Lady Allenby stood staring at the closed door, a myriad of emotions surging through her: shock, disgust, revulsion, disappointment, betrayal, humiliation.
“Are you going to stand there stupidly all day?” came the mocking voice of the Viscount.
Lady Allenby whirled around to face her son, her only son. She wanted to speak – but could not; the horror of what she had seen replayed over and over again in her mind.
“This may be the first time in my life that I have seen you at loss for words, Mother,” Lord Drury said, perverse amusement playing across his face. “You have found me out. What do you think of your precious son now?”
“How could you?”
“Very easily. You might even say it is your own fault. It was you and the Earl, after all, who insisted on sending me to the best schools. I learned of my preference there. Don’t look so shocked. You have no idea what young men will do when left to their own devices.” Lady Allenby shuddered. “Nonetheless, discovering that we share the same taste in lovers is most unsettling.”
He knew, damn him! He knew, and now he was mocking her, his own mother!
“Still at loss for words, Mama?”
“You knew,” Lady Allenby finally managed to say, her bitterness unmasked.
“Of course I knew. George would never have come into your bed had I not brought him to your notice. Quite convenient for me, actually. You satisfied his needs when I was not inclined to do so.”
The words struck Lady Allenby as forcefully as a physical blow. A new emotion, never before connected with her son, surged within her.
“How dare you!”
“Now, now, Mother, do not allow this to come between us.” Drury’s tone was near patronizing, further infuriating his mother. “George provided amusement for us both.” In a cavalier tone he pledged, “I give you my word that I shall not seduce another of your lovers. I am soon to be a married man and will need to be even more discreet.”
“So that is why you agreed to court Georgiana Darcy?”
“But of course, Mother.” Drury’s tone was both insolent and bored. “It matters little to me whom I marry. Your choice is as good as any, and will suit my purposes well enough. Georgiana is rich; I will use her money to pay for my amusements whilst waiting for my father to die. I will admit that I was mortified when she broke our engagement. No… I was insulted. What better revenge than to be wed to a man who does not give a damn about her?” He smirked. “I can disguise my preferences well enough to meet the appearance of husbandly behaviour. Georgiana understands her duty and will produce the necessary heir, but she likely will be relieved when I only rarely require her in my bed.”
Much of her son’s behaviour now became clear to Lady Allenby: his cavalier attitude towards marriage, his disappearances, his willingness to obey her wishes and court Georgiana five years ago, his willingness to offer for her again. She looked at her son, the ‘reprobate’ she had borne. He disgusted her, but he was still her son…
“I will keep this from your father.”
“My involvement, or yours?”
Lady Allenby was filled with rage. He was still mocking her! When she regained a modicum of control, she answered, “Both, as you well know.”
“You assume he does not know about George.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“You cannot honestly believe that the Earl is unaware of your lovers? My father has found them useful, to relieve him of the obligation of coming to your bed… and in the event you discovered his own indiscretions.” Drury watched in satisfaction as the import of his words registered on his mother’s face. “Good afternoon, Lady Allenby, it has been a most illuminating day.”
Once the obligations of Christmastide had passed, life for the inhabitants of Pemberley fell into a peaceful rhythm. The daylight hours were at minimum, and a cold wind regularly blew from the Pennines. It was many years since Darcy had been at home during the winter months. He had spent four years at Cambridge and another on an abbreviated tour; he was not accustomed to being confined so often to the house. He also noticed the effect on Elizabeth. The milder Hertfordshire winters had allowed her to venture outside more frequently than was possible in Derbyshire. Elizabeth would never complain, but Darcy could see that she was growing restless. Whilst eating breakfast a few days after Christmas, the solution came to him.
“Mrs. Darcy, have you any particular plans this morning?”
“No, I do not. Have you need of me?”
“I would appreciate your company later in the morning. You will need to dress warmly.”
“As you wish. Will you tell me where you are taking me?”
Darcy smiled. “No, madam, it shall be a surprise.”
An hour later, Darcy met Elizabeth in the entry hall.
“William, please tell me where we are going.”
“Patience, madam, it will not be long.”
Elizabeth was surprised when he led her towards the back of the house. Darcy wound his way through a series of passages and rooms until, finally, they came to a door and ventured outside.
“It will not be much farther now.”
The unfamiliar route had left Elizabeth slightly disoriented, but within moments she knew where he was taking her. “The succession house, sir?”
“Yes. You have detected our destination with rapid ease, madam.”
“There is nothing else near, William.”
“Exactly.” Darcy motioned for Elizabeth to enter. The air inside was warmer, much warmer.
“I know that you miss your walks and it has been far too cold these last days for you to be outside. I thought you would enjoy walking in here. The building is not long, but it is warm, and the sun still can shine down upon you through the glass.”
Elizabeth was pleased. “What a marvellous and thoughtful suggestion, husband. Will you walk with me?” Darcy was happy to oblige and led Elizabeth down the pathways between rows of vegetation. He told her what he knew of the flowers and plants, but soon summoned the gardener to explain the specimens in fuller detail.
Once more, Darcy marvelled at the delighted smile such a simple act of attention could elicit from his wife.
Later, as he sat in his study, Darcy found himself unable to concentrate on the letter he was trying to write; his thoughts kept returning to Elizabeth. He threw down his pen in agitation, resigning his fight against the inevitable: his need to make out his feelings toward his wife. He walked to the window, and leaned his head and forearm against the glass. The glass was cold, even through the fabric of his coat, a contrast to the warmth of the room. He thought of Georgiana, her heart so cold in comparison to his Elizabeth’s. For the past twelve years, Georgiana had sheltered her family from the cold indifference of the world. But at what price? Her constant connection to that world had jaded her, left her with a heart with no fire, no passion – only a devotion to her idea of familial duty.
Elizabeth also had done her duty, also at great cost. She had graciously accepted his offer of marriage, all the while knowing that she must accept him; the façade of choice had been ripped away when Wickham ripped open her dress. Yet she was not bitter, she had not closed her heart to the prospect of happiness. She was like the fire that burned in the grate, warming the lives of those near her. He was certainly the richer for her presence. Beth was devoted to Elizabeth, who had regained even Georgiana’s good opinion. What a woman! He respected and esteemed her, but above all he was grateful: grateful, to be sure, that she had married him, but all the more so because she had put aside her enmity at being forced to marry him; grateful because she had embraced her new life and had not allowed its start to poison their friendship; grateful that she allowed him in her bed not out of duty, but with affection and trust.
He was humbled anew to have secured such a wife, and again despaired that he would disappoint her, that he would be less than the husband she deserved.
“Elizabeth.” The word sounded differently when he spoke the name in reference to his wife.
Could she be happy with him, truly happy?
Could he make her happy? There were times when smiles of pure delight graced her face, but he did not yet know how to bring her happiness, or what he could do to earn such smiles every day of his life.
‘Why not make it a goal?’ he thought. Every day. To earn a smile of unaffected pleasure every day. That was a small way Darcy could show Elizabeth that he respected and esteemed her. And perhaps, by seeking to please her, he would know his own heart and perchance win hers in return.
It was time to woo his wife.
Several days later, after the first true winter storm had passed, Darcy asked Elizabeth to accompany him on an outing. She appreciated his courtesy in ascertaining if she had obligations on her time, rather than expecting her to be available whenever he desired her presence. She had noticed his anxious looks whenever he tried to please her, and it occurred to Elizabeth that her husband was deliberately seeking to win her favour.
The previous day was a prime example. That morning, as they had again walked through the succession house, Darcy asked Elizabeth to tell him which were her favourite amongst the flowers growing in the building. She had pointed out two or three to him, and those flowers now resided in a prominent place in her room.
So when she saw his surprise for her this day, a horse drawn sleigh, Elizabeth was careful show Darcy just how delighted she was, with both his efforts and the result.
“Oh William, how wonderful!”
“The only way for you to see Pemberley in the snow. Shall we?”
When Elizabeth was safely seated and bundled against the cold, Darcy climbed in and took the reigns.
“Where are you taking me?”
“Not too far. There is nothing as beautiful as Pemberley’s grounds with a layer fresh snow. Enjoy the ride, Elizabeth.”
Not long after, they came out of the woods and stopped in a clearing that overlooked Pemberley house.
“Do you approve, Mrs. Darcy?”
“It is a glorious sight, William, and humbling, too.”
“William, when I consider all I am now responsible for… when I see the great house like this, I am in doubt of my abilities to live up to my duties.”
Elizabeth was surprised when Darcy laughed.
“Let me tell you something, my good friend. I have often felt the same as you. I wonder if I can become the master my father was before me. Am I the man he hoped I would be? I have the same kind of insecurities as you.”
Elizabeth smiled a wry smile. “Now that we each have confessed our feelings of inadequacy, perhaps we can discuss another topic of equal mortification.”
“You know of what I speak. Last night… ”
“Say no more of this. I fully understand why we couldn’t… and it will pass quickly enough. To own the truth, it is for the best. Much gossip and speculation will be quelled when you do not present an heir seven or eight months after our wedding.”
Elizabeth agreed wholeheartedly, then said, “I suppose you are right, but I am appreciative that you stayed with me, even though… ”
“I stayed with you in London before you invited me to your bed as your husband. I remain concerned that your sleep may yet be disturbed by lingering remnants of distress, although you have not, as far as I can tell, had unpleasant dreams since that night in London. Beyond that, you keep me warm. I happen to like my new bed-warmer.”
”As long as you…” Elizabeth could not continue her sentence, as Darcy chose that moment to sentence her with a kiss.
“Sometimes you talk too much,” he managed to say between kisses.
When at last Darcy drew back, he was delighted to see an increasingly familiar look in his wife’s half-closed eyes.
“Are you warm enough, my dear?” Elizabeth detected a certain smugness in his tone.
“Should I dignify that with an answer?”
Darcy’s grin widened. “No, the look on your face was enough. It is time we return, before you grow cold again. I cannot keep sacrificing myself to return the warmth to your face.”
Elizabeth laughed. Sacrifice indeed!
Darcy was very pleased with himself. Yes, the sleigh ride had been an inspired idea.
After dinner a few days later, the family gathered in the music room.
“Miss Elizabeth, may I entreat you to honour the company with another song? You played that piece most beautifully.”
“Of course, Mrs. Elizabeth. I would be happy to oblige. Would you be so kind as to continue to turn the pages for me?”
“I would be delighted, Miss Elizabeth.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Elizabeth.”
“Enough! The two of you will drive me to Bedlam if you continue in this manner. You have been going on like this all evening. Pray tell me why Beth in now ‘Miss Elizabeth’ and you are now ‘Mrs. Elizabeth’?” Darcy asked his wife.
Beth answered. “It is quite simple, William. Yesterday, when Mrs. Elizabeth and I were sitting together, you called out ‘Elizabeth Darcy’ and I did not respond. You seemed quite put out. Mrs. Elizabeth and I later decided that a change of address might prevent such misunderstandings in future. So you see, we are only endeavouring to save your sanity, Brother.”
Georgiana and Richard both fought to keep their laughter from escaping. Darcy, however, was not amused.
“Elizabeth Anne Darcy!”
“Yes?” Elizabeth and Beth chorused. Darcy was even more chagrined when Georgiana and Richard burst out laughing.
“William, you have forgotten that your sister and I share the same middle name as well.” Elizabeth turned to Beth. “Do you now see what I was saying? The ability to laugh at one’s husband every so often is a necessary requirement when choosing a spouse.”
Realizing he had been caught in Elizabeth’s trap, Darcy’s indignation waned and soon he, too, was smiling along with the rest of the party.
“Well done, Mrs. Elizabeth. Now tell me how long must I suffer to address you as such in the presence of Miss Elizabeth?”
“Very good, William. After this evening, it will no longer be required. But I do advise you to remember the proper form of address when you are displeased enough with your sister to use her full name in my presence. Such misunderstanding might lead to a quarrel with me!” Darcy was enchanted by the sparkle in Elizabeth’s eyes; she was definitely pleased with the outcome of her mischief.
Darcy was accustomed to being teased; Georgiana and Richard had entertained themselves at his expense for many years. Neither of them, however, had ever succeeded in making sport of him in quite the way Elizabeth did. He did not mind. It had earned him another of her dazzling smiles. It occurred to him that he would not mind being laughed at everyday if she would always smile at him in that manner. What a wife!
Darcy lay awake that night, Elizabeth asleep in his arms, that same thought running through his mind. What a wife!
He tried to imagine his life without Elizabeth as his wife; to his amazement, he could not. Then he tried to remember what it was like without her in his bed, and he could not. Her presence was now so infused in his life that he found her necessary to it … and he loved her. HE LOVED HER!
Could it be this simple, this… final? He remembered their first time together as man and wife – and his thoughts afterward, when he had realized that his feelings for her might run much deeper than admiration and respect. He had purposefully sought to discover what was in his heart, and tonight, remembering Elizabeth’s laughter, he had found his answer. No more questions, no more doubts. His love for Elizabeth had become part of him.
Darcy tightened his grip on his slumbering wife; he wished to awaken her and profess his love, but another thought held him back. What if Elizabeth did not love him? Would such shared knowledge place an awkwardness between them? Darcy was not confident the bonds they had forged were yet strong enough to withstand that. But he had hope, made strong by his newfound love for her, and he resolved to court his wife with increased vigour. He would love and honour her in all that he did, and when he knew she was confident in him, he would tell her. Tell her and hope – hope that she could return his love in some measure.
As Georgiana walked through the foyer on her way to breakfast, she spied an unfamiliar vase in place of one her mother had called her favourite. Georgiana had expected Elizabeth to make changes, but she was shocked by this choice. The vase had undoubtedly been the height of fashion a long time ago, but it was gaudy by contemporary standards and had obviously seen better days. Slightly angry and disappointed, Georgiana joined the others for the morning repast.
Angry people are not always wise, and Georgiana could not totally disguise her contempt when she spoke. “William, I noticed a new vase on the table where Mama kept the blue one Father gave her.”
“Yes, it was located only yesterday, after a search of the attics.”
Georgiana was puzzled by the enthusiasm in her brother’s voice. Surely he could not prefer such an inferior piece of pottery to their mother’s favourite?
Elizabeth’s enthusiasm matched her husband’s. “Mrs. Reynolds informed me of its existence and William and I placed there last night. I wondered how long it would be before you noticed.”
Georgiana was even more perplexed. Elizabeth had replaced a treasured object on the recommendation of the housekeeper?
“Georgiana, you are displeased?” Elizabeth asked in confusion.
“Elizabeth, you are mistress and may make any changes you wish. The vase you removed was my mother’s favourite.”
“That is not a surprise.”
Now Georgiana was confused. Why had Elizabeth ordered her mother’s vase removed?
“I must accustom myself to seeing the new vase, that is all.”
“But surely you realize that it will be put back in storage next year and a new vase put in its place?”
“I suppose you will be acquiring one in Town.”
“Georgiana,” Darcy interjected, “I am the one who will choose the new vase. Have you forgotten?” Her puzzled look confirmed her ignorance. “I am deeply sorry, I assumed you knew! Georgiana, do you know why Father gave the blue vase to Mama?”
“He never mentioned it to me, William,” Beth replied.
“Nor to me, that I recall.”
Darcy and Elizabeth visibly relaxed, now understanding the source of the misunderstanding.
“Perhaps our parents never explained because it did not concern either of you, but was of utmost importance to me. The vase now in the hall was a wedding gift to our great-great-grandmother Darcy. It was displayed for the first year of their marriage, until replaced by a different vase, one that our great-great-grandfather bought. It has since become tradition that when a Darcy heir weds, the original vase is brought out of storage and put on view for one year On the first anniversary of their vows, the heir presents his bride with a new vase, one that remains on display until the next heir is wed.”
“Oh!” Georgiana now regretted her earlier thoughts and remarks. She had misjudged Elizabeth yet again.
“If it is of any consolation, your mother’s vase is much lovelier.”
Now Georgiana was ashamed of herself. Elizabeth, in one short sentence, showed herself to be gracious. It was more than Georgiana knew she deserved.
“Thank you, Elizabeth, that is most kind.”
Elizabeth laughed. “We both know it is only the truth, but family traditions must be observed.”
The days passed quickly, the weather being the main topic of discussion. Pemberley lay asleep for the winter, and the residents of the house had little choice but to remain indoors most of the time. Darcy and Elizabeth used their time to strengthen their bond and knowledge of each other.
Elizabeth noticed a new tenderness in her husband. He had always been kind, but somehow he was even more so. She was pleased when Darcy included her in the everyday details of his life, and she was grateful for his patience as she learned her place in his. Elizabeth’s affection for her husband grew stronger with each passing day.
The days grew longer as the month of January progressed. The steady increase of daylight mirrored the change in Elizabeth. Just as the sun imperceptibly tightened its hold on the day, so too was a love for her husband steadily and silently increasing its hold on Elizabeth’s heart. Soon, like the approaching spring, it would be ready to bloom.
Darcy’s time was not spent in idleness. Richard continued to increase Darcy’s involvement in the affairs of Pemberley. The two men spent hours with the steward making plans for the upcoming planting season. Darcy would not be at Pemberley to oversee it, because of the weddings of Jane and Georgiana and the upcoming season in Town, but he would have a hand in preparations.
There was one task Darcy was loath to complete, but he knew he should delay no longer. The time had come to speak with Georgiana about her wedding.
Georgiana found Darcy in his study.
“You wanted to speak with me?”
“Yes, Georgiana. We have not talked much about your upcoming wedding.”
“Please do not try to change my mind about Henry.”
“You know my opinion of him, but I did not ask you here to quarrel over Drury. I simply desired to know where you want to be married, here or in Town? Perhaps you have another location in mind?”
“We prefer that the wedding take place in Town. It will be less… awkward that way.”
“Would you like the wedding breakfast to be held at Darcy House?”
“No, thank you, that will not be necessary. Aunt and Uncle Matlock have offered to host the breakfast at Afton House.”
Darcy was both relieved and disappointed. He had been unhappy with the prospect of honouring the bride and groom in his home, but he wished to be of use to his sister one last time.
“Georgiana, if I may be of service… “
“Thank you, William.”
“And the marriage settlements?”
“Uncle Matlock and Richard are seeing to those as well.”
“I see. You have confirmed the date with Drury?”
“Yes, the 9th of April.”
“Then the only item left unresolved is when you want to be in London. Elizabeth and I will travel to Netherfield for her sister’s wedding next month. We could take you to London, then continue on to Hertfordshire.”
“I suppose that would best suit my purposes. There are items I need to purchase before the wedding.”
“I shall arrange it then.”
“William? I shall miss Pemberley.”
Darcy looked at his sister, deeply affected. “You shall always be welcome here,” he finally managed to say.
Not long after, Richard came to see Darcy.
“You look as if you could use a drink.”
“It is far too early in the day for that, Fitzwilliam. I just spoke with Georgiana.”
“I see. Is there nothing either of us can do to change her mind?”
“Nothing that I can think of, and I have tried, believe me. I cannot help but feel that she is making a terrible mistake. I do not trust Drury.”
“Neither does my father. Darcy, as much as I wish she had not accepted Drury’s offer, I can understand why she did.”
“You can? Please enlighten me, for I am at a loss to explain it.”
“Like me, Georgiana was raised to do her duty.”
“And I was not?”
“Darcy, you asked me to explain.”
“I apologize. Please continue.”
“Georgiana was taught to do her duty, that duty to family came first, above all else. Her entire life since your mother died has been defined by her adherence to duty. My life has been much the same. First it was the army, and then it was Pemberley. Choice, or personal preference, was never an option.”
“But, Fitzwilliam, you need not have left the army.”
“Darcy, whilst your father gave me a choice, there was no choice to be made. When I was told the terms of your father’s will, I knew what I must do. Uncle Darcy richly provided for me, but to refuse to do my duty to your family was unthinkable. Georgiana must feel the same; her duty to her family overpowers her desire for more companionable marriage partner.”
“I wish she would have chosen you instead.”
“I offered, but she refused me.”
“You did? She did? I… I am speechless.”
“Come now, Darcy. The family has always assumed that once you and Beth were old enough, I would offer for Georgiana again.”
“A year after your father died and she broke her engagement to Drury, I offered my hand to Georgiana. She refused. With your father gone, she believed that her primary duty was to see to your needs and Beth’s. You were both still quite young. Obviously, Georgiana never told you.”
“I have come to discover that many of the things I once assumed to be true were never so.” Darcy paused before continuing. “Fitzwilliam, do you believe that I have evaded my duty to my family?”
Richard had wondered when this discussion would come. “Darcy, Elizabeth is a fine woman, and has made you an excellent wife, but it is true that she does not fit the family’s or society’s expectations for the next Mrs. Darcy.”
“Her dowry was almost as great as my own sisters’!”
“Yes, but her family and ours are not equals. She does lack connections.”
Darcy was becoming indignant. “I am a gentleman, and she is a gentleman’s daughter. Her father’s estate might not be great, but it is an old one. Her sister will soon be married to a man of great wealth. Elizabeth may not have a peer for a grandparent or a peer for an uncle, but I challenge you to find a nobler spirit in all of England. Next you will be telling me that my mother married beneath her because my father had no title!”
“Darcy, calm down. I hold your wife in great esteem and I am not trying to disparage her family. You forget that the Earl, the head of our family, has blessed your union. He would not have done so if he objected to your choice or refused to support you and Elizabeth in society. Both he and my mother will make it quite clear that they approve of your marriage. The name of Matlock counts for something! Only Lady Catherine has publicly voiced any objection to the match, something Georgiana has not and will never do.”
“No, she would not, no matter what she thinks privately.”
“What I have said about Elizabeth and her family will be repeated amongst the members of the ton, with more malice and less understanding, since they do not know of the Bennets’ wealth. You must be prepared to encounter this kind of gossip and perhaps outright disapproval from some quarters when you are in Town. Do not underestimate the spitefulness of disappointed matrons with marriageable daughters.”
“I care not what the ton thinks.”
“You many not, but the rest of society does care. Darcy, you MUST think of it, you must comprehend its potential to harm the family and, most particularly, your wife. Elizabeth is the one you should be concerned about. It is she who will suffer society’s prejudices and cynicism during the upcoming season. It is she who will be judged, her suitability that will be assessed. The rapidity of your marriage and your youth conspire against you both. You must acknowledge this!”
Darcy pondered his cousin’s words. “And Georgiana believes that she must protect me?”
“Yes, I am certain that was a factor in her decision, but she also must be concerned for Beth’s future.”
“Yes, she told me that she was. What am I to do? I cannot allow Georgiana to sacrifice herself like this!”
“I am unable to advise you. As long as Georgiana is convinced that duty requires her to marry well, she will not be dissuaded.” Darcy was no more comforted than when the conversation began. “Darcy?”
“Never regret your choice of Elizabeth.”
“Even though you do.”
“I never said that, Cousin. I see how you look at her now. You are happy. What could bring me more satisfaction than to see you content? It was the only thing I would never be able to teach you.”
Darcy nodded, in understanding and gratitude.
A week later, Darcy sat at his desk, staring at the note in front of him.
At our last meeting, I gave you my word that I would provide you with certain information before four months had past. I am now in the position to fulfil that pledge. I have taken a commission in General _______’s regiment in Newcastle. I have spoken to the General personally; he knows I have a debt of honour to discharge and has granted me permission to meet with you. I expect to be in Lambton on the 3rd of February. Will this be agreeable? I will confirm my arrival.
Another note, written in the same hand, lay next to it.
I have arrived in Lambton and will await you at the Inn unless instructed otherwise.
“So, he has come.” Darcy was startled by the unexpected voice.
“Fitzwilliam, I did not hear you.”
Richard walked into Darcy’s study. “You are still determined to meet him alone? I would willingly accompany you.”
“Thank you again for your offer, but I am of the opinion that meeting Wickham by myself is the most advisable method of obtaining the most information. He may not speak as freely if another is present.”
“Be careful, I do not trust the man.”
Darcy put his hand on Richard’s shoulder. “Neither do I, Cousin. I will be assured of my safety before I consent to be alone with him. YOU taught me that.”
Darcy strode into the Inn at Lambton with a look of grim determination. He spied the red coat of an army officer even before his eyes had adjusted to the relative darkness of the room and moved towards the man.
“Darcy. Shall we retire to my room for privacy?”
Darcy nodded and signalled his footmen to follow. As soon as they entered the captain’s room, Darcy’s men immediately searched Wickham, who made no protest. Once assured Wickham was unarmed, Darcy sent his men to wait outside.
“After all that has happened between us, I do not begrudge you that, Darcy.”
“I noticed no protest.”
“Yes, well, shall we get down to business?” The men sat facing each other, and Darcy waited for Wickham to continue. “When we last… met, I told you that I was not acting on my on volition. You must believe me, Darcy. I am not the sort of man who wantonly attacks women.”
“I visited London shortly after I joined Colonel Forster’s Regiment. Whilst there, I was… instructed… to make certain, after my return to Hertfordshire, that the Bennets were disgraced.”
“Why? Who could wish their ruin? Who is this vengeful enemy?”
“The Bennets have no such enemy. The person most concerned was Miss Darcy.”
“Georgiana? What does she have to do with the Bennets?”
“The party who instructed me learned that your sister had developed an admiration for Robert Bennet and was determined to prevent an alliance between the two.”
Darcy heard this with foreboding, and began to form some unsettling suspicions. “You are now in the regulars. How did you obtain your commission? Was it in payment for your actions?”
It was time to get to the point. “Who is your benefactor?”
“The Countess of Allenby.”
Horrified, Darcy stared at Wickham. “Oh God, Georgiana!” The ramifications for his sister distressed Darcy greatly. “By what power did Lady Allenby compel you to such behaviour?”
Wickham could no longer look Darcy in the eye. “I was her amant.”
“Circumstances arose which ended the affair. But I was determined to leave Town, regardless.”
“Newcastle is a long way from London.”
“In recognition for my services, I was offered a commission in the regulars. Newcastle was my choice. The further removed I am from Lady Allenby, the more likely I will survive her fury, should she discover that I have told you of her involvement.”
“I see,” Darcy said with disbelief.
“Darcy, when she told me what she wanted, I was afraid not to obey her. You did not see her. You do not know her. You must understand, she is not a woman to be gainsaid.”
Darcy sat impassively, too shocked to betray any emotion.
Wickham struggled for several moments before his next declaration. Trembling with dread, he continued. “Darcy, there is one more thing you must know. Do not allow your sister to marry Lord Drury.”
“Was he a party to this as well?”
“To my knowledge, he did not, and does not, know what his mother commanded.”
“Georgiana is determined to marry him. The actions of her fiancé’s mother will not be enough to discourage her resolve.” Darcy said in despair.
“It is not Lady Allenby of whom she should be afraid; it is Drury himself.”
“You know something about the man. TELL ME!”
“How can I say this?” Wickham was at a loss how to tell Darcy the awful truth about his history with the Viscount? Fully understanding the cost of clearing his conscience, Wickham forged ahead. “Drury will never be able to love your sister in the way a man should love his wife.”
“Speak more plainly, Wickham!”
“Drury prefers the company of… other men.” Wickham paused, then said, “Do not assume that he will cease his… amusements after his marriage, or change his preference.”
Darcy was incredulous. Could this be true? “I… I have never heard any such reports. How… how do you know this?” Wickham head remained bowed. “Wickham? Do not tell me…”
The captain finally raised his head and met Darcy’s gaze.
Wickham dropped his head again.
“Yes.” The word reverberated in the room. “And I know that I was neither his first nor his last. I do not know the names of the others.”
“How can this have happened? When did you…?” Too many memories pointed to the truth, so much vague uneasiness now made sense, but Darcy needed to hear what Wickham had to say.
“Drury ‘befriended’ me,” Wickham practically spat out, “when he was at Pemberley courting Miss Darcy. I was flattered that a future earl would notice me. He learned that I was soon to go to Cambridge and asked if I felt myself man enough to go there. He… he offered to show me what a ‘true man’ should expect at University. I… I was ashamed and afraid after he… I knew he would think nothing of ruining me, so I continued to meet with him. Everyone thought we were no more than acquaintances. Only the two of us, and a trusted servant or two, knew the truth.”
Suddenly Darcy sat upright, the final pieces coming together. “You, you were lover to both mother AND son?”
“I see the revulsion in your eyes, Darcy. My only defence is fear for my future. Once I became dependant on Henry’s good will, my life was a constant hell. It became much worse after his mother and I became… involved. I still do not know if I shall survive. Drury and Lady Allenby are formidable foes.”
“If she ever found out… “ Darcy saw Wickham flinch. “She knows?”
“She discovered Drury and me in an ‘indelicate position.’ I have not seen her or Drury since that day.”
Darcy sat evaluating all that he now knew. Unexpectedly, he was filled with pity and compassion as he looked at his boyhood companion. Wickham’s character had been revealed as less than what was desired before Lord Drury came into their lives, but nothing like this! Drury! The man, and his mother, had brought nothing but deceit into all their dealings with the family at Pemberley. A ruin of a man now sat before him, testament to the destruction of which the House of Allenby was capable.
With a hint of regret, Darcy spoke. “Wickham, you should have gone into the church.”
“We both know I aught never to be a clergyman, Darcy.” Wickham acknowledged the kindness of Darcy’s reply. “What will you do now?”
“I have no idea. I must stop Georgiana, but I as yet know not how.”
Wickham paused, then said, “Darcy, I am deeply sorry. You are a good man and do not deserve such troubles. If I may be of service, to further right my trespass against you, I will do so.”
“Wickham,” Darcy paused to carefully choose his words. “If you learn of any other information that can be used to stop Drury and Lady Allenby, send it post haste. As for your original offence, much unexpected good has resulted.”
“You married Miss Bennet.”
“She is a wonderful surprise. I am not sorry to have Elizabeth as my wife. I do not know if that would have happened had you not forced me to protect her. In a certain way, I am grateful to you, despite your abominable actions.”
Wickham accepted the implied olive branch. “Then some good has been done after all. Darcy, I beg you to convey my deepest apologies to Mrs. Darcy. I am thoroughly ashamed of my actions toward her. I was a coward; I thought only of myself, not of the anguish I would cause to a true innocent. It was unforgivable, and I will not presume to ask her absolution, or yours. Nor am I worthy to offer you my hand, but I wish you joy and many years of marital bliss. I give you my word; I will not trouble you, or your family, again. I have forfeited all rights to further association. To have brought pain to your wife and your family is my greatest regret; to be exiled from Pemberley is second only to it, and fit punishment.”
He rose and made to leave. “Goodbye, William,” were the last words George Wickham ever spoke to Fitzwilliam Darcy.
Darcy was shocked and deeply troubled by what he had learned from Wickham. He knew that his cousin would be waiting for him, and he knew that Richard would want to know all.
When Darcy returned to Pemberley, he and Richard retreated to Darcy’s study for privacy. There, Darcy told him the details of the meeting, omitting nothing. As Darcy revealed the shocking truth, Richard paled.
“What am I to do, Fitzwilliam? I cannot speak openly to Georgiana. She would never believe me, and I do not know if she would ever see me again!”
“I agree, Darcy. But promise me you will be neither foolish nor rash. We must consult with my father, and perhaps Mr. Bennet, before determining a course of action.”
“I give you my word, not that I have any ideas right now. I am still too shocked to think coherently.”
Darcy was indeed flummoxed about what could be done, either to save Georgiana from a hideous marriage, or to seek recompense for the assault on the family’s honour. He could not call out a woman! Her son was, apparently, innocent, at least in terms of the attack on Elizabeth; nor did her husband have anything to do with it. Lady Allenby herself was too sly and powerful an enemy — and too close to the family — to challenge without careful thought. And despite Wickham’s role in the infamy, Darcy had no desire to expose the captain to further punishment at the hands of that woman. How could he confront Lady Allenby yet protect the only person who could have been the source of the information against her?
But it was Elizabeth for whom Darcy had the greatest concern. He had not told her of the letter from Wickham, or of their meeting today. She was entitled to know who and what was behind the attack, but he was worried about its affect on her. To have come so close to utter ruin and then learn that she was merely a cat’s paw!
The family saw that Darcy was out of spirits, yet even Elizabeth decided to delay inquiries until later in the evening, in the privacy of their chambers. The way he had looked at her, the sadness in his eyes, implied that she had some part in his distress, but she was unable to think of any reason for his displeasure.
When William joined her in his bed, he kissed her before she had a chance to speak. Resolutely, she broke their kiss. “William, will you tell me why your mood has been so dark today?”
“Not yet. Let me give you pleasure first. Please.”
Elizabeth saw how earnest he was and abandoned herself into the tenderness of his caresses. Darcy had always been a gentle lover, and had always sought to give as much pleasure as he took. Lately, his tenderness had even increased, but this time, this time it was different still. He seemed to be thinking only of her. It was if he was… worshipping her.
‘With my body, I thee worship.’
When Darcy held her, and kissed her, and told her she was beautiful, she felt beautiful. Tonight, she felt like the most beautiful woman in the world. And she was. Their world, only the two of them.
As Elizabeth lay in Darcy’s arms, still full of wonder at the feelings he stirred deep within her, she knew she must speak to him before they drifted off to sleep.
“Will you tell me now?”
Darcy sighed and kissed her hair. “Elizabeth, a week ago I received a letter… from Wickham.” He felt her tense immediately. “He requested a meeting today in Lambton.”
“You did not tell me.”
“I did not wish to unsettle you.”
“He contacted you much sooner than four months.”
“He has taken a commission in the regiment in Newcastle. He was ready to make good on his promise.”
“Who was it?” Elizabeth was unable to stop herself from asking.
“The identity of the individual is certain to be upsetting to you.” He paused, then held her closer to him. “It is Lady Allenby.”
Elizabeth was shocked. “Lord Drury’s mother? What has she to do with my family, or with me?”
Darcy related what Wickham had told him, omitting only the scandalous portions about Lord Drury. When he finished, Elizabeth was still tense – and silent. Silence had never been an issue for them. They were comfortable with each other, with or without conversation. Darcy waited for Elizabeth to formulate her response. He could feel her rising anger and frustration.
“I was nothing but a pawn?” She was incredulous. “How could she, how could any woman, wish, nay order, such a hideous thing against another woman? It is barbaric and insulting. She is married to a peer for heaven’s sake!”
“A title does not grant nobility of character.”
“Apparently neither does it assure civility!”
“I understand your anger. I have never ceased being angry over what you were made to suffer. If the lady in question had been in my presence today, I do not believe that I would have been able to control my actions.”
Elizabeth’s admiration for her husband blossomed anew as she was reminded yet again of the strength of his character and his unrelenting drive to shelter those under his protection. He clearly was still upset about the assault on her, though he now had a new recipient for his wrath. Elizabeth’s agitation slowly calmed in the face of her husband’s compassion and protectiveness. She knew he would protect her; he had already proven that. Yet she was concerned that his passion would cause him to do something rash. She wasn’t willing for him to risk himself like that. And so, with his safety now paramount to her, her distress no longer provided the impetus for her words. She softly pleaded with her husband.
“Promise me that you will do nothing foolish.”
“Fitzwilliam has already made me promise the same. This situation has become so much more complex with Georgiana’s betrothal. I give you my word; I will consider what is best for both of you before I seek justice.”
“Thank you, William, you are the best of men.”
Darcy was not surprised when, later that night, he was awakened by Elizabeth crying out in her sleep. “Elizabeth, wake up. It is only a dream.”
“Oh William! I dreamt that he… that he was…”
“Shhh, you are safe here in my arms. I will let no harm come to you.”
“Tell me of Pemberley in the springtime.”
Softly, patiently, lovingly, Darcy spoke of flowers and trees in bloom and the fragrance in the air that was unique to Derbyshire. The picture his words painted calmed Elizabeth, and at last they both fell into a peaceful slumber.
Elizabeth next woke as the first light of dawn filtered into the room. She rolled over to look at her husband – he was so beautiful, and he looked so very young. She fought the urge to stroke his face, concentrating instead on examining it with her eyes. His lashes lay softly on his cheeks, giving him a boyish innocence not seen when he was awake. His mouth was relaxed in a near smile, a smile he gave her more and more often. A dark lock of hair fell across his forehead, reminding her that he allowed her to see all of him – not just the perfectly turned out master of Pemberley. A day’s growth of beard shadowed his face, a little imperfection that he loved to tease her with in the mornings. His was a noble face, the face of a man she knew was determined to bring her happiness and contentment.
The light continued to brighten; Elizabeth continued to study her husband. As she was able to see him more and more clearly, she could see her feelings towards him more and more clearly, too. Somehow, sometime, somewhere, she had come to love him. She had always esteemed and respected him, loved him as a friend – but that had changed. He had been the object of her affections; now he was the object of her love and, she had to admit, of her desire. In the quiet of the Derbyshire winter, in the sanctuary of this magnificent house, she had grown to love him, to need him; and with that good understanding, her world shifted, ever so slightly, yet never more significantly. She loved him, and she was in love with him. Her husband’s felicity was, and henceforth would be, the object of her attentions. She would be the wife he desired and deserved.
She wanted to wake him and tell him – it was all so new and liberating – but she stayed her hand, her earlier conversation with Georgiana rudely imposing itself on her thoughts. What would she do if he did not love her? If he could not love her? She fervently hoped that he did, but the awareness of her own love was too new to risk hearing an admission of unequal regard. Elizabeth, for now, would wait; she would give herself time and give herself over to this newfound feeling, and would build a strong enough reservoir of joy to see her through any bleakness ahead if Darcy did not return her love. She would watch and wait for the right time to tell him, then hope for the best …
Later that day, Mrs. Annesley came to Elizabeth to tell her that Beth felt unwell. She found her young sister in a restless sleep, gripped by fever. Elizabeth ordered a maid to stay with Beth and hurried to find her husband.
“William, Beth is unwell and resting in her room. I will stay with her now, but I wanted you to know why I may not be down for dinner this evening.”
“Elizabeth, do what you think is best. I will send for Mr. Johnston.”
The doctor arrived; Elizabeth introduced herself and related what she knew. Beth was awake, but feverish, and after talking to her, the doctor was ready to announce his conclusion.
“Miss Darcy has a fever, but I do not think it cause for serious concern. Give her water for her thirst and apply cool, wet cloths to ease her discomfort. If she is hungry, give her plain broth and some bread. This should pass quickly.”
“I will personally see that all of your instructions are carried out. Thank you for coming, Mr. Johnston.”
“I am always happy to be of service to the Family, Mrs. Darcy.”
Elizabeth stayed with Beth, missing dinner. After the meal, Georgiana went to her sister’s room, where she found Beth asleep and Elizabeth calmly stitching some needlework.
“You were missed at dinner, Elizabeth.” Georgiana spoke in a near whisper.
“I have kept Beth company. She still has a fever, but it does not appear too great.”
“You need not have stayed all this time. The servant would have called if you were needed.”
Elizabeth looked a bit surprised. “Georgiana, whenever I was ill, I always derived great comfort from the presence of one of my sisters. Beth is now my sister. I am treating her as I would any member of my family.”
This remark stung Georgiana, but she realized that Elizabeth’s intention was not to censure her, but simply to explain her own actions. “Thank you, Elizabeth. You must be hungry and fatigued. Get some rest. I will stay with Beth now.”
Elizabeth was quite exhausted from the events of the day and decided to retire early, availing herself of the luxury of a bath before retiring to her bed. She was on the edge of slumber when Darcy arrived; seeing him informally dressed as he came to bed quickly made Elizabeth wide awake. The new feelings, that she had accepted only that morning, made it impossible for her to ignore him.
“Is Beth any better?”
“The same, I am afraid. But she does not appear to be consumed by this fever. It is the doctor’s hope that it will soon pass. I left Georgiana to keep her company.”
“Though I missed your company, I am pleased with your concern for Beth.”
“She is my sister too, William.”
“I know, Elizabeth. This is the first time you had the opportunity to demonstrate it, that is all. You must be tired. I believe you were almost asleep when I came in.”
“Yes, but I am glad to see you. Come, lie next to me.”
“Are you hungry? You were missed at dinner.”
“I had a tray sent up.”
Both Darcy and Elizabeth were tempted to progress from embrace to physical bliss, but each knew Elizabeth was exhausted and needed rest. Before long, they both fell into contented sleep.
In the early hours of the morning, Elizabeth woke, feeling rested and desirous of seeing Beth. Careful not to disturb her husband, she slipped into her dressing room to write a note explaining her whereabouts should Darcy wake before she returned.
Elizabeth was not surprised to find Georgiana asleep in a chair next to her sister’s bed. Elizabeth gently roused Georgiana.
“Elizabeth, what are you doing up? Go back to bed, I will stay with Beth.”
“I retired early and feel rested. I will stay with Beth now. Please, Georgiana, you cannot have slept well in that chair. Take advantage of my help and get some rest.”
“You need not stay, Elizabeth. I have spent many nights with my sister when she was ill.”
“Georgiana, she is my sister as well now, remember. Truly, at Longbourn my sisters always shared this responsibility. Let me be of service. Besides, I am not leaving even if you choose to stay.”
Tired and stiff from her vigil in the chair, Georgiana finally relented. “I am too tired to argue the point further. Goodnight, Elizabeth.”
Beth’s fever broke sometime during the night and Elizabeth had the great pleasure of reporting such at breakfast. Beth was still weak and tired and her appetite had yet to return, but Elizabeth expected that the young girl would be up and ready to leave her room on the morrow.
The weather was fine, and Darcy and Elizabeth took the opportunity to venture out for a walk. Elizabeth relished the chance for Darcy to take her arm on their excursion; she was grateful for any excuse to be close to him.
Richard and Georgiana were in the library when Georgiana observed the newlyweds through the window as they strolled.
“William seems quite content, Richard.”
“I agree. He has not been more at peace since your father died.”
“I would never have thought, when he first told me he was marrying, that I would come to accept Elizabeth’s place in our family as I do now.”
“So you approve of the new Mrs. Darcy?
“After last night, how could I not? She came to Beth’s room in the small hours of the morning and told me to go to bed, that she would stay with Beth.”
“You did not take kindly to that, I imagine.”
Georgiana smiled; her cousin knew her all too well. “No, at first I did not. But Elizabeth was insistent and I was too tired – and sore – to argue the point. I have had a hard time reconciling myself to the idea that Elizabeth loves Beth very much, and that after I am married, Elizabeth — not I — will be the one to guide and comfort Beth.”
“Ah, so you have finally come to that point. I confess that I am relieved. It did not take me as long as you to see that Elizabeth is a deserving successor to your mother. She may not have the title of a Lady, but she comports herself better than most Ladies I know. Elizabeth will be a credit to the Darcy name.”
“She has yet to endure the Season.”
“Georgiana, I have no doubt she will charm the majority of the people she encounters. Those disinclined to accept her will not, but society in general has too much sense to join in the scorn. And do not discount my parents; they will do all in their power to see that Mrs. Darcy is accorded the respect she deserves.”
“You have more optimism than I.”
“I always have.” Richard contemplated the woman before him. The knowledge he now possessed about Drury disheartened and disgusted him. He could hardly bear to think of the fate that awaited his cousin. “Georgiana, I… Is it too much to hope… if your opinion of Elizabeth has changed, that… ”
Sensing the implication behind his comment, and unwilling to reveal the remorse she felt over her decision to marry Drury, Georgiana interrupted him. “Richard, I made my choice for many reasons, all of which you know and all of which remain, despite my increased admiration for Elizabeth. It is not my opinion of her that will determine Beth’s future, and I still have doubts that the stain on our family’s honour will evade Beth if I do not follow my chosen course.”
Richard sighed, but said only, “Forgive me then, Georgiana. But my offer still stands.”
“Thank you, Richard, but it will not be necessary.”
“William, what do you think about inviting Robert and Mary to Pemberley this summer?”
“I think it is a splendid idea. And you do not need my permission. You are mistress of this house.”
“I value your opinion too much to chance your disapproval.”
“I doubt that you will ever disappoint me.” Elizabeth, who had been minutely examining each of Darcy’s comments and actions for evidence of his feelings towards her, was silently elated. One of the most obvious signs for hope thus far!
Pemberley, Derbyshire 5 February 1812
I trust this letter finds you well. We will be arriving in Hertfordshire, as planned, in a few weeks’ time. For now, we continue our quiet existence in Derbyshire. Life here is much different than at Longbourn. For one thing, the house is enormous, and only now do feel confident that I will not get lost. It most decidedly would not do for the servants to discover that Mr. Darcy has misplaced his wife, or have to form a search party to rescue the mistress from within her own house! Everyone has been so patient with me as I learn my new duties. I am still in awe of the life I now live, and I cannot fathom what the upcoming season will be like.
Jane and Mary tell me that you refuse to come to London after the wedding. I understand the desire to give Jane and Mr. Bingley their privacy, but what about your other married sister? I do miss you. However, I am resigned to the fact that once you make up your mind, you normally do not see fit to change it. In that you are too much like Papa! To make up for this flaw of yours, I propose a compromise: promise to come to Pemberley this summer. Oh, and bring Mary too! You will not want to disappoint her – and me – by declining. We will be feeling the loss of Georgiana’s company, William will be happy for the presence of another man, and I will enjoy spending time with my younger sister. You need not reply by letter. We expect to hear your “yes” from your own lips when we are in Hertfordshire for the wedding.
Tell Jane and Mary that I miss them, and that I will do my best to spend time with both of them, especially Jane, before the wedding. We, too, will depart after the wedding breakfast to travel to Town. William is insisting that I order even more new gowns. After so many years of being a mere country girl, I find it hard to accept that so many niceties are necessary! What do I know of a London Season? Georgiana assures me that my new aunt, Lady Matlock, will see to it that I am appropriately attired as befitting Mrs. Darcy. Ah, the advantages of being too rich for my own good.
Give my love to all the family.
Your loving sister,
The continuing courtship of Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy was observed by all the family party – with varying degrees of acceptance. Beth was thrilled to watch her brother and his wife seemingly falling in love. Her romantic sensibilities were aroused, and she wondered how soon she might become an aunt.
Richard watched what he came to see as an intricate dance. Surely by now Darcy and Elizabeth were intimate, but had they revealed the depth of their feelings to each other? By their actions, he thought not. Richard drew from his observances the full conviction that at least one of them knew what it was to love. Of Elizabeth’s sensibilities, he remained a little in doubt. Until the last few days, he would have been hard pressed to state unequivocally that Elizabeth loved Darcy; but now, as testified by an apparent increase of affection on the lady’s part, Richard was unwilling to concede that she had not come to love his cousin. That Darcy was overflowing with admiration was evident enough, and had been for nearly a fortnight.
Georgiana struggled still with her notions of duty and family honour. After the debacle of her first engagement to Drury, she had rejected the very idea of a love match; she was convinced that love was blind and hid too many faults and defects in a potential marriage partner; faults and defects too important to be dismissed without rational analysis. She was too old now, too worldly, too pragmatic — yes, perhaps even too cynical — to hope that, within her own circle of society, she would find a partner who offered both a marriage of equal position and a marriage of mutual affection. Happy her brother might be, but there was no denying that Elizabeth, despite her charms and abilities, was not their equal and never would be. Darcy simply refused to accept it; no, he refused to consider its implications for the rest of the family. She felt a flash of anger, anger that seemed never to be more than slightly below the surface of her thoughts. He had driven her back to Henry because of his ideas of honour and duty – his romanticised ideas, so different from her own. He still could not, would not, see that he had created a great debt of honour, one that his family — that she, Georgiana — must pay. She had secretly hoped that Darcy would come to regret his choice, a most uncharitable wish of a sister for a brother. But now she could see that he was falling in love with his unsuitable wife, and she for him. It was most unfair! Most vexing was that Georgiana was herself growing fond of Elizabeth. The woman had had not pursued her brother, and Elizabeth was trying to live up to the lofty standards demanded of a Mrs. Darcy. Georgiana shook her head. Was a love match only possible in an unequal alliance? Her thoughts flew to Robert Bennet, so acceptable to her as a lover, so unacceptable as a husband. And yet…
Darcy and Elizabeth were blissfully unaware of the scrutiny; each was more intent on discovering the feelings of the other. Darcy was greatly encouraged by the increase of Elizabeth’s affection towards him after Wickham’s revelation. The problem of what to do with that information still lurked in the recesses of his mind, demanding his attention. Darcy was, however, occupied by a more pleasant conundrum – Elizabeth.
Elizabeth, also, continued to look for signs of her partner’s feelings. She had noticed a tenderness in their private times; now he was showing her the same depth of feeling in the company of others, within the bounds of propriety, of course.
Georgina was playing the pianoforte when Richard came into the room. The brooding nature of her performance betrayed the tumult of her feelings. When she concluded the piece, Richard came nearer.
“Georgiana, your thoughts are not with your music?”
“Did I play so ill?”
“Not at all, but there was a detached air to your expression, as if you were playing from reflex and not from the music.”
Georgiana was silent, deliberating whether to unburden herself to her cousin. She came to a decision.
“I was thinking about William… and Elizabeth.”
“Ah, so you are still not reconciled to the match.”
“I have become reconciled to it. You know of my misgivings, however. That is not what I was thinking about.”
“Then what were you thinking about?”
“Richard, I believe William is in love with Elizabeth, and very likely she with him.”
“I see you have come to much the same conclusion as I. Why does this distress you? I would expect you to be happy for your brother.”
“I am not unhappy that he has found love in his marriage, I am only so surprised that he has. Elizabeth is a fine woman, I will grant you, and she appears to have the makings of a fine Mistress of Pemberley.”
“But she is not what you envisioned as the wife of your brother. We have discussed this before.”
“Yes, we have. I am just… surprised.”
Thinking again of what he had learned from Darcy about Georgiana’s future family, he said, perhaps more harshly than he intended, “Surprised that he has found love with someone not of our circle? Surprised that a little country nobody might very well become an excellent Mistress for Pemberley? Georgiana, high birth is no guarantee of high character. It may be time to disabuse yourself of that notion.” Richard’s demeanour softened. “Georgiana, who are we to judge what love looks like, or to whom it is given. Be happy for your brother and wonder no more. He is content with his choice; so should you be.”
One evening, a week before they would leave for Hertfordshire and Jane and Bingley’s wedding, Elizabeth was lying in bed in her accustomed position – in Darcy’s arms. They had spent the time since they had retired for the evening discussing the upcoming events. Elizabeth was to stand up for Jane, Darcy for Bingley. It was something the two anticipated with great pleasure. The conversation had dwindled, and Elizabeth had not realized that Darcy was almost asleep.
“Yes, my love?”
“Do you think… ” Elizabeth stopped in mid-sentence when the words registered. Darcy felt her tense in his arms. He was confused, until he realized what he had let slip. There was nothing for it now.
“What is it, my love?”
‘He said it again!’ Elizabeth thought. She rolled over to face him
“What… what did you just call me?”
“That which you are: my love.”
Darcy became distressed when Elizabeth tucked her head into his chest and started to weep.
“Do not cry, Elizabeth. Shhh. I did not mean to upset you.” He held her tightly and searched for the right words to say. “I was going to tell you, but I was afraid you were not ready to hear such words from me. Please, do not let this come between us. You are everything to me.”
At last Elizabeth pulled back to look at him. He was shocked to see a smile made all the more precious by the glistening of her tear-stained cheeks.
“Oh, William, I am not upset. These are tears of utter joy.” Elizabeth kissed him deeply and passionately. “Oh my beloved William,” she continued after the kiss, “I have come to love you so very dearly.”
“Then why do you weep?”
“Because I have been afraid to tell you, afraid you did not love me, afraid of the pain if you did not return my love for you.”
“Oh, Elizabeth, my wife, how could I not love you? You are my perfect match. We have been knit together, body and soul. Whom God has joined together, who can tear asunder?”
“I love you, William.”
Elizabeth and Darcy, lovers in body for the past few months, were now lovers in spirit as well. Their new understanding, of each other and themselves; their confession of love both acknowledged and devoutly to be wished, released a passion hitherto unknown and unknowable. Each new kiss was sweeter and more ardent than anything before experienced. Each new touch was both caress and possession; gentle yet fervent, equally demanding and giving; confident, no longer tentative. Nothing was forbidden now; no place was left untouched. She wanted to feel all of him, and he wanted to lose himself in her. Clothing was discarded without thought as the lovers were driven by a new desire, a desire that emanated from the deepest part of their beings. There was no prolonged build-up to their joining; neither could wait for that exquisite moment when he would fill her with all that he was.
When release came, the strength and violence of it shocked them both. The power of emotion, the power of their passions, the sheer pleasure, surprised them; it was if they had never before coupled. A second first time.
As they lay side by side once again, in the same position as when the momentous confessions began, husband and wife were filled with a contentment the likes of which neither had ever known before. Elizabeth felt secure in his love as well as in his arms; Darcy was overjoyed to be holding the love of his life, and knowing that his feelings where returned. The reality of their union, now emotional as well as physical, flowed over and through them, quenching the need for completion. Each loved, and was loved.
Elizabeth was the first to speak. “William, I love you.”
“The sweetest words I have ever heard.”
“The most satisfying I have ever spoken.” Elizabeth paused. “When did you know you loved me?”
“It has been coming on so gradually, that I hardly know when it began. But I believe I must date it from the first night you invited me to your bed.”
“Yes. That morning, I awoke while you were still asleep. I realized how your presence had filled a void left in my life when my parents died. I felt… completed, and I wondered what was happening to me. Was I falling in love with my wife?”
“But when did you know?”
“After the escapade with Mrs. and Miss Elizabeth.” Elizabeth arched her eyebrow in surprise. “I tried to imagine life without you as my wife and found, much to my amazement, that I could not. You had become necessary to me. I realized then that I loved you.” Darcy increased his hold of Elizabeth. “Now it is your turn. When did you realize that you loved me?”
“William, I believe that I have loved you since before we were married, but not in the way a wife loves a husband; I loved you as I love any dear friend. But I was in the middle of loving you as a woman ought to love her husband before I knew I had begun. I believe that I knew the transformation of my feelings was complete on the morning after your meeting with… with Captain Wickham. I woke with the dawn. As I watched the light illuminate your face, it was as if I was seeing you for the first time. I knew then I had come to love you.”
“You saw me in a new light? Another reason to be thankful for the sunrise!”
“William, do you believe it was inevitable? Were we destined for this love? Did we have a choice or are we at the mercy of Love’s will?”
“And if we were victims of Fate? Does it matter, my love? We have been given a great gift and I, for one, am not complaining, my dearest Elizabeth.”
After exchanging words and assurances of love, after revealing the depth of their affections, after revelling in the transformation of their feelings from simple friendship to friendship and love, Darcy and Elizabeth finally fell into a sound sleep.
They awoke the next morning, still basking in their newfound understanding. Darcy wished to monopolize Elizabeth’s time but her duties with Mrs. Reynolds that morning could not be delayed. He adjourned to the library, in search of a particular book. The revelations of the previous night had triggered a memory of a Cambridge lecture. He found the sought-after book and sat down by the fire, looking for the appropriate passage as he recalled the professor’s words:
Today we will discuss the Nature of love. The Greek Language, unlike English, has three different word forms that we would translate as the single word ‘love: plileo, agape and eros. It is the last, eros, that we consider today.
The passage we will examine is from Sophocles’ play, ‘Antigone,’ and is the greatest use of word ‘eros’ found in classical Greek literature. The word erotic is derived from this word. It means not only the physical act between a man and a woman, but also is closest to what we would call ‘romantic love.’ The ‘Antigone’ is also revered as an enduring statement of the conflict inherent in the need for social order and the belief that, on occasion, higher law may supersede human law.
Antigone is the daughter of Oedipus, the late king of Thebes. She defies Creon, the new king, who is also the father of her fiancé Haemon, and resolves to bury the body of her brother, Polyneices, despite the king’s strict prohibition. Creon has decreed that, because he attacked his own homeland, Polyneices will be left unburied on the battlefield, in defiance of religious law. Antigone performs a ceremonial burial, is apprehended by the guards, and taken before Creon. In her defence, she claims that she is duty-bound to obey the eternal laws of right and wrong, no matter the rules of an earthly king. Creon will not yield, despite a warning that the gods are angry, and sentences Antigone to death. By the time Creon relents, it is too late; Antigone is dead and Creon’s only son, perhaps one of the first martyrs to eros, turns against his father. In his grief and anger, Haemon tries to kill Creon. He fails, stabs himself instead, and dies beside Antigone in a pool of his own blood. Creon subsequently learns that his wife, Eurydice, has also killed herself when she heard what had happened. Thus, at the end of the play, Creon is alone; he is ruler over an orderly city, but he has lost everything.
Let us take up the chorus, consisting of the wise old citizens of Thebes, at the passage after the first conflict between father and son, where they recognize the power of ‘eros’ and foresee the disaster:
Darcy read the familiar words.
Love resistless in fight, all yield at a glance of thine eye,
Love who pillowed all night on a maiden’s cheek dost lie,
Over the upland holds. Shall mortals not yield to thee?
Mad are thy subjects all, and even the wisest heart
Straight to folly will fall, at a touch of thy poisoned dart.
Thou didst kindle the strife, this feud of kinsman with kin,
By the eyes of a winsome wife, and the yearning her heart to win.
For as her consort still, enthroned with Justice above,
Thou bendest man to thy will, O all invincible Love. *
‘Thou bendest man to thy will, O all invincible Love’
Darcy laughed to himself. Was that not what had happened to him? Despite all the obstacles in their way, despite the distress that had brought about their marriage, despite their social differences, despite their friendship – he and Elizabeth had found the way to love. Finally, after so many weeks, they had yielded to it. It had been inevitable. Darcy shut his eyes and let the delicious feeling flow over him.
‘O all invincible Love!’
That was how Georgiana found him: head tilted back, eyes closed, the book lying forgotten on his lap.
“William?” she asked gently as she laid her hand on his shoulder.
Darcy sat up with a start. “I did not hear you.”
“I was not asleep. I was reflecting on a lecture from my days at Cambridge.” Georgiana sat next to him, giving her complete attention.
“Does that book have anything to do with it?”
“Yes. Elizabeth and I had a conversation last night that brought a particular passage to mind. I was re-reading it. It also made me think of you.”
Georgiana looked questioningly at her brother. Smiling, he showed her the volume in question.
“Do you remember the night last summer when I read this to you?” Darcy opened the book to the proper page and began to recite:
“A bride unwed, amerced of marriage-song
And marriage-bed and joys of motherhood,
By friends deserted to a living grave.
What ordinance of heaven have I transgressed?
Hereafter can I look to any god
For succor, call on any man for help?
Alas, my piety is impious deemed.
Well, if such justice is approved of heaven,
I shall be taught by suffering my sin;
But if the sin is theirs, O may they suffer
No worse ills than the wrongs they do to me.”
Darcy looked deeply into his sister’s eyes, taking her hand in his. “Georgiana, are my sins so great that you have become my Antigone?”
Georgiana gasped. Darcy raised her hand to his lips. Without speaking, he stood up to leave her to contemplate his words. Before he left the room, he said one final thing.
“Georgiana, take care. I fear that you have made a grave error of judgment. My marriage to Elizabeth is not the edict of the Creon – our society’s concept of duty is. If you believe that you must sacrifice yourself, be very sure which is the divine and which the profane, lest you end up, like Creon, with nothing.”
*Antigone by Sophocles -Translated by F. Storr