She smiled weakly, but Darcy could still see her pain.

That night, Darcy was unsurprised when he again heard Elizabeth calling out in her sleep. He slipped into her room, lay down next to her, and whispered soothing words that eventually brought her peaceful slumber.

“Elizabeth, all is well. It is William. I am here.” She felt herself being lifted into his arms and suddenly she felt protected as she never had been before.

As he lay holding his wife in his arms, Darcy wondered who was more comforted this night. Since he had finished Cambridge and assumed more responsibility for his family and estate, Darcy had doubted his ability to be worthy of his heritage and the Darcy name. He had so much to learn and he missed his father’s tutelage. Now he was married and he felt… overwhelmed. Could he be a good husband? What about children? Once Elizabeth came to his bed, surely it would not take them years to conceive. Would he become a father much sooner than he had ever contemplated? What of Lady Catherine? She was vindictive enough to use her influence to discredit Elizabeth in society. And Elizabeth, when would the dreams tormenting her cease? What could he do to bring her peace?

But the soft contours of his wife’s body soon recaptured his imagination. With pleasant thoughts of pleasures ahead, and a smile on his face, Darcy finally drifted off to sleep.

The next two days passed without further incident. Each night, Elizabeth grew distressed in her sleep, each night Darcy came to her bed, and each night, she calmed in his arms.

She felt herself being lifted into his arms, protected, as she never had been before.

“Here, Darcy, let me. She is my sister.”

“No, Robert, she is my wife.”

~~~>~<~~~

At Afton House, another Darcy lay awake each night. Georgiana knew she must give Drury an answer soon. Why was life so unfair! Georgiana yearned to be enfolded in Robert Bennet’s embrace, to feel safe and loved and treasured. But she had spurned Robert’s love, and instead was wrestling with the renewed offer from a man she once thought she loved. She never truly loved Drury, she knew that now; how could she love a man who loved only himself? Drury confessed his desire to marry only her. But why? He had never seemed ardently devoted to her when they had been betrothed previously; indeed, when she broke it off, he had been more insulted than broken-hearted. There were any number of women he might have married in the five years since. Few would have rejected him, as she had, and although Drury had shown no particular interest in another, he had equally shown no particular interest in courting her again — until his sudden, unexpected offer. She should feel gratitude, at least, that he was so willing to salvage the Darcy family honour, but she felt only … trapped.

William, damn him! How could he have done this to her?

He did not have to offer for Elizabeth, he did not have to challenge Wickham! Nevertheless, he had done both. Now it fell to her, as first born, to reclaim the Darcy position in society, but at a terrible price. Marriage was the only way, marriage to Drury: a splendid match, titled connections, an advantageous alliance that would return prestige to the House of Darcy. Without it, Beth was doomed. Georgiana was too proud to allow that; and she would be mistress of her own household again.

Yet Georgiana was desolate – marriage to a man she did not love, a man she did not even like. Robert’s words mocked her: “I see now that I will never be good enough for you. Your family should arrange a marriage to a Peer. Then you would fulfil your duty.” There was no decision to make; she had no choice. Her heart whispered that it need not be that way, that she deserved happiness, that she deserved to love and be loved. But for so long she had told herself that duty came before all else; she no longer heard the pleading of her heart.

~~~>~<~~~

On Thursday, Darcy proclaimed their shopping complete, and he inquired of Elizabeth whether she would like to see something of London’s sights. She had often visited the Gardiners in Gracechurch Street, but had seen little of the town. Her Aunt was often too busy with the children to spend her time thus engaged. Montagu House was the destination of the day and Elizabeth marvelled at its classical sculpture and Egyptian antiquities. Darcy gloried in the joy he was able to bring her with such a simple gesture of an afternoon agreeably spent. It was a needed respite from the past three days. Elizabeth had never complained, but all the choices and decisions required by the necessary expansion of her wardrobe had fatigued them both. An afternoon admiring the accomplishments of the past was a welcome change.

When they returned home, a note awaited them.


Elizabeth,

Father has dispatched me on an errand to Town. I am once again enjoying the hospitality of the Gardiners. I should dearly like to call on you tomorrow, if it is agreeable. I return to Longbourn Saturday morn.

Robert

“William, I would dearly love to see Robert tomorrow. May I ask him to dine with us?”

“Of course, I wish to see him as well.”

“I will reply to his note and ask him to dinner. I must speak to Mrs. Thomas at once!”

Darcy was amused by his wife’s excited manner and left her to her tasks. Elizabeth was in high spirits all evening and Darcy hoped it might help her to sleep better.

It was not to be. Once again he heard her cry out, and once again he went to comfort her.

But this night sleep did not immediately come. Darcy found himself becoming aroused as he held Elizabeth, and it took all his self-control to keep his hand chastely around her. He longed to progress beyond his innocent embrace to fondling his wife’s temptingly soft breast. Stifling a moan and clenching his teeth, he played over and over again his vow to let her decide when to become intimate. That vow was becoming most difficult to keep.

Elizabeth was lying on her side on the ground, in the place where Wickham had attacked her, but he was not there. Instead she felt a man lying next to her, his arm around her. “Elizabeth, all is well. It is William. I am here.”

“Oh William, you have come to me.” She took his hand, so chaste at her waist, and moved it to her bosom, her hand covering it and holding it there.

“Tell me of Derbyshire, and of Pemberley…”

~~~>~<~~~

Georgiana received her visitor with apparent ease, but inside she was in complete turmoil. She knew what she must do, but it was exactly the opposite of what she wanted.

“You requested that I come today,” Viscount Drury said.

“Yes, I promised you an answer.”

“Have you decided?”

“Yes.”

“Is that your answer?”

With a coldness that came from the barren wasteland that was now her heart, she answered.

“Yes, Henry, I will marry you.”

~~~>~<~~~

When Elizabeth awoke, she immediately checked to see if William had been with her; the small amount of warmth next to her confirmed her impression that he had. She was grateful that he came to her, grateful that he left while she still slept. When he held her, the dreams of Wickham’s assault faded away. Elizabeth pondered her reaction to her husband’s touch. On several occasions, she had wakened in the night to the feel of his hand on her breast. The first time it happened she was mortified and quickly moved his hand away. But the next time, she had covered his hand with her own before drifting back to sleep, strangely at ease with the intimacy.

During the last several days, Elizabeth had given a great deal of thought to deciding whether she was ready to consummate her marriage. Her mother had told her what wifely duties would entail and had surprised her with a frank confession: it was not something to be endured, as Elizabeth had heard, but something to be enjoyed.

She contemplated the ramifications of waiting. She had married a man she liked, but did not love, had done so in haste, and almost against her will. She had always expected to be deeply in love with the man she took as her husband. She did not know if she could ever truly love Darcy, or if he would ever love her. To wait until such feelings developed could be catastrophic; what if they never came? She understood her obligation as a wife, her obligation to produce an heir for Pemberley, and in truth, although the prospect of physical intimacy with Darcy was daunting, she had no reason to think it would be repugnant. It would be pleasant to be in love before they became lovers, but was it necessary? The longer she put it off, the more awkward it could become. Was she willing to risk the good understanding they now had for feelings that might never come? If they were to grow closer in mind and spirit, perhaps they first needed to grow closer in… The thought still had the power to make Elizabeth blush.

And how long would he wait? If he derived the same pleasures from her touch as she did from his, how long would he restrain himself when every night they slept side-by-side in the same bed? Darcy was no Wickham; she had no fears that her husband would force himself on her and every expectation that he would be a patient and considerate partner.

No, it was time. There was nothing to be gained, and, perhaps, much to be lost by waiting longer still. Tonight, after Robert returned to the Gardiner’s, she would somehow find a way to tell her husband that she was ready to fully become his wife. Now her only task was to hold her nerve and follow through.

Elizabeth and Darcy were surprised when Georgiana was announced. They had not anticipated seeing her until they arrived at Pemberley.

“Georgiana! We were not expecting you.”

“Hello, William, Mrs. Darcy. No, I had meant to give you privacy this week, but something has arisen that I need to speak with you about, William.”

“I will leave you then, and have tea brought in for you. Miss Darcy, it is good to see you again. I will be with Mrs. Thomas if you need me, William.”

After the tea items were brought in and they were finally alone, Darcy began to question his sibling. “Georgiana, what is it that has arisen?”

“William, Viscount Drury visited me on Monday.”

“What could he possibly want?”

“He came to renew his addresses.”

“What? After all this time? After the way he treated you?”

“William, I accepted his offer.”

“Excuse me?”

“Henry and I are engaged.”

Darcy did not know what to think. Why was she doing this?

“Georgiana, please excuse my shock. I do not understand. He behaved abominably to you. What makes you believe he is a different man now than he was then?”

“You do not understand!”

“No, sister, I do not.”

“What choice do I have? You are married now. I have become a guest in your home. Your wife’s lack of fortune and inferior connections has made it impossible for me to hope for another offer as advantageous as this. And what about Beth? My marriage to Henry will salvage the possibility of a suitable match for her.”

“This all comes back to Elizabeth.”

“Had you not married her, I would not have felt compelled to accept Henry’s offer.”

“You know so little of my wife, yet you think so little of her. How then can you know she is incapable of facing the ton? Is she to be held responsible for the accident of her birth? Does the uprightness of her character count for nothing?”

“In the eyes of society? No, it does not.”

“I see. Once again we are at an impasse. You value social cachet more than character, appearance more than affection.”

“What does affection have to do with this?”

“You do not love Drury.”

“You do not love Elizabeth.”

“That is different.”

“How so? I see little difference between us. I, too, am marrying my social superior.”

Darcy bristled at the implication. “Elizabeth had little choice but to marry.”

“Neither do I. It is either marry Henry or face society’s scorn.”

“No one has attacked you or stolen your honour.”

“You can stand before me and honestly say that my honour has not been stolen?” Georgiana nearly spit the words at him. She paused, calming herself, then continued. “I do not dislike Elizabeth, please understand this, but the moment you became engaged to her, our family name was, in a manner of speaking, dishonoured. My marriage will restore the Darcy name. Elizabeth’s situation and mine are the same. We are both innocents.”

As much as he disagreed with her, as much as he decried her slavish devotion to wealth and consequence, Darcy did not want another argument with his sister. He knew that she was wrong, about Elizabeth, about her misplaced sense of duty, about this marriage. But he had no words to convince her of it, no way to make her understand. Then he remembered her odd behaviour toward Robert Bennet and grasped at one last tactic.

“What does your heart say? Has it not been touched by another?”

“What do you know of my heart?”

“Nothing, for it seems you will not confide in me,”

“William, my heart is not your concern. I will marry Henry in four months’ time. I am finished here; please give my compliments to your wife. I will see you when you arrive at Pemberley.” Georgiana’s words had a foreboding tone of finality.

~~~>~<~~~

After Georgiana left, Darcy told Elizabeth the news. Elizabeth could not understand her husband’s distress, until he related Drury’s history with Georgiana.

“William, what about Robert? Should we tell him?”

“Yes, he should know. Elizabeth, did Robert ever confide in you about Georgiana?”

“I believe that he was quite taken with her from the first time he saw her, but he never told me to what level his feelings had progressed. This will be a blow, I am sure.”

It was a blow. No matter how much he tried, since Georgiana had refused him he could not shake his melancholy; it worsened considerably when he was told of the engagement.

Dinner that evening was strained. None of the three were disposed to conversation. Elizabeth asked a few questions about Jane and Bingley’s wedding, but made little effort to keep the discussion alive.

When at last they had finished, Darcy rose, saying, “I know it is rather rude of me, but the announcements of today require my attention, and I have several letters to write. I beg you allow me to take my leave to finish them now.”

“Darcy, Elizabeth and I understand. Will you join us when you are finished?”

“Yes, Bennet. It should only take a half-hour or so. Elizabeth, will you excuse me?”

“Go, William, the sooner you may be done with it.”

After Darcy left, Robert turned to his sister. “Will you play for me? I have missed that.”

“Of course, Robert. Perhaps music will calm us both.”

Robert offered his arm and they headed towards the drawing room. “Are you well, truly?”

“William and I are coming to terms with this marriage, Robert. William is the best of men and the more I learn of him, the fonder I grow.”

“Do you… have you developed any tender regard for him?”

Elizabeth blushed. ‘Could Robert have read my thoughts?’ “I do not know what my feelings are. I like William very much. We began, and remain, friends. Beyond that… I would be foolish to speculate.”

Robert sat next to Elizabeth at the pianoforte to turn the pages.

“How many times have we sat like this, Robert?” Elizabeth smiled at him.

“Too many times to count… But now you are Mrs. Darcy and the privilege rests with someone else.”

Elizabeth gazed at a far off place before responding. “Yes, so it does.”

Neither of them said very much as Elizabeth played through many songs. Whilst she sang, her mind was full of her husband, and of worry for her brother. What would happen if Darcy was not ready to take her to his bed? Just what was the state of her feelings towards him? Unable to come to a satisfactory answer, she poured herself into the music, willing herself to be lost in its essence. Some of the songs she sang aloud, others she simply played. Neither she nor Robert was aware when a tall figure moved to stand in the doorway. Darcy stood transfixed. He was pleased to see his wife so engaged in her music, her brother clearly enjoying a peaceful interlude after the wretched business of the afternoon. When she finished her song Darcy’s sudden clapping alerted the two of the third.

Rising to greet his brother, Robert said, “Darcy, I have been monopolizing my sister for far too long. Here, take my place.”

“No,” Darcy said as he made his way to sit, “let me enjoy another song from the sofa this time.”

Elizabeth began to play again. She periodically stole a glance at her husband, trying to gauge whether she should follow through with her earlier resolutions. That she remained unsure of their reception was certain; that she had the courage to offer them was the question. His emotions were inscrutable, and she longed to be privy to his thoughts. Could she but know it, Darcy was thinking only of her, wishing she were truly his wife. He longed to touch her in the way a man touches a woman. Would that he could take her now to his bed, making her forever his alone.

When Elizabeth finished the song, Robert stood.

“Thank you both for a pleasant evening, but I believe I should take my leave of you and return to Gracechurch Street. I must be ready to leave for Longbourn in the morning as planned. Goodnight, Elizabeth.” He kissed her cheek, then offered Darcy his hand.

When the door closed, Darcy and Elizabeth became very much aware that they were very much alone. Neither made any attempt to move or to speak. The minutes passed in silence.

Elizabeth wondered if she should confess her willingness to come to his bed. Was it too late?

Darcy wondered if he should confess his increasing regard, something he had only just allowed himself to acknowledge. Was it too soon?

Darcy was the first to break the silence. “Elizabeth, I want to tell you how much I have enjoyed our time to together. It has been too short for my liking, but we must depart for Pemberley sooner than we had planned. Beth will not be pleased with Georgiana’s decision. She never liked Drury either.”

“William, I… ”

“No, please, let me finish. I also wish to tell you that I do not regret this marriage, Elizabeth, but I cannot help feeling guilty. I was the one offering you the advantages, we both knew that, but I now realize that it is quite the opposite. I could never have found so worthy a woman to be my partner in life. Thank you, Elizabeth, I do not deserve you.”

Darcy’s voice, normally so strong, finished at a near whisper. Elizabeth was greatly affected and finally was emboldened to go to him. Darcy seemed surprised to find her seated next to him. He was even more startled when she took his hand in hers. He looked at her, but she would not look at him.

“William…”

“Yes?”

“I… I do not quite know how to say this.”

“What is it, Elizabeth? Tell me.”

“William… I think… I think we… William…” Elizabeth sighed. “William I am ready to become you wife, in every way.”

At last she looked up at him, a little afraid of what she would see in his face. Did he still see her as Robert Bennet’s sister?

Darcy was flabbergasted. He could not believe she was offering, tonight of all nights, to give him leave to come to her as he now desired, as her lover. Aware that much of their future tranquillity rested on his response, he decided to proceed carefully, his words full of tenderness.

“Elizabeth, forgive me. I did not speak to you of my feelings because I was expecting anything from you, tonight especially, after a day of such turmoil. Are you, are you certain in this?”

“Do you not wish it?” Elizabeth was unsure still of his reception.

He smiled. “Elizabeth, I am a man. But I must ask, why now?”

Relieved that he was not rejecting her, she answered, “I came to this decision before Georgiana’s announcement today. I am ready. Waiting longer could create awkwardness between us and I do not want that. You have spent many nights in my bed as my friend, I would now have you come to me as my husband.”

Darcy was stirred by her trust and commitment to him. Dear God, he prayed that he do nothing to destroy this gift!

“Then tonight, let us remove any awkwardness before it has a chance to begin.” He embraced her, tentatively, and asked, “Elizabeth, may I kiss you?” She nodded shyly. It was to be their first since his chaste kiss on the day they were married. Slowly, he cupped her chin in his hand, leaning down to lightly brush her lips with his. Never having kissed a man before, Elizabeth’s response was shy and hesitant. Darcy continued with short, light kisses, allowing her to learn how to meet his lips, then pulled back to look at her, silently asking permission to proceed.

“I believe, William, that I have given you leave for much more,” she whispered.

“Indeed, you have.” He gently returned his mouth to hers, undemanding, allowing her to respond as she was ready.

Before he was willing to teach her more, he rose from the sofa, and with a meaningful look said, “Let us return to this in the privacy of our own chambers.” He offered her his arm and together they walked to her chambers. She turned to face him.

“Let me go in and dismiss my maid. You may come to me then.” She reached up and gave him a quick kiss, demonstrating all that she had learned, before retreating behind a closing door.

Slightly dazed, Darcy entered his own rooms. With only the briefest conversation, he dismissed his valet for the night.

The servant, unused to such displays, hesitated. “Are you certain there is nothing else you will need tonight, sir?”

“No, you may go now, Morton.”

The puzzled valet retreated as Darcy poured himself a drink. He looked deeply into the liquid, steadying himself. When at last he felt calm, Darcy drained his glass and strode purposefully to the door that led to her room. It was a matter of moments till he stood before the final barrier between husband and wife, a barrier in more ways than one. Tonight she would be awake when he walked though the door. Tonight he would enter, not as soothing friend, but as husband and lover.

When the anticipated knock came, Elizabeth was seated before her dressing table – hairpins removed and brush in hand. She answered the knock with a summons to enter. Darcy cautiously opened the door. The sight of Elizabeth, with her hair down, played at his senses. He saw her shy smile reflected in the glass and moved to stand behind her. Wordlessly he asked for the brush and with great joy he received it. It was the one he had given her, their first night in London – the set with their monogram on it, meant to be shared by them.

“You have such lovely hair, Elizabeth. I have wanted to see it loosed since we became engaged.” He brushed and brushed, mesmerized, until she finally stayed his hand.

“That is enough for tonight,” she said quietly, her words an invitation to proceed. Slowly he placed his hands on her shoulders, and ever so gently kissed her neck. Elizabeth, giving in to the pleasure her husband offered her, closed her eyes and tilted her head to allow him greater access as a shallow moan escaped from her throat.

“Elizabeth,” Darcy whispered between kisses. “If you wish me to stop, please say so. I would not so carelessly destroy what we have so carefully built.”

She reached behind her to caress his leg. “Thank you, William. You are the best of men. But I do not think that will be necessary.”

Darcy resumed his trail of kisses, and saw the beginnings of desire rising in his wife. He drew her to him and reclaimed her lips, resuming the kiss they had begun downstairs. Slowly, shyly, tentatively, their lips met again. As they learned to relax in each other’s arms, their kisses deepened, one moment leading into another. In her husband’s embrace, each with arms tightly around the other, Elizabeth felt safe, protected and… very definitely something much more.

Darcy picked up Elizabeth and took her to the bed, setting her down upon the cool linens. He sat beside her, his mouth meeting hers, his hand gently caressing her arm, the other to her shoulders, closing the space between them. Gradually Darcy drew back his face and when he saw no resistance in her eyes, he began to undo the fastenings of her gown. As it slipped off, Elizabeth faced the first moment she had wondered about, uncertain what her reaction would be: no man before had seen her fully undressed. But she had determined, when she had made her decision, that she would live in the moment and deal with the aftermath in the morning. By then it would be too late for remorse. What they would do would be done and they would, God willing, move on with rest of their lives together.

When the consummation of their union came, Elizabeth was surprised; she felt not embarrassment, only the rightness of her decision. It was the proper time, for her, for them, for their marriage. She had freely and completely given herself to her husband, the man and the choice her own, no matter what anyone else might think to the contrary. She was his and he was… hers.

~~~>~<~~~

The glowing embers in the fireplace provided the only light in the room. Darcy lay in his wife’s bed, Elizabeth asleep once again in his embrace. He marvelled at the events of the evening; never could he have imagined it would end as it had.

He thought back on their entire acquaintance, trying to puzzle out when he had come to want her so. Somehow, in the brief time since their marriage, she had become his sole object of desire. When he had come to her during the past few nights, he had wanted so much more than just to hold her; but he knew that anything beyond providing succour for her distress, without her explicit permission, would be wrong, and an abuse of her trust. Tonight, when she offered herself, he was almost at loss for words. Their coupling had been more incredible and satisfying than he could have ever imagined, nothing at all like the few times he had been with other women. How could he even compare her to them, to the hurried or impersonal relief they provided? He sensed that, for Elizabeth, the pleasure was secondary; for to her, the act itself was a vow, a giving of herself to him. And Darcy realized that he had made the same kind of vow to her.
The glowing embers in the fireplace provided the only light in the room. Darcy lay in his wife’s bed, Elizabeth asleep once again in his embrace. He marvelled at the events of the evening; never could he have imagined it would end as it did.

‘Bone of my bones. Flesh of my flesh. We are now one.’

Like a lightning bolt from the heavens, a revelation illuminated his mind. Could this be love? He looked again at her. She was so precious to him now. Could this be love? What was it that stirred within his breast; he admired her, respected her, and yes, desired her. But love her… he did not know; he had never been in love and was uncertain how he should feel. He resolved there and then to devote himself to finding out. And if this was love, how then… how would he make her love him in return?

(There is an adult rated version of the next chapter but you must have the password to get in. Please email me for the password.)

Chapter Nine

Darcy awoke to the feeling of a delicate finger moving a curl off his forehead. He opened his eyes and found Elizabeth staring at him.

“You stayed.”

“Do you wish me to leave?”

“No.” Elizabeth smiled warmly into his anxious face, which relaxed upon learning that she was not displeased. “This is the first morning I have awakened before you. I am glad you are still here with me.”

“I did wake earlier and considered whether I should stay, but decided I enjoyed holding you too much to leave. You did invite me to your bed as your husband last night.”

“Yes, indeed I did, husband.”

“Elizabeth, no regrets in the light of day?”

“None, but I had resolved not to look back this morning. It serves no positive purpose. What we have done is done. It was a natural consequence of my vows to you.”

“Thank you, Elizabeth.”

“William, I… why do you thank me for giving you what is yours by right?”

“You misunderstand me. I thank you for your trust in me. For not becoming resentful because you were forced into this marriage.”

Elizabeth quoted:

“The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which is done: there is nothing new under the sun.”

“What is the source?”

“The Old Testament, Ecclesiastes Chapter 1, Verse 9. When the Longbourn rector, Mr. Holloway, came to see me, he read that verse and advised me to reflect upon it. It has been of great help as I strive to embrace the changes in my life.”

“Even this one?” Darcy smiled; it was his turn to move an unruly lock of hair.

“Yes, even this one. At the proper time. Thank you for being patient with me.”

Darcy lay looking at his wife. Her acceptance of her situation, so new and in many ways so unwelcome, awed him. Naturally, the only thing he knew to do was to kiss her. When he leaned in to brush her lips, he was careful to gauge her response before proceeding. It was tentative, yet by no means discouraging. He tenderly stroked her face – no sign of the cut from Wickham’s blow remained. He hoped that little of her distress remained as well.

“Elizabeth… “ Darcy’s voice was ragged. “You are as beautiful in the morning, as you are the whole day through.”

When Darcy awoke again, the sun was much higher in the sky. Lodged between dreams and light of day, a distant memory knocked at his consciousness. It was the first Sunday after his mother had died. Georgiana held Beth in her arms as their father led them to their pew for services. He recalled feeling as though he was sitting in the wrong place, where Georgiana should be, but she was still seated next to him. When they sang the first hymn, the song sounded different, the melody altered. And then he realized that he missed his mother’s voice. He saw how his father struggled to maintain his composure, missing his beloved wife more than he would allow himself to admit.

A great sadness had filled Darcy that day, a sadness that only increased when he laid his father to rest beside his mother. If asked, he would have denied it: he had a loving family, wise council in his cousin and uncle, and he lacked for no material thing. But the feeling of loss, loneliness, and emptiness left by the death of his parents remained undiminished until… now.

What was happening to him? His feelings had undergone such a material change in so short a time. Was he falling in love?

Elizabeth’s song last Sunday had filled the void left by the passing of his mother; the music sounded whole again when Elizabeth added her voice. The pew in St._____ suddenly seemed full again, though his place had not moved. And whatever spirit of melancholy that tended to settle unwanted over him vanished like morning dew under the rays of Elizabeth’s smile. Last night, when they had finally joined, become one flesh, he felt… completed.

Was this love?

Elizabeth stirred in his arms and the spell was broken. As much as he wanted to stay in her bed all day, and all night again, there was much to be done.

“Elizabeth, dear. We must rise, the day is full begun and we have much to do.”

“Mmmhh.”

“Elizabeth, I am going to my chambers now. Would you like me to call for your maid?”

“No, I will do so shortly.”

“We have the last of your fittings to attend today, and I must make other arrangements so we may leave in two days. If the weather holds, we should make excellent time and be in Derbyshire on Wednesday.” Darcy kissed Elizabeth as he stood. “I will meet you downstairs for breakfast.”

When Darcy opened the door to his chambers, he turned around and gave Elizabeth a smile.

“Good morning, Mrs. Darcy.”

~~~>~<~~~

Later, Elizabeth wrote to Jane to inform the family at Longbourn of the Darcys’ early removal to Derbyshire. That task complete, she went in search of Darcy.

“William, might we call on my Uncle and Aunt Gardiner before we leave town?”

“I would be delighted. Send a note and ask if they will receive us tomorrow.”

The Gardiners were overjoyed at the prospect of seeing Elizabeth again so soon, and converted the visit into an offer for the Darcys to dine at Gracechurch Street. This brought even more pleasure to Elizabeth as she anticipated an enjoyable evening the following day.

When Elizabeth came down for dinner that night, she immediately noted that Darcy had ordered it served in the larger dinning room, though her place was still set next to his.

“Why are we in this room this evening?”

“It is a special night.”

“How so?

“We celebrate our first full week married, and our first day as truly man and wife.” His gallant speech made Elizabeth blush with pleasure. He brought her hand to his lips. “Come, madam, cook has prepared a special meal this evening.”

The only light came from the candles on the table, creating a more intimate setting. The servants did not tarry, staying only long enough to fill Darcy and Elizabeth’s glasses and bring the next course. Darcy engaged Elizabeth in conversation on a variety of subjects, from the food to the activities of the day. He inquired as to her satisfaction with Darcy House and encouraged her to begin making any changes she deemed appropriate.

When dinner was finished, Darcy asked Elizabeth to play for him. Unlike the previous night, he took the place by her side to turn pages. Elizabeth was aware of the way he was looking at her, so much the same, but so very different from before. She was not experienced in such matters, but, she suspected her husband was trying to seduce her. The thought brought a smile to her lips and an unexpected, and not unpleasant, flutter to her heart.

“Elizabeth?” Her name had never sounded like that before. “May I come to you tonight?”

“Of course.”

“Do you want me to come? Elizabeth, if you do not… “

Elizabeth blushed, dropped her head, and looked away. “That is not my meaning. Yes, please come. I was embarrassed to admit that I want you to come, that is all.”

~~~>~<~~~

Later that evening, as they lay in each other’s arms, Elizabeth asked a question she had pondered all day.

“William, last night, did I wake you with any distressing dreams?”

“No, that is one of the reasons I stayed. You never woke me up.”

“I did not remember any unpleasantness in my sleep when I awoke this morning.” She paused, pensive, before continuing. “Please stay with me all night again, William.”

“As you wish.”

“And tomorrow as well?”

“For as many nights as you desire.”

~~~>~<~~~

The Gardiners were most interested in becoming better acquainted with the young man who had so suddenly married their niece. They both knew much about the Darcy family, though from different sources. Mrs. Gardiner had spent some of the happiest years of her childhood in the village of Lambton, not five miles from Pemberley. The village’s prosperity was, due in large part, to that great estate and the late Mr. Darcy had been known as an excellent, generous man.

Mr. Gardiner had met Mr. Darcy in conjunction with Mr. Bingley’s business. He had formed the impression of him as that of a well-bred gentleman, who took genuine pleasure from his association with Archibald Bingley.

Elizabeth was eager to speak with her beloved uncle and aunt. Over the years the Gardiners had often welcomed the Bennet children into their home. Elizabeth was only four when Grandfather Bennet had died, leaving Longbourn to her father. Her family left their residence in London, a place now forgotten to her, for the open spaces of Hertfordshire. The house in Gracechurch Street was the London house of her memory. It was not the house itself that Elizabeth loved, but the people who dwelt in it. Uncle Gardiner treated her like his own daughter; his wife was a trusted confidant whose wise counsel had helped Elizabeth as she grew from girl into woman.

Darcy knew enough about the neighbourhood to have no fear for their safety. Still, he wondered if he would have ever set foot in Gracechurch Street if not for his wife’s, and his now, family being in residence there.

The conversation that evening was pleasant. Elizabeth told her aunt more details of the events of the past three weeks than Mrs. Gardiner had previously known. The Gardiners had been worried about Elizabeth, but it was quite evident by the newlyweds’ relaxed manner that the two were getting on very well together.

When the subject of Robert Bennet came up, Elizabeth was curious to hear her relative’s impression of his state of mind.

“He seemed pre-occupied at your wedding, but that was nothing compared to his near dejection of Friday evening after he returned from dining with you.”

“I am afraid he did not receive very well the news we gave him. William’s sister is engaged to be married, to a man she was engaged to five years ago.”

“And what has this to do with Robert?”

Elizabeth inclined her head, “You know exactly what this has to do with Robert!”

“Your dear brother is crossed in love, eh?”

“He was totally bewitched by Georgiana Darcy the first time he saw her. He had never before shown as strong a preference, and I believed that his partiality for Miss Darcy was beyond what I had ever witnessed in him.”

“And yet they did not reach an understanding?”

“Apparently not, though this puzzles me. She was unable to hide her interest when they were in public together. William is at a loss to explain it, as I am. I have written to Jane to express my concerns. We leave for Pemberley in the morning, and I asked her to keep me informed until we return to Hertfordshire for her wedding.”

“Elizabeth, you will adore Pemberley!”

“You have seen it?”

“I spent many years in the nearby town of Lambton. Yes, I have seen it. It is one of the most magnificent estates in all England. I cannot believe my little Elizabeth is its Mistress.”

The Darcys excused themselves early; they had a long journey ahead and desired to make an early start. That night, despite the comfort and contentment of Darcy’s embrace, Elizabeth had difficulty falling asleep. Pemberley! Tomorrow they would finally be heading to Pemberley!

~~~>~<~~~

Jane sat in the breakfast room at Longbourn with her sister’s letter in her hands.

14 December 1811

My dearest Jane,

I sit down to pen this letter with a multitude of thoughts washing over me. So many things have happened in the last three weeks to bring such unforeseen and monumental changes into our lives. My husband, oh dear that is the first time I have written those two words side by side! My husband is a good man who takes prodigiously good care of me and is so solicitous of my opinions and feelings. He has made this time much easier than I could have dared to hope.

The changes in our family are continuing. Not only are you to wed your dear Bingley in two months’ time, but William’s sister has informed us of her engagement. She has once again accepted an offer from Viscount Drury, heir to the earldom of Allenby. They were first engaged five years ago, but did not marry, in part, due to a disagreement between them. William is, in a word, displeased by his sister’s decision. I am concerned for her, but my heart aches for Robert. I believe he is in love with Georgiana, although he has not admitted as much to me. He certainly did not take the news at all well when we told him. I wish that I could comfort him at Longbourn, but now that can never be. I will be hereafter by William’s side, where I now belong.

Because of Georgiana’s announcement, we will leave for Pemberley on Monday. William wishes to be with Beth sooner rather than later. I scarce can believe I will become mistress of such a grand estate. Nothing gives my husband as much pleasure as extolling the virtues of Pemberley.

Since we arrived in London, I have spent more time acquiring items for my wardrobe than I could ever have imagined. William is insistent that I be arrayed in a manner “fitting my new station in life.” Do not mistake my meaning; the gowns will be beautiful, but I cannot imagine needing so many. It frightens me to think that all these things may, in fact, be necessary. I believe it will take an entire wagon to transport my newest fineries!

Please give my warmest affection to all our family,

Your devoted sister,

Elizabeth Darcy

P.S. That is the first time I have written those two words side by side as well. Whatever happened to the simple country miss I was but a little more than a week ago?

“What has our sister to say?”

“For the most part she is concerned about you, Robert.”

“And we are all concerned for her!”

“Robert, she appears, from her letter, to be in good spirits. Tell me again how you found her when you dined with them.”

“They were both distressed by some news they had received, but I could not see that Elizabeth was unhappy.”

“Were you not in poor spirits yourself that night?”

“I would have been surprised had Elizabeth not told you.”

“Robert, you have been unhappy since the ball at Netherfield. I cannot help but believe it has something to do with Miss Darcy.” Robert would not acknowledge her suppositions. “I am sorry, I do not mean to pry. Mr. Bingley and I are as concerned about you as Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy.”

“I thank you for your concern, but I do not wish to speak of it.”

~~~>~<~~~

Elizabeth came to a better understanding of just how large England was during the journey to Pemberley. Even in such a well-sprung vehicle as the Darcy coach, one hundred fifty miles was a long and tiring journey. They spent two nights at inns along the way and did not reach Lambton until just past noon on the third day.

“Pemberley is but five more miles, Elizabeth.”

“Yes, my Aunt Gardiner told me when we dined at Gracechurch Street.”

“Your aunt and uncle are fine people. We should invite them to Pemberley this summer, and your cousins as well.”

Elizabeth was more than pleased with his acceptance of her family; once again, Darcy was amazed at how a small amount of kindness brought such pleasure to his wife.

The road gradually ascended through a beautiful wood until they at last emerged from the trees on top of a considerable eminence, and Elizabeth’s eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House.

“Stop the coach!” Darcy commanded. “Mrs. Darcy?”

“William. I am beyond words! This is Pemberley?”

Darcy smiled at the look of wonder on Elizabeth’s face. “Yes, Elizabeth. Welcome home to Pemberley.”

Darcy signalled the driver to continue. Elizabeth watched for more glimpses of Pemberley as the road wound its way around to the great house, her agitation increasing as they neared. Darcy watched the emotions crossing his wife’s face until he could no longer remain silent.

“Elizabeth, what troubles you so suddenly?”

Her attention was drawn back by his speech, but her eyes quickly fell to her hands in her lap. Darcy waited patiently for her to respond.

“William, I knew that Pemberley would be very grand indeed, but nothing I have been told does it justice. However am I to be a worthy mistress of such a place? I fear I will disappoint you.”

“Nonsense!” Darcy took her hand. “Elizabeth, look at me.” He waited for her to match his gaze. “Do not ever believe, even for an instant, that you are not capable of being mistress of Pemberley. I have every confidence that you will always have the grace and courage to rise to every situation that would intimidate a lesser woman.” Elizabeth was warmed by her husband’s confidence in her.

“And after all, you are a Darcy now.”

“Fitzwilliam Darcy! That is one of the most arrogant things I have every heard you say. I suppose next you will be telling me that pride will always be under good regulation? Careful, sir. You may actually believe it yourself!”

“I am sure I shall always be proud to call you my wife.” Elizabeth blushed at such praise.

Their playful banter had served its purpose: Elizabeth’s apprehensions were greatly reduced, for the time being at least, and the carriage pulled into the driveway with the occupants happily preparing to meet the welcoming party. Colonel Fitzwilliam stood between Georgiana and Beth at the bottom of the entrance stairs. Once the coach finally came to a stop, a servant rushed to open the door for the Master of Pemberley. Darcy emerged and immediately turned to hand out Elizabeth. With no little pride, he pulled her arm into his and made his way to his awaiting family.

“Welcome to Pemberley, Mrs. Darcy,” the Colonel said in greeting.

“Georgiana, Beth, Fitzwilliam. Thank you for welcoming Mrs. Darcy.”

“Darcy, the staff awaits inside. They are all anxious to meet their new mistress.”

Darcy began walking, but Elizabeth stopped him and went to Beth. Taking the girl’s hands into hers, Elizabeth bent down to kiss Beth on the cheek and whispered, “It is good to see you again, Miss Beth. I am looking forward to the tour of the grounds you promised me.”

“As am I,” Beth whispered back.

Elizabeth then allowed Darcy to lead the party inside. Although not surprised, Elizabeth was nevertheless awed to see the large number of servants convened to meet her.

“I would like to introduce your new mistress, Mrs. Darcy. It has been twelve years since a Mrs. Darcy has graced this house. I am confident that you will find my wife to be every bit a gracious and capable mistress as my sister and our mother before her.” Darcy then led Elizabeth to an older couple. “Mrs. Darcy, this is my housekeeper, Mrs. Reynolds, and my butler, Mr. Adams.”

“How do you do, Mrs. Reynolds, Mr. Adams.”

“We are honoured to meet you, madam,” the housekeeper replied. “Your rooms are ready for you, Mr. Darcy, Mrs. Darcy. I anticipated your desire to refresh yourselves after your journey.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Reynolds. Mrs. Darcy, did I not tell you I have a most excellent staff?”

“Indeed you did, sir!”

Darcy again addressed the members of the household. “Thank you for coming to greet us. You may resume your regular duties now.”

Darcy led Elizabeth up the stairs and to their rooms.

“Have you only now claimed these rooms as well, William?” Elizabeth asked as they reached the doors to their rooms.

“Yes, for the same reason as in Town. They remain unchanged from their last inhabitants. I would have you make any changes you wish.”

“William, I thank you, but I am sure they will be delightful.”

“Let us enter. You may change your mind.”

Elizabeth was not desirous of changing her mind. Her rooms were delightful; Darcy’s late mother had exquisite taste. Darcy showed her the bedchamber, her dressing room, the attached nursery – they both blushed as they thought of the children that would one day be theirs – and then, finally, through the door that led to his room. Darcy took her hand and kissed it.

“Elizabeth, I will leave you to refresh yourself after our journey. When you are ready, please send for me, and I will show you more of the house.”

Darcy was ready when Elizabeth called.

“Where would you like to begin?”

“I believe I would like to see the principal rooms downstairs first.”

Darcy expounded on each of the rooms as they toured. “Georgiana is responsible for the festive decorations you see in the house. She has continued what our mother did before her. Next year, you will be the one who chooses how the house will be adorned for Christmastide.”

As Darcy guided her through the myriad of rooms, Elizabeth was impressed by the tasteful furnishings, which were neither gaudy nor uselessly fine, and had a regal elegance. She also was entranced by the scenes visible from every window and eagerly anticipated the delight she would derive once the estate woke from its winter slumber.

At last, Darcy brought Elizabeth to the great gallery, lined with portraits of his ancestors. He led her to those of his parents, and to his own.

“Georgiana takes after Lady Anne.”

“That has often been said, and that I favour my father.”

“Most definitely! And Beth is a combination of the two. But all three of you have your mother’s eyes.”

Darcy looked intently at his mother’s picture. “She would have approved of you, Elizabeth. As would my father.” Without shifting his gaze he continued, “We must add your portrait here soon.”

Elizabeth blushed and considered challenging him, but stopped herself. Each of the past Mrs. Darcys smiled down upon her. To decline would be ungracious of her; she was conscious of the honour to herself, and to the name she now owned.

“Thank you, William. I would be honoured to have my likeness next to yours. You do look very young. When was it taken?”

“Normally, the heir of Pemberley sits for his first portrait when he comes of age. In my case, it was painted just after my father died.”

“Will you then sit for another when mine is done?”

“I shall consider it only if you consent to sit for one together.”

Elizabeth smiled her beguiling smile. “Then I suppose you consider me tolerable enough to appear beside you?”

A hint of a smile appeared on Darcy’s face. He leaned down and kissed Elizabeth, whispering, “Tolerable enough to tempt me. Tonight I will show you how the Master of Pemberley truly welcomes the new mistress.”

~~~>~<~~~

Beth Darcy was displeased when her brother denied her request to show Elizabeth the grounds.

“Beth, it will be dark soon. Elizabeth will not be leaving tomorrow. You may show her some of the grounds in the morning, after her winter things have been unpacked. I will not have Mrs. Darcy catch cold on her first day in Derbyshire!”

“You brother is correct, Beth. We will go tomorrow.”

“But the weather may not be as clear!”

“Beth, if the weather chooses not to co-operate, you may take me on a tour looking out the windows.”

“It is not the same.” Beth pouted.

“Yes, but it is much warmer!”

Beth could not help herself; she giggled. “And William would not be able to fix blame on me if you become ill. I relent. If the weather is poor, we shall confine ourselves to the windows.

Dinner that evening was pleasant. Elizabeth was still trying to gauge Georgiana’s feelings; they had yet to move past the formality of address. Elizabeth was Mrs. Darcy; Georgiana, Miss Darcy.

Georgiana was making every attempt to be gracious; at all times a Darcy was to be the model of civility. It was expected, and Georgiana would never dishonour the family name. She would be civil for her brother’s sake – and to demonstrate that she, at least, was a true gentlewoman. She had determined to be neither patronizing nor effusive in her dealings with her new sister. In less than four months, she would leave Pemberley to set up her own household as Lady Drury; there was no need to create acrimony within her family, ill will that could linger long after she resigned the Darcy name, and make visits between the families unnecessarily unpleasant. There were, to be sure, traces of her former regard for Elizabeth, and to hold her brother’s wife responsible for the actions of others was, at best, uncharitable. Warmth might be lacking in Georgiana’s manner, but common civility demanded none.

“Miss Darcy, Pemberley’s holiday decorations are charming. William tells me that you are the one responsible for them.”

“I have only continued what my mother did before me, Mrs. Darcy,” Georgiana responded with a slight air of hauteur.

“Then I must conclude that you both share the same exquisite taste. Truly, the house looks magical.” Georgiana nodded in acknowledgement.

“William, do you think it will snow before Christmas?” Beth asked.

“I hope so, Beth. Elizabeth, there is no prettier sight in the world than Pemberley under the blanket of fresh snow.”

“Mrs. Darcy, has my dolt of a cousin told you anything about Pemberley’s Christmas traditions?”

“No, Colonel Fitzwilliam. I am afraid it has quite escaped our conversation.”

He shook his head in mock disapproval. “Darcy, I am not surprised. Too busy looking at your charming wife to attend to such things, I daresay.” Even Georgiana smiled at the overt teasing. “I propose that the rest of the party correct this horrible oversight and tell Mrs. Darcy what an enchanting place Pemberley is this time of year.

The rest of the evening passed in peaceful civility. Richard, Beth, and Darcy did their utmost to make Elizabeth feel welcome and acquaint her with what she could expect in the days to come.

~~~>~<~~~

That night, as Elizabeth waited for Darcy to come to her, she sat anxiously combing her hair. She had dismissed Sally earlier, preferring solitude. Elizabeth was unexpectedly nervous and chided herself for such ridiculous thoughts. Had she not shared a bed with William every night since they married, and had she not invited him to her bed as her husband these last five nights? Elizabeth looked at the brush in her hands: “FDE” it read. Her husband had given it to her on the day they married. The D joined together the F and E to form a new union. Comforted, Elizabeth began to relax. The expected knock came, and she bade Darcy enter. As before, the sight of his wife brushing her tresses arrested him. Smiling at his own reactions, Darcy shook his head before moving to stand behind Elizabeth. Wordlessly he asked for the brush, his face shining with pleasure when he saw which one it was. He began to gently brush his wife’s hair, pausing every so often to run his finger through it.

“That is enough for one night, William,” Elizabeth said as she stopped his hand.

When Elizabeth stood, Darcy surprised her by sweeping her into his arms. She laughed gaily as he whirled around and began to walk, but became confused when he headed not for her bed, but through the door into his own chambers.

“Husband! Why are we in your room?”

“Wife, at Pemberley the mistress sleeps with the master in his bed!”

“Does she now?”

“You doubt me, Mrs. Darcy?”

“Not at all, Mr. Darcy. But in London you always stayed in my bed.”

“That is Town. This is the country. We are savages here. If you wish to have me with you in bed,” Darcy dropped Elizabeth onto the bed, “then it shall be in mine. The Master of Pemberley has spoken.”

Elizabeth pulled him to her. “Far be it from me to disobey …”

~~~>~<~~~

The weather held, and Beth was able to take Elizabeth on an abbreviated tour of the grounds, with a promise to show more once spring came.

“Elizabeth, we shall have to ride our horses for a full tour of the park. It is nearly ten miles round.”

“I should enjoy that, Beth. I imagine there is a suitable mount for me in the vast Pemberley stables.”

“If not, William will soon see that there is.”

“I do not doubt that, he is most solicitous of the family’s needs and desires.”

“Elizabeth, I am very glad to have you as my sister.”

“And I you, Beth. Now, tell me where it is that the pirates are said to frequent?”

The days following were spent in anticipation of the celebration of Christ Child’s birth. The house fairly hummed with preparations. The smells emanating from the kitchen were enough to make every inhabitant faint with hunger.

On Monday, two days before Christmas, Elizabeth received her first letter from Longbourn. It was from Mary. She excused herself to read in privacy.


Dear Elizabeth,

The annual preparations for Christmas are well and truly underway. It is the same as past years, except this time, Jane and I alone are left to deal with Mama. This, of course, means that the honour usually falls upon me as Mr. Bingley is more often than not to be found with Jane. I do not mind too much; next year, Jane will be gone, as are you, and it is just as well that I grow accustomed to the idea.

Robert keeps to himself more than before. He helps Papa with the estate, but his usual quick smile and laugh are wanting. I am at a loss to explain it, other than by your absence, but when I question him, he assures me that he is content with your situation and is confident that your new family will love you as much as we do.

Uncle and Aunt Gardiner are expected soon. I look forward to seeing my nieces and nephews. The wonder of young children is the best part of the season for me. I so enjoy the look of happiness that radiates from their fresh faces. It makes me look forward to the day when I will have children of my own.

The preparations for Jane’s wedding are well underway. Even with Christmas coming, our mother has not ceased her close attention to that event. I fear it will be the grandest affair that Hertfordshire has seen in many a year. Be thankful that you were spared what Jane has not, although she is too sweet-tempered to complain.

I send the best wishes of our family. We are all anxious to see you. The time until your return will pass before we know it.

Yours affectionately,

Mary

Elizabeth, greatly affected by the words of her younger sister, soon could no longer hold back her tears. Georgiana, passing by the room, heard her weeping.

“Mrs. Darcy?” Receiving no acknowledgement, Georgiana moved to Elizabeth and touched the other woman’s shoulder. An unexpected wave of empathy engulfed Georgiana – perhaps she recognized her own despair in the other.

“Elizabeth?”

Elizabeth looked up to see concern and kindness on her new sister’s face, the first warmth Georgiana had shown her since she and Darcy had become engaged.

“Please excuse my lack of composure. I do not understand why this letter affected me so.”

“It is from your family?”

“From my sister, Mary.”

“What has she written that upset you?”

“It is not her words, it is that … I miss my family.”

“That is to be expected. You have experienced a sea change in a very short time. Are you unhappy with your new life?”

“No, not at all. Your cousin is a delightful gentleman, I adore Beth, and you have treated me with respect during what must be an awkward situation. I am fully aware that I have taken your place in this house.”

“You seem to get along well with my brother.”

“Yes, William is the best of men, as you know. I could not have hoped for better.”

“But?”

“As fond as I am of my husband, this is not how I envisioned being given in marriage.”

Georgiana was silent, waiting for Elizabeth to continue. “You may think me a fool, but I always thought that nothing but the deepest love would induce me into matrimony. Now here I am, married, to a man I am fond of, a good man whom I respect, who is my friend, but…”

“You do not love him.”

“I believe I do love him, but not as a wife should love her husband. I am a hopeless romantic fool.”

“Perhaps, in time, you may develop such feelings, but most marriages in our circle never inspire the love of which you speak.”

“Be that as it may, I would wish it so for my marriage. But if I do ‘develop those feelings’ and my husband does not, will the pain of unrequited love be any better than the pain of disappointment for the lack of such love in the first place?” Elizabeth sighed, then shook her head. “However… I am determined to be content with my life. William is a fine man, and Pemberley is a treasure. I hope to be worthy of my place here.”

“You will, Elizabeth. Have the confidence in yourself that my brother has in you.”

Elizabeth smiled and patted Georgiana’s hand. “Thank you for listening to the musings of an insensible young woman, Miss Darcy.”

“It is time to call me Georgiana, Elizabeth. We are sisters now, you know.”

“Yes, Georgiana, we are both Darcys now.”

~~~>~<~~~

Christmas Day dawned crisp and cold, with new snow on Pemberley’s grounds and the promise of more to come. The family’s celebrations were subdued, but pleasant. They attended the special service at Pemberley’s chapel before returning to the house to exchange presents. Darcy and Elizabeth had spent part of their time in London purchasing gifts. Elizabeth had sent packages to Longbourn for her family; the rest they took to Derbyshire.

For Darcy, Elizabeth had eschewed anything of great worth for the work of her hands: she had embroidered a few new handkerchiefs with his initials. Darcy was enchanted with her thoughtfulness. For Elizabeth, he had ordered a locket, adorned only with their initials.

“Do you like it, Elizabeth?” he asked tentatively.

“Yes, it is lovely. Here, help me with the clasp.” Elizabeth trembled as Darcy’s fingers brushed her neck. She turned to face him. “Do you approve?”

“What manner of question is that? I dare not voice disapproval, even if I felt any, which I do not. It is becoming on you.” Darcy leaned closer so that none of the others could hear. “And someday, Mrs. Darcy, we will have a miniature of our firstborn child to place inside.”

Darcy certainly knew how to incite the passion in her. Not for the first time, she wondered how much it would grow if she ever came to love him.

That evening, after Elizabeth and Darcy excused themselves, Georgiana and Richard sat together and talked about the changes to the family party.

“What are your impressions of Elizabeth, Richard?”

“She is a lovely woman, no false dignity at all, intelligent, and lively. I like her. She will soon learn how to wear the mantle of Mrs. Darcy.”

Georgiana sighed. “Yes, I find myself coming to much the same conclusions. She cares very much about William, and the rest of us. You know how opposed I was to the match, but William seems content, and Elizabeth is a capable and accomplished woman in her own right.”

“But still you are concerned about her lack of connections and the effects of your brother reaching for a wife so far below our circle.” It was not a question.

“Yes, I am,” Georgiana said in a small voice.

“So in response you have taken back Drury. Georgiana, you do not need to do this.”

“Our opinions differ on the matter, Richard.”

“Georgiana, I… I had thought that after William reached five and twenty we might… “

“Marry?”

“Yes. I assumed that you were open to the match; you rejected every man who sought to court you. I may be a younger son, but your father was generous towards me and our combined fortune would have enabled us to live quite comfortably. We still could. You do not have to marry Drury; I am the son of an earl. Would not your purpose be accomplished by a union between us?”

“Richard, I… I detect no passion in your proposal.”

“I would not pretend what is not there. No, to answer your implied question, I do not love you. But neither do you love Drury.”

“In marrying Henry, I will eventually become a countess, adding another superior connection to our family. That is something highly in his favour. I also see that you assumed too much, as did the rest of my relations.” She thought back to her disagreement with Darcy on the night he informed her of his engagement. “Richard, I thank you for your consideration, but I must marry Henry, for Beth and for William’s children. It is the only way.”

“I do not understand why you feel it is necessary.”

“You do not understand how much my brother’s marriage has damaged the Darcy name in the eyes of society.”

“That is only your opinion. My offer remains open, should you reconsider your options, Georgiana.”

“It will not be necessary.”

“But it remains, all the same.”

The new snow did not prevent the tenants and staff of Pemberley from assembling in the great hall on Boxing Day, there to dine on the traditional feast the family had ordered prepared for them. It was a day eagerly anticipated by all; the Darcys had always been good and generous people, and those dependant on them could count on a lavish feast and generous gifts from the master and his family.

Meanwhile, in London

“Lady Allenby, Lord Drury asked that he not be disturbed.”

“I am mistress of this house and I will not be interfered with. Stand aside!”

Reluctantly, the butler moved. Furious, Lady Allenby threw open the door and strode into the Drawing Room, the servant quickly closing the door behind her, resuming his guard outside.

“Henry! How dare you…” Lady Allenby was not prepared for the scene before her. There stood her son, with… another man! It took several moments for his lust-filled mind to register the presence of the third party. By then he didn’t care. His mother could not move, the horror of her son’s choice before her. Only after righting his clothing did Drury finally face the intruder.

“Hello, Mother.”

The other man did not move. She could see that he was a soldier; she became, if that was possible, even more disgusted. “You there. Get out of my house and never set foot across my threshold again!” she hissed.

The man, still tensed, did not move.

“I said leave!

The man hastily drew on his coat, took a deep breath and, finally, turned around. As he moved past Lady Allenby, the woman, utterly stupefied, seized his arm.

George!” she cried in horror, “How could you …”

“Goodbye, Lady Allenby.” Captain Wickham removed her hand from his arm and walked out of the room.

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